Continued from part 1 Q: When did you first start seriously contemplating putting sports cars on the streets of Long Beach, and then specifically, perhaps the Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes JIM MICHAELIAN: Actually the initial conversation ...
Continued from part 1
Q: When did you first start seriously contemplating putting sports cars on the streets of Long Beach, and then specifically, perhaps the Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes
JIM MICHAELIAN: Actually the initial conversation started literally two years ago. Then they sort of centered a little bit around, quite frankly, around some of the indecisiveness there was in 2004 based on where CART was at that time, and later Champ Car was. As you remember, we were the first race of the season in 2004 and we were, quite frankly, looking at all of our options.
At the time we were looking at what other forms of racing we could put on here. Well, once that issue was resolved in favor of Champ Car, the interest was still there in terms of running some form of sports cars. Everybody got down do to how do we fit it into a weekend that's packed with a variety of other activities, and given that we are limited to being on track from only 8:00 to 6:00 in the evening We don't have a chance to run later on concluding in the dark or the twilight.
Then it came down to, how do we negotiate a deal whereby we could provide a format that our fans would find interesting; that would fit into our schedule and also that would be entertaining You know, that's part of what we do here is provide entertainment to people, and we think the Grand-Am formula is easy to follow. All of the cars are in the same class and their racing has been fabulous in terms of the competitiveness. We see a course like ours as being something that will be very demanding, and yet will provide for some great racing.
Q: How many people do you anticipate watching the Saturday show with the Daytona Prototypes on sit e
JIM MICHAELIAN: We probably have to up that number now based on the package we put together for Saturday. We would look for somewhere in the neighborhood of about 60,000 to 65,000 people here just for the Saturday show.
Q: Mr. Edmondson, the 90‑minute format is certainly interesting. It is a radical departure from what one has thought of in the way of sports cars and racing before. How did the 90‑minute format evolve
ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, first off, we also have a 24‑hour race which is also a radical departure from our normal weekend, too. We are not bound by tradition as much as we are by necessity of what it takes to put on a properly entertaining event with our promoters. It varies facility‑to‑facility based on the physical aspects of it. Sometimes it's a governmental curfew that interferes and sometimes it's the amount of time available to us.
In our discussions with Jim on this project--which, as we said, have been going on for a couple of years now--it was very clear the Saturday afternoon show was going to have to be short and sweet. It became very clear also that our two‑class program that we typically run elsewhere was not going to be the right format for the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach.
As we have gone through this discussion, back and forth, we finally came up with the place where we're at. I think it's going to be everything we do over the long haul and the normal race weekend compressed, and it's going to make it that much more entertaining.
Q: Scott, you're going to be facing some concrete canyons there with a car that doesn't bend easily. What are some of your thoughts on the challenges of racing at Long Beach
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, the first one that comes out is there will be 25 to 30 Daytona Prototypes there, all the in same class, all racing for the checkered flag at the same time. There's going to be no less than 25 and there to be no more than 30 cars there, so that itself is just going to add to an awesome show.
With concrete barriers, the cream always rises to the top. It cuts out the men from the boys, and those who go racing, go racing, no matter what the set of circumstances. Long Beach has always been an exciting track. It's always been challenging, and certainly one of my favorites.
I'm looking wholeheartedly at the opportunity to go back there between my IndyCar career, which is the closest venture I've had at Long Beach. I also raced Trans-Am there in 2003.
I've had both full‑bodied cars and open‑wheel cars there. Just getting down to the streets of Long Beach is exciting, and I think for us as a series, and for me as a driver specifically, I'm excited about it.
Q: Can you tell the average fan who has not yet been to see a Long Beach Grand Prix race, what's it like
SCOTT PRUETT: Gosh, it's a carnival atmosphere. It's exciting. There are so many people that you just can't ‑‑ you just can't not be a part of it. It's a party for ‑‑ actually it starts mid‑Wednesday there with the black‑tie ball and all of the fund‑raising and all of the pretty people there that live in the L.A. area that want to come be a part of it and see it.
Then to go put on a great show. That's the biggest thing that I think that we've been doing as a series this year is the fact that a lot of people who don't know who Grand-Am is until they either go and watch a race. Everybody I've talked to comes away from it saying, 'what a great show!' This is what road racing used to be in the late '80s and early '90s, and certainly something that we hope to take on for many more years.
Q: A toss‑up question, between Jim and Roger, if you will, please, TV comes to mind. Is there going to be a TV package on this thing
ROGER EDMONDSON: Let me jump in on that one. We are in the last year of our partnership with SPEED in 2006. There will be television. It will be a same-day broadcast and we think it is going to be a great show whether it's live or on tape delay. Quite clearly, if you're in the L.A. area, you have to make plans to be there that afternoon. It's going to be awesome.
Let me toss up one last thing for you. You asked the question about the hairpin, and I think there are some feelings when people look at these Daytona Prototypes that these are big cars because the full body creates that illusion. But, in fact, the width of these cars, it's within a half‑inch of what the Champ Cars are.
These are the same size cars that have been racing there and also be racing there on a Sunday afternoon. The only difference is they are full‑body and they have teams of drivers. So if one series fits on the track, this one will fit on the track, too.
Q: Roger, does it come down to a sense of speaking, a choice between Long Beach and California Speedway
ROGER EDMONDSON: No, it really wasn't a choice. We've been running at California Speedway now since 2001. And quite clearly, we value our in‑house friends out there at Fontana.
If you look at our entire schedule, we had decided a couple of years ago to cap out at this stage of our development at 14 races and to make room for the event at Long Beach, we were going to have to drop one of the events that we had. We already have two other events in California. So it was only natural, give a choice between moving forward with our friends at Fontana on an event that we are pioneering and moving into one of most famous road races in the world, let alone the North American marketplace, it was kind of a no‑brainer for us.
And by the way, we will ‑‑ I'm confident you'll see Grand-Am cars on the road course at Fontana in the future. So this is not a matter of saying good‑bye; it's just a matter of us having an opportunity and taking advantage of it.
Q: That's sort of the same thing the IRL said; we'll be back, but you don't build races by killing them and starting them up again. I'm not meaning that in an insulting way, but what about the people that have been there for you when you were coming up Now, you know, obviously this is a big win situation for you, but you're kind of turning your back on the people that helped you get to this point in a sense.
ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, if you're talking about our spectator friends, obviously it's just a trek down the Interstate to get to the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach.
If you're talking about the facility, keep in mind that a large number of our investors in Grand American are also personnel on the International Speedway Corporation staff, and as a company, they look at what we had an opportunity to do and concurred wholeheartedly in the direction we are taking.
It wasn't essential to have that blessing, but when one of the major vice presidents of International Speedway recommended that we move forward with this initiative, that pretty well told me that there were certainly no feelings on their part that they would be abandoned or we got to the dance with one girl and we're dancing with another one now.
Q: Jim, one thing I did not hear you mention, which I had heard mentioned, is still possibly being foisted upon you is Trans-Am. What's the status of that
JIM MICHAELIAN: I might defer a little bit with you on the foisted part, but yeah, we are going to attempt to run six events here this year, which will be the first time in our history we've done that.
So there is still one event that we haven't finalized yet, the Trans-Am situation still remains unresolved.
Our position is as follows, if Trans-Am does come back for an '06 season, we have committed to being a round of Trans-Am, probably and in most likelihood the opening round. If it doesn't, for whatever reason, and hopefully that matter will be resolved fairly quickly, we will put on another event that will basically be the going‑away race here on Sunday afternoon.
But yes, we have manipulated our schedule around so we can facilitate conducting both the Grand-Am on Saturday afternoon as well as a going‑away race on Sunday afternoon.
Q: Is the drifting going to be back as well
JIM MICHAELIAN: Drifting will be back. The weekend will consist of the Champ Car World Series, the Atlantic series now, the drifting, the 30th anniversary of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, the Daytona Prototypes of the Grand-Am Rolex Series, as well as the sixth event we will name hopefully here in the next couple of weeks.
Q: Did I hear Atlantics in there
JIM MICHAELIAN: Yes, Atlantics will be here.
Q: How many of your races are going to be companion races in 06
ROGER EDMONDSON: I haven't added it up. We are going to run with IRL three times, we're going to run with Champ Car once, perhaps twice, depending on what happens in Mexico City and we will run at two of the NASCAR events. So what's that It looks like six events out of 14.
Q: I'm just trying to understand with the marketing strategy here, to go from a Fontana stand‑alone to Long Beach. I understand the tradition of Long Beach, but what were the factors just to get out of being a stand‑alone event at Fontana to being a companion series, if you will, to the Champ Cars
ROGER EDMONDSON: I think Jim just gave us about 65,000 of them. As I mentioned before the, the opportunity to present to our teams and our sponsors and their sponsors, the team sponsors, to a crowd that size, the entertainment potential and all of the things that Long Beach offers, as compared to continuing to press forward in a pioneering event at Fontana, it was a very easy decision for us to take.
I've also mentioned the fact that I don't believe our history at Fontana has been fully written yet that. That road course was put there by the International Speedway Corporation with a goal towards turning the Fontana facility into a West Coast version of Daytona. And I believe as the spectator base has grown out there, that we'll be back in that marketplace.
Q: You keep saying that you're in a pioneering role at Fontana, but now it seems that you've decided to after three or four years to kind of give it up, if you will.
ROGER EDMONDSON: Yes, if you want to use that terminology but I don't believe we've had 65,000 total spectators at Fontana since we started running here. And I have an obligation to these teams and their sponsors, as well as my own to present this program in the best possible light. And at this point in time, there's not a sanctioning body on the planet that would not have chosen to take advantage of this time slot at Long Beach.
As a matter of fact, Jim has made it very clear that both the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am, which are the two sports car road racing series, were both very interested in filling that time slot. Fortunately for us, it was Jim's choice that we fit the bill. We feel it was fortunate for us and fortunate for him, too. So we're looking forward to a great event and we think that we are going to serve that market as well as we possibly can.
I think it's tremendous that we are still in the L.A. market with an event that has such history and tradition.
Q: You said that you're going to cap at 14, but there's a possibility of coming back. So if you're saying that, is there a race that's on the bubble perhaps in the future
ROGER EDMONDSON: There's always a race that's on the bubble. Many years ago I was involved in motorcycle road racing and I sat on the FIM Road Racing Commission where we would have between 17 and 20 different promoters trying to get a Grand Prix or trying to get a World Superbike race, and we only had 15 to give.
For the first time in our history, Grand American is in the same situation. We have set our goals and our 14‑race schedule, and we want that to be the 14 best races we can possibly hold and with the 14 best promoters. At some point in time, when our program matures a little bit more and there's more sponsor support, then we can look at expanding to 15 races.
At the moment we are staying with our 14 number. There's no telling what 2006 will hold in terms of the success or lack of success on part of some of our promoters. But quite clearly, we have a product that is in some demand at this point in time and we need to make sure we make the right choices, and there's no question in my mind that Long Beach was the right choice in this case.
Continued in part 3