Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
March 28, 2006
TIM HARMS: Thank you for joining for us the Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests joining us this afternoon as we look ahead to an exciting weekend coming up in St. Petersburg. Joining us from Andretti Green Racing and Andretti Green Promotions are co-owners Michael Andretti and Kevin Savoree.
Start off with a couple questions, maybe first for Kevin, since you play such a key role in promoting the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Kevin, can you tell us what types of things are going to make this year's event bigger and better than what we saw last year?
KEVIN SAVOREE: Good afternoon, everyone. We have just got a chocker blocked weekend of entertainment. We have both formulas of SECA club racing here, the Pro Series are going to race twice, the IndyCar Series, World Drifting Association is going to put on exhibitions every day, the Klein Tools air show each day. We have the Hardrock Hotel and Casino that is going to put on a concert Saturday with several bands, including Little Steven's Underground Garage, and then Sunday afternoon XM is presenting a concert by Hoobastank.
We just have a weekend full of entertainment on and off the track. I think that's what the fans want to see. They come to be entertained. Partially that's on the track. We feel in our model that it's also off the racetrack. We have things for the little guys. You can get your face painted, you can climb a rock wall, you can ride a bull. Literally there's something here for everyone.
We hope everyone comes out to enjoy it.
TIM HARMS: I know last year the City of St. Petersburg really embraced the event. Obviously you and your team of people are down there, have been down there quite regularly, probably full-time for the last few weeks and months. What is the mood like in the city? Are they as enthusiastic or more enthusiastic than what we saw last year?
KEVIN SAVOREE: From the get-go two years ago when Mike and Kim and myself and Barry Green made a decision to promote the race in St. Petersburg one of the things that we looked at is the demographics. They were fans that were tuning into IndyCar races in a big way. That's even more true today. You can feel it in the city.
I think everyone knows about the car race. They know we're coming. We're in the market. I don't think you can go very far without seeing a banner, seeing an ad, seeing a sign. This last week or two, you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on a television.
We hope we're throughout the market. If you have XM radio and you're traveling to work in the morning, we're on the Travel Channel. I don't think you can turn on a radio station in town right now, whether it's country or rock or whatever, without hearing about our race.
I think everybody here feels this is a big event. The Convention and Visitors Bureau, who really cater worldwide, have really embraced the event. Through ESPN International, the event is seen throughout the world. That's really what St. Petersburg is looking at. They want to showcase their city. Hopefully we'll do a good job for them and help them do that.
TIM HARMS: I understand all that promotion, excitement has really translated into increases in the suite sales and general ticket sales for the weekend. Can you tell us about that?
KEVIN SAVOREE: We're actually in a great position this year in that the pit road suite club is sold out. We have the hospitality village on the rooftop of the parking garage from the theater. That's sold out. The vendor area is just chocker blocked again full. That's great.
Ticket sales are substantially ahead of last year's. Those are all great indicators. There's a deal going on between the mayor and the council. Somehow it's got to do with the weather and who gets credit for that. You'd really need to ask them. But the big factor right now is we are just going to have a beautiful weekend. I think everybody likes to come out for that. Knock on wood, Mother Nature is going to really cooperate with us.
TIM HARMS: We hope so.
Michael, let's talk a little bit about the competition side of things. Obviously, we can hear you're still at the Homestead facility. We appreciate you taking time away. We're going back to a street course where we have some very different qualifying procedures, especially the 10-minute shootout. Your drivers were very involved in those shootouts last year. After going through that process at those three races, what is your take on that qualifying format?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I really love it. I think it really brought new excitement into qualifying. I like the fact you go out with one lap of qualifying and then it sets up for the shootout where they have six cars out there. The nice part about it, one of the problems has always been with road courses getting a clean lap qualifying because there's so many cars on track. When have you this 10-minute shootout, there's only six cars on track. The odds of getting a clean lap are way, way better. Everybody is going to get the best out of what they got.
I think it's a great format and it goes right down to the last second, which is what we all want for the fans. I think it's good.
TIM HARMS: Last year's event was a banner day for Andretti Green Racing. You had a sweep, Marco wining in the Infiniti Pro Series race, his series debut. Is there any way to match what happened last year or even make it better from your perspective?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You know what, I don't know where we can. Even on qualifying, Marco was on pole. We had Bryan on pole. It's a little scary going into it because you know you can't do any better than what we did last year.
It's an all new year. If we can go in there and just get one car on pole and one car in the winner's circle, I think we'll still be very happy.
TIM HARMS: Let's open it up for some questions for both Michael and Kevin.
Q. Michael, you were in CART when a couple deaths happened at Laguna and Toronto. Can you talk about what it's like the next week going into a race after one of your colleagues passes?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, I think it's just a reminder to all of us that the sport we're in, it can be a cruel sport. I think we all realize it. But it really hits home when it happens. We all go into it with a heavy heart. We all know the risks and all that. We all know that Paul knows the risk and he was doing what he loved. We're all doing what we love.
We would know that Paul would want us to just go on racing. That's what we're going to do.
Q. I wanted to be clear on what the contract status is with Andretti Green Promotions and the IRL. I understand there's one year left after this year. Is there a separate contract with the city?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'll let Kevin answer that.
KEVIN SAVOREE: Yes, there is.
Q. What is the duration on that contract?
KEVIN SAVOREE: They all mirror each other.
Q. There's one year left after this year on both contracts?
KEVIN SAVOREE: That's correct.
Q. Michael, what do you remember most about your very first start? As a dad, did you at least smile a bit and give Marco credit for going for it at the start there?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, let's see. My first memories of my first race, I remember that I didn't start quite as well. I think I actually started around -- I think it was like 14th where I started in my first race, which is around the same as where Marco started. I remember I got a good start. I could see my father was like only a couple cars in front of me. When I thought of that, it broke my concentration. I actually spun the car. That's the first thing I remember. That's one thing that really stands out about my first race. What was also interesting was it was a drivetrain problem that put me out of the race, which is actually the same problem that Marco had. It was pretty funny that was that way.
As for him going for it at the start, I loved it. I really did. That's been Marco's trademark throughout his career so far. It was nice to see he went for it there. It's just unfortunate that he didn't know that he wasn't able to go under the white line. It's part of being a rookie, I guess.
Q. Obviously him winning pole and winning the race at St. Petersburg, do you sense from him this extra bit of confidence that he didn't have maybe going into Homestead because he's been there and has the experience at St. Pete?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think so, for sure. I think he's going to be going into an area where he's going to feel a lot more comfortable because of racing there and being on a road course, somewhere where he's got more experience. He's very excited about getting up to St. Petersburg, getting on it.
So far he's going very well here. He's only a couple 10ths off the quickest time so far today. We're pretty happy with that. He's excited, for sure.
Q. There's been a lot of speculation lately about the IRL and Champ Car maybe resolving their differences, getting back together again. What are your thoughts on that? Have the owners been involved at all with any of these talks?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, obviously from our standpoint, that would be the greatest news we could get, would be if the two sides could figure out how to get back together.
As for us getting involved, I think we're trying to stay as far out of it as we can and let Kevin Kalkhoven and Tony George develop their own relationship together and try to figure it out. Hopefully that's what's going to happen.
Q. The Palms Casino was one of your sponsors last year. Are they back again? Have you been able to get them out to a race?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: George is going to be out. Unfortunately, he hasn't made it out. I think he'll be at Indy, for sure. They're very much supporters. They've been great supporters of ours. I think it's their third or fourth year with us. It's been fun.
I love going to the Palms. It's a lot of fun.
Q. Which car are they on this year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: They're on Dario's car this year.
Q. Michael, after what happened in Miami with Paul Dana, do you think it was the right decision to pull Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick out of the race? How much of a hole would that put a driver in for the championship to miss a race?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, that's a tough decision. They had a tough one to make. I think they made the decision that we probably would have made. It was a personal decision for them. Out of respect for the family and basically Paul being part of their family there, I think they made the right decision.
But, yes, it definitely is going to affect their championship. Losing a race in a competitive field the way it is, it's not going to help them. It was a tough decision I'm sure for them. I think they made the right one.
TIM HARMS: Thanks for taking the time to join us this afternoon. We look forward to seeing you in St. Petersburg.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
KEVIN SAVOREE: Thanks, Tim.
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