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Houston GP Press Conferrence

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  • Houston GP Press Conferrence

    from the 11/9/05 Houston Chronicle (requires registration)
    article included a picture of Ranger's Mi-Jack car being fueled after a short spin around Reliant Park!

    Grand Prix group driven to succeed
    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

    Graphic: Houston Grand Prix Course

    After the 2001 race through downtown streets, the Grand Prix of Houston was laid to rest.

    CART, the sanctioning body for that open-wheel car race, went under in January 2004, a victim of bankruptcy.

    On a blazing November day in an outdoor announcement Wednesday afternoon at Reliant Park, officials from Champ Car Racing, the successor to CART, shook off the dust and laid out the details for the 2006 Grand Prix of Houston.

    A weekend of racing May 11-13 will take place on a temporary course that measures 1.7 miles through the parking lots of the vast Reliant Park complex.

    The Champ Car World Series race is the main event Saturday evening, and an American Le Mans Series race is scheduled Friday evening. The event kicks off with practice Thursday night.

    "We're rebuilding the company and the series, and we're looking for key markets that have strength and viability," said Joe Chrnelich, executive vice president of Champ Car. "From our perspective, Houston was a natural. We had been there, and there was a positive feeling.

    "I think people enjoyed the prior experience, so we felt we needed to get back here. We needed this market, and we're overjoyed to be back."

    After the 2001 race, the reconstruction of downtown streets made a road course unthinkable. In addition, there had been concerns among fans from 1998-2001 about accessibility and seating arrangements for the race.

    According to Michael Lanigan, chairman and CEO of the 2006 Grand Prix of Houston, those problems should be alleviated with the move to the Reliant Park complex.

    With 20,000 parking spaces, enough seating to accommodate fans who choose suite, grandstand or general admission seating and 10 large-screen TVs, Lanigan pledged this will be a fan-friendly event.

    Lanigan hopes to develop a festival-style atmosphere, where a fan can spend three hours watching the race or three days taking part in a variety of hands-on activities.

    "I was a fan before I was a sponsor or a car owner," said Lanigan, who owns the Mi-Jack Racing Team in the Champ Car series. "I know what people want. We want people to like this event the first year, and then like it more and more each year."

    Lanigan was required to sign a five-year agreement with Champ Car, American Le Mans Series and Reliant Park. Chrnelich said that sort of contract is standard with Champ Car, which had a double-digit percentage increase in attendance in the 2005 season.

    "It's become our policy because we want to show the market and the fans that we are committed to their city," Chrnelich said. "Whether it's racing or any other event, it takes times to build something. Five years is a big sign of faith on our part."

    Also at Wednesday's announcement, the layout for the 1.7-mile track was unveiled. Because the track was not constrained by city streets, the designers could have at it. They came up with a concrete track that is expected to show well — both for fans at the race and for the TV audiences.

    Lanigan said he told the track designers to make sure the drivers could cut loose. The optimum speed is expected to be 185 mph, but within seconds drivers will have to slow to 15 mph to negotiate left- and right-hand turns.

    Chuck Kosich, the general manager of the Grand Prix of Houston, was in charge of pulling the track together. Kosich has more than 30 years experience in motor sports management, including working on the previous races in downtown Houston.

    "One consistency about an event, no matter if it's NASCAR or Formula One or Champ Car, is that it is ultimately judged by its track," Kosich said.

    "We wanted a fast track, we wanted a wide track to allow for passing, we wanted a 1.7-mile track and we wanted 10 turns. We got all that. We want a track that drivers will talk about for years to come."

    While the promoters were wildly enthusiastic at Wednesday's announcement, there are several items that need attention. Among them:

    •Tickets for the event are not yet for sale. According to Kosich, attendance for the three-day event in a best-case scenario would be 175,000. He said announcements on ticket prices would be forthcoming.
    •A primary sponsor has not been located. Lanigan has had conversations with "a number of potential sponsors," but it might be late January before an announcement is made.
    "It's always critical having a sponsor," Lanigan said. "We expect to have one, but that's not going to stop us from making this happen."

    •There is roughly seven months to get the marketing, sales and track construction started and finished. Lanigan said he would like to have 1 1/2 years, but that is not the case. Kosich and Robert Dale Morgan, the executive director of the event, will be under the gun.
    "Now the hard work begins," Chrnelich said. "There is marketing and ticket sales and letting people know what you've got here. Houston is a market that is accustomed to huge events. We have to let people know that we have a major event happening here."

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  • #2
    I am so excited about having an open wheel race and an ALMS race literally in my backyard (I will walk to the festivities from my house) I can hardly stand it. If any TFr's planning to attend have any questions about the area, feel free to PM me.


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