The League consists of two series, the premier IndyCar Series in DIRECTV HD (usually considered synonymous with the Indy Racing League), whose centerpiece is the Indianapolis 500, and Firestone Indy Lights, the official developmental series of the Indy Racing League.
The IRL was founded in 1994 by Tony George and began racing in 1996. CART had sanctioned Indy car racing since 1979, when the organization broke away from USAC. George blueprinted the IRL as a lower-cost open-wheel alternative to CART, which had become technology-driven and dominated by a few wealthy multi-car teams, much like Formula One. It initially attracted some of the smaller teams who believed in the vision presented by Tony George. In later years, the IRL has become similar to the CART series from which it separated. The League's winner's circle is now dominated by a few wealthy teams--including those from the old CART series, such as Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske--, a strong contingent of foreign-born drivers, and has a schedule which includes five races that are not contested on ovals.
At its inception, the series and George himself were widely ridiculed by members of the media and some CART competitors. The IRL's early seasons consisted of sparse schedules, mostly unknown drivers, and novice-level teams, even in the Indy 500. Eventually the schedule expanded, and caliber of drivers improved. The IRL began to draw teams from CART starting in 2000, contributing to the latter's bankruptcy, rebranding as Champ Car in 2003, and ultimate demise and absorption by the IRL in 2008.
History of the IndyCar nameEdit
"Indy car" is sometimes used as a descriptive name for championship open wheel auto racing in the United States. The Indy car name derived as the result of the genre's fundamental link to the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (often referred to as the "Indy 500"), the best known and most-popular open-wheel auto race in North America.
Beginning in 1980, the term Indy car was often used to describe the race cars in the events sanctioned by CART, which had become the dominant governing body for open-wheel racing in the United States. The Indianapolis 500, however, remained sanctioned by USAC. CART recognized the Indy 500 on its schedule, and awarded points for finishers in the race from 1980-1995 despite not sanctioning it. The two entities operated separately, but utilized the same equipment.
In 1992, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway registered the IndyCar trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and licensed it to CART, which renamed its championship the IndyCar World Series. All references to the name "CART" were decidedly prohibited, as the series sought to eliminate perceived confusion from casual fans with the term kart.
In 1996 season, the IndyCar mark was the subject of a fierce legal battle. Prior to the 1996 season, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George had created his own national championship racing series, the Indy Racing League. In March of 1996, CART filed a lawsuit against the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an effort to protect their license to the IndyCar mark which the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had attempted to terminate. In April, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway filed a countersuit against CART to prevent them from further use of the mark. Eventually a settlement was reached in which CART agreed to give up the use of the IndyCar mark following the 1996 season and the IRL could not use the name before the end of the 2002 season.
Following a six year hiatus, the IRL announced it would rename their premier series the IRL IndyCar Series for the 2003 racing season. Brickyard Trademarks, Inc., a subsidiary of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, is the current owner of the IndyCar mark and licenses that mark to the Indy Racing League for use in connection with the IndyCar Series. CART (and its successor Champ Car) races outside the United States were still permitted to use the Indy moniker, such as the Toronto Molson Indy and Lexmark Indy 300, though the distinction is moot now, as the two leagues have unified.
- Main article: IndyCar Series
The IndyCar Series is the name adopted in 2003 for the premier series of the Indy Racing League. Due to the legal settlement with CART, the IRL was unable to utilize the name until the beginning of the 2003 season. With the introduction of the Indy Pro Series in 2002, it was necessary to differentiate the two series.
The IRL developed a consistent engine package and chassis rules which have produced some of the closest finishes in any racing series. It initially attracted some of the smaller teams who believed in the vision presented by Tony George. In later years, the IRL has come full-circle and become similar to the CART series it sought to separate from. The IRL is now dominated by a few wealthy teams, including those from the old CART series, like Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, has a strong contingent of foreign-born drivers.
The series initially raced exclusively on oval tracks, as the league was founded partly in response to the increasing prominence of road and street courses on the CART schedule. In 2005, the series abandoned its unofficial ovals-only stance, and added three road/street course events (Watkins Glen, Infineon and St. Petersburg). For 2007, two more road/street events (Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle) have been added.
Split with CARTEdit
The Indy Racing League may be unique in being the only sporting series in the world to measure opposition by lack of negative attention. The split between Tony George and the CART governing body was extremely acrimonious, and both series have suffered since, as the fan base also split. The 'war' between competing groups of fans is most active now on the Internet, especially on motorsports message boards, and tends to affect any attempts at impartial views of either racing series.
The most bitter point of conflict between Champ Car and the IRL is the Indianapolis 500, long considered the crown jewel of North American motorsports. After the beginning of the IRL in 1996, Tony George restricted entry of the starting 33 cars to 25 IRL cars from full-time IRL teams, with only eight other cars being permitted to start. In retaliation, CART scheduled what was supposed to become its new showcase event, the U.S. 500, at Michigan International Speedway on the same day, but it drew far less fan interest and was discontinued after its 1999 running. Although modified in 1999, the initial Indy 500 policy toward CART has continued to be held up as proof of George and the IRL's ill-intent towards CART.
In 1997, Tony George specified new technical rules for less expensive cars and "production based" engines that outlawed the CART-spec cars that had been the mainstay of the race since the late 1970s. For the next few years almost all of the CART teams and drivers did not compete in the race. While this situation allowed many American drivers to participate in an event they might otherwise have been unable to afford, the turbulent political situation and the absence of the many of the top IndyCar drivers, the big-name sponsors and faster CART-spec cars casting something of a shadow over the race; it was certainly arguable that to the average fan the replacement of at least fairly-well-known foreign drivers by almost-unknown American ones was not perceived as a real gain.
Since the lifting of the ban, many of the former top teams in CART (now Champ Car) have moved to the IRL and, as they dominated in CART, so do they now tend to dominate in the IRL, though George's stated intention of the IRL breakaway was to eliminate such competitive disparities.
There has been some discussion of uniting the two open-wheel rivals, with Honda playing a key role in meetings between Tony George and Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven in March of 2006. These rumors heated up early in 2008, and on Feb. 20, 2008, several news outlets reported that officials from the IRL and Champ Car had reached an agreement to merge the Champ Car World Series into the IRL World Series. According to the Associated Press, an official announcement could be made as early as Friday, March 22, 2008. In an article written by Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star, if a deal is struck, the IRL would absorb Champ Car, taking a collection of its teams and up to three of its events for the 2008 season.
Weak attendance and TV ratings have plagued the IRL since its inception. Eventually, the CART series temporarily lost its broadcast network television exposure, and it is suggested that CART's losses equate with IRL's gains.
To many others, the IRL/CART split has resulted in an overall loss of interest in open-wheel motor racing in North America. NASCAR has since supplanted open-wheel racing as the most popular auto racing sport in the United States, and from 1995 onward, NASCAR's Daytona 500 has surpassed IRL's Indianapolis 500 in U.S. television ratings. The split has also hurt overall sponsorship of US open-wheel racing; in 2006 and 2007 several top CART and IRL drivers have left for the more lucrative NASCAR, including Dario Franchitti and A.J. Allmendinger.
Some IRL fans have also become disgruntled with the current direction of the series, feeling that its current domination by ex-CART drivers/teams and the inclusion of street courses goes against the League's founding principles. Although they believe that the absence of oval-trained open-wheel drivers is primarily to blame for the IRL's woes, it should be pointed out that USAC still runs sprint car races, mainly with developmental drivers, on a regular basis. However, those drivers are more likely to sign contracts with NASCAR teams for financial reasons.
While the League's race broadcasts struggle to find an audience, this is counterbalanced by the improved and increased TV coverage and improving attendance at many events. The continuation of the ABC network contract, as well as the establishment of successful races in Texas and Japan, and renewed interest in and attendance at the flagship Indianapolis 500 are seen by some as additional signs of stability. In addition, the IRL has all its races broadcast on XM Satellite Radio, the exclusive satellite radio partner since 2005.
The sharp reduction in manufacturer support for the series in 2006 resulted in a struggle by teams to find financial backing to compete. Several teams were forced to cut back their operations or quit full time racing activities altogether. This trend continued in 2007, with only 18 full-time competitors (one more than in the rival Champ Car World Series). However, 22 cars were on the grid for the final 2007 race at Chicagoland, with two teams, Panther and Roth, expanding to three and two cars respectively. Also, the announcement by the Indy Racing League on October 2, 2007 of an enhanced driver/team payout system, with guaranteed money for full-time participants, is designed for smaller teams (be they new or current Indy Pro teams) to have the funds needed to race and for larger teams to have a financial guarantee attached to their loyalty.
The IRL's tenth anniversary season in 2006 was marked by improvements in some arenas and continued difficulties in others. Television ratings for the 2005 Indy 500 were up approximately 40% from the previous year. Almost all of this increase has been attributed to increased interest in the event due to the entry of Danica Patrick, considered to be the first female driver whose team was strong enough to provide her with a competitive, even potentially race-winning car. The predictions of pundits with regard to this seemed accurate when Patrick, despite several "rookie"-type mistakes, actually led a good portion of the final stages of the race, not relinquishing the lead until only seven laps remained and still finishing fourth, the best finish ever for a female driver in the Indy 500. However, as Patrick's season wore on, her unspectacular on-track performance led to a decline in "Danicamania." Still, signs of Patrick's ability to attract new viewers were apparent. Overall television ratings improved 53% from 2004 to 2005, attendance increased 9%, merchandise sales were up 75%, and Web traffic on the series' site rose 162%. According to Joyce Julius and Associates, an independent Ann Arbor, Michigan-based media research firm, sponsors got 57% more exposure during 2005 IRL telecasts than in 2004.
In September 2005, the IRL announced its 2006 schedule. The series dropped races at California Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Pikes Peak International Raceway (the latter due to track closure) and added no new events. The IRL received substantial negative publicity for its "streamlined" schedule. This criticism was muted when the 2007 IRL schedule revealed a 17 race schedule with no reductions from 2006. Two of the three races added in 2007 (Mid-Ohio and Detroit's Belle Isle) were former Champ Car races. In comparison, Champ Car began the 2007 season with 17 listed races, but had to cancel three of them due to various factors. Upon releasing their 2008 schedule shortly after the 2007 season ended in September, the Indy Racing League confirmed a 16 race schedule, with the Michigan race not returning at the track's request.
Driver safety has also been a major point of concern, with an alarming number of drivers injured, primarily in the early years of the series, some of them seriously, even fatally. Unlike road racing venues, the lack of run-offs on oval tracks, coupled with higher, sometimes far higher, speeds due to the long straightaways and banked turns, means that there is simply far less margin for error. Car design was attributed as a leading cause of early injuries, but the series has made significant and continuous improvements to chassis safety to address these safety concerns as they have become apparent. Following a series of spectacular high-profile accidents in 2003, including American racing legend Mario Andretti and former champion Kenny Bräck, and the death of Tony Renna in testing at Indianapolis, the IRL made additional changes to reduce speeds and increase safety. These included a significant review and changes in the chassis, and a further reduction in engine displacement. As a result, the 2004 season, while still far from perfect, was the safest IRL season to date.
The IRL was also the first race series to adopt the new SAFER soft wall safety system, which debuted at the Indianapolis 500 and has now been installed at almost all major oval racing circuits. Recognized as one of the most significant improvements ever in racing safety Template:Fact, the SAFER system research and design was supported and funded in large part by the Hulman-George family and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The system's full name, Steel And Foam Energy Reduction, accurately explains the method used to attenuate high-G impacts that in the past led to serious driver injuries.
Unification with Champ CarEdit
On January 23, 2008, Robin Miller reported that Tony George had offered to Champ Car management a proposal that included free cars and engine leases to Champ Car teams willing to run the entire 2008 IndyCar Series schedule in exchange for adding Champ Car's dates at Long Beach, Toronto, Edmonton, Mexico City, and Australia to the IndyCar Series schedule, effectively reuniting American open wheel racing. The offer was initially made in November 2007. On February 10, 2008, Tony George, along with IRL representatives Terry Angstadt and Brian Barnhart, plus former Honda executive Robert Clarke, traveled to Japan to discuss moving the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. Moving that race, or postponing it, would be required in order to accommodate the Long Beach Grand Prix, which is scheduled for the same weekend. Optimism following the meeting was high.
On February 19, 2008, Robin Miller reported on SPEED and Curt Cavin blogged on IndyStar.com that the managements of Indy Racing League and Champ Car have come to an agreement to become one entity. The move would effectively end a 12-year split and reunite American Open Wheel racing. Meanwhile, Brian Barnhart announced that Tony George is negotiating the unification, and an inventory of available IndyCar chassis and equipment for the Champ Car teams is underway. On February 22, Cavin initially reported that no deal had been reached between the IRL and CCWS in a lengthy dinner meeting between George and CCWS president Kevin Kalkhoven the previous evening. Later in the day, however, it was reported that the merger deal had been completed, confirmed by George, and that it would be formally announced at a press conference the following week.
The 2008 IndyCar Series in DIRECTV HD season will be the 13th season of the series. Its Premier event will be the 92nd Indianapolis 500. First of the season's 16 races will be held on March 29 at Homestead. All races will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC and aired on XM Satellite Radio.
On April 3, 2008, The IndyCar Series announced that its Premier Official Sponsor would be DIRECTV. With this new sponsorship came a new name. The series is now known as the IndyCar Series in DIRECTV HD. This is due to the whole season being aired in High Definition.
The 2008 season opener was won by Scott Dixon followed by Marco Andretti and Dan Wheldon. Tony Kanaan was leading the race when he crashed into a spinning Ernesto Viso's car just 7 laps from the finish. He finished 8th.
The second race of the season, The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was won by Graham Rahal. The race was started under caution due to excessive moisture on the course. There were several spins in the wet conditions, including the eventual winner. Rahal was followed across the finish line by Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan.
Rahal, unable to participate in the season opener because of a crash in testing, became the youngest winner ever in the IndyCar series. He also became the first driver to win in his series debut since Scott Dixon in 2003.
- IndyCar.com - Official Site
- Indy500.com- Official Site of the Indy 500
- SPEED TV - IRL news from SPEED Channel
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