The Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series have agreed to end their 12-year split, allowing U.S. open-wheel racing to compete under the same banner in 2008. The agreement was signed Thursday night in Indianapolis by Champ Car World Series owner Kevin Kalkhoven and IndyCar Series founder Tony George. Jerry Forsythe joined his partner Kalkhoven by signing today in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1994, George announced plans for an open-wheel racing series with the Indianapolis 500 as its cornerstone. The split from Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) started in 1996 when the Indy Racing League held its first race at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando. CART went bankrupt in 2003 and emerged in 2004 with the current owners.
"This is a huge day for the IndyCar Series and for our sport as a whole, for sure," said Andretti Green Racing co-owner Michael Andretti, a former CART season champion. "Over the years, whether I was in the role of driver, team owner or promoter, I have always wanted a unified sport. That has been my only goal throughout this entire process and I applaud everyone who played a role in making this happen. So many people have worked tirelessly, both publicly and behind the scenes, to get this done. Everyone can now focus on taking the IndyCar Series to new heights for the good of our sport and everyone involved in it."
Details of the agreement have not been released nor has a formal announcement been scheduled. The IndyCar Series will conduct an open test Wednesday and Thursday at Homestead Miami Speedway, where an announcement is expected.
"It's back to the future," stated Derrick Walker, Walker Racing owner. Walker Racing has competed in both open-wheel series since the 1996 split.
"It's been a long road, but it has finally come together," Walker continued. "From a fan and sports business point of view, one open-wheel racing series in the United States has long been recognized as what fans and sponsors want to have both series together and I'm happy to say that Walker Racing embraces the decision. I also want to give a special thanks to all the past and present CART/Champ Car officials for all their hard work in giving us some great seasons."
Walker Racing will test their Dallara Honda March 11-14 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
In the negotiations to merge the two series, Kalkhoven and George faced several obstacles, including merging their 2008 schedules. Both series had announced their schedules prior to the latest round of merger talks. Most notably, Long Beach, the crown jewel on Champ Car's schedule and the IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan are scheduled for the same weekend in April.
George and IndyCar Series officials flew to Japan last week to discuss a possible date change. Long Beach officials have stated their deal with the city will not allow a change in date.
The 2008 schedule is expected to be revealed during the formal announcement of the merger, along with details regarding the two support series. The Champ Car Atlantic Series had 24 cars at a recent test at Sebring and has 13 races scheduled for 2008. The Indy Pro Series, expected to draw strong fields this year, has a 16-race schedule.
"I applaud all of those that made this possible, but want to especially recognize all of those that made sacrifices and concessions to secure the future of open-wheel racing," said Indy 500 winner and CART champion Bobby Rahal. "I truly believe that this is the first step toward restoring open-wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500 to not only where it once was, but beyond."