Why the war must end
by Mark Cipolloni

 May 26, 2005

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Why and how the IRL and Champ Car can be merged

The Question
The Champ Car World Series wants to expand globally, correct? If their philosophy is strictly to fill the void that Formula 1 leaves by not being able to race in many more countries, why can’t Champ Car and the IRL co-exist? Why can’t the IRL simply be a domestic series and Champ Car be an international series and never the two shall meet?

And let us assume as a premise, that the IRL makes no further overtures to any perceived cherry-picking of any Champ Car asset or race, nothing else. Would not this make the most sense then - to just let the IRL do their thing, and race on the 4-6 road courses and 12-14 ovals here in America or North America? (let's forget about Japan, since we know Honda is probably gone.)

One can argue that Champ Car has been moving to be oranges, and that the IRL will remain apples. These two fruits are different; no one is trying to make an orange be an apple. Why do many not think that if the IRL does their own thing (and perhaps shakes themselves off of manufacturer support) it can be successful, and if Champ Car does its own thing, it will be successful?

The Analysis
Champ Car owners have stated they plan to always have at least 50% of their races in North America. That is how they plan to attract overseas sponsors who want to sell product in the NAFTA market to the series. By having 50% of the races here plus a decent TV package, they hope the overseas sponsors and perhaps engine manufacturers will eventually bite.

Would having the Indy 500 as one of their NAFTA races help sell to foreign sponsors? Of course it would, and it could be under my proposal to have the Indy 500 as one of the six double points paying races in a two-division, one-company format, but more on this later.

Knowing that Champ Car is here to stay in the USA, it's safe to say there will, therefore, always be two "Indy Car" series in the USA. This will cause fan confusion and make sponsors have to choose. Sure it would be nice if both series could just go their separate ways, but you and I both know that won't happen. Why? Because sponsor dollars are hard to come by and teams (and both series) will all be going after the same few precious dollars available. With no umbrella organization to control it all there will be constant fighting and backstabbing to win the contracts. That will essentially continue the war.

Certainly if Tony George would stop trying to steal from Champ Car and try to co-exist peacefully that would help matters. But would he? He made a strong effort to get Long Beach these past few weeks, much stronger than was reported in the media. I expect he will try to do that as each and every Champ Car race contract comes up for renewal, at least for the races he wants - like Toronto, Montreal, and every other one that has decent attendance or is in a major metropolitan market. I can't blame him, I would want those venues too, but that will only continue the war, and the sport isn't strong enough for the "war" to continue.

The backstabbing and underhanded behind the scenes shenanigans that have been going on is destroying the sport for both sides.

Unfortunately the split has caused people to take sides - the fans, the media, and even the teams and personnel in the industry. I have talked to sponsors. They are staying away from both series because they don't want to get caught in the crossfire between the IRL and Champ Car when they can easily go to NASCAR where there isn't all that backstabbing.

The fans are particularly emotional about it. Many actually hate Tony George for what he has done to the sport they loved. They saw a very successful, though not perfect by any means, CART (nee IndyCar) series go from a high in 1995 before the split, to what we see today. In the process even the Indy 500 is being destroyed. Look at ticket sales, look at TV ratings. Indy Car racing can't afford to have its marquee event tarnished and withering away.

Why are we so anti-IRL and pro-Champ Car? The reason really is because we predicted when the split occurred that it would destroy the sport, that Tony George was going about it all the wrong way. In our opinion the IRL should never have been formed.

If Tony wanted a strong Indy Car "industry" he should have found a way to work the existing system and make it better. All the money, all the effort he has spent the past 10 years creating an entire new series - imagine if he funneled all that energy and money into CART.

If he put up that kind of money in the CART paddock can you imagine how much influence he would have had? With the money he spent he could have easily fielded three 2-car teams in CART. He would have been the biggest and most powerful team owner, even bigger than Roger Penske. He would have eventually become "the man" in CART and with it could have guided the organization to improve.

With the Indy 500 in his back pocket, I believe Tony George thought he had the trump card, that CART would quickly fold because the teams needed the Indy 500 to survive. I think he miscalculated the resolve of the CART, now Champ Car, team owners. Although wounded, they hung on and the longer they hung on the longer the sport stayed divided. Tony tried valiantly to kill off CART because he knew two series was a bad thing. But try as he might, there remains two series. Along the way the animosity between both sides got worse.

We, and other media have been vocal because we wanted Tony George to hear and perhaps eventually agree that two separate series was not the way to go about making the "Indy Car industry" better and stronger. We were not alone. Many have tried to tell Tony to stop the war and put the two sides together. Even Roger Penske and Bernie Ecclestone recommended to both Champ Car and the IRL to end the war and find a common ground. Bernie is a VERY VERY smart man, as is Roger Penske.

Tony would not listen. I believe he really felt he could be the Bill France of Indy Car racing. As we know, that is not going to happen now. Kevin Kalkhoven and his partners have too much money and they are astute businessmen. I would argue better businessmen than Tony George.

What must happen
Let's fast forward to 2007 with the assumption that two Indy Car series in this country trying to undermine each other is not a tenable position. Let's assume that there has to be one organization to put an end to "the war" so everyone is rowing in the same direction.

If my proposal were adopted, there would be two racing divisions and hence that much better a chance for a small team to compete. If the two sides are merged completely, races will have to be dropped and there absolutely will be no room for small teams. A lot of people will be out of a job, out of a career, and out of business. I don't want to see that happen, hence why I push my proposal.

I have no agenda but to see peace in my time, and the sooner the better. When peace arrives, you will see AutoRacing1.com take a much more positive slant to the sport, and I am sure other media will as well. We will focus on the team and driver rivalries between the two divisions and not the negative politics that having two enemies duking it out causes.

Yes, the media can be very influential, and yes we realize that the negativity should stop, but it can't stop until there is peace, until a solution is reached. When the politics between the two sides stop we won't have anymore negative stuff to write about.

As for the cars and engines in a combined series - I think some of Champ Car's recent proposals make a lot of sense. Will they abandon ovals? They say no, but I really wonder. You know my opinion - based on fact, based on history and based on data, they are simply too expensive and too dangerous for open wheel cars. Too many drivers have been injured and too many cars destroyed. The added cost and the added danger does nothing to enhance the sport.

While I know many don't agree with me on this point, even many Champ Car fans, I think more people are starting to agree with my point of view with each and every crash.

Bruce Ashmore concept car for both Champ Car and the IRL

Champ Car's new car will be more "racy" on street and road courses so that should improve the "show." Will they still be able to run an oval such as Indy, of course, but if you minimize ovals you 1) minimize cost, 2) minimize injury, 3) minimize comparisons with NASCAR. (See image to right and this rumor for more discussion on this car that can be used by both divisions.)

Can Champ Car and the IRL together partially fill the worldwide void left by F1? You bet they can, and with two divisions there will still be plenty of domestic races. And with a once again popular Indy 500 as the focal point of a new organization, and with the rivalry created by the two divisions playing off one another, I see big things possible.....but first the war must end. And it will never end until there is one unified governing body.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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