A must read excellently written article by Rick Matsumoto from The Toronto Star - enjoy
Champ Car hits the road
It's appropriate that Toronto, one of the world's most multicultural cities, now holds the distinction of being the home of the Champ Car series' longest continually run international event.
The Molson Indy started with a bang in 1986, when 60,000 fans watched Bobby Rahal take the checkered flag. Attendance increased steadily in the ensuing years, encouraging CART — as the series was previously known — and Molstar Sports and Entertainment to launch a second race through the downtown streets of Vancouver in 1990. Two years ago, a third Canadian venue was added in Montreal.
Nineteen years after the first Toronto race, the original Molson Indy is still a 900-horsepower success story. But the rest of Champ Car is barely recognizable. Since 1986, the series has inexorably moved more and more of its events out of the United States. Coming to Toronto, it turns out, was just the beginning. This year, for the first time, there are an equal number of international and American races on the Champ Car calendar.
"The idea of having just an American championship to me is terribly closed-minded,"
said Paul Gentilozzi, who along with Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe purchased the assets of bankrupt CART in February. "We cross borders now without thinking about it. And we don't have the same sense of nationalism in our sports as we used to have."
Toronto wasn't actually the first city outside the U.S. to hold a Champ Car event. CART raced in 1980 and 1981 in Mexico City but left after the second race and did not return for 21 years. Since the 1986 breakthrough in Toronto, however, the series has spread around the world.
The sun-soaked streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia, have been host to one of the circuit's most successful events since 1991, drawing more than 100,000 fans on race day each year. A return to Mexico, first at Monterrey in 2001 and then Mexico City in 2002, has been a resounding success. Ventures into Brazil, Japan, England and Germany have drawn respectable crowds but have been less successful financially.
Champ Car is slated to go to Seoul, Korea, in October, but delicate negotiations are still continuing and the chances of the event going ahead are now listed as 50-50 at best.
Conversely, races in the United States — where the series got its start in 1909 under the American Automobile Association — have steadily dwindled. Gone are events in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Texas. The series' growing global flavour even includes a host of international champions.
Emerson Fittipaldi became the first non-American to win the championship when the Brazilian captured the title in 1989. He has since been followed by England's Nigel Mansell (1993), Canadian Jacques Villeneuve (1995), Italian Alex Zanardi (1997 and '98 ), Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Brazilian Gil de Ferran (2000 and 2001), Brazilian Cristiano da Matta (2002) and last year's champion, Scarborough's Paul Tracy.
Today there are only three American drivers, led by veteran Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 champion, and the last American to win the title. The other two are sophomore Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie A.J. Allmendinger.
As recently as two years ago Vasser was CART's only American driver and the lack of American faces is a factor often mentioned as one of the reasons the series has struggled in its homeland.
The main reason, of course, is the 1996 split between CART and the IRL, which has produced two competing open-wheeled series.
But the series owners say they are not locked into being in a set number of American cities. Instead, they'll go where the economics are best, U.S. roots be damned. "Champ Car has always been a quasi-international championship," said Gentilozzi. "We've been to Brazil, Japan, Australia; all over the world. Heck, we've been in Canada almost 20 years. "We welcome the fact that we're a North American-based series that has some international exposure. I'm sure we'll be in four or five countries outside the U.S. next year."
While he wouldn't directly name the countries or cities Champ Cars is targeting as future sites, Gentilozzi did offer some hints. "It would be foolish for me to talk about venues," he said. "But I think we'll be in South America next year and we're looking hard at European venues. We think there are opportunities there."
CART attempted an England-Germany European doubleheader in 2001 and went back for a single event in England in 2002. However, the cross-Atlantic venture ended with those three races. "We can't afford to do just one race in Europe because of the transportation costs," said Gentilozzi. "When we get two races we can go back to Europe."
There was some talk about Champ Cars going to South Africa as early as next year, but that's off the screen, at least for now. "It's all about funding and that event did not get funded," said Gentilozzi. "The part the government needed to do they couldn't do. So South Africa is dead."
There have also been rumours about a fourth Canadian race, this one on the streets of Calgary, which has a high number of corporate headquarters, especially those in the rich oil and gas industries. "We're looking at every avenue," he said. "It's just another North American city. We want to look at cities which, No. 1, welcome us and No. 2 can do business with us." And therein lies the secret to which cities or countries might wind up as a future Champ Car race venue.
With the hugely successful NASCAR series having a virtual stranglehold on sponsorship of consumer products, Gentilozzi and his partners have narrowed their aim to Champ Cars' traditional sponsors, the manufacturing sector. "The NASCAR sponsor probably isn't the Champ Car sponsor," said Gentilozzi. "The NASCAR sponsor is probably going to be a consumer product, mostly in the U.S. and based mostly in the southeast. And they're looking at large volumes of people that simply see the exposure.
"The Champ Car-sponsor relationship has been different. This is a place where companies come to do business. It really is a business-to-business relationship forum. Gentilozzi points out that a company can't take 20 employees to a NASCAR race and walk them through the pits, talk to the drivers and then have lunch with them.
"If you're selling beer in the U.S. NASCAR is a better venue," he said. "But if you're selling industrial jets this is a much better one." Both Gentilozzi and Kalkhoven insist that because of the type of companies that sponsor Champ Cars it makes television coverage less important to them than to the businesses that sponsor NASCAR or F1 teams.
"Take my sponsor Gulfstream," said Kalkhoven. "They're not here (in Cleveland) to exactly sell a lot of Gulfstream (private jets) via television. They're going to sell to pilots and potential owners. It's a wonderful opportunity to get these people for three days and indoctrinate them in Gulfstream. "They're using the romance and excitement of motorsports that really appeals to the pilots and potential owners."
Gentilozzi feels there are similar companies worldwide that are interested in using auto racing as a venue for business-to-business schmoozing. As the business world recovers from the slump that resulted from the 9/11 terrorist attacks he feels the market will improve.
"The first think big companies do is take away discretionary spending when the economy is down. Everyone wants to keep their stock value up, so you look at marketing, public relations and advertising budgets."
But he sees a rebound in the economies of the industrialized world. "The big advertising agencies, they're hot properties right now because everybody knows that as the economy gets stronger their activities are going to get stronger," he said. "As companies spend more money promoting their products they'll come back to motorsports."
The survival of the international Champ Car series is counting on it.
Haven't posted a link to it because Toronto Star has a silly habit of changing links whenever they move an item - btw, there's a link to it in another thread on a different subject...
Now, the reason why I'm pointing this article is very simple: many people have a misconception when it comes to Champ Car - they wish it to be an American open-wheeled series ?!... well it is, just as F1 is British ?! (insert "idea" emoticon)... and Champ Car has been trying to emulate F1 for decades - we all know that... so, to all the neysayers: THINK ABOUT IT - why cry when instead of racing at Mid-Ohio we'll race in Korea or China ?!... food for thought...