The future of the popular IndyCar Grand Prix of Edmonton has been secured for the next three years, but the event remains a controversial topic in the host city.
The Edmonton race was conceived as a Champ Car World Series event in 2005 and was one of three Champ Car races folded into the unified Izod IndyCar Series schedule. Although attendance always has been healthy, the event has failed to turn a profit, leading to a considerable amount of civic unrest regarding the amount of public money that has been spent to stage the annual event, which is run on a hybrid road course at Edmonton's City Centre Airport.
In the two years that the IndyCar Series has visited Edmonton, the race has posted a loss of $9.2 million. A $3.4 million loss has been budgeted for this year's race, but organizers are hopeful that the total will be closer to $2 million. Ticket sales are down 20 percent, but corporate sales have been strong and the number of motor home berths has nearly tripled from 32 to 94 spaces.
Earlier this week, in a 7-5 vote, the Edmonton City Council approved a plan to transfer the promotion rights of the IndyCar race to Octane Racing Group, the promoter of the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The move will absolve the city of Edmonton from absorbing any future debt brought on by the IndyCar event.
"When you look at what we get from it, it's $18 million just on the media coverage," Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said, referring to the economic impact of the race. "That stuff is invaluable, in addition to all the intangible things."
"We are excited with the results of [the] city council vote," an Indy Racing League statement read. "The course at Edmonton City Centre Airport continues to produce outstanding races. We look forward to continuing the tradition of Indy car racing in Edmonton as well as a very successful event this Sunday."
This weekend's race is the 11th of 17 for the IndyCar Series as its various championships head into the final stretch. Will Power of Verizon Team Penske leads both the road racing and overall point standings, and the Australian's track record at Edmonton suggests he will again be the man to beat Sunday.
Power's dominant pole-to-flag victory last year at Edmonton was a key factor in him landing a full-time ride for Team Penske in 2010. With four victories this year, Power is the only driver to have won more than one race, and he enjoys a 42-point advantage over defending IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti.
"I am looking forward to getting back on [the] track at Edmonton," Power said. "It's a great place to race and the fan support is always good. I think it is going to be very competitive in qualifying and really tough in the race this weekend. I was pretty strong there last year and the Verizon team has been great all year, so I'm hoping that we can come out on top in this event."
Power's teammate Ryan Briscoe won the pole at Edmonton in 2008 for the first IndyCar-sanctioned race on the airport circuit and has scored a pair of top-6 finishes. Meanwhile, Helio Castroneves has never qualified lower than third at Edmonton and has finished second the past two years, making Penske a serious threat for a 1-2-3 finish Sunday.
It hasn't flowed yet, and we haven't shown our potential or reached what we're capable of. You've got to be winning races, because if you're not, they will be, and you'll be blown away.
”-- Dario Franchitti
Target Ganassi Racing teammates Franchitti and Scott Dixon rank second and third in the standings, but two-time series champion Dixon is 78 points behind Power.
"It's amazing that with the DNF in Iowa and some of the results we've had that we're still right in the thick of the championship," Franchitti said. "There's been good and bad, and it seems to depend on the track and the day. It hasn't flowed yet, and we haven't shown our potential or reached what we're capable of. You've got to be winning races, because if you're not, they will be, and you'll be blown away."
"This season has been pretty average for me," said Dixon, who was the2008 Edmonton winner. "To be honest, I don't know how I'm even third. That's really fortunate because we haven't reached our peak, and I think we can still get some really good results and try to go for the championship."
The other likely front-runner this weekend is Justin Wilson, who earned three top-4 finishes at Edmonton in Champ Car, including a win in 2006. Wilson has finished third and eighth in his two IndyCar starts at City Centre Airport.
Driver feuds are the other thing to watch for this weekend. After being taken out by Tomas Scheckter in Toronto, Alex Tagliani vowed to seek revenge at Edmonton. Graham Rahal will not be in action for Newman/Haas Racing this weekend, so his battle with Penske's Briscoe will have to be delayed until Aug. 8 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.