IndyCar nears Champ Car resolution
Final arrangements are being worked out between IndyCar and Champ Car that will end the long feud between the two sides, IndyCar officials confirmed. An official announcement could come as early as Friday morning.
Series officials hoped to make the announcement on Thursday afternoon, but Champ Car principal Kevin Kalkhoven will not be back from tending to personal business in England.
All but one of the Champ Car owners appear to be in agreement, which would have Champ Car close its doors allowing its teams to join the IndyCar Series. A financial arrangement is also being made by IndyCar where it will purchase some of Champ Cars assets including all "intellectual properties" and some hard assets such as series transporters and other safety equipment.
"Discussions are ongoing," said IndyCar Series vice president of public relations John Griffin. "There is still an agreement that needs to be completed.
"We're confident but discussions are ongoing."
Drafts of an agreement between the two sides were exchanged on Tuesday, according to sources.
This would end the 13-year war that began when Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George announced the creation of a new racing series on March 20, 1994. At that time, most of the teams that competed in the Indianapolis 500 were in CART, a series that went bankrupt and would later be revived as Champ Car. The series didn't move toward reality until 1995 and began competition on January 27, 1996.
George's original intention was to have CART teams participate in what was then known as the Indy Racing League but most of those teams refused, starting a lengthy and divisive battle for supremacy in North American open wheel racing.
Now it appears Champ Car will agree to cease operations, which will allow its teams to accept George's offer of a free Dallara chassis and free Honda engines to make the transition to IndyCar. In addition, IndyCar is expected to get Champ Car's race dates for the Long Beach Grand Prix along with street races in Edmonton, Alberta; Surfer's Paradise Australia. Mexico City and Toronto could be added in 2009.
This would not be a merger of Champ Car and IndyCar because the IndyCar Series will be the only series in competition. And it is not technically an acquisition because IndyCar will not be acquiring all of the assets of Champ Car.
The proper term would be an "amalgamation" which means Champ Car closes up business and its teams join IndyCar.
In recent weeks while George was making his offer to bring the two sides together, Champ Car's principles which include Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi and Dan Pettit have considered one last effort to stage the 2008 season or to file bankruptcy.
Either way, the IndyCar Series will now have the opportunity to lead this form of racing into the future with the Indianapolis 500 as its cornerstone event.
But, any agreement does not necessarily mean a large contingent of Champ Car teams will be joining IndyCar this year. Some teams may close up or enter a new form of racing, such as sports cars.
Champ Car teams Walker Racing and Newman-Haas-Lanigan are expected to join the IndyCar Series but some of IndyCar's current teams, such as Dreyer & Reinbold and Vision Racing, which ironically is owned by George, may have to reduce the number of cars it fields this season.
Dreyer & Reinbold campaigned two cars in IndyCar last season but may run just one car in 2008. Also, Vision Racing has 10 cars in its possession and will be the main source of cars that will be heading to Champ Car teams that decide to join IndyCar.
Larry Curry is the team manager at Vision Racing and will be in charge of not only preparing the cars that will be going to the new teams joining the IndyCar Series, but also his own effort for his drivers.
"I think certainly we've anticipated this was in the works and I want to say that we are prepared," Curry said. "If and when we get the final word that we need to get some of that stuff distributed we'll be able to answer the bell. It hasn't been totally defined exactly yet how all of that transpires if and when it becomes official to tell you the truth.
"You're going to expect more of your people and things of that nature but to me the sooner it's official the better You want to get done what you need to get done for that and then move on because you are 100 percent right. Vision Racing has had aggressive testing in the offseason and are very well prepared for the upcoming open test. I think the sooner you can get a single focus the better.
"If they announce this thing tomorrow, it's not too soon for me."
Curry said his crew at Vision Racing will be working throughout the weekend to get all 10 of its cars prepared for use at next week's IndyCar Open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"It adds work to the plate for sure," Curry said. "Even though you have all these cars, they are in a cycle and you have to bring that to the forefront quicker than anticipated. What Vision was doing with all of these cars was the 2008 modifications with the anti-intrusion panels. We're installing those on all 10 of those cars. That's a process in itself that is new to us and has added more time to the physical build of the cars.
"We're going to run two cars full time. Tony George needs to officially announce his driver lineup with that but what we would do beyond that is yet to be determined."
If the IndyCar Series began racing tomorrow, there would only be 16 cars and that's assuming Rahal Letterman competes this season along with Marty Roth running two cars.
It remains unclear which Champ Car teams will actually join IndyCar.
"I hope they all come," Curry said. "If you have eight cars plus the 16 you have and get to 24 that would be pretty damn big. Once we get it and get it done, it's who all is really going to come? Hopefully, they all do.
"I want to see open-wheel racing gets back to where qualifying actually means something. That would be pretty cool. It hasn't been that way in a long, long time."
Curry has been involved in the IndyCar Series since it was called the Indy Racing League in 1996 when he was the team manager at Team Menard and Tony Stewart was one of his drivers.
Prior to the 1996 season when CART and the IRL went separate ways, a case could be made that IndyCar racing was the dominant form of racing in the United States over NASCAR in terms of general, broad-based interest.
That was before NASCAR pulled away from the field.
Now that IndyCar could be one unified group, Curry is hopefully the building process can begin.
"Once this announcement comes down, let's everyone focus on what needs to be done to make this series the best it could be," Curry said. "Let's make a single focus about where we need to take this thing for the future. That's the only way we are ultimately going to get to where we need to get.
"I want people in open wheel racing to always believe they have the best guys in one series and not in another series."
Curry believes the addition of the Champ Car drivers will be a very interesting mix to the series.
"The majority of the drivers coming over are all very high level road racers and of course Paul Tracy has the oval background and has won races on ovals," Curry said. "We have some good road racers on our series, too and we have some guys equally as good road racers. It will be an interesting mix in how all of that works out. On one side it will be a steep learning curve but as Ryan Hunter-Reay proved when he came into our series and got in Rahal's car, he adapted very easily."
But as former CART and IndyCar driver Robby Gordon said at last week's Daytona 500 -- "Getting the cars together is the easy part; the hard part was getting the two sides to finally agree to become one."
The lengthy war for control of open wheel racing in America coincided with NASCAR's rapid growth to become the premier racing series in the United States.
Even with one unified IndyCar Series, it may be difficult to compete in the racing world with NASCAR's huge sponsorship, media and fan base advantages.
But at the very least, it will help restore stature to IndyCar's premier event, the Indianapolis 500.
"I'm extremely relieved just because being in the sport as long as I've been in the sport, for once the things that are happening is what is right for the sport," Curry said. "Hopefully, the two sides coming together and one open-wheel racing series in the United States that corporate America may notice and wanted to jump on board because there will be continuity and direction.
"If you get a series sponsor that will be the beginning of getting sponsors for teams. Our series needs to have a name besides being the IndyCar Series. We need a partner to jump on board and start to really promote the series that you can do when you have that kind of backing."