CART Media Conference
March 3, 1998
T.E. McHALE: Thank you. Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the season opening CART media teleconference. Thank you all for taking the time to join us today. We look forward to your continued participation every Tuesday at 1:00 P.M. eastern throughout the FedEx Championship Series season. We are pleased to start our teleconference scheduled today by welcoming the Top-5 finishers from the 1997 PPG Cup race, Paul Tracy, Mauricio Gugelmin, Gil de Ferran, Alex Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser. Each driver will be on for approximately 25 minutes. As we have a large number of callers on the line today, we would ask that you limit yourselves to one question and a short follow-up for each driver. We begin by welcoming Paul Tracy, the fifth place finisher in last year's Championship. While driving for Marlboro Team Penske, Paul became the 7th driver in CART history to win 3 consecutive events with his victories at Nazareth, Rio and Gateway. He also earned pole positions at Nazareth and Milwaukee. During the off-season he moved from Marlboro Team Penske to Team KOOL Green for whom he will campaign a KOOL Reynard Honda in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series. Paul, welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
PAUL TRACY: Thanks.
T.E. McHALE: We will open it up for questions.
Q. Paul, how do you see the team compared to what has always been said to be the best team, the one you were with before, how it is shaping up?
PAUL TRACY: I think the two teams are pretty comparable really. Obviously Penske is Penske. They have got a great track record, a great history, a lot of experience but I think you know we have got a great core group of guys that have won a Championship with Jacques in 1995. They have got a lot of experience going back to the Galles days with Al and Michael and Bobby Rahal. I think there is plenty of opportunity there. The guys are all up for it. I feel that we have got a great great team together. I think a real competitive team with Dario and myself.
Q. I guess as a follow-up, how have you found it as a team trying to solve that understeer problem that seemed to doing you at Homestead; can you say anything about that?
PAUL TRACY: We have had a bit of a struggle there. We just had a test last week and we are still a couple of tenths off the fastest times that have been set there, but I feel it is not race weekend yet. We have gone back and we have found some problems fundamentally in the setup that my engineer found in the last couple of days, so, you know, testing doesn't really count. It is a race week, I feel that we are going to qualify well and I think right now we have got a great race car. We just need to get rid of that little bit of understeer. I think everybody has been struggling with it to some degree. And you know, we just need to fine-tune the balance for qualifying.
Q. I guess the question I would have is you did so well throughout at least half of last year and then had the problems near the end and then the problems leaving Penske. I wonder, in your own mind, has there been a problem with the way you are afraid that people will see you in terms of how good a driver you are, that oh, gee, Paul didn't do good enough so he got booted at the end. Have there been any concerns with you?
PAUL TRACY: No, I know in my heart that I gave 110 percent effort all the time and really people are going to think what they want to think. So for me I know that I gave everything that I had. I know that I gave everything all the time to the team. So, I mean, that is all that I can go there leaving with knowing that I did the best that I could.
Q. Just a quick follow-up then, obviously you want to beat everybody on the series, but will there be any extra incentive right now to show Penske: look what you guys missed?
PAUL TRACY: That is a yes and no question. Obviously the Penske Team, they are competitors and ironically they are pitted right next to us at Homestead, but definitely I'd like to -- we want to win. The team wants to win. Everybody on the team is very hungry. Dario is hungry. I am hungry. But I think the key is that we need to be consistent. We need to score the best points that we can every single weekend and I think that when you are consistent, you are going to win races and that is what my focus is and the team's focus is, just to get out of these first few races, good points, and then you know, we will be in good shape for the rest of the year.
Q. Paul, was it last year that you had the eye operation?
PAUL TRACY: No. In the past.
Q. I see that Bobby Rahal has done the same thing. Just briefly describe how good that is now: you can really see without glasses?
PAUL TRACY: I think it has been a big help for me. I have always worn glasses my whole life since I was a kid, so, it was always kind of a pain, you know, in the summer months, you know, with the -- you are sweating and the helmet and getting water on your glasses. When I had the surgery done, I had it after Al Unser and Emerson had had it done, and they pointed me in the direction of the guy that they had it done by. It has been great for me.
Q. You would recommend it?
PAUL TRACY: Yes.
Q. Paul, first of all I wish you well on the season, and I wonder if you can comment on the role of drivers in general and where they are going. I ask that specifically because the electronics are always coming along with sensors and engine management. More and more sponsor demanding more and more of your time. Do you have a general perception of how the responsibilities of a driver are going to change this year as well as those to come?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it is always in any type of -- at least in our sport, I mean -- sponsorship dollars is key. we are very lucky at Team Green to have KOOL and you know, these days, sponsors are wanting to maximize their dollars and obviously they want more exposure than what the race car generates on the track. We do a lot of trade shows and autograph sessions along with that -- with doing them with CART for the fans and you know, we are trying to grow the sport and with CART going public here in the next week or two, I think it is a terrific opportunity for everybody to benefit that is involved in CART to help this sport grow, to get it to the next level.
Q. Do you think the technology takes away from your skill as a driver or does it let you focus on nothing but driving?
PAUL TRACY: It is hard to say, I mean, everybody else has the same capabilities. I mean, we are limited on race weekends to what you can and can't use so everybody has pretty much the same amount of telamentry (sic), so, I mean you have got to have it. If the next guy has it because you know that they are using it, so, I think it helps take a lot of the guesswork out of the car. You can look at things that you really can't feel, you know, translated through the car, you know, to the driver, so there is a lot of little things that you can fine tune on the car that a driver can't really feel. I guess that is why the speeds have gone up and up in the last couple of years.
Q. You are familiar with CART, very familiar with CART and the United States. I wondered what your thoughts are about the fact that CART is often more popular outside the U.S. than inside it?
PAUL TRACY: Well, that is a tough question to ask, Formula car racing is something very popular worldwide. What I mean by Formula cars, the open wheel cars, seem to be much more popular worldwide across Europe you know, Japan, than you know, closed body type cars, whereas people, I think in America and North America, can identify more I guess with the NASCAR or stock body type of car that they drive on the street everyday. I think that you know, we have got an opportunity here to you know, in the next couple of years to really make this sport grow. I think we have got the best group of drivers in the world and I think one of the finest products that -- we just need to put all the pieces together.
Q. To change gears here, with the new Penske car it seems evident that they were looking for a certain size of driver. How significant do you think that was in the change that they elected to make?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I haven't seen the car up close, so, I really don't know what their decision was for letting me go. All I know is that I am very happy with where I am at and I have got a terrific opportunity with Reynard, Firestone and Honda and you know, this team has really made me welcome. So, I mean, I really haven't paid much attention to what the other guys are up to. We have been concentrating on what we are doing.
Q. The understeer that you were talking about, with the Reynard, is that prevalent among the 1998 Reynards, have you heard?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I mean, like I said about the last question, I have -- I haven't really been paying attention to what has been going on with the other teams. Obviously you hear times and -- but really we have been concentrating on our car and on what we need to do to make a great race car for the race. Obviously we want to qualify well. But, you know, Homestead is a tricky track. It is very, very fast. We have got very lowdown force, so, it is quite tough to get a really really perfect balance on the car and we haven't, as of yet. I think we have got the answers for the race weekend, been able to get the perfect setup to turn that fast time. But, overall, I feel that our car is very, very competitive in all conditions. When it heats up in the middle of the day we run as quick as we do in the morning. So, my -- that has been our main concentration is just getting great race car. It is going to be a very fast race and I feel just like last year, I qualified there 17th; Michael was 15th or 16th. We finished 1, 2. I don't think qualifying really means a lot at Homestead. It is a lot like Michigan or one of the faster type ovals. The key is having a good race car that you can -- that you feel confident in that you can run hard all day.
Q. When we spoke, I guess it was about three weeks ago you talked about you and Dario and how similar your driving styles were and we were primarily talking about Homestead. Are you seeing the same thing in your testing on road courses?
PAUL TRACY: Definitely we both have a similar style, more of an aggressive-type style; brake very late; try to turn the car very quickly. So that has been helping a lot. I feel our road course set-up is very good. We have had a couple of tests at Sebring and Fontana Road Course and we are very happy with how the car has been running there for Dario and myself. So, but the first, I think, 6 of 8 races are short ovals, we have got --. Hopefully we have got the answer for Homestead. We haven't tested anywhere else but we have got some tests scheduled at Nazareth and Milwaukee and I think that we are going to do real well.
Q. I was speaking with Dario last week, Paul. He told me to ask you about your boat.
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, he wants to go for a ride on it.
Q. He does indeed.
PAUL TRACY: I have got to come and visit his house in Scotland so...
Q. Fair enough. What is the boat like?
PAUL TRACY: I have built a pleasure race boat over the winter just to have some fun with. I live on a river in Arizona, so, it is a good way to relax, go out and go swimming and spend some time.
Q. What kind of speeds can it go up to?
PAUL TRACY: About 130 is what we are planning on.
Q. Is that miles per hour?
PAUL TRACY: Yes.
Q. You started to touch on it a bit, everybody has been focusing on the fact that testing at Homestead hasn't maybe gone quite as well as you'd like, but last time I looked that was only one race out of 19 and I wondered how, if you could comment really about how you think the Reynard, Honda Firestone package from what you could see, how you think it is going to shape up you know, at the other races this year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think we are in good shape. I mean, I know I have got a great race setup that I can drive hard all day, you know, we are just off a little bit in testing so far, again like I said we have got some ideas for the race, but, I feel overall, our winter test program has gone really good. I mean, yeah, we have had some handling trouble at Homestead, but you know, we went to Japan and I was second quickest on the first day and Dario was second quickest on the second day there, so, we ran really strong there which is a good indication that we do have everything together, so, I feel that that place -- Homestead is a tricky little track now. It is very, very fast and to get the perfect balance you have really got to hit it right. We just -- we haven't hit it right. But it is not payday yet.
Q. I was going to ask you about the other tracks, the same as David did. So I guess I will pass.
Q. I wanted to ask you a little bit when you change teams if you talked to Jacques at all about what that setup would be like, you know, working with Barry would be like?
PAUL TRACY: I actually did talk to him just after I had signed with Team Green with Barry. I got a call from Jacques. Obviously, you know, just congratulating me, working with Barry obviously him and Barry are still very good friends. Jacques has the same manager as Dario so there is a connection there. So they just -- he had called and congratulated me on getting the opportunity to work with Barry. He said -- told me how great he is to work with.
Q. Anything in particular? Anything that he said about Barry; what it would be like?
PAUL TRACY: No, he just said the guy is really great and everything that he said about Barry - I didn't know Barry very well until I joined the team - and I have gotten to know him very well over the last couple of months. He is just a great guy to deal with and is very, very involved in the team and day-to-day runnings of the team. He is in the shop standing in the shop with the crew guys. We were testing at Homestead. He was helping change wickers on the front wings, so, he is very involved.
Q. Compared to working with Roger personality-wise and that kind of thing, have you been around Barry enough to get --
PAUL TRACY: Two very, very different teams. I don't want to really make comparisons. But, you know, Roger has a multi-billion dollar corporation to run, so he is obviously -- he can be tied up a lot of the time with business. But, Barry, this is, you know, racing, this is what he does. This is his livelihood, so that is his main concentration is the race team and that is what he loves and that is what his business is.
Q. Paul, just going back to the Reynard that you are going to be driving this year, how would you compare the Reynard Honda to the Penske Mercedes that you drove last season?
PAUL TRACY: For me, I am very happy with the competitiveness of the chassis and engine and tire package. I think that, you know, that combination has been the benchmark for the last two and a half seasons, so, I feel very confident about my expectations of what I am able to do and I think the team is very confident with the package. So I feel good about our chances. It is a lot different than what I have been driving, but I guess this is a great opportunity for me.
Q. I am wondering, if your workload is any different now that you are driving what might be called an off-the-shelf chassis or Reynard, as opposed to a proprietary chassis such as the Penske, was the workload heavier with the Penske or does simply development on either one, end up being the same?
PAUL TRACY: You know, we do a fair amount, quite a bit of testing with Team Green, but obviously it is not the same amount as when I was with Penske. We had some handling trouble there last year, so it was a lot of test to go try to find out what the problem was. We have had a good off-season, I feel, with Team Green. We have really gone to the track when we felt that we had something to test and had something to go out there and try which has been good. I think it is getting -- given myself a good off-season in terms of rest and relaxation and getting ready for the season to start. So, and I feel comfortable in the car. I don't feel like I have had a lack of testing or I am behind at all. I feel that it has been a good off-season.
Q. I was going to ask is it more important to have a whole lot of seat time at this particular time of the year or better to have some relaxation and recharge the batteries?
PAUL TRACY: It has been nice to have some relaxation. I mean, you know, you are doing tons and tons of testing, a lot of the times you can get burned out by the time the season starts if you are really testing all the time. Like I said, I feel good about the car. I feel that I have had enough rest and had a good off-season, had a couple of vacations. I don't feel rusty in the car. I get in the car and I am ready to go. So I feel I am ready for the season to start.
T.E. McHALE: At this point I will jump in to make you aware that Mauricio Gugelmin has joined us on the line. We want to say thanks, Paul. We wish you the best of luck in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series. Thanks again, Paul.
PAUL TRACY: Thanks, guys, see you guys at the track.
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