It’s a big schedule release week for American motorsport, and while IndyCar’s 2021 schedule was overshadowed by NASCAR’s, it’s still out—and there are some significant changes. We’ll run you through what’s important and where, exactly, IndyCar will be competing next year.
IndyCar will contest a 17-race schedule next year, which is the same amount that the series had intended to race in 2020 before COVID-19 forced a serious reschedule. The series will run from March 7 to September 19, 2021. But there are some significant changes within that same time period.
It was big news when Circuit of the Americas joined the IndyCar schedule in 2019—enough so that I convinced my then-fiancé to attend the race with me and then get married the following Monday as an excuse to celebrate our anniversary in Austin, Texas every year. I am relieved to report that my relationship has lasted longer than the IndyCar-COTA one.
Dave Furst, IndyCar’s vice president of communications, told the Austin American-Statesman that “the dates were not available to fit our schedule.” But things are laid out a little more clearly in the Indianapolis Star: COTA has been on shaky financial ground for quite a while. Hosting a NASCAR race in 2021 made more sense, since the track had to lease itself out to Speedway Motorsports. And with IndyCar adding a doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway—along with its desire to keep a 17-race schedule—COTA was pretty much squeezed out of the schedule.
Two oval circuits have been nixed from IndyCar’s 2021 schedule: Richmond and Iowa, which are two that sting for many of IndyCar’s oval fans. Richmond was scheduled to host its first-ever race in 2020, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the track won’t be making an appearance in 2021.
Iowa is in a slightly different circumstance. NASCAR owns the track and asked IndyCar to rent it out in order to host this year’s doubleheader. NASCAR is also looking to sell the track—and while Roger Penske was rumored to be interested in purchasing the track, that rumor died out pretty quickly. Renting it out again didn’t make sense for IndyCar.
IndyCar has tried to apply a salve to the oval wound by transforming the yearly Texas Motor Speedway event into a doubleheader. Many fans were disappointed to learn that the event is scheduled to be an afternoon back-to-back, which means that fans have also lost a night race for 2021. While start times have yet to be released, the only other option for a night race would be Gateway.
The TMS doubleheader will be the first races hosted in May outside of Indianapolis since Sao Paulo in 2013.
IndyCar has traditionally hosted five to six oval races at different tracks since 2012. Now, there will only be four oval events at three different tracks.
One of the more interesting changes—one that seems to be borrowed directly from the post-coronavirus reschedule—is the fact that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will hold two races in 2021: one in mid-May ahead of the Indy 500 and one in mid-August.
If you’re wondering why the IMS road course is set to host two events but there isn’t enough space on the 17-race calendar for COTA, you aren’t alone. But considering that Roger Penske owns both the Speedway and the series, it’s likely a more financially sensitive decision to hit the IMS road course twice.
IndyCar and IMSA have traditionally shared the bill at IndyCar’s Belle Isle doubleheader—but that’s another big change for the 2021 season. The two series will be running at the track on different, back-to-back weekends, with IMSA coming first.
That’s a downer for fans who like to get the most racecar for their buck, but for IndyCar drivers, it might just be a relief. The Detroit Grand Prix traditionally takes place the weekend immediately following the Indy 500. So, drivers went from contesting the physically-exhausting 500 to taking on the brutal, bumpy Belle Isle street course within the span of five days.
In 2021, though, drivers will have a week off after the Indy 500. That’s going to be a week of much-needed rest before trying to take on Belle Isle.
In an excellent change for IndyCar, nine of its races will be aired live on NBC network television with the other eight coming on NBCSN. Getting the series out in front of as many people as possible is always a solid idea, especially after a rocky 2021 season that saw yesterday’s Harvest Grand Prix take place on USA.
NBC will air the season opener at St. Pete, the crown jewel Long Beach Grand Prix, both Indianapolis races in May, the following Belle Isle doubleheader, the July 4 Mid-Ohio event, and the end-of-season west coast events at Portland and Laguna Seca.
March 7: Streets of St. Petersburg
April 11: Barber Motorsports Park
April 18: Streets of Long Beach
May 1: Texas Motor Speedway Race 1
May 2: Texas Motor Speedway Race 2
May 15: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
May 30: 105th Indianapolis 500
June 12: Raceway at Belle Isle Park race 1
June 13: Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2
June 20: Road America
July 4: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
July 11: Streets of Toronto
August 8: Streets of Nashville
August 14: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
August 21: World Wide Technology Raceway
September 12: Portland International Raceway
September 19: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca