The history of the IRL

The history of the IRL

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
  1. The Indy Racing League (IRL) was founded in 1994 by Tony George, President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and grandson of Speedway founder Tony Hulman. The IRL was to be a lower-cost alternative to CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), where technology-driven cars and mega-teams were driving the “little guy” out of open-wheel racing. George had other problems with CART, however – chief among them was Indy’s loss of status within the series, which was leaning heavily towards road courses. In addition, there were a number of foreign-born drivers in CART, whereas George was looking to attract smaller, American-based teams and drivers.

    The inaugural IRL season was 1996, and it consisted of three races, ending at Indy in May. George restricted entry for the famed 500-mile race, reserving 25 of the 33 starting positions for the top 25 in IRL points. CART fired back with their own “premier race,” the US 500 at Michigan International Speedway on the same day, Memorial Day Sunday. Unfortunately for CART, this race never attracted the attention that the Indy 500 received, and after the 1999 season, it was altogether cancelled.

    As the war waged between the IRL and CART, fan backlash occurred: CART teams were unable to race in the Indy 500, open-wheel fans missed out on seeing the premier names at Indy, and the split cost both leagues interest and exposure, with top sponsors heading to NASCAR.

    The tide turned in 2000, when Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with drivers Jimmy Vassar and Juan Pablo Montoya returned to Indy as a CART team. Montoya dominated the race, leading 167 laps on his way to the win. In 2001, Penske Racing followed Ganassi’s lead, and one year later, both teams joined the IRL permanently. The mass exodus that followed led to CART’s bankruptcy in 2004. Three remaining CART team owners purchased the assets of CART, renaming it the Champ Car World Series; Champ Car filed bankruptcy in 2008, and was merged with the IRL shortly thereafter.

    Today, the IRL is the sanctioning body for two series: the premier IndyCar Series and the developmental Indy Lights Series. In an ironic twist, two of the very things that made George break away from CART in the first place now dominate the series: many foreign-born drivers grace the field, and half of the season’s races are contested on road courses, this last point emphasized in the 2010 addition of two extra titles in IndyCar – one for the oval track points champ, and one for the road course champ.

Leave a Reply