Indy Turns Back The Clock On CART

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Now that IMS president, Tony George, has made the much-expected announcement, that next year’s Indianapolis 500 has returned to a three-weekend schedule, the response from CART has been to accept it without complaint.

It’s ironic because years ago many of the same team owners of today asked for the shortening of the race schedule. Now they say they don’t mind. The clock is being turned back again.

This year CART owners and officials left open a two-week window to allow teams that wanted to run the Indy 500 the opportunity to do so. The only fly in the ointment was the snow delay for the Nazareth event to the Saturday before the 500.

It didn’t seem to hurt Chip Ganassi’s wunderkind, Juan Montoya, from racing in Pennsylvania one day, then dominating the field in Indy on the next. Even Jimmy Vasser was in the hunt until a disastrous pit stop.

The result was that other owners, in particular, Roger Penske, expressed an interest in running the 500 next year. Even before Andrew Craig stepped down as president of CART, it was understood that the 2001 CART calendar would have the same, two-weekend open window.

But Tony George doesn’t dance to CART’s tune. Rightly so, he was concerned about a rain-out -- which was rare but a possibly -- and wanted to return to the old way of opening for practice on the first weekend and qualifying on the next two. The only difference is that you’ve got only three days, instead of four, to get into the 33-car field.

You might have expected some howls from the CART owners, but there wasn’t any. Ganassi commented: "It doesn’t’ bother me a bit. It won’t affect our plans at all."

Remember he’s still got three chassis, enough motors and a big new shop to store his IRNLS equipment.

Derrick Walker, the only team-owner in both CART and IRNLS, was happy when he heard the news.

"I am glad the speedway has gone back to its original schedule of two qualifying weekends,” he said. "The race is a major event, it deserves two weekends, shows the interest in the event is building again, for those CART teams wishing to try for the event, the extra practice days will help but with the CART schedule it may make it difficult to go for the pole. However, two weekends is the way to go."

Texas Motor Speedway has just announced May 6th as its date for the debut of CART in Fort Worth. So, CART will have to leave three weekends open instead of two.

CART owners will be polled on who wants to go to Indy next year and if a three-week layoff is acceptable. Otherwise they’ll have to shoehorn in another race in Nazareth. They can run the one-mile oval in one day if they have to. It’s been done before when rain washed out two days of qualifying.

The month of May is a loser for CART anyway. When CART went head-to-head with Indy in 1996 the IRL was the winner. Really, how much national attention was focused on the race at Gateway (which has lost its CART race starting next year). Most of the major daily newspaper press will be in Indy, so why is it necessary to have another event that will just be obscured by the bigger race?

The obvious answer is that a four-week absence from the scene will no doubt dilute perception of momentum in the series. But CART owners and officials have traveled down this road by knocking out Spring Training and opening the season out of the country.

Like some magician’s appearing/disappearing rabbit, CART will spring out of a hat sometime in April next year.

Because CART’s owners and officials have decided that a big buildup to the opening of the season isn’t necessary, who will miss the series going forward in the month of May?

It seems that the only thing that George has to do is keep running the Indy 500, slowly build up the attention to that race to the level it once received, and whatever CART owners want to do will be irrelevant.

And it will be just like 1978 all over again before CART was formed because the owners didn’t have enough say in regard to rules and administration.

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