Will Toronto race survive IRL/Champ Car merger? UPDATE There's a good chance that the roar of race cars will still reverberate from Exhibition Place this summer.
That optimism comes despite reports that Champ Car, which has brought its open-wheel machines to Toronto every year since 1986, is about to declare bankruptcy.
Even if Champ Car goes under, the race could be held under the banner of the rival Indy Racing League. That possibility arises from the unique ownership of the Toronto race.
The Toronto and Long Beach events are not owned by Champ Car, but rather as a separate entity of Champ Car co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe.
Toronto Grand Prix president and CEO Charlie Johnstone explained that as such, they could run the race by paying a sanctioning fee to the IRL, if, of course, the IRL elected to put Toronto on its schedule.
Molson Sports and Entertainment, which ran the Toronto race from its inception until 2005, owned the rights to the event and paid a sanctioning fee to Champ Car each year.
In last week's reports that a merger between Champ Car and the IRL was close, Toronto was not on the list of three Champ Car races that would be added to the IRL schedule. The Toronto date (July 4-6) clashes with the IRL race at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Johnstone, however, suggested that if the IRL had to choose between Toronto and Watkins Glen, Toronto would get the nod.
"Toronto is the fifth-largest market in North America," he said. "It wouldn't be a hard decision."
IRL spokesman John Griffin, however, declined to address that possibility.
The Toronto race is without a title sponsor after Steelback Brewery went bankrupt this winter after just one season in that role. Johnstone admitted that while he has been negotiating with potential sponsors, the uncertainty has stalled those talks.
"Once we can show stability I'm sure we'll get the deals done," Johnstone said. Toronto Star02/10/08 The future of the annual Champ Car race in Toronto has been thrown into doubt by the latest developments in the long-running saga of merger talks between the two premier North American open wheel racing series. Tony George, owner of the Indianapolis Speedway and founder of the Indy Racing League, will fly to Japan this weekend to talk to the owners of the Twin Ring Motegi race course about moving the date of an IRL race scheduled there on April 19.
If that happens, the long-rumored and long-awaited merger of the Champ Car World Series and the IRL might finally take place.
According to rumors some Champ Car races would be included in a unified IRL/Champ Car schedule for 2008 — but not Toronto.
Only Long Beach, Edmonton and Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, are on the reported list (we hear Mexico City too).
Toronto Grand Prix President and CEO Charlie Johnstone told the Toronto Star shortly before noon today that he was “dumbfounded” by the reported developments.
But as has happened so frequently in the 13 years since George formed his own league and cut away from the long-established CART series, it is not yet a done deal — and it might not be done in time for the 2008 season, as is being reported on several Internet sites (yes it will be done).
There is no doubt that a merger is close and is closer than it’s ever been. But as several of the key participants said this morning, there are still several high hurdles to get over before a deal can be signed.
But Johnstone’s boss, Kevin Kalkhoven — who owns the Champ Car World Series with Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi — told the Indianapolis Star website today that everybody just has to remain calm.
"Once again, as has happened previously in the past four years, somebody has leaked a story to the press, and the press has turned it into a tornado," Kalkhoven was quoted as saying.
"Now it has everyone running around in a circle. It’s almost malicious, and it disappoints and infuriates me.
"We were very close to a deal a couple of years ago and everything got leaked. Then, instead of the key people working it out, everybody gets involved in the discussion. If people are trying to help unification, silence is the best thing."
George told the same newspaper that the IRL has been talking to some of the U.S. tracks and circuits it has contracts with for 2008 about moving dates in order to accommodate a “handful” of Champ Car races — one of which might be Toronto.
George said he wanted to take in Champ Car events “that make sense” (Long Beach and Toronto are owned by Champ Car and, presumably, would be part of any deal), but "you just can’t go changing all the dates around when you have contracts."
What also has not been mentioned is what happens to the two support series that run with the big league groups — the Indy Pro Series (the IRL’s development league) and the Formula Atlantic Series, which is Champ Car’s main support series. In part for the Toronto Star