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Toyota Bolts CART Camp For IRL

by Larry Roberts

April 9, 2001

Several years ago, Tony George, president and sole owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, declared that participation in his wholly-owned Indy 500 classic on Memorial Day was too stratified and too far removed from its original parameters laid down in 1911. From that time on, he said, the race would be for average young American drivers who would race relatively inexpensive single seaters powered by relatively inexpensive V8 engines derived from the production car engines from American auto makers. Gone would be the ultra-expensive race cars that cost many millions of dollars to produce and many more millions to field by individual teams.

Gone too would be the international flavor of big-time American single-seater racing in which foreign drivers would dominate the events to the exclusion of fresh-faced Americans who were coming up through the ranks from experience gleaned on American oval tracks in American Sprint and Midget cars. Tony George envisioned big-time American racing to be held only on American oval tracks to the exclusion of foreign-influenced road racing that is prevalent in other countries.

The result of this edict was that single-seater racing in this country became chaotic. It split into two factions, the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) organization with its ultra-expensive cars powered by ultra-expensive specially-built V8 engines, and the Indy Racing League (IRL) organization with its not-quite-so-expensive cars powered by not-quite-so-expensive specially-built V8 engines. In both cases, the engines in question were developed and produced through the good offices of domestic and international auto makers; Ford, Honda, Mercedes and Toyota (CART), and Nissan and Oldsmobile (IRL). The confusion proliferated from there to the point where single-seater racing here was so confusing to casual American racing fans that most who hadn't already defected to NASCAR's wildly successful Winston Cup racing switched over.

But time has glossed over those original hard and fast rules laid down by Tony George. Many of his current top IRL drivers are foreign-born and came up through road racing and the winner of the 2000 Indy 500 was ex-CART champ Juan Montoya, a Brazilian driver who now competes in international Formula One racing. The price of a competitive race car in the IRL approaches astronomical proportions and a ticket to the starting grid of the Indy 500 costs many millions in sponsorship money.

But now the 'greening' of the IRL may be approaching critical mass. Toyota, the Japanese megalith that wants to win everything, has announced that it will withdraw from CART engine-making in favor of throwing in with Oldsmobile and Nissan in the IRL. The plum, of course, is the Indy 500, the most famous auto race in America if not the world, and its accompanying world-wide publicity.

Other technical moves by the IRL are making its acceptable engines more expensive to build and, parenthetically, more suitable to racing on road circuits, a deciding factor in the original IRL/CART split.

So after years of political and personal animosity between the two groups, they seem to be headed back to where they started after the loss of most of their spectator bases.

And now that it has an unassailable lead in the race for money, power and prestige, NASCAR could care less.