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|Inaugural season||1979 (as CART)|
2004 (as Champ Car)
|Last Drivers' champion||Sébastien Bourdais (2007)|
|Last Constructors' champion||Panoz (2007)|
Champ Car is the general name for a class and specification of American professional top-level open wheel cars used in American open-wheel car racing for many decades, associated primarily with the Indianapolis 500. Such racing had been sanctioned by the AAA, USAC, SCCA, the CRL, CART, and IndyCar.
In its most popular and recent contemporary usage, "Champ Car" was the name given to a governing body formerly known as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). The CART series was founded in 1979 by team owners who disagreed with the direction and leadership of USAC. At the height of the popularity of the series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was known as the CART/PPG Indy Car World Series. The term "Champ Car" temporarily disappeared from use, with the more marketable term "Indy Car" being utilized.
In 1996, the open wheel "split" saw the newly created Indy Racing League IRL take full control over the Indy 500. Thereafter, the world series re-branded itself as CART again, and re-booted the term "Champ Car" as the moniker for the machines used. The series was advertised as CART FedEx Championship Series from 1997 to 2002.
CART went bankrupt at the end of the 2003 season. A trio of CART team owners acquired the assets of the sanctioning body (forming what was known legally as Open Wheel Racing Series, Inc.) and renamed it as the Champ Car World Series (CCWS), again highlighting the historic 'Champ Car' term. Continuing financial difficulties caused CCWS to file for bankruptcy before its planned 2008 season; its assets were merged into the IRL's IndyCar Series, reuniting both series of American open-wheel racing.
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In 1905 the AAA established a national driving championship and became the first sanctioning body for auto racing in the United States. The AAA ceased sanctioning auto racing in the general outrage over motor racing safety that followed the 1955 Le Mans disaster. In response, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony Hulman formed the United States Auto Club (USAC) to take over the sanctioning of what was called "championship" auto racing, or open wheel racing, whose biggest event was the annual Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. USAC sanctioned the championship exclusively until 1978.
A group of activist car owners had grown disenchanted with what they saw as an amateur, hobby organization sanctioning their events. Complaining of poor promotion and small purses, this group coalesced around Dan Gurney who, in early 1978, wrote what came to be known as the "Gurney White Paper", the blueprint for an organization called Championship Auto Racing Teams. Gurney took his inspiration from the improvements Bernie Ecclestone had forced on Formula One with his creation of the Formula One Constructors Association. The White Paper called for the owners to form CART as an advocacy group to promote USAC's national championship, doing the job where the sanctioning body would not. The group would also work to negotiate television rights and race purses, and ideally hold seats on USAC's governing body.
Gurney, joined by other leading team owners including Roger Penske and Pat Patrick, took their requests to USAC's Board, but the proposal was rejected in November 1978. USAC's rejection led the owners to form a new series, called CART, in late 1978 under the principles laid out in the Gurney White Paper. The first race was held in March 1979, with the Sports Car Club of America sanctioning the series.
USAC initially tried to ban all CART drivers from the 1979 Indianapolis 500, informing CART teams by telegram during their event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, until CART succeeded in obtaining an injunction to allow its cars to qualify. The new series quickly gained the support of the majority of team and track owners, with the only notable holdout being A. J. Foyt. Of the 20 races held in 1979, 13 were part of the 1979 CART Championship. Of the 10 tracks to host races, five would host CART events exclusively and one, Ontario, would host races from both series.
CART PPG Indy Car World Series
By 1982, the now CART PPG Indy Car World Series was almost universally recognized as the American national championship in open wheel racing. In 1983, USAC agreed to allow CART to add the Indy 500 to its schedule and have drivers be awarded points in the CART championship in return for retaining the authority to sanction the 500. Many road racing stars, including Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, and Danny Sullivan found success in CART, which pioneered sponsoring street races, taking over the Detroit Grand Prix and the Grand Prix of Long Beach from Formula One, as well as having success in venues like Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, and Cleveland. CART also founded the first full-time driver safety team that traveled with the series, instead of depending on local staff provided by promoters.
In 1988, CART joined ACCUS-FIA, allowing foreign drivers to compete without risking their FIA superlicenses. This, combined with former F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi's series title in 1989, attracted drivers from South America and Europe to join the series. While the Indianapolis 500 had always obtained some international attention, Fittipaldi's victory and the growing contingent of international drivers helped make the series a valuable television property for growing sports cable networks worldwide. CART would host its first race outside North America, in Surfer's Paradise, Australia, in 1991. British driver Nigel Mansell, the 1992 F1 Driver's Champion, switched to CART in 1993 and beat Fittipaldi for the championship.
Despite the considerable increases in attendance, TV revenue, and purses, CART's governing structure did not stop ownership struggles. CART owners were incredibly diverse: For example, trucking magnate Roger Penske owned speedways, manufactured chassis, and had generous contracts with tire and engine manufactures. Others, such as Andy Kenopensky of Machinists Union Racing, simply purchased older vehicles and ran the races they could afford to attend. The diversity of interests and owner involvement on the board led to annual fights and accusations of real and apparent conflicts of interest with regard to rules, sponsorship, driver safety, track selection, and other matters.
As the larger teams and engine and chassis manufactures competed for victories, costs were rapidly increasing, pricing out smaller teams. Tony George, by 1989 the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and others viewed foreign drivers and street circuits as discouraging USAC American sprint racing talent, such as popular Indiana driver Jeff Gordon, from competing in Indycars. NASCAR, which ran predominantly on ovals, was gaining in popularity in Indycar's traditional Midwestern US market. CART was seen as serving only the interest of team owners and not of the sport as a whole, while CART owners believed that the teams, who took the most risks, paid the drivers, and expended the most cash, should control the general direction of the sport.
In 1991, George approached the CART board, proposing a new board consisting of representatives of the series' tracks, team owners, and suppliers to oversee the entire sport, including the Indy 500. George was denied his request, but offered a voting seat on the CART board. Not wanting further involvement, he agreed to a non-voting seat. Debate continued for a number of years over the proper oversight mechanism for the sport, with George hesitant to give up any oversight over Indianapolis and owners not wanting to give too much power to track promoters.
In March 1994, George announced his resignation from CART's board and in July announced the founding of the Indy Racing League, which would be cost controlled and race solely on American ovals. That year, Team Penske introduced an engine specifically designed solely for the 1994 Indianapolis 500 that exploited a rule difference between the USAC and CART, promptly dominating the race and highlighting the concerns participants had regarding cost control in the sport.
After the controversial 1995 Indianapolis 500 that saw driver complaints about USAC's oversight, George announced that for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 the top 25 drivers in IRL points would be guaranteed a spot in the race, leaving only eight of the 33 grid positions available to others. This was known as the "25/8 Rule," and was unprecedented, as the Indy 500 had traditionally always put every spot up for open qualification. CART declared they had been locked out of the event and would no longer race at Indianapolis, while George declared that CART was boycotting. To placate sponsors used to having large contingencies attend Indianapolis, CART created a rival showcase event, the U.S. 500, at Michigan International Speedway on the same day as the Indy 500 in 1996.
In March, Indianapolis Motor Speedway attempted to terminate CART's license to their IndyCar trademark, eventually leading to a settlement in which CART agreed to give up the use of the IndyCar mark following the 1996 season and that the IRL would not use the name before the end of the 2002 season.
The lead-up to Memorial Day 1996 saw fans witness, instead of the usual pre-race hype for the 500, a scorched-earth public relations war pitting the owners and drivers of CART against George and IMS. Michael Andretti publicly stated that allowing the IRL regulars to run the race and compensating by increasing turbo boost would provoke injury, calling it "unconscionable."
The 1996 Indianapolis 500 saw plenty of accidents, with 1/4 of the race under caution, but also an exciting finish that saw Buddy Lazier win his first race. The US 500, starting halfway through the Indy 500, had a disastrous start with a twelve-car crash after an attempt to imitate the 3-wide start of Indianapolis, delaying the race for an hour. Jimmy Vasser, who won by 11 seconds, quipped "Who needs milk?" while exiting his car for the podium. Both at the time and in retrospect, the weekend was seen as a fiasco that began a serious decline in open-wheel racing, with both the Indy 500 and other Indycar events seeing drastic decline in prominence, TV viewership, and attendance.
In the early years after the launch of the IRL in 1996, CART was in a far stronger position: It controlled most of the prestigious races, sponsorship money, TV contracts, and most of the "name" drivers and teams, while George's primary asset was Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its 500. 1996 and 1997 saw generally well regarding racing with stars such as Jimmy Vasser, rookie sensation Alex Zanardi, and Michael Andretti leading the points standings, while the IRL experienced growing pains, including a rain-soaked 1997 Indianapolis 500, off-putting engine sounds from their new normally-aspirated engines, and the abandonment of USAC sanctioning due to incompetence.
CART, in further contrast to George's sole ownership of the IRL, opted to proceed with a public stock offering, and raised $US100 million by selling 35% of the company. While the move allowed CART to have sufficient cash reserves to expand, commentators suggested it was short-sighted to subject the notoriously secretive and fluctuating finances of the auto racing industry to public trading requirements. As owners began to sell off their shares, the board's chronic issues regarding vision and controversial decisions began to grow.
1998 and 1999 saw a dramatic increase in revenue for CART due to the stock offering, including great gains in Canada and overseas markets. On the other hand, television ratings were anemic, and traditional American events such as Michigan and Nazareth began to see attendance declines, with speculation that NASCAR's increasing popularity was the primary cause, and CART believing that substandard marketing was to blame. Efforts, led mostly by engine manufacturers, to pressure CART and the IRL to at least adopt uniform engine standards were met with a cold refusal from the IRL, which had started to carve a niche in the motorsports landscape by leveraging close relationships with the new NASCAR spec ovals and more affordable sanction fees. 1999's heated championship battle between young stars Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti was dramatically overshadowed by the deaths of drivers Gonzalo Rodríguez and Greg Moore within two months of each other. Moore's death at the 1999 Marlboro 500 especially raised serious concerns about safety, especially in the 500 mile races conducted in Fontana and Michigan that saw Champ Cars hit 240 mph.
In 2000, in an attempt to recover domestic market share, CART owners removed Andrew Craig as CEO, and popular driver/owner Bobby Rahal stepped in as interim CEO. One of his first acts was to replace the PPG Cup (used from 1979–1999) with the Vanderbilt Cup as the series championship trophy. Chip Ganassi, under pressure from his main sponsors, also persuaded the board to leave Memorial Day open on the schedule and returned to the Indy 500 with his drivers, 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser and 1999 champion Montoya. Montoya put on a dominating performance at Indy, leading 167 of the 200 laps to win. The Ganassi team's primary advantage was the greater engineering put into their IRL-spec car. 2000 would see Team Penske's return to prominence as Gil de Ferran won the driver's title.
For 2001, CART unveiled their most ambitious schedule yet, with 22 races in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, and Australia. The loss of Homestead-Miami and Gateway to the IRL was to be offset by the addition of Texas Motor Speedway, which had seen an exciting IRL race the year prior. Rahal retired to head Jaguar Racing in Formula 1, leading to marketing expert Joseph Heitzler taking the helm.
Brazil was cancelled after disagreements with track promoters. The 2001 Firestone Firehawk 600 had to be cancelled on race day, due to concerns of drivers blacking out at the high G forces created by Champ Cars on the heavily banked course during qualifying. While applauded for putting driver safety first, the cancellation was a publicity disaster, and CART was criticized for not testing cars on the track earlier as requested. A resulting lawsuit, while settled, produced a quarterly loss for CART's stock and forever harmed its relationship with Speedway Motorsports.
Despite CART teams sweeping the top 6 positions in the 2001 Indianapolis 500 and a highly competitive four-way points battle among Gil de Ferran, Kenny Brack, Hélio Castroneves, and Michael Andretti, headlines centered on a technological controversy regarding a turbo pop off valve that Honda and Ford had developed, prompting complaints by Toyota.  When CART mandated changes in the valve to help equalize the competition, Honda successfully obtained an injunction barring the change, leading to all three manufacturers being upset. Toyota would announce it would move to the IRL for 2003 at the end of the season.
The series' first foray into Europe, the German 500, was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks one week prior. CART, not wanting to cancel another race, decided to run as scheduled after some controversy. The race would see popular former champion Alex Zanardi lose both legs in a dramatic accident. The series inaugural event in the United Kingdom would come close to being cancelled due to track concerns.
To keep coverage of the Indianapolis 500, ABC/ESPN signed an exclusive television deal for 2002 onwards with the IRL, forcing CART to turn to Speed Channel for cable coverage and buy time on CBS to maintain a broadcast presence. Team Penske announced after the season that they would became permanent entrants in the IRL for 2002 due to pressure from sponsor Marlboro resulting from the American tobacco settlements that prevented cigarette advertising in multiple series.
The loss of ESPN/ABC's exposure and engine manufacturer sponsoring began a downward spiral for the series, as race promoters began demanding reduced sanctioning fees for 2002. Heitzler was fired by the CART board in the offseason, being replaced by Chris Pook, the well-regarded CEO of the Long Beach Grand Prix.
During the 2002 season, Honda announced that it would move to the IRL the following year, causing a drastic decline in the CART's stock and leaving Ford as the sole engine manufacturer for 2003. Attempts to subsidize teams to have a full field led to a further decline in stock, prompting team owner Gerald Forsythe to purchase enough stock to control 22.5% of the voting shares in concert with the board. Star driver Michael Andretti purchased the prominent Team Green and moved them to the IRL, citing shrinking fields.
Bankruptcy and rebranding to OWRS
With the series running out of cash reserves, CART declared bankruptcy after the 2003 season and its assets were liquidated. The IRL made a strategic bid to keep the series dormant, while a trio of CART owners (Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi, and Kevin Kalkhoven) along with Dan Pettit made a bid as the Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS). The bankruptcy court ruled that the OWRS bid, while smaller, was more beneficial to creditors than the IRL bid, and ruled that the OWRS group should be the purchaser of CART's assets, which eventually became known as Champ Car World Series (CCWS) LLC.
While some prominent teams, such as Team Rahal and Fernández Racing moved to the IRL for 2004, the CCWS moved more toward street circuits and would see a pitched multi-season battle between Newman/Haas Racing and Forsythe Racing, including a heated personal rivalry between three-time champion Sébastien Bourdais and veteran Canadian Paul Tracy. The IRL began to race on road and street circuits in 2005, creating competition for the series traditional road racing tracks.
In 2007, with the withdrawal of Bridgestone and Ford Motor Company as presenting sponsors, the official name of the top-tier series promoted by Champ Car became simply the Champ Car World Series. Several races in the 2007 season were canceled before they were held. In early February 2008, the CCWS Board of Managers authorized bankruptcy, to be filed on February 14, 2008. On February 22, 2008, an agreement in principle was reached and signed that merged the Champ Car Series with the IRL. The memorandum sold the CCWS's sanctioning contracts, the Champ Car Mobile Medical Unit, the series history, and goodwill to the IRL for $6 million. The document also included a non-compete agreement for Forsythe and Kalkhoven in exchange for $2 million each.  The first "merged" event of the rechristened "IndyCar Series" was the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 from Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29, 2008. Due to a scheduling conflict with the IndyCar Series' Motegi event, the CCWS Long Beach race was held on April 20, 2008 as an IRL points-paying event using the CCWS-spec Panoz DP01 cars, and was contested entirely by CCWS teams, with the event described as a final celebration of CART/CCWS.
In its early years, television coverage of CART races were shared by NBC, ABC and ESPN. NBC left after the 1990 season, and returned for the 1994 Toronto race only. CBS also aired races from 1989 to 1991 and also aired the 1995 race at Nazareth. ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 continued as broadcasters until 2001.
In the 2002 and 2003 Champ Car seasons, coverage was split between CBS and Speed Channel (Fox aired the 2002 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach), while Spike TV aired the competition in 2004. Also from 2002 to 2004, select races aired on high definition channel HDNet.
Comparison with Formula One
This section needs to be updated.(June 2011)
A Champ Car was a single-seat (commonly called open-wheel in the US) racing car. For much of their history Champ Cars had been similar to Formula One cars, although there have traditionally been several key differences between the two, even though they looked very similar. For instance, a competitive Champ Car team like Newman/Haas Racing team operated on approximately US$20 million per season, while the Ferrari F1 team of that same time operated on approximately US$285 million.
Over the years, Champ Cars race schedule included high speed oval tracks. The increased stress and speed of these tracks meant that the cars tended to be heavier, wider and have longer wheelbases than F1 cars (increasing stability but decreasing agility). The minimum weight for a Champ Car was adjusted from 1,575 pounds (714 kg) based on the weight of the driver compared to the field average; with the driver included, all cars had a minimum weight of 1,741 pounds (790 kg). A Champ Car piloted by 195-pound (88 kg) Paul Tracy (the heaviest driver in the series and 29 pounds (13 kg) heavier than the field average) had weigh at least 1,546 pounds (701 kg) when empty. The minimum weight of a Formula One Car, including the driver, was 620 kilograms (1,370 lb). This difference of 371 pounds (168 kg) is just over 27% of the 2007 F1 car's weight.
Beginning in the late 1960s Champ Cars used forced induction i.e. turbocharged engines. Turbos were banned in Formula One following the 1988 season due to safety and costconcerns Champ Cars had up to 300 horsepower (220 kW) more compared to their Formula One counterparts, as early as in the 70s the cars had in excess of 1,000 hp. In 1999/2000, throughout the 2000s, the Champ Cars approached 1000 horsepower+ (680 kW). Champ Cars having 800 hp (597 kW) - 900 hp (680 kW) on demand and F1 cars having around 700 hp to 840 hp in 3.5L NA (1989–94) era, around 700 hp to 1000 hp for final specs in 3.0L NA V10 (1995–2005) era.
Champ Cars used methanol for fuel rather than gasoline, and refuelling had always been permitted during the race. Until 1994, when refuelling was re-introduced to F1 (and banned again from 2009 onwards), the coupling for the refuelling hose was a notable difference between Champ Cars and Formula cars.
Unlike in F1, Champ Car teams were not obliged to construct their own chassis, and had tended to buy chassis constructed by independent suppliers such as Lola, Swift, Reynard, March and Dan Gurney's Eagle. The most notable exception was Penske Racing, although they also bought other cars when their own chassis was uncompetitive. Champ Cars had sculpted undersides to create ground effect. This innovation was originally created in Formula One by Lotus in 1978, and was immediately used on the Chaparral Champ Car in 1979. F1 banned sculpted undersides in a bid to lower cornering speeds for 1983. In 2007, Champ Car featured a single, "spec" chassis, the Panoz DP01, created by Élan Technologies, a racing equipment manufacturer owned by Don Panoz.
During the 2002 Formula One visit to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Juan Pablo Montoya won the pole position for the Formula One race with a lap time of 1'12.836. Several weeks later, Cristiano da Matta won the pole position in the inaugural Champ Car race with a lap time of 1'18.959 which happened to be slower than Alex Yoong's (who qualified last) time of 1'17.347. At Laguna Seca in Monterey, California on August 20, 2006, Toyota F1 test driver Ricardo Zonta set a new unofficial lap record of 1'06.309, however, this was in an exhibition, not a qualifying or race session. The official record time is 1'07.722, set by CART driver Hélio Castroneves in a Penske Champ Car in qualifying for the 2000 CART Honda Grand Prix of Monterey.
|Chip Ganassi Racing||4||1999|
|Team Green Racing||1||1995|
Four drivers died in CART-sanctioned events:
- Jim Hickman – (August 1, 1982), Tony Bettenhausen 200, Milwaukee Mile, practice.
- Jeff Krosnoff – (July 14, 1996), Molson Indy Toronto, Exhibition Place, 3 laps from finish.
- Gonzalo Rodríguez – (September 11, 1999), Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, Laguna Seca Raceway, qualifying.
- Greg Moore – (October 31, 1999), Marlboro 500, California Speedway, lap 10.
The Indianapolis 500 was not a CART-sanctioned event, however, CART-based teams participated in the event from 1979-1995. For a list of deaths related to that event, see List of Indianapolis 500 fatal accidents
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- IndyCar Series
- List of Champ Car circuits
- List of Champ Car drivers
- List of Champ Car fatal accidents
- List of Champ Car pole positions
- List of Champ Car teams
- List of Champ Car winners
- List of Champ Car drivers who never qualified for a race
- List of American Championship Car Rookie of the Year Winners
- List of American Championship car racing point scoring systems