CART Media Conference
March 30, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, good afternoon to everybody, welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest this afternoon is Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green who makes his 1999 FedEx Championship Series debut in next Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan. Paul was excluded from the season opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach as a result of his role in an incident with Michael Andretti during last year's Honda Indy in Australia. Paul, we appreciate you taking the time to be with us today. Thanks and welcome.
PAUL TRACY: Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Paul, the driver of the No. 26 KOOL Honda Reynard is entering his 9th season in the FedEx Championship Series. He ranks third among active drivers and 9th all-time with 13 victories and is second among active drivers and 8th all-time with 12 pole positions. Paul finished 13th in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series with 61 points. His season was highlighted by a trio of fifth-place finishes; one of which came at Twin Ring Motegi. The Firestone Firehawk 500, round two of the 1999 FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ESPN on Friday April 9th; Saturday April 10th, early morning, at midnight eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Paul.
Q. How do you look at this season? Do you worry about Wally Dallenbach looking over your shoulder every ride? Second part of the question is: What about your competitiveness which has led to some of your problems with Wally; how you are going to handle that this year?
PAUL TRACY: We had an opportunity to sit down in Miami a couple of weeks ago and we basically came -- he told me I am starting from a clean slate; nothing is going to carry over from last year. So from my standpoint, we have just got to go out there and do the best job we can and if we can score some good finishes and podiums and some wins, just try to keep our nose clean and just do the best job we can for the team.
Q. You have always been an aggressive driver. Is that what sort of led to some of these problems and is there anyway you are going to be less aggressive? I can't imagine Paul Tracy being that.
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think nowadays everybody out there is aggressive, whether you get in trouble or not. I guess, got to pull off some clean passes and make some things happen, but everybody in the series now is aggressive. You can see right from -- just right from when the green flag drops, it is 100% all the time. If you are not aggressive and pushing all the time then you are not going to win races.
Q. You were talking about - you are not going to pretty much change your driving style; everybody is, I guess, pretty much aggressive now. By the same token maybe in the back of your mind, maybe subconsciously, you will be less want to make an aggressive pass or aggressive move because of what happened, do you think this almost subconsciously can hurt your driving style?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think that -- we have talked about this on the team and what our goal is to win the Championship is, you know, if you are in a position to make a pass and have to make it aggressively and risk potentially going off, or potentially losing positions from the attempt, then maybe it is not worthwhile. I mean, really our goal this year is to try to be more consistent. We weren't consistent last year and if we can do that, I mean, we have got to weigh up what the risk and what the reward is and if it is worthwhile, then it is worth the maneuver. But if not, then we just take what points we can because it is -- just to score points in the Championship, it is so competitive that you have got to finish every race.
Q. Paul, when you look at the results from the first race, I guess most of the guys that would be in the running for the Championship were among the point-getters. How do you view that? Do you look at last year's results and see that everybody misses a race as you in effect did?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it was frustrating to sit out the race, but things could be a lot worse such as in Al's position or anything like that, so from our standpoint, we just look at it as a D&F, we didn't have a good day. I am sure everybody is going to have one of those days somewhere along the course of 20 races. I think if you are narrow-minded; you look at it in the short term and what a negative it is, then it is going to end up being a negative. I think over 12, 15 races, things will equal out and hopefully we can be consistent throughout that and be in position for the Championship.
Q. How does that make you feel when you see like some people writing or saying that Paul Tracy would have a shot at the Championship if only he'd learn to control himself?
PAUL TRACY: Well, hey, everybody has an opinion and the key for this Championship like any Championship, whether it is NASCAR or IndyCar, or Formula 1, is being consistent and finishing the races and getting points. I haven't been that consistent throughout my career and I know that is something that I need to do. But that is what our goal is this year. We have got some new people on board with the team and I think a lot better strategy throughout the weekend, we have planned our strategy from race to race, what we plan to do and hopefully we can achieve that.
Q. I was wondering how long it took you to get over the initial anger of knowing -- after you found out you would have to miss the first race and how was that conversation with Wally in Miami, was it fairly civil from the start?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, it was fairly civil. We just basically -- he told me I was starting from a clean slate and wished me luck for the season. I was pretty much over it right after the season was over. I wished I was running the race. It was tough to be at Miami not driving and having somebody else drive my car. But from the other standpoint, it was kind of good to be out of the car and see what goes on with the team and how the whole thing operates. A lot of the things that you don't see because you are in the race car, I stood outside and watched everything that went on. I see some room for improvement. They had a struggling weekend that weekend with some problems with the car, electronics problems and things like that, and those are the kind of things that can really set you back in a race weekend with the limited time that you have. So I think everybody learned that weekend; the team kept me pretty busy with interviews and appearances and things like that, so it wasn't too bad.
Q. Sometimes in other sports athletes sometimes feel they are marked athletes because of past history; that if they do a transgression that they receive a penalty when somebody else might not. Do you have that feeling at all in racing now?
PAUL TRACY: I don't really have that feeling. I know that my biggest frustration is that, you know - and I don't think I am the first person to say this - is that the rules or officiating isn't consistent for all the drivers. Some people can do things that others can't. So that is my only real argument. I don't feel marked. I don't feel abused or anything like that. I just -- I am just preaching for a standardized set of rules that is the same for everybody.
Q. Can you compare racing in the Indy Series to the CART Series, the differences between the two?
PAUL TRACY: How do you mean the Indy series to the CART.
Q. You were racing in the Indy Racing League last week. Is there a difference in racing between the two?
PAUL TRACY: I didn't race in the Indy Racing League last week.
Q. Have you discussed this whole matter with some of the other drivers and do you feel that some fingers are pointed at you?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, I feel that everybody has their own opinion. The drivers that I generally speak with are on my side, at least to my face. There is only a few drivers that I really talked to. I am friendly with everybody, but only a few of them that I talk to outside of the racetrack, either be on the phone, or throughout the winter, things like that.
Q. Does that put any pressure on you this season having gone through this whole affair?
PAUL TRACY: I don't think so. I think maybe takes a little bit -- you know, pressure is always the same for me. I put more pressure on myself than anybody else does, whether it is sponsors or team or crew guys or anything. So I always keep the pressure on myself to do well and to compete well and to try to win races.
Q. Having seen how things went on the first race in Miami, how do you rate your team and how do you think the Championship is going to go for you guys?
PAUL TRACY: I think it is going to be good. We are definitely confident. We had a really good test at Homestead preparing for Japan. Things didn't go real well at Nazareth. We had a lot of problems and didn't really come to grips with the track or the car or the tires. So we have got some ups and some downs and some hills to climb. Hopefully we can work through that. I think it is the same for everybody and nobody knows what these cars are going to be like at Nazareth or Milwaukee. We had an opportunity to test and the cars are very tricky. So they are going to be hard to set up. Like I said, the key is being consistent and not getting too frustrated and if you don't have a great car, just do the best that you can with it.
Q. This is just something always-wanted-to-know. Who, in your opinion, are the top three CART drivers and why?
PAUL TRACY: That is a hard, hard question. I consider my main competition this year, I think probably I would say the No. 1 guy would have to be Jimmy. He is very competitive. He is very confident in his own ability right now. Having been second the last two years in the Championship without Zanardi here, he'd be the Champion. He has got a great team and really has everything together. Personnel-wise he has worked with the same guys, with Ganassi for five years, so the package is all in place. He just has to do what he does and that is finish races and be consistent. He is very good at that. Then really I think that a big threat is Michael with Firestones now; has a really good opportunity and then probably Greg and Dario.
Q. I noticed that the last test you had at Nazareth there you encountered some problems with the new small wing. Can you elaborate on that?
PAUL TRACY: I have done thousands and thousands and thousands of laps around there. It was real cold when we went out. I have driven in the cold there with big wings. We went out in the morning pretty early, at about 9 o'clock; it was still real cold out and was just idling around the track warming up and I had done four laps and I was up to 80 miles an hour which is pretty slow with these cars and the cars just spun on me; no downforce to hold the car on the track and the tires were cold, track was cold. I ended up bumping the wall. We didn't have any spare parts. So that was a frustrating day. We had some parts shipped in. They got lost in shipping and didn't get them until the next day and went out the following day and did ten laps and the engine blew up. So it was a frustrating test. We didn't really get a lot accomplished of the things that we wanted to do, but managed to get some laps in in the afternoon and just get a feel for what the new wings were like.
Q. I am going back to your very first race in the CART series at Long Beach and everyone was talking about how great this young Paul Tracy is going to be because he is so aggressive on the racetrack. Do you find it ironic that everyone thought it was so great and now there are people that criticize your aggressiveness?
PAUL TRACY: Well, yeah. I mean, it is a double-edge sword. You are a hero if you can pull off an aggressive pass and make it work and if it doesn't come off, then you are an idiot. I have heard that said by somebody. You are not going to win races by sitting idle and waiting for people to fall off the track nowadays because it just doesn't happen. Teams are so good and cars are so competitive and you have got to be aggressive to win races. The crew has got to be aggressive on the pit spots and you have got to take chances and if you don't, then you are a 10th place runner and you won't be around long if you are running, you know, 10th overall. So it is a double-edge sword like I said.
Q. Is Paul Tracy misunderstood?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know if I am misunderstood. I mean, I just try to go out there and all I can say, I go out there and give it 150% every time I am in the car and sometimes I make mistakes like everybody does and I am willing to admit them. If people want to take that ball and run with it, then that is their opinion, I guess.
Q. I know you and Barry Green have talked a lot about the situation last year in the off-season and your personal relationship, can you elaborate on how it is going and what advice he has given you for this year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it has been great. We have had a really good off-season. We had an opportunity to pick up Tony Cicale which Barry has been working on for quite sometime. I think that really opens up some opportunities for the team. Barry -- this team has been growing pretty quickly. From Barry's side, he runs my radio and does my strategy. Probably really can't put 100% into the strategy because he has -- the sponsors are at the races every weekend that he has to entertain and do business side and general stuff like that. It is tough for him sometimes to put in the amount of effort that needs to go into the strategy and getting Tony Cicale on board where he can just think about what we have done every session and what has led up to what the general plan is for race day and put 100% into that and then have Barry call the race and Tony back him up on the radio, I think it is a great opportunity for the whole team. It allows Barry to concentrate on the business side a little bit more and let the racing side take care of itself.
Q. How are you going to prepare for Motegi? I can't imagine changing that many times zones and still be awake enough to race.
PAUL TRACY: We get there pretty early. We leave early because we have got some stuff for Honda to do. Honda is one of our big sponsors on the team, we use their engine. We leave on Sunday and do some stuff over there and have almost a week over there.
Q. I just wanted to ask if you were very grateful to Dario for the way he and you were able to smooth things over after Houston last year so quickly?
PAUL TRACY: Well, Dario and I are real good friends. I mean, we get along great on and off the track and all it took was -- I don't think there was ever any hard feelings between us. So it really wasn't an issue.
Q. I suppose in some team situations it could have become one?
PAUL TRACY: Oh, yeah, definitely. It would have become one if it was a Formula-1-type-atmosphere, but Dario and I, we don't have that kind of personality with each other. We are competitive. We want to beat each other. He wants to beat me as much as I want to beat him. But our main focus is putting the team first and our competitiveness comes second, I guess.
Q. Just to follow up on that, I know that the second time you were back at Homestead just before the actual race in Miami that you had quite a lot to offer from -- been able to look at things from being outside the car. Was that something that was invaluable to you as well?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it gave me an opportunity to see things that I don't see from the race car; see how everything goes along; getting there early and how they get the car ready and most of the time I am not there. I am either in the truck or doing something with the sponsors or I am in the race car. So to watch how everything comes together and see how the whole plan of practice goes through and whether you get everything done that you want to do or you end up going in a different direction was pretty interesting to see.
Q. During the broadcast when you were up in the booth with Paul and Parker, I think you did a great job up there. I am just wondering if whenever you decide to retire from racing if you have considered what you might do after that and if TV might be it because you did a great job with the color side of that?
PAUL TRACY: I was kind of nervous about doing it. My PR girl, Carol, was asking me for a month if I wanted to do it. I didn't really decide until race weekend. I was a little bit nervous but I guess I did okay. It is not where I wanted to be, but it is something to think about in the future. It is going to be a while.
Q. You a few good shots at Paul there too?
PAUL TRACY: Paul and I go way back and I have known Paul for a long time. We get along real well. We were just joking around with each other.
Q. Everyone seems to be so hung up on this whole Homestead deal and everything. I mean, you have got to be ready to say, all right, that is enough, let us go race and I mean, is that pretty much how you feel right now?
PAUL TRACY: Pretty much. I mean, the race is over. I mean, like I said, missing one race is not that big of a deal. A lot of guys that didn't score points and an icon in our series is that is going to be out for probably half the series, so, from my standpoint things could be a lot worse and I don't think we are in too bad a shape.
Q. Paul, you are conspicuously fitter in appearance this year. Looks like you worked hard at it. Can you talk about how you set about carving off some pounds this year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, just I have had a lot less going on in my life this last winter. I mean, last year we had to move from Arizona to Las Vegas and we -- buying a house, selling a house, got married to Lisa, changed teams, changed motors, new people, new team, a lot going on and really I didn't have an opportunity to really concentrate on the fitness side because everything was going on at once. Really, this year, things have been pretty relaxed, we are settled in the house and my wife, Lisa, kicks me out of bed at 6 in the morning and I go to the gym and just been concentrating on what it is going to take to win the Championship; just been going to gym like I am going to the racetrack every morning and doing a race, I am there for a couple hours.
Q. You mean to say she actually wakes you up?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah. I get thrown out.
Q. What about diet?
PAUL TRACY: Just really watching what I eat and Lisa has been cooking for me and just, you know, not living out of hotels through the winter when we were moving to Nevada we were living out of a hotel, so having home-cooked meals and being settled is a lot easier.
Q. Can we get back to Nazareth a little bit. Obviously you didn't get a whole lot of time there. But what do you reckon is going to happen when everybody gets out there in traffic?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it is going to be a tough race. It was cold when we were there and the track was real slippery and pretty green. I think that it will get more rubber with testing, but the race there every year is always pretty cold and rainy and track time is pretty limited. The cars are real sensitive and really nervous-feeling. I don't know what it is like in traffic because we were pretty much the only ones testing there. So I think it is going to be a tricky race. Top speeds are about the same as last year. We are doing 190 miles an hour and the corners are about 40 miles an hour slower with the wings, and it is hard braking and downshifting gears, I think there it is going to be tricky in itself not to fall off the road.
Q. Mauricio -- there was a quote in one of the press releases where he said it is like riding a bicycle at 200 miles an hour. I take it, you would agree with him on that?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, it is tricky. One little mistake and it is going to cost you. There is so little down-force on the car now that -- and the tires are pretty hard for that type of configuration. It definitely real skiddery feeling. There is no real sense of security in the car at all. The window of control is pretty small.
Q. There is a lot of talk about the cars at Nazareth. Also a lot of talk in the media about the 1999 Reynard versus the '98. Can you talk about how the car feels to you and if there is a little difference between them as is speculated in the press?
PAUL TRACY: Well, there is very little difference between the cars. They have got a great car. They have really done their homework. It is really just a refinement from last year. They have changed a couple little things that help me that -- our problem last year was understeer and some other people had that similar problem in varying degrees. They have kind of addressed that with some underwing changes and some different front wings and some different front suspension and really the tub is pretty much the same and the package, overall packaging, and the look of the car is the same. So really, they have just refined on what they already have. There is no sense reinventing the wheel when there is nothing wrong with it. So they have got a good package.
Q. Have you been able to feel any difference working with Tony Cicale now that is he back?
PAUL TRACY: It has been good. It has been a good opportunity and really learned a lot. I think my engineer, my full-time engineer has worked with him in the past. I think it brings some confidence for him that we have got another opinion and really Tony's main job is the strategy side of it; how we are going to manage the race weekends and really let Barry handle the business side of the team and make sure the team -- all the business side is taken care of. I guess, from my standpoint, having somebody full-time 100% concentrating on our strategy for the weekend is good.
Q. In general what are your feelings currently about running the speedway wings on the short ovals and also whether since taking that drag out, gets the higher-trap speeds, whether there is a point in considering something like the Hanford device to keep the straight-line speeds down when you take the wind line drag out?
PAUL TRACY: I am not an engineer and I am not an aerodynamicist, but from my standpoint, having driven the car out at Nazareth and felt how tricky it is, you know, the speeds are down in the corners fairly considerably, but it has made the cars much more nervous to drive and the line for the racetrack much more critical. I think with these wings the days of the races that we used to have were two, three abreast when we used to run out Phoenix with pretty high down-force and pretty good amount of drag with cascade wings and things like that, those days are gone. Which is sad because now the races come down to pit spots and how you play your strategy and racing is not really happening on the track. I miss that. If it was my decision I would go -- I'd prefer high down-force. I have campaigned for that as well as some other drivers, but the trend is to go with this low-down force setup. I think it has made the racing poor. That is probably why our ratings are down, there is no passing going on and there is no two abreast racing. I look at the IRL and they have got a good Formula. Cars that can race with each other and they have got a single element wing, but it is a fairly big wing that has got a fair amount of drag and down-force and they are able to run side-by-side at some of these tracks they go to and we are not able to because of the wing configuration and the line and it is so critical just to be on the line, so if it was my decision, which it is not, I won't go to this type of wing. But I am not the one calling the shots.
Q. Do you think that something like the Hanford device to try and cut the straight line speeds down would be of any help at all?
PAUL TRACY: The Hanford device really wouldn't work on the short oval because that would even be a further increase in down-force because of the lip that hangs down off the back. I mean, that would be for a short oval that would probably be worse. I am in favor of high drag, you know, a medium amount of down-force with very high drag to keep the speeds down and make it raceable where you can have two abreast, two grooves, an upper groove and lower groove, let guys use the track a little bit instead of being so dependent on just being a one-line racetrack.
Q. With weight so sensitive, when you have to give up 40 pounds to another driver, that is a lot of weight to -- that you really have to be able to take out -- have you heard any talk about a weight equalization rule that would including the driver weight with the weight water?
PAUL TRACY: We tried to campaign for that. We had a vote. We had a CDA, Championship Drivers Association meeting last year and had a vote on that and it was voted to go with it and I think it would be good because I am a bigger guy and I am never going to be 145 pounds like my teammate Dario. Just won't happen. I give him 2, 3/10 before we even go. So from my standpoint, I am all for that. There is a lot of drivers - we voted for it - and it went through. It was majority vote to do that. CART decided not to. I mean, it is something that is in every other type of series. NASCAR has a standardized weight that they use. I think Formula 1 does as well. It is just something that CART doesn't want to do. I think it would make the racing even better.
Q. You did fifth last year at Motegi. The cars don't seem to have changed all that much. How much of last year's setup will you be able to take into Motegi and give us your thoughts on the race?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, we had a pretty good race setup there, so, we really are going to go back with some stuff that we learned over the winter; general setups, spring-wise and aero-wise numbers are the same and just some, you know, couple of different things on toe and things like that. I think really these cars they don't change a lot from year to year. The Reynard has just been a refinement every year. Once you find a setup that you are comfortable with, you pretty much don't really stray too far from it, you just tune to weather conditions or track conditions. So I am looking forward to Japan. We had -- got rained out in qualifying and we didn't have a good session last year and they went off of the practice session for qualifying and so our race car was good and hopefully we can roll off the truck pretty well there. I feel good about it.
T.E. McHALE: We will take one more question for Paul before we wrap it up for the afternoon.
Q. Paul, can you talk about if there is any difference in your physical preparation depending on the kind of the racetrack you are going to go in, road course versus the ovals?
PAUL TRACY: Not really. I mean, once the season starts you are racing every week and you have really got to be prepared before you start. It takes a couple of races to get in race shape. The neck is hard to work out without driving a race car. So it takes a couple of races for your neck to not get sore anymore. Pretty much the ovals or road courses are pretty much the same. Probably the ovals are a little bit easier on the body and some of the road courses are tough, but by the time you get to the middle of the season where you have got some tough street courses you are in pretty good shape.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you. With that we are going to wrap it up for today. Paul, we want to thank you for taking the time to be with us this afternoon. Best of luck in the Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi and during the rest of the FedEx Championship Series.
PAUL TRACY: Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks again to all of you for being with us. A reminder that because of the time difference between Japan and the U.S., there will not be a teleconference next Tuesday. However, we would encourage you to join us this Friday April 2 at 1:00 P.M. Eastern time when our guest will be Robby Gordon. Thanks again for being with us. Have a good afternoon.
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