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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

"Looking at the Future"
2/9/05

Athens, NYóA previous commentary advised readers to watch the door!

Since that writing, Tony Cotman has stepped through it after reversing roles with the subject of my last column, John Lopes. Lopes assumed Cotmanís position at Andretti/Green IRL headquarters while Mr. Cotman has officially begun his tenure as Champ Carís newest VP Racing Operations.

Breaching political correctness to quote myself:

"The only way the troika can make up for enabling and/or tolerating John Lopesí past performance and his potentially dangerous future is by replacing him with an individual with a burning desire to see their investment succeed in the fullest measure.

"That would require finding someone who not only has the qualifications to get the job done but who also knows the history of our beloved speed sport and has his fingers on the pulse of its existing and potential fan base; someone who understands and can interface with the other major functional departments of the Champ Car companyóespecially promotion and marketing."

At least at this early stage of his employment it looks as if Tony Cotman might be able to fill most of the qualifications I suggested. Beyond that, after reading quotes from a recent champcar.com piece, I am flabbergasted to see that for at least once in my lifetime Champ Car World Seriesí owners appear to have come to the same conclusions that most right-thinking fans of our beloved speed sport have already reached.

And itís not merely because Mr. Cotmanís has an appropriate resume for the job [see the Official Champ Car website announcement story by David Phillips] but also because the new VP has uttered a credible and fan-pleasing mouthful of objectives and promises that, were they to go unfulfilled, would make mud of his good name.

Additionally, while it sickens me to speak well about any f-inheritor entity, it is inarguable that the Whining Turncoatís inaugural Indy Car effort yielded unexpected success. As such, Tony Cotman certainly deserves a major share of the teamís accolades for helping to make winners out of, well, underachievers.

The following are some of Tony Cotmanís most interesting quotes along with my reactions to them:

"Thereís a lot of areas [at Champ Car] that need to be run like race teams. Good race teams are very efficient companies. One of my jobs here is really to integrate the operations side and the front office. We both must intertwine and always know what each otherís doing. It may take two minutes longer to get the answer. But if itís the right answer, itís worth waiting for."

How can you argue with that logic?

"Weíre pretty thin [staff] right now. BUT I am very confident of rebuilding and itís up to me to rebuild with the right people. Thereís a lot of different ways of doing things and Iím sure my ideas differ from others sometimes. Iím not saying that's good or bad. Itís just that we look at things differentlyÖIím not afraid of change, for the right reasons, and Iím not afraid of fresh ideas."

With sluggish boards of directors and self-serving CEOís out of the picture Tony Cotman might actually have a running chance at instituting a few programs that are based on his and/or other peoplesí fresh ideas. We can only hope.

"Granted, I havenít been in the series the past two years but, from a fan or spectator or a television point of view, I have had no idea whatís going on with the pit windows. And if I donít have any idea whatís going on, how do we expect the regular fan in the stands to know whatís going on?

" The goal is to take it out of the hands of the officials and put the onus back on the teams. Thereís definitely more than one way to win a race, and if one of them happens to be one team outsmarting everybody on fuel mileage, thatís just part of racing.

"Maybe teams can look at their strategies in a different light. Iím not saying we should all sit there saving fuel all day because thatís not necessarily going to be the way to go. But I believe thereís more positives than negatives by far."

My knee-jerk reaction to the introduction of every new iteration of mandatory pit-stopping has always been to invoke the Outback Steak House mottoóNo rules, just right. So have a Bloominí Onion on me, Tony!

"The race director/chief steward is a tough job. No one wants it [because his] head is always under the ax, so to speak. You must be decisive and there must be a quick decision-making process with a very knowledgeable cast."

Not an entirely true statement. Prior to Chris Kneifel taking over the Chief Stewardís job from his predecessor, Wally Dallenbach, there was great respect for the positionódespite a considerably larger roster of drivers with egos to match their credentials.

That is not to say that Sheriff Wally was not, at times, maligned by drivers and team owners for his decisiveness. Nonetheless, there were few, if any, calls for his ouster. Dallenbachís responsibilities with CART continued to increase with time and he was even summoned back from his long-awaited retirement to provide consultation and training to Kneifel and his staff.

"The other thing that will contribute, I believe, to tidying up the confusion is to close the pits under full course yellow. Sure, thereís pros and cons but I believe thereís more for than against. Itís a good move, first of all safety-wise. Right now we race back to pit lane. Yes, we pick up the race leader but really thereís no restriction for the race leader to slow down. So youíve got guys extracting a car out of the fence, with trucks parked on the side of the track and here we are racing back to the pit lane, and I believe thatís the wrong thing."

Establishment of a set-in-stone pit closure rule is not necessary. What is needed is more precise coordination between race control, the pace car driver, the starter, and the corner workers. All of the aforementioned need to be "ordered around" by the Chief Stewardóquickly, decisively, and in no uncertain terms. Once that kind of race management is in place, flag obedience must be enforced as never before.

"Part of the job is looking at the future. How are we going to do Ď07? ÖWe need to sit down as a group and understand what it is about Champ Car that attracts fans to it. Thereís a pretty loyal fan base out there, even though itís fair to say they got treated poorly for a while. But thereís still a lot of fans that really like Champ Car racing and we have to understand what it is they like about it. Is it the noise? Is it the look of the car? What should we take into consideration in building down the road?"

Talk about a futuristic idea!

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

Copyright © 2005 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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