|The fact that the Toronto race didn't make it on the 2008 calendar just goes to show how shortsighted the leaders of open wheel racing are in the USA. Instead the IRL will venture to places like Newton, Iowa and race in front of corn stalks, cows and a few thousand race fans. Amazing.|
At the same time they officially killed the 2008 Grand Prix of Toronto this morning, organizers warned that the 2009 race is now also in doubt.
In fact, the future of world-class racing on the waterfront of Toronto is under grave threat.
Just before noon today, Charlie Johnstone, president and CEO of the Toronto race that has been an annual attraction through the streets of the CNE since 1986, announced that the 23rd edition of the race has officially been cancelled and that he now faces a critical period of negotiations.
The fate of the 2008 Grand Prix (nee the Molson Indy) was thrown into doubt nearly a month ago when news broke that two rival open-wheel Indy-type racing organizations were seriously negotiating a merger.
At that time, it was suggested that only three races from the Champ Car World Series schedule – Edmonton, Australia and Long Beach, Calif., – would be included in the '08 Indy Racing League schedule. The Toronto race, as well as others in Cleveland, Houston and St. Jovite, Que., would likely not be included.
When the merger was officially announced two weeks ago, IRL officials indicated that Toronto's race would not make it into the '08 schedule but would be "considered" for 2009.
Now, it seems that even 2009 is in doubt.
Said Johnstone today: "We received an impressive show of support from the IRL, Exhibition Place, the city of Toronto, local leaders such as Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and numerous partners.
"Unfortunately, we ran out of options and time for 2008. That doesn't mean the future is bleak, but we'll need a coordinated effort among the city, province, IRL, sponsors and partners, sooner rather than later."
In other words, if there is not a serious and almost immediate show of commitment on the part of all partners – corporate, the city of Toronto and others – the race faces permanent cancellation.
The major problem is that the event does not have a title sponsor. Molson owned and promoted the race for 20 years. After Molson bowed out following the 2005 race, the Grand Prix did not have a title sponsor in 2006. Last year, Steelback beer sponsored the event but said it would not be back.
Johnstone, who said he now plans to begin a critical phase of renewing contracts with the city, sponsors and other partners, said he knows there is broad-based support for the race, especially among the business and tourism industries, but said that, frankly, it's not enough.
"We deeply appreciate the groundswell of support shown in recent weeks (when it seemed the race might be saved). Having a Toronto race is clearly important to numerous groups.
"But we now ask partners to take concrete actions that will solidify the event's foundation and future status as a marquee event in North American open wheel racing."
The Grand Prix of Toronto has been Ontario's largest annual sporting event, attracting an average of 160,000 spectators over a weekend of racing. Race day crowds have exceeded 70,000.
The economic impact of the Grand Prix and the weeklong festivities surrounding it is a reported $50 million. Toronto Star