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CART MEDIA CONFERENCE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART MEDIA CONFERENCE

Carl Hogan
J.J. Lehto
December 4, 1997


CARL HOGAN: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us on this teleconference. I appreciate your interest. Needless to say I'm very excited about our announcement today and I'd like to announce that our new driver for 1998 is going to be J.J. Lehto. And I think most of you have a background on J.J. And what I'm going to do now is I'm going to ask J.J. just to say hello, and then if you would, we'll go back to Mike and he can give you a rundown on past performances on is J.J. and then questions and answers.

J.J. LEHTO: Hello everybody.

MIKE ZIZZO: I'd like to provide you with some background on J.J. J.J. is a 31-year-old Finn who currently resides in Monte Carlo with his wife and two children. During his career he has competed in Formula One from 1989 to '94. He posted 19 top ten finishes from '92 to '94. The following season he was involved in a preseason testing accident that curtailed his F-One career. He most recently competed for BMW in the 1997 FIA GT Championship for BMW. He finished second in the championship. (Inaudible).

Q. My question is last year you brought a driver in from the other side of the ocean, and you're doing it again. Are there nobody over on this side that can drive for you or are you just finding the best talent available?

CARL HOGAN: I think it's a very interesting question, and I think the answer is I'm just trying to get the best driver available to me that also fits in with the criteria of fitting in with our team. Last year we went with a young person that was a rookie and hopefully brought him along, and this year with J.J.'s background it was just an opportunity that I truthfully just couldn't pass up. And I'm very pleased with it. And I think it's sort of an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us and for J.J. that we come together at this time. And I think with his maturity and background, to me he was a natural. And I know that we keep talking about needing Americans in the sport, but also it is a worldwide competition today, and I think if you want to win, you're going to have to try to get the best driver you can, and that's what we're attempting to do.

Q. Do you think you could get a sponsor with J.J.? Is he the type of guy that you could market?

CARL HOGAN: Yeah, I think definitely we can. And one of the reasons we do have J.J. is other than his driving ability is he's a very personable person. He knows how to conduct himself. He's been exposed to some top company in racing and in the business world. And I think one of the reasons I'm excited is now that we've announced this, I think this will really help us in the sponsorship thing that we've been working on. And I'm very excited about it, and I think definitely he help us because of the quality guy he is.

Q. What kind of contract do you have with him, Carl?

CARL HOGAN: It's a multi-year. It's long-term. It will be more than one year, for sure. We've got that signed.

Q. I imagine you're getting tired of bringing good talent over and losing it?

CARL HOGAN: Yes, I think I've learned my lesson. If I haven't, it's my own fault. I hate to say that maybe with J.J. I've been very direct and very forceful in my thoughts, but after my prior experience, I think he understands.

Q. We all realize that those of us that have followed the sport for some time that championship auto racing teams racing as a worldwide sport, you necessarily can't pick your drivers from the local bull rings, because they don't have the proper experience, and your driver having had schooling from K.K. Rossberg, I don't think you need anyone better than that.

CARL HOGAN: We're real pleased. And as you know J.J. has tested for us for two days and did a very nice job, and I was very pleased how he conducted himself both on and off the track. And K.K. has been a very good influence, and good to work with from our standpoint. And I think at this point we have the same goals. And we're going to have to be patient. J.J. has never been on oval before, but I'm sure that from what the other drivers have done, that they seem to adapt after a certain period of time. And we're going to be patient, and I think it's going to work out just fine.

Q. They just have to scare themselves once or twice and get over it and they'll be okay.

CARL HOGAN: I think they scare me more than anybody.

Q. Carl, are you still as sore as you were about your experience with Dario? Can you talk a little bit about what happened there, for those of us who don't know the details?

CARL HOGAN: Well, am I as sore? I'd rather not answer that question. Some of the details are just that we were working on a contract for the next three years with Dario and with his agents, and I thought we had verbally agreed to all the terms, and they said that it was just in the hands of their attorney. I guess I was strung along for about three or four weeks and I kept asking Dario and he would not discuss it. And finally I got a phone call at 10:30 at night in California on the night of the Laguna Seca race that Dario would not be racing for me next year. When I asked Dario he never commented. And to this day he's never talked to me about it. And for someone that's put the time and effort and money into it like I have and for someone like Mercedes that has backed him for the last three years, we don't think that's the proper way to do business.

Q. One other question, Carl. Do you see yourself continuing if you don't get sponsorship? When you mentioned that you have this multi-year with J.J., the car looks great to the fans without any sponsorship on it, but it must be awfully tough for you. Can you continue?

CARL HOGAN: Well, we have some sponsorship, I think, that's in the wings waiting to be signed. And I feel comfortable that we're working on enough things that we'll have full sponsorship for next year. And so that's why I feel very comfortable that we'll be okay. And one of the things I was sorry we couldn't announce this a little earlier, but we were waiting for contractual things with BMW. And I think now we've announced this we can start to announce some other things shortly.

Q. I was just wondering how J.J. found adapting to the car, having not been in open-wheelers for a long time?

J.J. LEHTO: It was kind of difficult in the beginning. And both the weather in Ohio was very cold, so it made it more difficult. We couldn't get any heat on the tires, and the first day was really difficult for me just to get on the speed. But in the second day everything started working out very well, and we got the tires to work and we got the car a little better with the setups. And then it felt really comfortable already on the second day.

Q. When you're testing in a couple of days, is that with the old car or new car?

J.J. LEHTO: That was with the old car, and we are still in Homestead tomorrow testing with the old car.

CARL HOGAN: So you know, we will not be able to get a new Reynard yet because they're not delivering them yet with the Mercedes engine package. And because of the smaller engine this year, the new engine, the first ones won't be delivered until around Christmas, and we get our first car January 9th.

Q. I'll be waiting to see what happens and all the best. When was the testing in Mid-Ohio?

J.J. LEHTO: That was the end of fall, October.

CARL HOGAN: It was about the 28th, 29th.

Q. A couple of other things. You've got a time table when you'd like to announce the sponsor?

CARL HOGAN: Yes, we have some announcements, and they've asked to put them off until the first week in January at this point.

Q. One other thing, J.J., how do you feel about coming into CART?

J.J. LEHTO: I feel very good. After my accident in '94, I always wanted to come back, and it was difficult in Formula One, so I have to sort of go back and start to do the touring class. But my mind was in the single-seaters. And this was a nice opportunity from Carl to give me the chance to try for next year, the Hogans.

Q. You said earlier about you'd never driven on an oval before. How long do you think it will take you to adjust?

J.J. LEHTO: Well, I think that Carl said to me just a little while ago, just take your time and get used to it. There's no pressure in the beginning, and that's the way to go, anyway. I think that it's a new area for me, and I have to take it easy in the beginning just to get used to it. I have spoken to several drivers from Europe that I have known before, and they said you have to respect the ovals and take it easy in the beginning. Once you learn, then you can go quicker. And that's the way it goes. I know I'm going to be the rookie next year, and I have to take it that way.

CARL HOGAN: We have three days of testing, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and three days of testing in January set up, and certainly we're under no time pressure to get something right away. So my whole approach with J.J. is to take his time until he's comfortable, and we've got plenty of time before we go to Homestead even for the spring training. So there's no pressure to get on with it in a hurry, and I have all the confidence in the world in him. And it's just a matter of taking our time and letting him get enough confidence on the ovals. It's going to just take a little time.

Q. A couple of things. First of all, congratulations, Carl, excellent choice in J.J. You mentioned you talked to Blundell and Max Pappas. A couple of things from you. Number one, two differences it between a Formula One car and a CART car that you notice right off the bat, if you can answer that first?

J.J. LEHTO: I think the biggest thing it's a different feeling, because it's heavier and the tires are wider and it's a little bit longer wheel base. It feels more comfortable and easier to feel. But on the other hand, it's also very, very quick, and to me it's a long time since I drove the single-seaters. It was a new experience. You keep forgetting those things, and once you jump in again, it feels unbelievably fast.

Q. I'd be curious to know what Mark and Max might have said about the quality and the level of the competition in the CART series today.

J.J. LEHTO: They said to me that the quality is very good. And I saw it already by myself, as well. And the competition is -- they said to me honestly that the competition is so much better in America because all the cars are very equal. And it's more up to the drivers to make the results. So it's very good and they enjoy being here in America.

Q. Carl, congratulations.

CARL HOGAN: Thank you.

Q. Are you going to be able to get the 1998 car ready for spring training?

CARL HOGAN: We'll get our first car on January the 9th. We'll be testing the rest of January at Sebring and again at Homestead, so we've got five days of testing already scheduled for the new car in January. And then we'll have all of February. We'll have the first of February for the spring training. So we'll have, I think, at least five days of testing with the new car before spring training starts, yes.

Q. J.J. congratulations and welcome to the CART series. What are your goals for '98?

J.J. LEHTO: Well, at the moment it's difficult to set the goals. I just want to do my best and for sure the ovals will take a little bit of time to get used to, and the calendar, it seems to be very busy on the oval circuits. The first seven races, there are six oval races. It's a new thing for me and I have to take it easy. But I'm trying to get the results out immediately and I'm really looking forward to getting good results next year.

Q. For J.J., perhaps we could have just a little more background, like for those of us not as familiar with J.J. as others on the line. Perhaps he can just talk about the past season and finishing second in the championship.

J.J. LEHTO: Yes. The last season we had 11 races; and I won four. Unfortunately at the end of the race, the last couple of races, one in Sebring and one in Laguna Seca, we had some bad luck. In Sebring the car caught on fire, and we didn't finish the race. And the same happened in Laguna Seca. We had a problem with the engine and we didn't get the points, so we finished second in the championship. And then we were very constant throughout the whole season. We didn't make any mistakes. But unfortunately we didn't get the championship.

CARL HOGAN: Can I add something on that? Even though he came in second on the championship, Auto Sports named him the best driver of the series. And they stated the reasons why. I think it's quite a credit to J.J. that he did as well as he did.

Q. One other question, J.J., can you tell us the extent of the testing accident that you had in F-One? Where did it happen and what happened to you?

J.J. LEHTO: Well, that was just in the beginning of '94, I think that was the 25th of January. I just signed a contract a week earlier. I was testing with '93 car, testing suspension parts. And it was a really cold day. And I don't know, we changed a lot of parts on the car all the time and I think that maybe something failed or whatever, it was one of the fast corners, and I lost it. I don't know what happened. I can't remember anything about it. But I broke my neck very badly and it took a long time to recover.

Q. My question would be to Carl. As you bring another foreign driver in in a rookie season, you seem to have a pretty good and aggressive testing schedule. What kind of accomplishments do you hope to raise during the 1998 tour?

CARL HOGAN: Oh, I think that's something that J.J. and I have to talk about in the next few weeks. But I think that with J.J.'s ability, I just hope in the first five or six races on the ovals, we can get some meaningful points, which I think we can because I think we'll have a competitive car, and I think J.J. will be a little surprised how quick he picks it up, because he's very smooth, and as you know, on ovals that's really part of the secret to the whole thing and not to ask more than what the car will give you. And then once we get to the street races and the various road circuits I think by that time we can really expect some results. So I expect to really run up front after a certain period of time, and I have high expectations, but I also don't want to push anything. So I think that with the package we have and with J.J., we have the ability to maybe surprise some people this year, is how we will end up. I know that's an evasive answer, but I just think that's the only one I can give you at this time.

Q. Carl, do you think it will be important to have him named Rookie of the Year at the end of the season?

CARL HOGAN: I don't really think that's the important thing because J.J. to me is not a rookie. And my point would be it would be a lot more important for us if we finished in the top ten and things like that.

Q. I had one question for Carl and one for J.J. Carl, for you first of all, how close or how serious was the talking with Robby Gordon?

CARL HOGAN: At the time it was very serious. We were talking to some sponsors that were looking for an American driver and Robby filled that bill. And Robby is fast, and I've always had a very good relationship with Robby. And I think that -- I hope we still do -- and I think Robby has a lot of talent, so it was very serious. As time went on, things changed a little bit and hopefully Robby will end up with a good ride and I certainly hope so. But our relationship was at all times serious.

Q. And for J.J. Considering what we saw in Fontana, what are your thoughts about the last time you drove 230-plus miles an hour?

J.J. LEHTO: Well, I have never done 230-plus miles an hour.

Q. That's what I was kind of guessing.

J.J. LEHTO: I'm really looking forward to seeing that.

Q. A couple of questions for Carl. You mentioned receiving the Reynard Mercedes in the beginning of January of the I wanted to confirm, will you still be running Firestone tires?

CARL HOGAN: No, we'll be running the same package with Mercedes and the Reynard and the Firestone, but because of the new Mercedes engine we're the last ones on the totem pole, so to speak with Reynard.

Q. I also wanted to ask you about some of the key staff members on the team. Crew chief, engineer, team manager, how much of your core group of people are still around and will be running with you in 1998 or are there other key personnel that have been hired or that need to be hired?

CARL HOGAN: Peter Scott is our team manager and he was with me last year. He does a super job, and I'm very pleased with him. Alan Langridge was one of our two chief engineers and Alan is back with us as a chief engineer. And he's going to be assisted with Casper, who was with us last year, and Ram and those are our engineering group. We have an opening for the crew chief position. And our key mechanics are back, but we do have an opening for the crew chief and a couple other people. But basically we've got our team intact.

Q. Carl, is there an advantage to having a single-car team over a two-car team?

CARL HOGAN: Well, you know, I think the two-car team as a certain advantage by having information that can pass back and forth, and I think you can find out things faster when you've got two things out there experimenting. From that standpoint I think it's better. From the other side, though, the one car, the advantage that they have is that there's only one driver, so you know he's getting all the attention. And no matter what happens it's very difficult to have a two-car team with two drivers that really honestly support one another other than in the public view. And so I think it's sort of each one has its advantages and disadvantages. And I think it just depends on how you do it. I think if you could have two drivers that understood what the goals were and the team goals and they helped each other, I think that has an advantage, but it also sometimes creates problems.

Q. For J.J., have you had a chance to meet with the crew as yet and if so, have you found them friendlier than the people you find in Formula One?

J.J. LEHTO: They are different. All the American people, they're more open. And the whole racing is much more open. The whole thing, the drivers, all the team members from different teams, they talk to each other. And it's a lot different than comparing to racing in Europe. But the atmosphere is really good, and when I get into the team and all the people, it was really easy to talk to them, and they understood me very easily and it was a good relationship from the beginning.

Q. They all speak Finnish?

J.J. LEHTO: They will learn this year.

Q. J.J., it's for you. Since you have not driven a single-seat car for several years, it's a little bit different as you mentioned, the weight and the way the car handles. Talk about that a little bit.

J.J. LEHTO: If you compare it to tour cars, and it's quite different, because the central gravity and the weight distribution, the braking is so different. You can go so much faster into the corners, and keep the corner speeds much higher. That sort of thing takes a little bit of time to get used to.

Q. How about the sequential shift?

J.J. LEHTO: We had it in the other cars, too.

Q. Tell the difference. It was reversed, right?

J.J. LEHTO: It was reversed. We had to push the shift forward, the upshift. And with these cars you have to pull it. The first test the first day was a little bit difficult.

Q. That gave you a thrill, didn't it? How to blow an engine in a hurry, right? Carl, last year when you came up with Dario, Mercedes recommended him to you. How did you get in touch with J.J.?

CARL HOGAN: It was sort of a combination of things, actually. To tell you the truth, I had 24 drivers call me. And some of the them very, very good and some of them with very little experience. And so really it was a matter of talking to various people and Reynard had come up with some names and Ilmor. But Ilmor and Mercedes were very high on J.J. And of course last year, the year before, Dario had driven for Mercedes and this year J.J. drove the BMW, but it was the same series, and he had even greater success. So we were very interested in him. But one of the things that I think that J.J. had to prove to himself and to me also was that he was ready to get back into single-seaters. So I think we went to Mid-Ohio with different views on things. It was there that we found we were very compatible and the team and J.J. got along well and did an excellent job. So really it was at that point that we both realized that we had real potential here. So with J.J., a lot of people knew his history and everything, and very truthfully it was had he fully recovered, which he has. And also was he ready to get back into single-seaters. I'm quite excited to have a rookie at age 31 with the experience he's had.

Q. J.J., you mentioned that you were excited to get back in single-seaters. And it took you a while and you didn't get the opportunity. Was there some reason or was it just recovering from your injury or did you just shy away from it until now?

J.J. LEHTO: It was a combination of everything. It was really at the end of '94, it was very difficult to get in Formula One. And I didn't feel very good at the end of '95, anyway, so I have to do something else. And then I spoke with my manager, and he was doing the touring cars and they sort of wanted to -- need to drive the touring car a little bit to test it and see how it was, and it felt quite nice for a change. So I went to touring cars. But anyway my mind was always in single-seaters, and it was nice to get some experience from the touring cars because they are so different to drive. But I think that was very good for me to go there, and just learn some other things for driving and then come back to single-seaters again.

Q. Carl, would you say there has been an unusual amount of movement this year among the drivers going to various teams or is it just sort of a typical year? And in choosing J.J., I was wondering if the success that PacWest had with a couple of Formula One drivers in any way influenced your decision to pick J.J.?

CARL HOGAN: In answer to the first question, I think there's been an unusual amount of movement of drivers, particularly what I would consider more or less upper echelon drivers. And I think part of that is just the fact that it's become so competitive that everyone's just maybe not quite as patient as they used to, and if they see an opportunity they make a move. And I think this is true of either the drivers or the owners. As far as the situation with PacWest, I don't think it had any real impact on me, other than the fact that it took them a little while to get going. And I think that was not only from the standpoint of drivers, but also team chemistry, and they certainly have come on strong. I think the biggest thing it had with me was there were again Formula One drivers that have adapted very well to the ovals. And I think that more than anything had an influence on me.

Q. This is actually for J.J. It seems like kind of a basic question here, but your initials, have you always been known as J.J. or what does actually J.J. stand for?

J.J. LEHTO: It's complicated. My real name is Jyrki Jarvinehto. It's too long to put on the side, and you kind of lose your sponsor. So I had to shorten my name a little bit.

Q. I know your first name is Jyrki. What is the second name?

J.J. LEHTO: It's J-a-r-v-i-n-e-h-t-o.

Q. Carl, earlier this week the British American Racing announced their affiliation with Craig Pollack and Adrian Reynard, and Adrian was saying on the teleconference that he had talked to all the CART teams with regards to make sure that they're looked after. Are you satisfied with that move and can you elaborate a little bit on it?

CARL HOGAN: I'm satisfied at this point. As anything it still remains to be seen how it works out. They've done a good job with communicating with their teams. And if they don't lose their focus and just add to their operation, I think some of the feedback we can get from Formula One could be important. I think that Mercedes, part of their new engine this coming year, some of the technology came from Formula One so it can be helpful. I think where Reynard has to be careful, they've been so good with communicating with the teams and so responsive. If that falls down a little bit, I think we'll notice it in a hurry. So I hope what Adrian says is right, and I just hope that Malcolm Oastler who designed our car, who is going to design the Formula One car doesn't lose sight of what we need, also. I feel comfortable with it, but we'll have to monitor it as it goes along.

Q. Carl, the question for J.J. where is he going to locate in the states?

J.J. LEHTO: At the moment I'm going to stay in St. Louis in the beginning and then we'll have to decide. Really, I don't know. I haven't seen America too much so I don't know where I would like to live at the moment.

Q. Some place where there are a lot of fir trees and a place to put a sauna, right?

J.J. LEHTO: Yes, that's the thing.

MIKE ZIZZO: I'd like to apologize for the earlier technical difficulties.



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