CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, Gil, driver of the No. 1 Marlboro Honda Reynard has kicked the defense of his 2000 FedEx Championship Series title into high gear with back-to-back victories at England and Houston which have moved him into the series lead. Gil's Victory last Sunday capped a dominant performance in which he collected the maximum 22 Championship points for winning from the pole and leading the most race laps. He led all 100 laps on the 1.527 mile temporary street circuit in Downtown Houston becoming the first driver to lead every lap of a FedEx Championship Series event since teammate Helio Castroneves led all 72 en route to victory at Detroit in June. Gil has finished 8th or better in each of his past seven starts with six Top-5 results. Included are podium finish of third at Chicago and second at Mid-Ohio and Vancouver in addition to his two victories. He also owns four pole positions and has started fourth or better in his past six events with poles at Mid-Ohio, Germany and Houston. Heading into this weekend's Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, California, Gil stands first in the FedEx Championship Series with 163 points; 10 more than second place Kenny Brack of Team Rahal who stands second with 153. The Shell 300, Round 19 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised life on ESPN this Sunday October 14, beginning at 4 P.M. eastern time. With that we will open it up to questions for Gil.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much.
Q. Does it seem like you're getting on a roll here at the end of the season?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't know about that. I certainly you know, we had a two good races in a row here and obviously the last two have been extremely good, but I feel like we have been going pretty fast since the beginning of the year and we were just having a lot of misfortune, I would say, earlier on this year, something that's not really happening lately, you know, this late stage in the season. We have been more able to transform the speed into good qualifying positions and then into good race results. I don't feel like I have been performing much differently, if you see what I mean.
Q. I quite understand. This weekend you will be going to Laguna Seca. Is this a good track for you? Do you like it?
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, at Laguna Seca is one of my favorite tracks I have to say. Certainly I have a little bit of a soft spot with it since it's where I won my very first race back in 1995 and, I think together with the Elkhart Lake it's probably one of my favorite circuits in the whole world actually. Last year it was a race that we did fairly well, finished second there last year, and we're hoping to have a good showing over there.
Q. Do you drive it any differently than you do any other road course that's a slightly different configuration?
GIL de FERRAN: Not really. Certainly it's quite unique with the elevation changes and all that. But I don't -- you know, there's nothing that I do particularly different over there.
Q. I am wondering how you and Helio are getting along right now with you both going for the Championship and being teammates?
GIL de FERRAN: Very well. (Laughs) Our relationship remains very good and I said that before and I think to a lot of peoples' surprise I said if I am able to win this thing I'd rather it was him that put the Championship under his belt because I think, you know, we both would really like to do it for the team because I think the feeling that we both have towards the team is a mutual feeling. It's of -- you know, I certainly love this team and I think they deserve to get a win in this Championship and hopefully with me, but if it isn't with me then hopefully it's with Helio. I have to say that there hasn't been a dent in our relationship at all.
Q. Any kind of friendly wager between you and Helio?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't really understand.
Q. Did you guys bet anything on the Championship?
GIL de FERRAN: No, no betting. There's another state there, we don't need anymore bets... (Inaudible).
Q. There's a piece in the press this morning that Mr. Forsythe is saying that the CART franchise board didn't really have the authority to use a 3.5 naturally aspirated engine and the Board of Directors may well have come to another conclusion. If you had your say - and clearly none of us do - but if you did, what direction would you choose for an engine in the future?
GIL de FERRAN: I think in my mind the question is way beyond the engine choice. I think in the end of the day I still feel the need that we unify the top echelon of open-wheel racing in the United States. I think, you know, it's becoming clearer as the years go by that the public in general has a hard time understanding this division and I think, therefore, unifying open-wheel racing in this country is of primary importance. So that the whole sport can grow to levels that -- to levels that are much higher than they are today. I think this engine choice should reflect that philosophy. I think that's only certainly only one small piece of the puzzle there, but perhaps an important one.
Q. I have been beaten by the colleague just a moment ago about the engine, but tell me something, you said that you won the first time in Laguna and you like winning on the street. Do you prefer the street after all?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I kind of say that -- I cannot state exactly that. I certainly would say to you that my first love with motor racing was through road racing generally speaking, you know, being a street circuit racing or permanent road course racing that's how I fell in love with the sport in the first place. I certainly lost none of my love for driving this type of racetrack and I don't think I ever will to be quite honest with you. However, ovals are a relatively new thing in my career, you know, it's only started driving them in 1995 and I have to say that today I very much enjoy driving them too. I am not so sure I would like to give them up too. I very much enjoy driving ovals. I find them very, very challenging. It's such a foreign discipline to what I started -- how I started that I have to say to do well on them, it's a big challenge for me and one that I enjoy.
Q. Do you put your name as a final winner at Fontana, obviously at the Championship for this year, do you consider already you will win completely the whole shebang?
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, that's the whole idea. (Laughs) I think certainly we're in good position to fight for the Championship all the way to the end and, you know, that would be nice if I can repeat the Championship and certainly be even nicer if I can finish it off before Fontana, but I am not counting with that at all. I think the competition is very strong and we really -- it would be really difficult to finish the Championship before we get to Fontana.
Q. I had a follow-up on the engine Formula question. As you know and well aware from racing outside the country there are a lot of people that have put a lot of stock in CART because they say that it is the second most advanced technology to Formula 1, not only in the cars, but driver's skill, et cetera, and that has been one of the selling points of CART. With them going normally aspirated and possibly as you say getting a common formula while it might unify the sport, do you have any concerns over it tarnishing CART's image in some way by being supposedly lesser technology in a way?
GIL de FERRAN: I think not really. I think to me what characterizes CART is in my mind, I would classify it as probably one of the most difficult championships to win. I think from a variety of points of view that there becomes, I think, first of all, the cars, because they are extremely powerful, and very fast, they are very difficult to drive and very difficult to master. So that's difficulty level No. 1. I think difficulty level No. 2 is that the series consistently over the years, if you look all the way back, you know, to the early '90s, for example, just to take a pick there, the series had been consistently attracting the top talents from a driving standpoint. You get people like Nigel Mansell, (inaudible) Fittipaldi, Villeneuve, and people that either prove themselves in other series or before or after they have been with CART, so I think that's certainly difficulty level No. 2 there. You are competing against the best drivers, the world has to offer. I think point No. 3 there is the level of the teams are certainly first class. I know that my team, Team Penske is certainly one of the best operations in motor sports who stops, not only in America, but worldwide so and I know that we compete against some pretty tough guys in terms of teams. So I think this, to me, is what characterizes CART. And I think by unifying things you can just -- you just would add to it. You just, you know, increase the depth of teams and of drivers.
Q. No worries over the lessening of technology then?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't think so because I think in the end of the day you would unify the investment that there exists in this type of racing and raise the level up.
Q. That was a remarkable run you had on Sunday.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much.
Q. Talk about the unification, you just mentioned and you also mentioned the difficulty that the Champ Cars are to perform well in. Now you have had some testing in the IRL cars. Can you compare the talent requirement between the two series as they it is right now?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think, you know, they are different and at the same time they are not. They are both extremely fast; certainly the IRL cars only run on the ovals, and although they have less power than the CART cars do, they run in a specification that gives them a lot more down-force in the form of grip and the form of cornering speeds. I find them both very, very challenging to drive. Obviously the only way that we can compare them is in the ovals. They are different, but at the same time, similar.
Q. On that same thought you talk about unification and it would be nice from all stand points to get this behind us and get back to serious racing once again, you know, in North America. Do you see that there's going to be a transition between the two if it comes, one large series that the CART side sort of concentrates on road courses and street courses where the IRL side more or less concentrates on ovals like they have been and there may be a change back and forth at various times during the year seeing teams migrate back and forth for particular events?
GIL de FERRAN: I really don't know what the answer is to that, really, and I think this is, you know, hopefully something that the bosses of our sports are trying to figure out. But I really I have no idea what the answer would be and I think, you know, as long as the essence of speed and the essence of difficulty and the essence of competitiveness are there, I don't really care what the format is. You know, there's obviously a lot of business decisions or business considerations into making that sort of decision and I have no preconceived idea of what a sporting format should be.
Q. There's also been some talk about the IRL style of chassis being developed for CART. Have you heard anything on that or?
GIL de FERRAN: I have not.
Q. How do you feel going into this race? Is the pressure on you to wrap it up here or how do you approach this race when you know that the Championship is there for you to grab?
GIL de FERRAN: I think, you know, certainly from a mathematical standpoint I certainly cannot wrap it in Laguna, so if you look at it from there, you have to say that my approach should not change and I don't think it will. You got to really put the point, you know, in the board there, keep adding them up, so I don't think, you know, you can play percentages too much at this point. You really got to do the best you can to score as many points as you can and if that's a victory, you know, if a victory becomes available to me (laughs) then you got to go and take it. It's not yet time to, what can I say, to be thinking about, you know, to drive like I drove in Fontana last year, for example.
Q. Having won the Championship already, is there less pressure on you this year than there was last year? Now that you have that -- now that you are wearing that crown?
GIL de FERRAN: To be honest with you, no. (Laughs) I think it's just as tense this year as it was last year for me primarily because I don't -- I think I have said that before, I don't feel like I am defending the title. I feel like I am trying to win another one and as long as I put myself forward to that task, you know, my will to trying to win this Championship has been the same as it was when I was trying to win that first one. So the desire is the same. The will is the same, and the tension is the same.
T.E. McHALE: We'll wrap it up for the afternoon. We want to thank Defending Championship Series Champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske for being with us this afternoon. Gil, thanks for joining us; best of luck at Laguna Seca this weekend and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much. See you guys at Laguna.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who made time for us this afternoon. Have a good week; we will talk to you next week.
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