Open Wheel Racing in the USA: Big Changes

It’s been said that “the show must go on,” and now it appears, so will the Champ Car World Series, or CART, in 2004.

Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven, the men behind Open Wheel Racing Series, or OWRS, have taken over CART and are working out a schedule that will include about 16 races this season.

However, two races that will not appear on the schedule are Fontana, Calif. and Miami. A previously announced race in Las Vegas and a street race in St. Petersburg, Fla. – scheduled for May 16 and Feb. 22, respectively – still might make it onto the schedule.

“We’re committed to racing in Las Vegas,” Gentilozzi said in an article that appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of AutoWeek. The question is not whether to race in Las Vegas, but where to race. There is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which has had problems in the past promoting some races, and there is also a major casino that is interested in hosting the event in a facility alongside “The Strip.

A full schedule is not necessarily the primary focus of the new ownership. CART had a full schedule in 2003, the season that saw the league post $100 million in losses. Referring to the financial crisis that led to the demise of the former CART ownership, Gentilozzi said, “We know how to make money. We know how they [previous ownership] got there and we know how we won’t get there.”

Supporting these statements is the news that was made available just as we went to press regarding resignations from CART’s board of directors. CART’s website announced the resignations of: James F. Hardymon, James A. Henderson, Rafael A. Sanchez and Frederick T. Tucker, effective January 9, 2004.

Currently, there are 18 cars slated to race this season and both Gentilozzi and Kalkhoven said they aren’t worried about the number of cars in the field for the 2004 season.

Both Kalkhoven and Gentilozzi expect to have two cars representing their respective teams, while Forsyth Racing, Newman-Haas Racing and Herdez Competition also plan to have two cars each for the season. Other team owners are in limbo as they search for new sponsorship. However, the loss of American Spirit, a two-car team owned by Stefan Johansson, does not help matters.

And in the other lane (no pun intended), the Indy Racing League, or IRL has confirmed 18 cars for the 2004 season and is optimistic that there will be between 23 and 26 cars by the time the season begins.

Last season, the IRL recorded its all-time lowest average of 21.7 cars per race throughout the course of the season. Many insiders, fans and enthusiasts speculate that the IRL/CART feud is the primary reason both leagues are suffering.

IRL officials have confirmed there will be several multi-car teams active in 2004, including Andretti Green Racing, which will be fielding four cars on the track. Several other teams will be racing two cars, such as: Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Only a handful of teams will race a single driver many of which hope to have another car on the track sometime later in the season.

The first IRL race of the 2004 season is scheduled Feb. 29 in Homestead-Miami Speedway and will be broadcast on ESPN. CART’s official television schedule has not yet been published.

Car Racing

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