CART Media Conference
March 9, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the season opening CART media teleconference, and thanks to all of you for being with us today. With rare exception, we plan to be with you every Tuesday at 1:00 pm Eastern time from now through the conclusion of the FedEx Championship Series season. We hope you'll make you us a regular part of your Tuesday schedule. We kick off this year's teleconference schedule in traditional fashion by welcoming four of the top five finishers from the 1998 FedEx Championship Series. During the next 90 minutes, we will have Greg Moore of Player's Forsythe Racing, followed by Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing, followed by Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green, and to wrap up Jimmy Vasser of Target/Chip Ganassi racing all to take your questions in advance of the Marlboro Grand Prix in Miami presented by Toyota. The March 21st FedEx Championship Series opener will be televised on a tape-delay basis by ABC TV beginning at 4:00 PM Eastern time. We begin by welcoming Greg, a career best fifth place finisher in last year's Championship Series. Driver of the No. 99 Players Index Mercedes Reynard, Greg scored victories at Rio de Janeiro and Michigan Speedway, and added the first four pole positions of his FedEx Championship Series career at Homestead, Gateway, Detroit and Houston respectively. He recorded 12 PPG Cup-paying points finishes in 19 starts; tied series championship Alex Zanardi by leading 11 different events, and scored a FedEx Championship series high 113 PPG Cup points in events contested on ovals. Greg has carried that momentum into the 1999 FedEx Championship Series as he followed Player's Forsythe Racing teammates Patrick Carpentier on the speed charts during last month's spring training at Homestead, Greg averaged 215.813 miles per hour of the 1.502 mile oval. He owns Top-7 finishes in all three of his career starts at Homestead, including a runner-up effort last year. With that we will open the floor to questions.
Q. Greg, what since last week have you done to -- as far as insurance on the car in preparation for Homestead?
GREG MOORE: We were down -- in preparation for Homestead, we haven't really done much. We received our fifth car because we're going to have a test car this year. We're doing a shakedown with that car at Firebird in Phoenix, which is a street course and we did one day in the drive and we did one day with the water trucks wetting the track down. For Homestead we haven't really done too much. For spring training, you know, we proved there that we are going to be quick. Now it's just a question of how we're going to do once we get to the street and the road courses.
Q. As far as the contesting at Firebird, were you happy with the results?
GREG MOORE: It went extremely well. Reynard is making some new pieces that seem to be working and we seem to be coming up with a few setup changes that seem to be working extremely well, too. I think come Long Beach we should surprise a few people.
Q. Greg, obviously with Zanardi gone, that has thrown the championship race wide open this year, and I would assume that you regard yourself as a contender. And who do you see as the guys you think you have to beat?
GREG MOORE: I think the four guys that are going to be on the teleconference today are four guys that are contenders for the championship. You have to put Michael Andretti in there, and also I think Bryan Herta. Bryan won his first race last year. Dario obviously has a good package. Jimmy has obviously got a great package. But I think there's six guys, and those are the six guys: Myself, Dario, Jimmy, Michael, Bryan and possibly Adrian. I'm not sure how the Swift is going to be. You can't look at any of those guys and say there's no way they are not going to win the championship, but hopefully I'm at the top of it. Dario and all those guys can fight for second.
Q. Just wondering, Greg, with Zanardi gone, some people have made you the preseason favorite. Do you feel any added pressure with that or are you just going to keep doing what you've been doing the last couple of years?
GREG MOORE: I just plan on keeping the same thing I've been doing the last couple of years. Last year after the first half of the season, we were a championship contender. And I know I made a couple mistakes and we didn't have the drivability of the Mercedes once we got the street and the road courses that we wanted. But I think that everything that we've done over the winter has improved us as a team. Not only my side, but also Patrick's side, and I think Pat and I seem to be sharing information very, very well now, and that's only going to make our team better. Everywhere we go, we are both extremely competitively quick; and so, that's kind of lighting a fire under each one of us because racing drivers are notorious for always wanting to be first. Never mind if it's your teammate or whoever. There's some testing -- we've always been extremely competitive between just the two of us; so I think that's elevating our team to the next level, and it should be a championship contender for the rest of the year.
Q. Good morning, Greg. I'm wondering, you completed, I think it as last month in Florida in the IROC series, and you ended up finishing ahead of Jeff Gordon. One of the things other people have said about the CART series with Zanardi gone: It really lacks sort of a dominant personality. I'm not talking about the -- the talent that your drivers have, which is obviously very high. But there are going to be some things missing with Alex gone in terms of just kind of charisma and color? And second part to that question. You did very well in the closed-wheel car in that IROC race. In your future, you've always talked about your future being an open-wheel car and maybe Formula 1. Have you ever given NASCAR any thought? Is that a thought more viable now after even that one IROC race when you did quite well in your first time out?
GREG MOORE: Well, as far as the series lacking charisma, I don't think you can really say that. When you look at -- the only thing it's going to lack is someone doing big, smoking burnouts if they won a race. I think if you look at the people that are involved in our championship, when you look at Max Papis, if anyone has got some charisma, that's a guy that's got a lot of charisma. Just different personalities: Myself, Jimmy the most laid-back guy of the series, just goes with the flow of things. Dario. There's a whole group of us. I think that the age of the drivers seem to be coming down a little bit, and so do the personalities. The personalities -- I'm 23 years old. Some of the other guys are 23, 24, 25, 26 years old. We've got more of a younger person's attitude toward our series, which is go out, have a good time, and do the best you can, but also off the race track, try and maintain a friendship, which I think quite a few of us has done. That's great. The fans I think see that, and they just don't see the fire and intensity when a guy was racing and doing the burnouts. But I think as far as real people go, they see us, and they see us as, you know, regular guys because we can be out there and be pals off the race track. And once you get on the track, you're fighting intensely. As far as my future at NASCAR, I mean, who really knows. This is my contract year this year. I'm up at the end of this season. My contract with Player's Forsythe is up; so, I'm kind of open to anything, really. I really, really enjoyed my time down in Daytona. It was something that I had a ton of fun. And just kind of opened my eyes to what life is like down there. It's something I can look at. I'm not going to say that I'm not doing it, but I'm not saying that I am doing it. It's just a question of what opportunities I have at the end of this year. Hopefully, I'm going to have a lot of things that I can look at, and, you know, decide where I want to be, both professionally and personally.
Q. This is all hypothetical, of course, but if you look at that NASCAR series and the way it's really taken off, is there some -- being a driver yourself, is there some allure about that series? Maybe three or four years ago you wouldn't even have considered it, but now that you've been in that environment, you've had a taste of it? Is that really something now that you would have to consider; whereas, three or four years ago maybe you wouldn't have considered it?
GREG MOORE: Actually, you're saying three or four years ago I wouldn't have considered it. But 1995, the middle of my Indy Lights championship year, I actually did go to Rockingham and I tested a Bush Grand National car; so I did that for two days just to see what I thought about it and stuff. So it has been something that I have been looking at for awhile as an option. But, you know, CART is still the closest thing to my heart, because I've got a lot of unfinished business here. But as the years go on, maybe I will think about doing something NASCAR. But instead of worrying about what I'm going to be doing next year and the next few years, I just want to concentrate on this season. And then halfway through or three quarts through, then I'll start thinking about where I'll be gong.
Q. What is it that appeals to you about NASCAR? What is the appeal there as a driver?
GREG MOORE: It's just another different style of driving. Anything that you learn in a CART car, you just kind of turn it around a 180 degrees and that's what works for NASCAR. The thing about it down there is that there's very little testing allowed. Sure, you do 36 or 37 races, but you just don't test. You just go to race tracks, and that's where your testing is during the race and that's one thing about it. You know, you look at the marketing that NASCAR has done with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, all these guys. They have made these guy drivers superstars, which is something that in the American eye that a lot of other series haven't been able to do yet. CART is trying to get that way, but they just haven't been as successful yet as NASCAR. That's something else that you look at, but you know, it's just something -- something different. And I think to be one of the best drivers in the world, you've got to be a well-rounded individual, and look at -- Mario did it. Look at the list of guys that have done it: Mario, A.J., Formula I, NASCAR, CART, and also sports cars. There's a lot of things that I can look at out, but the most important thing right now is to just win the championship this year.
Q. Just touching upon what you were just talking about, being the well-rounded driver, do you feel in this age of specialization it might be important to a driver to be a well-rounded driver? I know you've raced in the GT series and now you've done some stock car racing. Is that something that you feel is important if you want to be remembered as one of the great drivers?
GREG MOORE: I don't think to be remembered as one of the great drivers. You look at, you know, any driver in this world who you say -- except for the guys that race NASCAR. You look at any open-wheel driver and you say who are the best drivers in the world: Jackie Stewart, sterling Moss, James Hunt. You know, Jimmy Clark; make a big list like that. And if you ask stock car drivers, who are the best drivers in the world, they will say Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Richard Earnhardt, and kind of list people off that way. Personally, I want to be as successful in anything I do, be it CART, Formula 1, NASCAR or GT cars, whatever. And you know, it doesn't really matter, you know, if my career -- when my career is over, if I didn't race NASCAR or if I didn't race Formula 1 and I went to NASCAR from CART, or whatever. As long as I've been successful and had a great time, to me, one of the most important things is to be out there having fun. You know, if I'm not having fun, well, then you've got to kind of look at things and say, Well, how can I change this, or what do I have -- where else do I have to go to have some fun doing this?
Q. If you could look at any one thing during the off-season that has said to you, "I have got a real shot at this title," what would that be?
GREG MOORE: It's tough to say one thing. Mercedes realized -- I think probably the biggest thing is that Mercedes realized they had a problem with the drivability of their race -- their race engine. It was good -- not it too bad in qualifying, but once you got to the race where you're doing different field turns and stuff, the engine wasn't as good as say the Honda or the Ford, and they realized that. They decided before the season was over last year, they needed to work on that. So that goes hand-in-hand with seeing how competitive we've been in the street and the road course kind of testing like Homestead on the road course or Sebring on the road course there or the Firebird. We have been extremely quick and extremely consistent; so not only are we -- are we faster one lap now, but we seem to be able to string it together for a whole fuel load. So I think things like that is really what has opened my eyes to this year being definite championship on contender, for sure.
Q. Does that help you mentally to be prepared to win the championship, and how prepared mentally do you need to be in preseason in order to have a shot?
GREG MOORE: I think with 20 races in our championship right now, you've got to almost split it in half. You've got to say, I'm going to concentrate on the first ten races; take a little bit of a look at how you've done the first ten and say, what are you going to change to win the second ten races. The whole outlook is toward the championship at the end of the year, but you've got to take it race by race by race and do the best that you can in each race. And if you've done that and at the end of the year someone has done a better job than you, and if I feel like I'm happy with what I've done, well, then someone just did a better job, or they had a better package. But I don't see this year that happening quite as easily as it did last year.
Q. I'd like to ask if you regarded your performance at Homestead as a statement of intent for the season.
GREG MOORE: Let's hope so. I look at the performance that Patrick and I both had as a team there: We didn't test there. We didn't do any winter testing on any of the ovals with our 1999 cars. We knew that we could go to spring training and use it for what it was for, which was to show up and slowly work on the cars, and then at the end of the time, see where we end up. And I know some of the other teams spent quite a bit of time testing there. And we showed up: First day I was fifth, Patrick was first; and second day Patrick was first and I was second. So I think I might have ruffled a few feathers doing that, but the most important thing is we can show up at a race track and be quick right out of the box on the ovals. Now what we have to do is once we get to Long Beach, show everybody that, okay, they can do it on the ovals, but they can also do it on the street courses, too.
Q. As a driver, when you see some of the opposition struggling there, for example, in the past case Dario just recently, does that give you any extra confidence, or do you not read much into what your rivals do?
GREG MOORE: It's difficult to say. It doesn't break my heart that he was a lot behind me, let's put it that way. But you do kind of look and say, Well, who is doing what, who is doing -- who is doing long runs during spring training; who is going out trying to one lap very, very quickly. But, you know all changes come race day. Qualifying is important, but come race day, if you've got a good race car as we proved last year. We went to last because of an air jack problem, we worked our way all the way back up to second; so if you've got a good race car, everything can change in the race. It doesn't matter how fast you go. It's how consistent you can be.
Q. Given the imbalance in points last year between your performances on ovals and road courses, are you more determined? Has the team done anything differently in the off-season to prepare for those road courses this year?
GREG MOORE: For sure. We didn't do any testing on the ovals this winter. The only testing we did was in spring training. We spent 12 days in the street, road course type of circuit, trying to improve not only our setup on the tracks, but also helping Mercedes get the drivability out of our engine better. And, you know, knock on wood. I think what we've been doing this winter is -- has been very, very good. The most important thing is that we go out there and put on the best performance that we can. If another engine manufacturer is better on one weekend, then we might have to settle for being third or fourth or something like that. But that's what's going to be key to the championship this year is accepting the fact that someone might just have a better weekend than you, and you have to be happy finishing third, being the last guy on the podium instead of trying, trying, trying too hard and crashing or breaking the car and not getting any place.
Q. I've got a question for you: If memory serves correct, you were the only Mercedes in the Top-10 in the championship last year, and you've talked about the drivability issues with Mercedes engine. And considering your great success last year on the ovals, are there any other areas that you can attribute that you may have addressed that may have caused you problems last year on the road courses and street courses that you think you've got solved for this year, or do you think it's just come down to engine drivability as the primary reason?
GREG MOORE: I think that was one of the contributing reasons for sure. We were guilty of it last year as a team in saying, Well, we've qualified 9th and (inaudible). That's a very, very poor job. But then what we finally did at the end of the race weekend, we said we must not have been bad because we were 9th. We were 4/10 second off of 1st, but the next Mercedes was 15th, 8/th of a second behind us. So obviously we aren't doing that bad of a job. But we've worked harder on our setups on the street and the road courses, just change in geometry changes, shocks and springs and stuff like that. Things that during the season you wouldn't want to try because you are only at race tracks. You don't have time to test. So what we've done some things that we thought might work last year that we've put off this year, and it seems to be working quite well.
Q. Greg you touched briefly on this. I'm interested in the value with a two-driver team so far as being able to exchange information for testing and for setups? And further, is the fact that the Patrick now is in his second year with the team, is there more valuable information to exchange between the two of you?
GREG MOORE: For sure. To have a two-car team and have two drivers that can drive cars very similar, which Pat and I can, that definitely helps out a ton because there might be a weekend where all day Friday I'm struggling with the track or with a poor setup or something, and then Friday night we take all of the data off of Pat's car and improve our car. Same thing; it goes vice versa. And so what that does it kind of let's you guys go, let's me go in one direction and let's Pat go another direction. And you can say, okay Greg's faster here; Greg's faster here, but Pats's also faster in these couple turns; so how can we join the two setups together and make an even better one than if he was doing it on a one-car team? And Pat being his second year on the team, for sure he's realized where he has to step up on his performance on the street courses and road courses and he's done that this year. Testing has been extremely good. We've kind of been lighting a fire underneath each other. He's been quick. I've been quick. It's just going back and forth, back and forth. At the end of each test day, it almost seems like a qualifying session where I'm out there and he's out there. We're kind of at opposite ends of the track, and we're both putting the best foot that we can, because we want to be the fastest at the end of the day. And thatÂs making it exciting for the mechanics; lighting a fire underneath everyone in the team. And I think that what weÂve got going on this year is a very, very good situation. And I fully expect Patrick to win a couple races this year and, if not challenge, for the championship.
T.E. McHALE: Greg, thanks for being with us today and best of luck in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|