Indianapolis uncertain about F-1 future

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Two months after the embarrassment of the US Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials apparently aren't quite ready to forgive - or forget.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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Two months after the embarrassment of the United States Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials apparently aren't quite ready to forgive - or forget. Speedway president Joie Chitwood made it clear after Sunday's NASCAR Allstate 400 at the Brickyard that he is still debating whether to bring the Formula One race back to Indianapolis for a seventh season. "It's important to us because we've made a huge investment in the sport by building the road course and adding the buildings to Gasoline Alley," Chitwood said. "But we have to decide what's in the best interest of our fans, the speedway and the city." Only six drivers competed in the F1 race on June 19 after seven teams pulled their cars off the track to protest safety concerns with Michelin tires. Those teams wanted to use fresh tires or have an extra chicane put in the 13th turn, but F1 officials opted to make no changes. Chitwood acknowledged he has been discussing another race with F1 officials but declined to characterize the talks or offer a timeline for an announcement. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone contends there is still one more year on the current contract, although speedway officials would not confirm that. The United States GP is the only American event on the top international racing circuit, and Ecclestone hopes it remains on the schedule into the next decade. "We have a contract with them, so I don't see any problem," Ecclestone said on Monday. "From our point of view, we don't have a problem. Tony (George) and I are discussing another five years after that." George lured F1 to Indy in 2000 and his family still owns the track. But George turned over the day-to-day track operations in December, and Chitwood is more concerned about 2006 than the five years after that. What worries Chitwood is that the memories of this year's race will linger and depress turnout next year. Ecclestone avoided placing blame on the F1 brass, the teams or the speedway for the debacle, instead criticizing Michelin, which is now offering refunds to fans. "It would have been dangerous to run," Ecclestone said. "In hindsight, the more we looked at it the worse it was. Whatever the cure was, the side effects were worse." The reminders of the F1 fiasco are everywhere. While Chitwood continues to get periodic updates on ticket renewal lists, he's still receiving letters from angry fans. In a year when Indianapolis hosted two of this season's most memorable moments in racing - Danica Patrick's strong showing in May and Tony Stewart's emotional victory on Sunday - the United States GP is still generating headlines. On Monday, when most of Indiana was talking about native son Stewart's win, the speedway was adding a refund form on its Web site. It's put Chitwood in a tough spot. "Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the only sports property I know of that has elevated its community to international recognition," he said. "Anywhere you go, people know Indy. So I think when you have events like that occur, there are people who are concerned." Chitwood said he would consider the city's image and the millions of dollars track officials spent to remodel the track for F1 races. But the biggest factor in Chitwood's decision may prove to be fan reaction. "You're never happy when the fans don't see a quality race," Chitwood said. "We'd like to get something done as soon as possible. It's obviously something we're trying to figure out." (AP)

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