CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining us in this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain, with CART public relations, and we have a full slate this afternoon. We'll hear from the current CART FedEx Championship points leader Cristiano de Matta; and later, we'll be joined by Bobby Rahal, and Danica Patrick, a promising young driver entering the CART ladder system. First up, we'll talk to the man who conquered the corkscrew this weekend, Cristiano da Matta, Newman/Haas Racing joins us. Thanks for being on today's call, Cristiano.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: My pleasure.
MERRILL CAIN: This past weekend, he became the first driver this season to claim two victories in the CART FedEx Championship Series. He won the season opener in Monterrey, Mexico and decided to make it a sweep this past weekend, dominating the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey, featuring the Shell 300 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. He led all but five laps of the race en route to his sixth career Champ Car victory; and dating back to last season, he has won four of the past seven events in the CART schedule. He recaptured the points lead with Sunday's victory, and heads to Portland this weekend with a 51-46 lead in the standings over Michel Jourdain, Jr., of Team Rahal. Let's open up and take some questions for Cristiano as we get rolling and we'll go first to Portland. Jerry Boone with the Oregonian is out there, and I believe you have a question for Cristiano today.
Q. Yes I do. There's been a lot of controversy going back three and four years about the weight difference and what it makes in a Champ Car particularly, on road courses and street courses. And I know that this beginning midsummer, they will be requiring ballast to sort of even that out. Can you talk to me a little bit about what advantage you feel that you have, and what you think carrying ballast is going to do to the way the car handles and your performance?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well I don't think it's going to make any difference for me. I think it's just going to -- I don't know the problem is a lot of drivers crying about those things. A lot of people, they haven't had good performance over the last couple of years, just very easy to blame on the weight. I don't think you have to be a scientist or a genius to find out that the weight is not that big of a difference for 800 horsepower car. If we were racing maybe a 150 horsepower car, maybe I would say, yeah, maybe, you know the weight will hurt a little bit, or indoor go-karts will hurt a little bit too, but not in a Champ Car. I think it's not going to make any difference for me. Actually I was one of the guys that sign the thing to actually approve the driver weight rules because people coming to me and talking about those things as an excuse. So I want to not to have this excuse anymore.
Q. Thank you, Cristiano.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No problem.
Q. Back in Long Beach, you were talking about how well the road and street course program was coming, but you were really concerned about the oval.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Uh-huh.
Q. And a lot of times, we journalists, we think okay, well they're just saying it's almost like poppycock, a smokescreen, but the team has struggled with the oval program. Where is that standing?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, that's actually one of the reasons why this Championship is so tough, because the oval, everybody sometimes says how come you guys can be so good in the road courses, and you struggle so bad on the ovals. That's the difference. Like the ovals, they have nothing to do with the road course as far as the type of racing it is. So it's a completely, completely different thing. And I mean as far as the approach for the race, the preparation, everything from the suspension geometry settings to the aerodynamics setting, the -- settings, everything, I'm not exaggerating, it's just really everything, and we haven't been able to find what is good for the ovals yet. So it's been a tough, tough call for us. I mean not tough call, but a tough business for us not being able to adjust to our -- you know, to this oval situation. But although we got a lot better throughout the month of May when everybody was practicing for Indy, you know, we were trying hard on the racetrack and trying to make our oval car better. I did a couple of days test in Milwaukee, Christian did a couple of days of testing in Homestead, and we are doing a lot better. If you look at our race in Milwaukee, we were probably 10 times better than we were in Motegi, let's say. But it's -- we were so far away that it takes a little while to come together. Probably I say now we are at 70 percent from where we can perform, you know, oval to be in very good shape, and we have to another 3/30 percent to go. But I think Milwaukee already reflects that we are getting better. We finished fourth over there. So we are not doing great, but right now we are not doing so bad, and it's coming quick to us. So I'm not as worried when we talked in Long Beach, for example.
Q. This past weekend, it would be hard as to write a script as a better weekend of racing, at least that's the way we look at it. Inside the team itself, was it as easy as it looked?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well I have never, ever participated in a race that was easy, no matter the result. This one was definitely one race that we didn't have any, any kind of trouble. I mean I had the engine problem in qualifying, but it wasn't a big, big problem for us. But, no, I think if you picture a perfect race weekend, it would be pretty close to what we had in Laguna. It was a very, very good weekend for the whole team, for the cars, the race, everything just was as a dream.
Q. Is it one of those things that when you walk away, you say I wish I could bottle that magic?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I don't know if that's the best way to put it, but it's like one of those race weekends that when it's over, you think well, I really wish this race weekend wasn't over yet because I know how difficult it is to get the race weekend like that. So it's something that you know when you finally achieve the result, you, for example, we finish the race as a team, so we know it. So let's enjoy this moment because it's not -- we know that how hard racing is, and is not like every day that we can get a race weekend like that.
Q. Right. Thanks and congratulations.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you.
Q. Congratulations. I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about the oil down incident in qualifying a number of the teams. Namely Chip was a little hot about that. You got back into your pit areas as fast as you could, you didn't want to create a red flag and lose your best time. But do you think perhaps they maybe need to relook at that rule and readdress it so we don't have a similar incident somewhere down the line?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. I think what happened CART has already looked at that rule. I think that rule is right. What they've done now, they're going to create three or four safe spots on the racetrack that if you have a problem such -- mine, for example, during the Laguna weekend, you can park in one of those safe spots and they're not going to bring a red flag out. So I think that was a great solution. It was actually Christian's idea on the driver's meeting, and it was just I think the best thing they could have done because I'm very happy with the qualifying rules and the way they been written and the way they are, I think it's all good. They don't have to worry about that.
Q. Yeah, safety zone is another bad idea. I was listening to an interview the other day with Christian and I was answering a question about the Lola, and it used to be understood a while ago that the Newman/Haas guys used to get all the Lola bits and all the latest Lola innovations, and he said that's not really the case now. You guys seem to have these figured out the road courses. And even though Team Green did a lot of testing, they were out to lunch. Do you have any advantage being on the team with the new Lolas with the new bits on these things?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. Right now, the policies, they treat everybody the same, every team, they treat the same. So it's a matter of Lola comes out with some new parts, and sometimes they have to have a team to try those new parts on the racetrack, and sometimes they use us, sometimes they use Ganassi, sometimes they use any other Lola team. It's not -- we don't get anything before anybody. We don't get any benefit, definitely not. The performance we have on the road course is just the fruit of all hard work, and the struggle we have on the ovals is just our fruit of our not understanding of what is happening to the car right now but we're getting better.
Q. It was good talking yesterday at Vancouver. When you take those little tours for doing the sponsor things for advance or your own personal sponsors and go to a track that you're racing soon, do you get any insight to refresh your frame of mind about that track? Did you have a chance to walk around it at all?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well I was able -- I didn't walk the track, but I drove around it, and yeah, of course the track -- I always have it very well in my head every time I go back to a place; but, for example, for me was good to be there, because sometimes they change the track between one year and the other, and you want to know beforehand, before anybody else, what the new changes are. So there was a good opportunity for me to look at the Vancouver track, although it wasn't all put together, but it looks like everything is going to be exactly the same as the previous years. They're doing actually some good work on the tracks because they are repaving some parts of the back straight, which was very bumpy before, so that's going to be very good. I was happy to see that they improving that, and I was even more happy to see that the city of Vancouver, they told me that the city is who is doing that for the event. So of course we appreciate being so welcome.
Q. That's great. Going into Portland this weekend, you told me yesterday, Festival's (Curves) really about the only place to pass. Are there any other areas that you might want to make a brave move at?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, in Portland it's pretty difficult. I think the corners are pretty much the main place for passing. I'm just trying to think of another one here. Well, I think it's pretty much. I mean any other place, you try to do something like this, it's going to be a 99 percent risk move.
Q. One question is everyone wants to know to what degree to you actually share specific information with Tony (Kanaan)?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: With Tony?
Q. Yeah. None at all?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: None at all. It's actually a difficult situation when you're friends with somebody, all off the racetrack and sometimes you see the guy struggling on the racetrack or vice versa, you know, and there's nothing you can do. It's just because, at that point, he is one of your opponents. I don't see him as a friend when I'm on the racetrack. It's a guy I respect a lot, but there's nothing I can do for him while I'm on the racetrack. And, you know, Tony is very talented. I cannot give him any advice, otherwise he's going to come back and kick my butt. But he has a very good season. I don't think he needed any advice. He just needs to finish races well. He's had quite a bit of bad luck and hope things get better for him. But, no, we're just friends. For information, like between the cars, never say anything. It would be extremely unprofessional attitude to do something like that. I think if we could do something like that, that's good. That's Tony's car running the ovals. You wouldn't see my car running the ovals.
Q. I know it was asked on Sunday, someone asked about the nature of the race and you said, from the driver's perspective, it was fantastic. Would you have liked it better if Christian would have been a little closer, to pressure you a little bit more?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: For me? No. For me, the race -- I mean I had it under control most of the time, and I think when you're having a race you don't want to see anybody near you. You want everybody to be as far away as they can. Probably the crowd would like that better, but not me.
Q. What about Portland, you think that's more open on the track for more passing or would you like to just -
CRISTIANO da MATTA: It's better for passing than going through the Festival Curves, and Laguna it's a lot more difficult than that. I think I would put Laguna as a track that would be very -- if I had to judge Laguna as the opportunity to pass, I would say that is very hard. Portland, I would say it's probably normal. It's not very difficult, but it's not easy too.
Q. Are there places other than the Festival, like last turn or some other ones?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: The last turn is very difficult to pass. It's not impossible, but it's very difficult. Last year, they passed me there, but only with contact, and I passed them in some other places too, but only with contact. So it's tough. I think the Festival Curve is the only really place that you can pass some people and still be fair, not making anything -- not stupid, but not making anything unfair on the racetrack.
Q. I know Jerry, at the beginning, said there wasn't going to be any rain, but are you making any contingency plans in case the weather comes back up there on you.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well we haven't tested. Probably the last time we ran those cars on the wet was at Portland last year, and we never tried the car on the wet, on testing. So I just hope it doesn't rain because my car wasn't all that good on the rain last year. I know the dry was very good.
Q. Going back to the weight, if it's not too personal, do you consider yourself the smallest or least-weighted driver in the CART series?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: I think, yes. I think I'm probably the lightest guy.
Q. And I also -- did I understand you correctly to say that you did sign the request for the ballast?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.
Q. Thank you.
CRISTIANO da MATTA: One thing that was very interesting about this weight thing, a guy doesn't make a very good point that I was actually -- This is something about the weight, it was more -- I was talking to him on Friday, and he's saying I don't think this whole weight thing is fair because you know, for example, I don't think people would make a special basket for Shaq O'Neal because he's taller than everybody else. And I agree with Morris. I think it's bad that we are going back to the same weight because you know being smaller and lighter, you have maybe a slight weight advantage, but on the other hand, the whole race car is heavier for you, proportionally-wise and that's a bad thing. Everything is heavier. You probably have to -- for my size, I have to be more fit than guys that are, you know, taller than me, for example. So it's -- you know it goes both ways and I like Morris's comparison a lot. He said imagine Shaq O'Neal grabs the ball and the basket goes up, and then a small guy grabs the ball and the basket goes down. He says they're trying to make the rule like that.
Q. Good point.
MERRILL CAIN: That's an interesting way to look at it. I guess that's true. We'll take one more final question for you.
Q. Yes, Cristiano, congratulations on that last weekend. Let's go back a couple of weeks to your F-1 test. Was that a pay-back from Toyota for good service, or are you really being occurred as a contender to drive the car some time in the near feature?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: No. I think they gave me the test just to -- for my curiosity. They said that the test was because of good work over the last couple of years, and it was just a unique opportunity for me. But right now, nothing on the future there. It was just a test. It was great, but it was just a test.
Q. What did you learn that you could bring back to CART and utilize it?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well I learned a lot --You know, it's just a unique experience in a way. I think a lot of things, that way of working they have over there, that's basically -- nothing, I would say, on the driving standpoint. I think mostly just ways of doing these things different. Because everything is so different. They just do everything in such different ways than what we do that it's quite, quite interesting what they have over there. So I bring -- biggest thing I bring some suggestions back to the team. That's probably the main thing I learn over there. And in my driving skills, for myself, I learned a lot. Not something I may be able to use in Champ Car, but delve that is something I'm going to be able to use throughout my career, you know, everywhere I end up is just I spend one day driving something else completely different than what I'm used to. So it's just a completely different thing. You have to make yourself ready to learn something very fast, we have only one big test and that was the biggest thing is adjusting to the situation.
Q. Is Formula One in your future distantly, or some time soon?
CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, right now, I don't see anywhere in my future. Right now, I'm still concentrating in the CART Championship. Of course curiosity I have for Formula One racing, especially the way the car is, I kind of use that. I don't have this inside of me anymore. But as far as a drive, no, I don't have that anymore. Right now, I don't have anything. It's something that maybe in the future, like if I am extremely successful in cars and I feel like I accomplish everything I want in CART, maybe I decide to go there, but right now, 100 percent of my focus is in CART.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much for spending a few minutes with us. We look forward to seeing you in a couple of days at Portland International Raceway. We welcome a racing legend and an up-and-coming open wheel star,. Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Team Rahal, joins us today, along with his newest driving talent, Danica Patrick. Bobby, thanks for joining us, and, Danica, we appreciate you joining us as well.
DANICA PATRICK: My pleasure.
MERRILL CAIN: It was announced at Laguna Seca, this last weekend, that Team Rahal has signed Danica for the team in the CART ladder system for the remainder of the 2002 season and 2003 as well. Danica plans to race in three events this season in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, the official entry level of the CART ladder system, beginning with the race in Mid-Ohio in August. In 2003, Danica will compete in the Toyota Atlantic Championship for Team Rahal, as she plans to test the Atlantic car I believe in the next few weeks, coming up in Sebring. It's certainly a great opportunity for Danica and for Team Rahal as well, and it's also great news for the CART ladder system, bringing aboard a good, young female, open wheel driver, who has excelled as a road racer in Europe. One of the many highlights on Danica's resume is the second-place finish in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival in England 2000, which tied Danny Sullivan for the best-ever finish by an American. So she's certainly a talented young driver and somebody that we're anxious to welcome on board. That's a quick overview of the agreement between Team Rahal and Danica that was announced this past week. And with that, we will open it up with some questions both for Bobby and Danica.
Q. Bobby, first for you. As far as this signing for the next couple of years is concerned, while it's good for Team Rahal, it's good for Bobby Rahal, is it also a look at the ladder series for you to say I'm committed to this?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, first off, it's nice to speak with you, Ron. I think so. I think one of the best things about the CART series is there's finally a formal ladder. I think in years past, when you had Indy Lights and you had Atlantic and that there was confusion, and I think frankly both series suffered as a result because it wasn't clear as to which way was the particular way to go. Now I think there's a clear step from shifter carts, the highest levels of karting in this country which is growing rapidly, to Barber Dodge, to Atlantics and then to CART. I think it's what's been needed for many years and I'm pleased that it's there. And I do believe -- also I believe Atlantic is -- it's probably the best junior category I would say in this country. I would liken it to Formula Three perhaps in Europe, in terms of the champions that it's actually produced in the past and will in the future. So I think it's the right place for Team Rahal. I think it's the right place for Danica.
Q. What did you see in Danica?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well I think Danica has -- she's impressed me from -- you know, I saw her name first in some of the karting magazines and of course she was successful in karting and that's a tough thing to do, believe me, watching it now with my son involved. But what impressed me more than anything was not only her finish in the Formula Ford Festival but just the fact that she has the determination and commitment to go as to England at a very young age, to live a long way from home and pursue her dream. And I have to tell you it's not easy for an American to live in that society, and it's particularly not easy for an American to compete in those categories irrespective of your gender, but certainly I think let's face it motor racing has not been the most open for the female gender and particularly in England. So all of those things just, in my mind, spoke volumes about her commitment and dedication to what she wanted to achieve. And as I said to her the other day, she's delivered -- you know, when she had opportunities to prove something to somebody, she did. Earlier this year she won the BMW ride with the factory drive here in the States, in the Tom Milner's team, and that came strictly from a test. And there were other young drivers. Joey Hand was there and Pat Long was there and BMW drivers; and when she had to go fast, not only did she go fast but generally I think she went faster than everybody there. She's earned it, in my mind, she's earned her place. And this is not -- you know, irrespective of gender, she's proven that she can go out and stand on the gas.
Q. And, Danica, oddly enough, I was talking with Jimmie Johnson of NASCAR this morning and we were discussing the fact that he saw an opportunity, and he knew he had to make the best of that opportunity. Is that pretty much where you're standing now?
DANICA PATRICK: Well I think to be associated with somebody like Rahal, anybody would do it, and I couldn't have asked for a better person on my side, you know from the standpoint of not only was he a driver and can he offer that; but he's well-respected and knows how to operate a successful business.
Q. And do you look at this as, okay, now I have really got to proven myself?
DANICA PATRICK: In a way yes, and in a way, no. From one point of view, yeah, there's going to be more eyes than ever on me and what I'm doing and everybody is going to waiting for me to fail, really, a lot of people are anyway. But from another standpoint, he's not committing to me because he's taking a gamble. He's committing to me because he believes in me and what I've done. And so from that I have to look at it and go, okay, well I don't have to be desperate and do silly things to prove myself because somebody like Bobby Rahal has seen what I can do, and that's a confidence just like I do.
Q. Bob, when you see young drivers come up and there's all kinds of them with all kinds of potential, what is the main quicksand that they normally stand in? Where do they normally jump off the rails, where they seem to get derailed, to get to where they want to go, and what is that one area you will try to steer Danica away from so she doesn't get derailed on the way you think she should go?
BOBBY RAHAL: I think it's always one of the most difficult things in getting to the top is that you know having a -- consistently having the backing and the right team from which you can go off and perform is always very difficult, very rarely does somebody have the way, you know, waived for them, so to speak. The consistent support is the toughest thing I think for young drivers to have or to create. There's always -- and maybe in some respects, maybe that's the way it should be, maybe it should be a struggle because that definitely will sort out those who want to do it and those who just say they want to do it. But that, and I think probably If you don't have good advice, if you can't learn from somebody, you can make a lot of mistakes that, if -- that could contribute to the difficulty in making it or each contribute to that person not making it. So as I said, what I can particularly give Danica and this team can give Danica, I cannot drive the car for her, that's her job, but I can give her advice, I can teach her if she wants to be taught, I can sort of see -- I can see the forest from the trees just because I've been around so long, and I can give advice. And that's the most important thing. I remember when I was growing up at the time you don't think you need it, you think you have all the answers. But looking back, I wished I had somebody who had been an adviser of sorts or a coach, because I think there are a lot of things I would have done definitely. So those are the things I can provide and contribute to her career.
Q. Danica, quick question for you. This is all pretty heavy stuff, getting your head spinning here. You're associated with one of the legendary names in the sport, and looks like the path is pretty good. It would be easy for you, regardless of your gender, to lose sight of the target and get off your game, with all this -- you're right, there's pressure and eyes on you too. What are you going to do to make sure you don't lose sight of the target?
DANICA PATRICK: I think when you want to do something bad enough you do what it takes to get there and you usually don't get distracted. But, you know, it is possible so you just have to stay focused and surround yourself with the right people and listen to people because I have a lot to learn. I'm sure of that, and I'm going to want to hear from people like Bobby and whoever else may be around me that has experience and just listen to them, and let them help guide you, because I have faith. I'm only 20 years old. So I think it's just to be sure I'm with the right people.
Q. Bobby, you mentioned a little bit earlier about not having anybody there for you when you were coming up. Was there no mechanism, was there just no way for you to approach some of the people that were on top, to get the kind of support and advice that you needed then?
BOBBY RAHAL: I think -- I mean there were some people that certainly helped. It's not like I was -- Brian Redman was a big help to me when I came back from Europe, and I did have some advice here and there in Europe. But I guess I look back and wish it had been I guess more consistent. When I started racing it was definitely a one-man band. You went off with your mechanic. You learn on the job training, which is everybody does that at some point in time. But certainly I think when I look at drivers today, and I look at the people who actually made a business of advising drivers or representing drivers, that really didn't exist when I started racing. And so I think that's probably the biggest difference. I mean in the end, obviously I did a fair amount of right things, but I do look back and think geez, if only. And I think in this day and age, also, a young driver has to align themselves with somebody in the industry who has credibility because it's just not enough to do on the racetrack. That's very important to be sure, but you have to have someone who can help you insure that the funding is there or relationships can be created. That can, you know, keep you going because racing is a very fickle business, and sport. And just when everything looks good, something can happen and the next thing you know, whatever you did that was good doesn't matter anymore. It's a very tenuous time when you're a young driver, trying to make it. And so as I said earlier, that's what I can bring to this equation more than anything is to insure that Danica has all of the advice and sees the whole picture.
Q. And this is a very fickle time for -- this is for both of you. One of the key names in a support series last year, couldn't find a ride and has now left of the CART series for a ride in another series. Is that -- do you look at that as maybe being frustrating, Danica, or Bobby? That's the realty of how fickle and tough it is right now?
DANICA PATRICK: Absolutely. It's about being at the right place at the right time, unfortunately in this business. And if you can have people around you to provide that right time and place and situation, then that helps. But it's an unpredictable sport, and you just have to be ready to jump on your feet and stay determined to do what you want to do and race in a Championship you want to race in, and that's all you can do.
Q. But that determination can't be helped by watching what happened to (Daniel) Wheldon, having to leave the series that you're trying to get into, and he was one of the top Indy lights drivers last year.
DANICA PATRICK: Right. It is frustrating. But speaking for me, I came back from England last year, the middle of the season in 2001, and I basically haven't had a seat in a Championship since then. So I mean I've had to be determined for a year, pounding the streets as they say, looking for somebody to support me, because I didn't have the money. So sometimes it takes a while, but it looks like Wheldon is going to get a ride at the end of this year. So waiting and pounding the streets has paid off for him. Sometimes you can't guess how long it's going to take.
BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah. I mean I would just like to add I think, unfortunate, that's probably always -- you know, races have been that way. I think there's never been -- there's always been fewer rides available than people, you know, people available themselves. And you know, you take two steps forward or one step back, or -- a career is very rarely a nice smooth upward transition. There's usually a lot of starts and stops to it and side steps and what have you. So what's happened with Dan Wheldon, that's -- frankly I think he's not the first that's happened to. That's been some what historic in racing. You know, when you're young -- you know I remember, in 1981, I called Penske, Pat Patrick, wrote them letters, you know, don't call us, we'll call you. Of course Jim Trueman gave me my opportunity and then a year later, Roger and Pat were calling. But you've got -- so much of racing is being opportunistic and creating relationships as I did with Trueman, and Danica's tried to do with us here. So that's kind of the nature of the beast, unfortunately.
Q. I know this is kind of overstepping my limit, but what did she say to you when she called, that got your attention and said this is somebody that I want to give some consideration to?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think that -- I'm not sure if she called or if I -- you know, we ran into each other in England but I've always felt a strong obligation -- Jim Trueman, for me, was -- I mean if it wasn't for him, I never would have had the opportunity, and it wasn't just me. Jim Trueman helped a lot of people and ironically he sponsored several young women at a time when it was even perhaps rare to see a woman driver than it is today. You know, Patty Moise in stock car racing, and Cat Kaiser who was an FCC national racer but she's won a couple of Championships and Jim was a sponsor; Willy T. Ribbs -- I mean Jim gave a lot of people opportunities, not that I've had the opportunity to do as much as he did for people but certainly that example, and certainly kind of a sense I have of an obligation on my part to help someone, I think that spurred a lot of this on. So, you know, over the year, last year and a half, having met Danica and, you know, spent time with her and talked to her about racing, it was clear, her commitment to it. And as I said, when I recommended her to BMW, she went down there and did the job, and just as she did in the Toyota Pro Celebrity Race. Somebody would say that's not a competitive deal, but there's a lot of publicity and pressure, especially when you're trying to make your name, and she delivered there. So she's earned this, irrespective of what kinds of historic obligation I feel.
Q. Danica, I hope I verbalize this correctly. You're quite a media phenom. I'm wondering how you're going to be able to handle that, and I wonder how you're going to get to where, the media, and other racers to treat you as a driver, and not just as a female.
DANICA PATRICK: I'm handling the media. It's something that I have had to deal with and am prepared to deal with. It's part of my niche. I know I'm a female. I know that that's something different, and it's something people are interested in and intrigued by. So I'm ready in whatever situations come up media-wise and will handle it. And with respect to being treated as a female or a racer, I would hope that people see me for the job that I'm going -- that I'm doing. It takes a little bit more time, I think, as a female to gain respect, but it happens. Sort of what I've found over the past few years of racing is that it takes longer. It might take a half a season or so of respect, but it comes and I'm sure the same thing will happen with the media. And I think once people speak to me and can identify with my determination and the things that I say, they change their mind very quickly about just being a female in racing and they see that I'm there for a far deeper arena than just to go out there and stand pretty for pictures.
Q. Well you have me convinced after talking to you. You are probably one of the most focused drivers I've meet in my life.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you.
Q. And I have a question for you and Bobby together. At the ladder conference we had at Laguna on Saturday, Townsend Bell I think thanked the media for promoting talent. Is there anything more you can see the media to do, to promote young talented drivers?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, just from my standpoint, Lynne, I think to write these stories and to -- you know, it's very interesting, in Europe, the up-and-coming drivers are usually at the forefront of the story, because everybody's looking for who's going to be the next guy to be Schumacher, who's the next Wonder Boy, you name it. They're looking for the next star. Over here I haven't seen that too much, although now that there is a ladder system, I see it happening more and more. And the fact that the press is aware of the ladder system and it is actually focusing some of their time on it, you know, who are going to be the stars, particularly when you hear so much criticism of how few "Americans" are in CART in particular. I think the IRL is there in the same ratio. If that's such a big concern to everybody then we better start promoting young Americans. Because the more their name gets out, the more chances they're going to have. So the press can certainly have a huge contribution to young Americans being given the opportunity to make it to the highest level.
Q. Danica, nice to see you this weekend again, by the way. You have raced with a large number of the drivers you will be competing against next year in the Atlantic series. You raced them in karts I believed. And I remember in Long Beach somebody asked the question that was leading into the gender issue and I have to tell you all three of the drivers on the podium totally stepped by that and referred to you merely as a race driver and one deserving of Atlantic's ride as long as it wasn't theirs.
DANICA PATRICK: That's good. I have to remember all of those people I raced against.
Q. But they said she's another driver.
DANICA PATRICK: That's what I was speaking about a second ago. It takes a little time to get respect. Racing with them, it happened.
Q. But I think you might find when you get in there, enough of those that you race with in karts are going to be there or are there, and I think a lot of that respect will already be there for you.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I hope so. It's unfortunate that it's a barrier that I have to overcome on the way to success and all the rest of it. But it's just part of it.
Q. That's true. Bobby, do you plan on expanding the Atlantic's team next year or the year after into a two-car effort?
BOBBY RAHAL: I always feel two-car teams are better in the sense that drivers can motivate each other, but I think our first obligation is to do one right, you know, the best we possibly can. And if it grows from there, great, but I don't want to -- just as I -- you know, I think my whole approach to this is that we have to do everything we can to help Danica achieve her goals. And the Atlantic series is not easy. There are difficulties and nuances and idiosyncrasies that exist there, that you've got to learn all about in order to be able harness if they're positive things. The last thing we should do is not just say I have an Atlantic thing. I want her to be successful. If she's successful we'll be successful; and down the line, why not, let's try to do a two-car team but first things first.
Q. It's all part of Team Rahal. Will your Champ car drivers be involved also in advice or consultation with Danica?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I really don't know. I think they've got enough things to think of, to work on their own, particularly after weekends like last. But I mean we're one big team, and this is -- we're not so big that we're not a family. So I think anybody -- there's a lot of excited people here in Columbus in the shop, volunteering, you know, saying well I'll go work on that deal. As I said, I think we're going to try to harness all of the resources that exist here, to the benefit of this effort, and I'm sure Jimmy's always been great with advising people, and of course Michel's never -- not driven an Atlantic car, that I know of; but, you know, we're all friendly to one another. So it's not like there's going to be a brick wall down the middle that says the Atlantic team is on one side and the CART team is on the other.
Q. Congratulations to you both. And, Bobby, it's really great to see you in this area and carry on the tradition.
BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.
Q. Actually, they've mostly been answered, but I'd like to give congratulations to Bob and Danica. That's a good deal. Bob, looking -- obviously the racing experience has got to be done and hopefully everything goes well, reasonable expectations where -- what's the time line you can see Danica getting into a Champ car?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I have to tell you that this contract between the two of us runs for -- you know, it has a very long lifespan, subject to certain things happening. But the point -- my point being in all that is the last thing -- the reason I wanted it long-term is because I feel it will take a long time, more than one or two years, for Danica to be prepared to get into a Champ Car. I think the worst thing -- she might argue with me on that, but I think the worst thing that can happen to any driver is to be rushed. Even if they think they're ready, you know, the wisdom of the years tells you that it's not a simple thing to get out of a car that's got 240 or 250 horsepower into one that's got perhaps 750, 800 horsepower, let alone the weight differences and of course just the level of competition. And the last thing we're going to do is rush Danica. We're not doing this to try as to make a point. We're doing it to be successful. And that's going to take -- I think that's going to take racing experience. You know, I think experience is something you just cannot -- irrespective of how naturally talented you may be, experience is something that can not be overstated in terms of its importance. So I want to be sure we do things right and in a very controlled way and we give her a chance to really practice and improve her craft so that when she does get in that car for the first time, that she's at home and she feels good about where she's at and she can go out and go fast.
DANICA PATRICK: I don't think I would argue because I'm going to take some words out of my mouth that I said and listen to somebody that's trying to help me, and if you, Bobby, say I need more time, I'll respect that; and I want to be ready for the next step just as much as everybody else wants me to be ready, so you can succeed and get into it. It's a good situation that I have that I have Bobby telling me, look I can take as much time as you need and then we'll move on. I'm sure it's possible to be put in a situation I'm sure other drivers have been put into, to try to show successes when they're not ready. And not only are you scared but your career ends very quickly.
Q. My first question is for Danica. I understand as a demonstration of how many people are interested in you from all over the place, I understand you had a Busch Grand National test scheduled for the near future with PPC Racing. Is that test going to take place?
DANICA PATRICK: That test is still going to take place. That was presented to me before Bobby and I had, you know, formed an agreement. And therefore I need to give it my best shot. I think it's -- I don't think it could hurt at all. You know, it will teach me how to adapt to another situation. You know, it's like learning in school, you just learn how to do more things, and your method of it. And I just don't think that driving more than one car can be a problem. So I'll go to the test and I'll do the best that I can. And no matter what, I have to give it my all because people are still going to be talking about how I did and they're still going to base their judgment on me and how they expect me to do on that event as well. So I'm going to go down there and give it my all.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your background in co-karting, how that helped in your development process and what do you think can be done to get more young women like yourself interested in that aspect of the sport with the start of CART even less than in CART ladder series and have you been talking to Graham Rahal about his karting future as well?
DANICA PATRICK: About my karting past, I started when I was 10. I raced all over the states. I did a small amount of testing in Europe, with my engine-builder out of Denmark, out of Holland, but mostly in the states. And did that for seven years. About getting other females into it, I think that I'm not -- I don't have to go out of my way to try to grab their hand and pull them all through and come on, girls, let's go; but if I can go out there and be successful, people want to jump on a bandwagon. They want to jump on the young driver bandwagon as soon as Jenson Button went out there and did well. So I think that if a young driver and now a female can go out there and do well, I don't need to do anything, just be myself and do what I want to do and be successful within myself and the team that I'm driving for, but it will open doors up. You know, teams and people, sponsors will start looking at other females in racing, going wow, this is a great marketing aspect, a great speaker for our Championship or whatever it may be. So I think if I do what I expect will happen, the doors will open for them. With Graham and racing, I'm having a good time going back to the racing and remembering what it's like; and if will there's anything can give him advice in karting or when he gets into cars himself, if he wants to one day, then I will be very happy to do that too.
Q. Bobby, a lot of people just in the short time that this announcement has been made, they're wondering is CART going to be here in three years for her to graduate to. What will you do in your role to change that? Is that going to change you at all?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, you know, I think CART has some challenges, there's no question of that, but you know I think if you looked at the spectator attendance, I think that would tell you a whole lot about the relative strength of the series. And not -- you know, there might be some reinvention or reposition, just like any company has to do but I have great faith in Chris (Pook). I have great faith that road racing is a credible attractive form of racing for people, and I think that the crowds that attend the races are probably some testimonial for that, and I also think CART has the greatest venue going. So I guess I'm not as doom and gloom as some. I do recognize there are challenges to it, but I also recognize that things are cyclical in racing. I've been through things in racing that existed one day and didn't exist the next, and CART has to have more than that going for it. So I'm confident road racing will be a part of the future landscape with CART, with Chris. And I will say also that remember, much of the reason why we've chosen Atlantic and the Barber Dodge program for these first races is because I firmly believe that's the best formula in which you can hone your craft so you can be successful in racing, no matter where you go. So I guess it's a long-winded version of saying yeah, I have full confidence that Danica will be able to drive a Champ car in three years or so, assuming everything goes the way we want it to in our program.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much, and good luck to the both of you.
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