CART Media Conference
ADAM SAAL: We appreciate the fact that we can have Scott Dixon who won our season opening race in the PowerWare PacWest Lights Lola at Long Beach last April. Scott just came back from New Zealand yesterday but he was kind enough to join us today. How are you doing, Scott.
SCOTT DIXON: Pretty good, thanks.
ADAM SAAL: Then we also have with us Paul "Ziggy" Harcus just a touch older than Scott who is 19. Zig has been around on both the Champ Car and Lights front for a while. He has been with PacWest Lights since 1977 and the victory that they scored with Scott was their third career win. We will talk a little bit about that with Zig on the rest of the teams plan and where they feel they are to date. We appreciate the group joining us today. Scott, I am going to go ahead and open with you. You ran your rookie season last year with Johansson Motorsports who did not return to the series. You joined on with PacWest and you tested with them for quite a bit, but the overall deal wasn't confirmed until just a week before the season. When you joined this team, did you really think you had a combination that would win this early?
SCOTT DIXON: For sure. Especially being back for the second year, we really wanted to sort of make our mark and definitely be Championship contenders. Obviously, with PacWest, they are a very good team and it was just a year where we sort of had to make the right decision and I think PacWest is definitely the team to go with.
ADAM SAAL: Of course on the media and PR front we always like to characterize drivers, even drivers who have been racing for a fairly brief period of time. Last year you came out swinging, as we like to say; you placed on the podium at Homestead. You finished second at Long Beach. You had an another strong run at Nazareth; ended up leading the points standard as an 18 year old which is the youngest driver ever to lead any CART Championship. Have you always been fast out of the starting gates or is it just a coincidence that you had strong showings in both your seasons early on in Indy Lights.
SCOTT DIXON: Last year we definitely had a good start. We had plenty of testing going on; that sort of thing, and we had our problems, but the races sort of went our way. I could say actually we had a bit of luck to start with which was needed and we definitely got off to a good start. And I have always sort of wanted to get out there and just get right onto it, that is especially what I try to do most of the time.
ADAM SAAL: Compare Indy Lights race cars to the other cars you have driven, particularly Formula Holden which is the category down where you are from in New Zealand and in Australia for former Formula 3000 cars. Give us a quick comparison of the two vehicles.
SCOTT DIXON: The cars are fairly similar. The Formula Holden that I drove in Australia and won the Championship was a Reynard '92 with -- especially got the same sort of engines as a V6. It is a 3.8 liter with the Reynard 1992 chassis, but they are very similar in the characteristics of the car handling and that sort of thing. So I think it was definitely a good base for me to come over here.
ADAM SAAL: My final question before we go to Zig, Jason Bright from Australia finished second to you in the season opening race. He is also a Formula Holden Champion. Had you raced against Jason ever before.
SCOTT DIXON: I raced against Jason in most of the races, my rookie year IN Formula Holden where he would be the Championship and I finished third and Rookie-of-the-Year.
ADAM SAAL: You finished third and the Rookie-of-the-Year and then the following season you won the Championship?
SCOTT DIXON: Yes.
ADAM SAAL: Thank you very much, Scott, we'd like the media to ask you questions in just a few minutes. I'd like to talk to Zig Harcus. You have been with the program from the beginning. How have you seen PacWest Lights evolve since you started in 1997 with a single car with, I believe, Robby Unser driving?
ZIGGY HARCUS: That is correct, we did start with Robby and we started very late in the season in that program. I think the whole team has actually taken giant steps forward because we are actually picking our drivers now. We have -- originally we had drivers that had to bring some sponsorship and we supplied some so you don't actually get to pick exactly who you want; whereas, this year, we like the idea of bringing young drivers and hopefully have someone in the future to step into our Champ Car when that comes available. So I think the program -- it is like a minor league team where you are actually training not only the drivers but training mechanics as well, that ready to go into the Champ Car program - when someone leaves I can take someone off the Lights team and they can head over there. If Scott goes that way, they go along with Scott. It definitely helps the program a lot.
ADAM SAAL: In regards to the Champ Car element, I know Tony Renna, Scott Dixon's teammate has been behind the wheel of a Champ Car and Scott has also been behind the wheel of one of the PacWest Champ Cars last year when you kind of did a crew call for several drivers including the Dorricott drivers with Casey Mears among them. Are there anymore plans in the near future to put both Scott and Tony behind the wheel of a Champ Car?
ZIGGY HARCUS: Yeah, those plans -- We have actually tried up to now to actually do more testing with them because we think both are talented young individuals that we'd like to prepare for the Champ Cars. The trouble is we have had -- our testing hasn't gone as great as we wanted to in the Champ Cars, so -- a few engine problems and stuff and a few other problems, so when we had them down there at test we ended up not doing it just for the fact that things weren't going -- but the main emphasis had to be on the actual drivers now. So we gave them as much time as possible. In the future -- I mean, it could be sometime in the near future or sometime this year we plan to at least get them both back in the Champ Cars and who knows what.
ADAM SAAL: Our final opening question for you, Zig. You mentioned the test. Let us talk a little bit about what the competitors are doing in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship this year. On several occasions, including next week at Mid-Ohio, you have joined together and you will join together again for group testing. Talk a little bit about that and -- both the advantages and the disadvantages might be about doing group testing?
ZIGGY HARCUS: I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I think it -- at the start of year you want to get some testing in by yourself just to make sure everything is okay and you have got everything sorted out. But after that you really need to have a bench mark and before we used to test with like Team Green and Dorricott and we'd take a group of people that we go out and test. Now we can do that with everyone. It cuts down on the expenses and plus you have got other teams there some if anything does happen, you can borrow parts and stuff to get you through the test. So I think all the way around it helps. It helps in our budget because the testing is shared by everyone, and I think it is a very, very good thing to do. I hope they carry on with it.
ADAM SAAL: Before we open it to the media, I will let you know we will be supporting at a PR level and both a video level for shows such as RPM Tonight the test next Wednesday at Mid-Ohio so I will be sending out reports from there on Wednesday I will endeavor to get a Thursday follow-up for you as well. At this point we are going to open it up for questions. We have a relatively, what we call, a quality group here today so we are going to give everybody a chance to ask question. If you don't have one, just decline and we will move on to the next one.
Q. Being relatively new, an understudy of all the guys here Focus on Racing when I found out I was going to be part of this series today I started studying up. I guess tell me, in your relatively young career, and now in the Indy Lights Series, have there been some surprises to you that maybe you weren't ready for, whether it be mentally, physically, or just being a race car driver?
SCOTT DIXON: You sort of -- you sort of have pretty much time to sort of get up to speed with things. I have noticed, especially this year, having a late start to the year and that sort of thing, so generally -- last year I think I was physically probably struggling a little bit -- well, basically through the series and joining PacWest with their training schedule and that sort of thing has been a huge help. But generally we haven't really been thrown in the deep end yet. We sort of look at things pretty carefully just to make sure that it is the right decision.
Q. Congratulations on your drive at Long Beach, Scott. I wanted to know from your point of view how tough is this especially after the drive at Long Beach to not get back on track and not -- or not be racing on the track anyway until June - that is quite a big jump as far as downtime goes. Obviously you have done a bit of testing, but your thoughts on not being able to run for a while.
SCOTT DIXON: I guess, if anything, a strange season, I guess, with a very late start to the year with not having Homestead and then not having another 'til June. You sort of get all geared up for Long Beach; then you sort of go downhill again. But basically we try and keep the training up. And I have flown home to sort out things back there and it is good to have a break now and then, but it would be nice if it wasn't this long. I am just anxious to get back into the car pretty much.
Q. Ziggy, from a team manager point of view, how do you keep these guys from wandering around and as far as mental preparation that kind of thing goes in a long break like this?
ZIGGY HARCUS: You can never really keep them from wandering around. I think the drivers have got to be self-motivated and I think that they have to keep themselves focused on what their plans are. I just like to focus really more on getting the car ready and making sure that the testing we do is beneficial for us to go back to the race. All and all, the drivers - part of Team -- Scott is here just about every day and just checks in, but his biggest focus to me, he has to make sure that he is fit, that he is concentrating, that, you know, everything on that part he does that side of it. I can handle the other side and I think between the two of us, that gives you what you need.
Q. Talking about next week test at Mid-Ohio, the place where you guys have been before, but memory serves me I don't think you guys ran there last year?
ZIGGY HARCUS: That is correct. I don't think Indy Lights have actually run there for a few years, to tell you the truth.
SCOTT DIXON: This will actually be our first appearance there since 1994.
Q. What kind of things are you looking at as being on the top of your list of things to get done with this test this week?
ZIGGY HARCUS: I think the biggest thing is to -- we have had a break so the first thing is to get everything back; make sure we are working together. We have got quite a tough few weeks ahead of us after this and so, really, the mechanics have been very busy on the cars trying to get everything going through so that we are actually prepared for this next run that we have with the back-to-back races. Then we have got Mid-Ohio, then Milwaukee; then Milwaukee pre-day before we start running. So it going to be very busy. The biggest thing for us is to make sure that the car is ready for the -- not test, but for the next month so try to be on top of that. And, really, I think we are just going to work at getting -- we had a reasonable car at Long Beach for Scott. We didn't seem to have the same sort of car for Tony. So I think one of our priorities right now is to make sure Tony gets up to speed and get him back up the front of the grid which I know he can be. Scott, at the moment, I don't think I have got too much to worry about, he is doing a great job. I think we are looking good.
ADAM SAAL: Just for the record, we will follow the Mid-Ohio test which goes down Wednesday, May 17th and Thursday, May 18th for the two-day open test at the Milwaukee Mile on Tuesday May 23rd and Wednesday, May 24th. And then as a group the Indy Lights competitors went to Laguna Seca immediately following Long Beach; then traveled up to Portland where every team with the exception of Lucas Motorsports which did participate in the Laguna test; went up to Portland and made that trip up there. So they are covering quite a few miles as a group, as you heard Zig said, definitely had some advantages.
Q. PacWest has taken the major step of being able to both handle you, Scott, and Tony without benefit of you all bringing sponsorship which is really great. Do you see that, other than this as a major effort on the part of PacWest to develop you and other new talent, how do you see this working toward your move into the Champ Cars? Do you think -- it is going to give you the experience, but are you able now to more easily gain sponsorship?
SCOTT DIXON: It is definitely the way that we could have only gone with. We, as a family, that sort of thing, we are unable to bring the amount of money that other drivers can. So basically it was an easy choice for us with PacWest and they are sort of funding it which was definitely the way. With the way of sponsorship and that sort of thing, we have been pretty lucky, I think, we had PowerWare come on and they -- definitely looks like they are there for the long-term which is good; which I think that is going to help us progress through the Champ Car as well.
ADAM SAAL: Zig, do you have comment on this trend within PacWest of bringing in, as you said, drivers that you want to have be there as opposed to drivers just bringing in funding.
ZIGGY HARCUS: I think one of the questions -- the question that he asked there was, I think, sort of asked whether he though Scott was going to be able to get a Champ Car run. Well, that is, I think, our intention is to, one way or another, is to both get Scott and Tony into Champ Car rides. Whether it be for us or someone else, they have got to have young people that we can choose from and they have got to come through the ranks - from Indy Lights or Atlantic. I think it is important for the series that we actually have that where people can go to a race in Long Beach and see the Atlantic cars run and watch someone there or see the Lights cars and see Scott Dixon win and then a year or two down the road he is winning the Champ Car races. I think that is important for the series. PacWest, we are definitely 100% behind that focus of making sure that we have young guys that go through these series, both owned by CART and would like to see young guys come from the Lights Series to progress in the Champ Cars and, yes, we definitely do intend to put Scott in a Champ Car sooner or later.
Q. Are you all putting -- I gather you are putting resources together to help find sponsorship for Scott and Tony, even if they should not be with you in the Champ Cars?
ZIGGY HARCUS: I am not 100% sure on what the financial side of that is. I know that we have got both drivers to a contract because we believe in them. I think that the sponsorship that we try and get in for these two young drivers, hopefully if they do a great job for their sponsors now, maybe their sponsors will follow them into the Champ Car program. So I think it is a big risk - you are spending a lot of money on two young guys that you believe in but you don't know 100% know whether they will make it, but if you put that money in and they start to do well then maybe the sponsors will say, well, hey, we'd like to go to Champ Car racing too because you are always looking for new sponsors with the Champ Cars. I think it is a good -- all the way around, it is a good system. If we can make it work -- it is a hard thing to make work, but I think we can make it work. I'd love it see it work.
Q. You certainly picked two drivers from areas that need more representation in Champ Cars, the Down Under side as well as the American side. Good luck with it.
ZIGGY HARCUS: Thank you.
Q. Scott, how do you feel about the season changes made for the 2000 season with the removal of Homestead, Nazareth, Cleveland Toronto and the addition of Aruba, Vancouver, Gateway and Mid-Ohio because I understand that two of the tracks, Homestead and Nazareth, you had really good showings, so how do you feel about those changes?
SCOTT DIXON: I was a bit disappointed to see Nazareth and Homestead gone off the schedule. But it is probably really a good idea with not having an oval for your first start because a lot of people crashed, I think, at the first race. I like both circuits and it would have been nicer if they got rid of Milwaukee (inaudible) Nazareth I would have liked that. But it is just the way the season is going and everybody is in the same boat. They have got to test at new circuits and that sort of thing. It is going to be a little harder with other drivers being to these circuits. I doubt they got on the schedule this year and may not have gone to them so -- but, you know, it is just the way it is and you have got it deal with it.
ZIGGY HARCUS: We sat down at the end of last year and it is not that Homestead or Nazareth are bad circuits but in my career at Nazareth I never had much fun there. But it is a great little racetrack. Same with Homestead, it is a good place, but when it is a budget series like this, we sat down as an owners group and we discussed it and it is more financial than it was anything else to stay out of those places and as Scott stated, we lost a lot of cars in the first year races. When you are on a budget, like we have a fixed one here, it definitely hurts us through the end of the year if we spent a huge amount of it up front, then you are sort of catching up all year. Whereas if you can get through -- Long Beach, if you crash there, you don't knock a corner off; you may do some gear box damage but you are not going to destroy a car normally. So hopefully it is helping these teams. It will help teams stay within the series because if you can't make it financially, I don't think you can do it.
Q. What discipline do you like the best, Scott, did you like the oval, the street or the road courses and I'd like to follow that up with what is your favorite track to race on since you have had one year to do certain tracks?
SCOTT DIXON: Generally I like the road courses and street courses because it is what I have done throughout my racing car. Ovals are new to me. Last year, even I think we had a bit of run on the ovals with results and that sort of thing, we struggled on some street courses -- road courses were pretty good. But I think still coming from my grounding, I generally like the street and road courses and ovals, it is just as part of the series. Probably my favorite circuit is Laguna, actually, just with the elevation and the speeds of the corners and that sort of thing is probably the best circuit I have driven on.
Q. I am interested in the Down Under connection. Ziggy, you seem to be from there. Scott is there. Your team seems to have a fair number of people from there. Is this specifically a choice or is it happenstance? Can you tell us more about your mechanic training program?
ZIGGY HARCUS: I have been over here in the states for 20 years racing and it just -- I came over to do just a few races and stayed here ever since. I didn't really know much about oval racing, the same as Scott didn't. When I came over and started to do it, I realized how much fun it can be and it definitely sorts out the men from the boys. But we do have -- I mean, Scott is the first driver that we have had from Down Under. We had Didier Andre last year from France; then Robby Unser, so we have had a bit of a mixture. But I think -- I am glad we are both from the same stay in Oakland and hopefully my mom will actually be proud of me after all these years.
ADAM SAAL: Talk a little bit about that, maybe a little familiarity within the team when you come all this way to race in the U.S..
SCOTT DIXON: It definitely nice to have people from Down Under on the same team; especially when you are so far away. I think especially with the connection and with joining the team with John Anderson and him knowing Kenny Smith, my manager was also a very good contact. So it is just nice to be on a team where there is quite a few here, I am sure, and there seems to be a few on the Champ Cars too, but it is just nice to sort of have people from your home country.
ZIGGY HARCUS: I think motor racing -- it is a great mixture of people that you have and people come from, whether it be from Formula 1 or they will come with a driver, say, from Down Under or someone there and they will bring people -- people seem to stick with the driver sometimes as well, so they will bring with people with them over to this country and then they will find that they like it over here and they will either get a Green Card and stay. So I think -- you have a few Australians and New Zealanders here in the shop. It is a great mixture of people. I think it is good for the whole series.
Q. You talked about training the mechanics for CART. Is this a specific training program or is this just the way it is just working out?
ZIGGY HARCUS: It is a training program. We have had actually had people come into join the CART team; actually put them on the Lights team because they weren't up to speed. It is not that the mechanics are any harder. In a way, I find that the mechanics side of the IndyCar program because everything is so new every year, everything is new, but the pressure to do everything right straight-a-way, I find that the young people, they will not crumble, but they get into a situation where they are not used to it, so you -- I try and train them for that. They don't have the pressures, and pit spots that you do on a Champ Car so it is a great training ground. And we do have -- we bring young people in. We have got a young guy that just came down from Fort Wayne who joined the team. We will do it every year, bring in at least one or two young people and start off, let's say, whether it be a gopher or mechanic getting experience and from there they will go-- they may want to go straight into the Champ Car team and if they are good enough, they can do. And if not, we will keep them here until -- we will either make them sort of good enough to go to the Champ Car program or they may go elsewhere. But we definitely want to have -- I mean, as you have seen, there is a few people hurt in pit spots, and you have got to have that backup and we have plenty of backup within the shop. But it is nice at the end of the year where people start to change teams. We can take a couple of key people that moved from the Lights Team; they will go over to the Champ Car program and bring in a couple of young people if -- I interview people pretty much from September, October onwards and then we see people that look good; we will bring them in and we will train them.
ADAM SAAL: Any final question or two for either Scott Dixon or Ziggy Harcus, feel free to join in.
Q. Scott, because I assume that right now your main focus is the Champ Car scene. Without taking that into consideration, what do you feel that ultimately your goal will be?
SCOTT DIXON: I think for a lot of race car drivers and single seat-a-ways, anyways, it is -- the pinnacle is definitely Formula 1. We are always sort of talking and looking to head that way. I worked with Johansson -- he is still helping us out there and hopefully by the end of the year we will sort of get back to France and have hopefully another test which will be nice. Basically we are just working on it and Kenny, my manager, is talking to McLaren at the moment with tests they have got coming up at the end of the year so we are always looking towards Formula 1 and Champ Car is close. They are both the highest you can sort of go in the series. So we always look towards Formula 1.
Q. As far as the 500, have you ever considered running the 500?
SCOTT DIXON: PacWest Racing was looking at running it this year, but due to certain things they didn't get to do it. But I think definitely next year they will be looking at running the 500 and hopefully Tony and myself will get to do it, but it just depends on what happens next year.
Q. Are you still in contact with your last year's teammate Guy Smith and have you talked to him any about the 500 this year?
SCOTT DIXON: Ben Collins was my teammate last year. I still keep in contact with Guy; not on a regular basis, but I see him around town occasionally. I haven't spoken to him yet about running the 500, but probably see him this week sometime.
Q. Scott, you got me, I thought I had done all my research.
ADAM SAAL: You are not the first guy to confuse Ben Collins and Guy Smith. Thanks, Scott, again fresh off the plane back from New Zealand but he took a few minutes and we do appreciate it. Zig, always good to hear from you as well. As I told the media earlier, we will be at Mid-Ohio in full force next week on Wednesday so we will send you out e-mail reports from there. As well you will be able to get transcripts of today's teleconference. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to send you a transcript, if not later today, first thing in the morning. Thank you so much, gentlemen. Good luck with all the testing and we will race again for Round Two of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship June 4th at the Milwaukee Mile. Take care.
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