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IRL begins transition to bring Champ Car teams into IndyCar Series

Monday, February 25, 2008

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Now comes the hard part: making the merger between America's two major open-wheel series work.

"It'll be long and tedious and expensive and a lot of work to put it all together," car owner Derrick Walker said Monday after an orientation meeting for the Champ Car teams that are expected to make the switch to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series this season.

"But everybody on both sides of the aisle are 100 percent behind the merger and want to make it work. That's the main thing," Walker said. "It'll work ... it will just take time."

IRL founder Tony George, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Champ Car co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe announced the agreement to end the 12-year split in open-wheel racing last week. With the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway less than five weeks away, there's a lot to be done, and not much time to get the former Champ Car teams ready.

The IRL will make engines and chassis available, possibly as early as Tuesday, and within the next week or two will announce an expanded schedule that will likely include some of the former Champ Car races, IRL president Brian Barnhart said.

Monday's meeting, which included representatives of all of the major Champ Car teams and some of its drivers, was the IRL's first opportunity to detail the nuts-and-bolts operation of the series to its potential new members. The IRL has scheduled preseason testing Wednesday and Thursday at Homestead, although none of the Champ Car teams will be there.

"We want to make everybody feel welcome, get them up to speed as quickly as possible," Barnhart said. "We've assigned an existing IndyCar team as the point relation to a potential Champ Car team that is joining, and they're going to be the liaison with regards to chassis builds, to cornering loads, gear ratios, baseline setups, to try and help facilitate the transition of equipment as easily as possible."

The number of cars added to the IRL's current 16-car grid could range from eight to 12.

"It's still too early to tell. This was the first meeting they got information," Barnhart said. "There was a high level of interest. I think anything we get from eight cars and above is an absolute home run and the best situation we could hope for, and I think that's very reasonable and something I think will be achieved."

One of the teams expected to make the switch is Newman/Haas/Lanigan, which won eight Champ Car series championships, including the last four, and would bring 19-year-old Graham Rahal, the son of IRL car owner and former Indy winner Bobby Rahal.

"That's something I'm looking forward to," said Graham Rahal, who was at Monday's meeting. "Being a kid, coming to the 500 all the time, watching dad, being here the last few years to support Rahal-Letterman, this will obviously be a different case, going out to try to win the thing. I'm really looking forward to it.

"For all of open-wheel motorsports it's a good thing," the younger Rahal said of the merger. "In the past we've both struggled along as two series, and to bring them together just adds strength to what we already have. I think you're going to see some big talents and that's what the fans really want to see."

Another driver expecting to make the switch is Oriol Servia, the Champ Car series runner-up in 2005 who is rejoining PKV Racing this season.

" We were really getting ready to go for the championship in Champ Car and suddenly we're facing huge challenges against very, very well prepared teams," Servia said. "But, again, we all welcome the challenge and we're very excited."

Sebastien Bourdais, who won the Champ Car title the past four years, has left for Formula One. But other Champ Car drivers expected to make the move to IndyCar include veterans Paul Tracy, Bruno Junqueira and Alex Tagliani and newcomers Robert Doornbos, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

"It's really good for open-wheel racing in America," said Power, who was also at Monday's meeting. "It was just a waste of time going on with two series, and now the combined series is going to be good in the future. Once again, the Indy 500 will really mean something and I'm looking forward to competing in it."



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