Hopes of Racing Merger Dim
The newly released 2007 schedule for the Champ Car World Series provides tangible evidence that hopes for a merger to reunite Champ Car with the nation's other major open-wheel auto-racing series, the Indy Racing League, appear to be fading.
Both series' leaders began merger talks early this year, exploring ways to end the decade-long civil war between Champ Car, whose races including the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the IRL, whose signature race is the Indianapolis 500.
But no agreement has been reached, and Champ Car's schedule for next year — with new races in Las Vegas; Phoenix; Zhuhai, China; and St. Jovite, Canada — indicates that the series plans to stay independent.
Champ Car's new schedule also focuses exclusively on street and road-course races, eliminating races on oval tracks — the type the IRL prizes. Champ Car left its last remaining oval event, in Milwaukee, off the 2007 schedule after a poor turnout this year. Both series had run on the mile track at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in recent seasons and the IRL will continue racing there.
In addition, Champ Car is introducing a new chassis for next year, which would seem to add another obstacle to a union any time soon.
"I am not running the business of trying to put a merger together," Champ Car President Steve Johnson told reporters last week after announcing the series' 15-race schedule. "If anything were to happen with a merger, we'll see how that fits in down the road."
The merger negotiations between Kevin Kalkhoven, one of Champ Car's principal owners, and IRL chief Tony George, whose family also owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, have been the most substantial since George started the IRL a decade ago and effectively split U.S. open-wheel racing.
George and Kalkhoven were both traveling abroad and unavailable for comment. But according to IRL spokesman Fred Nation, they "know that for 2007, since they haven't reached any kind of workable agreement yet, both series have to go on."
"For 2007, any idea of a merger, in reality, is a very, very, very long shot," Nation said. "That doesn't mean that tomorrow they couldn't reach an agreement. But if they did, it would probably be for 2008."
Champ Car spokesman Eric Mauk agreed, saying, "Yes, it's still a possibility, but not for 2007," adding that there were "definitely now brand-new conditions" with its 2007 schedule, new chassis and other changes that don't portend a combined series.
"Our marching orders are to go position Champ Car for the future, not to position open-wheel racing for the future," Mauk said. More at LA Times