OWRS and Tony George to talk unification

UPDATE #8 This Indy Star article says a lot of the same rhetoric on this topic. Brian Barnhart said a few things that make it clear the IRL would prefer to run the sport into extinction rather than work toward a compromise solution. It's time for the fans to put an end to this war. It's now clear which side is preventing any sort of unification and it's not the Champ Car side. It will be interesting to see whether the fans (i.e. the paying customers who generally recognize that a unification is needed) now show the IRL who is boss by boycotting IRL races, thereby breaking George's will to fight. George couldn't be reached for comment Monday, but IRL president Brian Barnhart pointed out what he considers flaws in the idea on several levels. "How are you going to sell sponsors on that?" he said. "How is that going to lessen the confusion that's in the marketplace? "That doesn't begin to fit the criteria of merger or unification." [Editor's Note: Read the groundwork for talks here Brian Barnhart.] Barnhart said George left the meeting with Eidswick and Champ Car executive vice president Joe Chrnelich with the impression little new ground had been covered. Barnhart said the problems with open-wheel racing are larger than the excitement level of the competition. Still, television ratings have declined while sponsorship packages are becoming more difficult to secure.

Champ Car and the IRL are on different travel schedules, too. Kalkhoven's plan is an international series that predominantly utilizes street circuits. George wants the IRL to be mostly a North American series heavy on ovals tracks such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which his family owns.

"Anything that keeps the two series going does nothing to fix the problem with open-wheel racing," Barnhart said. "Equipment is not what has separated these groups for the past 10 years. It's philosophical issues. It's where do you run, who makes the decisions, things like that. We're still in the same place we've been for 10 years."

Kalkhoven said the assumption that one side has to relinquish control to the other is "completely invalid." But he did not say how the series can survive long term apart. "Neither side has to win or lose; the fans should be the ones that win," Kalkhoven said. "There is a very large international following (that) really enjoys the American interpretation of open-wheel racing because it's closely contested, unlike Formula One. There's good action and parity in (engine) horsepower. It's like Harley-Davidson: It's not a great invention, but it's a great American interpretation of (the motorcycle)."

Barnhart's frustration is born out of timing — the Indy 500 opens for practice in three weeks, and he thinks this is a distraction to the 89th running of the event. "There was absolutely nothing new put on the table at that meeting, and there was certainly nothing that's of interest to us," he said. "It's the same (stuff), and the worst part is that it comes right before the start of the month of May. It happens every year. How can that be a coincidence?" [Editor's Note: Hogwash. Why does Barnhart not want a unification and views yet another Olive branch by Champ Car negatively. Perhaps he fears he would lose his job under a unified series.]

04/19/05 The final additions have been made to the transcript, taking you to the end of the show. Will this dialog get Tony George to change his mind and lead to a unification? We doubt that will happen unless both Toyota and Honda withdraw of the IRL and Tony George has no more engine manufacturers. 04/18/05 We have added to the transcript from Sunday night's Wind Tunnel discussion on this topic. 04/18/05 We are downgrading the rumor the report that Champ Car and the IRL will come to some sort of agreement to 'false.' Yes they talked, and Robin Miller's report is accurate except for the part about Dick Eidswick saying Tony George made an offer to buy Champ Car. We have confirmed that Tony did not say that to Dick. Dick Eidswick told AutoRacing1.com that he was trying to see if something could get done before both sides solidified their positions on a 2007 plan which is coming up in the next two months. They just agreed to disagree. It didn't work, end of story. Once again Champ Car extends an Olive branch and once again Tony George rejects it. C'est la vie! The "war" goes on. 04/18/05 Since the rumors that Champ Car and the IRL may be talking about a possible way to form some sort of unified body or run under a unified set of rules has really got the race fans excited and started a lot of conversation on the discussion forums, we thought you would like to read exactly what was said by Dave Despain, Robin Miller and Tommy Kendall on SPEED Channel's Wind Tunnel last night. It's important that the facts and statements are as accurate as possible on this topic. Transcript 04/17/05 This SPEEDTV article sheds more light on the talks (key excerpts) – I called Tony for a meeting and, in my opinion, we didn't get anywhere or make any progress but he was very cordial," said Dick Eidswick. "While we openly disagree of how to go forward, we don't do it with any anger. I sense that he believes in having only one series and he's tired of the way things are going but we have different ideas on how to approach things."
George, who said he didn't want to get into the details of their discussion, did offer this: "So far nothing has been talked about that excites me." And this would include Champ Car's apparent desire of a common chassis and engine — starting in 2007 when both series are due for news cars and motors.

"The goal is not to get us together, I mean that would be nice but it probably isn't ever going to happen, so our goal is to have four big shows together. Indy and three others," said Cotman. "But if we don't do it for '07, we never ever will."

Car owner Paul Newman offered: "If we could run four or five races together, that's a beginning. I don't think it would take long before we came together."

But George isn't buying that as a slam dunk solution. "First of all, if we still have two separate series and we come together for a few races one of the challenges is how do we as individuals, teams and a business, go out and sell sponsorship? We can't spin that to look like one and nobody is going to be any more interested in supporting a fragmented group. Besides, both of us have pretty reliable packages that work so the question is: is one of them worth changing? I fail to see how having common engines and chassis allows us to get together or eliminates confusion. I don't know the definition of unification but I don't think it's two individual series."

George said even if they agreed on common rules, that hardly opens the door. "Engines and chassis are the easy part," he said. "The philosophical issues, that's the challenge."

Eidswick said George's solution to unification is to buy Champ Car but that doesn't fly with Open Wheel Racing Series owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe. "Dick tells me Tony still wants to buy us out and only wants to run races in North America so, in my mind, that's the end of the discussion," said Kalkhoven, who owns 45 percent of OWRS along with Forsythe (Paul Gentilozzi owns the other 10 percent). "I'm not here to let this series be driven into the dust and neither is Gerry. We've got some good things happening, our strategy is laid out and if Tony wants to join us, that's great."

Forsythe echoed his partner's thoughts. "We met three times last year and he (George) wanted to buy us out so obviously nothing has changed," said Forsythe. "I have no problem with Tony being our partner but he doesn't seem to want a partner. I have no problem with giving Tony some playing cards but I don't want to sell him Champ Car. I think three or four good business people are stronger than one person."

Asked about how long he and Forsythe are willing to spend millions of their own dollars to keep Champ Car afloat, Kalkhoven responded: "The amount of money we're spending is very little overall and I can afford to run this thing forever."

But the Indianapolis Motor Speedway president is convinced that one series is the only way to restore open wheel's fan base, sponsorship and television ratings. "Anything short of that doesn't accomplish the objective of growing open wheel racing," said George. [Editor's Note: We agree with Tony on the point that staying two separate series is not a good thing. Our proposal was a merger under one organization with Tony and OWRS working together and managing two equal divisions with a playoff type system like stick and ball sports. This way Tony has full control of his division and OWRS theirs, but they meet together for the common goal of growing the sport. The key would be neither division, neither side, stealing races and sponsors from the other. There would have to be some ground rules established that everyone, teams included, abide by. Common marketing and PR departments would be essential

04/17/05 AutoRacing1.com spoke to Kevin Kalkhoven tonight who said "Yes a meeting or discussion did take place on Friday and I was as surprised as anyone about it. It took place without my knowledge and there appears to be discussions going on at the lower levels and we will see it they go anywhere and if they get to my level. Dick Eidswick, who met with Tony, tells me Tony still wants to buy us out and only wants to run races in North America so, in my mind, that's the end of the discussion," said Kalkhoven. A Marlboro representative initiated the talks." Mark Cipolloni 04/17/05 Speculating, the attempt here is perhaps what we suggested should happen for years now and again most recently, i.e. why not have the two sides unite under one umbrella with two divisions, called American and National, or whatever? Tony can run his division and OWRS their division, but the two sides can come together for some sort of playoff or triple crown…..turn the negative rivalry into a positive rivalry like we see in stick and ball sports. This is only possible with a common set of rules, cars and engines. Champ Car has big plans in the works. So does the IRL. Both have gotten too big with too many races and too many teams to just merge into one division. Two divisions would be necessary and in fact better since it would create the friendly rivalry between the two sides that the sport needs. Stay tuned for more….. 04/17/05 Robin Miller reported on Speed News Tonight that Champ Car President Dick Eidswick initiated a call to IRL President Tony George this weekend to discuss what it would take to unite the two series. Supposedly Mario Andretti is the driving force behind an initiative for a common engine/chassis formula so that if CCWS and IRL do not unite, they can at least run some big events together. Recall what we wrote recently – it's now or never to find common ground. Champ Car is moving to a new engine and chassis in 2007 and so is the IRL. If anytime was right, now is the time. And if the rumors are true that Toyota and Honda may leave the IRL, Cosworth can supply engines for everyone, unless other manufacturers step in.

Miller says that Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi are fine with Tony George as a partner provided he is not the main man – i.e. equal partners of some sort. Miller says that Tony George is suggesting that things could happen if he can talk directly to the three OWRS principals…but then reportedly is playing coy about it. We have seen Tony jerk CART and Champ Car around in the past. Could he be sincere this time? Miller will be on Wind Tunnel tonight to discuss more details.

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