Merger dead, Champ Car owners working together

HOUSTON -- Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven made it clear Sunday that any type of merger between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League is not going to happen.

"You have to go through the grassroots. It takes time, but we're doing it. Our whole future is indirectly based on the drivers in the Atlantics."
-- Kevin Kalkhoven

"It is a completely dead issue," Kalkhoven said. "I don't think I can summarize it any clearer than that."

One year ago, Kalkhoven and IRL founder Tony George were talking and trying to find a way to come together in some fashion.

"A lot of progress had been made," Kalkhoven said. "But the moment it leaked out, a lot of influences came into play from those who might not have benefited from such a unification.

"Basically, for now and the foreseeable future, it's dead."

All four Champ Car partners -- Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi and Dan Pettit -- had an informal group discussion with reporters Sunday before the Grand Prix of Houston.

Kalkhoven was asked how long his commitment is to the series.

"How long is my life?" he said. "If you can answer that, you have my answer."

And what if the business model doesn't make financial sense?

"My job is to make it make sense," Kalkhoven said.

The quartet wanted to clear the air on some key issues and rumors about their relationship with each other and the future of the series.

"It's not fair to the series and it's not fair to the four of us," Forsythe said of the rumors about dissension among them. "In the end, we talk through it."

Kalkhoven said all four partners are working together.

"To say that we are extremely cooperative with each other would be an understatement," he said. "Are we in complete agreement on everything? Absolutely not.

"You can't get four guys in complete agreement about everything. But we're in 98 percent agreement and work very closely. To say there is dissent among us, frankly, is a falsehood."

Gentilozzi said the partners were disappointed earlier this year over a few teams that opted not to participate.

"Two weeks before the season, we got some bad news," Gentilozzi said. "Teams we thought were coming just couldn't get all their act together. But you have to work through it. In the end, the decisions we make are about what's best for the series."

The partners also addressed the issue of problems with the new Panoz DP01 chassis that all the teams are using.

"To say it needs another six months of testing is complete nonsense," Kalkhoven said. "It's been a remarkable success. Does it have some bugs? Sure. But that's to be expected."

Some teams have had issues with the venting system while fueling the cars, but Gentilozzi said it will be rectified completely before the next race at Portland on June 10.

The owners also addressed the perception that Champ Car is viewed as a feeder series for drivers wanting to go to Formula One.

"Drivers from Europe want to drive in Formula One," Forsythe said. "You're never going to change that. They look at it as the ultimate opportunity."

Kalkhoven said the key is to develop young American drivers, which he believes Champ Car is doing with its remodeled Atlantic feeder series.

"We've invested so much time effort and money in having success in the Atlantics," he said. "We have 30 cars on the grid and half [of the drivers] are young Americans.

"You have to go through the grass roots. It takes time, but we're doing it. Our whole future is indirectly based on the drivers in the Atlantics. You have to develop them. If you don't do that, open-wheel racing in the United States will come to a grinding halt. "

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.