Merger keeping IRL and Champ Car teams on hold

Indy Racing League founder Tony George didn't offer any news before flying to England for Scott Dixon's weekend wedding, nor did the four owners of the Champ Car World Series, who face rumors of impending bankruptcy.

Kevin Kalkhoven told the Toronto Sun that talk of bankruptcy was "absolutely wrong," but he refused to provide further insight.

"We know there has been and continues to be discussions on the possibility of a merger," said Derrick Walker, who owns a Champ Car team and is trying to organize one for the IRL. "We know very little else.

"There are some obvious signs that Champ Car is on hold until these discussions are finished. It's also fair to assume that Gerry Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into making Champ Car a success. So if this merger is to happen, it represents a considerable change in their strategy."

Just like racing fans, team officials are anxiously awaiting a resolution. George has said he will provide cars and engines to teams that move to the IRL. Meanwhile, IRL team owners wonder if they will receive assistance, too, particularly if a handful of races are added. Budgets have been settled for months.

IRL team owner Dennis Reinbold said a resolution of merger talks will help him decide if his team will field one car or two.

"I want to see where we fit into this when it's all worked out," he said. "Obviously, the Champ Car teams will get some assistance to run. We'll see if that applies to any of us (already in the IRL)."

Champ Car teams are waiting for answers, too. They need to know soon because many would have to start an IRL program from scratch. The season's first race is 43 days away.

Besides Walker, who is seeking sponsorship for an IRL program, the only other team that seems certain to make the switch in the event of a merger is Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, which has announced it will field Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal in 2008.

"They're probably a no-brainer (to join the IRL)," Walker said. "But they might be the only no-brainer. Others have the resources to do it, but would they want to deal with the hassle? The rest of us are on the bubble financially."

Champ Car had nine teams accounting for 15 cars at its recent test at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway.

Not even the promoters know what races might be held this season. The top official of the Toronto Grand Prix said he is confident that race will be held, even on its July 4-6 date which is occupied on the IRL's schedule by Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.

The IRL has a contract with Watkins Glen and 14 other events. Champ Car has announced a 15-race schedule. Twenty races would appear to be the maximum for a unified series for the season at hand, if unification occurs.

"The future for open-wheel racing is somewhat uncertain, but the encouraging sign is that all parties are talking," Walker said. "There is nothing that seems to be off of the table at the moment. It's just an awkward time where everyone is on hold." Indy Star

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