Miles wary about possible return to Brazil

IndyCar officials still had not received official confirmation from the Brasilia Federal District that its scheduled March 8 series opener there was canceled, but CEO Mark Miles told USA TODAY Sports on Friday the series is ''very concerned'' about the government dynamic in the South American country.

Miles said anecdotal evidence of political maneuvering all but confirms the doom of the race in Brazil, a country in economic upheaval, for the calendar year.

Such is the quandary for IndyCar as it attempts to broaden its appeal while balancing itself economically in the United States in the shadow of NASCAR and internationally in the shadow of powerhouse Formula One.

Strong television ratings, corporate involvement and a heritage of exemplary drivers bolster Brazil's standing as a burgeoning market.

The presence of popular veterans Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan have long provided a natural hook for IndyCar. But losing a season-opener because of a supposed financial dispute between the federal and Brasilia state governments forces the series to be wary regarding Brazil, Miles said.

"We know there is demand," he told USA Today Sports. "And we have good relationships commercially. At this point our relationship with Bandeirantesis is strong and they are an important media conglomerate, so the market is there. There are business interests that we have a relationship with.

"But to have everything go well and to have some sort of negative dynamic between the national government and the state government cause this result is very concerning. The demand is there, but we're not ready to talk about the future until we sort out what has happened this time around."

The Brasilia race promoter has contacted IndyCar through an intermediary attempting to broach the possibility of re-scheduling the event, Miles said.

"We've said it's too early to talk about that," he said. "We want to understand what has happened here fully before we would be willing to have any conversation about what might happen going forward."

Band TV's announcement on Thursday that the Brasilia government had canceled the event has been the only word on the subject. IndyCar had raced in Sao Paolo from 2010-2013. The 2011 and 2012 races boasted 9.6 and 10.9 ratings shares on BAND, respectively.

Miles says he has been told that the Brazilian government had begun defunding projects and programs in Brasilia and that it had been deemed imprudent, locally, to stage the race. Numerous Brazilian cities, including Brasilia, were the scene of mass protests preceding the 2014 FIFA World Cup over, among other things, public expenditures on soccer stadiums. The Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet — the site for the what was to be the IndyCar opener — is adjacent to the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha World Cup stadium. In August 2016, Rio de Janeiro will host the Summer Games.

Chip Ganassi Racing's Kanaan, the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner who was raised in Sao Paolo, told USA Today Sports in an email: "It's unfortunate and very sad that we're not going to be racing in front of the Brazilian fans this year. I was excited about the opportunity of racing again at my home country, but now it's time to turn the page and focus in St. Pete for the season opener."

IndyCar will not lose money on the cancellation, Miles said, noting that it will not impact the Leader's Circle incentive program for fulltime teams.

The Brasilia cancellation marks the series' second recent event in a foreign market undone by local politics.

Former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had landed a race in Qingdao, China scheduled for August 2012, only to have a new mayor balk at the prospect of his city hosting the event in conjunction with the International Beer Festival.

This last debacle is certain to further the suggestion that IndyCar fielding races beyond North American markets is not wise, but, Miles said, "It's a real disappointment, but I don't think it means we can't pursue this strategy."

"I think there's an important market on a limited basis for IndyCar internationally and we have to be smart about it," he said, "but I think at this juncture, it continues to be part of our strategy."

And the series, he said, has international prospects that re-affirmed interest since the Brasilia situation became public. Miles did not say where these prospects are.

"I don't think for them or their prospects in their country that they view this as damaging," Miles said.

Zak Brown, founder of Just Marketing International, which has clients in various forms of motorsports, told USA TODAY Sports: "Local challenges aside, Brazil is an important global market with a strong passion for motorsport and sport in general. It is important to balance the risks with the potential for growth and providing broader reach for the Verizon IndyCar Series' stakeholders."

Now, IndyCar will look ahead to St. Petersburg, Fla., which becomes the season lid-lifter, on March 29. IndyCar's only other international event this season is scheduled for June 14 in Toronto.

The question remains whether the cancellation of the IndyCar opener and nebulous prospects for a return, at least to Brasilia, will jade a fan base in a country that produced legends such as Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Emerson Fittipaldi. Maybe not, said Brazilian Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner.

"I'm sure it's not a positive impact. But how negative it will be over the fan base is hard for me to fathom in the moment," he told USA Today Sports. "Because IndyCar became popular in Brazil without even having a race over there for many, many years. I don't know how big it will be for the fan base versus not having guys like Tony and Helio on the grid." USA Today

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