What comes around, goes around. It’s almost 15 years since Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) was formed to take over management of America’s premier single-seater racing series, but now that very same body finds itself under similar threat to the one it posed to USAC back in 1979. And for similar reasons.
The bombshell dropped by Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George on March II — he plans to set up his own IndyCar series, ostensibly as a rival to the current model — may shape the future of CART rather differently to the way that recently elected Chairman Andrew Craig had envisaged.
“CART has become an image of all the things they criticised USAC for in the past,” said George when announcing his new initiative.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of his views, and at present little is known about his exact intentions, George has one ace up his sleeve that no CART franchise holder can afford to ignore.
The Indianapolis 500. When CART snowballed, USAC tried in vain to run a worthwhile series of its own, and failed miserably (even though Indianapolis’s showpiece event counted towards both series). After one year, those
remaining teams who hadn’t joined the CART bandwagon promptly did so, and the USAC series quietly faded away.
If CART wants to avoid the same fate, it has no choice. No matter how good the quality of its other events, taking away Indianapolis would deflate the series’ status beyond repair. Its directors have to seek an audience with George, to discuss how IndyCar racing can be reshaped to the mutual satisfaction of all parties.
In the recent past, IndyCar racing has developed from a high-profile domestic series to something which enjoys global recognition. Nigel Mansell’s presence has certainly helped in that respect, as has the arrival of Honda.
George’s statement needn’t be the catalyst which brings the whole thing to ruin. The fact that he hasn’t yet outlined his precise plans leads us to be optimistic that there is scope for sensible discussion during the months to come. That is almost certainly his intention. As experienced US TV commentator Paul Page observed at the time of the announcement: “If this is war between the IndyCar owners and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s real simple; the Speedway wins.” S A