Euphoria to Engagement

INDIANAPOLIS, February 6, 2004&#151

Is the American Open Wheel Civil War really over, now that Judge Frank J. Otte has designated the assets and liabilities of CART Inc. go to the three amigos who have set up shop as Open Wheel Racing Series? Will there be peace in our time or, as one wag said, shaking his head, “This is only the beginning.”

In a surprising decision that came late last Wednesday, January 28th, Otte decided that, despite the lower offer from OWRS, he would go with their plan to revive the dormant Champ Car World Series and allow Paul Gentilozzi, Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe to try remake a series on life support.

The deal-maker, apparently, was CART’s parent company’s decision to pardon any repayment of nearly $64 million in loans made to the operating company, even as the parent goes into the depths of its own demise. Inevitably, the euphoria of the win wears off and the work begins.

While the Indy Racing League and owner Tony George gave the Federal Bankruptcy Court a higher bid of more than $13 million in its quest to wrest CART assets for the IndyCar Series’ projected street races, Judge Otte found for the OWRS and gave them the opportunity to right CART’s course.

Tony George

From here on in, the job becomes even tougher for the three gentlemen who are putting their money where their mouths are. By the time the Bankruptcy filing closes on February 12th these guys have to come up with their television contract, a deal supposedly already struck with CBS/Spike TV, they must come up with a minimum of 16-18 race cars, drivers and teams in accordance with promoters’ contracts and they must divulge the races the series will contest this year.

Normally, all of these items require a great deal more time to construct and are completed well prior to the change of the calendar year. The job at hand is a mighty one and no amount of bombast will work. It’s got to be concrete decisions for OWRS, no pie in the sky. No applesauce for the boss, either.

Even as the ink began to dry on Otte’s decision, wheels began to turn. Lola Cars, for one reported one solid car order received the morning after Otte ruled and the factory in Huntingdon, UK is working forthwith to put other chassis on jigs for the coming season.

Despite earlier objections, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Elkhart Lake’s Road America and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach all acknowledged they will hold Champ Car World Series events this year. Portland is ready to follow suit and the three Canadian events&#151at Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal&#151are on the [unreleased] schedule, as are the two Mexican races in Monterrey and Mexico City.

Surfers Paradise organizers were among those to remind the judge that a great deal of money was at stake here and that the government-backed race was integral to the Queensland governing body’s revenue-inducing promotions. Can you hear them exhale?

Appearing at the first IndyCar Series open test in Homestead, FL the day after a long court battle, Tony George told the team owners and drivers gathered at Homestead-Miami Speedway that the League would go forward with its road racing plans and that he had done the best he could to unite the open wheel world, albeit unsuccessfully.

In that paddock, as well as the one gathered north at Daytona International Speedway for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, there were a lot of questions and some dismay. People like Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing couldn’t comprehend the judge’s order, wondering where the sanity&#151if not sanctity&#151of Judge Otte’s instruction rested.

Red Bull Cheever Racing team owner Eddie Cheever stated what he found obvious: “It’s inevitable there will be one open wheel series in the United States. It is unfortunate this opportunity to have one series was not taken.”

League drivers who were hoping to go to circuits where they’d raced before on the Champ Car trail were obviously disappointed not to be returning to those wonderful road racing venues. But their disappointments could be short-lived as the League begins to gather its own partners for a smattering of road contests that are to come next season.

With road-race sidepods mandated for 2004, a left-or-right fueling spout and, considering the amount of time needed by Panoz G Force and Dallara to construct stronger front end suspension components and to secure the larger and more sturdy brake systems required for road racing, perhaps the wait will be fruitful.

Whether Judge Otte’s ruling will promote rebuilding of the Champ Car World Series is, after all, up to its participants and partners. Even as Cosworth Inc. in Torrance waits for contracts to be concluded so that its leases can be commenced, there is still a wait-and-see attitude throughout the motorsports community.

Is it all over now or does the battle royal truly begin as both the Indy Racing League’s IndyCar Series and the Champ Car World Series prepare to start their campaigns in late February and mid-April, respectively?

There’s still much to be gleaned from the actions of the principals as they go forward; one hopes they have all listened to the sound of silence from fans and foes alike, tired of their bleating and posturing. The strength of open wheel racing is its diversity and, with that in mind, we wait to see the outcome on the tracks, not in the courts.

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