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Indy Racing League Media Conference: St. Petersburg Announcement

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference: St. Petersburg Announcement

Michael Andretti
Rick Baker
Tom Elliott
Dario Franchitti
Tony George
Barry Green
Ken Ungar
September 2, 2004


ST. PETERSBURG ANNOUNCEMENT

TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome you all to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. This marks another historic day for the league as earlier today it was announced by league officials and officials from the City of St. Petersburg, Florida, that the 17th race has been added to the 2005 IndyCar Series schedule. The race will take place April 3, 2005, and will be race 3 of 17 on next year's schedule. It will be the third non-oval event in 2005 and will be run through the city streets of downtown St. Petersburg. The name of the event is the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. We have several members from the Indy Racing League: Andretti Green Racing, American Honda Motor Company and the City of St. Petersburg on the line today, including Tony George, president and CEO of the IRL, Ken Ungar, senior vice president of business operations, Michael Andretti of Andretti greet racing for the Indy Racing League, Michael Andretti of Andretti Green Racing, Barry Green, the managing director of the group promoting the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Tom Elliott, the executive vice president of auto operations for American Honda Auto Company, Rick Baker, the mayor of St. Petersburg, and IndyCar Series driver Dario Franchitti. Tony, let's start with you. Can you give us your thoughts on this historic day, adding the league's first street course event.

TONY GEORGE: Thank you, Tom. It indeed did give me great pleasure to attend this morning's press conference. As you mentioned, it included city officials, event organizers and event sponsors to announce what, as you termed, is a very historic event for us to announce this race that takes place on April 3rd, 2005. It will be the first time in the league's history that we will run on a non-oval. It's a beautiful setting here in downtown St. Petersburg. They successfully ran a race here last year, and it opened my eyes at that time to what a beautiful venue this circuit offered. It's a very competitive racing circuit in and of itself, but that along with the ambiance makes it an ideal place for the Indy Racing League to run its first event on a temporary circuit. We're very honored to have Andretti Green, Andretti Green Promotions and Honda step up to present the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It helped the league accomplish two of its goals: we were able to extend our schedule by adding an additional race to be run prior to the Indianapolis 500 in the month of May. We've been looking for great opportunities to come along to bolster our schedule, and this provides us with the momentum we've been looking for. It joins two permanent road circuits at Watkins Glen and Infineon Raceway to round out our schedule of road racing events to be part of the 2005 schedule. With my sincere thanks to Mayor Baker, the entire City Council, Andretti Green Promotions and Honda American Motor Company, Honda America, it gives me great pleasure to be a part of today's announcement.

TOM SAVAGE: Mayor, you've essentially been out of the racing business on a larger scale for the last two years. You're jumping into this project as the managing director of the promotor, Andretti Green Promotions. Can you talk about bringing the street course racing back to the great City of St. Petersburg?

BARRY GREEN: I think it's a great day for me. Yes, a little different to what I have done in the past, although it's in the same business that I've been in, a business I absolutely love. I think that really helps, understanding what everyone goes through when they go to a racetrack, especially a street circuit, which is a temporary facility. But, you know, where I become involved is Andretti Green Promotions. This company is equally owned by Andretti Green Racing, which is Michael, Kim Green and Kevin, Stella and myself. We all know about Andretti Green Racing. Stella are a very successful marketing and communications group that is headquartered in London and offices all over the world. I was involved for many, many years with the helping with the Toronto race and many other different sports in this country and other countries. You know, I think that will bring a wealth of knowledge to our effort here in St. Petersburg. Michael brought up the idea some months ago. I was quite interested in it. When I came down to St. Petersburg and met with Mayor Baker and his team, just saw how enthusiastic these folks were and how much they wanted an IndyCar race in this city, really made me very, very interested. So we worked hard and put some arrangements together. Thanks to IRL support, the city support, and more importantly I think just as important is Honda, long-time friend of mine, won a lot of races together, and tremendous partner. You know, they've made it possible for us to complete the arrangements here. So we're very excited.

TOM SAVAGE: Mr. Mayor, this obviously will be a great setting for next year's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Can you give us your thoughts on bringing the Grand Prix back to your great city.

MAYOR BAKER: We have been wanting to bring a Grand Prix race back to St. Pete since we had the last race. We are highly enthusiastic about the team that's been put together to make this happen. We're thrilled to have the IRL to come down to St. Pete. Part of my childhood was spent growing up in Indianapolis, becoming an Indy 500 fan. I understand the positive things it can do for your community. We've become friends with Barry Green, the Andretti Green team. We're thrilled to be working with them and a quality organization like Honda to become the title sponsor for the race. You can't get anything better than that. We're committed in the city to do everything we can to help make this successful.

TOM SAVAGE: Earlier this year Honda clinched the manufacturers title in the IndyCar Series and have won 12 straight races. Tom, it has been an incredible year. This announcement must add to an exciting year?

TOM ELLIOTT: No doubt about that. This year has been a lot of firsts for us. I think obviously the number one is winning our first Indianapolis 500 race. But, obviously, a few other firsts: winning our first race at Motegi in Japan was very exciting for us. We've been trying hard on that for a while. Obviously, clinching the manufacturers championship with Dario's win. We're quite happy about that. I think what really pleases us today is that the IRL has given us the opportunity to sponsor the first non-oval race in the league's history. We've been down now to St. Petersburg a few times. We've gotten to know the Mayor and his City Council. We are very, very pleased with the support of the city. If you look at the setting of St. Petersburg, we think it's got the potential of being really a fantastic event, and we're quite happy to be part of that.

TOM SAVAGE: Dario, you were very supportive of the Indy Racing League going road course racing when the league announced it was adding Watkins Glen and Infineon Raceway to next year's schedule. You must be very excited having this opportunity to race at St. Petersburg next year.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I've enjoyed some success on road courses and street courses before. This track looks like it's going to be a great one. I think the combination of the street and the part of the airport we're using, I just think it lends itself very well to an exciting race. I for one am looking forward to April and get back out here and going street course racing. I think it adds to the diversity of the championship and is going to make it a bigger challenge next year again.

TOM SAVAGE: Michael, same question to you. You've obviously won a lot of races on street courses. The diversity of the championship, can you talk about adding a street course race to the schedule next year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I personally think this is one of the biggest days for the IRL. I believe that, you know, this is a few phase for it which I think is going to take open-wheel racing to the next level. I think, as Dario said, it's going to open up the diversity of the drivers and teams and make it that much more challenging. To do it here at St. Pete is going to be fantastic. If you were down here seeing it, the setting is so beautiful, the excitement is already building. I know it's going to be even that much more when we get back here. And the track itself I think is going to be great for racing. I think there's going to be passing. I think that's always been a critique of these type tracks, but I don't think you're going to have that critique here. I believe it's going to be a good racetrack for good racing. I think it's just going to be a win-win deal all the way around for everybody.

TOM SAVAGE: Dario, I don't think you've raced at this course before. But my understanding is you went out in a street car today and drove around the course. Give us your thoughts of the near two-mile course.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I went out this morning. Michael was there. Barry Green was with us. He wouldn't let either of us drive. He drove us around the circuit. Barry said I probably wasn't awake already (laughter). We looked at some -- as much of the track as we could. Obviously, the runway was in use, might be too dangerous to get out there and examine it. We got a good idea of the character of the track. I just think it's going to be a superb street course race. The setting is something to behold, you know, with the palm trees and the boats out in the harbor. As I said before, I'm really looking forward to coming down here and going street course racing again.

TOM SAVAGE: Let's open it up to questions from the media.

Q. This racetrack in the St. Petersburg area, Barry, will it offer sufficient runoff area? I remember being there last year and the drivers all seemed to like it at that time. You've got a lot of guys in the Indy Racing League who need to rehearse their road racing skills, get them back because they haven't done it for a while. Do you think it's sufficient runoff area?

BARRY GREEN: I think for a street course, I think it's tremendous runoff areas. You know, especially under the heavy braking corners, cars will be dicing with each other. Good runoff areas. There are some areas that maybe can be improved on, but those sorts of things we're going to look for input from drivers and go from there. Listening to Michael and Dario this morning, I think they saw two or three great areas where they had opportunities to pass or could have opportunities to pass. Very, very wide straightaway. Very, very wide approach to some of the turns. Very unusual for a street circuit. I think it's got tremendous runoff areas.

TOM SAVAGE: Ken Ungar, this is a market that the IRL has looked at, the Tampa/St. Pete area. Can you talk about the marketing opportunities, how it opened up a brand-new type of fan in this area?

KEN UNGAR: This is a fantastic market for us to be racing in. St. Petersburg, a large, progressive city known for high technology, having a thriving business sector, but this whole area of central Florida, Tampa, Orlando, all the way over to Daytona Beach, is one of the largest markets in the country, and is one that has been very popular with our style of racing, as reflected in people attending our races via television. We believe this is going to be a great opportunity for our sponsors and our teams to be racing here in a world class event in this market.

TOM SAVAGE: Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us today.

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