Since May – well, really for the last 10 years – fans of open-wheel racing have been pining for the day of reunification between the IRL and Champ Car (nee CART). As I said then, the issue will not be easily resolved because the IRL does not need Champ Car to continue. Sure, more qualities drivers and teams with deeper pockets would add to the appeal, but the IRL has leverage (read: the Indianapolis 500) over Champ Car and will only agree to merge on its own terms.
Now Honda is giving their two cents worth. The have agreed to supply the IRL with engines through 2008 and they would like to see their investment paid off by being involved when the two series merge. However, series chiefs Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven have made no announcements of late, meaning there will be no unification in 2007. Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development, expressed his own frustration.
"As much energy as we've put in to understanding the needs of both sides and trying to push this thing, that decision has to be made by Kevin and Tony, and they have to do it at their own pace," Clarke said. "Neither of them embraces (the need for unification) at the level we do, I can tell you that."Since the day he created the Indy Racing League Tony George has been involved in a staring contest with the rival league. I don’t think he wants a merger; he wants absorption. He tried to buy the rival league in 2004 for the purposes of shutting it down, but was thwarted. Champ Car now has some deep pockets and is trying to expand their schedule of races, so they are actively taking steps to protect their investment. Heck, they even have their own Girl Driver.
Speaking of Girl Drivers, the 105 lb gorilla in this equation is Danica!. Let's suppose she actually wins a race or two, or she even manages to win at Indy. You can imagine the additional press coverage she would receive (yes, it's possible for her to receive more press), the increased IRL viewership, and more importantly the giant sucking sound of sponsor dollars going from Champ Car to the IRL. True, she could in fact never win or jump to NASCAR, but Tony George probably knows he has her and her marketing bonanza in his series for the rest of the Honda contract.
So unless one series gets down to only a few races or loses their chassis and/or engine provider, don’t expect an immediate merger. Just sit back, watch the races, and enjoy the rides.