READING, Pa., Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Roger Penske, the winningest team owner in Indy car history, will leave CART to join the rival Indy Racing League next season.
Penske Racing driver Gil de Ferran, who won his second straight CART championship this season, will join reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves in the IRL next year.
"We plan to compete in all Indy Racing League series races in 2002, in addition to the Indy 500," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. "It was a decision made with our principal sponsor (Marlboro) based on our collective business interestes and objectives in 2002."
Penske Racing's plans do not include articipation in any other open wheel racing series in 2002.
It's the latest -- and perhaps biggest -- blow to CART this year as Penske Racing set the standard for the series since its inception. However, with leadership problems leading to some of CART's troubles this year, Penske has become upset with the direction of the series he helped launch in 1979.
In a related development, CART announced plans Wednesday to hire to a new president and chief executive to replace Joseph Heitzler, who will remain as chairman.
Penske vocally objected to CART's decision to leave Michigan Speedway -- a track he owned for more than two decades -- at the end of the season.
Penske believes the IRL schedule competes in markets that will benefit his team's sponsor, Marlboro, which is owned by Philip Morris USA. The sponsor was unable to reap full sponsorship benefits at this year's Indianapolis 500 because of the tobacco settlement that limits cigarette sponsorship to one series.
In 2002, that series will be the IRL, so the Marlboro livery will return to the Indianapolis 500, where Penske is the winningest team owner with 11 victories. That includes Castroneves' triumph last May.
"We are disappointed to learn of Marlboro Team Penske's decision to leave (CART)," CART said in a press release. "Both Roger Penske and Marlboro have been long-time supporters of CART and they will be missed."
For de Ferran, the switch to an all-oval series means the talented Brazilian will not be driving Penske's entries on street and road courses next season.
De Ferran and Castroneves both have one year remaining on their current contracts.
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