The owners of the series formerly known as CART inherit major problems and not much time to get them fixed.
By BRANT JAMES
Published February 13, 2004
They bought themselves a racing league. Now the three men who make up the ownership of Open Wheel Racing Series have to find a way to run it.
On Jan. 28, Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven won the right to purchase the remnants of the defunct Championship Auto Racing Teams in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, convincing Judge Frank Otte that their cash bid of more than $3.5-million was in the better interests of creditors though the rival Indy Racing League made a much higher bid.
The challenge now is getting a league that was in limbo since CART's season-ending event was canceled last fall - in the aftermath of California wildfires - organized and ready to commence a 15- to 17-race schedule on April 18 at Long Beach. The second race of the season is tentatively set for May 16 in St. Petersburg.
"Now they've got a whole other set of issues to deal with," IRL president Tony George said. "Sometimes you've got to be careful for what you wish for. It might come true."
Open Wheel promised an 18-car field and announced plans for a television package, but details had not been released as of press time. Preparations were underway long before Open Wheel won its ruling in court, Gentilozzi said.
"We really never stopped getting ready for (the) season," he said. "(After the ruling) there was a new life through the Champ Car offices. There will be a season and there will be racing in less than 90 days."
Open Wheel figures to have purchased CART's old problems - cost overruns, an ineffective television package and teams in need of subsidies - but Gentilozzi seems confident his group's acumen can succeed where former CART bosses failed.
"We analyzed in great detail and we brought in experts from outside and found out how they lost money," he said. "They didn't lose it, someone found it and spent it. We have found out in black in white how it happened and we won't let it happen again."
Television will be a major part of the equation. Though Champ Car likely will continue to pay for its air time, Gentilozzi is confident it will be able to either spend less or at least more efficiently. Critical, he said, is finding a way to personalize drivers like NASCAR drivers are on NBC and Fox broadcasts.
"TV broadcasting has not been very interesting for people to watch," Gentilozzi said. "We need to find people who make interesting programming and bring them into our genre. And when we make a deal it will be with someone who looks at us as a partner, not a victim."
With North American open-wheel racing still split into two branches, it remains to be seen if Open Wheel eventually will be a partner or victim in regard to the IRL. Gentilozzi had expressed an interest in merging with the IRL when the group first proposed buying out CART, but Kalkhoven said Open Wheel's five-year plan contains no plans for "integration."
George, who broke from CART in 1996 to form the IRL, seems open to the idea, however the Open Wheel venture fares.
"I think that there's no doubt that eventually open-wheel racing, as we refer to it, will be run under one banner," he said. "It only makes sense. . . . We just hope, however it turns out, that there remain viable opportunities at some point in the future for open wheel racing."