Friday, March 19, 2004 | 9:30 a.m.
Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.
The open-wheel racing series formerly known as CART suffered its second blow in a week when three-time series champion and longtime car owner Bobby Rahal announced Thursday he was moving from the Champ Car World Series to the rival Indy Racing League.
Rahal's announcement came seven days after owner/driver Adrian Fernandez said he was leaving Champ Car in favor of the IRL.
"The ever evolving and difficult nature of the racing business and the state of our sport today requires that we must evaluate our programs and determine what is in the best interest of our team and our sponsors," said Rahal, who co-owns Team Rahal with television personality David Letterman."
Rahal already has a presence in the IRL with driver Buddy Rice, who is filling in for injured Kenny Brack. Michel Jourdain Jr., who drove for Rahal in Champ Car last season, will not join Rahal in the IRL, Jourdain said Thursday.
Rahal said he would announce a driver and sponsorship details for his new IRL entry "in the very near future." The second team is expected to begin competing at the Japan Indy 300 on April 17 in Motegi, Japan.
"The decision has been made that it is best for our team to concentrate on having two cars for the entire IRL season and adding the third entry (with driver Roger Yasukawa) for Motegi and Indy," Rahal said. "We have stated before that running a multiple-car effort in a single series not only provides competitive advantages, but certain economic benefits.
"It was simply becoming too much of a drain on our team in terms resources and time to run championship-caliber programs in IndyCar, Champ Car and (Toyota) Atlantics."
There has been speculation that the departures of Fernandez and Rahal from Champ Car would be followed by the two-car Newman/Haas Racing team and lead to the demise of Champ Car, which is scheduled to open its season April 18 in Long Beach, Calif. A spokesperson for Newman/Haas Racing said this week, however, that the team intends to remain in Champ Car this season.
By most estimates, Champ Car now has only 10 confirmed cars for the season-opening Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, but series president Dick Eidswick said Thursday the new ownership group remained confident that the season would begin on time and with a full field.
"We understand the complexity of the purchase (of CART's assets) caused some delays in planning for the teams," Eidswick said in a release. "But the recent release of our 2004 race schedule and television package has allowed numerous teams, drivers and sponsors to move forward with final negotiations. We fully anticipate a series of positive team and driver announcements within the next several days.
"We believe we have and are acting in the best interests of everyone who has been a part of Champ Car history. We remain committed to bringing a full field to the season opener in Long Beach and we're confident our teams and fans will be rewarded with a competitive and exciting racing season."
The folks in Daytona Beach objected to the Internet website redneckjunk.com's sponsorship of Arnold Mortorsports's No. 50 Dodge, driven by Derrike Cope in the Nextel Cup Series. According to a NASCAR spokesman, the sponsorship didn't project "the proper image of our sport."
Mind you, that pronouncement came from the same sanctioning body that lined its pockets for three decades with a multimillion-dollar series sponsorship from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and continues to accept sponsorship from beer companies (but not hard-liquor distillers -- go figure).
For the record, redneckjunk.com offers classified advertising for racing equipment, hunting and fishing gear, boats and recreational vehicles. Cope's car carried the redneckjunk.com logo during the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 7, but NASCAR officials had the team remove the redneckjunk.com decals from the car prior to Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Fortunately for Arnold Motorsports and Cope, the founder of redneckjunk.com has elected to play ball with NASCAR and will continue to sponsor the team after renaming its website rjunk.com.
"We had developed a business concept that was designed to cut through the clutter and have some fun with a tongue-in-cheek stereotype, but it's now clear that what we originally conceived is not acceptable to NASCAR," Tom Connelly, founder of the redneckjunk.com web portal, said in a prepared statement.
"We'll do whatever it takes to continue forward, and also work within the parameters set by the sanctioning body."
Andrews was Alan Kulwicki's crew chief when he won the Winston Cup championship in 1992.
"I am really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Corvette C5-R because it is such a great racecar," Earnhardt said. "I'm happy that Chevy has given me the chance to cross over and take part in its sports car program, which has been a huge success.
"Boris Said has a lot of experience at Infineon Raceway and I'm getting better there, so it should be a fun weekend."
The Nextel Cup Series is off the weekend of July 18.
In addition to his brief test next week, Dixon will spend three days testing with Williams in April at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. Dixon has the blessing of his IRL team owner, Chip Ganassi, to undertake the test.
"We have always had a good working relationship with Frank (Williams) and both teams have reaped the benefits of an arsenal of remarkably talented drivers over the years as a result," Ganassi said. "This is a good opportunity for Scott to test his mettle in an F1 car and we have always encouraged our drivers to live up to new challenges and strive to be the best."
Dixon, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, repeatedly has said his ultimate goal is to drive in Formula One.
The vacancy has been filled by Fritz Kroyer, who will serve as team manager. Kroyer, the father of Orleans Racing engine builder Kevin Kroyer, most recently worked with Dorricott Racing in the Indy Light Series.
Jeffrey and Pfankuch hold a 10-point lead over fellow Southern Californians Travis and Brad Fletcher, who also compete in Class 1-2/1600, after two of five races. Las Vegas residents Rob MacCachren and Danny Anderson are seventh overall and fourth in Class 1-2/1600 while Bekki Wik of Las Vegas and Rick Wilson of Long Beach, Calif., are eighth overall and third in Class 1.
The SCORE Desert Series resumes June 4-6 with the 36th running of the Tecate SCORE Baja 500 in Ensenada, Mexico.