A candid conversation with Chris Pook

 by Mark Cipolloni
June 29, 2002

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Chris Pook took the time today here in Chicago to talk candidly to some of the media in the relaxed atmosphere of the CART Business Unit.  Chris covered a lot of territory, and in the interest of time, I will highlight his comments in a summarized format

Chris expects 25,000 to 30,000 in Chicago on Sunday, which he feels is very good considering they only resurrected this race three months ago.  When asked how many were promotional giveaways he said about 5,000.

It's clear our strength is the urban races, and I am struggling with whether or not we should stay in the oval market.  NASCAR is so strong I'm not sure we should be trying to battle them for the oval market.....we might keep a few ovals, but it's hard to optimize our cars for both ovals and road courses. It's very costly to have to switch between ovals and road courses, wings, suspension, uprights, gearing, etc.  Chris made a point that the NASCAR race at Indy is now the #1 race at Indy, and the Indy 500 has become #2.  He did not state on what basis he was coming to that conclusion.  His point was that NASCAR has won the oval track war, which we have been preaching for years.

CART's new engine in 2005 will more than likely be a gasoline, normally aspirated V10.  I asked him, would that be a detuned F1 engine?  He said, I suppose that is how you can characterize it.

"The German EuroSpeedway track is in trouble financially, and I'm not so sure CART has a future there," stated Pook.  We have a proposal on the table from the EuroSpeedway liquidator, which we are reviewing, and will make a decision on early next week.  That proposal is likely for a reduced sanctioning fee, though he did not state that.  My sources tell me the IRL may go there in place of CART because they are willing to run a race with a significantly reduced sanctioning fee just to get into the market.  I asked Chris if CART has an alternate venue in Germany or Europe if the EuroSpeedway race goes away.  He said yes.  I asked, for this year?  He stated yes, for this year.  My guess is that CART will race at EuroSpeedway this year, but 2002 may be the last.

Chris is looking for 20 to 24 car field in 2003, probably 22.  They currently have proposals for 23 cars (and more are still coming in), but he feels only 17 are solid at this stage.  This is up from 12 just a few weeks ago.  He prefers 22 solid cars because of limited space in many urban markets.

I asked Chris when an announcement would be coming out regarding Ford/Cosworth's deal with CART for next year.  He said he was not pressing Ford.  "When they (Ford) are ready, they will make an announcement."  I asked him if the engine will be badged or just a 'CART' engine.  He said yes, it would be badged.  I asked, would that be one manufacturer.  He said, one or more, then winked.

There was a lot of discussion on the future of Chicago.  Chris is waiting to see how well the oval race does tomorrow before deciding where in Chicago they will be racing in 2003.  When asked specifically about Meigs Field he quickly pointed out that the site is very small and would be perfect if it were twice as big.  He indicated it is probably too small to build a track, the grandstands and still have enough room for people to move around.  There is also only one way in and one way out, though he said a floating pontoon bridge could be erected.  He also mentioned that Meigs Field is an active airport, and that presents problems of its own.  I asked him specifically if not Meigs Field, are there other opportunities downtown in Chicago.  He stated, "we must be very mindful of our ALMS friends.  If they stand down from Meigs Field, and the city wants to put on an event that will generate $50 to $60 million for the city, CART is ready and willing to do that elsewhere downtown."

Chris said the 2003 19 or 20 race schedule will be out in 2-weeks (Cleveland) and 10 of the races will be on network TV.  I asked if the schedule will be a tentative one, or would it be final.  "It will be pretty much tied down and final by then" he responded.  When asked if Chicago would be shown as tentative, he said, no we should know what we are doing by then.  When asked if CART would be in Japan in 2003, he said we are talking to South Korea, Japan and hinted at China.  Will CART race in Asia in 2003?  Yes, was the answer.  When asked if CART would race in May he stated yes.  When asked if it would be more than one race, he stated yes.  When asked if the Indy 500 date would be left open for its teams to compete in the Indy 500, he stated yes, the date would likely be left open.

Expect an announcement from the Cleveland Mayor within two weeks that CART and the City have extended their contract.  "Cleveland is a very important market for us."  He indicated that advanced ticket sales in Cleveland are good for 2002.

Chris admitted to definite dialogue between members of CART staff and IRL teams, and he's sure there has been a lot of dialogue  between his teams and the IRL.  He did not indicate who they were talking to.

On the new qualifying format, he said they were gong to tighten up the time the driver have so drivers don't sit out the first 15 to 20 minutes, which is not good from a fan standpoint.

When asked if he felt good about his position now, he said yes, but we're certainly not out of the woods yet.  Was the job harder than he expected?  Yes, the first week on the job we found so many problems and issues, that was the biggest eye-opener.  "I'm like a duck, calm and cool above the water, but my feet are going like crazy below the water (behind the scenes)."

I asked him if Miami was definite for 2002, since I was still hearing that ISC was trying to kill that race.  He said there was no doubt they were trying to kill it, they filed enough lawsuits.  However, he said a major hurdle was recently cleared and they have another small hurdle to clear on Monday and everything will be set.  He appeared confident the race would proceed as scheduled.

On the topic of Toyota, he said Toyota was signed on to sponsor the Long Beach race through 2005 and the Atlantics series through 2004.  CART is looking at reducing the cost to run the Atlantics series starting in 2005.  He said the rules are such that the cars cost too much to buy.

His most provocative comment of the interview - "I sure as hell didn't start this war (with the IRL) but I certainly aim on finishing it."

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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