Editorial

Will CART miss this boat too, 
destined to forever race in the shadows of NASCAR?

 by Mark Cipolloni
October 13, 2000

The FIA was recently forced to change their position, CART can now race on any type of circuit around the world, including those that host F1 races.  CART has a golden opportunity.  By 2004, the CART schedule may look very different, as it should.

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Up until a few months ago CART was restricted by the FIA to only running on oval tracks outside of North America for fear of detracting from the Formula One series. They threatened stiff penalties to CART and it's participants if they disobeyed that agreement. However, now all that has changed because the FIA, under pressure by the European Union (EU) for monopoly practices, finally recognizes CART as an official 'World Championship' series, which means it can race on road courses or ovals outside of North America.  And although the FIA would prefer CART become 'the' oval-track world championship, CART stands more to gain by not restricting itself to oval tracks. We examine what this can mean to CART, if they play their cards right.

Except for Australia that was grandfathered in, CART abided by their agreement with the FIA to restrict their overseas races to oval tracks. Hence, CART made agreements to race on ovals in Japan, Brazil (although that is changing), the new Rockingham oval in England, and the new Eurospeedway in Germany. Unfortunately, to date CART has had mediocre results at its overseas oval races. The primary reasons are simple - 1) until recently CART and its drivers were largely unknown to most of the world, completely overshadowed by F1, 2) outside of the USA, the world races on road courses. Ovals are purely an American tradition. Fans around the world better identify with road course racing. Whereas oval races in Japan and Brazil have had mixed results (although this years RIO races was a sellout), when CART races on the streets of Surfers Paradise, fans flock out in droves.

No sooner did the FIA announce their change of policy towards CART, promoters (Emerson Fittipaldi et al) in RIO, Brazil jumped at the chance to move their race from the oval track at the Nelson Piquet Speedway to the Jacarepagua road course (also at the Nelson Piquet Speedway) that hosted F1 from 1978 to 1989. Why would a promoter ask to move their race from an oval that attracted a sellout crowd last year, to a road course next year? It's quite simple, they believe that 1) they can attract even more fans with a road course event and, 2) if it rains the race goes on. It is a major undertaking for CART to move all of its equipment to an overseas race. If an overseas oval race were to be postponed because of several consecutive days of rain, CART could not afford to fly the entire circus back again another weekend, and the new 22-race schedule is so tight, when would they find the time? This years race in Motegi Japan was rained out on Saturday, but luckily for CART and the promoter, they were able to get the race in on Sunday, the designated rain date. What would have happened if Sunday were wet too?

I am not suggesting that CART move all its overseas races to road courses because of the threat of rain. Although one can use that as a valid argument, there is another reason that is far more important. There is an abundance of world renowned road course circuits around the globe that either can't get a F1 race, or are begging for a another big race each year in addition to their one F1 race. Monza, NŘrburgring, Sepang, Malaysia, and Spa-Francorchamps come to mind. The list is long and the possibilities endless, but does CART want to be a true international series, someday on par with F1, or does it want to continue to be a North American series, butting heads with NASCAR and the IRL, with an occasional overseas foray?

Some argue that to prosper, CART must race more in the USA and less overseas, however, one has to look no further than F1 to see what a worldwide following can do for the sport.  While adding more overseas races and dropping a few USA races would better serve CART and its sponsors, we think CART should avoid trying to be a F1 copy. Its cars are around 400 pounds heavier, with driver, than its F1 counterparts and will undoubtedly be slower if they were to race on the same road courses as F1. There are, however, some high-speed road courses that Champ Cars may turn similar lap times as F1 cars because they do have more HP (900 vs. 820), but that is generally an exception. For many reasons, we feel CART should put Champ Cars on a diet, but that's a topic for another story.




Tracks like the one in Zhuha´, China were built to F1 standards but never got a F1 race.  Click to see large crowds and it was just a BPR GT race.

While CART should try to avoid racing on the exact same circuit as F1 cars, that does not mean it can't add more overseas road courses in the future. There are numerous great road courses that CART could consider - Silverstone, England (when the F1 race moves to Brands Hatch); Paul Ricard, France; Adelaide, Australia; Zhuha´, China.  Recently bought by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the Paul Ricard circuit near Marseilles in southern France, hosted the French GP 14 times between 1971 and its final race there in 1990.  Imagine how pleased with CART Mr. Ecclestone would be if they agreed to race at his track  Whether the F1 race returned there or not, every promoter wants more than one big race per year.

Even more intriguing is the possibility of racing at places like Monza, NŘrburgring, Sepang and Spa on slightly different configurations to avoid a direct comparison.  As the pictures to the right indicate, does CART realize how many people would attend a Champ Car race at the state-of-the-art track in Zhuha´, China?  200,000?  300,000?  400,000?  We suspect it would be that big given the size crowd that shows up for the 4-hour endurance race each year.  China is becoming an economic powerhouse.  Will CART be reactive or proactive in China?  Slowly many of CART's sponsors are making inroads into the potentially lucrative China market.  We ask, therefore, when will CART race in China?

We have written on numerous occasions that CART must reduce its reliance on USA races where it continually butts heads with powerful NASCAR, and branch out more into the international market.  The world is too big for even F1, who can't satisfy the demand for races.  They are there for CART's taking.

Because of its 22-race schedule, one would think CART can't afford to add many more overseas races, there just isn't enough time in the schedule to do that. However, lets examine how, with careful planning and dropping some weak North America races, CART can add some strategic overseas races. Races that would help to elevate CART to world renowned status, a status worthy of the 'World Championship' title recently bestowed upon its series.

The maps below show the proposed location of CART's 2004 24-race schedule.  That's one more than CART's 2001 schedule (if you count Indy, which some teams will compete in).  The season starts in Miami on the downtown streets.  Click on the North American map first and follow the numbers as we walk you through the proposed 2004 schedule.

Below the maps is a table where we list the schedule in chronological order and the reason why they are included.

They show what CART's 2004 schedule would look like if we were running the show.  Some traditional CART races got the axe, including Mid-Ohio, Portland and Milwaukee.  However, in their place are races that will draw a bigger attendance and bring the drivers, teams, and sponsors the worldwide recognition needed to grow CART into a worldwide powerhouse.   The top F1 driver will carry the title of World F1 Driving Champion.  The top CART driver will carry the title of World CART Driving Champion.  Who is better can be left to barroom debates and is sure to touch off a little worldwide rivalry between the two series.  CART, are you listening?  Or will you be standing by the dock when yet another boat leaves port, destined forever to ride in the shadows of NASCAR?


The 'Pacific Swing' would take the series to Australia, China and Japan.  Click images to enlarge.

The backbone of the series, North America, would see new races in downtown Miami, New York City, Montreal, and San Francisco, plus Road Atlanta

The 'European Swing' would take the series to England, Germany, Italy and France

The 'Brazilian Swing' would be the 2nd race on the schedule.

 2004 CART Schedule

Date Venue Comment and Predictions
January 25 Miami Grand Prix
Miami, Florida
(Downtown street course)
The first race of the year, the week after Super Bowl Sunday,  should be in the USA in downtown Miami, a venue CART should have never left (and we don't mean Tamiani Park)  
Raceday attendance: 120,000

February 8

Rio 200
Rio de Janeiro
, Brazil (Road Course)

This race moves from the oval to the road course and becomes a huge success
Raceday attendance: 90,000

February 22

Monterrey Grand Prix
Monterrey, Mexico
(Temporary road course)

Now in its 4th year, this race becomes one of the top 5 on the calendar
Raceday attendance: 130,000

March 7

Honda Indy 300
Surfers Paradise
, Australia (Temporary street course)

This successful race continues at its current location, or moves to Adelaide
Raceday attendance: 110,000
March 14 China Grand Prix
Zhuha´,
China (Natural Terrain road course)
This track, built for F1, never secured a F1 date, and is there for CART's taking.  Would be the largest attended race of the series.
Raceday attendance: 300,000

March 20

Firestone Firehawk 500
Motegi
, Japan (Oval, Sat. race)

This race remains on the oval and now draws over 100,000 on race day.
Raceday attendance: 100,000

April 4

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Long Beach
, California (Street course)

CART's very popular Long Beach GP keeps its traditional date
Raceday attendance: 110,000

April 18

Texas 600
Forth Worth,
Texas- Texas Motor Speedway (New oval)

With the Handford Device, this race rivals the Michigan 500 for lead changes
Raceday attendance: 125,000

May 2

Road Atlanta Grand Prix 
Braselton
, Georgia (Natural terrain Road Course)

Nestled in the rolling foothills of the north Georgia mountains, this 2.54 mile circuit is one of the world's most beautiful racing facilities.  It gives CART much needed Atlanta race
Raceday attendance: 90,000

May 15-16

Indy Qualifying, Indianapolis, Indiana (IRL)

Open date for any CART team that wants to try and qualify for the Indy 500

May 23

Golden Gate Bridge Grand Prix
San Francisco
, California (Downtown streets)

America's most beautiful city replaces the struggling Laguna Seca on the schedule
Raceday attendance: 120,000

May 30

Indy 500, Indianapolis, Indiana (IRL)

Open date for any CART team that wants to have a go at the Indy 500

June 6

Molson Indy Vancouver
Vancouver
, British Columbia (Temporary street course)

This very popular race survives at a new downtown location.  The traditional week-after-Indy Milwaukee Mile moves off the schedule because it still can't draw more than 45,000 people on race day
Raceday attendance: 90,000

June 20

The Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar
Cleveland
, Ohio (Temporary road course)

This popular airport course finally gets repaved and continues to grow in attendance
Raceday attendance: 80,000

July 4

New York City Grand Prix
Manhattan, New York (Temporary street course)

A 4th of July celebration like The Big Apple has never seen.  Race-starved fans are turned away from the sold-out event
Raceday attendance: 200,000

July 18

Molson Indy Toronto
Toronto
, Canada (Temporary street course)

This popular race keeps its traditional date.
Raceday attendance: 90,000

July 25

Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota
Michigan
Speedway (Oval)

Fans finally figure out that this Handford Device CART race is far better than the Winston Cup races.
Raceday attendance: 110,000

August 8

Motorola 220
Elkhart Lake,
Wisconsin Road America (Road course)

North America's most beautiful road course just gets better with the addition of permanent F1 style garages and suites.
Raceday attendance: 100,000

August 22

Molson Indy Montreal
Montreal
, Canada (Road course)

The FIA has given its blessing for CART to race on the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit on the Ile Notre-Dame
Raceday attendance: 110,000

September 4
(Sat. Night)

Target Grand Prix
Chicago
, Illinois (Short Oval)

Chip Ganassi gets the Labor Day weekend date he wanted and the Saturday Night race under the lights is a sellout requiring more grandstands
Raceday attendance: 90,000

September 18

Rockingham 500
Corby
, England (Oval track, Sat. Race)

For three straight years British race fans can't believe all the passing and excitement on this oval, and more seating is required
Raceday attendance: 80,000

September 25

German 500
Lausitz
, Germany (Oval track - Eurospeedway, Sat. race)

Race-starved Eastern Europe finally gets a big-time auto race and fans flock in from Russia, Poland and western Europe
Raceday attendance: 120,000

October 3

Monza Grand Prix
Monza,
Italy (Road course)

Ferrari decides to build engines for the CART series and the Tifosi goes crazy when a Ferrari powered car takes the win
Raceday attendance: 110,000

October 10

Southern France Grand Prix
Marseilles,
France (Paul Ricard Road course)

Owned by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the Paul Ricard circuit near Marseilles in southern France gets its first big-time race since hosting the 1990 French GP and Bernie Ecclestone finally likes CART
Raceday attendance: 90,000

October 24

Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston
Houston
, Texas (Temporary street course)

The race is now run around the Astrodome on a much improved layout.  Drivers now can pass.
Raceday attendance: 85,000

November 7

Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota 
Fontana
, California (Oval)

CART's season finale is another exciting Handford Device race that plays before a sellout crowd.
Raceday attendance: 120,000

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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