An Interview with
Chris Pook, CART President and CEO
and legendary drivers
Michael Andretti and Mario Andretti
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today.
I'm Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations, and I'm very pleased to be joined today by three of the most distinguished men in motorsports: CART President and CEO Chris Pook, and legendary champ car drivers Mario and Michael Andretti.
We won't waste a lot of time with introductions as we want to take advantage of all the time we have today with these gentlemen, so let's get right to it.
In December our first guest was elected by the CART Board of Directors to the position of President and Chief Executive Officer of Championship Auto Racing Teams. He is the founder of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, one of the most successful and popular motorsports events in the world today, and a race that both of our other guests are more than a little familiar with. He has established himself as one of the most knowledgeable and well-respected businessmen in auto racing. Since coming on board with CART, he has restructured and redefined the way the company does business, re-establishing CART as the premiere open wheel racing series in North America.
With that, we say hello to Chris Pook. Chris, thanks for joining us today.
CHRIS POOK: Good afternoon, Merrill. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's great to be here. I'm particularly honored to be here with the Andrettis, Mario who I've known since 1975 when he first came to Long Beach in '74, and Michael I've known since he was driving go carts with his dad giving him tutelage. It's a great honor to be with them.
I just want to remind everybody, apart from Mario's career in Champ Car racing, he was one of the greatest world champion drivers in the world, and certainly the greatest motor racing ambassador that America has ever had when he was World Champion back in 1978. And Michael has continued the Andretti family tradition of holding up the standard of professional motor racing in every category.
MERRILL CAIN: Chris is stealing a little bit of my thunder here as I finish up our introductions.
CHRIS POOK: Sorry about that.
MERRILL CAIN: Let me go ahead and complete that, then we'll open it up for questions.
Our next guest is the driver of the #39 Honda Reynard for Team Motorola in the CART FedEx Championship Series. He will be entering his 19th season in champ cars next week at the 2002 season opener in Monterrey, Mexico. His 41 career victories are the most ever in CART history, he won the Series Championship in 1991, and he's the only driver to be named a FedEx Championship Series All-Star for three consecutive seasons. We're happy to be joined today by Michael Andretti.
Michael, thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: My pleasure. Good to be here.
MERRILL CAIN: Finally, what can you say about our final guest, considered by many to be the best driver in the history of auto racing. He won a remarkable 109 races over a career that spans five decades. He's won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, the Formula One World Championship and the CART Series title, which he captured in 1984. He's been named Driver-of-the-Year in a remarkable three different decades and was also selected as Driver-of-the-Century in the year 2000.
Since retiring from full-time driving in 1994, he has established himself as a very successful businessman off the track, and he remains a true ambassador of the sport of auto racing. It's my pleasure to welcome Mario Andretti.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you. Thanks. Hello, everyone.
MERRILL CAIN: Now that the formalities are out of the way, let's open it up for some questions.
Q My question is for Chris. If you could talk a little bit about the season and some of the challenges that you face, especially with the loss of Roger Penske to the IRL.
CHRIS POOK: Well, let me deal with the loss of Roger. Obviously, we're very disappointed to lose Roger. The CART FedEx Championship is an extremely competitive series. I believe last year we had 11 different winners out of all of our races. That tells you just how competitive it is.
There's some tremendous teams in it. I mean, Michael's Team Motorola, and his two teammates with the KOOL cars, Franchitti and Tracy, as Michael and Mario will attest, are no slouches. You've got Rahal with a strong team. You've got Ganassi with a strong team.
I think that one of the tremendous things about the CART FedEx Championship is the diversity of this championship. I mean, you know, you're talking about guys, teams that have to run on ovals, on street courses, on road courses. They have to be extremely adept. They have to be very adept in their driving skills, and the team has to be very adept and very smart in its preparation skills.
The fact that Roger did not dominate the championship last year, although he won it, and he's moved on to IRL, I think speaks to the strength of our teams.
Now, I think that as you look forward, you have to see what he is going to do in the IRL. And, you know, is he going to receive the same level of competition over there that he received over here when he won this championship? That's a question mark that's out there.
As far as we're concerned, we're obviously disappointed. We would have loved to have de Ferran and Castroneves here. I'm sure that Michael will reiterate that; although as a racing car driver, I think sometimes you want to see the competition go away. Fair enough.
We'll miss them, yes. But will the competition be less intense? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It will be as fierce and as hard as it ever was with a highly, highly competitive series of motor car races.
Q Has it caused you to kind of reassess things and maybe try to alter the structure a little bit to try to keep maybe more teams in the fold, keep them from leaving? Or is this just maybe part of a process where both circuits may eventually come together at some point?
CHRIS POOK: No, it's part of the whole thing that caused us to restructure, you know, the company. I mean, we've changed this company in the last two months from just being a sanctioning body to being a marketing and servicing company that creates a platform whereby all the sponsors, be they the sponsors on the cars or sponsors of the series, the engine manufacturers and suppliers, they can all get a return on their investment.
We have changed our whole outlook of the way we do business. We have the same strong operational element and the racing part that takes place between the walls. But outside of that, we've changed the whole environment.
Clearly, yes, we're focusing on making sure that car sponsors get value. We met with Michael's sponsor, Motorola, and we're starting to understand fully what they want to achieve from their sponsorship with him and his race car. We're doing the same with all the other sponsors. We are friendly now in that area, and we want to create the right environment so everyone can be with us and stay with us and get a return on their investment.
MERRILL CAIN: Let's move on now.
Q This is for Chris. One, is there any new news on Chicago? Because the rumors are that you folks are going to take that race over and run it. And, two, somebody said that there's been more changes in CART in the last two weeks than they've seen - or three weeks - than they've seen in the last five years. Do you see any other changes down the road?
CHRIS POOK: Well, I can't comment on Chicago other than it's a great market; it's the corporate home of Motorola, Michael's sponsor. It's the home of three of our teams. It's the number three ADI in the country. CART needs to be in Chicago.
Now, with regard to other changes, the only changes that you will see, I would suspect, is the pick-up in the standard and level of service that we provide to you folks in the media and we provide to all the sponsors. You won't see that as a dramatic change, but you'll see it as an ongoing change throughout the year and as we position the CART product and the marketing platform we're creating for sponsors to do business in.
Going back over the last five years, I'm probably not the one to ask about the change in the last five years, probably Michael and Mario are the better ones, they've been more closely involved in it than I have certainly. I'm just a new boy on the block. But they may want to comment on that for you.
MARIO ANDRETTI: May I? It's Mario.
MERRILL CAIN: Go ahead, Mario.
MARIO ANDRETTI: It's basically right now we're beginning a new season, and we have a new leader a long time coming in my opinion. I will be quite blunt about all those things obviously. I'm not working for anybody, you see, so (laughing)...
And what I know of CART, what I've seen and the reason personally that I've supported this Series is the fact that - I think Chris eloquently explained that earlier - about the value of the Series as a very versatile series that provides, as I said, I think entertainment for different -- for all the fans, the aficionados of road racing and oval racing. It's the only real series in the world at this level that provides that.
Now, because of that, I think that CART as a product, I mean, is second to none. That's why CART has survived even in the face of adversity such as having had the Indianapolis 500 taken away from its Series. The product is strong, is that strong.
And the politics in CART as I've known it from day one, I mean, to me, left a lot to be desired, no question. This is the first time that I know that we have someone leading the parade be in charge of CART that understands all the important aspects of a sanctioning body.
I have heard so many people complain in the past about the arrogance of CART, you know, toward promoters, toward this and that and the other, manufacturers, some of the sponsors involved. And, again, it's bound to catch up to you. But it's never too late to make it right, either.
And, again, I've been a supporter of Chris, myself, mainly because I felt you needed someone that's been on all sides of this wheel that understands, has been on the receiving end, as to what needs to be done. I've never seen as much movement in that direction until now, positive movement.
So, again, the engine manufacturers, if CART would have taken the leadership position like they've done now, it would have been certainly a different delivery from them as far as how they felt about CART, whether they want to stay or leave or whatever. There's so many things that would have been different.
But, having said that, we must move forward. And, again, we are experiencing a cycle. We have seen cycles throughout the eras. You know, the cycle may go into, for instance, a lot of engines being pretty much the same. There's nothing really wrong with that. I've seen Formula One thrive under that, where it was all (inaudible). I've seen CART thrive when it was all (inaudible) or a majority of Ilmors and so on and so forth.
Again, I think what we have to look forward to in my opinion is at least a lot of the things that, to me, represent a negative are going to be -- are being addressed.
Part II Chris Pook, Mario and Michael Andretti interview.