Editorial

Champ Car positions itself for international expansion
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 November 9, 2006

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Now that it’s clear the merger talks with the IRL are not likely to bear fruit, Champ Car is now moving forward with its march toward global expansion.  For years Champ Car has struggled to define itself, acting as a domestic series while it dabbled internationally. It seemed confused, but no longer.  Kevin Kalkhoven stated clearly that Champ Car's goal was to become increasingly international, and in 2007 is staying true to his word.

Struggling to make inroads into the stranglehold NASCAR has on the USA market, in 2007 Champ Car is making its boldest move yet to step outside of NASCAR's sandbox and into F1’s. In no time in its history will Champ Car (including the CART era) race in more countries and on more continents in a single season.

With the addition of China and Europe (2 countries) Champ Car can now claim they race in 7 countries (USA, Mexico, Canada, China, Australia, Holland, Belgium). While that is not as many as F1, which holds events in 17 countries, it’s clear that Champ Car is no longer just a domestic series.

The question that remains to be answered in this coming season is whether Champ Car is adequately prepared to not only manage this growth, but to capitalize on it, especially China which holds tremendous potential given its economic growth. Not only are they adding three new overseas events, Champ Car is also adding Las Vegas, Mont-Tremblant and Phoenix in North America.  That’s six new events in a single season. F1 and NASCAR have never attempted that many in a single leap and they are far bigger organizations.

While Champ Car appears to be the Energizer Bunny of auto racing, surviving despite numerous attempts from the dark side of the sport to kill it, it will be interesting to see whether it is prepared for such rapid change.

Over the years USAC (Mexico, Brazil and Argentina), followed by CART (most recently Brands Hatch and Eurospeedway, two failed events) and then Champ Car have ventured outside the borders of the USA with its Indy Car style of racing, only to see the events eventually die because of the same inherent problem – failure of management to recognize the need to manage those far away markets locally to ensure their success.

In the past USAC, CART and now Champ Car have relied on the race promoter to make these races a success. And yes, one can argue that ultimately the promoter is responsible to promote their event and make it profitable, they cannot do it alone. Because Champ Car isn’t known well enough in these far away new markets, the ability for the promoter to sell this unknown product is slim -- Australia notwithstanding because they have a super promoter in “Crusher” Murray who understands the game perhaps better than anyone.

It’s imperative that Champ Car have a minimum of one driver on the starting grid that represents each country that Champ Car races in.  And we do not mean just that one race, but an entire season so race fans in these new markets have time to take a keen interest in how their countryman is doing.  Let's analyze how well Champ Car is positioned in that regard.

North America
Canada - Yes, Paul Tracy, Andrew Ranger and Alex Tagliani - at least one, but probably all three will find a seat in Champ Car for 2007.
USA - Yes, Graham Rahal and Alex Figge as a minimum will have a seat.
Mexico - Yes, Mario Dominguez and possibly David Martinez

Oceania
Australia - Yes, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe, one or both will have a seat

Asia
China - Perhaps Dutch/Chinese Ho-Pin Tung who has expressed a desire, but right now no deals are even close and no other Chinese drivers appear ready.

Europe
Holland - Yes, Jos Verstappen, Robert Doornbos and perhaps Ho-Pin Tung should find a ride
Hockenheim Germany, LeMans France or Zolder Belgium - Yes, for France (Philippe, Pagenaud and Bourdais) and Belgium (Jan Heylen) but no for Germany unless they got someone like Timo Glock or Andre Lotterer back

Based on this analysis it appears Champ Car is pretty well positioned for their planned international expansion from a driver/fan standpoint.  This gives the local promoter something to base their marketing and advertising around.

It's exciting times for Champ Car.  A new car, at least three new team owners, and six new and exciting race venues all in one year.  Now if it can just figure out a way to convince sponsors to come aboard for the ride, which to date as been their biggest failing, their future will begin to look even brighter.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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