Champ Car owners look to silence critics
by Mark Cipolloni

 April 22, 2007

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Kevin Kalkhoven

Gerald Forsythe

Paul Gentilozzi

Dan Pettit

The four owners of the Champ Car World Series - Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerald Forsythe, Paul Gentilozzi and Dan Pettit met with a select few members of the media Sunday morning in Houston with the sole intent of summarizing where the series is and to dispel false rumors that have circulated about the series.

One question that was asked dealt with who is running the series on a day-to-day basis and whether the rumors of dissention in the ranks was true.

Kevin Kalkhoven started by answering, "We all spend many hours of every day discussing issues related to Champ Car.  I think it is safe to say that we are in agreement 98% of the time.  In every business there are always going to be discussions and not everyone always agrees.  However, we are very much cooperating with one another."

Gerald Forsythe jumped in and added, "About two or three weeks before the season started we got some bad news that teams and drivers we thought were coming into the series were not going to make it.  We worked through that and at the end of every discussion we ever have it's always about what is best for the series.  If we don't all agree [on something] we don't do it."

A question was asked regarding the 7 week gap in the schedule after Houston in which the series essentially goes into hibernation and how was the series going to fill that media void.

"We have a lot planned," said Gentilozzi.  "We have a big open test at Portland in early May and we are going to send some folks to Europe to do some running and PR.  Some teams are going to Road America to test, others to Sebring.  The teams can test 400 to 600 miles in-season.

"There is a lot of work to do on small technical issues.  With the new car the 7 week break is actually good for the series so we can address any issues uncovered from the first three races."

Gentilozzi fielded a question about TV and the lack of promotion from ABC and ESPN.

"You have to remember that by contract the first two races were on NBC.  We could not get out of that.  Because they were NBC races ABC and ESPN could not promote them.  Now that we are on ABC/ESPN the rest of the year you will see that change."

One of the invited Mexican journalists asked about another race in Mexico and other Mexican drivers.  The owners said they need Mexican companies to support racing.  If they support a race or drivers then it will happen.

A question was asked about the talk of the new car not being reliable.  "Bulls&%#," said Kalkhoven.  "We have had very few mechanical issues in the races."

Paul Gentilozzi added, "Each failure has been different (i.e. not any systemic problems).  Scot Elkins has done a good job of keeping everyone in the same box - i.e. all on a level playing field.  That is what we promised everyone and everyone is working together to solve the issues.

"Yes we had some fuel venting issues in the first couple of races.  Did you ever hear of Dan Jones?  He did all the fueling pieces for Champ Car teams for years.  He's the best in the business.  Dan is making some new pieces for the Panoz and all the teams will get them during the 7 week break and the refueling issues will be completely behind us."

Gerald Forsythe also feels that the Panoz has been a very good car.  "We have had less problems with this car than we used to have with the new Lolas."

Former Champ Car driver Steve Chassey was in the audience and he chimed in that he was the USA import rep for Lola back in 1997 when the Lola was horrible.  That was the year all the big guys switched to Reynard.

"I had to negotiate with this guy (pointing to Gerald Forsythe) to buy back all the Lolas that year because they were so bad.  What a nightmare that was."  So essentially he said how soon people forget how bad other new cars have been over the years.

Of course the question came up about driver turnover and how do you build a fan base if that keeps happening.  Paul Gentilozzi fielded that question.

"There are a lot of drivers who want to come to Champ Car to race.  Results here are not determined by a computer, but by driver and team ability.  We give everyone a level playing field. 

"You are never going to stop some drivers from wanting to go to Formula One.  Do we want to lose Sebastien Bourdais to F1 next year?  Of course not, but you know what?  If he goes to F1 and does well that is good for Champ Car."

With regard to the lack of American drivers Kevin Kalkhoven responded,  "We have invested so much in our Atlantics program to cultivate young Americans like Graham Rahal and Jonathan Bomarito.  You do it from the grassroots up.  That way it will work long-term.  I am very proud of what we are doing in this regard."

Paul Gentilozzi added, "Sure it would be good to have the two biggest American names, Andretti and Rahal, doing battle here.  If not for the politics (between the IRL and Champ Car), and I don't want to speak for Michael Andretti, but I bet Marco would want to be here honing his road racing skills in case he wanted to follow the Andretti tradition and go to F1 some day.

"Was losing AJ Allmendinger bad for Champ Car?  Sure we would have liked to keep him but athletes change teams in every sport.  How was it any worse that Kimi Raikkonen leaving McLaren and going to Ferrari. I didn't hear anyone say that would be the end of McLaren."

The final question was how much longer were the current owners willing to support Champ Car, especially since they are businessmen who are used to making profits on their investments.

"How long is my life?"  said Kalkhoven. "If you can answer that, you have my answer." And what if the business model doesn't make financial sense?" My job is to make it make sense," Kalkhoven said. To which the others nodded in agreement, basically saying that they are in it for however long it takes to make Champ Car a profitable and prosperous series.  They are there because they love the sport, like any of you would love a hobby that you have. 

And in that regard it gives many comfort to know that they are not going to withdraw their support just because it is taking a bit longer than some would have thought to make the series self-sustaining.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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