NASCAR & Auto Racing

Merger talks between Champ Car, IRL hit new roadblock

The latest merger discussions between Indy Racing League and the rival Champ Car World Series hit a snag over race dates.

Series founder Tony George has offered Champ Car teams free Dallara chassis and Honda engines, along with the $1.2 million in incentives it is paying each of its own teams to race in the IndyCar Series in 2008, IRL spokesman John Griffin said Friday.

The IRL also would absorb at least three of the 14 races on the Champ Car schedule – Long Beach, Calif.; Edmonton, Alberta; and Surfers Paradise, Australia.

The biggest hurdle appears to be the head-to-head scheduling of the Long Beach race, Champ Car’s season opener April 20, and the IRL’s April 19 event at the Honda-owned Motegi track in Japan.

Long Beach officials say they cannot change their date because of contracts with the Long Beach Convention Center, around which the street circuit is set up. Motegi officials have refused to move their date.

“As long as Honda won’t move Motegi, there won’t be a merger,” Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven told The Associated Press on Friday. “It’s certainly a major hurdle, but not the only one.

“I believe there are significant advantages in doing (the merger), but I believe there are also significant advantages in not doing it. At this moment in time, there are no discussions until they move Motegi.”

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Griffin was more optimistic about the negotiations with Kalkhoven and Champ Car co-owner Gerald Forsythe.

“This thing is moving forward, but there’s still some work to be done. I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” he said.

“We are looking to add some teams and some races. (Retired Honda racing boss) Robert Clarke and Tony are going to head to Japan to talk to the Japanese about coming off their date.”

George founded the IRL in 1995 and the series began racing in 1996. Champ Car, then known as CART, continued as a separate series. Both sides have struggled to find sponsorship and acceptance and have lived with meager car counts and television ratings.

Most recently, each series lost its top stars – four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais to Formula One and 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. to NASCAR.

Numerous attempts to unite the groups over the years have failed, mostly over who would hold control. Longtime racing star Mario Andretti has made several attempts to get the sides together.

“It’s the only solution we have to save the sport we love so much,” he said.

“The bottom line is that this is desperately needed. There’s no losers in a situation like this, starting with the fans.”