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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

Paul Tracy
July 28, 1994


SUSAN BRADSHAW: Hi, everyone. It is Susan here. Thank you for calling in. Paul is sitting next to me. I am going to hand the phone over to him. As you know, we are out in Michigan at the Marlboro 500; practice starts tomorrow.

Q. Paul, what can you tell us about the track? I know we have been reading about it ever since the that is car race how bumpy is it? What is the pavement like?

PAUL TRACY: It is pretty much -- I think it is smoother -- I tested two weeks -- about two weeks ago here and the track had just been paved by a couple of days and I thought it was great, you know, turn 3 which was the bumpiest was really smooth, but I think if they were to pave the whole track, the place would be so easy flat out the whole way around that I think the speeds would be too high. I think the bumps in 1 and 2 are still, you know, just as much as they were last year, but I think that is going to keep the speeds down because you really got to have your car working to go flat; whereas, I think if the whole track was paved, I think the track would be way too fast because just going by turn 3 with new pavement down there, there is so much grip compared to last year and with no bumps it is just like going across a piece of glass. It is real smooth and has got a lot of grip.

Q. So we won't think of the bumpiness of having a big effect on the race. What about reliability of the cars through that; what it does to the gear boxes and so forth?

PAUL TRACY: I think reliability on the cars is still the same whether it is Indy or Michigan. I think here you run a little bit more flat out than you do at Indy because you have the lefts so the motors are turning more RPMs for a longer amount of time - regardless of the bumps or no bumps. I think reliability here on the motors and transmissions, I think, is higher than still than anywhere else.

Q. I was wondering if you could comment on the three-car team aspect. I think most drivers prefer a one driver operation. How does that work with Penske? Does it ever present any problems?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't think it has. I thought it was going to present a lot of problems, but you know, during the season, there wasn't a lot of testing available as much as you would have whether if you were with a one-car team, but we did more testing, but I think there was less time available because it was split between three drivers, but the testing was divided up and we got more of a perspective on the car; what direction we needed to go because three people are giving input on it rather than one, so we did three times the amount of testing than you can do with one driver. And I think that is really where the key to our success has been, is just our off-season testing and being able to really maximize the car before the season started. Now we are getting to a point now where the other teams are starting to catch up and we are still doing a lot of testing, but everybody else is starting to come up to pace.

Q. You just touched on something I wanted to get to. It does seem like maybe some of the other teams are starting to catch up. Does that put a little bit more pressure on this race for you guys to kind of keep the cushion? I am talking about the whole Penske Team to kind of keep the cushion that you have points-wise from the rest of the pack?

PAUL TRACY: For me, I am still in about fourth or fifth so I am looking to try to catch up. My short term goal is to try to get into the top 3 and obviously, I want to win the championship, but that is, you know, pretty tough goal to achieve, but I think, you know, my short-term goal right now, I am only two or -- four, five points out of third, that is my short-term goal. And from there, try to zone in on Emerson and hopefully we can finish in the top 2 and that would be my goal for the season and obviously the ultimate goal is to win the championship, but I think that is a longshot. So for myself, my goals this weekend is just to try to get points myself, because I am trying to move up and establish myself right at the front of the field.

Q. In 1991 you made your first start with Roger Penske at Michigan and I don't have to tell you that even though you qualified, I think 8, it did not end up good for you that day. Do you look back on that day and, if so, what are your thoughts leading into this race?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it was just a reality check. I was -- I needed to make some changes and go at a different approach, and the coming back the next year and -- in 1992 I finished second behind Scott Goodyear, so last year, we didn't have the luck that we wanted. I qualified well; was running in third when we had a motor blow up. This track, I think I have learned a lot here and done a lot of testing and I am looking to have a good weekend. I think it will be tough to match the speed of the Fords because they seem to still have an advantage on horsepower over our Ilmor, but my goal is to try to finish in the top 3 like I have been finishing the last few races.

Q. If you can't match the Fords, where do you make up the difference on that track?

PAUL TRACY: I think I make the difference up in handling and on race day, just having a good strategy and good pit work and, hopefully, you know, good reliability.

Q. Back to what you mentioned earlier, how much do you think other teams are catching up? I mean, how close is the gap closing?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think they are very close. You look at how Robby Gordon has been running the last few races; you look at Mansell, they are great drivers and they are right on speed with, you know, they are right there, so it is going to be tough from here out, and definitely, you know, you got to score as many points as you possibly can. Toronto last week, I could have given up and got 13th or 14th and not got any points but things started to happen and -- to stay in the game right now, I need to score as many points as I can because everybody is knocking on the door.

Q. Can you give little more detail on how the Ford Cosworth with the advantage of power shows up at Michigan; you know, is it something you resolve just by being able to equal them or better them in handling so you come off the corners faster and therefore, the end of the stretch you are even with them? But whatever way you want to put it, could you explain to me how the power differences is noticeable to you?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think if you take any of the top 10 qualifying guys here, in qualifying will run flat out around the track, so you are wide open the whole way around. Our motor, Ilmor, seems to have less horsepower at the top of its range than the Ford Cosworth, so obviously if you are making more horsepower at a higher RPM, you know, one guy is making more like 15 or 20 more horsepower at the top of their range then you are -- than obviously he is going to have a higher top speed down the straight-a-way which is going to carry him through the turns faster because you are flat anyway, so that is what where we are looking a little bit, just the horsepower, we are a little bit down on the top end. At a place like Indy or any other oval where you got a lift or break and slow down for the turns, we have got good low and middle range horsepower where we seem to be up on the Fords and that is where it is really helping us in the road courses and street courses we got a broad power band with a lot of horsepower and tork in the middle of the range; whereas, the Ford is more on top, so that is more suited to the wide hope ovals.

Q. You even have a little advantage over them at the low end?

PAUL TRACY: Well, there really is no low end at Michigan because you are wide open the whole way around; even in traffic you can run flat out in the race if your car is working right. There is really -- I think on the road courses and the short ovals, we have a little bit of advantages, I feel, but definitely here, I think we are at a bit of a disadvantage.

Q. You mentioned that Michigan your first year was a reality check. In saying that, are you saying that prior to that race you were thinking that you could do things you couldn't do?

PAUL TRACY: I was learning, I guess, something I had to learn. I was over confident perhaps being my first race and it just puts you in check. You make -- you don't want it to happen, but sometimes you get overconfident and the track bites you back, so it is something that I had to learn.

Q. Do you see the three-car team working again next year and the second part, why does Al have the advantage over you and Emmo in wins?

PAUL TRACY: I think he has got -- Al has got good momentum; he is qualifying well; whereas he never really qualified well before. I think any time in the past if you ever saw him if he qualified in the top six or seven he was right there, so when you are qualifying on the pole, then it makes it a lot easier for you. He is definitely a great race driver and it is tough to beat somebody when they have got, you know, they are on a roll and the momentum is going your way. I think it-- he's doing a good job and I think we are keeping him honest and there is nothing-- he doesn't have anything that we have -- that Emerson and I don't have, but to answer your other question, I don't know what Roger is going to do next year whether it is going to be three cars or two. He hasn't informed me of anything like that.

Q. I just wanted to touch back on that a little bit. You said he doesn't have anything that Emerson or I don't have; how does Penske racing start against jealousies like that possibly cropping up?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it has got to be even for everybody, really. We go to test and we come up with a new part that we feel is better; you got to wait until they have got three of them available. You can't just give it to one person and not the other. Because if it is better, obviously, the other person wants it as well. They have been pretty fair with that all year when we've been testing, we have found a gain on something; we are going to have to wait to get this until all three cars can have it. The management has been pretty fair about making everything equal for everybody.

Q. Has that also made it easier to work through the tough spots, I mean, knowing that there is an even field, I mean, obviously Detroit is a good thing -- one thing to point to, but I would think that there are probably other occurrences that maybe we don't even know about. Does that make it easier to work through those kind of things when everybody knows there is an even playing field?

PAUL TRACY: I think so. I think everybody knows they have got the same equipment, so that, I guess, eases your mind a little bit, so you know, you are just out there trying to do the best job you can and obviously I want to beat my teammates as well-- as much as I want to beat anybody else on the track, but you know, I am not standing back and just because Al was quicker or Emerson went quicker and saying, well, you know, like a lot of the other teams are doing, say, well, they got better equipment than I do because I know they have the same thing.

Q. On the same lines, have you ever seen any logistical problems having three cars this year or is -- what you needed, have you gotten it, when you needed it, so to speak, any problems like that?

PAUL TRACY: No. Don't really -- I am not really into the logistics of how they run things, but whenever I wanted a change on the car or wanted to put something different on the car, I never had a problem with getting it. It has always been available. If it was available for everybody else; then it was available to me as well.

Q. You were talking about the track earlier last year of course Nigel Mansell ripped it pretty well, pretty infamously. Personally, though, do you have to get yourself geared up for Sunday, I mean, with those bumps, those continual bumps, you know, for a 250 lap race, do you have to kind of grit your teeth and just do it?

PAUL TRACY: I think so. I think the track is much better this year and, you know, I think everybody is going to be pleasantly surprised - seems to be a lot better, so obviously it is a tough race. This is not an easy race to win. It is a very demanding track. Very physical track, so it is a tough race to win.

Q. Considering it was your first race back in 1991, would winning the Marlboro 500 Sunday mean more to you because of what happened or is it just another race?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it is obviously would be real special for me to win here because Marlboro is a sponsor of the race. This is their big event for the year. Obviously would be -- I'd love to win this race as well as winning any other race, I think it would be a real good treat to win my first 500 race. That would be really great.

Q. There is no special significance because of what happened there?

PAUL TRACY: No, it's the place where I really had my first race with Penske and I had a crash and broke my leg and had to go through therapy and really learned a lot. So to be able -- I know it was a great thrill to finish second and almost win, but you know, until the time comes, you don't know what it is going to feel like until it happens.

Q. What is the difference in driving the regular Ilmor around Michigan as opposed to that Mercedes Benz? I don't know if you had to take any lefts down there when you were testing but what physically is the difference?

PAUL TRACY: Obviously it is not as fast on the straight-a-way. The car makes, you know, it goes a lot quicker down the straight-a-ways with the Mercedes than with this car, but you know, again the car seems to work a little bit better through the turns because you are not going to so fast down the straights, so you can keep it wide open through the turns, so it's a give and take type situation. I think ultimately we won't go as quick as we went with the Mercedes, but I think we will be pretty close.

Q. Along those same lines, what do you think speeds are going to be this weekend and maybe along the lines of wishful thinking, what would a Mercedes have done?

PAUL TRACY: It is hard to say. We never tested as fast here as what people were saying. I think the best we ever ran was, you know, it was still in the winter but I think the best we ran was a 228 or 229 and I would be very happy if I could qualify at that with the Ilmor motor. What the qualifying speed is going to take, I don't know. Could be quicker than last year if the weather stays the way it is right now. It is fairly cool, 75, 80 degrees, so, you know, I don't know what it is going to take, but I know for me, I would like to qualify above 229.

Q. On race day Nigel Mansell knows that probably he is the only one pretty much got the car he has got and the combination he has got. You wake up on race day and there are at least two other guys in the field got pretty much what you got. Does that kind of change the way you attack things or you don't -- knowing that the these guys have basically equal equipment and -- you know what I mean, I think every driver strives to have that little edge?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think the cars are so close now anyway, I think everybody is fairly close on equipment, but I think the differences is just strategy on the day and the way things play out. You can't -- your strategy is a lot of the key of winning races and just the way things happen during the race, so it is -- the key to winning these long races is having a good strategy and not having to spend too much time in the pits; that is where you make up ground.

Q. Speaking of strategy, I mean, it almost seems like Michigan, when the green flag drops, you go flat out as long as you can; is that pretty much it?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah, you got to watch your fuel, though, as well. We have got lots of fuel to do the race, but you know, the less you burn the longer you can stay out on the track without having to pit so you want to do as little amount of pit stops as you have to to do 500 miles and that means having to conserve for awhile; if you can avoid doing one extra stop then that is going to keep you from spending an extra 30 or 40 seconds in the pits in and out time.

Q. Speaking of pit spots, couple of times this year you have kind of thought that maybe your stops were as quick as they could be. Can you tell us if you have done anything and the team has done anything to get you in and out more efficiently?

PAUL TRACY: I spoke to my guys and voiced my opinion on it that we were getting beat out of the pits quite a bit and we worked on it and I felt that I had pretty good stops at Toronto and I have looked at my in and out laps and there they are as quick as anybody and it is just we have lost a bit of time the last couple of races in the pits doing our stops. Obviously, you want to spend as little time as possible and they have been working on that and they have practicing the stops and we made quite a big improvement at Toronto.

Q. It sounds like the IROCK cars are running behind you. Would you like to run IROCK series one year?

PAUL TRACY: No. I have never driven anything with a roof or fenders so I don't think -- I don't know if I would be any good at it.

Q. You talked once about what Emerson Fittipaldi taught you your first couple of years in racing with him. Has Al Unser, Jr. brought anything to your racing knowledge in the short time that you have worked with him?

PAUL TRACY: Well, obviously, he has brought a lot of knowledge into the team and we have gone in a lot of new directions because of his input and, you know, you just sit and listen to these guys. They are not going to give you all the secrets; nobody ever does. You got to listen. A lot of the times you have got to read between the lines and you know, just try to think out what they are saying, but he has definitely brought a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge - ten years experience of Indy Car racing into the team. So that is a tremendous amount of knowledge to just, you know, just got to listen and pay attention to it.

SUSAN BRADSHAW: Thank you.



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