IndyCar wants race in Fort Lauderdale

The IndyCar league wants to turn A1A and Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale into a street course.

05/26/2012 1:00 AM

05/26/2012 1:03 AM

After a two-year absence from the streets of South Florida, the IndyCar league wants to return, CEO Randy Bernard said Friday.

Only instead of running at the Miami-Homestead Speedway or through downtown Miami, the open-wheel racers want to turn A1A and Las Olas Boulevard into a street course.

“Fort Lauderdale is a place we would like to go,” Bernard said. “We want to continue to discuss those options.”

The idea for a Fort Lauderdale street course was first proposed in 2011. With the backing of Fort Lauderdale driver Ryan Hunter-Reay — who attended high school at Pine Crest and Cardinal Gibbons — and Michael Andretti Sports Marketing, there is hope the “Fort Lauderdale Grand Prix” could serve as the IndyCar season finale next October or November.

Chaz Adams, Fort Lauderdale’s public affairs manager, wrote in an email that the city is working with the promoter on an “event agreement” that includes “specific operational and logistical details,” which include how the race will be set up and broke down, traffic plans as well as safety plans. The promoter, Adams wrote, also needs to reach out to local residents and businesses that would be affected by the race. Once all that is completed, it can go to the city commission for approval.

“The city is supportive of the event,” Adams wrote, “as it will bring tremendous international exposure to Fort Lauderdale, attract thousands of visitors to our city, generate millions of dollars in economic impact for our businesses, and strengthen our city’s position as a premier destination for travel and tourism.”

Hunter-Reay, who will start on the first row for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, said last week that every time he drives by that area all he can see is potential.

“It’s been a dream of mine, since high school, to race on those roads,” Hunter-Reay said from his garage in Indianapolis. “My first big win was in Surfers Paradise, Australia. It’s just like Fort Lauderdale. They couldn’t be more alike. There’s the ocean, an Intracoastal, and a strip of land. It was the most magnificent race weekend.

“Fort Lauderdale, done right, will be a home run. I can see the helicopter views of the boats on the water, the yachts, the people on the beach, IndyCars doing 200 on A1A. It would be a dream come true.”

The proposed track would start near the Sheraton Yankee Clipper and head northbound on A1A before turning at Las Olas and working its way to the yacht basin and back around to southbound A1A (Seabreeze Boulevard) — passing landmarks such as the Intracoastal, Swimming Hall of Fame and the Elbo Room along the way.

Hunter-Reay said the track would be just over two miles with the parking lots just north of the Yankee Clipper on the east side of A1A serving as pit road.

“Street circuits are extremely difficult projects to not only manage, but make successful,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’re working on it. IndyCar wants it to happen, Fort Lauderdale wants it to happen. All the right people want it to happen. We already have sponsor support and interest. But there are obstacles to clear. Everyone is pushing in the right direction which is nice. Planning this has been exciting.”

Although there is much work to be done — Andretti’s marketing company has offices in Fort Lauderdale and is expected to promote the event — IndyCar has made it clear it wants to return to a popular spot on their schedule.

One of the concerns for a Fort Lauderdale race is a late season race may conflict with the popular boat show which will be held from Oct. 25-29 this year.

A Fort Lauderdale race could be run at the start of the 2013 IndyCar season as the league used to open its year in Homestead. But it appears the focus is on a season-ending race that would be nationally televised from Fort Lauderdale beach. The race could be run once the boat show is concluded.

“We have been in discussions with them but I don’t know how close things are right now,” said Carol Hudson, who recently took over as director of sports for the Fort Lauderdale tourism and convention bureau.

“The discussions have sounded favorable. I think it would be a great event. It would bring major media attention. The question is whether you can make it happen logistically.”

The final IndyCar race in Homestead was the 2010 season finale as the series didn’t return after it couldn’t come to terms with the Miami-Homestead Speedway — nor any of the other tracks managed by NASCAR’s International Speedway Corporation.

IndyCar and other open-wheel series — such as CART — have been part of the South Florida racing landscape since the 1980s. A race in South Florida — where the series has strong ties locally and internationally — would likely be one of the gems of the schedule.

“We’ve been able to generate a lot of interest with the city street races because you’ve got cities and economic development groups within the states wanting to have what they call ‘big events,’ ” team owner Roger Penske said. “I think that’s proven to be successful.”

Miami Herald writer Maria Camila Bernal contributed to this story.

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