Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
January 16, 2007
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference. We have a very exciting announcement concerning the 2007 Champ Car World Series schedule. Most of you will have seen the release in your e-mail box. We are coming to you from Las Vegas where we are in town for the Champ Car Winter Meetings where we get together with our promoters and talk about the plan for the 2007 season.
Before we get to that, like to introduce the participants in today's teleconference. We are joined by Champ Car president Steve Johnson. We are joined by executive vice president of development planning and governmental affairs, John Clagett, vice president of operations, Tony Cotman and the promoter for our new events in Europe, Mr. Bart Rietbergen. Thank you for joining us on the call. I'd like to turn things over to Steve Johnson for today's opening remarks.
STEVE JOHNSON: Thank you, Eric, and for our friends out there in the beautiful warm rest of the world, it's 28 degrees here Fahrenheit; that's two degrees Celsius. So it's a little chilly in Vegas.
We are pleased to be announcing today that the Champ Car World Series will be returning to Europe for the first time in Europe since 2007 with races in Assen in Holland and Zolder in Belgium. Today's announcement gives Champ Car its busiest schedule in four years and will provide a tough challenge for drivers and teams that hope to dethrone three-time champion Sebastien Bourdais and Newman Haas Racing.
Champ Car is very much an international entity as evidenced by the multinational makeup of our drivers over last year, as well as by the demand for news and information that comes from racing fans around the world. The events in Holland and Belgium will usher in a new era marking the first time that the series has visited those nations. That will at the same time serve as a throwback for Champ Car; both venues feature long and challenging road courses that take us become to the days like Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones battled at Riverside or Watkins Glen, or more recently when Andretti went wheel-to-wheel with Mears and Rahal at Road America. I would like to congratulate John Clagett (ph) for bringing these events to fruition and bringing promoter Bart Rietbergen and his team into the Champ Car family.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, Steve.
Mr. Rietbergen, your remarks?
BART RIETBERGEN: We are very, very excited to get these events to Holland, and we think this is really a new era of Champ Car where we really go international. I know you Americans talk about the World Series, but now really it is the world and we are extremely happy to be part of that.
I think it's a very interesting series, quite different from what we know in Europe where we will see very close racing and our fans have the opportunities to get close to the cars, in fact, they can almost touch them and almost touch the drivers which is rather unique. We will see racing cars instead of big trucks.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much and congratulations gentlemen. This brings the total of races for 2007 up to 17 events, the largest number of events on the schedule since 2003, the first time that champ many car will race in Europe since the 2003 season when we went to Brands Hatch and Lausitzring in Germany.
Q. I don't mean to play devil's advocate, but Mr. Johnson, the last adventure into Europe was not an entirely financial success. And I wonder how these new two races are going to prove any better, financially that is.
STEVE JOHNSON: A lot of it depends on who your promoter is quite frankly. We are not self-promoting these races. And with Bart who is a proven business professional in that area, he understands that market, he really understands the television aspect which comes into play as well.
It's not that we are just going into that area for two races and leaving. Bart's got the television rights for the entire year for Champ Car to promote Champ Car throughout the year. He's got sponsors that are coming on board. So we feel we have chosen the right partner to lead us into Europe, and we think that's going to be the difference.
Q. Just one quick follow, will the teams, will they be -- will they have to carry the cost of traveling over there themselves or will Champ Car pitch in for those costs?
STEVE JOHNSON: Those are contractual-type things, but let me put it this way. It's advantageous for the teams when we go international. Oftentimes the cost are absorbed by the promoter.
Q. Question directed to Bart is that there is sort of a lot of interesting geographical synergies here in that I haven't mapped it out exactly but it looks to me like geographically Assen and Zolder are about 150 miles apart and on back-to-back weekends. On the one hand, that would seem to be able to allow you as a promoter to sort of create some synergies between the two in terms of cross promoting and two-for-the-price-of-one sorts of deals. On the other hand, ultimately it's kind of the same market that you're going to be in two weekends in a row. Is this going to be somewhat of a challenge in terms of for some, basically, you know, getting the same people to go to the same races twice and I wonder if you could maybe talk about that.
BART RIETBERGEN: By American standards, you are right but we are talking total different countries. In Belgium we attract quite a bit of people from the French-speaking part of Belgium as well as France itself. It's also right on the border of Germany, and if you look at them geographically, you notice that there live 250 million within 200K from both events so the spectator base is quite big. I just hope they don't show up all of them. (Laughter).
Q. Sort of to follow-up, with my earlier question, do you see a way of kind of cross-promoting the two in sense of giving some sort of, if you would call them discounts or some sort of package deals, spectators who would go to both races?
BART RIETBERGEN: We certainly do. In fact, people that buy one ticket are immediately seeing the other race as well, and there is a discount if they go for both events.
Q. The series has changed a lot in the past few years, a couple of years ago promoted itself the world's most diverse series and kind of gone back and forth on the European thing. Looks like about half the schedule is not in the U.S. and a quarter of it is, in fact, far-flung. What do you see as a vision? What's Champ Car's niche in the world of motorsports?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, we are a World Series. I think before this it was hard to say that we had a global presence. We did obviously television-wise, but, you know, really we had Australia and North America.
Really, with the addition of China this year, with the addition of Belgium and Holland, that positions us as a true global motorsports leader worldwide. So we are not going to go probably more than 50/50 North America and other international venues.
So I think we have a very nice mix right now. We look at what our total schedule could be. I don't see us going more really than 20 events. As you know it takes a lot of time when you start traveling international.
So we've got room for some more additions and we are always looking at key emerging markets, markets that are important not only to Champ Car but to our sponsors and to our teams. And we take that into consideration as well.
So again, we want to be in the emerging markets and continue down the path as being a true international, world-class series.
Q. A follow-up a bit off-topic, we've obviously got into the new year. Is it difficult as a series when you have sort of so many driver/team combination changes from year-to-year, and at this point, it seems like quite a few are unsettled yet. Does that make it difficult to promote the personalities and the teams and the drivers?
STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, it sure does. I wish I had a magic wand to fix that. I think it will be fixed eventually. I think we're maybe a couple of years away from it, but it might be one of those case where is there's more drivers than there are teams out there and people are in the middle of negotiating right now. I kind of wish the Sebring test were tomorrow and we could get the stuff ironed out. I think that's where time will tell. We'll see a lot of announcements. I know we will next week; somebody has to be piloting those cars around Sebring.
That's a good point and it does make it difficult for us. There's only so much we could control, and I wish I could control that piece but kind of out of my hands right now.
Q. Both part and Steve to comment on this, when you're running open-wheel cars in Europe, everybody says, well, is it Formula 1, or is it kind of like Formula 1. Can you maybe talk a little about what you guys are willing to do to market this thing to say, this is our own series -- you may have alluded to this talking about fan access, but it's not F1, and this is why it's good; can you talk about some of the steps you'll be taking in terms of promoting this and to get that point across to some people?
BART RIETBERGEN: We are marketing it as the American equivalent of Formula 1 racing because it basically is the same type of car, it's open-wheel racing almost the same sort of speed and power.
So we will see similar racing as to Formula 1. Obviously the attraction to the Europeans is that you will see quite a few pace cars during the event and close-up, and I'm sure we won't see drivers that are two laps ahead of number two. So it is much more attractive for both people on the track as well as on TV.
STEVE JOHNSON: I spoke several weeks ago in Monaco at a big motorsports summit there, and I was amazed at how knowledgeable the folks that were at the summit were of Champ Car. There was a lot of excitement. Going to Europe, we've all been talking about this now with Bart for, what, six months, and word has been out since, so everybody was just waiting for today so it becomes final.
But there's been a lot of discussions going on and there's a lot of excitement in Europe about Champ Car coming. I think a good part of that is because of the number of European drivers that we have in our series. We will definitely promote that. There are some that obviously are yet to go signed but there's a couple that are true heroes that if they step up, that's what the marketing will be built around because they will truly draw fans.
Q. Tony, can you do a little clarification in terms of the standing starts rule? We have had a number of fans along our network ask what the criteria is to determine what tracks will be conducive safety-wise to standing starts and if there's going to be any special kind of clutch equipment or anything to accommodate the standing starts; can you address those?
TONY COTMAN: First of all, we've obviously written them into the rule back based on preseason testing and depending on how it goes in testing. That will then determine when and where we're going to do it. It's down to a couple of basic criteria really. The straightaway that we are going to do the starts on, the length of the straightaway, and we'll go from there, but it's pretty simple.
There will be a small amount of launch control, if you want to call it that, off the line, not traction control but a small amount of launch.
Q. The attraction is the cars are similar to Formula 1, do you see that there could be some backlash on that, that they may perceive that negatively?
BART RIETBERGEN: I don't think that at all. In fact, the last Formula 1 race we had in Holland was some 30 years ago so it's quite a big attraction for people to see the similar cars on their home ground.
STEVE COTMAN: Zolder, very nice course, challenging for the drivers. Holland, that track in particular is phenomenal, and our teams will be very excited to get over there and pretty sure the drivers will put on a show for the fans. Both facilities will be great challenges.
Q. I talked to Jimmie Vasser yesterday and his pipes burst; has he called you guys yet?
STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, we are taking a fund out for Jimmie to help him.
Q. Steve, does this mean in your mind and in Champ Car's mind that with this addition that the series has either started to turn the corner, or at least can see the corner that you need to turn to get close to the days of old?
STEVE JOHNSON: I would have to say we've turned the corner. If you take a look, and you've been to a lot of our events, our attendance was up in many of our events. One of the key things we did for 2007 was really focused on television and with the announcement of going to ESPN and ABC for multiple years, I think that is a major step that needed to happen for the series.
If you take a look at the events we added, we are introducing six new venues this year. We are going to Vegas and we are going to Phoenix and China and Belgium and Holland and all world-class type facilities, and we got some sponsor announcements coming. The teams are sorting it out themselves right now.
I would say we have definitely turned the corner. I still think we are a couple of years away from where we want to be but we are making very good progress and we are focused on our business model and we are not losing our focus. I feel very good about where we are right now?
Q. Of all the additions that have been made during the off-season, the Vegas race, the European races, could you pick out one that says, this was the best thing that we've done so far?
STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, I could -- (Laughter).
Let me do this one politically correct. They are all unique. Going to China is a major undertaking for a North American series to break into that market into the billions of people there. Going back to Europe, very important for our overall strategy of being a global series.
But I would say what hits home the most really is two things. The addition of Las Vegas, racing through the streets of downtown Vegas to kick off our season. If you asked Formula 1 if they would like to be here, the answer would be yes. If you asked any series if they would like to run through the streets of Vegas, the answer would be yes. And you know what, Champ Car was the one that was able to pull it off. Between that and the television, those are two major, major announcements, and what a way to kick off our season.
Q. Do these races have a name, i.e., will they have a sponsor or is that a future announcement?
BART RIETBERGEN: Yes, this will be a future announcement and we expect to that mid-February where the main sponsor of the two events will be announced. And the same sponsor I can tell you, you will probably also see a car in the same course.
Q. For the full year or just for the full year?
BART RIETBERGEN: No, for the full year.
Q. There have been some rumors in the Dutch media that Jos Verstappen may drive in Champ Car. Can you comment on that and if he does, what would that do for your races?
BART RIETBERGEN: I had read the same comments that you have seen. So that's all I know about it. I do know that there are a few Dutch drivers, top drivers, that are all talking to various teams. For us, it doesn't matter who it is as long as there is one Dutch top driver; that will help tremendously.
Q. There's been some media reports of a possible race in Athens, Greece. Is this the end of Champ Car's expansion into Europe or is it possible you will add another race?
STEVE JOHNSON: I would say it definitely would not happen in 2007. But we never say never, so we'll look at any opportunities that come along. If it makes good business sense and supports the direction that we're going, we would definitely be there.
So I don't think anything other -- there are no other venues right now that we're saying, no, we're not going to in Europe. We would look at expanding if it makes good sense for us.
Q. The support series that will be in this event, can you talk about those, if any; and also, what's the duration of these events? Is it a single-year or multi-year?
BART RIETBERGEN: First of all, it's a multi-year deal. And the support races I can tell you one of them will be Formula 3, the European Championship. Another one will be because we think this is an American series, so we have to give it an American flavor, will be All-American GTs, which is Mustangs and Galaxies and we'll have a field of 45 of those. Another series will be classic Formula 1, classic being just until 2001, and we'll have fields of about 20 cars there with six Ferrari.
So all we need to do now is get one of those famous Ferrari drivers to join us. We have VRL racing which is very much the same as NASCAR-type cars, all Ford engines, same power. That's what we have lined up so far. And we have about 20 race series that want to participate in the event, so we are going to be very selective on the last two.
Q. Did Champ Car come first and everything else follow or was Champ Car added to an existing event?
BART RIETBERGEN: No, no. Champ Car came first and everyone said, hey, we want to join in and be part of the party.
STEVE JOHNSON: And it is multiple years.
Q. Can you tell how many?
STEVE JOHNSON: Multiple.
Q. Tony, obviously Assen is as a motorcycle racing track and I wondered if -- and I know there's been some significant upgrades there anyway, but I just wondered if you could maybe talk about Assen and Zolder, how suitable they are for Champ Car and what sort of modifications might be on the table before the races start.
TONY COTMAN: No problem. Start with Assen, you're right, it is primarily been used has a motorcycle track. Although, many events in Europe are used for open-wheel, GTs, and motorcycles. Therefore, the biggest thing we really have to contend with is the curves. The curves -- motorcycles like very low, flat curves. We don't because you know what our guys do, they go right over them. We are going to deal with the curves in Assen and replace them with a few tight areas and we are good to go there.
Zolder, on the other hand, has some significant upgrades/improvements that they are going to do before we get there. And like I said before, the facility will be in great shape by the time the Champ Car teams get there and it will be very challenging and looking forward to it. Basically, the same issues, we have to deal with curves.
It's very difficult in Europe to deal with motorcycles and crossing over to single-seaters.
Q. And the pit lanes and everything, no particular issues there in terms of fuel stop and all that sort of stuff?
TONY COTMAN: No, picture it as Montreal. It's pretty much typical of that. Anywhere we go outside the U.S., especially Europe, has been designed around F1 use of garage and things like that. We operate slightly differently and will probably have to change the way we operate slightly, but at the end of the day, it's not going to affect anything we do or the outcome to the race.
Q. At Zolder I saw there's a main grandstand, but around the rest of the track, I don't see many grandstands.
BART RIETBERGEN: Oh, yeah, there will be built grandstands temporarily.
Q. And I heard it mentioned before about the TV contract that Bart, you'll have the TV deal. Is that just for those two countries or is that for all of Europe?
BART RIETBERGEN: For the time being it is just for those two countries.
Q. And maybe back to Steve Johnson, will Euro Sport still be broadcasting Champ Car racing in 2007?
STEVE JOHNSON: Right now we are still negotiating final contracts for our international distribution so it's a little early for me to call on that. We are going to have we feel very good distribution in Europe and probably even increased distribution with the commitment being made by Bart and his crew.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring to a close today's Champ Car media teleconference.
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