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Americans don't realize what they have in CART


 by Venkat Ganesan
October 9, 2001

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Editor's Note:  Mr. Ganesan is an auto racing buff from India.  He brings us his perspective on what CART means to a non-American, and how unbelievable it is that such a great racing series is so under appreciated by Americans. 

It would be gross understatement to say that CART doesn't possess the 'midas touch'. Whatever CART seems to do these days, it receives considerable flak and is always a subjected to derision. It's a travesty to see CART being victimized by harsh critics. For a series to have embraced different drivers from different countries and which travels from Japan to Australia, Mexico to Germany speaks volumes about the international appeal of the series. 

CART has set the benchmark in competitiveness in any form of motorsports, which no other series can dream of emulating in the near future. The machines are similar; yet possess a high degree of parity, which brings driving skills to the fore. If Kenny Brack ran strongly in Rockingham, England, he is found struggling at Houston, where De Ferran takes the championship lead from Brack, 11 different winners in 17 races. Such is the competitiveness of this series. Certainly, there is no complacency in CART. 

CART's biggest rival on the international scene, Formula-1, boasts of racing at the highest level, but has hardly seen any overtaking. It is just a high-speed procession. However, this year the F-1 circles were rejuvenated by a Colombian, Juan Montoya, who exhibited some brilliant overtaking skills. Again, this leads me to believe that Montoya honed his skills during his stint in CART, where overtaking still means something. The point being made here is that if Formula-1 enjoys worldwide acclaim, why is CART subjected to such acrimony and scorn? 

The recent engine package announced by CART invoked a lot of criticism from the engine manufacturers especially Honda and Ford. Earlier, Toyota threatened to pull out from the series and went on saying that it will produce IRL-spec engines from 2003. No engine manufacturer could deny fact that CART is miles ahead of its counterparts in North American open wheel racing series in terms of technological prowess, driving skill and team depth. 

The R&D of each engine manufacturer associated with CART has grown over the years. The competition between the three manufacturers is fierce, yet the level of parity between the three is unparalleled given that CART's rulebook is not as stringent as many other racing series. But after the pop-off valve fiasco, there seems to be a prevalent feeling, especially in the Honda and Ford camp that CART favors Toyota. 

Hence, when CART switched to the 3.5-litre normally aspirated engine formula for 2003, the decision was right on the heels with Toyota's recent announcement. If one looks from CART's point of view, time was running out for it to announce an engine package. It had waited too long. 

Which other championship would dance to the tune of the manufacturers? Certainly, CART wanted to appease all three involved in the series, in hindsight an impossible task. The net result it was severe backlash from the engine manufacturers, especially Ford and Honda who are especially peeved because CART's rulebook states it won't change the engine rules until 2004, yet they broke that rule. 

Though, the CART-IRL split has been a major blow to the open wheeled racing scene in U.S., CART conceded to the request of certain teams to reschedule its racing calendar in order to facilitate those teams participating Indy 500. Couple this with the recent engine package that CART has announced, which is in-sync with the IRL-spec. It would certainly helped the teams, which plan to run at Indy, to cut cost on their engine program. Or will it? Is the cost per mile to run them really any different? CART's primary interest has been centered on its teams, drivers and most importantly fans. 

Please tell me which other racing series will encourage its teams to compete in a rival series? Will we ever see Michael Schumacher compete against Michael Andretti at Laguna Seca? CART takes into consideration the drivers' interests. Who can forget the Texas fracas that CART endured. CART was loathed by one and all for its decision. When qualifying at Texas was run, speeds touched the230+mph barrier, and an exciting race was on the cards. However, when the drivers complained of dizziness, CART listened and came to their rescue by indefinitely postponing the race. Driver safety is always of paramount importance to CART. It displayed the courage in postponing the event much to the despair of the organizers. 

Though death is not unbeknown in motor racing, there is a feeling that the safety issues only come to the fore when the sport loses a major name. Formula-1, despite witnessing many a fatality, changed its whole perspective when Ayrton Senna succumbed to injuries at Imola. CART too lost promising Canadian Greg Moore. NASCAR had to bid adieu to Dale Earnhardt. 

However, the safety strides that CART has made after the Moore incident has received appreciation from all quarters. When Zanardi suffered that horrendous crash at Lausitz, the CART safety team headed by Dr. Steve Olvey and Dr. Terry Trammell ensured that Zanardi didn't lose his life. Barring Formula-1, which also has a traveling medical unit, CART has the best in the business. A fact backed up by the doctors at the Berlin hospital, where Zanardi underwent life-saving surgery. Sadly, Zanardi lost both his legs, but he has to be indebted to the CART medical crew, which helped in his speedy extrication. 

Despite all this, American fans and media have always neglected CART. Americans should be proud of having such an open wheeled racing series, which has been recognized by fans of other countries as the best there is. CART is the icing on the cake for us motorsports. But sadly there has been enough mud slinging done to tarnish its image. Those guilty should be ashamed.

Let's all salute the real champion, CART, for if it goes away, we the fans, will have lost the best racing series in the world, and those responsible for doing it, should hang their head in shame.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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