Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and good afternoon to everybody and welcome to today's Champ Car teleconference announcing the return to Road America for Champ Car and also the departure from Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 2006 season. On today's call we have Champ Car President, Steve Johnson; Champ Car Executive Vice-President of Development, Governmental Affairs and Planning, Joe Chrnelich; Road America President and General Manager, George Bruggenthies; and Rocketsports team owner and series co-owner Paul Gentilozzi. Steve, start us off with a quick summary of today's announcement.
STEVE JOHNSON: Good afternoon from sunny and warm New York City at the Motor Sports Marketing Forum. I'm excited to announce that on September 22nd through the 24th of 2006, the Champ Car World Series returns to the most historic and prestigious road racing circuit in North America, and that is Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Champ Car will be making its 24th appearance to Road America and will also bring the Champ Car Atlantic series for their season-ending race and awards banquet. The decision to go back to our roots was easy. Our fans, teams and sponsors have asked for this and we listened. The addition of Road America does come at the expense of Champ Car not returning to the oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is no reflection of the speedway or the staff at the speedway as they have been good partners with us and have worked diligently to create an event that worked for all. I want to be clear that although we're not returning to the oval at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we are not abandoning the Las Vegas market. We are continuing our efforts in securing a race in the future in Las Vegas. As we've said over the last couple of months, stay tuned for positive announcements concerning the future of the Champ Car World Series. This is one of many announcements that will be occurring as we prepare for our 2006 season. Thank you.
Q. George, would it be your druthers, because Steve had talked to some owners and some people earlier this season, it seemed like maybe if you can get Champ Car and ALMS to have a doubleheader, it might be an easier ticket to sell and maybe to start trying to build the crowd back up to where it was in the mid '90s. Do you hopefully, down the road, envision some kind of a doubleheader with two major series, with Champ Car being one of them?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: That's certainly a possibility and we looked at it from this year. But we really wanted to make the investment in a single event here for Champ Car, especially for the return. We think it's a good idea this way.
Q. As a follow-up, George, the schedule is already out for ALMS, but is it something they seemed to be -- they would be in favor of doing, do you think?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's certainly possible. We'll work with Steve and with Scott into the future and certainly listen to our fans. It's a road racing product, and if it works together, it does, but there is a lot of coordination involved in an event of that type.
Q. How long has Road America been off the schedule, and what changed and allowed you to go back this coming year?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's just been one year. If you recall, Dick Eidswick visited Road America board of directors last year at this time and we worked very hard to get Champ Car on the schedule for 2005, but it was just too short of a timeline and we couldn't make the business plan work. We had communication throughout the year 2005. As a matter of fact, two Champ Car teams tested at Road America, both Sebastien Bourdais, Newman/Haas team, and the Paul Tracy team tested here also. So we've had that open line going the whole time. When Steve Johnson came on board, we kind of spooled up the conversation again. And I've got to compliment the team at Champ Car for really stepping up and making the final decision to return to great Road America here.
Q. So does this mean with the loss of Vegas there won't be any super speedways on your schedule next year?
STEVE JOHNSON: That's correct. Obviously, we're not going to be there, so for next year there will not be.
Q. Is that a concern? You guys have always said you have got all elements of racing.
STEVE JOHNSON: I don't know if it's a concern. We look at any and all opportunities that come our way, and we're not abandoning ovals. Again, we'll look at all opportunities. But for 2006, this has been a work in progress for quite a while. But again, we'll look at any opportunities that come to us. If it makes good business sense and good sense for our fans and that will get the support, we'll gladly look at it.
Q. If you weren't able to secure an event back at Road America, do you think you would have returned to Vegas in September 2006?
STEVE JOHNSON: I don't know. We haven't had that discussion. We gave it two years there. We tried. We learned a lot. So the answer is I don't know. But with Road America coming on, it sure made the decision a lot easier.
Q. Paul, I know how important it's been for you over the past few years to have an event for the series in Las Vegas. Just some of your thoughts about, at least for 2006, leaving Vegas and how intent you are on trying to get the Champ Car back for possibly a street race?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: As you know, from the last few years' discussions, we highly prize that market and we want to be there. A lot of people have tried to promote street races in the past, and it's difficult. When done properly, it's going to be very rewarding, but Joe Chrnelich has been in that marketplace working hard and will continue -- probably at this point will work even harder to do something there.
Q. Do you think it's possible, 50/50, realistically, that you maybe can't secure a street race in 2007?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I don't think can't is on our horizon. We'll keep working at it until we succeed, like everything else in Champ Car.
Q. Make the comment about the series commitment to its fans and history on traditional road courses. And of course our interest here is Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Is Laguna Seca even on the radar? And what would it take to come back to Monterey County?
JOE CHRNELICH: The answer is, when we departed from Road America Laguna Seca, we did make the statement that, Look, this is a decision we've made at the time. The long-term, if we can make it a winning proposition for both parties, we're certainly open to the notion of returning. Today is a great case in point or example of that occurring. With George's good work and his board and Steve and our team, we came back to the table and said, you know what, there is a plausible deal here that can work for both of us, and it came together. So I would tell you that we never rule out returning to a destination. Vancouver would be another great example of that. We just -- we always want to make sure that wherever we go, it is a viable proposition for both parties, so it's not just a one-way deal, which in those cases turns into a short-term proposition.
Q. What would it take in terms of Laguna Seca, there's no talks at all at present, as I understand it? Is that something you want to initiate or are you waiting for them to initiate?
JOE CHRNELICH: From our perspective, they've been doing a lot of work there. There's been a lot of changeover, new board members, new commitment to the property, a lot of improvements to the property, and obviously they're adding programming. So we look at that and that's a positive signal, from our perspective. But you have to look at a larger sense on schedules, what's going on in the marketplace during the period where you can race there, what kind of races do they have there right now so you're not parsing fan base too thin. So we've got to look at those things on the global sense before we actually get down to, hey, this is something we can get back to. We keep in touch back and forth. We do communicate from time to time, but sometimes it's just a matter of timing, when everything comes together, the stars line up and we get to the table and say, hey, you know what, an opportunity here exists, let's dive back to the table and see if we can make it work. Right now we're not there, but like I said, we see a lot of positive signals coming out of the circuit and out of the new team and the board commitment there. So that's why we keep the option open. But you're correct, we're not in any deep substantive conversations with them at the moment.
Q. You indicate you're also committed to racing on ovals and you continue looking for new venues. Do you have anything on the horizons. Are there any tracks, ovals, that you're looking at and talking to?
JOE CHRNELICH: We are going through an examination process of different oval possibilities. I think the single largest indicator in terms of our commitment is the fact that when we announced the 2007 chassis package, it was for a new car. It's built for ovals. It's adaptable for ovals. And I think that one signal right there tells, because that's not a cheap decision from the team's perspective. But collectively everybody said, you know what, we're going to continue to be the most diverse racing series in the world, and that includes ovals. So we are going to continue to look for new options. I don't have anything I can tell you about right now because we are going through an analysis process. But publicly, people can feel assured we are -- that is a part of our series and it will continue to be in the foreseeable future.
Q. George, in the early to mid '90s, the Elkhart Lake race was, I believe it was the largest supporting event in the state of Wisconsin, and then of course the attendance declined. What do you see as steps that can be taken to rebuild the event to that type of prestige level where it gets that type of support?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: Well, certainly since the early '90s there's been a lot of added racing series to the industry. But with Champ Car coming back to Road America and both Champ Car and Road America being the promoters of this event, we're both excited about this because we were gone for a year. We're going to put added budget and new marketing efforts. We hope that the drivers will help us promote this event and the media, and the fans are really excited about it. We're going to do a better job at this event.
Q. Along those lines, the Chicago Tribune is kind of like a long-time partner or sponsor of the track. Is there any way that the Tribune might be activated to do that? I noticed that their coverage has declined dramatically in recent years.
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's tough getting the Chicago market excited about racing, but we do have a partnership with the Chicago Tribune and will be meeting with them later in the month or early in January to get them involved in this event, because we recognize the Chicago market as a great market for Road America.
Q. Can you give us an idea of the scale of the requests from the fans? And was it more of a regional request type fan base or was it a national type effort?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, I would say it was international because everywhere I went, whether it was Australia, Mexico, I had fans come up to me saying, "We would sure like to see you back at Road America." I don't know. You know how it is when you get 100 e-mails, you could swear it was 1,000 or 10,000, and I can literally say I've had hundreds of e-mails and requests from people, as well as teams, because it really is a driver's track. They love it and they've been telling us, "Guys, please go back to Road America." Again, we listen to what our fans had to say, because ultimately, without our fans we don't have a series.
Q. So you didn't get a sense that it was from a lot of people in that area, of that neck of the woods, that would therefore attend the event?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, we did get some of that, especially from a lot of the local SCCA members up in that area, who I know very well. Many of them have said, "We would love to get Champ Car back." But again, these are e-mails that come in from our local and very avid Champ Car fans that I'm sure a lot of them will make the trek to Road America in September.
Q. That was the most common way to communicate their message, through e-mail?
STEVE JOHNSON: E-mails, phone calls, in-person at the race tracks, because what you find is they're not shy, and they come up and tell us what they think, and again, we listen to them.
Q. Just as a follow-up. You said you're dealing with everything from a business perspective. Does that mean you have a title sponsor for the event?
STEVE JOHNSON: Not currently, but we are working towards one and we anticipate having one here in the next couple of months.
Q. I would just like to confirm if this is a one-year two or a multi-year deal. And when will the Champ Car schedule for 2006 be finalized?
STEVE JOHNSON: This is a one-year deal, because we put it together and wanted to get the announcement out quickly. We anticipate entering into multi-year in the future, but that's something that George and I and Joe have to sit down and work out. We anticipate this being the last adjustment on the schedule.
Q. A question for Steve. I notice there was an announcement for the Atlantic Series to be added to the race for them. Is this in addition to their schedule or was this a TBA on their schedule when it was announced?
JOE CHRNELICH: Well, to be honest with you, I don't know the answer to that. I had informed Vicki on Friday morning that this was coming to a head, so everything moved quite quickly on it. I do know from what Vicki O'Connor told me, she said, "Joe, this is great news for us. Our teams are going to be excited. And oh, by the way, we can also have our banquet there for the last race of the year." I don't know the answer to it, but that's the reason why.
Q. Joe and George, in the past, you struggled with attendance, hence the reason why there was no race this past year or two. You mentioned about a new deal that you're both in it together. What's going to be different about this new deal that's going to make it work this time? What do you have planned? Can you say anything at all?
JOE CHRNELICH: From our perspective, George and I chatted last week when we started getting some meat on the bones of this thing. The one thing that we bring forward this go-around, which we weren't quite there in '04, as we were rebuilding the promoters services department, we want to work a lot closer hand in hand with our promoters, trying new ideas and sharing new ideas between the promoters. Obviously we've had some great successes this year, with Edmonton, San Jose, Denver. These guys blew the doors a lot. Our new philosophy relative to promoters in the series is, we really promote communications between the promoters and the series. So if we have an idea that works, it's a transportable idea. Where in the past, the promoters tended to keep their ideas very guarded. The series really -- the former series really never promoted having the promoters talk. So I think this go-around, and George and I, like I said, we talked about this at length, you're going to see a lot more collaboration of things we can bring to help re-energize the event. George obviously has the years of experience of having been there when Road America was huge, when it was the hottest ticket around. So we'll look at what worked in the past. We're going to bring ideas that we know have worked in the past year. And I think combined -- and I'll let George comment on this, but I think combined people are going to see a new energy and a new look, which are going to tell them, you know what, it's time to get back to Road America.
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: This is George. I sense the Champ Car management team that's in place right now, this is a whole new Champ Car that has never existed. I've got a lot of confidence that the promotion cooperation is going to be tremendous. And also now the fans have had a year off and they, I think, have a better appreciation of what they didn't have in '05, and there is some renewed energy on our part also to make this event happen. Your suggestions are always welcome, Mark.
Q. One follow-up for George. Weather-wise, is September a dry month, a wet month, or what's it like up there?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: It's been great. The last two years the weather has approached 80 degrees and been dry. September and October up here are wonderful. You should come up.
Q. This is probably for Joe and George. You guys talked about promotions. In the past, Champ Car had a co-promoter be the sole promoter of races. Will you guys have some financial involvement, and will you be the co-promoters in this, Joe?
JOE CHRNELICH: We're going to be more involved, as I mentioned earlier. There are provisions in our agreement where we can bring things to the party, transportable sponsorship, things of that nature. George is still the head guy here, though. He's our promoter. He's the guy that's going to -- he has the knowledge and experience in the market, so we're going to rely heavily on him. But as I said earlier, you're going to see a lot more from Champ Car, as well.
Q. There seemed to be so much bad blood between what is now called Champ Car and Road America. George, what turned the tied for you to say, okay, I want to do business with these guys again?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: I wouldn't say that there was bad blood. It was all legal and attorneys involved. We've always loved the product of Champ Car open wheel racing at Road America. It belongs here, and that's why it's back here again. Again, there is a management team in place at Champ Car, and the ownership structure, they're able to make decisions quickly for the right purpose, and that's why this deal happened now, because of the team that's in place there, both in management and ownership. That's what's different.
Q. How many meetings did it take for you to realize this is a different series?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: Well, we certainly have been looking at the product and we saw the TV package that happened in '05, again was much better than the '04 season. The '04 season was just the first season for the new ownership. It was so quickly, that series, and amazing that they were able to put a series on in '04 just in the first place. And they really have taken a large step and had a lot of great successes in '05, and we just buy into that. We see great things happening in the future. We hope this is a deal that's going to go on for many years.
Q. Is the schedule pretty much set or do you expect to add more races? And in particular anything on the East Coast or in the south?
STEVE JOHNSON: The schedule is set for '06. Now having said that, if the best deal in the world came around, would we take a look at it? Absolutely. and those are areas obviously in the east and the south that we would be interested in. Really, it's set for 06. We're already working on '07.
Q. Katherine Legge has had her test with Formula One and she's going to be testing in Sebring in December. Is there any comments on how well she did? Is there any comments on, you know, perhaps her being another year in Atlantic and then moving up to Champ Car?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, I think everybody will agree that Katherine is a rising star and arguably one of the best women racers in the world today. So we'll see. We know she's going to be in Atlantics for this coming season. And if she performs well and does well in her test, the owners, the team owners, always have that option if they want to move her up. But I think they've got her on a very good program right now. She's getting better every time she gets behind the car, and it's going to be one heck of a season in Atlantics this coming here.
Q. Obviously there will be a Champ Car test session in Sebring in December. Does it look like you'll continue to have your annual spring training in Sebring, as well, or has that been set?
STEVE JOHNSON: It has not been set. I need to have some meetings with Tony Cotman who organizes that for us.
Q. George, the announcements that you recently made for upgrades to the circuit, will they be completed in time for the entire season next year, or when do you think they will be done? And are there any other races that you see on the schedule for the Champ Car weekend or is it just going to be the Atlantics and the Champ Car?
GEORGE BRUGGENTHIES: We haven't decided what other support series are going to be a part of that weekend, but I'm sure we're going to add something besides the Atlantics. As far as the facility improvements, that's a several-year project. Some things will be in place. We've already repaved five turns and the paddock expansion, and a new medical building will be in place for all of next season. There are other facility improvements that will take several other years.
Q. The package has been there for the United States. But unfortunately, in Latin America there's no TV package. Is there any plans in the future to get better distribution?
STEVE JOHNSON: There actually is, and we're in negotiations right now with international distribution, and that's one of the meetings I'm having here while I'm in New York. The answer is just stay tuned. It's going to get better. We're committed to our international partners. We're in over 180 countries currently.
MODERATOR: Thank you everybody for calling in today, and we appreciate your coverage of the Champ Car World Series.
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