By the end of the Molson Indy’s 15-year run in Vancouver, the event had grown into a quintessential summertime event in the city – on the same level as the Celebration of Light.
The Champ Car race regularly attracted over 150,000 spectators throughout the event’s weekend-long duration, but it was axed after the 2004 season following years of noise complaints from residents living next to the street-circuit race course in eastern False Creek.
However, the real reason over the demise of the Molson Indy Vancouver had to do with the construction activity directly associated with the 2010 Winter Olympics, as a large portion of the race course was located at Southeast False Creek, the site of the Olympic Village.
It was also difficult for the race to attract sponsors in its final years as organizers were unable to commit to the event’s continuation due to the difficulty with rejigging the race course.
Fourteen years after the Indy ended in Vancouver, an equivalent event replacement of the same scale of the Indy in Vancouver’s summer event schedule has not materialized.
In fact, some of Vancouver’s other quintessential summertime events have lost some of their lustre in this same period. The Celebration of Light, for instance, cut one of its event days; there are now three nights of fireworks instead of four. And the quality and quantity of programming at the Fair at the PNE has gone downhill even further, coupled with the decision to reduce the annual Fair’s duration from 17 days to 15.
A handful of large community-oriented events have popped up ever since, such as Khatsahlano, Car Free Days, and Vancouver Mural Fest, but these events are nowhere near the same calibre as the Indy in terms of scope and size.
Vancouver used to be more fun and less anemic.
“The Indy did bring in people from far and wide. I went one year that was close to the end of the run, and I found it quite exciting to be a part of it,” Charles Gauthier, the President and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, told Daily Hive.
Champ Car, of course, no longer exists, although the Indy Vancouver’s sister event in Toronto is still very much alive under the umbrella of the IndyCar Series.
Gauthier noted there are immense challenges with starting another car race event in the city, especially in the downtown core, which is now far more developed with residential properties.
Even more parcels of land that formerly hosted the Indy are set to be redeveloped over the coming years, specifically the Concord Pacific lands in Northeast False Creek.
A new road network in Northeast False Creek that revolves around the removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts would also remove the excess road capacity needed to accommodate hosting such events in the area.
Besides the street-circuit race course, there is also need for space for grandstands that can hold tens of thousands of spectators, a pit area, food and beverage, entertainment, and ancillary functions.
“I just think in this day and age, and how much the downtown and surrounding area has been built out, I suspect that there would be too much opposition and I suspect the City of Vancouver would not be supportive,” continued Gauthier, adding that car culture in the city has changed. “Although that depends on what the upcoming civic outcome is.”
Gauthier believes that FIA Formula E Championship, which is an electric car race series that runs on a street-circuit race course, would be “much more palatable” for people to support given that it uses environmentally-friendly vehicles and is significantly quieter than any other major car race.
“I think as long as the noise level wasn’t to the same extent it was for the Indy car race, then I think that has some potential.”
Formula E is relatively new, given that its inaugural race was only in 2014. The series just finished its fourth season, with host cities including Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Santiago, Mexico City, Punta del Este, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Zurich, and New York City.
“Vancouver is possibly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but the world doesn’t know it,” said Andrew Miles, the founder and editor of motorsport publication The Daily Apex.
He’s gone as far as calling Vancouver a “dream” city for the event.
“Formula E prides itself on going to famous city centres across the globe and Vancouver is one of those underrated places you don’t understand until you visit. Combining Formula E’s sustainable characteristics with such an eco-friendly community makes this a grand slam venue location.”
Miles says the lack of noise is one of the biggest selling points for Formula E when it tries to expand into a new city.
“The only sound you hear from these electric cars is tire squealing and a low hum from the electric motors,” said Miles. “Compared to virtually any other motorsport, Formula E makes it seem like a race isn’t even happening.”
He acknowledges there are some logistical challenges with hosting any car race in an urban setting. But he says that since cities like Hong Kong, Rome, and Paris have been able to work out the kinks, it should encourage other potential hosts to come onboard.
Singapore also has the larger Formula 1 race running through its city centre, and there were recent plans to bring the race to Copenhagen.
All of the tracks in the Formula E series are roughly 2.5 km in length, which also happens to be approximately the same length as the Indy’s route. In most host cities, the race is a single-day event.
Montreal’s failure in its role of hosting Formula E was an outlier, and the disorganization and cancellation of the second annual race in the city greatly contributed to the ousting of its mayor in the last civic election.
A report by Montreal’s inspector general released earlier this year accused former mayor Denis Coderre of creating a non-profit organization that operated as a shell company for the Mayor’s office and a private production company. Coderre ignored legal advice and circumvented rules to stage the city’s inaugural and only Formula E race in 2017.
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Valerie Plante, who succeeded Coderre, cancelled the 2018 race shortly after the election when the new civic administration discovered significant cost overruns and shortfalls, largely due to a lack of sponsorship.
Montreal was expected to spend between $30 million and $35 million in order to be able to host the race for a second year. In contrast, other races held in other cities succeeded in reaching their sponsorship goals, and some cities even received zero public funding.
The attendance of Montreal’s inaugural year was far below original projections. Organizers wanted to see 90,000 spectators over the span of the two-day season closer, however, only 45,000 people attended the race, which included 30,000 free tickets.
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“Montreal seemed more rushed than an organizational failure, although rushing a plan can be considered bad organization,” said Miles. “When it comes to failed races, there are a few examples of venues that were dropped, but none that warranted massive amounts of controversy. London and Moscow are two venues that Formula E used early on but were cut. Fortunately, both of these places are trying for a Formula E return. No love lost.”
“That being said, you need a strong brand to pull in that kind of an audience, and in time Formula E may have that kind of power. As far as sponsorship goes, Formula E would actually entice more companies than Formula 1. This is simply because many businesses want to give the impression they are ‘green,’ and an event like Formula E does just that.”
He notes that the series is starting gain traction, and has the attention of manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Jaguar, and Nissan.
“These companies don’t do anything without a purpose, and Formula E provides them with a place to hone their technology while building a brand name in the emerging electric car market,” added Miles.
In 2014, Vancouver City Council approved a motion by Non-Partisan Association city councillor Elizabeth Ball that requested city staff examine the opportunity of bidding for Formula E, but beyond the formalities this did not gain any traction in the Vision Vancouver-dominated city hall.
Since then, Jerry Kroll has been trying to put together the pieces for a Formula E race in the city.
Kroll is the President and CEO of ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp., a Vancouver-based company that produces three-wheeled electric cars and recently went public on NASDAQ. He recently sponsored the championship-winning Techeetah team at the season finale held in New York City.
“I’m working on several opportunities to move forward with an event in Vancouver in the next two to three years, if things come together. There is a lot of interest in Formula E in Vancouver,” said Kroll.
“People in Vancouver can imagine what 20 super angry SkyTrain trains would sound like racing each other! It’s going to be amazing, and not only feature our great city, but also host some of the biggest corporations working on clean technology for the coming business cycle.”