CART co-founder Roger Penske is abandoning the league he helped create for the rival IRL, a stunning move by the most successful owner in open-wheel racing.
He plans to race in all IRL events next season, including the Indianapolis 500, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said Thursday in a statement from company headquarters in Reading, Pa.
Cindric said the decision was made in conjunction with Marlboro, the team's chief sponsor, whose auto-racing marketing plans have been curtailed by the 1998 tobacco settlement.
The shifting of the racing operation that has accounted for nine CART titles and 11 open-wheel championships overall was the latest blow for CART, which has been losing prestige in the United States since it left the Indianapolis 500 after formation of the IRL in 1996.
CART's growth in recent years has been overseas, with races in Australia, Japan, England and Germany.
The move also leaves CART without a defending champion. Gone will be Gil de Ferran, who won titles the last two seasons.
It also guarantees that Helio Castroneves, who gave Penske his 11th Indianapolis 500 victory this year, will defend that title next May.
Later Thursday, CART expressed disappointment in Penske's decision.
"The economics of our sport require teams to satisfy sponsors' marketing needs," CART said.
"We will remain focused on our No. 1 objective growing our sport and the CART brand."
The IRL said Penske's defection was another indication that its form of American oval racing as opposed to CART's globe-hopping mixture of ovals, road courses and street courses will continue to gain in popularity.
"What better affirmation could there be than to have the most successful team in American motorsports choose the Indy Racing League as its competitive platform?" IRL founder and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George said.
Penske's decision was based more on marketing considerations than the caliber of racing in CART.
Last May, Penske's cars ran in the Indy 500 without the logos of longtime sponsor Marlboro because the tobacco settlement forbids advertising on more than one circuit.
Ina Broeman, a spokesman for Marlboro parent Philip Morris U.S.A., said that since the cigarette maker marketed its products only in the United States and its territories, "We believe that the IRL is more closely aligned with our business interests and objectives for 2002."
The Penske statement says the team has no plans to participate in any other open-wheel series in 2002. Penske also fields stock cars for Rusty Wallace and rookie Ryan Newman in the NASCAR Winston Cup series.
Penske, who has 110 victories and 135 poles in open-wheel racing, will later announce his choices for engine, chassis and tire combinations.
The defection seemed plausible from the moment Penske entered his drivers in the Indy 500.
Chip Ganassi, who won an unprecedented four straight CART titles before de Ferran halted that run in 2000, took Indy that same year with Juan Montoya.
Ganassi, also a car owner in NASCAR, is one of several CART owners expected to race at Indy next year during an off-week in the CART schedule.
CART is now dominated by foreign-born drivers. Its last three champions Italian Alex Zanardi, Colombian Montoya and Brazilian de Ferran have extended the drought of American champions to five years.
Michael Andretti, 38 and no longer a frequent winner, is the only high-profile American on the circuit. And even he raced last season in the Indy 500.
Since the arrival of the IRL, the core group of open-wheel racing fans has been split, and CART's TV ratings have dipped precipitously.
After working with ABC and ESPN for years, CART's new television contract offers a handful of races on CBS and the rest on cable's Speed Channel.