INDYCAR SERIES-CHAMP CAR UNIFICATION PRESS CONFERENCE Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, Homestead-Miami Speedway Tony George, Kevin Kalkhoven, Brian Barnhart MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. We'll begin with Tony George with some opening comments.
INDYCAR SERIES-CHAMP CAR UNIFICATION PRESS CONFERENCE
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, Homestead-Miami Speedway
Tony George, Kevin Kalkhoven, Brian Barnhart
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. We'll begin with Tony George with some opening comments. Tony.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here. This is a very exciting day. To be here with Kevin, representing his partners in Champ Car, to publicly address all of you and confirm that, in fact, we are going to unify the sport of open-wheel racing in North America for the 2008 season.
This is all about looking forward. At the risk of taking a glance back, it was just last fall on the anniversary of my grandfather's death that I was thinking to myself that it really had been 30 years since the sport of open-wheel racing had been truly unified. There were periods of years over the last 30 years where we worked more closely together and better together. But by and large, there were periods of years where we weren't so good at that.
Last month when the calendar turned over to 2008, I was wondering to myself, 'Is it possible this could ever happen?' Lo and behold, I got a call that just made me feel really warm. I felt like this was perhaps going to be the best year of my 48 to have a chance to do something that's very important to me and very close to me, and that is to help bring about the unification of open-wheel racing.
But it wouldn't have been possible without Kevin and Gerry (Forsythe), in particular, coming to me, expressing a desire to work with me, to do what's right and what's best for all of the drivers and the sponsors and, most importantly, the fans, the suppliers that make open-wheel racing in North America a great sport, something close to all of us.
They've been a pleasure to work with in helping bring this about. I think we've all realized that there's a lot of challenges. The thing about having a long offseason, it's good and bad. You start thinking about things. Fortunately, it's long enough that we have a really good shot at bringing this together, albeit very late in the year. We have put our teams together to work on coming up with a good plan to integrate teams into one series, to integrate some events where we have the opportunity to fill some slots. We've got a lot of challenges that go along with doing all those things, but I think we're going to successfully overcome those.
GEORGE: But this day is really all about the fans, the fans who supported open-wheel racing, in general, who supported Champ Car, who supported IndyCar through the years. There are some that have supported them individually, and there are some that have supported them collectively. To all those, we appreciate your support. It's an honor, again, to be here.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Tony.
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Well, it's a heck of a crowd. We must be doing something right by this unification. Thank you all for coming here. Very impressive.
I want to join Tony in expressing my satisfaction about what is happening in terms of the unification. Tony and I have actually talked on and off, I would guess, for, what, four years. It's been a long and hard road to be able to get here, but we are here.
I think that the winners today are the fans, the teams, the drivers, and indeed the potential that we have to be able to grow the sport over the next few years.
I've said many times that in itself, unification isn't some sort of magic bullet to be able to get us forward. It's going to take an awful lot of hard work. In that respect, I have to thank my partner, Gerry Forsythe, for the work that he's already put in. To my friend over there, Dick Eidswick, who has been worked tirelessly on this. Al Speyer, who has done a fabulous job in helping to put this together.
This is something that is going to still require a huge amount of work, but I think the long-term potential is extremely exciting for everybody associated with this.
I'm actually obviously going to be part of the series with my own team, which is now KV Racing, with my partner Jimmy Vasser. By the way, just as a word of warning, never go out in Miami with Jimmy Vasser for an evening. It's an extremely dangerous thing to do. It's a miracle that I'm actually here.
I'm also looking forward to being able to bring the series to Long Beach. This year is going to be an exciting time as we're going to actually have our final Champ Car race in one respect for the DP01s prior to moving entirely over onto the Dallaras. I think the combination of the 500 with all its stature and Long Beach with its 34 years of history now is going to be two anchor points of what will be an incredibly successful and interesting series.
So to all our fans and all our fans on both sides, to you, the media, it's been a long road, about you we're here and looking forward to a very exciting '08 and beyond. So thank you all.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Kevin.
Tony, would you spend a few minutes and talk about a few of the elements of the unification?
GEORGE: Well, obviously, you know, early on we identified that we would need to participate by facilitating the transition of the teams in Champ Car to the Dallara equipment package and get them up and running. We committed to provide each team that could demonstrate the ability and desire to bring an operating budget, to help them transition to the equipment package of Dallara and Honda by providing a basic engine lease and two chassis from a pool of available chassis. They would also obviously be entitled to participate in the TEAM incentive program that was outlined last fall.
It's been a very rapid timeline we've had to keep here. We really only reached agreement a few days ago. The discussions have been going on over the last few weeks. But there were a number of elements we felt we could really bring to enhance the value of the 2008 season for all the teams and sponsors and the fans, and that is trying to add two or three of the Champ Car events that we had openings with some flexibility to our calendar.
Kevin outlined how the Long Beach event will be the Champ Car finale. In addition to that, we're going to make an effort to add Edmonton and Australia to this year's calendar. Both of those events, the details surrounding them, are yet to be worked out. But we feel good that we'll have a good plan for that.
As Kevin again mentioned, the historic Long Beach Grand Prix will be the Champ Car finale. It will be run the same weekend as the IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi. That obviously presents enormous challenges, but I think through the efforts of some very capable people and the scenario that allows Champ Car to showcase for one final time the DP01s, the drivers and teams that are familiar with that equipment, to go out and put on a great show, really make Long Beach a great event. So not to disadvantage anyone, points and prize money will be awarded for both those events according to the IRL structure, but it will be a Champ Car race.
Then we obviously needed to fast track some orientation. So this past Monday, just a couple days ago, Brian and Terry and the staff at the Indy Racing League welcomed all the Champ Car teams, which I believe there was 100 percent attendance. I don't know; did drivers come in for physicals? That's good. So I think we're getting out in front of that.
I think they're genuinely pleased with the package offered. Certainly, it creates a lot of logistical challenges. We've gotten a great deal of support from all the IRL teams currently to help try to bring this about. We're all really excited about this opportunity. It's such a tremendous opportunity for all of us who have been a part of open-wheel racing, and I know there's been some suggestion that there's some reluctance or reticence about the amalgamation of these two series.
GEORGE: I guarantee you that our race team, Rahal Letterman race team, Target Chip Ganassi race team, everybody is excited about working with Champ Car teams that are coming over, to help them transition. Our job is to make everyone feel warm and welcome and, as always, never run a season apart.
As I mentioned, I think Newman/Haas will be assigned to Rahal Letterman. I think they have some common interests in working with one another there. We're trying to align those interests as best we can. But I think Ganassi has a very close relationship with Jimmy Vasser. KV guys are going to get the support of Target Chip Ganassi. So I think it's going to be a pretty smooth transition from that standpoint.
Again, as part of the agreement we're going to be acquiring some of the non-tangible and tangible assets of Champ Car. So, among other things, we'll be able to consolidate the intellectual property, the historical records of Champ Car all into one. In addition, we're going to take on as a tangible asset the medical transport trailer that has been a very important part of Champ Car's history. They're the ones who really developed that concept. We're excited to be able to provide those further facilities to the IndyCar Series going forward.
That's about it, I guess.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Tony.
Kevin, maybe if you would spend a couple minutes talking about what you want to say or talk to the Champ Car fans about this unification process?
KALKHOVEN: Well, as I said, I think the real winners today are, in fact, the fans. I know that over the past few years there's been elements of disagreement, let's say, between the two fan bases. By uniting the sport, I sincerely hope everyone recognizes, and by that of course I also mean the Champ Car fans, that this is something that was a very conscious decision that we took to try and develop North American open-wheel motorsport and take it into sport of '08, '09 and beyond in a very positive way.
I welcome the opportunity of being able to work with Chip and the Target Ganassi team. By that kind of relationship, I'm also hoping that the IRL fans will extend their hand to the Champ Car fans and allow this to proceed in an amicable, smooth and exciting manner forward.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Kevin.
We'll now open the floor to questions.
Q: Kevin and Tony, to get enough cars for Long Beach, we understand possibly you'll get your free IRL cars, but it's predicated on the fact you have to show up and run Long Beach. Will every team get a new car and a used car? How will they be allotted?
GEORGE: Well, as far as the pool of available chassis, we are doing our best to assemble the pool and then make a judicious allocation of those.
I think we're somewhat constrained just by the timing of all this. But I think Brian (Barnhart) really is on point on that. He's got a pretty good handle. I would perhaps defer part of my answer to Brian because he's got the best perspective on that.
But our hope is to provide them one new, one used while supplies last, I guess. But it sounds like we're going to be in pretty good shape. Dallara has worked with us. I think once we get beyond the start of the season, once we get into May, things will start to free up a little bit.
It's just the near-term is the biggest challenge.
KALKHOVEN: In terms of Long Beach, we expect to have a full-field of DP01s running. It's going to be a heck of a celebration. It won't just be a Champ Car celebration; it will be really an introduction to the unified series. We hope that there will be a great turnout to come and see the DP01s for the last time, and then we'll move on to the Dallaras.
I know all the Champ Car teams have expressed to me how very warm the reception has been and how closely the teams have already allied themselves. And you never know, we might even see a couple of drivers coming back from Motegi and jumping in a DP01.
Q: (No microphone.)
BRIAN BARNHART: I would expect we will be able to provide one chassis for every team that makes the commitment to join the IndyCar Series. What we've got outlined now, once they do the chassis lease agreement, join the Leader Circle program to be able for the TEAM assistance program, then the engine lease, I think we're pretty set on the alignment of where we're at. We will have a car available, one car at that point in time, by the Homestead opener here on March 29th.
As Tony mentioned, the orientation meeting on Monday was 100 percent attendance. The interest level is clearly very high at this point in time. I think you could see anywhere from eight to 12 additional cars under the IndyCar grid coming over from the Champ Car side filling the field beginning with the Homestead event, which is absolutely the best-case scenario we could be looking for.
Q: Kevin, 2003, 2004, you got part of the ownership. Was it worth it? Tony, the same thing?
KALKHOVEN: It's really not a time at this moment to be looking back. I think we'll all recognize there have been issues in the past. But the exciting thing today is that we're really looking forward.
Tony and I, as I said, have talked over several years. To me the exciting thing is not looking back, but looking forward and the opportunities that exist.
GEORGE: Will you accept his answer as mine (laughter)?
Q: When you look ahead at the 2009 season, the schedule will probably be done with a clean sheet of paper. Could both of you talk about what we could expect to see exciting possibilities of the 2009 schedule and beyond?
GEORGE: Clearly it will be a cleaner sheet of paper. I think, again, February, it's a bit tough to -- and we tried our best to try and think through all the different scenarios to try to optimize this year as best we could, which is very difficult.
But next year I think, you know, it starts to present the opportunity to really look at some of the other events. What's going to be key is not to disenfranchise anybody so all the best opportunities remain out there for us.
A lot of people don't really relish the thought of running a 20-race season. I do. I mean, I'm one of those guys, our offseason is way too long. Too much time on your hands is not a good thing. So we need to all stay busy. We need to build the value of this sport. The more exposure we can get for it, the better we're all going to be.
I think 2009, '10, '11, a lot of great building blocks to go on top of what's already a pretty solid foundation. I'm looking forward to it.
Continued in part 2