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Sunday’s F-1 race likely last at IMS? UPDATE #3 The strong turnout for last weekend's U.S. Grand Prix, estimated at more than 100,000 fans, reinforced Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Joie Chitwood's opinion that there is a market for Formula One in the United States.

"It's clear there's a good level of interest in Formula One here; it's a matter of how we tap into it," he said. "I think Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a great draw, but we need willing partners."

Chitwood said he didn't have an inkling until Sunday morning, when the infield viewing mounds began to fill early, how last year's F-1 debacle was going to affect this year's attendance. Just because Michelin gave away 20,000 tickets didn't mean they were going to be used.
"It was a very good weekend, something we really needed," he said. "I don't think last year's problems hurt one bit. In fact, that might have heightened the interest."

Chitwood's boss, IMS CEO Tony George, said he will go to London in the coming weeks to discuss a new contract with F-1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. George wants to bring grand prix racing back to the Speedway if he and Ecclestone can agree on a deal. Indy Star

07/04/06 We reiterate our prediction that this rumor will soon go to 'false.'  Tony George said he did not know if Sunday's crowd was larger than the 2005 turnout, a race that was spoiled by 14 drivers pulling off the track over concerns related to their Michelin tires.

"From 9 o'clock on last year I was a little distracted," said George, referring to discussions over how to salvage that event. "But from what I remember, this looks better."

George isn't sure when he will fly to London to meet with Ecclestone. George's Indy Racing League schedule includes three races -- in Nashville, Tenn., Milwaukee and Brooklyn, Mich. -- later this month.

While Ecclestone had harsh criticism for the U.S. market regarding its interest and support of F-1, he considers George a friend, and has said he appreciates the effort George and his staff have made -- financial and otherwise -- to give grand prix racing a home in Indianapolis.

"I'm really quite surprised by the greeting I've had," Ecclestone told The Associated Press on Sunday. "It's really been quite pleasant. The fans have been very kind and very supportive. . . . Sometimes, Tony is quite hard to deal with, but I think we will be able to come to an agreement."

Chitwood sounded like he expects Indianapolis to be on F-1's schedule when the traditional announcement is made in the fall. A late June/early July date appears to be the most likely slot.

"We're optimistic; we want to continue this," he said. "It's been a great relationship for seven years, and I expect it to be for another seven years."  More at Indy Star

07/03/06 AutoRacing1.com predicts that this rumor will become 'false' based on yesterday's USGP attendance, which appeared to be up significantly over 2005. Of course Michelin gave away 20,000 free tickets and the price of admission was lowered this year. Regardless, the over 100,000 came out on a rather warm July day to watch the race and Tony George appeared visibly pleased Sunday.

In addition, on the pre-race grid for the USGP Bernie Ecclestone was interviewed and asked about the return to Indy in coming years. He said, "The crowd is fantastic. It would be good if we can be back here again. We must make a deal that is good for everyone."

"We appreciate the interest and support from everyone who has inquired about the future of this event," Tony George said in a statement.

"Many months ago, Bernie and I agreed to wait until the conclusion of the 2006 event to evaluate our future together. We expect to do that in the coming weeks.

"The good news is we enjoy the partnership that has been forged and are committed to working toward continuing to build on the foundation that has been laid over the last seven years."

07/02/06 This IndyStar.com article says, After half a decade, it sadly has become clear the U.S. Grand Prix never will rise to what it should be -- the biggest automobile race in the world.

Today almost certainly will mark the last Formula One race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At the first in 2000, hopes soared about the marriage of the world's most popular form of motor racing to the world's most hallowed racing venue.

Now the race will be lucky to draw 100,000 to a track that seats 300,000 because of last year's sorry display in which 14 of 20 cars pulled out of the race in an internal dispute with Formula One. (The pseudo issue was tire safety.) It's too bad.

This is not to disparage NASCAR, purely a domestic series, but Formula One is watched from Beijing to Berlin, London to Lagos, Paris to Perth, Monaco to Madagascar. NASCAR is like the NFL --enormous here but nowhere else. Formula One is like World Cup soccer -- huge everywhere but here.

The brightest hope for Formula One to gain a real foothold here was at Indy. Tony George, scion of the family that owns the Speedway, has spent about $135 million to bring F-1 to the Speedway these seven times -- $30 million to tailor the facility to F-1's needs and wants, and about $15 million per year in appearance fees.

Shabbily is too mild an adverb for the way F-1's czar, Bernie Ecclestone, has treated the United States in the quarter-century he has ruled.

With his exorbitant appearance fees for F-1 teams, he humiliated and broke the storied track at Watkins Glen, N.Y., the traditional old home of the USGP, then went on to plunder and outrage cities such as Long Beach, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix before preying on Indianapolis.

On the other hand, America, in its sporting jingoism and isolation, largely has ignored F-1 since 1978, when Mario Andretti was the last American to win the championship. Californian Scott Speed is a rookie laboring through the ranks, but he is far too little, far too late, to save the marriage of F-1 and Indy. Mario's grandson Marco Andretti, 19, could graduate to an F-1 career spent entirely abroad.

Having covered F-1 extensively in what now seems another life, I was outraged and sympathetic when I read in The Times of London that Ecclestone said last week, "It does not matter to Formula One if there is no grand prix in the U.S. What do we get from America? Aggravation, that's about all.".

I know Ecclestone well enough to know he was posturing. He enters into negotiations with Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week -- negotiations that almost certainly will fail to bring the USGP back to Indy.

So he was trying to make international companies, mainly F-1 engine suppliers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Toyota, even Ferrari, believe it doesn't matter. They know better, from their car-sales figures. Virtually all of F-1's corporate sponsors want to be here.

Ecclestone should be contrite and ready to bargain after last year's debacle. He returns with only his unmitigated arrogance, implying he would charge George another $15 million, at least, for another race. If America has aggravated Ecclestone, he has infuriated America, for decades.

Oh, he may return to the United States, to some street race in, say, Las Vegas . . . and blow it again . . . and blame the venue again. If "it does not matter," then why does Ecclestone keep coming back, to different cities? No matter where in America he plunders, Ecclestone never will get a better deal than at Indy. Formula One never again will have as good a chance to gain a foothold in the U.S.

NASCAR's drawing power has become as mighty and unquestionable as gravity itself. As NASCAR Chairman Brian France pointed out, not only is the Nextel Cup division far and away the No. 1 racing series in America, but the second-level Busch series is the unchallenged No. 2 in popularity.

Yet it is sad to see the United States become a monolithic motor sports society, with diversity drawing its last breaths. Indy Car racing has for the last decade been about its own slow suicide. And now Formula One demands that it be bowed to, its royal rings kissed, just as it is about to be thrown out by the scruff of the neck.
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