IndyCar could add Houston in 2012

Champ Car raced in Houston a couple of years, but at a time of year too hot and humid so the race failed. IndyCar would be smart to race in Houston in March

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard will meet with city officials today about a new push to get the Grand Prix of Houston back on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in 2012.

"We continue to evaluate venues and promoters as we look to grow the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in the future," Bernard said. "This trip is an opportunity to take a firsthand look at the area and see what potential opportunities may lie ahead for our sport in Houston, one of the largest markets in the country."

The Grand Prix of Houston was eliminated from the schedule in early 2008 when the top two open-wheel series in North America — the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League — merged to form the IndyCar Series.

The new series went with a 19-race schedule, which has shrunk to 17 races for 2011, and Houston was one of several races left out.

Bernard, who has been on the job for 10 months, is trying to grow the sport.

"While we're focused on the upcoming 2011 season, we always are keeping our eyes out for future venues that make sense for our schedule," Bernard said. "It is important that we work with venues and promoters that want to promote our sport and help us take IndyCar to the next level. We also must evaluate different aspects of the market, including affinity for the sport, DMA size, sponsor relevance and more."

Bound for Reliant Park
Bernard will first meet with local community leaders and tour Reliant Park, the host of the last Grand Prix of Houston in 2007 and the proposed site for the 2012 race.

Bernard will follow that up by attending a reception at Reliant Center that will be hosted by the newly formed Local Organizing Committee — a collaborative effort between the Great Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mi-Jack Promotions, SMG-Reliant Park and local community leaders — that is chaired by George DeMontrond and vice-chaired by Don Henderson.

"We are holding the reception to formally announce our plans for the Grand Prix Local Organizing Committee to pursue a spot on the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule," said Austin Crossley, director of sales and marketing for Mi-Jack Promotions, the owner of the Grand Prix of Houston. "It was important to stage an event that would demonstrate to (Bernard) the support the community has for the Grand Prix."

In search of a sponsor
Mayor Annise Parker and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett will speak, all in an effort to get the local business community behind the effort to get the Grand Prix back on the schedule.

"I'm going to be there and welcome it, and I hope it becomes a regular issue," Parker said. "It is truly a county activity. It benefits the city of Houston, but it will take place entirely in Reliant Park. I'm happy to be a guest and to work with the county as they move forward on this."

Also scheduled to be at Reliant Park this evening will be Greg Ortale, GHCVB; Mark Miller, SMG-Reliant Park; Mike Lanigan, owner of MJP and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and Motorsports and International Motorsports Hall of Famer Bobby Rahal.

"We are very excited with all of the support we have received for our efforts to return the Grand Prix to Reliant Park, particularly from Mayor Parker and County Judge Emmett," Crossley said. "We also expect to make a call to action to the corporate community to support this important event for our city."

That support will need to come in the form of dollars.

Since the effort first began early in 2010, the key ingredient has been securing a title-presenting sponsor, and that has not changed. Houston Chronicle

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