Is it possible that the open wheel war could soon be over in the United States and one mighty series could emerge from the debris of the Indy Racing League and Championship Auto Racing Teams conflict?
In a copyrighted story on Page One of the Indianapolis Star today, writer Curt Cavin revealed the IRL has made its initial efforts to take a look at the usable items contained in a bankruptcy filing by CART that were initially offered Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS), the sole entity that has indicated any interest in CART assets.
Members of the Indy Racing League hierarchy went to CART headquarters in north Indianapolis last Friday to examine items offered in the bankruptcy filing. In a corollary move, all members of the CART board less current president and CEO Christopher R. Pook resigned from CART's Delaware board of directors on Monday afternoon.
The list of available assets has been in public domain for the past month after CART's Chapter 11 filing in mid-December. "After looking at some of the assets, we decided that we should at least look into it," League spokesman Fred Nation said Monday. Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of operations and Ken Ungar, who holds the same post in business affairs led the delegation to CART offices.
"We're a racing company," Nation acknowledged, "and they have racing equipment for sale. Most of the items are things we need." Included are several trailers, a fully functional medical facility, a great deal of safety equipment and other items like software that can tend to timing and scoring capabilities. Office equipment could look good to the Indy Racing League as well.
While the IndyCar Series is, at this time, an oval-only discipline, Barnhart advised team owners and suppliers in mid-2003 to be prepared for road racing and this year decreed the use of road course sidepods in an effort to stop flying cars. The League has also mandated the use of 3- liter engines beginning at the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, down from the current 3.5-liter engines built by Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet/Cosworth.
Some of the race sanctions held by CART could be extremely appealing to the Indy Racing League, including the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the three Canadian and two Mexican events CART contests.
Most participants in either series would prefer to have one stage on which to play. If the IRL does go ahead and place bids on certain items, due by the 23rd of January prior to a January 28th court dispersal, it is possible that the OWRS could be disbanded and the open wheel fraternity could get back to enhancing, not degrading the nature of that type of motor sports on the North American continent.
Only time and money will tell the outcome of this viewing of CART's known property. As its Delaware company prepares to disband, however, the matter of CART stockholder shares is still in limbo. At one time, CART traded on the NYSE for over $35/share; it is now worth next to nothing.
While Nation views OWRS as "just another bidder" in CART's bankruptcy auction, entities from International Speedway Corp. (ISC) have had a presence at court dates and could end up owning some assets, should they care to bid under the umbrella of 88 Corporation.
"We are being extremely cautious in looking at CART assets," Nation admitted. "We don't want to be in legal proceedings [where we don't belong] so we must decide about buying certain physical assets by the 23rd," he said. "With due diligence, we will decide by then if we want to a bidder, and there could be more than one." Nation revealed it is "not entirely accurate" that OWRS has the final bid on CART Inc. assets.
For its part, ISC claims it is owed a sanction fee of $2.5 million after the cancellation of CART's 2003 finale due to wildfires within five miles of the circuit. CART contends ISC canceled, but California Speedway insists, to this day it merely tried to postpone that race.
Tony George, owner of both Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League was unavailable for comment concerning the moves by his operating officers. George has maintained, the Star pointed out, that he does not wish to be perceived as cause for the death of another sanctioning organization.
Talk on the street this morning either continues to paint George as the ongoing villain in this long-playing soap opera or agrees that CART has diminished to the level where it's difficult to see how they can continue, even with OWRS cash infusions. At any rate, it will take time to sort out the possibilities and the final word should come down by the 28th of the month.