Tuesday, December 02, 2003

CART Staggers

CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) was, and perhaps still is, the premier open-wheel racing series in the US. Unfortunately, a whole series of questionable decisions have left them in financial turmoil. They managed to put together a season last year, but are looking less like a top-flight racing series and more like a spec series instead. Last year teams had the choice of two different chassis (Lola or Reynard), one type of Engine (Ford/Cosworth) and one type of tire (Bridgestone) producing the horrendously named Bridgestone presents the Champ Car World Series powered by Ford.

In an effort to turn CART's fortunes around, or at least to hide the red ink from the public eye, a group of investors are trying to persuade the shareholders to let them take the company private again. The vote is scheduled for early next year. The timing of the vote, however, has led the series to postpone its opening race in St. Petersburg to a future time, TBD.

This raises two obvious questions in my mind. First, why didn't the buyout proponents know the schedule? It's been published for a while. Alternately, they may have had to move the vote back to have more time to persuade shareholders. That seems to be a sign of a pending shareholder revolt, however, and doesn't seem healthy.

Second, who makes this schedule? Now that the St. Pete race is delayed, the opening race of the season is going to be moved from February 22 to April 18 at Long Beach. They were going to have a two month break between the first and the second races of the season! Why have the first race in that case? There is no momentum for the fans or the teams over that long a break. The first race essentially becomes an exhibition, with bearing on the final standings instead of an actual competition. Now I realize that in US racing, the main competition is NASCAR, and they open the year with the Daytona 500 on February 15, but a stunt like this just isn't going to convert any fans.

Between management screwups like this and the departure of big-name sponsors, I am not sanguine about CART's survival beyond the next couple of years.