CART/IRL: 2001; A Race Odyssey

6 August 1999

The on-going discussion of achieving a re-unification of the two North
American open-wheel series (IRL and CART) was discussed at length with IMS
Chairman Tony George. "A unified series would be in everyone's best
interest. At the same time I don't think there is any way that unification
is achievable in the year 2000." George elaborated at length about the
various obstacles confronting the two series. First and foremost were the
technical specifications for the two series racecars being completely
different is but one of the issues that would need to be addressed before a
resolution could be found. "The problem with getting together is that we
don't have common technical specifications today and it would be difficult
to achieve any kind of equivalency."

Asked about the acquisition of the Penske owned tracks by International
Speedway Corporation (ISC). "Race tracks need to make money. I think that
this (the acquisition) gives us an opportunity to step-back and evaluate
where we (IMS) are going." The recent track acquisition by ISC of Nazareth,
Fontana, Rockingham and Michigan plus the remaining controlling interest of
Homestead provides ISC with 10 tracks to operate. The move was observed by
many as a game of chess toward Bruton Smith who owns tracks in Charlotte,
Las Vegas and Sears Point. The influence of ISC and the engine
manufacturer's on open-wheel racing will become the driving force of

The possibility of the Indy Racing League (IRL) losing three of the dates at
Smith owned tracks were discussed. George commented, "I certainly hope that
we will not lose those dates. We want to keep them involved and I know that
it is a challenge for us. The IRL has some very talented drivers and it's
going to take some time to develop their presence."

Another key aspect of the reunification is the need for the engine
manufacturer's to find a common formula. "There are many important issues to
be resolved with the engine manufacturer's and the lead time it takes to
develop them. We have commitments and sponsors to work with. Realistically I
don't think we will be able to satisfy all six manufacturers."

One of CART's worst fears is the possibility of a name driver bolting the
CART ranks. The widely held belief is that Al Unser, Jr. will be coming over
to the IRL or at the very least doing a one-off Indy 500 race program.
George commented "Al has said he wants to come over. I believe that there is
an announcement today in Michigan which will address that issue. He has
asked a lot of technical questions." If what George said happens then the
proverbial floodgates would be opened. .

So the drama continues...peace in the ranks of open-wheel racing may be
closer than most think but the chance of a year 2000 settlement appears to
be diminishing like a setting sun on the horizon. The old cliche about "Time
will tell" is the best answer.

David Treffer-The Auto Channel

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