Editorial

CART, Driven to where?

 

 by Cássio Côrtes
March 18, 2003

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HBO Brazil last night aired the movie Driven (translated to the Brazilian market as “High Speed”) written and starred by Sylvester Stallone and directed by Cliffhanger’ s Renny Harlin

This is a rare case of a movie that manages to not please anyone.. Regular movie fans with a bit of intelligence find the plot weak and filled with clichés. Race fans are troubled by the ridiculous overtaking (there’s never an outbraking overtake; apparently, to Stallone and Harlin, shifting faster than your rival is the key to get by him), absurd crashes (though I enjoy them – it’s supposed to be an action film after all, and most crashes account for breathtaking action) and the joyride through the streets of Chicago (how did they start the Champ Cars? By turning the keys?).

Hardcore CART loyalists find it hard to get over the bluntly shaped purpose-built cars that share the screen with the real, much sleeker Champ Cars. Any Brazilian gets pissed with the fact that Memo Moreno (played by Chilean Cristián de la Fuente) speaks Spanish, not Portuguese – and so on.  Oother disturbing points include, for instance, Til Schweiger’s horrible acting as Beau Brandenburg, Jimmy Bly’s (Kip Pardue) irritatingly stereotyped “show-me-the-money” older brother (Robert Sean Leonard), and the fact that the wardrobe people managed to give hot Estella Warren a beer belly with the outfit they chose for her at the “Prototype Party”. As a Brazilian racing and movie fan, and a CART enthusiast with that bit of intelligence, I shouldn’t be able to stand “Driven”. But I did. And I actually liked it.

To hardcore CART fans, there’s just no option to “Driven”. So, even though my girlfriend had given me the DVD last year, I watched the whole movie (again) on HBO.

After almost two hours, I was worried. The majority of the Brazilian press were optimistic after CART’s 2003 debut at St. Pete – it was some good racing, provided by a category many thought was about to die. The dissonant voice was Téo José, “the Voice of CART” on TV during the category’s heyday (95-2000). He wrote, in an editorial in his website, how worried he was about CART’s future, mostly due to the general lack of sponsors. At first I disagreed with him. Now I don’t.

For that’s exactly what shocked me as I watched Driven again last night. The movie is based on the 2000 season –in which many thought CART was already starting to struggle. Well, if that’s struggling, what do you call CART now, dead?

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The number of big-time sponsors lost in less than three years is nothing short of amazing. But that’s not all: featured teams, drivers and venues that are no longer around make 2000 seem like a dream season (attendance and TV ratings show it wasn’t – the war with the IRL was already beginning to take its toll). Let’s account for the casualties then – what WAS in Driven but is NOT on the 2003 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford:

Engine manufacturers: Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz; all now gone

Events: Rio de Janeiro, Japan; all now gone

Race-winning drivers: Juan Montoya, Christian Fittipaldi, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Cristiano da Matta, Max Papis, Mark Blundell (retired), Mauricio Gugelmin (retired), and, of course, Jimmy Bly and Beau Brandenburg.

Teams: Penske, Ganassi, Mo Nunn, PacWest, Green, PPI - all now gone

Big-buck sponsors: Target (2 cars), Marlboro (2 cars), Motorola/Nextel (2 cars), Miller, Hollywood, K-mart, Texaco/Havoline, Shell, Pioneer, KOOL (2 cars) - all now gone.

And this is just what I can quickly recall, without thinking much or getting help from the DVD.

What has replaced all these losses?  In terms of international events, nothing (additional races in Mexico and Canada can’t be considered replacements – they’re NAFTA markets, after all). Driver-wise, nothing either (the only 2003 rookies that would have a seat in that 2000 season would be Bourdais, Haberfeld and Manning – but not in the top rides, at least for their rookie year).

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In terms of teams, the situation is not as dramatic – Emmo, Craig Pollock, Paul Gentilozzi and Stefan Johansson are very credible names. But when it comes to sponsors, the scenario gets really ugly: the four abovementioned new owners, all widely respected names in racing, have no major sponsors for their teams! (except for Gentilozzi). What big sponsors did CART add for 2003? PacifiCare and Corona come to mind, but they’re both backing just one car.

Anyway, teams like Fittipaldi-Dingman, PK Racing, American Spirit Team Johansson, RocketSport Racing and Conquest Racing have structures and drivers (except for Vasser) that would enable them to achieve mid-pack performances at best in 2000.

Point is, it cannot be denied that CART’s level has dropped – even though the current situation of the world economy can be partially blamed for the lack of sponsorship dollars. That’s not necessarily bad for the racing – St. Pete had great action. It’s just that, a few years ago, many Brazilians and perhaps just as many North Americans saw CART as just as much of a “pinnacle of motorsport” as F1. That perception no longer can be held.

Seeing “Driven” today proves Chris Pook’s philosophy is right; given the turmoil CART has found itself in lately, the series’s major goal for the 2003 and 2004 seasons has to be its sheer survival. Then in 2005, hopefully with Bernie on board, begin to finally regain its old (and much deserved) prestige.  It's a rebuilding process for CART, but the "new" CART will be even better than the old.

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