CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Thanks very much, good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference Thanks to all of you being with us today and a special welcome to our guests this afternoon, Cal Wells III and Scott Pruett. Thanks for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Following last Saturday's qualifying session for the Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Cal announced that Scott had agreed to a two-year deal to drive the No. 24 Reynard Toyota Champ Car for the 1999 and 2000 Fed-Ex Championship Series seasons. Arciero-Wells will once again field two Reynard Toyotas in 1999 with Italian Max Papis continuing as the driver of the No. 25 MCI-sponsored entry. A nine-year veteran of the series, Scott has spent the past four years driving for Patrick Racing for whom he recorded both his career victories was at Michigan Speedway in 1995 and Australia last year and all three of his career pole positions. He has posted three consecutive Top 10 finishes with the Patrick team, topped by 7th in 1995. This year, Scott is in line for his fourth consecutive Top 10 finish in the Fed-Ex Championship Series. He recently put together a streak of five consecutive Top 6 finishes including runner-up efforts at Portland and Mid-Ohio. Scott also had a streak of eight consecutive point-springs results prior to last week's 20th place finish at road America. Heading into the September 6 Molson Indy Vancouver, he stands sixth in the driver's standings with 92 points. Before we get started, I'd like to make you all aware that Scott has a commitment at the bottom of the hour, so his time with us today is very limited. Accordingly, if you could limit yourself to one question and a brief follow-up, the other callers on the line would appreciate it. Thanks in advance for your cooperation. With that, we'll open the floor for questions. Do you have a question for either Scott or Cal today?
Q. Yeah, I do thanks. I just wanted to ask Cal, I'm sitting here looking at a statement from Robby Gordon and it makes it sounds like this was all pretty much his idea. I'm just curious if that's entirely the case.
CAL WELLS: You know, we've got a lot of positive things happening in our program right now and Robby has certainly contributed a lot and has really assisted us in setting the bench mark for a our Toyota development program. Rob's got a lot of opportunity ahead of him and really he's got almost a cafeteria plan, what he picks and how picks it are things he's working on right now and certainly we wish him the best. Our real excitement now is focusing on Scott joining us. And to add some clarity to T.E.'s statement earlier, Scott and I have come in partnership on a multi-year agreement that we certainly hope will go beyond the year 2000. The deal actually does extend beyond that, just depending on how business relationships and sponsorships and partnerships continue. So that's sort of where our focus is shifting now. We want to thank Robby for all the contributions he's made for the team. He'll continue to make great contributions this year. And Rob and I will continue to remain close friends as we have since we met when were five years old. And I'm confident when we're 65 years old we'll still be sharing Coca-Cola together and enjoying racing stories. Really, to try and add some clarity to it, I think that Rob's opportunity where such that while he's pursuing those it was important for us to remain committed your development program at Toyota and that's what we chose to do. We felt Scott was the best man on the planet to do so.
Q. I have one comment first, though, to Cal. He has two fine gentleman as drivers: Papis, I met this last year at Gateway and he's a fine young man and I also know your new driver. And I think he's a great driver. How about the tires, though, are you going to have Firestone tires or Goodyear?
CAL WELLS: We're going to remain with Firestone. As you know Scott's had a partnership with Firestone forever, Bridgestone/Firestone. And when we entered the arena of what was then called Indy car racing, now called Champ car racing, was Firestone's return to champ car competition four years ago. We were one of four initial teams along with Patrick Racing, Payton Coyne, and I'm embarrassed to say I don't know the fourth.
SCOTT PRUETT: Steve Horne.
CAL WELLS: There you go, Steve Horne, and together we all launched back in '95 when we were running with Hiro Matsushita Scott has carried the development banner for Firestone since they chose to get back into this technically advanced, highly advanced form of motor sport and that value he'll bring to the team is irreplaceable. It's going to be a fantastic asset to us and we're looking forward to continuing with Firestone.
Q. Let's talk about the last four years you've been with Patrick Racing. You've spent a lot of time developing the Firestone tire. You spent a lot of time doing a lot of R&D work. Do you think that's something you're going to be able to take over to this team and help them keep the evolution of the Toyota engine and this team going toward?
SCOTT PRUETT: I certainly hope so. And really its been a five-year relationship with Pat. We signed on at the end of '93 which will continue through the end of'98. And my relationship with Firestone and the things that we've done together has been tremendous. Cal and I have had some initial conversations about this program and subsequently had worked out a deal pretty much last weekend before the Elkhart Lake race. I see Toyota being one, a tremendous car company, but being one also with the resources and dedication with what it takes to succeed in this business. This is a tougher business. I mean you look at the players that are involved with Honda, with Ford, with Mercedes, as well as Toyota and the gains that they have made, puts me in a great position to take advantage of it when they come out with an engine at the level of some of these other guys, which I believe is going to be in the very near future.
Q. Quickly, what happens with -- (Telephone Interruption).
CAL WELLS: As far as our -- as I'm sure you're aware, with Toyota's partnership we formed really a motor sports alliance as such it's an IT platform, if you will that has allowed MCI and Toyota to further other areas of relationship in business that has benefited the race team and the race team benefiting the partners that are involved. We fully expect that to expand. There are a number of partners that are involved right now that will enhance their involvement and commitment to the sport and to our team specifically. And we should be able to announce those specific plans in the next 90 days. As you know there is an evolution with MCI right now with the pending merger of MCI and World Com. All of the details haven't shaken out yet but we certainly hope by October to be able to announce definitive color schemes and plans. But the cars will be homogenous and will be partnered as team cars for 1999.
Q. Good luck with the rest of the season.
CAL WELLS: Thank you very much.
SCOTT PRUETT: Sorry about that, guys. Must be my AT&T service.
T.E. McHALE: Do you have a question for Cal or Scott today?
Q. I have a question for each one of them. Congratulations on the move and I'm wondering when you look at the team that Cal Wells has put together and you go down even to the engineers, some I think you worked with when you were at Rouch (ph), didn't you?
SCOTT PRUETT: There's a number of people there. One, I can't say enough for Cal's operation. It's first class and being involved with MCI is just tremendous. So for me the excitement of -- as we move forward with this program with the development, I love that part of it and people might think I'm crazy from time to time, but it does put you in the unique position that when it comes right -- very much like with Firestone, you're on the front end of that curve to take advantage of a competitive edge. And I certainly believe that Toyota is going to be that competitive edge.
Q. And Cal, with that competitive edge and Scott said something go that kind of picked my interest. Because yesterday I was visiting a local company here in Memphis Tennessee and I heard a strange sound. Was that one of the Toyota engines in there and is there a development program going on there?
CAL WELLS: You know, I need to defer development questions to Lee White at TRD. While we work in very close partnership with Toyota and we provide the platform for their engine environment for development, we don't build the motors or bolt them together. While we attempt to contribute to their world engine that they are designing and building on an ongoing basis, we are not involved if the details of how they get that done. So to be honest with you, if I knew, I couldn't comment and I don't know.
Q. Well I was just curious, Scott. I know you got in here a little late. How does Patrick take the news of you leaving?
SCOTT PRUETT: Actually it sounds very much like the relationship that Cal and Robby have. Pat and I, you know, we are still very good friends. He was actually very congratulatory about being able to sign a three-year deal with Cal to be involved in that program. And he thought that I'd be a tremendous benefit to the program with my patience and understanding and knowledge of what is all entailed in doing development and building a program such as that. And all in all, I can't say -- I mean, he I where still very good friends. We both have the highest regard of respect for each other and by no means is it -- have we -- as we move to the end of this season and as we separate partnership as far as a driver-team owner, our friendship will certainly remain.
Q. Will it make it difficult for you the rest of the season being with Patrick?
SCOTT PRUETT: No, I not at all. I think even though we've had just a great string of finishes, I think if anything, everybody is more keyed to: Let's end this thing with a bang. Here we are sixth in a championship. Unfortunately, we had a bad race last weekend where we had an engine failure. But let's do everything we can. Let's get this car in the Top 3 in the championship. Let's just end with bang. Let's make it an exciting end to the season. So if anything, my guys have already been pretty jacked up. If anything, I think it just gave them a little more adrenaline.
Q. Listen, every race car driver has a certain kind of pride when he wins a race, particularly if it's a significant race. I remember when you won in Australia and you were on your honeymoon, as I remember. You were very proud of that. It seems to me. Though looking at you that you derive a whole lot of pride by helping a team develop something. You worked on the True Sports chassis years ago. Unfortunately that don't work out. But the Firestone story, you've got to be extremely proud of and now you're going to try and help Toyota with their motor. Is there a whole different kind of pride to that for you?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, there is a -- I won't call it a -- pride is something unique and cherished, I think, by all of us especially in a competitive level. And for me personally, when you can give somebody a company -- I don't mean a singular person, but when you can give a team of people like the Firestone people and you see all the work and dedication and sacrifice that goes on in bringing this product or engine or car or chassis or whatever, when you bring it to the winner's circle, it's something that shared by so many people that that feeling that's inside you being, you know, really the quarterback out there, is something that I, you know, that I really enjoy. And for me personally, giving Firestone their first win back, giving Brahma their first win, has been something that's been very rewarding for me, not just on a personal level but also an a team level, being involved with all the people with the Firestone program. I mean, not just the guys at the front line like Hamaya (ph) and Alspire and Mr. Ono, but even the workers. Even when I go and visit some of the Firestone facilities, they are going: "All right Firestone's back". That to me is so rewarding, it's just something that you almost just can't put into words.
Q. You know you're moving to a new team, a new teammate. It seems that Adrian Fernandez and you get along very well as teammates right now. Is there any concern, no matter how nice a guy that Max Papis is, that that chemistry may not work?
SCOTT PRUETT: Not at all. I've talked to Max a number of times. The only issue -- actually, it's been pretty interesting for me being involved with Raul Boesel last year and he speaks Portuguese; Adrian Fernandez this year, he speaks Spanish; and being involved with Max next year, he speaks Italian, I've been able to brush up on a number of different languages.
Q. You're going to have to take classes.
SCOTT PRUETT: But no, I feel that being the -- I hate to say elder statesman -- but being the older driver that I am and the experiences that I've done gone through, I believe that I can certainly help Max with his game and understanding, and I truly believe that we will have a great partnership together.
Q. You're going to have to learn Japanese now.
SCOTT PRUETT: I do know a bit of Japanese as well.
Q. I've talked to you in the past, you know, about your development staff and I guess maybe Cal might want to comment on this. But Stuart Balantine told me once when he was with Firestone that Scott Pruett was the perfect development person simply because he became one with the car when he was doing it. Cal, would you like to comment on that?
CAL WELLS: Although I've met Scott a number of years ago, probably before he even remembers, 15 years ago or longer, what really impressed me was how he came back from his horrific accident with True Sports. And really, not only embellished his career by starting with Trans Am it was available and went out and banged out a couple of championships but then to jump into the Firestone program and watch how he meticulously drove that program to the front. When we first started in Indy car racing -- when we first started with a Toyota, the end of '95. We were testing a series of drivers and we were down in Homestead doing tests on the old one road course with a very fine gentleman named Jeff Krosnoff who we unfortunately lost in a racing accident a few years ago. He was a great guy and a great friend. But as we were testing, Jeff and a couple of the other guys that were testing down there, Scott was out there pounding out laps with Firestone and this guy just never stopped. We were there before the sun came up and so was he and the moment the track went green, he was out there just pounding out laps and every one of them was 10-10 because every lap they pulled on a brand new set of tires to get an evaluation and went back to control about back to tires. I don't know how many sets they went through with but it was ridiculous. I couldn't believe it. But the fact that he had the stamina to do it was impressive enough but how they methodically walked through the process of coming up with the tire product and the ultimate tire product, which obviously today still Firestone produces the finest racing product there is available, which is in large part I'd a 95 percent due to Scott's technical ability and how he contributed and the fact that he was able to run a flying lap at the end of the day as he was at the beginning of the day without getting out of the car for 12 hours was just a very impressive situation I got to view while I was there. But that really set a benchmark to me as far as the consummate development in the individual; someone who take the engineering exercise and trance sends to athletic endeavor so seamlessly is amazing to me and I'm just thrilled to death that we've got him with us.
Q. That's great. I'm assume assuming that when the position came open it was: Get Pruett?
CAL WELLS: It was interesting. It really did happen in a quick -- first, we thought Robby was coming back. And as things involved and as Rob's opportunities grew, I didn't think Scott was available and then you know how one thing leads to another. Someone said, well, maybe you know maybe there's room for talk, doing something different who knows. Then one thing led to another and then when the dominos started to fall, they fell very, very, very quickly. So the fact that he was available -- virtually anybody else in the paddock, he is the one individual who can contribute the most to Toyota's efforts in champ car. There's just no one else that's got a range of ability and understanding in relationships and development prowess that can get us where we need to be. So if you lined up all 28 guys, the history Scott brings will contribute more than anybody else in the sport could do because of his focus and his understanding and his history in doing it. You've got guys that are tremendously talented, but they don't necessarily understand what it takes to get a program to the front. They just know how to drive the hell out it when it's there. And I think Scott's complement with Max, he's also been involved with development programs; and yes, he is younger; and yes, Scott will be the elder statesman. And he very close to my age, which thrills me to death. It just helps me a lot. And we'll fully bond when he can clear the 40-year old hurdle and become part of the 40-plus club and he's pretty close to it. So he'll help Max quite a bit in learning how to be a better test and development driver and when you're on the leading edge of developing something as exciting and Toyota champ car engine, you need someone who understands the focus and there just isn't anybody else on pit lane that knows that better.
SCOTT PRUETT: And I'm not 40 yet, I've got a couple years before I got to 40.
T.E. McHALE: We're going to let Scott go. Best of luck the rest of this season Scott and best of luck with your new arrangement with Arciero-Wells Racing.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thanks everybody again for participating today and I'm excited and looking forward to the new program with Cal Well's Toyota and MCI but we have a lot of racing left this year. So, you know, my focus is to get my car in the Top 3 in the championship.
Q. Cal, how close do you feel that the Toyota engine is to being competitive to run up front and is there something there that you guys can see that we can't?
CAL WELLS: That's an interesting question the way you phrased it. I think the Toyota development program is very close. I don't believe that this particular iteration of the engine is the one that will get us in the winner's circle, although I believe it could happen. I believe that the engine that is being worked on right now at THD USA here in Costa Mesa will get us on a level footing from a development platform. I think that the other three manufacturers where extraordinarily committed this formula and have gone through a huge learning curve. They have just done it 30 year ago. With the exception of Elmore (ph.) but they have certainly been in business for quite some time and created an infrastructure that can respond very quickly. Toyota is in the process of doing that and I think you'll see that they are certainly a threat for qualifying the Top 10 maybe certain tracks in the Top 5 and I think at Nazareth we can threaten to win next year, Milwaukee, maybe the mile and a half track depending on what wind configuration we're running. And I think there are just certain tracks we can be extraordinarily competitive next year. So I'm very excited about what is coming down the road I've got obviously a good idea of what Toyota has on paper and what we'll be testing over the winter and I think that the current RVAD, while we've seen a marked -- huge jump in performance probably our biggest single jump since I started with this program over the last 90 days, what we're learning from this engine is really having a profound impact on what we'll be running next year. You might recall when Honda was partnered with Bobby Rahal, you just couldn't see the light of day through the fog coming out from those engines. It was really an incredible challenge. I remember when Bob left and Steve Horne showed up in Miami when they were running on the street courses down there. Ribeiro had an iron block motor. I mean, this thing was a big, heavy lump but it was their first big, big change since Bob left and, my God, he topped the time sheets the first day. To go from not qualifying at the speedway and having a premiere team drop you to save their sponsors -- I understand why Bob made the decisions he made, it was just a really uncomfortable situation. So to make the huge leap they made in such a short period of time and they went from that to damn near winning the 500 -- if it weren't for a slow pace car driver, they would have. I think that you really have to look at how radically things can turn in a short period of time once all this information is amassed and focused on one particular effort and I that's what is what you'll see with Toyota here over the next 12 to 18 months.
Q. Is that what gives you hope, the fact that Honda was able to turn it around. You kind of set that as a benchmark: If they can do it, we can do it?
CAL WELLS: That's part of it. Honda is a racing company. They live for it. They don't sell as many as cars as Toyota and they don't build as fine a product. Toyota is a world car company and they have got a lot of things on their faith. I've been to Toyota -- next year will start my 18th year of racing with Toyota and I understand the people. While we obviously have our own factional discussions about what we think is the shortest route from A to B, fact of the matter is I more than hope -- I have faith and I'm totally committed to what they are about because I know them so well and I've been partnered with them so long. So that loyalty and faith is what I think perpetuates, not only ourselves, but all American racers, the other development team. And collectively we're all contributing I think quite a bit to what I'm confident will be success and I'm confident that have because we're all just working our tails off to get there and that hard work and perseverance always pays dividends as long as you don't give up and that's an unique position that we all find ourselves in right now.
Q. Cal, I guess when a new owner find a new driver, often there's some challenges instead of merging the two new components but I guess with a driver like Scott, because he's kind of a veteran, does that change anything when you're trying to sort of merge a new driver with a new team?
CAL WELLS: Well, I don't think it will change much. You know, we've evolved on the driver front from Hiro Matsushita, who was our original driver in '95 and of course in '96 to adding Jeff Krosnoff and then going through the challenges of losing him. We certainly intended with working with Jeff on his entire career. Unfortunately, it was cut short tragically. And then it evolved with Max and Robby and now Max and Scott that evolution and growth of the company really hasn't been so hard to assume lit. I think that each driver has brought a tremendous amount it to company, to the team, and to the Toyota development program. And I see no reason for Scott to provide any sort of extraordinary challenge. I think the challenges that motor sports provide on a daily basis far exceed melding a new personality and talent of the size and scope of Scott Pruett. So I just don't see that being a problem.
Q. Cal, you mentioned earlier that some drivers can take virtually any setup or any car and just drive that particular car to its ultimate, to its limits but trying to figure out how to make a car faster is a whole different teal. Is it what was missing from Robby Gordon? He can drive anything with four wheels to its maximum potential but he don't give you enough input to make some real changes to your setup there?
CAL WELLS: Absolutely not. Robby contributed tremendously. He is able to engineer the car from the cockpit and do quite a fine job of it. He knows not only how to take it to its limits but take it beyond its limits. Rob contributed in every aspect of our program, every single one of them, so I can't say that those were problems at all with Robby.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you for being with us this afternoon, Cal. Best of luck this year and on into your new driver arrangement. Thanks again to all of you being with us this afternoon have a good afternoon and we'll talk to you soon.
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