If it's not obvious to
CART, it's certainly obvious to everyone else, CART has been had.
For several years now CART has tried to get the sport of Indy Car
racing back together, only to be rebuffed time and again by Tony
George. In its latest move, CART tried to adopt the same
engine platform and a similar chassis, in the hopes that CART and
the IRL would share a common platform and be able to come together,
if not as a single entity, then at least two divisions (road and
oval) under one roof (sanctioning body). That was until Roger
Penske and Tony George joined forces, whereupon Roger Penske did an
about face, and turned from calling for a merger of the two series,
to saying only one would survive.
Clearly, Roger Penske
has chosen sides, and clearly he is using his vast political
influence in the automotive industry to help the IRL and cut the
legs out from under CART. At his recent surprise birthday
party in Indy hosted by Roger's wife, Penske announced, for all to
hear, that he had decided to join his friend Tony George and the IRL
a year ago (May 2001). Of course he never bothered to inform
the CART Franchise Board of this decision, a board he continued to
serve on until his departure from CART in late 2001, but that is a
discussion for another day.
We live in a very
dynamic time in the history of our sport. There is a lot of
political maneuvering going on as to who will actually be king of
the sport of auto racing. Clearly Bernie Ecclestone and his F1
series are the current world leaders, followed by the vastly popular
American NASCAR Winston Cup series run by the France family.
Both have a wide lead over third place, arguably the CART FedEx
Series. However, Tony George, with the help of his 'friend'
Roger Penske, have different ideas. Tony, at a recent
open-wheel summit held in Indy, stood up in front of the audience
and declared he intends to take the
IRL to the head of the pack, "and that includes past NASCAR
and Formula One", declared George.
That statement was a
warning shot across the bow of both Bill France and Bernie Ecclestone, who we
doubt will take lightly what George said that day. George
threw down the gauntlet with that powerful declaration, and one can
bet neither Ecclestone, nor France are about to roll over and play
dead. What their plan of action will be to cut George's legs
out from under him, should he begin to make inroads into their
sacred domains, remains to be seen, but we wouldn't want to be
caught in the crossfire.
Meanwhile, George and
Penske are trying to win their first battle, to dispose of pesky
CART so they can have the sport of Indy Car Racing all to their own.
However, we seriously doubt, as wounded as it is, CART is going to
just standby without a fight.
Many CART team owners
want to compete in the Indy 500. Having to buy totally new
equipment each year for just one race was difficult. So, at
the Houston Franchise Board meeting last October, the CART board
members voted with their hearts, rather than their heads. By
attempting to become an IRL clone, and obviously not realizing it at
the time, they almost wrote their own death warrant.
While it seemed to be
the right thing to do in an attempt to unify the already weakened
sport of Indy Car Racing (weakened by the creation of the IRL by
Tony George), in fact it drove Honda out the door and tore the heart right out of its heritage
(high-tech turbo engines and state-of-the-art cars), disappointed a
large majority of its loyal fans, and copied a racing formula which
arguably has little following.
Oh, but it gets worse.
By copying your opponents formula, you place yourself in a position
to have your opponent control your destiny. Tony George has
deep pockets, very deep pockets. If he chose, he could make
changes to his formula annually that would force CART to follow, and
in doing so, add expense to the CART teams in an attempt to bankrupt
them. Meanwhile George could easily afford to increase the
behind-the-scenes- funding of his IRL teams to defray these added
costs. CART would constantly be on the defensive, rather than
the offensive, exactly the position George, like any smart opponent,
I spoke out strongly
against CART's move to the IRL engine formula, publishing numerous
article, and yet a third
that CART adopt the 1.8 L turbo formula, but those pleas fell on
deaf ears in the end. Here we are in June of 2002 and CART,
having attempted to emulate the IRL engine and chassis formula,
are no closer to the Indy 500 or a unified series, than they were
12, 24, 36 or 48 months ago. In fact, one can argue in
hindsight, that it's destiny is now controlled by its opponent, Tony
George and the IRL.
Taking matters in
their own hands
It's now time that CART take its destiny into its own hands, and out
of that of its opponents. Out of necessity to save money, and
in survival mode, they have already made the decision to stick to
their existing chassis and transmission to save their teams the
unnecessary cost of buying entirely new cars, new cars that can't be
used at the Indy 500.
Now it's time to take
the next step and move as far away from the 3.5 L normally aspirated
IRL engine formula as possible. Ideally CART should eventually
move to a V-10 gasoline engine formula, a detuned version of the F1
engines, because there are far more engine designers that have the
know-how to design a gasoline engine rather than a methanol engine.
And the music (some might liken it to a scream) of those V-10's is
Mozart and Beethoven rolled into one.
Another option would be to adopt that 1.8 L turbo engine they should
have done 6 or 7 years ago when it was first proposed. Even
today, it remains a vastly superior engine formula in terms of
controlling speeds (gradual reduction of turbo boost over time),
longevity, sound reduction, and technical challenge (small engines
are intriguing and have real-world applications).
However, it's too late
to make such a drastic move for 2003, and one would argue it's too
late for 2004 as well. We are looking at 2005 at best for CART
to change over to a new engine formula that will serve it's needs
for the next 10 to 15 years. If CART were to eliminate most
ovals from its schedule, races that mandate much lower HP than road
and street circuits for the sake of safety, CART could comfortably
keep its HP in the 800 to 850 range and sell its series to fans
around the world as the top-level racing formula that it always was,
rather than a copycat lower-level formula that it almost became.
What about 2003 and 2004
you ask? It's imperative that
CART take control of its suppliers, especially its engine suppliers.
For too long the tail has been wagging the dog. Engine
manufacturers, who undeniably have the biggest dollar investment in
any racing series, usually dictate and/or play politics to gain an
advantage. We see this in F1 especially, where the costs are
so outrageously high, that the engine manufacturers almost
completely control the series.
In part 2 of this
article I will layout an entirely different engine supply business
model to use for 2003 and beyond, one that breaks the trend of
runaway costs, keeps speeds in check, reduces cost to the teams,
keeps competition close, encourages manufacturer involvement at
unheard of low investments, yet keeps CART as one of the top forms
of open wheel racing. It's not a win-win situation, it's a
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