CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART Media Teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We are pleased to welcome to the call today one of the pleasant surprises of the CART FedEx Championship Series, Michel Jourdain Jr., driver of the #9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Team Rahal. We'll also hear from Rocky Moran, Jr. of the Toyota Atlantic Series who was victorious at Montreal this past weekend. But first up on the teleconference today we are happy to make a special announcement relating directly to CART's event in Europe next month at Rockingham Motor Speedway in England. We're happy to say that a new team will be debuting at the Rockingham 500, as Team Saint George will join the field for the event. And the team has purchased the car and many of the supporting parts, Sigma Autosport entry in the CART FedEx Championship Series earlier this season. One of the driving forces behind Team Saint George is a former CART owner and driver, Dale Coyne. Dale has joined us today to briefly discuss the welcome addition to the CART field starting in Rockingham. Dale, thank you for joining us and if you can, tell us a little bit about your involvement with the team and what you guys have left to complete in your efforts before going to England next month?
DALE COYNE: Thank you, Merrill. This all came together quite quickly. They were looking to put an effort forth over there with Team Saint George and a British driver and a bit of British flavor to the whole program. They contacted us about our equipment, our effort and our personnel to kind of coordinate it and get it off the ground. And we came in agreement to do that. We purchased the Sigma car and all the ancillary equipment that they had with that last week, first part of last week. Our guys here, about 11 guys working feverishly on it trying to go through it completely from one end to the other and making it a good prepared car. Because it actually leaves late this week. It flies over on Friday for a PR event next -- I think it is tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday over there. So we're excited about that. And everybody is doing a good job to just get it ready and be ready for next week, and then of course stay there for the race two weeks after that.
MERRILL CAIN: It is a truly collaborative effort, I think here, a lot of the part, as you said, and the car itself are coming from Sigma. But you are also supporting it with a lot of the parts and supporting cars that you have been building with the Dale Coyne Racing; correct?
DALE COYNE: Yes, we had two cars that we started the update process on earlier this year. With a side intrusion panels, we had sent the tubs back to England, they had to modify them, so we had started on the path of being ready to run this year anyway. And then we looked at this and the logistics of getting a kit, 2002 update kit out of England in time and then the Sigma purchased made more sense to us. I am not afraid I think, with what CART has done with the rules for next year and the plans that I am certainly not afraid to spend the money to buy those kinds of things and it just gets us ready for what we're trying to plan for for next year.
MERRILL CAIN: Has a team manager been selected and where are you at in terms of your personnel and how close are you to driver selection?
DALE COYNE: We are probably one more day away from the driver selection. There has been several mentioned. I think the short list is probably Johnny Herbert and Darren Manning. There's been a couple of others mentioned that are also pretty good quality drivers. So we'll see -- another conference call early tomorrow morning and we'll see where that lies. But as far as the key personnel, that will be done from here. David Watson rejoins us as engineer. He was here with us in 1996 in his rookie year as an engineer in CART. Then he went on to work for Rahal and has been at Sigma for the last two years, so we're happy to have him back as the engineer on the program. We're just very pleased with it. We think it's going to be a very competitive car. It's kind of tough to jump into the wars. Everyone else is spooled up and up to speed. We're up for the task. I think we'll do a good job of it.
MERRILL CAIN: How important is it to have a British element to this, a British driver in the car or some sort of connection for the folks in England?
DALE COYNE: I think it is very important. We went there last year. Dale Coyne Racing went there last year and tested some tires, there were some track surface concerns; there were some aerodynamic configurations that we went there and tested last year with Alex Barron. And we put Johnny Herbert in the car for his first time in one of the things on oval and he was up to speed at Rockingham right away. He took to it very naturally. And they brought on a lot of press because I think Johnny is a pretty well-known name over there. I think that the addition of Johnny last year in the test, it showed the amount of interest that there was, especially from the British people for one of their own. So I think it's only natural that it has progressed now in this Team Saint George where the car will basically be a British Flag and will have the Saint George cross on it and a British driver.
MERRILL CAIN: How close are you to sponsorship?
DALE COYNE: There are some smaller companies involved and major ones involved. That will probably be announced within the next week.
MERRILL CAIN: I know you are hopeful that this team can compete at other races this season. Talk about that and what your plans would be for 2003 next year.
DALE COYNE: We're trying right now to piece together a couple of more races yet this year. We're looking at the domestic races and possibly Mexico City. And then we'll see for next year. We were a two-car team before and I think the things that CART has done to control the costs next year as well as increased the payout make the parts that you have to find a realistic number again. So I am more optimistic than ever that we can compete again next year with the two-car team.
MERRILL CAIN: Excellent. Dale, it's great news. We appreciate you coming on and updating us a little bit. We look forward to seeing Team Saint George in competition in England next month.
DALE COYNE: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: We now want to welcome in Michel Jourdain Jr. from Team Rahal. Michel, we thank you for joining us this afternoon. Thanks for taking a few minutes.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Thank you, Merrill, and very happy to be here.
MERRILL CAIN: Michel has quietly been one of the best stories of the year in CART this season in a truly competitive ride for the first time in his seven years in the series, Michel has established a new Team Rahal record scoring points in 13 consecutive races. That's every event this season, including Sunday's Molson Indy Montreal where he finished sixth in the race on Sunday. Michel is now tied for Christian Fittipaldi for fifth in the CART FedEx Championship Series points standings with 88 points on the year. Michel, you have to feel great about the season you are having. I know it's the best season of your career. You have done a marvelous job on the track yet I know you also feel you could probably get a little bit more out of the car and yourself as you head to the finish line of the season as the Championship wraps up. Talk about that a little bit, the performance you had and what you feel you can even do better to raise the bar the rest of the year.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I am very happy, very optimistic for the rest of the year. I mean, these 13 races have been pretty good. It can always be better. I think we started the season very, very good. The off-season just testing started pretty good, especially for Jimmy and then when I came on board we had some pretty good tests. We started to see some very, very good, in Monterey, Long Beach. We had the couple of top fives in Japan and Milwaukee. After that we had a little bit rougher time, and then we came back and we more speed in Cleveland and Vancouver. But this one, I think we were very, very competitive all weekend. In qualifying, unfortunately, I couldn't get one clear lap, either I had made a couple of mistakes with traffic or the red flags, whatever, nothing seemed to go my way in qualifying. But the car, we had the speed all weekend. And I had a couple of very, very good laps going, but at the end it didn't matter. But we had a good strong finish. The team did a great job in the pit stops and the strategy. So I think we improved a lot this weekend compared to the other ones. We still need to get a little bit more speed out of the cars. I think we are in a good way. We found many things this weekend that I am sure are going to help a lot, especially we have so many street courses coming, three street courses, right, so, I think it should be good. It should be good closing the season, these six last races, hopefully. We need to keep finishing the races, and that is a very good first goal for Ricardo (Nault), my chief mechanic, and we have been doing that. To win, first you have to finish the race and to be on the podium. Now we need to get on the podium. We have been close many times. We need to do this and I can win my first race here pretty soon.
MERRILL CAIN: You talked about finishing races. You have been very good at that, obviously, all year long. Talk a little bit about the challenge you've had qualifying. I know you haven't qualified where you want to and with the strong performance you had on race day, you probably got to think that if you would have qualified a little bit better you could have scored even some more points as we head into the final stretch run of the season.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Yes, it has been a long time. (Inaudible) The way it is right now we have had a few laps sometimes in traffic and red flags and all that is -- you might only get one chance, one clear lap and a couple of races I made a couple of mistakes. It has been hard but we're working very, very hard to keep improve and hopefully we can do better in qualifying.
Q. We talked back earlier this year about how happy you were with Team Rahal. I know now you have had some difficult times even though you are in the points race. How are things progressing with getting the car and everything and the team functioning as a whole and getting that chemistry back you had the early part of the season?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I am very happy. If you look at everybody's performance I think everybody has had the ups and downs. Everybody has had the up and downs, so I mean, big up and downs, but especially Mid-Ohio and Elkhart Lake. Everybody on Team Rahal is working so, so hard. I am very impressed with the amount of work everybody on the team puts in - the engineer department; all the mechanics, it is unbelievable how much they work and how hard they are trying. But it's so competitive. Every year it gets more and more competitive. So if you are a little off it is a lot, so everything has to be perfect. So everybody is working very hard to try and stay as close to perfection.
Q. I know with this being a career year for you, they have to feel proud about that at the very least.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Yeah, I think everybody is very happy. It's the same, everybody wants more. Even Cristiano wants more. He feels he should have 30 or 40 points more, so everybody wants more even him, so everybody on Team Rahal, we want to do much better. We need to get to the podiums. We have been very close many times. Jimmy was on the podium at Long Beach. We're working really hard.
Q. Jimmy (Vasser) still being a lot of help and support to you in this season?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Yeah, Jimmy is great. He is a great competitor. He's a very, very fast driver. He knows so much. He's a great teammate in every way and with all the guys. He knows that if we both work together, there's a bigger chance that we're both going to do better. At the end he wants to beat me and I want to beat him but I want to beat him for the first couple of places; not for the lap, so we know that working together it is going to be easier to get up to the front.
Q. Gigante, up here in Canada it is not really known but Office Depot is. I am wondering, you really worked hard with your dad to put that deal together to take to Rahal. How are your sponsors looking at your achievements of this season?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I think they are very happy. It's the first year in racing overall, so they are learning a lot. Right now they are working very, very hard, especially for the Mexico City race. It is going to be the biggest sporting event of the year in Mexico. They are working on big, big promotions for Mexico. They are going to be the presenting sponsor for the race so they are very happy and very motivated and I think working very hard to try to get the most out of this.
Q. Going into Denver, this is obviously a big event for Team Rahal with the Shell sponsorship in there. You are probably going to be maxed out for time. And we got a brand new street course there which looks exceptionally interesting. Give us your impressions of the track. Have you had a chance to actually see the track, portions of it?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I went there for the presentation just before Mid-Ohio, if I remember well. So they were starting to build the track. It looks pretty good. I think it just looks a little different from the other street courses. They are doing a great job. I think Denver is a great city. Shell is the presenting sponsor -- the main sponsors of the race, so it's going to be big. And Denver, I was surprised how many Mexicans are there, it is huge. So we're going to have a lot of support there and every race is very important. But the end of the season keeps getting closer and closer, so every one is more and more important. We have done very good in street courses this year. I think it is our biggest strength and hopefully it will be if we keep going.
Q. You have been able to amass more points, 88, I think now for this season which is considerably more than you amassed in your entire CART career up to this point. I think you are sixth in the Championship. This has got to feel really good for you?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Yeah, it feels very good. Like for you it is you always want more. A couple of races we should have gotten more points, we should be doing better, but everybody feels the same. I think the way I look at it, every race I have to do the best possible. Sometimes the best possible has been ninth, you have to get ninth. Sometimes, I mean, you have everything to be on the podium; that day you have to be on the podium. Hopefully we'll be in that situation again soon; not like we were in the beginning of the season. I feel very good with all the street courses coming, I think that's our biggest strength, obviously. Mexico City, the biggest race of the year for CART, and especially for me. I am really looking forward to these races.
MERRILL CAIN: Following up on Montreal, it was a great weekend for CART. A lot of comparisons were made between CART and F-I during the course of the weekend. Although the two cars are certainly separate entities, talk about what the experience was like from a driver's perspective. Every driver seemed to comment about the fans and just being able to hear the fans; the fact they were so into it; so enamored with the fact that they could get close and talk to you guys and interact with the cars and see them up close and personal. What was it like from your perspective?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: It was great. You could see how the fans were getting better and better as the weekend was going. Like on Friday they used to Formula 1, they couldn't get close to nothing. But by the end of the weekend they were like so much -- I mean, all the time they were so happy to be able to see us and talk to us and the crews and the cars. You could touch the cars, you know, something they are not used to. Like you said, there were a lot of comparisons. I think the cars, it is very good, looking at the times we did compared to Formula 1 before they started. So I am sure if we had another tire and we could be doing the same tires, but it doesn't matter, even if we were 22 seconds slower, or 10 faster, it doesn't matter. I think we are CART and Formula 1 is Formula 1. It is just different. The cars, I think, put on a good show. The fans loved it and the fans were the best. Reminded me a lot of Monterey, you know, like when Patrick (Carpentier) and Alex (Tagliani) went by the grandstands all the people went for them like when Monterey with Adrian (Fernandez), Mario (Dominguez) and myself, and people knew a lot about racing and about all of us and being the first race there, it was amazing how much they knew already. So I think it is going to here for next 10, 20 years because it is just great.
MERRILL CAIN: You mentioned Monterey, and obviously you are very in tune with what is going on in Mexico City for CART's season finale coming up there in just a matter of weeks really. What can the fans expect? What can the drivers expect when they get to Mexico City? Has the excitement for Monterrey really built it to the point where you had to have this race there in Mexico City, the Mexican fans demanded another race in Mexico and what is it going to be like when you arrive down there.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I think we should have had a race in Mexico five or six years ago, you know, and I think it would have been very, very good for CART but for whatever reason this is the first year, you know, and things happen and maybe it was the best to wait some years because you see the people are doing an unbelievable job on the track. I mean, the track was pretty good when Formula 1 came, but it is going to be ten times better than that time. They are doing a great, great job. I am very impressed, and it's going to be -- I mean, if Monterrey was unbelievable, this is going to be even bigger because everybody from all over the country of Mexico to go to Monterrey was harder, and to come to Mexico, it is a lot cheaper. Everybody has a relative in Mexico where they can stay. So everybody from the country is going to come. They have been doing promotions for Gigante all over the place. I was there a couple of weeks ago and everybody was telling me that they are coming. Everybody in the streets in Mexico, they know and they tell me that they are coming. I think it is going to be, I mean, much bigger than Montreal, or Long Beach, or Monterey. It's going to be, for sure, by far, the biggest.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you for joining us today. We're looking forward to the race in Mexico City and looking forward to the race in Denver coming up this weekend. We wish you best of luck on the streets of Denver as you compete at the Shell Grand Prix of Denver coming up in just a few days. We hope the keep the streak going, too. Thanks Michel.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Thank you and thanks for everybody coming in and see you this weekend.
MERRILL CAIN: We also want to welcome in now the latest winner in the CART Toyota Atlantic Series, Rocky Moran Jr. who took the checkered flag for Sigma Autosport in Saturday's race in Montreal. Congratulations and thanks for being part of the call this afternoon.
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Thank you. I appreciate it.
MERRILL CAIN: This weekend's win was Rocky's second Atlantic victory following last year's triumph at Laguna Seca. The victory couldn't have come at a better time for you as it moved you into fifth in the points race with the final round of Atlantic competition this weekend in Denver. You still have a chance of grabbing third in the Championship this weekend as you are only seven points out the position now, correct?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: I think so. I think we're pretty close to third, and looks like (Luis) Diaz and (Alex) Gurney are ahead of us. They are definitely going to be tough. But I think if we can pull another win out, which is very possible, it my just be enough to elevate us up into that third position.
MERRILL CAIN: Talk about your effort over the weekend. It was a very exciting race for the fans to see on Saturday - pretty much the highlight race of the day. Again, great crowd support in Montreal all weekend long and I think they certainly enjoyed the race they saw on the Atlantic track. Talk about the approach of the race and really, a great win for you.
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Yeah, it was. The whole entire weekend was awesome. Montreal is always a great race. In the past we have been there with the Formula 1 cars. We ended up with the Champ Cars this year. And the fans are awesome. It is a huge event for Atlantic. It is a live race. We get a lot of exposure. When I was racing out there, you know, the fans were well on their feet at the end of the race. The stands were practically full for the Atlantic race. It is a real prestigious race. We were working hard all weekend. After Elkhart Lake we got punted off the track and we were leading the event and came up with a pretty disappointing weekend. We showed up at Montreal and all we wanted to do was just put our heads down and win and unloaded with a really good car, developed it throughout the weekend and ended up going through a really, really exciting race, and ended up winning it. It was just awesome.
Q. Tell me something about your career, your past career in leading up to the Atlantics. We know your dad raced for years. Just give us an outline how you came up to the Atlantics?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Yeah. I basically started out go-kart racing at age 10. Before that, I had been driving since I was two or three in go-karts. My dad bought me a little yard kart. Raced go-karts from the age of 10 to 14, moved up into the Russell Racing School at age 15 up at Laguna Seca and competed in that for a year. Then I went onto the Barber Dodge Pro Series. I was the youngest driver in the series' history in 1996. I was 16; ran the whole year and ended up staying at Barber Dodge from 1996 to mid-1999 upon where I got an opportunity to move up to the Toyota Atlantic Series and at the halfway point in the 1999 season and I've basically been in Atlantics ever since.
Q. How much of a role or influence did your dad have in your career or was he just supportive and let you do what you wanted to do?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: He obviously played a huge role. I don't think too many people get into racing unless they had someone help them out to get where they were. He put me in a go-kart at a young age. He definitely wanted to see me become a race car driver, but he never forced it on me. It was something that I always enjoyed and something that I always loved to do. He has been very, very supportive. He comes to all my races. He's kind of like my manager, my driver/coach. You know, just always a guy that's there helping me out. So it's been awesome.
Q. You are going to Denver and this being a new course for you, same question is what we asked to Michel, have you seen the course? What do you think of it? How are you going to approach it?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: I haven't really seen it. I got to drive around some of the streets before the track was up about seven or eight months ago. The only thing I really noticed is that it's a beautiful area; looks like a great place for a racetrack. I think it's going to be a really good circuit for the Atlantic car. It is a little bit bigger than Three Rivers. Seems like it's a pretty tight course. But I think it's going to be interesting for all the teams showing up. Everyone is on a level playing field. Everyone is going to be tested to their limits, engineers, the teams, the drivers they have all got to unload with a fast car and we're going to have to see who can figure it out the quickest.
Q. This year it happened again in Montreal, it seems you guys are racing so close; a lot of people are getting together and getting a little air under the cars. Is this just because you are so competitive or...
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Yeah, I think people get really, really close in the draft. Our cars draft really well because they are not the most aerodynamically efficient designed. So in the draft you can get up to 10 miles an hour going at some of the tracks that have longer straightaways so you've got to be careful about when you pop out. There has been a few instances where a couple of people have gotten a little too close; waited a little too long and like at the last race they had a huge accident on the front straight. So I think that can be avoided by being a bit more sensible.
Q. It is nice to have an Atlantic race live. So we were able to watch it. Looked pretty interesting, a few yellows that looked like they were caused by some sudden errors, but I guess that's the Atlantic Series. Montreal with the Champ Cars; Montreal with the Formula 1 contingent, a little different with the way things are done?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Oh, yeah, yeah, I mean it's totally different. The whole pit lane deal is totally different. The Formula 1 cars tend to be a lot more quartered off and kind of protected from the public. But in the end I think that the Canadian fans are just really die-hard race fans and I think that Champ Car put on a great show for them. Atlantic has always put on a good show for them. And I think they just loved coming to races. You are driving out to the track real early in the morning, 7 o'clock, and they are all just walking in to see it. So it's really neat to see.
Q. Looking ahead, now you are in Atlantic now, doing well, you are certainly making a name for yourself. Are you going to be in Atlantics next year or are you looking to move on?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Yeah, I am really not sure about that yet. I have always been looking to move up. I have been in Atlantics for three and a half seasons now and I am totally qualified to move up. I'd love to get an opportunity to move up to the Champ Car Series. That's always been a place where I wanted to be. I have grown up on the track. I know a lot of the team owners and we have been developing stuff, but as usual, it's always going to come down to money. It is going to come down to finding sponsorship and having an opportunity open up. I wouldn't be opposed to coming back to the Atlantic Series at all. It's a really neat series and I think if we came back with a really strong effort, we would have a great shot at winning the Championship. We almost got through this year, so we'll just have to see what opens up.
Q. Do you see yourself staying in open-wheel cars?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: I do. I am not close minded to anything. I would definitely go race in the Busch Series or pursue a career in NASCAR if there was nothing else open. But, you know, open wheels are kind of where my heart is at right now. I have grown up in go-karts. I have learned all these tracks. I have always wanted to be a Champ Car driver, the IRL, Formula 1 obviously are also pretty interesting for me. But we'll just have to see what opens up. If there's no other way for me to go racing, then I would definitely pursue NASCAR.
MERRILL CAIN: As we head into the weekend, you have a lot to gain, as we said, you can move up to as high as third place in the Championship. It's got to be exciting for all the drivers as you head into the weekend with the Championship up for grabs, got to be exciting?
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Yeah, it is. Michael (Valiante) and Jon (Fogarty) are good friends of mine. I've grown up racing against both of them over the years. And I wish the best of both of them. I honestly don't know who is going to win it. It is going to be very, very exciting. We're going to a new circuit. It's a pretty level playing field for everyone. They are both very good drivers. They both have very very good teams and very good shock programs. I am sure at a street course that kind of stuff is going to be very important. We're just going to put our heads down and try and beat them, that's going to be our goal. I am sure it is going to be a great race for the fans and for anyone that follows Atlantic it is going to be a total barn burner.
MERRILL CAIN: You are one of the few people who have truly taken advantage of the CART ladder system, driver development, come up the Barber Dodge Pro Series and up to Atlantics and as you said, you were hoping to make that the next jump up to Champ Cars. Talk about the opportunities that are provided to you in the ladder system; what you have been able to do to take advantage of that; how you have had to prove yourself at each level and what you need to do to get at the next level.
ROCKY MORAN JR.: Basically as far as Toyota Atlantics go, I was offered a great opportunity mid-season, 1999, to move in with a P1 racing team. I spent a year and a half there, basically Dave Cutler, a Microsoft engineer, who is a good friend of ours, he wanted to put me in the car and give me an opportunity. He wanted to see an American do well. And that's kind of how I broke into it. Atlantics is a tricky series. If you can land a ride in Atlantic without bringing more than like 100, 200 grand, that's really good. Because unfortunately a lot of drivers have to bring the budget which is the hardest part about breaking into the sport. I have been fortunate. Over the past few years we haven't had to bring very much money to any of the teams. We just kind of lucked into one opportunity after another. I have been really blessed. I have got to thank Tom (Wieringa) for giving me the opportunity this year. He started an Atlantic team in 2001 -- I am sorry, he started a Champ Car team in 2001 and Toyota Atlantics team this year in 2002 for his son and myself to compete in. It just seems like one opportunity after another has opened up. Results are the most important thing, I think. Results and finding sponsorships is what it is all about. We've proven that we can win in Atlantics. I just hope that we can carry that momentum into CART and we're definitely pursuing all the different avenues right now.
MERRILL CAIN: We're happy to be able to talk to you on the teleconference today. Thanks for taking a few minutes talking to us. We wish you the best of luck this weekend as the Atlantics wrap up the season this year in Denver.
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