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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Mission: Control
2/8/06

Athens, NY—Even before the only guy with a hammer who ever really mattered—Bankruptcy Court Judge Frank Otte—had judiciously rapped his gavel on a desk to award the coveted remains of CART to a trio known by the new acronym OWRS, one member of that aspiring partnership was already well known as a Champ Car control freak.

Unlike Gentleman Racer/entrepreneur Paul Gentilozzi and Kevin Kalkhoven, the wannabe open-wheel racing mogul who became wealthy as a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, OWRS’s third component, Gerald Forsythe, had already spent years in CART as a franchise-holding team owner.

Not merely a prominent figure in open-wheel racing circles, Forsythe was also founder of the company that built and promoted CART’s well-attended Mexican events and he had amassed nearly 30% of the publicly held Champ Car Company’s stock—easily making him NYSE:MPG’s major shareholder. Furthermore, as head honcho of a power generating technology outfit known as Indeck, Forsythe was, for years, an out-of-pocket "sponsor" of Champ Cars and Champ Car drivers.

So while it is the extroverted Aussie Champ Car principal, Kalkhoven, who mixes what appears to be sincere touchy-feelyness and sentimental talk of his relationships with team-owning partner Jimmy Vasser, their protégé Katherine Legge, and the great unwashed Champ Car Festival attendees with announcements of venue rights acquisitions and engine manufacturer buy-outs, it might just be the icy quiet Forsythe who is pushing the partnership to spend those big bucks on controlling their own fate.

Who can blame Gerry Forsythe for attempting to control his way to recouping the huge financial loss he suffered when CART went belly up? Well, for starters, there’s Team Australia owner and long-time Champ Car loyalist Derrick Walker along with about 99% of all knowledgeable Champ Car fans.

"In the 40 years I’ve been in this business I can count on one hand the guys who could do that job (race director) correctly. It’s sheer madness to take him out of that position," Walker recently told SPEED’s Robin Miller, referring to Tony Cotman.

Somewhat of a control freak himself, Cotman literally threw himself at his new job as Vice President of Operations last year to the extent that he seized the responsibility, on race days, of being the ultimate arbiter of all protests and the definitive issuer of called’em-as-he-saw’em driver penalties, rulings, and the like.

Cotman even allowed his decisions to be examined on live TV by the Champ Car TV production company’s announce team. Often, Tony’s interpretations of the rules and his refreshing straightforward style were more interesting than the racing had been prior to the controversy and after its quick resolution by the Kiwi-accented race controller.

An entertaining new dimension had been added to Champ Car events; one that served to avoid the effects of a dark cloud hanging over a race as the result of an unresolved incident. Equally important, a few participants and their team members may have exited some venues shaking their heads, but not one ever suggested that Tony Cotman’s officiating was reminiscent of a circus clown’s act.

But now, in addition to criticizing Tony Cotman for under-penalizing Sebastien Bourdais over the course of last season for his perceived offenses against his own star driver, Paul Tracy, Gerald Forsythe also told Miller: "Listen, Tony is a tremendous asset to Champ Car but he got this job as Race Director because there was nobody else. I want somebody with more experience because if we can improve the position, we should."

While spoken like a true executive, someone should at least remind Gerry Forsythe that he was the one who hired Joseph Heitzler to oversee his operations in Mexico not long after Uncle Joe disgraced himself as CART’s CEO. Heitzler was a major cause for the diminution of CART’s stock value and for Forsythe’s huge subsequent losses. It’s hard to believe that "nobody else" was available at that time of Heitzler’s hiring.

"Tell it Like it is Tony" will only get better with a rookie year of Champ Car experience under his belt while Heitzler was and always will be an obfuscator, if not an outright scammer. Nonetheless, what we have here is an interesting test that could determine who, among the current Champ Car owners and executives, exerts the most control.

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

Copyright © 2006 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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