A spirit of collaboration and collegiality prevailed at Homestead-Miami Speedway today as the IndyCar Series officially announced open-wheel racing's unification in America.
Speaking before a large press gathering, Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George and former Champ Car World Series' co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven addressed the details of their unified series and promised a cooperative spirit in reuniting their drivers and teams for the 2008 season.
"It was a realization that open-wheel racing in America just wasn't going anywhere," said Kalkhoven of the motives behind the marriage after several years of setbacks and false starts.
"Tony held out the olive branch, and we decided it was the right thing to do," he added.
The two principles in the deal stressed the difficulties they face in bringing the match to fruition, especially at this late date in the pre-season (official testing for the IndyCar Series begins today in Homestead).
"We will offer the most competitive and exciting race we can," said George of the split Motegi, Japan/Long Beach Grand Prix weekend, "and honor the Champ Car tradition at that special place with the DP01's and their drivers taking one final fling."
Kalkhoven left open the possibility that some IndyCar regulars (rumors have Danica Patrick and Helio Castroneves as probables) may stop over in California on their way back to the United States to take their turns at the wheel of the lovely Panoz open-wheeler.
The two events will see the teams/drivers earn points in this year's inaugural unified season. "We'll be honoring our past and, at the same time, setting the stage for the showcasing the unified IndyCar Series as it comes to the streets of Long Beach in 2009," commented Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach.
The IndyCar teams continue to transition into their roles trackside as equipment flows into garages and teams get a glimpse for the first time of the Dallara chassis that has become the de facto spec-racer for the series.
Technical expertise and information-sharing is being moderated by IndyCar's VP of Competition Brian Barnhart, whose goal is to deliver at least one new and one used Dallara to the joining teams on an expedited basis leading up to the Indianapolis 500.
"Fourteen new chassis will be delivered through the first of May," said Barnhart. "Engine availability will eventually become an issue as we work through seven consecutive weeks on-track, which is an enormous burden to put on Honda."
At this time, it is unknown how many teams will be ready to field cars at IRL's season opener in Homestead, March 29. The second event on the 2008 IndyCar calendar will be April 6th on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. prior to the twin races at Motegi and Long Beach.
The eight-time championship team from Champ Car has entered two Indianapolis 500 events and confirmed today that they will compete in the new unified series under the IndyCar banner.
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing co-team owner Paul Newman simply said, "When I heard about the reunification, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I am very happy that we are going back to the high side."
Like many of the CCWS teams, NHL Racing is well aware of the challenges they will face. "Competing in our first full IndyCar season will be one of the biggest challenges our team has faced because of the limited time frame to prepare for the season and get acclimated to the new equipment and race tracks," said co-owner Carl Haas.
The main event on the still-to-be-revised 2008 schedule is, of course, during the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Prior to the 92nd running of the Indy 500, many of the new teams hope to compete on the Kansas Speedway.