Open-Wheel Series Reunites

Adam Amick@adamamick1Senior Writer IFebruary 23, 2008

I guess twelve years is long enough for a failed experiment.

At least if you’re the guys running the Champ Car World Series (CCWS).

After months and years of wallowing in mediocrity and negotiations, the two major open-wheel series in the U.S. are back together, where they belong.

And very quietly inside, I think Tony George (head of the Indycar Series) is laughing and saying, “I told you so.”

He was the one who started a new series in 1996, breaking apart what was CART, in an attempt to reduce costs for teams.

The Indy 500 has been the premier event of what was the Indy Racing League (IRL), which for years I called “Indy Racing Losers”.

Then something happened.

I don’t know if it was Honda’s entry as the exclusive engine provider, or just how close the races were here at Texas Motor Speedway, (or possibly Danica Patrick) but I came around.

Maybe it was Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves racing for Roger Penske—who’s team I’ve been a fan of since the 1980s in open-wheel, but never in NASCAR.

Needless to say Indycar has turned into some of the best racing out there.

For a couple of years the excitement could be attributed to Danica mania, but then she wasn’t going to win with Rahal-Letterman racing.

She moved to Andretti-Green Racing, and is competing for wins. To date she’s still the Anna Kournikova of racing—all looks but no wins.

However she arguably had a chance to win three races last season, and her teammates held her back in a couple of those (Texas in particular, where she was clearly the fastest car, but Tony Kannan wouldn’t get out of the way and allow her to challenge Sam Hornish, Jr.)

So now with the two series back together, we have to note who won’t be running in Indycar (or whatever it winds up being called, because I keep hearing Indy Racing League, and they dropped that name two years ago).

Two past champions of Indycar, Hornish, and last year’s Indy 500 and series champ Dario Franchitti (and actress wife Ashley Judd) have bailed for NASCAR.

Four-time CCWS Champion Sebastien Bourdais left to drive for Scuderia Toro Rosso in Formula 1.

So that’s three big names who won’t be around.

Indycar certainly has a number of stars in names like Patrick, Kannan, Marco Andretti, Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, and Scott Dixon.

It looks like these Champ Car drivers will be joining the fray with the merger; Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Oriol Servia, Will Power, and Franck Berera are in. I would also guess Alex Tagliani will get a ride if Conquest goes to two cars.

This leaves several teams out, and they may sign on if they can get additional funding, or move into sports car racing (which would be great if they go to the American LeMans Series).

Minardi Team USA (drivers Dan Clarke and Robert Doornbos, who was outstanding last year in his rookie campaign), Forsythe (Paul Tracy—who is a real character and capable driver with lots of wins, but flopped in his attempt to go to stock cars), Rocketsports (who fielded cars for Tags and Wilson last year, and I’m not sure who their drivers are now), Dale Coyne Racing (Katherine Legge—who has struggled but is skilled, and Bruno Junqueira—who is also a good driver and can compete), and Pacific Coast Motorsports (Alex Figge—has shown signs of talent, and Ryan Dalziel).

I would love to see Doornbos, Tracy, Clarke, Junqueira, and Legge all get rides.

Tracy would add some real color, Doornbos would compete for wins, and Legge would add yet more babe effect to the series that seems to be the place to race for women (aside from the NHRA).

I’m still waiting for a couple of the girls to get together on the track and wind up in a catfight. In my opinion nothing could be better to boost ratings in the series.

It would have been great if Ashley Judd (did I mention she’s Dario Franchitti’s actress wife?) had gone up and made the comments she did about Milka Duno at the season-ending race to Duno’s face. That would have been a rumble worthy of promotion by Vince McMahon.

Regardless, I think this merger is the best thing that could happen for the two open-wheel series.

It’s obvious that Indycar was holding it’s own in both coverage, sponsorship, and attendance. The problem was a lack of cars and drivers.

Champ Car had nothing going for it except for fans to root for someone—anyone—to beat Sebastien Bourdais over the past four years.

Now Indycar races should have between 20 and 25 cars in the field each week, and since they came towards Champ Car in adding street and road courses to the schedule, the only way the series can go is up.