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CAR RACING MEDIA CONFERENCE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Penske Racing

CAR RACING MEDIA CONFERENCE

Interview with Emerson Fittipaldi
July 22, 1993


MODERATOR: I am just going to do a quick open here. As you guys all know, Emerson took the lead in the points following the Toronto race. He now has 105 points and leads Mansell by 3 with 102. A couple of interesting facts, the poll this weekend says that Emerson has qualified in the top three if every race this year except for Indianapolis, and he has finished in the top three in all but three races. He is among the leaders in every category; laps completed, miles completed. Obviously, the car is very good, but I think you can see that the team is doing overall very well. So, I will open the floor now to questions.

Q. Emerson, several of the drivers have been criticizing the Lola. I just want to know if you can talk about the Penske and why it's been doing so well this year?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think that Nigel Bennett who has been designing the Penske for the last six years has been doing great work, and when last year's car wasn't very good, he modified it, he made improvements on the new car, and I think that, you know, has been work that didn't start this year, but it started a few years ago. Nigel tried to improve it. That's the continuation of the work, the effort of the team on test and development. I think everything behind is very strong and very reliable for a few years. That's the results he has now. We have a great car that's consistent, quick on every different track that we go.

Q. Emerson, can you comment a little bit on -- it seems like you are making an effort to become a household name, not only internationally, but also in the United States. I know that you have a pretty elaborate souvenir business now that goes to the races. You are making a real effort to try to be a household name in the United States. Can you comment on that a little bit?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think, you know, winning for the second time Indianapolis means a lot to me and I think means a lot in America and to outside of the states. And looking for the future, I want to be myself more and more established in the states with my family. I have two kids already born in the states. You know, I love the United States. I am very happy and honored to be here and live in the states, and I think for the future, I want to spend more and more time here. I think that's -- I am dedicating more and more time on anything I can do here for the future here in the states, anything that is the right direction for myself and my family to see us going in the future.

Q. I have a quick follow-up on that. Do you want to see a situation arise where you can look in the stands and see all your fans wearing Fittipaldi T-shirts in the same manner that if you go to a NASCAR race, you see the Dale Earnhardt fans in their T-shirts?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think that would be great and the right start and, actually, the same company who works for Dale Earnhardt is doing the Fittipaldi stuff, the Fittipaldi gear for the race. Actually, I am looking forward to visiting Russ Wallace and Dale Earnhardt soon because they are so pro on doing this. I think they are the best people in racing to achieve that, and I am looking forward to go there and learn with them what they are doing and try to do the same in Indy car racing. I am looking forward for the future. You are 100 percent right, yes.

Q. Good morning, Emerson. The development of the Penske, you talked about a little bit before. Talk in terms of the development of the engine. The Chevy C seems to be going very strong this year, and you are going ever so quickly.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, that's another area that, by some reason, people in the beginning of the year, I don't know if it was the race in Australia, it was the testing, but everybody was indicating that the Fords were going to dominate the season, and the Chevy engine teams would be behind, would be in big trouble, and I think Chevy has been working very hard on improving from race to race, and that's showing the racing track that we are there. We have very good power, reliable power. It's very difficult to compare back to back. We know ourselves how much power we have. I know racing against the Ford cars, what I feel on the racing track and what Paul Tracy feels, and I try to tell the Chevy people and Roger, you know, a driver can feel the difference in the engine. And I see only a few situations that we are not the same power as Ford, but most of the situations have exactly the same power as Ford and, sometimes, I believe, a little better than Ford.

Q. Emerson, along those lines, you were successful, although a little bit down on power at Indy. You have got the Marlboro 500 coming up. How do you see that race shaping up?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think I am really optimistic for the Marlboro 500. Again, it's a key race for the championship, because now it's just over halfway on the championship. We have been testing there. We know, basically, a good setup to put in the car, and most important is the Marlboro 500 500 miles race, and we have to be there at the end of the race. I mean, that's what's going to count. That's what I am looking for. I am not going to be so concerned on qualifying in Michigan, but I will be concerned in trying to finish the race in the top three. I think that's the key for the championship.

Q. Emerson, since your victory at MIS, you have had some real tough luck in Michigan. I think your average finish is almost sixteenth since your win in '85. What are some of the problems that MIS has presented to you?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think, my opinion of the toughest thing in Michigan is, first, the roughness of the surface is very hard on the equipment, very hard on the car. It's a very warm race weekend. It's right in the middle of the summer. I think, again, it's tough on the equipment, on the gearbox, the engine, and it has always been a race of a lot of incidents. It's difficult. If you look at the records of the Michigan race, how many cars finish every year, it shows how tough the race is, and I hope -- that's why my mind is going to finish the race, because if I finish the race, I know I can be in the top three, top four cars, and that's what's going to count in the championship. It's a difficult track to drive through the race. There is a lot of incidents. I mean, if you hit a bump in the wrong place, you can spin-off. I think it's a very challenging race. I would say, technically, it's more difficult than Indianapolis is.

Q. I was wondering, Mansell got all of the publicity coming over to the series at the start of the year. You are a former world champion yourself. Did that give you extra motivation maybe as a race car driver, you know, that people were looking at Mansell coming in here and dominating the series? Has that been extra motivation for you?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think Mansell coming into Indy car racing, it has given motivation to everybody, in my opinion. I remember when I saw -- I was in the airport last year leaving the track and I saw Carl Haas, and Carl Haas confirmed that he just had signed with Nigel. I congratulated Carl, because Nigel, being the Formula One world champion, I knew would be incredible publicity to the series, to everybody involved. I think that's showing the sport is growing. Indy car racing is growing very quickly. I think Nigel's presence and performance, it gives a new challenge to all of us, to everybody involved in Indy car racing. I think that's showing that Indy car racing is very competitive, has a lot of good drivers. Nigel is a superb driver, very talented. He is the Formula One world champion, but we can race against Nigel. Actually, the best dice I had in my career was the dice I had with Nigel. I have a lot of respect for Nigel, and I think when we race against each other, it shows, you know, that Indy car racing is a very high level of driving. I think that's great for Indy car racing to show the world that we are competitive as a Formula One at every level. That's what happens when Nigel races with us. I am looking forward that Nigel continues next year in Indy Car racing. It has been great for the sport and great to everybody involved in Indy car racing.

Q. Emerson, I just wanted to, first of all, thank you for allowing us to talk to you today and to ask you about - I don't know if this was asked before - to ask you about the motivation that you may draw or get from your own teammate, Paul Tracy?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think Paul, he is a young driver, very challenging. We have a lot of motivation to do well. He showed the Indy Lights when Roger contracted a few years ago that he can be a very good driver, and he is showing that on racing this year. He is very, very strong. The last weekend in Toronto, I was leading the race up to the point when I hit the wall. I hit the wall on the east side. I had to come in to change the rear wheel, and that's when Paul took the lead in the race from that point on, and then I had my gearshift, missing gear, and I couldn't run as quick as I was running before. I was like a second and a half, two seconds slower in the lap. I mean, Paul shows that he is maturing very quickly. He is not doing mistakes, and he shows a challenge there for me and to everybody else. I was very happy for Paul to win his home Grand Prix. I experienced that when I won the Brazilian Grand Prix in Formula One. I think that's a great sensation to be able to win at home. I think Paul did a beautiful job. He is the challenge of the championship. He is showing that Roger was right when contracting to be a driver. He has been very good working together with me. Between what Paul is doing in the racing track and what Rick Mears is doing off the racing track with Paul and myself, I think we have, the three drivers working together so well to develop the car and to improve. I give an example. On Friday night in Toronto, I analyzed Paul's lap. He was going quicker than I was. I was missing time. I knew I was losing time on turn 8 and turn 9 to Paul. I knew that if I would improve on that segment, on that part of the track, I would have a good chance to get to Paul. That's exactly what happened on Saturday. I was able to improve my car on the two fast corners. The reason I was able to do that was working with Paul Tracy himself and Ricky Mears on the setup for Saturday. That's team work and team effort. We are really working well together. I am really pleased.

Q. Emerson, this week you have Michigan and then the next week you have New Hampshire. The gentleman earlier said you have had a sixteenth finish and in New Hampshire, you didn't finish. Can you comment on the toughness. You just took over the lead. Now you have got two tough races ahead you.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I hope by the statistics, I will be back and finish both races and finish well. If I didn't finish so well the last few years, I have a good chance to finish now better than ever. I always look at the positive side. The two races are very tough. You know, the Marlboro 500 I already described, and the New Hampshire track last year, I had engine problems. That's why I didn't finish the race. But again, New Hampshire is different, short oval. You have longer straight and shorter corners than Phoenix, than Newark. It's in one way like similar to a quick route circuit corner. You approach the end of the street and you have just about to brake more than any other short oval. And 1 and 2 is exactly the same as 3 and 4 in New Hampshire. That means that if you can get the car right for one corner -- you know, one side of the track should be right for the other side of the track. I am looking for a good setup. I think the new chassis, our new car has potential. We should be running really strong in New Hampshire. I am really looking forward to the two races to do well.

Q. Now that you have the points lead, there is more pressure to keep scoring high on the points. I was wondering how you might handle that of a fast track like Michigan? Of course, you want the points, but because of the points lead, you are less inclined to run it to the limit and go for the win. How do you handle a situation like that?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I would say that the situation, when you are dicing for the lead, when you are on the top three, five laps to go, I don't think it doesn't matter where you are in the championship. You are going to go full throttle. You are going to try to do the best to win the race. If that's a situation that comes up, I would say in any of the next few races, that's going to happen to me or to any competitive driver. It's very difficult to control yourself. If you know you can improve your position, you are dicing for the race, you are dicing for the lead, the only few laps to go, you go for. That's what I think now as general terms, but when the situation happens at the moment, I have to try to control myself, but as a natural reaction, yes, I am going to go for the race at that time five laps to go. I will try. I am sure the other two drivers or three drivers will do exactly the same. They will go for the race as much as they can. We are all going to take what I call the "high risk." That's the high risk at the end of the race that you always should be ready to take, and like any other driver, you take that risk.

Q. Emerson, there has been a lot of acrimony this year among teammates on the Dallas team. They don't seem to being working well together and all of that, but that has never seemed to be a problem with Penske's team. It seems that you and Paul work together real well. In earlier years, you and Rick Mears worked together real well. Describe why your team is so harmonious and why other teams sometimes have a lot of acrimony among teammates?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, Bruce, it's very difficult to evaluate what happened to the other team. All I can tell you is that, you know, the Marlboro team, Penske, if there is any problem between the drivers, if there is any misunderstanding, we try to clarify that as soon as possible and not to build up a situation that would be destructive for the two drivers. I think that's an unfortunate situation. The approach we have is the following week, we have to race against each other, but we should try to improve both of us, and then we have a better chance against the rest of the field that has to race against each other. That's our philosophy of the Marlboro team. That's the way to go. That's Roger's philosophy. As much as you can help each other, we get the advantage on the field. Like Toronto was one way and like one was Cleveland. Cleveland, Paul was faster than I was. The day that I had a slight different setup on Saturday, and I couldn't catch Paul in Cleveland, but Toronto was the other way, I was quicker than Paul in qualifying. In the race, I would dice with Paul at the end of the race if I didn't have the gearshift problem that I had in the last segment of the race. I prefer to dice with Paul than to dice with the rest of the field. Roger, he was a very good racing driver. He understands. The main approach for any racing driver is that he understands us really well, and I think that helps as well. Having Roger as our boss, having Roger as the team owner, and Roger established the rules between the drivers, because Roger himself experienced that in his career. It makes it much easier if there is a good understanding between the drivers. I think you have done a very important key question, because it could be destructive for the team if we don't take care of ourselves.

Q. Does Rick help in terms of the relationships between the drivers?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Sorry, could you repeat that?

Q. Does Rick help in the relationship between the drivers?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I'm sorry, I didn't understand.

Q. If you have a problem, can you go to Rick? Does he help in any way?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, Rick, again, is another asset that is there who helps us. Rick understands, I mean, immediately if there is any friction between the drivers, how to calm it down, how to solve the problem. I think I have that advantage that most of the teams don't have.

Q. Do you have any idea in your mind of owning your own team? Are you content to be a driver, for example, with Penske?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I have no idea whatsoever to do my own team for the future. I am looking to continue with the Marlboro team, Penske. My relationship with Marlboro, next year is going to be the 20th the anniversary. I mean, that's a fantastic relationship with one sport. I mean, I don't see many people in professional sports have that type of relationship with any sponsor. My relationship with Roger as a friend and as a team owner and as my boss is great. I could not ask anything better. I am very happy where I am. I want to continue working with Roger. I want to continue working for the team. In the future when I decide to retire from racing, I want to be involved still with Marlboro and with Penske.

Q. You had mentioned Paul's participation in the Indy Lights series. Do you like the types of drivers that are coming out of that series? Are they good? Is Indy lights doing the job for you? Are you pleased with the caliber of talent?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think that he is doing really the job what everybody expects, and one thing that surprised me this year is how many international drivers are involved in Indy Lights. I think it's making the series more and more competitive. I think we are going to see more and more for the future, really good talents coming from that season. I mean, he is really doing the job that everybody expects of bringing new talents to Indy car racing and young people, new sponsors.

Q. Emerson, I want to ask you, if I understand it, you were up in Canada doing a shoot for Esquire Magazine where they had you driving all kinds of different vehicles. Can you talk a little bit about that shoot, what went on, that sort of thing?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think that it's great for motor racing when you can go to a decent publication and not just talk about, you know, not just a race magazine, but that's how the sport is going to grow in the future in America. I was very pleased to do this work with Esquire Magazine. I think it's great for the sport to be able to have racing drivers for Indy car racing. I was analyzing like five off road vehicles, and we had test runs and doing some pictures and give my comments to the editor of the magazine, one of the vice editors of the magazine. I was very pleased. One of the things I most enjoyed in my life that I did on Tuesday, and that was, I have tell you guys, it was the best experience of my life. I flew the Blue Angels on Tuesday morning as a passenger on a two seater F-18, but I went to the navy base in Pensacola, and 8:00 in the morning, we took off in formation, and they performed a whole show. They were practicing for the show, but they did exactly the maneuvers from the show. I was inside one of the planes. That was the most exciting experiences I ever had in my life. That was fantastic. That's the type of things that if I could do from now on, I am going to do it. I am enjoying what I am doing. I think it's good for the sport. I had an incredible experience flying the Blue Angels. They are so talented. They were flying in formation the planes so close to each other. I was amazed. We had pictures. It was an incredible experience. I was happy to be able to do that.

Q. What would it mean to you to win two 500 mile races in the same season, not only since it would keep you atop the point standings, but since you would win again on Penske's home track, duplicate Mears' accomplishment of a couple of years ago, and accomplish that goal against competition such as Nigel Mansell?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think that's a good point. The other day I was thinking it would be great if I could win in the same year the two 500 miles race. That's another goal that I am sure I will try to achieve. Competition will be tough and, again, ourselves, we have a lot of pressure at the Marlboro 500. The race is sponsored by Marlboro. The track is owned by Roger. There is going to be close to 15,000 people from the Penske organization watching the race. I feel a lot of pressure there for sure.

Q. Emerson, between the time you closed down your Formula One team and the time you got in Indy car racing, describe whether you thought you would ever be in this position again, and just, basically, what did you have to do to get yourself back in this position?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, you know, it's going stage by stage, finishing my last three, four years when I had my own team, there was a lot of political involvement in Formula One racing. I was not enjoying the sport anymore. I was just leaving home on Thursday afternoon with a helmet on my head, my helmet bag asking myself "am I enjoying doing what I am doing"? That's when I decided to retire. The day I started asking myself if I am enjoying, I said why am I doing it? I should retire immediately as a racing driver. That's exactly what I did in 1980.

Q. I was just curious about your experience flying in the F-18. Did you ever get the inkling to take over the controls and did the pilot ever let you?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, what happened, I would like to do that and I am sure they would have allowed me to do that, but I think I did something that is very special to do; that I saw the whole performance of the show as a passenger in the second seat of the F-18, including we done all of the procedures exactly like a show from the time we started taxiing to take off to the time we stopped the plane to park the plane. I was flying with a very good captain. He would allow me to fly a little bit if we had time, but it was the just the show performance and I couldn't do anything. I mean, it was the most exciting day of my life. You know, the way they performed so close the planes, I couldn't believe it. A few feet between each plane during 45 minutes. Sometimes we were four planes together. Sometimes we were six planes together. I had the best view in the house, the best seat in the house. I was the last plane in the diamond formation. I could see a plane ahead of us and one on each side, and sometimes we had two on each side. It was an amazing experience. If I can go back again a year from now, I will go back again.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much for participating. Thanks a lot, Emerson.

Source: FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports



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