Champ Car history
The history of the Champ Car World Series actually dates back to 1909, when the American Automobile Association (AAA) hosted the first American motorsports race on a 14 mile race course in Portland, Oregon. However, the history of Champ Car as governing body dates back to 1978, when team owners were having a conflict with USAC as governing body and created a split-off series: the CART Indy Car World Series.
Growth of the CART Indy Car World Series
1979 would be the first season for the CART Indy Car World Series, while the old USAC National Championship would run seven races that year before merging with the new series. Having CART (Car Auto Racing Teams) as new governing body would give the series a big boost. Halfway through the eighties the series became more and more popular, with more car manufacturers and team owners joining the series. The schedule would include more road- and street courses, while the ovals – under USAC the majority of the schedule – would form a more equal part of the schedule.
Rick Mears would be the man to beat in the early eighties, he won three championships in the first four years of the CART Indy Car Series. However this domination would be ended when Formula 1 champions like Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi would enter the series, while talented rookies like Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr. and Danny Sullivan would make the CART debut.
The growth of the series would continue in the early nineties: the CART Indy Car Series started to become serious competition to the European Formula 1 series. For an important part, this was due to the consistency of the series, especially with its schedule. The field also got stronger with drivers like former Formula 1 champion Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy and Jacques Villeneuve.
Indianapolis 500 splits off
Even though the CART Indy Car Series was very successful, the relationship between CART and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George would deteriorate in the early nineties. George was worries about the growing international influences within the CART Indy Car Series, while CART wasn’t willing to give him the power within the series he demanded. For this reason, George would start a new racing series: the Indy Racing League (IRL). The series would become an all oval racing series, with the Indianapolis 500 as pinnacle, which would include mainly American drivers, cars and engines.
The creation of the Indy Racing League would cost the CART Indy Car Series its most important race of the season, the Indianapolis 500. After the 1996 season the series also had to quit using the ‘Indy Car’ brand, renaming the series to the ‘CART Championship Series’. Nevertheless, the majority of the most popular drivers and teams remained loyal to CART and the series would remain very popular under the American and international fans. In the late nineties drivers like Alex Zanardi, Jimmy Vasser, Greg Moore, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Tracy and Michael Andretti would make the CART Series an fascinating racing series.
Decline and a new start as Champ Car
The new millennium would bring change to the CART Series. A decline in the economy and the loss of Honda, Toyota and teams like Penske, Ganassi, Team Green and Rahal-Letterman Racing to the IRL would put CART in financial debts. Starting in 2002, the starting fields were getting smaller and both fans and media started to lose interest. To turn the tide the series changed its name to the ‘Champ Car World Series’ to make a fresh start, but it wouldn’t be enough.
After the 2003 season CART even filed bankruptcy, with the intention to let the series be acquired by team owners Kevin Kalkhoven, Paul Gentilozzi and Gerald Forsythe, joined under the ‘Open Wheel Racing Series’ (OWRS) name. IRL owner Tony George also saw a chance to buy its competitor and also did an offer to buy Champ Car. Judge Frank J. Otte ultimately chose to sell Champ Car to OWRS, saving Champ Car, its employees and racing teams.
Under OWRS the Champ Car schedule would drastically be shortened from eighteen to fourteen races, while other cost-saving changes were made, like a ban on the development of the cars. Also, the in 2002 build Lola and Reynard chassis were kept in use, so teams didn’t have to buy expensive, new cars.
New car: the Panoz DP01
In 2005 Champ Car decided it would have to develop a new car, which would have to be more cost efficient and generate more exciting racing on the track. The new car would be developed by Élan and would be named the ‘Panoz DP01’. After an extensive period of testing with Champ Car development driver Roberto Moreno, delivery of this new car to the teams would start in December 2006. The DP01 would successfully be used in the 2007 Champ Car World Series. This would be the only season for the new cars.
On February 22 2008 it was announced that Tony George had acquired the Champ Car World Series. Both competing racing series would be ‘unified’ as the IndyCar Series, with the IRL as governing body. The ‘unified’ racing series would use older Dallara build cars used in the IRL, retiring the Champ Car DP01 chassis after only one season. In April 2008 the DP01’s would be used for the final time for a final Champ Car race in the streets of Long Beach, California.