If IndyCar World Series officials didn't know just where they stood with racing fans, they're about to find out this year.
Because of IndyCar's rift with the new Indy Racing League (IRL), the IndyCar World Series will have to make a go of it this season without its crowning event, the Indianapolis 500.
The tradition-rich race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26 is now part of the IRL's five-race series. It will go head-to-head against IndyCar's newly-created U.S. 500, which is scheduled for the same day at Michigan International Speedway.
IndyCar will have the top names like Andretti and Unser at Michigan, but the IRL will have what's long been known as "the greatest spectacle in racing."
It's arguably the biggest quandary racing fans have faced since they had to choose between Coke and Pepsi.
"The Indianapolis fan is a unique fan. Indy draws the fan who wants to go to a super event," said Joyce Julius Cotman, who runs a sports marketing firm that's heavily involved in racing. "(But) you'll get the dyed-in-the-wool Indy car fans involved in the (Michigan) race."
Both races have their attributes.
The Indy 500 will have its usual month of activities preceding the race. A typical sellout crowd of nearly a half-million is expected despite the competition from the Michigan event. ABC will televise the race live.
The U.S. 500 counters with a similar format as the Indy 500; a week of time trials in early May followed by three days of practice and festivities leading up to the race. ESPN is televising the race live. Tickets have been on sale for only a few weeks, but IndyCar officials are confident they'll have a packed house.
Drivers and teams are just as torn as race fans. While IndyCar's core drivers and teams are sticking with the IndyCar World Series, some have said they will make an exception for the Indy 500. At least two IndyCar teams _ Dick Simon Racing and Derrick Walker Racing _ plan to run at Indy instead of Michigan, partly because of pressure from their sponsors.
Another team or two could join them before May, but it doesn't seem likely that any of IndyCar's elite teams such as Team Penske or Team Rahal will jump ship.
"I'm disappointed that we're not running at Indianapolis," said IndyCar driver Al Unser Jr., who drives for Team Penske, "but I stand firm with IndyCar's decision not to run there under the circumstances."
The "circumstances" are the IRL's rule that reserves 25 of the top 33 Indy 500 starting positions for IRL regulars. Any IndyCar World Series team seeking to qualify for the race would be going for one of only eight empty spots. IndyCar officials organized a serieswide boycott of the race.
Still, the two series are on a collision course. Both think they'll walk away the victor on May 26.
Said IndyCar driver Bobby Rahal: "The teams and the drivers will be in Michigan."
Countered Simon: "I don't think the Al Unsers and Bobby Unsers made their reputations at Milwaukee. They made them at Indianapolis."
Drivers in the IRL this year who drove in IndyCar in 1995:
Formula 1: Alain Prost, age 38
IndyCars: Nigel Mansell, 40
NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt, 42
Formula 1: Michael Schumacher, age 26
IndyCars: Jacques Villeneuve, 24
NASCAR: Jeff Gordon, 24
_ JIM TOMLIN
Driver No. Team Chassis-Engine
Raul Boesel 1 Brahma Sports 96 Reynard Ford
Al Unser Jr. 2 Penske Racing 96 Penske Mercedes
Paul Tracy 3 Penske Racing 96 Penske Mercedes
Alex Zanardi 4 Ganassi Racing 96 Reynard Honda
Robby Gordon 5 Walker Racing 96 Reynard Ford
Michael Andretti 6 Newman-Haas 96 Lola Ford
Eliseo Salazar 7 Scandia-Simon 96 Lola Ford
Gil de Ferran 8 Hall Racing 96 Reynard Honda
Emerson Fittipaldi 9 Hogan-Penske 96 Penske Mercedes
Eddie Lawson 10 Galles Racing 96 Lola Mercedes
Christian Fittipaldi 11 Newman-Haas 96 Lola Ford
Jimmy Vasser 12 Ganassi Racing 96 Reynard Honda
Scott Goodyear 15 Walker Racing 96 Reynard Ford
Stefan Johansson 16 Bettenhausen 96 Reynard Mercedes
Mauricio Gugelmin 17 PacWest Racing 96 Reynard Ford
Bobby Rahal 18 Team Rahal 96 Reynard Mercedes
Hiro Matsushita 19 Patyon-Coyne 96 Lola Ford
Scott Pruett 20 Patrick Racing 96 Lola Ford
Mark Blundell 21 PacWest Racing 96 Reynard Ford
Carlos Guerrero 22 Scandia-Simon 96 Lola Ford
Jeff Krosnoff 25 Arciero-Wells 96 Reynard Toyota
Bryan Herta 28 Team Rahal 96 Reynard Mercedes
Andre Ribeiro 31 Tasman MS 96 Lola Honda
Adrian Fernandez 32 Tasman MS 96 Lola Honda
TBA 33 Forsythe Racing 96 Reynard Mercedes
TBA 34 Patyon-Coyne 96 Lola Ford
Juan M. Fangio II 36 All-American 96 Eagle Toyota
Richie Hearn 44 Della Penna 95 Reynard Ford
Parker Johnstone 49 Brix Comptech 96 Reynard Honda
TBA 55 Galles Racing 96 Lola Mercedes
P.J. Jones 98 All-American 96 Eagle Toyota
Greg Moore 99 Forsythe Racing 96 Reynard Mercedes
Driver Team Chassis-Engine
Michele Alboreto Scandia-Simon 95 Lola Ford
Scott Brayton Team Menard 95 Lola Menard
Robbie Buhl Beck Motorsports 94 Reynard Ford
Jim Buick Buick Racing 92 Lola Buick
Buzz Calkins Bradley Motorsports 95 Reynard Ford
Eddie Cheever Team Menard 95 Lola Menard
Rick DeLorto DeLorto Racing 92 Lola Buick
Stephan Gregoire Hemelgarn Racing 95 Reynard Ford
Roberto Guerrero Pagan Racing 94 Reynard Ford
Davey Hamilton Foyt Enterprises 95 Lola Ford
Richie Hearn Della Penna 95 Reynard Ford
David Kudrave Tempero 92 Lola Ford
Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn Racing 95 Reynard Ford
Arie Luyendyk Jonathan Byrd 95 Reynard Ford
Jonny Parsons Blueprint Racing 94 Lola Menard
John Paul Jr. AS Racing 93 Lola Menard
Johnny O'Connell Clayton Cunningham 95 Reynard Ford
Lyn St. James Scandia-Simon 95 Lola Ford
Eliseo Salazar Scandia-Simon 95 Lola Ford
Scott Sharp Foyt Enterprises 95 Lola Ford
Tony Stewart Team Menard 95 Lola Menard
Stan Wattles Leigh Miller Racing 94 Lola Ford