Champ Car joins festival fete – Paul Buker
The Champ Car World Series’ 2007 schedule was announced Wednesday, with Portland’s 24th open-wheel race scheduled for June 10 at Portland International Raceway.
Promoter Mike Nealy said the Portland race dates were chosen specifically to coincide with the Portland Rose Festival’s 100th anniversary.
“We’re excited about it,” Nealy said.
The 2007 race will be the third race in a three-year contract between the city and Champ Car.
The competition among cities vying for Champ Car races has become intense, and there seems to be speculation every year that Champ Car will leave Portland and seek a bigger, more lucrative market.
Champ Car’s chief rival, the Indy Racing League, had Portland on its short list of possible road course events in 2004, but former city commissioner Jim Francesconi didn’t take the IRL interest seriously and pushed for a new contract with Champ Car.
After years of declines, the race at PIR has shown gains in attendance and sponsorship revenue for two consecutive years. In June, an announced crowd of 44,065 watched U.S. driver A.J. Allmendinger win his first Champ Car race.
Champ Car president Steve Johnson has said he wants more fans, more corporate support and a more enthusiastic response from city leaders, but Johnson said he also values Northwest racing fans and takes Portland’s open-wheel history into consideration. The race has been a fixture here since 1984.
“I think Champ Car sees the growth,” said Nealy, whose major sponsor is longtime supporter G.I. Joe’s.
While the return of Champ Car is good news for Portland racing fans, the city’s major league racing reputation took a hit Wednesday with the news that the American Le Mans Series will not return.
ALMS president Scott Atherton issued a statement that noted, “While we regret that we are not able to return to Portland in 2007, we want to thank the great fans in the Pacific Northwest for their support these last several years and we hope we have the chance to return in the future.”
The ALMS — which now has come and gone twice from the Portland market — will announce its new schedule Friday. It appears the sports car racing organization jettisoned Portland for a better deal with another venue at the behest of a major manufacturer, but ALMS officials would not comment Wednesday on which city is taking Portland’s usual July dates.
“There will be another race in that time slot,” said Bob Dickinson, the ALMS vice president of media and communications. Dickinson said there were two or perhaps three new races on the 2007 schedule.
A crowd estimated at 15,000 watched the Saturday night ALMS race this summer. The race marked the end of a three-year deal, and afterward Atherton said Portland’s low attendance and poor sponsorship numbers were a source of frustration.
Portland’s history with big-time sports car racing goes back to 1978, and interest peaked in the early 1990s when the lighting-quick International Motor Sports Association grand prototypes were popular.
Paul Buker: 503-221-8167; [email protected]