CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're pleased to be joined today by two representatives from the newest team competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series, Team St. George, which is set to make its debut this weekend at the Rockingham 500 in Corby, England. We'd like to first welcome in Darren Manning, who will be driving the #19 Team St. George Ford/Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone in a few days. Darren, like to welcome you in. Congratulations. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
DARREN MANNING: Thanks very much. It's a pleasure to be here.
MERRILL CAIN: We're also joined by Phil Barker, who is the team manager for Team St. George. Thank you for taking some time to talk with us today.
PHIL BARKER: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: Both gentlemen are joining us live from England. It's about 7 o'clock over there, if I'm not mistaken. We appreciate you staying up late with us tonight. We'd like to give a little bit of background on our guests before we open it up for questions. Darren is a 27-year-old high-stakes racer, having run competitively in the FIA International F-3000 series for two seasons, finishing 10th in last season's standings. Darren has been a test driver for British American Racing and the Williams Team in Formula 1 ranks, and he was the winner the prestigious Macau Grand Prix which is the All-Star race in the F-3 ranks, that came in 1999. Lately Darren has been trying his hand at oval track racing, running cars in the ASCAR series in his native England. This will be his first race on an oval in an open-wheel car this weekend. Little bit of background of Phil Barker. Phil is a Northampton native who began his racing career as an engineer for Ray Mallock, Ltd., A specialized automotive engineering company in the UK. After working as an engineer in Formula 1 for several years, he rejoined Ray Mallock and headed up several touring and sports car programs for the company, including competition in the 24-hours LeMans over the last two years with the team. Phil, let's start with the questions with you. First off, tell us about the formation of Team St. George and what you've been doing to prepare for the race this weekend the last couple weeks. We also know that Dale Coyne Racing as well as Ray Mallock, Ltd. Can you give us an overview of the team?
PHIL BARKER: The project came together -- the first discussions were about a week ago with Rockingham. They were looking effectively to see whether they would be interested in the Team St. George. Essentially, we were. Two weeks ago we got the green light on the project. At that point then we was aware our partners would be Dale Coyne Racing. After the last two weeks, we've had a lot of busy contacts with Dale Coyne Racing sorting out exactly which company can provide which resource for the project, bearing in mind we don't have a massive history, to be honest, no history in single -seat racing, but a wealth of history in other formulas. We went through all of the resources needed, engineers, mechanics, fabricators, et cetera, and picking the skills from both parties till we came up with a team which we think is capable of running one of these cars.
MERRILL CAIN: Tell us what your efforts have been like as you're trying to get the team up to speed for this weekend. Kind of a feverous pitch for you.
PHIL BARKER: Yeah, things have been rather busy for us. We checked the car on a Saturday evening from Stanstead. Tuesday we endeavored to start the rookie test for Darren. We had a few little glitches with the telemetry, couldn't run the car. We finished the test on the Wednesday. We've slowly been getting the guys working together nice and steady, no major panics. Over the week at the RML factory, the guys have been gelling together quite well, culminating in the car being finished today and having quite a heavy session on pit stop practice, just generally seeing which guys could perform at what level. It was very interesting.
MERRILL CAIN: Tell us a little bit about what went into the selection of Darren as your driver.
PHIL BARKER: Well, there was a lot of consideration. I mean, the primary consideration that went in was that the driver had to be English. As you know, we've got quite a few hot shoes that are actually doing Formula 1 test driving. Essentially a short list of drivers was collated. It was systematically a case of going through the drivers to see who fits into our criteria. As it happened, Darren shone through.
MERRILL CAIN: Darren, a good opportunity to switch over to you. I know you're familiar with the Rockingham track from your ASCAR experience, and also in testing over the last week or so Phil mentioned the rookie test there. What are your thoughts on the Champ car? What do you think about the performance of the car compared to other things you've driven? What are your realistic expectations for this weekend, keeping in mind it is your first go around with a team in the CART series in general?
DARREN MANNING: Firstly, with regards to the car, I mean, the guys, especially David Watson, the engineer, he gave me a great car to perform our rookie test, instilled a lot of confidence in me, enabled me to just basically go faster and faster with each lap I completed. You know, Formula 1 cars are still pretty fast-paced in their own right. Monza, done quite a lot of testing, where top speeds are over 230 miles per hour. Everybody knows the performing capabilities of a Formula 1 car with the carbon brakes and the downforce. I'm used to extremely fast cars, but not particularly on oval tracks where you don't really decelerate very much and you have to carry a lot of momentum. But I felt I coped with that pretty well. It's difficult to say what my expectations are. As a racing driver, obviously I want to win as much as the next guy. But obviously I'm very realistic. Being in racing for as long as I have, I know that obviously lots of things can go wrong, and you don't necessarily always get the rub of the green. I might not get the best qualifying slots. Ford engines may not be as competitive. Who knows. Everybody is well aware of what racing is all about. But on the other side of that, we know oval racing you can win from anywhere on the grid effectively. We see guys like Paul Tracy regularly winning from midway down the field after a pole qualifying or something. In that respect, we could maybe get lucky. But I'm looking for a good result and possibly sneaking into Top 10.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll be rooting for you. We know you'll have a strong fan contingent over there. No doubt about that. Let's open it up and take a few questions.
Q. Darren, first of all, over here in the States with every sport we always talk about home field advantage. Do you have home field advantage?
DARREN MANNING: I hope so, I really hope so (laughter). You know, hopefully it's a good excuse for the English guys to get the England jerseys back on after the World Cup, you know, really give us some support. Motor racing, you very rarely get a car that's flying the flag for your country. So I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a very rare thing. I think the weather is going to be fantastic apparently next weekend. Hopefully the grandstands are going to be packed with white and red shirts.
Q. As an Englishman, you have some pretty big shoes to fill on the CART series.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm pretty experienced racing, starting karting when I was 10 years old. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I'm a great believer of deserving -- you know, if I'm 10th on the grid, for example, that's where I deserve to be. I'm faster than the guys behind me, not as fast as the guys in front of me. Not too much pressure put on myself. But if I'm not on the pace, I certainly will be putting a lot of pressure on myself to make myself go faster.
Q. Talk about the first time that someone said, "We think we may be able to give an opportunity to race at Rockingham"?
DARREN MANNING: It was a bit of a jaw-dropper really. We've been negotiating. My name had been touted around, as Phil had been saying, for about eight weeks or so. My name had been in the frame. But as soon as they told me, it all happened so quickly, you know, the team and everything, the car getting or here. I think I found out on something like the Saturday, then I had a seat fitting on the Monday straight after that, out in the car on Tuesday. I'd been preparing physically in the gym and things, but nothing as quick a jump-in as that.
Q. Darren, just want to know, oval racing to most Europeans, both fans and drivers, is still a bit of an unusual kind of an animal. This is something that is North American in aspect. Do you ever think you'll feel comfortable on ovals? Do you think that the English race fan will ever really cotton to just going around in circles? It's more complicated than that.
DARREN MANNING: Absolutely.
Q. This is a bit of a different animal for them.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, definitely. I mean, like you were saying, the ASCAR series, this pretty new over here. This year, the crowds have been absolutely spectacular. The British Touring Car Championship has been very big in English motor racing for the past couple of decades. Now I believe the crowds that they're getting at some of the ASCAR races are equaling if not out-doing the touring car. So people are tending to want and get a bit more experienced. Also it's a lot more exciting. There's a lot of coverage on English television, in the media and things. For example, the last race in Chicago, I'm sure you were all jumping up and down in the IRL race, it was such an exciting race, whereas Formula 1 is going the other way, a lot more boring. People are getting more excited. I mean, for example, I watch Champ car racing. I generally never watch Formula 1, put it that way. Things like this, I think we're really pushing hard to get people in the seats, to get them excited, and hopefully Team St. George is another step in that direction.
Q. Phil, we had heard initially that some of the equipment you'll be using is stuff used at Sigma Racing. Is it Ford, Lola, Bridgestone tires?
PHIL BARKER: Yeah, that combination still together. We think we have a competitive package with that. We're looking forward to it.
Q. Have you had any updates on that thing at all or is it basically stuff as it sat on the floor at Sigma?
PHIL BARKER: It's been updated to the current 2002 package. We expect it to be competitive.
Q. Darren, this is your very first Champ car race. Would you have preferred it to be on a road course or do you think you'll adapt to the oval quickly?
DARREN MANNING: To be honest, I'm just so delighted and honored to be out in a Champ car, I'm not too worried about either. I mean, probably I would have preferred it to be on a street circuit or a road course, if you like, as that's where my forte has been. I'm sure I can do a good enough job on the oval.
Q. Have you been fitted for a HANS device and will you be wearing one this weekend?
DARREN MANNING: I certainly have and I certainly will be, yes. I know what that's all about. I've done a lot of development on the equipment for the BAR Team that they're going to be running next year hopefully with not necessarily HANS, but their own version thereof. I'm a big believer in that. We use the Hutchinson device in the ASCAR, as well.
Q. You're comfortable with the HANS device, fits you okay?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, not a problem. Just a little bit of extra padding underneath to fit my wide neck (laughter).
Q. Phil, there's been talk of maybe this team doing additional races in the future. Can you give us an update as to where that is right now?
PHIL BARKER: At the moment obviously the comments there have come from Rockingham. That's based on the amount of media and interest from sponsors over here in Britain. Obviously, David has said previously that he wasn't out to set up a British racing team, but if it's born from it, all well and good. Personally, we're very happy to be linked with Champ car and CART. I'm sure if an opportunity arises for next year, we certainly would look at it. It's something we've wanted to do for a while, get into the single-seat arena. Maybe we didn't have our sights set as high as CART and Champ car, but here we're now and we intend to make the most of most of it.
Q. Will there be any Dale Coyne personnel in the pits?
PHIL BARKER: For sure, yeah. Definitely. The crew chief and the race engineer are from Dale Coyne. There's several skilled staff from the Dale Coyne Sigma setup. That's all been complemented with staff from RML. We've got a very good blend of all skills in the team. It's just a matter of honing them in to work together as a unit over the next week for the race.
MERRILL CAIN: RML is Ray Mallock, Ltd., Which is a specialist automotive engineering company located in the UK.
Q. Darren, could you elaborate, you said you did some of the HANS testing for the BAR Team?
DARREN MANNING: As you know, Formula 1, they like to think they can make every nut and bolt better, faster, lighter, stronger than the one they had the week previous. When they got the HANS device over, it's quite a heavy, very strong bit of equipment, as you can imagine, for its job. They were making lighter versions, trying to keep the same stiffness there, maybe make them a little bit more comfortable.
Q. So you tested with the variations?
DARREN MANNING: Yes, absolutely. Hence the name "test driver." We're the test dummies. Some of them were very uncomfortable, but the right strength and right lightness. Basically that really, just testing different variations.
Q. The one you're going to be wearing at Rockingham will be one that has been -- went through the evolutionary process with BAR?
DARREN MANNING: No. This is just the proper HANS device that all the other guys in Champ car will be using, just exactly the same, FIA approved, Champ approved HANS device.
Q. Phil, can you talk about how much CART had a role in facilitating this ride?
PHIL BARKER: CART had a very big role. Without CART, it wouldn't have been possible. I believe there was certain criteria within the contract between Rockingham and CART that it would be possible at some point to facilitate another car in the series when it came to the UK. As it happened, the two parties, Rockingham and CART, got together and made it happen. I think if they wanted to, CART could have stopped this instantaneously. But I think they were very receptive to the fact. We applaud their decision to run with it. It's given the British fans a great opportunity to see one of our young, up-and-coming drivers perform at this level.
Q. Do you think that you'll be doing anything more with CART in the future?
PHIL BARKER: I think it's probably a wee bit too early to say. The ball has started to roll. There is a lot of interest in England and the UK in general with oval racing and CART. We'd like to think we're going to have a successful weekend. Our goal is to finish the race, take a lot of pleasure and pride from that. Hopefully we can attract enough interest from potential sponsors that are willing to move forward with it next year, that's what the game is all about.
Q. Darren, you've had the unique opportunity that a lot of people haven't had of not only being in a Formula 1 car, now a Champ car, but one of the new ASCAR cars over there. Can you tell me perceptions of each of the cars, strengths and weaknesses? Do you enjoy one more than the other?
DARREN MANNING: I think the easiest question is, I've enjoyed the ASCAR tremendously. It's fantastic racing. Like you say, being in competition with RML, they run two cars in the ASCAR championship, and they've been our competition in that, as well. It's like joining the enemy. But it's been a very friendly, competitive atmosphere. The top six or top dozen drivers are professional guys. We have the touring car champion, Jason Plato. McLaren test driver, Nicolas Minassian. Racing in Champ car, he's been running with RML. That's been very enjoyable and actually helped me. You've got to set the cars up to turn left around the level, on the banking you run stagger obviously, crossweights, all these things I'm not used to having driven on road circuits all my life, setting the car to turn left, right, slow down, accelerate. That's been very useful for me. The Champ car obviously I've got limited experience and no race experience in that, but I'm sure that's going to be extremely competitive and going to take a lot of determination and confidence and skill to race that. The F1, that is just the ultimate really, in technology, automatic, semi-automatic gearboxes, differentials that you can play around with, hydraulics on the differential and gearbox, all the technology that Honda are bringing into it. That's just absolutely mind-blowing in the amount of time they spend testing. It's unbelievable.
Q. I know earlier the plans were set that you would be running maybe the rest of the season, but certainly were looking forward to a 2003 effort. Is this the plan? What's the progress toward that?
DARREN MANNING: I mean, Phil talked about it a little bit before. The response we're getting to this one event has been absolutely phenomenal, my side, team side, Rockingham side, sponsors. Absolutely everybody is going in a massive frenzy. If Team St. George has been picked up for next year and given enough funds through sponsors and things to run, it would be a great honor for me to do it and something I'd jump at.
Q. How about from the team side? Do you think it's going to be possible for next year?
MERRILL CAIN: Phil, you touched on this, but if you want to reiterate.
PHIL BARKER: Well, at the moment obviously judging the interest from the sponsors and obviously the funding is going to be key to that, but our general view on it is that if the money and the sponsorship is found, we'd love to do it.
MERRILL CAIN: Darren, Nicolas Minassian, who we saw here in the CART series with Target Chip Ganassi Racing for a short time, I believe he helped you out at your rookie test, was a guiding hand for you through this. Talk a little bit about that, some of the pointers he gave you, and also are you familiar with the current drivers in the series, have you had an opportunity to talk to anybody, just kind of get a view from the driver's perspective of what it's going to be like for you this weekend?
DARREN MANNING: With regards to Nicolas, we're good friends, we've raced together since '97 I believe in Formula 3, so we're good friends, know each other well. Also raced against each other in the ASCAR series. He was there as an official, if you like, from CART to supervise the rookie test to make sure I completed my hundred miles, completed them competently enough. You know, he was there just giving me a guiding hand. He knows I'm an experienced driver, similar experience to him, not on the ovals. He just told me to give it a bit of respect, take it easy, it's not qualifying. Told me to build up. Gave me advice about rolling the speed into the corners, which maybe I knew, maybe I didn't. But it was good to speak to him. He was very encouraging to me after I done the test, you know, gave me some advice about the pit stops, as well. With regards to the drivers in the championship, yeah, I know Dario Franchitti very well. He's obviously raced a lot in Europe. He raced in CART. Couple years ahead of me, being a bit older than myself. Bruno Junqueira, I obviously raced against him in Formula 3000, tested alongside him at Williams, as well. You know, former superstar Juan Pablo Montoya, very good friends with him, we've been racing since way back when. We started karting together a long time ago, 14, 15 years ago now. We still chat. I haven't had a chance to speak to anybody before this race obviously because it's happened so fast. Don't worry, I'll be bending Dario's ear trying to get any tips I possibly can. I'm sure he'll be watching out for this young guy in his side.
MERRILL CAIN: Sounds like you have a wealth of knowledge to tap into.
Q. Darren, ASCAR, you have some experience on the Rockingham oval, how much can you take from your current experiences in racing in the UK into this weekend?
DARREN MANNING: Well, hopefully a lot. You know, I think probably the biggest thing is adaptability, I guess, because obviously it's going to be something totally different to what I'm used to. Obviously, I've raced on ovals side by side in ASCAR, but you have a big body, two tons pushing you around, whereas this is a light, nimble car, open-wheel, maybe slightly more dangerous. I've been racing single-seaters for nine years now up to Formula 1, as I say. You learn a lot. Hopefully I can rely on those memory banks and hopefully it will get me through. The team has a lot of things they want to go through to help me cope with this in the testing. Obviously, I've done this rookie test always by myself. During the warm-up and things, I'm going to be trying to get drafts off of the cars, if they'll let me run close without backing off or anything. There's little things like that that the team can do to push me and also things like doing long runs in the warm-ups with full tanks, practicing pit stops all the time. They're trying to prepare me the best they possibly can.
Q. Given your experience with F1 and all the other disciplines, dealing with the setup of the Champ car, have you some limited time on the oval, how do you view yourself with that? Are you able to really read it right, comparing notes with the engineers?
DARREN MANNING: To be honest, I've been trying to spend as much times a I possibly can with David, the engineer. You know, he's been running through the precise setup that they're running on the car. But to be quite honest, I mean, the setup of the car, with my race car experience, it fit very, very good, inspired me with a lot of confidence, enabled me to just go faster and faster. The car finished third at Motegi earlier in the year. Its oval setup is a pretty good starting point. I can go out there and say, "I know what push feels like." I'm just trying to -- I'm not trying to say to David, "I know everything, I want this, I want that with the car." That's not generally how I work anyway. I'll just say to him, "Coming out of turn four, it's got a bit of push, a bit loose in the middle of the car, when I'm coming out of the gas a little bit, sometimes have less of a lift and things." I just try and tell him exactly what's going on in the car. I think that's what I can take from my past experience, my knowledge of what a car feels like. I'll just relay that to David and Chris, the other engineer, and hopefully they can make some changes, make it go better.
Q. Darren, you've been running at Rockingham, there was a problem with the weepers. Have they been fixed? Are you still seeing those weepers from time to time or are they gone?
DARREN MANNING: No, totally fixed now. They've done a hell of a lot of work on it with regards to sealing the whole circuit, resurfaced on top of that with an extra four inches. Where the seams in the track are, they've sealed those, as well. Absolutely nothing can come through. The track is running beautiful and actually drives extremely fast. I'm sure it's not going to rain. It's England, it's never rains (laughter).
MERRILL CAIN: The forecast is for pretty much dry weather for the entire weekend. We'd like to thank Darren Manning and Phil Barker for joining us on today's call. We wish you both of luck this weekend. We'll be keeping a close eye on you. We look forward to seeing you on the track in a few days.
DARREN MANNING: Thank you.
PHIL BARKER: Thank you.
MERRILL CAIN: The Rockingham 500 will air live in the United States this Saturday at 8:30 a.m. eastern time on the Speed Channel. Thanks to all who participated in today's phone call and have a very pleasant afternoon.
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