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ROAD RACING - Indy To Host U.S. GP In 2008?
By Henny Ray Abrams
MotoGP Fever 12/21/2006

Indianapolis Motor Speedway will likely host a round of the MotoGP World Championship in 2008, according to a number of sources, but it won’t replace the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Instead, for the first time ever, the U.S. will host two rounds of the championship.

The news was first reported by Motor Sport Aktuell, an authoritative Swiss weekly. MSA said that the race would replace the Chinese GP at Shanghai, an event that hasn’t had the success that Dorna had hoped for in the world’s most populous nation.

Though nothing has been signed, all indications are that an event at Indianapolis is moving forward. Ron Green, a spokesman for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said that “There is no agreement in place,” but, he added, “The Speedway is still active in its dialogue with several motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies. It is clear that the Speedway wants an event. And it’s something that we’ve been exploring for quite some time.”

Green referenced an AMA test in 2003.

“That was probably the first real feasibility or exploratory effort we undertook. So very serious about the possibility of having a major motorcycle race here in the near future.”

The near future could be 2008. Green said the Speedway was looking at a motorcycle race as one way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the track in 2009. (The first ever event at IMS was a motorcycle race in 1909.)

“We automatically received an incredible amount of enthusiasm and feedback from the motorcycle industry, which made us maybe think there’s something more here than just a single anniversary event. Because of that enthusiasm and talking with various sanctioning bodies, it’s certainly something we’re exploring diligently and it could move forward and it could happen as early as 2008.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Indianapolis 500, the largest motorsports event in the world, as well as the Brickyard 400, and a round of the Formula One World Championship.

“We know what it takes to present an event of that magnitude. And we sense that the potential for this motorcycle event is going to be of significant magnitude as well.

“We know how long it takes to plan one of those events,” he continued. “We probably have almost an 18-month promotional calendar to present an event appropriately. And if we’re going to do it in 2008 we know we need make some decisions very soon and make an announcement in the spring of 2007.”

The problem with the IMS Formula One layout is the right-hand final corner onto the front straight. With the track running clockwise, the F-1 cars face a wall on their left as they speed toward the finish line. Since this is unacceptable for motorcycles, FIM safety boss Claude Danis was tasked to find a solution.

“Actually the last corner will not be used since we will run anticlockwise and the track will turn left immediately after the pits,” Danis said in an e-mail message. Danis has not yet homologated the track, he said, with the final drawings to be approved and works to be carried out by end of 2007. He also said he may be joined by F-1 safety boss Charlie Whiting for a site visit in early February.

“That is, from what I understand, one of the solutions being discussed,” the Speedway’s Ron Green said. “And even if that counterclockwise is a solution, there will still have to be some modifications made, from what I understand. That’s been an area of discussion and certainly an area of focus.”

Gavin Emmett, the Dorna press officer, acknowledged that the series organizers were interested in expanding their presence in America.

“I know they’re looking at a lot of other options to develop the sport,” he said. “Obviously to have a second race would be a good thing.” He continued. “I know that in the past they’ve talked, but I also know that they’ve talked since then. I know they went to look. They have looked at the possibility. I also know the American market is interesting to them at the moment, especially with Nicky [Hayden] as World Champion.”

“No deal has been done,” race director Paul Butler said in a cell phone conversation from Majorca. “[FIM safety boss] Claude Danis went there and inspected it en route to Laguna three or four weeks ago. So there’s been contact. And there are examinations ongoing.”

Gill Campbell, the CEO of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, said in a cell phone call that it won’t affect the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix.

“To my knowledge it’s not confirmed by any means,” she said. “When we originally had our agreement we had a three-year exclusivity [which meant no other track in the U.S. could hold a MotoGP event]

“Again, I don’t know very much other than I know they’ve been talking. That’s truly it. Beyond that, knowing that I have an exclusivity through 2007, I know that it wouldn’t be any earlier than 2008.”

Dorna’s Emmett added, “They’re not looking at replacing Laguna in the future.”

IMS President Joie Chitwood attended July’s Red Bull U.S. GP for the second year in a row. At the time, the Indianapolis Star wrote that he “came away feeling more optimistic than ever that he understands the sport's landscape well enough to host an event." The Star quoted him as saying, “I think I've got my arms around [MotoGP] now. I definitely think it makes sense to continue moving forward with this."

Spokesman Ron Green said “likewise [Chitwood] came away from his trip to Imola for the World Superbike event there equally as excited and I think what he references, is he’s excited about a premier motorcycle event. After both of those events discussions continued with both of those groups and the AMA.”

The likelihood of the Speedway hosting a stand-alone round of the AMA Superbike Championship is slim, given the magnitude of their other events. But it’s possible the AMA would provide support races for a MotoGP race.

“We would want a full menu of on-track activity for that weekend,” Green said. “Again, the Speedway, our reputation, in fact our mission statement is providing leadership and excellence in motorsports entertainment, and we would want an active track that weekend.”

With MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden a native of nearby Owensboro, Kentucky, the location would play well to his Midwest fan base.

“You don’t have to be a huge motorcycle fan to know about Nicky Hayden,” Green said. “The fact that he’s from Owensboro, almost a sister city to Evansville, Indiana, hasn’t gone unnoticed. And he is, if not the star, one of the premier stars of the sport.”

Television is another tool that Dorna plans to use to increase exposure in the U.S. Last year ABC broadcast a highlight version of the Red Bull U.S. GP a week later. The ratings were considerably higher than for the original Speed telecast.

“The idea was to get it to a mainstream sports public,” Emmett said, adding that having more telecasts on broadcast television is one of the options Dorna is considering for 2007.
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