CHAMPCAR/CART: Johnson, Clagett teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 2 Q: Steve, in recent past there was a rumor about Philadelphia, San Antonio - there were about two or three - are those subjects definitely out or -- STEVE JOHNSON: Actually, San Antonio has come back to us and they ...

Continued from part 2

Q: Steve, in recent past there was a rumor about Philadelphia, San Antonio - there were about two or three - are those subjects definitely out or --

STEVE JOHNSON: Actually, San Antonio has come back to us and they just were not able to do it for 2007. You can't rush into that type of an event. It's got to be planned, otherwise it is going to have a bad ending, so San Antonio has come back and they would like us to look at putting them possibly on for 2008. We said we would definitely look at that and work with them in their efforts.

As far as Philadelphia goes, we haven't made much progress there so I am not overly hopeful in Philadelphia. One, we don't even have a promoter. That's one of the keys you have to have a promoter in place on the ground that's doing all the leg work. We never had one. That has been the biggest thing missing there.

Q: Would you predict that Champ Car will present 25 cars?

STEVE JOHNSON: I am not going to say 25 cars, but I am going to say we will present more than 20. I could tell you I have had more phone calls in the last few weeks from potential new teams wanting packets of information on the car, and expressing interest in our series. So I'd say if we get more than 20 I think everybody would agree that's going to be a good start, but could we be that high? I think the answer is, you know, if all the stars were lined up correctly yes, we could be there 23, 24 cars.

Q: Two race in Europe, they are rosey --


Q: They are rosey, possibility?

STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the possibility is getting better by the day, and we're encouraged but until we have contracts signed and we have inspected the race tracks, we're not going to announce anything because I -- we have got, unfortunately, in the past we have been pulling races off of the schedule and I don't want us to do that. I want to be able to announce things and keep them on our schedule.

Q: Steve, attendance in Portland has been down the last few years although it came up on race day this season. How tenuous was Portland's spot on the schedule?

STEVE JOHNSON: I think it was very tenuous. I met with Mike Nealy. I came in and met with many people in the city. I can tell you, it's a great market. The city is committed. Some of the sponsors there are very committed to us and the fans are committed. So we know we can make it work. The attendance was up about 20%, I believe, over last year; which I can tell you, if that wouldn't have happened, if we didn't have a successful Portland last year, it would not have made the schedule for this year, but they really -- they stepped up -- the fans stepped up, and showed that they support Champ Car and we're expecting even bigger and better race in Portland this year.

Q: It's also my understanding that the American Le Mans Series is not going to be coming back to Portland next year. Did you talk with the ALMS people about running a doubleheader there?

STEVE JOHNSON: We have talked about it. Again, I can't speak on behalf of them, whether they are coming back or not. All I can tell you is we're not going to abandon our fans in Portland and we'll be back there and we really look forward to it because it is a great facility. It's a great town. It's a great destination. We've just got to get more people out and more sponsor involvement which I think we can do.

Q: Can you confirm that Champ Car intends to return to Laguna Seca for spring training March 8, 9 or 9, 10; if so, why and how many and which teams do you expect to attend?

STEVE JOHNSON: I know we're going back -- I know we're going to Laguna Seca for spring training - I am not sure -- I don't have the dates in front of me. Tony would have that. When we do that, most of the teams -- I guarantee, all the teams will be there because they are going to need as much testing as they can with this new car. So it's going to be -- it will be quite a show at Laguna Seca.

Q: Following up, your schedule starts strong but seems to peter out at the end with a two-month gap between Denver then Surfers Paradise, and then one race each the final three months. Is there a chance that you are going to add to a schedule; if not, what are your concerns about what that is going to do for the


STEVE JOHNSON: We're planning on adding them. Our plan right now is we would like to add two races in September. We're in negotiations right now with several venues and promoters. So just stay tuned. I think we're a couple weeks away from filling in the gap.

Q: Is Laguna Seca one of them in September?

STEVE JOHNSON: No. We're racing there in San Jose and we're just not going to do that to that market.

Q: The San Jose event was much improved this year. What additional changes do you see for 2007?

STEVE JOHNSON: That would be a great question to ask Tony and the group. I haven't reviewed the track since and we, quite frankly, haven't gotten that far. We're working closely with the promoter on, you know, the business side of it, and adding more activities for our fans to get involved with. So I think it was a great event this year. And it just had that -- it almost had the feeling of Long Beach to me. It was just -- the excitement was there for only its second year, you know, we're going to continue to see that improve and I know Don Lstwin who is the promoter was very excited with it and there's a guy that's full of energy and ideas so I can only imagine what is going to happen this year.

Q: Any chance that Champ Car could return to Laguna Seca and keep San Jose on the calendar say at opposite ends of the season?

STEVE JOHNSON: I think -- I am never one to say there's not a chance, so -- but it is not anything that we have considered at this time, but I don't rule anything out. Right now our focus in that market though is that race in San Jose and we really think it could be one of our crown jewels, and sure felt that way after year two.

Q: I know there was a lot of controversy in Phoenix. You did make a change to the date - pushed it back into December, December 2. Talking from the previous question about the spacing out, there -- even with the two races being in September, you still got a lot of space in there toward the end of the schedule. Is there a plan for the future to try to tighten that up a little bit?

STEVE JOHNSON: Mark, there is. In '08 our event moves back into November the week before Thanksgiving in Phoenix, so yeah, we would like to move it back, but in fairness of getting the Phoenix race done and working with all parties and making a win/win situation, we agreed to those dates.

Q: Pushing it back into November, doesn't that cause the same problem that you have now with the NASCAR race or are they going to move their date?

STEVE JOHNSON: We're not sure what they are going to do but they agreed to a two-week separation for 2008.

Q: How close are you to announcing a TV schedule and can you comment at all about that?

STEVE JOHNSON: We're in deep negotiations right now with several partners. So I can't comment other than we're working on it and to give you an exact date I don't know when it is going to be done. I would like to have it done within two weeks, but when you are negotiating like this, it is somewhat difficult.

Q: Any anticipation of more network races next year?

STEVE JOHNSON: No, I don't think we'll see more network races but I think you will see a different television strategy. What we're really looking for is consistency and continuity and instead of doing what is it going to be this year not knowing, we need partners that are with us and we can do a three- or a five-year deal so everybody knows when they can watch us and where they can watch us and I think that's one thing that has been missing every year we change and come up with something different. We got to stop doing that.

Q: It looks like they are going to announce a NASCAR Busch race for Montreal for some time in August. That was delayed actually, the announcement as you probably know. There's been some discussion that the Indy Racing League may or may not be starting to get some discussions going on sharing that weekend which would bring the rival league onto Canadian soil for the first time. As I say the answer is probably who cares, basically but is that any concern to the Champ Car World Series that the rival league may be coming into Canadian soil, into a market --

STEVE JOHNSON: If I were to say it's not a concern I'd be lying. Any time you give a competitor a toe hold into a marketplace that you have had, is always a worry, so we just have to do it better, do it bigger and be very aggressive and one of the keys was we have to be there first, obviously, and that's one of the reasons why we'll be there in July. And the open-wheel fans, the Champ Car fans will come out and support us. I know it because that's the way they are. With the IRL going there I am sure the Busch Series will be the lead series; the IRL will be positioned as the support series, if they go there and you know, that's okay. We just have to do a great job for our fans, so they realize that again we didn't abandon them and we're there for the long haul.

Q: With the race at St. Jovite at Mont-Tremblant you are now going to have to do the promotion from the standpoint of what you do basically in Portland and in Road America where you have got to persuade fans who used to have a race basically in their own backyard in the city; now to drive an hour and a half outside the city. Is there an adjustment in mind to work with the promoter to make sure that that happens effectively because it is a bit of a different marketing stance to have to do it that way?

STEVE JOHNSON: Absolutely. Lawrence Stroll who owns it, he understands that. We talked about that and I think we have got to come up with some incentive to -- and we owe it to our fans to get them to come out. We'll come up with something I am sure very creative but that's going to be a great weekend. I could only imagine when we're sitting there with 22, 23 cars running around that's going to be one heck of a show.

Q: A lot of rumors that A.J. Allmendinger might switch to NASCAR. If he was to make a switch is Champ Car at all concerned about having a lack of an American driver in terms of keeping or building its American audience?

STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, I don't want to see A.J. go but he's going to do whatever he is going to do. At this time he hasn't made the decision yet. I actually talked with him at Road America, but yeah, I think we're seeing American drivers come up. If you take a look at the Atlantic Series there's quite a few guys in there with Graham Rahal, possibly coming in, I think he's going to be a superstar right out of the box. But it is always a concern and we need to do a good job on cultivating American talent and helping them get rides in Champ Cars. So it's one of our business strategies that we're working on.

Q: Steve, similar to what's been asked about the schedule, how long it is, can you talk about how you are going to keep fan interest between those gaps between races even if --

STEVE JOHNSON: If you look at it really there's less gaps than there has been in the past, and so how do we do that, how do we keep people interested? We drive it through web site technology, television, better marketing, and keeping in touch with our fans. And giving them reasons to stay in touch with us. So yeah, we have got a lot of work to do but that's a challenge that everybody has right now in the sport unless you are running every week, you know, a lot of people are off two and three weeks at a time, so we'll work on that and again, I think the schedule has really less gaps and purposely we have got several times where we have got three races in a row where we can keep building the momentum and hitting the marketplace, hitting the racing community hard so we're not one race, off three weeks, one race, off three weeks like we have done before in the past. I think there's -- I think the schedule is shaping up very nicely.

Q: Following up, you keep talking about the different markets you are in. What do you see as your target market?

STEVE JOHNSON: The target market is a very urban market. We need to go where the masses are and make it easy for them to come out and see Champ Car. So we have kind of got a nice mix. You can argue it's not that easy to come to Road America, what a great racetrack and we had a great crowd out there, but it's a long drive from Chicago and Milwaukee. That's why when you see venues like Las Vegas, Phoenix, it's right in the heart, and it's very easy for people to come to the event and that's what we have to make it. We have got to make it easy, easy access, and high entertainment and very enjoyable for people to come out.

Q: What happened to the potential Japanese Grand Prix?

JOHN CLAGETT: Just didn't materialize. For the international packages, just take such an amount of advance planning and government supports and on and on and on and they are just not at that stage of development, any of the Japanese races that we have talked to.

Q: As far as Milwaukee goes, the Mile, were there any discussions at all and thoughts in any way to improve that event?

STEVE JOHNSON: Well, I talked with Andy Randall several times and you know, it just didn't -- it didn't work. The crowd wasn't there and although the crowd was up over the last year, it was still nowhere near where it needed to be and Andy didn't have all the confidence in the world that he would be able to get the people out and we didn't have the confidence either. So that's why we had to take it off the schedule for the time being.

Q: See any chance of -- you are going to continue to talk to them about possibilities?

STEVE JOHNSON: Sure. Sure, again, it all comes down to making good business sense for everybody, which includes our sponsors, teams, fans, and we have proven recently we're not successful on ovals.

Q: It seems a head scratcher to me though because the track is right in the middle of Milwaukee.

STEVE JOHNSON: Yep, it is. There's a lot of things that run on the track and so I can't give you any one reason why the stands aren't full there, but the facts are they are not. We need those stands to be full to be able to support the cost of bringing the Champ Car World Series there, and the promoters has to have the stands full to cover his costs to bring us there.

Q: Your remarks about the urban centers, what would it take to get back to the California Speedway, fantastic facility, you are in that urban market. You say you are not in negotiations but what would it take to make something happen?

STEVE JOHNSON: First, communication would be the first thing and right now we're not even talking, not because there's any problems, we're just not having any communication with each other. So we would need to see as we do with all of our promoters, a very solid business plan on how they market the event. What would it take to be successful and then at the end of the day, we have to look at and say does it make good business sense for us from a market standpoint; when would it fit into the schedule. Who is the title sponsor of the event; a number of things like that all come into play when you make these types of decisions. It's a beautiful facility. Again, I am not going to rule it out, but we'll have to wait and see in the future how things shake out.

Q: It unrealistic for 2007, you think?

STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, 2007, like I say, we got a couple of September events and we're getting real close on those, and I won't be able -- 17 event for us is, when we only ran 14 this year, that's a big jump so we would not be able to go to 18.

Q: How will you work with the Mexican partners like if you are going to have more Mexican enterprises involved in Champ Car?

STEVE JOHNSON: We would sure like to. I know I have probably made nine trips to Mexico in the last seven months, so we're working closely with everybody down there. Really we have to rely on OCESA to step up and drive the business for us since we're not there. The other thing I can do and we're looking at it is possibly hiring someone and putting them right there in Mexico City, working side-by-side with OCESA and that's something that I am looking at for my 2007 business plan so we have a presence a Champ Car presence in the marketplace, every day of the year.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you. That will bring an end to today's Champ Car media teleconference. I'd like to remind everyone on the call there will a transcript of today's call.

-credit: ccws

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Graham Rahal , A.J. Allmendinger , Lawrence Stroll