Merger mania

Posted by Iannucci | 2/08/2008 | 19 comments »
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It's my birthday, and Robin REALLY wants to give me a big, fat merger. Probably one of those chocolate AND vanilla marble swirl cakes too.

The long, costly war between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League is close to being over and, for the first time since 1995, there could be one open wheel series for 2008. But there’s still one major hurdle to overcome to make this long-awaited union a reality.

SPEED has learned that Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe, the co-owners of Champ Car, have reached an agreement with IRL founder Tony George to race together this season.

As reported by recently, George offered the Champ Car ownership free Dallara chassis and Honda engines to any CC team that signs up for the full season in addition to receiving $1.2 million per car as part of the IRL’s new TEAM program. Additionally, the Champ Car races at Long Beach, Edmonton and Surfer’s Paradise, Australia would be added to the ’08 IndyCar Series schedule.

However, it’s not quite that easy.

(MORE from SpeedTV)
The holdup seems to be the Motegi race, which is scheduled for the same weekend as Long Beach, and Motegi - Honda's signature event - won't move except to the date the Kansas race occupies now.

Robin's doing a nice job of staying on top of this, even acknowledging that despite the availability of 60 extra Dallaras for Champ Car teams they would still be at a huge competitive disadvantage the first year. I like when Robin actually reports - really, I do.

The main challenge to sealing the deal is that everyone is running out of time for this to happen, but if the CCWS ownership is changing it's tune from their previous demand of ONE HUNDRED MEEEEELLION DOLLARS then it's likely they are now facing a mutiny from within. Most owners are sensible enough to know that free equipment and more exposure is an EXTREMELY gracious offer by the IRL, so may be Kalkhoven, Forsythe, et al are facing a whole lot of costly bitterness this year if they can't make this work. For Tony George, this is called "leverage".

Of course, there are numerous outstanding issues for this "merger" (this sounds more like an "acquisition" to me) like what happens to the Atlantic series, the TV broadcast buys, the naming rights to current races, the DP01s, and all of those Champ Car event girls. While these things are determined this crazy possibility for adding so many teams to the IRL is probably going to leave many free agent drivers having shotgun marriages with teams they barely know. That should be fun.

One request, just because it's my birthday: if the IRL is determined to put a free chassis in every Champ Car pot, could someone please throw Sarah Fisher a free car bone as well? Just askin’.


  1. pressdog // February 08, 2008 8:27 AM  

    OMG. It's your birthday? Mine was YESTERDAY. The day Robin busted off the story. I'm giddy as a school girl. Hadn't thought about the fate of the grid girls, though. Good call. And thanks for the Sarah mention. That, truly, would put a bow on my (our) birthday(s). And, I gotta say it, PROPS to Robin Miller for busting it wide, wide, wide open.

  2. John // February 08, 2008 8:35 AM  

    Bring the girls on over!! Let's add a few more while we're at it. The previous reports indicated that Honda would be willing to move the Motegi race to the fall, so hopefully that's still the case. I think the Champ Car drivers should get some extra testing time on the ovals, just to insure the safety of our beloved IRL drivers, and become comfortable actually making passes and driving side by side.

  3. mmack // February 08, 2008 8:38 AM  


    Paul Newman was ecstatic upon hearing of the proposal. “I feel like I died and went to heaven,” said the co-owner of Champ Car’s winningest team along with Carl Haas and Mike Lanigan. “This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time.”

    Wait, wait, wait, is this the SAME Paul Newman who told David Letterman on television that he'd never return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500 because he "dislikes the management"?

    Damn, the drugs for that surgery he never had must have been REAL GOOD!

    I do feel bad for Bachelart, since he has to feel like he got thrown under the bus by the Three Stooges if this story is true:

    Some smaller Champ Car owners like Eric Bachelart were shocked to hear of such a plan at this late date.

    “Are you kidding me?” said Bachelart, whose Indy-based Conquest Racing just signed rookie Franck Perera. “I just spent a million dollars on a new car and spare parts and this news hurts because I know the value of money. I’m all for one series but I wish it would be 2009.”

    I shall wait to see an official article or news release given the source, but IF it is true, it would be VERY exciting news.

    P.S. IF this is true, I expect posters at sites like Champ Car Fanatics and Auto Racing One to go supernova and explode with the force of a million hydrogen bombs at the mere thought that the Three Stooges merged with FTG. :^)

  4. mmack // February 08, 2008 8:45 AM  


    Jeff and 'dog

    Happy Birthday All! IF this is true, may it be a birthday to remember.

  5. Tabernerus // February 08, 2008 8:58 AM  

    If this does actually come to fruition - and that's a big if - I wonder if there's a viable oval package for the DP01 chassis. The engine is a whole seperate debate, but assuming they can fit a Honda plant (and allow it run cool enough), or can somehow equallize the two motors, is there an oval wing package for the Panoz? I remember reading some vague allusion to one, during the very earliest testing of the chassis a few years ago, but that may have been total speculation. I assume they can design one, perhaps in time for the next generation of IRL chassis in 2010?

  6. pressdog // February 08, 2008 9:07 AM  

    The DP01 is probably cooked. Someone may have to swing Panoz some cash if they are in the hole from developing it. Sounds like it's Christmas for Dallara and Panoz/Cosworth gets kicked to the curb. Although, it would be interesting if the teams used the DP01s on the road courses and the Dallara's on the ovals.

  7. chrisestrada // February 08, 2008 9:23 AM  

    I wonder too about the fates of the Atlantics...if you had asked me who to pick in a merger a few years back, I'd kick the IPS to the curb in a heartbeat...but now, they're both strong health-wise.

    And I too agree with John on extra track time. But not so much for ensuring driver safety (giving the CC drivers SOME credit here). I'd give 'em testing to try and minimize the butt-kicking they'd get in the first year from the establishment!

  8. Tabernerus // February 08, 2008 9:31 AM  

    You could run both series for a year or two, and then, when IndyCar (or whatever the heck they call it) updates their chassis package for 2010, you could merge the two feeder series into one, settle on a single spec package, and call it ... Indy Lights. Now all this marriage needs is something blue.

  9. faniqgearhead // February 08, 2008 9:42 AM  

    First, happy Bday to Jeff and Pdog!

    Second, while I know there's a lot of logistical issues, and I know not to get my hopes up, I'm still excited.

  10. Johnny // February 08, 2008 10:04 AM  

    Tabernus: Indy Lights? I think I smoked some of those when they were out of Bronco's one time at the Gas n' Go.

    Seriously, "Lights" is a horrible name for a racing series, as evidenced by the "AMA Supercross Lites" that already exists. "Light" implies fragility and weakness and the factories hate it.

  11. Tabernerus // February 08, 2008 10:13 AM  

    Yeah, sorry. I started that comment half-serious, and by the end, was just joking around. In all seriousness, though, IndyCars make about 650hp. Indy Pro cars make about 450hp, and Atlantics make about 300hp. That looks like a nice ladder of development. You can take road racers from the various FF and Star Mazda ranks, and midget racers for the lower sprint ranks, and put them in an Atlantic, then move them up to an IPS car, then eventually an Indy car. Nah, that'd be sensible.

  12. Bash // February 08, 2008 10:22 AM  

    Holy guacamole! I haven't read Robin Miller yet, but did just get done reading the TSO email on this. I'm trying SO HARD not to dance with joy. But if this happens, either this season or next, I want to build a small shrine to Robert Clarke at Honda. He's apparently pushed and pulled and used all his influence to help make this happen. I know he's moving on, but it's gotta make him feel pretty happy to see possible fruits for his efforts. And speaking of happy, a very happy birthday to both Jeff and the Dawg!

  13. Justin // February 08, 2008 11:32 AM  

    I am preparing the happy dance/end of Champ Car dance that I have been saving for over a decade. The End Is Near!!! Down With Champ Car!!! We Will Crush You!!!

  14. John Edward // February 08, 2008 11:41 AM  

    I have a strange feeling RM is sitting in a room laughing at both sides. Methinks he likes to stir the pot. RM keeps crying wolf, eventually nobody is going to pay attention to anything he says.

    Call me skeptical.

  15. Tabernerus // February 08, 2008 11:48 AM  

    Yeah, I'm definitely skeptical, but I also think this passes the sniff test, if you get my meaning. Given the rumors that were swirling a few weeks ago, and the quotes from Vasser and Bachelart, and the read-between-the-lines dissention among the principals in Champ Car, and given the laughable TV package, we're really at a point where anything other than, "Sure, pony up the cash, and run our schedule, and we'll consider letting you in," has to be a victory for Champ Car. This just seems too, well, plausible to not have SOME validity. I also can't see Honda, with its investment in open-wheel in America (and its suckitude in F1 right now), letting this fall apart, IF the only remaining hurdle is moving the Motegi date. Is that a guarantee? Nope. But it does feel like more than the insane invention of a slow news day.

  16. John // February 08, 2008 11:51 AM  

    Curt Cavin has released a story on However, his story sounds more pessimistic. Like someone said not too long ago, black is white, and white is black. Robin Miller has tones of optimism?!?

  17. mmack // February 08, 2008 12:12 PM  


    IF this is true, and IF Honda really wants it, Motegi can be moved on the calendar. The very first CART race your humble poster ever attended (Road America in 1986) had to be rescheduled to another date due to a rain out.

    Maybe, besides moving Motegi, they're checking if Honda has the $$$$ ready to help make this happen.

  18. Edmund // February 08, 2008 1:12 PM  

    And then something like this comes along. Talk about a buzzkill...

  19. John // February 08, 2008 1:28 PM  

    Hopefully the words of KK are just a ploy to get everyone to chill out, knowing that media leaks have, in the past, contribued to the fallouts of a merger. Maybe this is so close to becoming reality, they don't want to risk the media and outsiders screwing anything up. Tony is still flying to Japan, so hopefully they work it out. Honda knows it's in their best interest, and I'm sure Tony is already working hard on his proposal. I'm hopeful they can make this work. The key line in the article is "IndyCar Series insiders believe that if Motegi agrees to change its date, the merger talks will quickly resume and official announcement of an open-wheel merger could come as early as the middle of next week."