CART FedEx Championship Series: Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante
Topics: Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante
ADAM SAAL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for what seems to be our hourly press conference. We've had a very good weekend as far as news for the 2003 Champ Car Series presented by Bridgestone, yet another one today. This one came together I think over the course of the last couple of weeks. One good dinner last night may have pushed it over the top. You even saw this young man drive one of Derrick Walker's race cars this afternoon. At this point I'll turn it over to Derrick Walker, one of our most valued team members in Championship Auto Racing Teams. Also joining us is Chris Pook, CART president and CEO, as well as Roberto Gonzales, from Monterrey, Mexico. Derrick, was that a glimpse of things to come earlier with Roberto?
DERRICK WALKER: First of all, let me thank everybody for coming here today. We're here to announce part of our program for 2003. We're going to be running with Roberto Gonzales a full season in CART. We're very pleased to obviously announce this here in Mexico because of the importance to this region and the significance of having Roberto in the series. I'm sure we'll have lots of questions. I'll answer with as much time as we've got. We're very pleased to be here and announce it here in Mexico, and also to put another commitment to dispel the rumors that CART is going out of business. Here is another team committed here this weekend. We're very pleased to announce it here.
ADAM SAAL: Derrick, thank you. Certainly no finer team to join us than Walker Racing to continue on as a race winner and championship runner-up in the past. We're delighted to have you continue on. It will be a great season in 2003. At this point we'll turn it over to Roberto. Roberto, a big day for you. You drive a Champ Car here in your home country, you follow that a couple hours later that you'll be in the full campaign in 2003. How do you feel right now? Share with us your emotions, both in English and Spanish, if you would.
ROBERTO GONZALES: It's been a great day for me. It's been a dream come true. We've worked so hard for this moment. It's been going great since we first met with Walker, Mr. Walker has been really I felt good to talk with. I really felt comfortable with Walker. I'm very happy being with Mr. Walker. He has done a great job during the last years - you all know that. I feel great to be part of CART. (Comments in Spanish.)
ADAM SAAL: Thank you, Roberto. Great to have you here. Chris, again we needed to end this series on a high note. Not quite over for us. We have a banquet Friday and meetings on Thursday in Miami. As far as the off-track announcements go, how do you feel about this one as well as what we've been able to accomplish this weekend?
CHRIS POOK: Obviously, I'm absolutely delighted about this. Derrick is a very, very good friend, a good supporter. To be able to see him get a young driver of the talent that he has here is excellent. This is probably what you saw today, ladies and gentlemen, the fastest rookie test that CART has ever conducted. He got the car off the line very well. He put his laps in. He was welcomed by the crowd. Again, just goes to reinforce where we're going with our NAFTA marketing initiative. Another young, talented, articulate driver coming to our series that will push the button very hard. He's going to be part of one of our most excellent teams. We're delighted and we congratulate Derrick on this move. We know that this young man, who has been racing in Europe, is very talented, is going to do extremely well. You're going to be very pleasantly surprised by the ability of this young driver. Congratulations to both of you. Thank you very much.
ADAM SAAL: Question for Derrick before we open it up. Derrick, we're all about repositioning, maybe even some rebranding at Championship Auto Racing Teams. Without spilling the beans, tell us about the hat that your new driver is wearing there.
DERRICK WALKER: First of all, it's in the contract, he has to wear it night and day (laughter). We got off to the right start. He's wearing it here today. No, it's a logo change for us. It's one thing we've been playing around with, trying to turn over a new page in our history. As you can see, today's announcement heads down that way. Roberto, as instructed, is wearing the hat.
ADAM SAAL: It's looks very nice from here. We'll have a special prize for the first media member who can connive one out of Derrick. We'll open it up for questions, please.
Q. Derrick, is there a sponsorship announcement that will come along with this announcement today at some point?
DERRICK WALKER: There will be. Probably there's a lot of work to be done to actually sort through the interest that has come about because of this agreement that we've done. There is a lot of new companies out there that have been talking and looking at CART. We're not in a position to actually announce it today, but I can say that you'll be pleasantly surprised and pleased when you see some of the names that will come along and be supporting Roberto in his racing career.
ADAM SAAL: Questions in Spanish or English.
Q. Mr. Pook, how long do we have to wait to have more than 20 drivers in CART?
CHRIS POOK: Well, as you know, we're on the record as saying we want a maximum of 22, a minimum of 18. So I suspect that by the time we get to spring training, we're going to be right at the 20 mark, and maybe one more. But it's all coming together. When we made the announcement in Denver that we would definitely have 18 cars, we knew where we were going, we knew the talent pool that was out there for us. I think one of the important things here is you do see a changing of the guard. You saw it earlier with Michel staying in the series, being a young driver. You see Roberto is a young driver. You're going to see I think quite a few more youngsters who are really aggressively pushing the button. This is not unusual. If you look at NASCAR right now, Winston Cup, they have a young load of drivers that have suddenly emerged this year. It's a young person's world. The athletes are getting younger and younger by the day. That's what you're seeing in this series. Once again, you're going to see an incredibly competitive series again next year.
Q. Derrick, is there more than one of those hats in existence right now, knowing your reputation for running things on a tight budget?
DERRICK WALKER: Good question. One of the things that we certainly have suffered in the current program is being a one-car team. We've had a great relationship with Patrick Racing where we've shared everything we can without actually being a one-car team. It's not enough. You do need to have two drivers. That's what the series needs. It needs to have strong teams with strong lineups. We're working very hard on our second program, we're certainly trying to close it as quick as we can so we can get Chris off the hook with the 18 -, 20-car count that everybody keeps asking him about. We're going to be a two-car program next year. I think that will work better for Roberto and us as a team.
Q. Presumably you will be running Reynard chassis, whatever the name of them will be in the future. Can you talk about when testing will begin for your program?
DERRICK WALKER: Testing will start as soon as we possibly can. Obviously with some equipment change with the engine, there is a supply issue, availability of the engines. But we've got some ideas. We were talking about it just trying to coming into this press conference. We're going to be out there as soon as we can because there's a lot to do. As soon as the equipment hopefully comes out, we'll get out, try to run some laps, get started on next year early.
Q. Roberto, could you talk about the season that you just had in Europe, Formula 3 season, difficulties, maybe the season before that, as well?
ROBERTO GONZALES: I've been running the past two seasons in Europe. This year I've been running the Telefonica World Series, which is Formula 3000. It's been very competitive. We've been 20 cars on the grid all the time. It's been like 16 cars within one second. I've been fighting a lot. I've been learning a lot, not only as a driver in the car, but out of the car also. It's been helping me a lot for my next step, which is CART. The previous year I was running the Formula Chrysler in Europe, which is also a Formula 3000 chassis, but with a little less power, like 350 horsepower. It's been big cars. Before that I did three years of Indy Light Pan American here in Mexico. I ran the Formula 3 and ran the Formula 2. My earlier years I went through all the classes in karting.
ADAM SAAL: Oriol Servia, who is from Catalonia, has attended a couple of races over there. He said it's one of the most competitive - I'm talking about the Telefonica series - training ground championships that he's seen in recent history. Breeds some good talent out of there. Should serve you well in the future.
Q. Could you address what the incentives this year that CART has initiated for next season, financial incentives, the cost-cutting measures, how has that enabled you perhaps or played a role in you're being able to run two cars next year?
DERRICK WALKER: Well, first of all, CART has introduced the system they had several years ago where the they incentivize the teams like a franchise system to come along and compete at every event. There's incentives you get as a team which rewards you for participation. That allows the series to go out and sell a guaranteed number of cars at each event. There's that element. The second element is, because they're out there selling the sport as we are, selling sponsorship for TV, for track signage, they are interested in buying some of our rights. There is a possibility they can buy some spots on our race cars, uniforms, resell it to potential sponsors. They're a true partnership in the sense they're not only a governing body, but they're trying to understand what you need and how they can deliver potential sponsors or give you extra value to sell your sport. So in the particular case, in Roberto's case, the companies that we're talking to, we're able to talk to them at two levels. We're talking at the track side level with the race car, with Roberto, going racing, at the same time we're talking on the commercial side where they can be involved in the telecast and get the key items that are available from the sanctioning body. That's one thing, having gone through this process with Roberto now, his potential sponsors, some of the companies we've been talking to, CART is very focused, realizing, helping, trying to develop those opportunities for you. They've given us an added benefit to go out and sell in the marketplace. They're not just a sanctioning body; they're actually helping us sell our company and the sport. Tremendous difference. It's night and day compared with a year ago at this time. There's no comparison.
Q. As I understand it, Roberto had not really been in a Champ Car before today. With no experience at all, are you kind of a little bit starting behind other teams or is everybody pretty much in the same boat because of the switch to the Cosworth package?
DERRICK WALKER: Well, certainly we're only behind in the sense that Roberto hasn't experienced a CART car in competition yet. That's the same for every rookie. There will be a lot of rookies in the series, new drivers to the series, as Chris has indicated. I think that's where the team element comes in. We have a lot of experience on our team, a lot of good people. We're used to dealing with young drivers. We actually enjoy young drivers, the enthusiasm that they bring to the team. Of course, as a team owner, you're always looking at these young guys and saying, "Is this your next Michael Schumacher, Rick Mears," whoever. You're always looking for the spark, getting involved with them at the beginning of their career. It's really exciting. The team is really glued to this program behind Roberto. They sense the energy there.
Q. Derrick, you mentioned there will be new sponsors coming on. Is it safe to assume they'll be Mexican sponsors for Roberto?
DERRICK WALKER: No, not necessarily. There's a large range of sponsors from different regions. It's not solely Mexican sponsors, no.
Q. Chris, with all the new drivers coming into the series, both rookies and non-rookies, but no CART experience, with the new engines, any thought to opening up the testing to have more test days possibly for these drivers?
CHRIS POOK: The vice president of operations John Lopes, and his technical director Lee Dykstra, are in the process of discussing this now, extra time for the rookies to come in and get them acquainted. Although, by the look of this rookie today, he doesn't need too much acquainting, if he can get the car off the line without stalling it.
DERRICK WALKER: You need a lot more days, Chris. Come on. We're going to have the budget. Come on.
CHRIS POOK: There definitely will be some additional days for rookie testing so that when the rookies do get here, they'll be competitive. I do want to point out to you that Mr. Lotterer came here this weekend as a brand-new rookie. He's done an extremely respectable job this weekend. If you remember Darren Manning at Rockingham also was on the verge of being spectacular for his first run. I'm very, very confident that give Roberto a couple of days in the car, the type of car that Derrick is able to put under him, if you go back and look at some of Derrick's qualifying and positioning he's had this year, he's put a very, very good racing car underneath his driver on numerous occasions. I think he will continue to do that. When he does that, the driver that can push the buttons, particularly a young, aggressive driver that's coming out of the 3000 series, that understands the intensity of that competition, I think you're going to be very, very surprised.
ADAM SAAL: The term "rookie" is going to need revamping. Roberto, how many years have you been racing from go-karts on up?
ROBERTO GONZALES: I started in '89. A few now. Actually, I started in Formula Karts in '94. A little over eight years.
ADAM SAAL: We've certainly seen definitely a steeper learning curve, earlier age, as drivers progress. Again, to make your mark, you need to step up to the top ranks very soon. Chris, for the benefit of our hosts here in Mexico, can you make some general comments for our Mexican press in Spanish on today's announcement. (Comments in Spanish.) In driver development within Championship Auto Racing Teams, we will have testing of our new Cosworth package at Firebird in Arizona this week. We're going to have some drivers from our ladder system take the car through their paces. It's going to be a Dale Coyne Racing Lola with Ford-Cosworth spec power in a 2003 configuration. I believe Jon Fogarty and Michael Valiante will be taking the seats. We're giving time to the new up-and-comers as we attempt to bring them up to Champ Cars.
Q. Roberto had an excellent year in 2001. This year the results, the ones I see on the Internet, were not all that remarkable. What attracted you to Roberto out of all the drivers in those series?
DERRICK WALKER: Obviously, I talked to a number of people who had good experience, had seen him race, could evaluate what potential we had there. I think part of the secret of getting involved with young drivers is actually finding them before anybody else does. If you wait too long, you will find there's 10 other guys jumping all over him. Certainly there was a lot of competition with Roberto this weekend, I can tell you. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to protect our position here. But that's really it. We researched his background, talked to some people that said they had a lot of confidence in his ability. As a team, that's what we need. We need to have some basis to start building a really competitive package. A key ingredient is the driver. We're looking towards the future - as is CART. When you look at the region, you look where the interest is, the kind of events that we're having, this Mexico event is a classic CART event if there ever is one. The experience that we're getting out of what we're seeing here in Mexico is something we need to reproduce as many times as we can, because that's the secret of our success. When you look at that interest there, you look at the talent that's going to come out of Mexico because of our interest in this region, it's going to be the place to be looking in the future. Hopefully we're ahead of the curve here with Roberto, with the new breed that's coming out of Mexico, to come into CART.
ADAM SAAL: A couple years ago a young driver named Cristiano da Matta showed up to run in 1997 in Indy Lights after a pretty dismal-looking-on-paper season in Formula 3000, lit it up right away, jumped up to Champ Cars. We know where he's going. Cristiano will be a guest on David Letterman Tuesday night. As Derrick said, you never know when you're going to find the next Michael Schumacher or Rick Mears. Final question, please.
Q. Mr. Pook, my English is not too good, but Brazil has a lot of pilots. In this case, Roberto is the fourth pilot in the car. How long do you think Mexico will have a chance to get a championship?
CHRIS POOK: I think Mexico has a very good chance of getting a CART championship. You have some excellent pilots in the series this year, and next year you're obviously going to have a fourth driver. I think what's very good down here is the effort that companies, Mexican companies, such as Telmex, Tecate, are putting into the development of young drivers, particularly Carlos, who is passionately supporting the development of Mexican drivers. I have to say to you, if you keep pumping out this young talent, you're going to win a championship here. I would suggest to you very respectfully that if you have a Mexican pilot that wins the championship here, his next step will be to get a Mexican driver back to Formula 1. You'll have a Mexican driver very shortly in Formula 1. Clearly that's the goal that Roberto has here. He obviously wants to win a championship with us, and he would like to emulate Cristiano da Matta, Juan Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve in going forward. I don't know that for a fact, but I have to assume that.
ROBERTO GONZALES: That's right.
DERRICK WALKER: Subject to his contract, that is (laughter).
ADAM SAAL: Congratulations, gentlemen. Great luck in the race today, Derrick. Roberto, good luck next year.
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