Sparks fly over unification talks

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Two recent revelations left open-wheel racing fans and sponsors wondering if the unification of the Indy Racing League and Champ Car is finally at hand. What is less clear is if unification of North America’s two largest open-wheel racing circuits will come by mutual agreement or default.

Speed TV recently reported that IRL officials made an offer to financially help Champ Car teams make the transition to IRL. While that deal appears to have stalled for 2008, Champ Car may be taking its last breaths, industry observers said. The series is plagued by a small fan base and smaller sponsor base. Champ Car’s deep-pocketed owners seem determined to continue with a 2008 season, but motorsports sources wonder how much longer the series will last.

One of the IRL’s harshest critics over the years, Champ Car team owner Carl Haas, in January went so far as to tell Speed TV that the time for unification has come. “It may not happen this year, but it’s highly probable we’ll do it in 2009 because there needs to be one series,” said Haas who co-owns Champ Car’s highest-profile team with actor Paul Newman.

Then, on Feb. 1, the IRL named Tony Cotman as vice president of competition. “I’m just going where I think the future of open-wheel racing is going to be,” Cotman told Speed TV.

That’s a telling comment considering Cotman in January resigned as Champ Car’s executive vice president. Cotman was held in high regard in the Champ Car paddock as a fair, straight-shooting race official.

What do you think, is unification at last upon us?

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