CART Media Conference
Gil de Ferran
March 3, 1998
T.E. McHALE: Thanks for joining us this afternoon, Gil. We would like to welcome you. Now runner-up in last year's PPG Cup Championship. First year with Walker Racing, Gil collected pole positions at Long Beach and Detroit and tied Champion, Alex Zanardi, for the Series lead with seven podium finishes. He scored PPG Cup points with 13 of his final 14 finishes including back-to-back runnerup effort at Portland and Cleveland. He drives the Valvoline Special Reynard Honda in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series. At this point we will open the questioning for Gil.
Q. When you look back on last year you got off to a fairly difficult start with what happened in Australia and so forth. Was it difficult being with the new team and having that sort of thing -- how long did it take to kind of find your pace and become as remarkably as consistent as you were?
GIL de FERRAN: Obviously, it was not ideal, you know, because when you start with a new team and everything, you want to create a good first impression. And, in one way, I think we were doing that by being very, very competitive. But, in another way, we were hit by a misfortune in the first three races, I think it was. I think that put a lot of pressure and stress, not only me, but on the whole team, generally speaking. But, I think most credit to everybody that was involved in the thing. What we really did was to focus on what we were doing right rather than the misfortune that was hitting us which, in my view, were beyond my control, certainly beyond the team's control. So, we just hang on to the fact that we were running very strong and kept our head down and kept doing the same thing that we were doing and hoping that, you know, that this bad phase would -- this black cloud would eventually go away and it did. And, you know, everything was up from there.
Q. Just a second question, if I may, what you accomplished without a win is remarkable. Second in the Championship, I mean. How many wins do you think your person has to get to hope to win the title?
GIL de FERRAN: That is a really tough question to answer. I mean, I think you really need to win at least a race or two, but more importantly, you have to be competitive and finish very high up everywhere you go to. I think those the zeros hurt you more than a win can help you. So, obviously you need the big points to help make it up. But, having zeros is, on the other hand, really what can damage your chances in the points.
Q. From your perspective, and again, you have only been with single CART teams in your Champ CART career. Your team has done exceptionally well being a single-car team. Do you feel there might be some advantages to that or do you think there might be some specific disadvantages to only having a one-car team?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I guess you could argue both ways. And, I guess my answer would depend on the team. I mean, some teams are very well structured to look at two cars. Some are not. I can see the eventual benefits of shared work between two cars and two drivers and everything else. But, you can also see the downside of the loss of focus. It really would vary on the second driver, who the other driver would be, what kind of support he has to see if this program will not be an addition or a distraction to the other program. I mean, I have been in situations where really the information just goes one way. It never really helps you very much. I think the way we work at Walker Racing, you know, we really try hard to understand what we are doing. I became -- I come to trust my own judgment more and more as I am gaining experience and I guess so far that it has been okay. In the first year that I was in CART Racing I didn't have all that much experience, so, from time to time, you feel at a loss; especially when you hit a difficult situation. But, those situations have become fewer and farther between.
Q. Do you enter this season with a bit of a sense of urgency? I mean, as each year has gone by in your Champ CART career, you are getting closer and closer to winning that big prize. Is there a sense of urgency like, okay, last year we missed it because the start of the season was not great; this year we have got to do it? Are you starting to get impatient?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't know about that. You know, I mean, some people drive for years on end and never get to win the title. The title is definitely an objective for me. It is not an obsession. It is something that I would very much like to win. It is part of my career plan. Would I put my self under a negative stress? I am not so sure about that.
Q. Has your philosophy changed during the off-season considering the struggles and then the come back that you had last year?
GIL de FERRAN: In a way, no. I mean, I think as I briefly mentioned earlier, I think what helped is last year keeping our eyes on-the-job; which, you know, which is working hard and trying to get the result. And, we have been doing that a lot during the off-season in preparation for 1998. I think one thing I am very aware of going into 1998 is how important it is not to get any zeros. And I think that is simply something that I took from last year and that is now very much engrained in my Championship strategy. You have to win races and you have to do everything you can to finish first. But, you know, reliability is super important and it is important for the driver not to throw away any Championship points as well.
Q. During your growth in the FedEx Championship Series, is it as important to learn what the cars are doing as it is over the years to learn what the other drivers do with their cars?
GIL de FERRAN: To be honest, I think to focus more on what I am doing and what I am doing with my own car and with my own team and because I believe that you can get very sidetracked by observing others, 90% of the time you don't know the full story about what is happening on the other side of the fence. So you just hear parts of it and that can really psych you out or, you know, really put you in not in a very good situation. So, I am a great believer in really looking inwards and looking towards your team and towards your car and just do -- try to do your homework right and hopefully or at least normally when you do that right and you feel satisfied with what you have done, you go out there to go racing and that tends to be enough.
Q. Is part of that homework driver tendencies as far as what certain drivers do in certain situations, do you look at that?
GIL de FERRAN: I tend to look at other driver's performances to see if I can extract something that would benefit me. I typically watch races after they are done. I watch all the types of races, Formula I races, Winston Cup races and you just try to pick out interesting things that might help educate you, polish your own abilities. I always did that actually. I always found that helpful because I think it didn't matter how good you are. You always have a little bit to learn with other people and I am always striving to become better.
Q. Can you name a couple of guys that you have watched in the past or a couple of drivers that you have gotten stuff from?
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah. I mean, from my association in with Jackie Stewart in Europe, I have to say I learned a lot with him, not only about the driving itself, but about attitude, about how to look at things during a race weekend or during a race itself. I learned a lot with him. I observed a lot, you know, Nigel Mansel, I pick up a lot of things looking at sometimes Mario Andretti driving. Picked up some winnings from Winston Cup about how they play around in the ovals, the lines, the moves, some of the stuff that goes on there. I think one of the guys that I cannot forget to mention would be Emerson Fittipaldi who, to me, the whole outlook in life is really an inspiration.
Q. You, personally, can you describe the competition level in IndyCar now? Can you describe what it is like on a race day now with, you know, with 8, 10, 12, 15 guys maybe who are almost equals, it seems, on some occasions, can you describe that; what it is like to be in that?
GIL de FERRAN: Basically it puts you under severe pressure. You cannot allow yourself or anything to go wrong. You cannot make a slight mistake. Anything that is slightly off, it really sets you back a long way. So it puts everybody under a lot of pressure to perform at the highest possible level and you are looking for every single edge that you can get, both on the driving point of view as on the equipment point of view. So, basically, it just puts you under a lot of stress to try to find the best possible way and to make sure you don't mess it up.
Q. I was talking with Steve Horne the other day from Tasman. I was talking about this theory of his that he thinks that IndyCar now has evolved now into a sport that is so much -- there is so much now riding on the talents of the driver. He thinks driver is more important now than ever before from the standpoint of pure talent. Has it become your sport now, the drivers?
GIL de FERRAN: I think there is a lot of truth to that, the reason being is that the equipment available to most of the teams are very similar. I mean, I do believe that the Honda engine is the best engine or at least it was at the end of last year. But, it is not by much. The tires are all very similar, both Goodyear and Firestone have a very similar level of performance. Valvoline Cummins Reynard is very similar to every other Reynard. And there is the Swift who is not very different in terms of performance. It is very similar to the Reynard and so seems to be the Penske. What I am trying to say by that is the equipment is super similar, so, what is going to make the difference is the driver, I guess. And, the team. If you tune your car a little better, if you have a little bit better rapport with the engineer; if the driver is a little bit quicker than the other, it is going to show, show very much. If you have a lot of equipment disparity, you are going to have a driver who is super quick in a car that is not very fast and that guy is never going to appear.
Q. There are seven Brazilians, I think, in the Series this year. Is there enough attention to go around down there in Brazil for all you guys or is there a mini war going on for attention in your home country?
GIL de FERRAN: Rather than dividing the attention between all those drivers, I think having about seven, I don't know exactly how many, but I think it is seven as you said, drivers, it multiplies the attention that CART Racing gets over there and really that has only been positive having lots of Brazilians in the Series. I think having seven guys out there really, you know, brought more attention to each of us than one could do it by themselves.
Q. Who do you see like a top -- maybe take yourself out of the equation maybe for a second -- who do you see maybe as top five or ten going into this year; who is jumping out at you a from what you are hearing?
GIL de FERRAN: I heard that Greg Moore is really putting some strong testing performances everywhere he is going to. I think he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. I think both the Newman/Haas drivers are going to be very strong as well. The Ganassi drivers are going to be very strong as well.
Q. When you were talking about the way that you have learned to improve your skills, I was wondering about how you developed patience as a race car driver. When you talk about your dedication to collecting Championship points this season and not having any zeros, will you be any different -- will that affect your strategy or the way you approach a race?
GIL de FERRAN: First, to learn patience, I guess is one of the most difficult things I have done, but, you know, especially in the 500 miles races, it is really something that you have to have. There is simply no other option. You can't go bizirk in the beginning of the race because it is -- has very little to do with the end of the race. So, I guess, patience is something you have to develop if you are going to be successful in this Championship. And I think I have learned to be a bit more strategy driven especially in the longer races. And, I have to say, I learned a lot with Derrick Walker about that last year. He is very, very good in planning out the race; especially those very long races - to know exactly when is the time to attack and when it is not. As far as the overall view that I would take to a race, bear in mind that I can't have any zeros or that I think it is important not to have any zeros at the end of the day; it is not all that different. That is going to -- you know, you are always going in a race trying to win it. That is your No. 1 thing in mind. You start the weekend on Friday thinking you are going to qualify on the pole. And you go start the race on Sunday thinking, hey, I am going out there to win - what it is going to do is -- and you should - I am kind of an attacking driver anyway. I would like to, you know -- I always like to go after it rather than wait and let it fall on my lap. I guess the conscience of having those zeros is going to affect some instantaneous decisions you have to make at particular times. It might not play into anyplace at all or it might. I don't know if I made myself clear there.
Q. I'd like to ask if the fact that you and also Mauricio were front-runners in the CART Series last year and this year the Formula I guys with teams aren't likely to be major contenders -- do they prefer Formula I --
GIL de FERRAN: Formula I is obviously a lot of tradition with the Brazilian public and I think the Brazilian public, in general, still likes and enjoys Formula I racing. CART Racing has obviously less tradition in Brazil, but is really growing tremendously the last three, four years and there is a lot of people that is watching racing, and is very comparable, if not more watched than Formula I racing.
T.E. McHALE: Alex Zanardi has joined us. I want to thank Gil. Best of luck in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series season.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much. I appreciate everybody's questions and I am looking forward to seeing everybody at Homestead.
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