Monday, March 17, 2008

R.I.P. ChampCars

The news was very confusing when it came out a few weeks ago, rattled off in a couple of lines by every sportscaster for about a day, none of whom cared enough about the sport to bother checking the copy they were handed.

The line was that the American open-wheel racing series split was over and that CART and the IRL had merged. This is of course utter onnsense. Tony George just finally won the battle with his Brickyard 400-funded deeper pockets and has convinced most of the remaining ChampCar teams to field IRL teams. After the Long Beach race CART will effectively cease to exist this year.

The split happened in 1996 because there were too many Brazilians with hard to spell names winning races, and doing it on blatantly anti-American road courses instead of ovals. So Tony George set about to create the most mediocre, boring to watch, technologically stunted racing series he could, with fat washed up drivers and any oval track that would rent him space for a weekend and called it the Indy Racing League, taking away ChampCars' right to use the name IndyCar in the process. It was at this point, and with Jacques Villeneuve moving to Formula One, that all but about 8 people immediately lost interest in the sport altogether.

CART struggled on as well, sucking up to Toyota and Honda and letting them continually raise the stakes and the cost of fielding a team just so they could have their own private pissing match that no one outside of the racing series even cared about, and which they themselves lost interest in in favour of being mid-field runners in Formula One.

The first CART season where all the racers had the same Cosworth engine was the beginning of the final end for the series. There were heroic gestures and commitments on the part of a couple of the team owners to do what they could to keep things going, selling each other chassis parts and surely some pretty heavy financial incentives on the down-low to make it worth the while for the smaller teams to bother showing up.

But the forced competition just made it hard to watch.

CART just made decision after decision that made the racing less and less interesting in its attempts to find new markets. Watching those big, bulky cars shufle their way around street courses so tight that in the Florida race the damn Atlantic cars were lapping faster was pure frustration. And rules like the pit windows that had to be explained every damn time gave the impression that all the racing was being controlled by the officials just to keep the show exciting, nearly as bad as the suspicious yellows near the end of so many NASCAR races. And silly gimmicks like push to pass buttons just reinforced the notion that the whole thing was just for show and not real racing.

It is admirable that guys like Gerry Forsythe and Kevin Kalkoven held out so long and really tried to make CART work, but every decision they made to try and save money or keep manufacturers on-board left the final product weaker and weaker, and eventually it became completely unwatchable.

Tony George's ego is only partly to blame for the death of CART, their inept concept of what people want to watch has just as much to do with it, sadly.

I hope the IRL cars can eventually turn into something resembling a graceful racing machines and not the monstrocities they are now, truck engines with barn doors strapped to the front and back, but I don't see it happening. I'll stick to F1 and the occasional sports car race.

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By al - 9:16 p.m. |

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