I watched the CART season opening race from St. Petersburg last week and it was saddening. The league is a pale shadow of it’s former self. It didn’t have major network TV coverage or even a big cable network like ESPN. It was on Speed Channel, and it probably was lucky it wasn’t tape delayed. There were practically no spectators in attendance (though to be fair, temporary street circuits like that aren’t very spectator friendly to begin with). There wasn’t even a full field for the race, only 19 cars and I’d say at least a third of them didn’t have a major sponsor on their cars. Almost all the big names have jumped ship to NASCAR or the IRL, too - 9 of the drivers were rookies. The cars are using spec engines from a single manufacturer that are down about 200 hp from previous years. I know that next year they are basically adopting IRL spec cars, but I honestly can’t see the series surviving for more than three years, tops.
CART, as an organization, doesn’t run in the Indy 500, right? I know some drivers jump ship, or sign 1 race deals for the 500, but it is an IRL event, if I recall?
I’m more of a NASCAR fan, but have watched the open wheelers on ocasion. It seems that CART has suffered most in the split with IRL. IRL seems to have the premier drivers, teams, equipment, and races. And NASCAR just makes money hand over fist. So, yes, CART may be nearing the end of the road, since other types of motorsports offer more money, fame, and prestige.
I’d have to disagree with you. This is definitely a rebuilding year, but the series still has some life in it.
Open wheel racing has lost most of it’s fan base to NASCAR big time over the last few years. The only reason IndyCar events are on ABC is because if they didn’t broadcast them, Tony George wouldn’t let them broadcast the Indy 500. There will be some Champ Car races on CBS later this year, but the majority will be on the Speed Channel.
As for field size, the IndyCar race at Homestead has 21 entries - only 2 more than the Champ Car race last week. At least one of those drivers (Sarah Fisher) doesn’t have sponsorship for the whole season.
There had been speculation that CART would be adopting IndyCar specs, but now the buzz is that they’ll go to gas-powered V10s similar to Formula 1. Growing closer ties with F1 would seem to be in both series best interest. CART’s popularity in Europe is growing. They are racing at Brands Hatch and Germany this year, and Estroil, Portugal is already confirmed for next year. Spa, Belgium is also a possibilty next year.
I can’t really speak for the St. Petersburg attendance, but many of the street races are well attended, such as Long Beach. Also, the Mexico City race last year was a big hit, and CART’s popularity in Mexico is growing (there are 5 Mexican drivers in the sereis this year).
The attendence at St. Pete was estimated at somewhere around 30,000 or so. Not a huge number, but it seemed to me that they filled out all the grandstands that the organizers set up.
Meanwhile, check out the huge fan interest as the new and improved IRL put on their first qualification show of the season across the peninsula in Homestead this weekend.
Sure, CART lost a lot of teams to the dark side over the off season, but CART came out better for it on the other side. Last season, Chip Ganassi in particular was actively working to undermine the work that Chris Pook was doing to put the series back on its feet (no doubt he’s enjoying some quiet comtemplation at Homestead). This season CART is populated with team owners that are happy to be there.
CART’s spec engine is still pretty impressive. In preason testing at Laguna Seca it was strong enough to beat last year’s pole lap there.
This was supposed to be the IRL’s breakout year. With all the new teams flooding into the series they were going to have 30 cars at every event. Unfortunately, all the new teams did was to drive out a bunch of folks who had carried the flag for the IRL since 1996. The IRL is opening the season with two more cars that CART did at St. Pete. Included in that is the IRL’s favorite “son” Sarah Fisher, who is running with on a one race deal. Hmmm…Tony George seems to be a bit less free with the family checkbook nowadays. Michael Andretti is retiring after Indy, his replacement is an Englishman (what? not a Midwestern dirt track racer? I’m shocked!). Oh, and tickets are still available for the Indy 500. Good thing Tony saved that race from CART’s evil foreign hordes.
CART has Eccelstone in its corner (look for the USGP@Indy to disappear once the current contract expires). Tony George may have the France family in his corner. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next few years, but neither CART nor IRL will be going away. And NASCAR will continue to dominate the American racing scene. C’est la vie. Boogity boogity boogity.
Before the management change a year ago, I’d have said there was no way CART would be running this year. As it is, though, I think it will survive for some years to come - as a minor-league, feeder operation for the Big Boys. NASCAR has the big money sponsors tied up in the US, with IRL well back (and its best drivers moving up to NASCAR when they’re ready), and no real constituency remaining in the US for a lower-level operation reduced to me-tooing IRL.
CART looks like its future is as a developing ground for road racers for F1, with maybe a stop in F3000 along the way, and IRL’s future is developing oval racers for NASCAR with the Indy 500 remaining as a museum piece.
That’s largely their own fault, though - too few American drivers, no American cars or engines, little American sponsorship of consequence, little fan contact with drivers, and therefore no rooting interest; meanwhile NASCAR has brilliantly marketed all of those things into a position of dominance that looks unassailable now.
Man, you have hit the nail right on the head!
I’m old enough to remember “fan-friendly” Indy drivers who actually would sign autographs and chit-chat. Then somehow, by the early 1980s, the egos got over-inflated and things turned “all business”. (FWIW, I think this was about the time that Rick Mears was “all that” at Indy)
In those days, “Stock Cars” were to me County-Fair attractions. I loved the Indy 500.
These days, you’d just about have to pay me to go to CART or IRL. It’s really kinda sad.