This is Mark Cipolloni with
AutoRacing1.com. I'm here this morning in Montreal with Neil
Micklewright. Neil is the Vice President of Operations of
Forsythe-Racing. Today's topic is the state of open-wheel racing in
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Good morning, Mark. Appreciate being here.
Q. As a little background for our readers, could you tell us how long
you've been in racing, when did you get started and how?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I've been in racing full-time since the summer of
1972. I got started working for Mo Nunn actually as a go-fer, making the
coffee, sweeping the floor and polishing the wheels. Just worked my way
up since then.
Q. And how long have you been in Champ Car with Forsythe Racing?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I've been in Champ Car with Forsythe Racing since the
latter part of 1994. So we're looking at about 11 years now.
Q. So then you were here in the so-called good times just before the
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Yeah, absolutely. I was there with Forsythe at that
Q. Now, you just came into the sport, into CART, in '94. The
split happened at the end of '95. How did you feel at the time? Did you
feel like you maybe made the wrong move?
Neil Micklewright (L) and Paul Tracy
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: No, well, actually,
let's back up a little bit. I mean, I did 11 years total in Formula One
and actually came over to the US and started working within CART, team
or teams, in the latter part of 1983. I've actually been over here now
for, you know, 20 some years.
No, I think that CART, even though it had some issues, I think was a
great series with an awful lot of good things going for it. I was
fortunate enough to land the job as the vice president of operations
with Forsythe. Even though the split occurred, no, I never felt as
though I'd made a bad choice.
Q. We've heard a lot of talk about who to blame on the split, whether
it was the CART owners or Tony George. You were inside the sport at that
time. What did you feel was the root cause of the split?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Tony George. I think you have a situation where an
individual who has inherited certain properties and rights to, you know,
what is arguably the most significant open-wheel racing certainly in
North America, and felt that owning that race and that track, that being
Indianapolis, was not enough for him.
I think that he felt that he didn't get the respect or the input into
open-wheel racing that he wanted, and consequently decided to run his
Q. A lot has been said about what's happened to the sport since the
split. We've seen NASCAR - although NASCAR was already getting strong -
we've seen NASCAR really get strong since then, and we've seen
open-wheel racing kind of go down the tubes, so to speak. It's still
alive, but it's not doing as well as it was. Is there anything good that
came out of the split, anything at all?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Uhm, no, I don't think there's anything positive for
open-wheel racing that came out of this whatsoever. You know, I think
that the reasons for the split or at least the stated reasons, why
they're needed -- let me rephrase that.
There never was a split per se. A competing series was set up, which
then through one way or another was able to fish or attract teams that
had hitherto been involved with CART. I don't see one positive thing.
It's been said for centuries "divide and conquer." Open-wheel racing
became divided and is close to being conquered. It never will be, I
don't believe, because there's enough support for open-wheel racing,
whether it be IRL or Champ Car. There's always going to be fans who are
going to be keen on that.
Certainly the popularity of NASCAR has been there for a long time. You
know, it's been going for a long time. It continues to grow. I'm sure it
will continue to grow into the future. But that doesn't mean that there
isn't room for open-wheel racing.
Q. Trying to look at it objectively, what good do you see in the IRL
and what good do you see in Champ Car? What do they do well?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, I think certainly, you know, Champ Car has a
business model or a plan, I'm keen on road courses, on turning right as
well as left. I think the way that the demographic of North America and
the rest of the world has changed, certainly entertainment needs to be
taken to the people. I think you've got a situation now where fewer
people are likely to go out in the middle of nowhere for an
entertainment event, you know, there's so many other options people
have, places to spend their discretionary dollars.
As far as 'good' is concerned, I mean, CART and then Champ Car was
always fairly diverse with the races that it would run, whether it be
road course, street course, superspeedways, short ovals, so on and so
forth. And I still see that as being a good thing. I don't see anything
particularly good with the IRL.
Q. So nothing that you think the IRL does better than Champ Car does?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I think that what they do better than Champ Car at
this point in time is their marketing and the spin that they put onto
things. You know, they've certainly done a good job on getting out there
and, you know, finding something upon which to base or build their
series, and then exploit that to the maximum.
Q. They've put a lot of emphasis on Danica Patrick here recently. She
seems to be getting the majority of the PR for the series. Is that a
good thing for them?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I think they obviously feel that it's a good thing
for them. I mean, she's certainly a talented driver. She's a hell of a
lot quicker than I am, and quicker I'm sure than a lot of drivers out
Whether or not it's fair on her I guess is really a question for her.
It's not what I would be doing. Then again, that's probably one of the
reasons I'm not involved with their series.
Q. We talked about the split or the two series. There's been a lot of
talk also about getting the two series back together. Do you feel it can
ever happen or is it just too much bad blood at this point?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: No, never say "never." I certainly think there are
options or opportunities that will arise in the future that would make
that possible. And I don't think that at that level bad blood is
something that comes into it, I think it's purely business.
You know, I don't know all of the ins-and-outs of what has gone on with
the various negotiations, nor do I need to know that. Ultimately my
understanding is that it comes down to a question of control. And if one
side or the other wants veto power or absolute control, then it will
never get back together.
Q. Along that line, we have seen in NASCAR and F1 where a
dictatorship does work well, and I can assume that Tony George thinks
that that's the way it has to be in open-wheel racing, as well. Do you
agree with that?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, I think certainly we can look at the types of
series or racing that you've mentioned, plus a whole bunch of other
sports where, you know, a singularity or a particular dictatorship can
work. But I think as in most instances, it depends on who the dictator
Q. Assuming there is never a unification and IRL and Champ Car
continue down the road they're going, can either one of them or both of
them prosper apart?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I think there's certainly an opportunity for both of
them to prosper. You know, if we take NASCAR out of the picture at least
for a moment, as I said earlier, I think there's a core group of people
in North America and around the world who like, appreciate and enjoy
open-wheel racing. You know, I don't see either the IRL or Champ Car
going anywhere -- going away in the near future.
I would like to think that if as much energy could be concentrated on
each series just doing its own thing, which is what Champ Car's been
doing now for several months, I think both can prosper. I don't think
it's necessarily the best overall thing for open-wheel racing in North
America. But, you know, it's a free country. If they want to have two
series and if people want to run in one or both of those series, I think
they should be free to do so.
Q. NASCAR is so strong in the United States. Champ Car and IRL have
struggled to make a big dent here with NASCAR being as big as it is. We
see Champ Car trying to go more international: Mexico, Canada,
Australia, trying to go to China, going to be in Korea this year. The
IRL seems to think the focus should be on America, the United States.
How do you feel about that?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I think that to insist that the focus -- first let me
say that the IRL is saying at this point that the focus should be on
North America and the United States. Obviously, they said at one point
the focus should be on American drivers and grass roots racing, coming
from Saturday night at the dirt tracks. So a lot of what they've
insisted were the right things to do seem to have changed over the last
couple of years.
You know, the world is becoming a smaller place, a 'global village.'
America holds a very prominent place in the world, and I think that we
don't need to be provincial, we don't need to be parochial. I think
while there's a market out there for people who want to see Champ
Car-type racing, I don't see any issues with going abroad and being an
Q. Engine manufacturers have been a big part of open-wheel racing, of
all racing really, since day one. We've seen them in CART in its heyday,
we saw them leave. We saw them in the IRL, now we see them leaving. What
is your feeling on the engine manufacturers' involvement in racing?
Good, bad? How much influence should they have? How do you use their
money without letting them have too much control?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, I mean, I don't know which order to answer
those questions in. They all really combine into one.
The bottom line is that the involvement and support of engine
manufacturers in any series, you know, is a mixed bag. I mean, certainly
on the upside, the amount of money that those engine manufacturers spend
in development, in publicizing, promoting the events or series they're
involved in can't be underestimated and is very hard to replace.
Of course, the downside is what do they want back in return for that?
Well, I think we saw in CART that the amount of power and influence that
the engine manufacturers were wielding through the involvement with
individual teams was significant, to the point that you had a whole
bunch of different people pulling in different directions based on what
it is or there was at that time that the engine manufacturers wanted to
get out of it.
At the end of the day the engine manufacturers I think tend to be
involved because it's a business proposition for them. They're looking
to invest money both in promotion and in development, and they want a
return on that. If they're able to achieve the return on that, they can
be reasonably happy, I guess, sometimes, and then they move on to the
Q. Right now we have just Ford in this series with Cosworth engines.
They're basically badged the Cosworth engine. If CART were ever to let
additional manufacturers back in, what can be done to keep the parity
that we see today or at least near that, or is that just impossible when
you have competition?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, I don't know that it's impossible, but I
certainly think that it would take quite a significant infrastructure to
have some type of checks, balances and controls in there.
I think what might be important in the future for a series such as Champ
Car, you know, F1 is something on its own all together, but with regards
to our type of open-wheel racing over here, I don't see that there isn't
a place for other engine manufacturers. I would rather see them involved
with the series rather than with individual teams.
To say that they can't, you know, have individual teams, but I think
that the parity that's there is important, and that needs to be
maintained so that you don't have, you know, one or two teams who are
not only receiving better engines, but are also receiving massive
amounts of financial support. We saw that in CART. We've seen it now in
When the money disappears that teams are used to getting from the engine
manufacturers, that's when things get a lot strange, more strange than
they had been. You know, certainly with Champ Car since the engine
manufacturers left the series, I mean, Champ Car spent a lot of time and
effort trying to find ways to cut costs, to get costs more in line with
the type of finances that are actually available these days for this
type of racing with all of the big sponsors having gone to NASCAR.
It leaves a massive void, both a void in financial input as well as the
void in technological development and is something that needs to be
carefully controlled and policed.
Q. Going back a little bit to Champ Car and the diversity that it had
at one time. We see less and less ovals on the schedule. Now we're down
to two this year, Milwaukee and Las Vegas. There's a new car coming out
in '07. Do you feel that car should be designed to run on ovals? Should
the series stick with oval racing or just focus on road and street
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, you know, certainly there's a lot to be said
maybe for Champ Car just concentrating on road and street circuits since
the IRL is predominantly ovals. But, you know, I also feel, though, that
some of the historic background for Champ Car has been its diversity. I
think there's a place for ovals. I think the new car should be designed
and built such that it is capable of racing on ovals.
The problem I see with Champ Car is not so much that -- the ovals are
the same, they haven't changed over the years. Our ability to put a car
on there that produces an exciting and entertaining race has changed.
That's what we ought to be looking at rather than just abandoning the
Q. As somebody who doesn't own the team but has to manage the budget,
looking at what we've seen in the IRL with a lot of crashes, a lot of
crash damage, what does that do to your budget if you have a lot of
ovals on the schedule?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, certainly it does tend to be more expensive to
race on ovals than it is on road courses. It's difficult to have small
crashes on ovals just by the very nature of them. You know, from a
budgetary point of view, it can significantly increase the budget, at
least from the crash damage allocation or from taking out some type of
Q. In wrapping it up, you talked about the split, the unification.
Your own personal feeling, do you want to see the two get together
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I'm pretty ambivalent about it. I don't really care
whether they get back together or not. I don't go to bed at night
wishing that they would get together, nor do I go to bed at night
wishing they would stay apart.
What I would like to see is what's best for open-wheel racing in this
country. Right now there are two opposing views of what's best. I just
happen to buy into the view that Champ Car has, you know, prefer that
way forward and hope that that will work out.
Q. If they got together, is there any role for Tony George in the
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Not in my opinion, no. I haven't seen anything in the
last 10 years that would suggest that he individually has anything to
bring to the party.
Q. Neil, thank you very much for your insight.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Thanks very much.
Note: The opinions expressed
herein are those of Neil Micklewright, not necessarily those of Champ
Car or AutoRacing1.com.
Copyright 1999-2012 AutoRacing1 is an
independent internet online publication and is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed
by the IRL., NASCAR, FIA, Sprint, or any other series sponsor.
This material may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed without