CART Media Conference
June 15, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Brenda. Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We would like to thank you all for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today is Fed Ex Championship Series veteran, Scott Pruett of Arciero-Wells Racing who looks to continue his recent success at Portland International Raceway in this weekend's Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco/Havoline. Good afternoon, Scott. And thanks for giving us some of your time today.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thank you. Not a problem.
T.E. McHALE: Scott, the driver of the No. 24 Pioneer MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard has put together back-to-back strong efforts at Portland, winning one of his four-career pole positions there in 1997. And following that with an outstanding runner-up performance to race winner, Alex Zanardi, last year. That showing helped Scott to a career best sixth place finish in the Championship, after which he moved from Patrick Racing to Arciero-Wells to the 1999 season. Scott enters this weekends Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco/Havoline looking to improve on his season best finish as tenth at Nazareth. Now in his tenth year in the Fed Ex Championship Series, Scott is due to make his 133rd career start this weekend, placing him 11th at the all-time career starts list. He could move into the top ten, passing Arie Luyendyk, who made a 142 career starts by the end of this season. The Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco/Havoline, round eight of the Fed Ex Championship Series will be televised live on ABC TV, June 20, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern time. A quick side note: Scott recently got into the authorship business. He and his wife, Judy, have collaborated on a children's book called Twelve Little Race Cars, which will be launched this weekend at Portland. Scott, congratulations on that. With that, we are going to open it up for questions for Scott.
Q. It's cloudy and overcast in Portland, but they told me it is going to improve by the weekend. It's going to be beautiful racing weather.
SCOTT PRUETT: Good, that will be a nice thing to come up there to. Actually, I'm heading up there this afternoon, so we are looking forward to coming up there.
Q. The Toyota engine continues to show, promises, you had a couple pretty good runs, both you and other Toyota drivers. As the man who's been sort of hired to help development of the package, what does the engine need now to be more competitive and what do you see its potential by the end of the season?
SCOTT PRUETT: First and foremost, I have been extremely pleased with the progress that they have made and continue to make. When they first started testing at the end of the season last year, to this point in time, significant improvements have been made. We were just testing at Portland a few weeks ago, ran very, very well with another update to the engine. Basically, you know, what happens, as they get closer and closer there are a number of things we look at, not just within Toyota, with any engine manufacturer, which is: Pure horsepower, drivability, which is how the engine runs, reliability, which is always important. And I feel pretty pleased. And also, when we go racing we have to worry about fuel mileage. It's interesting because working with the Toyota -- TRD guys in L.A. and the EEX (phonetic) guys over in Japan, they're two separate -- they're joint programs, but they're separate in some of the development they do. They continue to make improvement in all those areas. And that's where we're headed. And that's why we are seeing race to race, the engine continue to get better. I feel very confident that we should have one of our best runs so far this season as we move up to Portland this weekend. That's what it's going to take because we are all trying to keep up; chassis manufacturers, tire manufactures and engine manufactures. And Toyota has to make bigger steps all the time, now they are getting very, very, close and if they keep on track like this, they are going to be one of the engines to beat by the end of the season.
Q. Just looking at your finishes this year and of course your success last year in Portland; what has been happening this year? I know you changed teams and what not. What's been happening here that happened, well for you in Portland? And you were talking about where your team wants to be; where do you see yourself towards the end of the season?
SCOTT PRUETT: First and foremost, the No. 24 car, my car, we've kind of had a number of stormy situations this year. First, we did all my season testing with Kenny Anderson, being my engineer. He left right before the start of the season. Subsequently, we had Gordon Coppuck had filled in a temporary situation. In the third or fourth race, we hired John Dick to come on board to be the engineer. That was a lot of disruption, especially changing teams. It was a lot of disruption even if I was in the third or fourth year with the current team, but even more so, as we look forward. So needless to say the performance I had this season was less than I would have expected. With that being said, I also feel that we are at the point of turning that corner. John and I are hooking up better. We are focused on and had a very good test at Portland and feel that should be a good point for us and we'll continue to work together to continue our good performance as a team. And that what Toyota continues to do, it seems like race to race we're getting engine updates and engine improvements in a number of different area at each event we go to. So both of those pieces together, I feel, can help turn things around. Because needless to say, this has not been the season I expected, especially coming off the season we had last year.
Q. A couple of areas I want to touch. First of all, I have to ask about 12 Little Race Cars. You knew that was coming, didn't you?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yes.
Q. Talk about that; what's the deal; what is that about?
SCOTT PRUETT: It is an interesting little story. My wife and I happened to be clowning around one rainy day: Twelve little race cars, ten little race cars, nine little race cars, putting a little rhyme theme together. And we were just messing around and my wife said, let me just right these down and we can have a little fun with it. My wife, Judy, is the one that took the ball and ran with it. She said, ""I want to make a book out of it." I said, Great, I don't have the time, My first priority is racing. But if you'd like to, let's do it." And with my contacts and her perseverance, we looked first for a good illustrator, which we found in L.A., then going through the whole aspect of how do you publish it. We decided to self-publish, because you have a lot more control of it. The focus has been one that I have always been focused with children and supporting that and being involved in the Make A Wish Foundation here in the Sacramento area, actually all over the U.S. And as a parent, you go to the track and want to pick up something for your kid, one, there's not a lot you can buy. If you are going to buy a T-shirt, it's going to be 20 bucks. We said, let's make this two efforts. One, at the race track. And two, something that looks good enough, it's professional, it's slick enough where it can sell itself in any book store, and that's what we've done. We've moved forward doing that. We've been very pleased with the progress and very pleased with the way it's turned out. And just got them in last weekend and we are making a launch as we move up to Portland for the race this weekend. We are really proud of it and when you see it -- I'd be more than happy to send you a copy. I hope you enjoy it as well.
Q. Let's talk about Portland for a minute. Is this a race track that can even out, the disadvantages that the Toyota engine seems to find itself in?
SCOTT PRUETT: We went and tested there a couple of weeks ago and ran extremely well. We were 15th in Milwaukee, and we were 4/10s off the pull, so the level of competition has driven the series so hard and all the manufacturers so hard to step up and little improvements make big changes. Portland is typically the not one of those tracks. We have a very long straight down the front and a very long straight down the back. We were quite pleased with the performance and the speed we ran up there in testing. I wouldn't say it was one of those tracks to even themselves up. It's one of the tracks that Toyota will show even more so the gains they continue to make.
Q. As long as you make it through the first turn.
SCOTT PRUETT: I made it through there last year, barely, but I made it through.
Q. Good luck.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thank you.
Q. The last two trips down to Portland have been probably the greatest races in the CART Fed Ex Series, some of the best races. It's always been attractive; you've done pretty well, are you hoping for that same result this weekend?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yeah. I'm hoping we can turn things around. We've kind of had a tough season so far. It's been one that we look forward to, that I feel we can turn things around in Portland. One I love coming up there, I always have. Love the area, it's absolutely beautiful. Two, my wife is from up there as well. So we are looking forward to heading up there, as well as looking forward to having a good run this weekend.
Q. When you have a situation like you have where you have changed crew teams twice and not to mention changing teams is communication the toughest part; what's the hardest part of that?
SCOTT PRUETT: It's just getting into a groove. It's actually the race engineer. It's probably the most important relationship there is in racing, in all forms of racing. And, you know, I started out testing at the end of last year with one engineer and subsequently he had left right before the start of the season, which left us in a little bit of a bind. So we haven't really -- I didn't really get settled in with one until we hired John. And that was going, I think, actually going into Nazareth. And trying to get up to speed. He's coming to us from Team Green and he has a number of ideas and thoughts that he was able to do with the car and trying to take that with what I like in a car -- because my driving style is different then Paul Tracy and Franchitti. It just takes time. And in the racing business, time is not something that we seem to have much of or very little any way. And so we keep focus on race to race and how to turn things around, how to make things better, how to work more effectively and more efficiently And he learns more about what I want, and how to set the car up, and what I need from him.
Q. I talked to Ron Bennett last week about the changes to the track.
SCOTT PRUETT: Yes.
Q. And turn one is radius, to hopefully alleviate the fiasco. If you can talk about that. But also, he mentioned seven, eight, nine; they changed the sight lines a little bit and some drivers seem to get more speed out of the back end because of that. Can you give your comments?
SCOTT PRUETT: I'm not sure if the fans are going to like it or not. The drivers are sure going to like the changes to turn one, but there isn't going to be quite as much excitement. It is a lot better. They moved the inside of the turn, insignificantly, probably about five to ten feet. So there is a lot more room as we enter the festival area. Then down the back seven, eight, nine, there are some areas that feel a little more open. As you enter the quick left-hander at the end of the back straight because I've been going up there for so many years, it looks different because the way the wall is coming about. I actually feel a little more cramped as I enter down through the back. So it's a little different feel. What's interesting, you still have exactly the same amount of race track. I went out and looked and said, "Wow, this looks different back here. Something's changed." And then getting out there and looking at the way the wall comes across, it's just a perceptual thing. We still have the same amount of track. Portland is one of those tracks that keep making improvements year after year in the track from a racing standing point as well as from a safety standpoint.
Q. I understand you are building a new house?
SCOTT PRUETT: We were going to. And we've just kind of -- because there are so many things going on and the focus for me is still very much within my racing. And for my wife -- we have a ten year old and a year and a half old, we actually have moved to our home in Lake Tahoe, and we are there full time now. We are just kind of sitting tight right now. She said, "Let's go somewhere and stay there for a while. We need to get child care, baby sitting" -- all those things that I take for granted.
Q. Scott, since they have made the changes at the track and everything as important as it is on courses to have some kind of visual perception of where you are on the track, especially in Portland, which is so very fast down the back straight away, is it something that you're going to have to be conscious of when you are driving for the first time when you get out there at qualifying and practice?
SCOTT PRUETT: We actually tested up there. It's more just a different perceptual thing. It's just -- being that I've been up there for so many years, it's just a little different look down the back, it's not something that's good or bad. It's just a slight change. I don't see any disadvantage to it whatsoever.
Q. The track is so very fast, also with the changes they made; is it going to help passing or hurt passing?
SCOTT PRUETT: Into turn one, it's going to help passing. It's going to help passing and it's going to alleviate some of the -- that's one of the issues that always seems to arise is the start of the race, in turn one, it seems we have a problem getting down in there. They widened it up and made the flow of it a lot nicer. I think they have shown that they are focused in trying to make the race better for the fans and the drivers.
Q. Since the cars are so close, have they been talking about that to you in driving meetings, saying the cars are close, passing is hard, you are going to have to keep your head inside your helmet?
SCOTT PRUETT: That's just kind of a -- ever since I've been a participant in any series, that's always one of the things that's addressed in every meeting. We're all working real hard to gain track position whenever we can. Sometimes those moves we make, even though they seem we might be able to pull them off, they end up being a little closer than we expect. Some of it is just racing, the name of the game, which goes with the territory. Then those things that are obvious and blatant (inaudible) and address it as needed.
Q. Scott, when you are developing a package like the Toyota engine package, are there little things that step up that please you more -- let's go back to Patrick Racing. When you were with Patrick Racing, there was frustration, but there were always ways that you could gauge how well you're doing. Do the little things mean more now with the new package?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think, in general, the little things -- just because the competition is so close, all the little things really add up, it's for every team. You have to be a lot more deliberate, driven, focused on getting as much as you possibly can on each little bit. As we talked about the engine and as we move forward with the progress, there is those who are focused on pure horsepower and those who may focus on drivability or acceleration, but it takes getting the most out of each and every one of those aspects. That's not even focused on what we do as we head into the race because fuel mileage is so important. And drivability and engine performance -- they are not giving you as much fuel, which we need within the series to make the fuel mileage numbers. All those aspects become extremely important on pure performance and on raceability.
Q. Scott, why did your engineer leave and what happened there?
SCOTT PRUETT: Just a little different focus. He was involved in the design of the G-Force Car and felt that there was a better opportunity there for him. And then once the season gets started, it's very difficult to try to find a replacement because there is so much racing, not just within CART, but with the IRL and good engineers are extremely hard to find. So we were very fortunate to get John Dick to come be part of the program. And for he and I to start building that relationship together and what we are looking and trying to achieve in the way we set the car up.
Q. It sounds like it was a big set back, a little disappointing like you really lost a key player in your --
SCOTT PRUETT: That is exactly right. It's tough to really, you know, understand that unless you are right in the middle of it and one of those, that we felt that did set us back, as I said earlier it's not just changing a team, that in itself is pretty big as you move into a new team to gain respect and mutual understanding of all the people that are involved from mechanics right on down. For this to happen in mid-season, after it started and trying to find somebody to replace him was unfortunate. But again, with that being said, our focus is continually on the next race and we are coming up to Portland and we feel we can really turn things around this weekend and get things on the track where we certainly want them to be.
BRENDA: At this time I am not showing anymore questions.
T.E. McHale: Thank you.
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