Editorial

Champ Car cements another brick in its foundation
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 October 12, 2005

Go to our forums to discuss this article

As CART, now Champ Car, closes on its second full season under the ownership of Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentilozzi, the series clearly has a new lease on life.  Whereas 2004 was a survival year, I predicted 2005 would be a foundation building year, and indeed that is the case.  With Tuesday's announcement of its exciting new car, Champ Car has laid another brick in the foundation that will support a bright and secure future. 


The new car looks mean and lean

The new car addresses many of the shortcomings of the current formula in the areas of cost, weight, technology, performance and presentation.  The new car will beat the existing car in every measurable way, and it has the racing discussion forums lit up like a Christmas tree.  Seems everyone is talking about Champ Car again.

From where I sit, the most important news about the new car is the price. A new rolling chassis will cost approximately 35 percent less than the current car while the costs of spare parts are expected to yield a savings to teams of nearly 50 percent.  This in itself will bring new teams and drivers into the sport.  One key element of NASCAR's success is large fields of cars and drivers.  For each driver in the race, there are fans sitting in the grandstand or watching on TV rooting for their "hero."  Eyeballs watching on TV and butts in the seats are key to attracting new sponsors.

While lowering the cost of entry is one key element, now the series needs to address the 2nd key element - prize money.  The current Champ Car prize money structure is pitiful.  In fact, if everything stays the same, the Atlantic Champion in 2006 will win more money ($2 million) than the Champ Car Champion ($1 million).  That's analogous to the NY Yankees AAA farm team making more money than the major league ballplayers.

We saw what the sweetened pot did for the Atlantic series - 40 new cars ordered and counting.  Imagine what would happen in Champ Car if the pot of gold for the championship winning team/driver was $5 million, or dare I say $10 million.  New teams and drivers with sponsorship in their back pocket will be fighting to get in the door. 

I had this conversation with new Champ Car president Steve Johnson and Chairman Dick Eidswick the other day.  They agree and told me to "stay tuned."  There are things they are working on with sponsors that will enable Champ Car to offer a much improved prize money structure in coming years.

A new business model and more positive signs

But the new car isn't the only sign that Champ Car is headed in the right direction.

A new marketing team, improved PR, better promoter relations, better promoters, new venues, better operations, better TV, better top management, race control and race operations.  In every way the new Champ Car is better than the old CART.  

Sure there's still work to do.  The series is not flush with sponsors like it was in CART's heyday, but that is about to change, and instead of the financial foundation being built on the backs of volatile car manufacturer money, the series has rid itself from that noose around its neck (just ask the IRL), and is beginning to build a financial structure based on a plethora of sponsors who are in because it makes good business sense.

"We're in some major negotiations right now with several sponsors that are not only team sponsors but series sponsors. Boy, all I can say is stay tuned because we're going to have some big announcements coming up that has a lot to do with our teams as well as series," says new Champ Car President Steve Johnson.

Champ Car's new business model makes a lot of sense in many respects.  Sure the car manufacturer money is nice, and someday I'm sure car manufacturers will be an integral part of the new Champ Car series.  "But not right now," says Kevin Kalkhoven.  "When the time is right we'll bring them back in under the right circumstances."

Historically, the problem with automobile racing has been the desire of the car manufacturers to beat each other on the race track and use racing to help sell passenger cars.  In principle that sounds good, but in reality the series and the teams become beholden to the manufacturer money and get caught in the political crossfire between the auto giants as they maneuver both on and off the track to beat their competition. 

The only race series that has done a good job of really controlling the manufacturers has been NASCAR.  To their credit, they deliver value to the manufacturers in the way of huge TV ratings, huge race attendance and great marketing.  In return NASCAR rules with a heavy hand and the manufacturers are playing their game. 

As long as NASCAR can keep the rules stable, TV ratings high, attendance high, and everyone winning their fair share of races, the NASCAR family will continue to operate in harmony. The manufacturers also know that the series really doesn't need the manufacturer money any longer to survive.  Sure their money helps, don't get me wrong, but NASCAR is so flush with other sponsorship money, we suspect the manufacturers could pull out in unison and still the series will survive.

It's a juggling act and so far NASCAR has all its balls still up in the air.  Whether they can maintain that balance when Toyota comes in remains to be seen, but so far in the Truck series they are doing it well.

Champ Car has a long way to go before it approaches NASCAR's success, if that's even possible, but it had to start somewhere.  And of course NASCAR didn't have someone put a gun to their head in the name of Tony George and the IRL, and pull the trigger.

Champ Car to the rescue

Everyone except those feeding at the Hulman George money trough, are realizing that the IRL's concept of what open wheel racing should be is nothing but a failed repeat of the old USAC days.  CART dealt with that back in its early days, realized that USAC's predominantly oval track model didn't work, and set about to carve out a nice little niche built on more and more road and street circuits.

Tony George thought he had a better idea, resurrected the failed USAC model and, thereby, set the sport back 10 or more years. Now he's trying to morph into the old CART.  How ironic.

It's clear to me that several more things will fall into place for Champ Car in 2005 and into 2006 as Champ Car finishes the foundation for its future.  They still need to announce their TV package for 2006, they still need a series sponsor, some teams still need sponsorship, but all the signs have turned positive, and now it's not a case of if, but when. 

In 2006 Champ Car's house will be built on the foundation. That will set the stage for the target year - 2007, the dawning of "new Champ Car."

And believe it or not, Tony George and all the worshippers of the Indy 500 had better hope Champ Car succeeds.

Any hope that Tony George had of making the IRL the pinnacle of open wheel oval racing in North America is gone.  NASCAR has maneuvered to lock up the oval track marketplace in North America, even at the short-track grassroots level, and if it continues to monopolize motorsports in North America, other forms risk extinction......and with it the future of the Indy 500.

Racing fast open wheel cars on high-speed ovals week-in and week-out is downright suicidal and the cost enormous.  Ever hear of the phrase whistling past the grave?  While Tony George might not agree, the best thing that could happen to open wheel racing in North America is for the IRL to quietly go away in 2007 and by default everyone put their resources behind a single "professional" top-rung open wheel series in North America.

A successful Champ Car as the top rung of open wheel racing on road and street courses will ensure open wheel racing's future apart from NASCAR's oval model.  As in Europe and the rest of the world, open wheel racing's niche is road racing. The fact that open wheel racing's premier event, the Indy 500, is an oval race, just helps to make the 500 that much more unique and special.

Common sense says that's what should happen, but Champ Car isn't waiting for Tony George to come to his senses.  As Steve Johnson said, "The Champ Car World Series is focused on our business model and Champ Car. We're continuing to move forward with that. We're not focused on anybody else out there, other than what we're doing. We're going to provide the best entertainment value in motorsports."

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article

Author

 
Other Editorials

Champ Car's Minardi 2-seater is the ultimate ride

For Alex Figge and PCM it's baptism by fire

A tribute to Alfred J. Cipolloni

Champ Car owners move to silence critics

Establishing a firm foundation for Champ Car

One-on-one with Champ Car President Steve Johnson

J.R. Hildebrand is one American going places in a hurry

What's new for Champ Car for 2007 - Part 1

Champ Car positions itself for international expansion

Paul Stoddart confirms interest in Champ Car

An inside look at Champ Car TV production

Ho-Pin Tung wants to be Champ Car's first Chinese driver

Stephen King explains Justin Wilson's novel Investor's Club

One-on-one with American sensation AJ Allmendinger

Champ Car moving forward without the IRL

One-on-one with Paul Tracy

Bruce Delahorne explains CDW's sponsorship in Champ Car

One-on-one with Justin Wilson

Champ Car bosses won't be bullied

Part 2: NASCAR/ISC get dirty in Phoenix, out to destroy Open Wheel

Part 1: NASCAR/ISC get dirty in Phoenix, out to destroy Open Wheel

The Rahals: Like father, like son

Why and IRL/Champ Car merger will be a big boost for the sport

Headless Open Wheel Racing appears doomed

Richard Lyons looking at Champ Car for his next challenge

We salute the champions of 2005

Is Jay Howard the next Ayrton Senna?

Interview with Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson

Otaru, Japan Champ Car race moving closer to reality

Champ Car's global appeal may ride on mimicking the Team Australia concept

Champ Car's Surfers Paradise race promoter "gets it"

Champ Car cements another brick in its foundation

Custom built Champ Cars and Indy Cars

Interview with RuSPORT Team President Jeremy Dale

Conspiracy Theory: What Indy was really all about

Why the Champ Car/IRL war must end

How a Champ Car and IRL merger might work

Will the battle for Long Beach destroy its Grand Prix?

Katherine Legge has her eyes set on Champ Car

Traveling Light Media - Just what the doctor ordered

Champ Car lays out bold 3-year plan

Champ Car's 2005 driver lineup vastly improved

Hunter-Reay anxious to get racing again with new team

That sucking sound you hear is NASCAR

Feud - The story of the murder of Mickey Thompson

Yes, Blame Tony and the CART defectors too

Interview with ALMS President Scott Atherton

2005 a foundation laying year for Champ Car

Kalkhoven talks Champ Car with AutoRacing1

Kalkhoven and Forsythe buy Cosworth from Ford

Carl Russo is bullish on Champ Car

Can this be Champ Car's next-generation car

Champ Car poised for major comeback

Champ Car Race Control - the 'Hot Seat Zone'

Open Wheel Racing is in serious need of consolidation

Champ Car South of the Border, An interview with Joe Heitzler

There is an easy way for Champ Car and the IRL to unify

From airport to race track, a race within a race

The 2-seater Car is one of Champ Car's biggest assets

Why Bernie Ecclestone could, and should, buy Champ Car now

Champ Car rocks the streets of Times Square in Manhattan

Why did Fernández leave Champ Car?  Follow the money....

Next Generation Champ Car: A call for F1 tires

Coming to America?  Interview with Ralph Firman Jr.

Open Wheel Racing defeats IRL - Champ Car Series to continue

Open Wheel Racing needs a win by OWRS - Part 2

The next generation Champ Cars - Part 2

Is CART next for Villeneuve?

New deal for CART may be better than first thought

The genius of one Bernard Ecclestone

CART Champ Cars, the next generation - Part 1

Details emerging on CART race in Seoul, South Korea

CART hits a Grand Slam in Mexico City.  Now What?

Top-10 Challenges facing new CART owners

CART can still race in Europe, but will they?

For CART, time is of the essence

Making sense of CART's situation

Push-to-Pass means no more parades for CART

An interview with CART's David Clare

What did Roger Penske really mean?

CART must differentiate itself - clearly

Why turbos make for superior street and race engines

For CART, it's now or never

Chicken or the Egg?

War of the worlds

What Bernie brings to CART

CART, Driven to where?

Is it really about CART vs. IRL?

If I were Bernie

The Champ Cars and St. Pete

An informal survey of the St. Pete race attendees

Artificial Dissemination

CART, F1 coming to grips with doing business in China

Cancel the Funeral

Why CART and F1 must, and will, share a common V-10 engine

Book Review: Autocourse 2002-2003 F1 yearbook

Does CART need Michael Andretti?

2002 CART TV ratings by the numbers

Now is the time for CART to redefine its ladder system

CART gets a taste of tifosi passion in Mexico

Love affair in Mexico

Making sense out of Bernie/CART rumors

Changing of the guard?

Mom, apple pie, CART and....Formula1?

Why CART and Bernie make perfect dance partners

Miami should be a CART and ALMS kickoff party

David slays Goliath in Miami

What to make of Gurney's F1 team

Taking it to the streets, why Miami is a war zone

CART, like the Phoenix, about to rise up from the ashes

There's more than handwriting on the wall.....and here's the concrete facts

Labor Day weekend 1952...A weekend I'll never forget

Team owners show support for CART

CART still may be in cards for Villeneuve

Bryan Herta, USA's next best chance for F1

Is Paul Ricard in CART's future?

CART's real attendance numbers

Is Brands Hatch suitable for Champ Cars?

An Unappealing Appeal, George reigns in GEORGE-town

A candid conversation with Chris Pook

More than meets the eye with CART's turbo move

It's time for CART to define its own future

Key upgrades at Road America

Back-Breaking work

The rebirth of CART

The hidden costs of Indy Car racing

CART's road and street circuits are clicking with the fans

Is it sport, or a P.T. Barnum show?

IRL at Fontana - a victim of friendly fire

CART's 2003 race venues #1 in the world

Meet the Gonzalez brothers

ISC is making enemies in Miami



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 permission.