Discussions between CART president Andrew Craig and a top lieutenant of Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George's could lead to the return of CART teams to the Indianapolis 500 as early as 2000.
The negotiations center on a compromise proposed by CART's engine suppliers—Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. CART uses turbo-charged 2.65-liter engines, and George's Indy Racing League ( IRL) runs so-called productionbased normally aspirated four-liter power plants. The CART suppliers are offering a hybrid: a normally aspirated three-liter engine that would nevertheless be a thoroughbred for racing.
The toughest obstacle may be hammering out an agreement on whether teams would be allowed to own engines, as they are in the IRL, or be required to lease them, as they are in CART. "The one major issue between us is who controls the engines—the manufacturer or the team," says CART owner-driver Bobby Rahal. "Once that is sorted out, everything else is a piece of cake."
Sorting it out will be no easy matter, if only because of the intransigence of powerful IRL team owner A.J. Foyt. To keep technology secrets from falling into the hands of other manufacturers, CART's engine makers stipulate in their leasing agreements that teams' engines must be tuned and maintained by engineers provided by the manufacturers. Foyt insists on retaining the right to own engines and work on them as he pleases. "The only thing I don't like about CART's system is its lease program," he says. "That's not racing. That's a lot of money for nothing."
Providing Foyt can be talked off his high horse—which is far from a given—there are strong reasons for George and the IRL to make a deal, which could not be implemented until 2000 because of the time needed to perfect new engines. George has seen the prestige of the Indy 500 wane since CART pulled out in 1996 over George's formation of the IRL and his decision to reserve 25 of the 33 Indy 500 starting berths for IRL drivers. ( George has since lifted that rule.) The IRL has only one major engine supplier, Oldsmobile, and prospects are bleak for suppliers after 1999, when Oldsmobile's contract expires. One track, New Hampshire International Speedway, has already dropped the IRL because of low attendance, and three others—Atlanta, Charlotte and Phoenix—find IRL races increasingly difficult to promote.
Zanardi Changing Cars
CART'S Loss Is F/1's Gain
Cart's whirlwind driving phenomenon, known to U.S. fans as Alex Zanardi, soon will be no more. Alessandro Zanardi will return to Formula One next season, leaving behind the Americanized diminutive he hated and the pizzazz he pumped into the series while winning two consecutive championships.
The Williams team of England was expected to announce this week that Zanardi, 31, will pair up in 1999 with Ralf Schumacher, 23, younger brother of two-time F/1 world champion Michael Schumacher, behind the wheel of the Williams-Mecachrome cars. Zanardi, who has been absent from F/1 since 1994, is committed to going back because of F/1's greater prestige and because his wife, Daniela, wants them to raise their month-old son, Niccol�, in their native Italy.