Champ Car World Series: Reflections
I miss the Champ Car World Series.
I love the Indy Racing League. I've always enjoyed the oval-track series. Ever since Buddy Lazier won the first Indianapolis 500 under the new sanctioning body, coming back from a devastating back injury from only a couple months before, I was hooked.
Likewise, I believe the merger between the IRL and the CCWS was necessary for the sport to continue to grow. I expect larger crowds, more competition, a more entertaining Bump Day, and—as I controversially wrote a while back—the combined series to one day overtake Formula One in terms of racing quality and participation.
But I still miss Champ Car.
What isn't there to miss? Champ Car was our link to Formula One in the United States. It seemed that every driver in the series either aspired to drive in F1, or already had.
As a matter of fact, last year's top three drivers—Sebastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, and Robert Doornbos—all have F1 experience, whether as Sunday or Friday drivers.
It produced such stars as Bourdais, whose four consecutive championships may be one of the most impressive feats in motorsports history.
It provided an opportunity for European drivers like Wilson and Doornbos to continue driving open-wheeled cars on road courses, but come to America as well.
It made us forget that Paul Tracy used to be a dorky Canadian with glasses who drove for Penske Racing.
It included races in parking lots, on street courses, at closed-circuit road courses and around ovals. The Champ Car guys raced wherever they could. They even tried to bring the series to China for one round, although the FIA ultimately wouldn't let the race go off.
It was auto racing at its finest.
Now it's gone.
The remnants include ten former Champ Car teams (mostly underperforming) and three former Champ Car races now part of the IRL, with more races likely to be added next season. The safety team remains intact and is now a part of the IRL. Likewise, the rights to the history of the sport—Champ Car's history—belong to the IRL as well.
Everything else was auctioned off a few weeks ago.
Cars of all sorts, hats, banners, Midway's old CART FURY videogame, anything that had any value was auctioned away to the highest bidder.
It's sad that a fabled series that was supposed to be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year had to go away like this. Obviously it was never the same after Penske Racing and Ganassi Racing joined the IRL, but the battles between Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Forsythe Racing, RuSport, and Derrick Walker's Team Australia were some of the most exciting and entertaining in all of motorsports these past few years.
They were at least as good as the battles between Andretti Green Racing, Penske, and Ganassi in the IRL, if not better.
Only Newman/Haas/Lanigan continues to exist in any meaningful way—Graham Rahal won his IRL debut at St. Petersburg after missing the Homestead race due to lack of car. Forsythe and Walker field Atlantic Series cars now. RuSport folded last year after Wilson signed with N/H/L to replace Bourdais, who departed for F1.
Tracy, despite his 2003 championship, and Doornbos, despite his 2007 Rookie of the Year award, do not have new rides in the IRL. Neither do drivers like Nelson Philippe, Simon Pagenaud, and Alex Tagliani, all of whom consistently performed well in Champ Car and certainly deserved chances in the IRL as well.
Bluntly stated, the Champ Car guys got screwed.
Do I harbor any ill will towards the IRL or Tony George for that, though? Not really. George and CCWS leader Kevin Kalkhoven only acted in the best interests of the sport. George offered cars and loads of technical assistance to the teams making the leap to his series, and for that should be commended. It was his desire to bring the factions back together—albeit under his control—that finally ended the decade-plus split between the two sanctioning bodies.
Likewise, rest assured that I would have written this same article for the IRL, had it been the casualty of the merger instead of Champ Car.
I would have praised the efforts George made to bring Americans back into open-wheel racing in a period where CART was dominated by Europeans. I'd have reminisced about all the drivers to win big in George's series—Lazier, Tony Stewart, and Sam Hornish Jr. among them. Lastly, I'd have celebrated the creation of many new open-wheel race teams in an era where the cost of participation began to decline.
Alas, the IRL was not the casualty of the merger. It was Champ Car.
So I am left, as a race fan, to remember the way things were.
Even the negatives seem endearing at this point. Yes, I remember the small car counts. I remember the unsponsored cars. I remember all the underwhelming pay drivers, the guys like Tristan Gommendy and Matt Halliday, who brought their own unreliable sponsorship along in the form of Pay by Touch and 42 Below, respectively.
On the other hand, I'll never forget the Bourdais-Tracy rivalry, the introduction of drivers like Rahal and Will Power to a major open-wheel series, or the financial commitments by sponsors like McDonald's, Aussie Vineyards, CDW, and Red Bull that kept the series going those past few years.
To everyone who made the Champ Car World Series so fun to watch these past few years, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope to see you all in the IRL someday, tearing up the track and sticking it to those IRL guys.
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