While the IndyCar Series says it’s looking to add a new Canadian city to its schedule, assuming that means three stops north of the border might be hopeful thinking at best.
IndyCar boss Randy Bernard told reporters during the Honda Toronto Indy that he’d like to race in another Canadian city, but paddock insiders say that’s because the series is eager to replace the struggling Edmonton event.
“It’s not doing well this year,” said an insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Without a title sponsor coming on board, [race promoter] Octane won’t renew its contract to promote the race after 2013, but will see out its deal. Honestly, not having a title sponsor is the kiss of death for the race.”
Led by François Dumontier, Montreal-based Octane Management took over promoting the race in Edmonton prior to last year’s event. Octane also runs Formula One’s Canadian Grand Prix and the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. It is thought that the organizers would ask somewhere between $600,000 and $1-million from a potential title sponsor, which would get its name added to the event’s banner – as with the Honda Indy Toronto – along with signage at the track and corporate hospitality for guests.
The Edmonton Indy takes place Sunday at the City Centre Airport Circuit, which has hosted six races since 2005.
Two weeks ago, Bernard set off a flurry of speculation about a third IndyCar race in Canada after telling reporters that his series was keen on expanding its reach.
While he would not identify venues, Bernard confirmed that the series is looking around for suitable host cities in Canada.
“There is no secret that we would like to have a third race up here. I will say that I think that would be really good, but not hurting Edmonton or Toronto,” he said.
“It needs to be a market that [will] continue to grow Canadian motorsport and the IndyCar Series.”
When asked whether the series was looking for another venue to replace the Alberta capital rather than add a third Canadian race long-term, Bernard would not confirm that Edmonton’s event was in jeopardy after the chequered flag flies on Sunday.
“To say anything different right now or to do anything different would be crazy and we want to stay focused,” he said.
“I think if Edmonton doesn’t work after next year I would say, hey – but I had a long meeting with François [just before the Honda Indy Toronto] and everyone is committed to making it work.”
While the lack of a title sponsor is a huge problem, another drawback to racing in Edmonton is the cost of getting equipment and personnel to Alberta.
The price of a commercial plane trip to Edmonton usually adds up to about double the cost of going to almost any other race on the calendar.
“The high cost is why the series isn’t crying over losing it,” said the paddock insider. “It’s a huge haul for trucks and flights are easily the most expensive – even when you charter.”
It is thought that Octane has been looking to stage an IndyCar event closer to home, such as on the streets of Quebec City, for several years. There have been rumours of an event in or near the Quebec capital since the old Champ Car Series raced at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve from 2002 to 2006. A closer location like Quebec City would also make it a cheaper trip, and it would be easier on the IndyCar transport drivers. Montreal is out of play, due to the city’s restriction of two race weekends per year at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
On the other hand, many inside the paddock would relish a return to Vancouver, despite the longer haul for the trucks. The B.C. city hosted Indy races for 15 seasons, beginning in 1990. It was hugely popular with the teams and drew large crowds until it was squeezed out of its False Creek street course by the preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
While the Edmonton Indy has another year to run on its contract, it is thought that IndyCar would let Octane out of the deal if it can come up with another suitable venue. Octane would be a good candidate to promote a race in a new city, although Bernard suggested Dumontier’s group could pull double duty.
“I don’t think you could rule out the fact that he could do both [Edmonton and a second Canadian IndyCar race],” Bernard said. “He does races in Montreal, too, so he does other things.”
The loss of the race would be a huge blow for Edmonton racing fans, who have turned out in large numbers to watch the IndyCar series over the years. The first Champ Car race at the airport circuit in 2005 saw a record three-day total of 200,052 people take in the event, despite heavy rain on the Saturday. Although attendance slipped from the inaugural race, the numbers going through the turnstiles remained between 160,000 and 170,000 through the next two years. IndyCar does not release attendance figures, although estimates put the crowd at about 160,000 for its first race in 2008.
Last year, attendance was hurt by a heavy downpour on Friday that forced organizers to cancel all on-track action. Octane also ran last year’s event without a title sponsor after Honda decided not to renew its one-year deal following the 2010 race.
To make matters worse, the drivers likely wouldn’t fight too hard to keep the race. Edmonton’s track ranks low on the drivers’ favourites list after the massively challenging original layout was abandoned due to construction on the side of the airport where the first course was located. A new circuit opened last year, and it does not have the fast, flowing layout of the original track.
“The old track was like the toughest driving track; just corner after corner after corner, high speeds and bumpy and as tough as you get as a driver,” said Penske driver Will Power.
“The new circuit, I think it creates good racing ... but if you [were to] drive around that track just by yourself, you probably wouldn’t think much of it. As an actual racetrack, to race on it, it’s one of the best for the single fact that it’s great racing, and that’s what the new Edmonton track has got.”
ALMS hits CTMP
The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) makes its annual Canadian stop this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP, formerly Mosport International Raceway) in Bowmanville, Ont. when the Mobil 1 presents the Grand Prix of Mosport gets going at noon on Sunday.
It will be the 14th ALMS race at the 10-turn, 3.96-kilometre road course since it started coming to the track in 1999.
Honda Le Mans Prototype 1 team, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, heads to CTMP looking to make it three straight wins in Canada after taking the chequered flag in the past two years. Its driver pairing of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr leads the LMP1 championship standings with 82 points after taking wins in each of the last three races, with Chris Dyson and Guy Smith’s Lola-Mazda second at 74. Drivers in each class get 20 points for a win.
In Prototype 2, Level 5 Motorsports has a commanding lead in the points with its Honda taking three wins in the first four races of 2012. Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut have 79 markers, 22 better than the Conquest Endurance Morgan-Nissan driven by David Heinemeier Hansson and Martin Plowman.
The GT class features former teammates Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin battling it out in opposing Corvette teams while trying to hold off the BMW of defending class champions Joey Hand and Dirk Müller. Gavin and new teammate Tommy Milner lead the GT championship with 72 points, while Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are second on 64. The BMW pair is four points further back.
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)