|Date: 3/8/2009 9:02:40 PM|
Green Prix USA a St. Pat's No-Go in Savannah
By Walter Elliott
SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Saint Patrick's Day and Spring Break revelers will have to wait for another time for the Green Prix USA debut and/or the Cooper Tires Atlantic Challenge Powered by Mazda series cars to race here on the Hutchinson Island road course.
Several recent events, including the need to bring the 1.98-mile, 10-turn public course to full racing standard, have made what would have been the Green Prix USA for Champ or Indy style cars debut for March 13-15 unlikely.
Green Prix USA founder Ben Johnstone, of Alpharetta, envisioned 20 mostly former Champ Car World Series Panoz DP01 cars to be the weekend's headliner. The DP01s would have been identically prepared from Panoz's Elan Motorsports Technology Group, of Braselton, and powered by former turbocharged 2.65-liter Ford-Cosworth EXE V8 engines. The revived Champ Cars were to be supported by what would have been the openining round of the Atlantic Challenge.
Atlantic Challenge officials, however, issued a revised 2009 calendar Feb. 2 where the Hutchinson Island race was replaced by second races during their June 12-13 weekend at (Millville) New Jersey Motorsport Park and July 25-26 at Joilet Ill.'s Autobhan Country Club. The series is to now debut as a support race for the ALMS Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring March 20.
Johnstone, who bought the Atlantic Challenge series Oct. 31 and put it under IMSA sanction, has not made any comments of the Green Prix USA postponement. The owner-operator of Media Brokers, Inc., a commercial time buying company, has been a long-time SCCA Alabama-region Formula Atlatic driver and made one prosessional Toyota Formula Atlantic start in the 1990s.
Westin Savannah Harbor Resort general manager Mark Spadoni, in a report published Jan. 26, said that the circuit his hotel is near lacks the safety barriers and other features required for pre-race insurance and sanctioning body certifucation. Those features include concrete dividers and steel guardrails that were removed after the course's May 15, 1997 CART Indy Lights Dixie Crystals Grand Prix.
"It's a time-frame issue," said Spadoni to SanannahNow.com. "If we don't have a St. Patricks's Day race, that doesn't mean we won't have some other event here this year that allows us to get one under our belt. That way we can learn and tweak some things for a big event for St. Patrick's Day 2010."
The Westin resort, an exposition center and residential communities are among the developments the Savannah city council have allowed since the former plantation and trade center island had its only full-fledged motorsports event 12 years ago.
A bicycle race stage was held here May 27, 2006.
The Historic Sportscar Racing group, commemorating the 1911 Vanderbilt Cup race held on the citys south side across the Savannah River, held an American Grand Prize demonstration last November. HSR has slated two more events, April 2-5 and Oct. 31-Nov. 1, on the island this year.
The course has otherwise been a public Loop Road since the original promoters suffered a $3.5 million loss and went bankrupt.
It was briefly listed on the 1999 ARCA Re/Max Supercar Series stock car schedule.
Johnstone may have also suffered a setback when an Indianapolis federal court time change prevented his bidding on 93 Cosworth XE engines up for bankruptcy sale Nov. 18. He had intended to buy some $3 million worth of engines and related parts and electronics from Coswoth USA and Champ Car World Series owners Gerry Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven - the same duo he had purchased Atlantic series rights from. The engines remain Cosworth USA possessions.
Johnstone, in GreenprixUSA.com, envisioned an environmentally friendly open wheel series.
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