The Champ Car World Series confirmed Wednesday that it will fill one of two open dates on its 2004 schedule with a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the evening of Sept. 25. A second open date in November could be awarded to St. Petersburg, Fla., which had originally been forecast as the season opener before a promoter conflict cancelled the event.
Champ Car explored the possibility of staging a street race on or near the Las Vegas strip before reverting to the alternate option of running on the LVMS oval. The Sept. 25 Champ Car race will be the headline event in a two-day weekend that also features the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Las Vegas joins Milwaukee as the only oval venues in the Champ Car series.
"Ovals have always been a significant part of Champ Car racing history and we haven't forgotten that," series co-owner Paul Gentilozzi said. "I expect you'll see a larger number of ovals as we go forward."
Gentilozzi's co-principal Kevin Kalkhoven was at LVMS for the announcement and he also expressed enthusiasm about the one-year agreement.
"We anticipate it's going to be a great doubleheader for all of the fans from both series that will be here," Kalkhoven said. "We would happily come back for more than one year. As the fastest growing market in America, it's important for Champ Car to be in Las Vegas and we need to have a superspeedway race. We'll see how it goes."
In a sense, Champ Cars have already raced once at LVMS; the Indy Racing League's Sept. 1996 event at Las Vegas was run using 1995-spec Champ Cars because the IRL's own cars were not ready until 1997. Arie Luyendyk took the pole at 226.491 mph for a crash-strewn race that was won by Richie Hearn over a 19-year old Michel Jourdain Jr.
Champ Car has targeted speeds in the 210-215 mph range for its 300-mile contest, though it has not determined what aerodynamic package will be used. A test day will likely be held before or after the series' event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 12.
"If we run a Handford-style wing, you'll see a pack of eight or 10 cars dicing for the lead for 300 miles," said 2003 series champion Paul Tracy, one of four Champ Car drivers who call Las Vegas home. "It's a very similar style of racing to NASCAR but at a much higher speed."
Tracy said that a grudge match would likely break out between the Las Vegas residents, including Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani. "I've won twice in my hometown of Toronto and this is my second hometown, so I'm very motivated," Tracy said.
"I've been here for eight years and I watched that track get erected," added Vasser, the 1996 series champion. "I've seen all kinds of racing there and I'm sure that bragging rights and a couple of dinners will be on the line."
Kalkhoven and Gentilozzi said the remaining 'TBA' date on the 2004 Champ Car schedule should be filled in the next two weeks and they hope to issue a 2005 schedule in September.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.