Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen before passing on the telephone, to Craig Pollock, our guests will be saying a few words. Craig first will be going through the announcement he wants to make today and he will be followed by the new driver who will make a few remarks of his own, and after that, we will open the floor to questions. Co-owner of Pollock Kalkhoven Racing, Craig, it's all yours.
CRAIG POLLOCK: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for being with us here today. I have to say that I'm very proud to be able to announce this driver to the world. This is the second time that I've started off a racing company and the first time I know exactly how hard it was and what is necessary. The second time around, I've just wanted to make absolutely sure that the driver that we put in the seat, like the first time, was a very experienced driver. Somebody that we had worked with a lot in the past and somebody that we can absolutely trust to do what we need for a brand new, set-up team. The driver is Patrick Lemarie. Patrick has worked with us in British American racing for four solid seasons and also the driver who has done most of the setup fork for Jacques when Jacques has not been in the car. I have to say that Jacques has also been very, very strong and trusts Patrick doing all of the setup work. Starting up a brand new team is very important at the start of the season that we can finish the races and that the performance is strong enough to be able to get points, because these points in the end will define the championship at the end of the season. So I would just like to say that we are all very proud at Pollock Kalkhoven Racing to have Patrick with us. It's a fantastic we feel for Patrick. He has given up a big part of his career to make sure that Jacques Villeneuve had good setups for his races, and it's very good for Patrick to be sitting here and a big thank you on part of myself to Patrick.
THE MODERATOR: If Patrick could say a few words and comments on his decision.
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, hello everybody. Of course. I'm very happy, it's a big day for me. I have worked very hard for four years, and of course, racing, I miss racing a lot, but when you start something, you have to do it right. I proved for four years that I was a solid driver with experience. I was doing my job properly, and it's so great here to race again. I'm just so happy. I want to thank Craig and Kevin so much to give me my chance, and I'm very proud to be on the team right now.
Q. Craig, could you just comment first of all on Patrick and why you think he is the guy you want to put in this chair for your first season with champ car?
CRAIG POLLOCK: Well, Patrick has always impressed me tremendously, mostly with his set-up work at British American Racing. It's a question of dedication. His skills were never questioned, being a part of British American Racing, we could see exactly what the driver was getting, new tires, heavy fuel loads, light fuel loads and how he compared against other drivers. It became very clear to my Patrick was very solid. He never went off the track and never demolished any cars. A lot of kids when they sit into a Formula 1 car and they are test drivers, their only job is to impress, and Patrick was told to do just solid set up for four years and he hung in there. The other reason is, I have seen Patrick racing against Jacques Villeneuve in the past, back to Atlantics days, where Jacques and Patrick were actually fighting very, very hard and finishing first and second in races. I just think that he is the right person to have in this car on this team at this particular time.
Q. Patrick, I wonder if you had any consultation with Jacques and with some other folks that may have had some experience in champ cars and whether or not you have any kind of an inkling on what it's going to be like to jump in one of these, as compared to the Formula 1 machinery that you may be used to at this point.
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, for sure, I have a lot of things to learn and I have to learn them quickly. But, you know, when you work for four years with Formula 1 team and you are working with so much pressure, you cannot do any mistakes. I learned two years ago I could do it and I proved again, I was still a racer, and now I have the experience and the maturity to do the job, and I think that's why I'm here.
Q. Craig, in a start-up team with only one car, other people might have gone for a driver with experience, particularly experience in champ car racing, and I just wondered if you could talk about maybe the decision process and the balance, really, that was struck between on the one hand -- there were some experienced champ car drivers out there looking for work, but in your case, you had experience with Patrick and know what he can do; and obviously, his testing experience was also, as you said, played mightily in the decision.
CRAIG POLLOCK: You're one hundred percent right. You just about answered the question by yourself. There are a few drivers out there that were quite interesting that were already in champ car in the past. These guys, they are great drivers. There's two or three ways of getting into the series: One is by buying a seat, and I don't particularly like that. I want to be able to choose a driver for his own ability. And the reality is that Patrick has done so many years and so many miles on Formula 1 cars, that when you see how he can do in a Formula 1 car, you're pretty sure that this guy is going to do very, very well in a champ car. The normal progression is, okay, you go from champ car into Formula 1, same way as Fantablo (ph) has done, same way was Zanardi did it and Jacques did it, and you do very well if you're a good driver. What we are doing is we are taking somebody with Formula 1 experience and putting him into champ car. And don't forget there's quite a lot of the circuit that he knows because he raced on it in Atlantic; so it's not a question of getting to know the circuit. The other thing is, I've worked with him in the past. The engineers know him. I think that's extremely important. I think he's just going to blend into the team very well.
Q. Obviously, this year is a rebirth of CART and lots of opportunities for drivers to come here. I just wonder your perspective as far as sort of the rebirth of CART, there's going to be a lot of new faces. You're not going to be the only rookie driver in the series by a long shot.
PATRICK LEMARIE: For sure. There's some very experienced drivers who are still in the series, so it will be difficult. It will be more difficult to be the rookie at the end of the year because there are a lot of new faces as you said. For sure, I think it's a perfect year for me to start in CART. The team looks great and I think we will be able to do well soon. I'm very excited.
Q. How excited are you to be in the champ series? Drivers aspire to go to Formula 1; you were there, but not there I guess, how do you feel going to champ car?
PATRICK LEMARIE: I'm very pleased. Since I raced ten years ago, I've said to everybody around me, I really want to go back and race because I think it's the most difficult series in the world because you are racing on ovals, street racing and a normal track. I think it's the most difficult series in the world and I think I will do very well here.
Q. You've alluded to the fact that this is your second time starting a team and you hope to learn something from the experience. What do you think is most immediately applicable to this experience with a champ car team?
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, we have made a concerted decision that we are definitely starting off with a one-car team because of the time frame that I was given to set the team up. It's a small team compared to a Formula 1 team, but we have the time to hand-pick everybody from the start. I think it gets back to the statement I made in the last press conference that we are going to walk before we run. We could probably run a second car immediately, but by running the second car, we are going to dilute the effort on the first car, and I think the effort has to be made on the team-building team as fast as humanly possible. So the smaller the team initially, the easier it is to get that number of people to work together very, very closely and communicate together. I think that in team-building communication is key. So bring in one driver who is going to actually blend well into the team and you have a very, very good part of that team being set up. To me, that is one big piece of experience that I had from the past: Create the heart and build around it and take your time.
Q. Patrick, you are effectively getting back into a racer situation now. What challenge do you see there? You've been doing a lot of testing and it's not quite the same.
PATRICK LEMARIE: Yeah, but I'm a racer, so when you have this in your blood, it never goes away. I raced two years ago in Audi (ph) and I was still very competitive and very quick. My racing skills are all there. They are in me, so it's not -- it won't be a problem. For sure, I have a lot of things to learn about the car and I have to learn them quickly but I don't think my racing skills are a problem at the moment.
Q. Craig, you've been quoted in some European publications that Jacques is now maybe considering returning across the Atlantic sometime in the distant future to take up a CART ride. I was wondering how serious is that, and come the day when you have a two-car team, is it likely that you might offer him a ride?
CRAIG POLLOCK: That is one of the quotes that I would really, really love to see where it came from. I actually haven't said -- I said something but not in that way. Jacques is in Formula 1 today and has every intention of staying in Formula 1 for quite a few days to come. What was said was if Jacques ever would consider coming across the water, what he is going to do this time around -- exactly the best team he would go into, and it would not necessarily just be PK Racing because Pollock is here. Probably Newman/Haas is probably going to be the best team to go to; that's probably where he would go. In the future if the champ car series, CART, goes the way that I feel it is going to go, then he might consider coming over. But we certainly haven't overly discussed it, not at the moment. He believes in the champ car series. He's a great, great believer in the series. He actually wants the series to turn around, and I think that's also why he's very happy that I've set this team up across here. I must admit, it would be a dream for me to have Jacques driving in my champ car.
Q. There are rumors that you intended to launch a second car in the near future. Can you give us a little clue of when and who will be the second driver?
PATRICK LEMARIE: It's quite simple. The idea of setting up the second car, yes, we do want to have a second car, but we are not going to rush into it. I made it really clear that we are going to walk before we run; that we have to absolutely make sure that the first car and the first part of the team are working well and communicating well together to really have that team spirit working. The second car will happen, first of all, when I am absolutely convinced that the timing is right; that the funding is right, because I don't want to stretch the first car by having a second-car ill-funded, and I don't want to do it purely out of capitalization of the company. And where the driver is concerned in the second car, I'm talking to five or six drivers a day, minimum. I can't say that there are any bad drivers I'm talking to. So we'll probably do exactly the same thing as we did with the first driver: Keep the name very, very quiet until it gets close to the time that the car is going to be able to run. I would hope it would be not too late in the season if we are going to do it this year. And if we decide to, we might just wait until next year and do it next year.
Q. Do you have any concerns that there's essentially only one week before you go to your first test, as it would be, in a champ car, and then after that, you're in a race car on a street race?
PATRICK LEMARIE: I think it's very short, but I'm used to it. I spent four years and they were calling me the day before saying, "You have to test there." So I'm not afraid about the little amount of time that we have in front of us. We have at least four or five days of testing before the first race, so I think that's better than nothing. You know, it's always -- you have to think about, is it going to be a problem or not. You just have to take what you can and do what you have to do with the limited amount of testing that you have, and I think we will be fine.
Q. Where is the business case for this team, given that open-wheel racing in this country is struggling to raise money in this economy and against NASCAR, and secondly, can you give me your take on what you see in the future of CART that some of the previously stalwart teams don't? What do you see as the key to CART having a revival, please?
CRAIG POLLOCK: The business case of the team is actually quite a simple one. In British American Racing, Formula 1, we started off with a huge budget. There's no question that the budget was ample for starting up a team, and every year when we set up our annual budget, it was $180 million or $120 million, our goal was to use the $180 million or $120 million. In CART, champ car series, you set yourself up a budget and you can actually work towards that budget, and with stringent control, you can still have an extremely competitive team working within the budget. Anything that's over and above that budget that's an income becomes profit. The business case is, basically, one, you can go out and win races within a budget. If you bypass the budget, you make profit, so that's business. There's profitability. The second thing is, champ car today, I would say that -- let's look at last year. Formula 1 and champ car fell down into an all-time low, so there's the peaks and the troughs. The peak for champ car for me was probably about 1995 and 1996 when Jacques won the championship. That was certainly my peak, or maybe a couple of years thereafter, and it went down into a very big lull last year because of all of the infighting and people just jumping off the ship. Today, there's a huge opportunity. People that are actually coming into the series are people with quite a lot of experience. There's also a lot of financial clout coming into the series, including my old partner in PK Racing, Jerry Forsythe, has huge financial clout and teams are getting very close together to make sure that they are going to help out Chris Pook and everybody working in CART to make sure this series turns around. There's thinking, I think, along the same way and the teams are actually communicating and helping each other out, which I have never seen in Formula 1. But I also think that Chris Pook is leading champ car in the right direction. He is talking to people and he is trying to do something with TV media for the future. He is starting to talk about an international series, instead of just being a national series, as it was in the past. And I think he is fully of the understanding that there are two series in the country, Indy, IRL and champ car and they are both here to stay and they have different brands. So worry about your own brand, worry about your own series and just do your job.
Q. Profit is the driving force of any business, but I'm struggling to see how you're going to make a profit -- where are you going to make your profit from, not just prize money? Do you have sponsorship or banking? At the moment it doesn't seem that you are pouring money in and I want to know how it's going to come back.
CRAIG POLLOCK: Well, what we are doing is the company has been capitalized to a level where we can keep the company running for a sufficient amount of time, a very good amount of time without sponsorship. I have been working on the sponsorship side with my contacts for quite a while time now. Do not forget that this actually started up, literally, a couple of weeks before Christmas and we are still in the month of January, and I know what it takes to get sponsorship. I know how hard it is. I'm not arrogant about it, but we have got not just very good leads; we are getting very, very close to the right type of sponsorship. And it's basically the sponsorship level has to be over the amount that you need to run the car, and then you are talking about profits. Today, if you want me to announce a sponsor, I'm not going to do it. If you ask me if I have any sponsors that we are talking about to, it gets into dozens of sponsors. I think that's the only thing that will help CART is when you get right type of sponsorship coming in, it gives credibility. Certainly myself starting up a team with Kevin certainly helps a little bit the credibility of CART and future of CART, and they know it and they are appreciative of it. They are helping tremendously towards sponsors and suppliers. I have never seen that happen in Formula 1, not once.
Q. On a personal note, the big move now back to Indianapolis and Patrick moving back to North America, how do you both feel on that score?
CRAIG POLLOCK: I'm very excited about it. The best years that I ever spent in motor racing had to be around formula Atlantic and Indy years. With Jacques, it was just great fun. But back then, I didn't have as much work to do as I have today, so I'm really looking forward to it. I hope -- I said at the beginning of British American racing that we are going to have fun. Well, I lied because I didn't have too much fun. It was just hard work all the way. But also, I enjoyed that to a certain extent. I think across here, I've got a lot of good people working with me. I've got Russell Cameron running the team and he's done absolutely an unbelievable job. And getting Patrick on here certainly is going to make my life an awful lot easier because I have confidence he is going to go out there and do the job as well.
Q. Patrick, how do you feel about it?
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, I feel very excited because when I was here racing ten years ago, I met Craig, I said that I really want to race here in Indy car. Well, I was back in Europe in and in 3,000 and a little bit of Formula 1 and testing. Even when I was testing Formula 1, my eyes was on North America and I was always following the Indy cars. For me it's a great, great day and I'm so happy to be back here.
Q. Some of your favorite tracks are over here?
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, it's a fantastic series. I think it's the most difficult series in the world because you race everywhere, super ovals, street race, normal tracks, and you have everything to be happy about it. I like the speed, I like fast cars, so I think this year I will be happy.
Q. At the press conference here in Montreal a couple of weeks ago, you mentioned that both the engineer and the drivers needed to work well together. Who will be your chief engineer?
CRAIG POLLOCK: We are actually discussing today with two engineers, two head engineers with an awful lot of experience. I'm not in the position to announce, but both engineers have said that they will take on the position if the job is going to be offered. I think by -- I would like to say by spring training that we will be able to announce something. If not, it will be right before the first race. It's a little bit like Patrick. What I said was: The team, we have to have worked together in the past, but it's also a question of the amount of experience because we have to accelerate making the team competitive.
Q. When you raced in the Atlantics series, you got a chance to race on some of the circuits you will be racing this year. Do you expect that to be an advantage for you at those tracks, and what was your first impression about racing from that experience?
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, I think there's only Laguna Seca and Long Beach that I will know, so it's not a lot. I think the main thing is if the team is working well together and you feel well in a car, I don't think learning to drive will be the main problem. I have been testing a lot in Formula 1 on a different track, and it was after a few laps you knew if the car was well setup. So I think it is more important to be working well as a team and be comfortable in the car and I think that will be the main thing.
Q. We hear a lot of talk about the adjustments drivers make in going from CART to Formula 1. How does it work the other way, and what is your biggest concern going from a Formula 1 car to a CART car?
PATRICK LEMARIE: Well, I think I have to be careful the first lap because the CART, braking is a little bit earlier and you are coming less speed in turn than Formula 1. I spoke with Jacques Villeneuve on the phone three days ago and he said just be careful, Cristiano da Matta has been in Formula 1 for two months and he still has problems to brake late and carry speed in turning. So don't go straight on the first lap. I just have to be careful with the brakes and the turning on the first time in the car.
Q. You have a quick time frame for the team and you talk about trying to have success as quickly as possible. How long are you willing to wait for Patrick to adjust to CART and what kind of advice can you give him?
CRAIG POLLOCK: Well, first part of advice is the more pressure where he put on Patrick, the worse he is going to do. I think he knows and he's already confident that he's just going to do the job. He will be the first one to know, actually, if he doesn't do the job for any reason at all. I think we know each other well enough that we are going to sit down and talk about it. I don't even envision that that's going to happen. We are talking about being competitive. That's all we want to be is be competitive, but we are very realistic that it's going to be a hard job at the start and we have got to build it up. It's going to take time, and we are going to have to give him that time to be part of the team. It's not just Patrick that's going to mess up. It will be us, as well. We will mess up. We are going to have to go through a learning process, and I've got the experience, Patrick has the experience, and the other person that doesn't have the experience is my new partner, Kevin. He's going to have to learn what motor racing is all about, and he's an extremely intelligent and well-versed businessman. I am on the phone constantly with him just keeping him informed. So we know what we are talking about. Give us a chance and we will give Patrick a chance.
Q. He has not been in racing constantly for the last four years, but he has been doing a lot of miles and laps, do you think that's really going to help him when he gets in the car setting up and getting used to how things are working?
CRAIG POLLOCK: Actually, I do. He's been a fantastic collaborator for the last four years in British American Racing, and the way he has set the car up has been extremely good. He's been very open-minded. The funny thing is, his setup is very close to that of Jacques, and I think this is going to be very good for the CART side. Because in CART, if you get a very good set up and you have a car you can drive anywhere in the circuit, it gives you confidence. Patrick, I also know him from skiing, we have done quite a lot of skiing together so I know how competitive he is in skiing. I just see a competitive predator out there. I think he is going to be great.
Q. When we talked on the day of the announcement in Indianapolis, you mentioned that while in Miami in October, you bought into the vision of Chris Pook. I'm wondering, on the plane ride back, did you at first think about Patrick as your driver?
CRAIG POLLOCK: I've been thinking about Patrick as a driver for a long time. I just have in my head what I need out of a driver at this particular time the qualities that Patrick has shown me in the past year. So, yes, of course, I was thinking about Patrick as a driver. But I was absolutely adamant I was not going to say to anybody, even Chris Pook -- the CART series, they do tend to push to have certain drivers in the series. One thing Chris has also said very quick clearly is he would love to have a German driver in the series, he would love a British driver in the series and he would love a French driver. Well, now he's got definitely a French driver in the series. And it's good for the series because it opens up a market and the French market is a huge market the same way the Germans are a huge market.
Q. Patrick, when Craig called you and told you that he wanted you as his driver in the champ car series, what were your first emotions?
PATRICK LEMARIE: I was like, wow, I always said to Craig when I was testing in Formula 1, I want to go to CART, it's a fantastic series. I think it's a the most difficult series in the world, even more difficult than F-1 because the tracks are so different. I thought I could do very well there. So it was a big day.
Q. How hard was it as a racer for four years to compete only against yourself in setting cars up?
PATRICK LEMARIE: I'm a racer. I started racing when I was 12. This is not a problem, to go to racing after two years, four years. The point is, Formula 1 kept me very sharp and focused on my driving. I learned a lot of things and got big experience. I think I will be fine. Racing, it's natural. You have racing in your blood and this is not a problem.
Q. You mentioned that Chris Pook is talking about CART as an international series now. Is that at all helping you with your sponsorship hunt?
CRAIG POLLOCK: It absolutely is, because it opens up the sponsorship possibilities internationally. I come from Europe. That's where my best sponsors are, or best sponsor possibilities are, and it gives me the opportunity to argue effectively what the sponsors need for these particular markets. It probably also is kind of handy that I speak a couple of languages, some of them pretty bad, but I can communicate in a few languages and that tends to help. And it tends to help to have drivers that can communicate in another language. It helps to have a series that is traveling abroad. So I think it's just going in the right direction. It feels like a mini-Formula 1 series at the moment.
Q. Do you see opportunities for CART possibly to maybe replace Formula 1 in some venues where Formula 1 doesn't race any more in the future?
CRAIG POLLOCK: I definitely -- Bernie signed up so many circuits and he's promised them so many races and he can't come through on his promises. I would say if Chris Pook, he's negotiating with Bernie and helping out Bernie by talking to Spa, talking to Grand Patch (ph), talking to Estril, talking to the various different major circuits. I have to say that I have raced on them all and they are great circuits and would be great for Formula 1 again. If Formula 1 can't go there, why should we?
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. This has been a great day for Pollock Kalkhoven Racing and I believe that the Champ Car World Series of 2003 will be more exciting than ever. To all of the participants. Thank you very much for having been online with us.
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