CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for joining us today. We're pleased to be joined by a pair of guests this afternoon, drivers Mark Blundell of the past PacWest Racing Group, and Gil de Ferran of Walker Racing. Welcome, Mark, welcome Gil. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today. This weekend's Budweiser GI Joe's 200, presented by Texaco/Havoline, at Portland International Raceway, marks the one-year anniversary of the closest finish in championship CART history in which Mark edged Gil by a scant 27 thousandths of a second, about seven feet, in a drag race from the final corner to the finish line. It was the first victory of Mark's FedEx Championship Series career and the second consecutive runner-up finish for Gil at Portland. As they head to Portland this weekend for round nine of the FedEx Championship Series, Gil ranks fifth in the PPG Cup point standings with 55 points. He comes in off a third place finish two weeks ago in the IGT Automotive, Detroit Grand Prix, matching a season high previously established at Japan. Mark currently stands 17th in the race for the PPG Cup with 16 points. He has scored in six of eight events this season with a best finish of seventh at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco/Havoline, round nine of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ESPN, Sunday, June 21st at 5 p.m. eastern time. With that we'll open the floor for questions.
Q. I was wondering for both of them, have either one of the teams had a chance to test at Portland yet this year and how the tests have gone, how competitive they feel they're going to be coming into our city?
GIL de FERRAN: We did have an opportunity to test in Portland. I tested right after Long Beach. The tests went pretty well. I think we matched the pole position time, actually went a little bit quicker on that occasion, than the pole position from 1997. So I think it was pretty successful. It was a Goodyear tire test. We were trying to have Goodyear determine both constructions and compounds for the upcoming race.
MARK BLUNDELL: We haven't tested there. In fact, what has been going on, my teammate, Mauricio Gugelmin, has been away testing in Florida at Sebring for a few days. That's been pretty conclusive for us. We're sort of hopeful we're going to go into the race this weekend with a very strong package under or belts. Obviously, that's something which has been a little bit of, you know, hurting us over the course of this season so far. We're very optimistic for this weekend.
Q. Are you saying you made some substantial gains in Sebring? I know in Detroit, you were somewhat concerned that whatever the problem was seemed to be escaping the team?
MARK BLUNDELL: It certainly looks as though we've found something. And over the course of three days, it was very, very much an improvement day by day. There was definitely some progress made. Some trains of thought were used in how to improve the car. And we very much hope, as I say, we're going to turn up at Portland and be strong out of the box and get to where we were at the end of last season and become, you know, a front-running team again. That's all our objectives.
Q. Mark, I just wondered if you could reflect back on the emotional highs and lows you went through a year ago right now, coming so close at Detroit, then to have to deal with that, come back the next race and get the victory?
MARK BLUNDELL: Well, you know, a lot of guys ask me that question about what the emotional highs and lows were of Detroit. For that split second there when we ran out of gas on the last corner, last lap, I'd have to say it's one of the biggest lows, because you know, I felt very much a win was going to be for us, with only 50 or 60 yards to go. But in a short period of time, what came out of that, even as I made my way back home that evening, was, "Okay, all right, we didn't win that race, but we showed that we could win. You know, we run at the front, both me and my teammates. It's not going to be long before we turn this around to actually cross the checkered flag first." Going into Portland felt very comfortable. We worked very hard, great race car. We weren't too concerned about qualifying, you know, it's always nice to be up at the front, but we felt very strong for the race. That's exactly how we were for that race at Portland last year in '97. The high then of winning the event in the fashion that we won it, how it was done, and the conditions, was tremendous. You know, it's certainly going to stick with me for a very long time and I'm sure it's going to be with Gil for a while. That's going to be something that's going to be hard to beat.
Q. I'd like to ask Mark how difficult this season has been, in the respect that you had three wins last year? It looked like a really strong platform to go on and really challenge this time. Had it been perhaps a more gradual buildup to challenging, then it might have been a bit easier to take? Would that be fair to say, Mark?
MARK BLUNDELL: I think you're probably right in that respect. We came off a tremendous finish last year, winning three races, finishing second in a couple other races, 500-mile events we were very strong as well. There wasn't really one place that we didn't go to from mid-season onwards where we weren't competitive. You know, we felt that the winter was going to be a good winter for us. We finished up with the last race, winning at Fontana. We were looking forward to the start of the '98 season. Unfortunately, you know, it is frustrating certainly from my point of view, and even from the team's point of view, because we really haven't been in a situation where we can put our hands up and say, "We changed this, we changed that." That's been a little bit of a problem for us to analyze where we've been going wrong. But, you know, as I say, over the recent few days of testing, the team has concluded doing some improvements, made some progress. And I'm hoping this weekend is going to be a turnabout weekend. Certainly would be very fitting in coming here as defending champion, trying to actually make amends and get back on that podium again.
Q. Is it something that very much keeps you up nights, the way this season has been?
MARK BLUNDELL: Well, you know, for me, it is tough to try and swallow it. As I say, we were very strong last year. And I definitely felt that, although I wasn't sort of conclusively saying, "We're definitely championship contenders." I was saying, "All I want to do is go and win races. If that championship develops, we'll think bit it then." We haven't been in a situation to even think about the championship at this point. We've been struggling slightly in terms of trying to get our race car right over the course of a weekend. I'm not losing any faith. I have great faith in my team owner, my team, everybody who is around me. You know, it's just a little bit of character building. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. A bit cliche. But I think it means a great deal. I think you're going to see that with us this weekend.
Q. Mark, you just mentioned that last year, coming out of Detroit, even though you suffered that disappointment, you were feeling pretty high, had you a chance to win going into Portland. Finished third this year in Detroit. How do you feel about going into -- I'm sorry, not third. How do you feel about going into Portland?
MARK BLUNDELL: I feel strong about going into this race, like I felt strong going into every race. But, you know, this one seems to be different in a couple of ways. One, because we're going in as defending champs. You know, it's the anniversary of our first win for me and the team. And although that's history, it is something which is factual. And that's what we're going to take there when we turn up on Friday morning. Secondly, while I've actually been away for a few days back in the UK, the team have been working very, very hard with my teammate Mauricio Gugelmin, doing some testing in Sebring, Florida. As I said, I'm very, very hopeful, very optimistic that there's been some good, good, solid progress made. That's going to give us sort of a great solid baseline to kickoff Friday morning. That's where I'm focused. Friday morning is where my weekend is going to start. If I come out of the box strong, I hope you're going to see us strong all weekend until we get to the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon.
Q. You were third in Detroit, Gil. That's what I meant earlier. How do you feel coming into this race?
GIL de FERRAN: I think we feel pretty good. We've been having a very good season so far. We haven't scored a win yet, but, you know, we've been extremely competitive. Come close a few times. There's no reason for me to think it's going to be any different in Portland. As I said a little earlier, we did test. I think the tests went pretty well. I honestly hope that, you know, we're going to do quite well there. We seem to have a pretty good road course set up. The team is working really well, both in giving me a good race car and on pit stops. So everything gives me a really positive outlook on it going into Portland. Hopefully we'll qualify in the front row like we did last year, but hopefully we'll go one position better than what we did last year.
Q. Mark, the last year, you had to feel a feeling going down that straightaway heading for that start/finish line that this thing may quit any second now, but how did that feel?
MARK BLUNDELL: You know, I pretty much was -- if you're referring to the win, what we had in Portland, winning by 27 thousandths of a second?
MARK BLUNDELL: It was actually a very easy race for me in some respects to actually pull off the win. Coming off the back of that last few laps, it was a situation that I didn't actually know that Gil was leading the race. That was purely put across to me from my guy John Anderson who was on the radio. In fact, done really in a way that he knew that whoever was in front of me, I was going to overtake, whether it be a blue car, red car or white car. There was no need to actually inform me who the leader was. He kept monitoring the situation, "You're up X, Y, Z seconds from the leader." It went from there. When I crossed the line, crossed the line just a few feet in front of Gil, at that point it didn't really sink in. It wasn't until really halfway around that the actual feeling of saying, "Well, we just clocked the first win," actually came to us. But it was kind of a remarkable race in so many reasons. That was one of them. And the conditions were also, you know, pretty tricky, the way we won it with a short margin of victory as well. So many events happened over the course of that weekend to make it a great win.
Q. You weren't worried about fuel?
MARK BLUNDELL: I wasn't worried about fuel at that point in that race. Because of the situation of rain being heavy over the first 60 percent of the race, it really put us, you know, into a window where we were quite efficient in the fuel consumption. It didn't figure in that race, that part of it.
Q. Gil, I know that this had to give you somewhat of a sinking feeling when he went by, though.
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah. I mean, it was a tough race for us in the sense that, I mean, I think rightly so, they decided to keep us out on wet because we've been, you know, planning this race ever since in the morning. We thought if it was going to be wet, it was probably going to be a time race. Turns out that halfway through the race, we knew it was going to be a time race. We knew it was going to be short. So, I mean, nothing actually that did happen that day happened by chance. It was all pretty much thought out throughout the race. So going into the end of the race, we knew there was, you know, a certain lap time that we could deal with, still with the wet tires, you know, we were just about to approach the lap time as the race were getting to the end. So, you know, we thought, "Well, we'll stay on the wets," which I think was totally the right call. But from there on, I was in a defending position, especially in the last two, three laps of the race where the difference in lap time between myself and Mark I think it was about six or seven seconds a lap. So if we were to hold somebody back, six or seven seconds a lap, in a ethical manner, is not very easy. I knew I was in that position. We managed to hold him back throughout the last lap. Coming out of the last turn, I said, "That's it, only one more acceleration left and I'm home." But unfortunately, you know, we got a little bit of whirl spin, the tires were pretty rooted by then, we got a little bit of whirl spin. From there on, there was nothing I could do. It was, like you guys all say, a drag race to the finish line. At one point, I thought I crossed the finish line in front of Mark, but only to figure out that the finish line was actually a little bit further up. So that's why if you see in the photographs, you see me kind of shaking my hand up, because I thought I won it. But also that was not the case. I have to say it was a disappointment, you know, and I was a little bit in disbelief. But, you know, you have to face the facts, I guess.
Q. Mark, road courses seem to favor you. That is in keeping what your favorite type of road course is? Am I wrong? Is it an oval, temporary, permanent road course? For Gil, Cleveland, if you could skip ahead one race, has been good to you with a pull and a win. I wonder if you could express some thought on that venue?
MARK BLUNDELL: I guess the street courses and road courses are a more home environment for me to be out on because that's pretty much where I had most of my race career based upon in Europe on those sort of tracks. At the same point, I don't feel any problem with going out on an oval and being competitive, you know. You probably remember last year as an instance, we finished second in Michigan, we won the Fontana race on two super speedways. We got a very good finishing record as a team on those race tracks. Definitely it's been a little bit of a problem for us on the shorter ovals. But I don't feel that's a situation where I don't feel at home with them, it's just a case of us getting our package right. That's certainly going to become stronger as we go on through the season. But, no, I don't have any problems with the ovals. Yes, I do feel a little bit more at home, but a racetrack is a racetrack at the end of the day.
Q. Do you think it's a matter that your road course background lets you comment to the crew more competently on road course setups rather than ovals? Is it just that they are newer?
MARK BLUNDELL: I don't think that's really it. I mean, at the end of the day, if you've got a piece of track, it's got a straight and a corner and a straight in it, whether it be an oval where you connect it up, four corners, you're back around again, or whether it's a road course, street course, where there's another 15 or 16 turns, you're still going to identify the problems and respond with what's wrong with the car. You know, pretty much there's a little bit of a situation where what you will say is on the street course, a road course, there's a bit of a problem, you've got a bit more flexibility to drive around that problem, whereas on an oval, it's not quite like that. If there's an issue with the package of what you've got underneath you on the day, doesn't matter who you are. I don't care whether you're Superman or Batman, you're not going to drive around and get rid of the problem on an oval. You've got to bring it in and accommodate for it with reducing your speed.
Q. Mr. de Ferran?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, Cleveland. I guess Cleveland has been pretty kind to us. I guess in '95 I had a good chance to win my first CART race there. We came within I think five or ten laps of it, when I led the whole race, then we won it in '96. We came very close to winning again in '97, finishing second. You know, it's hard to pinpoint one particular reason for the recent success in Cleveland. But, you know, I think that it's a track I like very much. I think it's a very unique track, even though it's not a permanent road circuit, even though it's a temporary road circuit, it's very unlike any other road circuit, permanent or temporary by that matter, in the way that it's very wide, it's got some really medium and fast speed turns, and it gives the driver a lot of flexibility in the way he drives the track. I enjoy that, you know. It gives me an opportunity to explore different things while you're driving that perhaps in other circuits I don't. I obviously, you know, over the last three years I was there, I enjoyed some pretty good equipment at that track. So, you know, that cannot good unnoticed. We obviously had a pretty good car the three years we were there. That makes me very confident going into it this year again because obviously all the setups and all the experience we accumulated over this last three years will apply again in '98. So that makes me fairly confident that we'll probably go there with a car that's going to be pretty decent. You know, the fact that I think I know how to drive that track also makes me feel confident.
Q. Mark, you have a Brazilian teammate, and of course the World Cup is going on now. I think Brazil is a 3-1 shot to win the World Cup, England is 12-1.
GIL de FERRAN: That sounds about right.
MARK BLUNDELL: Easy, Gil.
Q. Because of that, because you mentioned you had just gone back to England for a couple of days, is there any sort of friendly rivalries among the drivers because you have so many Brazilians, so many international drivers, that's such a great sport event coming along once every four years? Do you talk about that sort of thing or are you pretty well sticking to car racing talk?
MARK BLUNDELL: You know, I think there's going to be some friendly banter, friendly rivalry when we arrive at Portland this weekend, certainly because the World Cup is well underway now, and most of the teams have now played, got some results there. There will be some other results following as the week goes through now. I'm sure there's going to be some friendly, you know, constructive banter between the Brazilians and England, the Mexicans, and America as well. At this point in time, I think Brazil are very strong in the football, soccer world as you call it. You know, we've got high hopes in our little island of England. I'm sure that there's some high hopes from many other countries, as well. It's a great event. It's certainly got a lot of interest. I'm sure there will be a talk in point for a few moments in our weekend, but we'll have to get the serious events of our race cars done.
Q. When you look at the standings, it's kind of perplexing to see you and Mauricio, I think you're 17th and 18th in the point standings. It's been talked about before this morning about how well you did last year. I think in Detroit, for instance, I think Greg Moore was the fastest qualifying Mercedes engine. I think the next fastest was 13th. Is that the problem? Your team had made such great progress last year. It almost seems to all kind of fallen apart in the eight or nine races this year. Is it basically the engine that's the problem because your team seems to be really coming on as one of the dominant teams in the series?
MARK BLUNDELL: I don't think it's the engine. I don't think it's any one thing, to be perfectly honest with you. It's just a case of, you know, we maybe lost a little bit of direction when we came into the season. You know, certainly we took on board the fact we felt more comfortable in running our '97 cars for a few races. Maybe, you know, retrospectively now we can look back and say, "That may not have been the best thing to do at the time." It's very easy to talk about the facts once they're historic facts. All I know that is my team has got some great people, great strengths. It's a race-winning team. We've proven that. We did it last year. I've got every faith and confidence in saying that, you know, I'm going into the rest of season now, getting towards the middle of the season, and looking towards the end of it, saying that every race is going to be a possibility to go and fight for wins. That's hopefully going to kickoff this weekend in Portland. Because I just feel there's definitely been some progress made over the last few days, and that progress is going to be enough for us to be back on stream again, be, as you say, one of those top flag teams.
Q. With Bruce, has there been any talk about -- I'm not saying you're panicking, but does he want to turn the team upside down, make changes, or is he going to stay the course? What's been his reaction to your performance of both cars earlier in the season?
MARK BLUNDELL: Obviously, Bruce is disappointed, like we all are. We're a little bit frustrated by what we turned in in terms of results compared to where we were last year. But it's not in his nature to panic. He's very much got a handle on what's going on. He's got some trains of thought what he's putting in to sort of progress now for the remainder of the season. And I think what he's doing, what he's got arranged, what has been done over the last few months is definitely the right way to go. You know, as I say, I mean, I don't have any doubts about the people around me. And that's from Bruce all the way down to the people who are based at the factory and even never get to a race. I've got every confidence. That's why I know that things are going to come right.
Q. Do you feel overcoming such hurdles as the broken foot in 1996 affected your career in any way and if so, how?
MARK BLUNDELL: For me, I mean there was definitely a big hurdle for me when I had the crash in Rio in '96. It was actually a tough one for me for many reasons. One, because I only just arrived in the CART championship, it was like the second race into the season or such. It was the most violent crash I've ever had in my career. First time I'd ever broken any bones. I was out of a race car for seven weeks. From that standpoint, it was quite a tough hurdle, psychologically and physically as well to overcome. But I don't think it's held me back in any way. It just brings in some realization that, you know, things can happen. There's a certain amount of risk involved in this game, and you've got to take it on board. The end of it, like all of us, Gil sitting on the other end of the phone as well, he has a choice. The choice is whether he wants to go out there and put it on the line or whether he wants to sit back and watch it on TV. Because of our nature, we want to go and put it on the line, we want to go and enjoy ourselves and do the best we can for our teams, our sponsors and put on a great show. We're very fortunate to be able to do that.
Q. Gil, I thought I heard you giggle a little bit when Mark was talking about the chances of England against Brazil in the World Cup. Your thoughts?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, he's got some hopes. I think they're totally unfounded (laughter).
Q. Mark, your comeback?
MARK BLUNDELL: I just keep remembering Portland 1997.
Q. Proves that the underdog can make it back, right?
MARK BLUNDELL: Exactly.
Q. Gil, as you look at Portland coming around, is this the time of the season where you think maybe you can turn things around and make a stretch run for the title?
GIL de FERRAN: I think that's certainly possible. I mean, I think if it wasn't for some misfortune that we had on two, three races, I think we have 3-0 so far in the first how many races have we got, seven or eight, we should have been higher up. All three of those zeros, we were well up there. So the statistics says that, you know, probably the top two, three guys are going to have a few zeros before the day is over. So I don't think the championship is lost by any means. You know, all I have to do is keep myself in the podium. I think the championship is still a definite possibility. I know there is a large points deficit to Zanardi. I certainly don't believe that's insurmountable.
Q. With you, Mark, had there not been the three victories last year, would the difficulties of this year be tougher to handle?
MARK BLUNDELL: It's tough to handle whatever, I mean, if you expect so much, and it's just not there. But it is pretty difficult to handle in one respect because we had so much success last year, and it would be equally as difficult to handle it if we didn't have the success last year, because, again, as I said, the expectations are so high. But I'm taking it in my stride because I don't feel there's any reason to be sort of panicky about it, to concern ourselves too with the fact that the results haven't turned out yet. I'm still confident that over the course of the season is going to be good for us. As I say, I'm really optimistic that this weekend is going to be the start of it. I can't think anything else at this point.
Q. A question for both of you on tires. If you could give a reflection from both standpoints, the Firestone and Goodyear side. Gil, you made a comment earlier that last year you thought you had already crossed the finish line. I'm wondering if you had maybe backed off a little bit at that point.
GIL de FERRAN: Oh, no. I kept it nailed until the end of the straight just in case. I was flat out throughout the supposedly two finish lines. There was no backing off there. It was just a matter of not enough acceleration at that point.
Q. If you could both comment on your perspective of where the tire battles are going right now.
GIL de FERRAN: Well, you know, I think Goodyear has made a lot of progress since last year. I mean, I think they will be the first ones to admit that last year was a very difficult year for them. But, you know, I think the progress has been quite tremendous really. I mean, we did you know, over seven thousand miles of testing during the winter, 90% of which was on Goodyear's behalf. I think the performances the Goodyear tire has shown so far this year is the proof of that progress. Obviously, we have only one victory to show with Michael Andretti in Homestead, but I don't think those numbers are an accurate measurement of Goodyear's progress. You know, I feel I certainly could have won, for example, Long Beach. If it wasn't for mechanical failure, we probably should have won the race. Ten laps from the end, I had a gearbox fail. So it's been very good. Obviously, last weekend and sort of the weekend before last in Detroit, it was a little bit difficult for us. But nevertheless, I feel very confident going into the road course half of the year. You know, we done quite a bit of road course testing at Goodyear. I think they came up with some new compounds, new constructions from last year. Hopefully it will be competitive enough for us to win a race. Obviously, we don't know that when we arrive at each particular race. The goal posts keep moving. Firestone is doing their own development. You don't know where they -- how much they have developed over the course of the year, as well. But I feel pretty confident about Goodyear's effort.
MARK BLUNDELL: I just reflect on the statistics. Firestone have definitely been the top tire over the course of the season so far. I don't see that as being any different up until the end of this season. I think it's good that Goodyear have improved their product, but definitely Firestone have got the upper hand, and it reflects in statistics of what they've won, what they've achieved, even when you look back over the first top six to ten placings and where they finish up.
Q. For both Gil and Mark, approaching Portland this weekend, are you going to approach it any differently than any other race because of your win last year, Mark, and Gil, you're so close with the points, how are you going to approach this race?
MARK BLUNDELL: I'm certainly not going to approach it any differently. The fact we're going to turn up as defending championship, I don't know, is very, very nice. I'm going to go in there looking for success and looking to go and win the race again. That's the same attitude and objectives that myself and my team have every time we go and race. It's going to be a situation, again, which is probably going to be weather dependent. It looks as though we could have similar conditions as last year's race. That's fine from my end of things. I'm very comfortable with whether it's dry or wet. Firestone have got a great product out with the new wet tires, as well. We're looking forward to running that and seeing the improvements.
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't think I'll probably approach any different, as well. I mean, at this point in the championship, there's still so many races to go that I think it would be a mistake to focus on one or another competitor in terms of the points race. I think basically what we have to do is go out there and to finish in the best position we can. That hopefully is going to strengthen our championship position. So at this point, I'm not going to be doing anything different or focusing on a particular competitor, such as Zanardi or Greg Moore. I think all we have to do is qualify the best we can and get to the end of the race in the best position we can. That's going to hopefully help us.
Q. Gil, if the weather is like it was last year, do you think Goodyear has made enough progress to be closer to the Firestone this year in the wet?
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, I think so. We had a couple wet sessions, no wet races, but a few wet sessions, both in Long Beach and in Detroit. I think the tire has proven to be quite competitive. I mean, in Detroit we were fairly fast in the wet, quite fast in the wet shall I say, and the same happened in Long Beach. So I think the Goodyear wet tire will probably be up to the challenge.
Q. Maybe you won't have hail in Detroit like you had in Portland last year.
T.E. McHALE: At this point we'll open it for general questions. We'll take a couple more before we let our guests go for the afternoon.
Q. Mark, I'd like to ask you your thoughts on Formula 1 championship as things stand at the moment?
MARK BLUNDELL: I mean, it's an open-ended question with respect to where you want to look. Certainly, it's encouraging to see that there's a few teams that are catching up. Ferrari is looking a little bit stronger as we saw from the performances at Montreal. I think it's still a little bit of a frustration to watch from my standpoint, you know, personally to see that when there is one team that dominates so much, it makes it definitely in the processional racing. I'm not a fan of processional racing.
Q. The contrast we're getting over here with Channel 5 and Eurosport's coverage of the series you're in and the coverage of Formula 1 the same day bring it up.
MARK BLUNDELL: Definitely, the FedEx CART series is so strong, so competitive. For me, there's just no comparison. If you turn on your TV and you want to watch a great motor race, there's only one to look, and that's to watch us. You're going to see action up for the full two hours. F-1 at present, I'm ashamed to say it in many respects because I was a competitor in it for a number of years, but it definitely is a situation where you're going to see some action for the first 60 seconds, you can pretty much say whoever is in that position is going to be finishing that position come the end of the race. Not going to be much in between. They're both different in their own way, both have their fans. They've definitely got their fors and againsts. All I would preach is there's another option out there, and the other option has great entertainment value.
Q. Do you think the F-1 rules recognize they have a problem?
MARK BLUNDELL: I think they do. What they can do to amend it or rectify it in the short-term is difficult for me to actually visualize at this point. They've certainly tried a number of things over the past few years, but nothing seems to be making the deficit performance between the teams any better in terms of making the racing more interesting. But I think if they take a lead from over here, you know, it would certainly be a little bit more objective in terms of good racing. That's difficult to do in the case they are all individual manufacturers. You know, it is a slightly different concept. It's not a tough -- it's going to be a tough question to get answered for making it more competitive.
Q. Gil, as you gentlemen both know, Paul Tracy was placed on probation for the incident in Detroit. Paul's contention is that there have been other incidents this year such as, Gil, when you ran into him in Rio, and no action was taken against you. He feels it's a little bit inconsistent that the action was taken against him. Your thoughts on that?
GIL de FERRAN: My thought is the action should be taken against him back in Rio. He claimed he did not see me. I took his word for it. That's the way I saw that incident. I put myself beside him on the braking, and he turned in as if I didn't exist, and obviously contact was unavoidable from there. I do believe that, you know, obviously I'm not fully aware of the circumstances over the accident between himself and Christian that happened in Detroit, so it would be unfair for me to comment on that one. I can certainly comment on the one in Rio. I believe some action should be taken against him back then.
Q. It was said yesterday that there's concern that there's been so many of these mishaps this year, incidents. Do you gentlemen both believe that there have been more than usual this year? If so, why?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I'm not so sure there's been more than usual. Like Mark was saying, we're in a very, very competitive racing series. The equipment is very equal, you know. That creates very close racing. When you have close racing, you're going to have a few incidents, either by misjudgment or whatever other reason, you know. But when you have close racing like that, unfortunately a few incidents are going to happen. I think it is the job of the organizers to really clamp down on bad driving because it's the nature of the game that drivers will try to take advantage wherever they can. It's the organizers that really have to draw the line and say, "That's what you can do, that's what you cannot do." They have to do that by actions such as they took in this circumstance. I think they have to keep doing that consistently and continuously to clamp down on dangerous driving.
Q. Mark, your thoughts on that?
MARK BLUNDELL: As Gil says, the situation really is that we do have such a competitive series. You know, I don't think there's any more incidents than what there has been over the past couple of years since I've been involved. I think there's a situation that also, you know, in a couple of areas, you could say that when you're beaten, you're beaten. Don't try and reclaim that position at that point in time. Sometimes these races go on for a very long time, from two hours to three hours, they have a lot of laps under their belts to try to make amends. Some people don't quite see that, at a number of points during the race. I think what Gil said as well, it's good that the organization is taking a stand on this. I probably feel they should do it a little bit closer to when the event happened. It's a little bit tough to actually swallow when it comes a week or so after the event itself. At the same point, as long as they're going to be standardized, consistent and predictable on what they do, I think it's good for the sport and I think it will maybe clamp down a little bit on some of the moves. At the end of it, it says on the back of the ticket when you enter the racetrack, Motor sport is dangerous, and that's what we'll take on board. We've all got self preservation built into us. We're not doing it on purpose, we're going to try to make a good show and give some great racing back to the fans.
T.E. McHALE: At this point I'm going to step in and say we'll take one final question before we wrap up this afternoon.
Q. Mark, this referred earlier to Formula 1, the typical processional racing that you see over there. There was talk at the end of '96, you heard these rumors all the time, of course, that Gil might go back to Formula 1. This year you hear about Zanardi perhaps going to Ferrari or British American racing, talk that Greg Moore will be ready to go there this year or in a couple years. Do you think the drivers on the cart circuit, especially because both of you have driven in both series, do you think there's a reluctance now for CART drivers if given the opportunity to want to go back to Formula 1, or would either of you jump at the chance to go back? One supplementary question, who is most likely to go from this CART series back to Formula 1 right now? What sort of rumors do you hear?
MARK BLUNDELL: I guess it's a little bit of a funny one. I think you'll find there's probably a few drivers in Formula 1 that would love to cross the pond and come into our series, purely because they know what we've they've got over here is great racing. The difficult thing is, if you go into Formula 1, and you're in a position where you're within a team which is not really, you know, that high up on the performance scale, you pretty much know where you're going to be as soon as you pull out of the garage. I know because I've been that that situation for a number of years in F-1. It's kind of tough to keep that up. For a period of time without the light at the end of the tunnel to know that one day, you know, a great opportunity's going to open up. That will probably be and has been the fact over the last couple of seasons. The only way I would ever go back to F-1 is if there was a great opportunity. As I would say, it still would have to be a tremendous one. You can't beat the racing here. We're a great team. I'm having a great time. You know, it's a great way to live. It would have to be a very, very big carrot to induce me to go back. It could be different for Gil. I don't think Gil has actually been behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car in a Grand Prix. It might be the case he would like to do that in his career.
Q. Gil, did you actually have opportunities or inquiries about you going to Formula 1 a couple years ago? When you look at the competitiveness of your series, I was wondering if you would -- if that would make you reluctant to accept an opportunity over there, unless it was with one of the very top teams? In fact, I there's much more competition in your series than there is over there. Do you have any thought about doing that?
GIL de FERRAN: It's very flattering, but in a way, I very much agree with Mark that I don't see going to Formula 1 as a step up, you know. It's certainly a different mountain to climb. Might be an interesting challenge. But, you know, it's something that even when a proposal or an offer happens, you have to analyze with attention because it has to be a very good offer or certainly better than anything that I can get over here, mostly in terms of competitiveness. To be quite honest with you, ever since I came here in 1995, it's been a wonderful move in my career. I don't regret one bit. I still have not achieved my objective of winning this championship. We came close a couple times. My primary objective now is to win this series. I love this series. On a personal point of view, it's been a wonderful change living here in America. I enjoy it tremendously. It's going to have to be something pretty big to move me out of this situation. I have to say, you know, I heard throughout this entire conference a lot of criticism going toward Formula 1. Obviously, I share that the racing is quite different. But I have to say as a race fan, I do still enjoy Formula 1 quite a bit. It's a different sort of racing, though. It's completely different. But, you know, just to conclude, I'm happy here. At this moment, I wish to remain racing in this for many years to come. Hopefully I'll win it once or more times in those years.
T.E. McHALE: At this point we're going to wrap up for today. We want to thank both Mark Blundell and Gil de Ferran for being our guests this afternoon. Gentlemen, thank you, and best of luck in the Budweiser/GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco Havoline. Coming up on Sunday in Portland, Oregon.
MARK BLUNDELL: Thank you.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon and we'll talk to you next week.
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