IndyCar Loses Australia, A1GP Strikes Gold
(on Motorsport.com 11-11-08)
The handwriting was on the wall as soon as the Indy Racing League and the former Champ Car World Series signed the agreement to merge into one. February 22, 2008 marked the date of the agreement between the two open-wheel series based in Indianapolis, Ind., with Tony George being at the helm. The first step beyond seeing which teams would merge this year into the IndyCar ranks was the already set schedules. Which venues would stay, which would fade in the sunset.
The 12-year split was finally over, but it left out tracks that were popular to the fans worldwide. Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Australia, was one of Champ Cars top hits for both the racing and the scenery. IndyCar made the trip but it was a non-point race in 2008 as IndyCar's champion Scott Dixon was crowned in the USA at the season ender in Chicago, Ill.
While George and his staff hustled to change the 2008 schedule, only two Champ Car circuits remained. Long Beach was the farewell scene for the Champ Car teams while IndyCar teams were racing on the oval in Motegi, Japan. The Edmonton organizers were able to move their date in Alberta, Canada, to fit the 2008 calendar. Gone were Road America, Toronto, Laguna Seca, Houston, Cleveland, Mont-Tremblant, Portland, Mexico City and possible events in Europe including Zolder, Assen and Jerez.
To top it off, open-wheel stars like past series champion Paul Tracy and 2007 Rookie of the Year Robert Doornbos were out of a ride and while Tracy keeps looking, Doornbos returned to Europe. Currently, Tracy is across the pond testing in the new Speedcar series while Doornbos made his debut in A1GP for Team Netherlands, taking second in China's Sprint race this past weekend.
The 2009 IndyCar calendar has three former Champ Car events: Long Beach, Toronto and Edmonton. One does need to note that prior to the unification, the IRL already had former CART/Champ Car strong holds including Detroit, Motegi, Mid-Ohio, Homestead and Milwaukee.
The popular Australian venue was listed as a non-points race with the Indy Racing League taking the IndyCar series to Surfers Paradise; however, the 2009 schedule had been release and Australia was not listed. The first race in 1991 was under the CART banner and it did not take long for many to refer to the event as the "crown jewel" of the series.
IndyCar's first and now only adventure to Australia was met with open arms, both by the Gold Coast Indy organizers, the sponsor, the Australian V8 Supercar and Formula 3teams, and by the fans. It was a show that gave the Australians much to cheer about with their two homeland racers. Will Power landed the pole and Ryan Briscoe took the first-ever victory on home soil for an Aussie driver from the open-wheel racing American series. To add to the IndyCar inaugural event, Dixon, the 2008 champion from New Zealand, was born in Australia and he finished second.
As the IndyCar teams headed back home to American soil, Jonathan Ingram, Motorsport.com's reporter at Surfers Paradise commented "As street races go, this one is among the best. So it seems unlikely the organizers or the IndyCar officials will let it slip through their fingers." Yet, he, like many, expected that the event would not be added to the calendar in 2009 or in the near future.
Ingram was correct as today's announcement from the Indy Racing League and the Gold Coast Indy organizers stated that the IndyCar Series would not return to Surfers Paradise in the near future.
"We are disappointed that we could not find suitable solutions for both the IndyCar Series and Gold Coast Indy organizers but it was not due to lack of effort," said Terry Angtsadt, IRL president of the commercial division. "Chairman Terry Mackenroth and general manager Greg Hooton rolled out the red carpet for the IndyCar Series last month and they are to be commended for their efforts in conjunction with the Queensland government."
On the same day, the A1GP Series took control of being the feature event at Surfers Paradise in October, 2009, signing a five-year agreement. "Both the Government and IMG have offered us every courtesy in putting this together, and I reckon we must have set a record in doing such an important deal in such a short space of time," said A1GP Chairman, Tony Teixeira.
A1GP, first known only as a Winter series to fill a gap for racing fans, has sprung wings showcasing a top open-wheel very competitive series based on nations around the world. Drivers can change from race-to-race but the country they represent is the actual team who garners the points. The 2008-09 season just began with two events (four races) in the books.
Oddly enough one IndyCar team will be in Australia come October 22 next year to compete on the streets of Surfers Paradise. Andretti Green Racing holds the rights and management of Team USA in the International A1GP series. Other countries have drivers who race in America including IndyCar and Indy Lights -- both sanctioned by the IRL -- while others compete in the Atlantic Championship series.
"We wanted to go back to Australia and this is the ideal venue for our series. A lot of people have worked hard on putting this deal together, and now it has come to fruition it is very exciting," Teixeira said. "I am aware we are being given a perfect opportunity to showcase our series to the Australian fans, who have been great supporters of both the series and their own team. Australia has a rich motorsport heritage and I know our tv fans worldwide will be delighted to have this spectacular race on our calendar."
The first A1GP race in the land down under was in November of 2005 for the inaugural season of the world's Nation Cup series at Eastern Creek International Raceway; however, the new season saw a drop of the venue. The last race in Sydney was February of this year for round six in the 2007-08 season. It was a very wet weekend which is one reason October fits better for the future event in Australia.
Team Australia's principal and former Formula One driver, Alan Jones commented, "It has been a big hole in the A1GP calendar this year not being in Australia. To say I am thrilled about this deal is an understatement. Having the chance to race in my own back yard is something special for me and the team. We are looking forward to it and I can warn all the other teams now I aim to make sure we have a home win in Surfers."
The next event on the current A1GP season will be in two weeks as the teams will take on the Malaysian circuit in Sepang -- the home race for the current point leading team.
IndyCar's 2009 season opener will take place on the streets of St. Petersburg in early April.