CART guns for private, global ambitions

After near death in 2002, racing series tries to line up support

Rookie Sebastien Bourdais and veteran Paul Tracy are the hot commodities five races into the CART Champ Car World Series season.

Bourdais swept recent races in Brands Hatch, England, and Lausitz, Germany, and rose to fourth in points.

Tracy, who started the year with consecutive wins in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Monterrey, Mexico; and Long Beach, Calif., shares the series lead with Bruno Junqueira. Both have 66 points. Michel Jourdain Jr. sits third with 56.

Bourdais, 23, has been impressive driving for Newman-Haas, which featured series champion Cristiano da Matta last season. Bourdais, who won the Formula 3000 championship last year, is the first rookie to capture three poles in the first five races since Nigel Mansell in 1993.

One would think that Tracy, now with Player's/Forsythe, has a great chance to win his first series title, given that CART has few experienced drivers and is fielding only 19 cars.

Two races remain before the Champ Cars come to Portland International Raceway, June 20-22, for the G.I. Joe's 200. The Champ Cars will race in Milwaukee, Wis., on May 31 and Monterey, Calif., on June 15.

Christopher Pook, the Championship Auto Racing Teams chief executive officer, would like to think he made some inroads in Europe. He visited with manufacturers, promoters and corporate types in Paris; London; Monte Carlo; Milan, Italy; Stuttgart and Hanover, Germany; and Switzerland.

In what is the most pivotal year for CART's long-term existence, Pook is trying to persuade manufacturers to join the series in 2005, when CART will begin using petrol-powered, 3-liter V-10 engines similar to those in Formula One and on roads everywhere.

Pook also wants to attract enough corporate money and interest to add races in China and South Korea, as well as a third European date. That would further globalize CART, which also has emphasized street-course racing in its business plan.

Behind the scenes, negotiating continues as Formula One chairman Bernie Ecclestone considers buying a stake in CART. He would join existing team owner Gerald Forsythe, who owns 24.7 percent of CART's stock, as the series' primary owners, and the two probably would make immediate moves to privatize the company.

Pook shies away from calling CART a possible 'feeder series' for Formula One. Pook and Ecclestone, who worked together on the Long Beach Grand Prix, foresee CART as its own entity, especially with threats by F1 manufacturers to form their own series in 2008. Another CART official, David Clare, worked under Ecclestone in F1 for eight years and would prove to be an important figure in a CART-F1 partnership.

CART, trying to rebound from near death in 2002, has a two-year agreement to run Ford Cosworth turbocharged engines, as well as Lola and Reynard chassis. Pook has abandoned plans to try to align with the Indy Racing League, going so far as to be quoted in the Long Beach Press Telegram on teams that defected to the IRL: 'I wouldn't relieve myself on their brains even if they were on fire.'

The Champ Car series remains alive because it had about $120 million in reserve. The CART owners have opted to use cash to promote many of their events and to help car owners with engine costs.

In 2002, expenses went up about $3 million, and revenues went down $13 million. Some investors say the 'cash burn rate' for the company was higher than expected.

Pook stands by his fledgling series, saying the total attendance in 2002 Ñ a record, 20-race tally of 2,686,640 Ñ speaks for itself.