CART Media Conference
RON RICHARDS: I'd like to welcome everybody to our weekly teleconference. Today we have a very significant announcement regarding the three-time champions of the FedEx Champion series Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team. They have been, as I think everybody knows, the most dominant force in the series over the past three season. They have won 21 of the last 49 races. And they are only the second team in CART history to win three consecutive titles. The other being Penske Racing in 1981 through 1983. So at this time, I'd like to turn it over to the man who owns the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team and the guy who has been the person who has pulled all these people together to have this kind of success. Chip Ganassi. Chip.
CHIP GANASSI: Thank you, Ron. Hello, everybody. I am here today to announce that we have re-signed the 1996 Champion Jimmy Vasser to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. While I don't wish to discuss the terms of his contract to date, we have signed him for three years. As you know, Jimmy, I feel, is one of the most underrated drivers on the circuit. I think everyone -- his consistency record speaks for itself. His win record speaks for itself. His on-track as well as off-track skills speak for themselves. I couldn't be happier to have Jimmy back on the team. He is someone who I feel is a backbone in any team and we couldn't be more happy to have him. This process, as you know, has been going on for quite a while. For the last few months there has been some discussion. At no time during those discussions had Jimmy and I have been anything but straight up with each other about everything that was going on and I am very pleased to announce that those negotiations have concluded and we have re-signed him. We are very happy. With that, I am going to turn it over to the man himself, Jimmy.
JIMMY VASSER: Thanks, Chip. Like Chip says, it's been a bit of a process and I am very relieved and very happy to have finalized my plans for the next three years. I have been associated with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing for four years now and that is, by far, the longest running association I have had with any race team. The partnership that Chip has created with our sponsor Target, with our engine supplier Honda and the tire manufacturer Firestone, and the team and the people that he has able to assembled, made my decision pretty easy when I decided what it was that was important to me. I couldn't really justify making a move to any other teams. I am very fortunate to have been involved and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my relationship with Chip and his great team and now that we have this behind us, we have a task to try to become one, two in the Championship this year and to try to do something next season that I don't think any team has done in the history of CART Racing and that is go for four championships in a row. So with those type of tasks on my horizon and on the horizon as a racing team, I am very, very excited. Those are great challenges and for me to have an opportunity to win another Championship next year, there is no team that I would have an opportunity to really do that with. If I go to another team it takes many years to develop the relationships with the individuals on the race team, with the engineers, with the sponsors, you just can't replace those kind of things. I think we have a real good chance of doing that next year and in the future. I am really excited and relieved to have all that behind me.
RON RICHARDS: At this time we will open it up to questions.
Q. If you could just give your impressions of past races at Laguna Seca and why it is a special place for you guys to come race every year?
JIMMY VASSER: I will take the first part of that. Obviously, for me, it is very special. I grew up in the South Bay Area; went to high school in Morgan Hill, did my driving school at Laguna Seca. I have got a lot of friends and family in the Bay Area. The last two years for me have been fantastic at Laguna Seca clinching the Championship in '96 winning the race last year and having my teammate win the Championship. Nothing but great memories at Laguna Seca for me and I am looking forward to coming back this weekend.
Q. Any thoughts about the site and what makes it such a good race?
CHIP GANASSI: I, just to say -- what Jimmy said, I mean, Laguna has been great to our team the last few years. You have the most recent race winner at Laguna on the telephone with us today. I think that speaks volumes. I think, you know, again we have a task at hand for the rest of the season here and there is no better place I'd like to get at that task then at Laguna Seca.
Q. For Chip, did this contract -- was it a little trickier or something and talk about Alex maybe leaving the team going to Formula 1, did that make it much more -- even more paramount to sign Jimmy and keep a good portion of the team intact?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, I think to a certain degree -- the answer to that is really yes and no. On one hand we do have a team. On the other hand, we are fortunate that we have two No. 1 drivers. So we really -- I think we really view those negotiations separately when it comes -- because we have two No. 1 drivers, I don't think that it is fair to one or the another to say, gee, you are more important because someone is or isn't here or you are less important because they are here or not here. I think when you are in a situation where you have two No. 1 drivers, they have to be treated as such.
Q. Were you concerned -- sounded like reading between the lines that there was some concern that you might lose a very valuable driver this year. Was there any point there where you thought you might lose him -- you'd like to have two No. 1 drivers, I am sure?
CHIP GANASSI: When you have a great driver and it is end of his contract, certainly there is always concern. I think there is always that possibility. I mean, I made no bones about the fact that we were -- that - I mean, nobody tried to hide the fact that we were at the end of a contract and I mean, while the past -- while his past contract, I mean, really really bore fruit and, you know, I guess there is always that possibility that, you know, that you couldn't come to terms. Certainly glad we did.
Q. You said you had a task at hand beginning this weekend. What exactly is that task you were talking about?
CHIP GANASSI: That task is to sew up No. 2 in the points right now. That position is still up for grabs. While the focus of our team has certainly been on both drivers and winning the championship, that focus has now shifted to, okay, we have got first locked up, let us go for second now. We want to get that. We want to put all our efforts towards that.
Q. Is Alex definitely going to Formula 1? I have been out the loop?
CHIP GANASSI: No, I wouldn't say that yet.
Q. There is a chance he might stay?
CHIP GANASSI: I won't say he is gone yet, okay, I think there is a chance he might stay. I don't think -- this is not about Zanardi today. This is about Vasser. There has been no announcement on Zanardi and there won't be, I can assure you, for a while.
Q. I have got a question for Jimmy. You were talking about as soon as you sort of -- you will put things in perspective and decide what is important to you, the decision to stay with Chip was fairly easy. Can you expand a little bit about some of the things that went into you making the decision to stay?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, just analyzing the success that I have had with the team and why, you know, I certainly don't think all the success I have with with the team was because of Jimmy Vasser. It is such a team sport and I really believe that the lion's share of the success that we have had with the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Team has been because of the people. If I go somewhere else - not to say that those people aren't as good or even better - but they are not the people that I am familiar with working with and the people that I have had success working with. I think not with just racing teams, but with anything in life, it is chemistry and continuity. You hear it a lot with Championship teams that have had success and it is because of the good working relationships. Also we have great tools. Obviously, Chip gives us every tool that we need to do the job and obviously the sponsorship. The sponsorship package in our race team is part of the reason -- is part of the people reason that I stayed too. It is not just: Here is the money, go win us some races. They are great people. They are warm. They are members of the team and all those, I guess, warm fuzzes that you get from everybody around the team, it really adds a lot. I mean, it is the biggest thing that I think that contributes to our success.
Q. I have a two-part question. One for Jimmy. Jimmy, after you spent almost three years with Mr. Zanardi, you work out to -- for testing and everything. Do you think it will be difficult for the new partner when Chip finds the new partner? How long will it take?
JIMMY VASSER: I don't know, that is a tough question. I think as Chip said earlier, there is no certainty yet if we are going to need a new partner. Obviously we would love to have Zanardi remain on the team. He has been a great competitor, a great friend, a great teammate. But if he should go, I think that it is going to be difficult to find another Zanardi and -- but, not impossible. Chip found a Zanardi in the first place - let us just say he cannot find another driver like Zanardi. It will be very difficult to find somebody to replace him if we have to. And I do think it will be difficult for whoever comes in to fill those shoes and to do the things that our team has shown to do. Because that is the nature of the sport. CART Racing is very, very competitive. You have one small problem in your weekend - and I was a perfect example this weekend qualifying 15th and have a terrible race weekend - but 3/10 of a second makes all the difference in you a qualification time and you have some small problems and you suffer greatly. So it is very, very competitive. It will be very difficult for anybody in any situation really.
Q. Mr. Chip, how long will it take before we are unhooked from the statistic, hook of the suspense waiting for Europe to give us the news or it comes from you about Mr. Zanardi?
CHIP GANASSI: I mean, I don't understand. What news?
Q. How long do we have to wait for you to give us the - okay, instead of keep us in suspense and die?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, I would think sometime in the next three weeks or something we should know.
Q. Three weeks you find -- okay. All right. Will you be the Godfather of Zanardi's son?
CHIP GANASSI: That is up to him.
Q. Congratulations, Jimmy.
JIMMY VASSER: Thank you very much.
Q. Second of all, rumors of F-I had you going there for a while or at least looking. First of all, how serious were those rumors and how much did you look around?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, you know, there was some talks and so forth. I can't really gauge the seriousness of them. They were realistic. But really, you know, it was a process for me to determine what I felt was best for Jimmy Vasser and what was most important for me to not to say, okay, am I going to go do this, but just if I was going to engage in the process of trying to make it happen, and I didn't get that far. I decided that I am perfectly happy with my life; with my career path that it has taken in the world of CART. My friends and family are here in America and it was more a decision for me personally -- would this be something that appeals to me, it is something that I want to do; will it make me more happy if I go to live in Europe and race in Europe. And the decision was that I didn't really think so. And that I am just -- I am very happy here and very happy with my race team. I am fortunate to be involved with great companies and great people and at that point in time it was an easy decision for me.
Q. I wonder when you talk about the strength of the team and the synergy and the strength of the relationships, I mean, you are talking about your chief mechanic Grant Weaver who has given you a car that comes home all the time and guys like Tom Anderson that runs the team and his right-hand man Mike Hull. I wonder if you could just briefly talk about some of those guys, the kind of experience they have and how well they do their job for you.
JIMMY VASSER: Well, I mean, they do a fantastic job not only for me but for both sides. It is not just Tom and Julian and Grant and all the mechanics that I have on my side. It is the guys on Alex's side and the guys back at the shop. I mean, I don't want to start naming names for the sake of leaving somebody out, you know, but we have got 40 some odd mechanics on our race team; probably more than that now, with addition of some test team guys. It is just -- get to work with these guys for so many years; they kind of know what they are thinking and they know what you are thinking. So it is a comfort level. It is enables you to keep your mind clear when you are doing your job you are not feeling somebody out. You don't worry if you said the wrong thing. They know what how you are and you know how they are. Guys like -- it starts at the top with Chip and obviously Tom Anderson, they have two different styles. Tom is more day-to-day. Chip is the kind of guy that expects no less than winning, especially now. And, it is a comfort level thing for me really. Guys like Morris Nunn, I mean, I haven't worked with him one day in my four years of -- without him pick his head in my cockpit and engineer one day in my four years with the team, but I gain a lot from him, just speaking in between sessions and you know, at dinnertime. It is working really well and I think it is unusual to have these kind of relationships in motor sports these days. People are changing teams all the time, mechanics and I think that is really a detriment to the success of a race team and Chip has done a good job to build and to maintain what we have got.
Q. I was thinking a few moments ago back over your career and I'd like for you to share with us a thought if you could. Back in 1992 when you first started making your first foray into the CART Series, was there ever a moment when you say: Gee, am I going to make it? I mean, you have come along way since then.
JIMMY VASSER: Yeah, I have, and I thank you very much. I suppose, you know, nothing really jumps out of my mind that I remember a clear moment when I thought that - but I am sure you do, anybody does - when you are trying to achieve things and trying to get up to the next level in anything in life, you wonder sometimes if it is going to happen. You visualize yourself achieving things and doing well and doing the right things in life, but nothing is certain in life either, so obviously, yeah, you always wonder is it going to happen for me. At that point in time I am sure I thought am I ever going to win a race. Even now, when you win a race, you think: Am I have going to win and a race again. You believe you can and you know you will, but there is always that thing in the back of your mind that you never know. It is very difficult and especially in motor racing, there is so many unknowns and so many things can happen at any time. I am fortunate that I have gotten this far, but there is so many more things to achieve. I mean, down to just this weekend, I didn't win the race. There is always achievements to be made and as long as you are in the sport, that is never going to change.
Q. I went over some back interviews that you and I did. I found one from 1995 about midway through the season. You were very optimistic that a win was just around the corner and you said: "If not this year, we are going to nail them in '96." I tried to believe you but I am paid to be skeptical; you are paid to be optimistic, but did you really know something then?
JIMMY VASSER: I am not a genie or I didn't have a crystal ball, I didn't know something that was going to happen for sure. But I truly believed it and I still believe that. I believe I can win any time I go on the racetrack and I have got the equipment and the race team to do that and the moment that I stop believing that, you know, if it's within a three years that I signed the deal with Chip, then I will tell him to rip it up and I shouldn't be out there. I don't want to represent my team that way. And I don't want to compete that way. I really believe I can win any time I go on the track.
Q. Final question if I may. The relationship with Chip, the fact that he always - and he made a point of saying this a few moments ago-he has no No. 1 and No. 2 driver. He tries to make every driver feel as though they are the No. 1. How does he do that?
JIMMY VASSER: He gives everybody everything anybody else has. I don't get anything more or less than Alessandro had over the three years or when we were teammates with Brian Herta. Back in 1995 when I came in the team late, it appeared that I was a B team on the outside. Everybody would tell me that. That was never the case. We had one spare car that we shared between the two of us. That was the first year we were a two-car team that. Is as simple as that. That is all that -- all you need to know about two No. 1s both guys get everything that the other guy has gotten.
Q. Jimmy, you may have already mentioned this earlier, but the opportunity -- we heard, obviously, your name in connection with the Formula 1 ride. Was that something that was initiated from your side or was it initiated from the British American Racing side? Were you seriously considering that ride or was that more of a case where you were using that perhaps for leverage in negotiations with Chip?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, Mike, first to answer the first part of your question, it was initiated from the BAR side. It never came to a very serious formal offer, although it was on the road to that, perhaps. And I had to deal with it in a serious manner because those are very -- it is a very serious decision. It is a very serious move. It is Formula 1. You can't take that lightly as you couldn't any offer from any top racing team, whether it be CART or NASCAR. So I was forced to, personally, for me, I was forced to make a decision for myself so I could carry on with my life in a way that I know that I-you know, I gave it all the consideration, all the thought that I could, that I could make a decision that was my own that I could live with in the future and then move on. And I decided that it probably -- it wasn't the best for me to pursue. It wasn't -- why should I pursue it unless I had 100% determination and desire in my heart to make it happen and that is exactly what I wanted. I decided that is -- wasn't what I wanted. What I wanted was to stay with my racing team, with my teammates and to carry on, you know, a tradition that has been started at Target/Chip Ganassi. I would love to carry on the flag. I started it in 1996, as Zanardi has been very tough for two years and it has been a fantastic experience being his teammate, and I am hoping he can stay on. But if he can't, then I am looking forward to carry it on next year with the things that we have been -- the kind of results we have been laying down.
Q. You mentioned really when you won the Championship in 1996 - and I know you have signed a long-term contract; you are not releasing details - but could you put, without wanting to tell us the exact word-for-word of your contract, could you just sort of express where your career has come in monetary terms since you got into this series and salary you will be getting now - maybe for the other drivers as well - is it significantly greater money now available for you guys compared to even two or three years ago?
JIMMY VASSER: I don't think that the money has changed for guys that had achievements at the top, so much from the last two or three years. But I think for guys that presented themselves as race winners and have won championships, I think it is only fitting that, you know, that a guy gets a raise. When I came into this series in 1992 I didn't have two nickels to rub against each other and I have been -- the series has been great to me. I think the series, the top athletes in the CART Series are paid amongst top athletes in the world. It is a world-class sport and I don't think it shouldn't be anything different than that. Racing is a very difficult sport. It is very dangerous, and you have to be very good to compete at the top.
Q. You talked about your goals and aspirations. Can you speak to what your goals are perhaps beyond CART or at the end of the three-year contract with Chip?
JIMMY VASSER: Not really. They are just basic goals, right, I want to enjoy my life. I hope I can remain healthy. And happy. But I have said it before, I have never been one to set giant goals or detailed out career paths or life path or goals. I just want to be happy and right now I just want to win races. I want to win Laguna Seca; want to take second place in the Championship. It is as simple as that.
Q. Of the eleven turns down there at Laguna Seca that is going to stand between you and repeating down there, where is the most difficult place on that thing and how are you going to attack it?
JIMMY VASSER: It is not so much one corner on the racetrack. It is getting the car working. That is the problem we had in our last event at Vancouver, not so much the handling of the race car but the small mechanical problems we encountered, that is motor racing. It is so difficult -- the series is so competitive that you have got to have -- every year has got to be finally meshed with the other in the race car and in the race team and to have a weekend where you can go out and win races. Normally that is all we can do is we can make the teamwork that way and make the car work that way and we just got to make it happen this weekend.
Q. I just wonder if we will ever get to know Alex well enough that we can call him Alessandro? Is that only for his best friends?
JIMMY VASSER: You can call him anything you want, I suppose.
Q. As long as he is Champ?
JIMMY VASSER: As long as you say Mr. Champion at the end.
Q. Earlier in the year you were having some trouble with finishes on certain types of tracks and you went and did some testing and you found some things and the results came from that, good result. I am wondering, obviously, the main goal of any race car driver is to win races, win championships, but when you go -- when you know you have a problem or think you have a problem and then you go find that problem, and fix it, what kind of satisfaction comes from that? How different is it is from, say, winning a race?
JIMMY VASSER: There is nothing like winning a race or a championship. I mean, that is the best you can encounter as a racing driver. All the other things are day-to-day. When you find a problem with your race car, that is -- there is no elation because that is what you are supposed to do. The problem -- the feelings that are overwhelming are when you got problems and you can't find them. That is when you get a little frustrated, you get disappointed. That is when it is a good team, when you see what a good team is or you feel what a good team is, when things are down how you could maintain your focus not to get too depressed or too down and keep your head up and keep working to find a problem. When you find some problems with the race car, for me, really, it is, you know, it is expected. I mean, I can't -- as a racing driver, I can't put up with having problems and not finding them. That doesn't work.
Q. Is there any kind of, I don't know, mental thought that you tell yourself to, hey, Jimmy, just be calm we are going to find the problem here, let us calm it down a notch and find out what it is. Any kind of mental exercise you go through?
JIMMY VASSER: I just try to do my best. I get a lot of help from guys like Tom Anderson. He is a guy and Chip, you know, there is -- because there is a lot of situations where you can doubt yourself. As a driver, you can't do that because I know I can do the job, I just got to get things working my way and that is what I tell myself and when you have your support system, your teammates, that feel the same way, and think the same way, then that is what makes a great team. That is what makes a team winning races continuously and championships.
Q. Their confidence feeds you, your confidence feeds them; it is a big circle?
JIMMY VASSER: Absolutely. That is the basis of a successful team.
Q. Question for both of you. Jimmy, first of all, a couple of comments on the change now from Laguna being the final race of the season to being just kind of another race and then for you, Chip, any foreseeable changes in the team's package?
JIMMY VASSER: For me really no race stands out as being -- it didn't make it any more important because it was the final race and now it is just not another race. It is still very important. Every race is so important; especially for me now trying to become second in the Championship or stay in second. I have got four races. It is like a football game. It is the fourth quarter. That is the way I have got to look at it. I have got to go out and I have got to drive and get points and win races and all these next races, that is only way I look at it.
Q. Any comment on any foreseeable changes in the team's package?
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, nothing on the radar scene yet, but you never know.
Q. A question for you, Jimmy, I know obviously you have been with the team now four years, like you said, and you were mentioning a certain comfort level now with everybody. I guess for you, personally, over the next three years, do you still see yourself sort of covering a lot of, I guess, continued learning to do and if so what sort of personal goals besides obviously winning races, winning championships have you got, I guess anything in terms of learning more -- learning anything more mechanically or anything like that?
JIMMY VASSER: You always have to have an open mind and be prepared to learn. I think the moment you think you know it all, you might want to forget about it. The sport is always changing so you are always learning and I am sure that I will continue to learn things and to become a better race car driver over the next three years or the duration of my career.
Q. I have noticed, I mean, you among -- there is a number of drivers there who besides being hardworking in the sport really seem to be every weekend out there having a lot of fun. It is visible when I see you on the track and off-track, all that sort of thing. I am wondering besides being -- the fun you have actually in the car, what other parts of the sport do you enjoy a lot now, especially having been in it for so long?
JIMMY VASSER: I enjoy the children. When we sign autographs to Target stores the kids come by and their faces light up when they see the race car and to meet Alex and myself and the fans at the track. We have got a great fan base and they are very enthusiastic, very knowledgeable. I enjoy meeting the fans when I get a chance, obviously can't do it as much as I'd like and you can't always sign, you know, all the autographs that everybody wants you to, but I enjoy interaction with the fans.
Q. I have missed the entire first of this deal, so missed the details of what you discussed up front. Was this a three-year deal as we thought?
CHIP GANASSI: Yes.
Q. Jimmy, or Chip, could you update us on the status of the Chicago track and for Jimmy, you have got a microcosm of series almost with the road course a couple of street courses, super speedway. How do you look at the last four races trying to wrap up second place?
JIMMY VASSER: Obviously we can win every one of them or any of them. And we have -- I hate to be cliche or real, in general, about it, we have got to take it one race at a time. I think we are in the driver's seat for achieving second place and just going to have to be a lot of hard work and we have got to have a little good old-fashioned racing luck on our side. We have had some bad luck taken out of some races, but I think we have got all of that out of the way and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be able to achieve our goal.
Q. Jimmy, let us assume that Alex is gone and if so, who would you like to see replace him in terms of a young driver, like a Castroneves kind of guy who came up from Indy Lights last year or a veteran, would it matter to you?
JIMMY VASSER: If we have to go to that process we are going -- I think we are going to do those kind of things on our own, within the team. I don't think it would be right for me to make any statements about any drivers or anybody else at this point in time.
Q. Earlier in this session here you were referred to as underrated. Do you feel you are underrated if so, why?
JIMMY VASSER: I never really thought of that. Maybe -- but I have never been one to analyze what peoples' views were of me. You know, I am flattered Chip thinks that and, you know, that means that he thinks pretty highly of me and I appreciate that of Chip, but to me it doesn't -- it doesn't really matter in somebody -- if I am underrated or overrated or whatever. I just going to go out and do the best job I can and I am going to see where the chips fall.
Q. Maybe Chip can answer that question for me. Why do you think Jimmy has been underrated? Those were your words.
CHIP GANASSI: I look at those sheets that you look at, laps led and miles completed, those are important numbers to a car owner and to somebody that is trying to win championships.
RON RICHARDS: Chip, you didn't get a chance to answer the question about CMS. I was there a couple of weeks ago. I know you guys have done a huge amount of work. I am sure you'd like to talk about it for a minute.
CHIP GANASSI: The tunnels are dug and the concrete is being poured on the tunnels. They are about to set the pre-cast tops on the tunnels. I know that. The wall has begun to be poured and that is about all I can tell you. There is about six or seven earth movers there, two bulldozers and about three cranes and a bunch of cement mixers. That is what is going on at CMS.
RON RICHARDS: I have to add, Chip, that I know you guys have laid out a great plan for this place, but it is going to be, I think - correct me if I am wrong - but it is going to be the widest racetrack that we have.
CHIP GANASSI: Yes, we are looking for side-by-side racing there. We are hoping to get -- we have made it plenty wide and we are finalizing the safety wall in the next few weeks.
RON RICHARDS: Banking is, what, 5 degrees, I believe, in the corners?
CHIP GANASSI: 5 to 7 degrees.
RON RICHARDS: Thanks, everyone, for being on. We look forward to talk to you next week; hopefully see many of you in Monterey.
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