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The end to a 14-year run for Indy cars at Sonoma Raceway | College and Professional Sports

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It’s official. When the checkered flag falls on the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma in mid-September, it not only will close out the season for the series, but will also close out a 14-year run for Indy cars on the twisty Sonoma Raceway.

Earlier this week, IndyCar and WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway officials announced that the series is moving to the Monterey Peninsula for its season finale over the next three years, beginning in 2019. It will mark a return to a track where the series, then known as CART and the Champ Car World Series, raced between 1983 and 2004.

The move comes after months of negotiations between the sanctioning group and Sonoma Raceway that failed to reach agreement on a new contract.

“The negotiations were over an extended period of time, but what we had to offer was not enough,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager.

Page acknowledged that it was disappointing to lose an event with the stature of IndyCar, but that ultimately it didn’t make financial sense for the track to continue hosting a race that resulted in red ink on the books.

“There is a certain stature in having three of the biggest series in racing,” said Page, referring to the track’s season schedule that includes the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup and the NHRA drag racing series. “But every event we put on has to make sense from a profit standpoint.”

Subsidies from Monterey County, which owns the WeatherTech Laguna Seca track, made the difference in the winning bid.

“The deal Laguna signed was worse than the deal we had,” Page contended.

“The county believes there are ancillary benefits to those subsidies that makes their business model work,” he added. “But that’s not the way we operate. We’re a private company and everything we do as a promoter needs a clear path to profitability.”

There currently are not any potential events that have the crowd appeal of IndyCar, Page acknowledged, but there are potential additions to the schedule that will add to the track’s bottom line.

“Filling up the weekend won’t be a problem,” Page said. “Instead of losing a quarter of a million dollars we might get a $100,000 track rental and that will take some of the sting away.”

That could include an event that doesn’t draw a lot of fans but that fits with the culture of the racetrack, such as the Shell Eco-Marathon of the Americas. The event in April drew hundreds of collegiate engineering teams to Sonoma in a fuel mileage competition that featured advanced technology and that fit well with the track’s environmental ethics that include recycling and cutting the grass organically with a herd of sheep.

Page emphasized that the financial structure of other major events at Sonoma Raceway are different and more sustainable than that of the IndyCar series.

“With NASCAR, we enjoy the benefits of a lucrative television contract and the drag race is a joint venture between us and the NHRA,” Page explained.

He added that the NHRA is the fastest growing event on Sonoma Raceway’s schedule, based on ticket sales and the number of fans who return from one year to another.

“We likely will sell out on Friday and Saturday of the NHRA weekend,” said Page.


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