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It's time for fans to embrace merged series

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

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The creation of the IRL in 1996 created a lot of hard feelings and animosity in the hugely successful CART camp and for the past 12 years the sport of open wheel racing in the USA has been in a downward spiral. 

However, with the announcement last Friday that an agreement had been reached whereby Champ Car would cease to operate and some of its races and teams would merge with the IRL created a new opportunity for the sport to start the process of heeling.  And that includes the fans who were divided and took sides with one of the two warring leagues.

In particular there are a lot of hard feelings in the Champ Car camp because they felt the deal to bring the two series together was not a merger at all, but instead a capitulation by the owners of Champ Car (OWRS) - a complete surrender. 

In some respects they are correct because Champ Car represented a better formula in their minds.  However, no matter how good your product, years of mismanagement of Champ Car resulted in a series that was failing commercially.  This was not sustainable long-term without huge outlays of cash by Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe.

Finally on Friday, February  22, 2008, after losing many millions of dollars trying to keep Champ Car afloat, both agreed to sign an agreement with the IRL to essentially cease operations and allow the IRL to run open wheel racing in North America. 

Not only did it represent an opportunity to cut their losses, but also an opportunity to end this silly war that has gone on for 12 long years, a war that essentially dealt a severe blow to the sport and allowed NASCAR to grow in leaps and bounds.

So like it or not, it is what it is, as they say.  But if you are a fan of open wheel racing, and I mean really a fan, then you will embrace the opportunity to see open wheel racing once again prosper in North America.  Sure it may not yet be the panacea that it could some day be, but instead of working to destroy each other, now the two sides can work toward building the sport together.

Yes, many people blame Tony George for the severe blow he dealt to the sport by creating the IRL in the first place, but you must admire his tenacity and devotion to the sport.  It is his 100% focus and the same could not be said for the owners of Champ Car who had many other interests.

I for one am more excited about the season ahead than I have been for a long time, and I think I speak for many when I say that.  Sure the Champ Car teams will be at a disadvantage in 2008 and possibly even in 2009. However, with the introduction of the new car in 2010, everyone will be back on a level playing field and things will get very interesting.  Don't be surprised if the new IRL in two years time looks a lot like Champ Car in many aspects.  I foresee the best of both series being brought together to ultimately raise the IRL up to new heights.  Might it someday worry Bernie Ecclestone again, or the France family?  Not for awhile, but if they play their cards right.....

The IRL also had the better TV deal with ESPN and ABC than Champ Car did, and the races will all be broadcast in high definition this year, something Champ Car could not afford to do.  The better TV deal, and the fact that they will also be racing in the Indy 500 now, will make it much easier for them to find sponsorship going forward.

We should see grid sizes upwards of 25 cars all year and this will certainly be good for the series and for attendance.

I also expect to see rivalries develop between the Indy Car and Champ Car teams, and how that all plays itself out will be intriguing.  And the fans of each will pick sides and there will be a real passion again in who they pull for to win.  This rivalry I feel will not only increase attendance, but also TV ratings.

I can go on and on about all the positives this merger brings to the sport, but the message is simple - none of us can change the past, so why fret over it.  It's time to embrace the future and learn to enjoy what this is really all about - a sport.  So put away the politics, stifle those hard feelings, and enjoy the sport for what it is, and for it was meant to be.

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