Frustration mounts for Mario Andretti

UPDATE A reader writes, Guess blood is thicker than water. With ALL due respect to Mario, his leadership and his accomplishments, the easiest way to join the two series is for one of the IRL "big" teams to jump ship with their premier sponsors (Since CCWS ownership can't find any – CDW excluded). However, a lot of longtime CCWS fans would prefer that Michael never come back to the CCWS paddock.

Mario sees the F1 chances of Marco flying out of the paddock with each successive IRL race because he knows F1 will never take an IRL driver. Time has shown that Michael does not care for the input of his father and is blinded to the fact Marco will never see the F1 grid as a driver as long as Marco is in the IRL. In my opinion, Marco's F1 tests to date were just a publicity stunt arranged by American Honda with the Japanese Honda front office. Every year Honda arranges such a test for an IRL driver, usually the defending champion. Unfortunately, Mario, Marco and the open wheel race fans lose. Greg W., Renton, WA

Dear Greg, Looking at the anemic attendance at Watkins Glen Sunday, it is clear the IRL is treading water, just like Champ Car. Is there really any question that a merger is needed? Dave C.

07/08/07 No individual has tried harder over the last few years to unify America's divergent pair of open-wheel racing championships than Mario Andretti.

The 67-year-old living legend commands respect in both the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series — as he should, as an Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time U.S. national champion. Yet even Mario's wisdom, clout and common sense have not been enough to convince IRL founder Tony George and de facto Champ Car boss Kevin Kalkhoven of the need to come together for the greater good of a sport struggling for sponsor dollars and fan interest.

Andretti revealed exclusively to that as recently as a couple of weeks ago, he was confident that progress was being made behind the scenes to create the scenario that longtime devotees of the American open-wheel scene have been dreaming of for more than a decade — a single series combining the best elements of Champ Car and the IndyCar Series, anchored by the Indy 500.

But a key meeting was canceled at the last minute, and it appears the gulf between the two sanctioning organizations is as wide as ever. "I almost cried," Andretti admitted. "I had a situation put together where a really comprehensive meeting was set to take place and it got derailed."

Mario declined to say why the latest potential open-wheel summit never took place. But he did say that he is getting increasingly fed up with both sides' inability to see the need to move forward into the future as a single entity. "They are all in denial — that's the problem," related Andretti, who in addition to all his success in American open wheel racing won the 1967 Daytona 500 and the 1978 Formula 1 world championship.

"They all have these little victories. Champ Car says things like 'The crowd was up 10 percent at Cleveland.' But give me a break. I was at Portland and the weekend was like going to a funeral. And it's the same thing on the other side. They keep thinking things are getting better. "That's what I fight all the time when I'm reasoning with them," Mario continued. "I'm like a broken record trying to make the point. Then they say they agree, but when it comes down to trying to negotiate through a little bit of give and take, some of the major issues are pulled off the table. "I got them to the altar more than once — I just can't get them to say 'I do.'"

Anyone who has followed the American open-wheel scene since the formation of the IRL in 1996 as an alternative to what was then known as the PPG/CART Indy Car World Series is well aware of the sport's decline in terms of attendance, sponsorship and television ratings. Fed up with the bickering between the two groups, fans and sponsors fled to NASCAR. And with the money drained out of the open-wheel scene, now the sport's top drivers are heading south as well, even if it is against their better judgment.

"It's a shame that guys like Sam Hornish and Dan Wheldon are looking at NASCAR only because of the money factor," Andretti said. "Look at A.J. Allmendinger — do you think he's happy where he is? He only went there for the money. That's all due to the fact that the two series need to wake up and come together. Today the top drivers in either series, IRL or Champ Car, just don't have the opportunity to earn at the level that we used to be earning in our sport. The top guys don't earn the money that I used to make in the late 1970s, for God's sake! More at

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