When word leaked out a couple of weeks ago that a potential merger was in the works, it was met with a sigh of relief from open-wheel race fans.
Could it be that the 12-year nightmare that has haunted open-wheel racing – and allowed NASCAR to become the giant it has become and define racing in America – would finally be over?
The announcement then came through that the merger was happening.
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"It's about time," said 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, who now races in NASCAR.
The deal that had been discussed – free Dallara race cars and Honda engines and $1.2 million in incentive money to Champ Car teams willing to head over to the IRL – is essentially the same offer that has been out there for the past three years.
It is a deal that will point open-wheel racing in the right direction: so why is there interest now?
Apparently, Champ Car's co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe may have taken a serious look at themselves and checked their bank accounts.
Champ Car has become a questionably viable racing series that essentially no one in North America cares about. It features a field of drivers that may be quite talented in their own right, but no one in North America cares about them, either.
The IRL's IndyCar Series, which has been in existence since 1996 and has yet to capture the hearts and minds of auto racing fans in the United States beyond the Indianapolis 500, isn't doing much better.
It has a marquee event in the Indy 500 and it does have a driver that also moonlights as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but the rest of the field – perhaps outside driver/dancer Helio Castroneves – sadly is just as faceless as the starting line-up of a Major League Soccer club.
When open-wheel racing in America went through its painful divorce at the end of the 1995 season, it was at its zenith, with millions of fans watching on television and in person. Since then, those numbers have dropped dramatically to a fraction of what they were, and NASCAR's popularity in America has skyrocketed.
So now, after years of mutual acrimony, the two sides of this once great marriage of speed and exceptional world-class driving talent are once more looking at each other face-to-face, lines of age and years of tough times showing on both of their faces, and both have come to a stark realization that it is now or never for open-wheel racing.
IRL president Tony George, condemned over a decade ago for precipitating the dissolution of the iconic sport, has seen a golden opportunity to change his legacy in auto racing. He will lead the new organisation.
Champ Car's failure to regain its former glory has been blamed on a lack of strong leadership at the top, leaving it saddled with a series of failed business plans.
The majority of Champ Car teams have minimal sponsorship support and many have turned to financial help outside of the United States in the form of sponsorship and drivers bringing cash for a seat.
Under George and his cash the IRL has survived for more than a dozen years; but the majority of its teams also face a constant struggle to attract the kind of quality sponsorship that is necessary to support themselves and grow the series.
Will a consolidated series help this situation?
Not immediately, perhaps: but Champ Car teams with domestic sponsorships can at least go to their sponsors and ask for more money now that they will represent them in the biggest race of the year and in the world – the Indy 500.
In recent years, Champ Car's schedule often saw races being cut during the season and this year was likely to follow that pattern, leaving a schedule of 10 races more than likely.
Champ Car team owners have another issue to deal with, however. They had been looking at a 14-race series in 2008, with a good deal of events overseas. With a loss of those overseas races, any foreign sponsorship deals will disappear along with the races.
The IndyCar series has 16 confirmed races on its 2008 slate and speculation hints that three of Champ Car's street races - in Long Beach (California), Edmonton (Alberta) and Surfer's Paradise (Australia) - will be added to that.
That makes a potential 19-race schedule this year possible, adding further stress to Champ Car team owners, many of whom spent a good deal of their money to buy new cars and equipment for the 2008 season.
As for whether anyone will care about the newly amalgamated series, I bet American race fans will be more interested at present about how Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart rebound from their disappointments in Sunday's Daytona 500.
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