IPS: IRL: State of the Series press conference, part II

Indy Racing League Test in the West press conference. Feb. 3, 2003 State of the Series. Tony George, Brian Barnhart, Ken Ungar Part 2 of 2 Moderator: At this point we'd like to open up for some questions. Q: Tony, you talked about having...

Indy Racing League Test in the West press conference.
Feb. 3, 2003
State of the Series. Tony George, Brian Barnhart, Ken Ungar

Part 2 of 2

Moderator: At this point we'd like to open up for some questions.

Q: Tony, you talked about having all your ducks in a row now. You have Toyota, you have manufacturers, you have television packages, you have a 16-race schedule, including international races. Can you talk about the pressure now that you face to get your message to the people, how attendance must increase, how ratings must increase here in the next year to two years?

George: Well, it's pressure that I think is self-imposed. I think we've continued to show steady growth and focus on that outcome. But this year we've stepped it up, as Ken mentioned, on just about every front.

I think certainly there's been a lot of attention focused on the League this year. It's incumbent upon us to respond with the appropriate level of professionalism, which we've spent the better part of two years, the start of our second year, really trying to set up an organizational structure that is properly staffed to meet those needs.

As Ken so aptly put it, it's going to take working with all of our partners and all the constituents to achieve that.

Q: Brian, could you speak to car counts both for the IndyCar Series and for the Pro Series as you see it now and also to the Indy 500?

Barnhart: I certainly think, especially with regards to the Indianapolis 500, we're going to be looking at a combination of car drivers in the low- to mid-40s participating, and shooting for the 33 spots, which is fairly consistent with numbers we've seen the last several years.

With regards to the IndyCar Series and the Infiniti Pro Series, probably the IndyCar Series isn't going to achieve what we hoped, and probably we're looking at in October, which I don't think is really something unusual. This is the first year of our chassis and engine combination, the first of a three-year run, where I mentioned entrants are able to amortize the cost. As that involves a significant capitol investment and outflow in the first year, especially where we were last September and October with the existing teams and the ones that expressed interest and participating in the League, in coming to the League, we were really looking at 28 to 30.

With various factors involved, I don't think we're going to achieve that number, which is again consistent with what I think happened in '97 and 2000, but also consistent with what happened in the second and third years of those programs. As the equipment becomes more available and is also cheaper in the years two and three of the program, I think the car number will go up.

I don't think we'll vary a whole lot on the IndyCar Series. I think we'll probably have 24, 25 cars, which is pretty consistent with what we had last year.

The Infiniti Pro Series, Roger Bailey has done a great job and is attracting more attention. It is a viable option for any entrant who hasn't been able to acquire the funding to run on the IndyCar Series level. It's a great training ground, as we talked about. I think right now Roger is indicating he should have between 22 and 24 competitors in the Infiniti Pro Series.

Q: In previous press conferences at this time of the year you talked about the next year's schedule. Anything you can update us about 2004?

Ungar: I didn't know we were talking about next year's schedule this soon. The hallmarks of the Indy Racing League are growth, growth and growth. The 2004 schedule will in a way be a great challenge for us because we've always been very careful to manage our growth. We've done what we feel is in the best interest of the series, the competitors, teams, our promoter partners, our sponsors. It's always a complicated formula in terms of how we grow our schedule. We've been fortunate to be able to grow our schedule since 1996.

2004 will be yet another challenge, as the series gets stronger, finding the right combination of races in terms of number, in terms of geography. We'll be looking very closely at our history, looking closely at our performance this year, and looking for opportunities for all those partners that I mentioned before, what makes the best schedule.

That process has begun, obviously, and later this summer we'll be talking more about it.

Q: I caught the words like "renaissance" and "growth," but how are you addressing the real issue of getting open-wheel racing onto the radar screen? In reality, it's NASCAR that's dominating. Have you got a grand plan to increase visibility to where it used to be?

George: Well, we continue to evaluate our business plan for the next three to five years. We feel like we've made significant progress in growing the Indy Racing League. I think it's good for all motorsports when we can show positive signs, especially in challenging times, of growth.

I don't think we sit down in daily or weekly meetings discussing how we can wrestle attention away from others. I think we try to focus on ways that we can bring attention to our series, and we've done that in a very -- I think -- diligent way.

We've continually worked at bringing new sponsors and manufacturers and teams and drivers into our series, tried to present an opportunity that allows them to compete at the highest form of open-wheel racing in the United States. I think we'll continue to try to do that, just focus on building the Indy Racing League and just let the rest of it hopefully take care of itself.

Q: You were here last year real early in the year with a late schedule, now you're going to September. Is the September date more optimal for the series than being here early in the year?

Ungar: We think that September poses a great opportunity for us. In terms of looking at our overall schedule, where the best place is for this race, we agreed with Bill Miller and his staff that we'd like to build and create some date equity in the September date.

If you remember, last year's event came together with only three months' notice. We've had a real chance to dig in with the track staff, create an integrated marketing/public relations promotional plan to really get the word out in the Southern California market about this event.

We think that adding tools in everyone's tool belt like the Indy Racing League Fan Experience, where we can take grassroots marketing initiatives here in Southern California, leave them in market, really spread the word among fans about how great our brand of racing is, we'll really have a leg up.

Also the interesting thing about this year for us will be as we have just, off the top of my head, three significant partners of the League, either team sponsors or League sponsors who were not with us last year, in Toyota, Honda and Pioneer, for example, who have U.S. bases of operations here in Southern California. They're committed also to helping us get the word out and seeing that this event is very successful.

We love racing here. You saw the race last year. There could not be a better racing product to take anywhere. So we think we have a phenomenal on-track product to show fans here. Now the question is, we've demonstrated that the product is great; getting the word out is the next step. We're confident with Bill Miller and his staff, we'll be successful.

Q: How important is it to have the great names like Rick Mears, Andretti, Foyt, Unser to have higher profiles?

Barnhart: I think it's very important from every aspect you can think about. As I mentioned, we're very honored to have Rick join our staff this year and have him dedicated solely to the Infiniti Pro Series. There's a number of reasons for that. I mean, Rick, I believe he retired from racing in '92, is the most current of our driver coaches. These guys in the Infiniti Pro Series can relate to him. As they were growing up, Rick was their hero when they were racing. That applies to Sam Hornish. I know Sam, obviously in the IndyCar Series, his hero in racing was Rick. These guys, as they are stepping in the Infiniti Pro Series, can now talk to and relate to somebody that they watched race.

We also have the luxury, obviously, of having another four-time winner with Al Unser Sr. And three-time winner with Johnny Rutherford that will help the Infiniti Pro Series and IndyCar (Series) drivers when they need it. When you look at that level of experience and knowledge that we have mentoring people in our series, it doesn't get any better than that.

Then on the competition side itself, I mean, Friday evening we attended the function at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Andretti Green unveiled their cars participating in the series. What a wonderful occasion. There were four magnificently prepared, fully sponsored, beautiful race cars. When you have the names likes Andretti and Franchitti and Kanaan joining your series, those are names people recognize, they're icons of the sport. It continues to raise the credibility and competition level of what we've been doing.

What we've been able to do on track has been outstanding the last two or three years. As I mentioned, it's just going to get better. You have Fernandez Racing bringing a car, you have Kenny Brack rejoining the series with Bobby Rahal, the '86 Indy 500 winner, you have Mo Nunn, Chip Ganassi running another car. Those aren't cars that are just going to run; those are cars that are going to compete to win. You're going to literally look at a situation when we open the race season at Homestead, 20 of the cars on the grid can win that race that day, and it wouldn't surprise anybody.

From aspects of learning and teaching the people involved, we have the great coaches in place to do it, we have the most recognizable names, teams and drivers in the sport, as well. That's how we're going to raise the awareness of what we do. Once people get to the racetrack and watch our product on the track, that will sell itself, as well.

Q: Where are we with a European race? Then road courses, you have so many drivers and teams now who have road course expertise, it seems a waste of that skill not to at least showcase it somewhere along the line.

George: We currently don't have any dialogue with any European venues. I don't really have much to report there.

With regard to road racing, I think it's something we'll look at and evaluate as opportunities may present themselves. A lot of people ask me specifically about venues that as I know them today are part of another schedule, traditional dates, whatever. I tend to not encourage dialogue where it doesn't seem appropriate.

I have been approached about some potentially new opportunities that aren't developed fully enough to consider them a near-term prospect. We'll continue to evaluate it and maybe in the three- to five-year business planning cycle, we'll start looking at that more closely, again, as opportunities present themselves.

Having said that, wearing a different hat at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we have a pretty significant interest in Formula One, looking at trying to develop road racing, particularly interest in Formula One, in the immediate future. I'm always thinking about that, looking at ways that we can help build on the existing base of Formula One fan interest.

The Indy Racing League has predominantly been an oval racing series. I expect that will be the case for the next few years.

Q: Last year when we sat here, I believe that Brian said there was absolutely no interest in road racing. I think you said it was strictly oval. Has it changed any? It sounds like maybe you're considering it. Has it changed?

Ungar: I think the business model changes. I think you also as a responsible organization need to be able to respond and react to the business world as situations present themselves.

I think just what Tony said, the Indy Racing League is an all-oval series and is going to stay that way at least in the immediate future. As business models and business opportunities present themselves, a responsible organization will take a look at them.

Q: What do you expect to have at the Indy Japan 300 in April? This is the first time to have an Indy car race abroad, right?

Ungar: We're very excited about the Indy Japan 300 race coming up. We've done a lot of great preparation with our partner, the Twin Ring Motegi, to prepare for this race -- everything from preparations for an Indy week of promotions where drivers and League officials will be engaged in various promotional activities throughout Japan to help bring attention to the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, to actually preparing for the race itself.

We're very confident that, because the Twin Ring Motegi is one of the finest racetracks, one of the finest ovals in the world, we're very confident with our cars and the competition that we have, it will be an excellent and very exciting race for Japanese race fans.

Moderator: I think at this point we can break up. Brian, Ken and Tony can be available for some one-on-one questions. Thank you.

Part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Tony George , Roger Bailey , Brian Barnhart , Johnny Rutherford , Mo Nunn