CART FedEx Championship Series: Grand Prix of Denver
Topics: Grand Prix of Denver
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much for joining us this morning. We are joined today, as you can see, by CART president and CEO, Christopher Pook, as well as many of our distinguished members in the CART FedEx Championship Series. We wanted to gather here this morning. There's been a lot of speculation recently about the future of the teams currently in the series, and we are here today to address that and put to rest some of those concerns. This is the first of what we expect to be several announcements involving teams making a commitment to CART and the CART FedEx Championship Series for 2003 and beyond. First, let's introduce the gentlemen who are here with us on the podium today. Starting in the front row, Bobby Rahal was hoping to be here, but he could not join us because of sponsor commitments. Scott Roembke, chief executive officer of the team has graciously joined us today. We are also joined by Pat Patrick, owner of Patrick Racing and one of the founders of CART. To my immediate right is and Carl Haas, co-owner of Newman/Haas Racing. Tom Anderson, co-owner of Fernandez Racing. We are also joined by Christopher Pook at the very end there. Up to the back podium starting on the far right: Gerry Forsythe, owner of Player's Forsythe Racing. We are also joined by Derrick Walker, owner of Walker Racing. And on the far end, Ian Bisco of Cosworth Racing joins us here today. We'll get each one of these gentlemen to talk about their commitment to CART. First off, we want to begin with CART president and CEO Chris Pook. Chris, with the support of the gentlemen around you here today, talk about where you expect the extremely competitive CART field to be in terms of cars and teams as we head into 2003.
CHRIS POOK: Thank you, Merrill. Before I get to that point, my comments, if you'll bear with me, I just want to give you a bit of an overall update because we are going to be away from the United States until get back to Miami in the first weekend of October. I think there's an overall update I'd like to do for you this morning. First of all, I want to thank the media for the coverage they have given us this year. They have worked with us and I appreciate that very much. Particularly in this market, I want to thank the Denver Post for their coverage, which has obviously been terrific. I want to thank the Rocky Mountain News. I was pretty rough on them in Thursday's press conference, but their coverage has come back and been terrific and it's been balanced and I'm grateful for that. If you get on someone's back and you complain about one thing, they need to be complimented when they do other things; and I want to compliment them for their efforts there. I also want to thank our sponsors, particularly, Bridgestone for their supply of tires to us in the series; FedEx, for their continued sponsorship of the series; and of course Shell for supporting this event this weekend. I think that one of comments I want to make to you, and I understand that you are under a certain amount of pressure from time to time, but one of the things I want to do here today is stop some of the spin that's been going on all year long, and I want to very respectfully remind everybody that when we came on board with this administration at the beginning of the year, we told you we would do certain things along the way. I would remind you very respectfully, every single thing we told you we would do, we have done and we continue to do that in spite of the fact that there continues to be those in our paddock that want to justify their departure. We don't want to get into that, we don't want to discuss that and we don't believe it deserves discussing in our paddock. But what we would ask you to look at is what this administration does and what this series is all about, and this series is all good going to major markets and putting on competitive motor car racing. If you look at the delivery vehicle that CART provides to sponsors who wish to come into the series, be they sponsors of racing cars, be the sponsors of the event or be they series sponsors, you start to look at the markets and capability that CART has to be a delivery vehicle for corporations that want to come to our series, it is second to none. We control the three largest markets in Canada, the two largest markets in Mexico and we are in ten of the top 30 markets in the United States of America. We will be in Miami next. Next year we will be joined by Tampa/St. Pete, and you can see us back in Texas again in 2004, along with two other major markets. We firmly believe that is our responsibility as a company to take our product to the markets and not have the markets come to us. That is the delivery mechanism that CART offers and will continue to offer. Let me speak to the issue for a second of racing cars. I continue to hear speculation about the number of cars in our series. It's the same sort of speculation that I heard in Long Beach in 1976 and 1977 when the spin doctors were out there saying there with would never be a Long Beach Grand Prix. Same sort of conversation I heard in 1983 when we stopped doing Formula I and we went to CART in 1984: It wouldn't work, be impossible, rejected by the public, you could not put it together, the city would not want it, etc., Etc. Well, spin doctors were wrong on both occasions. They fabricated a story, think built the paperman up and it got knocked down, and today we have the same spin doctors doing the same thing in this series. I am here to tell you that we will have 18 cars in this series next year. I am here to tell that you, also, it could well be 21 cars. These gentleman who are here today are long-time car owners in our series. They are not going to be forced to tell you who their sponsor is or who their driver is in the middle of August, beginning of September; that is not the way this business works. They have every right to announce who their sponsors are and who their drivers are in their own time. That is value to their sponsors, and we are not going to try and take that value away. I am sure you're welcome to try and ask them who they are going to have, and some might care to answer you. Some of them may not. But it is not fair for us as a sanctioning body to ask them go out of the normal rules of business. So, that having been said, we will continue to grow this series, we will continue to put it on a new track, we will continuing to go new markets and we will continue to be the best sports marketing delivery vehicle in North America, as well as we will continue some of our European venues and we will certainly go back to Australia and we'll go back to the Orient one more time. That will not occur before 2004. And we will continue to develop the series and bring new types of product to you starting in 2005. The objective of this company is to stabilize it in 2003 and 2004; that we have done by doing the relationship with Cosworth, we will stabilize it with our major events and in 2005 welcome into a new engine formula, and you'll see a new CART moving down the road.
MERRILL CAIN: That said, as Chris pointed out, these gentlemen may or may not be able to announce their drivers, sponsors for next year, but I think they want it announce their commitment to CART going forward. We'll start with Gerald Forsythe. Talk about CART's Canadian Triple Crown. We added a new race in Montreal this year, very successful event last weekend. Talk about what that means to your team and sponsors and your plans for next season.
GERALD FORSYTHE: Well, hopefully many of you did make the Montreal Grand Prix. It was one of the best events I think of the season, and will continue to grow. As far as my sponsors are concerned, it was all about the PLAYERS team. If you read the newspapers, if you watched TV, and if you listened to the media, it was a PLAYERS race and we are very appreciative of that. I've been one of CART's biggest supporters, as most of you know. CART racing is the best, most diversified type of open-wheel racing, and why wouldn't we want to be involved in it? I want to confirm today: Two cars, reasonably sure a third car, and speculation on a fourth car. We are committed.
MERRILL CAIN: Excellent news. Thank you very much. Derrick Walker, I know the high-tech nature of the series is something that really appeals to you, and if you could talk about that, what appeals to you about racing in CART, and also the financial incentives that CART has put forward, announced recently, entrance support program, how that makes it more affordable for teams to compete in the CART FedEx Championship Series.
DERRICK WALKER: Well, certainly high-tech is a big part of auto racing. I think what you have seen over the last few months is CART's attempt to try and manage the cost of that and incentivize the teams in whatever way it can to be able to participate. And I think it's important to realize what it really happening here. CART is in transition, and there are major changes happening in our sport, as you are well aware of, and these are having a knock-on effect to the race teams. So, there is a certain perception of uncertainty. There's a lot of teams that probably are working very hard on trying to know where they are coming from in the future. I don't hear from one end of the pit lane to the other that if people have any doubt about whether CART would be where they want to be if they could be here, so there are commercial concerns. I think CART and certainly the board has been very effective in working through some of these issues to try and actually incentivize the teams, or cap some of the costs as we get through this transition period. I think there's also a realization in CART, certainly at board level, that this transition is not a six-month slide through, and then we're out of it and we get on down the road. This is a couple of years of transition from where we are right now to where the CART of the future is going to go. So I think you've got to give the current management time to evolve and work on the issues of today. But I think nobody can deny it, and certainly no team owner that I've ever talked to in CART, has any hesitation if they are able to compete in this series and be here. It is, as Gerry points out, it is a complete series and it has such a lot of benefits that really deserve to be saved. And I think what you see here is a number of team owners, and you will see others in the future who will step up and reiterate their determination to trry and compete in the series. As far as Walker Racing is concerned, it my intention to be back next year, certainly with a one -, and hopefully with a two-car team. We are working very hard on doing that. Getting a lot of help from CART's front office to try and add some value to the sponsorship. But I think we've really got to focus on what the benefits are of the series and sell on the strength of the benefits. I think all too often, we get distracted by looking at the short-term objectives. And certainly, all of the team owners are here today -- and you'll see others -- that are going to come up and say the same thing: There is benefit here, and they do want to be here. And I am certain they are going to add my name to the list.
MERRILL CAIN: Carl Haas, your team is the most successful team currently competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series. You have won three titles and you are going after a fourth with current series leader Cristiano da Matta. Talk a little bit about your success in CART and how you plan on continuing that success going forward.
CARL HAAS: As you all probably know, I've been racing in CART for a long time alongside my partner, Paul Newman. We expect -- we are certainly committed to continue racing CART. I can't tell you my whole program right now, but we are going to be there and we are certainly going to continue to be there with a first-class program. But getting back to -- besides what we are going to do, what Chris earlier said about having at least an 18-car field, I absolutely believe, and some of the things I've looked at that I don't particularly want to go into, I'm convinced that will happen. If that happens, CART certainly will have a transitional year in 2003. But I think as it goes forward, it's going to get straightened out again. It's a difficult time right now in all forms of racing. I'm involved in other forms of racing, and the economy is as bad add I've seen it, and the first thing that gets cut is sponsorship and advertising. But we are going to have 18 cars, and I'm going to be there with you again, and I hope for a long time. Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: Tom Anderson with Fernandez Racing. CART has expanded two races in Mexico this year, one coming up in Mexico City, and that is obviously key for your sponsors, Tecate and Telmex. Talk about your team's plans for their competing in CART next year, and what the series offers you and your sponsors.
TOM ANDERSON: Well, for 2003, obviously, sponsor value, demographics, a key part of why any sponsor is here. And for Tecate, Quaker State and Telmex, they will be back next year in CART, with Adrian Fernandez. Very extremely excited about the two races that s they have in Mexico. They are very happy to be here in Denver, and judging by the crowds we've had so far this weekend, I think that it's a very positive effect here on the CART series this year. Regarding our second car where we've got real strong negotiations going on, with three different sources right now, no deals are finalized on the 52 side, but we are expecting that that's a strong possibility for next year.
MERRILL CAIN: Scott Roembke joins us from Team Rahal. Scott, first talk about the success the series has had in urban markets. Diversity is one of the things that makes CART great and appeals to so many people with races stages not only on street courses, but also road courses and short ovals, super speedways. Talk about the diversity of competition in the CART series and how that appeals to Team Rahal.
SCOTT ROEMBKE: Well, I think Bobby is quite clear on his love of road racing and the various circuits CART participates on. I mean, just walking over here from the paddock, fighting through the people, obviously the formula of taking the races to the people in these downtown areas is extremely successful. And I think Chris has charged John and his crew to make sure that once we get the people here, we can put on a good, competitive show for them, and certainly, that's something that we can work on in some of the areas. But I think the downtown races are just great. I think you get a diversified mix of fans, and it's easy access for them. Nd as long as we can have circuits that allow the drivers to showcase their skills, I think that's the way to go in the future.
MERRILL CAIN: Mr. Patrick is one of the founders of CART. You are particularly in tune the history and heritage of the series. Can you talk about why not only you are proud of the history of CART, but also why you want to be part of its future.
PAT PATRICK: Well, thank you. I thank all of you for coming today. I'm surprised we have such a following, after all of the rumors we have heard through the paddock area. Anyway, Patrick Racing is planning to be here next year with one car, which is pretty much funded, and we are working diligently on a second car. I'd like to comment that I think CART has the best product in the world, racing product. We race on road courses, street courses, we race Indianapolis Super Speedways, short ovals, and I don't think you can find any racing series anywhere that can set forth the diversity that's right where you get a lot better than we are denying but that's the right way to describe it. I know CART is here to stay. I know there will be 18 cars on the racetrack, and we expect to be one or two of them.
MERRILL CAIN: We are joined by Al Spier with Bridgestone Tires, as well. And Ian Bisco joins us from Cosworth Racing and we appreciate you joining us. Of course, we have an exclusive engine deal with Cosworth in 2003 and 2004. If you would just briefly touch on Cosworth's deal with CART and why the high-tech platform that CART provides to you is such an appeal to Cosworth.
IAN BISCO: I think just to expand a little bit on when we made the announcement in Portland, we at Cosworth are committed to CART. We have been developing the engine since we made the announcement. We have done a lot of testing and setting up, giving the engine parameters correct for what we think is going to be necessary next year. I think the big thing that I should say is that this is by no means a low-tech engine. This is still a complicated, high-tech engine that we will be supplying next year and it will be the same engine that everybody will get. I think right now, we have got parts loaded for 20 cars next year. We are committed doing this. We think it's going to be a very exciting series. We are not underestimating that the teams are going to be very demanding. I think it's going to be fun. I think that the level of competition is going to be very -- a very close. I realize that there will be a lot of demand put on us, but we've been around, we have been in this series a long time. We have supported CART for 20-odd years right now and this brings something new to us. As I say, go back to the engine a little bit, we have been developing the engine. We have got sort of, I call them, the "real" parts. We'll be going together and we'll be track testing probably in October, and we'll be supplying engines probably towards the end of November. In fact, I think probably by Rockingham, we'll be handing out contracts for people to get teams signed up. Teams have been asking for contracts. It's a delay on our part, really. I think what we are really doing is we are going through, this we are trying to cover every infinite detail to make sure all of the costs are controlled so everybody knows how much the program is going to be, cover every little detail. It's a very comprehensive contract. I think that it's going to be exciting and it's going to be very reassuring when the teams do get these.
MERRILL CAIN: Obviously, with the race coming up at one o'clock, we do want to take a few quick questions from the audience and we appreciate all of your commitments to CART and joining us here this morning.
Q. I want to know about Team Rahal, their plans for next year. You didn't mention that to us.
CHRIS POOK: No, I didn't. (Laughter). Team Rahal, we are working very hard on our program for CART. We are committed to CART Formula Atlantics with Danika Patrick (ph), which we announced previously this summer. And we are working with our current sponsor, new sponsors for the CART series, and it's just a little premature right now for us to announce anything on that line. Racing is expensive and this is a tough economy, so we are trying to work with our partners and bring in new partners to make our program possible.
Q. Gerry, you've been in the news the past week, lately we've been hearing that the offer for the former champion in '95 wasn't, as we heard it. Could you explain what's going on or finished with the negotiations to bring Jacques Villeneuve back to CART?
GERALD FORSYTHE: I found out late last week that the written offer was not made to Mr. Pollick, Jacques Villeneuve's manager. It was offered verbally. However, Craig, declined the verbal offer, but he reported to me that that was part of his negotiation. I phoned Abe Richards on Friday and respectfully requested that he put the offer in writing and give it to Mr. Pollick this weekend. So I'm expecting a call from Mr. Pollick from Mr. Richards by tomorrow.
Q. Jimmy Vasser may or may not be back; Michael Andretti is gone; you helped Scott Dixon this year -- CART helped him. Is there a program in place -- you keep saying there's going to be 18 cars, is there a definitive program in place that if there are going to be some young American drivers from your feeder system to be in CART next year, and will CART help will CART help pay their bills or help finance their rides?
CHRIS POOK: We feel very strongly about the ladder system. There's a tremendous ladder system in Mexico, there's a tremendous ladder system Canada; it's a proven delivery system for their drivers. We are working on it very hard here. We are encouraging our owners to look at our Atlantic drivers in our testing, engine testing program with Cosworth. We are suggesting to the car owners and to the engine manufacturer at Cosworth that this is an ideal time to look at some of the young Atlantic drivers that are out there, and we fully intend to make that work. Can we make it work with 2003? I don't know that answer today, to give you. Are we trying to make it work and put a couple young Americans in the series for 2003? Absolutely we are. Will we have it ready in place for 2005 when we re-design the engines and re-design the chassis and things? Absolutely we will have it. We need to have a system that puts young Americans into the program, and we will put that in place. I think we also should acknowledge Mr. Patrick for putting Townsend in this year. It was a very difficult situation for him, and you, you know, he stepped to the plate and did an outstanding job. It was unfortunate that it did not work out, but that is not the team owner's fault and not the driver's fault; that is the series' fault for not putting together the right platform for the driver to make the move from the junior series to the champ car series. And it's only the series that's to blame for that.
Q. Counting up all of the possible cars in here, 14 cars, where are the other car -- I know you can't talk specifics, but where are we talking about other cars coming from and will there be some new teams, to not only this series, but to North America?
CHRIS POOK: Absolutely there will be some new teams, two North America and from Europe. There will be teams coming from other series in this country, moving up the ladder, and I believe that you will see the return of a past team. As I told you, it might be we can we can we can see the 18 without a problem and we could see 21. And please remember that I have recommended to our board that at this stage of our board should be 22, and 22 quality cars. The intensity of the racing here is huge and you just have to look at the grid times, and that tells you something. The people in this series, the team owners who prepare the cars are excellent, and the drivers who drive them are excellent. This is not an easy series to compete in. You've got to be pretty damn good to come into this series, and I think the teams coming in look at this and we certainly look at them and make sure that we can do it. And the new ones that may want to come to the series, if they have not had real depth of experience, we are asking them to talk to some of our more experienced teams here so they can be shepherded into the series. You are seeing, also, that not only did the development of the ladder system for drivers, but a ladder system for new teams, new owners.
Q. Two of the biggest team owners are not here today, Ganassi and Team Green. Should we read anything into that or is it just too busy to come?
CHRIS POOK: Heaven forbid you guys would ever read in this case into anything. (Laughter). As we said, this is a series of announcements that we will be making and I must say to you, that the timing of this, to come on September 1 that it is today, to ask teams to stand up and say, "Here is what we are doing," is very unusual. These announcements on teams do not come until at least the end of October or November normally. You know, there's occasionally one or two. You saw NASCAR announcement the other day going over to the Wood Brothers; that was a fairly early announcement. But you don't see a bunch more out there, and you don't see other open-wheel series making any announcements right now, and you see in Formula I at the present time, it's still what they call the silly season. So, this is very, very premature. And I want to thank these owners for coming forward this morning, because they are supporting management today; and management's job is to work with all of you guys out there and to make sure that you understand what is fact and what is fiction. And the time has come, I think, where this management team is saying, look at our track record, look at what we've done here in the last eight months, that's all fact. Please take us seriously as we go forward, because what we are doing is putting one foot forward at a time, and they are solid building blocks and we are going to be here, as we said with, a minimum of 18 cars, and our good friends at Bridgestone next year, in this series, and we can seed 21 cars, but they will be solid, solid teams and solid racing cars in the series.
MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time this morning, and we appreciate your commitment to CART. Thank you very much.
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