CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago press conference 2002-03-04

Participants: ADAM SAAL RENA SHANAMAN TOM WIERINGA BOBBY RAHAL JIMMY VASSER ADAM SAAL: We sincerely appreciate everyone coming out to what I have been told is in the coldest day of the year, coldest day of March. I'm Adam Saal, I'm the CART...

Participants:
ADAM SAAL
RENA SHANAMAN
TOM WIERINGA
BOBBY RAHAL
JIMMY VASSER

ADAM SAAL: We sincerely appreciate everyone coming out to what I have been told is in the coldest day of the year, coldest day of March. I'm Adam Saal, I'm the CART Vice President of Communications. I'm joined to my immediate left by Rena Shanaman, who is CART Vice President of Promoter Operations, who will talk about what will be a very aggressive role with her in a few minutes in regards to what we think is a very exciting new project here in Chicago.

To my immediate right is Tom Wieringa, CART owner of Sigma Auto Sport, based here in Chicago. To his immediate right is Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 FedEx Championship Series champion, former podium finisher here at Chicago Motor Speedway, and Bobby Rahal, three-time CART champion, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and the defending winning team owner of the CART Champ Car Race here at Chicago Motor Speedway.

Tom Wieringa.
Photo by Bob Kozel.

We sent out a press release earlier this morning before the stock market opened basically clarifying what had been rumored for a couple months. There will be a FedEx Championship Series CART event here at Chicago on the announced date of June 30th, with live CBS telvision coverage. This basically states CART's commitment to the Chicago marketplace. We couldn't afford to lose the momentum we built here in this market. We had three exciting races and we think we can continue. With some of the rules enhancements that Bobby can talk to us a little bit about, we think we've got a great product here. We think we can continue and we plan to continue here. We'll do just that.

We appreciate you coming out here basically so we can talk a little bit about how we're going to do it and why it will be so exciting.

This is an in-house promotion for CART. It's very unique for us to take this approach, but again for Chicago, it's certainly a business model that we need to promote, encourage and build upon. We've announced as recently as even last Thursday several joint venture operations with other existing events: The Cleveland Grand Prix, which has been raced for 21 years, is now a promotional partnership with CART and IMG. We also announced last year an all-new joint venture arrangement with Dover Downs Entertainment Group for a cooperative promotional race in Denver.

The idea of bringing race promotion in-house to CART is something that we want to explore, it's something we want to build upon, it's definitely a core business model for our new president, CEO, Chris Pook, who apologizes he couldn't be here today, he had some personal issues to deal with on the West Coast. Certainly this is something that fits in with his vision since he's taken on with us since December.

Who is going to do the work for an event like this? We're fortunate to have on our staff a woman who has served general manager of many racing events before, she ran our race in Vancouver, I guess several years ago, Rena, we can talk exactly when. She is charged with all the joint venture operations. Any venue where we establish a cooperative relationship, Rena Shanaman will head up and will be the promoter on behalf of CART for this event. Here is your new promoter for the Chicago Motor Speedway event, Rena Shanaman.

Rena Shanaman.
Photo by Bob Kozel.

RENA SHANAMAN: Thank you, Adam. It goes without saying that this is going to be a rather challenging experience for all of us that will be working on the CART Grand Prix of Chicago. I was just asked the question a little bit ago about ideally how long would it take to promote such a race. Ideally, an annual event, you'd like to have 12 months. Then we are faced with one-third of that time, only four months.

Certainly we are not going to be doing this all by ourselves, and we're not going to be successful in organizing the race from Detroit, Michigan, wherever CART might be headquartered over the next four months.

We are going to call on talent locally here in the Chicagoland area that have considerable experience in special events. We're going to call on people that specifically are experienced in promoting and organizing the race out at Chicago Motor Speedway.

Also we have a very supportive and cooperative landlord in Chicago Motor Speedway. I'm pleased to see Pete Merkel, the executive vice president, general manager, here today, in support of that. And we also have several of the team members that we're going to be building, so this will be a Chicago-based organization. I expect to be flying in and out of Midway an awful lot, looking to rent an apartment, so the economic impact positively starts with me. Obviously, it extends hundreds, if not thousands, fold because the good news in reinstating the race into the CART schedule this year is that all those hotel rooms, all those restaurants will be filled the last week of June. We're going to create jobs and create business here in the Chicagoland area.

Most importantly, I feel very complimented that somebody like Chris Pook, who has so many years of extensive promoter experience, will entrust this important race to me, and hopefully we're going to be able to deliver great value to our fans and to all of the corporations that both support CART presently and hopefully through their experiences here will be attracted to become supporters and sponsors of CART in the future.

There are some other people here in the room that I will be asking to be members of our team here. We already have our CART sales manager, Charlie Legeman, and Patrick Ambs has joined us on Friday effectively at CART, but he will be working here in the Chicago area. We have C Saw Marketing will be our agency of record in supporting us on the advertising and promotions. I'm thankful that Laura Davis has agreed to contract with that organization.

Probably most importantly in terms of the day-to-day operation of the race, I'm pleased to announce that Tom Doloughty has agreed to serve as our director of operations.

We have a lot of experience already joining the team. We're going to be seeking more support out directly with people living in Chicago. I truly look forward to working with all of you, meeting an awful lot of fans out in Cicero on June 30th. Thank you.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you, Rena, get your sleep for sure. We're all going to be working hard, as we've been working hard since Chris took over CART in December. We'll have time for questions at the end. We'd like to give everybody their opportunity to speak about today's announcement because I know it's very exciting for all of us, including three gentlemen to my right. One owner, one of our newest owners in CART, which is a franchise/owner run organization, much like other major league stick and ball sports. The team owners run the company from a franchise board. We're also a public company, we have a board of directors operating as a public company, as well.

The participation of our team owners is key and critical to the success of this organization. One of the newest owners of a franchise is Tom Wieringa, who can talk to us a little bit about his team and his Chicago roots and why this race is going to be extra special for him. Tom.

TOM WIERINGA: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you folks. As you might know, I grew up in Cicero. Chicago Motor Speedway has a special place in my heart. I also used to drive in the Atlantic. In the first inaugural year, I was one of the first guys out on the track. That was a special occasion back then.

So to come back this year with three full teams, two Atlantic teams, and also a Champ car team, is really an honor. We appreciate it. We're glad to see that Chicago Motor Speedway is going on as successful as it has been.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you, Tom. Again, everybody will be available for questions.

Rena just asked me to mention, Tom does have Atlantic roots, definitely a product of our ladder system in CART. There will be a Toyota Atlantic Championship support race that will be part of the full weekend's action in late June at Chicago Motor Speedway. Atlantics have run here before. It will be a great show. It's where driver Bobby Rahal got his start. Jimmy Vasser also raced and won an Atlantic, did a great job. I thought he won the championship many years until they corrected me in the media guide. He went on to win a championship in CART.

We'll ask Bobby to join us now. Really, to say he needs no introduction is commonplace, but at the same time I think Bobby's got a soft spot in his heart for Chicago, too. He can also talk about how important it is for us to continue with this race, just another positive step as we continue to move forward with CART. Bobby.

Bobby Rahal.
Photo by Bob Kozel.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you, Adam. Good afternoon to everyone. Like Tom, I'm a native Chicagoan, I suppose. I'm very pleased that this race has taken on a new face under CART management. I have to say that I think this whole model is something that we spoke about for the last year or two in CART, about CART taking a much more proactive position in promoting its own races. I think that certainly other series have shown that it can be very successful to do so. And I think with Chris at the helm, I can pretty much be rest assured that it will be successful.

In fact, I really do feel, and I can honestly say that six months ago I worried considerably about the future. But since Chris has come on, and I'm glad he finally decided to take on the job. A year and a half ago or so we talked to Chris, and while he was interested, he wasn't quite that interested, I suppose. But thankfully he changed his mind.

I think can I tell you internally, as Tom would admit, in the owners' meetings and what have you, this guy has the support and the backing of the owners. Frankly, it's the first I've ever seen that support as strong and as uniform as it is. I think it's going to allow Chris to really take the sport as he knows it, knows how it can be, and take CART forward to really a new high.

It's not going to happen overnight certainly. But I think this race and some of the other things that Rena was talking about with Cleveland and what have you, I think this race is just the first of many indicators of where Chris is going to take this company and how successful it will be.

I'm going to let maybe Jimmy talk about the cars. But certainly we've changed the rules this year to help make the racing more entertaining. I think it will be more honest in some ways. The fuel game that has been played so much in the past I think is pretty much something of the past now thankfully for everyone, particularly the fans. I think the drivers will probably like it a lot more, too.

But I think in the end, Chris has asked for some pretty wide-reaching changes in how we go about these races, in recognition of having to make them better for the fans. A by-product, of course, is to make it better for the teams and the drivers.

But as Tom I think would agree with me, when we had the last board meeting at Laguna Seca, sneak preview, everyone pretty much handed the baton to Chris and it's like, "Go for it." I have to say I'm very, very optimistic. I think it's just going to go from strength to strength. And as I say, I think Chicago is one of the first indicators of that.

I'm looking forward to it. Last year, unfortunately, I was feeling miserable in England, I think, watching the race on TV, and watching Kenny win. Of course, people said you couldn't pass in Chicago. I saw Kenny make some pretty gutsy passes, and he wasn't the only one. Of course, I was glad to see that.

Now this year I'm hoping that it's Jimmy over here that will be making those passes, and hopefully not such risky ones. Hopefully we'll do that much better than everybody else.

It was great for me as a Chicagoan to win the race, and we want to come back and do the same for Shell and for Jimmy.

I look forward to your questions later. Thank you.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you very much, Bobby. Jimmy, let's talk a little bit from the driver's perspective. You got on the podium here in the very first year, it's a good track. But more importantly, when a driver comes to a city to race, is it important to be in a major market like Chicago, knowing that you're in a sports town and you're going to do your part to add to the matrix of what goes on in a great city like Chicago? Jim.

Jimmy Vasser.
Photo by Bob Kozel.

JIMMY VASSER: I've been doing my part for this race, it's going to be the fourth year now (laughter). I was at the groundbreaking for the Speedway and announcement of the race, then burnout and pit-stop competition at Navy Pier with Michael Andretti. My support has been unwavered for this race.

Obviously, Chicago is one of the top markets in the country, and home to many of our sponsors on the series. It's been a fantastic, very exciting race every year, in my opinion. With the announcement that the race was going to go away, it was very disappointing to me obviously because Chicago is such a great town, such a great racing town.

A lot of our fans that follow our series all over the country, primarily in the Midwest, all the fans come from Chicago. So it's great to have it back on the schedule.

Like Bobby said, I think it shows the commitment of our new president and CEO, the vision that he has, what he feels is important, and obviously Chicago is a very important marker.

For me personally, ovals are very important to me as a driver and also to our series. I think the mixture that we have of road courses, temporary circuit, and small ovals, short ovals and superspeedways is what makes CART a series that's second to none on the planet as far as ability of the drivers and the teams to adapt to all the different circuits.

It's good to see that there is another oval on the circuit and keep that balance I think is important for the future.

Bobby alluded to the fact a little bit that there are going to be some changes to the cars. One of the major changes that's going to be to the car, that pertains to this race, is the aerodynamic package. We had been racing over the last few years with a rear wing, everybody familiar with, called the Handford device. While it has been successful in slowing the car's overall speed down, it has created a great bit of turbulence for the other drivers behind it that makes it more difficult to pass. Those issues are being addressed. I think they're going to open things up for more competitive, exciting racing for the fans.

Also there's been a reduction in horsepower. Our cars have a tremendous amount of horsepower, upwards of 900, you know, which is in comparison to the 700, 750 area for all the rest of the top motorsports in the world. So it makes it very difficult on the drivers. As the tires go away, with all the horsepower coming off the corners, you actually get wheel spin. With the horsepower reduction, and even I think traction control can come into play, which is now legal in CART, at a track like Chicago, traction control can be advantageous and help the driver ride up on the gearbox of the car in front, be able to be a little more aggressive on the power application.

All these things I think are going to lead to a more exciting race. Just, you know, it's great to be back here. With all this hard work that I've been doing for the race, now for my new sponsor, Shell, I think the track owes me one (laughter).

ADAM SAAL: Jimmy, we'll make sure you don't get out of practice here, believe me. We'll keep you lean and mean doing work here.

Thank you.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Chris Pook , Tom Wieringa
Teams ART Grand Prix