IndyCar organisers have announced that the series will be returning to Fontana in 2012 for the first open-wheel race there since 2005.

The Auto Club Speedway - formerly called the California Speedway - is a 14-degree banking, D-shaped two-mile oval track that hosted CART races between 1997-2002, and IRL races from 2002 until 2005.

Previous winners here include Sam Hornish Jr., Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez, Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi, while Helio Castroneves, Scott Pruett, Gil de Ferran, Alex Tagliani and Tony Kanaan have all claimed pole position. Mark Blundell won the 1997 CART race, while Dario Franchitti was the last winner of an IRL race at the venue in October 2005.

"We feel the time is right to bring IndyCar racing back to Auto Club Speedway," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, confirming that the series will return to Fontana for a night race in the autumn of 2012.

The announcement follows Danica Patrick's call last month for more oval events to be added to the series calendar after claiming that street and road courses were becoming too dominant in IndyCar, a view that Bernard said at the time he had some agreement with.

"We want to maintain the balance of ovals and non-ovals on our schedule," he said this week. "The addition of Auto Club Speedway adds a great venue that was built for the high-speed, wheel-to-wheel excitement of IndyCar racing."

However it's an open question whether the return of Auto Club Speedway will actually add to the overall number of ovals on the calendar, as Patrick would like to see. Poor attendance for last month's return to Milwaukee has led to suggestions that IndyCar would not be back there in 2012. With the 40,000-capacity Milwaukee Mile reportedly less than a third full for the series' return there after a year's hiatus, questions about the venue's financial viability on the IndyCar calendar have been raised especially after the following week's race at Iowa Speedway was close to being a sell-out.

But the return of Fontana to the IndyCar calendar is certainly a significant and welcome development on both sides.

"This facility was built to host open-wheel racing and Auto Club Speedway has arguably hosted some of the most exciting races in Indy car history," said the president of Auto Club Speedway, Gillian Zucker. "We look forward to building on the area's history and tradition of open-wheel racing with new records and new races beginning in 2012."

Despite having not been on the IndyCar calendar since 2005, the venue still holds the series record for the fastest lap speed ever attained - 241.426 mph, set by Gil de Ferran in qualifying for the 2000 CART race, which is a world record for the fastest lap on a closed course. Fontana also saw the fastest average race speed on a closed course, 207.151mph set by Sam Hornish Jr. in the 2003 IRL event.

Sadly, Fontana was also the track where Canadian driver Greg Moore was killed in a crash on the backstretch during the 1999 CART race, after his car slid through the infield grass and was then flipped over sending him flying into the concrete wall with fatal results. The tragedy led the track owners to repave the backstretch to ensure no repetition, and the series to mandate the use of the HANS (head and neck support) devices for all drivers.

Since the exit of IndyCar racing from Auto Club Speedway, the venue has played host to annual rounds of NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races, but a decline in attendance led to NASCAR reducing the number of Cup rounds held there per year from 2011, making the return of IndyCar an important addition to the venue's roster of events.

It had been thought that relations between IndyCar and the track owners, International Speedway Corp., were still somewhat frosty and the announcement of Fontana's return to the IndyCar series is a welcome surprise and a potential sign of a long-overdue improvement between the two organisations.

As well as Fontana, ISC also owns and operates the Speedways at Chicagoland, Daytona International, Homestead-Miami, Kansas, and Martinsville International, as well as Darlington, Phoenix International and Richmond International Raceways, Talladega Superspeedway and the Watkins Glen International road course. All those circuits are NASCAR stalwarts, and ISC was originally set up by NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. in 1953. The company merged its track operations with those of Penske Motorsports, and it was Roger Penske who originally built the speedway at Fontana during the 1990s.

As for a return to other ISC venues, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard recently publicly blasted the president of Phoenix International Raceway, saying that he was refusing to even take Bernard's calls to discuss the possibility of holding an IndyCar race there.

"The one I want, that president won't give us the time of day, that's Phoenix. And you know, if I was a public-held company and I had a president who wouldn't call one of the top forms of motorsports, I'd fire him," Bernard said in a radio interview in mid-June. "I think that the guy is not worth a damn in my opinion."

The claims were subsequently denied by Bryan Sperber, president of PIR.

"Mr Bernard has never called me, met me, or made any attempt to reach me or my office" Sperber wrote in response to enquiries about the spat. "He continues to make public comments that suggests there has been dialog between PIR and his organization. That is absolutely untrue and frankly I'm vexed as to why he continues to blatantly mislead the public.

"If Mr Bernard ever wanted to talk to me, I assure you he would have," he continued. "Your guess is as good as mine why Mr. Bernard would continue to make statements about PIR in the media that he knows are false."

The return of Fontana might indicate an improvement in relations between IndyCar and ISC in general but the increasingly personal conflict between Bernard and Sperber suggests that Phoenix for one won't be on the calendar anytime soon.