A stop sign for IndyCar
When New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted an IndyCar Series event in August, it marked the return of open-wheel, Indianapolis-style racecars to the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon for the first time in 13 years.
At the time, it was hoped the series would enjoy a long run at the track.
However, it appears IndyCar’s run at NHMS has come to a screeching halt after the track absorbed a $1.2 million loss, according to track sources, from the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 Aug. 14.
Although IndyCar officials have yet to release their 2012 schedule, Jerry Gappens, NHMS executive vice president and general manager, confirmed yesterday the series will not be returning to Loudon next year.
Gappens said the decision to part ways with IndyCar was made after discussions between Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., NHMS’s parent company, and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard failed to produce a mutually beneficial solution on how to mitigate such losses going forward.
Asked if the book had been closed on IndyCar at NHMS, Gappens “would never say never.’’
“We continue to keep dialogue open with Jerry Gappens and Bruton Smith regarding future events,’’ Bernard wrote in an e-mail. “We feel that New Hampshire Motor Speedway can be a great fit for IndyCar given the right business model and timing.’’
Although the track promoted the race, rolling out a TV and radio advertising campaign extolling the return of open-wheel racing to New England as a “new breed of speed,’’ it failed to draw the same crowds as its two NASCAR Sprint Cup events.
“The financials on this one were so far off the chart that something in that template needed to be changed in order for it to be successful,’’ Gappens said. “And we were not able to figure that formula out at this point.’’
An estimated 95,000 turned out for last month’s Sylvania 300, the second race in the Chase for the Championship, while an estimated 28,000 turned out for the IndyCar event, which was well below the projection track officials set of drawing between 35,000 and 40,000 fans.
“I have nothing negative to say about the effort and the work and the cooperation we got from [IndyCar],’’ Gappens said. “I have a lot of respect for Randy and the teams, the drivers, the officials. Everybody worked hard to try and make the thing work, but when you step back, we just didn’t hit that vein to make it work.’’
Gappens speculated one reason for IndyCar’s lukewarm reception may have been the result of its placement on the track’s 2011 schedule between lucrative NASCAR dates in July and September, which put a financial strain on season ticket-holders.
“Aside from the financial setback, we had great feedback from those who attended the exciting event,’’ Gappens said.
Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay captured the checkered flag in a controversial finish in inclement weather conditions. It was overshadowed by the angry reaction to the decision of Brian Barnhart, IndyCar’s vice president of competition, to restart the race in double-file fashion two laps after it had been slowed by a caution for moisture on Lap 215.
When a pileup ensued on the frontstretch after the green flag was thrown on Lap 217, the race was red-flagged on Lap 220, then called shortly thereafter, five laps from its official distance.
The finishing order, much to the dismay of runner-up Oriol Servia, who claimed he passed Hunter-Reay on the restart, was determined by the running order at the time of the last caution, which delivered Hunter-Reay his first victory of the season and fifth of his career.
“I do believe this product is good and I think it’s got more potential and they’re more suited for ovals,’’ said Gappens. “It’s more my background and I want to do everything I can to promote and help that series thrive on American ovals and not have to run on street circuits and road courses and go overseas.
“I want to develop it as a real American product, but we’ve still got work to do to build the American fan base.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.