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Open Wheel: Observations, Rumors and Another Season of Indy/Champ Car Racing

29 January 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel
Round 1 of the IRL's 10 race schedule for the year 2000 will hopefully get underway today. Rain washed out Friday's qualifying session which in turn caused the organizers to revert to last year's owners point standings for the starting grid. Last year's champion Greg Ray will lead the field of 26 cars.

One of the concerns for the racers is the lack of seat-time for six of the rookies in the field. While the teams have had considerable practice time in December and January the concern over actual race traffic is one that will be watched in the early going.

The layout of the Disney track is not an easy one to master. The three turns are individually unique in degree of banking as well as entry and exit points. Learning to handle your car through each of the three turns is a time tested curve of experience. Learning to handle the three turns in traffic will be the ultimate teacher for the six rookies.

One of the drivers that a lot of people will be observing today is Al Unser, Jr. During the off-season Unser, Jr. reunited with car-owner Rick Galles. Jumping from the CART series to the upstart IRL has been viewed by some as the marquee driver that the IRL needs to build on. Just how much of an impact that Unser, Jr. will have on the IRL remains to be evaluated. None the less, having one of the most hallowed names in motorsports is cause for the IRL to be optimistic about the future.

The 2000 Indy/Champ Car season is going to be an interesting one to watch. Three CART teams have put together an IRL effort for the Indianapolis 500. The fact that three teams have made the jump is a promising sign that the two bodies might find some way to work with each other. The Indy 500 is the single most important day for anyone involved in the world of motorsports marketing. After reaching a TV ratings zenith in 1995, the ratings for the most fabled race in North America as well as Indy/Champ Car series' have been on a free-fall. Next year could be a make or break season for the TV ratings regarding open-wheel racing. NASCAR's gargantuan billion dollar TV deal split between FOX and NBC effectively shut out both CBS and ABC. The deal has left the two corporations with a large segment of sports TV programming needing to be filled. Rumors have been floating for weeks that ABC is going to be a central force in negotiating a settlement between the two series. Just how much influence ABC can exert will be revealed in the coming months.

So another motorsport season is upon us. Unfortunately the two open-wheel series are still at loggerheads. When and if the two can re-unite is the $64,000 question that no one seems to want to answer.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.