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CART Should Race At Indy

News of a unification between CART and IRL has been up and down like a yo-yo over the last few months. With or without unification, it will be a very good idea for CART to compete, en masse, at Indianapolis in the year 2000 despite the many hurdles. The reason is simple -- it will benefit CART far more than it will benefit the IRL.

During the first two years of the split, it was a no-brainer. With the advent of the 25/8 rule, it was ludicrous to consider a one-off Indy effort. There just wasn't enough slots to make any monetary sense in trying. The CART teams weren't willing to run a second series for just one race. Then, as the equipment rules changed, it made even less economic and competitive sense. The schism began.

Enough has changed that the pendulum has swung towards the upside of running Indy. CART can regain the marketing advantage without providing some to the IRL even if an IRL driver wins. CART can carry that momentum into the remainder of their season without having the IRL steal their thunder. And with some sneaky thinking, they can even work around the engine issue.

Despite the IRL premise that it is "inexpensive" racing, it can still cost a team $2-3 million to run a proper Indy only effort. However, with the CART sponsors pressuring their teams to run Indy, they just may be willing to kick in the extra money necessary. Plus, extra associate sponsors can be picked up for the race. Some of the costs will already be taken up by the team's existing infrastructure. And the philosophy of the IRL prevents the equipment from becoming obsolete, so it can be used again the following year with minimum upgrade spreading the costs beyond one year.

The chassis manufacturers will certainly be pushing for this as they now have links to CART. Reynard now owns Riley & Scott. Don Panoz bought G-Force and is rumored to be buying or starting up a new CART team. They will be more than happy to help CART teams learn the proper setup, be able to schedule testing time at the Speedway, and generally help out in other matters. After all, it will help them sell more cars.

To the casual fan, they will hear that the CART drivers will be returning to Indy. They in turn may decide to return to following the race. It is the lose of the casual fan that most people believe has caused Indy's ratings to drop from 8+ to a 5. These casual fans may become interested once again in CART's drivers, and be more inclined to follow them throughout the season.

But what happens if an IRL driver wins the race? Won't this do for the IRL exactly what it might do for CART if they won the race? Not necessarily. To the casual fan, the IRL is the stepping stone to CART for one reason and one reason only -- money. They don't know why drivers are leaving the IRL, they only know they are leaving. Kenny Brack may end up on Team Rahal. Greg Ray wants a CART ride in a possible second Team Gordon car. Why? Because CART can pay drivers more than the IRL can. As long as CART continues with their global reach, all other things being equal (and they will be if both series are represented at Indy), sponsors will be willing to spend a lot more in CART for that global market. The IRL will always be behind CART in the sponsor game. Also, so far CART still has more of the premier races outside of Indy -- Long Beach, Fontana, Chicago, Toronto, to name a few -- while the IRL only has Texas to brag about, thus luring sponsors more towards CART.

Who has the better talent and depth is immaterial to this one point -- that money is driving IRL racers to leave whether it be to CART or NASCAR. And it is this perception that the casual fan will declare CART as the upper echelon in open wheel racing. So, if an IRL driver wins Indy, sure it will be a shot in the arm for the IRL. Temporarily. However, when that driver most likely jumps to CART, the casual fan will think CART is where it is at, and they will no longer care to follow the IRL except at Indy where curiosity of which league will come out on top will be of interest.

There are risks. If IRL drivers keep winning Indy, then CART's standing will certainly be diminished. The IRL may start attracting the big sponsors since they will have proven themselves. But, this will take a while. Time that the IRL may not have.

So, what about the engines? Well, the IRL rules can play into CART's hand. Anybody can buy an engine and work on it themselves. So, what's to stop a CART Toyota team from buying an Aurora and handing it to Toyota Racing Development. Then, after TRD is done with it, slapping the Toyota name on it and the car. After all, Katech stickers appear on cars running engines built at their shop as is the case for all the IRL teams and their respective engine shops. Buy an engine, give it to Cosworth or Ilmor, and slap a Ford or Mercedes sticker on the car. Remember what was on Robby Gordon's car and uniform? It wasn't a bow tie

It would be the truth even if Oldsmobile has to remain on the engine cover. And we haven't even mentioned the brouhaha it would cause to have competitors get their hands on GM technology and messing around with it. This is the exact same reason why CART's engine manufacturers insist on a leasing option. It would be interesting to see how GM reacts to this, especially since it was their Chevy engine given to Alfa Romeo that started the whole leasing controversy.

One last point. You would have to assume that CART would take up the majority of the spots in the field (and if they don't, then they deserve to suffer for it). This in turn will leave a number of IRL teams out of business. Many only sustain themselves because they can lure sponsors due to Indy. Failing to qualify could cause them to lose their support, and most likely not be able to continue for the rest of the IRL season. This in turn will put the entire IRL in jeopardy.

Yes, the time is right for CART to race at Indy. The benefits far outweigh the risks. And Tony George will never be able to re-implement the 25/8 rule at this stage of the open wheel war. For if he did, he would never survive the press/media's avalanche of criticism and the subsequent public relations disaster.

Copyright © 1999 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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