CHAMPCAR/CART: 2008 schedule teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Once again we've got the last race in North America, August 10, about a three-month gap to the end of the season. Was that not enough of a concern this year to try to bring the series back to North America at least for...

Continued from part 1

Q: Once again we've got the last race in North America, August 10, about a three-month gap to the end of the season. Was that not enough of a concern this year to try to bring the series back to North America at least for a season ender in 2008?

STEVE JOHNSON: We looked at a lot of different scenarios on this. Would we like to in the future? I think there's a good chance of that. But the way the schedule came out, this was our option.

So we're working on 2009 and 2010 right now as we talk, and we're looking at different type of scenarios. But this is the way it worked out. A lot of it is because of contractual issues. So when you have contracts with Surfers and contracts in Mexico City, you can't get out of those. And I don't even know if we want to get out of them. But we are exploring all of those type of options for the future.

Q: Is Portland going to be year to year? Is this a new three-year deal? How is that working?

STEVE JOHNSON: Don't know yet. Again, I'm going to go in. We're going to get a lot of questions answered here in the next couple of weeks. I'm going to go in right after the season is over, right after Mexico within two weeks after that. And we're going to hammer all of that out.

As I said, 25 years, we'd like to be there. In 1909 is when we had our first race in Portland, I believe. So there is a 100th Anniversary coming up for Champ Car there. So it makes a lot of good, strategic sense for us to be there. And as you and I have talked many times we're trying to turn the corner on a commercial aspect, and I think we have a good opportunity to do so moving forward.

Q: Is there still a shot at ALMS tying in here?

STEVE JOHNSON: I don't know, not this year. They've already announced their schedule.

Q: I was wondering how fixed this calendar is in terms of around Assen time there is a hell of a gap. I wondered if there is a possibility of adding a fourth European venue?

STEVE JOHNSON: Thanks for the question. I'll never say never. I'm sure not going to start putting maybes in there because, again, you learn from the past. The object is not list a bunch of races and then have them cancel. So we feel very good. We're solid with this 14-race schedule. And if a great opportunity came up, we would definitely look at it. But right now we've got a 14-race schedule for '08.

Q: What do you think went wrong with the Las Vegas event here? It seemed that they had solid promoters with money. Obviously spent a lot for infrastructure, lot of guys said it was the best course they've raced on in a while. What do you think went wrong here?

STEVE JOHNSON: What went wrong? I think there may be a couple of things, obviously. I don't think they had secured their corporate sponsorships and their partners as they moved forward. I know their costs came in extremely high, higher than what they had budgeted. And probably from an execution standpoint on that end is what went wrong.

I think that we had a decent turnout for it being Easter. We had a pretty good fan turnout. The track, itself, as you said there were nothing but rave reviews for the layout of the course.

So I think there will be a future some time again in Vegas. But again, it's got to be executed flawlessly to make it work.

Q: Does Champ Car, do you guys have any liability in the promoter's contract with the city?

STEVE JOHNSON: No. No, we don't.

Q: I know you still have the three Canadian races on the calendar. Maybe a double question. Are you satisfied with the way the Canadian races have gone, and in the future do you see adding, subtracting or is everything going to remain the same here?

STEVE JOHNSON: I think the Canada races really seemed to stand out this year. And Charlie did a great job in Toronto. We had a great partner come in Steelback. I think the Triple Crown that we had had a lot of excitement. Edmonton continues to shine.

Then when you look at Tremblant, that may have been one of the best races we had all year. So we're very happy with the three events that we have. We're happy with the promotion. We're extremely happy with the fan base in Canada. It may be some of the best fans we have in the world and most knowledgeable that really support Champ Car and seem to embrace us as their hometown sport.

So I'd say things were very, very solid, and will continue to grow more. And if the opportunity was right, we'd always look for expansion.

Q: Have you had any interest from any other Canadian markets? Vancouver lost a race, and it went to Edmonton. Has anything surfaced from Vancouver again?

STEVE JOHNSON: We've had phone calls and that's probably where I'll stop it, because nothing has really come about other than some interests.

Q: I'm just curious why Champ Car is pursuing more races in Europe?

STEVE JOHNSON: We're exploring more races just internationally in general and more races in North America. So, yeah, we're going to make sure that we control our own growth. The Europe events that we had last year, I think you were there, weren't you?

Q: Yes.

STEVE JOHNSON: The event was very successful. If you take a look at our driver lineup the majority of them are Europeans. There is a tremendous amount of interest in the Champ Car World Series that seems to be coming out of Europe. So that's why it makes sense for us to grow there.

But as a World series and International series, we've got to look everywhere, which we are, which includes the U.S. So I think you'll see growth going forward. After we get things stabilized, and that was our goal this year to really stabilize this schedule then to control our own growth. You could potentially see growth in markets around the world.

Q: As a follow-up, Jim Michaelian seemed confident and enthusiastic about the future in terms of announcements of drivers and things like that. Can you make a comment on that topic?

STEVE JOHNSON: I can tell you we're working on it right now, and I'm in a lot of meetings with team owners, with drivers, sponsors and with series owners. So everybody realizes that we definitely want to come out strong. And as Jim Michaelian said, we're pushing towards that.

We're excited with what's going to happen in '09. But we've got our work cut out for us. We've just got to continue moving forward. I think today's a great step on putting out a very solid, stable schedule for 2008.

Q: We're down to six races in the United States, which I believe is the smallest number in history. Any particular venues, markets in the United States that you are pursuing or can comment on?

STEVE JOHNSON: Let me put it this way, Gordon, there are some that we are pursuing. None that I can go out on the limb and say. But there are three or four markets that we're in discussions with right now and we know a couple areas that we need to grow, and we're working hard to get there. How's that for not answering your question?

Q: Very well done. You could be a presidential-elect candidate.

STEVE JOHNSON: Steve No, please, no. It's hard enough doing Champ Car.

Q: How close are you to announcing the TV schedule for next year?

STEVE JOHNSON: We're very close. We had to cement and finalize the schedule, which, obviously, we did. And our folks are now in discussions with ESPN in working out all of the television. And as soon as we do, we'll have another call but that is number one on the board right now is to finalize that. So it should be soon.

Q: Is the goal to not have any races on ESPN Classic again or is that still a possibility?

STEVE JOHNSON: I don't know. I don't have our TV guys on the line with us. I don't know where it's all shaking out and falling in. But, yeah, we'll just have to see. But again, we should have that out. As soon as we get it we'll get it out to you guys right away.

Q: I wanted to ask about the Canadian races and about their schedule being so close together. It seems to me that a Canadian fan would have to pick one and not be able to attend all of them just financially. Is there any thought to maybe spreading those out? I guess that could go to Steve Johnson and maybe Charlie.

CHARLIE JOHNSTONE: From our perspective it actually makes a lot of sense to have the races back-to-back. It certainly adds to the hype and excitement that builds into Toronto.

I love the idea of having a Canadian race before the race in Toronto. That build up, and then being able to piggyback off of that the week after. Frankly, from my standpoint, it's ideal.

If you've got real fans in the Toronto GTA area, they could drive to Tremblant and drive back. Getting up to Edmonton might be more of a drive, but other than that, I like the idea, frankly.

STEVE JOHNSON: I have to echo that. I've heard the same comments from both Edmonton and in Tremblant, they like the three of them together.

Q: Of course, then we have the triple crown. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Q: Jim, Sebastien Bourdais, and I apologize I got on the call right in the middle of your talking. So if you've answered this question I apologize. Sebastien Bourdais won't be in Long Beach next year, won't be in Champ Car. And he's become some sort of a hero in Long Beach since he's won the last three in a row. Is that going to hurt the Long Beach event him not being there?

JIM MICHAELIAN: I tell you what, there is a gentleman that is returning that's won four of them and looking to win his fifth, and his name is Paul Tracy. And Graham Rahal is coming back, and Will Power's coming back, and I'm expecting him to come back at least. And Justin Wilson. So there is a very strong cast of characters.

Plus some of the new folks like Matos coming out of Atlantics that I think is going to provide plenty of electricity on the street.

Yeah, we're going to miss Sebastien, he was a great ambassador for the sport. But in a way that gives a positive reflex on what Champ Car's all about, seeing one of its premier drivers graduate to Formula 1.

So we've gone through many, many, many stars over the years starting way back in 1984 when Mario Andretti came here and won the first race that we ran here with Champ Car. And a lot of them have graduated on and been replaced by new stars. And we'll be featuring them on the streets here.

Q: Kind of a big gap there between Assen and Surfers Paradise. Just wondering if that is a place that you're set up for maybe adding a few races? Are you looking at maybe adding some over the season or is this pretty much set in cement?

STEVE JOHNSON: I'm not going to say we are going to add them and not add something. So as I said earlier, I'll never say never. We're aware of that.

We have contractual obligations with both Surfers and in Mexico. So is there potential room there? Absolutely. But again we're working on the future right now. And if the right opportunity came up for 2008, we'd definitely take a look at it.

I'm really happy with the stable schedule that we have right here.

Q: In a general sense looking at Eastern Europe and into the Middle East which are avid but sort of under developed racing markets, is that a place you're looking to possibly expand in the future?

STEVE JOHNSON: We're looking at a lot of places, actually. Again, it's got to make the right business sense for all parties. We don't want to just put races on just to have races to say, wow, man, we've got a 16-race schedule. It's got to make good business sense. And we have to have the right partners, obviously, to move into any places like that. If those things come about with the right partners and good business reasons, then you'll probably see us there.

DAVID HIGDON: That wraps it up. We will get back to Mexico this week. As you know the Champ Car World Series will be in Mexico City for our season finale this weekend the 9-11th. I look forward to seeing you all there.

-credit: ccws

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Paul Tracy , Graham Rahal , Mario Andretti , Sébastien Bourdais , Jim Michaelian , Will Power , Steve Johnson