CHAMPCAR/CART: Champ Car exits St. Pete event

It was supposed to be first race of the year, but the late assumption of CART Inc. assets by Open Wheel Racing Series helped lead to a tentative mid-May rescheduling of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of that gulf-side city.

Harbor in downtown St. Petersburg.
Photo by Jack Durbin.
Today the race was formally cancelled by Champ Car president Dick Eidswick, despite all efforts by series official to acquire rights to hold the race. OWRS attempted to acquire the rights from Dover Motorsports Inc. subsidiary Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (GPALB), which owned those rights.

It wasn't possible for OWRS or the City of St. Petersburg, which clearly wanted to hold the race, to secure the rights due to an inability to reach an agreement with Tom Begley, the former rights holder for the event.

"Champ Car worked very hard to hold the St. Petersburg race in 2004, but individuals unrelated to Champ Car kept that from happening," Eidswick declared, "which is a disappointment not only to our drivers and teams, but more importantly to the many Champ Car fans throughout the Southeast."

Resolution to the signed agreement between Begley and GPALB wasn't successful despite entreaties by the City, OWRS and GPALB, leaving the Champ Car World Series no recourse but to cancel the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"It is unfortunate that St. Petersburg will not be included this year in the Champ Car World Series," declared Mayor Rick Baker of the City of St. Petersburg, "despite repeated attempts made by Open Wheel Racing Series.

"St. Petersburg has demonstrated it can host a successful street racing event along its world class waterfront," Baker continued. "The terrific fan support from the 2003 race uniquely positions the city for a return in the near future and I'm pleased Champ Car continues to express a desire to return."

The Champ Car World Series made a successful debut on the St. Pete waterfront last February, in a race that showed the tempo of a revitalized series. Drivers and teams all praised the circuit and its facilities, and the competition was stirring, resulting in Paul Tracy's initial win of his 2003 Championship season.

"The success of last year's race makes this outcome even more of a disappointment," Eidswick explained. "We were looking to build on the success and all parties worked around the clock for the past two weeks trying to work out a resolution to include the race on our 2004 calendar.

"Great fan support," Eidswick continued, "was a key factor in our desire to hold the event. While we regret we can not race in St. Petersburg in 2004, we are hopeful about the possibility of returning in the future," he said.

The Champ Car schedule is expected to be released in conjunction with the series Spring Preview in Long Beach, CA. The two-day media gathering - with fan participation - is set for March 8-9. The first race of the year has been securely scheduled for the same venue, as the 30th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which also showcases the Motorock Trans-Am Tour and the Toyota Atlantic Championship.

Hoping that eventually an agreement would be reached with Begley that would allow the Champ Car World Series to return to St. Petersburg, Eidswick did raise the final comment that return to this wonderful venue is hopeful, "if circumstances allow."