CART Media Conference
Gil de Ferran
July 8, 1997
T.E. McHALE: Gil, driver of the Valvoline Cummins Special Reynard Honda enters Sunday Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland as the defending champion having driven to a 1.033 second victory over Alex Zanardi last year on the runways at Burke Lakefront Airport. He also earned his first pole position of his PPG CART World Series career at Cleveland in 1995 with a lap of 147.512 miles per hour which still stands as the qualifying record for the 2.369 mile temporary road course. Gil comes into this year's Cleveland event with podium appearances in three of his past four starts. He finished 3rd in the inaugural Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway, then added another 3rd place two weeks later at the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix, an event at which he also claimed his fourth PPG CART World Series career pole position. On June 22nd de Ferran was part of the closest finish in IndyCar history when Mark Blundell edged past him at the start finish line to win the Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco Havoline by 27 thousandths of a second. Still, Gil collected 16 points for his runner-up effort and he comes to Cleveland 4th in the PPG Cup Standings with 77 points. Paul Tracy leads with 100 points followed by Greg Moore with 95 and Michael Andretti with 91. The Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland, Round 10, of the PPG CART World Series will be televised live by ABC on Sunday, July 13th, at 2:00 P.M. eastern daylight time. With that we will open it up for questions.
Q. Gil, are you in Cleveland right now? If so, do you intend to attend the All-Star game?
GIL DE FERRAN: I am not at Cleveland. I am at Mid-Ohio right now. And, we are doing a little bit of testing here. And, tonight I am due to go back home and I will be arriving at Cleveland Thursday morning.
Q. Have you gotten over the anguish of losing that closest race in history?
GIL DE FERRAN: That was kind of mixed emotions. I didn't really know if I should have been sad or happy at that time. It was, you know, disappointing in one way for losing the win. But, on another point of view, you assumed very good points and that prepared us right to the front of the Championship.
Q. Gil, has IndyCar Racing become even more specialized to the extent that there are road course drivers and oval track drivers and how does your team divide the team between the two in regard to testing and equipment?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think you just brushed up on one very, very good point as far as IndyCar Racing or at least the CART Championship is concerned. The very fact that we have to go to so many ovals and so many different road -- type of road courses, it makes it very difficult for you to be successful if you were a total specialist in only one of the disciplines. That, by itself, is a great challenge for the drivers. To be able to drive the big ovals well and then you have got to be able to drive the small ovals well as well and you have got to be able to be good in the road courses and good in the street courses, you have to be a very much an all-arounder, and, you know, very versatile type of driver. And, I think, at least for me, it is a great challenge. Obviously, I come from a road course background and the biggest challenge has been to get going on the ovals. It is a challenge that I enjoy very much. In fact, I think it is a plus that the Championship has over any other Series at that level around the world, including Formula I.
Q. I just wondered, do you feel you have a particular advantage at Cleveland in regard to driving style or the course itself, because of the success you have had there?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, to be quite honest with you, I'd like to think not, because I like to think that I drive the best I can in every track I go, you know. And, to the same level and at most tracks I go to, but obviously, results prove me wrong. There, obviously, must be something, you know, in the way I drive, that suits the track layout quite well. I typically -- my driving style is to carry a lot of speed into the turns and that obviously seems to be quite good both in Cleveland and in Long Beach, actually.
Q. Gil, I am wondering, talk about the particular demands of driving at Cleveland, particularly the fact that you really don't seem to have any visual cues to go by out there?
GIL DE FERRAN: It is quite a unique track in many ways. I mean, first, the track is really wide which gives the driver many options in terms of lines. I mean, you can go in tight and exit right, vice versa, have a late apex, early apex, whatever. You can pretty much pick and choose many different lines through all the corners. Not every circuit is like that. Many circuits, they are preset. You have got to take a certain line through a turn and that is that. The second aspect that makes Cleveland quite unique is the amount of run-off area in many of the turns which gives the driver another sense of freedom that you can't really risk going off or risk a spin without being afraid of the -- questioning the car or damaging the car or severely delaying your session. So, that gives you an extra degree of freedom there. Another unique feature, like you say, is the lack of visual references. The track is quite flat. When you are one end, you cannot see across the other side. And, because you are sitting very low, on a flat ground, it is very difficult to pick reference points for you to break, for you to turn. And, so on and so forth. So, it makes it quite a unique track. It is also quite a physical track. The corners are really, really fast and you pull a lot of laterals. On top of that, it is quite a bumpy track which makes it even more physical. And, on top of that, every year it seems to be really, really hot over there which makes it quite tough. Last year I was totally exhausted by the end of the race. I mean, I had blisters in my hand and I was really tired.
Q. Being in Mid-Ohio this week, along with many other drivers, what were you looking for in your car in those tests?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, the test in Mid-Ohio, this time, anyway, is more what I call a "research test." We are testing different parts from Honda and for ourselves in trying to develop the chassis and the engine a little bit further. Perhaps not with the intent of particularly setting up the car for this weekend or for Mid-Ohio, but looking more at long-term development parts and everything else. That is what we are doing here this weekend -- these couple of days. And, sometimes it makes it a little tight for the race. But, you know, that is -- the Championship calendar is very tight so that is the only time we had to do it.
Q. A question in reference to the fact that there are no reference points or very few reference points at Cleveland, what do you use for visual help in navigating a course?
GIL DE FERRAN: Sometimes the cones that they put in help you out. You pick up a few surface changes references. Believe it or not, they paint, you know, the runway with those white paints and everything else, sometimes you pick, you know, some references on that. You have got to be careful with the references you pick because sometimes they move it.
Q. (inaudible)... Why did you make the decision to stay in IndyCars?
GIL DE FERRAN: I got along extremely well long with Bo and Jackie. Bo has become a very good friend of mine. I drove for them for four years when I was racing in Europe, and it seemed, at least to me, anyway, kind of natural that we spoke about that. And, we did talk about that a little bit halfway through last year. But at one point I really was -- I was really trying to win this Championship over here. And, it was kind of a personal objective of mine that -- that was really the main reason why I decided to stay over here. I mean, there was an approach. We really didn't get into the nitty-gritty of hard negotiations. And, basically because I had my mind preset on trying to stay here and win the Championship. I had -- I was quite happy with the number of offers I had at this day and I decided on the Walker deal because I thought it was the best one.
Q. Go back to that closest finish ever, Gil, that had to be heck of a feeling, describe that a little bit.
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, it was a heck of a feeling. Definitely I had tears in my eyes - I am not too sure for happiness or sadness. You have to understand the whole background to that point. It is a race that started quite a promising way and then with the poor performance of our tires and we fell a long way back and, you know, it was kind of just hanging around there and thinking, well, you know, if I got a finish here, if I get a couple points out of this one, I will be kind of happy with that. Then I have to say that by sheer, you know, feelings from Derrick and the engineers back at the pits, they did a good strategy, they managed to put us back up fighting for the lead. Then once you are in the lead, you start to get pumped up again and you say, listen, I can win this thing. And, you know, obviously you kind of change your objectives from thinking, well, I can get a few points to thinking I can get -- definitely get 21 points here, not only a few. To lose it -- after I managed to hold Mark for the whole lap, I thought, okay, all I have to do is get out of the last turn kind of quick. But, unfortunately, I got a little bit too much wheel spin and the car started to tail and wiggling around and I said to myself, oh, no. At that point I had two options, either try to find the shortest distance between the corner and the start finish line, or try to put Mark in the well. Which is something, you know, which is something that I wouldn't do. And, so I just concentrated, try to get to the start finish line and unfortunately he got a bit more traction and beat me. I mean, it was really exciting racing. Everything was done within the boundaries of legality, you know, and sportsmanship. And, I was happy because we got some good points. And, on the other hand, you know, a win is a win.
Q. I am curious what you feel it is going to take to win the Championship, the position you are in now and the races remaining?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, I think at this point there is not much sense in trying to concentrate on the rivals. A lot of people drive to what the rival is doing. I think it is a little bit too early to do that. I think all we have to do is concentrate on our races. I mean, if Paul Tracy finishes in front of me or something like that, so be it. At least my mind right now is, you know, we try to start the further up as we can and we try to race the best we can and we finish where we finish. Then with like three races to go, or something like that, we will see what is the Championship situation. I think only then you start to race with so much of rivals in mind.
Q. Do you feel that Honda has kind of stepped up their efforts as you hoped this year or not? I mean, last year you had, perhaps, an advantage at this stage and now you don't, it seems.
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, I think particularly in the beginning of last year, we had a definite tire advantage and that tire advantage reduced significantly as the year wore on last year. And, this year, even though Honda came with a brand new engine and a very strong reliable engine, I think the competition, particularly Mercedes-Benz made a little bit of a jump in front of us. And, Honda being Honda, I mean, they are -- I have never seen people work as hard as they are. They really, really work hard to try to improve not only the overall performance of the engine but the fuel economy. But, I think they are making significant gains. And, I hope by the end of year we again have the best engine, because the objective of this exercise is not to be the same. It is to be dominate and be a lot better.
Q. I just wondered, obviously, some of the results might have been a bit disappointing because you got so close. Being with Walker and a whole new setup, how would you characterize how the team has been and how you have felt yourself about your performance in the first half of the year?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think the team has been extremely solid. I mean, obviously, we didn't collect as many points as perhaps we should have had in the early season. But, you know, that is the way racing goes. Ifs and buts don't really add any points to the table. But, if you look at our overall performance the whole year, I mean, very few occasions we have been off the pace or struggling. In fact, no occasion whatsoever. And, you know, it has been a solid first half of the year. Obviously, I would have liked to have won a race already. But, you know, there you go. At least, I can take some reassurance from the fact that we came very close and we are knocking on the door. I would have been disappointed if we weren't anywhere near the front.
Q. You said you can't really look at the rivals 'til the last few races of the seasons and just concentrate on your own performance. But, still when the debriefings and everything, people look at who is doing what every particular race. When you are looking at it, who do you think seems to be the strongest as you are heading towards the second half, who would you be worried about?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think the top three guys in the Championship are showing a lot of consistency early on this year. I mean, Paul has been right up there all the time. Greg Moore has been very good and he has been very fast in testing as well. And, so is Michael. You can never discount Michael. So, I think the guys that are top 3 in the Championship are definitely on the hunt. On top of that, you know, Pruett is showing consistent speed and he is not that far back on the table. Zanardi is another one. Maybe Vasser to a lesser extent. And, Mauricio has been showing a lot of speed this year, but he doesn't have many points in the Championship. Having said that, there is still 140 points at stake and he could quickly go back up the Championship table.
Q. Gil, with this string of racing the we have got coming up through the month of July and August, do you go to the racetrack a little differently because this could turn out to be very taxing not only on you but also the crew?
GIL DE FERRAN: Not really. A race is a race and my frame of mind, I try to maintain it as consistent as I can, you know, which is try to work with the team to get the best result out of it, not only on Sunday, but Friday and Saturday. I think sometimes it is somewhat unfortunate that all the races are crammed in together because, like you said, it puts a lot of strain in the Championship and -- sorry, puts a lot of strain on the mechanics and the whole team, generally speaking. It is a little bit tough for the driver, too.
Q. Then you got to work testing in between.
GIL DE FERRAN: Yeah, that is exactly right. And, one problem having all the races close together like this, and that occurs that not many people think about, it actually increases quite a bit of the cost because if you want to test to be competitive, you have to maybe, you know, hire more mechanics because not to wear out the mechanics you have. You end up having to run a bigger team.
Q. I wanted to know whether or not you thought that the airport surface at Burke Lakefront Airport puts any special strain on your tires?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, it is definitely a very different surface because of the grooves that you have and depends which angle you catch those grooves, they really help you or they make the car really slide quite a bit. In the end of the pits straight, the grooves are going 90 degrees to your direction of travel and that means that you can break so deep and so hard that I think deeper and harder than any other racetrack that we go to. It definitely puts a different -- a different kind of use on the tires because of so many different surfaces and catching the grooves at different directions.
Q. I have two questions. First have you ever driven at Seabring?
GIL DE FERRAN: Yes.
Q. Is Seabring like Cleveland and second one is do you think there -- can you tell me the advantages or disadvantages that you see of a one-car team at this point especially when you are talking about this testing schedule?
GIL DE FERRAN: I have driven in Seabring. And, I don't think actually Seabring relates to many tracks that we go to. In fact, that is a real debating point during the winter, you know, where is the best place to test. Some people test in Firebird. Some people test in Seabring. And, some people try to split the time between the two. And, I think Seabring is very convenient. It is very convenient for testing during the winter. But, it is a very debatable if it's of significant use or not in terms of gathering use for data.
Q. I just heard sort of the same problem where you really can't see where you are going as well, you don't have --
GIL DE FERRAN: No, I don't think that is really a concern.
Q. Talking about this testing schedule, I wondered if you could talk about the advantages or disadvantages of having a one car team.
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, you know, I think it really depends. I mean, there is not a set rule for what is best, one-car team or two-car teams. I think I have seen teams that have been extremely successful running one car and I have seen teams that have been extremely unsuccessful running one car. And, the same goes for two-car teams. I think it really depends on the way the team is structured, in terms of personnel and managed. And, you know, that is really more of a determination factor than the fact that you have one car or two cars.
Q. How about on your team, how would you --
GIL DE FERRAN: On, my team?
GIL DE FERRAN: We have a one-car team, and up until recently we had a test -- we had a test car and because we don't need to use the test car anymore, we just sold the car to Tasman Motorsports. So, Derrick really put a structure in right from the beginning of the year looking ahead into this difficult schedule, and really structured the team quite well in terms of mechanics and number of cars and everything else. So, I think we have been quite able to cope with the schedule.
Q. You would rather not have another person do the test driving, you wouldn't want --
GIL DE FERRAN: Oh, no, I like to drive the car every opportunity I can. In fact, if I could test every day of the week I would. I am sure Derrick will attest to that.
Q. Gil, the record says that you were .23 away from victory this year. How, in human terms, and just, you know, emotional terms, how close are you to getting one of those checkered flags for Derrick Walker this year and a new team?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, we have come close quite a few times this year. We came close in the first race of the year in Miami. Then we came very close again in Long Beach. And, then we came very close again in Detroit. And, Portland, I think crowned the almost scenario, you know. And, you know, I mean, like I said earlier, it is frustrating in a way because like I said, the whole exercise is try to win everything. But, on the other hand, you know, the consolation, we are right up there and that kind of makes me feel happy.
Q. Of course having the qualifying record and having the defending win does not hurt you this weekend at the Burke Lakefront Airport?
GIL DE FERRAN: No doubt. I think everything bodes well for this weekend not only our past record in Cleveland, but, you know, all our performances so far this year in road courses, plus our testing here in Mid-Ohio and other places really makes me feel confident going into Cleveland. Hopefully I wouldn't disappoint the expectations out of everybody and myself.
Q. Gil, do you do anything special for training for such a hot grueling course at Burke?
GIL DE FERRAN: I really worked hard on my fitness. I live in Florida and that is really quite easy to train in the winter and everything. I do quite a bit of running and I swim and I do weights. That is mostly what I concentrate on.
Q. What effect does the sale of the car to Tasman have on your future testing, doesn't it affect you if you have a shunt with the existing race car?
GIL DE FERRAN: I don't think it does. Having two cars is really more than enough to cope with the races and the tests that we have until the end of the year. In fact, you know, looking at the schedule with great care and attention between races and tests was the determining factor on that decision. We looked carefully at it. We said, well, we don't need to use the third car anymore, so we might as well change that car into money and reinforce the team's budget.
Q. Is there a schedule for new generations of the engine that would come at various points of the year or is it just constant change?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, it is just constant change. It is continuous development just trying to get more power and better fuel economy. It is a constant thing and every week Honda is making progress.
Q. So there is no target for Michigan, let us say?
GIL DE FERRAN: No, not at this point.
Q. Gil, have you been surprised at all at the concentration of victories that have gone to particular drivers, Tracy and more, how they have dominated and conversely, the fact that drivers that dominated last year have not had wins this year?
GIL DE FERRAN: No. I have not been surprised by the two wins of Moore and three wins of Paul because they really have not dominated. If you look at Moore's win in Detroit in particular, that was not a dominant win by any means. It was a very genuine win. But, if anybody dominated the race, we did. We definitely had the fastest car over there and just the circumstances, we weren't able to win it. And he did have a dominant performance in Milwaukee though. But, also, if you look at Paul's performance, he did dominate in Nazareth, but you know, he was not dominant in St. Louis even though he won the race. And, he definitely was not dominant in Rio when he won the race. The guy that dominated the race in Rio was Bobby Rahal. And, so, I mean, you know, the reason why those two guys have three wins and two wins, respectively, is more due to circumstances and competence on their behalf than dominance. I think there has not been a person that dominated -- is dominating the Championship at all because it is extremely competitive.
Q. I wondered briefly having worked with Jim last year and now with Derrick Walker, they are two fairly storied names in the field of racing. Have you seen differences or maybe some similarities in the way they maybe approach either the race or just preparing you for it?
GIL DE FERRAN: They are obviously quite different starting from one is a Texan and the other one is a Scotsman. The similarities, they are both extremely competent in their own way. They have different strengths. But, you know, the end result seems to be quite effective in both cases. I mean, there is obviously a difference in personality, and everything else. I mean, I became very good friends with Jim after the two years we raced together. And, in my relationship with Derrick, it is growing all the time.
Q. I wanted to ask you if you could describe that first turn at Cleveland. We talked a little bit about the track. It seems as though it is a wide sweeping turn and yet there seems to be tons of trouble there each year.
GIL DE FERRAN: The thing about that first turn when you are racing, the entrance is very, very wide. So, I mean there is enough room there for a driver, you know, to go on the inside and even go 3 wide on the entrance. But, the problem is there is not enough room to go through it at 3 wide. So, there is only room maybe for one, one and a half, sometimes two, if you force the issue. And this is when the problems happen because you get somebody that thinks, well, maybe I can go right down the inside. And, the other guy that is on the outside, really doesn't see him sometimes turns in and then they end up T-boning each other halfway through the turn. So, I think the problems really stems from the fact that the entrance is really wide, but it narrows down, you know, narrows down to one or two car widths line in the middle.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you. We will let Gil get back to testing. We want to thank you for joining us today. We wish you the best of luck in defending your title at the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland this Sunday. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon and we will talk to you next week.
GIL DE FERRAN: Thank you very much. I want to thank everybody for the time and the very intelligent questions.
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