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F1 returning to Indianapolis next year

Formula One will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year despite the fiasco surrounding June's boycotted race.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2005 18:58 IST

Formula One will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year despite the fiasco surrounding June's boycotted race, but the event's long-term future is uncertain. Speedway officials announced on Wednesday it will host the United States Grand Prix for a seventh consecutive year on July 2, 2006. The race was in jeopardy because only six drivers competed in the June 19 race after seven teams boycotted the event because of safety concerns over their tires.

The contract between F1 and the speedway ends after 2006. "We'll continue to discuss the future of F1," speedway president Joie Chitwood said. "It's something I want to continue. But I have to focus on the short-term, and that's on an event that's months away."

Chitwood said despite the uncertainty over the race following the boycott, the speedway never stopped working to prepare for the event, for which IMS spent millions of dollars building a road course through the infield of its 2{-mile (4-kilometer) oval. "We'd love to see a future," he said. "The investment we made in this sport was not just for a couple of years." Michelin offered to refund the tickets for the estimated 100,000 fans at June's race and has said it would buy 20,000 tickets for fans to return for the 2006 race. Chitwood said the checks from Michelin started going out in the mail on Tuesday. Henry Price, an Indianapolis attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of fans against F1, Michelin and others seeking refunds for travel and other costs, said many race fans were still angry over the boycott.

"If they want fans in the stands, they'd better settle this and take care of it before next year's race," Price said on Wednesday. Sports marketer Mark Ganis of Sportscorp Ltd. in Chicago said next year's race could determine the future of F1 racing in the United States. He said Indianapolis was the best place in the United States for an F1 event.

"They'd better have this race go off without a hitch and find some fan-friendly activities," he said. "It left a bad taste in a lot of fans' mouths. They must make sure nothing goes wrong." Ganis said that F1's drivers needed to reach out to the American fans the way NASCAR drivers have.

"If our auto racing stars were arrogant and aloof, that's what we would expect from F1 racing," he said. "We have the exact opposite. Our drivers are very friendly, very solicitous of fans. That's what has made racing big in the U.S."

The scheduling of the United States GP on July 2 would have it running the same day as the Indy Racing League's event in Kansas City. The IRL and the speedway, both headed by Tony George, have avoided scheduling races on the same weekends since Formula One's 2000 arrival in Indianapolis.

Chitwood said he believed the United States GP would be well received on its July date. He said the later date will cut into the track's preparation time for NASCAR's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in August, but that he anticipated no problems.

He said he could not guarantee a problem-free F1 race next year, but expects those involved to be extra careful.

"I would assume that all the participants for next year's event will be as prepared as humanly possible," he said.

First Published: Sep 22, 2005 15:08 IST