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Honda Indy Toronto benefits Ontario tourism as organizers seek contract renewal

Christian Lundgaard Christian Lundgaard - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Although Christian Lundgaard stood atop the podium after the Honda Indy Toronto, local tourism may have been the real winner.

The four-day racing event at Toronto's Exhibition Place drew 148,000 attendees in 2022 and organizers say it drew even more this summer. Andrew Weir, executive vice-president of Destination Toronto, said the Honda Indy is one of the most valuable tourism draws in southern Ontario's summer calendar because, like Caribana and the Toronto International Film Festival, it has a consistent date.

"It's been such a fixture of Toronto summers for so many years," said Weir of the race which was first held in 1986. "Some of the key tourism drivers in Toronto are more variable in nature, like the Blue Jays or some of the major concerts.

"They're not necessarily consistent year over year, whereas the Indy is on the same weekend, and it's predictable."

Green Savoree Race Promotions, which operates four of the 17 annual IndyCar races, is in the final year of its contract with Penske Entertainment to run the only Canadian event on the schedule. Honda Indy Toronto president Jeff Atkinson said at an introductory news conference on July 13 that negotiations are going "very well'' and that his organization will have an update on the race's future soon.

Weir hopes that the race will continue well into the future.

"Any time you have more things going on in the city, and to satisfy a diversity of interests, the better. There are people who undoubtedly come to Toronto every summer for Indy, it's just part of their plans," said Weir. "We certainly would want them to continue coming to Toronto, so we want the driver that motivates them to come."

A spokeswoman for Ontario's ministry of tourism said that in 2022, the Honda Indy reported $26.94 million of economic impact in the province. In 2023, the race was partly funded through Ontario's Marquee Event Fund, which supports festivals of national and international prominence.

Race organizers have yet to tally the final attendance figures for the 2023 edition of the four-day event or its economic impact. They did note that the grandstands were packed on Honda Fan Friday, when admission is free, and that weekend attendance as a whole appeared to eclipse last year's number which was the largest crowd in two decades.

Weir said that it's hard to attribute hotel and restaurant data to one specific event — since tourists may go to several events in one stay — but there was a spike in 2022 during the Honda Indy.

"We saw Indy weekend was four per cent higher than the average of the other July weekends in 2022," said Weir, noting that the Toronto Blue Jays also hosted the Kansas City Royals that weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2023.