Penske to unify fractured open-wheel?

Updated: June 25, 2004, 8:00 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Roger Penske would prefer having one American open-wheel racing circuit, and might try to broker a deal between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League.

IRL officials said they expect Penske, after meeting this week with the principal owners of Champ Car, to talk to IRL president Tony George. No formal meeting about a reunification has been scheduled.

The IRL and Champ Car's predecessor, CART, split in 1996. Penske moved his open-wheel operation from CART to the IRL in 2002.

"I don't think there's any magic deadline,'' IRL spokesman Fred Nation said. "We have a very open mind, and we always have, to parties with reasonable suggestions.''

Champ Car president Dick Eidswick confirmed Friday that Penske met this week with Champ Car principals Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven. Eidswick was not present at the discussion and would not discuss details.

But if two rival series are to reunite, it's unlikely to happen soon. Both are midway through their 2004 schedules, and Eidswick said he hopes to announce Champ Car's 2005 schedule next month.

A resolution would have some appeal to both sides.

The IRL has struggled to sell out many of its races since the split and has struggled with TV ratings.

Champ Car has struggled for its financial life. CART lost nearly $78 million in the first nine months of 2003 and declared bankruptcy in December 2003. Forsythe, Gentilozzi and Kalkhoven spent $3.2 million to fend off George's attempt to buy CART's assets at bankruptcy auction.

Eidswick said Friday the series could continue losing money for up to three years.

When reports of a possible reunification emerged this week, Eidswick responded with an e-mail to Champ Car's employees that explained the league was still working within the framework of a long-term plan.

"Everyone wants the dream result, to get back to the way it was,'' Eidswick said. "But that's not in our plans. I think it's important that Champ Car offers the best motor racing product to our fans, at the track and on TV. Getting back together isn't a priority.''

The biggest appeal to the IRL appears to be scheduling.

When George bid $13.5 million to purchase CART in January, it was believed he wanted to add several North American road races to the schedule. Nation said that would be attractive to the IRL.

"There would be a benefit in working together,'' he explained.

"An end to the perceived war in open-wheel racing would be good, but it's less important to us now than it was five years ago.

"That won't mean we won't listen and we, obviously, have a high regard for Roger.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press