CHAMPCAR/CART: Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting, part VI

CART Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting Transcript with Derrick Walker, Bobby Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, John Lopes and Danica Patrick CALVIN FISH: John, it was mentioned about the overseas races. Do you see a limit to the number you'd like to...

CART Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting Transcript with Derrick Walker, Bobby Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, John Lopes and Danica Patrick

CALVIN FISH: John, it was mentioned about the overseas races. Do you see a limit to the number you'd like to be at next year and beyond? What's the balance there? What's the ideal?

JOHN LOPES: Well, I think we're pretty much at critical mass in terms of number of races. In fact, in an environment where there's less sponsorship available, the quickest way to provide relief to the teams is fewer races.

Europe has been a strong market for us. I mean, the German event was a huge event. Brands Hatch was packed. We'd like to be there. But those markets have to work financially long-term for both CART and for the teams and their sponsors.

So our focus being the NAFTA market, I think Chris has been very clear in his vision, that being North America, Mexico, United States and Canada, are really the linchpin. Australia is a stand-alone, Super Bowl type event. We'll be in Europe if it makes sense and if the right venues complement both CART's and the teams' sponsors. It's a stay-tuned type of situation.

CALVIN FISH: Final question was on the safety team. Sebastien, certainly NASCAR right now is taking a lot of heat for having individuals on each race weekend be different, who is coming out, attending to the drivers. Danica, as well. How do you feel on having a consistent safety team that's there every weekend for you?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I don't know much about the safety of the other series in the US. For sure, the safety we have in Champ Car is great. They are doing a tremendous job. It's always very difficult to compare this thing. We're pretty lucky that we don't have big crashes. I think that's one of the keys. That's also why we don't have so many races on ovals, right?

You know, I enjoyed a lot the Germany race. I enjoyed being in Milwaukee. But I think even Andretti said even three or four laps on a oval, you're big enough risk to get hurt. When you start to have 18 races on ovals, you improve so much the possibility and probability to get hurt. I think the safety reasons just are playing in our favor. When you see how many crashes we've seen in IRL this year, I mean, I'm a racer for sure, and I don't want to get killed. I'm pretty well in Champ Car.

JOHN LOPES: For those of you who don't know, our safety team is comprised of firemen, EMTs, paramedics from all over the country. They do this every day. When we send a safety truck out to a car that's been hit, there's four guys jumping out of that car who are trained medical professionals, and typically the guy first to the car and straddles the tub, you see him reach in and talk, often is Dr. Terry Trammell, who is our chief orthopedic surgeon.

You might notice, it's never mentioned in the press releases, but you'll notice that Terry performs surgery on drivers from all series, not just Champ Car. Safety is an issue that cuts across all series. When someone's hurt, our team and our doctors are available for anybody, doesn't matter what they race.

CALVIN FISH: Starting to wind things down, but we'll take a couple more questions.

ADAM SAAL: We're well past 8:30. We might be able to coax out a few more answers here. This is a family show, but this woman has a very important question.

Q: I just wanted to point out a lot of female fans are looking forward to Mid-Ohio this year, especially if Patrick Carpentier has set a precedent for nude parading after the race.

CALVIN FISH: I mean, Danica...

DANICA PATRICK: If I win, I'd do it. Everybody has pretty much seen me in that amount of clothing. I have nothing more to show (laughter).

CALVIN FISH: I was going to call it a spread, but I guess I can't use it, the pictorial maybe we could call it, certainly got some attention. I'm sure if Danica wins the race...

DANICA PATRICK: It was a spread, though.

CALVIN FISH: Yes, it was

Q: Cindy from Shelby. First of all, I want to commend the drivers and the owners and everybody for all your availability with the fans, with the autographs and stuff. I know a lot of times you have little kids running up to you that want autographs, it's not always an opportune time, but you're always gracious.

At Cleveland you did something with your driver introduction. You brought your over-the-wall crew up on the stands. I know it might have been a time filler maybe. Do you have any plans to do that again in the future?

CALVIN FISH: John, do you have any idea, or Adam?

JOHN LOPES: Absolutely we plan on doing that in the future. Just so you know, it was a time filler. We were trying to let the sun go down over the horizon so the drivers wouldn't have the sun in their eyes in turn one at the start of the race. We were thinking, "Somebody could do a hat dance. Let's introduce the crew." It actually worked out great. They were pumped up. So, yeah, it's going to be part of the future.

CALVIN FISH: I think your first comment you had about the access to the teams and drivers was really brought up at Montreal last year. Certainly that's the only circuit we currently share with Formula 1. The crowd's response there at that event was just overwhelming. They couldn't believe the access they had to the teams. The drivers were certainly willing to spend time with them, talk to them, sign autographs. Formula 1 is the pinnacle. They get paid a little bit more than Sebastien right now anyway. Certainly great access to the teams and drivers.

Q: Change that commercial you put on during the ads. Puts me to sleep every time. Put that one you started the show off with, gets your attention. CART is a great racing series, let's show it. Any chance of a highlights program, end-of-season DVD?

CALVIN FISH: I would certainly be up for that. We had something running there. We did our CART round table, and we certainly had a review show at the end of the season on SPEED. I believe the intent, Adam, is to do it again this year.

ADAM SAAL: The intent is to do one again, keep shoring the ship. We had to reluctantly cut back on some programming in order to take a bigger step in the future. That is why we lost the popular CART Friday night. I'm not sure about the season review show. We can certainly get back to that. I believe that's still in the works. If it isn't, again, we can put our video. If you like that opening video you just saw, we can put that on the website and make it available. Those are what we call eye-openers. They really help. We can get them going.

Would we like to get back to the level of shoulder programming we call it we had last year? Certainly we want to get there again. We have to make sure we are very deliberate with what we do in our budgeting as we move along.

Q: My name is Craig. I really would like to suggest if we can try to put split screen TV on local cities like Columbus, Ohio, so we don't have to see about educational issues with football players. It was really awesome. We had a whole bunch of crew people to watch this game. It was quite embarrassing after we went through the trouble to make the event so successful. I really feel Champ Car has a very successful season this year. I got to travel to some of the cities, see the teams forehand, team owners up to some of the drivers. Everyone is going well. I could tell that the stands are filled. I think some of the concerns with Champ Car is the coverage is very weak. It's going to continue to be weak if we can't correct local city issues changing our programming. Sponsorships have really burned their eyes because they look at numbers. They want to see numbers like our competing circuits to really put the money up. I work as a product producer for Hollywood companies and some other ones. I actually brought them out to Long Beach to really see the races, really got them energetic about becoming part of the program. They actually had a lot of interest in Danica and have continued focusing on our programs to see what we might be able to do to bring Hollywood TV programs to help promote your companies on other networks to prove that we do draw viewers, that Champ Car draws viewers, Toyota Atlantic series draws viewers, to warm some of the networks to say you can have better time slots. I brought the vice president of Universal Motion Pictures to your gig. He was quite impressed not only with the drivers but the team owners and so forth. I think there's a lot of opportunity that they can really do to help leverage the program itself without it being parted up due to television viewerships.

SPEED does a wonderful job on getting the program seen, heard and watched throughout the whole program. It's just -- I really feel there's a lot more that can be done.

As far as the DVD selections or any of that goes, if you need help making that work, we're more than happy to get that direction to go.

ADAM SAAL: New twist on the town meetings. Happily we are going in the right direction, everybody. Our SPEED telecast from Milwaukee was the best numbers we had all year, as well our last two CBS races, we had a 1.1 rating, which is well over a million households. I think we're going to hold with our current rating, which is a 1.3 overnight. They always drop a little bit as the final markets come in. We're going the right direction. Are the numbers going to be what they ever used to be? No. Television universe is changing. As you know, you all have more channels available to you now than you had even five years ago. That naturally fragments the audience. Happily we're going the way we need to go. We're going to keep working on it.

Q: I'm Roger from Columbus. I've had an opportunity to travel around the country to some other racetracks, too. I keep wondering in the back of my mind why CART doesn't go to Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, some of the of very good road courses, actually give the cars a chance to stretch their legs instead of running on a one-and-a-half-mile street course.

CALVIN FISH: John can certainly address this. This is really getting back to Chris' philosophy; we're taking to the races to the markets in some way.

JOHN LOPES: Yeah. We are focused on the urban event, the urban event venues in terms of selecting new venues. However, I can tell that you both of those tracks that we've actually had discussions about, not necessarily that they're going to crop up on the schedule any time soon, but certainly in searching for a northeast venue, Watkins Glen always comes up. Great circuit. Not to rule it out. It's always possible.

Q: My name is Angie. I have just an observation about sponsorship. I'm not a NASCAR fan particularly. One thing I have noticed that NASCAR drivers do that is different than Champ Car drivers is at the winner's circle, the car takes on a personality of the sponsor, just as the Bud Light car or the Interstate Battery car. I find it interesting in our series, the drivers are the ones. Quite honestly, if I were having the choice in where I'm going to get the most money going, I can remember the days when Michael Andretti was in the Kraco car or when he was in the Kmart car. The sponsorship was always put out there first. I'm not saying what we're doing now is wrong, but quite honestly, if I have a car that's a Bud Light or Interstate Battery car who happens to be driven by this driver, I'm probably going to put my money where the car lands up taking its own personality. Thank you.

CALVIN FISH: Great comment. Derrick, from a team owner's perspective, I'm sure the sponsors come to you and want to get as much value as they can from being involved with the team. How much discussion actually goes on in terms of some of those things in terms of identification, sponsor mentions, things like that? Do they drive that at all?

DERRICK WALKER: Well, they certainly want to know it's going to happen. I think you would find that all of the teams actually title the car with the sponsor's name. That's the way they call, that's the way they enter the car. It's out there in the public domain. It's these bloody TV announcers who just don't get it. I mean, they go straight for the drivers, and the car and the sponsor is nowhere.

Seriously, we do that. We do call it that. I think NASCAR has just made a big thing about it, worked on it a lot more than we have. It's certainly something that is part of the package, but it's not necessarily always adopted by the TV or the media right away as calling the car "blah blah blah." But we do enter it that way and always call it that way for our sponsors and give them as much exposure and recognition as possible.

Q: My question has to do with possibly what fuel has to do with sponsorship in a series. I've heard some talk maybe bringing gasoline back with the fuel companies, could fuel some more money coming in the series. How is that progressing?

CALVIN FISH: I think this is something Chris brought up a couple weeks ago, John, talking about getting back to gasoline, bringing back petroleum companies possibly.

DERRICK WALKER: This is another issue from the maddog, bulldog, Mr. Chris Pook, in his vision of how to make this sport grow. There are a lot of companies out there, gas companies that now have a lot of concession shops, stands in their gas station. They have a lot of companies doing business, not just pumping gas. He's looking at it from a commercial standpoint saying, "Why not? Why shouldn't we go with gasoline?"

Then there's another angle to that story. If you're looking for engine manufacturers, that's a heck of a lot more of them out there with gasoline engines than methanol engine.

Certainly from a safety standpoint, number one, methanol any day of the week. I think there has to be a damn good reason to go away from methanol as a usable fuel. Some of the mentions that have just gone over are really the argument to say, "Come back and consider it." Other than that, there's really no other earthly reason why gasoline versus methanol. Methanol is a lot easier to handle when it comes to safety.

CALVIN FISH: I think that's it for questions this evening. A couple of quick announcements here. We have a Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio FanFest right here in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, August 7th, taking place at the arena. We'll have autographs from the drivers, driver question and answer sessions, live music, great food, I'm not going to sing, and scheduled to appear we have Sebastien Bourdais, I'm not sure he's been given that information yet, Paul Tracy will be there, good for a quote no doubt, Patrick Carpentier, won the race here last year, Team Rahal's Michel Jourdain, Adrian Fernandez, won in Portland, Darren Manning who drives for Derrick Walker, and Oriol Servia and Tiago Monteiro.

We certainly appreciate a great crowd coming out this evening. We know you have a lot of other things you could be doing this evening, I'm sure. It's a nasty night out there. We appreciate your attention.

Right now I'd like to thank all of the panelists for spending their time with us. We look forward to seeing you race weekend. If you want to stick around for a bit, we'll be here, have some refreshments, chat with these people. Thanks for coming, everyone. We really appreciate your support.

Part I

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Michael Andretti , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Tiago Monteiro , Sébastien Bourdais , Chris Pook , Danica Patrick , Michel Jourdain