St. Pete Grand Prix Remains A 'Cornerstone' Of Combined Racing Series
HOMESTEAD - In the new world order of Indy-style racing, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg appears to be a reserved parking spot. Tony George, CEO and founder of the Indy Racing League, and Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of the defunct Champ Car, held court in a packed news conference Wednesday and ratified the unification agreement they reached Friday. Afterward, IRL president Brian Barnhart said he envisions an eventual 20-race schedule made up of the strongest events from the IRL and Champ Car calendars and including St. Pete, which is set for its fourth running April 4-6. "That's been one of the cornerstone events on the IndyCar Series schedule since 2005," Barnhart said of St. Pete's race. "It's the first non-oval event we ever ran, and we have been extremely pleased with it."The managing director of Andretti Green Promotions, which exercised a two-year option to continue with the grand prix last spring, said a stronger series with a higher car count better positions St. Petersburg's race for long-term success. "We just have to do a good job, and if we do Indy car racing is going to be in St. Pete for many years to come," Kevin Savoree said. George, whose executive team will run the combined series, provided a smattering of details on how unification will work in 2008. The IRL is trying to add two events from the Champ Car schedule - Edmonton and Surfer's Paradise in Australia - and will run split races at Long Beach, Calif., and Motegi, Japan, on April 20. The split races are necessary because contractual obligations prevented the date of either race being changed. Champ Car teams will run their Panoz DP-01 cars for the final time at Long Beach, but will receive IRL points and prize money. "As part of the agreement, we're going to be acquiring some of the non-tangible and tangible assets of Champ Car," George said. "Among other things, we'll be able to consolidate the intellectual property, the historical records of Champ Car all into one." Among the tangible assets the IRL will take over is Champ Car's mobile medical unit, the first of its kind in motor sports. No teams from Champ Car participated in the first day of IRL preseason testing Wednesday, but Barnhart said several new teams could be ready by the start of the season at Homestead on March 29. Champ Car teams are eligible to receive one Dallara chassis, the base cost of a one-year Honda engine lease program and $1.2 million in assistance (higher if Edmonton and Surfers Paradise are added) that all full-time teams get. Although an informational meeting earlier this week in Indianapolis attracted 100 percent participation from Champ Car teams, Barnhart said it's too early to project how many teams will actually make the move. In addition to the costs of running a team, he said, there are ancillary expenses associated with the engine lease and fees for testing, fuel and event entry. When teams start paying the fees, "you'll get a better idea of who's just saying 'I'm interested in a chassis' and who's going to make the commitment," Barnhart said. Three Champ Car teams - Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Walker Racing and Conquest Racing - have submitted paperwork to race. Kalkhoven's PKV Racing and Gerald Forsythe's Forsythe Championship Racing have committed to the move. "When I heard about the reunification, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven," Newman/Haas/Lanigan co-owner Paul Newman said. "I am very happy that we are going back to the high side." Champ Car teams are being matched up with IRL teams that are supposed to provide technical assistance. For example, Newman/Haas/Lanigan, which fields Graham Rahal, has been paired with Rahal Letterman Racing, co-owned by Graham's father, Bobby Rahal. Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, whose team has been assigned Walker Racing, said the help will go only so far. "By mentoring, that doesn't mean we're there to help them beat us," he said. "We're there to provide them good quality equipment and be a resource for them to get off the ground." Barnhart said he hopes new manufacturers will be drawn to the combined league, including those who want to develop advanced designs or engine formulas. "We don't want to lose sight of what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built as," he said. "It was built as a proving ground for automobiles, and we want to stick to those roots as much as possible."