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

Champ Car Cleveland Town Meeting Transcript with Christopher R. Pook, Bud Stanner, Jim Liberatore, Patrick Carpentier and Joey Hand Part 3 of 6 Q: Doug from Worster, Ohio. I wanted to say, for Chris, I thought the best thing you did when...

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

Part 3 of 6

Q: Doug from Worster, Ohio. I wanted to say, for Chris, I thought the best thing you did when you came in was to keep the turbo. I know and I understand why you want to go to gasoline but since turbo gas is a vehicle that worldwide...have I lost you yet?

CHRIS POOK: We're having a hard time hearing you.

Q: I was asking that since you are looking at trying to go to gasoline, is that possible, have you put a thought into still keeping the turbo and running gasoline?

CHRIS POOK: We won't have the turbo with the gasoline engine. It will be a straight formally aspirated engine but we really believe it's time for us to move on to the gasoline engine. The methanol engine was great and served its purpose but most of the world's manufacturers today are building cars that run on gasoline. They don't run on methanol. Some are still building cars, particularly in Europe that run on diesel, turbo diesel most of them.

We think it's very important to line up with the automobile manufacturers of the world and have gasoline engines, and by the way, bring the gasoline companies back to our sport because the marketing money today is not in lubricants. It's in gasoline. We need the Shells and the Texacos and the Chevrons and the BPs the Petros from Brazil and all of these other companies into our sport because they will help support it. They will support the teams, they will spend dollars on television and advertising and they will get there.

Now, with gasoline companies, it's not all about selling gasoline, it's about selling goodies in the convenience stores and that will help other products into the sport as well, the chewing gums and the potato chips and the soft drinks and all of the bits and pieces that you find. At the end of the day the business equation as Jim Liberatore will tell you, what drives his business and our business is companies advertising. That's what really drives our business. We have a responsibility to create a forum so they can come back in and spend their money and get a return on their investments. There are a lot of reasons why we need to go to gasoline, but I don't think they will be turbocharged.

Q: My name is Jerry from Columbus. Mr. Pook, my question is for you. There have been some rumblings about Mid-Ohio and the future of that race. What is happening with Mid-Ohio, is it going to continue to be on the schedule?

CHRIS POOK: Well, this is the last year of Mid-Ohio's contract and we are looking at that very carefully. We are in discussions with the Mid-Ohio folks as to how we continue, under what format we continue.

At the end of the day, as you know, it's about economics. We've got to be sure that the economics are good for them and the economics are good for us. We need to work through that process and we will do that, either over the Mid-Ohio weekend or right after the Mid-Ohio weekend. It's one of great road tracks of this country. We are clearly on record saying that one of the important things about our series is our diversity, the diversity of being on ovals, both one-mile ovals and on Super Speedways, being on street courses and being on permanent road courses. That's what makes our series so unique, so good and that's what makes us develop really talented racing car drivers. I think that if you talk to any of our drivers, Patrick or Joey, our Atlantic guys run on ovals and road courses as well. They will tell you, for them, they may not like some parts of it, but I think they all can see that it makes them a much better racing car driver by having to conquer all of those disciplines.

And, quite frankly, if you win a championship in our series, having raced on all of those disciplines you have really accomplished something and I think the rest of the world is starting to realize that our drivers and our teams are really, really typically better. And a champion has accomplished something - certainly seeing da Matta who has surprised them greatly because they thought he would be way at back. He's the guy that's got the points for Toyota, not [Olivier] Panis. It's da Matta that got the points. You saw where he was in Monaco yesterday, those of you who followed. Everybody thought da Matta should be at the very back, he had never seen the place, and here he was, he qualified 13th and he was running as high as 8th at one point; and I think he slipped back and finished 10th but it was extremely respectable run. Clearly his training on street courses in CART helped him a lot in that process.

ADAM SAAL: You've got to love that little guy. I haven't watched Formula 1 in years and I'm tuning in to watch da Matta.

Q: Appreciate you coming here tonight. This is a time of some intense competition for CART from both NASCAR and from the IRL. Three questions. One, what would you say is different about the Champ Car series from those two, particularly if you're going to go with gasoline from the IRL series? Secondly, how do you sustain that difference? And for us here in North America what does that mean for us as race fans and our opportunity to see your cars?

CHRIS POOK: Well, there's a huge difference between ourselves and IRL and NASCAR. There's a big difference in the majority of our fans. First of all, we are not an all-oval series. We do race on a variety of circuits. We are diverse. We are very diverse in where our venues are. We have three in Canada, two in Mexico and ten in the United States. So from a marketing perspective, we are completely different. We offer a whole different set of dynamics. I don't consider the IRL any competition at all. I just want them to go do their thing and leave us alone. (Applause).

We are not going to be drug into that fight. We have moved away. That's why we reversed the decision on the normally aspirated methanol V8. That didn't make any sense to us. That was like getting pulled into the lion's den, we don't need to be in there. Move on.

Our cars of different. Our drivers are different. They have got some of our drivers over there from last year and we wish them well. I'm going to take care of the guys that are taking care of us and work with our guys. Those guys are loyal to us; I'm going to stay loyal to them.

How do we sustain it? We sustain it by putting on good races. We sustain it by keeping our openness and our communication with you folks and all of your friends and pals that come and attend our races. We sustain it by putting on good racing. We've had some excellent races this year. We have control of the engines again, we will have control of the aerodynamics and we are listening to what the drivers have to say to us. We are listening to what the chief mechanics have to say to us and the engineers, not necessarily listening to all of the owners. Because at the end of the day we have a responsibility as management to give the fans and the sponsors a quality product; that's our job, good racing, fun racing and we need to be accessible. We need to be accessible to all of our fans.

Our autograph sessions are quite remarkable. The things we do, Patrick was part of this last year at Montreal. Some of the spontaneity of our guys, the autograph session at Montreal last year - this, our autograph session, there must be 10,000 people trying to get these autographs. The line was huge. They went on and on. The autograph session was scheduled for 30 minutes, and after an hour they still didn't have them all going. They didn't have everybody lined up. All of a sudden, I don't know which one of them it was, either Patrick or da Matta. But here was a bandstand with instruments on them and there as a little meeting between them and all of sudden they get on the bandstand and start playing music for them, and that was better than signing autographs. That's just the sort of guys we've got. Those guys are spontaneous, and in the end, they have a relationship with their fans.

So that sort of stuff differentiates us. The camaraderie in the paddock is terrific. I mean, no one was more happy, I think the other night for Michel Jourdain and the guys in the victory track - they didn't win but they were awful happy that Michel Jourdain got his first win. They really were genuinely happy. You don't see that in other sports. When another guy wins, the other guys usually look down their nose: What did he win for, it should have been mine. That is not the way these guys are.

It's this sort of differentiation that is going to make us different and doing things like coming to Cleveland, running under the lights on the Fourth of July weekend and fireworks and motherhood and apple pie, that's what will make us different and that's what will sustain us and that's what will grow this business. Jim's company is doing our qualifying and hopefully putting pressure on us to bring back CART Friday night and things like that. That's how we will sustain and grow this business. That's how we will deliver value, value to you and value to Ann Randall and his bank and all of the other sponsors. That's what our job is and that's how we'll move forward and that's how we'll grow this company, and we are growing this company as we speak.

This company is far, far stronger now as I sit here today than when we were here last year in Cleveland. We are far stronger.

Q: I'm Mike from Aurora. I have mixed emotions about CBS's partnership with CART. I was concerned about the tape-delay with the German race being shown a week later, and now that the Cleveland race will be a tape delay the day after. I think that kind of hurts Cleveland. I thought we really would have been in the spotlight, prime time race on one of the national channels, as well as I think it's hurt the sponsorship as far as with the cars themselves. I'm wondering what can be done to correct that and work with CBS and get a better partnership.

JIM LIBERATORE: If I could just address one part of that. All tape-delays are not necessarily bad, and I know because I'm on line on SPEED message boards all the time, and I know for fans, existing fans and the diehard fans that they absolutely hate it, of course.

But in efforts to grow the sport, there are times that it makes sense to move it out of a competitive window. I'm not particularly talking about the Cleveland race I'm just talking about tape-delays in general. Because you want more people to watch it and you want more people to get involved. If you continue to run it up against NASCAR I think what is the death nail for open-wheel is up against Tiger Woods, you are not going to get the viewership that you need. I think what CART - and I'll let Chris address this, at the Champ Car races the ones that have been tape-delayed, they have had some of the higher ratings, and that is unfortunately something that we are looking at with them.

I think it was Einstein that said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This is where Champ Car has done a great job is they are not doing things the same old way they have done them over and over. So what we looked at is okay with can he take a series of races if we move them into prime time. Some will be tape delayed and I think there will be seven or eight races with a consistent time slot that will be in prime time that we are talking about.

So while I appreciate how much some of the diehard fans hate it, there really is some good business sense behind some of the tape-delays.

CHRIS POOK: You're right on. It is a balance. The pendulum has to swing evenly to both sides and we have to do that. Sometimes it just is not possible to do total live of live races. EuroSpeedway Lausitz, if we had done that, it would have been 6:00 in the morning or a bit later, 8:00 in the morning here that race would have gone on.

It is a balance and you are trying to get consistency. We also have to be sensitive to all of our sponsors who invest in it. They are the first guys to look at the ratings and what the returns are because that's how they measure their investment. It's a real balancing act and we spend a lot of time talking to Jim and his colleagues at SPEED Channel about what is the best time slot, how can we satisfy this. He hears from the viewers immediately whether they like or dislike a tape-delayed race, so we try and set a balance and satisfy everyone. We will never please everyone, I can tell you that, but we'll give it our best shot.

We hear what you're saying and this voice over here, but I'm sure in the other room there's another voice over there that will say, gosh, if you run it at 9:00 at night - because we are going to run some races on Jim's network this year, that you will definitely get a better rating.

So the voices that are investing in the television show will say 9:00 at night, it gets a better racing, that's what we want you to be. We are not going to win either way but try to find a right balance that satisfies everybody.

ADAM SAAL: It regards to a prime time network Saturday night race, Jim you probably know, I think NASCAR only tried that for the first time in 2001 with their summer race in Daytona.

JIM LIBERATORE: That's their highest ratings in prime time. Now there's a lot of people who don't want NASCAR to run on prime time because they think it's going to kill the short tracks around the country, but the bottom line is whether you're really Champ Car or IRL or really getting into baseball and NBA, the current racing broadcasts have got to better. So you have to try every possible thing. Right now the Champ Car guys are the only ones I see trying different things to make that happen. It's unfortunate but it is really probably a very wise decision.

Part IV

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Patrick Carpentier , Joey Hand , Michel Jourdain