Unification press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Tony, beyond 2008, what do you see the series looking like in terms of number of races, mix of ovals and street courses, international races and engine configuration in terms of the possibility of ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Tony, beyond 2008, what do you see the series looking like in terms of number of races, mix of ovals and street courses, international races and engine configuration in terms of the possibility of turbocharged engines?

GEORGE: I think there's all kinds of opportunities out there. I think our basic platform is sound. I think the mix of races, we're start -- we've been starting to migrate to a few more road races. I think we've pretty much exhausted the opportunity to run at available ovals. I don't know if any of them potentially might present themselves as opportunities in the future.

GEORGE: I see a 20-race schedule potentially, approximately half of those being ovals. That will probably change a little bit over time. But I think it's obviously important to me to continue to have ovals, a variety of ovals on the schedule. A lot of these guys who haven't run ovals or haven't run an oval in a while will find some of the ovals we run be quite fun, especially with our package. Being racers, I think they'll have a good experience.

But international, I think international opportunities are out there. We have to look at what they might be. But, again, I think we need to look at building a schedule that makes sense from every perspective. What's good for the teams, what's good for their sponsors, and really what's good for getting our message out on a global basis.

Q: How about the engine configuration?

GEORGE: That's kind of open. I think our platform really has been recently affirmed as speed, technology, innovation, diversity and being responsible socially. I think we're going to be looking at all of the available technologies that are coming from a number of manufacturers. Turbochargers may or may not be a part of that. A different source of fuel besides ethanol may be a part of that. I don't know.

Right now we've kind of settled on we need to stabilize open-wheel racing over the course of the next couple years while we start giving a lot of thought to those questions and issues. Those plans will be developed and rolled out over the course of the next 12 to 24 months, I would imagine.

Q: Tony, do you have any deadline of when you need to finalize the schedule?

GEORGE: I don't know that we've talked about a deadline. We're working on that. After we leave this room, I think we need to sort it out fairly quickly. It just depends on how easy we're able to deal with all the issues.

I haven't set a deadline for it. I don't know if anyone else has. But everybody needs to know for planning purposes as soon as possible.

I would just hope that we can get through this 2008 season and make this really a story about the fans. I think that's kind of what my goal is, is to bring everybody together. If you have happy fans, you're going to have a lot of happy teams and sponsors and whatnot. Trying to be sensitive to the fans and make sure that this is done right, it's going to be important in our success.

Q: Is there a binding contract that stipulates how long you will be together? Is it a five-year deal? Is this a long-term thing or what?

GEORGE: Yeah (laughter). It's going to outlast you and I, OK?

Q: How long do you think it will take for the agreement to have an impact on things you can measure, like attendance, TV ratings?

GEORGE: I have no idea. Hopefully it's visible and measurable immediately. Chances are it won't be. It's going to take some time. But it all starts here today.

Q: Kevin and Tony, you were talking about, obviously, taking a cleaner look at the schedule, for example, in 2009. A lot of the Champ Car events that would be in consideration for 2009 are not going to have an IndyCar Series event this year. What do you do to those races in this off year to keep their interest and be able to go back to them in 2009 and say, 'You're on the schedule?'

GEORGE: I don't have the answer to that. I tried to offer some suggestions once in a while. Sometimes they're not received very well. But, you know, I think we need to try and figure out a way to do that. I mentioned not disenfranchising anybody.

But the plain, simple fact of the matter is that we have a lot of binding commitments right now that we have to honor. It doesn't afford us much opportunity given the constraints that we have to go out and do anything. I always say we can't solve all the problems. We can't solve everybody's problems. We can try. We can offer solutions. In the end, all we can do sometimes is offer.

But I don't know. I think it's taken a lot of give-and-take to get to this point. At some point, there's going to have to be some give-and-take from others, being open-minded, big-picture. This kind of thing, it's great for some, and it's not so great for others. Those that may not have the best short-term view of things, you know, we need to start trying to address some of their issues.

Q: Kevin, speaking of great for some, maybe not so great for others, what happens with Cosworth and the Atlantic Championship?

KALKHOVEN: The Atlantics will continue. Gerry and I are committed to driver development. We think it's one of the most important single things that we can continue to bring to the party. So Atlantics will continue. It will have a 12-race schedule. We believe that, as a bedrock for long-term development, it's absolutely key.

There's been a lot of comment, for instance, over the past few years that there are not enough American drivers. Atlantics last year, out of the top 10 drivers, five of them were from the U.S. I think it's a very important thing.

In terms of Cosworth, actually most people don't know, because it's a privately held company, but actually most of Cosworth's revenues are non-racing related. They build and develop engines for all sorts of manufacturers. That is their primary business. Cosworth will continue. It has some amazing contracts for engine development for the future, some really fascinating stuff.

Q: Kevin, as a team owner, how long do you think it will take you to get equal footing in the IRL?

KALKHOVEN: Well, if you talk to Mark Johnson and Jimmy Vasser, it's going to be a question of not very long. They really believe with the partnership and the help of Chip that they'll be competitive pretty quickly.

I think that's a little bit optimistic myself. But, hey, they're the guys doing the work. They hope to be in the top five by the end of the season, racing in the top five by the end of the season.

Q: (No microphone.)

GEORGE: I'm not sure I heard the question in its entirety. I think the key, looking back, one of the main factors was maybe an absence or at least the perceived absence of leadership. I think as far as the leadership of the sport is concerned, I think we need to make sure there's good leadership and we're making good decisions that are in everybody's best interest, not in any one group's best interests, but collectively trying to just provide direction and support.

I suppose there are no guarantees other than, you know, a guarantee that we'll do our very best to keep this together, what's taken us so long to put back together.

Q: The Canadian races, long-term future for Toronto and Montréal and also Edmonton?

GEORGE: Well, Toronto I think is an event that was discussed. It had a date conflict, obviously. It falls into the category of one of those events that you don't want to disenfranchise someone with that much history, a venue that has that much history.

But, you know, Edmonton was a little bit easier to address because we had an available window approximately the same time they were going to run their race this year. That seemed to make sense.

Montréal, you know, I don't know. I'm not privy to the commitment there, whether or not that is something people have strong feelings about, so...

Q: Tony, the announcement says you guys are buying the safety hauler, the trailer. Any thought given at this point to bringing in any of the safety team from Champ Car, amalgamating them into your safety team?

GEORGE: I'll defer that to Brian.

BARNHART: Actually, already had some conversations. I believe Mike Yates, Dave Brown, everybody related with our track safety, have been working with Dr. Pinderski. I believe Sue will be coming over from the nursing staff. I don't remember her last name at this point this time. I got an email from Lon Bromley. Clearly they've been at the top of their game in that field, and we have certainly interest in acquiring strength in all areas, safety. Anything we can do to make this organization stronger moving forward for the growth opportunities this presents is clearly in our best interests.

Q: Tony and Kevin, next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How important was it for you to get this all together in order for everybody to share in that celebration? Kevin, how do you feel being able to partake in something as momentous as the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

KALKHOVEN: From my standpoint, I'm looking forward to it enormously. I know our team is, as well. I think it's just part of what we see for the future. It's all about the future.

GEORGE: Last fall we were making our plans for the Centennial celebration. I really didn't think we'd be considering this, the impact it would have.

I think it's absolutely fantastic. As Joie (Chitwood) sent me an e-mail the other day congratulating me, as a number of other people did, and I replied, 'This is going to be absolutely fantastic for the Centennial celebrations that we're looking very much forward to.' To have everybody back, prospect of having Paul Tracy and other guys there, it's going to be huge.

Q: There's a lot of Champ Car races wanting to get on the schedule for next year. What is the formula, like Cleveland, to get back on the list?

GEORGE: I've spoken to Mike Lanigan, who promotes both Houston and Cleveland for Champ Car, and he has the American Le Mans Series, at least at Houston. I don't know what they run at Cleveland. If there's any way, and it may not be viable, any way to keep those events going, but we really can't have those discussions right now because there's so many other things to address that we can deal with today. That's where our focus needs to be.

But I say that in a couple, two, three weeks, we start having conversations with some of those. Obviously they're going to need to be knowing how they're going to be planning for their future, one way or another. We don't want to delay that process.

Q: You mentioned there's a great deal of interest from the Champ Car teams. Is there a limit for the number of teams you can accommodate, a high end to the number of cars on the grid this year?

BARNHART: Eventually, yeah, I'd say there is a limit. I think that's driven by equipment. It's driven by equipment availability and the timing of what we're looking at. Our partners at Dallara, Firestone, Honda, all the existing teams have stepped up. I go back to what Tony said. I remember the phone calls I made with Kevin Savoree, Mike Hall at Ganassi and Roger Penske when we talked about it. I could not be more proud of our teams' responses. When we're looking for availability of equipment, they are so supportive of this. You just tell us what we need, we're there. That goes with our equipment suppliers as well.

However, there is just so much that can be done with the timeline presented being the last week of February. Dallara is in the process right now, it's a difficult year from Dallara's standpoint. They have four other major projects they're producing cars for. Tony called them, I think, when Tony was in my office, late January, first of February. Started the first run of getting some cars just as, I think, a preliminary and hopeful order of cars that has been continued. They're going to produce cars for us at least through May. I think we have 14 new chassis that will be delivered by the first couple weeks of May. That's outstanding, considering the other projects they've got on their calendar.

Of course, I think at some point in time you're going to be limited by the engine availability. You're looking at a stretch, and Erik (Berkman) can probably address this better than anybody else, but by the time you do Motegi, Kansas, three weeks at Indy, Milwaukee and Texas, that's seven consecutive weeks on track, one quick break, then you're going to come back and run five or six weeks in a row again. You're on track 13 out of 14 consecutive weekends. That's an enormous burden to put on them.

I think we are somewhat limited by equipment availability, chassis, engine-wise, just the timing associated with it. I'm not sure anybody's put a number on that yet.

Q: Kevin, Tony started this by saying that he was thinking about the past 30 years, so forth. Then he got a phone call, and this process began. I know you have talked many times over the last few years, but what prompted this to finally be the time when it happened?

KALKHOVEN: I don't think there was one specific thing. It was just a realization that, quite honestly, open-wheel sport, open-wheel motor racing in the United States, just wasn't going anywhere. If we were to have an opportunity to develop it for the future, we should take that opportunity.

Tony held out an olive branch, and Gerry and myself and my partners decided it was the right thing to do.

MODERATOR: Everyone, we appreciate your time.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Roger Penske
Teams HART