One Inch Closer To Merger

Posted by Iannucci | 7/21/2006 | 0 comments »
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All season long there has been hopeful talk of an IRL/Champ Car merger, and while nothing merger-related has been announced yet there has been some quiet maneuvering towards series consolidation.

The Houston Chronicle reports Champ Car has secured a late April date for the 2007 Grand Prix of Houston, which is three weeks earlier than the race occurred this year.

(Michael Lanigan, the Grand Prix promoter) said that the Champ Car schedule, which has not been released, will have not have events after the first weekend in May next year. Theoretically, that will allow Champ Car drivers to have the opportunity to practice and qualify for the Indianapolis 500 throughout the rest of May.

This is significant because Champ Car realizes they will have more exposure for their drivers at Indianapolis after racing this entire season in relative obscurity. More exposure means more sponsor dollars. More sponsor dollars means more racing.

Participation at Indy is a double-edged sword for Champ Car. If they ignore the Brickyard, then they avoid the biggest stage for their drivers (and sponsors) to appear. If they go to Indy, they strengthen Tony George’s leverage by adding the Champ Car audience to the biggest event in the IRL. Presumably the Champ Car sponsors have expressed displeasure with the non-Indy returns of this season.

Having Champ Car drivers at Indy is nothing new, as this year was the first time in recent memory Champ Car teams like Newman/Haas failed to field an entry. Still, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many Champ Car teams will be actually be able to afford the Dallara/Honda setup and participate in The Month of May, but it’s safe to say it would be most of the 18 drivers.

Keeping an eye on the ongoing war of marketing, expect Champ Car series owner Kevin Kalkhoven to field his drivers, including Katherine Legge. Regardless of whether or not Sarah Fisher gets a ride, it appears we might finally hear the phrase “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!” at the Brickyard.

No doubt that thought makes ABC Sports executives do the Snoopy Dance.

UPDATE: I apologize for my failing memory. Lyn St James and Sarah Fisher both participated in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. My bad.