With numerous teams in the past seasons having defected from CART to the rival IRL series it was a surprise when Paul Gentilozzi, after speculation that he was headed for IRL, chose the CART series for his team's expansion.
Owner of Rocketsports Racing, Gentilozzi is also a three-time Trans-Am champion. Much speculation abounded in the latter part of this season that he would be headed with his team to the Indy Racing League in 2003. As recently as October the real estate developer was quoted in interviews as saying IRL was where he was headed, but the following month it was confirmed that CART was where his team and backers, Johnson Controls, would be.
Gentilozzi gave explanation for his decision to the official CART website. “Initially, the attraction--let's just be blunt--of some of the other series is the Indy 500,” said Gentilozzi. “That's a major motorsports event, but it is not the only place to do business. When you look at the relationships that happen on race weekends between customers and sponsors, business-to-business contact can only be done in this part of the world with CART. That changed our mind.”
The decision to move to CART was made for business considerations Gentilozzi explains. “It was completely a business decision, not emotional,” he said. “I didn't approach it in any other way except what was right for my sponsor. What was right for Johnson Controls was to have us participate, on a full-schedule basis, from one end of the world to the other, really, in an effort to do the best job for them.”
The move also signifies a change of focus for the team away from the furtherment of its owner's driving career. “It's all about business relationships,” he said. “It's no different from a guy in Toyota Atlantic wanting to drive in CART than a team owner in Trans-Am wanting to be an owner in CART or the IRL. You have to aspire to that. And you also have to make the commitment, 'OK I'm ready to stop being a full-time driver in a series.' That was probably the most difficult thing to do.”
Despite far lower attendances than in its heyday, the Indianapolis 500 remains a key event in American motorsport, something of which Gentilozzi is well aware. “We have an obstacle to overcome because we're not in Indianapolis. It's like racing Winston Cup and not being in Charlotte.”
The move to CART is a big step for the team as Gentilozzi told CART
“There's still a lot to learn. The engineering exercise of a CART program brings a lot of education for all those folks. My guys are going to be able to share some things with the new people that are coming on the CART side, and it'll be reciprocal.
“I've been around the CART program and I know the level and skill of those mechanics and crew members. In some ways, they don't have as many dimensions as good guys from sports car racing, because you have to be a fabricator and an engineer without the advantage of all that support. The CART side takes it to another level because there are so many layers of people to bring together. Now all I've got to do is figure out how to integrate them.
“You've got to make it fit together. We're all doing the same kind of work. But it's not like the Trans-Am team is going away. We're still going to be doing some of those projects as we go forward. But when you're the new kid at school, people always perceive you as being the quarterback ... until you play quarterback. So right now I'm enjoying that advantage. A lot of the other guys knew what we could do in sports car racing and a lot of the guys who are interested in coming with us are hoping we can make that transition with the same kind of effort and result.”