IRL-Champ deal finalized

The owners of the two open-wheel racing leagues agree to merge, keeping the Indy Racing name.

By Brant James, Times Staff Writer
Published February 23, 2008

The Treaty of Indianapolis has finally been signed.

The owners of North American open-wheel racing's two competing series agreed in principle Friday to merge after an often-bitter 12-year split that divided fan loyalties and ultimately minimized its position in national sports.

Tony George, who in 1994 founded the Indy Racing League as a breakaway, ovals-based series centered on the Indianapolis 500, obtained the signature of Champ Car majority owner Kevin Kalkhoven on Thursday in Indianapolis, then flew to Chicago on Friday to meet with Champ Car co-owner Gerald Forsythe. He returned with another signature and with open-wheel peace after being vilified for fracturing the sport his family has fostered for a half century. The series will compete as the Indy Racing League after absorbing key Champ Car teams and dates.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 16 will be the first street race under a unified banner.

Teams in both series welcomed the decision. Though Champ Car's financial woes have been greater, including a 2004 bankruptcy, the sport in general has struggled with sponsors and fans as NASCAR became the dominant form of racing in the United States.

"It's great," said IRL driver and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon. "As a competitor, you want to know that all of the best in the world are in one place."

Under the new deal, the IRL will provide free engine leases and chassis to teams switching series, in addition to an instant right to the $1.2-million-per-car revenue-sharing existing IRL teams will earn this season.

The IRL will require a two-year business plan to vet new teams coming from Champ Car. Series powerhouses such as defending four-time champion Newman/Haas/Lanigan and others are expected to boost the IRL's stagnant car count by as many as six to 10, putting drama back in Indianapolis 500 Bump Day for the first time in years.

A press conference is expected next week during an IRL test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the season opener March 29.

Champ Car teams are not expected to be ready for the Homestead test, but a special session is to take place there March 11-14. Champ Car utilizes Panoz chassis with turbocharged Cosworth engines, while the IRL deploys Dallara-Honda cars.

"I applaud everyone who played a role in making this happen," IRL team owner Michael Andretti said. "... Everyone can now focus on taking the IndyCar Series to new heights for the good of our sport and everyone involved in it."