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Champ Car World Series: Monterrey Grand Prix

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Monterrey Grand Prix

Champ Car World Series: Monterrey Grand Prix

Chris Pook
March 22, 2003


MONTERREY, MEXICO

ADAM SAAL: Chris did arrive here yesterday, he missed the opening day here in Monterrey, but he'll more than make up for it throughout the weekend. We want Chris in what's become a tradition in this race, two years in a row, to spend some time with the media, our friends from the United States, as well as our friends here in Mexico, in whatever language you want to. Chris, an opening comment in Spanish and English, what your initial impressions are to your second visit here to the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix of Mexico.

CHRIS POOK: Obviously, the circuit now is proving out the point that it takes three years to build a facility up, get to it maturity. I think now this year, this circuit has really reached maturity. The work that's been done here is excellent. This whole building, this press complex that we have, the whole look and feel of this facility is tremendous. I said last year when I was here that this place had huge potential. I think we're starting to realize that huge potential right now. The work that's been done on the racetrack is excellent. They've made a lot of small but very important changes. Yes, it was a little slippery yesterday, but that often happens with a temporary circuit. Today it's coming in much better. Tomorrow it will be even better. I think it's excellent. It meets our business model, our NAFTA business model. The two races in Mexico are very, very important to us, Monterrey and Mexico City, three races in Canada, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, and our 10 races in the United States. This is all working from our perspective as part of our business model. The other thing I do think we need to congratulation the organizers here, the leadership of Arturo Mendez for the work that's been done. I think the presentation and everything is excellent. It's the standards to which we seek everywhere we go. They're clearly raising the bar here, as they raised the bar in Mexico City last fall. I think all these things are very, very positive. Finally, the fact that we have four Mexican drivers with us is very good. I commented last night at the dinner function that was hosted by Gigante that there is somewhat of a transition taking place. Adrian is obviously a very experienced pilot himself, very, very good, but Michel Jourdain, Jr. is coming into his element, maturing, looking very good, indeed. He's going to win a race for sure before this season is out. Of course, you have young Mario now in his second season. He's maturing, coming on. He made a silly little mistake in St. Petersburg, but by and large he had an excellent, excellent weekend there. He's going to emerge into a fine driver. And, of course, Rodolfo Lavin is in his first year as a rookie, a big step for him. He's having some challenges, but by and large he's very respectable. That's all we ask from a rookie coming into our series.

ADAM SAAL: I think at this point we'll just open it up for questions for Chris, either English or Spanish.

Q. Talking about your urban model, of course last week Road America went away, now talk is that Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca are next because they don't fit CART's future plans. How do they fit and what are their future?

CHRIS POOK: Well, I don't want to get into too much detail on Road America because it's very difficult. We were very, very disappointed that Road America had to go away. It was very disappointing for us, extremely disappointing. But we really were left with no alternative. We were put in a very difficult position. I have to do what's correct for this company and for its shareholders, for our teams. Unfortunately, I had to make that decision. It was a decision that I hated to make, did not want to make, but was forced to make it. We continue to embrace road courses. Laguna Seca, we have just finished a negotiation with them which I think you'll see announced very shortly. That will probably answer your question in that area. Mid-Ohio, this is the last year of our relationship with Mid-Ohio in the sense of the current contract. While we have not made any decisions, nor have they, I think we want to get through this year and then we'll decide what's going to happen in Mid-Ohio. With all due respect to your question, if you're inferring that it's the policy of this administration to do away with road courses, the answer is no.

Q. What negotiations are there to have races until 2008?

CHRIS POOK: To extend here in Mexico?

Q. Monterrey.

CHRIS POOK: Through 2008?

Q. Yes.

CHRIS POOK: Currently we're contracted in Monterrey through 2005. We would obviously be very interested in going through 2008. I mean, it's a very interesting racetrack. It meets our business model. It's a racetrack that's a road course within a city. It has all the right elements to it. We clearly would be interested in sitting down and chatting. But, again, we will only be able to run two races in Mexico. There's competition for four races now, to have races in other venues in Mexico, which I'm not going to tell you any more than that. We have to make a decision. It wouldn't be very bright on our part if we left this facility.

Q. Gerry Forsythe has been quoted as saying you had some meetings with Bernie Eccelstone. Could you share anything with us?

CHRIS POOK: I think I can share with you that Gerry Forsythe has said I've been meeting with Mr. Eccelstone.

Q. So he was wrong?

CHRIS POOK: Whenever I go to Europe, I have a meeting with Mr. Ecclestone. It would be rude to go there and not have a meeting with someone you've known for 30 years.

Q. (In Spanish.)

CHRIS POOK: We will go to Europe and have our two races there. We're perfectly comfortable with the situation. I've just come back from Europe, and I don't see a problem for us there with those two races. I understand that's your question. I wasn't quite sure what you were asking about secondly. Were you inquiring as to his health? I think he's looking very well. (Question translated.) You're quite right. There are. We don't let those get in way of a professional relationships where we're a sanctioning body and that venue that has a CEO is in disagreement with us on something else. We keep the two things completely separated.

Q. Getting back to Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Eccelstone, what does Bernie Eccelstone bring to a potential alignment or relationship with CART, and what does CART do for him?

CHRIS POOK: Well, first of all, you cannot discount in any way the experience and the knowledge and the depth that Mr. Eccelstone has in the sport of motor racing, and in particular the sport of open-wheel motor racing. It would be like having a board member with that qualification to have Mr. Eccelstone involved. I mean, the resource is huge. So it's very positive. What can we do to assist Mr. Eccelstone in this hypothetical case that you're citing here? I think that we have an interesting open-wheel series, and he has an interesting open-wheel series, and I think it behooves both of us to work together. We are predominantly in North America. He comes to North America twice a year. If we can help him build his North American business, not that he needs any help in Canada, but if we can help him build that business, then we would very much like to do it because that's in our interest as well. The more we can build open-wheel racing, the better it is for us.

Q. (Question in Spanish.)

CHRIS POOK: Well, I guess it's kind of like, "Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?" We'll have to wait and see what happens here, how it plays itself out in the future with the economy and things like that. I mean, obviously, we all hope that this thing will come to a conclusion very rapidly. In the meantime, it is what it is. We have to go about our business and do what's good and correct for our business, and everybody else will do what's good and correct for their business. We've got plenty of time to discuss that.

ADAM SAAL: I think we should probably clarify what that question was so we don't have any misinterpretations. What was the topic?

CHRIS POOK: The topic was in light of going forward from 2005 to 2008, the potential economic problem that the war could create, would that interfere with the possibility of our renewing our relationship with the Monterrey Grand Prix.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you.

Q. (Question in Spanish.)

CHRIS POOK: We are on record as saying that we will have up to 20 races. That's where we'd like to be. But there's no reason why we can't have 18 races or 16 races. But our goal is to have 20 races that fit within our business model that we have articulated, and that is really basically two races in Mexico, three races in Canada, 10 races in the United States, three races in Europe and two races in the Pacific Basin. That's really what our business model is.

Q. Other than driver changes, is the field pretty much static now for the rest of the year or do you expect there might be another team or two coming along during the course of the year?

CHRIS POOK: I think you're going to see maybe one more team come along during the year. There's a lot of activity going on behind the scenes with teams. There are several that are preparing for 2004, that will be new to the series. I think they are trying to see if they can get some races in in 2003 in preparation for the 2004 series.

ADAM SAAL: (Inaudible) is speaking with Dale Coyne about additional races during the season.

CHRIS POOK: There will always be driver changes, as you understand. That's the nature of the beast. You're looking for team owners.

Q. Mr. Pook, about this year, you have been working tremendously to bring into the series lots of drivers, new drivers, drivers coming from other series. In your perspective, do you think we will be needing more drivers to come into the series in order to have successful races, or will you have less races to have what we already have with drivers? This year, as it started, you really worked very hard to bring in a lot of drivers. I think we have 19 drivers. The interest of some other drivers to arrive into the series, just comment about that. Do you think you could bring in more drivers to the series?

CHRIS POOK: Well, there's lots of drivers that want to come into the series. It's a question of where the seats are for them. I think the important thing, though, what we have to recognize is that we are being increasingly accepted as a good place for young drivers to come and drive and really show their stuff. That's what we really want to be. I have no difficulty with having new drivers every single year if we raise the level of the driving talent and the intensity of the competition. I mean, that's what it's all about. And I think what we've got this year is a very good situation. I mean, I think that Sebastien was very, very good in St. Petersburg. He's a very good racing car driver. But he pushed Paul and Michel and Patrick, as well, to the limit. Today you see now that Servia is running pretty good. I don't know how good he was this morning. I think what's happening is some of our existing drivers have been told, "You better pick up the pace because these youngsters are coming and your job is in jeopardy." If Newman/Haas can take (inaudible) of Formula 3000, I don't know where he was in the session this morning, but the fact that these youngsters can come in and go quick right away clearly sends a message to some of the guys that have been in the series a couple of years that they better step up and push on the pedal a bit harder to go quicker. At the end of the day, that's really good for us as a series. It starts to gather huge energy with these young fellows coming in and doing what they're doing. So it's good. It's not just us. Look at NASCAR, the fact of the youngsters in NASCAR. The Kurt Buschs of this world, Johnsons of this world, I mean, Ryan Newman, these are youngsters that just arrived, and they're putting the hammer on the old guys, letting them know, in know uncertain terms, they have no respect for folks that have been in the series for a long time. They're there to drive a race car and they're there to win. That's what's happening in our series. They have respect for them obviously on the racetrack. But because they've been winning races for the last eight or nine years, that doesn't mean anything. It's a new ballgame out there. When the green flag drops, you get on with it and you race hard. That's what these youngsters are doing. From our perspective, it's very, very healthy indeed. It's starting to send that message around the world about the health and the intensity of our competition. That's what we want.

Q. There have been some reports that you might be stepping down at the end of the year. As I understand it, your term runs through next year. Can you say unequivocally that you'll be staying through next year? How will CART do without you?

CHRIS POOK: Well, first of all, no one's irreplaceable, is the first thing I need to say to you. The second thing is that my contract does go through December the 18th of 2004, and I have absolutely every single intention of staying until December 18th, 2004, unless you know something I don't know (laughter). I want to complete the mission. Those of you who have known me over the years know that I'm not a guy that gives up. I take on a project, I finish the project. That's just the way I'm built. I give it 110%. We're putting in place an excellent management team. David Claire, our chief operating officer, is doing very, very well. He's a very smart guy, and he's obviously there. He's running the day-to-day of the company now. He hit the road running January the 1st. I think any of the management team will tell you, you know, he didn't need anybody to bring him up to speed. He was there when he came through the front door. He and I think alike. He worked for (inaudible) for nine years. That's probably about as good a training as you can get. I feel very, very comfortable indeed. If the board of directors or I decide that after December the 18th, 2004, I don't want to keep up this same level of intensity, there's a man there that can run the company extremely efficiently.

Q. Forsythe, what happens when the period of truce or whatever you call it expires at the end of the three years? He's supposed to vote now like the board orders or whatever. What happens then? 10 years ago CART was like challenging Formula 1 for the top spot in racing all over the world. You had Nigel Mansell, the fastest cars. Now it seems to me that the message I'm hearing, "We're like a feeder series for Formula 1." Do you think in the future when (inaudible), do you think CART will go to challenge Formula 1 for the top spot to be like the best series in the world like what the message was 10 years ago? They were saying that.

CHRIS POOK: Well, I think you said it rightly. The message that you were hearing that was being put out that they were going to challenge Formula 1 or thought they could challenge Formula 1, the thinking in somebody's mind, I don't know quite where the mind was when that thinking was taking place, because Formula 1 is Formula 1. It's here, it's at the top. With all due respect for CART then and CART now, we are not Formula 1. We're completely different. I mean, the only thing that's common is that we're an open-wheel series. That's the only common thing. Our cars are different, our engines are different, our philosophy is different, our approach is different, the way we run our business is different. Yes, we do go to Europe for a couple of races. Yes, we go to the Pacific Basin for a couple races. It is a whole different strategy, a whole different marketing philosophy. Personally I think it would be absolutely silly to try to think we could compete with Formula 1, let alone try to compete with Formula 1. We have our form of racing. It is our niche that we are in. This is a very good example, this weekend, of what we are about. This is a classic CART event. What we did at St. Petersburg was a classic CART event. What we do at Long Beach will be a classic CART event. When we go to Laguna Seca, it will a classic CART event. If you go in a Formula 1 paddock in June in Montreal, it will be completely different. You'll think you're in two different worlds, and you will be in two different worlds. I disagree when they put out that they're going to challenge Formula 1 and all this stuff. That must have been in someone's mind. We absolutely don't want to challenge Formula 1. We want to work with Formula 1. We want to develop our own characters of drivers. Having said that, however, if we have the talent in our driver pool that we believe can go on up to win a world championship, then we should help that driver go on up to win a world championship. That is the correct thing to do in the sport. It's not a question of being a feeder series. We're not a feeder series. But we're a series that develops skills in drivers that clearly happen to help them in their career when they go into Formula 1. Montoya has been very articulate about that. He said, "Absolutely my experience in CART was very, very important to me in where I am today." I think if you go to da Matta and ask him the same, he will tell you that coming here was very, very important. Remember, da Matta was in Formula 3000, then got passed over. He came to CART and he rehoned his skills, learned the disciplines of our type of racing, which I think has now made him a better drier and allowed him to go back to Formula 1. The first part of the question was about Gerry Forsythe.

Q. He has to vote for three years according to what the board says. What happens at the end of that truce period?

CHRIS POOK: He doesn't have to vote what the board says. He doesn't. He can vote a certain percentage of his shares. He's allowed to do that. There's no restriction on how he votes, none whatsoever.

ADAM SAAL: I can get those press releases, redistribute them to you. It explains the amendments. There were two separate amendments.

Q. It's fairly obviously at this point the on-track part of CART is going in the right direction, good competition, good teams. How about the business part of the company? What's the business health of the company?

CHRIS POOK: It's the chicken or the egg, which comes first? At the end of the day, the product is what goes out on the racetrack. Having gotten the product out on the racetrack, we're able to go out and sell the product. The business side is the next side we're fixing. We're well on our way to do that. As you watch us go through the season, you'll find there will be a whole bunch of very interesting announcements that will emerge. You'll start to see all those bits and pieces that we all spent a lot of time talking about last year that were going away, doom and gloom, they'll start to be replaced and you'll start to see substantial building blocks in place in that area. As you know, I've been saying all along, you have to put building blocks in place, one step at a time, put foundations on, build on foundations. That's what we've been doing. Now we're on the second leg. The timing of your question is very good. I appreciate it.

Q. Is it a positive, negative or just a neutral thing the fact that CART is now (inaudible) where you will be your own promotor? Is that a plus or not?

CHRIS POOK: Well, you have to understand that this world is changing completely. The economy of the late '90s was completely different to the economy of today. You have to really create value now. You have to give a return on investment. Most people are involved in sport, companies, because they do want to be able to sell, promote, market their problems, and they do want a return on their investment. Where you see us going to areas where we're promoting races or taking over races, it's because we think that market is a very valuable market. We're hearing that from corporate America, the corporate world, about the importance of that market to them. Our job is really to take our racing to those markets, then those sponsors can come into those markets and they can work that market and get a major return on their investment. This is a good example here. I don't know what the population of the greater Monterrey area is, but it's probably three or four million people. I'm hearing six million people. We're only going to do 200,000 to 250,000 people here this weekend. That's what we'll do. The important thing about this event, because it's such a huge event in the heart of this market, the whole market knows what's going on here in Monterrey, the whole market knows about it. That's very positive for Tecate, it's very positive for Telmex, for Coca-Cola, all the sponsors involved, even the car sponsors, because the whole market, it may not be here physically in attendance, but it's looking at the newspaper, watching the television set, and it's aware of all the products. That's what this is about. It's going to these key markets and being the facilitator of companies to do business. That's how this whole thing has changed. There wasn't that emphasis before in CART. CART was a sanctioning body, a sanctioning body, a sanctioning body. CART is now a marketing company, a public relations company, a promoting company, a business facilitating company, and it happens to be a sanctions body as well.

Q. That means basically CART's financial stream, the money coming in, used to be totally, since it became a public company, from sanctioning fees. That is not the case anymore?

CHRIS POOK: Oh, it's very clearly an important piece of the puzzle, absolutely. It's a combination. But in today's economy, you don't put all your eggs in one basket. You spread your risks in many areas, if you're a sensible business person. I'm trying to be a sensible business person and trying to run this company in a responsible manner.

ADAM SAAL: As Chris mentioned, it's a key part of the financial model. What's gone now is the exploitation that went along with those sanctioning fees in the past. There's more partnerships that have been developed under Chris' leadership. He comes from that background, promoting. He understands the balance sheets of promoting. It's been met with great returns. From the moment you get off the plane in Monterrey, you see signs for the Tecate Telmex Grand Prix. Thank you for your time. We appreciate your attendance.

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