Just as Open Wheel Racing Series considered its options and reacted by altering its offer to buy Championship Auto Racing Teams this week, all parties concerned are closely watching the proposed buyout and readying for the fallout.
Race teams apparently have remained sheepish in their willingness to commit to Open Wheel because of CART's succession of ominous revelations, including an announced loss of $84-million this year. CART paid subsidies in excess of $31-million to maintain 13 teams and a 19-car field in 2003, but the buyout group has said it doesn't plan to follow suit. That likely will hamper the series' ability to attract teams.
Some of the financially stronger teams could opt to run in the competing Indy Racing League. That group includes Open Wheel's principles Paul Gentilozzi, Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe, whose teams fielded a total of four CART drivers last season.
"The stronger teams like a Newman/Haas would go to the IRL," said Dennis McAlpine, a stock analyst who covers both CART and Dover Motorsports. "But there won't be room for everybody. That means somebody has to start something new."
The only CART team reached by the Times - Herdez Competition - said its "focus is totally on CART," according to team manager Vince Kremer.
"But we know what we would do if the CART series went away," he said. "You have to have backup plans, whether it's Plan B or Plan Z is the question."
The new proposal, under which Open Wheel would buy certain assets of CART as it went bankrupt, could be seen as a message to the remaining teams that if they wish to maintain the status quo - and save the money and time needed to switch series - they need to commit to CART soon.
Still, Kremer said he does not think manufacturers would have enough time to immediately outfit cars going from CART to IRL.
"It's totally different," he said. "You have to enter negotiations to purchase chassis and spares, enter into deals to obtain engines.
"For 12 teams to come over from one series to another, I don't think any chassis manufacturer would have enough. Provided we were able to purchase the equipment, we would probably be behind but we could compete."
One of the main assets Open Wheel could obtain in the purchase would be the marketing rights to certain CART markets, including St. Petersburg, though the city could vote in 2005 to void the right if CART fails to field a race in 2004. Gentilozzi has said his group seeks an eventual merger with the IRL, which races only ovals but hopes to add up to four road courses and street courses in 2005.
Though it ditched the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, Dover Motorsports still owns one of the most prestigious open-wheel races in the world, the CART-sanctioned Long Beach Grand Prix, a bargaining chip should it wish to switch to the IRL. If CART is unable to fulfill its contract and field 18 cars for Long Beach, which is now slated as the CART opener on April 18, the Dover's Grand Prix Association, which promotes the Long Beach race, could void its contract with CART.
"They would just as soon stay with CART because Long Beach has worked," McAlpine said. "St. Pete and Denver, Dover probably couldn't care less. They could probably move Long Beach to the IRL and the other two would die."
McAlpine does not think CART's problems will necessarily end with new owners and a name change. After the season-ending CART race was canceled at Fontana, Calif., on Nov.2, ostensibly because of wildfires in the area, CART refused to refund a $2.5-million sanctioning fee. California Speedway is suing to recoup the money.
"Nobody is going to pay CART a sanctioning fee," McAlpine said. "It's like the Roach Motel. You can check your money in, but it's never coming out. Right now, Dover is looking at a drop-dead date of mid-January for Long Beach. If they don't get that moving, who would put up money for a CART race then?"
RECOVERY: Driver Kenny Brack, injured in the IRL's season-ending Chevy 500 on Oct. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway, returned to his Upper Arlington, Ohio home on Friday after spending nearly six weeks at Indiana and Ohio hospitals.
Brack will begin outpatient therapy on Monday.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.