|Champ Car first raced in Edmonton in 2005 to a huge crowd. Can IndyCar get back to that level?|
It’s Canada’s largest annual sports event.
Yet, remarkably, after 32 years of the Canadian Grand Prix Formula 1 racing being held on the old Expo ‘67 site, that’s still news to the rest of the nation.
And that, in a twisted sort of way, is one reason why Francois Dumontier’s Octane Motorsports Events became promoters of the Edmonton Indy.
Last year the attendance for the three-day Grand Prix weekend here topped 300,000 for the ninth consecutive hosting of Canada’s Formula1 race. More than 115,000 attended the Sunday F1 race itself.
But here’s the thing.
“About 40% of our fans come from outside Quebec but only four per cent of those are from elsewhere in Canada, and most of those from Ontario," said Dumontier.
The truth is that Canada’s largest annual sports event doesn’t exist much west of Ottawa.
“That’s part of the strategy. By promoting both the F1 race here and the Indy race there, we are hopeful we can begin to bring people in the West to the East and bring people in the East to the West."
Dumontier also believes he can make the Edmonton Indy the largest annual sports event in Western Canada.
“That’s my goal," he said.
Largest annual sports event in Western Canada!
Bigger than that shindig 300 kilometers to the south that Edmonton has spent most of its history without a summer show to compare.
“It won’t happen this year. But after this year happens, and people see what we do, I think it can happen very quickly," he said.
The City of Edmonton is sending a team of eight, including representatives from the Race City Edmonton outside-the-fence festival committee, here Thursday. And Dumontier is hoping they see his vision of replicating what they have here — in Canada’s other “Festival City" where the big auto race has become the biggest festival.
“I want them to understand the professionalism of what we’re doing. I want them to see it. It’s tough to understand if you don’t see it.
“Everybody who goes to the race in Edmonton will see it when we hold the race there in July," he promised.
“The Octane Way is to raise the bar. Our whole philosophy is to make sure the guy who buys the ticket is satisfied. Did he have fun? Did he have a great experience? It’s pretty simple, but it’s what has made it work."
That’s how you get over 100,000 fans, 7,500 of them in suites, about 60,000 sitting in temporary stands and the rest on lawn chairs and on the grass as part of general admission.
“Our goal with the Canadian Grand Prix was to make it the number one stop of the year.… One of the first races the Formula 1 world puts a circle around when the schedule comes out is this one."
Dumontier says obviously Edmonton can’t become the Indianapolis 500, but he says there is no reason the only IndyCar race in the Pacific Northwest can’t become he number one stop in the rest of the series.
Dumontier said the plan is to get back to the Champ Car Series beginnings, when Edmonton essentially took over the Vancouver series stop and drew 200,000 for the first weekend, dropping the jaws of people like the late Paul Newman.
So far, so good. They’ve sold over half the seats in the configuration of stands planned for this year, on the new track in the opposite corner of the City Centre Airport, than where it was held for the first six years of the race.
But, while he said he’d put the previous promoters in the past when he took over, Dumontier admits following Northlands act hasn’t been easy.
“We are facing issues we didn’t think we’d have to face. Because of the previous promoters our learning curve has been way tougher than we would have thought," he said, and left it at that. For now.
“If I have a message for certain people in Edmonton, it’s that this can happen sooner than later if you work with us instead of against us. There are a surprising number of people who seem to want to put a stick in our wheels.
“We’re not concerned over the long hall. We’ll deliver a great event over the next few years. People will see it in July. I promised the mayor Edmonton will become a premier North American IndyCar Series stop. We’ll deliver."
For the next four days this column intends to go inside the Canadian Grand Prix and try discover what makes it what it is here with an eye to Dumontier’s belief that it can be replicated in Edmonton and become Western Canada’s largest annual sports event.
It should be an education. slam.canoe.ca