So who is Octane? And why should city council vote Wednesday morning to give them Edmonton’s IndyCar race to run?
If there’s a future for the Honda Indy Edmonton which has been, at the same time, such a fantastic success and such a financial flop, it’s with The Octane Group which promotes the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix race in Montreal.
By now you should have heard of them. But who are they? And why do they want to run this race?
And why should city council, which lost $9.2 million in the first two years, turn it over to a bunch of guys based in Quebec, anyway?
The answer to the last question, in a word, is “expertise.”
It’s something this race, in its three years in the Champ Car Series and now three years in the merged IZOD IndyCar Series, has never had with a promoter.
And going from Northlands, which proved to be just about the least-equipped outfit to promote an auto race, to Octane, acknowledged internationally to be one of the very best, would not only be like going from night to day but from Dec. 21 to June 21.
But why would Octane want Edmonton?
Because, I’m told, they see so many similarities here to Montreal.
The two are Canada’s two summer Festival Cities, East and West.
They both have a strong sense of community and the perfect place to race, Montreal on Circuit Gilles Villeneauve at the 1967 Expo site where the track turns into a park when there’s no racing with people roller skating and biking and where there’s a beach with a lake in the middle.
They believe, I’m told, there could be a future for something like that in the transformation of the downtown airport site if they were awarded the event and could take it to a new level and make the city see what it has here beyond a weekend sports event.
Because they are in Formula 1, they’ve also seen that the trend with new tracks coming on board overseas is to design them very close to the model that Edmonton has in place here, a design where you can see the entire track from the stands.
And the No. 1 reason they apparently want to take over as promoters of this race for is, wait for it, because it’s a long way from Montreal and Toronto.
They feel they can make Indy in Edmonton to Alberta and Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest what the Canadian Grand Prix is in Quebec, Eastern Canada and the Northeast U.S.
Octane is a young company. It has only existed since the fall of 2008 when it was formed to run a NASCAR event and then to run the Grand Prix when Montreal got its race back in the war with Formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone when the local, provincial and federal governments put up $75 million over five years.
Up to not having a race in 2009, Normand Legault was the promoter of the Grand Prix.
Legault’s ex vice-president, Francois Duontier, formed Octane out of the 20 full-time employees from under Legault with most of them having been on board since the early ‘90s.
The governments figured they would recover their investment in taxes from the 5,000 people who work the event alone.
The deal with Octane was a return of 30% of the money from ticket sales and sponsorship from a race weekend which draws about 200,000 and a race day which attracts about 100,000.
Their expertise is first of all knowing how to connect to motor sports fans and providing them customer service on site and doing their part to help create a great scene in downtown Montreal (you haven’t experienced Crescent Street if you haven’t been there on race weekend).
They are confident enough to believe they could succeed here in all areas — tickets, corporate suites and sponsorship — to put in a bid which the other tire kickers, knowing Octane was serious, didn’t attempt to compete against to win the promotional rights.
They’ve stayed away from media lobbying with the belief their proposal should stand on its own.
They may, however, have booked a few flights for Thursday and a few hotel rooms here this weekend just in case Edmonton city council agrees with them on that.