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CART bankruptcy has several motors idling

Tim Ramsberger met with representatives of a ticket distribution service Friday, hashing out details for an open-wheel race through downtown streets May 16.

It could be Champ Cars contesting the second Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Or Indy Racing League cars. Or no cars, and no race. The worst part is there is nothing the race general manager can do except hope he has something for which to sell tickets.

Ramsberger's plight is not unique. As the bones of Championship Auto Racing Teams are picked clean in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Jan. 28 in Indianapolis, municipalities, promoters and the prospective buyers of Open Wheel Racing Series are waiting for Judge Frank Otte's decision on where those assets go.

"You have to wonder what happens if there is no race and no one wants it here in the foreseeable future," Ramsberger said. "We're working under that cloud."

This was once a simple transition in which Open Wheel _ made up of CART team owners Gerald Forsythe, Kevin Kalkhoven and Paul Gentilozzi _ proposed to buy the vestiges of CART for roughly $1.6-million in bankruptcy court and race as Champ Car World Series. A day before Friday's deadline for bids, the rival Indy Racing League confirmed a week of speculation by opting to bid on some of CART's assets. Gentilozzi told the Indianapolis Star in Friday's editions that his group would increase its bid. He said creditor issues could push the winning bid for all of CART's assets beyond $14-million if Open Wheel is not chosen. Otte has no obligation to accept the highest bid, but he must find for the greater interest of creditors.

"I think we remain optimistic that Open Wheel will be the eventual successor to CART," Ramsberger said.

While Open Wheel's owners call IRL's move a deplorable attempt to kill their series, the IRL deemed it strictly business, a move to unite the open-wheel series.

Confidentiality agreements cloak who bid on what. International Speedway Corporation spokesman David Talley said his parent company and its subsidiaries, Grand American Road Racing Association and 88 Corp, did not bid. ISC owns several tracks, including Daytona International Speedway, while 88 Corp owns California Speedway, which is suing CART for a $2.5-million sanctioning fee lost when its race was canceled because of California wildfires.

Among the assets up for bid are sanctioning rights for races that would make up Open Wheel's possible 15-17 race schedule. The IRL could kill off Open Wheel by picking off more valuable races, particularly the Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is scheduled to start the Open Wheel season April 18 and is promoted by Dover Motorsports.

"Absolutely, the sanctioning agreements are one of the valued assets in the estate," said Jerry Miraglia, executive vice president of race promoter Dover Motorsports. "The judge could make a decision to sell all the sanctioning agreements to a single buyer, or they could be sold individually."

Despite confidentiality agreements, an Open Wheel release on Friday strongly suggested the IRL had bid on the Long Beach contract and CART engines.

Dover Motorsports also promotes IRL races at its Nashville speedway. Miraglia said Dover has discussed a possible Long Beach switch to the IRL but nothing "confidential or inappropriate."

IRL's interest in CART races could go beyond destroying a competitor. The league has expressed a desire to add street courses by 2005, and Long Beach is one of the most important. CART races in Monterrey, Mexico, Mexico City, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal also are popular and well-attended.

As a second-year race, and with an IRL event established at Homestead-Miami Speedway (on Feb. 29), St. Petersburg may not be what the IRL seeks. Or it could be a less-expensive alternative, this year or next.

Manufacturers Dallara Automobili and Panoz G Force have been told to have new chassis capable of making right and left turns ready for 2005, but Dallara U.S. technical liaison Sam Garrett said "given enough time, pressure and money, we could make something happen" for 2004.

"The IRL has told us it's very unlikely to go road racing in 2004 but almost certain to in 2005," he said. "We're sitting on the edge of our seats to see what will happen. Things change so much so fast it's hard to say what is an absolute."

A common opinion these days.