THE HISTORY OF C.A.R.T.
In 1905 the AAA established the national driving championship and became the first sanctioning body for auto racing in the United States. The AAA ceased sanctioning auto racing in the general outrage over motor racing safety that followed the 1955 Le Mans disaster. In response, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony Hulman formed USAC to take over the sanctioning of what was called "championship" auto racing, or open wheel racing, whose biggest event was the annual Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. USAC sanctioned the championship exclusively until 1978.
A group of activist car owners who had grown disenchanted with what they saw as an amateur, hobby organization sanctioning their events. Complaining of poor promotion and small purses, this group coalesced around Dan Gurney who, in early 1978, wrote what came to be known as the "Gurney White Paper", the blueprint for an organization called Championship Auto Racing Teams. Gurney took his inspiration from the improvements Bernie Ecclestone had forced on Formula One with his creation of the Formula One Constructors Association. The White Paper called for the owners to form CART as an advocacy group to promote USAC's national championship, doing the job where the sanctioning body would not. The group would also work to negotiate television rights and race purses, and ideally hold seats on USAC's governing body.
Gurney, joined by other leading team owners including Roger Penske, and Pat Patrick, took their requests, which included larger representation on the USAC Board of Directors, to USAC's Board, but the proposal was rejected in November 1978. USAC's rejection led the owners to form a new series (CART) in late 1978 under the principles laid out in the Gurney White Paper. The first race was held in March 1979 with the SCCA sanctioning the series.
USAC initially tried to ban all CART drivers from the 1979 Indianapolis 500, informing CART teams by telegram during their event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, until CART succeeded in obtaining an injunction to allow its cars to qualify. The new series quickly gained the support of the majority of team and track owners, with the only notable holdout being A. J. Foyt. This meant that the front and mid-pack teams would be racing in the new CART series. Of the 20 races held in 1979, 13 were part of the 1979 CART Championship. Of the 10 tracks to host races, five would host CART events exclusively and one, Ontario, would host races from both series.
By 1982, the CART PPG Indy Car World Series was almost universally recognized as the American national championship in open wheel racing. In 1983, USAC agreed to allow CART to add the Indy 500 to its schedule and have drivers be awarded points in the CART championship in return for retaining the authority to sanction the 500. Many road racing stars, including Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, and Danny Sullivan found success in CART, which pioneered sponsoring street races, taking over the Detroit Grand Prix and the Grand Prix of Long Beach from Formula One, as well as having success in venues like Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, and Cleveland. CART also founded the first full-time driver safety team that traveled with the series, instead of depending on local staff provided by promoters.
After former F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi won the series title in 1989, additional drivers were attracted from South America and Europe to join the series. While the Indianapolis 500 had always obtained some international attention, Fittipaldi's victory and the growing contingent of international drivers helped make the series a valuable television property for growing sports cable networks worldwide. CART would host its first race outside North America, in Surfer's Paradise, Australia, in 1991. British driver Nigel Mansell, the 1992 F1 Driver's Champion, switched to CART in 1993 and beat Fittipaldi for the championship.
Despite the considerable increases in attendance, TV revenue, and purses, CART's governing structure did not stop ownership struggles. CART owners were incredibly diverse: For example, trucking magnate Roger Penske owned speedways, manufactured chassis, and had generous contracts with tire and engine manufactures.Others, such as Andy Kenopensky of Machinists Union Racing, simply purchased older vehicles and ran the races they could afford to attend. The diversity of interests and owner involvement on the board led to annual fights and accusations of real and apparent conflicts of interest with regard to rules, sponsorship, driver safety, track selection, and other matters.
As the larger teams and engine and chassis manufactures competed for victories, costs were rapidly increasing, pricing out many smaller teams. Tony George, the new president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and others viewed foreign drivers and street circuits as discouraging USAC American sprint racing talent, such as popular Indiana driver Jeff Gordon, from competing in Indycars. NASCAR, which ran predominantly on ovals, was gaining in popularity in Indycar's traditional Midwestern US market. CART was seen as serving only the interest of team owners and not of the sport as a whole, while CART owners believed that the teams, who took the most risks and expended the most cash, should control the general direction of the sport.
In 1991, George approached the CART board, proposing a new board consisting of representatives of the series' tracks, team owners, and suppliers to oversee the entire sport, including the Indy 500. George was denied his request, but offered a voting seat on the CART board. Not wanting further involvement, he agreed to a non-voting seat.
In March 1994, George announced his resignation from CART's board and the founding of the Indy Racing League, which would be cost controlled and race solely on American ovals. That year, Team Penske introduced an engine specifically run solely for the 1994 Indianapolis 500 designed to exploit a rule difference between the USAC and CART, promptly dominating the race, and highlighting the concerns participants had regarding cost control in the sport.
The tension finally broke into the open on July 3, 1995, when George announced that for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, the top 25 drivers in IRL points would be guaranteed a spot in the race, leaving only eight of the 33 grid positions available to others This was known as the "25/8 Rule," and was unprecedented, as the Indy 500 had traditionally always put every spot up for open qualification. CART declared they had been locked out of the event, and would no longer race at Indianapolis, while George declared that CART was boycotting. To placate sponsors used to having large contingencies attend Indianapolis, CART created a rival showcase event, the U.S. 500, at Michigan International Speedway on the same day as the Indy 500 in 1996.
In March, Indianapolis Motor Speedway attempted to terminate CART's license to their IndyCar trademark, leading to a settlement in which CART agreed to give up the use of the IndyCar mark following the 1996 season and the IRL would not use the name before the end of the 2002 season. Neither faction would be able to use the most popular name for the sport for six years.
The lead-up to Memorial Day saw fans witness, instead of the usual pre-race hype for the 500, a scorched-earth public relations war pitting the owners and drivers against George and IMS. Michael Andretti implied that allowing the IRL regulars to run the race and compensating by increasing turbo boost would probably prompt a fatality.
The 1996 Indianapolis 500 saw plenty of accidents, but also an exciting finish that saw Buddy Lazier win his first race. The US 500, starting halfway through the Indy 500, had a disastrous start with a ten-car crash after an attempt to imitate the 3-wide start of Indianapolis. Jimmy Vasser, who won by 13 seconds, quipped "Who needs milk?" while exiting his car for the podium. Both at the time and in retrospect, the weekend was seen as a fiasco that began a serious decline in open-wheel racing, with both the Indy 500 and other Indycar events seeing drastic decline in prominence, TV viewership, and attendance.
In the early years after the launch of the IRL in 1996, CART was in a far stronger position: It controlled most of the prestigious races, sponsorship money, TV contracts, and most of the "name" drivers and teams, while George's primary asset was Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its 500. 1996 and 1997 saw generally well regarding racing with stars such as Jimmy Vasser, rookie sensation Alex Zanardi, Michael Andretti, and Paul Tracy leading the points standings, while the IRL experienced growing pains, including a rain-soaked 1997 Indianapolis 500, off-putting engine sounds of their new normally aspirated engines, and the abandonment of USAC sanctioning due to its incompetence.
The IRL's decisive response to these issues showed its key strength: Having George as a dominant figure to make decisions and set a vision without creating chaos. CART, in contrast, opted to proceed with a public stock offering, and raised $US100 million by selling 35% of the company. While the move allowed CART to have sufficient cash reserves to expand, owners such as Roger Penske suggested it was a bad idea to subject the notoriously secretive finances of the auto racing industry to public trading requirements, and the board's chronic issues regarding vision and controversial decisions began to become readily apparent.
1998 and 1999 saw a dramatic increase in revenue for CART, including great gains in Canada and oversees markets. On the other hand, traditional American events such as Michigan and Nazareth began to see attendance declines, with speculation that NASCAR's increasing popularity was the primary cause, and CART believing that substandard marketing was to blame. Efforts, led mostly by engine manufacturers, to pressure CART and the IRL to at least adopt uniform engine standards were met with a cold refusal from the IRL, which had started to carve a niche due to close relationships with the new ovals popping up in the US due to NASCAR's boom.
In 2000, in an attempt to recover domestic market share, CART owners removed Andrew Craig as CEO, and popular driver/owner Bobby Rahal stepped in as interim CEO. One of his first acts was to replace the PPG Cup (used from 1979–1999) with the Vanderbilt Cup as the series championship trophy. Chip Ganassi, under pressure from his main sponsors, also persuaded the board to leave Memorial Day open on the schedule and returned to the Indy 500 with his drivers, 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser and 1999 champion Montoya. Montoya put on a dominating performance at Indy, leading 167 of the 200 laps to win. The Ganassi team's primary advantage was the greater engineering put into his IRL-spec car. 2000 would see Team Penske's return to prominence as Gil de Ferran won the driver's title.
For 2001, CART unveiled their most ambitious schedule yet, with 22 races in Mexico, Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, and Australia. The loss of Homstead-Miami and Gateway to the IRL was to be offset by the addition of Texas Motor Speedway, which had seen an exciting IRL race the year prior.
Brazil was cancelled after disagreements with track promoters. The 2001 Firestone Firehawk 600 had to be cancelled on race day, due to concerns of drivers blacking out at the high G forces created by Champ Cars on the heavily banked course during qualifying. While applauded for putting driver safety first, the cancellation was a publicity disaster, and CART was criticized for not testing cars on the track earlier as requested. A resulting lawsuit, while settled, cost CART a good deal of cash reserves and its relationship with Speedway Motorsports; the cancellation of the race and the ensuing lawsuit was a blow to CART's prestige and cash reserves.
Despite a highly competitive four-way points battle among Gil de Ferran, Kenny Brack, Hélio Castroneves, and Michael Andretti, headlines centered on a technological controversy regarding a turbo pop off valve that Honda had developed, prompting complaints by Ford and Toyota; when CART mandated changes in the valve to help equalize the competition, Honda successfully obtained an injunction allowing it to continue, leading to all three manufacturers being upset.
The series' first foray into Europe, the German 500, was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks one week prior. CART, not wanting to cancel another race, decided to run as scheduled after some controversy. The race would see popular former champion Alex Zanardi lose both legs in a dramatic accident.
In an attempt to keep the Indianapolis 500, ABC/ESPN signed an exclusive television deal for 2002 onwards with the IRL, forcing CART to turn to Speed Channel for cable coverage and buy time on CBS to maintain a broadcast presence. Team Penske announced after the season that they would became permanent entrants in the IRL for 2002 due to pressure from sponsor Marlboro resulting from the American tobacco settlements that prevented cigarette advertising in multiple series.
During the 2002 season, Honda announced that it would move to the IRL the following year.
Bankruptcy and rebranding to OWRS
Beginning in 2003, CART decided to rebrand and reform itself, promoting itself as the Champ Car World Series. For sponsorship purposes, the 2003 season was branded as Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
CART's shares plummeted to 25¢ (USD) per share. It declared bankruptcy after the 2003 season and its assets were liquidated.The IRL made a strategic bid for certain assets to keep the series dormant, while a trio of CART owners (Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi, and Kevin Kalkhoven) along with Dan Pettit made a bid as the Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS). The bankruptcy court ruled that the OWRS bid, while smaller, was more beneficial to vendor creditors than the IRL bid, and ruled that the OWRS group should be the purchaser of CART's assets, which eventually became known as Champ Car World Series (CCWS) LLC.
While some prominent teams, such as Team Rahal and Fernández Racing moved to the IRL for 2004, the CCWS moved more toward street circuits and would see a pitched multi-season battle between Newman/Haas Racing and Forsythe Racing, including a heated personal rivalry between three-time champion Sébastien Bourdais and Canadian Paul Tracy.
In 2007, with the withdrawal of Bridgestone and Ford Motor Company as presenting sponsors, the official name of the top-tier series promoted by Champ Car became simply the Champ Car World Series. Several races in the 2007 season were canceled before they were held, and by late 2007, it was clear that CCWS lacked the resources to mount another season.
In early February 2008, the CCWS Board of Managers authorized bankruptcy, to be filed on February 14, 2008. On February 22, 2008, an agreement in principle was reached and signed that merged the Champ Car Series with the IRL. The memorandum sold the CCWS' sanctioning contracts, the Champ Car Mobile Medical Unit, and intangible assets such as history and goodwill, to the IRL for $6 million. The document also included a non-compete agreement for Forsythe and Kalkhoven in exchange for $2 million each. The arrangement was finalized June 3, 2008.
The first "merged" event of the rechristened "IndyCar Series" was the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 from Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29, 2008. Due to a scheduling conflict with the IndyCar Series' Motegi event, the CCWS Long Beach race was held on April 20, 2008 as an IRL points-paying event using the CCWS-spec Panoz DP01 cars, and was contested entirely by CCWS teams, with the event described as a final celebration of CART/CCWS.