Marlboro Team Penske Media Conference
Topics: Penske Racing
INA BROEMAN: On behalf of Marlboro Team Penske, I would like to welcome you all. We are all very excited about the 1999 season kicking off with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami. It is my great pleasure to introduce a gentleman that needs no introduction, our dear friend and partner, Roger Penske.
ROGER PENSKE: Thank you. I welcome everybody to Florida. It is nice to come down here from Detroit and most of you have been up there for the auto show know that we had three or four feet of snow, so, this is a great opportunity to be here. I think that as you are all here you should take a look at what is taking place here on the track. As you know, we are adding additional seats here at Homestead Miami and I think it is going to be a world class facility; not only for the race here in the spring but also as we go into the fall. Just to bring everyone up-to-date on our plans in 1999, we will be running one car. I think I read it 100 times in the newspaper so that probably is not new news. We made the decision in conjunction with Philip Morris at the end of last season that we would focus on one car in 1999. Andre and I had a long discussion about his career, what he might do following the 1998 season. He and I talked about business opportunities in Brazil and I think that he will be able to fill you in on some of the things we are hoping to do as we go forward. It was an easy decision for Team Penske. Certainly we had a long-term contract with Al and we were not happy with our performance in 1998. You folks obviously have graded us -- probably our unreliability was the biggest issue. We had some great testing during the preseason, following at the end of '98 season also going into 1999. Certainly as we see the reliability of the car, we have run competitive times with other teams during the preseason. The racing season will tell a little story. We will continue with Mercedes-Benz power, we have our own chassis, and we are going to be with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. We have long relationships in business with a number of companies and we felt the loyalty; we want to stay in that direction. A lot of people have told us what our problems are, it's your car or your tires or it's your engine. We think it is execution and that is one thing we are going to try to prove in 1999 that we do have a good package. We have all the opportunities, all the changes, that if you see the car and see what we are going to do, we are going to stay consistent with the people that helped us get to where we are today. We are looking forward to a great season based on results we achieved during the testing. As you know the testing rules have changed so it has been limited testing at least as we go forward into this part of the season. So we need to be sure that we are precise in the number of tests. We try to have the equipment ready to test and certainly we are here with two of our cars - if I go back a year ago and think about where we were with reliability, new gearbox, new engine, and new car. We made a big step. Obviously the competition has stepped up and we need to be sure that we can be competitive throughout the season. We are excited to be back with Phillip Morris. I know there is a lot of speculation concerning tobacco legislation. Does that have anything to do with the change? The answer is no. Philip Morris understands what the legislation means to the company. They are a first-class, world-class company, quite honestly, and we will leave it to them to follow the mandate to make it better for all people in the marketplace. I think the one-car effort will be good for us. It gives us a chance to refocus our organization and we are going to go forward in 1999. Let me turn it over to Al to give you a little idea what he has done in testing at least during the early part of the season, here from the preseason test perspective and what his thoughts are to go forward.
AL UNSER, JR.: Thank you, Roger. I want to welcome everybody to Homestead. It is a beautiful facility. I think every year it gets better and better. And this year again, with the addition of the new seats and all that, it is a world-class facility like Roger was saying. This series has been actually really, really good. We unloaded the car at Seabring, our very first test, and it came off the trailer very, very fast. We didn't have any problems with our gearbox; didn't have any problem with our engine. We just kept running all day and that is the way pretty much my testing has been. We have put over 1200 miles so far on this car and we got it right around Christmastime, so you can see that we have been putting some miles in. At whatever racetrack I go to, we have been the guys doing most of the running all day long. So I really am impressed with the new car. We have helped it quite a bit. John Travis spent some time in the wind tunnel. The new car definitely has more grip to it. And what we need to do now is just get the balance in the car correctly and we will be off and running. Again, like Roger was saying, we did want to stick with the people that got us here and that is exactly what we are doing. We are working very hard with Goodyear. Goodyear is working very hard with us and so far everything is going the way that we would like it. Mercedes again is right there with us. We had some issues last year with the key word being drivebility and they have done a great job in addressing that on all of our work forces. The engine pulls from the bottom up very, very well. So I am very anxious to get the season underway and get it going. And I am very proud to still be with Marlboro Team Penske and we have definitely got the goals in front of us that we are definitely going to try to meet.
ROGER PENSKE: Andre, you want to talk about what we have discussed from a business perspective and just your thoughts on motor racing where you are going. It would be a good idea to talk openly here so there is not a lot of rumors about what we might have talked about. I think we are going to get in deeper together.
ANDRE RIBEIRO: First of all, I think this is a very important moment of my life. I have been discussing with Roger Penske especially about our future and we felt that this is a big moment to get deeper into it. After a lot of discussions and of plans, I have decided to move ahead, move forward on those business plans and opportunities in Brazil. Of course you can't do those things at the same time. I felt that this was a special opportunity to move forward on the business side and, of course, you can race at the same time. For me it is tough decision, but I have Roger as an example, and at sometime in his career he had to decide and he made the right decision. I hope I can be strong and determined enough to do the same. It is an honor to be part of a family like this. I feel very proud to have achieved so many results in racing; especially in all those years in U.S.. Starting with Tasman Motorsports and ending with Penske is quite achievement for a racing driver. All the races that I won especially in Brazil, in the Marlboro 500 are going to be something that I will never forget. But again I think it is a new time of my life. It is a unique opportunity and of course the success will be the same.
ROGER PENSKE: Let us open it up for some questions for any of us.
Q. Could you just describe the type of business that you are getting involved in and the name?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Yes, we are looking at the retail car market in Brazil. We have been talking with a lot of original equipment manufacturers based there. There are lot of opportunities there and we are looking forward in this direction.
ROGER PENSKE: What really has taken place, as you know, we have built a factory in Curitiba where we are building automotive diesel engines and we have determined that the market today would welcome a retail, maybe a North American retail automotive operation. So we have been talking with most of the franchisors in Brazil and the plan is to setup a retail auto group where we will go out and have multiple franchise operations in Brazil. We think it is the perfect time now for us to go over and make investments as you see the automotive companies making investments today in Asian Pacific. The combination of Andre and his visibility to partner with us, knowing the local customs, having contacts with people there, and our ability and experience in the retail automotive side, I think it is a perfect combination.
Q. What is your view -- just to be clear you are telling us that you are in here as a driver and hanging up your helmet, you are going to move onto other things -- first of all, is that so and if so what race involvement would it be?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: I am giving myself 100% on this direction, on the business direction. I can't say about the future, but I am saying now my plan now is to be involved 100% with all my determination on the business side. Of course, being involved with Penske, you will have to think motor sports also on your mind; not only on the competitive way also on the business side, but also on how much can we expect from the racetrack. So I hope I can continue being involved, especially helping CART in Brazil, being so popular as it is, but also as much as I can help the Team Penske, I will be always available.
Q. Roger, last year the talk was about it being very difficult for Penske to develop its car - the Penske chassis. How can a race team operate efficiently with one car and talk about development.
ROGER PENSKE: There is no question, with a limited testing schedule, it makes it even more difficult, but we have a derivative car this year, the PC27B. I think there is a carryover. We saw our car being competitive on certain tracks even on the road tracks at Mid-Ohio, we saw it be very competitive in Motegi, but we continue, if you look at our finishing record, five or six gearbox problems, really brought us down. I think the issue now is we have had a lot more time to develop to where we are. If you look at Reynard's success and swift they have had a derivative strategy. We are going to have to make a decision obviously as we go forward in our company, can we compete with one or two cars and be able to have the data available to us that we need in order to be competitive in the overall season. We looked at all the options of going in different directions. John is sitting on my left. We have had long discussions prior to the beginning of the year with what was the best thing for the team. We evaluated new cars. We were able to go down to Seabring and look at times that very good teams that run down there and we have made some big steps. Based on that - and that was testing this was not a lot of people sitting in a room feeling good. This was based on specific facts. We saw the competitiveness of the car. So we have decided -- Al did this -- it was not a decision that I made by myself. It was basically a team decision. I guess the answer to your question we should wait five or six races into the season to see if we have been able to meet the expectations that we need.
Q. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the process involved in running one car and the restructuring.
ROGER PENSKE: Let me first start at Penske cars. We went through a process where we determined we would not be building 6 or 7 cars, so we had probably about 90 people there sometime mid-season last year. We reduced that in half, but obviously we kept the technical side. That was a normal attrition. People had opportunities to go to other teams. We gave them notice. In fact, we evaluated everyone, the way you have to do that in Europe, it is a little different than in this country. We had to evaluate our people over there, it went quite well, and put our team together and went forward. As far as the U.S. is concerned, we have other opportunities. Chuck Sprague has moved over working on a project that we have that we are not going to discuss today. We have, as you know, lots of different opportunities that we can utilize these tracks with what I call off-race racing, opportunities, so Chuck is heading that up. It was natural because he was the guy with most seniority within the team. He and Clive Howell split up the management work and that is how we are going to operate during 1999.
Q. Talk about the future of Marlboro.
ROGER PENSKE: We have a contract with Marlboro as we do other contracts with options going forward. We have been with the company for a long time. I would say that this year is just as strong as it has ever been. All we need is one car rather than two.
Q. I haven't seen the car yet, but are there major changes?
ROGER PENSKE: If you want to talk about the things that changed, John Travis can answer that.
JOHN TRAVIS: Like Roger said, the car is really an evolution of last year's car. Since we don't have a production car; we have consistently developed the car over last season. Really we just continued through the winter, some of the changes that were made during the winter are major arrow changes, pins, like that, that we had to reshed the bottom of the car aerodynamically. We have lengthened the car, but that was, as you know, for engine installation. We have made some fundamental changes as far as the mechanical side is concerned and really what we are seeing is more of an evolution. So there is a lot of small changes, but the basic philosophy has just been carried over. Reliability, that is one of our key areas. We had a lot of trouble last year with the gearbox. It was a new concept. So we really tried to concentrate on reliability because reliability now and what we are going to do now is concentrate on the performance of the car.
Q. Obviously it is a one-car team this year - it may be a bit early to be talking about the year 2000 - but I mean, talk about going back to the two-car season in the future.
ROGER PENSKE: There are a number of people who have contacted us, looking at other series, and we bring someone else on, you know, new driver, in the series. We have seen some of the other teams do quite well. We have got to look at that to see if we have got opportunity. I think that is going to happen maybe as we get into the first quarter. Al and I have talked about it. But right now we need to execute the first half of the season, but obviously, we are going to be looking ahead with additional driving capability.
Q. Going to Indy next year you think?
ROGER PENSKE: I don't have a car to go to Indy, but at this particular time we think that the rules are not capable for us to run our particular car so we would have to make an investment in a new car, and the IRL program I don't think that we are prepared to forge ahead with that type of a commitment in 1999. Obviously we'd like to see the rules get to a point where we can get back into that, because I think, we'd all like to be there, but there has got to be, I think, a solution that everybody feels that we would come out ahead and not one organization, you know, really took over the other, that is not really our game plan. There are a lot of conversations going on, but again, business is business. We have a strong series here, there is no question with a number of cars, a number of sponsors, FedEx has stepped up, a lot of PPG supporters and I think we need to be loyal to our series. Thanks for coming and again, I want to thank you.
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