CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks for joining us on this week's CART Media Teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We're happy to be joined on the teleconference today by a former CART FedEx Championship Series champion as well as our latest race winner from the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. We will hear from Louis Diaz from the Atlantic Series in just a few minutes but first up on today's call, we welcome in Jimmy Vasser of Team Rahal who joins us from his home in Las Vegas today. Jimmy, thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with us this afternoon.
JIMMY VASSER: My pleasure.
MERRILL CAIN: Jimmy is in his 10th year of Champ Car competition and his first year driving the No. 8 Shell Ford Cosworth Lola Bridgestone package for Team Rahal; in addition to wining the 1996 CART FedEx Championship Series title, Jimmy has earned nine career victories and eight career pole positions in CART including the pole earlier this season at Long Beach where he wound up second overall on race day. Jimmy has also been on the podium in Chicago, the site of this weekend's CART event at Chicago Motor Speedway. He produced a third-place effort in the Windy City back in 1999. With that, we'll open it up for questions for Jimmy Vasser.
Q. Coming back to Chicago, just talk about this track and the kinds of things that people can look forward to in the race?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, Chicago is a little bit different than most of the ovals we run on with the corners being so tight and it's one of the few ovals where we actually are going to downshift two times into the corner and then going back up two gears in the straight-a-way. So there's a lot of shifting in Chicago with the tight corners as well. And I think in years past we have had the potential of having a little bit of wheel spin so it is going to be interesting to see if the traction control comes into play with the setups this year; particularly on the older tires at the end of a long run.
Q. Your thoughts on whether there's going to be room for side-by-side racing?
JIMMY VASSER: Side-by-side racing is tough these days on any of the ovals. The cars are running at such similar speeds, times are real close so it's always -- there will be some, but I don't think you are going to see it throughout the whole race. Particularly near the end of the race with the buildup of the marbles off line, I think you saw some of the cars have some problems at Milwaukee, so maybe early on, right at the start, on restarts and stuff, but I think late -- as the race rolls on, you are going to see a lot less of that.
Q. Talk a little bit about just being able to have this race this year; it was kind of tenuous there for a while but it is back. Do you feel this venue really needs to stay on the schedule from a CART standpoint or would you prefer to maybe see it playing with a road race or something?
JIMMY VASSER: I think the market is important for CART and the race has shown some success in the past so I think it certainly, again, it is a viable market. It is a market we need to be in and the track can produce good racing. We have had some great races in the past there. But you can never speculate on how a race is going to be. It has shown, with the race at Milwaukee, that -- I think the new aerodynamic wave, the package that we run, and the lower boost, set points, you know, it can make for a good race. I think it's important, though, for CART to -- as the brakes that we have, yellow flags and so forth, so to probably blow or sweep the track and just keep the marbles at a minimum. I think we saw at Milwaukee that there's a bit more buildup than we have seen in the past.
Q. Your thoughts about the engine rule, pretty much staying in the course, are you glad to see that?
JIMMY VASSER: Yeah, I think it was the right move. Personally I like the turbocharged engines. I like the format that we have now and I think that the steps that CART is making to reduce the costs and to stabilize the costs are going to be good for the future of CART. It's going to make it a little more economically feasible for teams to remain in the series. I think seeing Sigma not racing at Portland was a good example of the difficulties with the budgets and the cost, so I think that it's a good thing for sure. I think it's certainly going to be advantageous for the next couple of years.
Q. Just curious how you change your mindset after you have been on road course a couple of weeks in a row and then you go to an oval, after you have had a week off in between, big adjustment in the way you approach each race?
JIMMY VASSER: There certainly are adjustments that we make and a different theoretical mindset with -- pertaining to the setup of the race car, but we've been doing this for many years. The teams go from ovals to road courses, to superspeedways on a weekly basis, so everybody is conditioned for the changes and certainly we're all used to it. But it's a whole different setup, obviously, for the car, from a road course to an oval, and thus, the team has to switch on its oval mind, so to say. But everybody has been doing it for so long. It kind of what makes our series interesting, and challenging is that we're the only racing series in the world that does that, that we race on all the different types of tracks and I think it is a real credit to the teams and the engineers and for all the mechanics to be able to do it on a weekly basis.
Q. Following up, how important in terms of the FedEx Championship, the points chase, is this stretch of the season right now that you are going into?
JIMMY VASSER: Every race is just as important as the next because all the points are the same, but I mean, particularly for me and Team Rahal with the Shell car, I am looking at it as extremely important. This next stretch of three races that we have back-to-back is of the utmost importance for us to get back in the fight. I am down 50 points to da Matta, and it's imperative that we win races and get podiums in this next stretch of races.
Q. Give me your opinion or your feelings on all the -- not all media are doing it, but certainly there's a fair amount of CART-bashing going on out there, yet the series has great representation at the track in terms of fans, also worldwide in television, et cetera, yet we hear things about the demise of CART. Frankly I am not seeing it but I am wondering how you feel about it? Do you feel resentful that that's getting out in the media and it's an untrue thing?
JIMMY VASSER: Certainly a little bit, yeah, I don't like to see negativity within our sport and with our racing series because I am very proud to be a part of CART. I think the competition level is as high as any series in the world and I think the direction that CART and our new leader Chris Pook are taking the sport is in the right way. So personally I feel very positive about the future and the way things are going. I can't let it bug me too much when you hear a lot of negativity, but certainly I think that the proof will be in the pudding and it's only a matter of time before -- there's only going to be positive things to write about.
Q. I guess the only thing to worry about might be car count. Does that concern you and do you see that changing in the future for the positive side?
JIMMY VASSER: Yeah, it is a bit of a concern; certainly, the car count down like it is is not a good thing but I think certainly it's going to rise particularly next season with the new engine package and the cost controls that are going to be in place, that's going to make it a lot more feasible for new teams to come into CART, and easier for teams that are in CART now to remain.
Q. Totally off the subject, you have been a long-time fan of living in Las Vegas, somehow you got a Canadian to move there. I forget who else lives there. What is the deal about Las Vegas what is great about it?
JIMMY VASSER: It's easy to travel in an out of. The weather is fantastic. I know it appears to be pretty hot when you look at the weather maps at times, but it's that old thing, it is a dry heat and it doesn't feel that bad, so you know, the desert is a beautiful place and there are some tax advantages to living in Nevada. I think those are probably the three biggest reasons. We got -- by the way, we got three Canadians living here, both Tagliani and Carpentier are living here too with Tracy. It's a good environment to train in, you go for a run in the heat and it conditions you for the long races.
Q. How do you prepare going into Chicago? Is it a physically demanding track?
JIMMY VASSER: No. No, it's not very physically demanding. The ovals tend to be a lot less physical than the road courses, but it's every bit as mentally demanding, and when you have to have such a high level of mental concentration, you can't get mentally fatigued; particularly on the ovals you have to balance the car on a nice edge, and -- but it all goes back to having a good chassis. The better the car is working, the much easier it is from behind the wheel.
Q. Traction control, you mention that at the beginning. For those who listen to Focus on Racing Radio who may not understand it, and especially for this reporter whose girlfriend changes his oil, when traction control kicks in, can you feel that?
JIMMY VASSER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Really traction control is just a reduction in the horsepower. It senses rear-wheel spin and compared to the front and the rears are spinning faster than the front, and it chokes the engine down. And you can set it where it cuts us two cylinders or four cylinders or even six cylinders on the engine. So really you don't want to have -- you don't want the traction control to come on because really what it's doing is just taking horsepower away and you can certainly feel it in the car, you can feel it impedes your forward progress a little bit when it comes on.
Q. It's interesting because that's one of the big controversies in NASCAR is everybody's claiming that the other driver has that little traction control box hidden on his car. What are your thoughts about that and because you have been in sedans before, is that something that really helps a race team that much, that someone would try to cheat to have one?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, I don't know anything about anybody cheating.
Q. I am not talking in your series.
JIMMY VASSER: No, or even in NASCAR, but it certainly could help, particularly like on a race where NASCAR was last weekend, the cars are so big, and the tires are proportionately very small for the car and the cars are very heavy, it certainly could be an advantage.
Q. How did the golf tournament go out there at Laguna?
JIMMY VASSER: Went fantastic. It was a beautiful day. We had a good turnout, and it was our 7th year and we went over the $250,000 mark that we have donated to Monterey Boys and Girls Club.
Q. Going into Chicago this is going to be the first two-day event maybe you have ever been in or certainly in recent memory. How are you preparing for this differently than the normal three-day event?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, we obviously we have to make the right decisions in the first practice session before qualification. We have to make it happen, and I have been on the phone with our engineers and we're making some changes to our basic setup from the Milwaukee weekend. We had a decent car but it wasn't fantastic, and so, you know, in that respect, we're going to be forced to unload with a really good car, hopefully, I got my fingers crossed that we don't have to do too much work in the one session because if it's not right, you are really pressed on time to get the car right.
Q. Do you think this is kind of a wave of the future or do you think a two-day event is going to become that popular?
JIMMY VASSER: I think it's quite possible it could be a wave of the future. I think that -- I am excited about it. I think it puts a little more pressure on getting things right on Saturday, and it's going to be different. So I am really -- I can't wait to get to the weekend to see how it is, I think it going to be a lot of fun with making it two days.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your role within Team Rahal this year and how you see it, and how you are getting along with it?
JIMMY VASSER: It's a great energy in the team. We have been -- we started out the season really, really well. I think we had good off-season testing, and my teammate Michel Jourdain is doing a fantastic job and been finishing races and has been up in the Championship fight. People on the team are really excited about that. We have been a bit disappointed I think over the last month and a half with things the way they have been going with myself, we have -- falling out of the Indy 500 and these last three races really haven't been in contention like we should be. So we're a little bit disappointed right now about the performance of the Shell team, and myself, and we need to get on the stick and make it happen in these next -- this next three races. We need to get back into the points fight and we just got to keep our heads down and keep working. I think that we have all the tools that we need to win races in the trailer, and Bobby Rahal and the team has given us all the things we need. We just need to put it together and find our form again.
MERRILL CAIN: Jimmy, we made it pretty quick for you today. We appreciate you spending a few minutes with us on the teleconference. We wish you good luck in this weekend's CART Grand Prix of Chicago. We'll just see you in a couple of days.
JIMMY VASSER: Thank you very much.
MERRILL CAIN: We will now welcome in Luis Diaz of Dorricott Racing with the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Luis, we say hi to you. We appreciate you joining us today.
LUIS DIAZ: Hello, I am excited to be with you, and sharing this interview with Jimmy. I am very happy, thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: Just to give a little background on Luis, he's a 25 year old native of Mexico City, Mexico. As we said, he's coming to us today from there. After competing in the Dayton Indy Lights series the past couple of seasons, Luis is in his first year in the Toyota Atlantic cars and his first year with a very successful Dorricott Racing Ream. Luis earned his first Toyota Atlantic win in Portland on June 16 becoming the fifth first-time race winner in five races in the series this season. Luis currently ranks fifth in the Points Championship with 50 points trailing his teammate Jon Fogarty by 11 points heading into Chicago this weekend. With that, we'll open it up and take a few questions.
Q. MERRILL CAIN: If you could translate in English kind of what that last question was about and what the answer was about there.
LUIS DIAZ: Okay, he asked me about my relationship with Jimmy. I told him about well, my relationship is not very close, but I feel great about to share the Atlantic Series with drivers like -- not sharing in the series, but sharing in the circuit with CART and the Atlantic with drivers like Jimmy, Adrian, all these great guys because we learn a lot about them, a lot about racing, so I feel great about that.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you. We appreciate that.
Q. Have you been to Chicago? Are you familiar with the large Mexican community here, and connections, anybody you know, or have you heard from people here?
LUIS DIAZ: I have been in Chicago when I was racing in the Indy Lights series. I love that track. I have my best result in my first Indy Lights year. I have very important sponsors that they have -- they sell a lot of products down there in Chicago. And I have a lot of friends too down there, so I would like to give a good race and I hope to repeat again the podium.
Q. I am wondering what kind of reaction you get from CART drivers when you see them and how much you get a sense that what you are doing is a part of a big CART family that they want to talk about you as a future star in CART that we'll see in the FedEx Championship Series...
LUIS DIAZ: Right now I am trying to learn a lot because I have a chance to be there, to be there in a couple of years, maybe, so I am trying to learn a lot. I am trying to get involved a lot like in the golf tournament in Laguna, for example, I was trying to play golf there (laughs), so I am really happy with this. I think the Atlantic drivers we have a great opportunity to be around the big stars, to learn about them, so I think I am in the right series right now and I am -- I feel very, very privileged about this and I am very happy.
Q. How exciting is the prospect to drive that big turbocharged engine in the FedEx Series? Hopefully we will see you doing that soon for a long time but there's no other power plant like it in open-wheel racing just kind of your thoughts how exciting that will be in being in a vehicle like that?
LUIS DIAZ: Actually I can't sleep because I mean, for me the speed, it's a great feeling for me. It's my life. I am fighting everyday to become a great driver and I hope to feel that, I mean, I am counting the days to drive the car, you know.
Q. You said you are fighting everyday to become a great driver. What is the toughest part of that fight?
LUIS DIAZ: I think my diet is the hardest part because I like to eat very much; especially here in Mexico, you know, we have a lot of different foods, spicy foods and so I think that's the hardest part because I mean, I am not -- I am very skinny but I still need to eat properly so I think that's the hardest part right now because I mean, the driving thing is the easiest part, that is the funnest part, so, yeah, I think my biggest sacrifice right now is my diet.
Q. When you are at a companion race when you are watching the CART FedEx Championship Series on the racetrack, what are you looking for?
LUIS DIAZ: Well, I am looking for, I don't know, for being professional like them. I mean, every time that these guys are on the track they make their best, and you can see the professionalism on these guys. I mean, they are very brave in the track. They are very spectacular, and I would like to become that kind of driver. I would like to give that spectacular to the people and they work very hard for that. They are very -- you can feel the drivers dressing very properly, always with the sponsors, they are always trying to give their best to the people, to the fans, and I would like to be like them.
Q. You laughed when you said you tried to play golf in Laguna. I take it that you and golf don't get along very well?
LUIS DIAZ: No, not really. But I need to practice a little bit more (laughs), because almost all the sponsors play golf, so if I want more money, I need to play better.
Q. Just trying every angle, aren't you?
LUIS DIAZ: Yeah, (laughs) yeah, you are right.
MERRILL CAIN: Good insight there, Louis, we appreciate that.
Q. You got in with a wonderful team in the Atlantic Series. How did that happen, and what do you think about the team and Jon, and how you all are working together?
LUIS DIAZ: Well, I start to work very hard last year with my sponsors because I knew it that if I wanted to fight the Championship in the Atlantic Series, I need to be with a good team like Dorricott, so I start to work with my sponsors, and then I spend a lot of hours with Bob Dorricott trying to convince him to choose me in the team. So finally he choose me and well, I mean, they gave me the best engineer (Tyler) It's an honor for me to work with him because he's-- for me he's the best. Unfortunately we have very bad luck in the first couple of races, but I think we have a very good chance for the Championship this year. I would like to be very competitive driver for the team. I would like to help the team like Jon and Alex are helping the team, and the other side, it's a very hard to be there because it is always very competitive, Jon and Alex, they are always very fast even in the test days, so it's very hard for me, but I am learning a lot, and I am improving a lot too, so I feel great.
Q. Do you share information with Alex and Jon or does the team, you know, so you all kind of do it as a group or are you kind of on your own in there?
LUIS DIAZ: No, we share all the information. I think that's the part of the big success of Dorricott Racing that we share everything except girlfriends. So yeah, we share everything.
Q. How does it feel going into a race knowing that you always will have a car that can run at the front?
LUIS DIAZ: Well, that gave me a lot of confidence because the only thing that I need to be worried about to not make mistakes in the race and when you have that backup with you, it feels -- it feels great.
MERRILL CAIN: Just to clarify as well, we talked about the dominance of Dorricott Racing, three drivers, all three in the Top 6 in the points standing now Toyota Atlantics. We mentioned Jon Fogarty leading the points standing. Luis is currently fifth and his teammate, Alex Gurney is 6th just one point in back of Luis in the standings. Kind of an interesting thing that we're talking about with the ladder system here coming up through the Barber Dodge ranks and Toyota Atlantic and, of course, up to Champ Cars, but Telmex one of the sponsors, obviously one of your sponsors as well, has its own kind of ladder system which includes obviously Adrian Fernandez racing in Champ Cars, Memo Rojas in Barber Dodge, Luis ^ Talio in the National Championships. Would you tell us a little bit about what goes on with Telmex in how they are trying to garner and foster these young Mexican drivers as they come up in the ranks in the CART ladder system.
LUIS DIAZ: Yeah, Telmex is one of the most biggest companies in Latin America and fortunately one of the directors of Telmex, he's a very passionate person of the racing. So he wants to make like a program like the Brazilians like with ^ Petrobras have and they wanted to help the Mexican drivers to support the best Mexican drivers and take them to the top of the big leagues like the CART Series, or maybe, I don't know, Formula 1, so they gave us all the support, the money; they look for us for to be in the best teams, in the best series, and I think it's working. I mean all the people here in Mexico, they are very happy about the results that we have this year, and they believe in Mexican drivers, so I believe it's our responsibility to bring them good results and to keep this program working.
Q. Because of the system that Telmex has in place there and because of CART increasing its presence in Mexico - adding the race in Mexico City this year a great turnout from our race in Monterey earlier in the year - do you notice that a lot of up-and-coming young Mexican drivers on the horizon, do you interact with them very often and do we see another Luis Diaz coming down the road very shortly?
LUIS DIAZ: Yeah, actually here in Mexico we have a lot of good drivers, you know, good boys that they are starting in the go-karting and yeah, yeah, we have a lot of drivers waiting for opportunity here. Another thing of this program that Telmex had, for example, if I don't have good results well, the other guy who is in Barber Dodge if he's having good results, they can switch this guy instead of me, so I have a lot of pressure too, I mean, all the guys that are involved in this program, we have a lot of pressure, we need to bring good results. If not, we're done.
MERRILL CAIN: Does seem like a lot of pressure. Luis, we appreciate you joining us on today's teleconference. We wish you the best of luck in the Toyota Atlantic event this weekend in Chicago and we'll see you on the track.
LUIS DIAZ: Okay, and thank you very much.
MERRILL CAIN: I'd like to thank both drivers for joining us on this week's CART Media Teleconference. As we said both drivers will be on track this weekend at the CART Grand Prix of Chicago. Just a reminder, the Champ Car race can be seen live on CBS television this Sunday with air time scheduled for 3:0 P.M. eastern time. Thanks to all who participated in today's phone call. We appreciate your participation. Have a very good afternoon.
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