It is no coincidence that a Champ Car World Series driver refers to his car as a rocketship on those weekends when he and his team find themselves at the head of the pack.

The similarity between Champ Cars and rockets is more than just a driver catchphrase, as the 750hp turbocharged race cars have evolved into machines that utilise numerous state-of-the-art aerodynamic devices to keep the cars racing for the chequered flag instead of the stars.

Chequered flags aside, there is still a race for the stars going on and the Champ Car World Series has just become a key part of it. The open-wheel racing series announced today that it would become the presenting sponsor of the X PRIZE Competition, which is an international race offering $10million to the first private team to finance, construct and fly a manned spaceship.

"This is a natural fit for Champ Car, as our teams and drivers spend every waking moment trying to develop ways to push the limits of man and machine," said series president Dick Eidswick. "The X PRIZE competitors are pushing toward the same goal that we are, albeit a few more miles above the ground! We are excited about being involved with this project and look forward to seeing these brave pilots complete their mission."

Started in 1996, the X PRIZE of $10million will be awarded to the first private team that can finance, construct and launch an aircraft that can carry three passengers in a flight that reaches 62 miles (100 km) and return safely to land - and then repeat the feat two weeks later. There are currently 27 teams from seven countries that are building crafts for this competition, which ends on 1 January 2005.

"This harkens back to the early days of flight, when prizes were common for aviator competitions," said X PRIZE chairman Peter Diamandis, "Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of the $25,000 Orteig prize in 1927 was an example of this. We hope to create an equally historic event with this effort and we are excited about having the participation of the Champ Car World Series."

As part of the sponsorship, the Champ Car World Series logo will be placed on all X PRIZE aircraft and the series will be the primary corporate sponsor of the X PRIZE flights. In addition, Champ Car World Series co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven will participate as a spokesperson during attempts to claim the $10million prize.

A complete listing of teams and profiles of their spaceships can be found at www.xprize.org.