IndyCar to replace F1 in Montreal UPDATE #2 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today because it makes too much sense not to happen. The Indy Racing League is ready to entertain talks of possibly staging a race to fill the void left in the wake of a failed collective effort by city, provincial and federal government officials to secure the future of the country's only Formula One race.
"All it takes is a phone call to ask if we're interested in looking at a potential date," John Griffin, spokesperson for IRL president Tony George, said Monday. "It's something we would be open to discussing."
Montreal officially lost the Grand Prix over the weekend after Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone rejected a counter offer from city and government officials that was more than $60 million less than the head of Formula One Administration Ltd. demanded for the city to keep the race through 2013.
The race was dropped from the 2009 F1 calendar last month because of a contractual disagreement between Ecclestone and local promoter Normand Legault, chief executive officer and president of Grand Prix F1 Canada.
Legault said shortly after he was no longer interested in staging the race and officials from three levels of government quickly stepped in to mount a last-ditch effort to save an event which brought the city an estimated $75 million in economic spinoffs.
The IRL now includes remnants of the Champ Car World Series following the unification of the two North American open-wheel series after a more-than-a-decade-old split between the two. Champ Car races were held at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve from 2002 to 2006 and for the last time in Quebec in 2007 at Mont Tremblant.
The new-look IRL debuted in Canada last summer with a race in Edmonton that was previously home to a Champ Car event while dropping another in Toronto. Toronto and Edmonton are among the IRL's schedule of 18 races in 2009.
Griffin, IRL vice president of public relations, revealed the IRL might already be in Montreal had not what at the time was described as a "handshake agreement" between the series and Legault, who holds the rights to the track, been honored.
At the time, the plan was for an IRL race to piggyback a NASCAR's stock-car Busch Series (now Nationwide Series) race on the same weekend. The Nationwide Series is a level of racing down from the Sprint Cup Series, formerly NASCAR Nextel Cup.
"Go back to the summer of ‘06, basically we thought we were in Montreal and we felt like the carpet was pulled out from under us at the last moment," Griffin said. "We were negotiating during the summer of ‘06 for a race in ‘07 and actually moved around a few other dates anticipating success with the Montreal agreement.
"We were pretty far along in an agreement," Griffin continued, "but after switching dates of other venues in anticipation of Montreal, all of a sudden it never went beyond where we were at that point."
Griffin said Montreal "would be a nice destination for us," but added following the unification of the two formal rival series there are numerous venues, former ones and new possibilities, to sort through. He said the schedule for June, July and August was "pretty tight" right now.
"We're going to be at 18 races next year," he said. "We really haven't defined what the magic number is long term as far as the proper number of race for us, but we've talked anywhere from 18, 19 to 22 events." National Post10/07/08 Tuesday's announcement that Formula One organizers have dropped the Montreal Grand Prix from next year's calendar caught the city's pub-owners, hoteliers and politicians off guard. They had thought a deal struck in 2006 between Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and Normand Legault, the promoter of the Canadian Grand Prix, had secured the Montreal race until 2011.
Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay said he learned of the decision, announced at a meeting in Paris, from the media. Mr. Legault learned the same way.
|We recall the day when IndyCar/Champ Car drew a big crowd in Montreal. This hairpin grandstand is just one of many that was the same size as the F1 grandstand back in 2002. Compare that to recent years after the split.|
"The Grand Prix is very important for Montreal," Mr. Tremblay told reporters. "It creates economic spin-offs of some $75-million, but even more, it makes Montreal famous internationally. There are more than 300 million people who watch the Grand Prix, so it is important not just for Montreal but for Quebec and for Canada."
The province's politicians took notice of the news that Montreal's place on the Grand Prix circuit would now go to Abu Dhabi. Mr. Tremblay said he was confident that the government and private partners who came together to save the race in 2003, when new tobacco laws put a dent in sponsorship, will rally again. Premier Jean Charest said he was willing to work with local organizers to get the race back.
But Bruno Delorme, a professor of sports marketing at Concordia University, warned politicians against getting too carried away.
"Cities lobby for the sporting events because they tend to believe the financial windfalls are very important, but it's not always true," he said. The $75-million figure used by Mr. Tremblay is inflated because it includes a lot of local money that would be spent elsewhere if there were no race. "It's not as bad as the organizers say," he said.
And Quebec taxpayers' pockets are not deep enough to compete with an oil-primed economy like Abu Dhabi.
"In this whole Formula One game, it's supply and demand," Mr. Delorme said. "They have a product that is a hot commodity. Cities are lobbying to host this event. They only have 18 events a year, so there is a limited supply, and they like to engage in bidding wars."
Officials with FIA, the auto-racing governing body, did not offer a reason for the decision, and Canadian Grand Prix officials are not scheduled to comment until this afternoon. That has led to speculation that Mr. Ecclestone is bluffing in hopes of squeezing more money from Canadian organizers, or perhaps to force a major renovation of the track on Montreal's Île Notre-Dame.
Last year, overnight repairs were required on the eve of the race to get the track in shape. In 2006, Mr. Ecclestone told La Presse that he was worried about the state of the track. "They try to stay in the game by doing little touch-ups, year after year," he said. "But what we are maybe going to have to do is force them to take a big leap to get in line with current standards."
Mr. Eichenbaum said the state of the Montreal track is a frequent complaint among the mechanics who frequent his bar during the Grand Prix. "They love coming to Montreal," he said. "It's the best race in the world for them considering the race is downtown, the hotels are downtown, everything is downtown. It's a 10-minute ride to get to the race instead of three hours everywhere else, but the drivers are risking their lives by driving here."
Montreal was the last remaining Grand Prix on the continent after the U.S. race was dropped last year. The loss of the U.S. race meant Montreal could no longer share the substantial freight costs of bringing the cars to North America.
Mr. Delorme predicted that if the F1 move is no bluff and the Grand Prix is not coming back, Montreal will get over it. He still mourns the loss of Major League Baseball, but he recognizes that the city continues to thrive without the Expos, who moved to Washington after the 2004 season.
"The Montreal Grand Prix was very jet-set. There will be some disappointment, but in economic terms it doesn't make sense to subsidize that," he said. "Montreal will bounce back... We'll just put our time and dollars into other events."
Even Mr. Eichenbaum, staring at a potential loss of 25% of his revenue, is stoic. "It's going to hurt. But we're not going to fall down and crawl. We're just going to have to find something else," he said. [Editor's Note: Can you say IndyCar race three times fast?] National Post10/07/08 With today's announcement that the FIA has dropped the money losing Canadian GP from the calendar, it is now time for Normand Legault to put all his efforts behind a far less costly IndyCar race weekend in Montreal. Montreal would be an excellent addition to the IndyCar Calendar and we remember the large crowd CART drew there before the big teams went off to the IRL and Legault stopped promoting the race. Unlike an F1 race, Legault could actually turn a profit with the resurgent IndyCar series, especially if more car manufacturers come onboard in 2011 as expected. And Montreal sure beats some of the less popular (we are being kind here) venues on the IndyCar circuit.