Andretti gives Indy a boost

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Michael Andretti, the most successful driver in the history of the Grand Prix of Toronto, has made a bid to buy the iconic Exhibition Place event from the owners of the defunct Champ Car World Series.

Andretti, with his partners at Andretti-Green Racing -- Kim Green and Dennis Savoree -- yesterday announced the group had signed a letter of intent to purchase the assets of the Grand Prix Association of Toronto.

While that doesn't mean the July event will be rescued this season, it does insure the race will be part of the 2009 Indy Racing League calendar.

Andretti is one of the most powerful and influential team owners in the IRL, and the Andretti-Green Racing promotion arm also owns and operates the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, an event that was patterned after the Toronto GP.

In a surprise move, Toronto's Paul Tracy -- Andretti's fiercest rival from his racing days -- praised this former bitter foe as a "saviour" for his hometown race.

Details of the Andretti bid were kept under wraps yesterday, except that his group has first right of refusal to take over GPT assets until April 30.

GPT owners -- Kevin Kalkhoven and Jerry Forsythe -- bought the race from Molson Sports and Entertainment Ltd. in 2005 after the giant brewer had run the event for 20 consecutive years.

When Kalkhoven and Forsythe -- the co-owners of Champ Car -- announced the end of that series, there was speculation they also would abandon the Toronto race.

"I don't believe that Kevin and Jerry were intent on keeping the Toronto Grand Prix alive," Tracy said from his home in Las Vegas yesterday. "I think Michael and his group are committed to open-wheel racing and are in the best position to save the Toronto event."

It was a shocking admission coming from a race car driver who once wore a T-shirt to the then Toronto Molson Indy that read: Michael Andretti Driving School for the Blind after Andretti called him "an a--hole" after one of their many on-track battles.

"The Andretti name means a lot in open-wheel racing and that alone should guarantee the future of the Toronto race," Tracy said.

Andretti, son of former world champion Mario Andretti, won the Toronto race a record seven times and he said that the race holds a special place in his heart.

"Toronto has always been one of the signature events in open-wheel racing in North America and is just a great circuit and venue," Andretti said. "The fans there are unbelievable. I think it would be a huge addition to the IndyCar series schedule ... When I was racing, it was always the highlight of my year."

Andretti said he looks forward to moving the process to its next level.

"It's exciting to think that we're exploring the possibility of owning the event," he said. "I was fortunate enough to win there seven times as a driver and all of those wins were special.

"If we were able to put a deal together to own and operate an event in Toronto, I would certainly count that as another win there, for sure."

The annual event is a windfall for Toronto's tourism industry, bringing in more than $60 million in revenue each year.

GPT boss Charlie Johnstone, who has been working behind the scenes in an effort to get the race on the IRL schedule, is elated.

"The expressed interest by Andretti Green Promotions to own the Grand Prix of Toronto speaks volumes to the stature this event maintains in open-wheel racing in North America," Johnstone said in a release.


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