CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference and thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today. Our guests this afternoon bring a pronounced Indy Lights flavor to this call as we are joined by Champ car rookie Scott Dixon of the PacWest Racing Group, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion; and veteran Indy Lights competitor Derek Higgins, winner of the season-opening Indy Lights event at the Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix presented by Herdez in Monterrey, Mexico. Welcome, thanks for being with us today.
SCOTT DIXON: Thanks, very much.
DEREK HIGGINS: Hi to everyone.
T.E. McHALE: Scott, the driver of the No. 18 Powerware Panasonic Toyota Reynard finished 13th in his CART debut at Monterrey. He led 14 laps, the most led by a CART rookie in a season-opening event since Nigel Mansell led 32 en route to his 1993 victory at Australia. Scott captured the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights championship on the strength of his six victories and eight top four finishes. He added a pole position and led the series in laps led with 228. Scott also became the first driver ever to win an Indy Lights event on each of the four different types of circuits on which the series races during the same season. Derek, the driver of the No. 16 Mexpro StarlightDiamonds.com PrecioBase.com Lola drove to the fifth victory of his four-year Indy Lights career at Monterrey in a dominant performance which also saw him claim the pole position, lead every race lap, and top the time sheets during all practice and qualifying sessions. The victory was especially satisfying in that it was the first Indy Lights triumph for the Mexpro team which is based in Monterrey. Heading into round two of the championship at April 8th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Derek leads the Dayton Indy Lights driver standings with 22 points. With that we will begin taking questions for Scott and Derek.
Q. What a thrill to be leading your first CART race. How did it affect your driving?
SCOTT DIXON: Obviously, we sort of made a different strategy call to the leaders at the time. It was probably more of a mistake than actually planned. It was pretty exciting to sort of lead the race, but yet again it was disappointing because the whole race now we had to conserve fuel. We knew it wasn't going to be the best way to place in the race. Obviously, I'm not sure how we actually finished because we only did one stop and we were the only car to finish the race with one stop. I think it was definitely a big learning curve, to learn how to save the fuel. I think it will pay off for us later on.
Q. Derek, you've been doing this for quite awhile. You've had some years where you've got full-time rides, others where it's slowed down. What is it going to take for you to get to the next level, into the Champ Car Series?
DEREK HIGGINS: I really think I've got to go out and try and win the championship, at least try and repeat what Scott did last year by trying to win six races or trying to win more races. That i really think is the only opportunity that I'm going to have to finally impress the people in Champ cars. And also you need a lot of luck. You know, it's not just on what you do on the track, you need to do a lot of other things outside of the car. I'm trying very hard this year to work on that part of it, physical fitness and also the media. Keep working at it, that's the only thing I can do.
Q. Scott, talk about Monterrey, level of competition. Was it what you expected going out there and doing battle with the other guys in Champ cars?
SCOTT DIXON: Obviously, you know, for the first race, being in Mexico, especially with the fans and stuff, was definitely quite an eye-opener. After the first practices and stuff, through testing previous to the start of the year, I thought we had a pretty good package. With the Toyota engine, it's been a big addition to PacWest. I knew that we would have a pretty strong car. It showed in the first couple of practices, that we had a Top 5 car. (Inaudible) slow group/fast group qualifying thing basically because the rookies didn't score any points last year so they were automatically in the slow group, that can put a bit of the dampener on the whole weekend. I think we did pretty well. Overall I was a little disappointed with what we achieved.
Q. What have you been doing in this layover?
SCOTT DIXON: Basically just training hard. I was pretty happy with my fitness after the race at Monterrey. I thought I would have struggled a lot harder. Obviously, saving the fuel, you don't have to drive as hard, it's a little kinder to you. I was ready to get in and do another 80 laps, probably because I was a little agitated as how the race went. I would have quite enjoyed to do another 80. Obviously, you know, we've been just training, a little go-karting here and there.
Q. Derek, what did you think about Monterrey? I know it was a small field. Did you have fun out there?
DEREK HIGGINS: Yeah, I had a lot of fun. For me, it was like I'm back home. I raced there four years. The thing I was most impressed about, I think everyone was, was the fans. From Thursday and Friday, it was just full. I mean, every time you went out, there were people watching. The track itself I think was very interesting. It gave the impression of being a street circuit, but then there was a lot of space in other areas which gave you the impression that it was a road course. I think for their first attempt, for the Mexican's first attempt at building a Champ car track, making an event, I think they came out really, really good. Okay, the track maybe didn't have the two lines for people to overtake, but then that was going to happen with a brand-new surface and a brand-new track. We hope that next year the situation will be different, and it will be a better situation for the race.
Q. Now you're back to Long Beach, a familiar track for you.
DEREK HIGGINS: Yeah. Unfortunately, I didn't do the race last year when they made the modification to the part coming back towards the pits. But I went around a lot last year with Rudy, trying to help him sort it out. I'm looking forward to it because I would really like to sort of two in a row, it would good to go out and have another week like Monterrey. To get one like Monterrey, they don't happen very often where you have such a good weekend. I can only hope that I can go out and get another one like that.
Q. Scott, you're moving on to Long Beach, like all the rest of the cars. How are you going to approach Long Beach differently than you did last year?
SCOTT DIXON: It's obviously nice having been there last year. Obviously knowing the circuit I think is going to help me over the other rookies and things like that. So I won't have to learn the circuit. We're in the fast group for the Long Beach race, which I think is going to be pretty good for our side. Obviously, we just want to finish and we'll take it pretty casual in the way of, you know, we want to pull the car out, have a good race car, and hopefully qualify well. We want to put a pretty good show in there. Long Beach is one of the bigger races of the year, you know, just looking forward to it and want to do well.
Q. Scott, do you still keep in contact with Steve Horne? If you do, how does he feel about your success, moving up through the ranks?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, obviously Steve hasn't been around a lot. Our first (inaudible) move to the US was Steve Horne and Kenny Smith, our manager. He pointed us in the right direction and gave us a bit of a hand. Obviously after the first year with Johansson, he sort of stepped aside and was just watching. I haven't spoken to Steve in quite some time. You know, I'm sure he's happy with how we're doing and hopefully Steve will get back into it.
Q. Derek, how do you feel about the extra exposure that you'll be getting when you are going to be running a couple of the races with the IRL series?
DEREK HIGGINS: I think that's good. I think it certainly opens up another market for Indy Lights, and also for the CART side of that as well, they're getting together for the 500. They can get together for some of the other races. I just hope that we have good events. They look like we're going to go to two new venues in Chicago and Kansas. Everyone I've spoken to says that Kansas is very impressive. And Chicago, when it's finished, will be impressive. I hope it helps -- maybe it might help the drivers from IRL, instead of going straight from Sprint cars to IRL, they might think of coming to Lights as another option instead of just trying to jump straight into IRL cars.
Q. Will you be taking another Mexican flag with you along for the Long Beach and the Texas race since those two races, there will be a lot of Mexican fans there to root you on?
DEREK HIGGINS: I think I'm probably going to have a flag in all the time, although I'm not going to tell the chief steward. That was something that was put in by my engineer before the race. I wasn't too happy about it because I thought it was tempting fate. I'm sure it will be in the car, somewhere in the car. At the end of the day, it's something that the Mexicans, they're very emotional, you know, they show a lot of passion for their sport. It's something I learned when I was down there. I enjoy doing it. I also enjoyed the response. Some drivers climb fences. Maybe I can start a new one by having a flag in the car (laughter).
Q. Do you have any insight that you can share with us as far as the new Indy Lights chassis and engine package for 2002?
DEREK HIGGINS: I've heard that it is possibly going to be a G-force, that was the rumors going around towards the end of last year, an engine that was through Panoz or some situation like that. I think at the moment, I'm not sure where it's all going. Unfortunately we haven't been informed of the final situation. I'm not sure, with the change of the CEO, that some new changes have come into play. I'm not sure, to be honest. I think that's a question you really need to put to Roger Bailey or Gary Donahoe.
Q. Scott and Derek, the field I know was small in Monterrey. What do you think Lights needs to do to build up a larger field?
DEREK HIGGINS: I think Roger Bailey would know the answer to that one. I think it's very difficult at the moment because I think all of the lower categories are struggling a little bit. I'm not sure how many cars there are going to be for Atlantic for the first race at Long Beach. It's the question, isn't it, of how do you improve the grid? Maybe where we are with Lights right now is okay. We have a lot of good quality rather than having numbers. I think we've got better racing for that than having too many other people on the grid. There's no easy cure other than maybe a little possibly more support through the other Champ car teams, that possibly would help. Maybe that's the only other suggestion.
SCOTT DIXON: I generally think that the Lights, the car has been around for quite a long time, and the engine. I think if they got a new chassis and engine deal, it would probably draw a lot of people in. I think Steve Horne was definitely keen on getting back into the Lights series if they got a new chassis and engine. You look at it, you still pay quite a lot of money for '96 car. I think that's going to help. You have to get more people like Steve Horne and them back into the series. They definitely help. That would definitely draw people in again.
Q. Scott, how was the tennis like at the Texas Motor Speedway?
SCOTT DIXON: Things at Texas things for us went pretty well. Fastest Toyota, right there with Penske. Obviously, the car, we got it working pretty well there. The circuit in general is easy flat. We took a lot of things off our car to get it very light. It moved around quite a bit going down the straight. Once you hit the banking, the car would not give you a feeling at all. It sort of got you a bit lost in a way of which parts to work on. I think with the G-force on the car actually hitting the bank, it would not move at all. I think with us going there, it's going to provide pretty good racing. The circuit, probably three or four cars wide in the turn, but it narrows up pretty good in the front straights. It could cause maybe a few crashes, especially like in the Indy Lights because the cars are always so close. I think it will definitely be a pretty good race there.
Q. What was it like to give some feedback back to the tire manufacturer when you tested the Indy Lights car?
SCOTT DIXON: We just basically built up speed, the forces on the tire and things like that. Generally there was not a lot of work. It was probably easier than, say, a Fontana or Michigan circuit in the way of how much the car actually works. Yet again, balance and things like that is kind of hard to predict. With the Lights, it would be very good racing because you could easily get four wide in the turns. As I said with the straits, it narrows up so much, a bit of conflict down the front straight.
Q. All in all, it sounds like you felt comfortable on the track, Texas Motor Speedway, even with the high banking. Do you agree?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, for sure. The car, to be honest, was a little more (inaudible) down the front straight just because it moved around quite a bit. I never really got close to another car through the test. That's probably going to be most interesting part of the whole weekend, I'd say, was how the cars handle in traffic.
Q. Scott, you seem to have been able to adapt to the Champ cars pretty easily. You've been competitive right off the bat. Was Indy Lights a good training ground for you?
SCOTT DIXON: Obviously, you know, the Lights is a very good series, stepping up to the Champ car maybe a little better than the Atlantic series because of the horsepower and things like that. The cars aren't that well-balanced. You get out of a Lights car and into a Champ car where you have a purpose built engine and chassis that is balanced very well. The cars are nice to drive. The biggest thing I found getting into a Champ car was probably not as hard to adapt to as when I first drove the Lights car.
Q. When you tested at the Texas Motor Speedway, is there any problems with some bumps, uneven surface areas?
SCOTT DIXON: The circuit was very bumpy. That was the first thing I noticed. The cars now have so much drag, with the less boost, bumps were more effective to the engine right up in the (inaudible), to get the fastest time. That would be the only thing that would affect your run, would be hitting the bump and getting on the limiter. It didn't really affect the car a whole lot through the turns or anything. Generally it feels like you can get a pretty good feeling of how the car is because it is so draggy, it will provide pretty good racing.
Q. The opening weekend of the movie Driven, are you looking forward to the movie?
SCOTT DIXON: I think obviously from the trailers I've seen so far, it looks pretty good. I don't know how realistic it's going to be. I think it's going to help the sport in many ways, give the public a general view of what actually goes on. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's the weekend of Texas.
DEREK HIGGINS: I think anything -- any chance there's a time for a movie about the sport that we do, I think it's only beneficial for the fact that it puts it back in the public awareness. It should be fun to see what everyone thinks about it and how many people go over the weekend to Texas.
T.E. McHALE: We'll wrap it up for the afternoon. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us, best of luck in the remainder of the 2001 season in the FedEx Championship Series and the Dayton Indy Lights Series.
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