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Interesting Champ Car article

From Speed TV (USA)

Silence Not Necessarily Golden

by: Robin Miller
(SpeedTV) - Paul Tracy will have a hard time contending for another Champ Car title with no team-mate. (Photo courtesy Champ Car)

The silence from the Champ Car office in Indianapolis isn't just deafening, it's in surround sound.

Six weeks before its season opener in Las Vegas, the series supposedly in its year of momentum is awash in questions, rumours and a serious lack of urgency, information, organization and cars.

Forget the fact only eight drivers have been confirmed for 2007, because there are more serious concerns that nobody wants to discuss.

Car count is the most critical area.

Gerald Forsythe, who co-owns the series with Kevin Kalkhoven, has vowed to run only one car this season for Paul Tracy.

RuSport, whose founder Carl Russo has sold/leased his team to Dan Pettit, maintains it hasn't given up on two cars but last week told its mechanics there was a distinct possibility of cutting back to one.

Rocketsports appears to be a one-car effort at this time, and there's even speculation that RuSport will share technical information with Paul Gentilozzi's outfit and eventually might move under one roof in Lansing, Mich.

With MiJack owner Mike Lanigan leaving long-time partner Eric Bachelart, Conquest Racing is scrambling to muster the money for one car.

If these four teams only run one car, and Newman/Haas (who still hasn't officially announced Graham Rahal), Minardi USA, Dale Coyne, Pacific Coast, PKV and Team Australia field their usual complement of two cars, that totals 16.

Or eight shy of Kalkhoven's ceiling (he said last year that no more than 24 cars would be allowed to compete) and two short of the usual grid.

As it stands today, 25 new DP01 chassis have been shipped and the Panoz people reportedly have been told to cease building because there are no more orders coming in. If there were the normal 18 cars and each had one backup, that's 36, so obviously some teams don't have a backup car.

Of course, that's because few have any seven-figure sponsors. The new car might be cheaper, but you've still got to have some cash to buy it.

Now, Kalkhoven and Forsythe swear they're not going to prop up other teams like they've done in the past, but there are some extenuating circumstances which could, or should, get the starting line-up to at least 18.

First off, Forsythe is evidently unhappy that his marketing man has yet to find a sponsor in the past three years and has threatened not to run a second car unless it's funded.

But the loyal car owner from Chicago is going be a lot more upset if Tracy doesn't contend for the championship and/or race wins and, without a good team-mate, the Canadian veteran virtually has no chance against Newman/Haas. Ditto for Wilson, last year's runner-up, who could be saved by a clause in his contract (or sponsor CDW's contract) that calls for two cars and/or a team-mate.

As for the drivers, we know three-time champ Sebastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Will Power, Tracy and rookies Neel Jani, Alex Figge, Ryan Dalziel and Simon Pagenaud have seats. We figure Alex Tagliani and young Rahal are all but confirmed, and we assume Katherine Legge will be in one of Coyne's cars and Nelson Philippe will be with somebody.

Oriol Servia and Bruno Junqueira tested well and figure to be in the frame, and it's hard to imagine having a race in Mexico City without Mario Dominguez. Sadly, Andrew Ranger may vanish like Ryan Hunter-Reay, and it's pretty obvious that Champ Car understands nothing about continuity.

The ever-changing driver line-up and lack of Americans is why it's so hard to follow, or care, about Champ Car.

On the business side, all the crowing about a title sponsor for the season opener in Las Vegas has stopped because evidently the deal has come apart.

At the press conference, it was dubbed "The Las Vegas Grand Prix Fueled By VISA" and carried that moniker on the website until a couple weeks ago. Now it's simply the Vegas Grand Prix. No mention of VISA.

And one must wonder if this loss could impact the season finale at Phoenix, which shares the same promoters.

The general lack of information about cars, drivers and races falls in line with Champ Car's overall lack of leadership and communication. The SCCA-flavoured front office is clueless about marketing, promoting and public relations -- not to mention open-wheel racing.

Hirings and firings are totally irrational, just like dumping the pace-car program, losing Ford as an ally, running China during May, taking advice from Gentilozzi, sticking with terrible television production partners and having one race a month from October through December.

What appeared to be a breath of fresh air a few years ago now has that same old, stale taste and reinforces the theory that car owners cannot competently run a series. Especially when one is in California, one is in the midwest and their point man (Steve Johnson) still lives in Kansas and makes it into the office at least four days a month.

Champ Car appeared to have some momentum last summer, but it's evaporated into this amateurish guessing game that sets them further behind the Indy Racing League.

Kalkhoven and Forsythe have spent a lot of money keeping Cosworth, Long Beach, Toronto and the series going, plus they spend a bundle to be on national television. It's big money, and nobody can knock their commitment. But, instead of cutting corners and making bad decisions during these past few months, they should have been locked and loaded on keeping stability in the ranks, bolstering the staff with smart hires and promoting the product -- damn the cost.

But maybe it's become too expensive, even for guys with their wealth. Or maybe they've simply lost interest. Maybe this would be a good time to cut a deal and cut their losses.

Call Tony George, sell him your assets and save money, if not open-wheel racing.

-I had a discussion with someone on this forum before about the CCWS and IRL. I state my case. CCWS looks to be in trouble for sure.

[Edited on 2-3-07 by spark]


  • I think we need to re align how racing series are ranked. If this story is half tru then I think we must move champ car down and Euro 3K up.

    At least the Euro 3000 has a full grid this year.
  • Rob Miller is a well respected sports writer. I believe he may be putting a slightly light hearted look but at the same time tells it as it is. I did not catch speed tv's news story on the CCWS problems but the series in in deep trouble. IRL seems to be capturing the sponsors therefore cementing its place. Like him or loth him Tony George has the IRL ticking like a clock. The lack of American drivers in CCWS does not help its image either. I cant confirm but I have heard the people running the Las Vegas race have tried to back out due to lack of sponsors and funding. See the article where VISA has pulled out.Looks grim.
  • No that I pretend to know a great deal about Champ Car or American racing in general but that certainly paints a pretty bleak picture. Six weeks to go and only eight cars and drivers confirmed? Theres leaving it late and missing the boat.

    Does anyone who knows more about this think its accurate??
  • sour grapes from a small cable station that has no rights to show it because they are with NBC, now that's what I call an "agenda"
  • Nah, Just Robin Miller being Robin Miller.
    He honestly hates Tony George, and loves ChampCar, but he's not the kind of guy that'll be a cheerleader while they make mistake after mistake.
  • Forza Speed is not a small cable station, and Rob Miller Hates Tony George - hey doesn't everybody! I dont think a lot of stations are queing up to show the CCWS anyway so sour grape - not. No I think the article has the credibility to see the troubles CCWS is facing. IRL is in better shape both in terms of finance and control. I think the sooner CCWS merges with IRL the better before one or both dissapear.
  • I have a good idea, let's call it Indy Car
  • Get a patent on that quick RJ it could be the most sensible suggestion anyone has.......
  • Robin Millers latest:
    (Quite a good read)
    The title of this column could be “Career Suicide 101,” because I’ve become somewhat of an authority on the subject and hopefully it will enlighten some people on the consequences of trying to tell the truth.

    And I want to thank my bosses at SPEEDTV.com in advance for indulging me and letting me explain why I can’t hold a job.

    For 32 of my first 50 years I had the good fortune to be a reporter/columnist at The Indianapolis Star, which was somewhat of a miracle since I’d flunked out of that academic pillar at Ball State.

    I covered my first Indy 500 for The Star in 1969 and by 1975 I was racing midgets in USAC and writing a racing column 52 weeks a year (mostly on USAC). By 1977, I’d become the lead racing writer for the only newspaper in the country that truly cared about motorsports.

    From ’77 until 2000, my May ritual was write the daily lead, a column every other day and contribute to our Pit Pass notebook. When you threw in the Bob & Tom radio show every morning (I worked with the irreverent Jay Baker on Dick’s Picks from Gasoline Alley) and the trackside TV show I did every night, it was a long but fun day that I loved. And it got even better the Thursday before the race when I emceed The Last Row Party (an event that roasted the 31st, 32nd and 33rd starters).

    All this background is necessary to illustrate what happened in 1996.

    When Tony George divided open wheel racing with the formation of the Indy Racing League, changed the qualifying procedure (you surely remember 25/8) at Indy and replaced Andretti, Fittipaldi, Rahal, Sullivan and Unser with Bronco Brad Murphey and Racin’ Gardner, I went on the attack. In print, on local television and on my nightly radio show on WIBC, I railed against the IMS pres almost daily and he explored pulling my credential but was wisely talked out of it.

    Now, I still covered Indy like always, writing the news and accomplishments of the day along with feel-good columns on Tony Stewart and Mark Dismore, but continued to pound T. George. I treated the competitors like any other May because they put on the show and it wasn’t their fault Indy had been forever damaged.

    Of course the interesting thing was the rest of my local media brethren. They all knew this wasn’t the real Indy 500 but nary a disparaging word came out of their mouths. Just all that happy talk and gushing about Joe Gosek and those big crowds watching qualifying. It was see-no-evil on TV and hear-no-evil on radio for a solid month and I was the ONLY voice speaking out on the obvious emasculation of May.

    That summer I got gassed from my five-night-a-week radio gig at WIBC because management claimed the “ratings” were disappointing from 7-10 p.m. on AM radio. Yeah right. I got gassed because IMS officials told owner Jeff Smulyan that WIBC could become the official station of IMS but not until they got rid of me.

    The Star had tried to become business partners with IMS since the mid-’90s but its marketing staff was told “never” as long as that $#&*%@ Miller was still writing for the paper. In January of 2001, the Gannett Nazis showed me the door because, drum roll please, I’d tainted the paper by helping Kenny Brack start his website, supposedly broke a racing story on CART’s website, borrowed money from Tom Sneva (after he quit driving) and used vulgar language in some emails (really, me?).

    A week after I was escorted out of the building, The Star and IMS became partners. What a coincidence.

    Channel 13, the local NBC affiliate that I’d worked for since ’95, kept me through 2001 before becoming “news gathering partners” with The Star, who demanded I get the boot and, naturally, I did in 2002.

    Oh yeah, I wasn’t allowed on Bob & Tom anymore either, because I’d lambasted Tony once when those two radio jocks had suggested the “buzz” had returned to the Speedway.

    But let’s fast forward to 2007. The Indy media is all a bunch suck-ups who either want to keep their pace car, free Indy tickets or jobs with the IMS network so they’ve never uttered a discouraging word about May during all these years despite the fact they privately acknowledge it’s lost its crowd, luster and pedigree.

    And many of my old racing “friends” who turned on me and called me a Commie bastard for criticizing Tony have since admitted the obvious, Indy has been reduced to a one-day event and is never coming back like it was in 1995.

    Owners, mechanics and drivers who praised Tony and cursed me in the late ’90s now take his name in vain because they’ve all been left behind as the IRL morphed into CART Lite, to quote A.J. Foyt.

    I worked for ESPN from 2001-2004 before it stopped covering motorsports and went to work for SPEED while continuing to freelance for Autosport and Champ Car’s website. How can he be objective on open wheel racing if he gets money from Champ Car, was the question many IRL zealots asked.

    When either series did something stupid and needed to be reminded, I wrote about it on SpeedTV.com and talked about it on SPEED Report or Wind Tunnel. Even though Champ Car agreed to let me be semi-critical a few times about schedules, venues and decisions, I’m sure SPEED would have preferred if I only wrote for them.

    Well, now I’m all theirs.

    After last Sunday’s critique of Champ Car’s state (which by the way was mild compared to some of the commentaries I’ve written about T. George over the years) on SpeedTV.com, I was informed my services were no longer required on Champ Car’s website. (For the record, I’d predicted my dismissal to a couple of friends on Sunday night).

    So let’s recap. For reporting the demise of the Indy 500, I lost four jobs, lots of money, several friendships and to this day I’m persona non grata on every Indy radio and TV station except the ABC affiliate during May. Oh, and the Indy Star acts like I never existed on their pages for five decades.

    For pointing out that Champ Car has a shortage of common sense, cars, leadership and good judgment on this web site, I lost a nice supplementary income.

    Of course this is the big difference between myself and intelligent life. Obviously, I understood the potential consequences of my actions in 1996 and again this past weekend. Keep my mouth shut, toe the party line and collect my checks – facts and reality be damned.

    But I can’t play that game of looking the other way when Champ Car tries to fire Tony Cotman or lying about how much drama there is on Bump Day at Indy nowadays.

    My problem is that open wheel racing is my family, my job and my passion. Watching it be destroyed is maddening and frustrating. Nobody in this country has written more positive stories about Indy, Indy cars and open wheel than myself. And nobody has been as critical. A healthy faction of CART owners hated me in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the IRL brain trust has felt that way most of the past 11 years. Now they both loathe me and that’s perfect – I must be doing my job.

    Naturally, I understand a lot of people in my business maybe can’t always say what they feel because they’ve got families to feed and can’t afford to lose their job. Telling the truth in the media is usually risk vs. reward. You risk losing money, friends and stability for taking a stand while the reward is the conviction of your reporting.

    Auto racing has always been driven by bitching, cheating, lying and stealing other’s peoples drivers and sponsors – it’s the nature of the beast. Indy car racing has always been mismanaged regardless of the call letters. NASCAR has always written its rule book in pencil. USAC has always been stuck in the 1950s. The AMA has always ripped off its riders. Sure there are some great people and stories in motorsports and telling them is the most enjoyable part of our jobs.

    But it’s a cut-throat business that demands more honest analysis and usually settles for saccharine shows on TV complete with cheerleading or insulting features about Michael Waltrip’s pain over the cheating on his team.

    Thankfully, there are old rippers like Ben Blake, Ed Hinton, Monte Dutton, Gordon Kirby and Brock Yates who are never afraid to hold people’s feet to the fire. Thankfully, SPEED provides me a national forum and doesn’t tell me what to say or write.

    In the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character said: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.”

    And the truth is, not many racing people can.
    Thats also the original version before SPEED edited the AMA and Michael Waltrip bits.

    [Edited on 3-3-07 by Clown]
  • Yep thats Robin Miller. He didn't mention his six month stint in Washington as a "political" columist with the post. He covered for Roger Day in 1976. I read he hated politics more than anything God invented and left Washington running. I admire him for his tell it as it is attiitude. As for Kalkhoven like George he has to put on the show so he's bound to be super positive specially for the sponsors. I take Millers view as being a lot closer to the truth.
  • Thats some pretty brutal reporting if it is true
  • That's a brilliant read.
  • Yes, it is the depressingly familiar. Sports and showbiz 'journalism' are awash with reporters-cum-PR merchants. Otherwise access to the stars is removed faster than you can say 'editorial approval'. Even my humble project has tasted this but I can't name names, of course ...
  • no but you can email them!!!!!!
  • Millers Latest

    In the land of earthquakes, they were announcements that could only be described as a seven on the Richter scale.

    Zsolt Baumgartner named test and reserve driver for Minardi Team USA.

    Tristan Gommendy named the second driver for PKV Racing.

    Mazda named the official vehicle.

    Matt Halliday is testing the Conquest entry.

    Holmatro Rescue Tools named title sponsor of the safety team.

    Pacific Coast Motorsports unveiled its paint scheme.

    Hostess Twinkies named the official pastry.

    OK, that last one was a joke but, for the most part, so was Thursday’s Champ Car’s Media Day at Laguna Seca. With the promise of some blockbuster announcements from series co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven, the slim media contingent instead received the nebulous news above.

    Make no mistake, a month before the season opener at Las Vegas it was good to have Alex Tagliani (Rocketsports) and Gommendy confirmed as drivers to put the official number at 10.

    It was also good for Paul Newman and Carl Haas to welcome Mike Lanigan as a partner and now it’s Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, which hopefully is going to officially announce Graham Rahal as the second shoe before he turns 21 (for the record, he’s 18).

    But, in terms of newsworthiness, it was hardly “stop the presses” material.

    Gommandy evidently got the nod at PKV over veteran Oriol Servia because he’s bringing $2 million from a yet-to-be-named foreign sponsor.

    Baumgartner, who once drove for Minardi owner Paul Stoddart in Formula 1, appears to be in line to drive the Minardi two-seat F1 machine at this year’s Champ Car events. That’s about all the seat time he’ll get since testing is very limited by the rules.

    Mazda, owned by Ford which had been a presenting sponsor and partner of Champ Car, will supply pace cars and some courtesy vehicles.

    And having a title sponsor for the safety team is nice but there’s still no title sponsor for a series that’s desperately in need of money for its teams.

    To be honest, the real news here wasn’t the feel-good kind.

    Katherine Legge politely declined to participate in Media Day because she says she still doesn’t have a firm deal with any team.

    Justin Wilson, last year’s runner-up and Bourdais’ top challenger, arrived at the track to learn his RuSPORT team had entered into a “technical” partnership with Rocketsports and there’s been serious talk of moving the Colorado-based team to Lansing, Mich. Let’s just say the classy Englishman is less than enamored with any and all of that news. Ditto for his crew.

    Three-time series runner-up Bruno Junqueira is spending one day in Dale Coyne’s car here, as is Canadian Andrew Ranger, but neither has a seat for the season.

    Mexico’s Mario Dominguez showed up to look for work while Nelson Philippe, who scored his initial win last year, is a no-show because his family is not writing any more checks and claims if he can’t be paid to drive, he’ll be a spectator.

    Dan Clarke, a rookie in 2006, is pounding the pavement but has nothing yet.

    Servia, a loyal veteran of Champ Car since 2000, is also walking around with his helmet but no place to put it.

    For the record, that’s a total of seven full-timers from ’06 who are in limbo and, with RuSPORT definitely cutting back to one car, Rocketsports only fielding one and Gerry Forsythe still sticking to his guns about not running a second car without funding, there’s less opportunity than ever before in a series that’s been around since 1979.

    Right now, unless some things change drastically in the next couple weeks, it’s looking like 16 starters in the opener at Las Vegas on April 8.

    But the best news for Champ Car is that nobody noticed, because Media Day didn’t get a lot of national play. No USA Today. No L.A. Times. No Indianapolis Star. No Las Vegas papers. Not even new broadcast and marketing “partner” ESPN bothered to send anybody.

    It was just a quaint little group. Tristan, Zsolt, a few Internet sites, one racing weekly and SPEED. We came, we saw and we shook our heads.
  • He paints a pretty bleak picture , is a World Series viable with 16 cars?
  • What Clown said.

    This offseason HAS been a disappointment after the carefully constructed sense of optimism and progress fostered over the past year or two. The series is no longer (supposedly) providing subsidies to the teams and there is fallout and complaining. I think that this was done a year or two too soon and has pretty much wiped out the image building that's happened since KK and Forsythe took over the series. Those guys hiring and looking to hire straight up pay drivers (Tristan Gommerdy?) or in Forsythes case run only one car sends a terrible message. This is the wrong year to blow it from a series standpoint with a new car, new TV, and Mazda sniffing around as well. Providing the appearance of stability CAN lead to real stability and growth.............pulling the plug too soon is like expecting a 3 month old to run an obstacle course.

    [Edited on 11-3-07 by dst]

    [Edited on 11-3-07 by dst]
  • Sigh...why must Champ Car always shoot itself in the foot? Especially this season, with a clear favorite to root for...

    Even though I'm one of the the most blindly loyal supporters of the series, it's getting really hard to envision long-term success for Champ Car.
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