CSOT: Stars of Tomorrow - Fontana press conference, Part II

Stars of Tomorrow Press Conference November 3, 2002 An Interview With: Chris Pook Bobby Rahal Bryan Herta Part 2 of 2 Saal: Fair question about the dollars to get into this program. Bobby, can you speak about the entries? Rahal: I think...

Stars of Tomorrow Press Conference
November 3, 2002

An Interview With:
Chris Pook
Bobby Rahal
Bryan Herta

Part 2 of 2

Saal: Fair question about the dollars to get into this program. Bobby, can you speak about the entries?

Rahal: I think it depends on the nature of the event. On a national program of the type we're speaking of, there will be certainly well over a hundred entries. I think we're going to be a little bit different. Our view is that we're different than, say, what WKA or some of the other existing organizations are. We're going to focus on those categories, only a handful of them, that are truly internationally accepted and are in place because we feel that they're the best training grounds.

We're not trying to be all things to all people. I just came from Las Vegas. There were 53 88-cc drivers in the race. I would think two-thirds of those young boys and girls were there because they want to be professional racing car drivers. Maybe I'm underestimating the percentage. Look at the amount of money, fathers, mothers, investing in trailers and everything else.

If you look at the hard deliverables that our relationship with the Barber system will produce, it clearly will be the venue that you will attend if you want to start that climb to be a professional race car driver.

As Bryan said, the TV program with the SPEED Channel is historic in this country. Bryan and I are working very hard to make sure that continues. We've had very good reception from companies that want to be involved in this because they appreciate the grass-roots nature of karting.

I feel that when you come to our events next year, you're going to be seeing those who really are viewing this as an occupational desire. It will start from 12 years old on up to early 20s. If we have the best events, we deliver the hard rewards, we spoke of our relationship with the Barber system, that will drive American entries even further.

We're going to have the best classes to learn from so these people can go forward and compete successfully into the future.

Q: From a skills perspective, what does a karter learn that a Saturday night stock car driver does not learn?

Rahal: Well, I believe that road racing produces the best overall driver. You look at Indy Car racing. While there have been some that have been successful that sort of learned their trade on the oval tracks, more often than not it's by far the people who come out of road racing that have been able to be successful at Indianapolis. All you have to do is look at the last 20, 25 years to see that.

On top of that, I feel with karting, especially the classes we'll be depending upon, it teaches a driver the concepts of momentum, smoothness, anticipation, what have you. More than anything, I think what top-notch karting produces, it takes young people and puts them into very intense situations, intensely competitive, pressure, you name it. When these young people get to be 17, 18 years old, going into a race is no big deal. If you look at Formula 1, everybody has expressed surprise over guys like [Kimi] Raikkonen, who did 23 car races before he went into Formula 1. He came out directly out of the most intense levels of the karting world, Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, many of the most competitive people in Formula 1 have come from karting, maybe they went to Formula 3 for a year.

Today, Pat Long is here. Pat drove in karting in this country, he's been competitive in Formula Renault, finished second in the Formula Ford Championship in England. Ryan Hunter-Reay is here. I'm probably missing a few others. This is the curriculum that allows you to be competitive or successful into the future, I firmly believe. While there will always be the odd great talent that comes out of other forms of racing, I think clearly road racing and karting is the key way to go.

Q: Harvard graduate school of racing?

Rahal: Absolutely, at the junior level.

Saal: Bryan, if you could add to that. You did your time in the open-wheel formula style ranks, quarter midgets.

Herta: No, Jimmy Vasser did. I think the thing I'd say, though, there have been a lot of comments. People say there are so many Brazilians coming up through the ranks, so many drivers from Europe. There's a reason for that. It's not because of what they did in F-3000, it's because of what they did in karting and the selection process that started in their careers when they were 15, 14, 16 years old. Really the selection process doesn't seem to start here until you're in Formula Atlantic. I think you miss some of the talent that way.

We want to provide a way for teams and drivers, people who want to bring young people along, to figure out at a very early point in their career who to put their support behind.

Saal: Chris has to leave us in about five minutes. If there are any questions for Chris, we'll take them now.

Q: (Question regarding Elkhart Lake.)

Pook: This year we had a CART race at the Elkhart race next with our Champ Car race there. He stimulated some thinking a few minutes ago saying, "Here is what I think we should do at this place, that place, what do you think?" That dialogue has already started.

Absolutely, we would want to do that. It would make all the sense in the world. We clearly want to introduce the kids and put them into a big weekend, such as the Elkhart weekend, but we also want to let our public know the importance of this at the same time. It's a two-way street. There will be expansion.

Q: Can you describe the class structure?

Herta: We have six classes on our schedule for next year. I think five of the six are CIK-based classes. We're grandfathering one class in. That's a one-year grandfather. You know, the class structure I don't think we anticipate will ever be more than six classes.

If you break it out, we have two senior classes, one shifter, one non-shifter; two junior classes, junior ICA, one shifter, one non-shifter for the juniors; then we have cadet, younger kids, six to eight years old. The new class is a class being supported heavily in Europe, the move is going toward four cycles. It's called the World Formula. It's an entry-level class, low-cost alternative. It has an electric starter on the kart. That will be our entry level class. We're really going to try to help kick that off with the CIK in this country next year. That's our class structure.

In terms of numbers, I don't ever really see it increasing. Over time there might be changes depending on what happens there the CIK.

Q: What is the cadet age?

Herta: Eight to 12 is the cadet age. Actually this year we had a kid kart class that started at five or six years old. We felt that that was a little too young and really didn't fit in with the overall CIK structure we have for next year.

Q: Who is sanctioning the Stars of Tomorrow program?

Herta: Those are some discussions that still need to be had. I don't know if you want to call CART a sanctioning entity, but they are heavily involved with us. Stars of Tomorrow is operationally controlling the series and all the sponsorship. When you say, "Who is sanctioning," I don't think we have that answer completely figured yet.

Rahal:  I think it's really through CART.  SECA has different
categories under their auspices.  That would be the same in this case.

It's interesting you speak about the age. It's amazing. You can be 16 now and race cars. You'd be amazed how many 13- and 14-year-old kids are being tested in Formula Ford today. That's where this level of professionals is so needed because these young people have to have the maturity under fire to be able to handle a race car at a very, very young age. The only place that comes from, the only place that will be achieved is through the most intense, most professional karting event you can have.

For me, since I started racing at 20 years old, it's hard to believe. When I was thinking back when I was 13, there's no way in hell I could have gotten into a race car. But it's a different world. We talk about the Red Bull scholarship program. If we want to have an American at the US Grand Prix in five years, that person is 14 years old today. That's why the necessity for a very focused, very professional karting series is so important in North America.

Q: How involved will each of you be personally? Do you plan to work on this program hands on?

Herta: We've been very involved.

Rahal: We already have.

Herta: Obviously, I have been for quite a long time. Give Bobby a lot of credit. He's not just sort of sitting up here lending his name to it. He has been very involved, very helpful in creating the right structure for this program to be very strong next year.

Rahal: Just to clarify, Paul Zalud will be in charge of the operations of the series, which is probably the least glory and the most grief. Glenn is in charge of the PR, marketing, sales of the program. They will have people that will work with them, under them. Then, of course, there's Bryan and I.

What I think Bryan and I can bring more than anything is our contacts, whatever influence we may have, to help these guys create the best program. With my name attached to it, it's not because my son is in karting, he's already bugging me about a Formula Ford, and he's 13. He's going to be gone. But my interest and I think Bryan's interest is this is the right thing to do.

I'm tired of everybody always complaining about no Americans, no Americans. The reality is, as a team owner, you're going to hire whoever can win. We need to produce talent that clearly can compete on an equal basis with anything the world has to offer.

Saal: To clarify, Stars of Tomorrow are in the CART ladder system, but we're not going to take it upon ourselves to write some CART rules. It's part of CIK, we would defer to them. We have enough to work on and continue to work on at the top level.

Q: In reading the press release, it says this relationship has been "agreed in principal." Does this mean the contract hasn't been finalized? Is this a done deal?

Rahal: The boiler plate, the principles of the arrangement, has been agreed to.

Saal: Pinch-hitting for Chris, we'll be making this announcement from the CART point of view. As you know in racing, sometimes too many things are proclaimed too soon, not accurately. We want to give you an accurate portrayal of where we're at.

Rahal: There's always a period of time between an agreement and an actual contract. It's just a matter of going through the boiler plate, as I say, but we're going forward.

Saal: It's the real deal.

Q: Will there be any scholarships or guaranteed rides on another level for the champions of the Starts of Tomorrow championship??

Herta: I don't think we want to pin ourselves into that. You have two different types of karters. You have guys, there's several of them, you have this in Europe as well, who compete in karts. That's all they want to do.

They're very good at what they do. They're career karters. Certainly we don't want to lock ourselves into those awards with somebody who isn't on that career path to take advantage. It will be a bit of a subjective criteria. You'll have to make an impression upon the right people to earn a chance, and there will be some type of run awe.

The Skip Barber scholarship program that they've done for many years, of the 16 picks, I think 10 or more of those came directly out of our Stars Program this year. I think you'll see competition from Stars next year.

Rahal: I had a meeting the other day with the Barber people. I don't want to give all the details yet. Just so you know, we will be having a meeting with the karting industry itself next Thursday in anticipation of Bryan's Stars event at Bryan's track. But I think the relationship will be extremely strong.

The problem is that some of the awards that people get, you win a championship, it's like, "Now what?" It doesn't achieve you anything other than the fact that you can say you won a championship. There's no way to get to the next step. We anticipate being able to deliver those kinds of steps. If we do that, that will drive participation of the right people.

In Mexico, [Champ Car driver] Adrian [Fernandez] has been very much a promoter of this kind of program. There's probably more young Mexicans than ever before in international racing today, some in Europe, some here. In Vegas, there's a young fellow with Telmex on his helmet and everything else. They obviously see the value. That's, again, why we're going to the CIK, we've been there with Bryan long ago. On an international basis, people from all over the world can compete here if they so wish. That's definitely the way to go.

Saal: The 2002 Stars of Tomorrow national finals are next weekend at the Las Vegas. Any one of the four principals here can tell you about it.

Thank you very much, gentlemen. Congratulations.


Part I

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Series Kart
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Skip Barber , Chris Pook