Sad news today.
Philip Buchan LePan of Toronto, better known to his many friends and admirers in the world of motorsport as Phil LePan, has died. A memorial service and interment is planned for Sat., Feb. 16 at 2 p.m., at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery Visitation Centre.
Racer Scott Maxwell emailed me the news earlier this week and said that “before moving on to bigger and better things, Phil was my team manager in Formula 2000 way back in 1989-90. Not only was he a great crew chief but he was one of the kindest and classiest people in motorsports.”
He was team manager for Player’s/Forsythe Racing in 2003 when Paul Tracy won his championship and also was team leader with Kraco Racing, Team Green in 1995 when Jacques Villeneuve won the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship and this past season with Dale Coyne Racing (Justin Wilson up).
Pruett quoted Tracy thusly:
“His whole life was about racing. That’s what he lived for. As a team manager and a guy I worked with for seven years . . . he wasn’t a guy who pushed himself out to the spotlight as the star team manager or crew chief. Some people try to become a bit of a personality with a position like that . . . but he wasn’t that guy. If you wanted to find Phil, he was in the garage with the mechanics and I liked that about him.”
Said another Canadian, Alex Tagliani, also to Pruett: “Phil was always one speed, and that was very good for us. He was someone that always was composed and kept things in perspective.”
Phil LePan leaves his wife and two sons.
Auto show season is upon us and Toronto Star Wheels and wheels.ca are gearing up to bring you complete coverage of all of them.
The biggie, right off the button, is the North American International Auto Show at Detroit, which opens to the public next weekend but has media preview days scheduled for this Monday and Tuesday.
We will be there, in force, to keep you fully informed about everything happening at that show.
Starting Sunday evening, wheels.ca’s home page will be humming with live blog files from writers Jim Kenzie and Jil McIntosh on the unveiling by General Motors of the 2014 C7 Corvette. Former Wheels editor Mark Richardson will report on what’s up with Nissan and Peter Gorrie will be dining with Toyota Canada executives and reporting on what they have to say.
I’ll be in Detroit with photographer Steve Russell and writer Brian Early to cover the world premiere of the all-new CLA-Class Mercedes-Benz at a special reception .
Early will blog and I will kick off two days of video reporting, with the help of Russell.
Monday, we’ll be back on the air early in the day with the 7:15 a.m. announcement of the North American Car and Truck of the Year. For the rest of Monday and on Tuesday till early afternoon, writers Kathy Renwald, Tim Miller, Steve Bond, Anne-Marie Marais, Gary Grant and Lesley Wimbush will cover all of the manufacturers’ unveilings on Twitter and Facebook as well as on our rolling blog at wheels.ca.
Yes, we’re promising blanket coverage but for an auto show as important as Detroit, we think our readers deserve nothing less.
And of course, we’ll wrap up the whole show — news, information, photographs and analysis — in next weekend’s issue of Wheels.
I started this piece by using the words “auto show season,” and that’s because the Montreal auto show is opening next week and correspondent Costa Mouzouris will be there to report. The Chicago show opens Feb. 9 and Richardson will be there and, of course, the Canadian International AutoShow here in Toronto will kick off on Feb. 15 and if you think our Detroit coverage is thorough, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Please join us at wheels.ca and Wheels for the Detroit auto show and stay with us through the Toronto show for the most comprehensive coverage you’ll find anywhere.
The Pro Mazda Series (nee Star Mazda) will run six of its 16 scheduled races this season in Canada.
The first two will be held at the Honda Indy Toronto July 13 and 14 and then there will be two run the very next weekend as part of the American Le Mans Series weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport).
The final two will be part of the traditional Trois-Rivieres race weekend Aug. 10 and 11.
The season will open at the Circuit of the Americas in March as part of the Grand Am Rolex weekend there and wind up in Houston as part of the IndyCar meeting in October.
Finally, the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship will kick off June 7-9 at Shannonville Motorsport Park near Belleville. July 5-7 will see the riders doing battle at Autodrome St-Eustache in Quebec and then they'll tow to Atlantic Motorsport Park near Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia July 26-28.
Two races will be held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Aug. 9 to 11 and the season will wrap up Aug. 23-25 at Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant in the Quebec Laurentians.
Posted at 10:15 PM in American Le Mans Series, Auto racing, cars, Formula One, Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Honda Indy Toronto, IZOD IndyCar Series, Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant, Mosport International Raceway, Motorcycle racing, Racing, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
For years, I did a contract job with first, the Molson Indy Toronto, and later the Molson Indy Vancouver and then the Champ Car World Series races at Edmonton.
They called me the photo manager. In short, I kept the photographers assigned to cover the event in line. I got to know them all and I was very protective. I considered those wonderfully talented people to be my friends.
Among them was a guy for the Toronto Sun who was an ace. His name was Mike Cassese and he was a two-time National Newspaper Award winner. I have the sad news of reporting today that Mike died Thursday of a heart attack at the terribly young age of 53.
Mike didn't work for the Sun any more. He'd moved to Reuters and it was another Sun-photog-turned-Reuters shooter, Fred Thornhill, who paid him the ultimate tribute, calling him the best at what he did.
“He worked in the industry for more than 30 years, he was my best friend for 20 and I worked with him for 15,” said Thornhill, in a Toronto Sun story about Mike.
“He was the greatest guy anyone could call a friend. In his profession he was the best at the game for as long as I can remember. I respected him as a professional and loved him as a friend.
“I remember him as having a big heart and his heart gave out because he gave it all to us.”
My good friend Paul Madder, another ace photographer, sent me the photo above of Mike in action. It's at one of the last Molson Indy races - likely 2004 - and Mike is in the blue shirt at right, shooting the winner, Sebastien Bourdais, being greeted by his wife just after he got out of his car.
Said Paul about Mike: "Always in the right spot at the right time; what a great guy."
Visitation for Mike Cassese will be held Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2-4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. at the Jerrett Funderal Home, 1141 St. Clair Ave. West, near Dufferin. The funeral will be Monday at 10 a.m. at the St. Clare Catholic Church, 1118 St. Clair Ave. West, one block east of Dufferin.
Mike leaves two young sons.
Now, as promised, here is a roundup of recent auto racing news.
But first, a brief discussion of the difficulty in coming up with a Top Ten list.
As a true-blue Canadian, I have to include Canadian content. The government (and we all obey the government in Canada . . .) decreed years ago that one-third of anything had to be Canadian. (That’s why, when you tune into Golden Oldies radio stations in Canada, one-third of the time you will hear Canadian studio musicians singing and playing hits made famous by musicians who aren’t Canadian because it's the law. But I digress.)
In any event, that’s why at least seven of the Top Ten selections I make each year have to be Canadian. This year, it wasn’t hard because the renaming of Mosport and the cancellation of two major races were significant stories.
But my third Canadian choice, D.J. Kennington’s winning of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series in swashbuckling fashion, was a tough one because another Canadian, Bruno Spengler, won a pretty important national racing series in Germany.
But Kennington lives here and races here and a Canadian institution sponsors the series he won that races on tracks coast-to-coast in this country, so that was the tie-breaker for me.
When I posted the list, I cheated a bit by citing four racing stories that I said came close to making the Top Ten (Juan Montoya’s dinging of the jet dryer at Daytona, for instance) but they weren’t the only stories I agonized over.
The world lost an automotive icon when Carroll Shelby passed away in 2012. His death made some of the other lists but this is not a Top Twenty, so some things have to hit the cutting room floor and that was one of them when it came to mine.
Another story discarded was F1 test driver Maria de Villota’s loss of her right eye in a straightline test crash at a small airport in England when she ran into the back of a truck. Some will argue it should have been included.
At the end of the day, you try for a list that has significance and staying power. And then you cross your fingers and hope you haven’t forgotten anything.
Okay, moving right along . . .
- It’s interesting that in a very short period of time following Randy Bernard’s exit as CEO of IndyCar and Mark Miles’ ascension to the top job in the company that controls the series that Firestone signed on through 2018 as the series’ tire supplier.
Bernard did some things really well and he handled other things really badly and the tire supplier situation was front-and-centre in the really badly column.
Shortly after he took over, his procrastination in this area resulted in Firestone announcing it was leaving. After the car owners went crazy, Bernard was able to talk Firestone into returning but at a 40 per cent increase in the cost of tires, which did not go over well with the owners at all.
Rather than learning a lesson, Bernard was still screwing around with the tires and had been talking to Continental Tire about becoming the supplier prior to being asked to resign.
So he walks the plank and – bingo! – a long term contract is signed with Firestone. Think there’s a connection? Of course there is.
– The first big racing event of the 2013 season is not the Rolex 24 at Daytona but the Chili Bowl midget tournament indoors at the huge Expo Center in Tulsa, Okla., Jan. 8-12.
Many of the big names from all the big racing series (NASCAR, NHRA, etc.) attend and more than 250 entries are whittled down over four nights to where the final 24 go at it in the A Main on the Saturday night.
Tony Stewart will be there, as will Glenn Styres, owner of the Ohsweken Speedway on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. In fact, Styres in the only Canadian I can find in the entry list.
He’ll try to battle his way into the fast 24 during qualifying and heats on Friday night, the 11th. Go Glenn!
The event is "owned" by the Swindell family, though. Sammy Swindell won the Chili Bowl in 2009 and his son Kevin has won it every year since. They’re both entered again.
– At that same time, Speed TV will start to broadcast live from Daytona Beach. First up will be Sprint Cup testing Jan. 10-12 and the channel plans 21 hours of coverage of the test divided between television, the Speed.com website, Twitter and Facebook.
This test will be the first time the new generation of Sprint Cup cars will be on track together and there are suggestions the sessions will be critical in determining whether one manufacturer or another has a bit of an edge.
The no-name Car of Tomorrow is gone, replaced by cars that actually look – a bit, anyway – like the cars we actually find in showrooms manufactured by Ford, GM and Toyota.
The test will kick off Speedweeks in the Daytona area, where most of the attention is centred on the big track but where there’s all sorts of other action at places like Volusia County (sprint cars) and New Smyrna (late models, modifieds) speedways.
Speed TV’s plans for the Rolex 24 include going live on Speed from 3 p.m. till 11 p.m. on Sat., Jan. 26; live streaming video on Speed.com from 11 p.m. till 9 a.m., and then from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. back on Speed TV.
Bob Varsha will host the coverage. Play-by-play will be provided by ex-driver Brian Till.
– Richard Buck, who was a mechanic with Roger Penske’s IndyCar operation for 11 years and was crew chief on five of the Captain’s Indy 500 winning entries, has been promoted by NASCAR to managing director, Competition Grand-Am and manager director, Touring Series NASCAR under which the Canadian Tire Series is organized.
Brad Moran, who’s been director of the NASCAR Canada series, is now director of Touring Series, NASCAR, and will report to Buck.
- Who says the Ontario government’s bone-headed decision to kill horse racing in this province (I mean, can anybody explain that?) by eliminating slots at race tracks has claimed its first stock-car racing victim.
According to Mike Davies, writing in the Peterborough Examiner, there will not be a summer Friday night stock-car racing series at Kawartha Downs and Speedway in nearby Fraserville as there has been for the last 14 or 15 years.
The owners say they'll rent out the track for special events (the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series finale will be held there Sept. 21, 2013) but there won’t be regular racing.
- Hey, want a job in motorsport? Go to speedsportjobs.com, a new service website launched just before Christmas by a Canadian company.
In a release, H3R Human Resources Services of Toronto says it hopes to bring the global motorsports community together in one place where employers can find the talent they need.
First up are three positions being advertised by AIM Autosport of Woodbridge, which is expanding to two Ferraris for the 2013 Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
– Sad news from Niagara. Stan Friesen, a legend in the Canadian short-oval, dirt-track racing industry, died at his home in St. Catharines last Sunday of cancer at age 79.
Originally a driver of big-block modifieds, Friesen owned speedways and promoted races for most of the last 40 years, starting with the purchase of Merrittville Speedway outside Thorold in 1970. He eventually sold Merrittville to concentrate on owning and promoting the track in Ransomville, N.Y.
The business was a family affair and he was helped by his wife Diane; sons Jamie, Joel and Alex, daughters-in-law Yvonne and Trish and grandchildren Stewart (now a dirt Modified star in his own right), Heather, James-Michael, Russell and Curtis.
Jamie and Joel Friesen (Alex died in 1996) plan to continue owning and promoting Ransomville Speedway.
- Norris McDonald
To the people who read this blog, I wish you all - critics and friends alike - a very Merry Christmas and a great 2013.
Talking about sports cars, the announcement everybody has been waiting for following the sale of the ALMS to the NASCAR-owned Grand-Am Series will come on Jan. 4 in Daytona Beach when the class structure will be unveiled and explained.
Fingers crossed on that one.
In a day or two (it is the holidays, after all) I'll post a roundup, with comments, of all the important racing news that's relatively recent.
I'll also discuss the difficulty of coming up with a definitive Top Ten Stories of the Year list.
Meantime, enjoy the day. Joy to the World.
Oh, before I go, in case any of you missed my annual Christmas story that was published last weekend in Toronto Star Wheels, entitled When Murphy met Baby (it's about a taxi driver who hooks up with a hoodlum for a drive to Rochester), here's the link.
I think you'll like it.
- Norris McDonald
Posted at 12:26 AM in American Le Mans Series, Auto racing, Formula One, Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Honda Indy Toronto, IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR, Racing, Sports, Sports car racing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
There were many more than 10 "Top Ten" motorsports stories in 2012 but somebody had to bite the bullet and make the calls, so I nominated myself.
I’ll tell you about four right off the top that didn’t make it – but boy, were they close.
1: Dodge winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup and then withdrawing from the series. You guys never heard of "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday?"
2: Juan Pablo Montoya escaping death in the Daytona 500 when his car hit a jet dryer that exploded (left). It was the second time in three Daytona 500s that the race was delayed because of something that had little to do with racing. In 2010, there were two long delays because of potholes.
3: Brad Keselowski attracting hundreds of thousands more fans to his Twitter account by tweeting during the lengthy red flag that followed Montoya’s accident – and NASCAR then forbidding him from doing it later in the season. Earth to NASCAR: Sprint sponsors the Sprint Cup and WANTS people to tweet.
4: Sebastien Loeb winning his ninth straight World Rally Championship title. I mean, what more is there to say?
So here are the Top Ten.
Car owner Roger Penske and driver Brad Keselowski winning their first NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.
Keselowski comes from a racing family and won his first title on the basis of talent, moxy, drive and determination. Like champions in other leagues before him, he influenced Penske to build a team around him (he brought in his own crew chief, for starters). This title will likely be the first of many.
Sebastian Vettel winning his third consecutive Formula One world championship, with Red Bull Racing (Christian Hornder, team principal; Adrien Newey, chief designer) scoring its third straight constructors championship.
After a slow start (he didn’t win his first race of 2012 until the fourth of the season, in Bahrain, and then he didn’t win again until the 14th of the year, in Singapore), Vettel finally got the bit between his teeth late in the season and ran off a string of victories that put him in front to stay.
Fernando Alonso had a brilliant season for Ferrari (Joann Villeneuve, widow of Gilles, told me that Alonso made a slow car fast this year) and finished second, only three points behind the champion. If Alonso doesn’t get taken out of two races, in which he scored zero points, he might be champion today.
And Kimi Raikkonen finished an astonishing third in points after being out of F1 for the previous two seasons, preferring to drive WRC cars and NASCAR trucks. He was consistent all year and won a race, at Abu Dhabi, near the end of the season. The Iceman is back and will be one to watch in 2013.
Canada losing two major international races was a real kick in the teeth for motorsport in this country.
Both were crowd-pleasers and both were broadcast live over international television.
Both were promoted by Octane Management, Inc., owned by Francois Dumontier of Montreal, whose other company, Octane Racing Group, promotes the F1 Grand Prix du Canada. Dumontier said he was losing millions on both races and unable to continue. Critics suggested there were other reasons.
The Grand Prix is not affected.
As well as taking two important races off the national calendar, Dumontier’s decisions put the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series in a bind. The stock cars were on the undercard in both Edmonton and Montreal and, when combined with losing a contract to race as part of the Honda Indy Toronto following the 2011 event, it meant the country’s only national racing series lost three major dates in 14 months.
Although selling the "naming rights" to North American sports arenas is a well-established practice (two exceptions, both in New York: Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium – some things are not for sale), the commercial branding of road racing circuits has never been popular. It has happened, though.
But Mazda incorporated the historic name of the circuit when it took over Laguna Seca race track in California and renamed it Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Infineon Raceway, named arfter the technologies group, was previously Sears Point but Sears Point started life many years ago as Golden Gate Raceway so name-changes at the San Francisco-area circuit are not uncommon.
But Watkins Glen, Road America, Road Atlanta, Daytona, Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio, Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant and on and on are storied names that live on.
Now, with the branding of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the internationally known, loved and respected "Mosport" is no more.
Would they change the name of Silverstone? Brands Hatch? Monza?
Would it have been hard to incorporate "Mosport’ into the new name?
Of course not, which is a shame and shortsighted because, as will inevitably happen, at some point somebody in control of Canadian Tire is going to decide not to continue the arrangement, and what then?
On the bright side, the announcement of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there on Labour Day weekend in 2013 is a wonderful, positive step as new owners Carlo Fidani and Ron Fellows strive to update the aging facility to 2013 standards.
D.J. Kennington’s winning of the 2012 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship was one of the most dominant displays of race-driving ever seen in all of Canadian motorsport.
En route to winning his second national title in three years, Kennington won seven of the 12 races , a series record; five in a row for another record; and six of the seven oval-track races, also a record. He also scored the most top five finishes in a single season.
His performance during the last race of year, at Kawartha Speeedway near Peterborough, was inspiring. Having to finish 21st or better to clinch the title, he left no doubt about his intentions: he flat went out and won it.
In short, it was a banner year.
Which is a good thing, because there are – as they say – signs.
Signs of what, I don’t know. But they are there.
For the first time in his life, D.J. has a job outside of racing. He’s working for the county where he lives, which means (gulp) that he’s making pension contributions.
And he became the father of a son, Chase, just a few weeks ago.
You may now speculate about what all this means.
From Janet Guthrie at Indianapolis to Shirley Muldowney in Top Fuel dragsters to Danica Patrick about to become the first woman to compete full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, women racers have come a long way, baby.
On Aug. 5, at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals near Seattle, rookie Funny Car driver Courtney Force (right, in photo)finished first in her class for the first time and Erica Enders (left in photo) won her second Pro Stock championship.
Auto racing is perhaps the only sport in the world where women can compete equally with men and more are not only getting involved but are becoming successful.
As 15-times NHRA Funny Car champion John Force (and father of Courtney) said: "It’s always been a man’s sport – but the rules are changing."
CEO Randy Bernard’s firing by the IZOD IndyCar Series, although – according to some – justified, is yet another negative that Indy car racing is going to have to overcome.
Although the racing was great in 2012 and Oakville native James Hinchcliffe succeeding Danica Patrick in the Go Daddy car and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s winning his first championship were good stories, the off-track soap opera continued apace and garnered most of the headlines.
These included stories suggesting that Tony George was trying to buy back the series, Bernard himself tweeting that some of the team owners were plotting to get rid of him, driver Scott Dixon being penalized for something he didn’t do because race officials were watching THE WRONG REPLAY (I’m not making that up; can you see that happening in the NFL? ) and an absurd rule that penalized drivers for teams having to change leased engines before their time, which saw 11 drivers at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – nearly half the field – assessed 10-grid-position penalties. (A guy who qualified 20th was made to go back to the last race. Okay, I made that up but it shows how absurd the whole thing was.)
Now there’s a new fellow in charge. His name’s Mark Miles. He kinda sounds a lot like Bernard when he came in – someone who made another sport a raging success, in his case tennis rather than Bernard’s bull-riding, and somebody else thinking he’d be perfect for IndyCar.
And he’s starting out pretty much the same way, too: slowly, learning names, learning who’s who, learning the sport.
How many more times Indy car racing will be able to get away with this is anyone’s guess. But while some people are suggesting there will be about the same number of cars on the grid in 2013 as there were in 2012 – 25 or 26 – I say car count will be a concern as sponsorship (and interest generally) dwindles because of all the nonsense.
A.J. Allmendinger’s failed drug test and then his relatively quick return to Sprint Cup competition toward the end of the season.
People shook their heads when Allmendinger, a former Champ Car driver who made the switch to NASCAR and was given the ride of a lifetime by Roger Penske, failed a random drug test early in the summer. Penske fired him, as a result.
Although the story of the circumstances changed several times – his management team would say one thing and the Dinger would say another – Allmendinger eventually ‘fessed up to the fact that a friend had offered him what he thought was an energy pill (it was Adderall, an amphetamine) and he "foolishly" took it (you betcha).
But he proceeded to do something that none of the other NASCAR stars who’d flunked drug tests (Jeremy Mayfield, Aaron Fyke, come on down) had done previously: he immediately entered and completed NASCAR’s drug treatment program (called the Road to Recovery).
And then the stars aligned and he was in the right place at the right time in October (Kurt Busch went to Furniture Row Racing early and Phoenix Racing needed a driver) and he finished the year back in Cup.
Whether his rehabilitation will continue in 2013 is unknown at this point. He’s looking for a ride in any series but hasn’t received a firm offer.
With McLaren, Hamilton – who won one world championship with the marque – could expect continuing to win races. In 2012, McLaren won seven times and Lewis was the driver for four of them. Nico Rosberg won but one race for Mercedes.
There are suggestions that it all has to do with money and the exploitation of Hamilton’s brand. At McLaren, he was contractually hamstrung when it came to personal sponsorship but there apparently are no such restrictions at Mercedes and so long as he fulfills the testing, racing and PR obligations of his contract, he’s pretty much free to do what he wants on his own time.
But I have a friend who sees something more sinister. He suggests Bernie Ecclestone, McLaren and Mercedes cooked this "trade" up for two reasons: that the Mercedes board was lukewarm, at best, about continuing in F1 but now, with the addition of one of the top three stars in F1, they are firmly behind continuing; and/or McLaren wanted to find a way to continue with Mercedes engines in their cars going forward and Lewis’ driving for Mercedes is simply the price they had to pay for doin’ business.
We’ll find out in 2013 how things work out, won’t we?
Roger Penske using the end-of-season NASCAR awards banquet to both plug the Indianapolis 500 and to try to get the open-wheel-drivers-to-NASCAR scenario reversed.
Penske, who received the Sprint Cup along with his driver Brad Keselowski, used his acceptance speech to suggest to multi-time NASCAR champion and former IRL star Tony Stewart that if Tony wanted to do "the double" in 2013, Penske would have a car and crew ready for him.
Within a day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway let it be known it would move back the time of the Indianapolis 500 so that Stewart – and any other NASCAR stars who wanted to take a shot (Danica Patrick, for instance) – would have more time to finish that race and get to Charlotte in time for the start of the same-day Coca-Cola 600.
Several days later, Stewart met with Penske and said he’d like to try but that he wouldn’t do it. He said IndyCar is too competitive for a driver to just "show up" and expect to win and that he was too involved with his NASCAR operation to even begin to think about it.
Now, ever since Jeff Gordon called every team owner in CART in 1990 and asked for a ride, only to be rebuffed again and again, thus sending him south to race in NASCAR, supermodified, midget and sprint car drivers don’t consider for a second a career in Indy cars.
Since Gordon went to stock cars, so have Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Stewart, Patrick and any number of others.
If Stewart and Patrick did "the double," you can bet pressure would be on some of the others to give it a shot, too. NASCAR is a Goliath but the Indianapolis 500 is still the biggest and most prestigious race in the world and most racing drivers would like to have it on their CVs.
The feeling is that a good performance in the Indy 500 might whet the appetite of some of the other NASCAR drivers to give the whole circuit a try. After all, Cale Yarborough drove at Indy in the late 1960s and liked it so much that he left stock cars for the Indy-car circuit in 1970 (he wasn't very good in an open-cockpit car, so went back to the taxis where he excelled).
In any event, Roger Penske is always thinking, always plotting, always looking for an angle, an edge. He fights fair but he fights really hard, too.
He knew exactly what he was doing when he stood up at that NASCAR function and started kidding around about Tony Stewart driving for him at Indianapolis.
Exactly what he was doing.
- Norris McDonald
Posted at 11:27 PM in American Le Mans Series, Auto racing, Bernie Ecclestone, Camping World Truck Series, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Danica Patrick, Daytona 500, Formula One, Grand Prix of Canada, Honda Indy Toronto, Indy 500, IZOD IndyCar Series, James Hinchcliffe, Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant, Mosport International Raceway, NASCAR, NASCAR Canadian Tire, Racing, Sports, Stock car racing, Truck racing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has announced its major event schedule for 2013 and the really good news is that two of Canada’s finest racing series will be on the program next Labour Day weekend with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The NASCAR Canadian Tire stock cars and the Canadian Touring Car Series sedans will be sharing the legendary road circuit north of Bowmanville, formerly known as Mosport, with the Camping World trucks, which make up one-third of NASCAR’s top travelling series, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide stock cars being the other two.
The NASCAR Canada stock cars will actually be racing at Old Mosport three times next year. The Canadian Tire Series will headline the annual, traditional, Victoria Day SpeedFest on the road course that will also feature the Trans-Am Series, the Canadian Touring Cars and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada.
And in addition to Victoria Day in May and Labour Day in September, the stock cars will also race at the Old Mosport oval on June 22.
Other big events at Canadian Tire Mosport Park (heh, heh) next summer will be the American le Mans Series on July 18-21, making its last stop before unification with the Grand-American Road Racing Series the following year; the Canadian Historic Grand Prix on June 14-16 and the Canadian Superbike Doubleheader Weekend in August.
More information and tickets can be found at: www.canadiantiremotorsportpark.com.
Meantime, the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada has announced a special ticket package for next June that will allow a person to purchase a reserved seat in a different grandstand for each day of the three-day event.
Quantities are limited, so if you want in you’d better get cracking. Ticket combinations come in three packages - gold, silver and bronze and are on sale for $485, $449 and $267.50, respectively. More information at 514 350-0000 or 1-855-790-1245. Or go to www.circuitgillesvilleneuve.ca.
And tickets for the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto will go on sale next Monday, Dec. 10. And remember, the event will now feature two official, fully-sanctioned IZOD IndyCar Series races, one with a standing start on Saturday and a second with a rolling start on Sunday. Each event will be full length, with full points and full prize money.
The promoters are making changes to some of the grandstands. They plan to build three new “super-structure” grandstands – one at Turn 10 (consolidating three grandstands), a taller structure at Turn 11, and a Turn 3 Grandstand that will see the addition of 15 rows.
According to a release, the switch to larger grandstands will result in an important additional benefit: greater track-side access for General Admission ticketholders and fans who might wander around looking for multiple viewpoints. Tickets start at $35 for General Admission. For more information, go to www.hondaindy.com.
Here’s a change of pace: The Canadian Motortsport Hall of Fame has launched a new, redesigned, website — www.cmhf.ca
This easy-to-navigate website details the history of motorsport in Canada and features biographies, including photos, of more than 150 inductees.
Said general manager Sid Priddle: “Thanks to the development efforts of highly respected freelance journalist (and Wheels Insider) Gary Grant, CMHF is able to bring you this new look. Gary is also responsible for the creation of our Facebook page.”
As is the case with any new project, the website is a work in progress. However, the hall hopes to keep the site informative and current.
And the CMHF is looking forward to your feedback. Just click on “contact” and submit any comments or questions.
Meantime, Andretti Autosport introduced its drivers lineup for 2013 on Wednesday and it’s the same as 2012 with two minor twists. Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will carry the No. 1 on his car instead of his familiar 28 (although “28” is included in the livery) and Marco Andretti will drive car No. 25, instead of 26. They have their reasons. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, meantime, will continue aboard the No. 27 Go Daddy car.
Conor Daly, the son of ex-F1 and Indy car star Derek Daly who cut many of his racing teeth on the Ontario Formula Ford circuit driving for Brian Graham, will test for A.J. Foyt's IndyCar team at Sebring soon. Daly had designs on a career in Formula One but the IndyCar test would indicate he’s going to Plan B. He’s smart. You have to be the absolute best and have all the connections and the money needed to get into F1. That’s a triple whammy and very few young athletes have all three. It’s why I really hoped Guelph’s Robert Wickens would have taken a crack at IndyCar a year ago when his path to F1 was blocked. Believe it or not, it might be too late now.
Here’s not very good news. The Star Mazda Series is for sale and whether a buyer can be found in time for the 2013 season is questionable. In a letter to drivers and sponsors, Star Mazda owner Gary Rodrigues said the series would fold if it can’t be sold.
It seems that it doesn’t only cost a fortune to go racing these days, it costs as much or more to build a platform for racing.
Here are the nominees for the Mario Andretti Trophy as the SPEED performer of the year:
2010 SPEED Performer of the Year Sebastian Vettel (F1), Fernando Alonso (F1), Brad Keselowski (NASCAR), Jorge Lorenzo (MotoGP), Casey Stoner (MotoGP), Ryan Hunter-Reay (IndyCar), Antron Brown (NHRA), Kyle Larson (USAC), Sammy Swindell (WoO), Sebastien Loeb (World Rally), Andre Lotterer (WEC), Max Biaggi (World Superbike), Scott Pruett (Grand-Am), Donny Schatz (WoO), Josh Hayes (AMA Pro Superbike) and Ryan Villopoto (Supercross).
Andretti will present the trophy, a 100-pound sculpture created by bronze artist Elie Hazak, as part of a SPEED Center special on Jan. 27.
Any guesses who'll win?
Posted at 07:17 PM in American Le Mans Series, Auto racing, Camping World Truck Series, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Honda Indy Toronto, IZOD IndyCar Series, James Hinchcliffe, Mosport International Raceway, NASCAR, NASCAR Canadian Tire, Ontario Formula Ford Challenge, Racing, Road racing, Robert Wickens, Sports, Stock car racing, Truck racing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
The significant racing news that Sebastien Vettel won his fourth straight Grand Prix of 2012 in India Sunday (details here) and that Jimmie Johnson is back where he belongs atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings (details here) was overshadowed late in the day by word that Randy Bernard had been dismissed as CEO of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
The statement by the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcing that he would step down immediately was all warm and fuzzy but the fact of the matter is that the long knives had been out for Bernard almost from the time he took the job and a controversial move in recent weeks is finally what did him in.
And what was that, you ask?
I maintain it was the very sudden and last-minute decision to schedule three "double-header" racing weekends in Toronto, Detroit and Houston in order to come up with the 19 races he’d publicly promised for the 2013 season.
Bernard had talked during much of 2012 about increasing the number of races from 15 to 19 next year and there was speculation about new races in places like Providence, Rhode Island, and the Mugello circuit in Italy, as well as the return of road courses like Road America and even Watkins Glen.
But when the 2013 schedule was issued, Providence wasn’t on it, nor were the other venues, and, instead, two races on the same weekend were included in three markets - two of them (Detroit and Toronto) not very far apart in distance (390 km) or time (six weeks).
Now, were the teams consulted? All of a sudden, their costs for a race weekend were doubled.
Were the title sponsors? Suddenly, the property to which they’d attached their name had been devalued.
Were the promoters? I suppose, but I ask you: how do you take a once-a-year headline attraction and turn it into two of them on the same weekend? How can you convince people that two Indy 500s are better than one?
And that’s the point here. Would you run the Indy 500 one day and then run it all over again the next? Or the following weekend? Would Formula One do that in Montreal? Hey, come Saturday for Grand Prix I and Sunday for Grand Prix II. Would NASCAR do this?
Of course not.
Supporters of Bernard, who mostly liked the fact that he wasn’t Tony George, thought this was just swell. Indy car racing used to do this all the time in the old days, they all said.
Well, Indy car racing didn’t do this all the time in the old days. Yes, there used to be "twin" Indy car races back in the day, but instead of a 250-mile race on a Sunday, they’d run two 125-miles races so there would be two complete starts and two complete races instead of just one. They’ve done that sort of thing recently at Texas Motor Speedway.
But "twin-125s" as they were called were (and are) a far cry from what is being proposed here, which is a full race on Saturday and then a full race again Sunday, which is – frankly – nuts.
(An aside: how do you promote two Honda Indy races in Toronto? You run one on Saturday the traditional way – clockwise through the streets of the CNE. On Sunday, you run the second-race counter-clockwise. In other words, on Saturday, the right-hand turn at the Princes’ Gates is Turn One; on Sunday, it would be a left-hand Turn Ten. That, ladies and gentleman, is the only way you can sell this thing. But I digress . . .)
When Bernard first came on the scene, he freely admitted that he had never seen an IndyCar race – or a car race of any kind, for that matter. He was attractive to the series owners, apparently, because he had taken rodeo bull riding from stock shows and rodeos to Las Vegas and the millions of dollars that went along with that.
His inexperience showed, and many members of the Old Guard (not just a few; most of them) were feeling let down almost immediately, as a result.
His time as CEO of IndyCar was not a dead loss, though: getting the new car accepted, built and on the track was, I believe, the highlight of his tenure.
But the negatives far outweighed the positives. As I’ve written often about them before, I’m not going to repeat them, except to say the ill-advised double-headers were just the latest in a long line of less-than-stellar decisions.
I shake my head when I read the comments of people who claim to be fans of the series, about how they will never watch another race, and so-on, because Randy Bernard got fired. I mean, does it really matter who runs the series as long as the racing is good?
I wonder how some of these people would have felt back in the so-called glory days of CART (or are they old enough to remember)? The people who ran that series didn't exactly enjoy job security, either.
The guys in charge – John Franco, William Stokkan, Johnny Capels, John Caponigro, Andrew Craig, Chris Pook, Bobby Rahal and Dale Coyne (the latter two took turns running the series when the owners fired all the other guys) – lasted an average of about 2.5 years in the top job, which is about the length of time Bernard was around, so he fits right in.
And since none of these critics knows anything about running a racing team, starting with the enormous costs, the fact that they would side with a guy who also knows (or knew) next to nothing about that too probably explains a lot about the weeping and wailing going on.
The kicker, for me, is the constant bleating about the long-term TV deal that stupid nasty old Tony George signed with Versus (now the NBC Sports Network – and how come that rebranding didn’t work the miracles it was supposed to?)
Here are the facts: IndyCar signed with Versus because nobody else wanted to televise Indy car racing. Nobody. Some people think TV networks should be lining up to televise the series but the stark reality is that it is a niche within a niche; except for NASCAR Sprint Cup, auto racing in North America is not a draw and that includes Formula One. Unless a sport, like baseball and NFL football, regularly attracts millions of viewers, TV networks aren’t interested and that’s why, with the exception of the Indianapolis 500, Indy car racing can't get no respect.
But Indy car fans should not feel too badly. The NHL is on Versus and that’s because nobody watches hockey either.
I don’t think Tony George will be put in charge of IndyCar again – at least in the short term. The board will likely hire a Bernard clone – someone great with the fans but who has a better understanding of the sport and the owners.
But that isn’t to say that George won’t eventually be the boss again. At some point, the Indianapolis Speedway will grow tired of subsidizing the IndyCcar series to the tune of $10-million-plus a year and he’ll probably come up with enough cash to buy it.
As my great friend Brian Stewart, of Firestone Indy Lights fame, says: it's all about the money. Nothing else matters.
And that, friends, will never change.
One day after CEO Randy Bernard officially released the IZOD IndyCar Series' 2013 schedule on - of all places - the Speed TV cable show Wind Tunnel, the publication Sports Business Journal reported that Bernard is walking on very shaky ground because a group led by Tony George is trying to purchase the series.
The future of the series, and Bernard's tenure as president and CEO, rests - according to the Journal - with Mari Hulman George, who is majority owner of shares and chairman of Hulman & Co. and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as being Tony George's mother.
Because Tony George has surrounded himself with the heavyweights of the Indy car world - Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske and Michael Andretti are reportedly on board - it's a pretty safe bet that his proposal will at least receive serious consideration.
Tony George, you will recall, is the fellow who broke away from CART in the mid-1990s and triggered the Indy car civil war by creating the Indy Racing League.
When CART went bankrupt in 2003, George attempted to purchase the assets in order to kill it but an Indiana judge sided with race team owners Kevin Kalkhoven, Paul Gentilozzi and Gerald Forsythe, who then formed the Champ Car World Series.
In 2008, when Kalhoven discovered others in the Champ Car paddock were quietly talking to George, he made peace with the IRL owner and a merger was eventually negotiated.
But the war had cost both sides millions and when the dust had settled, all was not well with the George family - notably Tony George's three sisters, who were resentful that their brother, in his role as president and CEO, had spent serious family money to fight the war without consulting them.
In a palace coup shortly after the 2009 Indianapolis 500, Tony George was stripped of his title and responsbilities as chairman and CEO of Hulman & Co. and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A new president and CEO of the Speedway was hired and Bernard was convinced by one of the George sisters in 2010 to leave the professional rodeo series he was running to take over the newly named IndyCar Series.
There have been some successes since but also plenty of mistakes and Indy car insiders have been aware for some time that Tony George was plotting a comeback.
According to Sports Business Journal, a group led by George that includes Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and one or two other influential owners (including Kevin Kalkhoven) has made a presentation to the board of Hulman & Co. and the Indianapolis Speedway to purchase control of the race series and to run it.
If true, Randy Bernard will be out of a job.
Here's another thing that I suggest will come true. Never again will the following year's Indy car schedule be formally issued to the world on a cable TV program at 9 o'clock on a Sunday night.
If you're ever looking for a definition of bush league, ladies and gentlemen, that was it.
For complete details of the Sports Business Journal story, please click here.
Here are some Good Monday Morning thoughts on some hot auto racing topics – in the following order:
1. Toronto to get two races next July instead of just one.
2. Half-empty Dover Raceway another reason why the Chase needs road races.
3. Ontario Formula Ford Championship finale as exciting as anything in racing.
4. Final farewell for a champion journalist.
1. IndyCar 2013 schedule
The IZOD IndyCar Series announced its 2013 schedule on the Speed TV show Wind Tunnel Sunday night and the big news for fans of the Honda Indy Toronto is that there will be two races in 2013 instead of one.
And instead of TSN, Rogers Sportsnet will be broadcasting IndyCar races in Canada from 2013 on - although that announcement has not officially been made.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had suggested in recent months that he wanted to increase the number of races in the series to at least 19 in 2013 and in order to reach that total he wanted to see double-headers – two races, instead of just one – promoted at some venues.
It turns out that Toronto is one of three locations selected for these double-headers – Detroit and Houston being the others. For details, click here.
Now, it’s not unusual for the Indy cars to race twice on the same card. Throughout the sport’s history, and most recently at Texas Motor Speedway, there have been "twin" races promoted with one race run to its conclusion and then a second one flagged off an hour or so later.
But what will happen in Toronto next July 13 and 14 (and at Detroit and Houston) is that the IndyCar series will be the headliner on Saturday afternoon and then again on Sunday.
Whether this will goose the gate, which is the prime reason for the move in Toronto, which has not exactly been setting the world on fire attendance-wise the last few years, is debatable.
Ever since its beginning in 1986 as the Molson Indy, the Indy cars have been the headline event on Sunday afternoon of what has been a three-day weekend of racing featuring touring cars, stock cars and other formula-car series in support of the big show.
For many years, it was almost a tradition that Canada’s premier stock car racing series, first known as CASCAR and now as the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, would be the feature event on the Saturday.
But this year, the Honda Indy felt it could do without the Canadian Tire Series, as well as the Canadian Touring Car Series, and it went with an almost complete open wheel program made up of "Road to Indy" championships like the Indy Lights and Star Mazda series.
This did not produce the boffo result the promoters expected either, and so to solve the Saturday dilemma in Toronto the Green-Savoree company that owns the Toronto race is banking on the Indy cars attracting as many people on Saturday as they have been on Sunday the last couple of years and increase the overall weekend attendance total as a result.
A lot will depend on how the Honda Indy Toronto weekend is promoted and priced.
If it was up to me (which it’s not, of course), I would charge premium prices for the seats immediately behind the pits as well as for the suites. Everybody else (kids under 12 would be free) would get in for next to nothing – ten bucks, say – in order to do one thing and one thing only: pack the place.
For that pittance of an admission, I’d also give everybody a hot dog, or a slice of pizza, and a drink. I’d have a big act rock or country concert on stage at noon each day, with the IndyCar race to start immediately after the concert.
I’d bank on a Rogers Centre-size crowd of at least 55,000 each day and at the end I’d be able to say the weekend was a huge success and that Indy car racing as a spectacle in Toronto was back.
I would suggest at this point that it would not be all that hard to sell sponsorship and advertising for the 2014 races and to start making serious money again.
We’ll see, though. All I can say at this point is that it’s going to be interesting.
The Honda Indy issued a release at 10 p.m. Sunday night. Here is what it said:
"The Honda Indy Toronto will feature an important addition in 2013: a doubleheader weekend of IZOD IndyCar Series races. The addition of back-to-back races in Toronto is a first in the history of the event, which will run July 12-14 at Exhibition Place.
"Since we acquired the race in 2008, our mandate has been to create entertainment and excitement for fans, customers, sponsors, tourism and the local community," said Charlie Johnstone, Vice President and General Manager of Green Savoree Toronto.
"A doubleheader allows us to go further, faster in the delivery of our mission and offers numerous benefits. We’re extremely excited to make it happen."
"The Honda Indy Toronto brings a shot of adrenaline to the city every summer," said David Whitaker, President and CEO of Tourism Toronto.
"With the event expanded to two marquee races Saturday and Sunday, visitors have even more reason to plan a weekend stay, while Toronto also benefits from the expanded broadcast and international exposure."
"The Honda Indy Toronto is in the final stages of confirming its support series schedule for race weekend. Fans can expect the full race lineup, along with ticket renewals and sales for 2013 to be announced in the coming weeks."
2. NASCAR needs a road race
The Chase for the Championship of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a terrific idea. Playoffs in any sport are always more exciting than the regular season.
Or they’re supposed to be, that is.
You’d never know it by the attendance at the third race of the 10-race Chase Sunday at Dover Downs Speedway, which was half empty if not more.
Entire sections of grandstand were covered off; the rest of the place had every second seat empty.
I used to think it was the economy. Now I’m not so sure. I’m starting to think that after more than 50 years of watching stock cars go around in circles – endlessly, it seems – even hard-core fans of the sport are tired of it all.
Which brings me back to my soap-box position that NASCAR needs more road races during the regular season (Road America, Montreal, Road Atlanta) and at least one during the 10-race Chase (how about Canadian Tire Motorsport Park?)
NASCAR stock car racing on road courses is way more exciting than it is on most oval speedways (there are exceptions, of course: Daytona, Talladega) because most NASCAR drivers are more versatile than they used to be and are able to race hard and with finesse while turning right as well as left and shifting gears.
But it probably is not going to happen in the short term, which is a pity. We're all going to have to live through seven more oval races before they crown the 2012 national champion.
Brad Keselowski won his second Chase race at Dover yesterday by managing his fuel better than his opponents. Click here for full story and results.
3. Ontario Formula Fords
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: some of the most exciting racing week in and week out in these parts is the Ontario Formula Ford Challenge and this weekend was no exception.
The championship was in the balance this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where the Formula Ford title battle was part of the Celebration of Motorsport weekend of races that traditionally ends racing for the season at the legendary road course north of Bowmanville.
Two drivers were fighting for the championship – Michael Adams of Courtice and Caitlin Johnston of Orangeville. Johnston won Saturday’s first race of the weekend after the engine in Adams’s car gave out. He’d been running a strong second to her before being forced off track.
They went into Sunday’s race tied in points. I was unable to attend, so my good friend and ace racing reporter J. Wally Nesbitt of Inside Track magazine emailed me this report Sunday night.
"Adams got a ride in Bill Clubine's No. 64 for Sunday’s race.
"Jesse Lazare qualified on the pole, with Adams second, Sergio Pasian third and Johnston fourth.
"Johnston got the lead by the end of Lap 1, swapped it back and forth with Lazare on each of the next three laps, then took the lead from Lap 5 on.
"On the final lap, Johnston had built up a small advantage but had to slow for a spinning backmarker between Turns 4 and 5A, which allowed the pack to catch up.
"Lazare got past, leaving Johnston in control of second, with Adams third.
"Entering Turn 10, Adams made a bonzai move on the inside and forced Johnston into the tire wall. She was classified a DNF.
"The finishing order was Lazare, Jack Kitchell Jr., Pasian and Adams.
"Johnston lodged a protest but it was not upheld. She has 24 hours to file an appeal (with video proof).
"This process did not affect the race result but the championship remains in doubt."
Thank you, Wally, for that report.
I know both those drivers, I like both those drivers and I cheer for both those drivers.
This is a shame.
4. So long to Chris Economaki
Although he died at age 91 last Friday, it was over for me when his column disappeared from Page 4 of National Speed Sport News in January 2010, several months before the newspaper he owned and wrote in for more than 50 years ceased publication.
Although I thought about him after that, and talked about him with friends, I never again read an original word he wrote so his passing, for me, was somewhat muted.
Economaki was the editor and publisher of Speed Sport, as it was known, for most of its history. It was a weekly publication that covered everything from local dirt tracks to Formula One. It was the Bible of the sport of auto racing.
Economaki – the press theatre at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is named after him – wrote what was termed the most important column in auto racing. It was the Good Stuff.
And in 1960, after ABC started televising NASCAR racing and messing it up, Bill France insisted that the network use Economaki to improve its product.
Over time, as well as doing NASCAR races, Economaki was the colour commentator and pit reporter for USAC champ car racing, Indy car racing and Formula One.
He knew everybody in the sport and knew just about everything about racing. Two things:
He said on several occasions later in his life that racing was getting too safe."You have to be able to sell the danger or people will stop watching," he said.
And then there was the fabulous story he told at the very first Canadian Motorsports Expo in 2007.
He set the scene by explaining that ABC’s Wide World of Sports had a rookie director in charge of the live telecast of a USAC dirt champ car race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
The director had noticed that every morning, A.J. Foyt would go out for a walk around the mile-long dirt oval and wanted Economaki to interview Foyt about this particular habit.
As they prepared to go on the air that Saturday afternoon, the young director went up to Economaki and reminded him one last time to talk to Foyt about his morning walk.
So they went on the air and Economaki did as he was told. He caught up to A.J. Foyt standing beside his car before the start of the 100-mile race.
I’ll let Economaki take over the telling of this story.
"So I looked at Foyt and I put the microphone up to his mouth and I said: "A.J., we’ve noticed that every morning, you take a walk around this big dirt speedway here in Springfield. Are you studying the track? Trying to find the soft spots, the places were you can take your car that might give you an advantage during the race today?
"And A.J. Foyt looked at me and said on live television on the ABC network:
'Actually, Chris, if I don’t go for a long walk first thing in the morning, I just can’t have a good sh-t."
And that was just one story. As someone who had the pleasure of being around him on a number of occasions over the years, I know he had a million of them.
As he himself was wont to write in his Speed Sport column: RIP, Chris.
Posted at 11:52 PM in Auto racing, cars, Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship, Firestone Indy Lights, Formula One, Honda Indy Toronto, Indy 500, IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR, NASCAR Canadian Tire, Ontario Formula Ford Challenge, Racing, Sports, Stock car racing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
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)