How an Indycar merger might affect F1

Indy Racing League, Detroit, 2007 | Indy Racing LeagueWith the American open wheel racing seasons not far away it’s the time of year when we’ve come to expect rumours of a reunion between the warring factions in US racing: the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League. But this time there seems to be genuine cause for optimism.

Both series have lost top drivers (CCWS’s Sebastien Bourdais to F1 and IRL’s Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jnr to NASCAR) and are almost down to single-figure entry lists. The writing has been on the wall so long that the more-pride-than-sense brigade in charge of the respective championships have actually bothered to read it.

So what would a merger mean for F1 – and a United States Grand Prix?

In the short term I suspect it would mean very little. As Ben Evans wrote on this site yesterday the economic conditions are not favourable for strong series, never mind weakened ones. The new Indy Car’s immediate goal will surely have to be survival.

Let’s take an optimistic view, assume the championships will merge and wounds will heal. Now what?

United States Grand Prix

In the medium term F1 is going to want to make a return to America very soon. Sponsors and team owners were livid at the United States Grand Prix’s disappearance from the 2008 F1 calendar – especially as the difference of money involved was reported to be as little as $10m – and want it back.

But Indianapolis owner Tony George has reportedly offered a huge subsidy to the Champ Car teams to join the IRL, as well as free cars and parts. Having taken that huge financial hit, he surely won’t be prepared to meet Bernie Ecclestone half way on a deal to bring F1 back to Indianapolis – especially if he sees it as a competitor to a new Indy Car series.

If a merger between the two series would not improve the chances of there being an American Grand Prix again in the near future, it might improve the chances there being an American driver in F1 again soon.

American drivers

As the two series have withered over the years so has the quality of single seater racing talent coming out of America. AJ Allmendinger quit a seat with top Champ Car team Forsythe to be a non-qualifier in NASCAR – but a far better paid one.

With a strong single series future Allmendingers might hang around to polish their open wheel finesse and then make the leap to F1. Formula 1 is once again without an American racer following the departure of Scott Speed last year – and the previous US driver to him was Michael Andretti in 1993!

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in this article, and it all hinges on a few people who’ve made some bad decisions breaking their losing streaks. But with a little common sense and humility perhaps the rest of us can soon start to feel positive about the future of open wheel racing in America.

Max Papis, Juan Pablo Montoya, Long Beach, 1999 | Ford MediaIn its heyday the CART/Indy Car series was a rival to F1. A string of F1 champions switched to the sport including Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet Snr and Nigel Mansell.

Even Bernie Ecclestone had to give it respect – he looked at holding races between F1 and Indy Cars and copying US-style oval racing. Some aspects of American racing – refuelling and safety cars – made their way to F1 in the early ’90s.

If a merger did happen and the new championship was even half as good as it was in those days, I would certainly be happy about it.

Read more about the Indy Racing League and Champ Car at Maximum Motorsport.

Photos copyright: Indy Racing League | Ford Media

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15 comments on How an Indycar merger might affect F1

  1. John Beamer said on 20th February 2008, 9:24

    Having taken that huge financial hit, he surely won’t be prepared to meet Bernie Ecclestone half way on a deal to bring F1 back to Indianapolis – especially if he sees it as a competitor to a new Indy Car series

    Presumably F1 is revenue positive for him, so provided he makes money on the race he might actually not see F1 as a competitor but as a companion …

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th February 2008, 9:59

    Ecclestone says he always tells prospective new race holders they will lose money on it. Given that George had to compete with the relatively lower ticket prices for NASCAR races I’d be surprised if he was making much on the race.

  3. Nathan Jones said on 20th February 2008, 10:42

    i am looking forward to the merger!
    the Champcar hey day as u could call it was simply awesome
    street circuits, good racing, variety of circuits!
    variety of winners!!!!!!!!!
    what more could we ask for?

  4. Robert McKay said on 20th February 2008, 11:06

    It’s a shame it’s not IRL merging with Champcar, rather than the other way around, because it seems in the first instance it will just mean an expanded IRL grid with a couple extra roadtracks – not so much of a merger but a forced evacuation of Champcar. IRL is ok, but I always preferred Champcar.

    Apparently some teams/sponsors are not happy about IRL being largely oval-race based, so that might cause problems. Hopefully over time the “new” IRL will take the path towards the middle ground between old IRL and Champcar and have a 50-50 split of ovals and road/street tracks.

  5. openwheel said on 20th February 2008, 12:57

    A day that is long past for it to be succesful I feel. I agree with Robert McKay in that I wish the merger would be the other way around. The rebuilding of USA openwheel racing is a 10-15 year proposition. The kids karting today will be the stars but they need guidance to stay in openwheel and not go to Stock Car. This will be a uphill battle. I am not as excited as I would have been even 5 years ago. I feel that this may be the last gasp for openwheel racing in North America!!!

  6. Nonsense, the only american driver able to turn right, was JVi, and he was a canadian!

    Sorry, but I just hate those fugly cars, they could be racing icecream trucks for all I care ;)

  7. oliver said on 20th February 2008, 17:10

    The last viable competitor to F1, was killed by greed and ego. Not that I really liked the sound of the cars though. The only thing the formula had was speed, every other thing was low tech. Teams spent only a fraction of what F1 teams were operating on. Why didn’t they succeed?

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th February 2008, 17:19

    Short answer: small men with big egos.

  9. A lot of people think they didn’t succeed because they didn’t have a single string leader, like the France family or Bernie. “Championship racing”, which is essentially the only name you can use that encompasses the large open wheel formula used to compete in the Indy 500 for the past 100 or so years, has actually been many different series from several different sanctioning bodies, including AAA, USAC, and CART among others. CART was formed to take the series over and be group focused soley on championship racing (as opposed to the other bodies), but it ws owned by all the team and essentially tore itself because there was no one person who could guide the series for growth. I saw an article in the last year or so from Chris Economaki or Robin Miller detailing all the heads CART had in its life, and it’s just a joke how many there were (something like 13 in 20 years?).

    That’s why I’m kind of happy that the IRL is winning and not CCWS. There are 4 owners of CCWS right now, and if you believe the Miller articles they are fighting with each other. My dream is that Tony George pulls a Bill France and can guide the series back to greatness, including bringing more road courses into the series.

  10. Obster said on 20th February 2008, 17:56

    Man, there has been soooo much passion and emotion from the fans of both series. Reading the newsgroups and forums for each side for the last decade has been hilarious and very sad.
    This unification really needs to happen.
    Some of the CART road and street races were boring-Mid Ohio and Portland come to mind.
    Some of the IRL oval races were close run but had no individual identity.
    It was great seeing SeaBass conquer CART, and it was great to see roadracer Dario triumph on the ovals. It would be better if they were tested against one another.
    There is lots of potential for the future…

  11. openwheel said on 20th February 2008, 17:59

    CART’s set up was flawed from the start. Their charter had no “commissioner” with any power over the team this is why CART had sowed the seeds of its own demise in its infancy. Had they had a strong head like the commissioners of all the American major sports I feel that it would have just as big here as NASCAR.

  12. It will be great if they come together.
    In 2009 they would add more road courses, wich I hope is true…
    I loved the indycar series in the 90’s when you had newman-haas/penske/ganassi/Forsythe… and now they will all come back together.
    It’s shaping up to a nice indy500 this year :)

  13. Because i’m a newcomer to F1- and racing in general- I don’t know anything about the history of CART, Champcar and IRL that you are all discussing. From what i’ve gathered, the merger sounds like it would be a good deal for all parties involved.

    As for the potential impact on the USGP returning to Indy, the financial dilemmas mentioned above could be a major stumbling block to F1 going back. If it were anyone else but Bernie running the show, i’d say that a deal could be worked out with a little give and take, but now perhaps the extra cash throw in by sponsors could be the only realisitc way of coming back to the IMS. I still remain very optimistic of a return to Indy, but it won’t be a cut-and-dry solution as it is in other places.

  14. theRoswellite said on 24th February 2008, 4:36

    Open wheel racing in the US now has an opportunity. The complication should only be in implementation, not in the identification of goals.

    They need to: 1) Re-establish Indy as the top single race in the US.

    2) Adopt the NASCAR production/promotion template.

    3) Initiate a same weekend feeder series. (again, see NASCAR)

    4) Establish US driver base. (see #3)

    5) Make sure cars can oval/road race…equally.

    6) Totally reinvent “track model” now in use.

    7) Rethink the track/team/fan interface. (see #6)

    8) Adopt new race day format. (see Superleague Formula)

    9) Do everything humanly possible to make each race fan friendly.

    10) Create racing for the 21st Century, not the 20th.

  15. theRoswellite said on 24th February 2008, 4:43

    Sorry, should have added: 11) A successful open wheel series in US will create even more fans demanding a return of the US GP…and it will.

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