CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Happy new year to all. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for joining us today, and a special welcome to our guests this afternoon, owner Steve Horne and driver Tony Kanaan of the Tasman Motor Sports Group. Welcome, Steve. Welcome, Tony. Thanks for joining us today. Steve announced last month that Tony, the 1997 PPG Firestone Indy Lites champion, had been signed to a five-year contract to drive for Tasman in the FedEx Championship Series. The Tasman Motorsports Group is entering its fourth year of PPG Cup competition, and has scored four wins and two pole positions during its tenure in the another Sears Reese. Drivers Andre Ribeiro and Adrian Fernandez finished 14th and 18th respectively under the Tasman banner during the 1997 season. 22 year old Tony Kanaan, a native of Bahia, Brazil, began his association with Tasman in 1996, piloting one of the team's Indy Lites entries to second place in the championship. He returned to claim the title in 1997, on the strength of two victories, three pole positions, seven podium finishes and 12 points paying performances in 13 events. He will campaign a Honda-powered Reynard, mounted on Firestone tires, in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series, under primary sponsorship from LCI International. With that, we will open the floor to questions.
Q. If I could ask Tony just for some thoughts about how the Indy Light series has prepared him for a full-time campaign in the FedEx series?
TONY KANAAN: I think we race on the same tracks from the CART, so that's a pretty good deal because we have, you know, we race like a couple hours before Indy Car, so we know all the tracks and everything. We are with the CART teams all the time so I can know the peoples and they can watch my race. But the most important thing, I think, is the tracks. You can learn the track very quick. You going to use this in CART, so.
Q. Terrific. Good luck to you, Tony.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you.
Q. Steve, how do you assess the upcoming season? Do you see the same familiar faces are going to be at the top at the end of the year and assess your team's chances this year also?
STEVE HORNE: I think that's one of the interesting things about the CART Championship. Each year it gets stronger and stronger. I think the level of competition gets higher and higher. I think you'll see some new faces come onto the radar screen. You'll maybe see a few fade off the radar scene. The core group, Michael Andretti, I fully expect to see Bobby Rahal and Bryan Herta. The core group is going to be the same. And there's going to be some young guys. I'm sure Tony is going to be up there challenging later in the season for strong positions. Our chances overall, I think they'll be a lot better, I hope, than '97. Obviously we ran Lola in '97. That was very difficult for all of us and our drivers. At least we're starting on equal footing with equipment.
Q. I guess for Steve and Tony both, Tony has done a reasonable amount of early testing in the championship car. Steve, you've been very high on his performances and how well he's done. What do both of you see as the primary area of adaptation for Tony specifically and a guy in general coming out of Indy Lites? You do have a potentially winning combination. Do you both feel that way for this year?
STEVE HORNE: First of all, you know, I've been a big proponent of Indy Lites in terms of its ability to prepare drivers for the FedEx Championship. I told Tony this before he drove the car. It's going to feel like a big Indy Lites car with more power, be a little wider, but it's all going to feel about the same. I think he's proven that. I think Indy Lites prepare the drivers very well in terms of chassis setup and that sort of thing because it's a spec series. So anybody that gets to the front obviously knows how to set up a car. I think the biggest difference, this is the thing that will take a bit of time, the length of races, and the strategy and the pit stops. Those are things that Tony has got to adjust to and we can only really start adjusting once the race starts. That's really my feeling. I think, you know, we've proven as a group that we can have rookie drivers win in their first season. I think the level of competition is probably even tougher than what it was three or four years ago, but I think the potential is there, Gordon, to win races. The level of competition is extremely high. Let's just see what happens. But I'm pretty confident we'll do a bit better overall than what we did last year.
Q. And, Tony, if you'd comment on the biggest area of adaptation in stepping into a championship car, and if you think you've got a shot at actually winning a race with the Reynard Honda Firestone combination in your first year?
TONY KANAAN: I wish I know the CART, it's a very tough season. Like he said, we start pretty early, start testing. I think Steve give me that opportunity, so he need that. We start like this in Indy Lites and we did pretty well two years. Much earlier we start, much confident I'm going to be in the first race with the car. It's a different car. We have a pretty good engine, pretty good chassis, I think the best tire. So we just, you know, like Steve says, I going to take a little bit more time to, you know, know everything like the pit stops and race strategy and everything, but I think we should -- I wish I can win a race this year.
Q. Thanks, very much, Tony, best of luck this year.
TONY KANAAN: Thanks.
Q. Tony, congratulations. My question actually is for Steve. Now that you have Tony in the seat, what are your plans for a second car?
STEVE HORNE: Good question. I'm not going to answer that right now (laughter). We don't know, Ned, we're still working on that. It's getting real close to a decision on what we're going to do. We cannot wait much longer on deciding who, what, when, where and why, we'll drive the second car. I can't answer it right now.
Q. Tony, you've taken a career path that took you to Europe, then to North America. It's been an increasing popular route for South Americans to take. You're following really Andre's footsteps quite closely. Can you just talk about that a little bit, what took you to Europe and changed your mind? Presumably your sights were set on the Formula One, now the FedEx series?
TONY KANAAN: At the beginning of my career, the Formula One was the top in Brazil, much famous than the CART and everything. So I went to Europe. Then the things start getting very difficult in Europe because they want a lot of money. Formula One, they have just four good teams, then you cannot go to those four teams. You start with the second group. I think I start in the second group, never going to have a chance to show your potential. You're still paying a lot of money, the same amount of money, like $5 million, $6 million to race, a small team. Didn't show nothing. You can't afford that because, you know, your sponsors want the return. So they invest a lot of money and they want you to win. You cannot win with this kind of teams. So in '95, I was talking to the vice president from Phillip Morris at that time. He showed me the other way, Indy Lites, then go to Indy Car. He told me it's not going to be easy, but is going to cost the same amount of money, but I'm going to have a chance to win in Indy Car. I was pretty exciting about the program. He show me, you know, Tasman and everything. I accept his opinion. But it was difficult. Like you remember, '95, December '95, we had like eight drivers to try to take two seats. So was pretty hard for me. Fortunately, I did pretty well. I changed my mind. I came to America. I think was the best thing I did in my life because right now, you know, like three years ago, if you ask me -- if you was asking me what I'm going to do, I can't answer you. Right now, I'm a CART driver. Honestly, I didn't expect that kind of early. I thought I'm going to be like 25 or 26, I can arrive. That came earlier, so I'm very happy.
Q. Maybe Steve can address this as well. Tony, you're a dying breed in some ways in that you've made it all the way up to CART without any family money at all, I think I'm right in saying. All your racing has been really gained on the fact that you've --
TONY KANAAN: I think, you know, Steve can answer, he can answer better than me. Indy Lites, I did it my way. In Italy, you know, in the shop. Then after that, Marlboro, and Steve, Indy Lites Marlboro was very important to me, they take both the years. Indy cars happen just for Steve. I think he can answer better than me.
STEVE HORNE: Well, Jeremy, obviously, as you know, Phillip Morris South America set up the Marlboro South America team. They gave us the budget. But they gave us a clean sheet of paper in selecting drivers. Tony came highly recommended. You know, in the first season, first five laps, when we did our first test in Indy Lites, it was obvious to me that Tony had the ability. So he was picked purely on merit. I think another important part is drivers do get picked on merit, but they have to understand the commercial side of racing as well. Phillip Morris did a very good job I think of educating Tony and Helio and the other drivers that drove on the team. So the commercial side is important. Tony is working hard with some Brazilian sponsors we've got right now. But this is commercial business and he's learning and understanding very well that side of racing, as well.
Q. Steve, of course you've had an extremely successful Indy Light seasons these past few years. Go over the rest of your operation, who you're going to have running for you in Lites and whether you're going to be working with touring car again or any other series?
STEVE HORNE: Obviously we did touring car last year. Had a lot of fun and success with Neil Crompton. The series has faltered so obviously we won't be continuing with that. Neil is going to continue to work with the team both on the commercial side and hopefully he'll be doing some races in IMSA this season. Indy Lites is just rolling along. We set ourselves an even bigger challenge of trying to repeat as champions with Cristiano da Matta and Airton Dare driving for us. Right now the two drivers in Indy Lites and Tony signed up to drive one of our champ cars. So it might be a slightly smaller, more focused group than we had last year, but, you know, I think we can -- we'll still be running at the front in both series.
Q. I have a follow-up question for Steve Horne about the second car for the FedEx series. I heard your previous answer, but I wasn't clear, are you committed to running a second car for next year or is that still a question?
STEVE HORNE: George, no, it's not a question. Tasman had two franchises within CART right now. Our intent is to run two cars. It's getting late to make a decision. You know, we were obviously caught out a little bit the end of last year. We knew Adrian Fernandez was leaving us. But when Andre left, it put us behind a little bit. Trying to find an experienced driver, I think it's very important for us to have an experienced driver alongside Tony. That's probably the biggest issue right now, finding someone that has the kind of experience we think can add to the team. You know, the list is not very long of experienced guys out there right now. So that's where we're at.
Q. Second question. You've been testing the new package, the new Reynard chassis and the new Honda motor.
STEVE HORNE: Yeah, we have.
Q. What's been your experience so far?
STEVE HORNE: Well, we've actually been out testing with both cars, the '97 car and the '98 car. Obviously on the engine, the Honda, as they always do, continue to improve, the performance is improved in all areas. The thing that's really been a very pleasant surprise, because it's a very difficult thing to do, Reynard has improved the car, you know, by a fair margin over last year, in my opinion. It kind of looks the same, but maybe Tony can answer better than I can, but I think it's a lot better race car. A lot of credit to Reynard at this stage. Unfortunately, everybody's got one. I think the standard has been raised in terms of chassis performance. Tires, go without saying, Firestone continues to be the best. You know, Reynard is the thing that's really not surprised me but pleasantly pleased me, I guess. They've made a very good improvement with the car.
Q. If I can digress a little bit over to the Rolex 24, Tony, you're listed with Robbie Buhl and Mike Borkowski. Can you talk about what you're looking forward to there? Mr. Horne, if you could comment on how this came about and what you do with Mr. Loy (phonetic)?
STEVE HORNE: Why don't I start, Tony. Really this is a deal that Firestone put together to promote their new Dayton brand. As you know, they're going to sponsor the Indy Lites series this year with the new Dayton, Daytona tire. And really Al Speyer from Firestone called me and said they would like to run a car, Daytona 24 hours, then everybody can figure out the connection there. He asked if Tony could drive. I think that's what's going to happen. They're testing I think later this week. Really, it's just I think a do for Firestone and their Dayton brand.
Q. Tony, what are you looking forward to getting out of this?
TONY KANAAN: Well, it's a new experience for me. I always run in the single car. I did in my life a couple races with the touring car. In that, it's a very long race. I'm pretty exciting. I know my teammates just for seeing the newspaper and everything, Robbie Buhl and Mark Borkowski. So we'll see. I'm pretty exciting. I hope I can do well.
Q. I wish you guys well.
TONY KANAAN: Thanks.
Q. Steve, I still say you won that race.
STEVE HORNE: Thank you. I wish you wouldn't keep reminding me (laughter).
Q. First thing you tell the driver, don't pass the pace car?
STEVE HORNE: If the pace car is up in front of you, you have a choice of hitting it or passing it, I say pass it (laughter).
Q. Good luck to both of you.
STEVE HORNE: Thank you.
Q. You said earlier that you weren't going to make an announcement here the next couple of days regarding the second car.
STEVE HORNE: Right.
Q. But I do have a follow-up question. If you don't have a second car in '98, considering the way Tasman has grown over the last few years, is it a setback for Steve Horne and Tasman?
STEVE HORNE: That's a hypothetical question.
Q. Hypothetical answer (laughter)?
STEVE HORNE: (Laughter) You've watched our team grow, watched what we've done. I think the thing today in the CART FedEx Championship, it used to be there was always an unfair advantage, whether it was the engine in '95 perhaps, Firestone tires, whether it was a disadvantage like the Lola chassis. But I really think now it's coming down to who's got the best driver. That's why we're excited with Tony, been able to do a long-term deal with him. We've got that ingredient firmly locked in place. I think anything we do or any other team does, the driver is probably now the last final ingredient that has to be at the top of the tree. There are no more hidden advantages. You've got to have a Michael Schumacher or somebody like that, Jacques Villeneuve, because there are no other secret advantages. That's what we're trying to build for the future with both of our cars.
Q. Tony, you mentioned a couple of things and Steve mentioned a couple of things that you may have to overcome in the '98 Championship Series. One of them you mentioned is pit stops. There's so many things that can go right, but there are so many things that can go wrong with a pit stop. What do you think that you may have to overcome, and what makes you nervous about pit stops, if anything?
STEVE HORNE: He's allowed to stall it two times then I hit him with a hammer (laughter).
TONY KANAAN: We did a couple tries. My worst fear was stall the car. That's the most, because Steve is getting very angry if I did that. A couple times I'm stall the car, but because I was worried about bringing up the rpms in the engine. Then when they said, "You can bring up how much you want," then I bring up and I did pretty well. But I think, you know, I'm not worried. I think I need just learn just to be comfortable. Like I never did the pit stop in my life, so right now it's come with the race. It's part of the race. I think I need try to getting the pit limit later, you know, than everybody, like right after the pass the white line, to don't lose too much time, try to stop the car straight to give easy life for my mechanics to change my tires and put the fuel on. Then I think that's it. Watch out with the other cars when I going out of the pit. That's it. But I'm not worried. I think we going to do a lot of pit stops before the season starts, so I will be, like Steve said before, for sure I'm going to learn a lot more in the race because it's going to be everybody together. But I think the first race is going to be difficult. The second one is going to be a little bit easier. Then it's going to come like, you know, the race. Like the start, the restart, everything.
Q. We wish you the best. Steve, I'm sure you'll call us right away when you make a decision on the second car?
STEVE HORNE: Absolutely. Give me your home phone number, will you (laughter).
Q. I'm wondering if you don't mind talking a little bit about the decision to make this a five-year deal, Steve. I'm wondering if that's not longer than normal, and puts the advantage in this climate of CART competition.
STEVE HORNE: Well, I think I talked a little bit about, you know, trying to get that hidden ingredient.
STEVE HORNE: We traditionally have had drivers stay with us a very long period of time. Andre Ribeiro was with us for four years. Tony is 22 years old. He's driven for us for two years. I think we both know each other well enough right now. I think it takes three years at this level of competition to really get the best out of each other as a group, as individuals. So that really, if you say five years, gives another two years to maximize it. Tony will only be 27 at the end of his contract with us. I'm a firm believer in long-term relationships. Hopefully, you know, we can build on his success as a driver, we can learning a lot from each other. So I don't think it's unusual. The other thing is, I have a lot of confidence that he's going to be a star and I want to keep my hands-on him.
Q. Thank you.
STEVE HORNE: Thank you.
Q. Steve, when you chose Tony a couple years ago, who was the other --
STEVE HORNE: Helio Castroneves who drives with us this year and finished second, a very close second to Tony in the Lites Championship. Then we had Louis DaPalma from Argentina. Actually, we picked three drivers out of eight that year.
Q. Was that test at Firebird?
STEVE HORNE: We called it the Gong Show, four-day Gong Show out there where we really put the drivers through the drills. Tony and Helio just stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
Q. Tony, some interesting background noises. Where are you calling from?
TONY KANAAN: From the airport. I'm in Columbus airport right now.
Q. Didn't make it to the shop?
TONY KANAAN: I'm going to the shop right now to make my seats. I didn't pick up my bag yet, but I'm still alive.
Q. Steve is the boss, Steve Dickson last year was "Dad". Have you come up with nicknames for other people yet?
TONY KANAAN: We have Jeff is Jefferson. Steve, my chief mechanic, it's Elvis because his hair, you know is like Elvis.
Q. How about Diane, has she escaped or not?
TONY KANAAN: I cannot do with her because she's a girl. She can take like offense. I call her Sister, you know. I call her once Mom. She always try to kill me. Right now she is my Sister. I just lost my place. I have a deal with deal with Steve to December 31st, I was the president for Tasman. Right now I'm nobody like before (laughter).
Q. I have a question to Tony regarding his training for this weekend's test and the Rolex 24-hour endurance training. Do you have a special training or fitness program?
TONY KANAAN: I always been training a lot. But I change a little bit. Actually I running every day. I just put a little bit more miles on my running. I did like five miles in the last year. I start to do seven and eight. Don't try to pushing so hard, but just a specific exercise like neck because the car is going to be pretty tough for my neck. My normal exercise, going to workout and do some exercise for my arms. The most important thing is the aerobics, the stamina. I working very hard on my running and I'm swimming a little bit also.
Q. Can you confirm, Steve, that your second car will be a Honda-powered car?
STEVE HORNE: Like I said back in the beginning, I don't know what our driver is going to be, what our package is going to be yet. I'm still trying to put it together. To talk about it in pieces is not the way want to do it right now. I just don't know right now. Hopefully I would say within the next three or four days it will be put to rest, we'll know what's going on. That's where we're at.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks. We'll wrap it up for today. I want to thank our guests Steve Horne and Tony Kanaan for spending time to be with us for this afternoon. I want to thank you all for joining us. We'll talk to you again soon.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|