CART Media Conference
March 3, 1998
T.E. McHALE: We will welcome Mauricio Gugelmin now, the fourth place finisher in last year's PPG Cup Championship - he had a break-through season for the PacWest Racing Group in 1997, earning the first 3-pole positions of his career at Rio de Janeiro, Road America, and California Speedway as well as claiming his first career victory at Vancouver. His pole speed at California, 240.942 miles per hour, was the fastest official lap in auto racing history. He will once again drive a Hollywood PacWest Mercedes in this year's FedEx Championship Series. Good afternoon, Mauricio, welcome; thanks for joining us.
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Good afternoon. Just great to be here.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Mo, we will begin questioning.
Q. I wonder just how -- if Mauricio could assess his winter testing and the situation going into the season. Obviously, we have all just heard the announcement last week that you switched back to the 1997 car for the first couple of races because of the electronics problem. If you could explain a little bit about that, Mauricio, and about your general test program and your view of your own competitiveness going into the new season?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: All right. Gordon, basically you always feel that in the winter you can do a lot more than you achieve. Every year we feel, well, we are going to be better prepared than last December, we start to develop some of our shocks for this year and we got the car working pretty well. '97 car. When we ran the '98 car at the spring training I was very impressed with the amount of speed the car had out of the box because I mentioned to you then that I had only done like 150 miles with the car before and it is not a question of speed. My biggest concern was related to reliability and also everything was so fresh. It was a new motor and new brain for that motor which was causing quite a few problems since we started running. I must stress that I do believe that the potential of this new motor is incredible. It is something that has always been born before its age. I need to give Mercedes a little bit more time to get everything sorted out and, as a team, that is the main goal, to go for the championship, as you mentioned, we decide to revert for the '97 car which has always been a great car and was a very strong car in the end of last year, for at least the first two races. So I am happy with that decision. I have been testing the '97 car and I run at Homestead again and I went a couple of times quicker than the 1998 car, so the speed is there and it is something that we know and it is proven and has great fuel consumption, so I am happy with that. As far as going back to your questions relating to my winter testing, I still feel that we could have done more. It is just that under the circumstances, weather and circuits availability, it is just so hard to test these days.
Q. Given your progress last year and kind of upgrading yourself as far as a contender, do you see yourself as a real contender this year, a guy capable of having one of those breakout years?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Oh, yes, John. I definitely feel like that. I think last year we have been the most competitive guy out there, you know, different kinds of circuits and the team made a major step, so in the kind of series that we have every year, we get more and more competitive. So, if you get three to four wins and be consistent you are going to be the guy to beat. I am sure I am capable of that and that is what we are going for.
Q. Mauricio, I am wondering given your pole speed at the California Speedway, what in terms of miles per hour, what would you like to see when you go back there and do you have any thoughts about how that could be best achieved?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well I haven't got any specific thoughts for that yet because it is so far at the end of the year when we go back there. The speeds we ran last year are incredible. But, the cars prove themselves to be very safe at those speeds and when you look at the number itself you feel, wow, that is unbelievable, when I was running with the car everything was very stable. We had some incidents that weekend but everybody was not hurt and nothing major. But I think everybody is working toward getting, maintaining our competitive level, but maybe drop 10 miles off the car, something like this wouldn't hurt because every winter the engineers comes up with some clever ideas how to run the car and everybody makes progress. It is wise not to keep going faster and faster because we already are pretty fast.
Q. From the driver's perspective, is there a difference at a two mile track between 230 and 240 miles an hour in terms of your ability to make decisions or how does that difference feel if it feels different?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: It feels different. Of course it is not a huge difference but you feel that once you have been up at 240 when you drop 10 miles an hour, it feels like you are standing still, to be honest. That is good. Fontana is a great track and when they did -- everything was new and the surface had a lot of grip as well, so even if we didn't do anything, it would be hard to match that on the second year because the surface always loses a little bit of grip as the sun burns the tar and all that. But, dropping 10 miles an hour for a driver, you have a lot more time to think and make decisions and even to control the car is a little bit easier.
Q. I wanted to ask: last year it seemed race in and race out that PacWest was better able to produce two competitive cars than most. I wondered if you could analyze how that came about and whether that is something that can be realistically expected over a long period of time?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, I do agree with you on the second half of the season. I think the first half only my car was really competitive. And, there was a lot of oval racing in the first half too. And, from the second half, the team has been great and to maintain a whole group of people at that level is not an easy task. We are all aware of that. Sometimes -- I mentioned to our guys, you know, we were the underdogs last year, but now everybody is aiming at us; everybody is expecting us to do this. My feelings as a driver, yes, we can do that and I think Mark feels the same way. As a team, we also have the same mentality and we are going every time we go out we expect to win and that is how you want to keep your frame of mind. But, we never underestimate our competition and this series that we run you can never sleep on your results, so we will be trying to maintain that and I am pretty sure we can succeed, but it is not going to be easy.
Q. What was the key to the difference between the first half and the second half? Was it just a few changes shifting personnel that went on?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Very minor changes. On my side nothing was changed because I was competitive from the beginning. On Mark, they moved a few people around, but I think he just got used to the whole package and had a better second half of the year and a little bit more luck.
Q.I wanted to follow up on the pole of 240 miles an hour out in California. Could you tell me what your impressions were of the fan response to the speed that you had run there; particularly, in Brazil?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, it was incredible because in Brazil it has become not 240 miles an hour man but the almost 400 kilometers man which is, I think was 390-something in my average speed, which is amazing for the Brazilians to realize that you can do an average lap at that speed. And, even in California they start calling me the 240 mile an hour man, which I think was the only car that broke that speed about 240. Actually I run at 242 on Saturday morning. But, it is amazing because the fans -- they love to see those numbers because at the same time I mentioned before if you sit and look just at the numbers it is just incredible. When you are driving and you have your sight into a lap, and to put a perfect lap it was also incredible because I had to anticipate a lot what the car was going to do and make sure that I kept the car as free as possible when -- and not put any, not too much lock in the car which normally takes the speed away and keep the throttle wide open. But the response from the fans all over the world and Brazil, especially, was just amazing because people, they do ask me how does it feel. Well it feels fast. You know, it is just hard to describe. It is almost like a different planet because you have to have your mind so far ahead of the car.
Q. What are your thoughts on the fact that oftentimes CART Racing is something more popular in your country than it is here in the United States?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, you got to understand that the Brazilians -- first of all, they like to -- doesn't matter what they see, they like to be winning, they like to be ahead, that is soccer, football, or basketball, whatever, but our country has been famous on soccer, and then motor racing because we had a lot of Brazilian drivers that did very well in Formula I and also in CART Racing and that is just the case right now. There is a lot of representatives of my country racing in CART and they like that feeling and they don't have, in our country we don't have the spread of sports you got over in this country. Here you have baseball, basketball, you have some important leagues and they are all on TV and accessible for the whole public. So you never going to get them as much attention as you get over there. Despite the fact the volume of fans, here the people in this country is a lot more. So Brazilians are crazy about race cars and it is the second sport in our country so that is why we are so big over there and not to forget that CART puts the best championship that there is out there at this level.
Q. Could you explain to us exactly what was going on with the electronics box that showed you the lack of reliability?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, basically this modern car these days, the electronics box controls everything on the engine, from weather perspective, it changes the pressure, temperature and reads that and readjusts the timing, the amount of fuel that goes into the engine and when you have functions like cruise control, boost pressure, other things like mixture that you have to control with the car, you have to -- everything has to be in sync and well programmable so you can work with the electronics as well as you can around the -- in the most efficient way. What happened is everything was happening to a certain degree, but not as efficient and as fast as we wanted and occasionally we would have a failure like something wasn't talking with something else and that would cause a mechanical failure. So, basically, to cut the story short it is like when you have brain damage, not everything works as well in your body. That is basically what was happening at the time. But they made huge progress; today I am at Nazareth running just about to go out and run my car and I am running the '98 car at this stage and at the last test I did with the '98 all those pieces were working a lot better but we just need to give them time so they can fix all the little glitches on it.
Q. Were all of the Mercedes experiencing that problem?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Yes. Everybody was having problem with that.
Q. As a driver, how would you prefer to slow a car down, if indeed they do go about slowing them down at California, you know as a driver do you prefer the thing like they tested the rear wing or would you rather see an engine situation, I mean, a lesser horsepower, or whatever?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, I have a comment to make like the hardest thing is to make a car go slower. To make it go faster is a lot easier because everybody has a different idea and I don't have one solution. I think the wing is a nice thing to do. You basically have to create something that will generate drag, which makes the car go slower and reduce down-force. But at the same time, you don't find only one thing. The wing is a good thing, reducing power is another good thing. There is a combination of key things that should be put together with a lot of thought, try on the circuit and then go from there. And bringing two steps. We have been doing that the last few years, power is maintaining at the level despite the fact that they develop every year, but we reduced our boost a couple of years ago, by 5 inches and I think with the new rules when we get the new engine, they are going to be capable of reducing that even further and keep going that way. So, there is not one key element to slow a car down. It is always a combination.
Q. As a driver are you worried about -- I mean, does it bother you to -- you were talking a while ago going 240, like at Miami, you guys are going very fast on that one-and-a-half mile track. Does the speed bother the drivers? Are you worried about escalating speed?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: When every year you are jumping five to ten miles an hour yes, I do worry. But if it is just a controllable increase, that is fine. That is what racing is all about. But, Miami we are going fast but we are going safer because the angle of the corners now is better than in the past. It is not only the speed. It is also in which angle you are going to hit the wall. That is very important too. So, you have to look at the whole scenario, which involves the circuit and the car and everything else.
Q. Many of the drivers in the FedEx Championship Series can be characterized as either Oval-Meisters or Road Course Masters and you know, if someone was to put you in those categories they might consider you to be the Oval-Meister until your first win came in on a road course. Which situation are you more comfortable in and which one do you feel you are a better driver on?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, to be honest I am more comfortable on the road courses and street courses and I think all the CART drivers probably will have the same answer. It is just a matter of speed. When I first came over to CART Racing, I felt that ovals were something that I really had to start to work with and I succeeded on that. I feel as confident as you are probably going to get on an oval track and I understand what is going on with the car all the time. But, I think I do well on both places. But I must say that I am -- I have been improving more my driving on the ovals. So, I am probably -- on the super speedways it is probably my best place. Not the fact that it is not my favorite place, but it is probably where I run the fastest compared to all the other drivers.
Q. Who do you see out there like a top 5, top 8; maybe taking yourself out of the equation going into this season, who is out there to beat?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, I think Zanardi will still be the one that is still going to be strong and Michael, Gil could run well. Who else I would say. I think Bryan on some occasions is going to be pretty fast with Firestone now and that is also the Green guys I think Paul Tracy will be up there too.
Q. Is it as competitive, I mean, how do you -- how do you deal with the competition? Seems like it is so much more competitive now than it was five years ago. Is it literally a 20 man race almost on weekends now?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: It is wide open, but I tell you what, the speed most of the drivers got, at least 10, 15 guys are capable of winning out there. But now the pressure is on the teams, strategy, how you work about that, how can you save fuel, how can you extend your window, how can you pit the fastest way, that is what is going to be winning races this is year.
Q. Steve Horn from Tasman has said that what he likes, he thinks it is more than ever now at least it has been evolution to where it is more than ever now a key component now more than ever is the driver and the driver's ability to make things happen and do things on the track. He thinks the competition now is so tight that indeed the top drivers are now really going to shine. Do you get the same impression or the same feeling about the series?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: I agree with that to a certain level. But at the same time, you need the goods to shine. And you need to be consistent. I think the series is becoming definitely not a one-man race and the guy that is most consistent running up front is the one that is going to come up with the winning.
Q. My question is: It is sort of difficult to phrase -- it strikes me that there are several very young drivers competing on the circuit this year. My question is could you talk a little bit about the maturation or your maturation as a driver, whether you feel there is, you know, an age or an age range where the driver is at his best and sort of how you achieve consistency, if that makes sense?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Yes, it does make sense. I think I know what you are trying to ask. There isn't a certain age that you say this is the magic number. It all depends how -- how many times you put into a spot and you make the correct decision and you also make the wrong decisions. When you make a lot of wrong decisions and you for example, you crash quite often and luckily you don't get hurt, that makes you mature a little bit faster. For the average normal person, I am saying. There are still some guys out there that they don't get tired of hitting the wall. But, I would say that as long as you are a fast driver and you have some a solid head above your shoulders, and the speeds that we run everybody is pretty sensible how critical that is, and as you get toward the end of your 20s, early '30s, you've probably done as much damage as you are going to do and by then you really know, well, I am on the peak of my career and you know when you have to push extra a little bit and it is worth the risk or when you should just collect the points and think for the Championship. And then that can run for another 10, 15 years. It depends how well you feel physically and how you are, how the desperation is to keep driving.
T.E. McHALE: I will ask Mo, if going into the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota next Sunday makes it feel like a hometown race, now that he is a resident of Fort Lauderdale; is that the case? Is this now your hometown race?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Yes, that is pretty much. It is the first hometown race. When I go to Rio I feel the same when I go to the Pacific Northwest close to where Bruce is based when we race in Portland and Vancouver for another matter, it also feels, you also feel pretty local. So we have got a few races that we feel at home.
T.E. McHALE: I know down at spring training you were talking about how you think: Is it going to enhance the racing for you gentlemen down there when you compete next weekend, can you talk a little bit about the reconfiguration and how it might lend itself to better racing?
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Well, the best thing they did is because now it is one radius, the both ends like Turn 1 and 2 is basically one turn and 3 and 4 is also one turn. The car only takes one set as you go in and you don't have to slow down so much. So brake is not an issue and because as you turn in, you choose the angle of the steering wheel that you want to put in the car, then you pretty much maintain that all through the corner. So you don't load, unload the car in a short shoot and load again like it was last year in rectangular shape of a racetrack. By doing that you are going to allow a higher groove to be built and you are going to have cars side-by-side and have some passing which is what we need for ovals.
T.E. McHALE: We are going to thank Mauricio for joining us this afternoon. Thanks again, good luck with your test at Nazareth, Mauricio, and best of luck in the coming FedEx Championship Series campaign.
MAURICIO GUGELMIN: Thank you.
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