Aug. 31, 2001 TONY GEORGE: It is my pleasure to finally be in a position to make the announcement that in the year 2002 the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series will make debut mid-season. This is a major step in the growth of the Indy Racing League...
Aug. 31, 2001
TONY GEORGE: It is my pleasure to finally be in a position to make the announcement that in the year 2002 the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series will make debut mid-season. This is a major step in the growth of the Indy Racing League and will provide a key link to driver and team development. We expected it to greatly add value to our fans, sponsors and to create a more exciting atmosphere in the Indy Racing weekends. We expected our season to consist of approximately six or seven races as it is being introduced next season. This is really designed to provide us with an open-wheel support series that will be able to run at the mile-and-a quarter and larger tracks. With our ever-expanding schedule and the bright prospects we have for the future, this is going to continue to be a critical element in all of our Indy Racing programs. So without further adieu, I'll turn it back over to Ron for the next introduction.
RON GREEN: Thank you, Tony. At this time we'll bring up Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League.
BRIAN BARNHART: Thank you Ron. It's my pleasure today to introduce along with Tony joining us up here; a couple of people are going to join us for this announcement. Mr. Steve Kight, the director of marketing for the Infiniti division and director of motorsports for Nissan North America. Steve joins us. And also joining us from Dallara Automobile the executive manager, Ms. Caterina Dallara. And also the general manager of TWR Racing, Mr. Charlie Bamber. I'll give you some details on the series. The series is going to use Dallara chassis. The entrants will deal directly with Dallara and purchase the chassis from Dallara for $115,000 per chassis. That chassis will include a PI data acquisition system on board the car. The entrants will deal directly -- the league has contracted with TWR Race Engines and the entrants will deal directly with Charlie Bamber and they will lease the engines on an annual basis and the engines will be maintained, serviced and rebuilt by TWR Race Engines. We are anticipating and annual budget when the season gets going into full swing by the year 2003 in upward of 12 races, we're anticipating a seasonal budget of approximately $800,000 a year for all costs included to run the series. The engines will run on gasoline. It is an Infiniti Q45 production based engine. The events will be 100 miles in length and will be run the same day as the Indy Racing Northern Light Series feature event. It will have a minimum fuel capacity of 25 gallons. Many of the same safety features that are on the Indy Racing Northern Light Series cars now we will transfer over to the support series car, which will include the 19-inch cockpit to help ease and facilitate driver extraction. It will allow and facilitate for larger headrests. It will have a six-speed sequential gearbox, which will remove the gear rod from the cockpit. We will use the beaded seat, the same that are being use in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series now. We will have long, high sidepods. We will also incorporate a SWEMS system, the Suspension Wheel Energy Management Systems on all four corners of the car as well as the rear wing. So, many of the features will come into play. The car will weigh a minimum of 1,430 pounds. It will use a Ricardo six-speed sequential gearbox, and it will have a ground effects step underwing tunnel. Those are the goals for the car, the specifications of the car. As Tony mentioned, we have talked with many of the track promoters that occupy the second half of our season schedule for next year. There's an extreme enthusiasm and interest in it, and we're shooting for six or seven events to begin the season in 2002 and expect to expand to a full schedule of 12 races in 2003. So those are specifications of the car and the direction we're going, and I appreciate your attendance here today. This is a big announcement for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. This is natural evolution and a logical projection to continue the growth and the momentum of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Thank you.
RON GREEN: Thank you, Brian. At this time, we'll receive a few comments from Steve Kight. He is the director of motorsports for Nissan North America.
STEVE KIGHT: Thanks, Ron. We're really pleased that the Indy Racing League chose the Infiniti Q45 production engine as the basis for the support series. Our participation in the Indy Racing series is very much a business decision. We do it to build our brand, to sell more cars, and we are really thrilled with the growth and what's returned to us as a company. This is really just an expansion of our commitment to the Indy Racing League, and we really enjoy that were involved with something that is growing so fast. Motorsports is a tremendous business for us in the United States. I think Tony and the Indy Racing League have done a superb job in capturing it, and I think the fact that were now part of the expansion series and a way for younger drivers to come up and move into the series speaks volumes for what's going in the future. So we're really pleased to be part of it.
RON GREEN: We will now open up the floor for questions. Charlie, Steve, Tony, Caterina and Brian are all available for questions. Because of the noise we do have a cordless microphone, so please raise your hand and we'll get that to you.
Q: This for Tony and Brian. Have any of the existing teams in Indy Lights series expressed interest in coming and being a part of this?
BRIAN BARNHART: We've had a lot of interest from the current Indy Lights ownership. There's been rumors of a support series coming. There's been a lot of interest in the support series, but as Conquest Racing has demonstrated this weekend, they've also expressed an interest in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, as well. So, I think we're going to attract ownership from current Indy Lights owners. I think a lot of the current Indy Racing Northern Light Series owners have expressed interest in running a car. I think it's something that the USAC Sprint, Silver Crown and Midget series owners will have interest in as well. So I would anticipate based on the e-mails and the phone messages I've received, there's a pretty high level of interest in our support series beginning in '02.
TONY GEORGE: I don't have really anything add. I think a lot of people have viewed it as an opportunity to maybe use it as a development program for their own teams. I know in the past several of the CART teams have used Indy Lights in the matter. You know, I think based on the number of interested parties that we've had ask questions the last few weeks, the interest seems to be quite wide and there.
Q: Brian, you mentioned gasoline. Isn't that a step backward safety-wise?
BRIAN BARNHART: Not necessarily. If you use methanol in these engines, you will get less miles per gallon, and that would requite pit stops if you run a race of 100 miles in length. The Indy Lights currently has run on gasoline for the last 15 years, and we'll do the same thing that they have. The advancement has really come in the fuel cell and the bladders. You very rarely see any type of fuel spill or puncture of the cell in Indy cars in the last 20 years. The switch from gasoline to methanol in the mid-60s was a proper move to make at that point in time, but due to the construction of the cars now, with the fuel cell going in behind the driver and the sidepod protection, it's really not a step backward from a safety aspect, it's actually facilitates better fuel mileage and makes for a longer and better event for the support series cars.
RON GREEN: During Brian's remarks, he mentioned the enthusiasm of the track operators. We should mention that Joie Chitwood is here. Joie is the vice president and general manager of the Chicagoland Speedway. And he is also available for comment.
Q: Brian, when could we expect that this could start? Are we talking Pikes Peak, and at one point the rumor mill said that you might you might include the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September. Is that even a possibility at this point?
BRIAN BARNHART: To answer those two comments, the season will start post-Indianapolis in June of 2002. At this time we have only verbally contacted the majority of our track promoters. As I mentioned, there is an extreme enthusiasm level and a lot of interest out of those promoters, but we do not have any sanction agreements signed at this point in time. Our goal, and I think we will achieve that goal, is to have six or seven events beginning somewhere around the Pikes Peak portion of our schedule and going from there. I would anticipate starting in June, running six to seven races and as far as the aspect of running at the United States Grand Prix in September, this series, especially in beginning in 2002, will be used as a support series to support the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. That is the open-wheel, oval-track series. At this point in time, we will continue to focus on that and use this series to develop drivers, owners, team mechanics and sponsors for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. However, as the series continues to grow, the league shows the growth and momentum we've shown the last couple of years, we will not rule out a road course or two.
Q: Brian, at $800,000 a year, a couple thousand dollars more and you could be in the IRL. Some of your teams aren't spending much more than that now. Why would teams want to be in the support series rather than jumping straight into the IRL?
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, I don't know. I think I could probably find a lot of car owners that would like to find out if you could get it fairly close to $800,000 in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Our budget models that we had presented, to run a full season in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series you approaching $3 million for a single car. Whereas, this is going to be $800,000. I think there's a significant split between being able to do so. I would be hard-pressed to find very many, there's a couple of Indy Racing Northern Light owners in here who would probably address that issue, but I just don't think you can operate an Indy Racing Northern Light Series car as cheaply as you're saying there. I think the separation is significant enough that the level of ownership and sponsorship will separate themselves to participate in the two different leagues.
Q: If you've got a young driver in the IRL that's struggling, could you see maybe the possibility of sending him over to this series for a couple of races to get a little more experience? Because from time to time, there are some people who make a rather drastic jump right into the IRL.
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, Bruce, I think that's exactly the purpose of the series. And were talking about being a development series for drivers, especially if you take as an example the drivers out of USAC Sprint cars, Midgets and Silver Crown cars, especially at a very young age, they learn how to race wheel-to-wheel in close competition in probably one of the best training and proving grounds for racing in today's racing world. They get oval experience, they get high-horsepower experience, they get wide-tire experience, but it still is a pretty drastic step to step into an Indy car and put the engine behind you and jump up to 650 horsepower and have the aerodynamic experience. The purpose of this car is to provide a mid-level horsepower car with aerodynamic experience to tie in with the racing experience they've received through the USAC Sprints, Midgets, and Silver Crown ranks and give them an aero-car training ground as well. The last couple of years, you know, when you get resumes sent to you, and people take the programs to join the Indy Racing Northern Light Series programs, there's a lot of times I've wished we had a training ground and an area to develop drivers. As Tony mentioned, the timing is right for this, and the business model and the aspects of it have all come together, and it's a natural evolution and for the league to put this support series in place for that reason.
Q: Brian, what about tires?
BRIAN BARNHART: We are currently in negotiations with multiple tire manufacturers concerning the supplier status for the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series. We hope to have that finalized within the next week.
Q: Tony, there are a number of your current owners who have said that maybe time and effort would be better spent shoring up the financial situations will the IRL teams before you branch out into a support series. What are your thoughts on that?
TONY GEORGE: Well, from 1996, actually 1997 the first year of the IRL technical package, there were those who encouraging me to start this, a support series, back then, and the time wasn't right. We wanted to focus on the series that we started up and going and developed. The timing is right now to introduce this series because we are on firm ground right now. The series is experience a lot of momentum right now that we intend to capitalize on for the future. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there for all the car owners running in the big series, and I think that we just have to knock some of those things down, and I think we're very close. It's always going to be challenging and competitive, and we didn't want to start the support series because it might dilute our effort, but again I feel like things are going quite well right now, and I don't have a particular problem with it. While there may those may be those individuals that do, you know I think that only time will tell.
Q: Can you give us an idea of how this is going to compare cost and technology-wise to the other stepping-stone type series that are out there now?
BRIAN BARNHART: "Based on the information we've gathered at $800,000 projected budget for a 12-race season, it is considerably cheaper than Indy Lights and along of and in the same ballpark as Toyota Atlantics. Technology-wise, I think our situation is we wanted to work with a current engine that is in a partner with the Indy Racing Northern Light Series standpoint. I think when you get into a support series aspect of it, I think you're going to see limited things that teams are able to do, and I think that's consistent with all development series, whether it's Atlantics or Lights or anybody. The car going to be very speced out, there's not going to be a lot of open areas to develop. That also helps obviously control costs and allows participate at that level, but you use this series to develop drivers, there's going to be minimal things there going to be able to work on, the setup of the car, shocks and springs, the wing angle, wicker bill, that type of deal, the rest of it is going to be very much a speced-out series.
Q: This question is really for Steve. Does this engine currently exist, has it been dynoed and what's the situation with it? And will it be a stressed member of the full car?
STEVE KIGHT: "The engine does exist. It's really a minor modification to the production engine. I'll let Charlie answer the question about the stressed member and any particulars on the motor."
CHARLIE BAMBER: "The engine will run as a stress member within the chassis. A little bit more detail about the engine, it's a V8 engine. It's based on the Q45 production engine. It's four valves per cylinder. (Inaudible) It's quite a step forward from what we've seen in other series with Indy Lights. I think from a technology point of view in comparison with the current race cars of the IRL, then it's a good stepping stone. The development is ongoing. The delivery of the engines will start in April of 2002.
Q: Tony George. I'm sure the Dallara chassis is a fine chassis, but have you looked at trying to get an American manufacturer involved giving that your mandate with all of this is to promote American open-wheel racing?
TONY GEORGE: "There were R.F.P.'s sent out to interested parties, and I believe there were American manufacturers who put proposals together. At the end of the day, it's a development series that has to make business sense. We feel there were a number of great proposals that were submitted. The one that was selected was the right one. I don't really have a problem with it. I think one of the things we want to really focus on is making sure we have a quality product and some continuity and support and service is going to be important and clearly Dallara has done an excellent job. At the end of the day, they did have they best of the many good proposals that we did have.
Q: This question is for Brian. From the indications you've had so far how many teams do you think you'll have when the series starts and how many do you need?
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, we haven't set any minimum numbers. The interest level has been so high that I would certainly, from a preference standpoint, the league would love to see at least 20 cars participating in the series, and the interest generated so far even prior to the announcement indicates we'll be able to achieve that.
Q: Steve, does you involvement in the support series signify that you stay with the IRL and the main series or are step back and just do the support series? What's your future going to be?
STEVE KIGHT: "Our involvement in the support series really just signifies an expansion of our involvement overall with the Indy Racing League. We are by no means are letting up at all in the main series, and I think you've seen that on the track. And look at the times today: I think you see we're not letting up. We intend to be there next year, too, and beyond.
RON GREEN: Charlie, Steve, Tony, Caterina, Brian, thank you very much for joining us.