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IndyCar officially leaving Sonoma Raceway after this year

September’s Gran Prix of Sonoma will be the last IndyCar race at Sonoma Raceway following Monterey County’s approval Tuesday of a three-year contract with the open-wheel series to begin running at Laguna Seca.

The Monterey Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to sign the contract - set to begin next year - after a brief and upbeat discussion about potential revenue and favorable “social media impressions” the race could bring to the central coastal region.

One supervisor expressed concerns about the financial projections in the contract, noting that Sonoma Raceway lost money staging the race.

Sonoma Raceway General Manager Steve Page said the race, held since 2005 at the Sears Point track at Highways 121 and 37, had been a six-figure financial loser for several years.

Monterey County, which owns the Laguna Seca track, agreed to pay IndyCar LLC of Indianapolis between $1.2 million and $1.5 million next year in what’s called a sanction fee, and $1.5 million each of the following two years.

Staff negotiators expect the race will cost a total of $2 million to $2.5 million to put on, with anticipated revenues of ?$2 million to $2.8 million.

“If Sears Point couldn’t make it work with a lower sanction fee than we’re planning, how do we think we’re going to make it work and not put county taxpayers at risk?” Supervisor Jane Parker asked county staff. “I hope at least we can break even.”

Assistant County Administrative Officer Dewayne Woods said he expected net income of between $100,000 and $500,000.

“Hmm, OK. Not sure how we get to $2, $2.5 million,” Parker said.

Maybe it’s enough that the event would bring in positive media exposure for the Monterey Bay area, attracting hotel and restaurant visits and spending at local businesses, she said.

Parker said she is looking forward to seeing reports next year on what benefits the race brought to the area. She said she wanted to be sure that “it isn’t a drag on the county taxpayers.”

A private for-profit company, Sonoma Raceway takes no public funds.

Page said he wishes Laguna Seca and Monterey County well.

“The deal that we had was better for the track than what they just approved,” he said. “If they can crack the code and figure out how to make the economics work, good for them.”

Although losing the race is disappointing for local IndyCar fans, it will be a positive financial change for the track, Page said.

“From a quarter-million-dollar loss to renting the track for six figures to someone, it will contribute to our bottom line in a positive way,” he said.

“We love promoting races. We enjoy hosting an IndyCar race,” he said. “It’s just not an economically viable business.”

Monterey supervisors welcomed racing legend Bobby Rahall to their meeting with applause and took a planned break in the middle of their morning meeting to hold a congratulatory press conference outside the building with IndyCar and track operators.

IndyCar officials announced that Laguna Seca will host the final race of the 2019 Verizon IndyCar Series season, on Sept. 22. Sonoma Raceway has held the finale the past three years and will host it again Sept. 16 on this year.

As the series finale, the race has the potential to crown the series points winner, which the Gran Prix of Sonoma has done since 2015. The last race on the schedule has decided the championship for 12 years running.

Laguna Seca held Indy races from 1983-2004 as part of the CART/Champ Car World Series, before Sonoma began hosting the IndyCar series the following year. The Champ Car series merged with IndyCar in 2008.

The 2.238-mile Monterey County road course was the site of the series finale from 1989 to 1996.

Page said Sonoma Raceway may plan some special events for the last IndyCar race in Sears Point.

“We have thousands of fans that love to come see IndyCar races and we encourage them to join us in September for what will be the final finale,” he said.

You can reach staff writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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