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China round dropped - replacement sought

13 June 2012

IndyCar confirmed on Wednesday that the series' first trip to China to stage the Indy Qingdao 600 race on August 19 has now been formally cancelled.

There had been growing doubts about whether the race would go ahead for the last few weeks after it emerged that the new local government of the port city of Qingdao was unhappy with the previously signed contract and public announcement about the staging made last November.

The new mayor was reported to be unwilling to have the race coincide the same weekend as the Qingdao International Beer Festival and was seeking to find an alternative date for the race or even a new location other than the agreed temporary 3.87-mile street circuit in the city.

"We were informed that the promoter was trying to move the event to a different date and location," confirmed IndyCar's CEO Randy Bernard, who had been working with the organisers for the last few months as the problem became apparent. "After ongoing discussions regarding alternative dates, as well as doing our due diligence in exploring alternate venues in China, the promoter cancelled the event.

"We wanted to give the China race every opportunity to move forward and be successful ... Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time at that point to reschedule or find a new location," added Bernard. "A decision had to be made to allow IndyCar and its participants to plan accordingly for the second half of the season."

Those plans must include a replacement for Qingdao, since it is understood that some of IndyCar's key business contracts - including those with its TV partners - require a minimum of 16 races on the 2012 schedule, which it doesn't have following the cancellation of the China round.

"I don't think we need a decision right this minute," Bernard told The Associated press. "When we do it, we need to do it right and make sure it's the best fit for the series and the schedule and the championship race.

Some of the suggestions for a replacement race include Road America at Elkhart Lane or Laguna Seca in California, or a potential new oval event at a venue such as Phoenix International Raceway or Pocono Raceway. After last weekend's successful race at Texas Motor Speedway, a quick early return there in October is another possible route for Bernard to explore.

Bernard can't make any immediate announcements - or even be seen to be making any initial approaches to track owners - because of the knock-on effects it will have to existing races trying to sell tickets in the same geographical markets. Already, Auto Club Speedway is finding its status as the season finale under threat, as many of the alternatives will mean a new race being added late in September or into October.

"We are working with our promoters that host events in the second half of our calendar to keep them apprised of how the date of a potential new race could impact our current schedule," Bernard said.

Even with a replacement race, the cancellation of the Qingdao round will be a major blow to the series on a financial level, as the flyaway race was only believed to have been added to the season because of the extra money it would have brought into the series' coffers. Those additional funds allowed IndyCar to be able to run other events in the US at favourable rates to bring fan-pleasing races to the likes of Milwaukee and Iowa.

It's unclear whether IndyCar will be reimbursed by the promoters or by how much following this week's decision.

It's just the latest headache for Bernard, who also appears to be having to initiate a search for a new series title-level sponsor. Despite clothing retailer IZOD's existing sponsorship contract lasting for another three years, it appears that they are winding down their involvement in the series and might be looking for an early exit.


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