Indy Racing League officials have released next year's calendar, which contains 16 races, including the jewel in the crown Indianapolis 500.

The 'great race' will take place on its traditional end of May date, following on from the now annual trip to Japan's Twin Ring Motegi venue, and remains the highlight in a year dominated once again by oval races. Despite suggestions that the IRL may branch out and begin to incorporate road courses, along the lines of the rival CART series, the idea will not come to fruition until at least 2005.

As a result, the trip to Motegi - once a CART venue of course - remains the only deviation from a diet of American ovals, but provides the teams and drivers with a welcome diversion.

"We look forward to our return to Twin Ring Motegi, where we were so warmly received at our inaugural event," said Ken Ungar, senior vice-president of business affairs for the IRL, "Japan offers the IndyCar Series the opportunity to showcase our exciting product in front of an enthusiastic audience, while strengthening our ties with companies who are involved with the league and its drivers and teams."

The 2004 event in Japan will follow a similar format to the series debut there this year, with practice taking place on Thursday, MBNA Pole qualifying on Friday, and the race on Saturday [17 April]. Scott Sharp won the first IndyCar Series event at Motegi.

For the third consecutive year, Homestead-Miami Speedway will play host to the season opener - the Toyota Indy 300 - while the year ends with the now traditional second visit to Texas Motor Speedway. One notable addition to the schedule is the Milwaukee Mile, which will play host to its first IRL race on 25 July.

The full calendar is as follows:

February 29 Homestead-Miami Speedway Toyota Indy 300
March 21 Phoenix International Raceway TBA
April 17 Twin Ring Motegi Indy Japan 300
May 30 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Indianapolis 500
June 12 Texas Motor Speedway Bombardier 500*
June 26 Richmond International Raceway SunTrust Indy Challenge*
July 4 Kansas Speedway TBA
July 17 Nashville Superspeedway Firestone Indy 200*
July 25 The Milwaukee Mile TBA
August 1 Michigan International Speedway Firestone Indy 400
August 15 Kentucky Speedway Belterra Casino Indy 300
August 22 Pikes Peak International Raceway Honda Indy 225
August 29 Nazareth Speedway Firestone Indy 225
September 12 Chicagoland Speedway Delphi Indy 300
October 3 California Speedway Toyota Indy 400
October 17 Texas Motor Speedway Chevy 500

[* denotes night race]