With the American open wheel racing seasons not far away it’s the time of year when we’ve come to expect rumours of a reunion between the warring factions in US racing: the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League. But this time there seems to be genuine cause for optimism.
Both series have lost top drivers (CCWS’s Sebastien Bourdais to F1 and IRL’s Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jnr to NASCAR) and are almost down to single-figure entry lists. The writing has been on the wall so long that the more-pride-than-sense brigade in charge of the respective championships have actually bothered to read it.
So what would a merger mean for F1 – and a United States Grand Prix?
In the short term I suspect it would mean very little. As Ben Evans wrote on this site yesterday the economic conditions are not favourable for strong series, never mind weakened ones. The new Indy Car’s immediate goal will surely have to be survival.
Let’s take an optimistic view, assume the championships will merge and wounds will heal. Now what?
United States Grand Prix
In the medium term F1 is going to want to make a return to America very soon. Sponsors and team owners were livid at the United States Grand Prix’s disappearance from the 2008 F1 calendar – especially as the difference of money involved was reported to be as little as $10m – and want it back.
But Indianapolis owner Tony George has reportedly offered a huge subsidy to the Champ Car teams to join the IRL, as well as free cars and parts. Having taken that huge financial hit, he surely won’t be prepared to meet Bernie Ecclestone half way on a deal to bring F1 back to Indianapolis – especially if he sees it as a competitor to a new Indy Car series.
If a merger between the two series would not improve the chances of there being an American Grand Prix again in the near future, it might improve the chances there being an American driver in F1 again soon.
As the two series have withered over the years so has the quality of single seater racing talent coming out of America. AJ Allmendinger quit a seat with top Champ Car team Forsythe to be a non-qualifier in NASCAR – but a far better paid one.
With a strong single series future Allmendingers might hang around to polish their open wheel finesse and then make the leap to F1. Formula 1 is once again without an American racer following the departure of Scott Speed last year – and the previous US driver to him was Michael Andretti in 1993!
There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in this article, and it all hinges on a few people who’ve made some bad decisions breaking their losing streaks. But with a little common sense and humility perhaps the rest of us can soon start to feel positive about the future of open wheel racing in America.
Even Bernie Ecclestone had to give it respect – he looked at holding races between F1 and Indy Cars and copying US-style oval racing. Some aspects of American racing – refuelling and safety cars – made their way to F1 in the early ’90s.
If a merger did happen and the new championship was even half as good as it was in those days, I would certainly be happy about it.
Photos copyright: Indy Racing League | Ford Media
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