Keeping It Off the Wall|
by Ed Donath
Cairo, NY—That the Champ Car World Series' days are numbered is a given. At this juncture, only a miraculous turn-around in every aspect of its operation could possibly change this sad reality.
Everyone talks and writes about the imminent demise of our beloved speed sport but futurists have not yet predicted what the landscape might look like post-CCWS. Sure, there are breaking "reports" about mergers, buy-outs, and co-efforts but, at this time, these are all merely speculation about mergification.
While f-inheritor would pick up a few of Champ Car's regular TV-watching and ticket-buying fans plus a venue or two that were teetering anyway, such a small windfall would make little difference in the sponsorship viability and marketing partnership prospects of that open-wheel series.
A sizeable spike in TV viewers might convince Honda and others to stick around long enough to see if single-series participation is good enough zen-for-the-yen or bang-for-the-buck. But even if Honda stays, it would take the participation of other manufacturers to keep American open-wheel racing alive. If for no other reason, just to have an alternate source of engines to rely upon should Honda decide to bail -- which, of course, has happened before. More about engines later.
Likewise, perhaps a handful of Champ Car's most Indy-centric teams and the best, most popular, most prestigiously sponsored, and/or most ethnically desirable drivers will be absorbed into the remaining open-wheel series. Even the crowded NASCAR, A1GP, and ALMS ranks might swell a bit with the addition of a Champ Car pilot or two.
However, for every Paul Tracy, Graham Rahal, or Mario Dominguez who finds work elsewhere, another aspirant will suddenly find himself knocking on paddock doors with helmet in hand. Forget about anyone ending up in ForMoola One as anything more glorified than a test driver or substitute.
In other words, there will be a glut of racecar drivers on the market, especially those of the open-wheel variety. Since supply-and-demand economics dictates that prices and salaries remain low when there is a glut of anything, it's a safe bet that displaced engineers, technicians, administrators, and drivers will find it just as difficult as ever to find suitable employment. They should not expect to be making more money even if they are fortunate enough to find a new position.
The related trickle-down theory of economics would suggest that prices of all motor sports tickets would stabilize or decrease. So, while Bernie the Boss and his NASCAR counterparts might have little to worry about, many of the lower open-wheel formulae and current support series could suffer a significant reduction in their revenue.
Speaking of support series, what will become of Atlantics, its teams, drivers, and sponsors? It's highly unlikely that any would move directly over to f-inheritor, even as Indy 500 one-offs. Going to the Indy support series would make little sense to most of the Atlantic teams and drivers, who would probably be more suited to F3, A1GP, and the like.
As for the essence of a single, "unified" series, the tail would continue to wag the dog with the Indy 500 being the primary reason for participation. While domestic sponsorships might be easier to acquire, the opposite would probably be true for international sponsor money. Current Australian and European Champ Car sponsors, albeit a small contingent, might think twice with a likely decrease in international fan interest.
And what of the Champ Car venues in Australia, Europe, Mexico, and even Canada? It is a safe bet that they would all disappear within the first year of operation -- except for Mexico City if Gerald Forsythe opted to keep his team and his Mexican promotional interests intact and if the locals would support it.
Back to engines and other technological issues.
With just one automaker (Honda) currently participating in open-wheel racing -- the rest (Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Nissan) are either disinterested, long gone, or tied up elsewhere -- who would be left to manufacture engines capable of competition in an Indy-based series?
Cosworth, formerly a Ford company that was purchased outright by Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe to insure a continuous supply of Champ Car spec engines, is not only able to produce the number of motors that would be needed for a "new" series, but it has kept costs fairly well-contained while insuring reliability and durability of its turbocharged engines.
Despite Cosworth's dumb-down of Ford's original 2.65-liter turbo to achieve cost and longevity goals, this power plant is arguably higher tech and more "exciting" -- even with its lower-rpm turbo whine -- than is Honda's naturally aspirated V8. Therefore, with the fickleness of outside manufacturers, it appears that Cosworth's current in-house product or some newer-spec derivative would continue to be the engine of last resort for some time to come.
Whether Cosworth would be sold to the new series or continue under its current ownership as a raison d’etre for “merger” will soon be known. But it appears to be the most important bargaining chip on the table at this time.
The "look" of a new Indy series is another important issue. So, because the current f-inheritor Dallaras are not the safest oval chassis and because the Champ Car Panoz is unproven on ovals and doesn't resemble Indy cars of the past or present, my prediction would be that both manufacturers would either continue to compete, each with a new design, or that one would be chosen over the other to manufacture a spec chassis.
Bridgestone/Firestone would likely be the single tire supplier, but brands like Goodyear, Cooper, Hoosier, and others might want a piece of the Indy action as well. Tire wars could wind up being the only interesting tech element of a new series.
Hopefully, those who will finally be getting their longed-for single, unified American open-wheel series will be happy with the new product. However, one thing is certain; that this renegade scribe and a large number of like-minded fans will overlook the new series completely.
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