CART CEO defends long-term strategy

CART CEO Chris Pook has defended himself against critics suggesting his crop of rookies drivers are simply needed to fill the Champ Car grid, and fulfill his commitments to race organisers. "How do you recycle your sport? How do you bring in new talent if you don't want them because we don't recognize their names?" he said recently. "When Juan Montoya first came in no one knew who he was."

CART CEO defends long-term strategy

Over the winter, many commentators talked of Champ Car defections in terms of rats are leaving a sinking ship but despite the series losing Toyota and Honda to IRL in 2003, and six teams losing their title sponsors, Pook puts his faith in the future. "I'm not even thinking of 2003 anymore," he said. "I'm thinking ahead to 2004, 2005 and 2006."

Pook has done all he can to put these criticisms to bed, and it seems to have worked. Toyota renewed as main sponsor of this weeknd's Long Beach Grand Prix, until 2005 [Nov 22], Johnson Controls stepped in as title sponsor of Paul Gentalozzi's Rocketsports Racing team [Nov 25], West Coast insurance replaced Chevron at Newman/Haas Racing, while the Mexican Corona beer company is backing rookie Lavin.

The series' CEO concedes that he cannot forsee a time when broadcasters will be falling over themselves to secure TV rights to air the races and admits CART still has to buy airtime, from both NBC and Speed Channel. "So does everyone else," he says, "but what will come to be will be our ability to improve our ratings."

In the US, CART drew between 1m and 1.5 m viewers per race last year (on CBS and Speed Channel), as did IRL (on ABC), compared with the NASCAR Winston Cup series' average of 9.5m viewers (on Fox and NBC).

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