CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on today's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're very pleased to bring you a very special teleconference today featuring CART's three Mexican drivers, Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain, Jr., And Mario Dominguez. The thing that makes this teleconference unique is not the fact we're joined today by these three talented drivers, but that today's call will be conducted in both English and Spanish. We're very happy to offer this service today to our friends in both the English speaking and Spanish speaking media. The format for today's teleconference, we'll be joined by each of the drivers individually. We'll first take questions for the driver in English, thing open it up for questions in Spanish. First up we'll talk to a true hero in Mexico, Adrian Fernandez, driver of the No. 51 Tecate, Quaker State, Telmex Honda/Lola, Bridgestone for Fernandez Racing. Adrian is in his 10th year of CART FedEx Championship Series competition. He has had seven career victories to his credit and owns two pole positions, including one in the first event of the 2002 schedule, last month in his home country at the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. In addition to his talents as a driver, Adrian is also in his second season as a team owner with Fernandez Racing. Adrian, thanks for joining us on the teleconference this afternoon.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much.
MERRILL CAIN: First we'll open it up for questions in English, then questions in Spanish. We'll take questions in both languages.
Q. You've been in this game 10 years. I remember talking to you years ago. You told me one thing that you wanted to do was be a team owner. You learned the business from the inside out. Reflect on those 10 years. Has it been what you expected? What kind of challenges? Where you do you go from here?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, it's been more than I expected, especially because it's so hard to get to CART. It's even harder to maintain yourself at that level. So to be able to achieve all the things that we've done in 10 years, it's a bit more than what I ever dreamed. Now having my own team, it's another accomplishment that I knew was going to be hard to get, especially because you need the support of your sponsors, Tecate, Quaker State and Telmex. It's a big commitment from them. Everything happened for a reason. We managed to finish second in the championship two years ago. That really was a key thing for me, for being able to get the confidence from the sponsors and Honda, get people like Tom Anderson and now Don Halliday to be with us, be able to form a team from scratch. It's quite a big commitment. At the end, in the long run, I believe it's been the best decision.
Q. Talk about this weekend's race. Any challenges coming up? How do you feel about your package?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I feel the package is good. We still learning about the car and the new combination. I'm working with Don Halliday for the first time this year. There's a lot of things to learn about the car. Still this team is a very young team. There is a lot -- we're very excited about the prospects of this weekend. The pole position in Mexico was an indication that the potential is there. We just have some details that we have worked since the Mexican race. Hopefully that will help us to complete the efforts that we started in Mexico. Unfortunately, we just didn't finish in the race.
MERRILL CAIN: You mentioned the pole position that you won in Mexico. You were the first guy to really test the new rules, qualifying rules, for the CART in road course situations last month. Talk about what the feeling was like for you seeing your hard work as a team owner come to fruition in the first race of the year. Last year was a difficult year for you guys, first year as a team, always is for first-year teams. What was that like as you won the pole in front of a home crowd in Mexico?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It was very special. As you said, after a hard year, first year of Fernandez Racing, your home country, in front of your sponsors, your people, family, everybody, getting your first pole on a road course in your hometown is something very special. That's a little bit of a reward for the efforts that the whole team, Fernandez Racing, has done.
MERRILL CAIN: What did you think of the new rule situations for qualifying? You were the one that benefited from that, getting the quick qualifying time on Friday, guaranteeing yourself a front-row starting position, then also coming up in the rain with a good performance on Saturday which enabled you to win the pole.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I like it. I think it's exciting for the promoters, for the series. It creates something new. It's exciting for us. The old days Friday was just a test day, and there's nothing for the fans to see. Now it's more challenging because you have less time on the track. The challenge of when to decide to go to the track, if you're going to get traffic or not. It's something that last year was very unfair the way qualifying was. That was a big part of our performance last year. You can just never recover. We were affected by that rule. Now it's a lot better. Everybody has the same opportunity. Even racing is a lot better now. I'm excited. New thing for CART. CART is looking in the right directions. We're proud to be part of it.
MERRILL CAIN: You as a team owner, also as a driver, can speak to this. There's been a lot of resurgence of CART, more positive news coming out since Chris Pook has taken over leadership of the company. What do you feel about CART, the direction that Chris Pook is taking the company? Are you encouraged by this? As we kind of reflect back on Chris here at Long Beach, he created this race, thus far really an indication where CART is going, how this race is going, really turned the city around.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Definitely. I'm very happy of what Chris has done in a very, very short time. We are excited about the prospects for the future. He's been able to make a lot of changes in a very, very short time. That's very, very, very important for us. We're really looking forward to future. The direction he's taking I think is the right one. You can see it. Sponsors are getting confident in him, promoters. He's really taking care of everything. We're pulling together, working hard together, to get CART where it should be.
MERRILL CAIN: I know you're under a quick schedule as you're at Honda. We're going to open it up for questions for you in Spanish. (Question and answer period in Spanish.) Adrian, thank you very much for taking some time to join us on today's call. We know you have a busy day at Honda. We'll say good-bye and we wish you the best of luck at this week and Grand Prix of Long Beach. We welcome Michel Jourdain, Jr., Driver of the No. 9 Gigante Ford/Lola for Team Rahal. Michel is in his seventh car of Champ car competition. He's coming off his best finish on a road or street course at last month's season opener in Monterrey, Mexico where he finished fourth in front of his hometown crowd. Thank you for taking some time to join us today.
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Thank you. I'm very happy to be here.
MERRILL CAIN: Sounds like you are right next door.
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: I am next door.
MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it up for questions for Michel in English, then we'll take a few questions for you in Spanish, as well.
Q. How much better do you feel about your situation now than even a month ago after the result in Monterrey that kind of reaffirmed your feelings about Team Rahal and stuff, just given a chance with a good team, you'd be able to show something? What are your thoughts going into Long Beach in that regard?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, much better. Yes and no because, I mean, before the season started I knew I was going to be competitive all year long. Obviously, Monterrey helped a lot in confirming that. We were very fast every practice, qualifying and in the race. Just came to confirm what I already knew. It was very good. The team is professional. You know, we have a couple of tests after that in Sebring and at Homestead. We were very fast in both of them, too. I feel very good about the whole season. I feel we're going to have a very good year.
Q. What do you like about the track at Long Beach? What gets you going about this track and this event?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, I think there's a lot of things special for me here, you know. Six years ago was my first race here, so that's very special. Every time I come in here, you know, to remember that. I mean, I know growing up Long Beach was one of the races that I wanted to race on really bad. It was good that it was my first race. I don't know, I have family in San Diego, so they will come here every year, a lot of people from Mexico, some friends that live in LA. There's a lot of very special things here. I came I think when I was one year old or something to a Formula 1 race here in Long Beach. There is a lot of things special here for me.
Q. Who won that race?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: I don't remember.
Q. I didn't figure you did. You were talking about you felt before the season started you guys were on to something special. Are you still kind of getting to know each other a bit team-wise? Bobby Rahal said he wanted you to have a little bit of patience this year and let things kind of come together. Do you feel you're already in a situation where you can definitely compete and challenge?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, I think you never stop learning things, never stop getting to know each other, you know. But I feel that we right away from the first test, we were working very close together. I think it helped. Jimmy and I, I think we have very similar driving styles. The car was already -- had already a good setup because of Jimmy's test. He's very good setting up the car, all that. All those things helped a lot. Once I arrived, the car was okay. Jimmy and I have similar driving styles. I was not saying something they -- both Jimmy and I were saying the same things about the car. It came very quick. I felt like I had been working with them already for some time.
MERRILL CAIN: Michel, we are obviously on today's call accepting questions for you in both Spanish and English. You have signed on with a brand-new sponsor, Gigante, great addition to Team Rahal, great sponsor for you. How important is that for you to incorporate a new sponsor like that into the series, develop that relationship? Because of the Mexican races that CART has added on the last couple years, developing the interest in the Mexican fans to bring on a sponsor like Gigante, how important that is?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: It's huge. I think it's very important for us, for CART, for Team Rahal and for me. Gigante is a great company in Mexico. They are starting to get into the US here in the LA area. The same with Office Depot. It's a huge company. I think it was a big addition for everybody. For me it was great to be able to get a relationship with a company like this. They are working very, very hard in Mexico, here in the States, promote the CART program. Monterrey was crazy. They bought like 20,000 tickets for the weekend, invited a lot of people. They are doing very good stuff. I think it's great to work with people like this.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll now take some questions for Michel Jourdain, Jr., In Spanish.
(Question and answer period in Spanish.) Thank you for your time today, Michel. We wish you the best of luck in this weekend's race in the streets of Long Beach. Thank you for taking time to join us on today's call.
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Thank you very much.
MERRILL CAIN: We now welcome in Mario Dominguez, driver of the No. 16 Herdez Ford/Lola for Herdez Competition. Mario is in his rookie season in the Champ cars after competing the last three seasons in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Mario finished 17th in his first race with Herdez Competition last month in Monterrey, Mexico. Mario, we appreciate you taking the time to join us today as we welcome you on board the call.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much for having me today on your show.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll open it for questions in English.
Q. What do you think of CART now that you're in it?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, it's everything I expected it to be and more. It's just my dream come true. It's great to be here. I'm having the time of my life. I'm just so happy. Most thing that makes me the happiest is to be driving these cars. That's what brings me the joy, to drive these powerful and technologically advanced cars. To me, that's what brings me the most joy. It's just unbelievable to drive these cars.
MERRILL CAIN: You mentioned the technological advancements that are different in a Champ car. What is that like? You spent the last few years in an Indy Lights. Can you talk about the difference? Is there a way you can explain the difference between the two cars and compare those? What was it like when you first got a ride in a Champ car?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, it is very different. The car delivers -- especially the power difference is very big. Champ car is around 850 horsepower. Indy Lights, 455. So it's almost twice. It's also very well-compensated. The Champ car brakes so well. Technology-wise it's so advanced. It also handles so much better. It responds to the engineering changes so much better than the Lights car. In a way, I think the Lights car was a bit harder to drive. Once I got used to the power of the Champ car, it was much more fun. I love it. I really enjoy driving these cars. Especially with the engineers, it's just a little bit easier to work.
MERRILL CAIN: You mentioned the engineers there. Oftentimes it's difficult for a rookie, first-year driver in the series, to get that comfort level with the team. Where are you in terms of that with the Herdez Competition team? You have one race under your belt. You've done a fair amount of testing here in a little break between the first and second races, and also pre-season. Where are you in terms of your comfort level with the team right now?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I feel very good about it. I think the chemistry has been there from the very first day. They've been great to me. They've been very helpful. Having key persons like Keith Wiggins and Tom Brown with so much racing experience in their background, giving me advice on everything, it just makes my learning process so much faster. I think the chemistry is great. We're learning more every time I get in the car. I definitely still have a lot to learn. We're still learning a lot from each other. But I think we're definitely on the right track. I feel very good about it. I think we have a very, very strong team. I think we can surprise some people this year.
MERRILL CAIN: I also wanted to ask you, the focus of the Mexican fans, we saw very drastically in Monterrey, Mexico last month where nearly 100,000 fans turned out on race day. Tremendous support for the Mexican drivers, as well as the other drivers. What do you think Mexico City will be like? How have you seen the interest in CART and open-wheel racing grow with the Mexican fans over the last couple years?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It's unbelievable. The interest on CART, as far as Mexico is concerned, over the last years, it has grown tremendously. You know, you have to thank Adrian Fernandez for doing that. He's been successful in the CART series. Obviously the Mexican people have started to follow the CART series right after he started being successful. You could see that in Monterrey. Even with me, I'm a rookie, it was absolutely unbelievable, just the thousands of people just cheering for me, the wonderful support I got from all of them was sensational. Long Beach is the closest thing to that. We get a lot of Mexican Americans to come here to watch the race and cheer us on. Indy Lights, they came to me, cheered me on, best wishes. This is also a very big race for us.
MERRILL CAIN: What's it going to be like in Mexico City?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: That's going to be pandemonium. I tell you, it's going to be unbelievable. Everybody is going to be there. The track is going to be beautiful. They're going to make it beautiful. The old Formula 1 track, they're going to remodel it. It's just going to be a dream to race there. The fans, it's just going to be great to go race there. The good thing is by the team we get to Mexico City, I will definitely have a lot more experience under my belt. It's just going to make things easier for me. We'll try to give them a very good result.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll take some questions in Spanish. (Question and answer period in Spanish.) Mario, thank you for joining on today's CART media teleconference this afternoon. We look forward to seeing you in action at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Thank you very much for having me. I want to let everybody know I will do my best effort to give a good result and put on a good show for everybody in this race.
MERRILL CAIN: We expect nothing less.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: Have a good day. Thanks to all who participated on today's call. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be seen this Sunday, April 14th, on the FOX Network, air time scheduled for 3:30 p.m. eastern time. Thanks again to all who participated in today's call and have a very good afternoon.
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