Has Champ Car done more bad than good in Mexico?

 by Jose Arrambide
October 13, 2004

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The Champ Car 2004 season is about to end, and that means that the Mexican Grand Prix is just around the corner. As usual, the Mexican media is turning all its attention to the Mexican drivers and the latest Champ Car races. A little more than half of the sections of Mexico City's track are sold out. Sponsors are starting to air commercials regarding the race, and news reporters are starting to air more and more pieces about Champ Car.

This, of course, comes as no surprise. Mexicans are happy to host and enjoy a world class racing series. The major leagues are coming to town. But not everyone is happy. A lot of the national series seem to think that the big interest Champ Car raises in the racing fans hurts them more than it helps.

I was discussing this issue regarding the Monterrey race with a few friends. Some of them thought I was crazy. How could Champ Car hurt the Mexican racing world? Wasn't everyone interested in racing because of the two Mexican races and the four Mexican drivers? Wasn't the sports pages and all the newscasts full of racing? On the contrary, racing was as popular or more than the times when Formula 1 ran in Mexico City.

As much as this is all true, it seems that some national and regional series are suffering because of this tremendous interest in Champ Car. Cesar Tiberio Jimenez, who is the owner of Monterrey's permanent track, puts it very well. (Remember that the Monterrey Champ Car race is not held on this track, but on the Fundidora track.)

He says that Champ Car is so popular in Mexico that every company who normally sponsors racing events wants to be there. Because it's so expensive to be involved in any kind of sponsorship (track sponsorship or any major or minor involvement with a team), there's no money left to sponsor any other kind of racing events. This makes it very hard for the teams and the tracks of the national and regional series to get sponsorships.

If you compare the number of cars that used to run in every category a few years ago and how many are running this year, you can see Cesar is right. It is getting very difficult for drivers to get enough money to run. It seemed that the open wheel category suffered the most. The only real established series that is left is Formula Renault, and even they had to cancel their Monterrey 2004 date. Rumor says that it was because no one was buying any tickets. Compare that to the Champ Car race that had more attendants than the previous year.

You don't need a PhD in astrophysics to see why this could be happening. The average fan got used to one of the top series in the world. It's like giving a city two NFL games every year, and then having ten Arena Football games and expecting the fans to pack the stands because the NFL games were sold out. I know it's not a fair comparison, but that's how the average fan in Mexico sees it. You can say they got spoiled.

There is one big exception to this scenario. 2004 saw the emergence of a new series in Mexico, "Desafio Corona," which is a stock car series whose aim is to be the Mexican equivalent of NASCAR. In fact they use NASCAR type chassis and motors, and they are receiving help from NASCAR if you believe what you hear in the paddock.

This series has been running in front of full grandstands in a lot of Mexican cities, mainly because there is no competition with top stock car series. Remember that NASCAR will not run in Mexico until 2005, so for now they are the top dog in Mexico in their class. We will see what happens after 2005.

The truth is that I can't answer the title of this article. I really don't know if Champ Car has done more bad than good. The only thing I know is that I will be enjoying the last race of the season in Mexico City supporting the four Mexican drivers.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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