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Grand Prix's success key in crafting of new deal

Negotiations to renew Andretti Green Productions' recently expired contract to put on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg are apparently taking longer than expected because of what company general manager Kevin Savoree considers the success of the event.

By BRANT JAMES
Published April 24, 2007


Negotiations to renew Andretti Green Productions' recently expired contract to put on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg are apparently taking longer than expected because of what company general manager Kevin Savoree considers the success of the event.

"It's obvious as the event has grown, which is a very positive thing, some of the items in the original contract need to be reconsidered," he said by telephone. "I think that goes for all the sides: the city, (sponsor) Honda, the IndyCar series, the American Le Mans series and us. As with any negotiation, that's something we have to work through."

The city received 200 tickets and the right to erect a hospitality area from AGP in the first three-year contract in exchange, basically, to serve as a backdrop for a two-hour nationally televised auto race. AGR was responsible for paying for uses of city resources in excess of $150,000.

Although AGP does not release ticket figures, crowds have been large. Savoree plans to be in town soon to meet with local politicians, he said.

CHAMP BREAK: With an open schedule until the Grand Prix of Portland (Ore.) on June 10, Champ Car teams would seemingly have time to crash the party at the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, much like Newman Haas did with Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira in 2005.

The short answer? No.

"That's not what we do," said Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven.

It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Indy crash that broke Junqueira's back and cost him the remainder of the 2005 season. It has more to do with the fact that the series use different chassises and engines and Champ Car is at a competitive disadvantage playing in the Indy Racing League's big game.

"Absolutely not. I just can't," team owner Carl Haas said of again fielding cars for Indy. "We'd like to do it, but I don't have any sponsorship for it. Aside from that, we've got our hands full right now. This new (DP01) car and everything, sorting it out, we'd be behind the wall quick, and we just can't do that this year."

Bourdais, who has been critical of IndyCar, said he didn't necessarily dislike his Indy experience, even after finishing 12th because of a late accident.

"It only makes sense to go if we can be competitive, and that is very hard," the three-time defending Champ Car champion said. "In '04, Bruno nearly won the pole (starting fourth). In '05, we were 3 or 4 mph off. In '06, about 5 to 7 mph off and it will be that way as long as they have the same car and everyone keeps working on it. We have no wind tunnel program and can't afford it. If we cannot be competitive, we don't need to waste the money."

HAMLIN BUMMED: The frustration is mounting for Denny Hamlin, though the finishes haven't been all that bad.

For the third straight Car of Tomorrow race, Hamlin showed his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team was among the best in the field but failed to turn that into victory.

The Brandon-born Hamlin led 70 laps in Saturday night's Subway 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and caught pole-sitter Jeff Gordon early. But a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 100 sent Hamlin to the rear of the field.

He made his way back to finish third but was visibly upset.

"It just seems like we can't get a break, one way or another," said Hamlin, who is fifth in points. "Nothing seems to go our way, and it's just disheartening to have such a good car and just can't do anything with it."

TRIO: Raphael Matos won the Atlantic Series race Sunday in Houston, his third straight to open the season. The Brazilian, 25, is the first to win the first three races of a season since Mark Dismore won the first five in 1990.