It isn't just in the automotive plants of Motor City that the world-wide recession has begun to hit, as Detroit's IndyCar Series race at Belle Isle was forced to withdraw from the 2009 schedule, citing financial reasons for its exit.
Scheduled to run on the Labor Day weekend, organiser Roger Penske confirmed that the combined IRL and American Le Mans Series event had had to be canned because 'it would not be good business to continue with so many area businesses struggling'.
"This is a real economic time of distress for everyone," Penske told the Indianapolis Star
, claiming that he hoped that the event would return to the schedule in future seasons, "We couldn't sit here and count on a lot of things happening [from a sponsorship standpoint] that we knew weren't going to happen knowing that [Detroit] is so distressed with unemployment and all the things going on."
With teams in both series, Penske admitted that the loss of the factory Porsche and Audi entries in the ALMS had had an effect on his decision to pull the plug. An official announcement is due from race organisers today [Friday].
The 2008 event, the second since Penske returned the former Champ Car venue to the pinnacle of US open-wheel racing, was won in controversial fashion by Justin Wilson, the Briton's first success in the IndyCar Series, but could be joined on the sidelines by the erstwhile Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver who has yet to secure a return to the team for 2009. Ironically, Wilson's possible salvation in the light of evaporating sponsorship could come from Penske, if 'the Captain' opts to replace the court-bound Helio Castroneves.
While Penske hopes that Detroit's absence will be temporary, the Indy Racing League has hinted that it may try to find a replacement event to maintain the calendar at 17 events, particularly as Belle Isle was due to fall on one of the USA's key holiday dates.
"That's a pretty valuable weekend for us," league spokesman John Griffin admitted, "Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July weekend are very important race weekends."
No obvious replacement venue has been mentioned, but the IndyCar Series' decision to hold its final pre-season test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama has strengthened the circuit's claim to a place on the schedule in future seasons. Former Champ Car venues Cleveland and Portland are also known to be interested in joining the series, while classic circuits like Road America are on many wishlists.
"We look at that weekend as a very valuable part of our schedule," said John Griffin, vice president of IRL public relations. "It's a big motorsports weekend. "But what we're going to do, short term or long term, won't be decided quickly."