Formula One's decision to end its relationship with the city of Montreal could open the door for the IndyCar Series to take up residence at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
According to the local Montreal Gazette
, the city and circuit will look for a replacement to fill the void left by Formula One's decision to drop Canada from its schedule over a dispute on payments, with the Indy Racing League's open-wheelers at the head of the list to join NASCAR's Nationwide Series as a headline act from 2010. No additions are expected to be made to the 2009 schedule, despite the return visit to Surfers Paradise being canned earlier this month.
Reports suggest that talks could be in the offing to take the IndyCars north of the border for a third time, complementing events in Edmonton and - for the first time in 2009 - Toronto, although other circuits that featured on the old Champ Car calendar, notably Portland and Cleveland, are also clamouring to be included in future IRL plans.
Champ Car, of course, raced on the Ile Notre Dame for five years, but left Montreal in 2006, adding Mont-Tremblant to its schedule to make up a 'triple crown' with the two events now subsumed by the IndyCars. Ironically, the IRL made a bid to replace the departing series for 2007, but talks foundered first time around.
"We were negotiating during the summer of '06 for a race in '07, and actually moved around a few other dates anticipating success with the Montreal agreement," the League's John Griffin told the Montreal Gazette
, "We were pretty far along in an agreement but, after switching dates of other venues in anticipation of Montreal, all of a sudden it never went beyond where we were at that point."
There are those, however, who feel that few events could truly replace the Formula One circus and what it brought to the city of Montreal, with chamber of commerce president Roger Plamondon admitting to La Presse
that the end of the Grand Prix du Canada meant 'the loss of unequalled visibility on the international stage'.
"We must take advantage of the momentum created by the negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone to build in Montreal an activity of such size that it will attracting as many people [as the grand prix]," he added, echoing events commission president Luc Fournier's claim that the grand prix 'was the number one event for Canada and, with the economical situation, it will be difficult to find something to compete with it."
The debate appears to be whether that event should be sporting or cultural in nature, with chairman of tourism organisation UQAM, Michel Archambault, pointing out that F1 ranks only below the Olympic Games and football's World Cup in international popularity and recognition.
"Projects such as NASCAR or extreme sports competitions will not attract as extravagant a crowd [as F1]," he claimed.
Others, however, believe that the city can bounce back from the loss of Formula One - if indeed, the category does not
return in future seasons.
"If one wants to regain this clientele, it will be necessary to do so with something - be it in films, fashion or something else - that is of equal prestige." concluded research group director Sylvain Lefebvre, "However, one must not see the end of the grand prix as a sign of failure and decline. This is a defeat, yes, but it is not the end of the world."