After thirteen grueling years apart, the Indy Racing League and Champ Car Series may finally have reconciled their differences to reunite and bring glory back to American open-wheel racing—but it all depends on the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Mama said there’d be races like this.
Long bitter rivals vying for America’s attention, the Indy Racing League and Champ Car Series seem to be nearing a merger that could combine the two leagues by this April’s Long Beach Grand Prix, instantly creating one of the greatest concentrations of talent in the world and reinspiring a nation of open-wheel racing fans.
Hearts broke when ignitions died and America’s open-wheel racing series (CART) split into two differing factions in 1995. Interest waned for either series, save for arguably the most famous race in the world, the Indy 500—part of the IRL. The split left a sour taste in the mouths of American racing fans—hurt by the abandonment—who turned to NASCAR, which boomed in popularity but lacked credibility among racing purists.
Separately, the IRL and Champ Car went through tough times. The Indy 500 consistently drew huge crowds and ratings but the remainder of each season lacked the same attention, while Champ’s road racing gave contrast to the IRL’s high-speed oval racing technique. Fans yearned for the two series to combine forces again, pitting their high-profile drivers against each other. Negotiations were attempted several times but failed to bear fruit.
Attempts to reconcile always reminded one of a ninth-grade Winter Dance: both sides awkwardly interested, approaching slowly and timidly, reaching out to one another before nerves (or pride) take over and they retreat to their corners to gossip about the other.
Now though, it seems that the tires have finally changed. Reports first surfaced last week that the two sides were nearing the agreement’s checkered flag, but rescheduling needed to occur in order to combine racing events, as both series’ opening races fall on the same day.
Since that announcement, IRL officials have visited the Japanese track scheduled to hold their debut race in an attempt to move the date—which currently coincides with the Long Beach Grand Prix. America’s longest-running street race, the LBGP cannot be rescheduled because of the lease that Champ holds with the city of Long Beach and the Convention Center. Word is, the Japan meeting went well, re-scheduling is imminent and IRL’s takeover of Champ is simply awaiting approval.
Furthering rumors of the merger, word leaked from one Champ Car team owner that the series could file for bankruptcy as early as this week. Though the action seems negative, it would actually help the merger very much, as it would be much easier for the IRL to acquire Champ in the event that it declares bankruptcy.
Boiling down the jargon, this means that we could conceivably see the opening race of the new IRL/Champ marriage in Long Beach this April 20th. This would be an historic moment for American racing, bringing together the most talented drivers and knowledgeable team owners from around the world. We would see the IRL’s superstars pitted against Champ’s budding open-wheel gems. We would see young, legacy torch-bearers Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal on the same track. We would see pioneers Danica Patrick and Katherine Legge prove their abilities in a male-dominated sport.
But most importantly, we would see the long-overdue unification of one of America’s most time-honored traditions—driving really, really fast.