Honda drops sponsorship for IndyCar at St. Pete (UPDATED)

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UPDATED (4:05 p.m. ET): Honda has issued the following statement regarding its decision to drop title sponsorship of the IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after nine seasons:

“We continually evaluate our marketing promotions to assure that we have a portfolio of programs which reaches Honda’s broad customer base. The 2014 season will mark a strategic shift for American Honda in the allocation of its motorsports and marketing resources, in order to amplify its visibility at key events on the IndyCar Series schedule. We believe race sponsorships provide a unique at-track opportunity to reach racing enthusiasts and expose them to our brand and products. Moving forward, we will focus our efforts on the goal of providing the best fan experiences possible.”

In a Friday evening report from Danielle Paquette of the Tampa Bay Times, race president Tim Ramsberger seemed to indicate that the event was caught off-guard by the decision.

“To say we’re surprised is an understatement,” Ramsberger told the Times. “It’s a tough thing to experience but I don’t think it’ll damper the race. It won’t affect us going forward.”

Honda had been the race’s title sponsor since its first edition under Indy Racing League/IndyCar sanction in 2005; it had been a Champ Car race for its inaugural running in 2003.

However, both Ramsberger and St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster were bullish about the race’s long-term future in comments made for the Times’ report.

“Sponsors come and go,” Foster said. “No one’s married to Honda. We’re married to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.”

In a press release, Ramsberger said he learned last week of Honda’s decision, but that the race is “grateful for their support over the years and are pleased by the way in which the event has grown during this time.”

The release also expressed confidence about the race’s ability to attract new sponsors that can augment the current support of the race from local and national partners, such as Firestone.

“They’ve all experienced first-hand the many benefits of the event both on-site and through the visibility of a global television audience,” Ramsberger said. “We’re at the cusp of a new era for our event and I’m confident new and existing partners will step up and enjoy the growing benefits the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has to offer.”