Honda's Clarke leading unification talks

INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick has boosted the IndyCar Series with tons of publicity this month, but behind the scenes in luxury motor coaches at Indy, another important story continues to develop.

Honda Racing Development President Robert Clarke told ESPN.com that
following a series of meetings with Indy Racing League and Champ Car
World Series officials, he is cautiously optimistic American
open-wheel racing could move forward in the future in a unified fashion.

"I think the odds of something happening are 50-50, which is probably
50 percent better than it was a year ago," Clarke said. "But it could
easily go bad."

Clarke met May 23 with Champ Car co-principal Kevin Kalkhoven and
series CEO Dick Eidswick to share Honda's viewpoints about the
importance of a merger of the two competing open-wheel series.
Clarke's meeting came in the wake of his own talks with IndyCar leaders,
who met independently with Champ Car management several times in the
last month.

"I've spent a couple of hours with each group," Clarke revealed.
"We've had some very casual and cordial discussions about how we
might be able to unite the two groups. The good thing is that all the
players support the same objective of trying to bring the two series
together. At least we are all in agreement that it needs to happen
and if it doesn't happen, open-wheel racing in this country is
probably in trouble."

Earlier this week, IRL founder Tony George made his first public
admission that American open-wheel racing needs to move forward in a
united fashion to achieve its potential. George's statement was
followed by unusually candid comments from several drivers, including
series champions Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais, who encouraged
the warring factions to settle their differences.

"I think with each day that passes, it becomes more and more obvious
it would be the right thing to do," George told The Indianapolis Star.

Seemingly everyone else on both sides of the argument would agree.
The problem is determining how to bring the two groups together in a way
that would successfully merge two disparate visions on how the
sport should be set up and governed.

"There are two sets of issues," Clarke said. "Domestic versus
international and ovals versus road courses. I think they have moved
together somewhat and reached some understanding, which I think is
substantial. St. Pete, for example, was an eye-opener for the IRL.
But the fundamentals still need to be agreed to – how it's set up and
who runs it. Things like engine regulations are relatively minor."

One thing is for certain: No matter what happens, Honda's future in
American racing lies squarely in the IndyCar Series.

"I was clear in stating that Honda has no interest in Champ Car by
itself," Clarke said. "Our only intent is combining the two series.
I believe Champ Car does have a vision, but I was quite frank in
telling them that I don't think that vision aligns with Honda's.

"Clearly, progress has been made, and there is still a gulf between
the two that needs to be brought together," Clarke concluded. "But if
there is a will, there is a way."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.