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MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE MEDIA CONFERENCE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Penske Racing

MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE MEDIA CONFERENCE

Interview with Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Steve Weiss
March 17, 1993


KEVIN DIAMOND: Hi, everybody. This is Kevin Diamond. We have, obviously, Rahal and Steve Weiss on the line. You should all have received by now the release on the new Marlboro Pole Award. And that was the new program that Marlboro will be sponsoring this year. We will no longer be sponsoring the public challenge. I am going to ask Bobby and Emerson to each make a comment about the new pole award. Then we are going to open it up to questions. Bobby, why don't you go ahead and comment on the pole award.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you. Well, obviously, I think it's great; particularly, being an owner and a driver. Obviously, I think if we had won -- if this award had been in place last year, I would have won $130,000 more. I believe it was in New Hampshire. Obviously, as a driver I like it and as an owner I like it even more. I think it is another great sign of Marlboro commitment to our series, and it should develop a lot of interest. I mean, pole position was always important but this, in my estimation, is going to make it even more so.

Q. Emerson could you comment.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Hi, everybody. I agree with Bobby. I think it will be a great incentive to IndyCar races and new challenge to have this pole award. I mean, everybody, the teams, the drivers will be more focused on how can you get the pole and I think it will be another excitement in the racing weekend Friday and Saturday, that -- not just on Sunday, but it is going to make a better day Friday and Saturday. I think that is -- again, it is another contribution from Marlboro to motor sports to IndyCar racing, and I think it is great for the sport. New ideas and new excitement for the fans for the racing fans and even for the press and for the drivers.

KEVIN DIAMOND: I remind you all that Steve Weiss is also on the line so if at some point during the questioning you have some questions about the pole award and impact on IndyCar racing, so forth, you can direct those to him. So let us open it up now, Mike, if you could start with the first question we can maybe get on with it.

Q. For both drivers with this new deal set up, I am assuming Marlboro Challenge is a thing of the past unless there is some other thing an All-Star race coming up; is it going to be missed?

BOBBY RAHAL: For me, I think it depended on the track. It was so important where you started in the Marlboro Challenge, that it really it was very difficult for you to make any kind of moves; especially a place like in Nazareth, for example, but I think this is going to make it more interesting because it is more weekend to weekend, as Emerson said, it is just another piece of excitement on each weekend. You are not building up to something necessarily, but you know, you can get carryovers like a skins game, so to speak to the next race and there is more excitement based on that. I am not going to miss the Marlboro Challenge really. I am just glad Marlboro stayed with some kind of a program. I think this one is a pretty good one.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think in one way I am going to miss the Marlboro Challenge. Maybe when I won last year, it was very nice to win the Marlboro challenge for obvious reasons. The new pole award, I think, is something creative, something new to IndyCar race. I think that will be something new to IndyCar race work-wise. That is a new challenge and a new idea that never existed before in motor race. I think it is great for IndyCar race to be leading something else again, to be ahead of everybody else, and that is a new idea and it is going to put IndyCar race again ahead of the other categories in the world.

STEVE WEISS: The Marlboro Challenge and All-Star races are going on hiatus in 1993, primarily so we can look, look for ways to refine the concept, and hopefully bring it back in future seasons to be even more exciting and entertaining than it has been in its first six years. New IndyCar pole award program for Marlboro is something we worked on very closely with Philip Morris. Primarily we wanted to try to plan or consider a standalone event that won't be at the end of the season. For example, this year in Nazareth we had four drivers, including Emerson and Bobby, who were all -- and Al and Michael as well, who were trying for the championship. I think that was preeminent on their minds even though the Challenge has been an outstanding event with two races to go, they were thinking more about the championship than the Marlboro challenge. We are looking to do is refine the concept and bring it back in a way so that it is more and more exciting and entertaining for fans and also the time in the season where teams and drivers can really focus on it solely.

Q. I hate the use the word -- I am used to covering basketball. I haven't received my release on what the format is. Could you briefly fill me in.

STEVE WEISS: Yeah, sure. I guess Kevin can also real quick, but basically you know that the pole position how important it is in any race, and debuting it, the opening race here, the Australian FAI IndyCar Grand Prix on Sunday, the program will award $10,000 to the pole winner of each IndyCar race. And if the pole sitter also goes on to win the race, he will collect an additional $15,000 bonus. Now, if the pole sitter doesn't win the race, that $15,000 becomes part of a progressive Marlboro Pole Award jackpot, which then goes into the next race. So if at the next race in Phoenix, for example, action if the pole winner goes on to win the race, he will collect not only $10,000 from Marlboro for winning the pole, but a $30,000 bonus as part of the Marlboro Pole Award Program. The 15,000 from Phoenix and 15 that would have been carried over from Australia and so on. If nobody wins it, the longer we go, the bigger the jackpot, and the more excitement and drama, I think that adds for fans who are covering the series. Certainly excitement for the drivers who like a very nice generous bonus to earn, that bonus from Marlboro as part of the Marlboro Pole Award. That third tear, the driver who wins the most poles during the season will collect an additional $25,000 bonus at the end of the season. As Bobby pointed out, you have got one-- you have got the $10,000 that you get for each pole, but as the pot grows, like Bobby having won from the pole at New Hampshire, would have collected $130,000 if this program had been in place last year; then at the end of season, we look back and say who has won the most poles and we throw in another $25,000. The total program is worth $400,000. The only place we will not do it is the Indianapolis 500, they will not participate in this.

Q. Is it not feasible for IndyCar to do as NASCAR does with the Unical (Phonetic) type race with pole winners at the beginning of the season, maybe the first race on the schedule, this country would be what, Phoenix?

KEVIN DIAMOND: Steve, you might respond to that in terms of combining the two.

STEVE WEISS: We are committed at IndyCar to always finding new ways to entertain our fans. And we are considering a variety of things. We think the Marlboro Challenge has been a stellar event and a real jewel on the IndyCar circuit for the last six years, and what we really doing now is by really the continuation of Marlboro's commitment with the pole award is absolutely outstanding, and when we were thrilled and delighted with it. What we are going to do with the challenge with our All-Star event is look for ways, over the next season, to refine it; bring it back and make it better than it has been and we are considering a variety of concepts. We haven't obviously come to a final conclusion yet.

Q. I have one for each driver. Bobby there have been a lot of off-season changes as there always have been in equipment and personnel. You have added now testing Honda engines to your program. What do you think-- what do you see as your biggest challenge this season?

BOBBY RAHAL: Keeping all the balls in the air. Well, that is, you know, in part, this is why we asked Mike Groth (phonetic) to come on board with us. We have a separate organization to actually run the Honda program. So I don't think that that is going to really conflict with what we are doing. It is in a totally separate building, although, it is part of our team. It really operates almost independent of the race team. So I don't think that it is going to really create much of a load. We have the right people in the right positions, and you know, I am just looking forward to it - will be a lot of driving for myself and for Mike, I guess, but that is what it is all about.

Q. Do you think that your biggest challenge are going to be internal, from within your team and your own personal goals or will it be the new competition that is coming on the circuit, follow-up to Bobby.

BOBBY RAHAL: I think our competition is going to be outside. I don't see anything -- I think internally we are in good shape. We are doing our own chassis which obviously is a lot of work and what have you, but I think that you know, we have really worked hard at building an organization and I definitely think we are ready and so, my view-- my focus is on my competition; not on what we are doing internally.

Q. One for Emerson, with Rick's retirement and the addition of Paul full-time. Your team has undergone some changes what will be the differences with Rick gone and what do you think Paul will bring to the team?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, first thing myself I am going to miss Rick a lot. I mean, he was a great champ, a great teammate, and we had great work together. I mean, we had incredible relationship. We put everything on the table after practice and we could discuss completely on the develop of the racing weekend. I am going to miss a lot. I mean, Rick was a very good test driver. He was -- he hooked up a car very well. That, I am going to miss. With Paul -- Paul has been doing a lot of test in the last year. He put a lot of miles on different tracks, and you know, he is doing really well, and all the testing program that he has been doing, I think he got a lot of experience and he is a very good driver. He is very aggressive. I think it will be a new challenge and the type of new atmosphere on the team having Paul, to hold the championship with me. We are all very excited for the first racing in Australia. We are looking forward for the first race. It will be the first time that we will be matching the other drivers, the other teams, I mean, so far the winter test, they never run together, with, you know, competitors that we can have a barometer, a comparison. I think Friday will be the first time running against each other on a track, and we are all very excited about that.

Q. Bobby, with this extra money up for the pole position, it is going to mean more tweaking of the car, I would imagine, just for qualifying. What is that going to mean from a standpoint of logistics and cost to get a car just to qualify and then get it back for the race?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I don't know if -- I mean, I don't know if you-- if anything is going to be anything really different. Because let us face it, as important as the money is, that points for pole has always been very important too. Last year it was for Michael, it was equivalent of really almost having one more race where he might have finished fifth or sixth and nobody else ran, so even just that point value is very important. Obviously, now, it is even more of a financial reward for being on pole. But I don't think that our preparation for a race is going to be any different. I think if we are on pole, it is just a reflection of having a very good race car; not necessarily coming up with you know, some type of qualifying engine or what have you, just for that day. Some people may do that, I suppose, but as far as we are concerned, we are not going to really pursue things any differently than we would have normally.

Q. The car qualified; not the driver. IndyCar changed that to some degree where theoretically might be able to have a car just for qualifying; correct?

BOBBY RAHAL: I suppose that is true. I suppose that is true. But you know, if we reduce the amount of practice time you got now, so the one mile ovals, with the exception of Milwaukee, are two day events now. You are going to have less time to do something like that. So I don't see how really, I think, I think it is all going to even out in the end. It won't be any more of a financial demand than may have already existed, and as I say, with the reduced time, I think you aren't going to have a lot of time for experimentation. You pretty much have to have your act together right from the word go.

Q. Could you both reflect on your rival Mansell.

BOBBY RAHAL: I think that it is great he is here. I look forward to competing against him. He is doing some great things for IndyCar racing as far as the international interest. I think there will be a lot of interest to see how we all, you know, how it all-- how we all compare, what have you, this weekend, but as I say, I think it is a plus. I hope he sticks around.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I agree with Bobby. I Was in Europe in December, Germany, England and in Switzerland, I could feel what I went through. Very interesting about IndyCar racing, the whole European fans, and press, including Latin America press, follow Grand Prix racing. They are looking to see to Formula One world defending champion driving IndyCars, that is again another excitement in IndyCar racing, another big go for IndyCar. I think that will put IndyCar racing this year on a very high international level. I think myself as a driver, I know Nigel is a very talented driver; will be another challenge for me and Bobby another very high level competitor, high class, like Bob said, it will be interesting to see how we are going to do compared to Nigel and I am sure all the press and the public is looking for that. I think that is great for the sport. I am very pleased.

Q. With this new international interest in IndyCar racing, Emmo, does this mean that the track in Rio may come closer to having an IndyCar race?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think that is correct. We are very, very close to have a deal on the racing track in Rio where we have have the Brazilian Grand Prix. I had a meeting with the mayor of Rio months ago. The city really wants to promote a new oval track, one mile track, that is what they are planning to do. I think that will make a great excitement for IndyCar race outside of the states, in Latin America. It is going to give another extra international flavor, and I think that is another step to make IndyCar race very big international.

STEVE WEISS: I just wanted to follow-up on your question about Nigel coming. We are really delighted to have him here and as both Bobby and Emerson said, it has really elevated international interest. But don't forget, he becomes now one of probably a dozen to 15 drivers that we have in IndyCar racing who, I think, are capable of winning a race this year. We have a very strong field, and Nigel certainly adds to that. He certainly adds luster, along with Bobby and Emerson and Al, and Mario and Danny Sullivan, and so on, we have some very strong teams this year, with a lot of very good equipment, and we think it is going to be a very exciting and competitive season and think Nigel will add to that.

Q. The decision to end the Marlboro Challenge, did that come from Marlboro or from IndyCar? Why?

KEVIN DIAMOND: The challenge itself is not ended. It is on a one-year hiatus. I think from our point of view, it was a matter of -- the program that we instituted adds a lot to IndyCar racing. And I think it just brings a bigger thing to the whole program and I think that was our impetus behind it.

Q. This money at the end of the year and the Challenge returns what happens to the unwanted funds; form a point fund or something?

STEVE WEISS: One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. The Marlboro Pole Award, that money will roll over into the following season. It is a long term commitment with Marlboro for the pole award. We worked obviously together very closely in helping them develop the pole award program, and that will be completely independent of our IndyCar All-Star event.

Q. As far as starting the season in such a far off place as Australia, does that put a lot more stress and does it make it a lot more difficult on the teams and on the drivers than if you would start something, let us say, in Phoenix and running in Australia later in the season?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think that if it wouldn't be the first race, it would have to be the last race just because it is so far away, I don't think that it really puts any undo stress. You just have to be better prepared. I think the transportation aspect of it all has gotten smoother, and you know, less glitches and what have you other than the last three years, so, yeah, it is a long way, but I can't see as us being able to do it during the season at any point, so I think it is either now or at the end. I think now is just as good as any.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I agree with Bob. I think the logistics for the teams, that they are well prepared to know that have to send few cars over before, and like Bob says, should be a beginning or the end of the season.

Q. Bobby, looking at the 1993 season, how many chassis do you think you are going to need to perform to defend your championship between now and the end of the year?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, we have got three. I'd hope that is it. We will have a new car that will come out probably in July, but which will be more of a -- basically we have gotten an interim version now of last year's TrueSports car. But the new cars, they say, will be you know, a pretty good departure from what we have got now. So we anticipate that being the basis for our car of the future, so you know, we will be doing running, I guess, two separate chassis, but one of the things we were able to do is take advantage of all the work that Barbara Trerman's (Phonetic) group has done. We are pretty -- Well, now we have got the spares and what have you with Mike Groth coming on board and doing some testing, I think we are in better shape than we have ever been at this stage of the game. I am hopeful that only this car is competitive but that the new car in July is even more so.

Q. Emmo, how many cars are you going to have available for you this year?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, we are planning to have one spare car for myself; one spare car to Paul every weekend. I am sure we are going to have a backup car in-- we should have five cars available for the team, counting from, I would say, from Long Beach, possibly have five cars in Long Beach.

Q. How long does it take in man hours to change a car that is right for Paul Tracy to one that is right for you?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I would say creates maximum in about 45 minutes, half hour, 45 minutes just the ^ check position, basically that is it.

Q. Insides of an hour, then?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Yes.

Q. What is the verdict so far on the Chevy C.?

BOBBY RAHAL: From our standpoint, it has been pretty good. They had a test right at the end. I think some of the mapping was improved and what have you. It's a beautiful engine. It has been very reliable for us so far. So I look forward to it. Definitely likes to rev, so I am anxious to have the same horsepower as Emerson had last year.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, we are very pleased the new engine running really fast and like Bob says, running a lot of red and have good acceleration. Again, we are looking for Australia to be the first comparison begins against the course of the Ford (Inaudible). We are looking forward to have a good engine.

Q. When do you first test the Honda?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Right now, the first test will be probably in late April.

Q. I'd like to ask each driver how much more physically demanding the air flight is to Australia than the race itself?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, the air flight is a piece of cake compared to the race, so it is you just get down here early enough and hopefully have good enough weather to go play golf which we will be doing here shortly. It is not bad. First class makes it a lot easier, let us put it that way.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I agree with Bobby. Long flight, but much more demanding driving the car than the flight itself.

Q. Many things have happened in the off-season. Which do you think will have the greatest impact personnel wise or equipment wise?

BOBBY RAHAL: Most impact I think probably will be for us will be the-- from equipment standpoint because really our crew-- our team has stayed pretty constant, same core of people. We have obviously added new people, but I think doing our own chassis is going to make it different for us, but as I say, we have the latest engine spec for this year, so that should help the cause a little bit.

Q. Mansell again. Question do you gentlemen think that he could step on an IndyCar and be an immediate factor without having to make too much adjustments to Formula One?

BOBBY RAHAL: No question as far as I am concerned.

Q. Emerson, what do you think?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think Nigel on a place like Australia, is a road straight surface. That is exactly his experience background in Formula One and he has no problem. He is going to be very fast. On the oval track he could be very fast by himself, but when the races starts, he is going to have-- he will be facing with new situations that he never experienced in his racing career before, like yellows, and drafting behind three, four cars, and the constant high speed a very dangerous style of driving. Then you have to place position time on that surface.

Q. More trouble with the short ovals or with the speed race?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think both. It will be difficult to say, but the short oval, in one way it is more similar to road circuit driver. You can be aggressive; sometimes you can either slide into the car and recover. You can lose the car a little bit and still be able to catch up. On high speed oval, it is very unforgiving. You cannot -- that is going to be, I think, the major problem for Nigel and to any new driver on the oval track.

Q. The car itself in that it is heavier, the braking is a little more difficult or would he have a problem with that?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think the car itself with Nigel's racing experience, no problem to get used to. We are having different rules. We approach the corner different than the form Formula One car. We turn into the corner little slower than the form Formula One car, but we are getting in Phoenix testing, we are getting over ^ check 4 G. Side G.. That is a lot. That is more-- actually it is more than a Formula One car according to these days. But I don't think Nigel will have any problem to adapt himself to the car.

Q. Emmo, how long did it take you to get completely comfortable in IndyCar racing after you left Formula One?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I have to be honest. I am still not completely comfortable on high speed oval. It is most dangerous type of driving. You are all the time with the adrenaline up, you are all the time focused in the situation. I think it's a ^ check. But it took me two or three years to be in the need to be-- to know what you should do in the yellow situation, passing back markers, I mean, it took me two to three years to get used to all that system.

Q. Is setting up the car that is difficult or is it the driving at the high speed with the concentration that is the most difficult?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think it is the high speeds concentration, the most difficult thing. I think setting up the car, a guy like Marlo (phonetic) can give information to Nigel. I don't think that is going to be a major problem for Nigel but when the race starts, that is going to be the major problem.

Q. Three former world champions in your series. This really says a lot for IndyCar series?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think that it has been said time and again lately that I think IndyCar racing is looking particularly strong. I think it has the best balance of technical innovation and cost control and of competition. I think that is why we are getting so much interest from Europe. As an owner I have had three or four inquiries by drivers from France, very good ones, ones that have been in Formula One for the second car, and I think that there is a tremendous shift going on right now. Hopefully, we don't squander the opportunity as a series. Hopefully, we take advantage of it. But yeah, I think the fact that you have got three world champions, some young lions like Paul Tracy and people like that, coming up, and I mean, I think that there is nothing but good times ahead for IndyCar racing.

Q. I had a question about the impact of-- I mean for the overall series, any personnel changes from one team to another or new drivers coming in, somebody leaving other than Rick Mears to both drivers, what change do you think is going to have the biggest impact on the circuit?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think there is a lot of new drivers coming in and a lot of international interest. I think that is where the excitement will be. As Emerson said, if we go to Brazil, there is talk about Miami. There is talk about Mexico City, or somewhere in Mexico, I think the venues are going to change for better, but I think more than anything, you are going to see a great deal of new people coming in from other categories you know, IMSA (Phonetic), is not in very good shape. I think you will see teams that have been competing there coming to IndyCar racing. That is why I say, I think as long as they don't screw it up, I think things look very good for IndyCar racing in the future.

Q. Emerson, personnel changes, additions like Nigel, are we going to get Azzi (Phonetic) do you think that is going to have an impact?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think that will have a big impact, the personnel drivers change be great and interesting looking for the future you can see the Honda coming to IndyCar race, possibly Nissan, there is other big car manufactures talking about being involved in IndyCar in the future. TrueSports, I think, that has all come together as the sports growing and the TV coverage, I think that is the key for any sport, to be big on TV, and IndyCar race is getting very big in the near future on TV, work-wise. I think that is what we are going to have major sponsor, including like when Senna went testing in December before Christmas we went together to Phoenix, and he is really serious for the future to come to end defer car race. We are talking about the top three, four drivers in the world, that want to come to IndyCar racing. That is great for the series, that is shows that IndyCar racing is doing right.

Q. From the standpoint of being a car owner, what does it mean from a financial standpoint when a race is added, shall we say, in Rio and your sponsor Miller Beer doesn't market down there, what kind of a problem is this for you?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well first off, I think you are going to find I know in Miller's case they are very aggressive in their international scope or international aims. Of course, they bought-- they are responsible for all of Molson and in the United States they own 20% of Molson which is also part of Fosters down here in Australia, and I think in South America, they have got a number of positions with various breweries in Latin America as well as in Europe, so I think if anything, that is going -- going to Rio or as you-- probably fits in even better with the aims of a lot of corporations in America. There are very few corporations in my mind that are just national. They are mostly international. So you know, from our standpoint, I think these things are good. From a team standpoint, because of the -- because of the distances that are traveled, you know, the sponsors must come up or the event sponsors must come up with a way of getting the teams there. So from an international standpoint, maybe some of our least expenses races to attend are outside the United States.

KEVIN DIAMOND: Thank you all very much for participating. If you have any questions about the pole award, my number is 415-673-2016. I'd like to thank Emerson, Bobby and Mr. Weiss for being on the phone call with us today.

Source: FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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