Champ Car/IRL merger - on or off? UPDATE #19 Owners of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League completed an agreement in principle Friday that will unify the sport for 2008.
Gerald Forsythe, co-owner of Champ Car, signed an agreement in principle in Chicago, joining his partner Kevin Kalkhoven and Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George who had signed late Thursday in Indianapolis.
Details of a press conference about the agreement will be forthcoming. IRL PR
02/22/08 The following statement was issued Thursday night jointly by the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series:
"The ongoing talks between the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series will continue into at least Friday in regards to the unification of open-wheel racing. Any confirmation of unification will be made once an agreement is in place. There are no plans for a news conference at this time. Much progress has been made toward unifying the sport"
02/21/08 Canada's Paul Tracy said yesterday an expected merger between the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League may not happen this week, or even this season.
In a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas, Tracy said he had been told to cancel a scheduled trip to Indianapolis, that would have had him being fit for a seat in an IRL Dallara chassis in preparation for that series' opening race at Miami-Homestead Speedway on March 29.
"All I know is that three days ago there was a plan for me to go get ready to drive an IRL car; that there was going to be a merger," he said. "Now (yesterday) I was told: 'Don't bother coming to Indy' because the balls are all back in the air."
The 2003 Champ Car champion said he's frustrated at what is, or is not, going on.
"I don't know what the hell is going on," Tracy said. "It seems to change from hour to hour. You hear from one person that a merger is done and the next person tells you it's not."
To add to the confusion, Tracy said his Forsythe Pettit Racing team has been told to prepare to go to a scheduled Champ Car pre-season test at California's Laguna Seca Raceway the first week of March, with the Panoz DP01 chassis. 02/20/08 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' that the merger is on. The merger announcement is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. in Indianapolis.
"All I know for sure right now is that we are getting ready to test our Panoz at Laguna Seca," he said. Winnipeg Sun
[Editor's Note: This is one of the reasons why we reported that the deal may be off 2 days ago. Forsythe appears to be having some second thoughts.]
02/20/08 The wild rumors on this merger continue today. According to AutoRacing1.com sources, and as we reported about 8 hours ago, Gerald Forsythe pulled out of the merger deal last night. He and Paul Gentilozzi are trying to rally enough cars to go it alone as Champ Car. We hear that Kevin Kalkhoven and Dan Pettit are moving on to the IRL. We hear that an approach from Gentilozzi to Panoz to buy in and save the contract is waiting a reply. We also hear that Forsythe may be trying to prevent the Long Beach race from falling in the hands of the IRL.
02/19/08 Another related article - Sports Illustrated.com - Hearing the merger announcement may come Thursday. However, other AutoRacing1.com sources told us a few minutes ago that Forsythe just pulled the plug on the merger. This has not been confirmed yet, so do not take it as gospel.
Related report: “There is no deal,” Fred Nation, a spokesman for Indy Racing League said, refuting reports posted at www.espn.com and www.speedtv.com, to name a couple. “There are fewer obstacles than the last time we talked, but this thing is not done yet.”
Nation confirmed that lawyers are involved, and that drafts of an agreement continue to go back and forth between George and Kevin Kalkhoven, the negotiator of Champ Car’s ownership group that includes Dan Pettit, Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi.
Gentilozzi told AutoWeek on Tuesday evening that no vote had been taken. Earlier in the day, he said, “My guess is that the deal will go forward, but no teams will actually go to the IRL.”
That might not be true. Conquest Racing’s Eric Bachelart said he will send a two-car operation to the IRL if George adds Champ Car's Surfers Paradise, Australia, race to the schedule. Derrick Walker’s team, Walker Racing, will go to the IRL with a one-car team (with driver Will Power) if it can secure sponsorship.
Kalkhoven’s PKV Racing is expected to participate as well. The IRL hopes to attract “six to 10” teams, according to Nation.
02/19/08 An agreement has been reached between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series to bring the two sides together for a unified 2008 season, using IndyCar series equipment and rules, 6Sports' Dave Furst reported. An official announcement is expected on Wednesday. 6Sports first reported on merger talks a few weeks ago.
At the time, the last major hurdle was a conflict during the April 19 race weekend. Champ Car hosts its annual bash in Long Beach that weekend, while the IRL is at the Honda-owned track in Motegi, Japan. That conflict was resolved after Motegi agreed to change its date.
Teams from Champ Car are now scrambling to prepare for new equipment used by the IndyCar series.
The IRL holds an open test at the Homestead Miami Speedway next week. Of the teams expected to switch to the IRL, Newman/Haas Lanigan, Forsythe-Pettit, and PKV are expected to contribute as two-car teams. 6Sports02/19/08 According to this SPEEDTV.com article, and in agreement with what we said we heard a few days ago, the merger deal between the IRL and Champ Car is done and will be announced soon.
02/17/08 According to this ESPN.com article, word is that an agreement in principle is in place to merge the two series and the lawyers are working on the details. However, Kevin Kalkhoven says he is prepared to continue as Champ Car.
"We continue to see advantages in a merger with the IRL," Kalkhoven said prior to his departure to England. "Equally, we are quite happy to go it alone. At the moment, we're going Champ Car racing."
02/16/08 As this rumor bounces back and forth between a go and a no-go for the merger, today we heard from three different sources that the deal is done for a merger.
02/15/08 We are hearing that Champ Car employees were told to CONTINUE, not resume (i.e. they never stopped), work on the 2008 season and that an ex-Champ Car official has suddenly quit the Andretti Green Racing IRL team and could possibly be returning to Champ Car. Could this be another sign the merger is off for 2008 and will instead happen in 2009 like it should?
02/14/08 Meanwhile, Kalkhoven, contacted at his California home by the Toronto Star, insisted the bankruptcy reports were "absolutely wrong."
"I have no idea where this came from," he said.
[Editor's Note: Bankruptcy was absolutely being looked at (fact), but perhaps now it is off the table.]
02/13/08 24-Hour News 8 racing analyst Derek Daly says the merger between the IRL and Champ Car is imminent and vitally important for American open wheel racing. But he adds, it will take a few years before all teams are competing at the same level.
"It will take year three, which is 2010, when everybody gets new cars before all teams have a realistic chance to become competitive against a Penske, a Ganassi or an Andretti Green.
"Derrick Walker gave me a great quote earlier today. He said for the last 13 years there have been two boats. Both have been taking in a lot of water. Now we will be in one boat but it is still taking in a lot of water," said Daly.
Daly says not to expect a merge to fix everything that's wrong with American open wheel racing. It will be a bumpy transition.
"So there will be huge fallout from this. But I have to think the short term sting will have long term benefits. That's the hope," said Daly.
Daly expects Champ Car to file for bankruptcy in the coming days. The move is a strategic one that will pave the way for a smooth merger. WishTV.com 02/12/08 Tony George was still optimistic about a plan to unify open wheel racing for 2008 following his trip to Japan to try and reschedule the race at Motegi to accommodate Long Beach. But, by the time George returns to Indianapolis, there might only be one series standing anyway. The word on the street late Monday was that Champ Car plans to file bankruptcy within the next 24-48 hours which, effectively, will end the 12-year war in open wheel. Robin Miller discusses the rumors of Champ Car heading for bankruptcy in this SPEEDTV.com article.
02/11/08 As we surmised below, word is that Champ Car or OWRS will file for bankruptcy on Tuesday to facilitate the merger with the IRL. If true, as our sources tell us, Champ Car will be out of business and there will be once again a single open wheel series in the USA and that will be the Indy Racing League.
02/09/08 We are opening this rumor back up to 'strong' from 'false' despite the statement from Kalkhoven and Forsythe that they are planning for the Champ Car season to go forward in 2008. We spotted Derrick Walker being interviewed on Indianapolis TV and in the background was his new Dallara IRL car. If the latest rumors are to be believed, four Champ Car races will be added to the IRL schedule in 2008 because they do not conflict with IRL races - Long Beach (if Motegi can be moved), Edmonton (if moved by one week), Mexico City and Australia. If true this means there are going to be a lot of lawsuits thrown at Champ Car and OWRS for cancelling races that had signed contracts.
In addition, we wonder what it means for Panoz and for the Champ Car teams that have so much inventory invested in the Panoz and the Cosworth engines. More lawsuits. And what about Champ Car's signed contract with ABC and ESPN. Still more lawsuits. And what about the Atlantic series? What will become of that? We suspect that would be retained.
We are not lawyers, but the only way we see this coming down for 2008 is if OWRS files for bankruptcy (and soon) and they let everyone sue the bankrupt company. They probably won't get much.
Despite the Champ Car fans being thoroughly disappointed with this rumored outcome, the good news is that peace will finally be at hand and open wheel racing in this country can start the long process of healing and closure.
We support a final end to the silliness of the split, and so should all the fans. 2008 will be a transition year because it is happening in the 11th hour. The sure to be bitter Champ Car fans can look forward to 2009 and 2010 when more of the best parts of Champ Car (such as the races in Toronto and Road America, and the turbo engine, etc.) can be rolled into the Indy Racing League, hence making the reunited series even stronger. We suspect some of the weaker teams from both sides will fold and some of the weaker IRL races (such as Iowa, Watkins Glen, Sears Point, etc.) will be dropped in favor of some of the stronger Champ Car races that cannot make it on the 2008 schedule. Mark C.02/08/08 This rumor is downgraded to ‘false' based on this statement from Champ Car.
02/08/08 According to AutoRacing1.com sources, a Champ Car team just had an IRL car delivered to their shop, which is more evidence a merger may be at hand.
02/08/08 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today based on this SPEEDTV.com article. However, doing it for 2008 instead of 2009 or 2010 makes little sense whatsoever in this 11th hour. They could run some doubleheader weekends together this year where fans would get to see both groups together on the same weekend, however, that does not appear to be on the table. Both series have 16 to 18 cars right now. How will 34 cars fit on pit road? What about Champ Car's contracts in Europe, and the money lost on the new Panoz? What about the Indy Pro and Atlantic series? We can go on. Doing this in 2008 will prove to be very difficult, if not impossible, unless they just agree to run 5 or 6 joint races for this year but be separate for the rest of the schedule.
02/07/08 In the last two days we have been hearing rumors from a couple of different sources that merger talks between the IRL and Champ Car have heated up again and that a possible deal, if it were to happen, could be days away.
If true, we think it would not be announced for 2008 (too late for that) but more likely for the 2009 or even 2010 season. We have heard these merger rumors before, but each time the talks broke down. However, this time our sources think it may finally get done and Tony Cotman may be the guy helping it along. There are many issues to deal with - cars, engines, venues, Indy Pro and Atlantics, and a whole host of other contracts. Mark C.