You have to winder if there was some kind of a race to first announce the cancellation of the Edmonton Indy, which was made official by IndyCar at 8:36 p.m. Eastern on Friday night but was on the Edmonton Sun’s website about an hour earlier (5:33 Mountain).
The Edmonton Journal had the news even earlier (4:01 p.m. Mountain) when it quoted from a City of Edmonton media release that the race on the runways of the City Centre Airport would not take place in 2013 because the event’s owner, Octane Motorsports of Montreal, had decided not to promote it – even though there is one year remaining on the three-year contract between them.
The city’s chief financial officer told the Journal that the event had run its course and there will be no attempt to find another promoter to pick up the slack.
Now, there is a bit of deja vu here, in that the Edmonton race was cancelled once before, in 2011, after the city and Octane couldn’t agree on who would pick up the $3 million tab to repave portions of the temporary circuit.
In the end, the city put up $2 million and a group of local businessmen paid the other $1 million to ensure the race would be on the schedule.
But, after all that, Octane couldn’t make a profit – or much of a profit – and Edmonton was tired of spending millions of dollars to guarantee that the race would take place.
Edmonton was an odd place for an Indy car race to be held in the first place.
Back in the glory days of CART, the Molson Indy Toronto was started in 1986 and the Molson Indy Vancouver joined in four years later.
But while Toronto has managed to keep going ever since (with the exception of 2008, when the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League merged and there wasn’t room to squeeze T.O. into the calendar), Vancouver’s last race was held in 2004.
Although redevelopment of the Expo 86 property was frequently cited, the real reason auto racing was chased away was because Champ Car (which succeeded CART) was told by the city of Vancouver, the province and local corporations that money was being squirreled away for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the cupboard was bare.
So Edmonton inherited Vancouver’s race – but face it, friends: there was (and remains) no comparison between the two locales. One is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city and the other isn’t.
However, Edmonton more than matched Vancouver’s enthusiasm for the sport of Indy car racing.
I was there for the first Edmonton Indy in 2005 and I couldn’t believe it when I walked out of the media centre to watch first practice on the first day of competition.
First, because of U.S. television sports commitments, the race – which was shoehorned into the "new" IndyCar schedule that year, remember – had to be held on Saturday instead of Sunday, which meant the race "weekend" started on Thursday instead of the usual Friday.
And Edmonton is in the central part of Alberta, which is way up north. Although it was the middle of July, it was cold and it was raining that Thursday morning.
So imagine my surprise when I walked around the pit suites grandstand and saw that every one of the 80,000 seats that had been erected for that first race was filled.
To this day, I shake my head at the turnout – on a workday Thursday, in the rain.
The first year, the race was called the West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix. Then the Brick got involved. Then Rexall. Then Honda. But since 2011, there has not been a title sponsor.
And that’s been a problem for Octane, because the other race it promotes in Canada each year, the F1 Grand Prix of Canada, likewise has not been able to attract a title sponsor and that, ladies and gentlemen, makes things extremely tough.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, in making the official announcement Friday night, said the cancellation won’t have an effect on his determination to have 19 races on the 2013 calendar and that he hopes to have two Canadian races again in 2014.
Now, good luck to Bernard on the 19 races. It’s the middle of September and he wants to release the calendar in early October and I’m not so sure it’s that easy to pluck race locations out of a hat, considering that until a few days ago Edmonton would have had at least one of the spots.
In fact, the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones is reporting that Edmonton was being targeted as one of the "double header" locations in 2013.
So far as 2014 is concerned, there will now be much speculation about the location of the second Canadian race after Toronto. Quebec City will get mentioned on occasion. Maybe they can find a location to build a temporary circuit again in Vancouver (which would be my choice). Or perhaps Calgary will take the place of Edmonton.
Whatever, in the end the cancellation might be viewed by some as another blow to IndyCar, which continues to have problems with attendance and low television ratings.
But if Bernard can come through in early October with that 19-race schedule he keeps talking about, it will go a long way to silence any of that criticism.
(The photo in this entry of the start of the 2009 Rexall Edmonton Indy was taken by Ryan Jackson of the Edmonton Journal)