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IRL founder George still optimistic about unification

The leaders who are attempting to streamline American open-wheel racing under the Indy Racing League banner are certainly taking the drama and intrigue of the unification process down to the wire.

Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven left Indianapolis Friday
without an agreement to unify the two American open-wheel series,
but Indy Racing League founder Tony George remained optimistic the
deal will happen.

"I see tremendous commitment being displayed by everyone
involved in trying to put this together," George told The
Associated Press in an e-mail after Kalkhoven left. "It would be a
mistake to asume that because we are not always all together that
we are not still working hard to get this to the starting line."

The two open-wheel series issued a joint statement just before midnight on Friday saying talks to unify the sport in the United States would continue.

"Any confirmation of unification will be made once an agreement is in place," the statement said. There are no plans for a news conference at this time. Much progress has been made toward unifying the sport."

Recent progress had been slowed by a lack of ability to have face-to-face meetings between IRL founder Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven, Champ Car's co-principal and chief negotiator. Kalkhoven arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon from London, and he and George met into the evening at a downtown restaurant.

IRL officials have made arrangements to stage a press conference to confirm and detail the open-wheel "merger" when terms are finally agreed. However, with the series' official media day scheduled for Tuesday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, they may decide to delay the announcement until then.

The IRL's first open test session of the season occurs Feb. 27-28 at Homestead's 1.5-mile oval, followed by four days of road course testing at Sebring International Raceway in Florida on March 3-6.

Most Champ Car teams hoping to make the transition to the IndyCar Series are not likely to take part in these tests. Additional test days at Homestead have been reserved for those teams in March where they will be able to get acquainted with the IRL's Dallara-Honda spec package.

The IRL opener is scheduled for March 29 at Homestead.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.