CHAMPCAR/CART: OWRS principals speak out

Less than 24 hours after receiving the good news that their offer was accepted by Judge Frank J. Otte in Federal Bankruptcy Court, two of three principals in Open Wheel Racing Series talked about their monumental achievement. It was with a sigh...

Less than 24 hours after receiving the good news that their offer was accepted by Judge Frank J. Otte in Federal Bankruptcy Court, two of three principals in Open Wheel Racing Series talked about their monumental achievement.

It was with a sigh of relief that Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven discussed the chain of events that allowed them to begin the procedures to take over the assets and liabilities of CART Inc., from which they will now present the Champ Car World Series during 2004 and beyond.

"We are delighted with this news," Kalkhoven expressed before adding, "Now the hard work begins. We have to address a couple of issues up front," this astute businessman noted. "We are commencing with the paperwork that will lead us to a February 12th closing date for the Champ Car world Series.

"After that date, we will announce our television programming and our schedule immediately. This is an important day for open wheel racing as an entity," he admitted. "We must thank our supporters, our sponsors and teams. This has been a very emotional period for us and now it's time to get out of the courts and onto the tracks."

The next step for OWRS is, of course, to put together a good field of cars so that the group can satisfy commitments to its venues. "From the administrative side," Kalkhoven revealed, there's a substantial amount of paperwork involved' to getting the series back on track.

"We never stopped getting ready for this season," Gentilozzi said. "At 8AM this morning, we hit the ground running with a new pulse of life. We're all now convinced that we'll be racing in another 90 days and we're in high gear to get ready," Gentilozzi noted.

After the courts decision, Gentilozzi did speak with Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League, who had bid for selected CART Inc. assets and contracts. Despite a bid of $13.4 million, Otte selected OWRS. George, who left Indianapolis and went to Homestead-Miami Speedway to address the IndyCar Series drivers, teams and owners during the series' second day of open testing.

"We all spoke before, mid-day and after Judge Otte revealed his decision," Gentilozzi explained. "Tony is always a gentleman, we competed and that's it." Thursday afternoon George explained that he tried to unify the sport but failed. He did emphasize that his plans to go road racing will go forward despite this change of plans.

Gentilozzi and Kalkhoven expect a full field of 18 cars once the Champ Car World Series begins in April at the 30th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. "There's a level of trust in every series," Gentilozzi said. "We have no guarantee cars will show up but we will do all we can to satisfy our promoters. I have no doubt," he stated, "because I talk to the teams on a daily basis.

"Everyone is ready to go, and the drivers were waiting with their sponsors for confirmation of this result. We are moving ahead." Gentilozzi also stated the Road America and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca contracts are on. "We'll be there," he said.

The OWRS folks have a five-year plan for the Champ Car World Series. "We're going to build the Champ Car World Series. We're going to move forward with that because we know exactly where we're going," Gentilozzi stressed.

"We're not involved in this out of pure emotion," Kalkhoven agreed. "This is amongst the best business plan I've ever done," he said. "I'm very, very enthusiastic about this program."

OWRS has chosen to continue with the Champ Car World Series moniker because of the historic nature of the name, both gentlemen said.

When asked what the OWRS would do differently to make sure the series doesn't lose the grand amount of money it did in 2003, Gentilozzi acknowledged the group has done a "great deal of analysis and we know how they lost that money. Somebody spent it and we saw that. We know how not to lose it again."

"We've looked at it from the beginning and we believe we will turn this company around. Our revenues have been nailed down," Kalkhoven said. "We've analyzed this for several months now. We intend to make sure we can operate and grow."

Responding to a query about the third member of the OWRS team Gerald Forsythe, Kalkhoven and Gentilozzi revealed, "Jerry has been to all of our planning meetings and he is [vitally] part of the process. Jerry prefers to stay out of the public eye," both said.

As part of their due diligence in taking over CART Inc. assets and liabilities, OWRS spent a great deal of time analyzing the costs and results of the company's television program. In the end, they discovered that many racing fans had gone elsewhere because of the distractions involved in the Open Wheel Civil War that's been going on for nearly 10 years.

"It is my first belief," Gentilozzi stated, "that if we have a consistent network, a consistent time and consistent content, we can" recover lost viewers. "We're going to be live or as close to live as we can. We're going to make a concerted marketing effort to appeal to fans who have not been involved in racing of our type before. We're going to them and we're going to bring them in.

"The green-to-checker content hasn't been interesting enough to keep fans interested, so we have to use creative management and production partnerships to make it work. We're going to be partners in this, not victims." Gentilozzi said OWRS will take a "macro view of where TV has gone. Reality TV has become so popular because of the attraction of unrehearsed drama. We're going to help portray that.

"We want and need to show the high speeds, the danger, the drama of our racing. We need to show the people, the human element," Gentilozzi continued. "It was NASCAR who made the drivers the stars and their drama exciting. We need to do that, to show the interaction and the conflict of Champ Car racing. We need to bring the heroes and villains of racing, those personalities to the forefront."

While Champ Car's audience around the world continues to grow, Kalkhoven pointed out, "the domestic coverage of Champ Car racing has remained stagnant. About 7-8 million people watch these races worldwide and "we have more international coverage than we've been credited for," Gentilozzi agreed.

The Open Wheel Racing Series principals intend to work with promoters to make these specific events special. "It's more difficult with standard road courses but we aim to give the product mix people want" for their entertainment dollars. "In the past, Champ Car has not done a good job to expose itself to the public. People need to know what drives our competitors; we'll talk about people, not cars," Gentilozzi said.

Is there the possibility of the type of unity Tony George was attempting to provide with his bid for CART Inc. assets? "We're doing our deal and we can't afford any distractions," Gentilozzi reminded. "We don't expect any integrations with other series," Kalkhoven summed.

The OWRS group will "speak to the necessity of support" for teams. "We have moved to reduce costs. Our engine budget is fixed and we've been able to lower fixed operating budgets by about 20-25%," Gentilozzi stressed. "Tires will be about $200,000; we assume a $5-5.5 million budget for teams."

The Champ Car World Series will have guaranteed prize money, not support, both principals noted. "The general economy is improving and more sponsors are coming onboard," Kalkhoven said.

There will be a "very organized major event" to introduce the new series, with a pre-season test that will bring Champ Car World Series, Toyota Atlantic, Trans-Am and one other series together for testing prior to the 2004 season opener at Long Beach.

"Every one of our races will be a good story," Kalkhoven stated. Marketing the story of the races and, more importantly the people involved will be the prime marketing thrust for OWRS. "Without the characters who populate our series, it's completely irrelevant."

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About this article
Series Automotive , IndyCar
Drivers Paul Gentilozzi , Tony George , Kevin Kalkhoven