NASCAR continues to tweak the rules, and this time the Pontiac teams got the call.
Remember when the Chevrolet teams got the extra inch of nose placement recently? Well, the Pontiacs last week received an extra half-inch in the nose and a quarter inch of rear spoiler height. Although Tony Stewart has won two races this season, Pontiacs have been by and large absent from the front
of the field, and Pontiac teams cumulatively are almost 1,000 points behind last year's scoring at this point in the season. I'm sure that Joe Gibbs and General Motors have been lobbying NASCAR furiously behind the scenes for some help. So for today's Michigan race, they'll get a full inch of "kick-out" at the bottom of the front air dam, instead of the one-half inch previously allowed.
Pontiac's new Grand Prix body, which is scheduled to appear for the 2003 season, is moving through the NASCAR approval process. According to reports, it will be a "common-template" car, similar in dimensions to the Ford and Dodge. Speaking of Fords, they've been performing a little too well, so they'll lose an eighth-inch of spoiler for the July race at Daytona -- if the
Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolets needed any more of an edge there!
Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) is fighting desperately for survival.
After years of mismanagement, Chris Pook (founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix) has been brought in to revive the patient. As I've noted here (and others have elsewhere), it may be too late. You have to hand it to Pook, though -- he is thumbing his nose at the circling vultures and making some bold moves to save the series. You will recall that after months of dithering, CART finally decided to abandon turbochargers and go with a 3.5 liter
normally aspirated engine, the better to reconcile with Tony George's Indy Racing League. This cost the sanctioning body its three mainstay engine suppliers, Honda, Toyota, and Ford. Then CART decided to change chassis specs to the bigger, clumsier IRL cars -- and were rebuffed by George's rule that IRL chassis suppliers couldn't supply similar cars to "other series."
By the way, I learned recently that new IRL-sanctioned chassis supplier MK Racing, headed by Michael Kranefuss, is largely a
creature of Roger Penske. So the MK chassis will probably be built at the Penske facility in England, which means that either Penske did an end run around the IRL (which had disqualified Penske Engineering as a chassis manufacturer), or the fix was in provided Penske came up with a suitable front man.
It's apparent by now to the most casual observer that George's attitude toward CART is identical to the Palestinians' feelings toward Israel. He doesn't want coexistence or peace, he wants his rivals dead. Folks in CART have finally realized this, notably Bobby Rahal, who recently said, "I think it's clear that we have to stop trying to accommodate the IRL."
So now that Lola is out of the picture at IRL, in favor of MK Racing, CART is considering keeping its current chassis specs, which would be a mistake if it uses the 3.5 liter powerplant. OK, so let's go back to turbocharging -- Cosworth Engineering has offered to build a spec turbo engine, and Pook is now seriously considering that option. Of course, this would be a complete reversal of direction, negating a lot of work, effort, and money that have already gone into the changeover. But when the patient is terminal, sometimes heroic and unconventional treatment is the only option.
Reiterating Rahal's comment, Pook recently declared, "We're tired of holding out the olive branch. This company changed engines to try and be compatible with the other series. This company then decided to change chassis to be compatible with the other series. Everybody says open-wheel racing should
come together. Well, we put an olive branch out there and they summarily rejected it, so we're going to go on about our own way.
"Why should we destroy our form of racing and our quality of racing to satisfy others? The only reason was to create compatibility between the two series, and guess what happened?"
Chris Pook has proven himself to be the Ariel Sharon of open-wheel racing in the U.S., and I wish him luck in his ongoing battle with Yasser George.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.