CART Media Conference
March 18, 1997
T.E. McHALE: Thanks very much, good afternoon to all of you, and welcome to our third CART teleconference of the 1997 PPG Cup season. We want to thank you all for joining us today and extend a special welcome to our guest this afternoon, driver Scott Pruett of the Brahma Sports Team. Scott guided the Brahma Reynard Ford to a 5th place finish two weeks ago in the PPG CART World Series season opener, the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota. He now heads to the site of his most consistent 1996 performance, Surfer's Paradise, Australia. Welcome, Scott, and thank you for joining us today.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thanks, it's nice to be here today.
T.E. McHALE: Scott both started and finished 2nd to PPG Cup Champion Jimmy Vasser at last year's Indy Carnival. It was his best finish of the 1996 campaign. Actually a year ago at this time Scott was leading the PPG Cup standings after a third place finish in the inaugural Rio 400 in Brazil and ended the season as the only driver other than Jimmy Vasser to lead the standings during all of 1996. Scott has produced points paying finishes in three of the last four races and has posted back-to-back top five efforts, including a third in the 1996 PPG CART World Series season finale, the Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca. He finished 10th in the 1996 PPG Cup standings with 96 points.
Q. Scott, you go back to the site of your best finish of the year, a place where you drove consistently. Does that help mentally, say, going into a race like that?
SCOTT PRUETT: It helps mentally, you know. Unfortunately because of a number of other problems, we should have had some better finishes than that last year, but be that as it may, we just were coming off of 5 days of testing over in Phoenix. We spent two days on the oval and 3 days on the road course and things went extremely well. And we feel as we look forward to Australia, not only did we have a real strong race there last year, and unfortunately we felt we should have qualified first and won the race with the way we ran all weekend, but be that as it may we're looking forward to going back to Australia knowing we ran there strong last year, and also knowing that we're probably better prepared going into that race than we ever have been before.
Q. You say you just had a good three-day test and you, as everyone knows, you made this fairly late switch in the season back to the Reynard, and you're a little bit behind in terms of your total testing program as a result of that. Still you ran pretty strong at Homestead, very strong. The luck of the draw with the various ways didn't go your way. Anyway, what's the general state of play, do you reckon where you're at now in terms of overall competitiveness with the change and the fact that you've gone up to a two-car team this year with Brahma's resources, as well?
SCOTT PRUETT: There's no question that when we got down to Miami we were behind as a team. I personally only had about two days of testing in the Reynard before we raced down there. And felt like I really didn't get as much out of the car as I would have liked to from a driver's standpoint as well as from the team standpoint. We were both, Raoul and myself were down in Phoenix, each of us had a day on the oval. He had two days at Firebird and I had one day, which ended up yesterday. I'd have to say things went very, very well. For the best of what we can hear, the fastest test anybody has gone there has been like 42.3, and we ran a 42.3 yesterday in rather warm conditions. We're pleased. The Raynard car is very, very good, and as a team as we learn more about it we're able to go faster and faster. Ford has really come up with a lot better engine for us this year, so we were able to get through a lot more stuff than last year, up to this date as far as the testing goes. So the consistency with that and with the consistency of the car, and looks -- tied to the Firestone Tire, we are very, very confident going down to Australia, just as long as we get a little luck on our side, if nothing funny happens like at Miami. That was real does pointing, Miami.
Q. So your general view at this point is that you definitely consider yourself to be a race winner of most races, and if you can get some luck and some results going a championship contender, is that correct?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yes, I believe so. You know, the thing that, looking at the stats from last year, we had the third best qualifying record of anybody last year, and now that we feel like we have a better engine package, and we have a better car package. I feel that -- it's not easy, by any means, but I feel like we're in a position to win any race, and to really make a run for the championship.
Q. I was wondering last year the Firestones seemed to give you guys an edge. Do you feel the edge is there, or do you feel Goodyear is catching up to you a little bit?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, there's no question it is getting tougher and tougher. It looked, at Miami, the Goodyear did definitely step up on their oval tire. That was one area we felt we had a pretty good-sized lead on them. But we've also been working very, very hard. Firestone's commitment remains the same, very strong, very determined to make the best tire possible. We've done a lot of testing and a lot of development. We're making a bit of a change, as we go to Surfer's. We'll be running some of the street course tires built in Akron. That will be the first time for that. And it looks like we have a definite better product than we had last year, and hopefully that's enough to keep us a little ahead.
Q. Let me follow up, if I could. What do you think the introduction into Formula One by Bridgestone will help you or affect you in any way?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, what it does, it's really been an open door for technology going both ways, both between the U.S. and Japan, Japan and the U.S. As you know, our rain tire was not as good as we would have liked it to have been last year. We certainly made improvements and with the amount of time that Formula One spends racing in the rain, and with the amount of testing they've done so far with rain tires, all that technology comes back to us. So I feel it's a definite benefit to have both programs going on.
Q. I was wondering, with the big break between Homestead and Australia, what does that do to the driver's mindset? Does it welcome the extra testing days or do you want to get out and compete again?
SCOTT PRUETT: You welcome the extra testing days, especially making the change from the chassis, in mid January. We needed the testing. We needed to spend more time with the car, so for us it was very welcome. We had time to get caught up. We just took delivery of my second car a couple of days ago, so now I have two Reynard as we head to Australia, so for us as a team it's been good. For some drivers they may say, well, let's just bring on the season. But for us, for myself and for the team, it's been very welcome having this time to really get things where we want things to be.
Q. Do you have any more tests scheduled coming up before Australia?
SCOTT PRUETT: No -- well, I take that back, yes, I do. I'm heading back to Indianapolis on Sunday, and we're going to run on -- on Monday we're going to run my new car and just do a shakedown to make sure there's no problems. There's always some concerns with a brand new race car, so we're going to go and shake it down and make sure everything works before we head to Australia. Not a major test, just a shakedown test.
Q. I'm just curious, I remember how down you were, I believe, after the Michigan race in July of last year regarding the engine. Can you talk about the -- put in words the ordinary guy would understand, what the disadvantage was there, and then address this year? You said Ford has given you a good engine. Is it good everywhere?
SCOTT PRUETT: Last year we all know Ford, and admittedly so, Ford would even say themselves, they were not in as best of position as they could have been, both from a horsepower standpoint as well as a durability standpoint. As we headed down to our first race in Miami this year, it looked very, very close between all the engines in the race. All of them had very close to the same straightaway speed. We have to do more work, there's no question, especially in qualifying trim. But the amount of gains that we've made over the winter with the engine are tremendous, both from a horsepower standpoint, as well as a reliability standpoint. We virtually had no failures in all of our testing, and from where we were last year, that's a huge step forward.
Q. Was it a problem last year at top rpm or coming out of the corners, slightly less than that?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, it was. We were just down across the board. We have not been on a street course or anything like that, but it looks overall like the package is better, clearly better, more horsepower, more horsepower throughout the range, and definitely more durability. So all those things together are going to give us a fighting chance this year.
Q. Could you just talk about as a driver some of the strains of racing on the other side of the world, the trip itself, and how that affects you?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, it's a very long plane ride. As a direct flight out of LA or San Francisco, it's about 14 or 15 hours in the air. So when you go down there, you plan to go down a little early. We've been down there enough times now where you know that you have to get down there and really have to get acclimated to the time, to the change, and really get off the jet lag, and it's tough. But I would say, if anything else, it's tough on the drivers, but it's also very tough on the crew, as well. They have to get everything loaded to get ready to ship down there, and then Sunday night after the race they're working hard to get everything loaded back to come home. This year I think even a little bit of an added pressure, because we race in Australia one weekend and the following weekend we're in Long Beach. So for the drivers it's tough, but for the crews it's even tougher.
Q. Was the big difference between the Lola and the Raynard that made it so important for you guys to make the switch, was it just in terms of the ease of setting up the Raynard versus the Lola, or some other differences?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, first I mean it was a very, very difficult decision to make, that is to make the change. One, what it did to disrupt the team. And two, from a financial aspect, it was about, you know, about a million and a half dollar changeover when you take both teams into affect. But after -- we took the liberty of our Lola and tested through December and the first part of January and we just weren't happy with the way the car was responding from a mechanical standpoint and from an aerodynamic standpoint. And after many, many hours of team meetings with the engineering staff and myself, with Pat and the engineering staff and myself, going back and forth and looking at the possibilities and then talking to Raynard to see if, in fact, it was a possibility to build the cars, it was many, many hours of thought put into that whole process. And then after we made the change we've been extremely pleased with the performance of the Raynard, especially considering we have very limited number of test days on the car, as it is right now. As we look forward to all the testing just coming off this last test, we're becoming more and more pleased with the car, the ease of set up, the wide what we call sweet spot or setting the car up, it's more forgivable than the Lola and it seems to be more consistent. So across the board we've been extremely pleased and now as we spent more time working with the car it seems to be even better.
Q. How does it feel driving with a two-car team this year? And how much information are you exchanging back and forth between the teams?
SCOTT PRUETT: It's been good. It's been good for us not only are we still involved with Firestone, but the fact of having Brahma on board now as a major sponsor, and their fresh look at things, a new sponsor last year, and then their second year this year. That's been exciting, and it is a definite benefit with a two car team. You just get the opportunity to do more things on any given race weekend. Raoul and I have -- we've never actually driven together but we've been together as teammates driving for Jaguar, the Daytona 24-hour, and he also filled in for me when I had my accident at TrueSports. So this year working together with him, I think is definitely going to be a benefit to the whole team.
Q. Good luck on the Australia team.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thank you.
Q. Scott, like it or not I guess the Indy Racing League and the CART feud is never going to end. It reopened again, I guess, at Homestead. Is there any way that CART needs to establish itself and what genre are you going to carve out?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think we need to keep doing what we're doing. We need to focus on who we are and what we're doing. We need to put on great races. We need to continue to expand where we go, like coming to St. Louis this year. We need to focus on the international aspect of it and we need to keep good, close competitive races. The fans want to see racing. That's why NASCAR is so popular. That's why people enjoy it so much. That's what we have to do. Not just on a national standpoint, but on an international standpoint. We shouldn't get caught up in the feuding. I know that's easier said than done, but I think the fact that we've stepped back as a group and are not competing head to head with the Indy 500. We're coming to St. Louis Saturday before the 500. I think that's a big step for us. And I think knowing that we can't, you know, these are from the driver's standpoint, and from a team standpoint, knowing we aren't going to have a huge impact on it, focusing on what the job is. As a driver we need to go out and win the races and put on a great race for the fans and let the chips fall as they may.
Q. Do you think the competitiveness of your series and so many people have a chance of winning on any given day makes this more attractive to the fans, like in NASCAR, they say 16 teams can win on --
SCOTT PRUETT: No question about it. As there are more and more sports available for the public, I mean they want to be entertained. If you have X amount of dollars to spend on entertainment, you want to do something that you're going to enjoy and people like to go and watch races where will the competition is close. That's why NASCAR is as successful as it is. If we continue to put on great races, if we continue to keep the competition close, and as we are right now it's as close as it's ever been in CART racing, I think that we'll continue to grow and to prosper.
Q. You talked about the bad luck at Homestead, just so that our listeners know, go through what happened.
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, we were running 4th at the time, and a late race caution came out. And we were on the same lap, Michael was leading, and I don't remember the exact rundown, but Paul Tracy, I think, was in second at that time, second or third. And so we go through this caution period and what happened was CART had inadvertently missed a lap with myself and a number of other drivers, and put us a lap down. So as we were lining back up off the caution when I should have been on the same lap with a chance to race for the win, I was immediately moved to the front of the one lap down line or the outside line and unfortunately was virtually taken out of the race. All said and done, CART has seen their mistake and are making the necessary changes so that doesn't happen again, but unfortunately for Brahma and for our team, it was a pretty substantial -- it was a very substantial loss. If you look at how close the championship was last year and how close the points are, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 points is the difference between one or two places. And we'll never get those points back. So from our team standpoint, we were very disappointed at what happened down there, especially with as well as we were running.
Q. When you have a situation of bad luck and you and I have talked about the lucks and breaks in racing. Do you try to overcome the bad luck or do you wait on the bad luck to change to good luck?
SCOTT PRUETT: Overcome it, no question. We stated our case to CART, they came back and stated where their mistakes were. We all know they were mistakes. We know that unfortunately for us this did put us down, but by mid week we were focused on getting ready to go to Australia. We've got to put it behind us and get on with the racing. So from a driver's standpoint and from a team standpoint, just as we did last year, with all the problems we had last year, we put them behind us and focused on the next race. That's all you can do.
Q. Is that a mentality you develop coming out of the True Sport situation?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yeah, probably and number of other situations over the years. You really have to keep focused on the next race. I think one of the people that had taught me that more than anybody else was Al Holbert, spending quite a bit of time with him, even though I did not drive for him officially. He and I spent a lot of time together, did a lot of testing with him, and he was very, very good at making me realize that at a pretty young age, that after that checkered flag falls, that's it. The needle goes back to zero and you've got to focus on the next race. You can't change what happened at this race. So you have to be in better preparation or better prepared or do the same thing again for the next race.
Q. Scott, which track are you going to be testing on in Indianapolis?
SCOTT PRUETT: IRP.
Q. You're going to be on the road course again?
SCOTT PRUETT: Like I said, all we are doing is a shakedown. As I stated, we just took delivery of my second car a couple of days ago, so the team are hurriedly getting it apart, getting it painted, getting it put together. And we're going to go out there and make sure that it stops and turns and shifts and does all those things it needs to do before we head it to Australia.
Q. After Carl Haas ended his relationship with Lola and went to the Swift relationship it seems like the Lola cars have not been doing as well. How much of that relationship do you think was Carl and how much do you think was Lola?
SCOTT PRUETT: It's really hand in hand. We worked also very, very closely over the years with Lola. I think Carl's leaving was not a shock to Lola. They knew it was coming, they knew it a year in advance. And I think I blame most of it on Lola. I think they just didn't pay close enough attention to what was going on and have really gotten involved in a lot of things, taking on the Formula One project, and it's just a lot for a company to do. By the end of the season last year I felt that the Lola chassis was not quite as good as the Raynard chassis. Raynard has been very focused and very determined in building Indy cars and building them the best they can, and continuing to develop those cars. And I think Lola, unfortunately, has gotten left behind.
Q. One more weird question, which is you have two basically street courses coming up. Can you contrast Australia and Long Beach?
SCOTT PRUETT: Actually besides the one course going clockwise and one course going counterclockwise, they are somewhat similar. They have both long straightaways, both places you'll run reduced down force. The difference -- I guess the biggest difference between Australia and Long Beach mostly is with the amount of chicanes. There are no chicanes in Long Beach and 4 chicanes in Australia. Otherwise they're very similar. And they're both on the beach.
Q. I had a question about Firestone's rain tires. Has anybody had a good chance to test the new rain tires?
SCOTT PRUETT: Firestone has been working very, very hard over the winter on their rain tire. I can't tell you specifics, but I can tell you that we've tried a number of compounds, a number of constructions and a number of patterns and feel that we have a very good, competitive tire as we look forward to the '97 season.
Q. Scott, seeing what Michael has done the first race so far with the Swift, you've been through situation like that, not as successful, but what do you think the difference was between a TrueSports project and the Swift project?
SCOTT PRUETT: Money. Money and development. I think it's terrific. I think it's very, very good for CART to have an American-made chassis come out and win its first race. I feel great for Michael, there's always a big question mark, "A new car. What's going to happen? Is it going to be good? Is it going to be bad?" And with the circumstances I think that they've done a good job. They've had the money behind them. They worked very hard with their Lola over the years in taking a stock Lola and making it better. Now this is the next step in evolution. So the biggest difference from where I was with TrueSports to where they are with Swift is just dollars, testing and development.
Q. After we announced in 1993 that we were returning to Indy racing, Scott tested for us in '94 and gave us our first modern era win in '95. Scott, I wanted to say we're proud to be a part of your effort and all of us at the Firestone testing program wish you the best in Australia.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thank you.
Q. Scott, you talked a little bit about Brahma bringing in fresh ideas as a sponsor. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
SCOTT PRUETT: Over the years being involved with a number of sponsors, when you see a new sponsor like Brahma, they come in -- they haven't been here before. The other aspect of it, being Brazilian and how big Indy car racing is in Brazil, this is a huge thing for them. So the excitement they bring, the newness and the excitement that comes with that has been tremendous. The things they want to do and they want to -- the way they want to publicize it and more than anything else just -- they're almost like kids with a new toy. It's really been -- they're all bubbly and excited and really look forward to every race. And have just been tremendous, and I see that a great thing, for one, Patrick Racing, but even better for CART racing in general, because they're going to take and promote their affiliation with CART, and they're going to do that in Brazil and South America and all the countries they sell their product.
Q. Scott, talk about the expansion of the fan base of Indy cars. I had someone walk up to me after the Grand Prix of Miami and what a great race, CART rules. And this guy is a NASCAR fan. And I'm seeing that more and more people are showing up at the race track and leaving e-mail for us about the excitement they see in the series. Has that surprised you?
SCOTT PRUETT: I don't think it's surprised me as much as just made me proud. It's made me proud of -- it's been tough with what's happened between IRL and CART, any sort of controversy makes it difficult for the circumstances. And I'm proud of the fact that the teams have come together, the drivers have come together, and we're focused ongoing out and putting on the best race we can. As long as we do that and we do that in a manner where it's exciting and it's competitive and we really put on a great show for the fans, we will continue to gain fan support. Fans love a great race, there is nothing -- everybody that I talk to, all the fans that I see still remember that race in Michigan, when it was the last lap pass underneath the white flag when Al went by me and passing him back for the checkered. If you look in the stands everybody is standing, everybody is excited, and everybody is still there. And that's one thing that NASCAR has done and been very successful at is putting on a great show that's competitive and exciting. And as long as we continue to do that and not lose focus on doing that, I think we'll continue to grow.
Q. Has that focus, it's a race, it's a sport, but it's a show, had that focus been lost?
SCOTT PRUETT: For us, no, not at all. And as we grow bigger there's more sponsors getting involved and more money getting involved and with that brings better teams and better drivers and CART, keeping the cars as close as they can, the engine manufacturers as close as we can, the tire manufacturers as close as they can, doing all those things has kept the competition very, very close. It's not a staged event by any means, but it's what we've done and how we've done it that makes the competition as close as it is.
Q. And a final one, if I may. The international scene, did that surprise you the way that it was almost immediately accepted, not only in Brazil but really I think maybe in Australia?
SCOTT PRUETT: It did a little bit. But if you look at the Formula One races, they're very boring, the Williams for the most part take off and there's not much passing, and there's just not much excitement. And as we go back to the success of NASCAR and what they've done, and CART and what we've been able to do and as we take our races out of the country and we take them to Brazil or we take them to Australia and then Japan next year. Fans love that. They love racing. Fans love racing, they want to see the action, the passing. They want to see qualifying that's 20 cars within a second. They love that stuff. And we've been doing that. And our competition is getting closer and closer, and as we do that I think it's just going to grow.
Q. Just curious, going into Australia like you do ahead of time, do the drivers end up spending time in more of a social, like relaxed setting together or do you kind of stick to yourselves during that time?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think, you know, you see the other drivers, typically when -- being that there's about three or four hotels that we stay in, so we'll get a chance to see each other working out in the mornings or out for a run or something like that, but for the most part there's not a lot of -- at least I have not seen a lot of socializing beyond getting together from time to time, but not like let's get together and go deep sea fishing, nothing like that, but we see each other working out. And we're all really focused on getting down there and getting ourselves tuned up for the race, getting past that jet lag and really getting into the groove before you're on track on Friday.
Q. Yes, I can understand that. How long ago would it have been, what leveling of racing the kind of camaraderie people might have imagined like from the old camaraderie, have you ever had that kind of down time with competitors, fellow drivers?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think when I was racing carts, go-carts it was very, very close, a lot of people were hanging out and doing things together. But I think because of all the -- all the obligations we have for our sponsors with the competition as close as it is, there's just not much time left over in the day, especially at a race weekend to do anything.
TED McHALE: With that I think we'll close things today. Scott, thanks again for being with us, lots of luck at the sun belt Indy carnival, and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
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