Champ Car/IRL merger nears

UPDATE Tony George stated more things today regarding the possible IRL/Champ Car merger talk. This AP article says (key excerpts from today) -Tony George acknowledged that he and Kalkhoven have been talking "fairly frequently," but added, "I think (an agreement) is certainly possible, but I think we're a long way from there at this point.

"I think everyone would like to see it happen sooner rather than later: our partners, our sponsors, our teams, fans and I think likewise on the other side, I'm sure there are those that feel the same way. But it's nothing you can hurry along."

George, speaking at a press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the IRL IndyCar series opens Sunday with the Toyota Indy 300, said, "There's always the temptation to start charging ahead but so far I've tried to keep focused on really trying to understand what all we both have to consider in discussions we've had on unification."

Asked if he now believes it is important to have only one open-wheel series, George said, "I, for a long time, have been one of those who believed it certainly would be nice if open-wheel racing were unified."

Kalkhoven said he too has enjoyed the conversations with George, but cautioned that "No one is saying we want to do this at all costs.

"The issue is, everyone would agree, that it's a very, very good thing to do," Kalkhoven told the Associated Press in a telephone interview earlier Friday. "It's not about getting an agreement to merge. It's about what we will have in year one, year two and year three.

"The worst thing that could happen would be to merge and then have another split."

Asked if it can get done this time, Kalkhoven said, "We're talking and that's a good thing. The best thing would be if everyone else just goes away and leaves us alone."

George first said that, even if a deal does get done, it could not happen by 2007. Later, though, he said, "I supposed if all the stars, moons and planets aligned, it could be possible. But what are the chances of that?"

"There's reason to be hopeful, but I would caution everyone from getting their hopes set too high," George said. "I think if it comes together, great. That would be wonderful. It depends on what the issues are. If we can eliminate the hairy issues, it won't be a problem. If we have a bunch of big, hairy issues then it will be a problem."

Full Transcript of what Tony George said.

03/22/06 As we have reported previously, we expect a merger announcement of the IRL and Champ Car to happen during the month of May at Indy. In this new LA Times article Tony George gives the strongest indication yet that the merger talks are heating up.

It's fair to say we would both like to see that," George said of a merger. George's track is the site of the Indianapolis 500, the most famous U.S. auto race and one of the world's biggest single-day sporting events with up to 400,000 spectators, plus millions more on worldwide TV.

George, the man primarily responsible for splitting open-wheel racing into two groups when he formed the IRL in 1995, now says, "I'm one of many people who believe that open-wheel racing would be better served by a unified IRL and Champ Car."

Kalkhoven, whose series opens its season April 9 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, agreed that "we're trying to develop a plan."

The goal is not only to combine the two series, he said, but to make the sport a more potent alternative to NASCAR stock-car racing, whose growing popularity has helped marginalize the IRL and Champ Car.

That's especially crucial if open-wheel, open-cockpit racing — whose famous drivers include A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr. — hopes to gain more corporate sponsors. They would provide the financial muscle the sport needs to better promote itself and capture more fans, he said.

"We've had fruitful discussions," Kalkhoven said. "We all agree it would be better to have a united series. We are both trying to find the right solution."

The statements by George, 46, and Kalkhoven, 61, could set the stage for a dramatic shift in auto racing.

Both men emphasized that the talks were in their early stages, that a merger still might not happen and that they were prepared to keep going their separate ways.

"There is a lot of hair on this cat — it's not easy," George said. "Nothing is imminent."

But asked whether a merger could be done, he replied: "Absolutely. No question." has been a proponent to a merger for many years now, despite die-hard fans from both camps who insisted the two sides should never merge. We are glad to see that this time the talks appear very real and all indications are that the time has come to end this Hatfields and McCoys destructive battle. Mark C.

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