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Speedway, F1 discussing race's return to Indianapolis

March 15, 2010

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials confirmed Monday morning that they want to host a Formula One race again and that they are in discussions to bring the series back to the city.

IMS’ position followed comments by F1 leader Bernie Ecclestone published in Sunday's Guardian newspaper in England. Ecclestone told the newspaper “we’d like to get back there,” referring to Indianapolis, possibly as soon as 2011.

IMS spokesman Chris Schwartz said he doubted a deal could be reached to host a race in 2011, but he didn’t dispute the track’s ongoing efforts to get on F1’s calendar.

“We continue to have dialogue with Formula One, and we’ve long maintained we’re interested in hosting their events,” he said. “2011 would be a long shot. Obviously, there’s a lot to consider.”

F1 left the city in 2007 on less-than-friendly terms after an eight-year run at the Speedway.

The famed Brickyard first hosted the U.S. Grand Prix in 2000 after former IMS President Tony George sank a reported $75 million into building the 2.6-mile road course and other infrastructure for the race.

In its inaugural year, the race drew more than 200,000 spectators and was thought to be profitable for the Speedway despite an arrangement that let F1 officials keep all the broadcast revenue.

Attendance began to decline in 2002, and the relationship between F1 and IMS officials began to sour when all but six cars pulled out of the 2005 race after the first lap due to tire difficulties.

Attendance for the 2007 race was an estimated 100,000—about half of what it was the first year.

The relationship between IMS and F1 became even more contentious in the final year when Ecclestone criticized Speedway officials for not marketing the event throughout the region.

Despite sagging attendance, city officials embraced the race because it created about $100 million annually in estimated visitor spending and because of the international exposure it offered. That loss was partly offset by the MotoGP motorcycle race, which began in fall 2008.

Ecclestone said Indianapolis had problems, but was probably the best place in the United States for F1.

“It’s only the fact that it’s all the wrong crowd and the wrong people … nothing worked there really, we’d have to have a big change round,” Ecclestone told the Guardian. “But we’d like to get back there.”

Schwartz at the IMS said he has no idea what Ecclestone meant by his comments, only speculating that corporate support might have fallen short of his expectations.

“I’m not sure what to make of that,” Schwartz said. “I can tell you that the crowds were energetic; they were certainly international.”

Discussions to bring F1 back to Indianapolis this time won’t include George. He stepped down last summer as chairman of both the Speedway and the Indy Racing League. George has been replaced by Jeff Belskus, the former IMS chief financial officer.

The Speedway’s efforts to bring F1 back have an ally in legendary driver Mario Andretti, the 1978 F1 champion and winner of the 1969 Indianapolis 500.

“I can’t write the check,” he told the Guardian. “All I can do is support it in every possible way that makes sense because I believe in it so much.”

"I was just talking to Bernie and he is well aware of that need (to return to the United States). He is pretty switched on, he's just got to figure out a way," added Andretti.

But Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi, a winner of two F1 titles as well as the Indianapolis 500, said the Speedway is not the right location to host a U.S. race.

“To go to Indianapolis was a big mistake,” he told the Guardian, noting the track layout on the oval circuit ran in the opposite direction of most races, making F1 cars look slow compared to their Indy counterparts.

F1 has 19 races on its schedule this year. The closest one to the United States is in Montreal. The series’ first race was Sunday in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Next year marks a historic milestone for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the running of the first Indianapolis 500, and several events are planned to highlight the occasion.

 

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