CART Sponsorship Press Conference November 2, 2002 An Interview With: Chris Pook Al Speyer Part 2 of 2 Q: Chris, a difficult question, but being that CART owns the Toyota Atlantic Series, what will this do with regard to tires available ...
CART Sponsorship Press Conference
November 2, 2002
An Interview With:
Part 2 of 2
Q: Chris, a difficult question, but being that CART owns the Toyota Atlantic Series, what will this do with regard to tires available and from where?
Pook: Well, I think the Atlantic Series is separate from the Champ Car Series. We've positioned it separately, although it's an important feeder series. The Atlantic Series uses Yokohama tires. Al understands that well. If Yokohama decides they don't want to continue with us, I can tell you right now the first place I will turn to will be to Mr. Speyer to say, "Is there any interest by any other member of the Bridgestone/Firestone family in the series?"
One should remember very carefully that Bridgestone/Firestone through the Dayton brand made a huge investment in the Indy Lights Series. Quite candidly, the company's responsible for many of our drivers in the series, two of which I believe were before you a few minutes ago, as you talked to the top three, they came out of the Dayton Indy Lights Series, which is a division of Bridgestone/Firestone.
We remember. We do business with our friends.
Q: Was it a tough sell with all the negative things that CART has had to deal with this year? If so, what was the key thing for you? The attendance at the races?
Speyer: It was more difficult internally. Right now with the overall economic situation we all face, continuing investments in motorsports are always looked on with very a very fine-tooth comb that we have to go through. We have our eyes wide open in this. I think we have a very good sense of where CART is headed. We understand the situation right now.
But we have to be careful for our own stockholders and everybody else about how we spend our money. So internally we looked at this probably as hard as we've looked at any involvement in motorsports that we've done in the past 10 years or so.
However, in the end we see great strength in CART. We know there's going to be a changing of the guard, if you will. We're excited about some of the new young blood that's going to come in. We like to grow and build new series, get involved with new, energetic people.
We very much see strength in the street circuit racing. The crowds that we have at many of the events, Long Beach of course is the one we reference many of us many times, but all of the events in Canada, still had a great crowd down in Australia, the Mexican events are very important to us. All of those tracks and those attendance figures we look at as being very, very strong for CART, very much the demographics, spectator and audience, we want to market our Bridgestone brand tires to.
Q: Might there be special tires for special teams? How long does it take your company to adapt to a demand for something new and different?
Speyer: The only team that will get special tires will be Patrick Racing (laughter). We've already arranged that previous to this meeting.
They're over at the truck, Pat. Better get there before everybody else does (laughter).
In all seriousness, we don't even select the tires that go to the teams. CART has officials that come down and go through the truck, "This tire goes to this person, this tire goes to this person." We don't make any special tires for any teams, although some of the team would say very much like to have us do that.
I forget the second part of the question.
Q: How long does it take to make something different if it's needed?
Speyer: We can push something through probably in 60 to 90 days, maybe less if we absolutely have to. We don't like to. We like to plan much further out than that.
Q: Will this affect your sponsorship of the Trans-Am series?
Speyer: No. I don't know that we have a sponsorship of the Trans-Am series. No, not at all. No change at all (laughter).
Pook: It's a real fine day outside today.
Q: Do you have a time frame that you set out for this new agreement, announcement?
Speyer: Right now we've signed on for 2003. As I sat here last year, we extended our agreement with CART for another year. We've done this again. No reason why it can't go beyond that. Right now it's an agreement for 2003.
Q: We'll be looking at this annually?
Speyer: Yes. We expect Chris is going to be knocking on our door long before the end of next year to have us continue. I know he's going to work overtime with his complete staff to make sure we want to continue.
Q: What message does this send to future teams?
Speyer: We certainly hope it's a positive message, a major corporation involved in the automotive industry is stepping up and increasing our presence with the series. We hope it has a positive effect. We're well aware of many discussions going on not only with series sponsors but individual team sponsors. We made our decision. We know what we're doing. That's why we're making the announcement today. We hope it has a positive effect on others who are considering participation.
Q: Was it kept to one year because CART may want to look at bringing in another tire to have some competition or do you like this arrangement of having sole supply?
Speyer: It dovetails in. Right now, making a commitment for more than a year for our company is very difficult financially. After all the internal discussions we've had, I'm very pleased we're able to make this commitment to continue next year.
We very much would like to have competition in the tire category, but temporarily right now, based on our economic situation with the company and the fact that competition would cost considerably more for us at the current time, we like the fact that we've got another year of relative ease in the development and technology end, and then possibilities beyond that are still open.
It's a very comfortable situation for us.
Pook: If I could continue on that. You also need to recognize that we as a company have said that in 2005 we're going to have new engines, a whole new appearance to this series. Those specifications will come out in the first three months of next year. I don't think it's reasonable to ask a company that makes a technical product for our series to commit without understanding what the future's going to hold for them. I think we have to understand that we've got to respect the engineering that goes into these tires and their ability to make decisions around that engineering of what we're going to look like.
Q: Will you be supplying just one compounded tire per race or doing like Formula 1 where team also have a choice of two compounds to create some disparity?
Speyer: It will be one compound. We have talked about possibly making some softer tires closer to where we were when we had open competition. Whether or not that can actually improve the racing somewhat to allow for more passing, I think that's a debate right now. But it will be one specification for each race, with the possible exception we've already talked about a primary and an option, but that would be a rare case that we might test with CART just to see if it could improve the overall racing product.
The default position is one specification, just as we've had this year.
Q: Where do you rank this development in your progress this year as a CEO?
Pook: This is a significant development for us. I mean, I've talked about stability all year long, the importance to have stability. I think the fact we announced Ford-Cosworth in June at Portland, that was a stability issue. I think for us to continue with Bridgestone as our tires is another one of the building blocks to we're putting in place. That's the way I look at it.
I look at it from the marketing side. If you look at it from the corporate side what I'm charged with the responsibility to do, I think this is a very significant building block that's been put in place. That's very important when you're restructuring a company and setting on a new course. These are the sort of things I believe you have to do. At least I think that's what my board wants me to do.
Q: The term Champ Car really hasn't caught on in the past four or five years. Al mentioned a logo change. Do you see that as an opportunity to possibly change the name of the series?
Speyer: Yes (laughter). Possibly.
Pook: I'll have to say yes. It's going to change the name of the series with Bridgestone in the title, clearly. I would say to you that sometimes there are lots of reasons why brands don't catch on. A lot of the time it's because management hasn't paid enough attention to making the brand be known and recognized. I think that's one of the challenges before us.
We will work with Bridgestone on this issue. They will participate with us as we reposition, if you will, redesign the brand. But I suspect you will see the name "Champ Car" in that brand name.
Q: What is it called at this moment? What's the full name?
Pook: I appreciate the opportunity to scoop here, but I'm not going to.
Saal: We remain the FedEx Championship Series through this season.
Q: Bridgestone presenting CART?
Pook: Today we can tell you it's "Bridgestone Presents." I think that's the message we want to leave you with today. How we take the rest of the equation forward, that's something that might staff and Al's staff will work together on so we arrive at an answer that meets Bridgestone's objectives and meets the series' objectives.
Speyer: There certainly was a part of our desire on Bridgestone's part to be able to all at once announce the complete title of whatever the new name will be. However, we felt it was more important to put our foot in, announce ourselves as the presenting sponsor, then work with Chris and CART, all of the other potential sponsors, to detail out the full name.
It's not fully developed yet. We are very happy to be a part of it with CART.
Saal: Those meetings have even gone on this weekend for several hours.
Q: You mentioned a key in the fact there are going to be a number of new teams, new personalities coming in. Are there thoughts, discussions about utilizing those personalities? In the past they've not been marketed so well in the series. With the huge number of outlets that Bridgestone has, are you going to be able to utilize the personalities that are in CART to help the fans get to know them better as well as improve your product sales?
Speyer: We certainly want to do that. We do currently and will continue to use drivers for public appearances for us. Until we know who all those personalities are and exactly how they might fit in in different areas the country, we can't have a specific plan. But, yes, we will use the drivers.
Other elements actually of our new arrangement with CART, we will also be utilizing the pace car drivers as spokes-people for us. They will be doing some of the women's car care type clinics that we have conducted across the country. It's another way we are dovetailing some of the activities we do at our retail locations with that of CART.
Saal: Thanks for joining us today, Mr. Patrick. Gentlemen, congratulations again. Chris and Al, thank you.
Speyer: Thank you.
Pook: Thank you.