After 12 years of conflict, IRL and Champ Car merge. The Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series signed a deal Friday to unify the two American open-wheel series.
The agreement, which will see the IRL acquire many of Champ Car's key assets, ends a 12-year fight for control of open-wheel racing in the United States. In that time, the sport's popularity declined steeply as the two series battled for fans, sponsors, and television viewers.
IRL founder Tony George and Champ Car co-principal Kevin Kalkhoven signed the agreement Thursday night in Indianapolis, and Kalkhoven's partner, Gerald Forsythe, finalized the deal Friday morning in Chicago.
Reaction to news of the merger was swift and positive.
"This is a great day for open-wheel racing and one that I and my Rahal Letterman Racing team have looked forward to for a long time," co-owner Bobby Rahal said in a statement. "I applaud all of those that made this possible, but want to especially recognize all of those that made sacrifices and concessions to secure the future of open-wheel racing. I truly believe that this is the first step toward restoring open-wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500 to not only where it once was, but beyond."
IRL spokesman John Griffin said details would be forthcoming at a news conference next week.
Earlier in the day, it appeared the talks might be stalled when Kalkhoven left without comment. Numerous tries over the years to merge the series have failed, mostly over the issue of who would retain control. This time, though, all the hurdles were cleared as George worked together with principal Champ car co-owners Kalkhoven and Forsythe to reach an agreement.
The latest talks began after George offered any Champ Car team that moved to the IRL in 2008 free Honda engine lease programs, free Dallara chassis and the same $1.2 million incentive program offered to its own teams.
At least six Champ Car teams, with up to 10 cars, were believed ready to make the move in time to race in the IRL's season-opener.
Champ Car teams expected to move to the IRL include series powerhouse Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, which has won four straight series championships; Kalkhoven, Pettit and former CART champion Jimmy Vasser's PKV team; Forsythe Championship Racing; Conquest Racing; Derrick Walker Racing; and Dale Coyne Racing. Others could also take the deal, but have remained mum on their intentions.
Several Champ Car teams were not expected to take George's offer because, even with the engines, cars and incentives, it would take an additional $2 million or more to compete in the IRL. The teams that didn't have the sponsorship or backing to continue would either have closed down or moved to sports car racing, which is less costly.
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