CHAMPCAR/CART: Johnson, Clagett teleconference, part 1

CHAMP CAR MEDIA TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH STEVE JOHNSON AND JOHN CLAGETT ERIC MAUK: Welcome everyone today to our Champ Car Media Teleconference. As most of you are aware, the Champ Car World Series released its 2007 schedule. We released...


ERIC MAUK: Welcome everyone today to our Champ Car Media Teleconference. As most of you are aware, the Champ Car World Series released its 2007 schedule. We released that yesterday at an event in Las Vegas. Those of you on the media should already have that. It is a 15-race schedule featuring four new venues.

Today on the teleconference we're honored to be joined by Champ Car President Steve Johnson, and Vice-president of Venue Development John Clagett. For opening remarks, I'd like to go ahead and turn things over to Mr. Johnson. Steve.

STEVE JOHNSON: Thank you. I want to tell everybody good morning or good afternoon depending on where you are. I am calling in from Las Vegas; sitting here looking over the strip on a beautiful sunny day. What a monumental week for Champ Car this week with the announcement of securing the Phoenix event. Announcing our schedule here in Vegas, the city of entertainment, and it's just -- you can't have asked for a better week for us.

I am very proud to go through many of our accomplishments, but in an effort to be able to answer as many questions as possible, I think I will wait until we get those questions. At this time I would like to turn over the -- some remarks from John Clagett who's really been instrumental in putting this schedule together. John has been involved with Champ Car for many years, with the TransAm series, and has really come out and done a great job for us. John, why don't you give us some remarks.

JOHN CLAGETT: Steve, thank you. Rather than going through the schedule round by round, I will offer some highlights of what is new.

The schedule opens and closes with inaugural events in Las Vegas and Phoenix respectively. Champ Cars will visit historic Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada for the first time since 1968. And Champ Car will be breaking new ground by becoming the first major American sports organization to hold a regular season event in mainland China.

Champ Car tradition abounds with Cleveland with its 26th annual running; Road America hosting its 25th Champ Car race; Long Beach and Portland both with their 24th annual races. Toronto will be hosting its 22nd annual and 2007 season will mark Surfer's Paradise 17th annual run as one of the world's best attended motor sport events.

The 2007 schedule will no doubt be challenging with ten temporary course circuits; four road courses in five different countries spread over nine months. I will note that the series has closed later than the December 2nd for Phoenix on at least five occasions; the last time being 1969 when Mario Andretti won at Riverside. Discussion continues with respect to two events that are likely for the month of September, with details to be released in the near future.

We're delighted to welcome to the Champ Car promoter family Dale Jensen and Bradley Yonover in the Vegas and Phoenix project respectively. Elliot Friedman and his team including France Corbeil at FRC USA in China, and Lawrence Stroll and his team at Mont-Tremblant. We have put together what we believe is a solid schedule that will provide great racing for our fans as well as strong challenges for the teams and drivers, and when combined with the arrival of the new Panoz DP01 we're pleased and feel we have great momentum going forward. Without further delay Eric, Steve, let us open it up to questions.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you, gentlemen. Just for the record, the 1969 event that John referenced, Riverside, December 7 Mario Andretti won at Riverside capping a championship season for the four-time National Champion. We will take questions from the media now.

Q: Steve, I have a question for you. If I play devil's advocate for a second and look at this schedule and all of the new places you are going, and so forth, this does not look like a series that's about to enter a merger with the IRL. Can you tell me why I am wrong on that?

STEVE JOHNSON: Jim, that's a great question. I am running the business of Champ Car. I am not running the business of trying to put a merger together. So, I took to our board what I felt was the best schedule that I have seen Champ Car have in many years. The board is very supportive of it, and agrees that it's not only challenging for our drivers, but it's going to be great for our fans as well, and again, it -- from a merger standpoint, my focus is and continues to be running the business of the Champ Car World Series, and if anything were to happen with a merger, we'll see how that fits in down the road.

Q: Steve, although in many ways I'd like to focus on the American side and the growth there, there is the international side, the China race. Could you just talk a little bit about the infrastructure involving the China race and if there's any further comment you could make about the much rumored European races for September?

STEVE JOHNSON: Absolutely, Gordon and you and I talk a lot at the races every weekend so I probably tell you a lot of stuff absolutely. As far as China goes, it's a beautiful facility at Zhuhai which is a shorter ferry ride from Hong Kong and it close to Macau. It's right there. The infrastructure is in place. They have got a very secure and stable management team at the track. It's a gorgeous track surrounded by golf courses and hotels, and they put on major events - everything from GT races to motorcycles, and they are very excited to bring the Champ Car World Series to China. We have got full support of the government of Zhuhai, and the mayor and they are, again, equally as excited and are willing to promote and support the event. So we feel very confident that China is going to be a very big success. I'd say our biggest challenge is going to be educating the Chinese fans on what Champ Car is and there are a couple potential Champ Car drivers that are Chinese drivers, that we're going to hopefully give some testing to because we would love to have a Chinese driver in our series.

Your other question on Europe? Yeah, we're in negotiations right now. I think that's not a surprise. We're not ready to announce anything but we're getting very close, and we would like to bring Champ Car back to Europe and September would be a good month to do that since it's open for us and we have got a couple of dates highlighted there. So I'd just say stay tuned, I would expect closure on that as soon as hopefully a week to two weeks. I might be a little aggressive on that but that's our plan right now.

Q: We could have actually six new races this year?

STEVE JOHNSON: Correct. We could have six. Exactly. The good thing is it's not by people that don't understand us. I would be very concerned if (1) we had to build race tracks similar to Korea where there wasn't a racetrack and/or these were promoters and management teams that didn't know the business of Champ Car. So in all instances, they know Champ Car. They know what it takes to put the events on and we're prepared from a staff standpoint to tackle this challenge to make sure that we deliver the best events possible.

Q: I think it's probably the first time in history that there's no ovals on the schedule. I wonder if you could maybe comment on that and talk about whether that's going to be a permanent omission?

STEVE JOHNSON: We don't have any ovals on this schedule because they didn't make good business sense for us. It's not that we're anti ovals and won't run on an oval. We had Milwaukee, for those that were there, we didn't have enough fans to show up to make it a good business case to be there. The same thing when we raced in Las Vegas on the oval last year, you know, we encountered the same thing. So if somebody -- a promoter can come to us and we can develop a business model that is successful for all parties on an oval, we would be happy to look at it. We're not against ovals and just currently at this time does not make good business sense for us.

Q: Following up on what the gentleman from the L.A. Times asked, it was certainly reported in the press that in the last few months there was some talk about running some potential twin dates with the IRL. That's obviously not going to happen. Can you confirm whether there actually were discussions to that end?

STEVE JOHNSON: John, I am not sure if there were. I wasn't in those. I heard, you know, exactly what you guys have heard. I think there might have been a lot of wishful thinking. But in our planning - and we have been planning this schedule - as we're working on 2008 right now, it has never been a directive to me to run a doubleheader with the IRL. So I think it was a lot of wishful thinking on some peoples' parts but was not part of our plan.

Q: I don't know if I have missed something or whether it just simply hasn't been finalized yet, but again, the rumor or the speculation was that there would be some doubleheaders with the ALMS in 2007. The places I heard were Long Beach, Houston and the Elkhart Lake date. Wondered if you -- anybody can make a comment about that?

STEVE JOHNSON: David, I think to be fair to the American Le Mans Series who is announcing their schedule tomorrow, I believe. Will the ALMS be with us on several dates? The answer is yes. Without letting the cat out of the bag, you were pretty good on probably where you think they might be. But I will let them announce their schedule, but you know, we enjoy running with the American Le Mans Series. We think it's a good compliment, and we'll just see how that pans out.

Q: Focusing on the July 1st race at St. Jovite. One question in the list of the new promoters joining the series I didn't hear unless I miss -- unless I wasn't listening closely I didn't hear Alan Labrosse's name and I wondered if he's involved in that race and I guess the second question is, you know, I think it -- most people who have been there would agree that it is one of the most challenging exciting race tracks in North America if not the world but again there are -- and again I know the place was -- did undergo extensive refurbishing around about 2000, 2001, I wondered if there are any thoughts about the -- you know, frankly the safety issues at the track?

STEVE JOHNSON: Obviously safety is always a No. 1 concern and Tony Cotman, our senior VP of Operations was there yesterday, and called me and he gave me his assessment and he said, I guarantee you, this may be our drivers' favorite track when they get out here. He says this is a driver's track. He was very excited about it. He said there are some, not safety issues at all, but there are some things they are going to have to do to race to our standards which they are very willing to do. Things like catch fencing, some of those things are missing right now. They have -- the track has, like you said, I think, one, they went through and they reconfigured and there are some more modifications that they are going to have to make, but Tony said it's going to be a great venue to hold a Champ Car event.

As far as promoters go I really -- we have -- we're working with Lawrence who obviously owns the event, and it really comes down to what he's doing. I believe he and his team are going to be the ones that are going to be promoting this. He's very excited to become part of Champ Car. He came and met with us in Montreal, and actually he kind of cut his vacation short just to fly in to meet with us. I think he's going to be a great partner for the Champ Car World Series.

As far as Alan, I don't know if Alan is going to have a play in that. That's up to the promoter.

Q: Steve, I am sure you have heard a comment from our sheriff out here in Phoenix, Joe Arpaio. He said this morning on the radio that if the cars make too much noise going by his call center he is going to call out his tanks and stop the race. I am wondering how you react to a comment like that?

STEVE JOHNSON: Well, I don't know Sheriff Joe personally but I know Sheriff Joe is quite a character and had many meetings with our people. We have an expert in sound study that has put together a plan that guarantees us that there will be no noise issues at the 911 Center so we're not concerned about that. At the City Council meeting this week when we got the vote to move forward in Phoenix, they went through the entire plan on what they were going to do and even showed diagrams of how they would keep the noise out of the call center. So we're not concerned with that. We think Sheriff Joe is going to end up being a huge supporter of the event. Maybe we could have him throw the green flag or use his tank to pace the race or something.

Q: I am sure you know back in the late 80s early 90s we had three Formula 1 races here. None were successful in the slightest. Why do you think Champ Car races might be successful as opposed to the F-I?

STEVE JOHNSON: 40 degrees Fahrenheit will make it a little bit easier. They were running in the middle of June during the day when we are going to be there, you know, in late November. And it is not apples to apples. Our business model is completely different. It is not just a race that we're going to be bringing to Phoenix. There's concerts, boxing matches. Going to be the Taste of Phoenix. We're doing some things with car shows and Barrett-Jackson, it goes on and on. That's part of our three- day festival. It's not apples to apples.

Now I can tell you at the City Council meeting that question came up and the city manager who was involved and who has done a lot of research from the city's standpoint, he defended the Formula 1 races there and said in fact, the races depending on how you measure success at the end of the day were still profitable for the city of Phoenix. I wasn't there for it. I can only hear the stories. But we're bringing an entirely different business model. It a different day and we know the event is going to be successful. We also have a great promoter with Dale Jensen who is the owner of the Diamondbacks, who has taken obviously great interest in the Downtown area in revitalizing it. He's committed as anyone I have seen from a promoter standpoint.

Q: There was some talk about maybe having an event at California Speedway in Fontana since IRL pulled out of that race. There's no racing there with the open-wheel cars right now. Was there any negotiations with Fontana and is there still a possibility of maybe you having two races in Southern California?

STEVE JOHNSON: There has not been any negotiations at all with them. Would we be against doing it? The answer is no. But again it'd got to make good business sense for the promoter, the track and for the Champ Car World Series as well as our sponsors, and I'd be happy to sit down and discuss anything with California Speedway.

Q: Any reaction from Long Beach losing their inaugural spot on the schedule?

STEVE JOHNSON: There actually hasn't. And Long Beach has for several years asked to be the No. 2 race. So I know they are very happy about it and actually I am off to Long Beach here in a couple of hours to have dinner with a new mayor of Long Beach this evening. I think it -- we'll be able to make this, I think, proactively help Long Beach and use the first race to promote the Long Beach race which is the next weekend.

Q: Steve, first of all, congratulations on restoring three races in Canada. Talk about why the Montreal Quebec market is so important to Champ Car and why you needed to make sure that you had a race reestablished -- it's not Downtown though but talk about why the series thought it was important to retain the Montreal Quebec market?

STEVE JOHNSON: Some of the greatest fans we have are in that area for Champ Car and we feel that we owe it to our fans that have supported us. It not the fans' fault that we're not back in Montreal. Had nothing to do with the fans or the support we got or the welcome from the city. It was a place that we really considered home and we felt that Quebec was a great home for us as well. So it was important for us to tell our fans we appreciate everything that you have done for us. We're not going to abandon you even though that we felt that the promoter somewhat abandoned us, but that's a different topic. We're going to support you. We're going to be there bigger and better than ever.

As far as Canada goes, we're even looking for possibly more expansion in Canada. We think it's a great market for us, and we're going to look obviously in Vancouver in the future again once the Olympics are over so I could see us down the road having four races Canada.

Q: John, following up on what Steve was just saying about additional markets, I know that Ottawa for a moment there was mentioned as a possibility of inheriting the Montreal race. What about the city of Ottawa and can you tell us if there are other cities other than Ottawa that may be on the horizon for additional Canadian dates?

JOHN CLAGETT: There are. There are that have expressed interest. But until they are ready to make a public stance as to their intent, I think we just leave it that there are multiple scenarios there. Ottawa is one. You have mentioned that. But the others we'll leave for them to decide when to come public with it. But to say that there's more than one is definitely true.

Q: Can you tell to the Mexican audience what happen to the race in Monterrey?

STEVE JOHNSON: Be happy to. The promoter being OCESA has come to us and said they want to focus on Mexico City. They felt that the Monterrey race was taking away from the Mexico City race and they wanted to put all their efforts into Mexico City. So they gave us a plan, a business plan on how they were going to do that, and we support it. They are putting all their effort; the sponsors are stepping up more. I think we're going to see a great Mexico City. They just felt that Mexico City and Monterey were somewhat cannibalizing each other and the efforts that the promoter was putting into it and so they had asked us to not come back to Monterey.

Q: What is going on with the Mexican drivers in 2007, any talks of names?

STEVE JOHNSON: There are. Obviously with Mario Dominguez is stepping up, there's some rumors and I can't substantiate them at this time, that David Martinez may be stepping up into Champ Car as well, and looks like there might be a couple more Mexican drivers coming into the Atlantic Series which obviously is our development series. So I think it looks very good for Mexican drivers in 2007 for the Champ Car World Series which I think is great for our series.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Dominguez , Mario Andretti , Lawrence Stroll , David Martinez , Steve Johnson