As the rock band Genesis aptly put it, its' been a "Land of Confusion" for the Champ Car World Series this off-season. What was supposed to have been a splendid off-season for the series has instead generated more questions than answers. With about 4 weeks or so before they light the engines in anger in Vegas, there is just one new team(Pacific Coast Mtrspts.), one new team sponsor(Gehl), no title sponsors for the much ballyhooed Vegas and Phoenix GP's, and just seven confirmed drivers at the moment. For the mathematically challenged on the last point, that's 11(eleven) drivers short of the 18 drivers expected next month....instead of the 22-24 drivers officials touted at the end of the 2006 season. Throw in the lack of series sponsors and it would look as though ChampCar is headed towards a cliff......
To the contrary, says series co-owner and PKV Racing co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven. While he readily concedes that (in his words), "Champ Car probably got the PR side a little bit wrong in the off-season", he also points out that there are going to be several major announcements regarding drivers, teams and sponsors at the upcoming "Spring Training" open test at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this week. Or, as he put it:
On a couple of counts, KK could be dead-solid-perfect. Major strides were made in the development of both the Panoz DP01 and XFE-3 Cosworth engine; the 2007 season appears to be lightyears ahead of past scheduled(with the exception of not having any ovals on the schedule...... ) and ChampCar has appeared to have made a major effort to rebuild its' television broadcasts by returning to ESPN and ABC for 2007 and beyond. It would appear that there is a lot of potential promise in the air for 2007.........In the last 12 months we've taken huge, huge steps forward, and the fact that we have not been going out and crowing about them was part of the plan. We had always planned to make a number of major announcements at Monterey; significant sponsorships have come in, and the series will continue to develop. I think you'll find there are a number of fully funded teams and it's going to be one hell of a season.
Therein lies the rub.......potential and promise. While no one can deny that the series has made some major(okay, HUGE!) strides in the off-season, there are still some potential monkey-wrenches to overcome. First off, there is the Panoz DP01 racecar. Although its' been tested....and tested....and tested, its' still a new car. As we saw last year at Long Beach, one multicar crash can ruin a potentially great race(and who wants to see 14 cars running at Vegas, Phoenix, Assen or Zhuhai, hmm?). There's also the funding question. KK has made it clear that the days of subsidizing teams are over, meaning that the teams have to run on their own monies. As expected, chances are that some(I'm guessing about half the grid) of the drivers for 2007 will be "ride-buyers" who'll bring money to the table. Although I am no fan of ride-buyers, there is a silver lining to this........if teams are able to find sponsors for, say, 2008, it could mean that teams could finally begin looking for drivers based on something that's been somewhat missing at times........TALENT.
Now, don't get me wrong.....the jury is still out on how 2007 will turn out; however, we will, hopefully, get a better picture of the year this time next week following Spring Training. One can only hope and wonder.