CART FedEx Championship Series: Molson Indy Montreal
Topics: Molson Indy Montreal
ADAM SAAL: I'm Adam Saal, vice president of communications for Championship Auto Racing Teams. It's my pleasure to have you join us for a few minutes this afternoon to talk about the event so far. We have president of Champion Automobile de Montreal, Norman Legault, and Christopher R. Pook, president and CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams. Thank you for joining us and taking time out of your busy schedules. I'd like to ask each of you starting with Norman Legault to give us your thoughts, and we'll open it up to questions. We've had a wonderful experience so far. How has it gone for your group.
NORMAN LEGAULT: So far, it's gone extremely well. I guess the best measure of how well it's going is the smile of the fans' faces. The fans are just delighted with their contact with CART racing in Montreal. We could not ask any better. The race activity has been pretty exciting so far. So in a few hours, hopefully we'll have had a good and safe race and a fantastic weekend.
ADAM SAAL: You're no stranger to Montreal or Formula 1, having started Tour de Grand Prix of Long Beach back in the 70s and you've come here every year to continue your relationship with Formula 1, but a different venue, perhaps as far as the cars go. Talk about how it's gone from CART's point of view to this point.
CHRIS POOK: I think in French they say "in credible" (ph) it's incredible this weekend. I'm just staggered by, first of all, the enthusiasm of the people who are here, the warmth of the people and the smiles and enjoyment. I do have to congratulate Norman Legault and Jean-Paul Blais for a truly excellent promotion and presentation of the entire weekend. These guys are true professionals, and everything they do, it shows in the presentation. I think also, I need to say to you, all of you, that we, CART, consider ourselves very privileged to be here. This is a Formula 1 circuit. This is one of the most successful Formula 1 races in the world that Norman has built up to over 300,000 folks in attendance, and I do want to very respectfully remind everybody that there is a considerable difference between what we do at CART and what Formula 1 is all about. Formula 1 is a level unto itself, but it's truly remarkable and it is truly international everywhere in the world, and they set the standard for motor racing everywhere in the world. We are just -- we are not Formula 1. We don't want to present ourselves as Formula 1, we are not an alternative to Formula 1, we are just, if you will, a bunch of racing cars and very talented drivers who have the ability to run on roads, ovals and street circuits, who are very honored and proud to be able to bring their form of motor racing to the people of Quebec and the City of Montreal. I really do want to leave those words with you, because it's very important. You will see a different type of motor racing that Norman will present in June of next year and he's presented in June of every year, which is Formula 1, and we need to very carefully distinguish between the two products that are being presented here.
ADAM SAAL: Again, we'll quickly open up for questions. Thank you for your opening comments.
Q. Norman, I was told last night that the fans were so enthusiastic here that you had to put up a couple of extra grandstands; is that true?
NORMAN LEGAULT: No. We didn't put up any extra grandstands. In fact, we have a smaller capacity than we did for the Formula 1 race, because as those of you who are not familiar with the site have discovered by now, this is a municipal park that includes a swimming area, a beach right across from the circuit here, and so a lot of activities go on here during the summer. And because of the very relatively short time between the two races, whatever we had to take down for the summer activity, we did not have time to put back up. On the other end, what that allowed us was a much more capacity for general admission, which is something that I thought was quite appropriate for a first time out because we wanted to offer our fans as much of a chance to come in and take this fantastic show in for as little investment as possible.
Q. Part of the fun of this weekend has been comparing lap time, and while I know Chris does not want any comparisons made between champ cars and Formula 1, did you ever get, either of you, any pressure from anybody, or even the suggestion, that you might alter the course in some ways to make the two series not comparable?
NORMAN LEGAULT: No, not on our side. In fact, we did make some changes to the circuit for the race this year, but the circuit is exactly as it was -- except for the pit lane, but there was no pressure or any reservation to try and make changes to the circuit to that effect or otherwise.
Q. Norman, given the response so far, the new date next year, did you envisage trying to put up a few more grandstands next year?
NORMAN LEGAULT: We'd love to. Definitely, if we can find a solution to the logistics, we'll definitely work with the City of Montreal to try to leave more grandstands in place for next year's event. Most definitely.
Q. Norman, do you have any way to measure how much overlap between the people who are here in June for the F-1 and how many are here for CART; is it a different group of fans?
NORMAN LEGAULT: Partly a different group of fans, yes. We can measure the overlap since we operate our own box office ourselves. We have the name of all of our ticket buyers. And there's been -- when we initially went on sale, a lot of enthusiasm from our core of fans, who out of curiosity came out and wanted to take this event in and see what it would be like to have chocolate ice cream after tasting vanilla ice cream, and we promised both ice creams to be the same quality. That's what they have been doing. There has been some overlap. On the other end, just walking down the paddock here, I have made a number of fans who are not with us from Formula 1 who came in, and they bought general admission tickets at the door. And you have to bear in mind that for the Formula 1 event now, for at least eight years, it's been a sellout. The event usually sells out between four and seven weeks prior to. So a lot of fans would love to come in for that event, but could not get any tickets because our fans are extremely loyal and will come back year after year. So to these fans, it's an opportunity to come in and be able to witness live action.
Q. With three races, the quality we have now got in Canada, are we going to see an event in Aegina (phonetic) and Winnipeg?
NORMAN LEGAULT: I think we have to talk to Molson. No, I think with the three big markets and the Molson brewery stood behind all three of these events very well. We're going to listen a lot to what they have to say, and we are also going to listen very closely to Norman and his feeling about venues in Canada, and also Bob Singleton as well. So, we are delighted. This is very important for us at CART because, as you know, we have this NAFTA, North American Free Trade Association policy, with where we are, and with three races now Canada and three Canadian racing cart drivers and some young Canadians coming up through Atlantics, it's really important to us as we look forward toward the future. In Mexico, we have two Mexican races and three Mexican pilots, and we also have a couple young Mexicans in that Atlantics series that they are ambitious to come forward. And you just saw the Barber Dodge race and a young Mexican pilot there who has great aspirations of moving forward. The combination for us of Mexico, Canada and then the lower 48 in the middle of it, and the emerging markets that will be in there, it makes a lot of sense to us from a marketing point of view, and we intend to move that on the companies which we with intend to do business.
Q. Given that there are now three very successful races in Canada for CART, and you look at the cars on the grid and you see PLAYERS, and then obviously Molson is a strong supporter of the event, is it somewhat surprising that there are not more Canadian sponsors involved in the series? And what can be done to enhance that in terms of drivers and teams from Canada or elsewhere getting Canadian companies to get involved in the series?
NORMAN LEGAULT: Well, I definitely think having two races in Canada and a third, new one in Montreal included in that, might help -- at least I'd like to think Montreal-based companies start considering an involvement in the CART Championship, either as team sponsors or championship sponsors or what-have-you. There's nothing like showcasing the product in a most favorable environment. Mind you, there are corporations that have the size and the scope in terms of business activities that are required to justify a sizable investment in motor racing, are fewer in Canada than they are in the United States. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that we might also create a few locations here and there among maybe the Bombardiers or the Alcans (ph) or the Squall (ph).
CHRIS POOK: I think you're going to see a fairly strong initiative from CART in that area. You have a young Canadian driver, Michael Valiante, that's coming through the system right now, and I understand he's signed a testing contract with one of our teams in the champ car series that's going to see how he's going to fits into one of those cars; and then there's a pretty major marketing initiative going behind him to bring Canadian companies in. Finally, I think that we ought to congratulate Norman because Bombardier (ph) is here for the first time, as they were a few years ago in the Indy Lights series, then they went away and now they have come back and I think that's a tremendous sign. And it speaks also to the marketing talents of this promoter and to his entire team; that they recognize the need for a major multi-national Canadian company to come on board, and I think that bodes well for us in the future of Canada.
Q. Just following up on a question, given your connection with the Bernie Elkingstone, what kind of feedback will you be giving him, if any, if he's ask for my, and given CART's desire to expand eventually perhaps into South America, and considering the South American content on the CART series, would you be at all hesitant to use your influence to help get a CART influence, perhaps in Brazil?
NORMAN LEGAULT: First question, Bernie has not asked for any specific report, I guess. He could easily -- probably easily tune in to the race this afternoon and see what's going on here. Since Bernie and I speak on a pretty regular basis, we'll definitely be discussing this weekend's event in the coming days. But I can assure you that when we last spoke, he wished me all of the success with this event, hoping that it would be up to what the fans have been used to seeing with Formula 1. As far as South America is concerned, I guess Chris is better position than I am to answer that. But let me say this: We want to contribute as much as we can to the success of CART, and if we could play a role, whether it's South America or anywhere, to help Chris and in his task and his job of bringing CART to the top, top level, we'll definitely be more than happy to help contribute.
CHRIS POOK: I think it's important for us to say to you that we are here by invitation at Montreal. I said a little earlier, we are completely different from F-1. So we are not interested in going in on the F-1 circuits unless we are invited. Secondly, on South America, yes, it's very important for us, but at the moment, you're going to see a focus on North America. We will be in Miami later this year and we consider Miami our gateway at the moment to South America. But we've had requests from Brazil, but I think at the moment we have to put Brazil on the back burner for a couple of years until we complete our consolidation here in the NAFTA markets and complete the stabilization of CART and take it back to the next level as we move forward. It would be not wise for us to go into, while it's not new territory, Brazil , but at the moment, it would not be wise to go into a new territory until we have completed our work here at home.
Q. What does this weekend say to your critics, saying that your series may not have the promotional legs it once had, and how do you use this momentum to feed off for the rest of the season for promotional efforts, say, next week at Denver and such?
CHRIS POOK: Obviously, for Denver, it's a huge entre into their week. This has got to be a big one for them, to see the success of this weekend. But I do want to point out to you, that we have not had attendance problems from the spectators at our events. Our audience is strong and solid and very supportive, all the way through the year. This has not been an issue for us. You know, when the public come of their own volition, they are not forced to buy a ticket to one of our events in order to get a ticket to something else. They speak loud and clear. As I've been saying to some of your colleagues, the public are sending a message here. They like this form of motor racing. I think this weekend is just an absolute total reaffirmation of that. What you are seeing out there is enthusiasm at a level that's second to none. But, albeit, a sophisticated motor racing audience because the Canadian audience is a very sophisticated audience, and particularly, the Quebec audience is a very sophisticated audience. So I think we have to recognize that. But for us, obviously, the old expression, make hay while the sun shines, and we're going to.
Q. Question to Norman about the date next year, September 7. Is it going to change something? Right now it's like the end of the summer here and people are still on vacation and things like that. In September, is it going to be a little bit more difficult to bring the fans, do you think?
NORMAN LEGAULT: No, I don't think so. Unless I missed something somewhere else, September 21. Tell you what, it's a roll of the dice. We could have had a little cooler temperature during this weekend, and early September can be extremely pleasant. I like to think to think that I have many qualities, but I cannot predict the weather a year in advance. Again, I am not really worried by that aspect of it. You can bet on us to create a party atmosphere.
CHRIS POOK: Norman has been very gracious in working with us on a schedule for next year. This is the third race of four in a row, which has been horrific and he has been gracious with us to do our schedule, to do two races, have a break, and go two more races, and we are aware of that. Rest assured that having been on his side of the fence for 28 years, I understand the implications of moving the two weeks. I assure you, I will remember the gracious act that he has done for us next year as we plan 2004.
Q. Germany, is there anything that can be salvaged there? A couple of team owners have looked at purchasing that circuit. Is there something that you can do? How important is that market to you?
CHRIS POOK: Germany is very important to us to. It's home of major automobile manufacturers with whom we want to do business in the future. All I can say is it's very sad, very disappointing, but, when you do these sort of deals, you'd better look at the other side and make sure that it is a good deal, and that means it's got to be a good deal for both parties and you'd better understand that the other side needs to survive fiscally, as well, and you need to look at their background and capabilities of making their commitment work. With all due respect for my predecessors, I'm not sure that they bothered to do that. This administration certainly does that, and will continue it do that, and it's very important to us that our promoters are very healthy and it's our job to keep them healthy. That will be a policy -- it is a policy of this administration and will continue to be a policy of this administration.
ADAM SAAL: Thank you very much and we want to thank the press and media for their outstanding coverage so far.
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