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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Gil de Ferran
November 5, 1997

T.E. McHALE: Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We'd like to thank you all for taking the time to join us today. Issue a special welcome to Gil de Ferran of the Walker Racing Team. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

GIL de FERRAN: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

T.E. McHALE: Driver of the No. 5 Valvoline Cummins Special Reynard Honda, Gil recently completed the most successful of his three season CART PPG Series, earning runner-up honors to Alex Zanardi in the PPG Cup competition. He earned 7 podium finishes during the season highlighted by consecutive 2nd place finishes in Portland and Cleveland. He also earned pole positions at Long Beach and Detroit. He finished second in the series to Mauricio Gugelmin, in both laps completed with 2110 of possible 2259 and in miles completed with 3708.764 of a possible 3948.187. Gil finished the season with 162 PPG Cup points. Most recently Gil was one of 14 drivers who participated in the inaugural CART open test in 1.5 mile oval at the new Twin Ring Motegi sports complex in Motegi, Japan. He posted a top speed of 210.573 miles per hour on his quickest circuit of that track during the Sunday afternoon session. The test was scheduled to allow teams to prepare for the inaugural Budweiser 500, the first CART event in Japan next March 28th at Twin Ring Motegi. The 1998 PPG CART World Series season begins next March 15th with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami from the Metro Dade Homestead Motor Sports Complex from Homestead, Florida. With that we'll open the floor for questions.

Q. The top speeds around the Motegi oval, getting up in the 215 area, you were pretty well up there at 210 and such. That was in last year's?

GIL de FERRAN: It was last year's cars, overall, even the tires. Goodyear unfortunately didn't have an opportunity to ship any of the more advanced rubbers that we've been trying most recently due to logistics, but it was last year's engine, this season's car, and everything else.

Q. Obviously I would think that you're going to have an opportunity, at least I would hope you would have an opportunity, for next years Twin to go over there. What do you take as a baseline, if not?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't think we will have an opportunity to take the '98 car before the race. The race is going to be in March, and we're going to start running the '98 car in early January. And we're pretty much going to be doing that in Homestead, Sebring and Firebird. But I didn't quite understand the second half of your question.

Q. Well, what Derrick and you found out from driving on the track, there, what will you take back with you that you can use as a baseline for set up, let's say for the '98 car?

GIL de FERRAN: The '98 car, it's my understanding from talking with Reynard quite a bit about it, actually, it's not that -- how shall I say, revolutionary. It's simple evolution on the '97 car. Therefore a lot of work we learn in terms of set up from '97 will, I think, translate to the race in March. And really what we did was instead of trying to go for the ultimate setup around Motegi, we were trying lots of different things to see how the car reacts. And for learning, what to change to get what results, which I think will be most beneficial when we get there in '98. But I think Reynard has done a fantastic job, because this year that we used this '97 season is really an evolution of a car that started its life in '94. And they really have done a good job in just moving ahead and identifying the best there is to develop the car, just to maintain the best car.

Q. Gil, when Jimmy Vasser was here at Gateway International doing some tire testing several weeks ago before they went to Japan, he was saying that the under body of the car had been changed and they were experimenting with some things for 1998 to slow the cars. In fact, they even had to do some downshifting here. Do you find anything like that? Can you remark about that?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, what's happened is for next season we are going to be using speedway specification for more ovals than we did this year. And St. Louis has been chosen as one of them, I think Homestead is the other one and maybe Nazareth. That, as is my understanding has not been decided yet. That is the formula to slow the cars down, really taking it down by putting the oval specification. I personally think that's a good solution, because it does do what it's intended to do: it makes you slower through the turns. Sometimes makes you a little quicker on the straight, therefore, you have to brake. And when you brake, there is always an opportunity for overtaking. But talking to Jimmy, my understanding is you might have to come down a couple of gears into turn 1, which I'm not against it. I think it's pretty good.

Q. That would be unusual, gear shifting on an oval, that's something new?

GIL de FERRAN: Very different. The only oval previous to that that we shifted was Rio, which is actually extremely unusual, but very pleasurable to drive. And the other one, being Nazareth. Sometimes into turn 3 not many people do that, some people do, some people don't, depends on the engine setup, downshifting to turn 3. And now it's going to be St. Louis and maybe even in Motegi into turn 3, some people are downshifting, some people were not.

Q. Gil, for your package next year, will it be the same and are you, as some of the other teams, going to two-car teams with Team Kool going to a two-car team next year? Is that a disadvantage for you, Walker Racing still being a one-car team?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, the package is going to be remaining the same. We're going to continue to use Honda, continue to use Reynard chassis and Goodyear tires, which I actually think is a good decision on Derrick's behalf, just because of the continuity it maintains in our engineering work that really started with Bill Pappas, that is, my main race engineer back in '95. So it's really been, I think, a good policy by Derrick just to keep everything going. I'm fairly happy with Reynard and Honda, and I think Goodyear has everything in place to turn the tables around next year, so I'm also very confident about Goodyear's performance. As far as having two cars, it's my understanding that Derrick is not actively pursuing a second car, so right now we should be maintaining a one-car team status. To be honest, I don't particularly think that it's an advantage or disadvantage, because the way the team is structured right now, it's structured very well around the one car that we have. And Derrick has built up an organization which has proven to be very efficient. So if you take into account, especially last year's result, we have a fantastic group of mechanics, very good engineers, everybody is really focused and doing a very good job. The disadvantage that one might have by having somebody else as a reference, I don't know. That's too much of a disadvantage. We do a lot of testing, especially for Goodyear, and that really helps us locate ourselves and not get lost. And, in fact, that's our major engineering policy that we pursued this '97 season, trying not to get lost. And that proved to be very effective. But having said all that, some teams are really well geared to support two cars, and they do that very well. And sometimes I think they use that to their advantage.

Q. It sounds like you've been doing a lot of testing for Goodyear. Kind of my first question, with the testing you've done, how close are you to getting to the Firestone? Have you seen some improvements?

GIL de FERRAN: We recently have been doing quite a bit of testing already on some very high-end developmental stuff, which it's showing a lot of promise. I think obviously Goodyear will be in a better place to talk about their own development promise, but from what we heard through numerous meetings with Goodyear personnel and even a very lengthy visit to Walker, I really believe they have a good program in place for '98. And the program they have in terms of resources and everything else, technological and human and maybe financial in place, I think it will turn the tables around and will help them make up this ground and hopefully even overtake Firestone in the near future.

Q. If I can get a quick comment from you, Motegi sounds like it's a fantastic place and Dario made a comment about it. He called it a first-class Formula One standard track. And it sounds like this is what we should all be shooting for in building our tracks. Could you elaborate on how the facility looks?

GIL de FERRAN: It's just unbelievable. If you can just imagine -- have you ever been skiing, for example? You stand on the top of the run and looking down the mountain and think about how somebody would build a racetrack in a place like that. So as an engineering project that's more or less what it feels like when you arrive in Motegi. You drive into this mountain us region and thinking how on earth could somebody build a racetrack in a place like this? And they did it. And they did such a fantastic job. They created somewhat of a natural bow around the circuit to it's like you're in a big stadium, as well, because you've got grandstands around three-quarters of the circuit, and a little bit like Fontana, everything that you step on is first class, all the way from the bathrooms through the garages, everything you can think of it's there. All the pits, the track, it's just everything of very, very high quality, very nicely done, very nicely -- very well thought of in every sense of the word. It's just a beautiful, beautiful engineering project and extremely well executed.

Q. Gil, you were talking about a one-car team, but since most teams now use a Reynard chassis, you get a lot of input from them, don't you?

GIL de FERRAN: Yeah. The relationship with Reynard is very close I think for a number of reasons: One, the relationship that the team has developed with Reynard since they have been using their chassis I think in '95. My relation to Reynard stretches back to '89. So one of the relationships that I value the most is not only with Reynard management, but with the core engineers. That has been very valuable to me, not only for the racing to get results during the racing, but really to help my understanding of racing cars and mechanical functions and so on and so forth. Having said all that, Reynard actually is very neutral in passing information around. They're very good at that because it's a line that's very easy to cross. We do not get any information whatsoever about what the teams do with their own car. What happens is because they have so many competent teams, the information they get helps them produce a better car for '98. And they have been using this fact to great advantage.

Q. Gil, we're talking with John Watson yesterday about the Champion Sparkplug world champion rankings, and we found you graded out 7th in standing, 715 points, Schumacher wins with 1002. That was Formula One, what would you expect? What does this say about your season, the consistency, and your being right there in a position to win, and what does that say about the style of race being, as well?

GIL de FERRAN: I think it's fantastic. For me it's a great honor to be ranked as one of the best ten drivers in the world. And I think the initiative for world champion is very interesting and a very nice one. I think it's a tall order to try to rank drivers from different series, but I think they've done a pretty good job. To be quite honest with you, if you take headers aside, I would agree that Schumacher is the best driver in the world. I think our racing, if I understand your question well, it's very good, I joined the circuit in '95 and every year is getting more difficult and the level of driving is getting higher and higher and higher, and you really have to keep pushing the envelope further and further and further. And even though I said that Schumacher is probably the best driver in the world I think if you get the crop from Formula One and the crop from Indy cars, I guarantee we can compete against each other very, very well.

Q. Well, Mr. Watson said much the same thing. Thanks for your comment.

GIL de FERRAN: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: If I might step out of character here real quickly. I know Gil commented on the fault at Twin Ring Motegi. I'm interested in comments with the racing service and track, if you could share those thoughts with us.

GIL de FERRAN: Well, one of the most surprising reaction we had was when we got to Japan was the fans. It was amazing. On the second day of testing, even those there was a little promotion done, because it was meant to be somewhat of a low profile test over there, there was over 10,000 people attending to that test, and a lot of people looking for ought graphs and everything, and they were extremely knowledgeable of the CART series. They certainly knew everybody and they knew what they were look go for. And that was a fantastic reaction from the fans over there. My own reaction to the circuit and everything, well, as it's been said, it was very fast. The circuit -- the surface is very smooth, and I think that third comment that I haven't said yet is I think it will provide very good racing, because it's a very wide circuit and it seems to me that the turns have more than one line, so we'll be able to go side by side into 1 and into turn 3.

T.E. McHALE: Gil, thank you for those remarks, with that we'll wrap it up for today. We want to thank you all for joining us, and thank Gil de Ferran for joining us, and wish him luck in the '98 season.

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