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Edmonton guaranteed IRL race in 2010
Edmonton's place on the Indy Racing League circuit is guaranteed for 2010 and IRL officials are open to discussing a contract extension.

"If they want to move forward, we're going to listen," said IRL vice-president of public relations John Griffin, who added that IRL officials Terry Angstadt and John Lewis would be meeting with their Northlands counterparts this weekend but a new deal was unlikely to be consummated.

"I don't think we'd be in a position to turn it around that quickly," he said.

The IRL schedule for 2010 will be released Aug. 1 and Griffin said it will feature 17 or 18 races. That final number may well depend on whether Angstadt returns from Brazil on Friday confident that the season could start with a pair of races held a week apart in the South American country.

There will definitely be one race, in early March in Ribeirao Preto, hometown of IRL driver Helio Castroneves.

Griffin said the season could actually start in late February and that Angstadt was in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday to scope out prospects for a second street race. There is also another venue in Campinas that might be able to host a race.

Griffin also said the IRL intends to have a 50/50 split between oval tracks and road/street courses in 2010. This year's 17-race schedule is heavy with ovals (10).

The IRL has sanctioning deals in place with nine tracks for next year: Edmonton, Toronto, Long Beach, St. Petersburg, Mid-Ohio, Chicagoland, Texas, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (for the Indy 500) and Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.

Five of those locations are either road or street courses and four are ovals. The IRL is also likely to return to a road course in Watkins Glen, N. Y., and ovals in Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky. Both Brazilian races would be street courses, giving them a base of 15 races with a 50/50 split.

There has also been talk of potential IRL races in New Hampshire, Alabama and China

Last year's race 'fantastic'

Defending champion Scott Dixon is in the thick of a battle with Target Chip Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti and Team Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves and would like nothing more than a repeat victory here on Sunday. That would vault him back into the lead in the points standings that he surrendered when Franchitti won two weeks ago in Toronto.

Last year, the Edmonton race was a Dixon-Castroneves battle to the end that Target Chip Ganassi managing director Mike Hull said could have gone either way.

"It came down to the end as it should with the competitiveness of IndyCar racing. Dixon and Helio had a fantastic race and both deserved to win the race. It just happened to go Dixon's way. The way they raced each other clearly defines the skill set to carry speed into bumpy corners under braking, while working to get the bite necessary to exit in front of each other.

"When you think about Indy-Car racing, you think about ovals, but Edmonton adds a whole new dimension to the requirement to win a championship. Edmonton is a fantastic race track. It's the combination of a road and street circuit with real passing zones."

Sponsor appearances

Racing isn't all about driving. As every driver knows, there's a lot of time spent off the track chasing and securing sponsors and then keeping them happy.

A number of drivers will be making sponsor appearances in Edmonton today, before and after they do their course walk of the City Centre airport track between 1-3 p. m. - Canadian Paul Tracy is up early today for a 9:30 announcement of a new sponsorship deal with Edmonton-area Honda dealers and their involvement with the Wounded Warriors.Caprogram. - Team Penske drivers Briscoe, Castroneves and Will Power will be the Hugo Boss outlet at West Edmonton Mall at 7 p. m., meeting and greeting company officials there. - But IndyCar also does a lot of charity work and drivers Mike Conway and James Hinchcliffe will visit youngsters at the Stolley Children's Hospital at 10 a. m. Conway, a representative for the Racing For Kids program, will compete in the Rexall Edmonton Indy on Sunday while Hinchcliffe will be driving in the IndyLights on Saturday. The two will make bedside visits, hand out caps and autographs and have the kids try on racing equipment.

Teams already in town

Racing teams began arriving Wednesday, with most of the transporters on site at the City Centre Airport by early afternoon. The drivers and crews were finding their way to the city throughout the day and early today.

They'll have a walk around the 3.13-kilometre track to re-acquaint themselves -- or in some cases to have their first look -- with the nuances of one of the more difficult driving tracks in the IndyCar Series. That's followed by a safety meeting.

The drivers will get on the track for the first practice from 11:45 a. m. to 1:15 p. m. on Friday, and again from 3:45-4:45 p. m.

The Canadian Tire NASCAR drivers have the track for practice from 8-8:30 a. m. Friday, followed at 8:45-9:15 a. m. by the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club and the IndyLights from 9:30-10:30 a. m.

Rookie race also tight

While Dixon, Franchitti, Briscoe and Castroneves are battling it out for the series championship, there's another tight fight going on for the rookie of the year honors. Raphael Matos of Lucza Dragon Racing and Robert Doornbos of Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing have been raging a see-saw battle all season.

In a race that has seen the lead change three times in the first 10 races, Matos regained the upper hand with a 10th-place finish in Toronto. That gave him 182 points, seven more than Doornbos, who had electrical problems just 26 laps in and didn't finish the Toronto race.

Doornbos led for the first four weeks and was once up by 11 points. Twice they've been separated by a single point.

Numbers settle down

There'll be 23 cars competing this weekend, down from 28 in 2008 when IndyCar absorbed Champ Car. That was a high number of participants for IndyCar. With the crash of the world economy, a number of teams either abandoned the IRL or reduced the number of cars they were running.

"Every team has a different challenge," Tim Cindric, president of Penske Performance Inc., said of the situation teams find themselves in this year.

"Even for a team like ours we really have to watch our Ps and Qs and make sure we're spending the money in the right area. Everybody feels the pain, obviously.

"The positive with the IndyCar series is that a lot of the things these other series are looking to do now the IndyCar series already had in place. It's an efficient series in terms of the overall expenses to participate. They were ahead of the game in terms of controlling costs.

"That's why you don't see the entries falling. If you look year to year, there really hasn't been the change in participation that you might expect in these type of times."  Edmonton Journal

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