New series in works with Panoz Champ Cars

UPDATE #12 We spoke to Kevin Kalkhoven today to clarify what is really going on with the Cosworth engines that Ben Johnston wants to use for his Green Prix USA series. Kalkhoven told, "The conspiracy rumors that Jerry Forsythe and I tried to stop Ben Johnston from buying the old Champ Car Cosworth engines for his Green Prix USA series, or to stop his series from racing, are not true. They are high performance race engines that cannot be used with just any old parts. We have offered to lease them to Johnston and maintain them in a safe and reliable working order at a very reasonable price."

11/27/08 On Tuesday, an auction was to be held in Indianapolis to sell the 93 turbocharged Cosworth engines. This auction was ordered by the judge after Ben Johnston negotiated for months with the Trustee and lawyers for the estate, and submitted a purchase offer of $250,000, which was recommended to the court by the Trustee and subject to approval by the Judge. The Judge called for an auction, presumably to ensure the maximum sale value for the asset, and held a hearing November 18 to establish certified bidders and several emerged, notably Aquarium, Inc, aka Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe.

The bidding on Tuesday would have quite possibly have reached into the millions, but that did not happen.

Mr. Johnston arrived at the assigned chamber in Indianapolis Southern District Court at 9:30 AM awaiting the 10:00 AM hearing that had been widely noticed and published on the internet and in court documents. But incredibly, the meeting time and location had been changed sometime since the hearing on November 18. Not delayed or postponed with notice, but held earlier– in a different location.

Now that Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe have thrown their hat in the ring with Tony George and the IRL, they probably do not want a competing open wheel series to again emerge and dilute the efforts the IRL is trying to make in restoring some of the luster in open wheel racing in the USA. So it seems Mr. Johnston has been outsmarted and if he is to start his Green Prix USA series he is going to have to contract with another entity to supply engines.

11/09/08 A little further research is a Federal Bankruptcy filing from the trustee. That is not a rumor. It IS a sale. The only thing that could stop it from going through is either the Federal Bankruptcy Judge denies the trustee’s motion or another buyer steps up and delivers certified funds in excess of the $250k SALE that is ON THE BOOKS, both highly unlikely to happen for obvious reasons. However, the engines come without ECU’s, the software to manage them, or the computer hardware needed to interface/manage them.

As for another rich guy stepping up to form a series…..heck the IRL only has a dozen cars confirmed for 2009 and the rest of the grid is tenuous at best. Pook had $100M in cash in the bank and could not get in place a series to become viable, how is Ben Johnston, who is not as wealthy as either Kevin Kalkhoven or Gerald Forsythe, much less someone like John Menard (the wealthiest individual in racing in the WORLD)?

11/09/08 Rumor has it that Ben Johnston will pick up the 93 former Champ Car 2.65 liter Turbo Cosworth V8 engines at pennies on the dollar from this auction, detune them further, place them in the Panoz Champ Cars he is buying and go racing.

10/19/08 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' today if one can believe Green Prix USA's website.


Ben Johnston

To the right is a photo of Ben Johnston.

10/09/08 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today. Autosport Magazine reports that the fleet of Panoz Champ Cars could become part of a new series set up by the likely buyout of the Atlantic Championship.

Atlanta-based Ben Johnston, who raced in a handful of Atlantic races as an amateur in 2005, has a handshake agreement to buy the Atlantic series from Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe. He also revealed that he planned a new single-seater series around the Panoz DP01 and the final Reynard Champ Car.

Johnston, whose fortune is founded in a media-buying company, explained that he already had 17 of the final-generation Reynard Champ Cars and was in the process of buying as many of the DP01s as possible. These will be combined in a two-class series dubbed 'Green Prix' that he intends to get off the ground next year.

Johnston, who plans to use Cosworth engines in both types of car, said: "I intend to create an arrive-and-drive type schedule where I own and prepare all the cars. The plan is to tune the engines in the Panoz down to 650bhp and the Reynards down to 500bhp." The first round is scheduled to take place next March in Savannah, Georgia.

10/08/08 At the Atlantic Series awards ceremony, Ben Johnston was introduced as the new owner of the series to a standing ovation among the teams. A formal announcement along with the 2009 schedule is expected within the next few weeks. Both Mazda and Cooper expressed their intent to continue their partnership in the longest running road-racing series in North America.

10/08/08 Some more information about 53 year old Ben Johnston – he is President, CEO and Founder of MBI Media Brokers and where did Champ Car fail – in marketing and media/PR. Inc 500 listed them as one of the fastest growing private companies in the USA with $49.5M in revenue in 2007. However, growth slowed somewhat between 2006 and 2008. MBI creates and negotiates media strategies designed to dramatically increase clients' market share, revenues and profits. They source advantageous advertising opportunities, negotiate the lowest rates and manage results of intelligent advertising campaigns. He did drive Champ Car Atlantic cars back in 2005 for Blackforest Motorsports. Although he would have been a good addition to the defunct Champ Car Series, filling in their major weakness, we see nothing so far that indicates to us he has the resources to start a new series from scratch unless he is able to round up some significant financial investors and sponsors.

10/07/08 This rumor is back up to 'speculation' from 'false' as we are being told there is more to this rumor than meets the eye. We are being told that the ownership of the Atlantic Series changed hands at Road Atlanta this past weekend and this transaction is some way related to what is planned for this new series. Stay tuned, this could get interesting……

10/06/08 This rumor is downgraded to 'false'. did learn that Ben Johnston did buy one car, a Reynard. He actually owned Choice Point, an employee drug testing company that he recently sold. There were only show cars and the HVM car sold at auction. There are 20+ cars and they belong to ten or so owners. Forsythe is not involved in any fashion.

10/06/08 There is some question as to just how many cars Johnston bought. It does not sound like he got his hands on anywhere near enough of the Panoz chassis at the auction, so unless he decides to have Panoz build more, this rumor may be all BS.

10/06/08 Rumor has it that Ben Johnston of Alpharetta, Georgia, the racing hobbyist who outbid all others for those 20 surplus Panoz Champ Car chassis at the bankruptcy liquidation auction may be planning to start an eco-friendly race series in 2010. The rumor is that the cars would use some sort of KERS or hybrid system and that Gerald Forsythe could have some involvement from the power industry that he is in. Whether the Cosworth engines will be used in any way shape or form remains to be seen.

We also hear Johnston had some interest in buying the Atlantic Series from Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe as well. If any of this is true, it could mean that the Atlantics would serve as the feeder series.

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