In North America it's still an Open Wheel Racing Holy War

 by Jose Arrambide
February 3, 2006

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Can A1GP draw the same size crowd as Champ Car does in Monterrey?
Champ Car

If you are an open wheel racing fan in North America chances are that your concept of the racing world is Champ Car versus the Indy Racing League.  Other series probably don't exist in your world (although there are some fans who enjoy many open wheel series around the world).  You live in a polarized world where you have to pick a side, it's either a them or us world.

Let's be honest for just a moment.  Sometimes the conflict between the Champ Car and Indy Racing League hardcore fans remind me of how the conflict between Israel and Palestine used to be.  Both sides believe they are 100% right and the other side is 100% wrong.  Both sides believe that in order to save open wheel racing in North America the other side has to disappear, and certainly a few fans act as if God himself had commanded them to destroy the other side and view themselves as sort of open wheel freedom fighters.

It turns out that (according to recent polls in Israel and Palestine) the majority of Israelites and Palestinians have changed their minds and now think that the only solution to the conflict is that both governments start negotiating, and that both governments should acknowledge the existence of each other as nations.  Even the  Hamas (the terrorist group who just won the Palestinian elections and vowed to destroy Israel) are now saying that a cease fire and negotiations with Israel is something they are considering.  Meanwhile on this side of the world we are still in an open wheel holy war.  Go figure.

This year I will have the chance to personally see if two open wheel series can coexist in Mexico.  The last Sunday of February the A1 Grand Prix will be visiting Monterrey, Mexico and will use the same track Champ Car will be racing on in May. There are 3 possible scenarios:

Scenario # 1: The people that usually attend the Monterrey Grand Prix are not interested enough in open wheel racing to go to more than one race a year, having 2 races in one year will only create 2 races with low attendance.

Scenario # 2: The majority of people that usually attend the Monterrey Grand Prix are interested enough in open wheel racing to attend at least 2 races in a year.  The Champ Car race will have almost the same attendance than previous years and the A1 Grand Prix race will have a decent attendance.

Scenario # 3: The majority of people that usually attend the Monterrey Grand Prix are interested enough in open wheel racing to attend at least 2 races in a year, but having more coverage of open wheel racing in the media, thanks to the additional race, will give people who were not interested in open wheel racing a chance to whet their appetite.  Two races will double the opportunity of going to one of the races, or even attending both. In this scenario Champ Car attendance will increase and the A1 Grand Prix will have a very good attendance.

A1 is not doing a bad job of promoting the race in Monterrey - they are airing TV ads in the local channels, they are using billboards and they are advertising in local movie theatres before the coming attractions. 

David Martinez
Champ Car

In addition they are having local driver David Martinez (he raced in a few Atlantics races last year) as their current Mexican A1GP driver and he has made local media appearances (newspapers, local TV and local radio) to give attention to the A1GP races (free publicity is better than paid publicity).  But most importantly, because Monterrey has hosted Champ Car races, A1GP does not have to educate locals about open wheel racing.  Champ Car had already done that, so A1GP is only concentrating on advertising the race.

Although local A1GP organizers are confident they will have packed grandstands on race day, they don't expect the same attendance as the Champ Car race.  Even though they will be using the same track, they decided to only install 7 grandstands.  Coincidentally they built the 7 most expensive grandstands that we see at the Champ Car race, and decided to match the ticket prices to that of the Champ Car race.

I'm really hoping for scenario # 3.   I hope that A1GP delivers a great race, and that the great race combined with their promoting of the race, and Champ Car promoting of their own race, will lead to increased coverage of open wheel racing in the local media will translate into new fans, proving that 2 different races can not only coexist but in fact help each other in an indirect way.

Only time will tell.

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