Editorial: U.S. Grand Prix = CART/IRL Reconciliation?
3 December 1998By Greg Tjosvold,
With the announcement this week that the U.S. Grand Prix would be coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the year 2000, Tony George delivered an early Christmas present to the motorsports world. But beyond the obvious benefits of filling a void and bringing Formula One back to the US, I believe that this announcement also has the potential to bring a final resolution to another long-running racing heartache... the IRL/CART feud.
Specifically, it has been reported that the support races for the event have yet to be announced..
While I have been accused of being everything from naive to intoxicated for suggesting it, I hope that the "powers that be" seriously consider bringing the CART Champ Cars back to the Speedway, using their existing formula to run a 200-300 miler on the oval on the Saturday of the F1 weekend. If you throw in a Friday night Petit LeMans or FIA-GT event on the road course, I believe that you would have the makings of the premiere "exotic" racing weekend in the world.
The most common objection I have heard so far regarding such a proposal is that "Bernie and Tony" would never stand for a direct comparison of their series with CART on the same track. Or that CART would not stand to play "second fiddle" to F1. Both of these are what I call "ego" issues.
The first I believe is essentially flawed as it assumes that Mr.'s George and Ecclestone are insecure about how their series would look in comparison to the CART gang. As neither individual is known for their low self-esteem, I seriously doubt this and in reality the series are now different enough that this shouldn't even be a concern.
The second ego issue is a matter easily rectified by "positioning." By bringing CART and F1 together as partners, never refering to either as the support series, and running one on the oval, one on the road coarse, and throwing in a top level sports car event to add a few fenders, you'd have the motorsports equivalent of neopolitan ice cream... different parts, all good. This equal-but-different positioning would also overcome the more subtle objection that says no "support" races should ever be held at IMS as it would diminish the glamour of the Speedway. By marketing each event as a "pinnacle" event, this becomes a non-issue.
Would there be logistical problems running an oval and a road course event on the same weekend? Possibley, but looking at the proposed track layout (see http://www.indyf1.com/features/usgp-120298.html), they are not obvious. I suspect that if there is a problem, it would be in the pits and paddock... but then again if they are going to have to set up for some support series (and there is a year and a half or so to plan), maybe that isn't a problem either.
The advantages of bringing CART to the track are many. First and foremost, such a hybrid weekend would put bottoms in the seats, certainly more than the usual F3000 or Porsche Super Cup side-shows. The prospect of bringing Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr back to the track certainly increase ticket sales. Nothing would be more embarrassing to Tony and Bernie than having half the seats empty for the F1 race. Keep in mind that IMS holds more people than usually watch F1 on TV in the entire US. Either they are counting on a whole lot of curiosity seekers and foreign tourists, or the prospects for filling the stands long term (i.e. once the novelty runs out) don't look very good. Having a prominent US series involved that weekend would also increase the likelihood of bringing US corporate sponsorship to the event.
On a more subtle level, giving CART a separate weekend and positioning it as an "exotic" series would once and for all establish the 500 as the home of the blue-collar heroes, while giving the wine and cheese set their Indy fix too.
Personally, if there is going to be a compromise to bring the Champ Cars back to the track, I'd much rather see the CART gang keep their turbo formula and come back to Indy on a separate day. I believe this is a much better solution than having them change to the IRL engine formula or seeing the IRL budge on the leasing/ownership stance.
All and all, I believe it is a win-win situation for everyone. Keep in mind that the support series that traditionally runs with Formula One in North America, the Formula Atlantic series, is now owned by CART anyway. Why not bring the feature series into town instead and once and for all put the feud to rest.
In my humble opinion....