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Editorial

CART & IRL - it's becoming clearer where we're going

 

 by Mark Cipolloni
December 26, 2001

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In his very first press conference, new CART President Chris Pook made three bold statements - 1) "we need to make it easy for our teams and drivers to participate in the Indy 500," 2) we would encourage our teams to run even more IRL races, and we would hope IRL teams would want to run some of our races," 3) we will work to try and avoid date conflicts with the IRL in future years."  It's now becoming clearer where the sport of Indy Car Racing should be headed.  

The Car

With CART adopting an engine formula similar to the IRL's, the groundwork is now laid whereby teams will be able to switch between the two series much easier.  CART just needs to make one more key decision for 2003 - what the spine of Champ Car will be.  As I understand it, what I present below is what is being discussed between CART, the IRL and the chassis manufacturers.

What happens if the spine of the cars are the same for both the IRL and CART starting in 2003?  Just about everything on an Indy Car hangs off the monocoque and the engine.  Mated together, these two pieces form the structural backbone of an Indy Car, i.e. the 'spine'.  They are carbon fiber and aluminum unit, strong enough to protect a driver in all but the most severe accidents, and stiff enough to transfer static and dynamic loads transversely, longitudinally and diagonally between fore and aft, and left and right, suspension members.  In a large building, think of it as the steel frame.  In your house, think of it as the wood frame. Certainly a monocoque is not a 'frame' structure, it's more of a structural box or shell, but suffice it to say everything hangs off this 'main structural backbone' that is designed using 3D finite element analysis. 

If this main structural unit is the same for both the IRL and CART, then many of the pieces that hang off of it can be unique to each series.  If CART wants to use different sidepods, they can.  If CART wants to use different wings (aerofoil and underbody), they can.  If CART wants to use a different transmission, they can.  If CART wants to use a different airbox, they can.  If CART wants a better sounding exhaust system, they can.  If CART wants a slightly higher revving engine, they can.  Whatever CART thinks it needs to change to differentiate itself from the IRL it can, be it performance changes or simply appearance changes.

Then, Reynard, Lola, Dallara, G-Force can build cars for both series if they so choose, and any team who wants to participate in races run by the other series, can buy a 'CART Kit', or an IRL Kit' and go racing. If a CART teams wants to run in the Indy 500, they order an IRL Kit from one of the chassis makers, take off the CART pieces, and put on the IRL pieces.  If an IRL team wants to run some CART races because their sponsors are interested in a particular market CART serves, they can purchase a 'CART Kit.'  

Before you start calling them 'Kit Cars' think again.  A Kit Car, in the true sense of the word, would be made by a single manufacturer.  These would not be Kit Cars at all.  In fact, the competition between the manufacturers would be stiff.  I use the word 'kit' loosely to imply a set of parts that would make a car either an IRL car or a CART Champ Car.

One other point here - the CART Kit can be thought of as a road racing kit in some respects since the majority of their races are on road courses.  Similarly, the IRL kit can be thought of as an oval kit.  Hence, instead of having a CART Kit and and IRL Kit, perhaps it should be an 'oval kit' and a 'road course kit'.  Then teams can switch between series even easier.

The Organization

Certainly CART and the IRL can continue to battle each other to win over complete control of Indy car racing.  However, look where that has gotten us the past five or six years - two badly weakened series limping along on one leg.   We need to convince Tony George and CART to merge together under one governing body called 'IndyCar', the name CART used to have.  Similar to Football's and Baseball's American and National Leagues, Tony George would have full control of the IRL Division, the Chris Pook and the CART Board would have full control of the CART Division.  The CART Division would be a publicly traded company, as it is today.  In essence, the governing body would be like a holding company of a major corporation.

I would propose that one person be selected to be the Commissioner of IndyCar racing.  A person that would be jointly elected by the IRL and CART to lead a governing body for IndyCar racing, much like the FIA has a Max Mosley that steers F1, F3000 and other series.  That person must be someone who is respected worldwide by the racing community, is well respected by the sponsors, commands a presence when he walks into the room, can be neutral, and wants to see CART and the IRL co-exist under one umbrella.  

If both series are controlled under a single governing body, then Marlboro, Kool and other tobacco advertisers can be on the sidepods of a car at any event, be it a CART division event or an IRL division event.

The Schedule

It's hard to imagine that CART and the IRL can avoid all date conflicts, but I did my best to layout proposed 2004 race schedules (2004 rather than 2003 because I doubt both sides could agree to something this novel that quickly) that come close.  The only time you will see conflicts are when CART is racing outside of North America, i.e. when schedule conflicts between the two series would not matter at all.

Numerous times on these pages I have proposed CART and the IRL agree to reinstate a Triple Crown and promote a healthy rivalry between the two series, a rivalry that all successful sports must have to prosper.  My proposed schedule includes that.  Points would be awarded in both series for the Triple Crown races and the field size increased so most teams from both series can start the race..

You will see some new races on the both the CART and IRL schedule, ones I feel should be added, or have been rumored to be coming.  Likewise, I had to make some very hard decisions, but you will see some existing races dropped, either because of poor attendance, declining attendance or inadequate track width and/or safety.   You will also notice that CART and IRL are in Florida in February and March, to expand NASCAR's Daytona Speedweeks into a larger Florida Speedweeks, a race fans euphoria.  Since a lot of out-of-state people take winter vacation and college Spring Break in Florida during this 2-month period, a longer Speedweeks (than what we currently have in just Daytona) would give race fans that many more choices to wrap vacation in with racing.

 Proposed 2004 CART, IRL and Support Race Schedule

Date CART Division IRL Division Co-Races
February 1 Race of Americas GP
Miami, Florida
(Street)
  ALMS & TransAm

February 8

 

Daytona 500K
Daytona Beach
, FL (Oval)
NASCAR Bud Shootout

February 15

NASCAR's Daytona 500 Daytona 500 Busch Cars
February 22 St. Petersburg Grand Prix
St. Petersburg, Fl.
(Street)
  Toyota Atlantic

February 29

Monterrey Grand Prix
Monterrey, Mexico
(RC)

  Toyota Atlantic

March 7

  Homestead 300K
Homestead
, Florida (Oval)
Infiniti Lights
March 14 Sebring Grand Prix 
Sebring
, FL (RC - Sunday, day after 12 Hours of Sebring)
  ALMS

March 21

  Phoenix
Phoenix
, Arizona (Oval)
Infiniti Lights & Copper World Classic
March 28

Golden Gate Bridge GP
San Francisco
, California (Street)

  Toyota Atlantic & ALMS

April 4

Toyota Grand Prix of LB
Long Beach
, CA (Street)
  Toyota Atlantic & ALMS

April 11

Easter Sunday - No Races

April 18 Honda Indy 300
Surfers Paradise
, Australia (Street)
  ALMS
April 25 China Grand Prix
Shanghai,
China (RC or Street)
Nazareth 500K
Nazareth
, PA (Oval)
ALMS - Shanghai
Infiniti Lights - Nazareth

May 2

Firestone Firehawk 500
Motegi
, Japan (Oval)

  Formula Nippon
May 9

Indy Practice Opens, Indianapolis, Indiana

 

May 15-16

Indy Pole Qualifying, Indianapolis, Indiana

 

May 23

Road Atlanta
Braselton
, GA (RC)

  Toyota Atlantic & TransAm

May 30

Indy 500, Indianapolis, Indiana (Oval)
(Triple Crown Race #1 run with IRL cars)

 

June 6

 

Milwaukee Mile
Milwaukee, WI (Oval)
Infiniti Lights
June 12 & 13
Molson Indy Vancouver
Vancouver
, British Columbia (Street)
Texas 500 K (Night Race)
Forth Worth,
Texas (Oval)
NASCAR Trucks

June 20

The Marconi Grand Prix 
Cleveland
, Ohio (Airport RC)

  ALMS & TransAm & Toyota Atlantic
June 27   Colorado 200
Fountain,
Colorado (Oval)
Infiniti Lights

July 4

New York City Grand Prix
Manhattan
, NY (Street) or The Glen

  Toyota Atlantic & ALMS
July 11   Richmond 200
Richmond,
Virginia (Oval)
Infiniti Lights

July 18

Molson Indy Toronto
Toronto
, Canada (Street)

  Toyota Atlantic

July 25

Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota Michigan Speedway (Oval) 
(Triple Crown Race #2 run with IRL cars)

August 1   Kansas 200
Kansas City,
Kan. (Oval)
Infiniti Lights

August 8

Motorola 220
Elkhart Lake,
Wisconsin (RC)

  ALMS & Toyota Atlantic

August 15

 

Bluegrass 500K
Sparta
, Kentucky (Oval)
Infiniti Lights

August 22

Molson Indy Montreal
Montreal
, Canada (RC)

  ALMS & Toyota Atlantic

August 29

 

St. Louis 200
Madison
, Illinois ( Oval)
 

September 4

Denver GP
Denver
, Colorado (Street)

  Toyota Atlantic

September 11

 

Chicagoland Speedway
Chicago
, Illinois (Oval)
NASCAR Trucks

September 19

Rockingham 
Corby
, England (Oval)

  ASCAR

September 26

American Memorial 500
Lausitz
, Germany (Oval)

Texas 500 K
Forth Worth,
Texas (Oval)
Infiniti Lights - Texas
German DTM - Lausitz

October 3

Crews off to enjoy Europe

   

October 10

Maserati Grand Prix
Imola,
Italy (RC)

  Italian F3000

October 17

 

Nashville 200
Nashville,
TN (Oval)
 

October 24

Corona Lucky Strike GP
Mexico City
, Mexico (RC)

  Toyota Atlantic

October 31

Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota Fontana, California (Oval) 
(Triple Crown race #3 run with IRL cars)

Conclusion - What I have presented is a way for CART and IRL to coexist peacefully.  To share a common chassis and engine platform with almost no date conflicts. 

The entities would jointly promote 'Indy Car' racing, especially the Triple Crown races when they race together.  I have avoided both series racing on the same day (except two, but that's when CART is overseas in China and Germany). 

I have also presented a way for Indy Car fans to enjoy their type of motorsports almost every weekend, just like NASCAR fans get to do, without TV programming conflicts.  And most importantly, I hope I have presented something for all the constituents in CART and the IRL to gain from a stronger IRL and CART series, united under one governing body called IndyCar.  

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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