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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Andre Ribeiro
September 9, 1997

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thank you all for joining us today and a special welcome to our guest this afternoon, driver Andre Ribeiro of the Tasman Motorsports Group. Welcome, Andre, and thanks for taking the time to be with us today.


T.E. McHALE: Andre, driver of the No. 31 LCI Marlboro Reynard/Honda is in his third year of PPG CART World Series competition, and his third year with the Tasman Motorsports Group. He is a three-time winner in the PPG CART World Series with victories at New Hampshire in 1995 and at the inaugural Rio 400 and at the Marlboro 500 last season. Andre got off to a slow start this season, but following his switch from a Lola to a Reynard chassis, prior to the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland. Andre has posted four Top 10 finishes in his past six starts, including a third at the Molson Indy Toronto and a fourth at last week's Texaco Havoline 300 at Laguna Seca. He has scored 32 of his 44 PPG Cup points in the last six starts. Heading into the September 28th season finale, the Marlboro 500 at the new California speedway in Fontana, an event at which he is the defending champion, Andre ranks 14th in the PPG Cup standings with 44 points. We are pressed for time with Andre today, unfortunately. So I'd ask everyone to keep their questions to a minimum, one and maybe a follow-up. We'll get started now.

Q. Andre, I was wondering how the switch to the Reynard was going; how much of a difference it's making for you?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, it's making a huge difference. I think the results are very clear, especially when we considering that me and Adrian Fernandez, we always very close together, both last year and beginning of this year, in terms of lap times, qualifying and even race results. Now shows how different is the results when we have different equipment. I think this is very clear that it has nothing to do with driver, people, or anything else than the chassis. Unfortunately, we made all the efforts that we could do to make this car faster, but unfortunately it's not capable to be competitive as the other chassis, like Reynard. To be honest, I was very lucky to be able to have the Reynard car at Cleveland, so we could prove that our team, engine, tire, and especially the people involved with us, were totally capable of doing very well and being competitive on this series.

Q. When you're out on track, driving around, can you tell you're actually going faster?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Say again, please?

Q. When you're out there, without looking at the lap time sheets, can you tell the car is actually faster? Can you feel it's that much better than the Lola?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Definitely, yes. The first time we run the car was a shakedown at Mid-Ohio prior to Cleveland race. And the moment that we put the car on the track, the fit was not very well adjusted. The car was definitely not very well adjusted. We had no good records about setups. Immediately we went one and a half seconds quicker than the previous experience we had on the same track under similar conditions. The feelings itself completely different. The Reynard seems to have a much better traction. I think this is what is missing on the Lola. Definitely you can feel it right away.

Q. You sort of answered my question, but I want to know where did Lola miss the boat after all these years? How does a manufacturer go from being such a prominent player to producing a car that everybody is trying to get rid of?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, first of all, we need to understand and realize how competitive is this series. Last weekend on a track like Laguna Seca where it's normal to have big difference between the drivers in terms of times, we saw probably ten cars on the same second. This is amazing. I don't recall, I don't remember any other series in the world going on a track as technical and as difficult as Laguna Seca, and having ten cars on the same second. I'm talking about series with different chassis, different engines, different tires, and drivers from all over the world. When you have a car that is not very close to the others, or when you have a car that is a little bit less competitive in terms of lap times to the others, this shows up too much on Indy cars. Because if we are, say, one and a half tenths slower on Indy car, this will probably be the difference sometimes to be first or 20. It shows up a huge difference on other circuits like Formula One, for example. If you have a car that is one second slower, you will be probably second place, or sometimes fifth place, but not on 20. I think this was the case this year. Unfortunately, our car was not competitive to be on the front group. It was highlighted because of the competition on the Indy cars. Where Lola goes from now, I have no idea. Unfortunately, this is the natural motor sporting business. If you are not competitive, you are hurt big time. They have been very competitive, very strong on the last few years, but this year they weren't. New chassis manufacturers are coming. Unfortunately, you during the year see big names going and new names coming.

Q. Andre, have you all signed with Reynard for next year or are you looking at Swift, too?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, this is a decision that comes from Steve Horne and Jeff Eischen from Tasman team. I believe this at this stage everything looks good for the Reynard chassis. Unfortunately, we can't take any more risks. I'm not saying that Swift will be a risk, but when you consider that most of the teams and drivers are going with Reynard, the smallest chance for a mistake is to go with the majority of the teams and drivers are going, so you have no surprises. There is no doubt that the Swift chassis will be very competitive. They are very good and strong people; they have a good team. They have good drivers to develop this car. I have no doubts that this will be a competitive car soon, but I don't think we are in the position to take this risk.

Q. Is there any question that Reynard can provide all the cars it needs? Was the difficulty this year that you all made the decision so late in the season?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, our case was a special case because we didn't have the financial force to go immediately for a Reynard when we felt that we had a problem. This was on the very, very early season. So we couldn't make the move. When we had the right financial situation, it was a little late because Reynard was already providing two more teams than what originally they were planned. Of course, this is not very easy for a chassis manufacturer. You don't produce cars like on a normal production basis where you produce a lot of cars daily. There it's almost a hand job. You have to provide parts for the existing teams, plus new teams, is a huge move on what the manufacturer had to do. So we had to go in the market on the existing teams that were using Reynard and try to buy one. The only one available was the car that we bought from Walker. We had to wait this whole time. I think from when you start from the beginning, the chassis manufacturer can make their plans. I have no doubts that Reynard can provide those many teams with very good service.

Q. And have you had to be extremely careful since this is the only Reynard that you have? Have you driven differently than if you knew that there were backup cars and plenty of parts and everything?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Definitely, yes, especially on the street courses. And this was very clear for me at Toronto. Last year we had a pole position track record in Toronto. I touched the wall I think twice on qualifying. Because if you are trying to reach the limit, sometimes you pass the limit. On a street course, when you pass the limit, it's the wall. So this year, I had a competitive car, but I knew that I couldn't even think about touching the walls, even if it were very, very light touch, because I knew that this compromise not only my qualify, but also my race. So I had to be extra careful. But this is the situation that we were facing. I just had to think the same way as I was thinking when I was on Indy Lights. In reality, every time we go on the track, my engineer reminds me, "Let's come back to the Indy Lights times where you had only one car, so no mistakes."

Q. Andre, had you reached a point in the Lola that you might have been questioning yourself or questioning those around you, or was there an entire big question mark with the team?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, from my side, there was never a question on myself or on the team because we had very good relationship since Indy Lights time. We faced completely different times, different equipment first year we raced on Indy Lights. Then we went to Indy cars with Reynard/Honda. Then we did go with Lola/Honda. We were very successful in all those combinations. The people were involved with me from the beginning were always the same people, so I never had any question about them. I think they did not have any questions with about me, as well. I think this was very clear situation on our minds. And this makes much easier to try to find a result because you don't question anybody; you just questioning the end result. We had to solve the problem without blaming anybody, even Lola. It was never our point to blame Lola for the problem. We were always working very hard as Adrian Fernandez, he's working very hard. It's not easy on the driver. Actually, very, very difficult. At this stage of our careers, we receive huge pressure, not only for the results from the driver's point of view, but you receive a huge pressure from sponsors. The amount of money involved on our racing today is huge, and results are very, very important, even for the company's strategy on sales. It's very hard for the fans as well, not only in America, but South America they are very enthusiast about racing. They want to see you doing well. It's also tough for the team. So it is not an easy situation. I would say Tasman is very, very -- is knowing how to deal with the situation very well, from the mechanics and Steve Horne, they work very close together, working very hard even under those circumstances. I tell you that I did learn a lot, not only from the professional point of view, but also in terms of life because it is under those circumstances where you really see who are the people that are supporting you, who are the people that trust on you, and who are the people that don't.

Q. Also, could you give us a comment, your thoughts about the injuries that Emerson Fittipaldi suffered on Sunday?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, this is very sad. It's horrible to heard that a person like Emerson is going through a hard time on his healthy. I spoke with Brazil several times between Sunday and today. I heard that his conditions are improving. I know how tough it is for people to understand why he's taking risks. But I can imagine how tough it is for him to be out of the racing cars and not doing anything that touch his emotions. I understand completely why he sometimes takes some risks that normal people think are risks. So I just hope that he will be well very soon and come closer to us again. I really hope and expect that he can come back. Doesn't matter if it's racing or being a team owner or advisor or whatever, but being closer to us again.

Q. Al Unser is not having a great year, but he's a veteran driver, he's had some Championships, Indy 500 wins. I would guess that he feels relatively secure going into next season about his reputation and about sponsors staying on and everything. With you being younger in the sport, did it concern you at any time that perhaps the Lola situation this year with your team might hurt your chances in the future of continuing the racing career the way you wanted to?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, definitely, yes. There were some points where I was very concerned about it. But this feeling already gone because, again, I am involved with people that trust on the capacity of myself and the rest of the team, and the capacity of our equipment. I don't have any questions about the engine, Firestone tires or my crew, my team. The sponsors, they are looking through this same angle. Of course, I had to work much harder. The amount of work that I have to put in Brazil to keep up with the results we were having were very, very hard. It's very difficult to realize how much effort we do put on the Brazilian market, let's say, to make a good return for our sponsors. I'm traveling all the time to Brazil to promote, to make appearances, to keep up with a good return for them. It's not only inside the track, it's not only the results on the track that counts at the end, it also counts the work that you do off the track. Of course, it was not a positive balance, but it was a balance that was able to manage to go to next season. Next season is important one for us. We will have a good support from our sponsors.

Q. Speaking of next season and sponsors, some word that Brahma may be taking their sponsorship from Pat Patrick over to Tasman. Anything you can tell us about that?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, I am sponsored by Brahma already. On my car there is Marathon, who is an energizer drink from Brahma, and also Miller, there is Brahma in Brazil. We have very close relationship with them already. But if they want to increase this investment on ourselves, or if they want to change this to another brand like Brahma, it is something that they will decide on the near future. Right now, I have no idea on how this will end up.

Q. Get some wins.

ANDRE RIBEIRO: I think this one will be very good for us. We have been very successful on 500 races. Last 500, we were very competitive until we had a problem with the gearbox. So I have a big faith that we can end up this championship with fantastic results.

Q. I was wondering if Andre was going to be testing at Fontana this week with some of the other teams?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: No, unfortunately not. Because, as had been mentioned before, we have only one car. We don't have extra parts. We don't have anything. The team decided not to take any risks on going to Fontana for testing, and have possible problems on damaging equipment. Again, under the circumstances with what we have, this is what we have, and we have to work on it.

Q. Andre, great run on the weekend.


Q. Nice to see you back up at the front. When you go back to Brazil, how much work do you do with charities? I know you do some. Can you elaborate on that?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Yes. Well, I think living here in America, I did learn a lot how to use our image, how to use our contacts to help other people. I think this is very important. So as our recognition in Brazil is quite high, I think it reach a time that we have to do something for the people that need. And I'm doing a lot of things, some things close to Emerson, and some things starting ourselves. It's just the beginning. Of course, I'm learning a lot how to do it, how to really reach a point where we can help people. I feel this is very important. I think on the next few weeks, we will be closing some ideas that will put in place a very nice actions that will help a lot of people.

Q. And I think I speak for everybody on line today. When you talk to Emerson, can you please pass on our best from everyone?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Definitely, yes.

T.E. McHALE: Regrettably, because of Andre's schedule today, we'll be unable to take any follow-up or general questions at this point. We're going to end it for the day. Andre, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Best of luck in defending your championship at the Marlboro 500 in three weeks. To the rest of you, thanks for joining us, we'll talk to you soon.

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