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CART's future hinges on merger's approval

CART officials have underscored their desire to complete a proposed sale to Open Wheel Racing, stating in their quarterly report that the series likely would liquidate assets and fold if stockholders vote down the deal.

That's an ominous signal for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which is scheduled to play host to the first CART race of the 2004 season Feb. 20-22. Race general manager Tim Ramsberger said Monday his group "has some contingency plans to deal with it" if CART is unable to field a race, but he doesn't care to speculate.

"As far as we're concerned, we still have a race," he said.

Open Wheel Racing, a group led by current CART team owners Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven, proposed to buy the foundering league in August for roughly 56 cents a share ($7.4-million), but the deal has not been approved by stockholders. At least one major shareholder, Jon Vannini, has voiced opposition.

CART said in its report it will not accept other offers. Stock-holders, therefore, might be inclined to acquiesce.

"If the proposed merger with Open Wheel is not completed for any reason, and if no strategic transaction that is an alternative to the merger is available to us at that time, it is expected that we will be required immediately to cease our operations, wind up our affairs and seek to liquidate our remaining assets," CART said in the report.

CART also announced third-quarter losses of $34.4-million, giving it a $77.9-million shortfall during the first nine months of 2003. The league reported a $13.5-million deficit during the same period of 2002.

A $21-million jump in expenses, most of it in race distribution, was the main culprit.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, meanwhile, could announce category sponsors by the end of the month, while talks to secure title and presenting sponsorships continue, Ramsberger said.

SPY GAMES: German police last week questioned an engineer from the Toyota Formula One team after his former employer, Ferrari, claimed he stole design details after leaving it last year.

Police raided Toyota's racing headquarters in Cologne, seizing computers, designs and CD-ROMs from the unidentified engineer's work space. Cologne police told the Guardian newspaper that a man was questioned and released.

Suspicion reportedly arose among Ferrari officials when the latest Toyota race car, the TF103, was found to be very similar to the 2002 Ferrari model, the F2002. Ferrari then asked the German federal criminal investigation office to inquire.

While mimicking successful designs is an accepted practice among automakers, using specific design information to produce copies is not.

"Our only involvement in this affair is that the man works for us," a Toyota spokesman told the Guardian. "We have not done anything wrong."

NO ANSWERS: Indy Racing League officials stopped short of blaming the fatal crash of 26-year-old Tony Renna on driver error, but they confirmed the DeLand native was below the normal racing line before his car went airborne Oct. 22 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Conclusive results cannot be ascertained, said league spokesman John Griffin, until data is retrieved from the onboard collector. There were no videotapes or still photographs taken.

ALL EARS: Proponents of ethanol _ fuel made from corn _ are lobbying the IRL to use their product for the Indy 500. League and IMS president Tony George said he would listen to offers.

RACIN': The Busch series standings were scrambled again Saturday, as Scott Riggs used a sixth-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway to take the lead with two races remaining.

David Green's 16th-place finish dropped him from first to fourth, and Ron Hornaday moved into second by finishing fifth. Brian Vickers was third and assumed the same spot in the standings.