After 35 seasons of producing top driving talent, the Atlantic Championship may be about to run out of gas.
Caught completely off guard by the demise of its parent Champ Car World Series, which was swallowed by the Indy Racing League in February, Atlantic transformed overnight from being a premier training ground for young drivers to a ladder series without a top step.
"I would say this series is definitely not going to be back, but we will see. People are talking about putting something together," said Toronto driver Daniel Morad.
"Next year, maybe the Atlantic and Indy Pro Series (IPS) series will merge and that would be good for open-wheel racing in the U.S. at the junior level."
The reigning Formula BMW USA champion, Morad finished 14th last weekend in Mont-Tremblant after contact with another driver ended his race two laps from the finish.
Dutch driver Junior Strous took his first career Atlantic win last weekend to take the points lead after three of 11 races. The Condor Motorsports driver's 74 points is seven better than Toronto's James Hinchcliffe, who is tied in second with Finn Markus Niemela.
While many wonder about the endgame for road-racing Atlantic drivers when oval experience is now required for the IRL, Atlantic series president Vicki O'Connor insisted the link to the now-defunct Champ Car didn't define her series.
"Atlantic has always been its own product," she said. "A lot of our champions are in Grand-American and so forth and others are with the IRL, so I think the important thing is to just continue doing what we have done."
But a huge drawback for young drivers looking to be noticed is simple: The loss of Champ Car means they have limited visibility, an advantage that IPS now has over Atlantic.
IPS runs its events with the IRL, so its team bosses see its drivers race.
"Part of what Atlantic has to do for the latter half of this season and certainly the off-season is to kind of find its niche and decide what their direction is going to be," said Forsythe/Pettit driver Hinchcliffe.
"They could add a couple of ovals and it still could be a competitive championship that could let guys go to the IRL, but also lead to sports cars.
"The car is still good and relevant, so as long as that's true there's a chance, but it's certainly more difficult now than it was."
There has been good news for Atlantic. Last weekend's race was the first under a deal signed late last month with the International Motor Sports Association to sanction Atlantic events.
The series had been talking to the IRL about running under its banner, but an agreement could not reached.
While the future of the series remains in question, getting the cars on track this season was a massive accomplishment in itself.
With the demise of its parent series coming as a complete surprise, O'Connor only had a few weeks to pick up the pieces after Champ Car snatched the rug from under her feet.
"Our entire schedule was stripped in March and we had to reinvent it," she said.
"We had sponsors with Mazda and Cooper tires and the second thing was that we had committed owners in Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe who wanted to see the season go through. We just had to do a little scurrying to keep it all together — it was overwhelming."
Although few would go on the record about Atlantic's seemingly grim future and most in the paddock remained outwardly positive, many of the teams continue to work quietly behind the scenes to get an Indy Pro Series program ready for next season.
Some expect as many as half the Atlantic teams to try to make the switch to IPS in 2009.
One thing is certain. Morad will not be back even if Atlantic survives to start its 36th season next year.
"My plan was a one-year program and I was just using this as a stepping stone to go to Europe," Morad said.
"Really for me, it doesn't matter what happens next year. I'm not really focusing on that, I'm just trying to get my team going."