Long Beach teleconference transcript, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: Congratulations on putting together the Long Beach show. Question for Roger, it seems that you're adding more events where you're on the program with another sanctioning body rather than a stand& ...

Continued from part 2

Q: Congratulations on putting together the Long Beach show. Question for Roger, it seems that you're adding more events where you're on the program with another sanctioning body rather than a stand‑alone event, running with the IRL at Infineon Sonoma, Champ Car in Long Beach. Is this a trend that's going to continue as you refine your schedule in the future, or are you going to try and grow stand‑alone events

ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, I think we need to have a healthy mixture of both. Trans-Am was mentioned a few minutes ago, and I think Trans-Am got into the support role enough so that they became characterized as the secondary event wherever they went.

We are certainly not looking to achieve that same distinction. I mean, our Rolex 24 Hour has been a mainstay in North American motorsports events for over 40 years, and we'd like to see our other events mature the same way.

At the same time, I mentioned earlier that the American Le Mans Series is presenting traditional sports car racing as it's been in this country since the late '40s. What we are doing is something new and we feel the best way for us to spread the word on their incredible racing that we have is to let people see it. The best prospect to buy a ticket to a race is a race fan, and by going to events where there's large NASCAR crowds or large IRL crowds or large Champ Car crowds, we have an opportunity to affect those road racing fans and those automobile racing fans with our brand of the sport. We think it's the shortest path to the top, and that's exactly where we feel Grand American is headed.

Q: I think you're on the right track and also the way you run your racing there's less confusion for the spectator. Scott, how would it be to drive a Trans-Am car in Long Beach and the difference between driving one of the Daytona Prototypes, more traffic

SCOTT PRUETT: More traffic, the depth of the field is certainly going to be a lot deeper. We're going to have a lot more cars going head‑to‑head, a lot more action. What we're seeing is not that we mean to have contact, but--not dirty contact--but we've had contact side‑to‑side in these cars. These cars are pretty robust where, you know, we do have the opportunities to lean on each other and take full advantage on leaning on each other.

I think just kind of make sure--I'm not saying it in a dirty way, but in an aggressive, racing way--something that the fans like that that the drivers are doing, and able to do it without taking another guy off, where in years gone by, you could not hardly lean on a guy side‑to‑side or front‑to‑back without tearing something off your race car.

As Roger was saying, I think that unfortunately, and I'm a huge fan of road racing and would like it to do nothing more than keep growing, but there's been so much confusion on where road racing is going and major automotive companies coming in and spending a lot of money to be competitive and to win. We need to come up with a formula that is going to limit all of that and keep the racing on the race track and keep it close and keep it tight and keep it exciting for the fans, because if the fans leave, the sponsors leave. If the sponsors leave, the series dies, and unfortunately we've seen that time and time again.

Hopefully we are smart enough to learn from our mistakes and do the right thing as we move forward and as we are--being as young as we are as a series--we have to get out and spread ourselves to more and more race fans and the only way to do that in a quick manner or aggressive manner is to not only have our own stand‑alone races, like the 24 Hour, but also do these races there are mainstay premier races that are road racing, like the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Q: Roger, do you consider your race a traditional support race in the sense of the others in Grand Prix

ROGER EDMONDSON: I don't think there's any doubt that when you're not on Sunday, you're considered a support race. We'd like to consider ourselves a co‑feature, but I'm going to leave that to you guys to decide when it's over.

I think when Sunday night is completed, when you've got a chance to go back and look at all of the action, I don't think you'll be looking at us as a traditional support race.

Q: Jim, you've raced these kinds of cars for many, many years. How excited are you to have these Prototypes out here

JIM MICHAELIAN: Let me correct you. I'd like to have driven these cars. Don't forget, these are the Prototypes. I drive in the GT class. I'd love the opportunity to do it, but obviously I won't be doing it here.

In answering your question about being the feature event or non‑feature event, each of our events stands alone in terms of its merits, and that's one of the reasons why we select the variety of activities we have here.

What we want to do is have fans and non‑race fans come to our event and experience a whole plethora of different items that all will have some appeal to them. And we see this as just another unique sensation. The sounds of those cars, the cacophony that's going to emanate when those things go tearing down Shoreline Drive side‑by‑side is going to be a whole different sound than any other sound we have during the weekend.

From a visceral and visual sense, it has its own characteristics to it. That's what we want to be able to provide for our fans. They are going to go away saying, 'Wow, you know what That event was really great,' as well as the Toyota Pro Celebrity Race or the Champ Car race or any of the other activities here. Each one of these sort of stands on its own merits in terms of its attractiveness, and I think this is going to hold a candle to nobody in terms of its ability to provide that kind of sensation.

Q: Last year you were talking about the prospect of this race coming here and there was some thought that it might run into some twilight times because you guys can use the headlights on the cars, is there any chance that might happen in the future is this

JIM MICHAELIAN: That was a wish on our part. As it currently stands because of the contract with the city, we are prohibited from running our event after 6:00 p.m. I sort of doubt whether that will change in the near future, primarily because of all the development that's taking place and the commercial interest that we have downtown. I think it's tantamount for us to get our show on the track and off by six o'clock and then let our fans go out and enjoy all of the other attributes that the city has to offer.

I doubt very much whether we'll have the opportunity to conclude our events later on in the evening, although the idea of being able to race down Shoreline Drive in a twilight setting or into the dusk would be fabulous. I think it would be great.

Q: Roger, talking to some people affiliated with the Toyota/Lexus side of it, and they are starting to see that the costs are starting to escalate a lot in this series, and they kind of question how long their future might be in the actual Grand-Am. Are you guys letting things getting out of control or are you trying to keep the costs under control like the premise of the series was Are you worried Toyota's future might be limited

ROGER EDMONDSON: Yes, to all of those things. Yes, we are certainly trying to keep things under control. And yes, there are probably some things that have gotten away from us, but that just means we haven't gotten to them. Quite clearly when you have a partner like Toyota as a supplier of engines even though they are branded as the Lexus TRD engines, an integral part of our future.

We've just had some good discussions with them and allowed them to make some changes that I think are going to make sure that there's a long life and a large market for the TRD power plant.

So, yes, we are aware of all those issues, but no I'm not overly concerned about any of it.

Q: Roger, adding up the number of races that you're doing in conjunction with NASCAR, IRL and Champ Car, and I suppose I know the answer to this already, but do you have any particular preferences as to which sanctioning body you're dancing with at these doubleheader weekends, or is it just simply a kind of pragmatic decision that basically what is best for Grand-Am

ROGER EDMONDSON: The fact is we are an equal opportunity sanctioning body. My only obligation is to Grand American and to our promoters, and I have no obligation to IRL or to Champ Car or to NASCAR other than to be a good neighbor when we share the weekend. You know, the 65,000 number that Jim gave us for Saturday at Long Beach, it speaks for itself. As people sometimes wonder why we run with NASCAR on a Friday night at Watkins Glen and the answer is very simple. The crowd at Watkins Glen on Friday night is the third largest crowd in the State of New York on any given 12 months, and the only two larger are Saturday and Sunday.

Again it is a pragmatic decision. We think we've got an incredibly exciting product, and it's a whole lot more cost effective for us to go and take this product to a crowd that's already there. I don't care what their motivation was for getting there. They are already in place, they are there to see an event and they are there to experience an event and when we're done, we know they have seen one.

Q: I don't have a NEXTEL Cup schedule sitting in front of me but I know certainly this year at Daytona there was quite a buzz about the race because a number of the NEXTEL Cup drivers were there. Any chance on bringing in--and as I said, I don't off the top of my head know if this race conflicts with the NEXTEL Cup schedule next year--but do you see this year or perhaps in the future bringing in a couple of ringers, if you will, to the Toyota Grand Prix race

ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, I think first off, as far as bringing in ringers for the 2006 event, there is a conflict with the NEXTEL Cup at Texas. But if you look at what we had at the 24 Hour, we had 54 Champions drivers representing 109 different championships in that one event. As the year has gone on we've had some of those same people coming back when it was a clear date on their schedule to run with us.

I think you're going to see more and more name drivers for whatever reason, whether it be because they retired full‑time or whether because they want to started a team of their own and experience team ownership or whatever their motivation may be. You'll see more and more name‑brand drivers joining our own names, guys like Scott and Max and Wayne (Taylor) and Luis Diaz. I think that's probably one of the things I'm proudest of. Even though we have some of these hot shots come in, our guys are still undefeated.

Q: Jim, I have a follow‑up question for you, you said a couple of times that the ALMS for whatever reason refused to come, and it kind of sounded like maybe they didn't want to split out their headlining cars to have a simplified race. Is that an accurate assessment that helped to make the decision of one over the other

JIM MICHAELIAN: No. It was never suggested they refused to come. We had discussions with both groups and we made a decision to go with Grand-Am for the reasons that I stated before. But never was there a situation where the ALMS had indicated they refused to come here.

What I suggested was that to the uninitiated, it's much easier to follow an event when all of the cars are running in the same class. Currently Grand-Am offers the opportunity to provide an event that would feature one‑class racing, and as of now, the ALMS isn't in a position to do that.

That's one of the factors that was taken into consideration when you're trying to make a determination as to which series to run but it's one of many factors so that wasn't the sole factor. But as far as we were concerned, that was an important one in terms of what Grand-Am had to cover, not only in terms of the organization of the event, but also in terms of the appeal to our fans.

Q: Roger, the Daytona Prototypes running alone, it seems to be a logical progression as the fields get larger. This is maybe the second time that that's happened, is this going to be an example of things to come, that the Daytona Prototypes may become separated in the Rolex Series from the GT cars

ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, it is the second time and we have plans to do it twice next year. We are going to run Daytona Prototypes only at the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, and also the Friday night show on the short course at Watkins Glen when we run with NEXTEL Cup.

To make up for that a little bit and try to balance out the schedule we are going to give the GT guys their own weekend at Lime Rock. That is not what I would call our immediate plan for the future. I feel that there's a certain value to also running the two classes that we run. It creates a unique atmosphere and unique experience on the track that's compared to other single‑class races and we think it has virtues of its own.

So it's a matter of the right place at the right time and at Long Beach, the single category is the right time and that's the right place.

Q: I remind that success has a thousand fathers and defeat is but an orphan. I suppose there are going to be a few people jumping in on this one. Rolex Series points, will they be apportioned in this race as they normally would be, Roger

ROGER EDMONDSON: Do you mean are they going to be awarded as they always would be Yes, they are.

Q: Yeah, you're right. Awarded, as opposed to apportioned.

ROGER EDMONDSON: We don't pay any more points for the 24 Hour than we do for a typical 200‑mile race. So we are not going to pay any less for a 90‑minute race.

Q: I've got a question for Jim, and this might be a rather wild one to process, but let's see what we can do with it. In privileged conversations I've had, it would indicate that Chip Ganassi is contemplating forming or has already suggested outside that an owner's championship be put together for open‑wheel cars and that they would there for cherry‑pick some of the finer races around on the schedule every year that are conducive to running within the country. Do you see any potential hazard with them perhaps running Long Beach Grand Prix next year

JIM MICHAELIAN: In the first place, I've heard conflicting reports in that regard. I'm not sure how accurate--at least from our perspective--that is, quite frankly.

I can only speak as one of the promoters on the Champ Car schedule, but I would think that if they can bring equipment that meets the regulations in terms of the competition, and then they want to come and run, they would welcome somebody to come and do that. We certainly would.

We think that more competition is better. The opportunity to come and showcase their team sponsors and their drivers and their teams in front of our audience is something we would look forward to. As long as they met the appropriate conditions, I think that something would be a welcome addition to the program.

Q: Interesting to hear your comments on that. A quick comment on my own about Toyota's involvement. In the conversations I've had with the upper ranks of Toyota, TRD people, they are developing an entirely new engine for Grand American and I certainly don't see them sinking a lot of money into it if they did not think they would be around for a while. That's it, gentleman. Thanks a lot, I'll look forward to seeing you out there, Jim. Reserve a suite for me, will you

JIM MICHAELIAN: As long as you're paying for it, I'll reserve it for you.

ADAM SAAL: That was a full hour‑plus here, so we appreciate all of the time everybody gave us. Scott, you drive carefully both on your way to Virginia and on track at the VIR 400 this weekend, thanks for joining us. Roger, thank you very much and of course Jim as well.

Now we have some work to do. We'll promote this race and look forward to seeing a lot of our media friends out there next April. Thank you very much everybody and we do appreciate it.

-grandam-

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Luis Diaz , Chip Ganassi