By JENNA FRYER, Associated Press
The IndyCar race in China on Aug. 19 was officially canceled Wednesday and series CEO Randy Bernard must now find another event for the second half of the season.
Bernard had been working with promoters in Qingdao the last several months to salvage the race, which was announced in November to run at the same time as the city's International Beer Festival. The inaugural race would have been held on a temporary 3.87-mile street circuit in the city that hosted the Olympic sailing competition four years ago.
Despite an existing contract, new leadership in local government balked at the IndyCar race. Discussions began with IndyCar about moving the event to a new date or new location.
When faced with a deadline, Bernard said event promoters canceled the race.
"The new mayor took office on March 28, and it was his opinion that it shouldn't be run at the same time as the beer festival," Bernard told The Associated Press. "Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time at that point to reschedule or find a new location. We evaluated several different options and it was finally in the promoters' best interest to cancel the event."
Bernard said IndyCar is evaluating what it can recoup from the existing contract.
The cancellation is of little surprise to anyone in IndyCar, particularly after Bernard traveled to China in April in an attempt to save the race.
"I think anytime we put a new international race on the schedule, that risk is always there," said Penske Racing team president Tim Cindric. "It's not too surprising. We've seen this movie before with international races. You don't really believe it until you see it."
As for what Bernard will do to fill the hole in the IndyCar schedule, he said he's looking at several different options.
"I don't think we need a decision right this minute," he said. "When we do it, we need to do it right and make sure it's the best fit for the series and the schedule and the championship race."
He did not reveal what he's considering, but there's speculation IndyCar could make a second stop at Texas Motor Speedway, on Oct. 7.
"That's something we have to think about," said TMS President Eddie Gossage, who hosted the IndyCar season finale from 1999 through 2004. Texas hosts a critical race in NASCAR's championship series on Nov. 4, and Gossage would have to evaluate if a second IndyCar event would have a negative impact on the NASCAR race.
"You wouldn't want to do something that hurts either event," he said. "But we'll think about it, and we'll make a decision real quickly."
Pocono officials say their track is not an option.
There are other intriguing venues that Bernard can't negotiate with just yet because they are located in noncompete mileage restrictions with existing IndyCar venues. For example, if Bernard was interested in a return to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.., he could not speak to those promoters until after this weekend's race at Milwaukee.
Bernard also indicated that the Sept. 15 race at Fontana may not be the season finale. The race picked up that slot when Las Vegas was canceled following Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at that track, but Bernard may need to schedule something after Fontana as a replacement for China.
Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker said there is nothing in the contract with Fontana to make it the finale. Zucker believes there's enough buzz about IndyCar's return to Southern California that the event will be just fine wherever it falls on the schedule.
"What we are excited about is being the decisive race of the season, on a track we believe will be the most exciting track for IndyCar," Zucker said. "Sometimes the decisive race is the second to the last of the season. We know fans are going to get more than their money's worth. IndyCar hasn't run here in seven years, and people are asking about, are excited about it, are excited about seeing IndyCar under the lights on a fast track."
The cancellation of China marks the first time in 10 years IndyCar won't race in Asia. The series spent nine years at the Twin Ring Motegi Superspeedway in Motegi City, Japan. But that contract ended, and IndyCar eyed China as its fourth international venue in 2012.
The series has already raced in Sao Paulo, and has scheduled stops this season in Toronto and Edmonton.
Cindric said the organization wasn't opposed to racing in China, and in some respects looked forward to it because its teams have a history of excelling on new temporary street circuits.
But like everyone else, the organization will wait to see what's next for the IndyCar schedule. Penske driver Will Power is currently leading the IndyCar standings.
"The teams are pretty adaptable, so for us from a competition standpoint, as long as everybody gets the message the same time, it's not a problem," he said.
The issue instead becomes about sponsorship and activation, he said, and a second return to Texas this season might not be the easiest sell.
"The difficulty becomes the sponsors, your marketing team — it puts a burden on the commitments the team has made and the expectations that might be made for venues," Cindric said. "There's a lot of planning that goes into all of that. On something like Texas, you don't know if your sponsors want to go back to that market again in the same year.
"But whatever the venue is, if it becomes the last race of the season, then for the league itself and the championship programs, it puts a whole other dynamic on it."
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