Tony George, Kevin Kalkhoven Unification Press Conference Transcript Homestead-Miami Speedway
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. We'll begin with Tony George with some opening comments. Tony.
TONY GEORGE: Good afternoon, everyone.
|Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven address the media|
Thank you for being here. This is a very exciting day. To be here with Kevin, representing his partners in Champ Car, to publicly address all of you and confirm that, in fact, we are going to unify the sport of open-wheel racing in North America for the 2008 season.
This is all about looking forward. At the risk of taking a glance back, it was just last fall on the anniversary of my grandfather's death that I was thinking to myself that it really had been 30 years since the sport of open-wheel racing had been truly unified. There were periods of years over the last 30 years where we worked more closely together and better together. But by and large, there were periods of years where we weren't so good at that.
Last month when the calendar turned over to 2008, I was wondering to myself, 'Is it possible this could ever happen?' Lo and behold, I got a call that just made me feel really warm. I felt like this was perhaps going to be the best year of my 48 to have a chance to do something that's very important to me and very close to me, and that is to help bring about the unification of open-wheel racing.
But it wouldn't have been possible without Kevin and Gerry (Forsythe), in particular, coming to me, expressing a desire to work with me, to do what's right and what's best for all of the drivers and the sponsors and, most importantly, the fans, the suppliers that make open-wheel racing in North America a great sport, something close to all of us.
|Kevin Kalkhoven waits for a SPEEDTV interview with Robin Miller|
They've been a pleasure to work with in helping bring this about. I think we've all realized that there's a lot of challenges. The thing about having a long offseason, it's good and bad. You start thinking about things. Fortunately, it's long enough that we have a really good shot at bringing this together, albeit very late in the year. We have put our teams together to work on coming up with a good plan to integrate teams into one series, to integrate some events where we have the opportunity to fill some slots. We've got a lot of challenges that go along with doing all those things, but I think we're going to successfully overcome those.
GEORGE: But this day is really all about the fans, the fans who supported open-wheel racing, in general, who supported Champ Car, who supported IndyCar through the years. There are some that have supported them individually, and there are some that have supported them collectively. To all those, we appreciate your support. It's an honor, again, to be here.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Tony.
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Well, it's a heck of a crowd. We must be doing something right by this unification. Thank you all for coming here. Very impressive.
I want to join Tony in expressing my satisfaction about what is happening in terms of the unification. Tony and I have actually talked on and off, I would guess, for, what, four years. It's been a long and hard road to be able to get here, but we are here.
I think that the winners today are the fans, the teams, the drivers, and indeed the potential that we have to be able to grow the sport over the next few years.
I've said many times that in itself, unification isn't some sort of magic bullet to be able to get us forward. It's going to take an awful lot of hard work. In that respect, I have to thank my partner, Gerry Forsythe, for the work that he's already put in. To my friend over there, Dick Eidswick, who has been worked tirelessly on this. Al Speyer, who has done a fabulous job in helping to put this together.
This is something that is going to still require a huge amount of work, but I think the long-term potential is extremely exciting for everybody associated with this.
I'm actually obviously going to be part of the series with my own team, which is now KV Racing, with my partner Jimmy Vasser. By the way, just as a word of warning, never go out in Miami with Jimmy Vasser for an evening. It's an extremely dangerous thing to do. It's a miracle that I'm actually here.
I'm also looking forward to being able to bring the series to Long Beach. This year is going to be an exciting time as we're going to actually have our final Champ Car race in one respect for the DP01s prior to moving entirely over onto the Dallaras. I think the combination of the 500 with all its stature and Long Beach with its 34 years of history now is going to be two anchor points of what will be an incredibly successful and interesting series.
So to all our fans and all our fans on both sides, to you, the media, it's been a long road, about you we're here and looking forward to a very exciting '08 and beyond. So thank you all.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Kevin.
Tony, would you spend a few minutes and talk about a few of the elements of the unification?
GEORGE: Well, obviously, you know, early on we identified that we would need to participate by facilitating the transition of the teams in Champ Car to the Dallara equipment package and get them up and running. We committed to provide each team that could demonstrate the ability and desire to bring an operating budget, to help them transition to the equipment package of Dallara and Honda by providing a basic engine lease and two chassis from a pool of available chassis. They would also obviously be entitled to participate in the TEAM incentive program that was outlined last fall.
|Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven shake hands in front of media|
It's been a very rapid timeline we've had to keep here. We really only reached agreement a few days ago. The discussions have been going on over the last few weeks. But there were a number of elements we felt we could really bring to enhance the value of the 2008 season for all the teams and sponsors and the fans, and that is trying to add two or three of the Champ Car events that we had openings with some flexibility to our calendar.
Kevin outlined how the Long Beach event will be the Champ Car finale. In addition to that, we're going to make an effort to add Edmonton and Australia to this year's calendar. Both of those events, the details surrounding them, are yet to be worked out. But we feel good that we'll have a good plan for that.
As Kevin again mentioned, the historic Long Beach Grand Prix will be the Champ Car finale. It will be run the same weekend as the IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi. That obviously presents enormous challenges, but I think through the efforts of some very capable people and the scenario that allows Champ Car to showcase for one final time the DP01s, the drivers and teams that are familiar with that equipment, to go out and put on a great show, really make Long Beach a great event. So not to disadvantage anyone, points and prize money will be awarded for both those events according to the IRL structure, but it will be a Champ Car race.
Then we obviously needed to fast track some orientation. So this past Monday, just a couple days ago, Brian and Terry and the staff at the Indy Racing League welcomed all the Champ Car teams, which I believe there was 100 percent attendance. I don't know; did drivers come in for physicals? That's good. So I think we're getting out in front of that.
I think they're genuinely pleased with the package offered. Certainly, it creates a lot of logistical challenges. We've gotten a great deal of support from all the IRL teams currently to help try to bring this about. We're all really excited about this opportunity. It's such a tremendous opportunity for all of us who have been a part of open-wheel racing, and I know there's been some suggestion that there's some reluctance or reticence about the amalgamation of these two series.
GEORGE: I guarantee you that our race team, Rahal Letterman race team, Target Chip Ganassi race team, everybody is excited about working with Champ Car teams that are coming over, to help them transition. Our job is to make everyone feel warm and welcome and, as always, never run a season apart.
As I mentioned, I think Newman/Haas will be assigned to Rahal Letterman. I think they have some common interests in working with one another there. We're trying to align those interests as best we can. But I think Ganassi has a very close relationship with Jimmy Vasser. KV guys are going to get the support of Target Chip Ganassi. So I think it's going to be a pretty smooth transition from that standpoint.
Again, as part of the agreement we're going to be acquiring some of the non-tangible and tangible assets of Champ Car. So, among other things, we'll be able to consolidate the intellectual property, the historical records of Champ Car all into one. In addition, we're going to take on as a tangible asset the medical transport trailer that has been a very important part of Champ Car's history. They're the ones who really developed that concept. We're excited to be able to provide those further facilities to the IndyCar Series going forward.
That's about it, I guess.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Tony.
Kevin, maybe if you would spend a couple minutes talking about what you want to say or talk to the Champ Car fans about this unification process?
KALKHOVEN: Well, as I said, I think the real winners today are, in fact, the fans. I know that over the past few years there's been elements of disagreement, let's say, between the two fan bases. By uniting the sport, I sincerely hope everyone recognizes, and by that of course I also mean the Champ Car fans, that this is something that was a very conscious decision that we took to try and develop North American open-wheel motorsport and take it into sport of '08, '09 and beyond in a very positive way.
I welcome the opportunity of being able to work with Chip and the Target Ganassi team. By that kind of relationship, I'm also hoping that the IRL fans will extend their hand to the Champ Car fans and allow this to proceed in an amicable, smooth and exciting manner forward.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Kevin.
We'll now open the floor to questions.
Q: Kevin and Tony, to get enough cars for Long Beach, we understand possibly you'll get your free IRL cars, but it's predicated on the fact you have to show up and run Long Beach. Will every team get a new car and a used car? How will they be allotted?
GEORGE: Well, as far as the pool of available chassis, we are doing our best to assemble the pool and then make a judicious allocation of those.
I think we're somewhat constrained just by the timing of all this. But I think Brian (Barnhart) really is on point on that. He's got a pretty good handle. I would perhaps defer part of my answer to Brian because he's got the best perspective on that.
But our hope is to provide them one new, one used while supplies last, I guess. But it sounds like we're going to be in pretty good shape. Dallara has worked with us. I think once we get beyond the start of the season, once we get into May, things will start to free up a little bit.
It's just the near-term is the biggest challenge.
KALKHOVEN: In terms of Long Beach, we expect to have a full-field of DP01s running. It's going to be a heck of a celebration. It won't just be a Champ Car celebration; it will be really an introduction to the unified series. We hope that there will be a great turnout to come and see the DP01s for the last time, and then we'll move on to the Dallaras.
I know all the Champ Car teams have expressed to me how very warm the reception has been and how closely the teams have already allied themselves. And you never know, we might even see a couple of drivers coming back from Motegi and jumping in a DP01.
Q: (No microphone.)
BRIAN BARNHART: I would expect we will be able to provide one chassis for every team that makes the commitment to join the IndyCar Series. What we've got outlined now, once they do the chassis lease agreement, join the Leader Circle program to be able for the TEAM assistance program, then the engine lease, I think we're pretty set on the alignment of where we're at. We will have a car available, one car at that point in time, by the Homestead opener here on March 29th.
As Tony mentioned, the orientation meeting on Monday was 100 percent attendance. The interest level is clearly very high at this point in time. I think you could see anywhere from eight to 12 additional cars under the IndyCar grid coming over from the Champ Car side filling the field beginning with the Homestead event, which is absolutely the best-case scenario we could be looking for.
Q: Kevin, 2003, 2004, you got part of the ownership. Was it worth it? Tony, the same thing?
KALKHOVEN: It's really not a time at this moment to be looking back. I think we'll all recognize there have been issues in the past. But the exciting thing today is that we're really looking forward.
Tony and I, as I said, have talked over several years. To me the exciting thing is not looking back, but looking forward and the opportunities that exist.
GEORGE: Will you accept his answer as mine (laughter)?
Q: When you look ahead at the 2009 season, the schedule will probably be done with a clean sheet of paper. Could both of you talk about what we could expect to see exciting possibilities of the 2009 schedule and beyond?
GEORGE: Clearly it will be a cleaner sheet of paper. I think, again, February, it's a bit tough to -- and we tried our best to try and think through all the different scenarios to try to optimize this year as best we could, which is very difficult.
But next year I think, you know, it starts to present the opportunity to really look at some of the other events. What's going to be key is not to disenfranchise anybody so all the best opportunities remain out there for us.
A lot of people don't really relish the thought of running a 20-race season. I do. I mean, I'm one of those guys, our offseason is way too long. Too much time on your hands is not a good thing. So we need to all stay busy. We need to build the value of this sport. The more exposure we can get for it, the better we're all going to be.
I think 2009, '10, '11, a lot of great building blocks to go on top of what's already a pretty solid foundation. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Tony, beyond 2008, what do you see the series looking like in terms of number of races, mix of ovals and street courses, international races and engine configuration in terms of the possibility of turbocharged engines?
GEORGE: I think there's all kinds of opportunities out there. I think our basic platform is sound. I think the mix of races, we're start -- we've been starting to migrate to a few more road races. I think we've pretty much exhausted the opportunity to run at available ovals. I don't know if any of them potentially might present themselves as opportunities in the future.
GEORGE: I see a 20-race schedule potentially, approximately half of those being ovals. That will probably change a little bit over time. But I think it's obviously important to me to continue to have ovals, a variety of ovals on the schedule. A lot of these guys who haven't run ovals or haven't run an oval in a while will find some of the ovals we run be quite fun, especially with our package. Being racers, I think they'll have a good experience.
But international, I think international opportunities are out there. We have to look at what they might be. But, again, I think we need to look at building a schedule that makes sense from every perspective. What's good for the teams, what's good for their sponsors, and really what's good for getting our message out on a global basis.
Q: How about the engine configuration?
GEORGE: That's kind of open. I think our platform really has been recently affirmed as speed, technology, innovation, diversity and being responsible socially. I think we're going to be looking at all of the available technologies that are coming from a number of manufacturers. Turbochargers may or may not be a part of that. A different source of fuel besides ethanol may be a part of that. I don't know.
Right now we've kind of settled on we need to stabilize open-wheel racing over the course of the next couple years while we start giving a lot of thought to those questions and issues. Those plans will be developed and rolled out over the course of the next 12 to 24 months, I would imagine.
Q: Tony, do you have any deadline of when you need to finalize the schedule?
GEORGE: I don't know that we've talked about a deadline. We're working on that. After we leave this room, I think we need to sort it out fairly quickly. It just depends on how easy we're able to deal with all the issues.
I haven't set a deadline for it. I don't know if anyone else has. But everybody needs to know for planning purposes as soon as possible.
I would just hope that we can get through this 2008 season and make this really a story about the fans. I think that's kind of what my goal is, is to bring everybody together. If you have happy fans, you're going to have a lot of happy teams and sponsors and whatnot. Trying to be sensitive to the fans and make sure that this is done right, it's going to be important in our success.
Q: Is there a binding contract that stipulates how long you will be together? Is it a five-year deal? Is this a long-term thing or what?
GEORGE: Yeah (laughter). It's going to outlast you and I, OK?
Q: How long do you think it will take for the agreement to have an impact on things you can measure, like attendance, TV ratings?
GEORGE: I have no idea. Hopefully it's visible and measurable immediately. Chances are it won't be. It's going to take some time. But it all starts here today.
Q: Kevin and Tony, you were talking about, obviously, taking a cleaner look at the schedule, for example, in 2009. A lot of the Champ Car events that would be in consideration for 2009 are not going to have an IndyCar Series event this year. What do you do to those races in this off year to keep their interest and be able to go back to them in 2009 and say, 'You're on the schedule?'
GEORGE: I don't have the answer to that. I tried to offer some suggestions once in a while. Sometimes they're not received very well. But, you know, I think we need to try and figure out a way to do that. I mentioned not disenfranchising anybody.
But the plain, simple fact of the matter is that we have a lot of binding commitments right now that we have to honor. It doesn't afford us much opportunity given the constraints that we have to go out and do anything. I always say we can't solve all the problems. We can't solve everybody's problems. We can try. We can offer solutions. In the end, all we can do sometimes is offer.
But I don't know. I think it's taken a lot of give-and-take to get to this point. At some point, there's going to have to be some give-and-take from others, being open-minded, big-picture. This kind of thing, it's great for some, and it's not so great for others. Those that may not have the best short-term view of things, you know, we need to start trying to address some of their issues.
Q: Kevin, speaking of great for some, maybe not so great for others, what happens with Cosworth and the Atlantic Championship?
KALKHOVEN: The Atlantics will continue. Gerry and I are committed to driver development. We think it's one of the most important single things that we can continue to bring to the party. So Atlantics will continue. It will have a 12-race schedule. We believe that, as a bedrock for long-term development, it's absolutely key.
There's been a lot of comment, for instance, over the past few years that there are not enough American drivers. Atlantics last year, out of the top 10 drivers, five of them were from the U.S. I think it's a very important thing.
In terms of Cosworth, actually most people don't know, because it's a privately held company, but actually most of Cosworth's revenues are non-racing related. They build and develop engines for all sorts of manufacturers. That is their primary business. Cosworth will continue. It has some amazing contracts for engine development for the future, some really fascinating stuff.
Q: Kevin, as a team owner, how long do you think it will take you to get equal footing in the IRL?
KALKHOVEN: Well, if you talk to Mark Johnson and Jimmy Vasser, it's going to be a question of not very long. They really believe with the partnership and the help of Chip that they'll be competitive pretty quickly.
I think that's a little bit optimistic myself. But, hey, they're the guys doing the work. They hope to be in the top five by the end of the season, racing in the top five by the end of the season.
Q: (No microphone.)
GEORGE: I'm not sure I heard the question in its entirety. I think the key, looking back, one of the main factors was maybe an absence or at least the perceived absence of leadership. I think as far as the leadership of the sport is concerned, I think we need to make sure there's good leadership and we're making good decisions that are in everybody's best interest, not in any one group's best interests, but collectively trying to just provide direction and support.
I suppose there are no guarantees other than, you know, a guarantee that we'll do our very best to keep this together, what's taken us so long to put back together.
Q: The Canadian races, long-term future for Toronto and Montréal and also Edmonton?
GEORGE: Well, Toronto I think is an event that was discussed. It had a date conflict, obviously. It falls into the category of one of those events that you don't want to disenfranchise someone with that much history, a venue that has that much history.
But, you know, Edmonton was a little bit easier to address because we had an available window approximately the same time they were going to run their race this year. That seemed to make sense.
Montréal, you know, I don't know. I'm not privy to the commitment there, whether or not that is something people have strong feelings about, so...
Q: Tony, the announcement says you guys are buying the safety hauler, the trailer. Any thought given at this point to bringing in any of the safety team from Champ Car, amalgamating them into your safety team?
GEORGE: I'll defer that to Brian.
BARNHART: Actually, already had some conversations. I believe Mike Yates, Dave Brown, everybody related with our track safety, have been working with Dr. Pinderski. I believe Sue will be coming over from the nursing staff. I don't remember her last name at this point this time. I got an email from Lon Bromley. Clearly they've been at the top of their game in that field, and we have certainly interest in acquiring strength in all areas, safety. Anything we can do to make this organization stronger moving forward for the growth opportunities this presents is clearly in our best interests.
Q: Tony and Kevin, next year will be the 100th. How important was it for you to get this all together in order for everybody to share in that celebration? Nothing as momentous as the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
KALKHOVEN: From my standpoint, I'm looking forward to it enormously. I know our team is, as well. I think it's just part of what we see for the future. It's all about the future.
GEORGE: Last fall we were making our plans for the Centennial celebration. I really didn't think we'd be considering this, the impact it would have.
I think it's absolutely fantastic. As Joie (Chitwood) sent me an e-mail the other day congratulating me, as a number of other people did, and I replied, 'This is going to be absolutely fantastic for the Centennial celebrations that we're looking very much forward to.' To have everybody back, prospect of having Paul Tracy and other guys there, it's going to be huge.
Q: There's a lot of Champ Car races wanting to get on the schedule for next year. What is the formula, like Cleveland, to get back on the list?
GEORGE: I've spoken to Mike Lanigan, who promotes both Houston and Cleveland for Champ Car, and he has the American Le Mans Series, at least at Houston. I don't know what they run at Cleveland. If there's any way, and it may not be viable, any way to keep those events going, but we really can't have those discussions right now because there's so many other things to address that we can deal with today. That's where our focus needs to be.
But I say that in a couple, two, three weeks, we start having conversations with some of those. Obviously they're going to need to be knowing how they're going to be planning for their future, one way or another. We don't want to delay that process.
Q: You mentioned there's a great deal of interest from the Champ Car teams. Is there a limit for the number of teams you can accommodate, a high end to the number of cars on the grid this year?
BARNHART: Eventually, yeah, I'd say there is a limit. I think that's driven by equipment. It's driven by equipment availability and the timing of what we're looking at. Our partners at Dallara, Firestone, Honda, all the existing teams have stepped up. I go back to what Tony said. I remember the phone calls I made with Kevin Savoree, Mike Hall at Ganassi and Roger Penske when we talked about it. I could not be more proud of our teams' responses. When we're looking for availability of equipment, they are so supportive of this. You just tell us what we need, we're there. That goes with our equipment suppliers as well.
However, there is just so much that can be done with the timeline presented being the last week of February. Dallara is in the process right now, it's a difficult year from Dallara's standpoint. They have four other major projects they're producing cars for. Tony called them, I think, when Tony was in my office, late January, first of February. Started the first run of getting some cars just as, I think, a preliminary and hopeful order of cars that has been continued. They're going to produce cars for us at least through May. I think we have 14 new chassis that will be delivered by the first couple weeks of May. That's outstanding, considering the other projects they've got on their calendar.
Of course, I think at some point in time you're going to be limited by the engine availability. You're looking at a stretch, and Erik (Berkman) can probably address this better than anybody else, but by the time you do Motegi, Kansas, three weeks at Indy, Milwaukee and Texas, that's seven consecutive weeks on track, one quick break, then you're going to come back and run five or six weeks in a row again. You're on track 13 out of 14 consecutive weekends. That's an enormous burden to put on them.
I think we are somewhat limited by equipment availability, chassis, engine-wise, just the timing associated with it. I'm not sure anybody's put a number on that yet.
Q: Kevin, Tony started this by saying that he was thinking about the past 30 years, so forth. Then he got a phone call, and this process began. I know you have talked many times over the last few years, but what prompted this to finally be the time when it happened?
KALKHOVEN: I don't think there was one specific thing. It was just a realization that, quite honestly, open-wheel sport, open-wheel motor racing in the United States, just wasn't going anywhere. If we were to have an opportunity to develop it for the future, we should take that opportunity.
Tony held out an olive branch, and Gerry and myself and my partners decided it was the right thing to do.
MODERATOR: Everyone, we appreciate your time.