At last, open-wheel unity!

February 20, 2008
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UPDATE (Feb. 22): Owners of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League completed an agreement in principle today that will unify the sport for 2008, said a statement released at 4:40 p.m. by the Indy Racing League. Several Champ Car teams also released statements shortly following the unification announcement saying they embrace the merger. Gerald Forsythe, co-owner of Champ Car, signed an agreement in principle in Chicago, joining his partner Kevin Kalkhoven and IRL founder and CEO Tony George who had signed late Thursday in Indianapolis.
Details of a press conference about the agreement will be forthcoming.

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Indy Racing League officials have tentatively scheduled a press conference at their headquarters for Friday, where they are expected to announce their unification with Champ Car. IRL boss Tony George will continue to control the unified open-wheel racing series, sources said.

One of the more interesting aspects of the deal is that the IRL will buy all intellectual property rights of Champ Car, and longstanding open-wheel records that predate the 1996 kick-off of the IRL will be restored. That means A.J. Foyt will be the all-time series career victories leader with 67, supplanting Sam Hornish Jr., who is currently listed in the IRL-exclusive record books with 19 career triumphs.

Series officials had hoped to make the announcement today or Thursday, but Champ Car principals could not get to Indianapolis in time.

Sources said organizers of the IRL race in Twin Ring Motegi, Japan have not agreed to change the date of their April 19 race. So the question of what will happen to the Long Beach Grand Prix April 20 remains. Motorsports sources have speculated that both races will be run, with IRL teams competing in Japan and former Champ Car teams racing in Long Beach. IRL is expected to take over Champ Car races in Edmonton, Alberta; Surfers Paradise, Australia and Mexico City.

Do you think there will be any surprise announcements Friday?
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  • I assume we'll hear that Danica is in the running for 500 Princess this year in addition to driving and that Helio is going to sing and dance to Back Home in Indiana with Jim Nabors this year. I hear that Dr. Jack is going to come back and drive for Newman Haas and that Gary Coleman is driving the pace car. Milka Duno is going to get a full-time ride sponsored by the Hair Club for Men and the traditional victory milk for the 500 is being replaced with Half & Half in honor of the new unification.

    Or maybe none of that is true.
  • Well, I would have to say, that if unification does indeed happen, just about anything is possible. But seriously, if this unification does happen, the Indy Racing League folks better throw a big-time marketing campaign into overdrive, including improved driver marketing, etc. This is a big opportunity for all of open-wheel, and I hope Tony has the wherewithall to take advantage of it for his series, teams, sponsors ... and fans!
  • Tony just doesn't have the big thinking to pull this off and make open- wheel bigger than Nascar. Open-wheel was struggling before the split. They need to be pouring more money into PR than ever before. But here are some things they can do to restore the shine. First, tear down the Speedway hotel and replace it with something Vegas style and convention center. Take over the property South of the Speedway. Close Crawfordsville road permantly next to the Speedway and build on it. Install gambling. Firm up some ties to Hollywood. Host a celebrity golf tournament. host a 2 day concert. Pay some prize money that is world-class instead of O'reilly speedway class. Pay the winner $20Mil instead of a $1-2Mil prize. Tony get some big city PR people instead of these people from Martinsville you're listening to. And spend some cash for a change. Quit going around as if you're broke.
  • Enough with the speculations, let's just get one series and go back to racing. Maybe it will take a year or two to sort out the races and venues, but isn't it about time to at least start the process?
  • This is pure speculation, but my hunch is that the IRL wisely postponed its unification announcement until the Sampson decision has been announced, so they don't get lost in this news cycle, which is being dominated-certainly locally and to some extent nationally-by the frenzy in Bloomington.

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