CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH STEVE JOHNSON, JOE CHRNELICH, GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES AND PAUL GENTILOZZI
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and good afternoon to everybody and welcome to today's Champ Car teleconference announcing the return to Road America for Champ Car and also the departure from Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 2006 season. On today's call we have Champ Car President, Steve Johnson; Champ Car Executive Vice-President of Development, Governmental Affairs and Planning, Joe Chrnelich; Road America President and General Manager, George Bruggenthies; and Rocketsports team owner and series co-owner Paul Gentilozzi. Steve, start us off with a quick summary of today's announcement.
STEVE JOHNSON: Good afternoon from sunny and warm New York City at the Motor Sports Marketing Forum. I'm excited to announce that on September 22nd through the 24th of 2006, the Champ Car World Series returns to the most historic and prestigious road racing circuit in North America, and that is Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Champ Car will be making its 24th appearance to Road America and will also bring the Champ Car Atlantic series for their season-ending race and awards banquet. The decision to go back to our roots was easy. Our fans, teams and sponsors have asked for this and we listened. The addition of Road America does come at the expense of Champ Car not returning to the oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is no reflection of the speedway or the staff at the speedway as they have been good partners with us and have worked diligently to create an event that worked for all. I want to be clear that although we're not returning to the oval at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we are not abandoning the Las Vegas market. We are continuing our efforts in securing a race in the future in Las Vegas. As we've said over the last couple of months, stay tuned for positive announcements concerning the future of the Champ Car World Series. This is one of many announcements that will be occurring as we prepare for our 2006 season. Thank you.
Q: George, would it be your druthers, because Steve had talked to some owners and some people earlier this season, it seemed like maybe if you can get Champ Car and ALMS to have a doubleheader, it might be an easier ticket to sell and maybe to start trying to build the crowd back up to where it was in the mid '90s. Do you hopefully, down the road, envision some kind of a doubleheader with two major series, with Champ Car being one of them?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: That's certainly a possibility and we looked at it from this year. But we really wanted to make the investment in a single event here for Champ Car, especially for the return. We think it's a good idea this way.
Q: As a follow-up, George, the schedule is already out for ALMS, but is it something they seemed to be -- they would be in favor of doing, do you think?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's certainly possible. We'll work with Steve and with Scott into the future and certainly listen to our fans. It's a road racing product, and if it works together, it does, but there is a lot of coordination involved in an event of that type.
Q: How long has Road America been off the schedule, and what changed and allowed you to go back this coming year?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's just been one year. If you recall, Dick Eidswick visited Road America board of directors last year at this time and we worked very hard to get Champ Car on the schedule for 2005, but it was just too short of a timeline and we couldn't make the business plan work. We had communication throughout the year 2005. As a matter of fact, two Champ Car teams tested at Road America, both Sebastien Bourdais, Newman/Haas team, and the Paul Tracy team tested here also. So we've had that open line going the whole time. When Steve Johnson came on board, we kind of spooled up the conversation again. And I've got to compliment the team at Champ Car for really stepping up and making the final decision to return to great Road America here.
Q: So does this mean with the loss of Vegas there won't be any super speedways on your schedule next year?
STEVE JOHNSON: That's correct. Obviously, we're not going to be there, so for next year there will not be.
Q: Is that a concern? You guys have always said you have got all elements of racing.
STEVE JOHNSON: I don't know if it's a concern. We look at any and all opportunities that come our way, and we're not abandoning ovals. Again, we'll look at all opportunities. But for 2006, this has been a work in progress for quite a while. But again, we'll look at any opportunities that come to us. If it makes good business sense and good sense for our fans and that will get the support, we'll gladly look at it.
Q: If you weren't able to secure an event back at Road America, do you think you would have returned to Vegas in September 2006?
STEVE JOHNSON: I don't know. We haven't had that discussion. We gave it two years there. We tried. We learned a lot. So the answer is I don't know. But with Road America coming on, it sure made the decision a lot easier.
Q: Paul, I know how important it's been for you over the past few years to have an event for the series in Las Vegas. Just some of your thoughts about, at least for 2006, leaving Vegas and how intent you are on trying to get the Champ Car back for possibly a street race?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: As you know, from the last few years' discussions, we highly prize that market and we want to be there. A lot of people have tried to promote street races in the past, and it's difficult. When done properly, it's going to be very rewarding, but Joe Chrnelich has been in that marketplace working hard and will continue -- probably at this point will work even harder to do something there.
Q: Do you think it's possible, 50/50, realistically, that you maybe can't secure a street race in 2007?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I don't think can't is on our horizon. We'll keep working at it until we succeed, like everything else in Champ Car.
Q: Make the comment about the series commitment to its fans and history on traditional road courses. And of course our interest here is Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Is Laguna Seca even on the radar? And what would it take to come back to Monterey County?
JOE CHRNELICH: The answer is, when we departed from Road America and Laguna Seca, we did make the statement that, look, this is a decision we've made at the time. The long-term, if we can make it a winning proposition for both parties, we're certainly open to the notion of returning. Today is a great case in point or example of that occurring. With George's good work and his board and Steve and our team, we came back to the table and said, you know what, there is a plausible deal here that can work for both of us, and it came together. So I would tell you that we never rule out returning to a destination. Vancouver would be another great example of that. We just -- we always want to make sure that wherever we go, it is a viable proposition for both parties, so it's not just a one-way deal, which in those cases turns into a short-term proposition.
Q: What would it take in terms of Laguna Seca, there's no talks at all at present, as I understand it? Is that something you want to initiate or are you waiting for them to initiate?
JOE CHRNELICH: From our perspective, they've been doing a lot of work there. There's been a lot of changeover, new board members, new commitment to the property, a lot of improvements to the property, and obviously they're adding programming. So we look at that and that's a positive signal, from our perspective. But you have to look at a larger sense on schedules, what's going on in the marketplace during the period where you can race there, what kind of races do they have there right now so you're not parsing fan base too thin. So we've got to look at those things on the global sense before we actually get down to, hey, this is something we can get back to. We keep in touch back and forth. We do communicate from time to time, but sometimes it's just a matter of timing, when everything comes together, the stars line up and we get to the table and say, hey, you know what, an opportunity here exists, let's dive back to the table and see if we can make it work. Right now we're not there, but like I said, we see a lot of positive signals coming out of the circuit and out of the new team and the board commitment there. So that's why we keep the option open. But you're correct, we're not in any deep substantive conversations with them at the moment.
Q: You indicate you're also committed to racing on ovals and you continue looking for new venues. Do you have anything on the horizons. Are there any tracks, ovals, that you're looking at and talking to?
JOE CHRNELICH: We are going through an examination process of different oval possibilities. I think the single largest indicator in terms of our commitment is the fact that when we announced the 2007 chassis package, it was for a new car. It's built for ovals. It's adaptable for ovals. And I think that one signal right there tells, because that's not a cheap decision from the team's perspective. But collectively everybody said, you know what, we're going to continue to be the most diverse racing series in the world, and that includes ovals. So we are going to continue to look for new options. I don't have anything I can tell you about right now because we are going through an analysis process. But publicly, people can feel assured we are -- that is a part of our series and it will continue to be in the foreseeable future.
Q: George, in the early to mid '90s, the Elkhart Lake race was, I believe it was the largest supporting event in the state of Wisconsin, and then of course the attendance declined. What do you see as steps that can be taken to rebuild the event to that type of prestige level where it gets that type of support?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: Well, certainly since the early '90s there's been a lot of added racing series to the industry. But with Champ Car coming back to Road America and both Champ Car and Road America being the promoters of this event, we're both excited about this because we were gone for a year. We're going to put added budget and new marketing efforts. We hope that the drivers will help us promote this event and the media, and the fans are really excited about it. We're going to do a better job at this event.
Q: Along those lines, the Chicago Tribune is kind of like a long-time partner or sponsor of the track. Is there any way that the Tribune might be activated to do that? I noticed that their coverage has declined dramatically in recent years.
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's tough getting the Chicago market excited about racing, but we do have a partnership with the Chicago Tribune and will be meeting with them later in the month or early in January to get them involved in this event, because we recognize the Chicago market as a great market for Road America.
Continued in part 2