“The unification of Champ Car and IRL caught us by surprise, and we were informed that due to the last-minute nature of this unification the Houston date could not be accommodated for 2008," said Michael T. Lanigan, owner and chairman of the Grand Prix. “We are saddened and disappointed to have to make this decision, but we remain optimistic that we will have the opportunity to bring the American Le Mans Series and the Indy Racing League to Houston in 2009."
The Grand Prix of Houston was not involved in any way in the unilateral discussions between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, and despite a contract with Champ Car for 2008 the Houston race was excluded from the schedule.
Grand Prix officials explored the possibility of staging this year’s event without Champ Car, but it was determined that holding the Grand Prix with only one headlining series would not be possible. Creating the temporary street course at Reliant Park requires tremendous expenditures including multiple grandstands, over three miles of race wall and fencing, fan amenities, media facilities, numerous jumbo screens, and broadcast production; all of these costs would remain essentially the same with only one series.
“Putting on an event of this magnitude is very challenging, even when we had two great headlining series in 2006 and 2007," Lanigan stated. “We did explore the possibility of holding our event this year with only an American Le Mans Series race and we were sincerely interested in doing that, but the reality is that our expenses would have actually increased with only one series. As a result of Champ Car’s actions, we have unfortunately determined that staging an event in 2008 was not feasible."
In addition to initial conversations with Indy Racing League CEO Tony George, event organizers are currently in discussions with Reliant Park and the American Le Mans Series about 2009. Tim Mayer, Chief Operating Officer of the American Le Mans Series commented:
“The American Le Mans Series has enjoyed a great relationship with the City and Fans of Houston and with the great team that promotes the Grand Prix of Houston. So it is with great regret that we face the cancellation of the event, caused by circumstances outside of any of our control, the merger between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League. As we have proven in several markets this past year, the combination of the American Le Mans Series and various open wheel series makes a terrifically strong combination. The loss of the Champ Car Series, and the fact that the IRL has pre-existing commitments created a gap very late in the promotion cycle that no amount of effort would bridge, although Grand Prix of Houston worked tirelessly to do so.
“We continue to enjoy a warm relationship with the Grand Prix of Houston, especially General Manager Chuck Kosich and Founder Mike Lanigan, to whom we are very grateful. We believe that the City of Houston is a great market, and we are committed to working together to try to put together a strong event for the future.
“We do not have plans to replace the Houston race in 2008. History has shown that last minute replacement events are poor representations of the series that run them. We have a great series, with teams, sponsors, manufacturers, promoters and fans of whom we are extremely proud. We have a schedule that is both demanding and rewarding. We will continue to act in everyone’s best interest and look forward to continuing to grow this great sport."
Lanigan remains committed to the event and is optimistic about its return in 2009.
“We are grateful for the tremendous support we have received over the past two years from fans, corporate sponsors, our partners Reliant Park and SMG, and the entire Houston community, so we are extremely disappointed to have to make this decision," Lanigan said. “For the long term, we hope that despite this setback we have the opportunity to bring the Indy Racing League and American Le Mans Series to Houston and stage our biggest event ever in 2009."
Fans who have previously purchased tickets for the 2008 event will receive a full refund on the ticket price beginning later this week. Details will soon be available at www.grandprixofhouston.com.