As posted on speedtv.com by Robin Miller
Free cars. Free engines. Long Beach, Toronto, Edmonton, Mexico City and Australia added to the Indy Racing League’s schedule. A unified open-wheel series for 2008.
SPEEDtv.com has learned that’s what Tony George proposed to Champ Car’s ownership group several weeks ago during meetings here in Indianapolis.
According to a well-placed source inside the open-wheel community, George presented his plan to Gerald Forsythe, the primary co-owner of Champ Car with Kevin Kalkhoven, along with minority owners, Dan Pettit and Paul Gentilozzi.
George, who was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, reportedly offered to supply Dallara chassis and Honda engine leases to any and all Champ Car teams willing to commit to the entire ’08 campaign. It was also thought he was willing to move the Motegi, Japan race in mid-April back to the fall to accommodate the annual Long Beach Grand Prix.
When asked to confirm or deny this offer was made, IMS executive vice president of communications Fred Nation replied:
“Tony (George) has had continuing dialogue over the years with the owners of Champ Car, but for reasons of confidentiality we don’t comment on the substance of those discussions.”
Forsythe and Pettit did not respond to emails but longtime Champ Car lynchpin Carl Haas admitted he’d had discussions with the IRL founder to switch series.
“It hasn’t happened yet but we’ve certainly considered going,” said Haas, who along with Paul Newman and Mike Lanigan own Champ Car’s most visible and successful operation. “It may not happen this year, but it’s highly probable we’ll do it in 2009 because there needs to be one series.”
During the 13-year war between the two groups, there have been many meetings and attempts to unify, some brokered car owners and manufacturers or even by a legend like Mario Andretti. But, with both series facing meager car counts this season, George’s gesture would seem to be the most magnanimous, if not practical way to try and strengthen a discipline of motorsports that’s been losing fans, viewers and sponsors at an alarming rate.
“We’ve got to find a way to make a deal with Tony George,” said Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 CART champion who also co-owns PKV Racing with Kalkhoven.
Along with Vasser, some of Champ Car’s little guys – Derrick Walker, Keith Wiggins and Eric Bachelart – say they were unaware of any blanket offer from George.
“I was never consulted on anything that had to do with the Speedway but anything we can do to get this thing together is a no-brainer,” said Walker, who is trying to find funding to run a second car for Team Australia. “We’re all strapped for cash on both sides, and if there’s a package that can help you keep going, you’ve got to do it.”
Walker: “I was never consulted on anything that had to do with the Speedway but anything we can do to get this thing together is a no-brainer.” (LAT photo) MORE PHOTOS
Walker had talked earlier to the IRL with regard to its new $1.2 million incentive program, but said it wasn’t enough to jump. But adding a free chassis and engine? “That would get it close and I’d certainly have to think about it,” he replied.
Wiggins, whose HVM team was rescued from financial quicksand by Minardi’s Paul Stoddart in 2007, said he didn’t think anybody could not be impressed by George’s offer.
“Both series still depend on support from the owners because nobody has any sponsorship to speak of, and that’s why I’m back looking for drivers with funding,” said Wiggins, whose team won twice last year with rookie Robert Doornbos. “I know Paul (Stoddart) feels like the two should unite and he’s concerned about the whole thing.”
Bachelart would usually welcome a helping hand but his recent partnership with Opes Prime Group has him sitting pretty for a change.
“This is the best situation we’ve ever been in as a team,” said the Conquest Racing owner. “I just ordered a new car, I have a new partner and we have a good package in Champ Car.
“The problem I see is that the IRL and Tony would want control and that’s tough for the Champ Car guys.”
That could be why Forsythe supposedly rejected George’s offer on his second visit to Indy before Christmas – control and money.
“I think Kevin and Gerry want an equity position in the deal,” said Vasser. “Maybe that’s the hangup.”
Counting television, payroll, Cosworth, propping up teams and promoting races, Kalkhoven and Forsythe have spent an enormous sum of money since claiming CART in bankruptcy court in 2004.
It’s believed they want George to pay them as much as $100 million, in addition to providing free equipment and paying to sanction those five races. Also, one or both requested a seat on the IRL board.
Kalkhoven and Forsythe met Bachelart on Tuesday in Indianapolis and convinced him everything will be fine in 2008.
“Champ Car has a bit of a crisis, no doubt, but Kevin and Gerry are still motivated and I have faith in them,” said Bachelart.
“It’s too late to do anything for 2008 but Tony’s plan is a good idea for 2009.”
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