Addition By Subtraction
March 21, 2004 | 11:50 A.M. EST
Tony George and the Indy Racing League may have lost the bid to buy the bankrupt CART sanctioning body at January's court proceedings. But oddly enough, the IRL has been the beneficiary of the recent movement among the open wheel contingent.
Just a day after OWRS held its two-day media gathering in Long Beach to unveil its schedule, new television package and line-up of drivers and teams, Adrian Fernandez announced plans to bolt to the IRL.
“We have reviewed a lot of things the past few days, and had to take a hard look at what we know at this point in time to determine what is best for our sponsors and the future of Fernandez Racing," he said. "With the support of Quaker State, Telmex, Tecate and Aceros Vilag, we have made the decision to enter the IRL.
“Personally, it is never easy to make a decision like this, particularly when you factor in the friendships and relationships that have developed over many years for not only myself but everyone at Fernandez Racing.”
The move sent shock waves through the Champ Car community, despite the brave face put on by management. It also made Fernandez go from national hero to public enemy number one in his native Mexico, with reports of much fan criticism from Mexican race enthusiasts who called Fernandez a "traitor." The IRL does not currently race in Mexico so the legions of "former" Fernandez fans will not be able to witness their until now revered driver compete in person.
Salvo number two came late last week when Bobby Rahal jumped into the IRL with both feet, opting to pair his Champ Car operation with his IndyCar effort. Rahal now has a two-car IRL team with Buddy Rice substituting for the injured Kenny Brack in one ride and an open seat, since his Champ Car pilot Michele Jourdain, Jr. decided to stay on the OWRS side.
That gives the IRL about 22 solid teams with Champ Car down to only 12 or 13 by last count, including a new two-car effort announced by car owner Dale Coyne. Which begs the question, how can OWRS stage an event with such a short field on the grid?
OWRS still maintains 18 cars will start at Long Beach next month, which unless cars from the annual Toyota Celebrity Race are allowed in the main event seems impossible. And with such high-profile names as Rahal and Fernandez defecting, Champ Car has some serious identity issues. Paul Tracy winning every week is bad for business (see Michael Schumacher in Formula One if you don't believe me).
It's hard to imagine this two series war lasting beyond this season, but it's raged on beyond anyone's imagination until now so I guess it's possible. But the power balance has clearly shifted and it's squarely headquartered at 16th Street.