No replacement for China, says IndyCar
25 June 2012
The IZOD IndyCar Series has given up on plans to find a replacement race following the decision to cancel the Indy Qingdao 600 event in China originally planned for August 19, and has instead announced that the season finale race will now be an extended 500 mile event at Auto Club Speedway, Fontana.
"After carefully considering all possible options for an additional race, we felt it was in our best interest to keep our schedule at its current 15-event lineup," said IndyCar's CEO Randy Bernard.
The street course event in the port city of Qingdao was called off two weeks ago following a change in local government, which saw the new mayor decide that he did not want to event to coincide with the city's International Beer Festival after all. No alternative replacement dates could be agreed between the venue, the promoters and the IndyCar series.
Since then, series CEO Randy Bernard has been urgently seeking a replacement event to fill the gap left by the cancellation. It's thought that many of the key contracts for the series - such as deals with TV networks and the series' entitlement sponsor IZOD - had stipulated a minimum of at least 16 events.
However the late cancellation made it very difficult to work around already scheduled events. One possibility - an outing at Laguna Seca - would have meant four IndyCar events this season in the already saturated Californian market.
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage had also been quick to rule out a rapid return to the 1.5-mile oval for a second event in 2012 when the suggestion was made: "We couldn't justify dividing resources between the two events to make it happen and it would be an injustice to both due to the scheduling," said Gossage, after the possibility arose.
There was too little time to organise any temporary street course events, while the lack of lead-in time for promotion and ticket sales also made it difficult to find a suitable venue. Even the series' spiritual home, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was unwilling to host a second round in 2012, even at the suggestion of preserving the uniqueness of IndyCar's tentpole event - the Indianapolis 500 - by switching to the venue's road course configuration used by MotoGP, Grand-AM and previously by F1.
In the end the fan favourite to host an extra event was Road America at Elkhart Lake, which this weekend hosted Grand-AM and NASCAR Nationwide races - including a maiden series victory for Nelson Piquet Jr. But the American Le Mans Series August schedule at Road America and disagreements over the fees for holding the event at such short notice meant that even this possibility seemed to fade in the last few days.
"It's a long shot. I don't know what's going to happen," Road America President George Bruggenthies had said of his most recent discussions with Bernard leading up to this weekend. "It's up to him; he's got other options."
As it turned out, it seems that Bernard's strongest option has been to persuade the series' partners that they should not scramble to replace China with a new event just for the sake of it after all, despite the financial hit that IndyCar will likely take as a result of not meeting its 16-race season commitment on top of the loss of revenue from the lucrative China race contract.
"We want to make sure that when we add events to our roster they have long-term potential and are given every opportunity to be successfully promoted," he explained. "The more we explored, the more we felt like we were rushing what could be good, long-lasting opportunities for the sport.
"I thank all of the promoters who entertained the possibility of hosting the IZOD IndyCar Series this season," he added. "It certainly validated what we already knew - there's a lot of interest from venues across North America in hosting our sport."
Clothing retailers IZOD said that they concurred with the decision.
"As the entitlement partner of the series, we agree that it is in the best interest of the series to focus on a long-term strategy for the future schedule instead of a quick fix for this year," said Mike Kelly, the Executive Vice President of The PVH Marketing Group, which operates the IZOD brand.
As for Road America, Bruggenthies is still hopeful that the track will make it onto the 2013 IndyCar calendar: "That's where we were going initially, look at doing a combined event with the American Le Mans series in the middle of August for 2013," he said this weekend.
Monday's announcement means that the event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California scheduled for September 15 is now confirmed as the season finale after all. Bernard also revealed that the race would be extended to a 500-mile endurance event - the same distance as the flagship Indy 500 race - in order to boost the event's appeal and status.
"We wanted to do something special to enhance the excitement to the season finale and renew the tradition of 500-mile open-wheel races in Southern California," said Bernard.
"We think it's something our fans will enjoy and adds another element to what is already shaping up to be an exciting championship battle," he added.