Saturday, February 23, 2008

Looking beyond the merge... from stupid to awesome

The 2008 IRL season will be weird. From a competition standpoint, it may very well suck. Think of it as a means to an end. Champ Car ex-patriots will struggle mightily to get up to speed with the IRL’s engine and chassis package. Only two former Champ Car teams (still just rumored to be making the switch) have the funding, resources and personnel to be competitive against the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti-Green this season. Newman/Hass/Lanigan and Forsythe are capable of top-five finishes on both road courses and ovals, and will prove such as the season kicks-off next month. I doubt either team will win a race on sheer speed alone, instead may be backdooring a victory with fuel strategy or the like. But, still a huge longshot. Aside from those two outfits, don’t expect the Champ Car refugees to set the world on fire. PKV will show flashes of speed with Oriol Servia , but that will about do it. The rest of the Champ Car ex-pats will have to claw with Marty Roth Racing for also ran status.

It will not be an easy thing to watch for those that thought the Champ Car of the last three or so years was home to the greatest teams and drivers in American open-wheel racing. Some truly poor souls will be so distraught with this new development they will refuse to watch the newly restored series. These folks will focus on F1 or sports car racing and never look back. One should feel no pity for these exclusionists; they are the same people who voted for Ross Perot because he “made the most sense.” Blind faith and tunnel vision are two alarming qualities that should be coveted by none.

Only the ignorant will argue that this reunion was not completely necessary for single-seat racing in this country to have any hope of becoming relevant or even sustainable in the years to come. With that said, (and true of any project retarded by procrastination) the devouring of Champ Car by the IRL will have short term outcomes that span from “good,” to “damn,” to “what the hell is this?”

If the published reports are true, Motegi and Long Beach will happen as scheduled. Two races, two different specs of car competing, both races awarding IRL points. This will fall under the “what the hell is this?” category. This will surely not be the only time this season the strange becomes commonplace in the new-IRL.

Next week's press conference will shed light on further such scenarios. But, all can be forgiven in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If nothing else this merge should be seen as a last-ditch effort to save the 500. The highs and lows will be forgotten and a great event will make up for any flubs between now and then.

Make no mistake, this year will be one for Ripley's, making many scratch their heads. The sooner this season comes to an end, the quicker the next will start and the improvements made to the schedule, spec and overall future of the sport will be in place. Give it time, the best is yet to come.

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