SBJ/August 16 - 22, 2004/This Weeks Issue

Addition of IRL road races paves way for dates in Mexico, Canada

The recent addition of road races to the Indy Racing League schedule has opened up the possibility for the IRL to expand into Canada and Mexico, according to an IRL official.

Earlier this month, the IRL released its schedule for 2005, and for the first time since its inception in 1996 it included road races — at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York.

Ken Ungar, vice president of business affairs for the IRL, said adding road races to the schedule makes a move to Canada and Mexico much more likely.

“We will probably have one race in Mexico and one race in Canada,” Ungar said.

When exactly those races will, or could, be added to the schedule remains unclear. Sixteen events are currently scheduled for 2005, with the possibility to add races if “the opportunity presents itself,” Ungar said. He added that the IRL’s goal is eventually to expand to 20 events, with six of those being road races.

“It could be next year, but it is not likely,” he said of the international expansion. “Our hope would be for 2006.”

When IRL racing does head north of the border, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, which currently host races for three Champ Car events sponsored by Molson, will have the edge initially.

“Obviously, these cities are attractive to us and we would consider racing there,” Ungar said.

In Mexico, Monterrey and Mexico City, which also currently host Champ Car races, “are the cities of primary interest,” he said.

Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing, supports the moves to Mexico and Canada, but he said the league needs to keep the schedule under control.

“I think an 18- or 20-race schedule is what the market can bear,” Cindric said.

Besides an annual race in Japan at the Twin Ring Motegi oval track, at which the IRL debuted in 2003, Ungar said Canada and Mexico are as far as the league will venture. The move to Japan was fueled by Honda’s debut as a series engine manufacturer and race promoter last year.

Ungar also downplayed competition with NASCAR as a reason to expand to Mexico. “This is about our series and our growth,” Ungar said.

NASCAR recently announced its Busch Series will feature an event in Mexico City in 2005.

If and when the IRL expands to Canada and Mexico, significant additional revenue will be possible with sponsorship and television network interest. Ungar said “most of our sponsors and teams” have expressed interest in hitting these new markets, despite the certainty for added travel costs.

“We believe these costs will be more than offset from sponsorship and corporate interest in the sport,” he said.

Cindric downplayed the additional travel costs but also said additional sponsorship dollars will depend on the sponsors’ international budgets.

“Most companies have a certain amount of marketing dollars,” he said. “It really just depends on who your sponsor is and where they are based.”

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