CART Media Conference
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this week's CART media teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We're happy to welcome to the call this afternoon two of the gentlemen who set the policy and the rules and regulations that directly affect the racing on the track each and every weekend in the CART FedEx Championship Series. We're joined today by John Lopes, CART's Vice President of Racing Operations and Lee Dykstra, Director of Technology and Competition for CART. Gentlemen, thanks for taking a few minutes to speak with us today. We invited both John and Lee to join us today not only to talk about some of the rules or regulations of competition currently in effect in the CART FedEx Championship Series, but we would also like to outline some of the recent changes in competition that will take effect next season. John Lopes, we will start off with you, the CART franchise board recently approved a few key rule changes that will be put into effect in 2003; perhaps the most significant of these changes is eliminating the use of traction control in the series and a decision to do away with the fuel enrichment control switch in a further effort to eliminate fuel economy runs in CART. Talk about these two key moves and how this will change and ultimately improve the racing quality within the series.
JOHN LOPES: I think the first being traction control and then I might ask Lee to add to that. But I think with traction control, we found ourselves in a very sticky situation earlier this year with all three of our manufacturers. We believe in the past CART had not done a good job of managing its controversies as it would be with respect to the engine manufacturers and quite frankly, the traction control situation was rushing up on us rapidly this year. And so it was, frankly, more of a situation where policing it was impossible. We had through [CART President and CEO] Mr. Pook's relationship with [Formula 1 rights holder] Mr. Ecclestone, had some conversations with Formula 1 about the amount of dollars they put into policing traction control and were unable to really do it successfully. When we realized that we couldn't police it what we had to do was somehow gather a consensus with the manufacturers to all agree that we had to run it in the best interest of the series. Ultimately that's what they all agreed to do. And we were able to go ahead and legalize it this year. However, we have learned this year it's probably not in the best interest of the racing on track entertainment product to have traction control. We found that this year it has created a situation of even greater parity among the competitors with traction control. And I think people like to see the drivers slide through the turns a little bit. And so our plan for next year is it has been abolished for next year and we are going to be able to run in a traction control free environment next year and give a little more to driver skill. Lee, if you could add to that as to how we're going to facilitate that and ensure that no one is getting around the rule.
LEE DYKSTRA: We intend to do this because we have a spec engine, so from a Cosworth standpoint we can control the engine control unit as far as its makeup. And we're going to do that by eliminating traction control and essentially giving the driver maybe five torque maps which is very aggressive as far as the engine is concerned for him to control and that's the extent of it. There will also be no fuel enrichment switch in the ECU [engine control unit] so we'll eliminate the fuel economy runs by means of internal control rather than trying to do it externally with our pitstop windows.
MERRILL CAIN: CART has also made a commitment to increase side-by-side racing on the short oval courses for next year. A test will be scheduled in the next few weeks here that will simulate the 2003 competition packages in the series using a slightly de-tuned version of the Cosworth engine currently in use in CART as well as using the current road course wing package. Can you talk about how this will affect the cars, their ability to run in traffic and improving the racing quality on short ovals for next year.
LEE DYKSTRA: Certainly. The Cosworth engine that we're making as a spec engine allows us again to control the horsepower so we're specing something around 700 horsepower. That in the past, because we've had considerably more than that, has made us reduce aerodynamic downforce to limit the speeds on a short oval. By having the reduced horsepower we can cut down the power requirements and add some more downforce to get some more side-by-side racing. Certainly back in the late '90s, '98, 1997, we did have very good racing on the short ovals and by using the road course aero package we intend to get back to that same situation.
MERRILL CAIN: This was a test that CART was hoping to schedule a few weeks ago, but because of some components that weren't up to spec with Cosworth standards we had to postpone that test. Are we looking at the next few weeks here to try and reschedule a new test to try to get this accomplished?
LEE DYKSTRA: Certainly. Cosworth has committed to the test and we're in communication with them ostensibly to try to get this again. The engine that we're trying to do for the test will simulate what we're going to run next year so it wasn't a matter of just taking an existing engine an putting it in the car.
MERRILL CAIN: Gentlemen, let us open it up for questions from the media.
Q. I think just in terms of the traction control issue, first of all. Now I assume this is going to be essentially in effect for the next two years along with the spec engine program. Have you looked at anything more in the long-term as far as 2005 and the more open rules and coming back to the whole thorny issue of controlling traction control that John alluded to?
LEE DYKSTRA: I think when we start getting more than one manufacturer we're going to have to address that issue again. Certainly maybe by then we will have other things in place that we can stay with the traction control and at that point in time have other increased aerodynamic downforce along with other things to get our passing back.
Q. One other question, if I may, as far as the fuel mileage window this year, which is perhaps working well on the road courses, but there's been a lot of criticism from fans in particular, I would say as well as the media, that maybe on the ovals that it's making it a little bit too confusing and forcing people to run similar strategies. Is there any consideration to perhaps rescinding that particular rule on ovals for next year?
LEE DYKSTRA: That was one of the reasons why we got rid of the fuel enrichment switch, so it's actually under consideration for both road courses and ovals. The intention of having the window this year was to have the windows wide enough that there could be variable strategy and people have elected not to do that kind of thing. And, you know, perhaps by eliminating the windows and not allowing the fuel enrichment switch in, that maybe gradually will come back.
JOHN LOPES: In the last franchise board meeting the issue was discussed at some length and I think everyone was in agreement that it needs to be revisited, but management was tasked with going back and taking a look at what some of the alternatives would be and readdressing them in the fourth quarter meeting. So our intent is to have that put to bed before the end of the calendar year.
MERRILL CAIN: Before we get to our next question, I also want to throw this open to you. You mentioned here some of these rules will be evaluated at the end of the season talking about what worked and what didn't work. I wanted you to quickly comment on some of the rules and decisions that have been made and come under fire recently by some of the competitors, specifically there were some issues that had cropped up during the race in Rockingham that affected some of the teams.
JOHN LOPES: Well, I think the one that really sticks out was Adrian Fernandez' penalty. Adrian was quite frustrated; showed his frustration, and although it didn't make for bad TV, it certainly didn't make for a happy team owner in Adrian. So we had some long conversations about it. We also met with [co owner] Tom Anderson about it this week. And where Adrian was frustrated was that he was docked for speeding, coming out under a yellow flag condition, and he was simply in a line of cars, but his car did in fact speed. What happened is there are antennas in the ground that mark your positions from A to B. Adrian was speeding. The problem with the rule book right now is it offers the stewards no flexibility. It's really black and white. Basically if the driver is speeding, then the penalty under Chapter 10 has to be applied by the steward. Now there's some discretion in there for the steward to apply a less severe penalty and that's what we tried to do in Adrian's case. We tried to send him to the back of the line for the restart. But that didn't happen. Then of course at that point we had to go ahead and apply the penalties. Adrian's argument is that since he gained no advantage by passing under yellow, coming out of the pits under a yellow flag condition, that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. And he has got a good point, but the key thing that we're trying to convey to Adrian on this particular issue is that that's a rule we can't rewrite mid-race. It's something that has to be addressed at the end of the season. Now, this particular incident occurred in the second stage of the pit lane speed limit. I believe the second stage was 85 miles an hour speed limit. And that was put into place in response to the [Alex] Zanardi incident that had happened last year. Actually the drivers at the pre-race meeting asked us to extend that area that was covered. So we're not going to see that again this year. You won't see a second stage pit lane speed limit situation this season. And in the off-season we're going to address, particularly in these types of infractions, the penalty fitting the crime. In other words, our position is that the chief stewards should have some flexibility to apply fundamental fairness. That being, are you speeding as a safety violation in pit road or is it simply because your car registers two or three 100ths of a second faster in a line coming out from a pitstop, or was it egregious like Scott Dixon's violation during the race. I believe he was clocked at 104 miles an hour. So there has to be some type of fundamental fairness applied. Right now the rules don't provide that. The stewards did make the right call under the rule book at the time.
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks.
Q. I know that Cosworth, one of their goals is to have additional life out of their engines and they have got some pretty optimistic targets of 800 or 1,200 miles between rebuilds. Is there going to be any type of a one-engine rule implemented like they have in NASCAR and what they are going to move to in Formula 1?
LEE DYKSTRA: We don't have to have it essentially because our typical mileage for weekend is about 500 miles. So essentially we have a two and a half race weekend life out of the engine. So at one point in time we had this, you know, you had to run the engine essentially a race weekend and we have essentially rescinded that because of the 800 to 1,200 miles on the Cosworth now.
Q. Could you possibly address this? I have read reports that you are hoping to use some of the CART Toyota Atlantic drivers to do the durability testing. Is that still true and when would you hope to begin that program?
LEE DYKSTRA: That program should begin sometime after the last race. We're looking to run 1,200 miles in each chassis, a Reynard, and/or a Lola, and run 400 miles on an oval, 400 miles on a road course, and 400 miles on a street course in each chassis. Because we don't want to give a team an advantage, certainly we would run this as a tire test and certainly it would be a good place to run an Atlantic driver to get him some miles in a Champ Car.
Q. Question for John, this season we have seen it, I think at least two races, I think certainly the Mexico race where in the closing laps of the race there was a caution flag came out and a lapped car definitely figured in the final results of the race. I am wondering if next year any consideration to, let's say, with less than 10 laps to go that lap cars are forced to go back into their position so that they don't end up getting in the middle of a race or a finish?
JOHN LOPES: Absolutely. We have talked about implementing - and I think you will see this where the Chief Steward has the ability to move a car over for a restart. I don't think it's a great secret that what you have seen happen in a couple of the races this year is manufacturer cars getting in the way of another manufacturer's position toward the end of a race. We all know that happens. I think we basically have to take - of course, next year we won't have a problem with that situation. But this year some of the teams are under a tremendous amount of pressure to follow the orders of their manufacturer. And long-term, CART has to have or should have the ability, and the steward currently doesn't, to just move cars over into a separate line - somewhat in the way that NASCAR does or at least have the discretion to do it if it is safe to do. So it's something we're looking at, yes.
Q. Another question, is there any thought at all to once again trying to come up with the minimum weight including the driver for next season? I know you were planning to do that this year. It didn't happen. Is this something that's still on the agenda?
LEE DYKSTRA: That will be implemented next year, yes, at the start of season. What we'll do sometime during this is weigh all the drivers, get an average driver weight, then adjust the minimum weight of the cars relative to the variance from that average.
Q. I needed clarification, I had static in the beginning when Lee was talking about what will be the alternative to drivers, was that five engine maps that would be available?
LEE DYKSTRA: Five engine torque maps so we have that on a switch.
Q. Have you guys given any further thought to standing starts or is that a dead issue at this time?
JOHN LOPES: There is a significant discussion right now going on for the potential of standing starts being reintroduced on a limited basis in the Atlantic Series. That's not to say it's going to happen, but we are looking at it both from the entertainment standpoint of its value, and from the safety standpoint. One thing we're concerned is, you know, we're doing some extensive R&D going into next year from the safety standpoint. In fact we had a meeting yesterday with Lee Dykstra, and [CART Chief Orthopedic Consultant] Dr. Terry Trammell and myself about launching, cars actually getting airborne. We've learned some new things about launching over time. Lee, I don't know if you want to discuss that right now, but we're currently conducting a study and it's something, particularly with standing starts, that poses a problem. So we're weighing the safety issues against the entertainment value, and it is something that I think it's safe to say that there's a lot of support on the Atlantic side. On the Champ Car side, I would not look for standing starts in 2003.
Q. Do you know if Cosworth - whether or not they are going to lower rpm, higher boosts next year or are they going to keep the same boost levels that they have today?
LEE DYKSTRA: The boost levels will be about 41 and a half inches for the road course and 39 for the oval.
Q. Any indication of horsepower range?
LEE DYKSTRA: We're looking at 750 for the road course and 700 for an oval.
Q. This year for Fontana, are you still looking at 18 cars or might we see more than 18 cars at Fontana given it is a 500 miler with high attrition historically?
JOHN LOPES: We're reasonably confident that just, for example, the way Dale Coyne was car #19 in Rockingham. We're reasonably confident that you will see some additional cars at the end of the season. How many, there's no way I can really predict. Just today I've received phone calls from perspective entrants for both Fontana and Mexico.
Q. I guess you won't be announcing the teams for next year. Are teams going to announce it next year or is CART going to come out with a list of approved teams for next year at some point?
JOHN LOPES: There's really no such thing as "approved teams" other than those teams which will participate in the ESP program. At some point we will announce the ESP participants in whole; which we're not going to do at this time because the picture is not complete. As many of you know, historically, car count is something that's not completely determined until typically January when everyone's deals are put together. There's an awful lot of activity going on right now. There will be a minimum of 18 cars on the grid next year. But in terms of announcements, I think you will just see a combination of teams making their own announcements when their sponsor and driver deals are put together and CART making an overall announcement as to who is participating in the ESP program when that's appropriate.
Q. On the five engine maps, are they going to be a standard map for road courses and ovals or will those maps vary week-to-week depending on the course?
LEE DYKSTRA: I think that they will be fixed essentially to - so once we hard code these things into the ECU essentially they will stay. Cosworth will be doing transient dyno work; plus some of this as far as the 1,200 mile test to determine exactly the composition of the map and such. But once it's in, it's fixed.
Q. If I understand correctly, the driver will have a switch where he can change the map during the course of the race?
JOHN LOPES: Yes.
LEE DYKSTRA: Yes.
Q. The intention, I gather is with the elimination of the fuel control switch to give the same type of performance enhancement for short periods of time or without disturbing the fuel mileage; is that the idea?
LEE DYKSTRA: It's a relative aggressiveness of the engine. So essentially you have something very aggressive that conceivably on a low speed turn that you might have wheel spin out of the turn in position 5, but might not have it in position 1.
Q. Allow this to be switched from the steering wheel?
LEE DYKSTRA: Yes.
Q. I sense you will have a gear shift in one hand and a mapping switch in the other?
LEE DYKSTRA: Essentially they've had this all along. All the manufacturers have like a torque control in. The thing is what we're doing by hard-coding this thing is we're eliminating the ability of a Cosworth engineer to make this work specifically for a driver in a turn - in other words, a form of traction control in a certain gear.
MERRILL CAIN: John, I'd just like to ask you a final question. Cost containment's obviously been a big issue in CART. You touched on the ESP program a little bit. Can you talk about some of the measures that CART has done to ensure that cost containment is there for the series next year and the relationship with Cosworth, the ability to provide on-site service for the engine support and ESP program and talk about how the teams have responded to that.
JOHN LOPES: I think to give you a broad brush of some of the things we have done, of course, grandfathering the chassis was significant so that they don't have to buy new cars. The aero-freeze which has been discussed at some length is basically restricted development. We've also limited testing for next year which I think is going to cut an awful lot of the team's budgets in the final analysis. Also packaging of the engine program is something that's going to drive their engine costs down from what they were previously anticipating. Another thing we're doing is we're basically taking a day off the road for all of them with the implementation of the new buckeye system in [CART Senior Manager of Technology] Steve Dixon's program, we will now begin teching the cars at approximately 1 p.m. in the afternoon on Thursdays which basically takes an entire day off the road. They [team members] can actually come in Thursday morning, get off the plane, get to the track, unload their cars, and get through tech. So we basically take away a Wednesday night travel date. So if you just take a look at that, if there's 20 races, 20 Wednesday nights, and you look at 20 room nights times how many crew members times 25, it starts to add up in terms of the money the teams can save. In aggregate we have driven the costs down to a significant degree for our existing teams. But also for new teams, we have removed the barriers to entry. And we're working very hard at bringing new teams in, but we're also working very hard at ensuring that our current teams are running multiple cars next year to create, in essence, an economy of scale where they can take their savings, apply it to a second car, take two payments from the ESP program, apply it to a second car, add on some sponsorship and sometimes there's drivers with cash looking for rides, so that's part of the business no matter what level of racing you are in. So when you add it altogether we're trying to create a situation where these savings will add up to additional cars on track. We think ultimately it's going to pay-off; at least the type of activity that's going on right now, we think it will help us to get to that 18 car count plus number.
MERRILL CAIN: If there are no further questions we'd like to thank both John Lopes and Lee Dykstra. Just a reminder, CART's next event will be held in the streets of Miami with Round 16 of the CART FedEx Championship Series, the Grand Prix Americas held the weekend of October 4th through the 6th. Thanks to all who participated in today's phone call. Have a very pleasant afternoon.
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