By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
Verizon IndyCar Series team owner Bobby Rahal seems to like the potential of the series expanding internationally.
The 1986 Indianapolis 500 and three-time Indy car champion turned team owner feels that going international would elevate IndyCar’s bottom line if the event well supported.
He alluded to CART/Champ Car’s successful stint in Surfer’s Paradise Australia from 1991-2008 as an example of how a race was done right.
“We had tremendously successful races in Australia, Surfer’s Paradise became a huge event,” Rahal told Motorsports Tribune.
“There’s a record of events of that type that have been very successful. There have also been international events that were not successful. I think it is a matter of having the support of the community.”
“They have great races on street tracks for example outside of IndyCar – Macau Grand Prix is a very famous race for Formula 3 cars it has been in existence for many years. They aren’t freaks of nature that happen every once in a while, there is a record of good events around the world but you have to have that backing.”
Surfer’s had the support of the community, as weekend attendance would regularly draw over 252,000 spectators and brought in around $761 million to the local economy.
A local group was given the green light in June to negotiate with IndyCar about a possible return.
Like Surfer’s, Rahal feels that returning to Brazil would be a good move for IndyCar.
“Perhaps some place in Brazil would be good,” he said. “There are a lot of Brazilian drivers in the series and we’ve been in Brazil in the past for events.”
IndyCar raced on the streets of Sao Paulo from 2010-13 and was scheduled to return to the country in 2015 at the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet but the race was canceled due to the government pulling support of the race.
As where international races fit on the calendar, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winer said that scheduling them anytime from October to March could be an easy way to shorten the off-season and make logistics easier on the series as a whole.
“Personally, if you look at how much of our year when we are not competing say from October, November to March, to me that that is an opportunity to go to places like Surfer’s Paradise or somewhere in the southern hemisphere where you can put on events that don’t conflict with the events that we have here,” Rahal continued.
“I think that Mark (Miles) sees that. You can’t go out and do six events but you can do two or three.”
The three-time Indy car champion also expressed interest at an entirely new market for IndyCar – South Africa at the Kyalami International Circuit.
Formula 1 raced at Kyalami in multiple stints throughout its existence with the last being in 1993. The track was recently purchased by Porsche South Africa and is being renovated to modern standards.
IndyCar was granted a preliminary license to race in South Africa in 2013 on the Phiska Freeway but nothing came of it.
While IndyCar has never raced in South Africa before, Rahal feels that with racing being intertwined with the history of the country, it could be an easy sell for the series.
“You are the big show in town, you are the big event,” Rahal said. “I think it is doubtful that Formula 1 will go back to South Africa anytime soon. I think there has been a historic relationship in racing between South Africa and Formula 1 and IndyCar, racing as a whole – there always was a strong record or historical records with motorsports in south Africa. I think that still exists.”
“You want to go where people follow the sport already, they have a feel for it or an understanding of it. When you do go there, it’s not like you have to convert people. They know. They are already big fans of the sport and that makes it a lot easier.”
IndyCar has not had the best luck with international races in recent years. Recently, A potential race in Qingdao, China was canceled in 2012 just weeks before the race was to have taken place.
The aforementioned Brazil race in 2015 ended up falling through and a proposed non-championship race in Beijing, China never came to pass.
That has him thinking that if IndyCar eventually goes international, the series do need to hold the promoter to a high standard so that the race does not fall through the cracks.
Rahal used the recent cancellation of the Boston Grand Prix back in April as an example of a lesson learned.
“I think the lesson with Boston – you have vet these people, these groups that want to hold these races maybe even vet them more completely to hold them to stricter standards.”
“If they can’t deliver those goods, then don’t even start the dance with them. Until they can get this done or that done let’s not even talk about it.”