IRL, Champ Car entities sign merger deal

The Indy Racing League and the Champ Car series have signed a deal to unify the two American open-wheel series.

IRL spokesman John Griffin said Champ Car co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe signed the agreement with IRL founder Tony George on Friday.

The deal that reunifies open-wheel is finally at hand after the deeply damaging 12-year split between the IRL and Champ Car came in the form of a press release from Andretti Green Racing. The three-time IndyCar Series champion team announced Tuesday that they have hired Paul 'Ziggy' Harcus, who has served as Champ Car's director of racing operations for the last three years, as team manager.

The consolidation of American open-wheel racing under the IRL umbrella comes on the heels of almost two weeks of painstaking negotiations between the racing entities. Last week, after the sides were believed to be close to announcing a merger, Champ Car issued a statement claiming the talks had stalled.

At that time, sources at Champ Car and the IRL familiar with the negotiations revealed that the chief hang-up centered around the IndyCar Series race scheduled for April 19 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. The preference of the merged series is to honor Champ Car's contract to run the 34th annual Long Beach Grand Prix that weekend.

It is still not clear whether officials from Motegi, which is owned by exclusive IRL engine supplier Honda, have agreed to postpone or cancel this year's race to speed up the unification process.

As many as six of the nine teams expected to compete in Champ Car in 2008 could field cars in the IndyCar Series, including Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, PKV Racing, Forsythe/Pettit Racing, Conquest Racing, Walker Racing and Dale Coyne Racing. The addition of up to 10 regular entries from Champ Car teams would increase the size of the IndyCar field to more than 25 cars for the first time since the late 1990s.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.