CART MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 19, 1997
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thank you all for joining us today and a special welcome to our guest this afternoon driver Richie Hearn of Della Penna Motorsports. Welcome, Richie, and thanks for taking the time to be with us today.
RICHIE HEARN: No problem. Glad to be here.
T.E. McHALE: Richie, driver of the No. 21 Ralph's Food 4 Less Lola Ford is in his second season in the PPG CART World Series after running a limited three race schedule in 1996. His ninth place finish in last Sunday's Texaco Havoline 200 at Road America represented the second highest road course finish of the season for the Lola chassis and was topped only by Andre Ribeiro's sixth at the Sunbelt Indy Carnival Australia in the second event of the PPG CART World Series season. Richie has been the highest finishing Lola driver in each of the past two PPG CART World Series events, having finished 13th in the August 10th Miller 200 at Mid-Ohio. He owns eight Top 15 finishes this season, highlighted by a career best ninth in the inaugural Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway on Memorial Day weekend. Richie heads into the August 31st Molson Indy Vancouver ranked 20th in the PPG Cup standings with ten points. The Molson Indy Vancouver, Round 15 of the PPG CART World Series, will be televised by ESPN on Sunday, August 31st, at 5 p.m. eastern daylight time. With that, we're going to open it up with questions.
Q. Richie, T.E. was remarking on the fact you have a Lola chassis. Yesterday in Vancouver, Scott Pruett was here, and we got into the discussion with Scott about the fact that his team junked the Lola just before the start of the season. I think he's sixth in the points. He was saying he wouldn't know where he would be if he stuck with the Lola.
RICHIE HEARN: I know where he would be.
Q. What I'm saying is I just wondered, there are very few drivers driving a Lola chassis. For you to have done as well as you have done, you're probably driving your pants off here, but are you contemplating a move out of the Lola chassis, and what has been the problem that has caused numerous teams to drop the Lola for the Reynard?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, yeah. I think it's pretty much a hundred percent certain that we won't be running the Lola next year. We haven't quite decided what we'll run, either a Reynard or a Swift. About 50/50 right now. But I don't know. The problem with the car, it's just a lack of balance, overall balance. It's never been a really evil car to drive except for maybe a few places, but it just doesn't quite get -- doesn't quite hold the lateral G loads that the Reynards and the Swifts can handle, so there's always a limit to our cornering speeds. Adrian has been having the same problem. What's strange is that Adrian most of the time runs a completely different setup and he has different tires, yet he complains about the same problems. We usually end up about the same spot on the grid. It's been very frustrating for us because we've worked very, very hard all year on the car, and the team has really busted their butts. I mean, the car is a completely different car than it was at the beginning of the year as it is now. We really haven't made -- we've made a little progress in the last little bit, but not even close to enough.
Q. There's no chance that you would make a change with three races left; this is a change that's contemplated for next season? You wouldn't for the Vancouver race, for instance --
RICHIE HEARN: Well, right now John -- for Vancouver and Laguna Seca for sure I'll be in the Lola. The last race of the year, John has been working hard on a deal to run a different car on the last race to hopefully give our team and our sponsors a boost going into the off-season, which is always good. You know, he hasn't given up on any chance of running a different car. He's still working as hard as he can on it.
Q. One last question here. Richie, does it sort of amaze you in a way when you see a new chassis introduced, like the Swift, how well it's done? Usually it takes a lot of years for these bugs to get ironed out. For something to come out of the box and do that well, must be frustrating for you going with a company that's been in the business a long time and not being competitive, as they have been?
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, it's been tough because, you know, we thought we were doing all the right things at the beginning of the year. John had a lot of test dates planned. We got three cars right off the bat; one test car, two race cars. Ford did a great job on the motors and everything this year. It just didn't work out the way it did. Unfortunately, we didn't have that crystal ball, maybe foresight, the Brahma team had to change. We stuck with it. We thought we could work with it. It didn't work out. We still learned a lot this year. There's always next year.
Q. Thank you, very much, for your time.
RICHIE HEARN: All right.
Q. What I'll ask you, Richie, obviously at this stage of the game, you've already said that you're looking at a different chassis for next year. You're sort of riding out the next two or three races with a chassis that you're disappointed with and hasn't given you the results. How do you face up to that? How do you gear yourself up to drive those remaining races with that chassis?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, it's been strange. Every weekend we show up at the track. We seem to have new parts on the car every race. We show up for the first session hopeful that it will move us up a few spots on the grid. Usually after the first session, it's quite apparent that it's not working out. For me, I still get the experience. You know, I'm still fairly new. Even though they don't classify me as a rookie, I only did three races last year with CART, so there's a lot of tracks I haven't seen. So I still get to learn a lot. You know, there's a lot of things still to learn even if you're running farther down the field. I still try my best every time and good things happen sometimes like this last weekend we tried hard all weekend and we got some points at the end, which was very satisfying.
Q. A second question. Other than the change in chassis, are you looking at the rest of the package to go Ford in next year the same?
RICHIE HEARN: Right now, I'd say yes. I don't know right now what details John has been working on. I mean, our main concern is with the car, what car to run next year. You know, it's so important to have the right combination and to be able to foresee the future, which we didn't do too well this year. But Ford has been right up there. No problem with the power with Ford. So we haven't had any problem with that. Goodyear has been working very hard on the tires. You know, right now I couldn't see any changes.
Q. Richie, I asked this question of another driver, I think it was last teleconference, that did a lot of winning in the Atlantics like yourself. Does this frustrate you when you come to the track with the square wheel Lola?
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, it's disappointing. It's been a long time, probably since I ran the Formula Renault series in France since I actually showed up for a race and actually you already had the mind set of you know you're not going to win. It's tough to do. It's also tough for the guys on the team. We have a lot of good guys on our team that come from winning teams in CART. It's frustrating for them as well. But, you know, this is what we have. We have to do the best we can. You can't always be negative about it, otherwise it just makes the situation worse.
Q. Well, you are learning though, right?
RICHIE HEARN: Of course. If you stop learning, you probably should be doing something else, I think. I mean, no matter how good you are, you're always going to learn something. You know, anything we learn this year will help for next year in the future. Like I said, there's a lot of tracks that I haven't gotten to see before this year, so I got some experience. So next year I can really run strong, I hope.
Q. Has Carl Haas let you get a good look at a Swift?
RICHIE HEARN: John, he's gone down to the factory. He's looked at the cars and he's talked to them. But I actually haven't even gone over there and looked but I probably should because I'm curious to see what they look like because they have done well this year, I think.
Q. I saw you last year, you were still running with the IRL. You were very excited about coming to CART this year. I just want to know if this difficulty has discouraged you in any way? Do you have any regret that you're not running --
RICHIE HEARN: No, not at all really. I mean, this is where I've always wanted to be since I went to my first race at Long Beach Grand Prix when I was a kid. These are the people that I've wanted to race against for a long time. You know, we had some success in the IRL, it's always nice to run up at the front, but I think it's more satisfying for the challenge we have here in CART, how competitive it is. Even though it's disappointing to run farther in the back, I know it has to do with the car; not us as a team. You know, I'm just looking forward to next year when we'll have, I know for sure, more competitive equipment. We can really run up front. Then I'll be really satisfied.
Q. And this past weekend, were you surprised to finish as high as you did, or were you surprised to see other cars go out in front of you?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, for the conditions that were out there, I wasn't too surprised to see a lot of people go off because, you know, it's just the nature of the track. The guys are running hard. It's getting near the end of the year. People are going to fight for more points, things are going to happen. But I was actually surprised how well we ran in the difficult conditions. The car, I really actually enjoyed the race, racing out there, for first time in a long time. I had some good races with some good drivers out there. The car never did anything really bad on me during the race. Even in the wet, it wasn't too bad. It was nice to see a checkered flag. Like other people, I was close to running out of gas. I had a good time out there this weekend.
Q. You were close to running out of gas?
RICHIE HEARN: Yes. Last five or six laps, I really had to conserve fuel. I think I only finished with about a gallon left. Unfortunately, with the track being so long and there's quite a few high G-force corners, it would be easy to pick up some air and be easy to run out of gas there.
Q. Thank you.
RICHIE HEARN: You're welcome.
Q. You and I spoke I think it was your final test before you headed down to Homestead. Of course, you had all the optimism that a preseason brings. One comment that you made that I thought was quite interesting when we look back on it, you said, "We'll see when we start running against competition." Was there a point in the early part of the season that you and the team had to wonder, "Are we doing something wrong?"
RICHIE HEARN: Well, you know, I think we ran good in spring training and then a test at Laguna Seca, preseason test. Everybody was saying that the Lola might not be too bad. I think that the car actually just peaked right away and it really kind of gave us some false optimism. When we finally showed up at the races, we really got kind of blown away a little bit. I don't think we've ever done anything wrong, no. We've got a great team. You know, we've proven we can run strong. It's just unfortunate the car wasn't really there for us. You know, Tasman had the same problem. They won some races last year, and right away they were running in the back with us. I'm sure it's just as disappointing for them. It's just the way things work out sometimes.
Q. Was the Lola chassis built bad or were the other chassis built that much better?
RICHIE HEARN: I think, you know, the Lola chassis was just designed wrong. I mean, Reynard didn't change much on their car from '96 to '97. They changed a few things, because they had a pretty good car. I think Lola had a good car, too, in '96, but I think they just changed too many things and they weren't for the right things. The car just was, I think, just a bad design, unfortunately. We've changed a lot of things on the car, like I said earlier. The car is completely different now than it was at the beginning of the year, and it really hasn't improved that much as far as up the grid in the qualifying order. May be a little bit better to drive, but as far as speed goes, it really hasn't improved that much.
Q. Like the old movie The Bad Seed?
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, unfortunately.
Q. Thank you, Richie.
RICHIE HEARN: You're welcome.
Q. I'm a little curious, with the problems that Lola is having, are you worried about getting parts?
RICHIE HEARN: No. We haven't had any problem this year. I mean, they've made parts -- we had some stuff made right after Mid-Ohio and received them right before Road America. We haven't had any problem that way at all. They've been pretty accommodating. They are trying just as hard. They're just as disappointed as we are about their product and they're trying just as hard to fix it. So they've been pretty busy over there.
Q. I was just wondering, it seemed like perhaps they were having trouble just in this last week.
RICHIE HEARN: I personally didn't notice it. We had some parts made. A lot of stuff we have done ourselves. We're not completely relying on them.
Q. Richie, Vancouver track, last year of the existing track, pretty hard to pass on. Where might you be able to get an advantage other than the hairpin and the pits?
RICHIE HEARN: I don't know. It's always been a difficult track, even when I ran Atlantics there. It just has a lot of high-speed corners and the chicanes are tough to get through without making a big chance. For me, as it has been the last couple races, it's just a matter of keeping your nose clean and passing a little bit at a time. It will be my first time running an Indy car there, so it will be hard for me to know where I'm going to be able to pass. But it always looks like a tough race.
Q. Looking ahead to 1998, we've done a lot of promotions on the new track, which is totally different. Have you had a chance to see the layout?
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah. A few races ago, they had a layout of the track, they showed all the drivers, and Greg Moore was pointing out, because he's been involved with that, pointing out where the changes were. It looks like it's going to turn into a really good racetrack with some good passing zones. I think everybody's really excited about having a new circuit up there, and still being in the same area, too, because it's a great place to race.
Q. We'll see you next week.
RICHIE HEARN: Okay.
Q. Has Lola come to you all and made any particular effort to try to keep you as a customer for next year? Just in general, how has Lola responded to the situation?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, yeah, they have, you know, questioned us whether we were going to be with them next year. I know that this is the future of their company, it really is in CART, to design cars. Unfortunately we can't as a team afford to take that chance again because it can put you out of business pretty quick. So we won't be there next year. But I think -- I'm pretty sure they'll be designing a car from everything they learned this year. Maybe they'll field their own team or something like that. I don't know what their plans are.
Q. Just a follow-up on Janet's question. When I talked to Chris Saunders a few weeks ago, he was hoping somebody like you would do some testing. Are there any plans to do any testing other than at the race?
RICHIE HEARN: Not at this point. I've taken quite a beating this year, so, you know, I don't know if I'd really be up to doing that. I think I want to look forward and try something new. It's really beat our team up quite a bit. I don't see that happening really. But you never know. I never know what John's got planned.
T.E. McHALE: With that we'll wrap it up today. Thank you, Richie, for joining us this afternoon. We wish you best of luck in the Molson Indy Vancouver coming up next Sunday at Concord Pacific Place. Thank you all for joining us. Please join us next week when our guest will be three-time PPG Cup champion Bobby Rahal.
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