The Indy Racing League, better known as IRL, is the sanctioning body of a predominantly American based open-wheel racing series.
The League consists of two series, the premiere IndyCar Series (usually considered synonymous with the Indy Racing League), whose centerpiece is the Indianapolis 500, and the Indy Pro Series, which is a developmental series for the IRL.
The IRL is owned by Hulman and Co., which also owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex and the Clabber Girl brand.
The IRL was founded in 1994 by Tony George and began racing in 1996. CART had sanctioned Indy car racing since 1979, when the organisation broke away from USAC. George blueprinted the IRL as a lower-cost open-wheel alternative to CART, which had become technology-driven and dominated by a few wealthy multi-car teams, much like Formula One. It initially attracted some of the smaller teams who believed in the vision presented by Tony George. In later years, the IRL has come full-circle and become similar to the CART series it sought to separate from. The IRL is now dominated by a few wealthy teams, including those from the old CART series, like Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, has a strong contingent of foreign-born drivers, and is a mix of ovals and road/street courses.
At its inception, the series and George himself were widely ridiculed by members of the media and some CART competitors. The IRL's early seasons consisted of sparse schedules, mostly unknown drivers, and novice-level teams, even in the Indy 500. Eventually the schedule expanded, and caliber of drivers improved. The IRL began to draw teams from CART starting in 2000, contributing to the latter's bankruptcy in 2003.
History of the IndyCar name
"Indy car" is sometimes used as a descriptive name for championship open wheel auto racing in the United States. The Indy car name derived as the result of the genre's fundamental link to the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (often referred to as the "Indy 500"), the best known and most-popular open-wheel auto race in North America.
Beginning in 1980, the term Indy car was often used to describe the race cars in the events sanctioned by CART, which had become the dominant governing body for open-wheel racing in the United States. The Indianapolis 500, however, remained sanctioned by USAC. CART recognized the Indy 500 on its schedule, and awarded points for finishers in the race from 1980-1995 despite not sanctioning it. The two entities operated separately, but utilized the same equipment. Thus, the use of the term Indy car to describe the race cars in the CART-sanctioned events was arguably accurate.
In 1992, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway registered the IndyCar trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and licensed it to CART, which renamed its championship the IndyCar World Series. All references to the name "CART" were decidedly prohibited, as the series sought to eliminate perceived confusion from casual fans with the term kart.
In 1996 season, the IndyCar mark was the subject of a fierce legal battle. Prior to the 1996 season, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George had created his own national championship racing series, the Indy Racing League. In March of 1996, CART filed a lawsuit against the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an effort to protect their license to the IndyCar mark which the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had attempted to terminate. In April, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway filed a countersuit against CART to prevent them from further use of the mark. Eventually a settlement was reached in which CART agreed to give up the use of the IndyCar mark following the 1996 season and the IRL could not use the name before the end of the 2002 season. Following a six year hiatus, the IRL announced it would rename their premier series the IRL IndyCar Series for the 2003 racing season. Brickyard Trademarks, Inc., a subsidiary of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, is the current owner of the IndyCar mark and licenses that mark to the Indy Racing League for use in connection with the IndyCar Series. Use of the IndyCar mark in connection with any other racing series is improper. CART races outside the United States, such as the Toronto Molson Indy, are still permitted to use the Indy moniker.
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