- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A prime block of real estate on the Izod IndyCar Series schedule has opened with the demise of the Grand Prix of Edmonton.
A dispute over who would pay for modifications to the unique track, laid out on the runways of Edmonton's City Centre Airport, is being blamed for the cancellation of the popular event, which was scheduled for the weekend of July 23-24.
It is unknown whether the IndyCar Series will try to stage a race somewhere other than Edmonton that weekend. If a replacement venue can't be found, there will be a four-week gap from July 10 to Aug. 7 during the heart of the IndyCar season.
"We are disappointed that the city and the promoter were unable to reach an agreement on the venue changes," IndyCar said in a prepared statement. "It's unfortunate that in a time when IndyCar is experiencing momentum and growth, the city would want to miss out on the opportunity to be part of it.
"We currently are examining options for our schedule to see if there are opportunities to replace the event."
The Edmonton race lost money in its first four years, triggering an outcry about government spending on the event. But the race's future seemed assured last year when a new promoter, Montreal-based Octane Motorsports Events, Inc., stepped in.
One of the airport's two main runways was closed as scheduled in August, clearing the way for the track to be reconfigured. But the city balked at contributing to the cost of paving the new configuration -- one that would allow the remaining runway to stay open during the Grand Prix weekend.
Octane's three-year contract called for the City of Edmonton to pitch in $5.5 million Canadian ($5.45 million in U.S. dollars) as a major sponsor of the event.
"I was told our promoters, who I have tremendous respect for, had the new track laid out and estimated the improvements required," IndyCar commercial division president Terry Angstadt said, according to the Edmonton Times. "I think it was maybe in the $2 million to $3 million range, and for the size and scope of an event like this one, nobody expected any pushback. But our promoter got a call and was told it was voted out."
Angstadt said the most frustrating part of the situation is that the IndyCar Series was never invited to participate in any of the discussions about the future of the event.
The Edmonton race started as a Champ Car World Series event in 2005 and was one of four Champ Car races merged into the IndyCar schedule.
"It is tremendously disappointing, particularly after the fanfare of welcoming Octane to the fold and having the press conference with the mayor," Angstadt said, according to the report. "Just in terms of the way it has happened, it doesn't make you feel terribly welcome. To have this come down and not receive a call is a little shocking."
Octane president Francois Dumontier also expressed disdain about how his company was treated in the negotiation process. He said Octane had set an Oct. 29 deadline for an answer from the city about the status of the track project.
"Until the last minute, we hoped that the city would agree with our legitimate request to provide us a site equivalent to the one the previous promoters have worked with, without having our group investing in groundworks," he said.
An anonymous source from Octane said the city was not interested in spending on new pavement at the airport, according to the Edmonton Sun.
"We worked out a track design and setup that we thought would work. It was obvious there would have to be some pavement put down on some areas of the track and more pavement on the lawn to set up a new paddock," the source said, according to the report. "They eventually told us they were only interested in using existing pavement and not spending any money to make the switch.
"We think we got caught in the stupid fight about the airport," the source said, according to the report.
One possible replacement for Edmonton is Watkins Glen International, which was left off the IndyCar calendar when the series was unable to come to financial terms for an extension. But the proximity of The Glen's annual NASCAR Sprint Cup race on the weekend of August 13-14 could be an issue complicating a return to the upstate New York track.
Another popular option would be Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., an historic CART/Champ Car venue. However, the track's biggest event of the year -- the Kohler International Challenge vintage race -- is set for July 14-17. IndyCar could conceivably piggyback on Road America's American Le Mans Series event scheduled for August 18-20, but that would create a stretch of four races on consecutive weekends, including a cross-country jaunt to Infineon Raceway.
John Oreovicz covers open wheel racing for ESPN.com.
2dLaurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders