IndyCar’s China race, Izod title sponsorship in jeopardy

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The IndyCar Series still has a race on its calendar for Aug. 19 in Qingdao, China, but the race is anything but a certainty.

According to sources inside the series, race promoter, Yinxin Investment, has not paid a multi-million dollar sanctioning fee owed to IndyCar, little marketing for the race has been done, tickets are not on sale and current Qingdao government officials are waffling on whether or not they’ll be able to hold the inaugural street race this year.

While a race in such a far-away place might seem relatively insignificant to a U.S.-based series, the loss of such a race would mean the loss of considerable exposure in an un-tapped market. Qingdao is a city of 8.7 million along the East China Sea. But there's more at stake than exposure in that market.

If the race is cancelled, the IndyCar Series will run afoul of its agreement with title sponsor, Izod. That deal mandates the series has 16 races. IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard has recently acknowledged issues with the race in China, and while he said there's a back-up plan, he hasn’t said what alternatives might be.

Some have speculated the series will try to hold a replacement race at Road America in Wisconsin or even on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Any of those solutions would seem to have problems. First, the series is already set to race in Milwaukee later this month, just a little more than an hour from the Road America course in Elkhart Lake. Two races in such close proximity would likely hurt attendance at both events.

IMS and IndyCar officials have been resistant to holding an IndyCar race on the Speedway road course and timing could be difficult with a NASCAR and MotoGP race already on the slate. Either road course or oval at Lucas Oil Raceway is likely too small for the open-wheel cars.

There's also talk that any replacement race might be pushed to the end of the season to give the new venue time to plan and promote the event. The problem with that is promoters for an IndyCar Series race on Sept. 15 in Fontana, Calif. have already been promoting their event as the series finale.

The race in China isn’t Bernard’s only problem. Izod, the lifestyle and clothing division of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., has slowed its promotion of the series this year and appears to be looking to get out of the six-year deal three years before it expires.

According to several IndyCar sponsors, league officials have been approaching current sponsors about picking up the title sponsorship deal starting next season.

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