To the surprise of almost no one, Champ Car confirmed Thursday that the Molson Indy Vancouver's fifteen-year run has come to an end. The ever-changing Vancouver cityscape threatened the future of the race on several other occasions and resulted in the utilization of no fewer than seven street course layouts over the years.
2005 was likely going to be the last year for the even anyway, because the False Creek area that the track runs through will be transformed into the Athletes Village for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. But title sponsor Molson Sports Entertainment decided to pull the plug immediately because there wasn't much interest in additional corporate support for a lame-duck event.
"The Molson Indy Vancouver has always been a popular stop on our race schedule," said Joe Chrnelich, Champ Car's man in charge of future race development. "We love the Vancouver market and very much appreciate the wonderful fan support we received.
"However, many elements must be considered when determining the long-term viability of a new or established event and the economics must work for all parties involved. Clearly, planning for the Olympics had an impact on our situation, but we certainly understand as the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a city."
Speaking to Canadian Press, Molson Sports Entertainment president Jo-Ann McArthur was more direct. "The bottom line is the business model couldn't work because of the short-term nature of the future of the event," McArthur said. "We talked to a number of business partners over the last few months to try to make it happen but we weren't able to make the business model work between them and with Champ Car."
The Vancouver race attracted more than 155,000 fans for the last eleven years and Molson estimated that the event delivered $CDN 250 million to the Vancouver economy and $1 million to charity.
"Moving the race outside the downtown core was just not a viable option," McArthur revealed. "The real appeal of the Molson Indy was based on the whole downtown urban racing setting. We looked for other viable venues within the Lower Mainland that could meet the needs of a race of this caliber but it just didn't exist."
Molson will continue to sponsor existing Canadian Champ Car races in Toronto (which recently signed a four-year extension with the series) and Montreal. Molson may also sign on as title sponsor for the inaugural Champ Car race in Edmonton next July. The beer maker announced Wednesday that it will invest $12.3 million in upgrades at its Edmonton brewery, where it has produced beer for 100 years.
Champ Car is expected to announce additions to its 14-race 2005 schedule in the coming weeks.
Dalziel impresses PKV Racing
Former FIA Formula 3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim and Toyota Atlantic Championship front-runner Ryan Dalziel tested for Champ Car team PKV Racing this week at Barber Motorsport Park near Birmingham, Ala. Dalziel in particular made a favorable impression on the team.
"Some people thought this test was simply designed as a reward for Ryan for his performances in the Toyota Atlantic Championship this season but in my mind he deserved a test outright," said 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser, the 'V' in PKV Racing. "I wanted to make sure he had an equal test with the same time, attention and tires as anyone else and he was nothing short of spectacular. He didn't put a foot wrong and his attitude and feedback have been professional. I've been very impressed with his performance and he has a great future in Champ Car."
Jim McGee, who took over as general manager of PKV Racing last week, rated Wirdheim highly when the Swede tested for Patrick Racing in 2002. Wirdheim spent 2004 as the test driver for the Jaguar Formula 1 team and he will test for the revised Red Bull team next week at Barcelona alongside his successor as F3000 champion, Vinantonio Liuzzi.
Dalziel was reportedly 0.3 second quicker than Wirdheim on the 2.3-mile Barber road course, which got high marks from PKV personnel. "Ryan and I drove both days and because it was a new track, the grip improved all the time," Wirdheim said. "I was fastest the first day. But the next day the team wanted to do a pretty complicated test with me and Ryan was a few tenths faster than me. The team was pleased with my performance, so we'll see what happens."
PKV's driver lineup is not set for 2005. Vasser is 90 percent likely to continue in the Gulfstream car, while the NII Holdings (Nextel International) seat is up for grabs. The team plans to test 18-year old Canadian phenom Andrew Ranger in the near future.
Having watched Dalziel in action and witnessed the rise of drivers like A.J. Allmendinger, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Michael Valiante through the Champ Car ladder system, Vasser believes there is plenty of open-wheel talent being developed in America.
"That proves to me that the current group and the just-departed group of Atlantic drivers are very talented and it's a very fast group," Vasser said. "These guys -- and girls for that matter -- are fast. And the neat thing about them is these kids want to be Champ Car drivers. A lot of them don't really care to be Formula One drivers. That's why they've stuck with Formula Atlantic and that's why they're here."
Bourdais forced to stay
Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais said he made a courtesy call to the BMW-Williams team to remind them that he might merit a test for the team's open seat alongside Mark Webber. But he thinks his odds of ever racing in Formula 1 are slim.
"I indeed contacted Williams but it all went to a dead end," Bourdais said. "I hear that the Champ Car title has not the same value as some years ago, but I can't do better than what I did."
But the 25-year old Frenchman, who resides in Tampa, Fla., isn't upset that he will return to defend his Champ Car title, possibly in an expanded three-car Newman/Haas Racing team.
"I think some F1 drivers are not as happy as I am, struggling at the back of the field whereas I have a sporting and financial rewards here in the USA," he said. "It's a great country with great people, and I very much enjoy myself driving these cars, and I can at last earn my living doing my passion on this side of the pond."
Franchitti tests at Infineon
Dario Franchitti and Andretti Green Racing ran a compatibility test on behalf of the Indy Racing League at Infineon Raceway on Nov. 17. The Scotsman ran 70 laps of a 2.2-mile version of the California road course.
"I think this is going to be a very physical race for the drivers," who scored two wins in 2004 IRL IndyCar Series action. "I've never been on a track like this where you're really compromising on every turn. This course is really challenging and I was quite taken aback at first. These cars accelerate very quickly, so you're coming into the corners very fast and you have to be prepared."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.