Editorial

Miami should be a CART and ALMS kickoff party

 by Mark Cipolloni
October 10, 2002

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Now that CART and ALMS have their first successful Miami GP of the Americas under the belt, it's time to evaluate what can be done to make it even better.  Well for starters, how about a new date for the race?

Anyone who attended this past weekends races can tell you how unbearable the heat and humidity was, especially for the drivers in their hot uniforms and even hotter cars.  It's been suggested that perhaps the Miami race be moved to November and become CART's season finale.


Peter Yanowitch, co-founder of the Miami GP of the Americas, says late January, or February is perfect weather in Miami for a race

I don't agree.  Peter Yanowitch, an attorney, and co-founder of the Miami GP of the Americas, and Miami resident, assures us it's pretty hot in Miami even in October, and November tends to be wet.

When asked what time of year would be best for this race, Yanowitch responded, "late January or February, would be the best time to have this race.  I would love for this race to be the CART, ALMS and Trans-Am season opener every year, the week before the Super Bowl.  It's spectacular here in Miami that time of year, what a great time for a mid-winter getaway. 

It should be noted that the Super Bowl is traditionally the 4th weekend in January.  Holding the race the weekend before the Super Bowl would work, since that is a resting weekend for the Super Bowl contenders..

That idea has a lot of merit.  Not only is the racing world starved for motorsports that time of year, it falls in the 10 week gap between Football season and baseball season, traditionally the window that produces the highest auto racing TV ratings in the USA.

And that date has some tradition.  Before Homestead was built, the sports car races in Miami (Bicentential Park) were held in February, right after the Daytona 500, and they were always very well attended events.  However, CART's St. Petersburg race now has the week after the Daytona 500 date.

Would having two races in Florida four weeks apart hurt both races.  "Absolutely not," responded Yanowitch.  "Our race fans are pretty much from the Miami Metropolitan area, or out-of-state.  We even get many people from other countries.  Miami is very cosmopolitan.  Miami folks don't even go to Homestead for the races down there, let alone venture all the way up to St. Petersburg, some 4 or 5 hours away."

Yanowitch did tell me that the promoter, Dover Downs, and the City of St. Petersburg have some sort of agreement with CART that no other CART race would be held in Florida within a set number of weeks of the St. Petersburg race.  That could be a potential stumbling block, but it's more an issue of educating those in St. Pete that each race really has its own unique clientele. 

Another idea would be to hold both races on consecutive weekends and sold as a winter vacation racing extravaganza?  Tickets for both races could be sold as a package.  NASCAR holds races on consecutive weekends in Daytona during race weeks and vacationers visit Daytona for 10 days to 14 days and take in a lot of racing.  All draw huge crowds.

One would think that having the St. Pete race so close to the Daytona 500 (only 2 hours apart by car, and one week apart in time) would have more of an affect on St. Pete than a Miami event in late-January.  Besides, Florida is a big winter vacation haven.  When one group of northerners leaves to return to their frigid homeland, the next wave comes in the following week.

It's been stated on numerous occasions that CART should shift as many races as possible to early in the season, and end their season much earlier, say, late September.  Once Labor Day rolls around and football season kicks in, it's hard for any racing series, sans NASCAR, to get good TV ratings in the USA.

Another consideration is network TV.  CART would like to move more races to network TV, but it's hard to get available timeslots in the baseball and football seasons.  Network TV gets CART much better TV ratings for its sponsors, the lifeblood of any racing series.  More TV timeslots are available early in the season.

Having the first race of the season also gives CART and ALMS a jumpstart on the racing headlines.  ALMS gets a race before its rival Grand-Am series garners the Daytona 24-hour race headlines the following weekend.  CART gets a jumpstart on NASCAR, but more importantly its Indy Car rival, the IRL.

Does CART have enough warm weather venues to accommodate this schedule shift?  The answer is yes.  The early part of CART's schedule can look something like this:

Miami - 3rd weekend in January, week before the Super Bowl
St. Petersburg - 3rd weekend in February, week after Daytona 500
Monterrey, Mexico - 1st weekend in March
Houston, Texas - 3rd weekend in March
Surfers Paradise - 1st weekend in April
Long Beach, - 2nd weekend in April
Imola or Paul Ricard - last weekend in April
England - First weekend in May
Wash. DC - 3rd weekend in May

And if Brazil ever comes back on the schedule, that's another early season, warm-weather opportunity.

After the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend, CART can resume its traditional summer schedule and conclude the season in late September in Chicago, or early October in Mexico City or Fontana.  Off-season testing for the next year would be in November, December, and early January.

Essentially CART would be shifting their entire schedule ahead in the calendar year.  It doesn't mean any additional days away from home for team members, but it certainly gives CART more opportunity to avoid 3 or 4 consecutive race weekends in a row during the busy summer season.

Let's hope CART gives this proposal serious consideration.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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