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Q&A: Steve Johnson (CCWS CEO) - EXCLUSIVE.


Spearheading Champ Car's decision to take its brand of competition world-wide, Steve Johnson was behind the move to add races at Assen and Zolder to the 2007 schedule.

Crash.net caught up with the series' president and CEO to discover a little more about the expansion plans and find out what European fans can expect from Champ Car this time around...


Q:
What was the thinking about bringing the Champ Car World Series back to Europe?

Steve Johnson:
We are the Champ Car World Series. At one time, we really were but, recently, the only world activities we had were Australia, Mexico, Canada and the United States. So, for this year, we added Europe - which makes all the sense in the world - and China. Now we really are truly a global platform for our partners, as well as for our race teams.

Q:
What would you say to those who feel that the series shouldn't be looking to expand overseas when it is struggling to consolidate a decent field in the US?

SJ:
Again, we are an international series. If you look at our drivers, the majority are European, and open-wheel racing isn't something you have to educate the Europeans about. They are the most knowledgeable fans in the world. We've got roots here and we're going to take advantage of that, and, by doing so, we continuing to build our brand in the US. There is so much going on in the US racing-wise, my view is that our biggest growth opportunities right now are outside the US and, really, in Europe.

Q:
What is the situation between Champ Car and the Indy Car series - are talks dead, ongoing, in hibernation...?

SJ:
I get asked this question several times a day, and all I can tell you is that I am focused on the business of the Champ Car World Series. It's a completely different business model to the Indy Racing League - they're racing predominantly ovals in sub-tier markets, while we're taking the racing, the festivals, right to the people in major markets. As far as the talks, I don't know. [Those decisions] are going to be made by guys like Gerry Forsythe, Kevin Kalkhoven and Tony George - those are the three guys who have to do it, not me. Meanwhile, I'm tasked with driving the television viewership, bringing in more fans, putting butts in seats, increasing the web traffic, bringing new teams in, adding sponsors, that sort of thing - and that's what I'm focused on 100 per cent.

Q:
Surely it would benefit the business of Champ Car to have one unified open-wheel series in the US?

SJ:
There is no doubt. Right now, NASCAR is king in the US and, although they're struggling this year by their standards - TV numbers are down 16 per cent over last year, and attendances are down - we would still love to be in the position that they are in. So we're all fighting the NASCAR marketing machine and having one open-wheel series would definitely make it easier than having two, but I'm playing with the cards I'm dealt.

Q:
Getting back to the European Tour, why pick Zolder and Assen?

SJ:
We have tried to be self-promoters in the past and were horrible at it, so it didn't take a long time to figure not to do that again! This time, the promoters came to us. Bart [Rietbergen] came to us and said that he had two races he wanted to put on, at Zolder and Assen, and that he had the sponsorship base. We know the fans are there - they are some of the nuttiest fans in the world - and we are looking forward to coming over because they understand our sport. That's why we're coming over. It makes good sense for us. Will we expand in Europe? I think we will in the future, but it will come down to the right promoters coming forward with the right business model that works for us. At the end of the day, this is a business and, if they can present that to us, we will be here.

Q:
Obviously, Champ Car has been to the UK before, having raced at Rockingham and Brands Hatch in recent years. Were there any thoughts about bringing the series back to the UK this year?

SJ:


Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
ChampCar World Series. 20-22 April 2007. Grand Prix of Houston. Reliant Park. Houston, Texas. Start of Houton Grand Prix.
Champ Car  19-21 May 2003. Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey. Monterrey, Mexico. Steve Johnson and Kevin Kalkhoven.
Roberto Moreno puts the new Panoz DP01 Champ Car through its paces at Sebring
Buddy Lazier - Hemelgarn Johnson   [pic credit: IRL/Payne]
Buddy Lazier - Hemelgarn Johnson   [pic credit: IRL/Garrett]
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Robert Doornbos.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Bruno Junqueira.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, BelgiumSebastien Bourdais with Mike Lannigan, Bruno Junqueira and Graham Rahal.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Race podium (L-R): Bruno Junqueira (2nd), Sebastien Bourdais (Winner) and Graham Rahal (3rd).
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Race podium (L-R): Bruno Junqueira (2nd), Sebastien Bourdais (Winner) and Graham Rahal (3rd).
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Sebastien Bourdais leads.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, BelgiumBourdais leads from Doornbos and Power.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, BelgiumSebastien Bourdais.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Sebastien Bourdais.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, BelgiumRace action.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, BelgiumKatherine Legge.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, BelgiumSebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal.
24-26 August 2007, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Jan Heylen.

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