The Indy Racing League (IRL) and Michigan International Speedway (MIS) will part ways after tomorrow's race because they couldn't agree on a new contract, ending a decades-long relationship between thrilling, open-wheel racing and the 3.2km oval.
"It's really sad," MIS president Roger Curtis said.
Curtis said the track agreed to move its IRL race to early this month this year -- instead of its traditional date in July -- and signed a sanctioning agreement with the series to hold the event on July 22 next year.
"When they hadn't signed the contract last October, we asked `Why?' and we were told it was because Mid-Ohio wanted it," Curtis said. "We then asked for three dates in July and they said `No,' to each one and also said they were raising the sanctioning fee."
"I said `You're going to charge me more for a date that we don't want? Forget it.' I told them we were going public with our side of the story because we didn't want people to think this was an amicable split," he said.
The league's Firestone Indy 400 will be held in the Irish Hills about 120km west of Detroit -- where open-wheel racing has been a tradition since 1968 -- before the series returns next month to the Motor City for the inaugural Detroit Indy Grand Prix.
A deal with the nonprofit Downtown Detroit Partnership, chaired by racing icon Roger Penske, put a race in the nation's automotive capital for the first time since 2001. It also made the race at MIS expendable, Curtis said.
The IRL disagrees.
"That would not be part of the consideration from our perspective," said Terry Angstadt, president of IRL's commercial division. "They are very different events. One is a road course in an urban environment versus a historic, oval venue in Brooklyn, Michigan."
Angstadt said the league was taken off guard when MIS announced last month it would not have an open-wheel race next year.
"To announce that before an event didn't make a lot of sense to us," he said. "We would, however, like to come back in the future because the open-wheel history at MIS is pretty darn close to any other track."
Even though the racing has been spectacular with four-wide and three-wide racing and close finishes, crowds have not packed the 136,000-seat venue as they do for the track's two NASCAR dates and had for open-wheel events in previous decades.
MIS does not provide attendance figures, but an estimated 35,000 fans watched the league's first five races at the storied track.
CART and MIS didn't renew their contract after 33 races in 2001, in part because of dwindling attendance.
"Hopefully, the IRL will want to come back, but if they don't, we'll be prepared to move on," Curtis said. "We're not going to just sit here with two NASCAR races and say that's it. I've been here since May of last year and I didn't come here to just tread water.
"We're looking into how much it would cost to bring back the road course that used to be here along with other uses for the facility such as concerts and festivals," he said.
Tomas Scheckters said he was sad that tomorrow will be his last chance to race at the track where he won his first race as a rookie.
"I'm sad to see that track leave the schedule next season, but I'm happy to have another shot to race there this season," he said.