Skip to main content

Canadian Alex Tagliani rounds turn ten in the late laps of the IRL Indy Car Series, Honda Indy Toronto race, July 12, 2009.

FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS

It got to the point where even Alex Tagliani's parents would lose track.

They knew their son was an ascendant star in open-wheel racing, loaded with passion and potential, but they were not always sure exactly where he would be competing, or against whom. Was their boy part of Champ Car? Or was it the Indy Racing League?

"I'm their son, I'm their driver, and they're confused," Tagliani said. "Imagine the other fans."

Story continues below advertisement

The split between the two series lasted for 12 years, confusing sponsors as well as fans. Its effects are still being felt in Canada, where race organizers are working to heal wounds opened by the sometimes bitter feud, more than two years after it ended with a diplomatic reunification.

Toronto's once-mighty race returned to the calendar last year following a forced year-long hiatus, and was greeted with sparsely populated grandstands. Edmonton's event has reportedly lost $9.2-million over the last two years, and Canada's golden generation of drivers, led by Jacques Villeneuve and Paul Tracy, has given way to a group struggling to secure rides on a consistent basis.

Tagliani is confident that, as the unified IZOD IndyCar Series shifts its gaze to Canada for the next two weeks, supporters and sponsors will see a sport slowly shifting back into gear.

"I think Canadian racing is healthy and rebuilding, at the same time," he said. "You will see a new image, you will see a lot more action."

The Honda Indy Toronto is Sunday while the Edmonton race goes July 25.

Dario Franchitti, the defending IndyCar Series champion and husband to actor Ashley Judd, is among the marquee attractions due to arrive in Canada. Will Power, the current points leader, is also set to race along Toronto's lakefront course.

Danica Patrick is expected in the field, along with Tagliani and local favourite Tracy, who won the Champ Car series title in 2003.

Story continues below advertisement

"This race has built a lot of heritage over the years," said Kim Green, chief executive of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, the company which owns the Honda Indy Toronto. "It is no doubt the largest IndyCar race outside of the Indy 500. And our aim here ... is to rebuild it to what I call its heyday."

When it was known as the Molson Indy, the Toronto event could nearly fill the grounds of Exhibition Place. The official attendance was not announced at the race last year, and the grounds were not filled to capacity.

"We've still got some steps to get back to re-grow the event," Green said. "We set ourselves a goal of five years to build the event back to what I would call a sellout and, potentially, a situation where we haven't got any more room for grandstands or suites."

Tagliani will not have much open space in his schedule when he lands in Toronto on Tuesday. The 37-year-old from Lachenaie, Que., will unveil a new design for his car on Wednesday, as part of a partnership with Hot Wheels, a brand known for its toy cars.

He also has a VIP party, autograph sessions and other publicity-driven events to attend. And that is on top of his responsibilities as a driver, and as a co-owner of his own team, FAZZT Race Team, which only took possession of its equipment last November.

Tagliani welcomes the chaos. The new partnership, on top of the schedule, is another indication the sport is repairing an image damaged during open-wheel racing's civil war, when he competed in one series, and stars such as Franchitti competed in the other.

Story continues below advertisement

"Why the hell are you doing two series?" Tagliani asked, the passion evident in his voice Monday. "When you're watching the NHL, you're not watching Crosby in one league and Ovechkin in another league. Can you imagine if you split the league? They would lose so much credibility."

He compared Toronto's one-year hiatus to the damage the NHL incurred with its lockout in 2004-05, with the hard work required to regain the trust of fans and corporate partners.

Tagliani said the image problem in Edmonton is a different story, arguing the emphasis placed on financial losses absorbed by the government obscures the bigger picture. It has been widely reported that the race lost $3.9-million last year, after losing $5.3-million in 2008.

Having a race in town not only boosts awareness of a city abroad, he said, it also provides an economic jolt to local hotels, restaurants and rental car agencies that is not always factored into the bottom line.

"I'll tell you, bang for the buck, a poster or a billboard will not create what the race creates," Tagliani said. "You can't look at it like a loss. You have to look at it as the city investing $2 million to make sure they are bringing people into their town."

Green said his company does not divulge financial details from the race in Toronto but expects, heading into its second year at the helm, it will creep closer to its goals.

Story continues below advertisement

"Until we get through the race event and look back after the Sunday night, I won't really know how successful," Green said. "But all the indications are that everybody's very aware of what's going on here. We've had a great response from the public."

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies