Thursday, March 06, 2008

The open-wheel spiderweb

Much has already been written about the "reunification" of American open wheel racing, and I'm not sure I can add much to the chatter. But one thing that has struck me is the sheer reach and knock-on effect of the situation.

When Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven were trying to hash out a schedule, the first issue was the clash of dates between Long Beach and Motegi. So they went to Honda, who own the Japanese track and asked to move the date, which Honda agreed to. Now the FIA stepped in, since the rescheduled date was too close to the F1 Japanese Grand Prix, and TG and KK were forced back to the drawing board. They came up with a compromise that sees both races running on the same weekend with equal points available to competitors in both events. Attendees to the Californian event will be robbed of the opportunity to see the newly reunited series and all the top names, instead having to put up with a last gasp of ChampCar. Who knows how many cars will actually show up? Thank goodness that the ALMS is also part of the event.

What about the people? How many people are going to lose their jobs? What will these people be facing on a day-to-day basis? How many mortgage payments will be missed? This is truly the butterfly effect in action. One person who has already been laid off is Shrek-alike Paul Tracy, whose former team boss was one of the main shareholders in ChampCar. Perhaps the financial toll of propping up ChampCar for years has proved too much, and Gerry Forsythe simply can't face starting over.

The bulk of ChampCar races are gone for 2008. My local race, which had been scheduled at Laguna Seca for May will once again have to go ahead as a standalone Grand-Am event. The cancellation of the Houston race has forced that entire event to postpone until 2009, despite a promise a few weeks ago that it could run as an ALMS event. This is bad news for the Risi Competizione Ferrari ALMS team who are based in Houston and use that race as a major opportunity for entertaining team sponsors and guests. How many local merchants are losing major contracts? I feel bad for the trucking company contracted to move those big concrete walls, but even worse for the low-income local residents who work for Reliant Park as parking lot attendants and t-shirted security and who are only paid when there are events.

Over in Australia, the Surfer's Paradise event will be going through some changes. The weakening of the Indycar side of that weekend in recent years was good news in part for V8 Supercars, which lately had attracted more interest in the weekend than ChampCar. That is set to change, even though this year it's likely to be a non-points event for the IRL, due to contractual obligations to Chicagoland Speedway which has a lock on being the season-closer. A reschedule is not possible due to the V8 Supercars race, which can't move. Next year, organizers will be able to pick a date that ensures the race will have championship significance.

So whilst everyone is purely focused on car counts and the bringing together of two sets of drivers, it's worth considering that this thing means much, much more to many people and organizations.

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