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Merger talks near finish? UPDATE #10 From today's Journal de Montreal: The biggest conflict in the history of North American racing will soon be settled.  As promoter Normand Legault was working to evict the Champ Car series from Ile Notre Dame (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve), the Journal de Montreal has learned that its reunification with the Indy Racing League is a certain thing. This will signal a new super-championship that will begin next season, and all that remains to be seen is if Montreal will be part of it. 

Last weekend in Indiana, Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven attended the Indianapolis 500 in the suite of IRL owner Tony George. In the local papers, journalists close to George wrote that an agreement in principle had been reached between the parties concerning the use of chassis, engines and tires that will be used in a future championship.

At the Grand Prix of Monaco, a source close to Champ Car presented the unification as a "done deal." Another source said that the text of the agreement had already been done. Journal de Montreal [Editor's Note: Both Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven are not saying this to USA journalists.]

05/16/06 Responding to a report in today’s Toronto Sun claiming that a letter of intent to merge IRL and Champ Car could come by Thursday, IRL VP/PR John Griffin told The Daily, “At this time there are no plans to schedule any sort of announcement or press conference in the immediate future.”  Griffin also said IRL founder Tony George indicated he and Champ Car investor Kevin Kalkhoven “have made progress but it's very slow progress” THE DAILY

05/16/06 Recent talks between IRL founder Tony George and Champ Car investor Kevin Kalkhoven have been “so positive that an announcement of at least a letter of intent to merge the two series could be made by Thursday.” George hosted Kalkhoven during last weekend’s Indy 500 Pole Day activities at IMS, and the two also met at Saturday’s Champ Car Grand Prix of Houston along with IRL team owner Roger Penske. Toronto Sun

05/11/06 Seen at Indy today - Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven talking.  Enough said.

05/11/06 IRL Founder Tony George yesterday dismissed Internet rumors of an IRL-Champ Car World Series merger, saying that “no announcement of an accord” is imminent (we reported this a couple of days ago). 

George said he continues to talk with his Champ Car counterpart, Kevin Kalkhoven, but busy schedules this month for both have limited their opportunities.

"I'm anxious to continue the dialogue, but there's nothing I can offer at this point," George said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions. I tried to caution everyone a few months ago not to get their hopes too high."

But Champ Car driver Paul Tracy, “encouraged by” talks between George and Champ Car investor Kevin Kalkhoven, today will announce a five-year extension with Forsythe Racing, foregoing a move to NASCAR.  Tracy: “If they get back together and all the best drivers in the world are there again, that’s something that definitely would interest me”  Indianapolis Star

05/08/06 We are downgrading this rumor to 'speculation' today because merger talks are not nearing the finish AutoRacing1.com has learned. According to our sources negotiations are moving forward, but as with any merger both sides must perform their due diligence and that means going through hundreds of contracts, some of which may have clauses that could delay the merger until 2008.

From what we are hearing, a merger is not as close as we were initially led to believe, and as Tony George said, all the stars and moons would have to align just right for it to happen in 2007.  So an announcement in May is extremely unlikely to happen, and August is probably more realistic.

With that said, some major hurdles have been overcome so everyone is still focused and remaining positive that it can eventually happen despite the fact it has become far more complicated now that the story was leaked by AutoWeek.

And no, the new Champ Car is not on hold and it will be ready in time for the 2007 season, merger or no merger. As for Scott Atherton running the merged series, that rumor is also false. Mark C.

05/06/06 This Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ) article says [key excerpts] Indy Racing League President Tony George said earlier this year "the stars, moons and planets" would need to align for his series to merge with open-wheel rival Champ Car in time for the 2007 season.

According to motorsports sources, the alignment appears to be happening, and George told IBJ he is cautiously optimistic.

George said in a May 3 interview that discussions with Champ Car principal Kevin Kalkhoven are ongoing, but that there are still a number of issues to iron out.

"I remain optimistic that as long as we're having dialogue, it will lead to good things," he said.

One issue George said would not be up for discussion was control. He said he aimed to keep control of the open-wheel series the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which his family owns, is involved in.

"I don't need others who don't know what we're about telling us what to do," George said. "Last June at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a good example of what can go wrong when you're not in charge. Sometimes having influence isn't quite enough."

Control aside, George said he favors open-wheel unification.

"I think people would like to see it because [a unified open-wheel series] could have the potential to ascend the top rung of motorsports," he said.

Though George declined to discuss what issues remain to be worked out, a source close to both series said next year's schedule is the only sticking point.

A North American-based open-wheel race series strong enough to eclipse NASCAR in popularity, much less the world-leading F1, might seem like a joke, but Mel Poole, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based SponsorLogic, said people who feel that way have a short memory.

Before George broke away from Championship Auto Racing Teams — Champ Car's predecessor — and formed the IRL in 1994, "studies showed sponsor exposure was greater in CART than NASCAR," Poole said. "I think had [CART] fixed their problems in the early 1990s, they'd be challenging F1 for world supremacy in auto racing."

Doug Boles, who heads up the Indianapolis office of Ignition Inc., an Atlanta-based sports and event marketing firm, said unifying the two sides is no "magic bullet" to save open-wheel racing.

"A merger cleans up the noise in openwheel racing and brings about a short-term media hit, but you have to convert that into long-term growth," said Boles, who is also part owner of Panther Racing, an Indianapolis-based IRL team.
Boles said George has not contacted Panther officials for their input on a merger, but George said he has been in contact with several teams about a potential deal. Sources said officials for Andretti-Green Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing have discussed the merger with George.

George and Kalkhoven agreed to meet separately in late April with Zak Brown, president of locally based motorsports marketing firm Just Marketing, to get a feel for what the sponsorship climate would be for a merged IRL/Champ Car series.

Brown represents a litany of corporate clients, such as Subway restaurants, DeWalt Tools and Crown Royal, that are involved in NASCAR but not in the IRL or Champ Car. Brown said he has heard from several companies that would like to be involved in a unified North American open-wheel series, including potentially becoming a title sponsor.

Brown said a major mass retailer or large restaurant chain willing to spend millions to market the series would be ideal.

"I think they need to look at a sponsor that extends beyond motorsports and reaches out to a mass audience," Brown said.

From his conversations with George and Kalkhoven, Brown said he sensed the merger is closer than ever.

"My sense in talking to them is that the rift is gone," he said. "I think both sides want to get together, and commercial interest is pretty high."

Brown said negotiations are entering a critical period with a small window to "get this done" for the 2007 season.

"To get the schedule set, I think they have to make an announcement by June or July," he said.

Some sources close to the IRL have said a merger announcement could come by the end of the month, perhaps on the Indianapolis 500's Carburetion Day May 26.

But George said he prefers to keep the focus on the Indianapolis 500 this month.

Even so, George's main spokesman, Fred Nation said, "Things can move quickly I suppose."

Although George said work is ongoing on finalizing the IRL's 2007 schedule, sources said talks between Kalkhoven and George have included the possibility of an 18-race schedule for a unified series next year, with 12 ovals and six street and road courses.

That would be a major departure for Champ Car teams, who this year will race on 14 road and street courses and only a single oval. IRL's 2006 schedule includes 11 ovals and three road courses.

"Our sponsors are very interested in where we're going to race and which markets we're going to be in next year," said Mike Hull, managing director for Ganassi Racing. "But this is bigger than what's good for Chip Ganassi Racing. If open-wheel racing truly wants to succeed, it has to change its ways. The most important thing is [to] have clarity and a single direction for open-wheel racing."   

05/01/06 Robin Miller tells us that the three key people who met last Wednesday in Indianapolis to iron out the chassis, engine and schedule issues for the merged series in 2007 were the IRL's  Brian Barnhart, and Champ Car's Tony Cotman and Scot Elkins.  This is telling as these three people are the ones who will recommend what the merged series will look like from a technical and operations standpoint to Tony George, Kevin Kalkhoven and other key management.  Mark C.

04/30/06 SPEED News Sunday reports that IRL and Champ Car officials met in Indianapolis this past Wednesday to discuss chassis and engine rules as well as a tentative 2007 schedule in conjunction with the planned merger. Late in the day Wednesday just happened to be when we got word that the merger was a go with the details as posted below.

One aspect that doesn't jive is the rumor that Dallara and Panoz with go head-to-head. With the Panoz design fairly progressed and testing slated for this summer, we fail to see how Dallara will be able to design a car to meet the specifications that quickly because of a late start......unless of course they have been secretly designing it behind the scenes already.

04/27/06 A reader asks, Dear AutoRacing1.com, I read Mark Cipolloni's 20-race and then his revised 21-race schedule for a merged series in this article. I must say that the 21 race schedule proposed is some brilliant outside the box thinking. The sequence of events just makes perfect sense. I have to ask him, if the rumor is true that there will be a 22-race schedule, what does he think the 22nd race will be. Danielle Jordan

Dear Danielle, Phoenix (street race) or maybe Las Vegas (street race). Mark C.

  1. St. Petersburg, FL
  2. Phoenix, AZ
  3. Mexico City, Mexico
  4. Surfers Paradise, Australia
  5. Motegi, Japan (Suzuka would be better)
  6. Beijing, China
  7. Long Beach, CA (if you want Indy build-up, you must race in the USA immediately beforehand...where better than in LA?)
  8. Indy 500
  9. Milwaukee, WI
  10. Kansas City, KS (night race)
  11. Cincinnati/Kentucky (night race)
  12. Cleveland, OH (night race)
  13. Edmonton, Canada
  14. Toronto, Canada
  15. Montreal, Canada
  16. Watkins Glen, NY (Philadelphia, PA if it ever materializes)
  17. San Jose, CA
  18. Elkhart Lake, WI
  19. Denver, CO
  20. Chicago, IL
  21. Houston, TX
  22. Dallas, TX
04/26/06 IRL/Champ Car merger scuttlebutt in Indy is heating up and here is what AutoRacing1.com sources (an inside IRL source) are hearing, much of which we have already reported/rumored:

1. The merger is going to happen.
2. Ford & Honda will supply engines (likely will be single turbo and common ECU).
3. Dallara will go up against Panoz.
4. There's supposed to be an announcement on Carb Day.
5. There will be a 22 race schedule in 2007.

How much is true, and how much not, remains to be seen. Maybe too many people in Indy are reading the AutoRacing1.com rumors page......we'll let you decide, but if it all comes true it should be pretty exciting.
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