• More Details on IRL – Champ Car Merger

More Details on IRL – Champ Car Merger
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At a press conference yesterday, Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George and Champ Car owners Kevin Kalkhoven provided a few more details about the merged league.

First, it’s not really a merger. IRL gets Champ Car’s trademarks and is, in essence, acquiring the company.

Second, the Champ Car races at Edmonton, Alberta and Surfer’s Paradise in Australia will be added to the IRL schedule.

Third, there will be at least one race week-end with two races, using two different chassis: the April 18-20 week-end will see both the Long Beach race using the Panoz chassis formerly used by Champ Car and the Motegi, Japan race using the IRL’s Dallara chassis with Honda engines. Points and purses for the two races will be identical.

(more after the jump)

It is not clear whether the Surfer’s Paradise race will carry any points. IRL is contractually committed to the Chicagoland Speedway to hold the final points race of the season at that track, which would preclude awarding points for the Australian race if it is held on the currently scheduled date.

Fourth, there are some teams which are already committed to the new IRL season. Kalkhoven will run a two-car IRL team with Jimmy Vasser. Conquest racing, Newman-Hass, Dale Coyne Racing, and PK Racing have all confirmed two-car teams for the forthcoming IRL season. Walker Racing will run a team with at least one car. Minardi Team USA, Forsythe Pettit Racing, Pacific Coast Motorsports, and Rocketsports, however, have not yet announced their plans.

There was one other point made in the course of the events, as reported by Autoweek.com: the price.

George reportedly is paying slightly less than he had bid to purchase Champ Car from the bankruptcy court, a bid which exceeded that of winner Kalkhoven, but which was accepted by the court because Kalkhoven represented that he intended to keep the company operating. George will also provide one new Dallara chassis and one used Dallara chassis to each team that proves the ability to compete in the full series, as well as footing the bill for a year’s engine lease from Honda. That totals about $1.8 million per team, in addition to $1.2 million in guaranteed purse money. According to Autoweek, this amounts to George underwriting about 60% of a team’s operating costs for the season.

IRL obviously intends that the season be better integrated next year, when it has more lead time for planning. In the meantime, however, George seems intent on streamlining, as much as possible, the transfer of Champ Car teams to IRL, to the end of ensuring full fields and providing the teams themselves some transition time before next year’s racing.

In the meantime, Kalkhoven has made a nice profit (he only paid $3.5 million to buy Champ Car out of bankruptcy), George has established absolute control over big-league open wheel racing in the United States, and the competitors finally have a single series in which to compete that includes the Indianapolis 500.

George’s timing may turn out to be exquisite. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series seems to have reached a point of market saturation, so the time may be right to attract an audience to open-wheel racing, particularly one that mixes ovals and road courses.

This much, at least, seems clear: this is one of those deals that has nothing but winners.

Ralph Kalal
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