CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We will begin this afternoon by welcoming All-American Racer's team owner Dan Gurney who will be making a major announcement. Welcome, Dan, thanks for joining us today and the floor is yours.
DAN GURNEY: All right. Thank you T. E.. This is an announcement on our driver. I thought I would get off to begin with a little poem that the girls in the organization, including one closest to me, my wife, were involved with. So let me try and do this poem. A Christmas wish comes true for one lucky driver. That was the month before Christmas and all through the teams, some drivers were switching, pursuing new dreams. With Dan as the team chief and PJ as No. 1, a new driver was sought to fill the shoes of Juan. By mail and by fax there came such a patter, choose me, I can drive, I am so much better. After testing in Phoenix Dan said, Hooray, we have found our man and he is from the U.S.A.. Of course, this is to announce that Alex Barron will be our driver in car No. 36 for, which used to be Juan's car, for the 1998 season. So, I would like to give it back to you, T. E., and see if we can start with the questions.
T.E. McHALE: Very good. Congratulations. Thanks for the verse. Congratulations to you and to Alex. I'd like to give the callers a little bit of background on Alex before we get started with questions and answers. Alex won the 1997 KOOL Toyota Atlantic Championship for Lynx Racing on the strength of 5 victories, 4 pole positions and a total of 9 podium finishes. He follows in the footsteps of drivers such as Jacques Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and Patrick Carpentier who have graduated from the Atlantic Series to PPG Cup competition. Alex, now 27 years old, came up through the International Carting Federation in Formula Ford 2000 ranks prior to moving into the KOOL Toyota Atlantic competition and now the FedEx Championship Series. Alex joins us from Laguna Seca Raceway where he is testing today, so we will open the floor at this point for questions for either Alex or Dan.
Q. Dan, I think most of us know that Alex has really come on impressively after a long career in carting, a season in Ford 2000 thousand and a very impressive year this past year in Toyota Atlantic. And, of course, he did test the Arciero-Wells Toyota powered CART car and went well. But, in your brief statement you kind of alluded to the fact that you tested him and really that was the thing that convinced you; it wasn't a question of his resume and record and so forth, is what he did in the race car. Can you explain your thought process as how you decided on Alex?
DAN GURNEY: Gordon, I didn't know that you could read so much into my statement. But, it is true the test was part of it and I found, once again, that the process of trying to decide on a driver to pick drivers, out of many worthy drivers is imprecise and often runs the risk of being even unfair. But, nevertheless, you do the best you can and eventually you have to make a decision. Certainly, Alex's year and his, what appears to be, his intensity and his ability to do it; the fact that he is an American did sort of tip the scales a little bit in his direction going in. And, the situation that All American Racers is in at the moment which is still a very steep learning curve development period means that while there might have been more established drivers, I felt that if that were the case, it would probably be, considering our development program, it would be a difficult thing. It would be almost a step backwards for a driver who had already established himself. And, I thought if we can do an intense testing program, which we have forecast and scheduled, why, it would probably be the best risk and the best thing to take, the best route to take. We wanted to grow a young American driver if we had the opportunity. Alex certainly fits that bill and we think, you know, we will find out a year or 18 months into this effort that we made the right decision.
Q. I have one for Dan, although this -- probably in the context this might be wait out there. But, Dan, have you been concerned at all with the speeds that the cars are going and having, certainly, Alex has a great deal of experience. Does the speed bother you?
DAN GURNEY: I have asked myself that question, but I find that it is easy to say yes and yet when you start to discuss this you find that, all right, what speed would be acceptable and that also becomes a difficult thing to pin down. I do know that statistically the racing seems to be that there has been a lot of very worthwhile progress made in terms of safety. But, yeah, I suppose as an older not blinded by ambition young person and spirit, why, I suppose it does -- at times it bothers me. But, looking at it statistically, I just can't put -- I can't define it very well. But it has always sort of been that way, really, when I look back on it. How is that for not an answer?
Q. Thank you.
DAN GURNEY: (Laughs).
Q. Congratulations, Dan.
DAN GURNEY: Thank you, Lee.
Q. I'd like to address this to Alex though how he felt his test went and what he is looking for next year as a member of Dan's team?
ALEX BARRON: The tests went quite well, actually. The weather didn't play a part the first day. I actually had to go out on the track with wets on, rain tires, but, right away, when I came up to the shop and I saw the guys and I saw Dan, I felt really comfortable. And, as soon as we went out on the track, everything started to click right away. By the end of the testing on Wednesday, I felt very comfortable in the car. I felt very comfortable around the people. And, I was just making sure that everything that was done on the track from myself, was well as far as well looked at from the party that was observing me. And at the same time, I was working with Toyota, working with them trying to get some feedback to help them a little bit. But, after it was all said and done, I sat down with Dan, and, again, like I was saying, when I first met him it was the same way after the test, he makes you feel real comfortable. And, his presence in the pits, it kind of helps a driver have an outlook on what you are trying to do.
Q. I'd like to start with Dan, if I could. Dan, like you said, there are a lot of people who wanted this job and you sort of went into the criteria of why you picked Alex, but what did you see in him specifically that you liked; that made you think that he could make this jump from Toyota Atlantic to the Indy CART cars?
DAN GURNEY: Good question, Bill. Whether I saw it or not remains to be seen. But, I sensed a certain intensity, a certain 100% commitment, an enormous desire, a thorough leave-no-stone-unturned-kind-of-approach to driving and a bright young mind that already has a lot of vehicle dynamic experience, even though a good deal of it is in carts which, as we know, even the various Formula I and IndyCar champions still do a lot of carting because it is so close and so informative. But, probably a sixth sense that this was a person we could work with and maybe a sense that this was a talent that is just barely blossoming and -- but all these things are the sort of thing -- I mean, that you'd like to turn out to have been right. But, you won't know until we see how things are down the road. But I have a great deal of confidence in him. Exactly -- it is not one thing that did it. It is a lot of different things.
Q. Following up, did it concern you so much at all that Alex had spent -- I mean he is 27, and had spent so much time in carts, did where he was at 27 concern you at all?
DAN GURNEY: Maybe. But, whatever the -- that element was there, although I was more interested in how he did in Formula Ford and the Toyota Atlantic Series and how well he did in our testing, and, the testing that Arciero-Wells did with him, our sort of sister team with Toyota power, and just trying to look within the person and see. Now, that is why I say it is a sixth sense. Was I concerned? Yes. I am concerned. I am concerned with any driver that does it, that makes a transition. But, nevertheless, I feel confident that based upon our testing program and so forth he will be able to become very familiar with these very high performance cars before he actually has to get involved in the racing. So I think that part will be carefully done, but it will be a very good grounding.
Q. Alex, you have to produce, say, one of the most startling rises from carting in a long, long time, two years from CART to Championship Cars, that has to be some kind of a record. Can you just talk a little bit about what your aspirations were when you first stepped into the Ford 2000 car last year and how you feel about making the step so quickly?
DAN GURNEY: Well the Formula 2000 car was bigger, obviously, and when you get in out of carts, you are belted in by seatbelts, so you feel a little uncomfortable when you have somebody strap you into a car coming out of carts. Because in carting, you use a little bit of body English to turn the CART. In Formula Ford, I got belted in and I got over that first couple of days of testing. And, the biggest thing was probably the weight and the chassis roll as far as suspension goes, and the transition from Atlantic to IndyCar --
Q. The Championship Cars, if you will.
DAN GURNEY: (laughs) Sorry. The Championship Cars were a lot larger and there was a lot more weight, but at the same time, the mile an hour was a lot higher. So I would say the biggest thing is getting used to the mile per hour and the weight. And, obviously, the turbo lag, that is something that you have to change your style to. But, I think it actually kind of falls in place with each other because if you have a bigger stance, if you have a longer car, obviously the tires are state of the art and they are not only soft, but they have a good structure. Everything just falls in place and I just think that it is going to take some track time to get used to everything. But, I think the testing schedule that Dan and AAR has that will give me the time that I need to enter at the first race there in Homestead.
Q. Good afternoon, Alex and Dan. First question I guess to Alex. Dan touched on it a bit. Given that, you know, the team and Toyota are still in the throws of the development program and if you could talk a bit about how in some sense that is a good environment for you in your first season of Championship Car Racing to look where there is not perhaps as much pressure on you as there might be in a team that, you know, in a team that is further along on the development curve?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think there is a great opportunity there from all angles. Obviously they are developing some things, but the team -- the people that is involved with the team are very intelligent and they were very successful with the GTP stuff and the stuff they did before, so they know how to win. It is just a matter of putting all the pieces together. It is just a great opportunity for me to work in that kind of atmosphere and hopefully be the one that brings the car to the front of the grid. It is a long season here. There is 19 races next year and there is going to be a lot going on. So, obviously, I am going to have to keep on top of my game and speak with Dan and his people and hopefully I will get the education that I need to fulfill what needs to be done.
Q. Dan, obviously for the past many years you have had a very almost idyllic working relationship with Juan and PJ. Obviously now the whole dynamics there change and PJ is, in effect, going to be asked to assume the role of team leader. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how that is all going to work next year?
DAN GURNEY: Well, Dave, I think PJ realizes this very much and it has triggered a sort of a stepping forward and he has had a great deal of schooling. We never emphasize No. 1 or No. 2 in any way, but I think PJ taught Juan a great deal and vice versa, Juan taught PJ. I think they had great mutual respect. So, I think that PJ will be quite willing and happy to pass along his insight into what is required and to help Alex learn and also to help continue the learning process and our race engineers are -- will be - we haven't filled in the second one yet - but there is going to be a wide range of experience there. And, also total collaboration on it; not -- some teams end up with two, one-car teams instead of one two-car teams and we are going to do the latter. So, I think PJ almost enjoys the fact that he can step up.
Q. Dan, can you kind of bring us up-to-date on the package that you guys will be running and any changes in sponsorship and then also how Alex has kind of fit into the team so far?
DAN GURNEY: We will continue with Castro as one of our major sponsors. There is another one which has not been defined yet that will replace the Jockey sponsorship which, unfortunately, they decided to sort of step aside for 1998. But, our car will continue to be a Reynard powered by the latest Toyota engine and we are due to receive our first 1998 Reynard in a day or two. We also have some update kits that we intend to upgrade the current 1997 Reynards to 1998 spec. We also have some very intensive wind tunnel development and vehicle dynamic development plans. And, we are going to try to make our Reynards the best that we can and also we may get pretty thorough in that regard.
Q. Alex, what do you think you bring to this team? What do you think are some of your strong attributes?
ALEX BARRON: Obviously the learning curve is going to be pretty high for me. But, I am going to just try to do everything that I have done in the past, just always try to make progress with everything that I do and work closely with the people that can help the car go quicker and quicker. So, I am just going to try to bring the good atmosphere that a team needs to work with each other. I think that is very important. But, I don't see any of that being a problem with this team because it is very family oriented and right away when I came up to the shop and talked with Dan and all the people, they were really nice, and everybody seems to look out for each other.
Q. Alex, how did you feel the Toyota Atlantic prepared you for this next challenge and how do you see the competition shaping up in that series for 1998?
ALEX BARRON: For the Atlantic series?
ALEX BARRON: I think it is going to be tough this year. Players is going to step up and obviously Lynx is going to be strong again. I think it is going to be a tough year. I think that every year that the Toyota Atlantic Series comes out, it gets tougher and tougher. And, I think it is getting more reputation of moving drivers up the ladder. And, the people who run the series, Vicky O'Connor, and everybody that she has there from Promotion, does a really good job. And, the cars itself, in relation to the IndyCar it is a lot of the same yet as far as the ground effects go and the arrow, it is pretty relative to the IndyCar, but yet the tires are pretty hard. So there are some things that help you and there are some things that kind of hurt you. So you just kind of have to learn what you can and then apply it towards the IndyCar.
Q. Dan, considering the background that Alex has had this past season with the Lynx Racing Team and the way that they almost send their drivers through a developmental school, was that a factor in your decision?
DAN GURNEY: Well, yes, of course, that is certainly part of his total package. That is what is in his quiver, so to speak, and that meant a great deal to us. But, the opportunity to maybe see a diamond in the rough and try to grow him and polish him also is a very important part of it. We feel like we have a very aggressive testing program and we believe that he has already demonstrated that he has what it takes and that is also a big part of it. I mean, it is certainly not a sure thing when you go to do something like this either from Alex -- strictly from Alex's standpoint or strictly from ours and we are going to do our best to overcome whatever hurdles we run into. And, I think that he has what it takes.
Q. Alex, with the test that you took, the driving test that you took in order to, I guess, win this job, is there a lot of pressure there for a young driver to know that, wow, this could be the biggest ride that I would ever have in this test?
DAN GURNEY: Yes.
ALEX BARRON: Yes, obviously it is a tremendous amount of pressure put on you. At the same time if you are going to be a successful race car driver, there is going to be pressure on you no matter what you do. So, it is just all in how you deal with it. It is all about who the people are around you that help you do that and just how you have a mindset on what you need to do when you go out on the track. I have been fortunate enough to have some what of a handle on that throughout my career. I am real fortunate that I was able to get on a team like this because I think it will be easy from that standpoint as far as what I need to achieve this season.
Q. At the beginning of this conversation Dan had a Christmas poem about you. Do you have a Christmas poem?
ALEX BARRON: (Laughs) No, I don't have a Christmas poem. I don't have a poem, but I will say it is definitely the best present I have ever gotten. .
Q. Dan, could you kind of give us an update on where you are with the Toyota motor program? You have had kind of a tough learning curve - Toyota has had a tough learning curve - there was some - I don't know - confusion, let us call it, and has anything changed? Are we further along? Where are you? When do you expect what to happen?
DAN GURNEY: Yes, things have changed for the better. We are seeing good signs of progress. Our last test was the best, most successful test we have ever run with Toyota Power and we had zero engine related difficulties. We did get -- our last test day was cut short because we lost a gearbox and I told Lee White, the new general manager at TRD, that was because the engine was making too much power. But, of course, he chuckled. They have a lot of very good things in mind. They are sort of reconstructing the foundation of everything they are building now. And, I think we are going to -- we already see improvements. Actually, the quickest time that our two test fellows ran was about a second with -- on the same tires was about a second off of the best time run there by Gil de Ferran and that is sort of, I'd say, almost a half a second improvement.
Q. I had heard that there was another iteration of the -- Toyota motor is going to come, but not right away, maybe in about mid-year, about June or --
DAN GURNEY: There actually are two more sort of in the pipeline as I understand it, and we tried to not monitor this thing all the time because the fellows are just so busy working. But there is one called a Phase 4 and one further up the pipeline and further along the line which is called the so-called Phase 5. I think Phase 4 is probably -- we will see that early in this coming year, maybe January and the other one is probably more something towards the end of the season or maybe even for beyond. But, at this stage it is mostly talk when you start making predictions, you don't have any real basis to make solid predictions on them.
Q. Dan, was wondering with the loss of on seasoned driver, what does this do now to your plans to continue development of the Eagle chassis? Is that going to be sort of put on hold? It sounded like you are looking to do some real intensive work on the Reynard instead?
DAN GURNEY: We haven't forgot the Eagle. We haven't forgotten that. We have been manufacturers in the past. We also know that the Reynard is an excellent customer car, it is an excellent car. And, we have -- obviously we have learned quite a bit from running the Reynard. We are involved in an intensive arrow program and other programs with the idea of improving the performance of our car. We also have taken some steps to bring along another Eagle. We just don't have a schedule on that yet.
Q. This is for Alex. Congratulations first of all, and happy holidays to you all. Maybe you have a unique perspective because you have graduated to Championship Cars than other people as we talked about before. But consider the physical stress of driving those of carts are surely different than with Championship Cars and with the rapid increase with the physical demands as a driver, had you had to respond in any change of physical maintenance routine that you have?
ALEX BARRON: No, actually I think if you are a driver, you are a driver, and you have to train. Obviously, you probably, depending on what kind of car you drive, you have to take a little bit of routine on the fitness program that you are on, but I am sure that the IndyCar is going to be more physical than the Atlantic car just for the fact that the weight is hire and the tires are more sticky and there is more horse power. But, that is the whole thing, the key of driving is just getting the car to do most of the work and just, I think, a lot of it is just how you approach it and how you ease into your training and try to learn everything you can so by the time you get down to the races, they are a lot longer than the Atlantic races. You just have to evaluate everything and have a game plan once you go into the race.
Q. Do you have a favorite way of staying in shape?
DAN GURNEY: Actually, just like cardiovascular and I like a lot of hand eye coordination sports, too.
Q. Again, Dan, I am going off in a different direction here, but my other questions were answered so if you could bear with me here. There was a total acquittal in the senate trial today and I wondered if you thought that that was the appropriate decision?
DAN GURNEY: Yes. I certainly do. I am glad to hear it. So, that is a long ordeal for Frank Williams and his entire organization that has come to an end. I am very glad to hear that, Beth. Was there more?
Q. Dan, this kind of deals with the holiday spirit. We are doing our Christmas show this week and I was wondering how do the Gurneys spend their holidays?
DAN GURNEY: (Laughs) Oh, boy. I think in prior years we have managed to try to squeeze in some skiing. I know that my wife would love to do that this year, but it looks like we are sort of trying so hard to make this racing program successful that we are a little short of time. We will, of course, spend some time with the family and I will try not to eat too much and we will have -- we have a very nice tree out front with the lights on and we think back about our family members and just enjoy a beautiful Christmastime holiday.
T.E. McHALE: All right. We will wrap it up for today. I want to thank again Dan Gurney and Alex Barron for joining us this afternoon. Thank you, gentlemen. We certainly wish you every success during the 1998 FedEx Championship Series. I am not sure we will talk to all of you again before the holidays. That being the case, let me wish everybody on the call a happy holiday season and thank you again for joining us today and we will talk to you after the new year.
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