After a seven-year absence of major open-wheel racing in Fontana, the Izod… (Robert Laberge / Getty Images )
The night race marking the return of IndyCar-style racing to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana next year will be a 400-mile event with ticket prices starting at $30, track and IndyCar officials said Tuesday.
After a seven-year absence of major open-wheel racing at the sprawling two-mile oval 50 miles east of Los Angeles, the speedway said it would hold the Izod IndyCar Series race on an as yet unspecified date in the fall of 2012.
Randy Bernard, the series' chief executive, told reporters on a conference call that "we think a night race there will be very exciting" and that the series wanted to add the track to its schedule because it's in "one of the largest markets in the United States."
The series already races on the streets of Long Beach in April and on a curvy road course in Sonoma, Calif., in August.
Series drivers include Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves and Danica Patrick, but Patrick is widely expected to switch to NASCAR stock-car racing next year.
The big question is how large a crowd the Fontana race might draw.
Auto Club Speedway, with 92,000 grandstand seats, this year lost one of its two annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in good part because of slipping attendance, and NASCAR is more popular overall than IndyCar racing.
Even so, "we fully expect to have a big crowd," said track president Gillian Zucker, noting that the track and series would have a year to promote the race. Tickets go on sale Sept. 12.
"There isn't a day that goes by that we don't have fans asking for the return of open-wheel racing," she said. "They also want to see racing under the lights."
Zucker said a "significant portion" of the grandstand seats would be reserved for those buying the $30 general-admission tickets, and that "kids 12 and under are free in the general-admission sections."
The track, formerly called California Speedway, opened in 1997 just as a civil war split U.S. open-wheel racing and severely damaged the sport's popularity.
One side, called Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), which later became the Champ Car World Series, raced in Fontana from 1997 to 2002. The other side, the Indy Racing League, ran there from 2002 to 2005. Both struggled to attract crowds.
But the two sides reunited in 2008 in what is now the IndyCar Series and "the timing is just absolutely right" to bring the sport back to Fontana, Zucker said.