Indianapolis, Indiana (May 22, 2002) - The "Big Question" was never far from the surface at the first Open Wheel Summit, held yesterday and today in Indianapolis: "Will Championship Auto Racing Teams and the Indy Racing League rejoin into a single...
Indianapolis, Indiana (May 22, 2002) - The "Big Question" was never far from the surface at the first Open Wheel Summit, held yesterday and today in Indianapolis: "Will Championship Auto Racing Teams and the Indy Racing League rejoin into a single American open-wheel racing series?" The answer, for now, is no.
While the first Open Wheel Summit is a chance for the movers and shakers in American open wheel racing to get together and discuss the issues affecting them, it was made very clear that the coming together does not include the rejoining of CART and the IRL. To kick off the two-day set of meetings, each organization held a roundtable discussion with the participants of the summit, stating their goals and plans in the process, and occasionally answering the tough questions about their challenges.
The seminar, hosted by Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal, kicked off on Tuesday with panel discussions featuring the leaders of each series talking about their plans, goals, and current status.
The IRL panel: IMS President and CEO, Tony George; Ken Ungar, IRL's VP, Business Affairs; and Bill Long, IRL Assistant VP, was first. Mr. George led off by stating his series' goal to become the world's premier racing series by 2007, topping even NASCAR and Formula 1. When asked what was being done to bring the two series together, Mr. George responded that there was no one in the IRL organization working on that, and he didn't see that it would happen.
Mr. George was asked how he felt about being vilified for inciting the split in American open wheel racing. He responded that he expected that there would be some people who would not like it but that he didn't realize that it wouldn't sit well with the media. He said he did not have a good answer to the question, but that he had to decide not to worry about it.
The CART panel of VP of Marketing, Steve Fusek; VP of Racing Operations, John Lopes; Starke Taylor, Director of Sponsorship and CART team owner Gerald Forsythe followed the IRL group. This panel also chose to focus on the goals of their organization and the gains that they have made towards those goals.
In response to a question about the potential for a combined open wheel series during CART's portion of the summit's series' presentations, Mr. Fusek preferred to point out that since the two series have very different demographics and are heading in different directions, there is room for both series in North America.
When asked if the recent changes in CART's organization were too little, too late, Mr. Fusek replied that the core attributes of CART were fundamentally the same as they were nearly twenty years ago. Referring to a 1984 statement of CART's goals, Mr. Fusek listed diversity of events, talent depth, team quality and strength of the teams' sponsor base as the positives that CART claimed then and still maintain today.
The representatives of the two series were adamant that they remain dedicated to their chosen course and that reunification of the series was not on the list of their priorities for the future. IRL driver, Eddie Cheever, Jr. added some humorous reference to the discussion, remarking in his keynote speech that the move of CART's offices provides a great opportunity for IRL to convince CART teams to join the IRL. During the CART segment, Mr. Forsythe countered that the move positions CART to convince teams to move the opposite direction.