Realistically, could Toronto IndyCar shift date to CTMP?

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The 800-pound gorilla in the room this weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto was the future of the race’s event date next year, as the Pan-Am Games come in August 2015 and would require INDYCAR to shift its date forward from July.

Honda Indy Toronto President/GM Charlie Johnstone hinted to MotorSportsTalk over the weekend that a deal was close for IndyCar to return next year, but couldn’t be pressed on a date itself.

As the Toronto weekend fell at the end of a six races in four weekend stretch, options to move it forward are a bit limited. Late June would seem to be the best option in theory.

But here’s where things get interesting. A report from The Globe & Mail’s Jeff Pappone said the Toronto weekend, per a source with knowledge of an early 2015 IndyCar schedule, could move to early June. That would put it near or perhaps on the same weekend as the Canadian Grand Prix, the country’s marquee motorsports event at Montreal. The Toronto race also has to renew its deal with the city.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship raced at nearby Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in mid-July this year, and the investment made by the new ownership group of Ron Fellows, Carlo Fidani and Al Boughton has seen the Bowmanville track upgrade its facilities, paddock, media center and atmosphere. Promotion has also increased, with several events.

A CTMP race would solve several problems for IndyCar. For one, it’s a natural terrain, permanent road course – something that only appears on the schedule three times all this year (while the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course exists, it’s an infield one, and not set up purely as a road course).

Secondly, it could enhance the track’s bottom line. While the TUDOR Championship seeks to be a marquee series, an IndyCar event has the potential to see an increase in ticket and merchandise sales. Camping could occur, something that isn’t an option at Exhibition Place. The track’s openness could allow for INDYCAR-type facilities like the Fan Village, which was not in Toronto this year, to be brought in. The potential downside is the track would need to pay INDYCAR’s sanctioning fee, and there’d be the cost of potential infrastructure/safety upgrades at some areas of the track.

But where there’s a potentially thorny conflict would be with IMSA itself, assuming it returns to CTMP next year (given most new IMSA dates are multiyear contracts, there’s every reason to expect it will). IMSA has stated that as it plans to grow the TUDOR Championship, it seeks to be the lead event on race weekends; with no disrespect, an IndyCar race on the same weekend likely would see it as the headliner and the TUDOR Championship secondary.

It’s the same problem that currently exists at Road America here in Elkhart Lake, Wis., another pristine road course that doubles as a natural park. Seemingly everyone and their dog wants it to come back for IndyCar, but until a sponsor pays for it and the sanctioning fee amount comes down, it’s not going to happen. Every year around this time is the same song and dance about wanting it back, but it will remain an eternal pipe dream until everyone gets on the same page.

Where TUDOR has opted to take the undercard has been at the Long Beach and Detroit street races, because it would have no other way of getting onto the schedule given the streets are only shut down once annually.

If CTMP could make the numbers work to where a separate IndyCar weekend could occur, with the usual additions of the Mazda Road to Indy and/or the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC raced a Touring Car event in May at CTMP this weekend and GT has been there before), then a late July date would be possible. It’s doubtful IndyCar and TUDOR would race on the same weekend at CTMP.

But man almighty, the prospect of open-wheel back at a legendary road course is mouth-watering. Like Road America however, it may only be a dream.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.