Octane gets green flag

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

It took long enough.

But at 8:54 p.m. Wednesday, less than 40 hours before the cars take the track for the Honda Indy Edmonton, the white smoke emerged from city hall and the Octane Racing Group of Montreal was elected promoter of the event for the next three years by Edmonton City Council.

That it took that long for the city to decide to make the airport track available for three more years, start the search for a new promoter and finally vote on it is not exactly a strong statement on Edmonton nor is the fact that five councillors voted against doing the deal.

The rest of it Sun Media has learned, has been a done deal waiting on council's vote, which turned out to be anything but a rubber stamp.

Octane, as you would expect, had already negotiated a provisional deal with the Indy Racing League.

Believed to be lower than the one Northlands negotiated three years ago, it will keep Edmonton in the IZOD IndyCar Series for an additional three years and be announced officially Sunday as part of a press conference scheduled for 2:30 p.m. prior to the race.

Expected to be dealt with early in the day at council, the long-awaited Go Indy decision for a seventh, eighth and ninth seasons of big league open-wheel auto racing here in 2011, 2012 and 2013 ended up being moved to the end of the agenda as the day, which included a Daryl Katz visit to chambers, dragged into the night.

The session was held in private as reporters waited outside chambers where they'd sat throughout the afternoon listening to the downtown arena pitch from the Katz Group.

But according to Mayor Stephen Mandel last night, negotiations with the city for the amount of "sponsorship" the city will provide Octane is still to be negotiated.

It won't be the $5.3 million Northlands lost in one of those years nor anything remotely comparing to the $75 million over five years that the three levels of government, federal, provincial and city provided to get the Grand Prix back.

"Substantially less than any of our previous losses," Mandel told this columnist in an individual interview after the decision.

"It'll be a good deal for the city, good for the operator and good for the citizens of Edmonton," said the mayor who said he championed the event "because it's the only international event we have and one that separates us from other cities.

"It also brings us about $18 million of media coverage alone.

"All that said, I'm pleased the city is now a sponsor not an operator. I'm glad we were able to keep it and yet at the same time get out from under it.

"The people are real professionals. The one thing we've never had with the race is expertise. We've had people who were very hard working but it's the expertise which separates it from being financially successful or not."

Mandell says the city will give Octane a fixed fee.

"The money we give is the money we give," is how he phrased it to reporters after the vote.

"Right now Ms. Rosen is trying to put some options together. It's a three-year deal and she's supposed to negotiate with the applicant. It's a fixed amount of money but up to Ms. Rosen to negotiate," he said of acting CEO Lorna Rosen.

"They bring a joie de vivre to the race that's pretty spectacular. It's very exciting to have a company like that involved and Ms. Rosen and our team will work very hard with them to make sure it's successful," said Mandel.

"Octane Racing Group wishes to thank Mayor Stephen Mandel and the Edmonton City Council members for their confidence and their agreement with our proposal to act as the new promoter of the Edmonton Indy," said a statement from Francois Dumontier, president of Octane in a statement last night.

"We are extremely proud and also excited by the prospects of sharing in the near future this great event with all Edmontonians and all Western Canada racing fans."

Nobody from Octane was at the session with council but four to six members of the group are expected to be now headed here for the weekend to familiarize themselves with the track and the event itself.

Octane strongly denied a Toronto media report that Octane was planning on promoting a race in Calgary as well, a spokesman calling it "pure baloney" and adding as background that the idea in Edmonton is to bring in tourists dollars from all over the Pacific Northwest including Calgary.

The decision ends the Northlands three-year run of losing major money attempting to promote a race with next to no expertise, indeed getting rid of most of the existing expertise when they took it over and losing $9.2 million in the first two years. They'll likely lose $2-3 million more this year depending on ticket sales this week.


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