Bicommentary:/B/I No Chance Anytime Soon For Series To Unite
May 27, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
One year ago newspapers were filled with stories anticipating a "reunification" of CART and IRL. On Carburetion Day, last year, Tony George had an impromptu press conference quashing those reports.
Various news sources are telling us that there was a done deal, last fall, which was broken up at the last minute.
The latest news from Indianapolis won't give anybody who is hoping to see only one open wheel series any comfort.
Talking from the eighth floor of the new pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the 84th running of the Indy 500, Tony George, the Speedway president didn't give any hints that there was to be any hope for a reunification. He talked about last year's events.
"Everyone was polarized by the talks," George said. "We couldn't get a schedule, the teams couldn't get sponsors, no one knew where they were going. We were right in the middle of a commitment to a stability package on rules and here we were talking about disrupting that.
"To me, that made absolutely no sense if we're looking to stabilize things."
While a new rules package has been discussed from time-to-time by CART, there has been no announcement of a rules package that would mirror the IRL's.
So it really shouldn't come as a big surprise that we're no closer today than one year ago. You could point to Chip Ganassi's two-car entry in this year's Indy 500 but the only reason that Chip is here is that he's got proper sponsorship.
While the CART board left a two-week hole in the schedule for the 84th edition of the 500 there were no other takers (yes, Derrick Walker also a CART board member has an entry but he's got a full-time IRL team).
The problem for the other CART owners, even if the engine manufacturers gave their blessing for their teams to race at the Brickyard, was that sponsors balked at paying additional funds for a run at Indy.
The consensus is that the teams were told, by their sponsors, that it would be very good for them to run the Indy 500, but they'd have to do it for the dollars as originally negotiated.
The whisper number for Ganassi's effort for this one race runs in the $2.4 million dollar range. To help fund his run on race day, which he last won as co-owner with Pat Patrick in 1989, Ganassi got Budweiser (which pulled out of CART at the end of last year) and Target to pay.
Even at the bargain basement price of $1 million dollars quoted by IRL team owners as the cost of two weeks in May, sponsors weren't biting.
While there has been more interest in the Indy 500 this year, some of it generated by Ganassi's return -- with Montoya and Vasser -- there haven't been any indications of a substantial group of CART teams to run here yet. That's because George doesn't hold out any hope of the two series merging.
"It's more difficult with each passing day to get the two series together," George said.
My best guess is that you'll see a trickle of CART teams show up to compete in the Indy 500 next year. Especially if Ganassi proves that you can come to one open test and be competitive in qualifying and the race, there would be no reason to run a preliminary IRL race to test out the new equipment.
Most importantly, running an oval before Indy could be very expensive if you wreck your equipment, which happens more often on ovals than road circuits.
Don't think prospective sponsors won't pick up on this. During contract negotiations they can throw it back to CART owner. "Look, Chip was competitive at Indy without running Orlando, Phoenix or Las Vegas. Why do you have to?"
If it's possible to run the Indy 500 without those races, then there's no need to join the IRL.
And we'll be back to where we started.