TONY GEORGE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: Australian Grand Prix MELBOURNE, Australia, March 6, 1999 -- Tony George, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), led a delegation of IMS officials to visit the ...
TONY GEORGE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: Australian Grand Prix
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 6, 1999 -- Tony George, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), led a delegation of IMS officials to visit the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne. George met with the Australian media on Saturday, March 6. Excerpts from the press conference:
Question: What do you think of the way Melbourne puts on a F1 race?
Tony George: It was suggested (to us at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) that Melbourne does it very well. I'm very impressed with what we have seen so far and with the level of enthusiasm and support in the community. It's very similar to Indianapolis. Although it's a city of twice the size, you see the same kind of general support for the Grand Prix that you see for the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. It has always amazed me the level of commitment and preparation that goes into a circuit like this that is not permanent. We are accustomed to working every day at a permanent facility dedicated to racing. But to come in and set up for an event of this magnitude on a temporary basis is mind-boggling. They do a very good job. All of the logistics seem to flow very nicely. There is a lot to be learned here. It is not totally transferable to our situation in Indianapolis, but we certainly learned a lot from being here.
Q: Have you done any market research to see what sort of ticket demand there will be for a F1 race at Indy?
TG: We have done some; it was primarily research done with our existing customer base for the Indy 500 and the NASCAR 400 and in a 350-mile radius of Indianapolis. Based on that information alone, it suggested that it was a worthwhile effort. It didn't take into consideration customers on the East and West coasts. After we had announced that we are going to have a race in 2000, we have provided a mailing address and an e-mail address for new ticket customers who may not be in our database today. We have developed a significant list of potential new customers. Everywhere I go I'm stopped in shopping malls and restaurants because people recognize me, and they are very excited about the Grand Prix coming. Even in areas that I didn't think would have much interest, such as short-track dirt oval racing, there is an excitement going on about this event. Only time will tell. Until we actually get a date and put tickets on sale, we won't know what the response is. But it seems to be high. The corporate response has been high, as well.
Question: What sort of crowd do you expect to get?
Tony George: We hope that it's on level with our other two events. The way the road circuit is laid out it doesn't really lend itself to taking in all of the permanent seating capacity of the facility. But the majority of the people will have a great view of a lot of racing action and not just a particular corner. Two hundred thousand is certainly achievable. If we decide at some point that we want to lengthen the circuit by another half a mile or so, we can probably take in the entire seating of the facility. That would put us in the neighborhood of 300,000. The way it is set up today we could seat about 200,000.
Q: Would we be talking about a Grand Prix at Indianapolis today if there had not been the split between IRL and CART?
TG: Most definitely. I have been pursuing this ever since it was learned that the Grand Prix would not be returning to Phoenix. Since the early 1990s, I've been having conversations with Mr. Ecclestone ... even before we seriously considered having a stock-car race. I always wanted to see Indy-car racing in America develop along a certain path, and obviously our differences in philosophy with CART are well known. I'm not xenophobic. I enjoy the international flavor that the Indianapolis 500 has always enjoyed. I also wanted to see the opportunity develop for our young drivers growing up in the oval discipline. But I've always been a big believer in keeping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway attainable. I don't think that the fact that CART chose to pursue their business opportunities and we chose to pursue ours in Indy-carr racing had any bearing on our decision to have this Grand Prix. Actually I wanted to have a Grand Prix even long before I even started to try and build a close relationship with CART. This goes back quite a ways.
Q: Will F1 appeal to the same fans that attend your other races?
TG: It will appeal to some. It will appeal to a lot of the sports-car fans, as well. There are a few people who developed a certain attitude about anything that happens at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that won't come (to the F1 race), but those numbers aren't great. We still enjoy race day crowds and practice crowds of several hundred thousand people. There are a few zealots out there who are very pro-CART that won't possibly be there, but I don't expect that to impede our ability to have a successful event.
Question: The American racing public is used to a lot of overtaking whereas F1 has a different approach. Do you think the fans will be disappointed with the lack of overtaking in F1?
Tony George: I don't see a lot of overtaking in CART road or street races (where) a lot of overtaking is done in the pits. There is a lot of overtaking done on ovals in CART and IRL. This is going to take a fair amount of education (for the American public). Certainly CART racing has had a better opportunity to be exposed to the American racing populace, and F1 has suffered. I believe that there is a strong desire from those who hold the rights to F1 to try and improve on that situation. Hopefully the competition will continue to get better. I know that the American racing fans like a lot of close competition and passing. Maybe as F1 becomes more competitive with more manufacturers coming in, then maybe the racing will tighten up a little bit. We wanted our circuit to have more passing opportunities, and unfortunately it looks like we are only going to have two at the present and possibly a third. When we first thought about the design of the track, I got input from Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet, who said we should have a lot of passing opportunities - 90-degree corners -- but that is not exactly the way it has worked out.
Q: When will the race be held? We hear Mr. Ecclestone wants it to be in June so it can be held in conjunction with the Canadian Grand Prix?
TG: We don't have a date yet. It wouldn't serve either of us to try and run it at the time of year that wouldn't have a good chance of being successful. I tend to think an autumn race would be ideal from a weather standpoint and from a timing standpoint so that we have ample spacing between our events. It would be impossible to do a proper job in late June.
Q: Does Mr. Ecclestone share your view?
TG: I don't know. It's been my understanding that he's working on the 2000 calendar. He's aware of my desire to have an autumn date, but beyond that I can't say if he shares my opinions.
Q: How important is it that there is an American driver in F1?
TG: For the long-term success, it's fairly important to have not only a driver but to have an American team involved and American funding.
Question: Would the driver come from America or would he have to come up through the European ranks?
Tony George: I don't know. There are different schools of thought on that. I believe that there are certain drivers, through the genes that they have, that are capable, given the chance to prepare physically and mentally and integrate into the team. They have the ability to be successful. There are drivers out there who would not have to go through the European system to be competitive in F1. But maybe it is necessary to do that.
Q: Will you assist young American drivers to get into F1?
TG: Not at this point. As soon as we announced the race, I got three or four proposals in the mail of people who have great ideas on how to do that. We haven't really given much attention to that. There are a number of American drivers who have chosen to try to go up through the European ranks. We don't have any formalized plans to try and assist at this point.
Q: What is the appeal of having a Grand Prix in Indianapolis? It will be the highest cost of the three races you will put on but with the lowest spectator attendance. Can you make money out of a GP?
TG: We will have to make money out of it. Marginally it won't be as profitable for us as either of our other two events, but it has a very good chance of being a successful event for us and being profitable. It fits with our vision of being international leaders in motor sport entertainment. For years, I've been asked the question, 'Why do we just have the one event a year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?' When you look at that facility, it's sometimes mind-boggling to think that it sits dormant for 11 months of the year. That was changed in 1994 (with the addition of the NASCAR race), and we are looking forward to having a third race. We always aspired to only open the gates if it were for a worthwhile event, and I believe that this is a worthwhile event. It is expensive, but it is really not that far out of line with the other events when you consider what we pay to put on the race and pay out in prize money. If we are able to put in 200,000 to 300,000 people, for sure it will be a successful event. We will make the numbers work.
Q: Getting that many spectators and making a profit would make you an exception in the Grand Prix world.
TG: We have always been the exception. So it is not all that unusual. We have always been something of a phenomenon.
Q: Could there be oval and road racing at IMS on the same weekend?
TG: No. We have to set up for a road-racing weekend, and you wouldn't be able to run an oval race as a support show.
Question: What sort of investment have you needed for the road course?
Tony George: Tens of millions of dollars. It is more than 10 million, it could be 20, 30, 40. It is a bit open-ended at this point. We are not government subsidized or subsidized by the city or the state. This is all private investment, and we are all well aware of the level of commitment that is required to even host this event. Even with that, we feel that it has a very strong chance of being successful, or we wouldn't be doing it.
Q: Is the whole risk of putting on the GP yours, or is the Formula One Administration (FOA) also taking part of the risk?
TG: I'm sure that they are going to make a financial profit. The only backlash may be that if the event is not successful -- if we don't all work to make the event successful -- I think that you will probably risk losing the American market altogether. So it is in everyone's best interests to try to work to make this event a success. I think that the FOA has covered all the bases very well to make sure that it is at least a financial success from their standpoint.
Q: Is there any truth to the rumors that Sylvester Stallone's F1 film may coincide with the F1 race at Indy?
TG: I haven't heard much about that lately. I was very interested when I learned about it. I thought that they were going to do pre-production last year and production this year. It would be great to be involved in the filming of a F1 movie. It would raise the interest in the inaugural event if it were to be filmed in 2000, and there were sequences shot at the Speedway. That would help to add to the interest of the event. If we have as much going for us in the first year as possible, it will help us ensure our chances of being successful over the long term.
Q: The Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 are your events -- you run them and control them. In the case of the F1 race, you will have another organizing body moving in and taking control.
TG: It is a little bit different than our other two events, but having NASCAR at the Brickyard 400 is certainly different than the Indy 500, so they are all a bit different. NASCAR is very enjoyable to work with. They are very professional, very organized. They come in and do their job, and then they move on. It's much the same as F1. We've been building our relationship with NASCAR for about six years now, and it will take us awhile to develop a relationship with F1. For about 78 years we had just one event a year. Since 1994 we've added the NASCAR race and have been trying to develop some new relationships to give us some diversity.
Question: Will the Indy road course be used for other races such as sports cars?
Tony George: No. We've always operated on the philosophy that unless it's really worthwhile to open the gates, we'd just as soon leave the lock on the gate. Sports-car racing isn't that strong in America today - it's fragmented. I don't know if any of the international series are doing all that well currently. The only other use for the road course we might have is some corporate outings or driver schools. But I don't foresee another race at this point.