CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We would like to thank you all for joining us today and we want to extend a special welcome to our guests this afternoon driver, Robby Gordon and co-owner Cal Wells III of Arciero-Wells Racing C. Good afternoon, gentlemen, thanks for being with us this afternoon.
ROBBY GORDON: Thanks.
CAL WELLS III: Thanks.
T.E. McHALE: This weekend marks Robby's return to FedEx Championship Series competition; his first appearance in the series since the 1997 season finale at California Speedway. And only his second since the final race of the 1996 campaign. Robby who was signed by Arciero-Wells Racing in January will drive the No. 24 Panasonic, Duskin Reynard Toyota at Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway. Robby is a five-year veteran of the FedEx Championship Series having competed regularly from 1992 through 1996. He owns two victories and four pole positions; one of which came at Nazareth in 1995 in 71 career starts in the series. Both of his victories came in 1995 at Phoenix and Detroit where he won from the pole. He finished fifth in the 1994 and 1995 PPG Cup Standings while driving for Derrick Walker Racing. He drove for Hogan Racing in the 1997 season finale at California Speedway starting 13th and finishing 8th. The Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix, Presented by Toyota, Round 4 of the FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast live on ESPN Sunday beginning at 12:30 P.M. eastern time. With that we will open the floor for questions.
Q. Robby, a couple of times we have talked and you have told my that you think that off-road equipment could not only be used in NASCAR, but some of the technology and some of the strategies could certainly be used in CART. It is something I believed that the NASCAR people that you worked with thought was nuts; that there is nothing you can use from off-road racing to bring to NASCAR. Is this something that you do believe is doable?
ROBBY GORDON: It is not that you can make a direct comparison. What it is was shocks and springs and combinations like that you can work through different variables and, yeah, I think it is very possible. I have come from off-road racing. Rick Mears has come from off-road racing. My engineer, Kenny Anderson, started with motorcycles, off-road racing. You know, it is a different form of racing, but I honestly believe it is probably one of the best kept secrets. You can learn an awful lot there. Cal Wells, our team owner, has won numerous off-road championships. We have also won a Championship together back in 1989. These aren't stock pick-up trucks that we race, by any means. They are half million dollar race cars that definitely are way more technical than any NASCAR I have ever driven or seen. And, it is just different. So, I don't think I am crazy by saying that at all.
Q. No, I wasn't saying you were crazy. I mean - although I am sure a lot of people, they might agree with me if I did - but, is there anything strategy-wise that you can talk about as far as bringing it from the desert to bringing it to the street course or an oval?
ROBBY GORDON: I think the preparation is the No. 1 key. That is one thing I wanted to bring to the Winston Cup team is the discipline on the preparation because at an off-road race, you don't have a pit area every mile and a half that you can drive in and make an adjustment or fix something that fell off so, when you put the parts on the cars, they have gone to be on for a thousand miles in the dirt which is tougher than any other street race or Daytona 500 or even Indy 500.
Q. David Phillips did a really good story in the NEW RACER and basically a good profile about: This could be your last big opportunity. Talk a little bit about what you have learned in the last couple of years about maybe you wish you could take back what you said about Ford and maybe you wished you stayed here instead of going to NASCAR and just maybe how you have grown up in the last two years.
ROBBY GORDON: It is not that it is my last opportunity, by any means. There is a couple of things - I am sure David is on the line here - but there was a couple of places in there where it says I have run myself out of IndyCar teams from Indianapolis all the way down to Charlotte - not true. Various Winston Cup teams have called me and very good IndyCars out of Indianapolis have called. So, it is not that I can't drive for somebody else. I believe this is a very good opportunity with Cal Wells because we have worked together before. They are based in Southern California which is close to my house. We can talk daily about the program and we can compare different ideas back and forth. But, there is some things that have happened. The key is I have -- I give some ammunition to guys like yourself and other people have thought what was only true, and it nailed me in the long run.
Q. But, do you feel like, though, looking back you are still young; do you feel like: Yeah, okay, I was -- maybe I was a little too much in a hurry; I was a little too cocky or whatever and now I have got to settle down and maybe stay somewhere for a couple of three years and get settled again?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, yeah, I believe that is very important. I have got to watch what I say, for sure. I mean, I am very spur-of-the-moment - something is on my mind, I say it. And, that is what has really gotten me in trouble more than anything. But, I was with Walker for three years, we had a good relationship. Derrick and me are still friends. I believe that if there was ever an opportunity Derrick would have me back there in a second. He has talked to me before about: If we ever did a two-car team give me a call, so we are still friends, so that part is not true, for sure. And I did a three-year deal at SABCO but we were on opposite ends of the spectrum on how a race team should be run; not that their way is bad or my way is bad, it is just two different ways.
Q. Robby, getting down to sort of specifics, Nazareth, a place that you have had -- that you have gone well in the past and had a pole there. Obviously, the general consensus continues to be that the Toyota is a little bit down on power still. But, that is a track where handling ultimately is perhaps a little bit more a factor than raw power. I wonder if you could talk about the particulars of Nazareth and how it is -- it is a good place to be making your first start with this program?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I will start with first things first, Dave, I really appreciate the article. It cleared the air on a lot of things and it came out real good.
Q. Thanks, appreciate it.
ROBBY GORDON: When I was talking to Robin, I wasn't nailing you for that. I know what sells papers so it is okay.
Q. I didn't write -- and I didn't -- I wasn't responsible for the headline on the cover, remember, so....
ROBBY GORDON: I know. It is not a big deal. The big thing now is we have got to get the performance up and got to get back towards victory lane.
ROBBY GORDON: So, Nazareth, onto that, I am really excited to get started at Nazareth. I have been out of the saddle for a while. Been doing a lot of testing. Testing has been going very well. We had a very good test at Nazareth a few weeks back when we weren't real far off, so I think it will be a good weekend for us there.
Q. Cal, I wonder what -- if you could sort of talk about your expectations for this coming weekend.
CAL WELLS III: Cautiously optimistic. We are working real hard towards a package that we hope will set Toyota's best qualifying effort in the FedEx Championship Series. Robby has tested real well; so has Max. We think we have got a competent platform. Toyota has got some new things up their sleeve we are going to bring out this coming weekend. Obviously, Robby has a lot of good quality miles there and it has contributed quite a bit to our testing so far. We are real excited about the knowledge that he has been able to bring and what he has been able to do with the car here. It is actually helping us here testing. We are in St. Louis here today testing and we are actually finding quite a bit of speed as well. So it has enhanced our engineering and intellectual base quite a bit to add Robby to our consortium of people. And, we hope that we can demonstrate what we are capable of doing this week at Nazareth. Predictions are hard to come by, but I am pretty excited about where we can end up.
Q. Robby, I was wondering, you have been at several of the CART events this year, I was curious what the reaction has been from some of the CART drivers and a second question, if I might ask: What are your Winston Cup plans this year? I know you are talking about doing a couple of races.
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I don't understand what you mean by the "Reaction of CART drivers."
Q. I mean, have they welcomed you back? Have they given you a hard time about NASCAR, about leaving the series to go to NASCAR? Just what has been their reaction to you coming back to the series?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, to be honest with you, I left and went there because I felt it was a good opportunity at that time and day. So, that was my own decision. As far as them as competitors, I am looking forward to racing with them. It is not like I am best friends with any of them out there - it is hard to be when you race at a competitive level like CART Racing right now. I think the most important thing is that Max and me really stick together and work real hard in our setups and get the cars where they handle well and then we will race on Sunday and we will go out and hang out with our friends on Monday.
Q. Second question I asked was about your Winston Cup interest this year.
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, nothing firm yet. We had numerous talks with several Winston Cup teams, but hopefully we can get something worked out here in the soon future.
Q. Robby, I was wondering, your style, I think you want to win; you are a fiery young driver. Contrast that with Hiro's style, more of a laid-back type of man; what could you bring to the team this year that Hiro couldn't?
ROBBY GORDON: I think Hiro has brought a lot to the team. He has done a lot of the testing over the last couple of years. Has done numerous miles for Toyota. It is hard to make comparisons between me and Hiro. I am excited about the opportunity. Hopefully we can do a fine job for them in the Panasonic Duskin car.
Q. Obviously your goal is to win wherever you are racing, but you are only 29, what are your long-term goals right now?
ROBBY GORDON: Long material goals right now are a bit confusing. I would like to stay with this team and make this team a Championship team. I believe that -- I know for a fact that Cal Wells has the commitment of being a Championship team. I know that Toyota is working very hard on their engine development program so that they can be race winners and Championship winners, so I am excited to be here. It is a good place to be and I think that the CART Racing is very, very competitive right now. So, you have got to get the maximum out of your equipment and I believe that Cal will get the most out of the team and I believe that in the near future, Toyota will have this engine sorted out and we will be very competitive.
Q. The storyline has always been that you are a great, young driver with a lot of talent wherever you have gone. But, how do you explain the unstableness of your career?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, just because I left SABCO at the end of the season last year my career is completely unstable?
Q. No, with Walker and a little bit with --
ROBBY GORDON: I was with Walker for three years. We initially signed there with a two-year deal and moved it over to a three-year deal, so, that was my decision at the end of the year to go with Winston Cup racing. If I wanted to stay at Walker, I could have stayed there.
Q. Robby, when you look back at Winston Cup, do you see that series as being maybe a little bit more complicated than you gave it credit for when you went over there? Because I know you were very confident that you could run up front very early.
ROBBY GORDON: And, we did. We were on the pole at the third race. I think a lot of people forgot that. I think the very easiest thing to say is -- look at where we are the right now with points. I don't think it was all me.
Q. You mean, their whole team?
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, look where they are at. I mean, do I have to say anything more than that?
Q. Robby, is Hiro going to stay involved with the team after retirement?
ROBBY GORDON: I believe he is. As far as my knowledge, he is going to be involved with the team. I know he is coming to the race this weekend to help us out in any way he can. He is very involved in IndyCar Racing. He has his Swift Chassis that has won a race this season and is very competitive. So, yes, he is going to stay involved with the team. And, you never know where that will go in the future either.
Q. You are one of the few drivers that have driven the Toyota and, say, the Ilmor Mercedes that you drove for Hogan at the last race last year. What is the package -- the Toyota package like? Can you compare the two?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I mean, every package is different. I have driven the Ford. I have driven the Merc and the Toyota - all of them the same chassis. The America and the Toyota have been on Firestone tires so there is a little difference there. We are working real hard. Don't think that we let a day go by, you know, with working on our engine development or working on chassis development. And, we will be competitive. We put very competitive times on the board at Nazareth on our last test. We are not a long ways off here at all. I feel we will be very competitive. We are a month and half away from here so I think we will be bringing back some better engines with more horsepower. Reliability has gone up a tremendous amount since even when I started at the beginning of the season, we have run here for two days; had no problems. I know that AAR, All American Racers, were here earlier or late last week and they ran 500 and something miles on an engine. So, we are getting our reliability there. The key is -- the first thing is to make them really run, because you must first finish to finish first.
Q. I have seen it a couple of times this year already. You seem to be really, really focused on coming back. Outside of the cars, what have you been doing with yourself to prepare for this season?
ROBBY GORDON: I think I am probably in better shape than I have been since 1995. 1996 was a bit frustrating so, we are getting everything back on track. Cal has hired a trainer for me that works out with me virtually every day, so, I think that will help on the trackside - as far as performance, won't fall out of the saddle. Because, for sure, we are going to have to drive the wheels off the car for the whole race at this time and day.
Q. You have had an interesting past couple of years to say the least. Do you feel now that you have to succeed quickly in your new ride so that people start taking you seriously again?
ROBBY GORDON: I don't think anybody has doubted it. Every once in a while you take a couple of steps back and it happens to everybody. I mean, it has happened to great drivers driving for great teams every once in a while; you miss a beat. 1996, we really didn't have the optimum package, but we dealt with it. 1997 I got into something I wasn't understanding 100% what I was getting into. So I am not -- I am going to take all the blame myself that I didn't understand what the cards were dealt to me and didn't deal with them very well. So, we are going to take that and we are going to learn from it and we are going to go on.
Q. So you do feel, I mean, some pressure to some degree anyway to get off to a good start and show that you are the Robby Gordon of two or three, three or four years ago?
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, no more than I would any weekend, you know, I think, you know, I climbed back in the IndyCar at Fontana. The first session, I am third quickest, you know, I have had a dismal year the second half of Winston Cup and right away we are competitive at Fontana in Hogan's car. We finished 8th, which I am pretty sure that is the best finish of that team at the time and day it was. So, I don't think I have changed in any way. I am going to race just as hard I have always raced before. The key is, honestly, having the tools to do my job.
Q. I was just wondering if you were frustrated at all, I guess waiting this long to get a full-time ride since leaving SABCO last year?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I had offers at the end of 1997 to drive for full-time teams. I am not going to mention the teams. But I believe that not taking those opportunities are going to help me in the future because I am with a team that is a Championship-caliber team. Toyota is very, very committed to the series so it is not that I didn't have a full-time ride. I knew I was going to race some races this year for Toyota and we were just taking one day at a time. We have been doing a lot of testing, an awful lot of testing. I am getting ready for the 1998 season and now we get to go out and race. A few of us have known whether it was going to go on for a while so I have been focused and understood what the cards were dealt to me from the beginning.
Q. You also mentioned talking to some Winston Cup teams about -- I am not sure if that is a full-time ride for next year or just random races this year. Are your plans to stay in CART or do you look to go back into NASCAR within the next few years?
ROBBY GORDON: Oh, no. I really enjoy CART Racing as well as I enjoy Winston Cup Racing. I feel like I have got a good opportunity here and we are going to take it one day at a time.
Q. Great too see Robby back and driving the wheels off as he promises to do. Rob, has Toyota made any specific commitments to you? I ask this because I have heard Max Papis for the last couple of years saying, you know, they are really had going all out this week and next week and next month. They have made a lot of promises in the past. And, I wonder what kind of promises they have made to you?
ROBBY GORDON: I think they are only making promises that they can keep. They are working as hard as they can, like I said. We have got some -- we probably have the most horsepower that we have had to date for this weekend. I honestly believe when we rev at 19,2 there or 19,3, sorry, and that would put us, like, fourth on the grid last year. So, I think we will get down to a low 19, maybe even a high 18 and I believe that will qualify us in the Top-10 for Nazareth. So, I honestly believe we will be competitive there.
Q. You are going back and forth from CART to Winston Cup to CART. Is it hard to go back and forth and keep your focus on one or the other?
ROBBY GORDON: For me, it really hasn't been. I have been able to switch back and forth from one car to the other pretty regularly. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to do that this year. Like I said, we have had some conversations with some good Winston Cup teams that are very interesting and we are just going to take one day at a time. If a good opportunity comes up, we might run a couple of Winston Cup races. But, I believe a race car is a race car if you understand what the tools are you have to work with each separate race car, A Winston Cup car, with -- you don't have wings on them really to adjust to aero-wise, but you still have springs and shocks that have got to get a lot of mechanical grip. It is the same thing we need to do with IndyCars except we have a few more tools to adjust the cars - a race car is a race car. Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks for everyone joining us today. We want to thank Cal Wells and Robby Gordon for joining us this afternoon. We wish you gentlemen the best of luck in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota coming up Sunday at Nazareth Speedway. Thanks again for being with us. Thanks again to all of you who joined us and good afternoon.
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