Kevin Kalkhoven Q&A

Kevin Kalkhoven is one third of the Open Wheel Racing Series consortium that is looking to take control of CART. Last week, OWRS altered its strategy for taking over the sanctioning body, which runs the Champ Car World Series, proposing to but selected assets rather than merge with the company. Kalkhoven was in London last weekend for the AUTOSPORT Awards, where he explained his vision of the future for the Champ Car World Series

Kevin Kalkhoven Q&A

"We are proposing to buy all the assets necessary to run the 2004 season next year, which is everything from the physical assets to the supplier contracts with Ford, Bridgestone; the contracts with the promoters and the circuits. We wanted a clean sheet. That's really what we're trying to achieve here.

"There's no lack of commitment on our part. In fact, I personally have guaranteed a large amount of money, if necessary, to keep CART running - independent of everything else - for the next 60 days.

"There's a CART board meeting on Wednesday (10th) where the board will review our offer, and by Friday we will know the result one way or the other. Now, I don't know what the board's going to do. However, we believe they do understand that logic will prevail in all of this which, strangely enough, means the shareholders will probably get what the (were offered) before and that CART can keep running forward.

"But in the last five months since we made our offer, nobody else had come forward to run this, to put forth tens of millions of dollars of their own money to keep it running. If somebody else wants to run it and just let us be team owners and go have fun motor racing, we're only too happy for that to happen."

"Of course. There's always that risk. But, there's been that risk for the last five months. And whether the risk is x-million dollars or eight millions dollars or whatever, I honestly don't believe - and I say this very sincerely - that Tony George and Roger Penske want to be the guys who bought CART and then stopped it from running. I really don't believe that Tony or Roger want to buy it and bankrupt it. I think that is a legacy in motorsports that they would not want. If we screw it up, fine, they can laugh at us. But I don't think they want to be the seen as the ones who bankrupt the series.

"I do believe that we can build a strong series. I can't begin to tell you the number of letters, e-mails, voice mails - I mean some of them incredibly touching - from people who really want to see this thing be preserved; that this is too damned good to let go..."

"Apart from a few technical changes to make the racing more exciting, I don't think the fans will see anything different next year."

"The race operations group is a pretty good group and they are intact. People like (director of technology) Lee Dysktra and (vp of racing operations) John Lopes and that crew are a pretty good crew, so we don't see any need to change that."

"I've never wanted to be a championship owner. We will hand the operation of the company over to someone else. We do not want to get into the same historical issues of the confrontations between being team owners and running the series. That's never been what we want. We don't personally want to influence the competition.

"The only reason we're doing this is for the passion we have for open-wheel racing in the United States. And for the people. There are a couple of a thousand people who, if this thing doesn't work out, will be out of a job.

"It was a concern of course, but more importantly we had to get the issues out there and get it sorted out and get it done very, very quickly."

"We reckon that it's two or three years. And that doesn't surprise me. My whole working experience in life has been starting new companies. And all of them take a couple of years to turn around.

"There is a huge amount of interest in the series; from teams, sponsors and promoters. We have a lot of opportunities to go racing in a lot of places; a lot of people want to come and join us. All they're waiting for is a period of stability. Literally, they keep saying to us, 'Give us 12 months of stability, we're with you. Give us six months of stability... and we're with you. That's all we want.'

"Fans want to see action... they want to see really exciting pit stops, really exciting overtaking and, unfortunately, the occasional accident. They want to be able to identify with the drivers. We've not done a good job with the drivers (for the fans); we've not necessarily done a good job of creating the most exciting racing we can. But relatively few changes can make that work.

"There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the series. If there were you wouldn't have had 400,000 people in Mexico, 300,000 in Australia. There's not a lot broken in the series. It just needs stability."

"There will be a few changes. The first thing was to work our way out of the St. Petersburg race, which was a strange way to start the series because you had to wait two months after that for the next race. You want to start on a high note, like Long Beach.

"There is interest in a couple more non-U.S. countries having a race next year. Korea is still on; Australia is still very much on. You have the three Canadian races, the two Mexican races, it's a pretty strong calendar, but there'll be a few changes."

"Maybe by one or two races, but that's not necessarily bad. We had a season that was too long last year. You can't have a season that starts in St. Petersburg (in February) and ends in California (in November). People lose interest when there's big gaps. We need a more concise race calendar, more regular racing and, preferably, not on the same weekends as Formula 1. So, inevitably, there's refinements to be made."

"I question whether anyone can afford to support a race series indefinitely, whether it's Tony George or ourselves. Tony is clearly losing tens of millions of dollars a year on his racing series and his family is not overly enthusiastic about that. So, while he can afford to adopt an Eastern-like viewpoint on this, financial reality does exist.

"Financial reality is that open-wheel racing in the United States - as a singular group - is and has never been as successful as other forms of racing. That is proven with Formula 1 at Indianapolis, which is not exactly the greatest spectator event in the United States sporting calendar.

"So, what we have to do is take a cold dose of reality in this and ask what is it that we all have to do to promote open-wheel racing, not just in the United States but also in Canada, Mexico and the Americas.

"In the early 1900s in the United States, motor racing really depended on people being able to go to the horse racing tracks. So they got used to going around and around on ovals. Very interesting racing.

"The rest of the world was used to road racing. So you've got this strange island of circular racing, which is the American world, which really doesn't exist outside. And clearly, there are no really successful oval racing events outside of the United States.

"So, if you're looking at an international audience, you have to recognize that while there is one very successful oval event - which is Indianapolis - the worldwide audience fundamentally does not want to just see oval racing. That is proved among television figures of oval racing in the IRL. It used to be that spectators came to be familiar with the drivers. If you go to many of the (single seater) oval racing events in the United States, the spectators are so few that the drivers get to know the spectators. It's not something that in the long term is going to catch on. If you want to look at a series that is based throughout the Americas, you have to look at the fact that people want road racing.

"Clearly, Indianapolis is known around the world. But for open-wheel racing to survive it needs more than ovals. We implicitly believe that; we implicitly believe that you could put an oval in Mexico and nobody would go there to watch it.

"Possibly. It's not in our plans, but it's possible. If the marketplace dictates that's what people want to watch, let's go with the audience."

"I think there is a significant opportunity for road racing, internationally. One of the things that completely fascinates me in the last four months is the number of cities around the world that have approached Champ Car racing who want races. Whether it's in the Americas, Asia, actually Africa and the Middle East -- because people are interested in open-wheel road racing around the world.

"So will we see it in Europe? Probably. Will we see it in other parts of the world? Probably."

"I'm not anticipating a problem with car count. I really am not. That's the one thing in all this... I go, 'OK guys, so glad you're with us.' Because we've got new teams coming in; we've got Carl Russo coming in with probably the most significant American driver since Mario Andretti in young A.J. Allmendinger. If there is one guy who can go to Formula 1 and win, it's A.J. There are two or three young American drivers coming up, A.J. being a good example, the traditional route of the ladder series. He's got a very passionate backer in Carl Russo and he is determined that he will become the one."

"The answer is we need international drivers. If we go to Canada we need Canadian drivers If we go to Mexico we need Mexican drivers. One of the reasons Formula 1 has not been successful in America is that they haven't had an American driver. I would question if Britain didn't have a Formula 1 driver would the interest be that high?"

"The next week or two will determine all of this. All I can say is there are a huge number of fans and a huge number of people that are involved in this who want this thing to succeed. Then there are a few people who would rather see that it not (succeed) and they've got a pretty well-oiled machine to take anything you say and turn it to a negative spin.

"But there is no lack of commitment by the principles to provide their personal capital and their personal energy to make sure that a great series, matures, changes, metamorphoses and keeps going on."

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