Edmonton IndyCar race to be axed

UPDATE #2 The Edmonton Indy race remains popular with the public, was an artistic success Sunday, start to finish, and will return in 2013, the final year of its three-year contract with the City of Edmonton and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

But Octane Motorsports Events, the Montreal-based promoter, is seeking even more traction with the fans and especially the Edmonton corporate community to ensure the long-term survival of the event here.

“This is a major sporting event of international caliber, coming to Edmonton once a year, and not too many cities have the privilege to host an IZOD IndyCar Series race," Francois Dumontier, the Octane CEO, said in a news release Sunday. “To build a strong event, maintain the global visibility and the economic fallout for the host city, and ensure its continuity, the attendance is key, as is the business community joining as sponsors or corporate hospitality customers."

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard praised the Edmonton Indy race, but in a scrum with reporters Sunday morning he seemed measured in his long-term outlook for the race in Edmonton.

Bernard said he’ll sit down with Dumontier soon to have a “long conversation" about the promoter’s evaluation of the event and its future.

Mayor Stephen Mandel and Premier Alison Redford have both expressed support for the Edmonton Indy. Indeed, four provincial cabinet ministers attended Sunday’s race, including Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli, who handed out the awards after the race, won by Helio Castroneves of Team Penske.

Bernard seemed encouraged by the increased profile the event is garnering and by the fan support. It should be noted that IndyCar, as a matter of policy, does not announce attendance figures.

“I have seen much more presence this year than I had last year," Bernard said. “The city has been 100-per-cent supportive.

“I did meet with the mayor two nights ago. He was very gracious. Probably the biggest area (why) this series is struggling here is in support from local sponsors. I think that’s one of the big areas that we could see some help on."

For the second straight year, for example, Octane was unable to obtain a title sponsor for the race.

Dumontier said in March he was optimistic one of the three engine suppliers — Chevy, Lotus or Honda — might provide support in that area, but that did not happen.

Bernard said, correctly, that questions about how big a financial hit Octane takes by not having a title sponsor were for Dumontier to answer, not IndyCar.

“If I was the promoter it would be a very big issue for me," Bernard said.

For his part, Dumontier said, in his news release: “I welcome any local initiative to firm up the relationship between the event and the community."

Octane took over promotion of the race in fall 2010, after the City of Edmonton had absorbed about $12.5 million in losses during the three seasons Northlands managed the Edmonton Indy.

Whether Octane has broken even, let alone turned a profit, so far in two years’ running the show remains murky. But as far as IndyCar is concerned, there will definitely be a race in Edmonton in 2013.

“We have a three-year contract, but that’s a question for Francois," Bernard said. “Francois has to make it economical for him to continue to race here."

Asked whether he has concerns that Octane is losing money on the race, Bernard said: “I have no concerns right now.

“I think that Francois is a very good partner. He saved this race. That’s important to make it clear. This race was going away and he stepped in and took it over when it was seriously struggling financially.

“I think he has done some great things in the last two years."

Bernard cited moving the race from the west runway at the City Centre Airport to the east made it more fan friendly.

“I think Francois has done a great job," Bernard said. “It hasn’t been for lack of effort."

Octane has been criticized for lacking a year-round presence in Edmonton, although the ticket-selling operation was up and active via the Internet and a 1-800 telephone number the day after the 2011 race.

To be fair to Octane, they got a late start on promotion for 2011 owing to a dispute with the city over the cost of relocating the track from the west to the east runway of the City Centre Airport track. It was almost Christmas 2010 before a deal between Octane and the City was worked out, which set the promoter back considerably.

Anne Roy, Octane’s first event GM, who commuted to and from Edmonton from Montreal, was in place only for the 2011 event before she was let go. So, that was a misstep by Octane.

Octane didn’t replace Roy with a locally-based event manager, former hotelier Ike Janacek, until last March. They didn’t open a local office until last month.

Meanwhile, their expertise and professionalism in staging the event has been apparent to most stakeholders, not just the likes of Bernard, although it says a lot that IndyCar so clearly recognizes Octane as a first-class promoter.

But Octane knows it has work to do to leverage the contacts it has made in the Edmonton business community, cement those relationships and forge new ones.

And that’s not all on Janacek, a transplanted Montrealer who worked for years as GM of the Sutton Place Hotel.

It will be interesting to see what emerges from the post mortem between Bernard and Dumontier. Edmonton almost lost the Indy once.

It would be a real shame for the city to risk losing it again. Calgary Herald

07/21/12 A reader writes, Dear AR1.com, I saw on AR1 the Edmonton race may be facing the axe. Am I hallucinating or is this the NASCAR cartel at work here? I know Octane promotes the Nationwide Series at Montreal , and I remember how the Champ Car race got shafted there a few years ago. Also, the whole "this event is in trouble," story that shows up in the Canadian newspapers has happened numerous times before, a la Dean McNulty, who use to trash CART in Toronto every year.

Anyway, the unnamed source says they need a title sponsor. However, could the event be in self-implosion mode to move IndyCar aside for a NASCAR race, which I'm sure will find a title sponsor?

Conspiracy theories aside, Edmonton has been a very strong event in the past. Also, along with St. Petersburg, Edmonton is the fourth longest uninterrupted annual IndyCar race? Indy, Long Beach, and Texas are the only ones that have annually been on the schedule longer.

How will IndyCar ever gain any traction if their schedule is constantly changing? I suppose if the NASCAR cartel is at work there is little they can do. But to simply walk away when you have equity in an event, seems penny wise and pound foolish to me. Brian C.

Dear Brian, Never underestimate the motives of the France Family to marginalize IndyCar Racing. They played Tony George like a fiddle and IndyCar Racing under CART went from being bigger than NASCAR and the drivers earning bigger salaries than NASCAR drivers, to being on life support and many drivers buying their rides with the IRL, which became IndyCar. Mark C.

07/20/12 While the IndyCar Series says it’s looking to add a new Canadian city to its schedule, assuming that means three stops north of the border might be hopeful thinking at best.

IndyCar boss Randy Bernard told reporters during the Honda Toronto Indy that he’d like to race in another Canadian city, but paddock insiders say that’s because the series is eager to replace the struggling Edmonton event.

“It’s not doing well this year," said an insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Without a title sponsor coming on board, [race promoter] Octane won’t renew its contract to promote the race after 2013, but will see out its deal. Honestly, not having a title sponsor is the kiss of death for the race." Globe and Mail

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