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Indy organizers pleased despite low turnout

Driver Dario Franchitti of Scotland celebrates winning on his victory lap at the IRL IndyCar Series Honda Indy Toronto race, July 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA SPORT MOTOR RACING)

Despite empty seats in the sparse grandstands and long lines at ticket sellers outside the track, race organizers left Toronto pleased with the first race under new management.

While it might seem that attendance at the Honda Indy Toronto was disappointing, the organizers stressed that 2009 is only the first in a five-year plan to rebuild the event.

"As far as the on-track product, today, it was fantastic," said Kevin Savoree, managing director of Andretti Green Promotions, which runs the race.

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"We accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish with the 2009 event, and we've established a very strong foundation and we are going to build on that."

Organizers refused to divulge the attendance, saying it is not their policy. But estimates put the grandstand seats at about 15,000.

And a glance across the track toward the pit lane during the race showed grandstands with large blocks of empty seats and the general admission was not standing room only. Part of that may have been because fans gave up on buying a ticket after finding the long lines outside the track, where sellers were using calculators and cashboxes.

Before the race, groups of women in event gear were seen handing out grandstand tickets to people inside the grounds.

"We have to commit to the seat fill months in advance, but we are happy with the attendance which exceeded our expectations from a budget standpoint," Savoree said.

"Would we like to have sold more tickets in these areas? Absolutely.

"But we did have a successful day. I think already we've looked at areas where we can add more seats and move seats to enhance the fan experience overall."

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Ken Newcombe, of Brampton, Ont., was glad to see the race back despite the low attendance.

Newcombe, who was attending his third Indy at Exhibition Place, felt that the race's return was a good morale boost for Toronto as it struggles through a city worker strike.

"I was a little disappointed [with the attendance]and I thought there would be more people at the race, although they didn't do too badly on Friday or Saturday," he said.

"But the people who were here were very enthused, and if this is a continuing process, it's only going to get better and the stands will be full."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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