Follow The Money

Michael Andretti’s move to the Indy Racing is just another example of the new reality in open wheel racing.

While sponsorship has always driven the business of motorsports, now team owners will be racing in series dictated by their sponsors, not the other way around.

On Tuesday Andretti and partners, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree announced, what had been rumored for the last couple of months, that they were taking the team, formerly known as Team Green which ran in CART and the Indianapolis 500 to become full-time IRL entrants.

While bench racers on both sides of the professional open wheel series (CART as well as the IRL) are putting their spin what has transpired, the answer is very simple.

The key to the deal is backing by Honda Motor Co., for a number of reasons. Honda needs Andretti/Green as much as they need Honda.

As Andretti said “Honda’s history and commitment to racing are second to none and were a major factor in my decision to come to Team Green in 2001.” Andretti said. “My experience with Honda the past two seasons has only deepened my respect for their dedication and professionalism, and I look forward to continuing our successful
relationship in the IRL.”

The announcement made it clear that while Andretti’s team sponsor, Motorola, and others like Archipelago, 7-Eleven and Klein Tools are onboard, the missing ingredient is an overall sponsor like Kool. The Kool cigarette brand of Brown & Williamson tobacco had been the team sponsor under the present ownership of the team.

In making the announcement of the team, without much fanfare, Andretti acknowledged that there were concerns about the perception of the team which he will take over in December.

“We had considered later timing for this announcement when all program details were final,” Andretti said. “However with all the speculation about Andretti/Green’s direction, we felt it important to our partners and employees to announce these key elements of our 2003 plans. We will announce additional information about our 2003 programs as soon as possible.”

This tells me that team has not yet signed a major sponsor, or they have a sponsor but aren’t saying so. My money is on the former.

There should no gloating or remorse on either side of the open-wheel fence.

By the way, the Andretti/Green team was just one of three CART teams not present at the press conference in Denver where team leaders declared their intention to remain in CART next year. The other missing teams were Target Chip Ganassi and Mo Nunn Racing. So don’t be too shocked if they also announce that they’re joining the IRL.

In a particularly interesting irony the originally low-cost Indy Racing League with new engines and new chassis should cost more to race than the originally high-tech CART series which has frozen chassis and adopted an all Ford/Cosworth series.

Some of the smaller teams, which were part of the genesis of the IRL will find that series unaffordable and consider changing series.

What all of this means is that you should put away your press clippings from the war of words in 1996 where drivers like Andretti were pretty vocal in condemnation of their newborn rival series.

Yes, the new reality is follow the money. Wait a second!

That was always the reality in motorsports.

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