Open Wheel Racing Series media teleconference transcript with Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven
Part 3 of 3
Q: Can we expect to see an Australian driver in the series next year?
PG: We'd love to have one. Kevin and I have had lengthy discussions with your Prime Minister and other politicians there and I'll let Kevin talk a little more but we have talked very much to that point and we're very anxious to do that.
KK: Peter, as you remember we talked about this during the Surfers race. Obviously I had to wait until literally two days ago before I could start to work actively on that but I am committed to finding a national driver from Australia and taking him up certainly through the Atlantic ranks and then hopefully having a ride in Champ Cars very quickly. You know, one of the things that make an international series work well is when you've got drivers from each of those countries. One of the great successes in Mexico is our great Mexican drivers, clearly Canada is the same. We have U.S. drivers and new U.S. drivers coming in. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see a Wallaby coming in.
Q: I think you've kind of answered this but I guess the main thing I want to ask is a question that I get over and over again and that's for you guys, with the financial commitment that you are making, why is it worth it? It seems like we are talking about a continuation indefinitely about two separate open-wheel organizations in North America and can that be viable?
PG: First of all, you have to have a macro view of open-wheel racing in the U.S. and have been around it for perhaps a decade. To have some idea of the infection you get from what Champ Car brings, it has been a huge part of motorsports. When you look at what has happened since 1996 and 97 after the split, until perhaps 2002 we've seen that perhaps Champ Car was competing for a leadership position in the minds of the motorsports fans of North America. When we include Canada and Mexico, Champ Car is a hugely successful form of racing but Champ Car was certainly in those two countries and was fighting with NASCAR in the U.S. The split really has diminished its ability to compete and has certainly affected the long term of open-wheel racing. We're convinced that the product that Champ Car is, that the kind of racing, the variety of race tracks, the association with that kind of racing sets it apart from competing today with the more traditional form of oval racing, which is NASCAR. So we know that that diversity attracts a different consumer, a different ticket buyer, thereby attracting a different type of manufacturer and sponsor. My attraction to this series is its reputation, its diversity and its potential to reach markets commercially that other forms can't reach. We don't want to be second at anything, we want to be the best and I think if you go back to 98, 99, 2000, Champ Car had a phenomenal series, if you go back to the recent championships of Nigel Mansell or Juan Montoya, around the world, people knew Champ Car and it brought great sponsors, great manufacturers. The element that has altered that in the last two years certainly was the transition of Honda and Toyota from Champ Car to the IRL. Let's just be blunt and honest here. It elevated the status of the IRL and perhaps did damage to Champ Car. We've repaired that damage, we have sufficient cars, Ford has been a wonderful participant along with Cosworth that is making it now, not just about one part of the car, but making the driver, car and engine package an important part of the competition. We're in this, in the end again, we think this is a better product and we think that it is at absolutely the lowest tide it could be and a good business plan will make it a plus again.
Q: Are there any legal hurdles that may crop up from any disgruntled stockholders that may crop up and put a crimp in your plans to go forward or has that all been taken care of?
KK: Let me just go back once again and say that there aren't of CART, the shareholder of the Delaware Corporation are of Championship Auto Racing Teams. What we're doing is buying the assets of CART, which is a Michigan- based company. If the judge approves the transaction as the Board has accepted, then there is very little that represents a legal obstacle in our going forward.
Q: Can you give us a rundown of the teams that are going ahead in the series and which teams are possibly question marks?
PG: Let me first address the fact that we are beyond confident that we'll have the required number of cars which is, on average, 18 cars to satisfy all of our promoter agreements. We' recommitted and confident to do that. In the next few days, we'll be releasing more information, more press releases now that we can do it about the teams that are coming back for next year and about the new teams that are coming into the series. So, we'll do that. We're telling you know that we have 18 cars and the only team that we're aware of at this point that is not coming back although the drivers look like they'll be coming back is, American Spirit Racing. They're in a shut-down mode and we don't know whether that is short-term or long-term. That's the only team that we are at this point that we are confident that are not coming back.
Q: I wanted to ask you, what is the status of the Miami race?
PG: I guess Kevin wants me to answer that (Laughs). At this point, we are not purchasing the assets of the Miami race.
Q: So that race will probably drop off the schedule then?
Q: I'd like you to put your Rocketsports boss hat on for a moment and could you tell me where the negotiations are to bring Alex Tagliani back to Rocketsports.
PG: Alex has spent the last two days at my house in Lansing, I had him locked in the basement (Laughs) We concluded our negotiations and we'd like to have a big press release about it but since you brought it up, I'm beaming with happiness to say that Alex and I have a deal done. There was really never any doubt in my mind that he would be coming back. I have huge respect for his desire and talent and he'll be driving one of the Rocketsports entries for next year. I'm confident, I've been working on him and I'm confident that he'll be looking in his mirrors at Tracy.
Q: What is the status of open-wheel's relationship with Fontana and as a follow-up, what are your long-term plans for oval racing?
PG: First, if you read the documents, we have not purchased the contract for the Fontana race in 2004. That event is not in litigation, but litigation has been discussed and Champ Car and CART will own those assets, we won't be involved there. Second, we're going back to Milwaukee and I believe individually that the great part of the history of Champ Car champions has been the diversity that was part of our program. If you can win a championship, if you can come from Formula 1 like Nigel Mansell did and win on ovals and win on street courses and win on natural terrain road courses, you have to be at the top of the list of the greatest race drivers in the world. So we're going to try to continue that mix, and show the world that our drivers are the best. You hear all the time, great road course drivers and drivers from Formula 1 that talk about the dangers of oval racing and they don't want to do it because of this, that or the other, but we've been crowing great champions who have won on both types of venues for a long time. We're going to stay with that tradition when it fits the market and when it's a good business opportunity. There are places in the world that really want to see us race on ovals and I think we're glad to do that.
Q: What is Chris Pook's current role with the company and what do you see his role being in the future?
KK: Chris is still CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams, the Delaware Corporation. He's not part of the OWRS organization at all, he stays on as CEO of Champ.
Q: What is his contract? Is it still up in the air as to what the terms of it are or is that under the old corporation and he has nothing to do with this?
KK: His contract is with Champ and we have no contract with Chris.
Q: Kevin, you alluded to some international races that you were looking at. Your long-range plan seems to be a little more of an international plan. Is that true or am I reading too much into it.
KK: I think you're reading too much into it. First of all, the series has had an Americas bias and we want to get back to that. I am a great believer that this is not just a U.S. series, but an Americas or North American series. (Interruption) With countries like Korea, we can surely hold great races around the world where there is a strong interest in open-wheel racing. It's primarily oriented at the Americas though obviously if somebody comes along as in the case of Australia which seems a long way away but puts on an incredibly successful race, both in terms of its finance and in terms of its enthusiasm, we'd be foolish not to do it.
Q: Have both of you two committed to a second car for next year and can you talk about those at all and what drivers you might be looking at?
PG: I think the car count issue, I talked about a little earlier, we are going to be doing press releases so that they have value in the market and so that they attract attention to what we're doing over the next few weeks. There is a great voyeurism out there about who is going to drive for where and of course that we have all learned that until it's a signed deal and the check has cleared, you shouldn't talk about it. So at this point I doubt that we're willing to be very specific. Car count and the number of cars that myself, Kevin and Gerry will run will likely come out in the next few days.
Q: I was wondering if you could elaborate a little more on the Miami race and why you guys are not going to purchase the assets?
PG: First of all, I don't know how long you have been in Miami as a reporter but I have raced there a long time and it's a wonderful event and we love going there. We made a business decision based on the infrastructure and overhead costs of having a race in the center of an urban environment as it was. We'd love to be in Miami, we want to be back there, we want to race there, you just have to be in a spot that we can be reasonable about costs. We're investigating some sites and we've had serious discussions about it and we think that it's valid but we just couldn't justify the purchase of those assets considering their obligations.
Q: What would it take to bring a race back to Miami?
PG: Having a street race is great, but it really ties up a great part of the city and it compromised the race track so we first of all need a place where we can make a temporary circuit that is fun for the fans, easy to get to and exciting for the competitors. We need to get that done, then we need to balance the income side. The old race that was held adjacent to the current race location was a great race track. It had high speeds, had good access and didn't tie up a great deal of the city so we could adjust on some comprises as the city can. We were just put under the burden of having too many.
Q: In purchasing Trans-Am, can you tell me exactly what you purchased because I thought that Mr. Gentilozzi already had some of the promotional rights.
PG: I never owned the name Trans-Am, the SCCA has always owned the name Trans-Am. When you talk about the marketing rights, what I did was I licensed the name Trans-Am in 2003 and could use it in any capacity I wanted. What OWRS has done is taken the assets of Trans-Am Racing LLC which was the company I used this year to run Trans-Am events and purchased the assets. We wanted to make that series part of our program. There is value in having a mix of product. What OWRS bought was not technically Trans-Am, we are still in discussion with SCCA about the continuation of the licensing of that name or the purchase of that name in total but we have not made that decision yet. We still have a few days to make it. Irregardless what happens relative to the name, the series will go forward. It may be using a different name, we hope not, but the series as we know it will continue to go forward on OWRS weekends.
EM: With that, we will close the media portion of the call and will ask the gentlemen if they would like to make any closing comments today.
PG: First of all I want to comment on the wonderfully positive nature of all the media participants today. I've gotten literally hundreds of emails congratulating us, a little prematurely perhaps, but the media around the country has an affection for what we do and it shows in the attitude in the approach. We are going to have more of these and we're going to communicate as much as we can now that it is allowed for us and we promise to be very forthright about sharing our directions and our plans.
KK: From me, as a relative newcomer into the series, the one thing that struck me when I first came into it was the passion and the love from the spectators and the teams of the sport. It's a privilege to be able to allow it to continue in 2004.
EM: Thank you gentlemen. This brings an end to this teleconference, thank you for your participation and have a Happy Holiday.