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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Andre Ribeiro
May 5, 1998

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon from Rio de Janeiro to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon and a special welcome to today's guest, Andre Ribeiro of Marlboro Team Penske. Good afternoon Andre and welcome.

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Good afternoon to everyone. I am in Sao Paolo, sunny Sao Paolo today. Yesterday was pretty tough, a lot of rain. But I think the weather for this weekend is good, both Sao Paolo and Rio.

T.E. McHALE: We hope that is right. Let me give a little background on Andre before we start taking questions. Driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Penske Mercedes, he is in his first year with Marlboro Team Penske following three years with the Tasman Motor Sports Group. He won three races with Tasman including the inaugural Rio 400 in 1996 in his Brazilian homeland. Andre also won two pole positions during his tenure with Tasman. Andre recently announced plans for the Ribeiro Race for Humanity, a plan to provide food and household items to Brazil's needy families in partnership with Ruffles Potato Chips and Mercadoroma a Brazilian supermarket chain. Andre will donate 500 Reals in food credits for each PPG Cup point he earns during the season, with a minimum donation of 2,500 Reals per event. Andre takes four points into Sunday's Rio 400 on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway and Nelson Piquet International Raceway in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio 400, Round 5 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised Sunday by ABC TV, beginning at 3:30 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up for questions.

Q. Andre, I was wondering if you could think back to your inaugural -- the win in the inaugural Rio race and what -- I understand it was quite a fiasco afterwards, in a good way after that race, and your recollections of that?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, you mean on 1986 or --

Q. 1996.

ANDRE RIBEIRO: 1996 was probably the most incredible moment of my life. Because it was the first oval race in Brazil; first IndyCar race in Brazil; it was a lot of excitement on a new series coming to Brazil, coming to Rio. And, of course, to win this race, it was something unique. Also it was the first race that a Brazilian won in Brazil. So it was also a good -- a big commotion. And, so in every sense, it was something very special on winning this race. When I talk with some American drivers I think I can compare winning in Brazil for a Brazilian like winning in the past, the Indianapolis 500.

Q. Just wondered if you could just comment on: The past few teams have been chasing this 100th win now for almost a year now and what it would mean to you to be the driver who gets that; especially given the fact that this is in your home country as well?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, Steve, of course this 100th win will be a big thing. I hope this happens as soon as possible. To be very honest with you, I would like to see this 100 win this weekend because first gives to Roger 100 wins, gives to the Marlboro Team Penske the 100th win and we forget about it. We can go and win races. We can win the 101, 102 and go on with it. I want to see the team winning. Of course I would love to do it. I would love to be the one to give this to the team. But, doesn't matter. Right now I am feeling inside the team, much more as a teammate, than just the driver because it is a completely different environment. We race with our own chassis. We race on a totally different base than other teams - where they buy their chassis from somebody else. So I knew and I know that when we have success, this will mean that both of us will have success. So I see much more teamwork inside Team Penske than I see in any other team because we know that we have to work together to make our car fast because we are the only ones to have it. And, by the time that one of us -- by the time that we achieve this 100th win, this will mean that our car will be ready to win the 101 and 102 and go on.

Q. Andre, you have noticed how tight all the racing is so far this year. Are you surprised by -- I know Greg Moore is in the lead in the points standings, but do you -- does any of the other competitors surprise you? Do you still consider it even though this is only the fifth race, is it still very early in the season? I mean, do you see any trends emerging among the various teams?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, to be honest, Mike, I don't see anybody doing something much more than the others. I don't see any team or any driver, in particular, any engine manufacturer that is pulling away from the others. What I see is an incredible even series. I don't remember-and I don't know any other series in the world, in any type of racing where you have so many different engines, different chassis, different tire manufacturers, drivers from all over the world, with such a small difference. People talk about other series like NASCAR, for example, but you don't have the combination that we have in our series of engines, tires, chassis, end drivers. So, what I see on CART today is a level of competition that really brings the best in the world. So, every time that I go and race, I can pick, easy, ten drivers with a chance of winning that race. And ten, minimum, because in Nazareth, for example, we saw a grid with probably more than ten cars capable of winning that race. In Rio I think it will be the same. You will see more and more . You don't have anymore teams struggling to race or struggling to compete. Everybody is very, very equal. Even the Toyotas, they are coming along and they are getting close to everybody. So this shows the level of the competition. This shows the level of the drivers; and, I tell you: When you have the opportunity to do well, to have good results, you have incredible satisfaction because you know you have been competing against the best and it is definitely a fantastic feeling.

Q. I just wanted to ask you: How did your experience at Nazareth, how did that affect your confidence and where is your confidence now?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, Dave, it was a pretty big shunt. I don't know if you received the comments about that crash. It generated 110 G's, what is pretty big crash. But, the good news is that those cars are so safe today that I was able to get out of the car and in 15 minutes I was on my backup car driving then. So this gives us a lot of confidence on going racing knowing that in case that something has happened, we have a car that it is safe. We have a team of people, the safety crew, the medical staff, it is really great. It is the first-class people that will take care of us. So this is the comfortable, this is the good side and when you go racing and you have this on the back of your mind, definitely makes a difference. On the confidence side, it is tough, especially on a track like Nazareth where you have to be on the limit all the time. But the problem that I had after the crash is that I had a big, big, big headache and going back on the car. Nazareth, you are constant driving with lateral so you are constant doing turns. And, your head is leaning against the head rest all the time with pressure. This was causing me some problems with the vision. I was getting dizzy after a few laps and we decided that for our safety and the safety of everybody, we should go that and not race because we are not on the 100% of my condition. So, we decide not to go ahead. After that, I tested at Nazareth again for one day to check a lot of things and I also tested at Sebring and I had no problems at all. I was able to drive two days straight at Sebring and I am feeling 100% ready for the race in Rio.

Q. A number of Mercedes's teams started the year out with not using the 1998 electronics senteel (phonetic) management system. Are you using the latest version of that now and the other question is: Do you have a sequential gear shift like the other cars do?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, on the first question: We did start using this new version of the electronics at the beginning of the year, but the system was too new and we decided to go to the last year's system until the new one was ready to go. And, I had the opportunity to drive last week with the new system again, and it did work very, very well. I understand that the Team Hogan raced with the system at Nazareth and they had no problems. I had experienced myself some very, very good improvements on the system. I think this system can provide us with a lot of positive improvements for the future for the near future. And, I am really looking forward to race with it as soon as possible. It is not an easy thing to exchange the systems on the car, so it will be done one by one. For Rio we are going to race with the last year's one, but probably very soon St. Louis or Milwaukee we will have the new system on. The second question about the sequential gearbox, yes, we -- all the cars, all the Champ Cars, they do have sequential gearbox. The difference between them is some cars have the longitudinal gearbox and some cars with have the transversal gearbox. This means that in some cars all the ratios, all the gears are in line and in some other cars you have three side-by-side, so this is the only difference. But all the cars have the sequential gearbox.

Q. Andre, how do you explain the fascination of the Brazilian race fans with auto racing and with CART, in particular?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, we were talking about this a few hours ago today.

Well, I think this is due to some fantastic drivers we had on the past - started with Emerson Fittipaldi who had a fantastic career on Formula 1. Then he moved to IndyCar and he continued with success winning races, winning championships and creating a lot of attention on the kids in Brazil. So, after that, we had Nelson Piquet who won three times Formula 1 Championship and then Ayrton Senna who won again three times the Formula 1 Championship. Now you have a lot of other Brazilians doing very well, in Formula III in England you have Brazilian winning all the time. You have Brazilians winning Indy Lights. We have some Brazilian competing on Formula 1. Six Brazilians competing in a very competitive way on CART. So, every time that the Brazilians turn on the TV, there is some Brazilian racing somewhere in the world and some Brazilian doing well. So, on Sunday, everybody goes and sitting in front of the TV looking for two things: A very good race and a very good soccer game at the end of the day.

Q. Will auto races ever catch soccer?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, I think it is two different things. Usually racing is on the beginning of Sunday in the morning or on lunchtime and soccer is in the afternoon, on the early evening. What is happening is, it is two different types of sports because soccer you can go to the stadium. You can watch soccer every week. It is a very, very popular sport. Racing, you watch on TV, and you have opportunity, if you live in Sao Paolo or Rio, you have the opportunity to go watch Formula 1 or the CART race once in a year. So it is a different type. Of course, soccer is more popular because it is a popular sport. Anyone can play. So you just need a ball and you go there, you kick the ball and you are playing. With racing, it is different. But, it is still -- that is a huge following on racing and again, the kids, when they see the racing drivers, they do see them as heroes.

Q. Andre, talk a moment about the response from your fellow countrymen regarding the charitable causes that you have involved yourself in this season.

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, when I joined the -- when I did join the Marlboro Team Penske at the end of last year, I had the possibility of involving my old sponsors to something else. And, I decided that the best thing to do was to involve them on a charity thing because we had all the structure here in Brazil with office people, all those people to deal with those sponsors. But we didn't have the need anymore to have them. So we decide that if for a good cause for all the good things that have been happening with me, was that we should pass this now to the people that are really in need. So, we create this campaign, let's say, that for each point that I do in racing, my sponsors in Brazil will provide some institutions with money and I personally go and give this -- those prizes for the institutions. The idea is to promote them, to show to the community that they are serious; that they really need the contribution; the help from the community, and, we can do both. We can help them and we can show to everybody that they really need. I had the first experience yesterday. I went to the South of Brazil and I did go to two of those institutions. We did donate 10,000 Reals, that is close to $10,000, a little bit less than $10,000 and I tell you: It was a great, great opportunity to see all the things that we can do as a sportsman to help other people. The good thing about it is that I received a phone call from Guga. Guga is the most famous tennis player in Brazil. He won the French open last year. And he said that he would join this idea. He will donate for each person that goes to his game, he would donate one Real for some institutions that he is helping. So, it is just a beginning, but I am sure that other people will have the same ideas. It will -- that is to help other people. We don't need to do too much. But the little that we do, we can make a better life for those people.

Q. On the track itself, it is easy to see that Marlboro Team Penske team has made some strides over 1977, but at least from observing it appears to still be a problem with the chassis. Is the chassis developing a problem? How is this affecting the team?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, let's do a quick review of this very beginning of the year: We had four races. My view of those four races is that we had a very good car in Miami where we qualified in the front row. Unfortunately, we couldn't keep up with the race because of some problems we had. Second race, Japan, I think the car was great. Al Unser finished second on a very, very strong race. And, we went to the third race with some good hopes, but, of course, this is a brand new package. It is very important for everybody to understand what is a completely new package. There is nothing from the 1997 car that you can use on the 1998 car. It is a completely different car. The only thing that is similar are the wheels. Everything else is completely different. So what has happened? You have to develop a completely new package of information. You have to learn about this new car mechanically, aerodynamically, and, on the electronics side. And on the beginning it is normal that you use a lot of the time that you have available for testing, for developing the car for the speed, on the reliability. And, we did spend some very precious time on the very early part of the season trying to make the car reliable. So, tracks like Miami, St. Louis, and Japan, we had a very successful run. So we know -- we understand the car on those tracks. On other places, like street courses, it is normal that we are at a disadvantage because you can't test on those tracks. So, having a brand new car on a very, very competitive environment like CART Racing, makes the life a little bit difficult because we are talking about 3-, 4-, 6/10 of a second. We are not talking about a full second. And, I really believe that after some tests that we did this past week, we are having more and more knowledge about the car and this car will be very, very competitive. I personally don't have questions about it.

Q. Andre, the track, it is flat, really wide sweeping corners. Where do you see the passing is going to take place and could you talk a bit more about the track itself?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Okay, the Rio de Janeiro track is a very, very unique track. As you mentioned, you have one long straight, I believe, it is the longest straight on our series. Then you have two very sharp turns when you do compare with any other oval race tracks. The good thing about this is that because of the long straight, you can develop a lot of draft and because of the heavy braking you can generate a lot of passing. So basically this track has four turns, but I would consider only two as real turns because the other two is just easy flat, just two kinks and on those two, it is low corners - that is turn No. 1 and turn No. 4. You have to downshift probably two times or three, so you go from six to third, or six to fourth. And you will see a lot of passing in those two areas because two very, very heavy braking areas.

Q. I wanted a little more specifics, if possible, on the food donations; what kind of institutions will be the recipients?

ANDRE RIBEIRO: Okay, we did pick 14 institutions. Because our idea is we don't believe that we can solve the problems of one institution or another. But what we can do is, because I am going personally to each institution to give the money, is to promote them, to use the media to show them to the community, so the idea is that the community will be the real helpers for those institutions. We did pick everything. We have institutions that they care of kids, homeless kids, abused kids. Also we did big institutions that take care of homeless people in general, hospitals. So, we really tried to diversify and really -- pick the serious ones, the ones that really need help, but really work hard to help other people. And, as I mentioned before, we are just trying to create an example. Of course, I don't expect that $10,000, for example, will change their lives forever. But, I think the example was the biggest thing and as I mentioned before, on the first presentation, we already saw the results on another sportsman and I think this is the objective.

T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for the afternoon. We want to thank everybody who joined us today. We want to thank Andre for joining us. Wish him best of luck in the upcoming Rio 400 this coming Sunday at the Nelson Piquet International Raceway. Thanks again to all of you for being with us this afternoon. We will talk to you next week.

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