Long Beach teleconference transcript, part 1

ADAM SAAL: Good afternoon, everyone. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules join us for what we think is going to be a very exciting announcement. We are pleased to have with us today Grand American President, Roger Edmondson;...

ADAM SAAL: Good afternoon, everyone. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules join us for what we think is going to be a very exciting announcement. We are pleased to have with us today Grand American President, Roger Edmondson; our reining co‑champion in the Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype division, Scott Pruett, as well as our special guest, Jim Michaelian, who is the president of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Jim, we'd like to kick it to you straight off and you can tell everyone why we are on this teleconference today.

JIM MICHAELIAN: Thank you, Adam, and good afternoon to everybody, and good morning to those of you on the West Coast. We are excited to join with our cohorts today in announcing that the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be hosting a round of the Rolex Sports Car Series highlighting the sleek Daytona Prototype cars here next April 8th. This is going to bring added excitement and interest to a weekend that is already full of events both on track and off track, and we see it as a great addition to what we are going to be presenting here next April.

We've worked with the Grand-Am operating officials, as well as Roger and his staff, to come up with what we think is going to be a unique format and presentation for this particular event. It will be a 90‑minute race, a compressed race; really a dash in the streets of Long Beach. It will feature one mandatory pit stop and driver change, and probably equally important, it will feature just the Daytona Prototypes on the streets, which should lead to some very fast, and I might add, furious racing, which is something I know our patrons are going to be looking forward to.

There were a couple of key reasons why we decided to select Grand-Am to be one of our major event presentations here on race weekend. First, let me just say that we have the utmost respect for Scott Atherton and everybody at ALMS, they run a very professional operation, and we had lengthy discussions with both of these groups before making our final decision.

But it all came down to a couple of key factors that we had to take into consideration. One is, you know, we race in an urban setting, and it's fair to assume that most of our fans don't have a long history with sports car racing. As incongruous as it might sound from someone like me who loves to compete in endurance racing, and the longer, the better; nevertheless we felt that the fans would most enjoy the event if it were quick and it was exciting and it was easy to follow.

Certainly, those are all characteristics that the Rolex Sports Car Series, with the Daytona Prototypes, provides to all of our fans. It's a classic car, it's a 90‑minute race, it's one mandatory pit stop, it's easy to follow who the drivers that are starting and who the ones that are stepping into the cockpit and it's a race to the checkered flag. So that's a formula that we see as being one that provides a great deal of excitement and it will be something that our fans will certainly enjoy.

Secondly, as many of you know, we just announced signing of a five‑year extension of our agreement with Toyota to continue as our entitlement partner for our event. Toyota is involved in sports car racing, through its Lexus division, and we welcome the opportunity to showcase that brand here on the streets of Long Beach. We think it's a great addition to the preview that we give to the Toyota lineup when they come and run here on the race weekend.

So we are very excited. We think it's a great addition to our lineup, and it sort of continues the trend that we have had as a mantra and as a mission statement here for many years, and that is enhancing our weekend from year‑to‑year. We have certainly done that with the inclusion of the Grand Prix, Grand-Am to our Grand Prix schedule for next year.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you very much, Jim. And before we go on to Roger Edmondson, give us an outline of how Saturday will look for race fans and competitors, what's the general outline

JIM MICHAELIAN: It's going to be turn out to be a tremendous day. It's going to be competing with Sunday in terms of its attractiveness we feel.

In addition to the usual practice and qualifying Saturday morning, around noontime we will kick off the rest of date with the 30th anniversary of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, which is always one of the real features of the Saturday activity. Follow that by Champ Car qualifying, and then we have a two‑hour block set aside for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series with the Daytona Prototypes, and then we go right into our Rock-N-Roar Concert and we conclude with the Tecate Beauty Pageant. If that's not enough to get people excited, I don't know what more we can pack into a day's worth of activities.

ADAM SAAL: That sounds like a great day on Saturday and we are proud to be part of it at the Rolex Sports Car Series. I'd like to move on now to our president, Roger Edmondson. To say we're proud, I think he's probably personally proud of what we could call a milestone achievement in the short six‑year history of this organization.

Roger, we're going to make some history by taking the Daytona Prototypes to Long Beach next year. Talk about the work you put into making this happen and how you feel as the president of the organization on a pretty positive day.

ROGER EDMONDSON: Thank you, Adam, and thank you, Jim. No doubt this is a milestone event for Grand American Road Racing and our style of road racing. Jim Michaelian and I have known each other for several years and he participates in a GT car several times within the Grand-Am series. We have talked off and on about this potential for quite some time.

There's no question that the Rolex 24 Hour and Watkins Glen six‑hour are big events on the sports car calendar, but in terms of their impact on the general public, they pale compared to events like the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach. For us to have an opportunity to bring our style of cars and our teams and their sponsors and all that we represent to that event, and present it to that large crowd in a Los Angeles marketplace is really a huge event in our history. It's a coming‑out party for us, a sign of our maturity and we are gratified to have that opportunity.

I think it's going to be an extremely entertaining race. We have had some incredible races, as many as six hours in length going right down to the last lap or two. I can't imagine at this point that a 90‑minute race isn't just going to be so exciting that people will be standing at the fence the entire time. We are thrilled about it and we consider it a major step forward for this organization, and that's only appropriate. We are not looking back. We are heading down the road.

ADAM SAAL: Roger we are not going to go ahead and recap every event right now, but this is another key piece of the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series schedule. What's the time frame for getting the rest of the schedule out

ROGER EDMONDSON: We plan to make a formal announcement this weekend at Virginia International Raceway to our teams.

A couple of weeks ago, we announced 12 weekends of the 14 that we plan to hold. I mentioned to our teams and the people in the paddock that we are still working on our Southern California date and our date in Mexico, and now that we are able to make this announcement the only remaining question mark on our schedule, other than the details on race lengths and whether we are going to race on Saturday or Sunday at certain facilities, the only remaining question on weekends is whether or not we will race at Mexico City in March with the Busch Series, or whether we will be there at the end of the year as we are this year with Champ Car. That decision will be made in the next few days working with our promoters in Mexico City. The major piece of the puzzle on the domestic front was the inclusion of the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, and now that question is answered. We are ready to move forward.

ADAM SAAL: Our reigning co‑champion of the Daytona Prototype category, Scott Pruett, has also joined us. Scott is certainly no stranger to Long Beach. He has a huge following in Long Beach and was there as a fan in the '70s, a go‑kart racer in the '80s, an IndyCar driver and many times as a Trans-Am and GT competitor. We're delighted to have him here to speak, not only as the leading road racer of our generation, but also a Californian, who is happy to be going back to the beach.

Scott, thanks for joining us. How do you feel about today's announcement

SCOTT PRUETT: Thanks, ladies and gentlemen for joining us this afternoon and it's exciting news. I know that this has kind of been talked about and the fact that we are going back there now is nothing less than exciting. For me, I have a lot of my racing career, major milestones at Long Beach, both making my transition to going and racing go‑karts and getting noticed and making my way into sports cars and my first opportunity in a Champ Car. Along with that was spending a lot of my own money to go do a race there.

And the other part that we also can't forget to mention is the fact that Grand-Am brings a lot of very familiar names that ALMS doesn't have currently to a lot of the fans at Long Beach. Myself and my teammates, a few names that I think people are very familiar with, Stefan Johansson, Luis Diaz, a lot of names that have been there in a number of different cars, whether it's been IndyCar, Champ Cars, whether it's been Atlantic cars or Indy Lights, whatever the case might have been. So I think there's another familiarity there with who the drivers are.

As we touched on, this year has been nothing less than spectacular with the racing. The wheel‑to‑wheel combat we've had this year, the hard racing, even our last race between myself and Max Angelelli was right down to the checkered flag when we were going at it tooth‑and‑nail. I think that's what Grand-Am racing is about and we continue to make that mark. If we can take a show like that to Long Beach in a 90‑minute format with a driver change, it's going to be nothing less than exciting.

ADAM SAAL: It's going to be great and I'm sure you're going to be in the thick of it. Again, we look forward to having you come back to Long Beach where you've had much success. You've won in Trans-Am competition and made the podium in Champ Car.

I have a few details before we open up to our friends in the media for some questions. Among the other drivers, in addition to Max Angelelli, Stefan Johansson, Luis Diaz, who Scott mentioned, are drivers who currently race with us that have Long Beach experience. Those drivers are Christian Fittipaldi, Max Papis, Roberto Moreno, and Alex Gurney, who raced in Atlantic competition, and his father was one of the race founders back in the '70s. There are plenty of good names coming to Long Beach, and it couldn't be a better race.

Q: Roger, you told me once awhile ago that the business model for Grand-Am was to not allow manufacturers to be involved in the decision‑making process. It would appear, at least on the outside, that Toyota being involved in both Long Beach and Grand-Am racing through Lexus may have had some part to play in this decision. Am I wrong in that assumption

ROGER EDMONDSON: I don't think you're wrong in assumption because Jim made it clear that there was a natural synergy to having the Toyota sponsorship and the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, as well as having the Lexus division of Toyota running in our series.

But when we had the discussion about manufacturers making decisions within our series, that was in the context of competition. We reserve the right at Grand American to make all of the rules and all of the decisions on competition ourselves, and we will not be abdicating that to any manufacturer or any manufacturer's group.

ADAM SAAL: Jim, it might be appropriate for to you weigh in on that topic, as that's a source of speculation. You touted the show as being a primary ingredient in bringing the Rolex Series to Long Beach, but at the same time you did mention it certainly would interest the Lexus people. What was the split there in the decision, whose call was it

JIM MICHAELIAN: It was definitely our call. We are constantly looking for ways in which we can increase the entertainment value of the weekend when we look at the alternatives we were selecting from. Obviously to the extent we could showcase a Lexus product on the streets it made a lot of sense, but I can tell you that that decision was left up to us in terms of the ultimate determination of what we wanted to run and what conditions and what format we were going to present that race in. We are delighted that it worked out to the benefit of all of the parties concerned.

Q: This past weekend, Scott Atherton from the other side of the fence had some challenging things to say, about their form of sports car racing and your form of sports car racing. Do you ever see a head‑to‑head battle, or are you adamant about going forward with your business model as you said in the past

ROGER EDMONDSON: One of great things about this country of ours is the free enterprise system allows to you have a vision and follow it and we are quite clearly doing that. We frankly don't care how they do it over in Europe. We have our own version and vision of what road racing ought to be for the American audience. That doesn't mean we don't have great respect for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or great respect for the American Le Mans Series. They are presenting sports car racing as it's been presented in this country since 1948. The level of success sports car racing has had in this country since 1948 is out there for everybody to see.

We are doing road racing in a little different way. As Scott Pruett mentioned a little while ago, the Daytona Prototypes provide entertainment that has not been seen on road courses in a long, long time. That's only three years in the making now.

We are quite comfortable that we are on the right path to follow our own vision and our own business plan, and we wish them success, because I frankly believe that anybody who enjoys road racing is a prospect to come and enjoy our racing, and certainly will be tuned in to come and watch the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach.

Q: And there's room for both to co‑exist and put people in the seats to both events

ROGER EDMONDSON: In a country of 300 million people, I don't think you can consider road racing to be an over solicited or saturated product right now. So, yeah, I would say there's plenty of room.

Continued in part 2

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Alex Gurney , Stefan Johansson , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Scott Pruett , Luis Diaz , Max Angelelli , Jim Michaelian