One Way Out

INDIANAPOLIS, January 13, 2004 — Now this throws things for a loop in the ongoing saga of Championship Auto Racing Teams.

Late Monday evening, the Indy Racing League disclosed that is has investigated purchasing some of the physical property owned by CART Inc., a Michigan company doing business in Indianapolis.

This occurred just after four of the final five directors of Championship Auto Racing Teams, the Delaware corporation resigned, leaving ol’ Chris Pook as the sole survivor on that island. The move is simply part of the dissembling of CART’s corporation, leaving Pook to handle the final days of the company he presided over during the past year.

Anyway, the Indy Racing League sent some higher-ups to CART’s north Indy offices on Friday — they made an appointment first, of course — to see if the list matched what was actually being offered for sale. Brian Barnhart, senior veep of operations and his counterpart in business affairs, Ken Ungar led a look-see, together with the guys from legal.

CART’s Federal Bankruptcy proceedings are set to air later this month. Final bids from Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS), the Indy Racing League and any other suitors (88 Corporation, International Speedway Corp.) must be tendered by January 23rd. Judge Frank Otte will make his final decision on who gets what on the 28th of this month.

For all those people who have just been waiting for Tony George, president and CEO of both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League to make a move, the news that the IRL is tentatively seeking to add some of CART’s nuts and bolts to its toolbox is welcome.

For all those people who have been hoping that there would be peace between these warring factions, the news brings some optimism. One premier open wheel racing series is possible and the right guy just might be making the right moves.

Of course, nobody can contact George to get his view on what his lieutenants are doing, but rest assured, these moves have his imprimatur. As Fred Nation, the IRL’S senior vice president of communications noted, “We are a racing company and they have racing equipment for sale. Most of the items are things we need.”

Now, we all know that the IRL was formed on the premise of being an all-oval series with the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race as its crown jewel and grass-roots drivers as its heroes. Theory went out the window a long time ago and now the Indy Racing League seems to have a bazillion Brazilians driving its cars.

And it looks just like the CART of old, with many manufacturers, many sponsors and a growing cadre of fans. Neither series has great TV presence, but that can be remedied. What is needed most is unification and, if this latest move by the IRL helps that theory along, all the better.

Just ask Paul Ray, the majordomo at Ilmor Engineering, builder of Honda‘s IRL powerplant. “This is very good news,” he said. “I’d rather see the IRL than ISC get CART’s assets,” if it comes to that. He lauded CART’s timing and scoring system as “far superior” and the rolling medical facility that travels from race to race as prime property.

Not your first choice at the big bargains table? What about the venues? Well, the League hasn’t said it has an interest in anything but physical assets, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

“I don’t think anybody wished CART’s troubles [on the group],” remarked Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Team Rahal, which competes in IRL, CART and Toyota Atlantic. “The last ten years of a fractious nature is what brought CART down,” said the former temporary CART prexy.

He would know, right?

Roger Penske has long adhered to the principle that this country and its business leaders can not and will not support two open wheel racing series. He’s been proven correct.

Michael Andretti has similar views on the subject, too: “In my opinion, I think we need to have one series. If we continue to have two series, I think it’s going to be a difficult challenge for us.” That’s a tune he’s been singing for a year or so.

Even one of the three principals of OWRS wants to see some peace, as Paul Gentilozzi remarked last week: “We’re willing to compromise. To be bigger and better five years from now we should have one open wheel series.” Gentilozzi did temper that comment by saying of his friend Tony George, “I think we have two plans.”

George intends to continue to emphasize oval dates, adding a few road courses to the mix in the IndyCar and, I’d assume the Menards Infiniti Pro Series as well, starting in 2005. The chassis makers, engine builders, suppliers, teams and drivers were advised of this development last summer.

OWRS wants the Champ Cars to continue going to all the street, road and the occasional oval the CART series has visited of late. These are two diverse routes,

The only way there will be a winner in this debate is through fusion. Give us our open wheel racing in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but just don’t make us divide our loyalties to one group or another, folks. The best minds from the IRL and CART series realize now that it just doesn’t work. The time for unification is in the courtroom of Judge Frank Otte, January 23rd and January 28th.

It’s the only way.

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