CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Let's get underway. We have a pretty special teleconference here today. What we've done is hook up about four publications from Japan, and we're going to give them the opportunity to talk to you guys, Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Adrian Fernandez, in Japanese. We'll translate the questions into English and you guys will respond to them, we'll translate them back into Japanese. Let's do some brief introductions. We're first joined by Michael Andretti, driver of the No. 39 Motorola Honda/Lola Bridgestone, for Team Motorola. Michael won last weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for his 42nd career CART victory, that's a record. The former winner in Japan, capturing the checkered flag in 2000, and he's currently second in the FedEx Championship Series point standings with 22 points, just five points behind the leader, Cristiano da Matta. Michael, welcome on board.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll go to Paul Tracy, driver of the No. 26 KOOL Honda/Lola Bridgestone for Team KOOL Green. Paul is in his 12th season of competition in CART. He has 18 career wins and 13 career pole positions to his credit. Now we go to Adrian Fernandez, driver of the No. 51 Tecate Quaker State Telmex Honda/Lola Bridgestone for Fernandez Racing. Adrian is the only driver/owner currently competing in CART. He started his own team last season. He had seven career victories, including wins in the first two Japan events in 1998 and 1999. Why don't we go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Congratulations at Long Beach.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
Q. Since '89 you've been one of the top drivers in the series. What is the most important thing that you feel that makes you keep on going as a top driver in the series?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Let's see, I don't know. I think it's just a lot of hard work. I think competition has gotten so much tougher that you have to work that much harder in terms of keeping yourself in shape, so it's not easy, it's hard. The older you get, the harder it is. Just working hard at it.
Q. Since you have moved to the Team KOOL Green, this is your second year, correct?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Correct.
Q. Is it working well with the other drivers, Paul and Dario? How is the cooperation between those two drivers?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's worked tremendously well. I get along real well with Dario and Paul. We're constantly trading information. The nice thing about having three cars out there is that you do have more information. I think we work together good as a team. I think the team does a good job in managing all three cars. Me, I've enjoyed the association with both Paul and Dario.
Q. For all three drivers. There are oval course races. What is the difficulty of racing at an oval course? Also, what do you think makes the difference at oval courses when you drive on oval courses?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think oval racing is quite different. It takes a different way of driving. I think it takes more in terms of car setup, what you need from the car to work. I believe if the car is not working properly, it doesn't matter how good of a driver you are, you aren't going to be able to make up the difference. So you have to be aware that you have to try to get the car to work for you. You know, I enjoy ovals. I think they're fun to drive - especially when your car is working good. If you have a car that works good, you feel like you're a hero over the other guys.
PAUL TRACY: I'd really just have to agree with what Michael said. I mean, a lot of it is being able to set your car up properly and be comfortable in the car, being able to be comfortable in traffic. Really, it's a platform also in some of the bigger ovals like Japan, places like Fontana, Michigan, it's a platform for the engine companies to show not only their performance in terms of speed - that's a big part of it - but also reliability. When you run at Motegi, you're basically wide open almost the whole way around the track. It's a long race, so reliability is one of the biggest things in a long race like at Motegi.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Just adding to Michael's and Paul's comments, basically you just have to be more disciplined also in the way you drive these cars. That's because the penalties are much more greater than a road course. When there is a problem, there is always a wall around, and if there is a problem on the car or the situation on race day, you have to be a lot more disciplined to try to avoid any mistakes, because mistakes do cost a lot there. So I also enjoy driving the ovals a lot. Japan has been very good to us. We are going to work very hard to try to give Honda their first win in Motegi.
Q. The fuel mileage, this year the regulation has changed. The limits on the gas has been changed. For Adrian, when you won the race in Japan the second time, I think you worked very well with the fuel mileage. This year, since the regulation has changed, what are your thoughts on that? Would it be as difficult a race for you this year compared to the second win?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, you know, these changes, every race that happens this year, we're learning more and more. This weekend with the strategy that Team Green applied with Michael was something that is still new. We race with different strategies. In those days we had to save fuel. It was a way to win. Now you can use much more fuel. This is going to be the first race in an oval with these new rules. Is going to be a lot of new things for everybody. It's going to be a lot of thought to put into it for this weekend. Hopefully we will have the right strategy, and I believe we will have the speed from Honda to be able to win the race or challenge for the win.
Q. Paul and Michael, since regulation change, are you going to race more aggressively? What are your thoughts on the change of the fuel regulations?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I like the change, especially I think there in Motegi it's going to be good that everybody's going to be able to run wide open, nobody is going to be trying to save fuel. For me, I think that's what racing is all about. That's why people come to stay and see us drive. They want us to go out there and drive as hard as we can. Now the new regulations allow that. I am definitely for the new regulations. I think it's a good thing.
PAUL TRACY: The same. The fans want to see the best possible race they can. You know, I think there's some question mark. For me, the jury is still out a little bit. It seems to either favor the guy that qualifies in the first couple of rows or the guy who qualifies at the back. Right now the guy who is in the middle of the field is kind of stuck there. The drivers now and the teams are getting so competitive, I thought with us running as fast as we could go, you would see drivers make more mistakes. But that hasn't been the case. At Long Beach and Mexico, there's been very few guys going off the track or going down the runoff area. We're running very, very fast lap times. It's kind of a give and take. You're out there going as hard as you can. When you're going as fast as you can, it's pretty hard to physically just pass somebody that's in front of you.
Q. All three of you are Honda engine drivers. Compared to last year's Honda engine, what is the improvement? How do you feel about the improvement, especially on the peak power and drive-ability, also the mileage of the engine for this year's Honda engine compared to last year's?
PAUL TRACY: I think it varies. I think it is something that varies from track to track. We're now working with traction control, so that changes the drive-ability of the engine as you come off the corner. Depending on how much traction control you're using, you know, it changes -- there's mapping changes that have to be made with traction control changes. It's tough to compare to last year because everything is so much different this year. We're now just learning a lot and having to adjust a lot of things throughout a race weekend that we didn't really get the opportunity to do a lot in testing because the rule to allow traction control came very late, right before the season started. It's tough to make a comparison between the drive-ability and mileage to last year's engine versus this year's engine. Even the horsepower, because the rules have changed where they took boost away from last year, it's really difficult to compare.
Q. Talking about traction control, what are your opinions on the traction control?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I like it. I mean, it's a challenge. Now you have make the car, you know, work differently through the corners. You have to push a little bit harder. Now you don't have the control of the throttle like you used to be. But still we're in the very early stages of getting it to work for us a hundred percent. But I'm enjoying the challenge. In the ovals it will not be an easy. Will make a little bit easier for everybody on restarts, where in the past we used to have little bit of concern speeding into restart, which has happened to Paul Tracy and myself in the past.
Q. The or two drivers?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Again, I echo the same thing as what Adrian says. I like it. Obviously, it's something that was very difficult to police, so I think it was right for them to make it legal for everybody because there were rumors of other people using it when it wasn't really legal. It was very difficult to tell if people were using it. I think it was smart to make it legal. It's another thing to adjust. It's another tool that you have in the car to try to make it work to the way you need it to work. So I like it.
PAUL TRACY: I really have two opinions than it. I know it was something that CART was going to have a hard time kind of controlling, policing whether you were using it or not using it. For me, I enjoy the exercise of understanding it. It's a different way of setting a car up, different thing to play with and try to understand, which kind of you learn a lot from. But on the flipside of that, I mean, I think it takes some of the driver element away from the race. When you're racing somebody, you're pushing the guy in front of you to drive harder than he wants to drive, he uses up his rear tires because he's trying to stay in front of you. That's an element of racing that's in the drive's control to be able to make a race. That takes some of that out of it because now everybody has perfect traction and you never have to worry about wearing your rear tires out. I think that's a bit of the negative side of it.
Q. Next season Honda is not going to participate in the series. What are your thoughts on that? With working with Honda, what was your impression about the Honda operation?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'll answer the last question first. I've got to say that for me, after all these years of getting beat by Honda in many, many races, it was very nice to finally be working with them. I've got to say I really enjoyed working with everybody at Honda. I believe the way they do things is second to none in terms of commitment to doing whatever it takes to win. I really enjoy the way everybody from the top of the company all the way down are real racers. That has been a lot of fun for me. As for them leaving the series, I think it's a huge loss because they are such a great racing company. I know CART will miss them for sure.
PAUL TRACY: I really just have to echo what Michael said. Not only a tremendous loss for not only CART but also the racing community, to lose Honda. I hope that they will have maybe second thoughts and change their mind. I know the drivers are really trying to bend their ear about that to try to get them to stay. I think one thing the drivers realize is that working with the Honda people, not only from the management from Honda Motor Company, to the racing department, it's a tremendous sense of a family. They give you a tremendous amount of respect right from the top level of the company to the bottom. They respect their drivers and they respect what they do, appreciate what the drivers do to help them build a better product and show that to the racing community and the automotive community to help their sales. I have had a tremendous opportunity working with them for the last five years. It's one that I hope that I will get the opportunity again.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I share the same comments as Michael and Paul. Just basically I hope, like Paul said, they may have second thoughts and hopefully they can reconsider and come back with us. I believe that where CART is heading, it's making a lot of ground in the last few months. What Chris Pook has been doing, it's been very impressive in such a short time. I believe that if we all keep pushing together, at the end we all succeed in what we love to do. We definitely wouldn't like to see Honda go. I share the same comments as them. It would be a huge loss. I hope at the end we all can bring back the tradition of Honda.
MERRILL CAIN: That will wrap it up for Michael and Paul and Adrian. Thank you very much for joining us. I know it's late. We appreciate it.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
PAUL TRACY: Thank you.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you.
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