|Ryan Hunter-Reay races to first place at the Toronto Indy in Toronto, Ont., July 8, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)
TORONTO - Edmonton’s loss is Toronto’s gain as far as the IZOD IndyCar Series is concerned after it was announced that a double- header Honda Indy Toronto was on for the Exhibition Place street course on July 13 and 14 in 2013.
IndyCar boss Randy Bernard, in a teleconference call Monday, said it was important to have two races in Canada on the 19-race calendar.
Edmonton city council cancelled its deal to keep the race at City Centre Airport after promoters bailed on the project last month.
And Bernard said that was the catalyst to make Toronto a two-race stop next season joining the Grand Prix of Belle Isle in Detroit and the Houston Reliant Center street race as doubleheader weekends.
“(Edmonton leaving) had a significant impact quite honestly, because there was couple of other promoters who were very interested in doubleheaders,” he said. “I am sure they were disappointed when we called an told them they could not have a doubleheader because we really wanted to keep it at three and so that is when we chose to go with Toronto. We wanted to make sure that Canada kept two races.
“Toronto is one of the largest cities in North America so that doesn’t hurt.”
Another part of the decision to award Toronto two races was the fact IndyCar had just signed a new television contract with Rogers Sportsnet to carry all 19 races live next season.
“From a promotional perspective, Rogers Sportsnet is going to put a tremendous amount into our sport,” Bernard said. “So when you have a great television package and great drivers you have to provide great events for Canadian fans.” The two-race deal for Toronto, which Bernard said would not be just a one-time event, would not prevent another city such as Calgary, Vancouver or Quebec City from seeking an IndyCar race down the road.
“We would love to entertain another race in Canada for 2014,” Bernard said. “Right now we have 16 great markets with 19 races that are all going to be real strong.
“I think the most important thing we can do here is to help these races to be successful and I don’t think it would be in our best interests just to try to rush a another race in 2013. And I think that is another of the key reasons why Toronto got a doubleheader.”
He said the history of action-packed races at the Exhibition Place circuit was also taken into consideration when the doubleheaders were doled out.
“The other opportunity is that we have always seen great racing at Exhibition Place,” Bernard said. “So if you have great racing on Saturday, it is just going to increase the drama and excitement for Sunday.
“And we have two great Canadian drivers in (James) Hinchcliffe and (Alex) Tagliani driving in the series.”
Bernard said he also expects promoters in Toronto to keep the ticket packages the same as they were this past season when there was only one race.
“I think it will definitely be a weekend package like there was this year,” he said. “I don’t think you will see promoters changing their ticket packages.”
There will be one big change for Toronto, however, and that is the international television package will move from ABC/ESPN to NBC Sports.
Bernard said the concept of doubleheaders played into his strategy on making IndyCar more attractive to sports fans.
“What we did was to start looking at our entire business model and how we could grow out viewership and build exposure for our teams and drivers and help sponsors,” he said. “We thought that it just made sense. It just gives our fans the opportunity to see twice the action on one weekend of racing.”
IndyCar will also go back to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. — once a mainstay in open wheel racing — for the first time since 1989.
The 400-mile race at Pocono will be part of a return to the Triple Crown series with the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Gone from next year’s schedule along with Edmonton is the ill-fated race in China which was cancelled this past season.