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Some want to squash open wheel rivalries

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

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In stick and ball sports rivalries get fans excited, they take sides and root for the favorites.  It creates passion, sometimes to the point that even fans come to blows. 

OK, now we have a unified series, but yeah, there are definitely strong feelings apparently both from the media and the fans.  I say this is good for the series.  In truth, it is the best thing to encourage the race enthusiasts to tune in to and follow the series. 

If you are a former Champ Car fan, why not watch when because if you hated the IRL and Tony George those fans had the unmitigated pleasure of witnessing unsponsored Graham Rahal and NHLR team smoke Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and all the big money Indy Car teams at St. Pete despite just getting their Indy Cars a couple of weeks prior.  That was great!  It really was enough to keep many fans coming back. 

One of the problems many had watching Champ Car in the last few years was that there was really nothing to root for.  A bunch of nobodies, albeit talented nobodies, but if Doornbos was fighting Wilson or Heylen, well, who really cared who won that.  Good racing, but no "names" per se. 

Now there is a reason to care -- someone to root for, someone to root against.  This is good stuff.  It may be enough of an incentive to not lose the real fans and provide a base to build upon. Then, imagine when they get decent looking and sounding cars.  There is hope.

However, the IRL and some of its drivers are trying to squash any rivalry between its established drivers and those coming over from Champ Car so the fans lose interest.

We posed this question to Graham Rahal yesterday - Can you talk about the rivalry between the Champ Car and the IRL drivers, and if you think that's good for the sport? 

"The media is not going to let go of and we need to face that and say, well, the Champ Car drivers ought to kick all the IRL drivers' ass and you look at it six of the Top 10 drivers were Champ Car drivers," said Rahal. 

"In order to help this sport continue to grow, it needs to stop, because we are all here, we are all working together.  We want to make the sport successful, because at the end of the day, for us people that started in open wheel racing, love open wheel racing and want to continue to see open wheel racing succeed and get back to where it used to be, it can no longer be Champ Car versus IRL.  It has to just be IndyCar Series. 

"The drivers inside look, if you want to go Champ Car versus IRL, all of the top Indy car drivers are from Champ Car, so you're really not, you know, it's not Champ Car versus IRL because all of us really started in Champ Car, so it's a different, you know, I just think it's got to end.

"But like I said it's not going to any time soon.  And I think maybe once the Champ Car team starts to be very competitive on the ovals, people will drop it a little, and on the road courses, it's one series now and that's how we need to go forward."

Unfortunately many in open wheel racing fail to see that what drove NASCAR to its huge popularity was fans taking sides, whether it was Ford vs. Chevy or Petty vs. Pearson.  That passion has long been missing from open wheel racing since the days of Andretti vs. Foyt vs. the Unsers.

So we say passion of any sort, is good for a sport.  If fans want to take sides - IRL vs. Champ Car drivers, I say let them.  Over time that will die away and it will become driver vs. driver and team vs. team, but for now the IRL vs. Champ Car rivalry is a start to rebuild the fan base upon.

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