|With the city centre as a back drop, the Edmonton Indy is a popular stop on the IndyCar circuit for drivers and fans alike. (Jason Franson,Sun Media)
EDMONTON - Until now the city of Edmonton was looking for a promoter of an auto race that didnít have a place to race.
But while everybody seems willing to wait until the circus is in town ó and city council takes the actual vote at a session on the Wednesday of race week ó it appears that enough has happened to believe that the dithering and dathering group at City Hall has finally decided to keep the event as a big part of the Edmonton experience.
But at what stage the city became comfortable with giving the race a minimum of three more years at the downtown airport track, which has produced a steady stream of over-the-top rave reviews from the IndyCar drivers, isnít clear.
ďWeíve given that considerable thought in terms of the phasing. We believe this is doable until 2013,Ē city CFO Lorna Rosen told reporters Wednesday.
The place to race
What became clear earlier in the day is that the Octane Racing Group, which promotes the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, has submitted a proposal to run the race. And with that came the admission from Rosen that the place to race is the downtown airport facility. It shows the Edmonton skyline to such an advantage to the TV audience around the world, in front of the tremendous crowds and atmosphere, that it makes the best annual vehicle to promote this city that exists.
Itís an admission that the controversial airport closure and redevelopment couldnít possibly get done in time to affect racing until 2013, if ever.
A Sun Media source says that, while itís not done, the Octane Racing Group is now confident itís going to get done.
And, if thatís true, it means Octane is confident that the city ó which lost $5.3 million in its first year of underwriting Northlands, lost $3.9 million more last year and will likely lose another couple this year ó is going to be there to back the event to some significant extent instead of underwriting it for all its losses.
These Octane guys arenít a nickel-and-dime operation.
The Canadian Grand Prix, the biggest single-day sports event in Canada, was off the schedule last season until three levels of government put up a combined $75 million to secure a five-year contract for the raceís repatriation.
Read that number again. Seventy-five million. Five years.
While the size of the cheque Montreal has to cut to Bernie Ecclestone is considerably larger than the one Northlands was cutting to the Indy Racing League, you have to figure that Octane has figured out that the only thing wrong with this race is it has never had a business model which had a chance to make it financially successful.
Octane would certainly realize what Edmonton has here, even if a significant portion of the population isnít so sure.
In 2005, a first-time Champ-Car Edmonton race drew 200,050 people, breaking the all-time record of 172,000 for an IndyCar weekend in Canada, inclduing 24 years of the Indy in Toronto, 15 in Vancouver and three in Montreal, promoted by Octane.
The first three races here drew crowds of 78,080, 63,921 and 60,508 on race day, and itís believed to have stayed above 50,000 for the last two IRL events (where a policy under Tony George until this year was to never announce attendance totals).
I doubt very much if the city writing Octane a cheque for $1 million each year, as somebody proposed, would create much interest to them. On the other hand, keeping it to a fixed number well under the $5.3 million and $3.9 million Northlands lost due to a total lack of expertise at promoting much of anything, shouldnít be a problem.
Mayor Stephen Mandel, who just back from China, gets it.
ďWhen we were in Shanghai, one of the lead things was the Indy. It wasnít Capital EX. It was Indy and the Calgary Stampede that were the two biggest things talked about ... Indy puts you in a different category.
ďWeíll see what happens. My position has always been that itís been a very important event for the city. Iím very conscious about money, what we should and shouldnít spend and I appreciate citizens donít want us to spend money. But I donít know where we get a bigger bang for our buck.Ē
Letís just hope this whole thing doesnít hit the wall and crash at city council July 21 when everybody is here during race week. Or it would be a wreck Edmonton would be cleaning up for years.