As merger nears, LB race expects a boost
Although no official confirmation was forthcoming Tuesday, a much-discussed merger between Champ Car World Series and Indy Racing League appears on the brink of being consummated.
A report Tuesday on SPEEDtv.com said a deal that would make the rival open-wheel series one entity is done and that a news conference making that formal announcement could come as early as today.
The report said that an accord has been reached that would bring several Champ Car teams and a handful of Champ Car races into the IRL realm.
One of the races that would presumably be contested under the IRL banner would be the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is scheduled to run April 18-20.
David Higdon, executive vice president of strategic development for Champ Car, said the Long Beach race has been one of the major points of discussion during negotiations because the IRL already has a race scheduled that same weekend in Japan.
"It is obviously the crown jewel of the Champ Car stable and we all know that it is critical to the state of open-wheel racing now and in the future," Higdon said of the Long Beach race.
Assuming a merger comes to fruition, Higdon said that any Champ Car team wanting to join the IRL would be afforded that opportunity.
"All Champ Car teams would be offered a spot in the IRL, and IRL president Tony George has been quoted as saying that," Higdon said.
Jim Michaelian, CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach LLC, also spoke in conditional tones.
"I can't say much until it's official," Michaelian said. "We're waiting for the official announcement from all parties.
"But I will say that we are excited about the prospects of any merger because it would bring clarity to open-wheel racing in America."
Michaelian, who appeared Tuesday with Mayor Bob Foster at a downtown event to mark the beginning of course construction, reiterated that the Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place regardless of what transpires.
"I stand by that unequivocally and we are looking forward to three exciting days of racing," he said.
The IRL, with current drivers such as Helio Castroneves and Danica Patrick, has been racing since 1996. Champ Car was formally known as CART and became Champ Car after CART declared bankruptcy after the 2003 season.
The rival series have had difficulty nailing down sponsorship and have suffered from the effects of low television ratings.
Also, both series recently lost their top stars to other series. Four-time defending Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais joined Formula One this season and Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. left IRL for NASCAR.
Champ Car drivers that could make an immediate impact on the popularity of IRL include Paul Tracy, known as the bad boy of Champ Car, and Graham Rahal.
According to SPEEDtv.com, most Champ Car teams were told Monday to cease working on their Panoz chassis, and to expect delivery of their new IRL rides soon. The report also said that Tracy would be going to Indianapolis this week for a seat fitting.
There have been numerous attempts to combine the two series in the past. However, determining who would be in control always killed the deal.
Higdon is confident that this one will go through.
"No agreement is in place at this time," he said, "but I expect there will be something we can announce one way or another very soon." Long Beach Press Telegram