CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland Champ Car Town Meeting, part V

Champ Car Cleveland Town Meeting Transcript with Christopher R. Pook, Bud Stanner, Jim Liberatore, Patrick Carpentier and Joey Hand Part 5 of 6 Q: Mr. Pook, you talked about loyalty, and you were just speaking of the engines. If you could...

Champ Car Cleveland Town Meeting Transcript with Christopher R. Pook, Bud Stanner, Jim Liberatore, Patrick Carpentier and Joey Hand

Part 5 of 6

Q: Mr. Pook, you talked about loyalty, and you were just speaking of the engines. If you could comment on the logic of one of your major investors, Ford, there's some talk of them teaming up with Chevy and IRL to assist them with their under performing engine. Not really understanding the logic behind that, if you might comment on that. Then I have I question for Mr. Stanner who seems lonely up there tonight. (Laughter).

CHRIS POOK: I'm not going to hold his hand.

Q: Just wanted to get your comments about the decision a few years ago to initially go with IRL then step away from IRL and how your organization feels about the decision that it made. Finally, for Mr. Liberatore, I won't ask an embarrassing question though I did want to ask you where you got that Einstein quote earlier. Your parent company, obviously, FOX manages or is involved with the 800-pound gorilla and wanted to find out what their thinking is about your station, your cable program's involvement with CART and how they see the relationship, how they view the relationship.

JIM LIBERATORE: This wouldn't be George, by any chance, is it? The person who taught me to swear in Hungarian growing up in Bay Village. There's only one word I remember and I'm not going to repeat it, but it's one of those weird things that sticks with you.

FOX, when we first took over, FOX bought SpeedVision.  The idea in some
people's minds, it would be an all-NASCAR channel.  A lot of people were
aware of that at the time.  We successfully got that completely turned
around.  Now we have a heavy percentage of NASCAR.  (Applause).

But the bad news - and this is not a Champ Car issue, that is an issue involving everything we are doing. They look at ratings, that is what our company looks at, it looks at ratings and revenue. And we have a meeting once a year with Mr. Murdock and he asks me how the Champ Car series are going. He's one of the guys who flips back to the final page and looks at one number and you're either good or bad based off of that one number.

And so, we have a responsibility, and this is something that at SPEED Channel, we really, really feel this way is that we have a responsibility to make these things work for everybody, from a business standpoint, which is first and foremost. It's been great because I've hardly had anything to say which is how it should be because normally we are talking about ratings and distribution and all that stuff. It's great to hear actually racing conversation going on.

But they are concerned. They are concerned about a lot of the non-NASCAR racing series that we have, but we think we can turn it around. We think that showing the pre-race and the post-race and showing qualifying. Again, this is a credit to the Champ Car guys because that they understand you're just not going to show a green to checkered flag and just expect that the ratings are going to go up. As everyone saw, Indy's ratings were down again this year.

I personally look at that as a bad thing only because I think - I don't think the open-wheel fans, we want as many of them as we possibly can get. But to answer your question, they will be committed to it as long as we can make it work, which we are in the process of doing I think right now.

BUD STANNER: The then current management of CART literally priced themselves out of the market for temporary road courses and fortunately, we had an alternative which we used to the best of our ability to pound some sense into the then top-management of CART. We were never going to run an IRL race. (Applause).

CHRIS POOK: Actually it's Cosworth doing it on their own, who have approached Chevy and offered to help them see if they could solve their problems. Maybe they can, maybe they can't, but Cosworth must be a glutton for punishment because they have spent last three or four years getting the crap kicked out of them by Honda, and now they want to jump back in again. Maybe the financial reward is such that it's so enticing and they need to do it.

That's fine with us and we don't care. They can go do that. It doesn't bother us. It's not Ford. In fact, the folks from Ford made it very, very clear to us this last weekend in Milwaukee that they had nothing to do with it whatsoever. It was strictly a Cosworth business decision. It doesn't bother us one bit. As I said, we are completely separating ourselves from that over there. They do their thing and our guys do everything, uphill, downshift, braking, change gear and all that other good stuff, day or night. Completely different. Very talented group of people we have.

Q: My name is David. I'm from Pittsburgh. My question is for Chris. Looking at the calendar we have got about 20, 21 months until St. Petersburg 2005. My question is how many of those months do the engine and chassis manufacturers need to get ready for the new specs?

CHRIS POOK: The chassis guys can do it a lot quicker than the engine guys. The engine guys, probably they need to be in the design process by, I would say, August or September. And then the chassis guys can move very, very quickly comparatively.

We are doing this whole process, however, in concert with the chassis guys. We are talking to all of them. We are explaining to them what the engines will look like, the mounting points and all of the bits and pieces that you've got to talk to them about. So they are being kept up to speed on all of those discussions and developments. The objective will be to have by October 2004 to have the first test taking place of what the 2005 engine chassis package.

JIM LIBERATORE: I'm disappointed that in a room of Clevelanders, a guy can say he's from Pittsburgh that and there's no reaction at all. (Laughter).

CHRIS POOK: Well, thanks for driving up here anyway. We appreciate it.

Q: Ed from Ohio. Mr. Stanner, I wonder if you could make a comment about the economic impact of the Grand Prix race coming to Cleveland? And for Mr. Pook, my question has to do with comments made on a number of occasions, again tonight, about CART being a private organization, as opposed to public. My understanding is a public organization has access to capital that a private organization does not and given the fact that you're burning through it pretty quickly and maybe public funds are a good thing to have; and another follow on to that, with regard to cash generation, it's entirely with regard to the racing, have you given any thought to the possibility of holding out kind of a CART car a retail operation sort of thing, restaurant, retail using CART as the drivers, the product, the brand that you have and expanding this thing to a 365-day a year operation, as opposed to 20, 22 events a year?

BUD STANNER: The highest economic impact this race as generated was four years ago when it was 33.8 million. We are projecting 28 million this year and we think we might do a little better.

Economic impact models are - they vary, depending on how you look at the numbers. We use the model developed by Ernst & Young and we think we are pretty accurate. That begs the question, why doesn't our city do more to help this event? And maybe they would get it if anybody in this room wrote 12 letters once a month for the next year to our honorable mayor, Jane Campbell.

CHRIS POOK: Thank you. Bud. He's going to become a lobbyist in his next career.

We laid out a very clear plan for this company in the early part of last year. It was basically a five-year plan and we are executing on our five-year plan. It has two branches to it. Whether they are public or whether they are private, each one has a strategy and I can just tell you that we are on-course where we need to be.

Again you have got me in an area I can't really talk too much about, but thank you for your question.

ADAM SAAL: I think we need to say that the mayor has been pretty supportive - that's me talking over here, the PR guy. I think the mayor has been one of our best supporters here, definitely getting involved in a lot of the events we've got.

Q: Name is Doug. Patrick we've been talking about how the IRL is doing everything and we are doing this. Last year when you guys were at Texas, you guys went there and you kind of got on the track and then something happened where the drivers either, the cars obviously were creating a problem, the high speed there at Texas. Can you kind of go into detail what happened?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, what happened was in a few weeks, the week before I think it was an F-18 - almost lost consciousness there and something was happening on the race track, actually because the G-force that we were pulling, the speeds were pretty high. This year, actually is going to be interesting because with the involvement of Toyota and Honda, and maybe the IRL will get closer to the speeds we used to reach there.

And it became a little bit of a problem for the drivers, like I think it was Tony Kanaan that was driving around - and started, his vision started to get narrow, which is what happens when you blackout. When you blackout, the blood that's in your brain just goes down your body and then you just blackout. If you whiteout, it's opposite, the blood goes up and you lose consciousness, also. For us it was a blackout situation. What happened was that we had two G-forces, one was sideways and because the angle of the racetrack, the other one was pushing down, and when you combine the both of them, it was actually really high and it's hard for somebody who has a good understanding of those forces and what the human capacity is.

They said they recommended that we do not do the race. I'm pretty certain that a few guys would have passed out during that race.

But now if we go back there, we just slow the engines down a little bit or have a little bit less downforce. But basically it was so fast that it looked like a video game. I remember Paul Tracy tried to make a change in his dashboard and it was like quarter of a lap behind me and almost rear-ended me. I couldn't even change my swing bar. I didn't even have time to play with that. So it was really, really fast. The cars were basically faster than what our brains could process. So it was fast.

I remember going out of the pits when we first started the weekend and I think on lap four, I was flat-out. The car was like -- it could do it easy, but for me it was like I couldn't even see, there was a wall in corner one, it was fast. My car, it went sideways between corner three and four. I didn't do anything, it just came back by myself and we ended up on the front. But by the time I realized we went sideways, we was across the finish line, so we had a good time but it was fast.

CHRIS POOK: The unfortunate thing there was the management team did not do their due diligence. They knew the place was going to be quick and they didn't go down and do a proper test at full speed. They did a test but the teams at the time and the drivers were not comfortable about their suspension capabilities at the time so they never really got on with the program.

When they got to the weekend, everybody had beefed up their suspension and tires and stuff and these guys got on with the job. It was a very, very difficult situation and I could just tell you that our business is tough enough as it is, but this management team is not going to put their drivers at that sort of risk ever without some real thorough testing before we do those sort of things.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Plus in between the time we did the test, I think they repaved the corners so we got another five, six miles an hour. So that was enough to throw it overboard.

Q: Erica from Cleveland. Cleveland is unique in that there's a live airport up to the first few hours of on-track activities. What are your thoughts on the safety factors of Cleveland in regards to the barriers and what do you find most challenging about Cleveland?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Safety has always been very good. One of the reasons is that it's an open racetrack using an airport field. So basically if you go off the track, you just skid across the grass forever and then finally come to a stop. So it's not too bad. There are a couple of walls around there but some of the tracks we go to, there are walls basically all over the racetrack. I believe this track is really safe. We have run-offs where we need them to be and quite a few tires where we think we don't have enough run-off.

So far the driver has been pretty happy. Every year we make improvement. There used to be a wall coming to the pit lane, where if something happens, you can hit the wall head on. They took that away. Every year they tried to make a lot of improvements and we are actually pretty happy with this circuit. It's been pretty safe.

Q: I'd just like to thank everybody, I attended your Champ Car meeting in Columbus last year and this is a great venue and along with your fan forum, I think those are some great things that bring more fans to you, to help them understand the whole process. I'm going to put Joey Hand on the carpet here and tell me a little bit about Danica Patrick and how you visualize her as a competitor? I've met her as a fan, and from the fan's perspective, she looks like the real deal. Just tell me where she's at after three races.

JOEY HAND: You know, I'm always looking at what's best for the sport because I want to be in this sport for a while. I think as far as for the sport, I think it's probably one of the better things that have happened in a while. If she beats me to a seat, I won't be too happy about it. (Laughter).

But I would say for the sport, it's a good thing. She's definitely one of the better females I've ever seen driving a race car. As far as how she stacks up right now, as I said she stacks up pretty well. There are a handful of guys that are quite a bit quicker on any given day, but that doesn't mean she's not good.

I haven't got to race with her much. We've had our fair share of bad luck starting this year, so we'll see what happens. I think we just got started this year and she started out well. I think it's going to be a real testament to the teams and the drivers when we get to Race 12 to see who is still standing.

Overall, though, to answer your question, I think it's a good thing.

BUD STANNER: We really need your help to support the sponsors for this event and tell them how much you appreciate what they do by giving them your business and when you talk to them, tell them how much you appreciate what they do. And for those sponsors that are here, tell them they ought to be.

Part VI

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Joey Hand , Danica Patrick