CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland Champ Car Town Meeting, part II

Champ Car Cleveland Town Meeting Transcript with Christopher R. Pook, Bud Stanner, Jim Liberatore, Patrick Carpentier and Joey Hand Part 2 of 6 ADAM SAAL: Absolutely. Thank you so much. We would like to recognize Andy Randall, the...

Champ Car Cleveland Town Meeting Transcript with Christopher R. Pook, Bud Stanner, Jim Liberatore, Patrick Carpentier and Joey Hand

Part 2 of 6

ADAM SAAL: Absolutely. Thank you so much. We would like to recognize Andy Randall, the Executive Vice President and Chairman, Northern Central Ohio Region for U.S. Bank. Thank you for being here, we could not do it without you. We appreciate the fine support you bring.

It's hardly a small list and I'd like to list all of them quickly and give another round here. Sheraton Cleveland City Center Hotel, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bridgestone, Belat, Coca-Cola Bottling, The Ohio Lottery, Ikon, Kellogg's Keebler Snacks, Cleveland Public Power, Korbel, Tower City, BrightNet and Ticketmaster. Please put it together for them. It's great. (Applause).

Now before we go out to all of you to ask questions, again you've heard us say already we could not do it without the fans so please give yourselves a round of applause, too. You are the ones that make this happen, and all of these companies. Thank you so much.

Q: My name is Maria, and this is for Jim. We want to know if you're going to bring back CART Friday night because we really enjoyed that.

JIM LIBERATORE: Well, this is really, the decision was made to try to make sure that all of the funding went into the racing and qualifying. As you know, the finances to actually televise a race is upwards of $300,000 $400,000. When we looked at the finances and Chris was okay with this, the decision was made and that's why it was cut out.

Will it come back? I mean, it all depends on if the ratings can go up and if the interests can continue up. Personally, I hated to see it go because I thought it was a fantastic show. It really was part of the mandate and the charter why Champ Car decided to come with SPEED is to try to show drivers their personalities off the track in this country, how the drivers are the stars and that's what attracts people. I would love to see something like that come back. We have had conversations with David Clare and we are looking at things like that, but it's not going to be this year.

CHRIS POOK: It was our decision. We had obviously heard from a lot of people around the country that they would like to see CART Friday back again, and it was just a question of prioritizing for us this year and we just had to make that decision. As we go forward, I am hopeful that we will be able to reinstate that, but I'm not going to tell you that tonight. It's been looked at and Jim and his troops have had conversations with our chief operating officer, David Clare and they are looking at it one more time.

Q: I'm from Solon, Ohio. I'll ask Patrick, do the lights that you used last week, do they present an exceptional hazard to the drivers on the track, an additional hazard?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: No. Actually, it was really well done. The way they did it is the light posts were really high out. It was so high that it was like same thing as the sun. So it was pretty bright on the racetrack, but then we couldn't really see the lights so it was out of our vision. So the way they did it was perfect.

Q: I'm not aware of what the situation was, if there was an accident could it hit one of the lighting units?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: If one of these cars would have hit the lighting units it would have been like - there's no way that the car could have hit one of the lights. It was outside the racetrack and all of them were even behind the grandstands. So if a car were to hit one of those, you would have heard about it. (Laughter).

Q: That eliminates my second question then. Thank you.

ADAM SAAL: Anybody from this side?

Q: Bob Lane from Erie, PA. A couple questions. One of my big thrills in life was taking my wife, who is now probably one of your biggest fans, to a high speed track like Michigan. We used to go to Michigan every year, season ticketholders, met a lot of people camping and there's a certain thrill that comes with that, that high-speed track. I don't know if Patrick enjoys that type of racing or not, but from my own perspective, it's quite thrilling to see people go wheel-to-wheel at 230 miles an hour for 500 miles. I was wondering, what happened with Michigan and is there any other venues in the future, such as maybe Watkins Glenn? I don't really care about Indianapolis; you can't see anymore there, anyhow. (Laughter).

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Michigan was a lot of fun. We had good races there, wheel-to-wheel and it's very similar in Fontana. But you may enjoy watching drivers race and actually sometimes at speeds of up to 250 miles an hour, with wheel-to-wheel action. We may not enjoy it as much as you do. We do enjoy it. It was fantastic. But we didn't seem to attract a lot of people and we had a lot of races in this area, and I guess maybe I can get Chris to answer this one as to why we don't really go.

But we like racing in front of big crowds and we didn't seem to get too many there, so we go to places where we get a lot of people.

CHRIS POOK: Well, I think that obviously we would like to be on superspeedways. We just came from a superspeedway last spring in Germany which was fairly quick. Although Milwaukee wasn't slow by any means and at Fontana, where we had an excellent race last November, was on a superspeedway. We drew quite well. I think that what happened in Michigan was basically the attitude of some of my predecessors in dealing with the promoters there didn't help things in their relationship with the facility.

I think also at the same time, the NASCAR phenomena started to come on very, very strong. The crowds for open-wheel racing dropped off. You're quite right; we had some incredible races at Michigan. I think that there's an element of the promoters out there today that are not convinced that open-wheel cars on big superspeedways and can compete in attendance with stock cars.

I think that's really what it boils down to. You know we don't want to force feed any of these venues. We want to be sure that what we provide to the customer is what the customer wants. That's why our decision to run in Milwaukee under the lights - I think that decision proved correct.

In the future our doors are not closed to that at all. We'll be happy to talk about that and run on the superspeedways but the conditions have to be right for everybody. I mean, the promoter has to be able to make money, our guys have to feel safe and we have to have the right aerodynamic package to go on the track. We have an open mind.

ADAM SAAL: Who won that last time we raced there at Michigan, Pat? Who won that race? Just checking. (Laughter).

Q: Chris, my name is Mike. Are you planning to have a street race in Las Vegas?

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yes, he is. (Laughter).

CHRIS POOK: Well, you know, there's been a lot of talk about it. (Laughing) there's been a lot of talk about it, but I think we have too many drivers that live there, so probably better not do it. It would be an unfair advantage for three Canadians that live there, one of which is in front of you tonight.

Obviously there have been inquiries from Las Vegas. I've been getting inquiries from a lot of cities. We have to be very, very careful how we go about these street races. You've got to do them right and they have to be the right conditions, and we have to be able to present the product correctly to our fans and also let the drivers be able to drive and do what they have to do on their part correctly.

So we look at these things very, very carefully and there's a lot of discussion about them and we've also got - like Houston, I don't know if any of you ever went to Houston, but one of the problems Houston had, the city was great and all that stuff, but the fans couldn't move around. You're either in your grandstand or you're out on the street. There was no movement. You couldn't feel or touch the racetrack. So it was very unsuccessful because the customers. They came and said, okay, we sat on the seat and just looked and there was nothing else to do. As you know, one of the things about the racing we do isn't just about the racing cars on the track. It's the whole level of atmosphere and the midways and the entertainment and the hospitality and villages and the paddock and all of that stuff that is important to making an enjoyable experience, either for the day or the weekend.

So those are important ingredients that have to go in and we have to be sure that our fans can move around and touch and feel the whole facility and the whole racetrack.

ADAM SAAL: It's interesting; you made the point about the drivers living in Las Vegas. Jimmy Vasser lives there, too, and he saw him at Milwaukee and he's good friend with Alex Zanardi, and if anybody saw Alex in the cockpit -- it's probably one of the most moving things we've seen in this sport. (Applause) it was truly incredible. He's a magnificent human being and he hasn't missed a beat and he's just the way he is. It's interesting how these things work.

Bridgestone/Firestone has their annual dealer meeting in Las Vegas every year, and it's either a week before or a week after our Fontana race. Alex would love to come over for that Bridgestone/Firestone meeting. And I said, well, what's he going to do when he's not at the meeting? Well, maybe we will see Alex over here, maybe we don't, but the fact is, in Las Vegas, definitely. I think Alex would tear up Las Vegas.

Q: Roy from Westlake. Lifelong fan and never missed a Cleveland race. My question primarily is to you, Chris. You've heard a lot of conversation and press about Bernie Ecclestone and Formula 1 and secondarily, the talk about CART becoming a feeder series for Formula 1?

CHRIS POOK: Well, we'll never be a feeder series for Formula 1, I'll assure you of that.

One of the things we do want to do is we do want to be sure that we will help young racing car drivers who can drive and get on with their careers. It's no different than any sport. Every sport, if the youngster has got talent, you want him to come in the door and play in your forum, be it baseball for football or basketball.

A very good example of the Cleveland Cavaliers with this young LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, a guy with a great talent that's been accepted into the NBA right away. We want to be in that same position. There are a lot of racing car drivers around the world who do have aspirations to get to Formula 1. It's very hard to do that. We have been a conduit over the years where they could come here and run and demonstrate. [Cristiano] da Matta is a very good example. [Juan Pablo] Montoya who won yesterday in Monte Carlo. Jacques Villeneuve is another example, and that is good for our sport to bring the young talent on.

Patrick will tell you he's got his hands full with this young Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais who is a terrific talent and got great potential and that is where we want to be. Patrick and his former teammates, Alex Tagliani as youngsters - not that they are old, but they came out of Formula Atlantic and they had a great talent, so CART accepted them. And we will do that no matter where the series is, if the young guys can push the button and drive, that's what we want to do.

I think Joey had a very unfortunate experience last year at Milwaukee when he got hurt, but here another young man is perfectly capable of driving one of our Champ Cars and we want to get him up the ladder, too. He belongs in the same forum as Patrick, competing with Patrick. Now it will take him a couple of years to get the experience, and whether he's going to run buck naked around Ohio is another matter, but that's where we are.

So we are not going to be a feeder series but we do believe in developing talent. I think it's healthy for our series, and I hope it's healthy for you, the fans to see these young guys and come and race, and if they can go on - I mean Formula 1 is definitely the top in the world. I don't think anybody here will tell you it's not. It's up there. I'm sure if someone said to Patrick Carpentier, that's a good racing car over there, would you like to go drive it, he would jump at the offer immediately to jump in a Formula 1 car, but that's just the nature of the business.

As far as our relationship with Bernhard, I have known him for 30 years and he's a very good friend and I talk to him regularly. We discuss a lot of stuff together. He's having a hard time with his series at the moment, and we had a hard time last year and are sort of on the rebuild. We exchange ideas and exchange information and that's very healthy. We would like to see the Formula 1 race in the United States be very successful and it would be good for us. I would love for you all to attend that Formula 1 race and see that part of the sport, because it is a different part of our sport. It's open-wheel racing, but it's different. It's at a level that is incredibly expensive. It costs our teams 5.5, $6 million a year to run one car in. Formula 1, it costs $110 million to run one car. There's a huge difference in the two. It will never be the same but there's nothing wrong with having a relationship with them.

Part III

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Zanardi , Joey Hand , Sébastien Bourdais , Bernie Ecclestone , David Clare