Andretti keeps T.O. revved up

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

It's a deal.

After weeks of poring over the books, Andretti-Green Racing yesterday announced it had reached an agreement to purchase the assets of the Grand Prix of Toronto.

What that means in the short term is that Michael Andretti -- a seven-time winner at the annual summer festival of speed at Exhibition Place -- was able to convince the city and the province to pony up enough cash incentives to cover the $2-million deficit the race had been running over the past several years.

Sun Media has learned that the province kicked in $1 million of that, Tourism Toronto $500,000 and the City of Toronto another $500,000 to make the race a viable entity for Andretti and his partners, Kim Green and Dennis Savoree.

In the long term, however, it means that Toronto will not lose the $50 million in revenue the race brings to the city.

Andretti, in making the announcement yesterday in Indianapolis, said that the Toronto race always has been special for him and his family. His father, Mario, also raced at the then Toronto Molson Indy.

"We are very excited to be coming to Toronto," he said of the 2009 return. "It is a terrific city and a great venue for Andretti-Green to host another event."

Andretti said he hoped his string of seven Toronto wins will continue, but this time as a promoter and team owner.

"Toronto was always my favourite race of the year and it will be no different as a promoter," he said. "The fans are some of the most enthusiastic you'll ever be around and we're looking forward to building on the great history of this event."

In a time when tourism revenues are in sharp decline, it is indeed a welcome turn of events for both the province and the city, according to deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, who helped broker the deal.

"It's not small change and it provides a venue for residents who enjoy the sport. Plus, it's a major signature attraction in the month of July for people who come from the United States and beyond," Pantalone said at City Hall yesterday.

From the sporting side, the Andretti deal brings with it a unified Indy Racing League series that features the best open-wheel racers in North America -- something that couldn't be said of the races along Lake Shore Blvd., from 1996-2007 when the IRL and CART/Champ Car battled for drivers and attention.

Among drivers expected in Toronto next year are Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti (Michael's son), Graham Rahal and former Toronto GP winners Justin Wilson and Will Power.

While no one was saying it yesterday, the race is all but certain to go back to the Toronto Indy name that disappeared when Molson withdrew its sponsorship in 2005.

And while nothing is official, Andretti is all but guaranteed a July date on the 2009 calendar.

Toronto race boss Charlie Johnstone, who will join the AGR group to manage the operation here was ecstatic at yesterday's news.

"To have Indy car racing return to the streets of Toronto is very exciting for the city, the community and our partners," he said. "Michael, Kim, Kevin and everyone at Andretti Green share great passion for this event, which will certainly ensure the continuation of an outstanding racing tradition for years to come. We look forward to once again putting Toronto on the world stage and delivering an epic event."


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