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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

Emerson Fittipaldi
February 17, 1994


THE MODERATOR: The City of Miami is dedicating a street after Emerson called "Fittipaldi Way," which happens to be outside his office. The purpose of this call is mainly to focus on your pre-Indy stories and pre-season stories and the upcoming season, the addition of Al Unser, Jr. and the new car. So with that I guess we can get started.

Q. In the last seven years, Penske Racing won four Indy 500s, eight of the last 15, they always seem to be the yardstick by which everybody is measured down there; why do you think they've been so successful; what has been the key to the Penske success at Indy?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, Roger, hi everybody and I'm happy to talk to you guys and I'm looking for a good interview. Unfortunately, it's raining in Miami, all wet, we're doing some photography outside. But anyway, going to the subject, I think Rogers dedication racing and the way that Roger concentrate his effort in Indianapolis shows the results. I mean, Rogers main goal in racing is to win Indianapolis and then, in my opinion, the Championship, and I think that's why the Team Penske has been so success, because the way Roger, and the way that his leadership towards Indianapolis, it's very, very strong.

Q. Emerson, having won it last year for the second time, and now that you've had a chance to look at it, are you just as hungry to get the third win or maybe the fourth win at Indianapolis as you were to try to get that first one?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I'm looking going back to Indianapolis. It will be more pressure on myself, but I will be trying to go for the third time. For sure I will try as much as I can to win just as the last five six years there. I think Indianapolis has the magic that no other event in the world has. I don't know any other race in the world that has that magic, and we know we all go there trying one hundred percent on ourselves, and I'm going there with a lot of enthusiasm myself.

Q. A lot has been made of the fact that the Lolas are very fast out of the box and the Reynard seems to be fast as well, and we heard a lot from Team Penske; is that possibly a strategy of yours to not call attention or are you happy with where you are right now?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: We have been doing a lot of tests since December last year with the new car, and everybody, the Marlboro Team, Penske is very enthusiastic about the performance, we're very optimistic about the season as everybody knows we'll be a three-car team. Roger is very much concerned in getting the organization structured, strong enough to run three driver's on a high competitive level and I know we are going to succeed on that aspect. But one thing that's very interesting, I have been going to Phoenix many times since December and the last time is very, very close showing it's going to be one of the most competitive Indy cars season ever, the most competitive. Last Friday I was running one mile over Indy-- in Phoenix, sorry, and same thing at Scott Goodyear. And we are lapping just about the same speed. By the end of the day I was one tenth of a second quicker than Goodyear. But that's some days in Phoenix you can have a quick day and be very quick, but I know that the Lola drivers are happy the cars are there for them, looking good too, but we should be running very strong.

Q. Do you have any concerns from a technical and support standpoint for Team Penske to be able to adequately field three cars if you are halfway through the season and everybody has an equal chance for the championships and to be on the grounds with Paul Tracey?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think we had a bad experience in 1990, when it was myself, Ricky Mears and Danny. The reason I say it was a bad experience, sometimes through the season we were missing coordination, a little bit of the logistic, but with that experience, the whole team, Chuck, he's the team manager, he is well prepared, Roger is confident we can do a good job and I'm confident we are going to do good with three cars. The structure is very different from what it was in 90, and then I think as the season goes by, who is going to be with shot in the championship, the team is going to put more effort, like any other team will do that. It doesn't matter if you have two cars or three cars. Who's going to be-- have a chance to win the championship. The effort will be there.

Q. You said the structure has changed since the last experience with three cars. What are one or two primary things that changed to make this different?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think first the amount of team members increase a lot this year. We have new members on the team. The logistic that Chuck has a problem in 90 to keep up with the spare parts, spare cars, enough spare cars, I think everything has been very well-planned, and you know we are looking for a much better season with three cars on the team, three driver's on the team. I don't see any problem.

Q. Who is going to be the crew chief on these cars?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: They already decide. I stay with Rick Rinaman. And Jon Bouslog will be with Paul and Richard Buck will be with little Al. That's it.

Q. Last year you had a good shot at the championship; didn't quite make it. What do you put that down to?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I have many different situations but Jeremy let me-- one really disappointed potentially I could have wouldn't the race, the Grand Prix. I was running strong, I got the lead, myself and Paul were driving away from everybody and it was a shame what happened when they gave that surprise black flag that unfortunately never happened before, that situation. I think that's one of the situations that possibly could make the championships turn around. The Phoenix when I was leaving the race only 17, 18 laps to go and I hit the wall was another situation. You know, Long Beach I had the boost pressure going on the start. I mean, I can name three, four situations, but I always say if you don't win the race, you still have to get the points and Nigel did a beautiful job and he's a great champion and we're going to have a great season.

Q. Emerson, can Nigel be tamed this year, especially on the oval, probably where Penske lost it last season, can he be stopped on the oval this season?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I don't imagine in his past life he was oval driver, but he shows a tremendous potential and results in oval more than anybody expect, and we had a very peculiar situation on our team. We always start strong on the short ovals, we always qualify the laps, and after ten 15 laps we really go back and losing. The inside tire is picking up rubber. We have been working in the winter to try to improve-- not to improve, but to solve that problem, and I'm very confident that by New York we will have the problem solved-- I'm sorry, by Phoenix, that we will have the problem solved, and we should be running very strong in Phoenix. We test a lot there. I'm going there again next week for another three days. We should be running strong, but I think the whole season is going to be very competitive. I mean you had guys like Raul running strong in the one mile over last year; little Al joining the team is going to be a strong contender; Paul is going to be strong in the short oval, I think it will be a great season.

Q. -- how would it effect the support if Nigel-- previous from the one champion oversees came over and wouldn't a gain there. --

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I couldn't understand. Could you repeat.

Q. Would it have an adverse effect on Indy cars if Nigel went away and won the championship again this season; has he got to be stopped at all costs so he doesn't win three in a row?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I never thought about that. First time I heard someone say that. You know, I really don't think about that. I think it's great that Nigel joins us in Indy car race. I went to Europe in December and I realize how much publicity this sport achieves. Now the Marlboro Penske Team joined with Mercedes Benz, it creates an international image more than ever, and I think Nigel is going to be tough this year. We all going to try to take away the championship from Nigel. But if he wins again, he wins again. That's great for Nigel and great for Indy car racing. I would say as long as Nigel win Indy car racing, I think it's great for the sport.

Q. A couple of drivers are almost a second under the current one lap record at Phoenix; is it going to be-- the record is 20.8 seconds. Is it going to be broken this year by what you've been running in practice? I know some of the times are, like, under 20 seconds right now.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think-- in the winter, it's cold and you can get one day that the conditions are ideal to put a quick lap time and normally when we come back in Phoenix in April it's warmer, the track gets very slippery, oil, but even so, we are going to be running under the lap record. I would say we should be running low twenties. I mean, 20 point one, 20 point two.

Q. How much of a part does the new track surface play in that?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think the new track surface helps, but for my surprise and Nigel Bennett's surprise, the new rules that we try to review the down force package, haven't slowed down the lap time. It's faster than before. I think a little bit is from the new surface, but the new rules is-- slow down the cars quicker.

Q. Is the car as stable as it used to be?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Yes, very stable. You feel a little less down force driving the car, but even to our surprise, it went about 12 miles faster between three and four, the middle of the corner than with last year's package.

Q. I don't want to jump over 1994, but you've got Mercedes coming on in 1995; is that a little bit of incentive that you would want to be around for that and be a part of the program in '95; do you think?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think that the whole-- you know, looking to myself, one of my idols in racing when I grew up is the image of Mercedes Benz winning Grand Prixs and winning the championships, and that's another challenge for me as another motivation, to race Mercedes. I mean, I'm really enthusiastic for 1995 to be driving Mercedes, because I remember as a little boy watching Grand Prix racing and Mercedes dominating the championship, and that image is on my mind, and I hope I can do that driving on Marlboro Team Penske car with Mercedes Benz power. I mean, that would be another possible achievement I can have in my racing career.

Q. What about the Ilmor D; how do you find that engine package to be and have you received any technical assistance from the Mercedes people at this time?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: First of all the Ilmor has been a really nice design. The engine is lower than last year's engine, and a new configuration, it is a different angle, the V, and so far we have been running quite strong, but the first test that we have been doing with the Ilmor concerned about being reliable and we are going to get more power, but even so I've done 20.1 point in Phoenix. It's very competitive. That day I was running 45 inches of boost, I was running valve and I did 20.1. The engine must be powerful to do that.

Q. Only four men in history have ever won back to back victories at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; how do you feel about going up against odds like that; are you superstitious about things like that or does it really not bother you?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I don't think about that, but it would be nice if I could do that. Even like last year, Scott-- nobody wouldn't for the ninth place and before the race some of the press came to me and said, Emerson, do you realize nobody ever won Indy for the ninth race. That's the bad news. I don't want to hear bad news. You should not be superstitious in racing. I hope I can repeat, but you know, all in all, it's difficult stuff and I'll be trying my best.

Q. And the Penske car at the speedway this year, what kind of speed do you think you'll be able to get; are you go to go creep back up to the 230 mile per hour mark?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think with the track layout it will be difficult to go back again to 230, but I don't say that it's impossible. If it is a cool day qualifying, no wind, a perfect situation, possible pole could be around 230 and going back to last year, remember, on qualifying morning, I ran 227, because the weather was very good in the morning, it was cool and, you know, the situation like that if it happen in the afternoon, we easily could be running 230.

Q. Have you found so far that having three people testing has helped you develop a new car quicker or is there such a thing of having too much input from too many people?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think we have been getting so much more information now. I think that's great and there is a communication system from the driver, chief crew and the engineer for the car that goes up to Nigel Bennett in England and provides Nigel with all the data and information, you know, for the computer and the driver's comment, how the car is doing, how the car is behaving. I think that is one of the things that Roger-- most of the test we have been doing is two driver's and two cars running at the same time, and that's new for Penske. I mean, we never done that before. That's providing us with much more information than used to be and that's great.

Q. Emerson, Happy New Year. Given the fact that it appears at least on paper to be a much-- a very competitive year, you know, with Al junior driving for Penske, Michael back with Ganassi and Reynard a couple of other strong-- Scott Goodyear and a couple of other strong combinations there, do you see this year as possibly panning out where the people who win the championship maybe only win, but say two to three races rather than five or six; and if that is the case, then does reliability become more of a factor than even normal?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think to me it would be very important every point you can make in a championship on every race. It can be-- I agree with you, it's going to be a very close championship, but I think you always-- always you have to try-- first, you have to finish a race, then you have to try to finish first. And I think going to that, that's the concern of trying to finish first the race and then finish first. But I was talking to Chuck and Roger that we will have to go for a situation like if the car by some reason have a mechanical problem and you have to come in and you lose two or three laps and you come back you're running 20, sometimes you can say-- is retired from the race and that's one thing I'm not going to do. I'm going to go to the end, I hope. By the end of the race I can recover and get 10th, 11th and still get some points. I think that's how I'm approaching the championship.

Q. Emerson, tell us about your own conditioning program in the off season. How much do you do to get your body in shape?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I have a program during the season that I call the maintenance program. Off season I do something different, but I have a trainer back here in Key Biscayne that trains about every day when I'm back in Florida. When I'm traveling, I'm running, I'm jogging, you know, trying to keep fit on a very tight schedule even during the winter. I've been jogging a lot during the last three months, but back again focus on getting back my physical condition before the race starting in Australia. That's important. That's even more demanding than used to be a few years ago. I mean, Indy car racing driving in a place like Australia, Long Beach, after one hour, you really needed the body to be in shape and to be in physical condition to perform. And I'm really taking more care now more than ever. Plus the age. You have to help the age. I'm working more now than I ever worked before, trying to stay younger.

Q. A lot of upper body stuff?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: We do a lot of upper body, neck, and a lot of cardio vascular, that's the long distance running I do.

Q. What about passion? What about your motivation for this new season; how does it compare to the start of the 93 season, and it looks to me like you're a lot more optimistic?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I'm very optimistic. I'm enjoying the racing more than ever. Every time I've been testing since December, I've always been very quick from the beginning of the first few days on the car and I'm looking to the season with a lot of confidence with myself and more than that, a lot of motivation. And I met two weeks ago, Nigel in Phoenix and we are talking about that in Italy going through the Indy season for a driver, you go by the winter, looking for the beginning of the season, I'm looking forward go to Australia looking forward to test next Monday in Phoenix to get the best set up for the car. I mean, that's the type of enthusiasm that we have here in Indy car racing that keeps you motivated. And even my family, my kids, I'm always looking to go back to racing.

Q. Does finishing second or when you narrowly miss the championship, does that motivate you more so to do better the next season; do you feel?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think so, I feel that, and even the team feels that. We feel that many-- during maybe around July when I was at one point I needed the championship, we said we could win the championship, and finished second, and now I tried to win again, and it will be a big challenge and I feel a lot of motivation yes.

Q. Emerson, what's your-- you made so many notable achievements throughout your career; what do you look forward to do this year, maybe get a second Indy 500 victory or the championship-- obviously you'd like both-- but what's are main sort of ambition?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: To be modest, I'd like to win both. I think it will be tough, but I'd like to do both. I think that we are all there to try to win races. Nigel will be there, Paul will be there, but I know the competition will be tough. But it will be fantastic if I could do both like I did in 89, in the same year win the Indy 500 and win the championship. That would be incredible.

Q. You're very motivated, you're enjoying yourself, don't see any thoughts of retirement here?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: No, I have no plans. I'm really enjoying so much, and I'm just looking forward to the beginning of the season. I'm just looking forward to go to Australia.

Q. Emerson, Australia how do you see that race going; it was a bit of a battle last year? Is it going to be tight on that circuit?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, the last year I was very pleased with the results in Australia. I love that type of track. Going back to Australia again would be another new challenge for us and it is a very peculiar track, because very long straights and very hard breaking points, four hard breaking points, slowing down to a second-gear corner. It is a different circuit than the normal ones, and I like the type of character, I like the type of driving, but I'm sure we can be competitive there.

Q. Can you comment on the addition of Al Unser Junior, and how you guys have communicated in testing so far?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, junior I always had a lot of enumeration for him as a driver and he joined the testimony team I think like Roger says, we can run three cars and be very strong. Junior is going to bring up his experience and all his knowledge of driving and racing, and already he has given good opinions on setting up the car, and we are really working together close on the car set up, on the feeling. You know, even like in Phoenix last week, myself we discussed a little lines how to take them, one, two, three and four, and I'm sure we're going to help each other, same as Paul. Paul has more experience. He has been much better now testing than before, and even Paul has given good information for the team. You know, when the race starts, we're going to race against each other, but the more we help each other before the race, we're getting competitive in comparison to all the other teams, and we only need to race against the other two drivers. That will be the ideal situation.

Q. Last year you guys completely dominated the Natural Terrain Road Courses. I was wondering if this car is responding the same way; do you think anybody is going to be able to catch you this year? You guys were great last year.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, Ned, you know, talking about being competitive season. From what I can see the lap times that Michael has been running the new car. Nigel has got Goodyear, showing that is going to be very, very competitive season. We still don't know until Australia how quickly the Penske car is going to be or if anything is going to be quicker than the new Lola, but we are looking hoping to repeat or performance, I think that's where we're missing, that's-- to stay consistent during the race. Some of the one mile over is losing a lot of performance.

Q. You mentioned being over in Europe over the winter. Where is the stature of Indy car racing with Nigel being here, with Mercedes announcing, there seems to be a lot of interest from the driver perspective-- how would you rate your stature from your experience in the past?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: The interesting thing that happened now, just about all the countries in the world outside of America, I can feel Latin America like the same situation in Europe. I was in Switzerland, I was stopped in the street in Switzerland, you know, people asking how am I going to do this year, and Germany, that's amazing. How much-- I always say that television and sports will make the promotion, and for the first time ever we had last year Indy car race televised live to a lot of countries in different parts of the world, and I know the numbers on the TV in Brazil and Brazil is possibly number one or number two racing fans in the world-- for the population and we had incredible increase of people watching Indy car racing in Brazil. We have incredible media coverage, and that's the way for the future for Indy car race to be a very international popular sport, but remaining as the American design racing, oval type of track. I think that will stay as part of the image of the sport and what we are looking in the future, my opinion it will be one race in Europe once a year, one race in Latin America, and then the rest where it exists now. I think that will be the ideal situation, to have international impact in Indy car racing in the future-- and possibly one race in Japan.

Q. The promoter of the one in Latin America?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think to promote myself a race, I'll never do that, but to put the groups together in Brazil, to promote the race, that's what I'm working for and I'm looking for. But I don't want to be involved myself as a promoter, but I want to help for succeed for the race to happen in Latin America, yes.

Q. You're talking about international races; would you like them to be oval races as Indy car is unique, has an oval track type thing?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: My personal opinion, including to Brazil if we happen to race in Brazil, we should go oval outside of the states, including Europe and Latin America to show a different type of racing to a public that never saw oval racing. And I'm sure we will get the Europeans and the Latin American fans enthusiastic about oval racing, because when you see oval race there the track-- I mean, my experience, all my friends from Europe and Latin America they come over, they go crazy. They love it, and that's the way Indy car race should go, oval track.

Q. Adding to that, would you like to see more oval track races added to the Indy car schedule in general?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I would say keep as much as half and half to make a fair championship, 50-50 should be.

Q. And how long do you see the oval tracks being-- if any new tracks are made, how long do you think they should be in length?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I would say a mile would be the ideal for the future. A mile and a half maximum. And you are talking about safety aspects about the maintenance of the track, one mile oval would be the ideal.

Q. Where exactly is the street in Miami that was named after you and will they let you drive as fast as you want on the street?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, today is official opening, Joe, but I'm looking down here at the window, it goes by my office. That's-- it used to be 10th Street and South Miami Avenue is the corner, and now it's called Fittipaldi Way. I mean, I'm so happy, it's incredible. That's one of the things you work so hard for so many years and it is a great honor to have a street with my name here in Miami. Today we're going to have a commemoration and I heard the police heard the Indy car is going to be in the street and the police are going to give me a ticket, but we are going to try anyway. I have my Indy car here today. See if they are going to stop me.

Q. Can you share with us the impressions of Ayrton Senna last year after he had a chance to come down and drive one of your cars, and whether you see any point in the future where a driver like Senna or Alain Prost which find their way into Indy car?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I can say that I know that I am very enthusiastic, he loved driving the car. Unfortunately, he never tried the car on the oval, but he was very quick, he was very happy, he was very enthusiastic, but I'm sure he's looking to the future. And Alain Prost, I don't know, I heard through the press he made some funny comments, I was surprised, because normally every time he saw me he always ask about Indy. He's ask about when they possibly coming here-- possibly coming one day, I don't know.

Q. You say you'd like to see the races held in Europe and Latin America, do you feel you ought to have-- from my point of view- some more British drivers over there?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Well, I think, in my opinion for the future, I would now change Nigel for three drivers. How about that? For the future, I would say Indy car race is very international. It gets more international. I mean, even when it was a week ago or ten days ago I was in Brazil, I had a press conference and a lot of the young drivers from Brazil coming from go cart racing, coming from LeForge racing. They want out to come to Indy as much as they want to go to Formula 1. That wasn't the case five, ten years ago, and I can see more people from different parts of the world trying to come to Indy for the future. Thank you

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