The Champ Car World Series is alive, if not yet entirely kicking, following a successful conclusion to the protracted negotiations between Championship Auto Racing teams [CART] and Open Wheel Racing Series [OWRS] which ensures that racing continues into 2004.

When it was first announced that CART was in financial trouble, OWRS - a consortium headed by team owners Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi - offered to buy up its publicly-held stock for 56 cents a share -realising a total outlay approaching $5million. However, as doubts set in that the series would be able to muster sufficient cars to meet 2004 promoters agreements, the offer was withdrawn, with OWRS proposing that CART file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy instead.

The new deal, agreed at an emergency meeting last night [15 December], will see OWRS purchase all contracts with promoters, sponsors and teams, while CART applies for bankruptcy. As a result, OWRS now needs only the consent of the bankruptcy court to purchase CART assets, instead of full - and possibly unobtainable - shareholder approval.

"Open Wheel Racing Series has completed its negotiations with CART Inc and Championship Auto Racing Teams Inc to purchase specific assets, including contracts with promoters, sponsors, and teams, through the planned Chapter 11 bankruptcy process of CART Inc," confirmed an official statement issued by the new 'owner', "This agreement allows for the continuation of the 2004 Champ Car World Series season."

Although the scheduled season opener in St Petersburg, Florida, has been postponed indefinitely to allow both OWRS and the competing teams more time to prepare for what, at one time, seemed an unlikely season, all parties will now work towards getting the show on the road in time for the annual trip to Long Beach.

"Open Wheel will begin the immediate planning and implementation of the operational details required to conduct the Champ Car World Series in 2004 as the closing of the transaction continues," the statement continued, "The closing of the transaction is subject to certain closing conditions including the approval of the bankruptcy court."

Gentilozzi, who only joined the CART-run championship last season with his Rocketsports team, said that he and his partners wanted to repay the fortitude of those who stood by the series in its darkest days.

"Our goal throughout this process was for an expedient resolution so our teams and sponsors could proceed with full confidence," the former Trans-Am racer explained, "We're extremely grateful to all of the sponsors, teams, promoters, and fans that have expressed their ongoing encouragement. Their loyalty has been phenomenal - they've stayed with us throughout this initiative and have supported us at every turn.

"Effective immediately, we're ready to begin work to implement our vision for Champ Car in 2004 - and for many seasons beyond. Our purchase was with the express intent of supporting our teams and sponsors competing now and in the future.

"Therefore, as a show of strength and good faith, Open Wheel has accepted the liability of almost $2.7million in 2003 prize monies, which we will pay to our teams that elect to participate in the 2004 Champ Car season."

Asked about the reported dearth of entries for next season, Gentilozzi expressed confidence that the overnight announcement would prompt more teams and drivers to commit to the series for 2004.

"There's been a great deal of speculation about car count for next year," he admitted, "but we talk to our teams on a daily basis and we're more than confident that we'll have a full field of cars in 2004. In addition, we anticipate new team and driver announcements in the very near future."

Kalkhoven, co-owner of PK Racing with former BAR F1 boss Craig Pollock, was instrumental in the acquisition process, and shared Gentilozzi's confidence.

"This was an extremely complex deal," he noted, "I pride myself in my knowledge and expertise in acquisitions and mergers, but I was surprised by the complexity of the transaction. However, I'm positive the agreed upon format is definitely the correct one - and one which will allow our Series to grow and flourish in 2004 and beyond."

Forsythe has had a long emotional and financial commitment to Champ Cars, and is convinced that the asset purchase agreement was key to ensure the series' future.

"This was absolutely the right move for the future and longevity of Champ Car," he commented, "I have every confidence that this decision will prove successful."

In a related move, Open Wheel nominee Richard Eidswick has been appointed as temporary CEO of CART - in place of former overseer Chris Pook - and will see the organisation through the bankruptcy proceedings.

"I'm confident that the Champ Car World Series will emerge from the bankruptcy process stronger than ever," Eidswick said, "I look forward to working with all parties involved to build on our strengths and explore new opportunities as we position Champ Car for 2004 and beyond."

 

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