Spinning their wheels

Former Champ Car champion Paul Tracy is frustrated at what is, or is not, going on in the world of...

Former Champ Car champion Paul Tracy is frustrated at what is, or is not, going on in the world of open-wheel racing. SUN MEDIA/David Lucas

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:31 PM ET

Canada's Paul Tracy said yesterday an expected merger between the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing league may not happen this week, or even this season.

In a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas, Tracy said he had been told to cancel a scheduled trip to Indianapolis, that would have had him being fit for a seat in an IRL Dallara chassis in preparation for that series' opening race at Miami-Homestead Speedway on March 29.

"All I know is that three days ago there was a plan for me to go get ready to drive an IRL car; that there was going to be a merger," he said. "Now (yesterday) I was told: 'Don't bother coming to Indy' because the balls are all back in the air."

The 2003 Champ Car champion said he's frustrated at what is, or is not, going on.

"I don't know what the hell is going on," Tracy said. "It seems to change from hour to hour. You hear from one person that a merger is done and the next person tells you it's not."

But according to an Associated Press story yesterday, lawyers were working out the final details of a deal that could re-energize the struggling sport.

The proposed deal could be announced as soon as tomorrow.

Even if the two sides -- the series have been split since 1996 -- get together, Tracy fears that he and the rest of the Champ Car teams will be left in such a huge hole that it will be nearly impossible to climb out in time for the IRL season opener.

"There is virtually no time to get ready," he said. "If we were to merge there would be so much to get done. The guys on my team have never even worked on (a Dallara)."

To add to the confusion, Tracy said his Forsythe Pettite Racing team has been told to prepare to go to a scheduled Champ Car pre-season test at California's Laguna Seca Raceway the first week of March, with the Panoz DP01 chassis.

"All I know for sure right now is that we are getting ready to test our Panoz at Laguna Seca," he said.

What concerns Tracy, as well, is that his hometown race -- the Grand Prix of Toronto, where he is a two-time winner -- likely would be a victim in the first season of merged operations.

"I understand that because of contractual obligations that the IRL has (at Watkins Glen) on the same weekend as Toronto, that Toronto may be off the schedule for (2008)," he said. "That would be sad, but long term I can't see Toronto not being part of any merged schedule."

Also on the endangered list is the Champ Car event in Mt. Tremblant, north of Montreal, but the hugely successful (attendance-wise) Edmonton Grand Prix would survive.

Leaked rumours from the talks to merge the two series had only the Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Edmonton Grand Prix and the Surfer's Paradise race in Australia making it on to a 2008 IRL calendar.

GPT boss Charlie Johnstone reiterated yesterday he still is working as if there will be a race in Toronto in July, but said if it had to, the event could survive a one-year absence from any new schedule.

"If the product coming back in 2009 has all the best drivers, the best teams that open wheel in North America has to offer, we could come back better than ever in 2009," he said.

But Johnstone quickly added that he has heard nothing that could be substantiated about what happens this year.

"I have not been told by my bosses (at Champ Car) to stop getting ready for a July race," he said.

The effect of not having a Grand Prix this summer would hurt more than just race teams and race fans.

City tourism figures show that the annual festival of speed generates $28.6 million in economic benefits for the area.

JACQUES WILL BE BACK

Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve said yesterday he hasn't given up his quest to race in NASCAR this season.

At a news conference in Montreal, Villeneuve announced he has hired a public relations firm to help him and former boss Barry Green seek out sponsors to get him back in the Sprint Cup or NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Villeneuve was dropped from the Bill Davis Racing team after he failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 in the No. 27 Toyota.


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