UPDATE: Electric kart races cancelled
The promoter of a weekend of races featuring electric go-karts zipping through Downtown New West has pulled the plugged.
Greg Webster, the founder of the G-Zero racing championship series, said he's had to indefinitely postpone his inaugural event, scheduled for June 28-29. The New Westminster races were supposed to be the first of six events in Metro Vancouver, from Whistler to Chilliwack, to introduce electric go-kart racing.
The karts were supposed to race at speeds up to 105 km/h along Columbia Street, up Mackenzie Street onto Clarkson, then down the Begbie hill before turning right back onto Columbia to a hairpin at 8th Street. About 40 teams were expected to be on the start line.
But Webster said he's had difficulty securing the water-filled protective barriers that will line parts of the course, and sponsors and teams have been slow to commit.
Webster said he's caught in a kind of chicken-and-egg scenario in that sponsors and racers don't want to commit money until they're ensured a series of events, but the events can't go ahead without commitments from those sponsors and racers.
"It's a different sort of sporting event than people are used to," said Webster. "The community is not familiar enough with motorsport as a venue for marketing."
Webster estimated it will cost between $75,000 and $110,000 to put on a racing event, much of that covering the cost of closing roads, installing barriers, staffing for security and policing. As there's no admission to watch the races, Webster said those expenses would need to be covered by sponsorship and drivers' entry fees.
The racers are also on the hook for the $15,000 cost of a kart, plus other expenses like a trailer, spare parts and extra tires, which they try to recoup through sponsorships.
Blair Fryer, New Westminster's economic development manager and director of communications, said he was informed by Webster of the cancellation by email Thursday evening. The city had scheduled a meeting with Webster later this week to discuss holding the event Sept. 7. Fryer said that meeting will no longer happen.
"It's unfortunate with a brand new concept like G-Zero, these things can be tough to get off the ground," said Fryer.
Maddison McKitrick, the program and events coordinator for the Downtown BIA, said she understands organizers of new events often run into complications along the way.
"Obviously we were looking forward to it," said McKitrick.
It's not the first time Webster's plan to start a series of electric go-kart races has short-circuited. The company was first supposed to launch its racing series with a preview event at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Vancouver in Sept., 2011, with eight more races scheduled around Metro Vancouver the following year.
But those races never happened.
Another attempt was made to ignite the series last year. A crowd-funding campaign started in Oct. 2012 to raise $17,500 so G-Zero could acquire an electric go-kart to show off its capabilities to potential sponsors and racers. The campaign promised "8 unique temporary circuits in front of tens of thousands of spectators" starting in the spring of 2013. It realized only $145 before it closed in Dec. 2012.
Webster admits his initial aspirations may have been too ambitious.
"Our focus this year is on the promotion and acclimation of the community to what we're doing, as opposed to holding bigger, grander events," said Webster.
Fryer said Webster is still keen to bring electric go-kart racing to the Royal City.
"We remain open to working with them in the future should the opportunity arise," said Fryer.