The latest in the core group of Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) defectors to the rival Indy Racing League (IRL) is Chip Ganassi, who will field a two-car team in the IRL in 2003. Ganassi is moving Scott Dixon over from his CART operation and has hired Tomas Scheckter as his second driver.
Ganassi's team won four consecutive CART championships from 1996-99 and also won the 2000 Indy 500 and the pole for the 2002 Indy race. Target will continue to sponsor Ganassi, a proven winner not only in open wheel racing but in NASCAR Winston Cup as well. The team will use Toyota power in that
manufacturer's debut IRL season. Ganassi has been highly successful with Toyota engines in CART, providing the Japanese company with its first CART victory in 2000.
One fly in the ointment is the status of Scheckter, who abruptly left Eddie Cheever's IRL operation in the latter part of the 2002 season. Sheckter's introduction to American oval-track racing was tumultuous. He was fast but erratic, taking out both himself and his boss in his inaugural outing. He soon emerged as a front-runner, leading 85 laps of his first Indy 500 and winning the Michigan 400. However, his status with the Cheever team is still
unclear. Cheever claims that Scheckter is still under contract to Tom Walkinshaw's TWR Group, who assigned him to Cheever, and who is committed to Chevrolet engines. Look for this one to be decided in court. Lawyers, start your injunctions!
The CART organization is facing not only defections by its most powerful teams, but has recently lost title sponsor Federal Express, which will not return for the 2003 season. Rumors are also swirling about a takeover of the CART series by Formula One impresario Bernie Ecclestone, who would turn it into a feeder series for F1. Ecclestone and CART President Chris Pook, who
have been seen in huddled conversation at several venues, deny the rumors.
Some media pundits, noting Ecclestone's partnership with Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George in the U.S. Grand Prix, speculate that Bernie's role may be as peacemaker to finally bring about reconciliation between the two American open-wheel series. Only time will tell.
NASCAR CRIME REPORT
In an unusual move, NASCAR has penalized a team owner in the wake of last weekend's Martinsville round. Bill Davis was docked 25 owner points for a technical violation on Ward Burton's No. 22 car. Typically, only drivers and crew chiefs are penalized for such infractions. The car was found to have
improperly-coiled front springs, violating the NASCAR specification calling for springs with uniform diameter and spacing. Crew Chief Frank Stoddard was fined $10,000 while Davis and Burton were both penalized 25 points, dropping
the team from 26th to 27th in owner points. This could have significance for the 2003 season, as the allocation of provisionals and "plan" money is much higher for the top 25 teams.
Moving to local racing news, several of the area's Outlaw Kart competitors are running the winter racing series at Red Bluff, Calif. Competition is intense at the California track, with big fields and lots of quick drivers.
Last week, Hunter Colodny finished ninth in the Box Stock A Main, with McKena Bell right behind him in 10th. Jennifer Purcell finished 13th in the B Main and courth in the C Main. Blayke Olson was 11th in the C Main and Zachary Heinz took third in the D Main. In Beginner Box Stock, Kellcy Bell captured fifth in the A Main while Jay Primm took seventh in the B Main and Zachary Heinz and Tanner Thorson finished sixth and eighth, respectively in the C Main. Tom Purcell scored a seventh place finish in the 125cc class.
Finally, Champion Motor Speedway is offering a new "Fast Five" thrill ride package to fans who purchase VIP (all-event) season passes before December 1.
These lucky fans will get five fast laps in the track's ex-Harry Gant Skoal Bandit two-seater Winston Cup car. The VIP Pass is only $199.00 for adults and just $149.00 for active military and seniors 55 and over. The VIP pass is good for all regular and special events on the 1/3 mile oval, and represents a saving of $59 over regular ticket prices.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.