CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland Town Meeting notes

CLEVELAND (June 2, 2003) -- Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport has been a fixture on the CART Champ Car schedule longer than any other temporary street circuit in the world, and the fans that have made Cleveland part of the racer's diet since...

CLEVELAND (June 2, 2003) -- Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport has been a fixture on the CART Champ Car schedule longer than any other temporary street circuit in the world, and the fans that have made Cleveland part of the racer's diet since 1982 got a chance to pick at CART's buffet Monday night.

CART Champ Car conducted another in its successful Town Meeting series Monday night in Cleveland, Ohio, site of the July 5 Cleveland Grand Prix Presented by U.S. Bank. A large crowd took the opportunity to hear and be heard by a panel of the major names involved in the race, participating in a two-hour question-and-answer session with CART President and CEO Christopher R. Pook, IMG President Bud Stanner, SPEED Channel President Jim Liberatore, defending Cleveland winner Patrick Carpentier and Toyota Atlantic driver Joey Hand.

Fans came from all around Northeast Ohio and from as far away as Erie and Pittsburgh to ask questions of the panel, and covered topics ranging from the upcoming night Champ Car World Series race at Cleveland to the long-term health of the race and the series itself.

Stanner, whose IMG company has been a partner and promoter of the race for much of the last decade, told fans that the upcoming night race should provide a fascinating turnaround for fans that feared losing the race to another open-wheel series just a couple of years ago.

"Thanks to the Cleveland racing fans, this race has gone for 22 years and it is because of the tremendous fan base in this town," Stanner said. "We're convinced that racing under the lights and being on the Fourth of July is just what we need to ensure success. We were never going to run IRL here, we were just using that alternative as leverage against former management that had priced themselves out of the market."

Pook spoke about how to bring more Americans to the series, and how to improve the training that the young drivers receive in the CART Ladder System. He also touched on matters such as future races and new manufacturers and also addressed the influx of young, talented European drivers to the series.

"We will not be a feeder series to Formula 1, but we want to be in position to take good young drivers and help them further their careers," Pook said. "It's no different than any other sport. Even here with the Cleveland Cavaliers and getting the young LeBron James from Akron, you want to give the young guys a chance if they are good enough."

Carpentier won at Cleveland last year en route to sweep the two races in the Buckeye State, and is coming off his first podium finish of the year when he placed third last Saturday night at Milwaukee. The Ladder System graduate said that he has a fondness for Cleveland's temporary circuit and that the night race should not pose any significant trouble.

"The track here has always been very safe, and while there are a couple of walls, for the most part if you get in trouble, you just go into the grass and spin," said Carpentier. "There might be a change in depth perception since the track is flat and we might have to set something else up to aid with braking points but if Milwaukee is any indication, it should be fine to race on."

Hand, who drives for nearby Chesterland-based DSTP Motorsports in the Atlantic series, addressed those fans and media that hint that Toyota Atlantic drivers are ill-suited for immediate promotion to Champ Cars.

"While a little more power might be fun, I think the guys in recent years have not been in the caliber of Patrick, Alex Barron and Memo Gidley," Hand said. "And that why you haven't seen guys jump right up. This year I think there are a few guys that have the talent to move up next year."

As was the case in Portland a few weeks ago, the fan response was so strong that the panel stayed on answering questions for another 30 minutes past the scheduled stop time, helping to build on the excitement that is growing toward the July 3-5 event on the 2.106-mile airport circuit. Fans can still buy tickets for the July event by going to www.clevelandgrandprix.com or www.imgmotorsports.com, or by calling 800-498-7223.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Patrick Carpentier , Joey Hand , Alex Barron