February 8, 2011
Back to the future for Edmonton Indy
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Edmonton, start your engines.
After being brought back to life on a different runway at the City Centre Airport with an entirely new race course, the Edmonton Indy finally roared back to life Tuesday.
With artist renderings of the new track, the launching of ticket package sales, introduction of a new GM and the revelation of dozens of concepts and details, there was a sense of anticipation around the relaunch — not unlike 2005, when the ChampCar stop on the schedule moved from Vancouver to Edmonton.
It was all good following the bad and the ugly mess made by Northlands and Edmonton City Council and city administration in briefly losing Edmonton’s signature sports event of the summer.
As much as Octane Motorsports Events Inc. president Francois Dumontier clearly wanted to go forward, he found it was impossible to do so without essentially eviscerating previous promoter, Edmonton Northlands.
That devil was in almost all of the details.
“We’re very happy, thrilled and excited to finally start working on this,” said the new promoter, who introduced lower ticket prices with more value, tried and tested Canadian Grand Prix philosophies from Montreal and the brand new track.
”We’ve definitely fought through a long and bumpy road to get here, but we think we’ve arrived at a new era,” said Dumontier.
“We want to get back to the first years,” he said of the three years of ChampCar racing here.
To help do that, Dumontier introduced general manager Anne Roy, more than familiar with Edmonton during the ChampCar years when she came here as an executive with the Formula Atlantic support series event.
“The first three years of ChampCar here was amazing. There was a real care factor here. The drivers and the teams loved coming here,” said Roy. “My goal is to recreate that again. My gosh, that first year drew over 200,000.”
The numbers remained high until they began to erode when Northlands took over with the City of Edmonton underwriting their less-than excellent adventure.
“The last three years were something else,” said Dumontier for the post-merger years under Northlands.
“In the first years of Champ-Car there was a buzz in town. The race lost that in the last three years. We intend to bring back the buzz at the track and throughout the city. We want to inspire people to embrace the race. Our strategy is to bring far more people into town to attend the race weekend,” he added.
“The previous promoters ... well, there are lots things, if you go down the list.
“When we landed at the airport last year, we didn’t know there was a race here at all. It was like that all over town. There was no signage. We didn’t see anything.”
But it’s more than signs. It’s the experience.
“I hope people will find that we have a very real sensitivity to the experience of the fans. That’s a big, big element.”
He said that there’s a lot to do off-track to get this race back on track.
“Customer-wise, there are challenges, that’s for sure.”
The idea is for a race fan to come to Edmonton and have a fabulous weekend, the same sort of experience in the Pacific Northwest with this race as in the Atlantic Northeast.
“We want people to leave here and tell people it’s worth the trip to come and spend their money here,” said Dumontier.
One of the things in taking over from Northlands turned out to be a pleasant surprise, though, he admits.
“The sanctioning fee ... I couldn’t believe that. There were things in there I’ve never seen in sanctioning agreements and we do a lot of those,” he said of the astoundingly bad deal Northlands made with the old Indy Racing League in joining what is now the IZOD IndyCar Series.
So is the new three-year deal Octane negotiated with IndyCar for less?
“Much less!” he said.
Try about a million bucks a year less.
While it’s only a three-year deal with the city, Dumontier says he’s here to build something long-term.
“We’d like to believe we’re not here for the short term. We’re not here thinking we’re only going to be here three years.”
A long time. And a good time.
First and foremost, a major auto racing weekend is supposed to be about having a good time.