Unified series 'closer than ever'

A groundbreaking merger between the Indy Racing League and Champ Car is closer than ever, claims IRL chief Tony George, amid reports that a deal has now been reached to unify the two American racing series

Unified series 'closer than ever'

Speculation has been rife for weeks that IRL and Champ Car have been edging closer agreement on ending their long war, but a report by respected American journalist Robin Miller on SpeedTV claims the deal has now been completed.

It is reported that the last potential stumbling block is a calendar clash early in the season between the IRL's round at Motegi and Champ Car's Long Beach Grand Prix, schedule for 19 and 20 April.

The Long Beach street race cannot be rescheduled because there is a standing contract with the Long Beach Convention Centre, which operates the track.

It is rumoured that Motegi bosses have agreed to move the race one week, but that creates another clash with the planned IRL race at Kansas, which is reluctant to comply because it has already sold out the joint IRL and NASCAR meeting.

Robert Clarke of Honda, whose Japanese arm owns Motegi, is expected to travel to Japan this weekend in an attempt to find a solution, while Champ Car's Eidswick, plus Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven and IRL boss Tony George are working on an agreement in America.

George said, however, that he was optimistic things were coming together.

"It's as close as it's ever been," he told SpeedTV. "We don't know if we can get across the goal line, but nobody is giving up yet."

Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven added: "Both sides want it to happen and we're working on it."

George has offered free Dallara chassis and Honda engines to any Champ Car team that sign up for a full season of the combined series.

Each team would also receive $1.2 million (USD) as part of the IRL's team funding, and the Champ Car races at Long Beach, Edmonton and Surfer's Paradise would be added to the IRL schedule.

Champ Car teams learned of the details of the amalgamation after last week's test at Sebring and reactions were mixed, mainly due to unification rendering their current Panoz chassis ineligible.

Walker Racing boss Derrick Walker told SpeedTV: "It's not a bad deal but you'll still need some money. You have to have two car configurations [oval and road course], the crash damage is higher on ovals, and it's a big schedule.

"It's going to be a rough ride for our Champ Car teams because we don't have the familiarity with the Dallaras, but it's a great gesture to put this thing together."

Newman/Haas/Lanigan co-owner Paul Newman, who was already planning to defect his team to the IRL in 2009, said: "I feel like I died and went to heaven. This is the best news I've heard in a long time."

Veteran Champ Car racer Paul Tracy added: "I think we'd all be happy if we were back together, and the fans would be happy to see all the best drivers in one race.

"We'd be at a disadvantage to the IRL teams in the first year, but such is life. Getting everybody back under one roof is what needs to happen."

But smaller Champ Car outfits such as Conquest Racing will be hit harder by a last minute change of plan.

"I just spent a million dollars on a new car and spare parts," said team boss Eric Bachelart. "I'm all for one series but I wish it would be for 2009."

It is not certain what would happen to Champ Car's Atlantic feeder series as the IRL already has a feeder in the Indy Pro Series. But Atlantics always field a full grid and could potentially support other leading North American championships.

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