Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Attrition Of Open-Wheel Unification

The PANOZ DP01 of Newman/ Haas/ Lanigan Racing's Sebastian Bourdais (then, three-time CCWS champion) on the second day of qualifications for the 2007 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Newman/ Haas/ Lanigan Racing, after capturing its fourth consecutive CCWS championship with Sebastian Bourdais, will be able to transition over to the IRL for the 2008 season - fielding two cars to be driven by Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks - 2007 The EDJE

The Attrition Of Open-Wheel Unification

It has been less than one month since the announcement of the “merger” between the two major open-wheel automobile racing series here in North America and the aftermath of the one-way move to limited and old equipment is taking its toll.

Forsythe Racing's transporter parked in the pits for the 2007 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks - 2007 The EDJE

Today, Forsythe Racing, which had announced that it would not field a team for the 2008 IRL season, combined resources with Conquest Racing, the first team to declare that it would race the full season in transition from ChampCar to IndyCar. This leaves the door open for ChampCar Champion Paul Tracy to contest for the open seat of Conquest Racing’s second car.

Still in the "pits" without an IRL ride - 2003 ChampCar World Series Champion Paul Tracy's transporter in the pits for the 2007 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks - 2007 The EDJE

This excerpted from an article by Steven English, Auto Sport –

Former Champ Car team Conquest Racing have teamed up with part of Gerry Forsythe's operation for their switch to the Indy Racing League this season.

Conquest will receive technical and engineering help from Forsythe Performance Research, which is a subsidiary of Forsythe Racing, throughout the 2008 season. The announcement comes just two weeks after the Forsythe team abandoned their plan to join the IRL this season and closed down.

Conquest boss Eric Bachelart hopes the expertise at Forsythe will help his team to get on the pace in the IRL as quickly as possible.

"We're working very hard on our transition from Champ Car," he said. "We're excited about this partnership with Forsythe because their knowledge and experience will accelerate our efforts to become a front running team in the IndyCar series."

Forsythe's Neil Micklewright added: "We're very pleased to be able to enter into this mutually beneficial arrangement. With the extensive racing background of Forsythe and the fine team Conquest have created, we feel assured that 2008 will be exciting. We look forward to helping Conquest unleash their potential."
Reference Here>>

So, from two teams comes one.

Walker Racing's Aussie Vinyards DP01 driven by Simon Pagenaud being rolled out of Technical Inspection on Day Two Qualifications for the 2007 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks - 2007 The EDJE

This announcement comes soon after one of the most seasoned teams, and a team followed very closely by our friends in Surfers Paradise, Walker Racing, issued a statement that it was pulling out from its previously announced intentions to show up on the IRL dance card for 2008.

This excerpted from an article by Steven English, Auto Sport –

Monday, March 10th 2008, 11:14 GMT

Former Champ Car team Walker Racing have abandoned their plan to join the Indy Racing League this season after failing to raise the necessary sponsorship.

The team originally planned to run Will Power and Simon Pagenaud under the Team Australia banner in Champ Car this year, and boss Derrick Walker was one of the most vocal supporters of the merger with the IRL.

But he couldn't raise the required funds to get the IndyCar programme off the ground and officially withdrew at the weekend, leaving both drivers currently without a seat this season.
"I dropped the bomb on my team on Friday and it was the toughest thing I've ever had to do. Everybody was shocked because I'd been optimistic that we were going to get the sponsorship." ----
Walker still plans to field cars in Champ Car Atlantic this season, although the future of that series is also uncertain, and he hopes to be able to join the IRL next season.
Walker formed his team in 1991 after working in Roger Penske's IndyCar operation for 15 years. Their best result was finishing runner-up in the CART standings in 1997 with Gil de Ferran.
"It's very sad because the Team Australia concept was working [finished fourth in 2008] and this impacts a lot of good people," said Walker, who employs 40 staff at the team's Indianapolis headquarters and is now looking at other series for this season.

"I'm going to Mexico to check on the A1GP series to see if they need any personnel, because this team's biggest asset is its people."

Reference Here>>

So where does this leave the rest of the teams that remain?

Pacific Coast Motorsports says it intends to be at the season opener in Miami, but this statement is over two weeks old and with the demise of two top rated teams – Walker Racing’s Team Australia, and Forsythe Racing’s effort being combined and downsized with Conquest Racing, – ChampCar is suffering from a competition “brain drain”.

UPDATE: Minardi Team USA – OUT

In another blow to paint this unification as a “Merger”, one of the brightest lights to enter ChampCar competition last year, and posting a third in the championship series with rookie driver, Holland’s Robert Doornbos, will leave the 2008 season uncontested.

"Bobby-D", Robert Doornbos - Arguably The Netherland's most talented open-wheel race car driver is left without a ride with the announcement that Minardi Team USA is out of the IRL picture for 2008. Image Credit: Champ Car World Series 2007

This excerpted from Auto Sport –

Stoddart rules out IRL campaign
By Jonathan Noble & Steven English - AutoSport - Wednesday, March 12th 2008, 08:47 GMT

Paul Stoddart has decided not to enter his Minardi Team USA in the Indy Racing League this season.

He doesn't think the team, who ran Robert Doornbos to third in the Champ Car standings last season, could be competitive in their first year of IRL with the merger coming together so close to the start of the season.
"I think realistically 2010 is the first opportunity for Champ Car teams to become competitive, when the new car comes."

Stoddart believes the unification of open-wheel racing in North America was for the best, but doesn't think many Champ Car teams will make the switch for 2008.

"What happened was good for North American motorsport, it had to happen. But it wasn't beneficial for any of the Champ Car teams. In anything like this there are winners and losers and all the Champ Car teams were the losers.
But Stoddart will field cars in the one-off Champ Car event at Long Beach next month.

"We're going to have fun! I'm going to really enjoy that weekend and we're going all out to do the best job we can for the last ever Champ Car race.

"More above anything else, Champ Car stood for entertainment and fun. I will be sad afterwards as it's the end of an era, but it's overwhelmingly right for North American motorsport to reunify."
Reference Here>>

Paul Gentilozzi's Rocketsports DP01 at speed down the short Pine Avenue straightaway during qualifications for the 2007 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Paul Gentilozzi stepped up his unwavering commitment to motorsports in 2004 when he joined Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe as co-owners of the series. One wonders what is going on with Paul Gentilozzi now that the merger is almost one month old. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks - 2007 The EDJE

This leaves Dale Coyne Racing, Rocketsports Racing, and RuSPORT … and since Rocketsports and RuSPORT ran in combination last year while looking to go it alone for 2008 ChampCar season … this does not look good.

Officially, the IRL website shows only the addition of Newman/ Haas/ Lanigan Racing, and Conquest Racing (in combination with Forsythe Racing) which makes to date that One (1) and Two/Half (1/2+1/2) teams make it into the IRL show. Two (2) out of Ten (10) full teams is a pretty poor showing in able to call this thing a merger. This may actually be one of the worst showings at Long Beach in the previous 33 years would suggest now that the wrting is clearly on the wall. Without the involved support of the Indianapolis Racing League (something more than just sanctioning the race since there are ONLY TWO teams in the IRL) this year will be a bust.

With these teams unable to pull up to the starting line in the IRL, this leaves many good and competitive drivers out in the cold without a ride as well. The Long Beach Grand Prix may be the last time we see some of these open-wheel race drivers for a while. The most prominent names include (for now) Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Paul Tracy, Robert Doornbos, Oriol Servia, Dan Clarke, Tristan Gommendy, David Martinez, Alex Figge, and Katherine Legge.

The saddest part of this transition is how little respect the 34th race in the streets of Long Beach is getting. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for 2008 can not even get a mention on the official Indianapolis Racing League website. What a sad end to a proud racing tradition.

UPDATE: News is breaking today after three weeks of little or no movement.

This excerpted from -

Servia, Power join KV Racing Technology in series
By staff - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

KV Racing Technology co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser announced that the team will campaign two cars during the 2008 IndyCar Series season.

"In conjunction with our commitment to the IndyCar Series, we have re-branded the team as KV Racing Technology and agreed to a sponsorship arrangement with Aussie Vineyards -- Team Australia. This will allow Will Power to join teammate Oriol Servia in what I believe will be the most competitive and exciting open-wheel racing series. We want to welcome both Aussie Vineyards -- Team Australia and Will Power to our team and we look forward to a very successful season in 2008 and for many years to come."

KV Racing Technology is entering its sixth year of competition and its first in the IndyCar Series. Servia, who came to an agreement with the team earlier this year, will be behind the wheel of the KV Racing Technology No. 32 Honda/Dallara//Firestone entry. Power will drive the No. 8 Aussie Vineyards -- Team Australia car.
Reference Here>>

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