Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
ADAM SAAL: We are delighted to ask Derrick to unveil his team for the 2003 Bridgestone presents Champ Car World Series powered by Ford.
DERRICK WALKER: Good morning, or afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming here today. Obviously, for us, it's a special day, a program announcement for 2003. We are getting ready to launch ourselves into the season. So it's time to come out and show you what we've got. We have an exciting lineup this year. A couple of young guys coming to the series, sort of typifies what CART is all about. We are getting some new faces into the series and some new sponsors. We are pleased to announce we are running a two-car program for this year, which will help us. We have been suffering for many years with a one-car program, and two cars will make us quite strong. Car 5, we are going to have Rudolfo Levin, who comes from Indy Lights, Atlantics. Actually a graduate from Skip Barber's school. He has come up the traditional route from American racing to CART cars and he's got a very exciting sponsor in Corona beer. The company is really getting very excited and very much behind our effort here in CART racing. So welcome to Walker Racing and to CART. He is no stranger to CART, but CART's champ car racing is a new project. For our second car, which will go under the number of car 15, will be a young Englishman, Darren Manning, for those who have been around the circle will have seen him last year in Rockingham where he finished an incredible 7th in his first time on an oval, and he comes to our program with some support from RAC, the Royal Automobile Club in the U.K. . If the truth was known, Darren's program has still got several new announcements to be made on that program, so once that is in place -- Darren will be racing a full season with us and we then welcome him to our program. So if I could just show you a little bit of what we are going to look like in spring training, and then we'll have some words with these drivers and see what they are all about.
ADAM SAAL: Derrick will rejoin his junior drivers. Derrick, the team you'll unveil next week in spring training, talk about work in the off-season, you actually did have another driver who was linked up with this team and if you could clarify that to see where that took us here today.
DERRICK WALKER: Yes, Roberto Gonzalez approached us at Mexico at a Mexico event and had some great sponsors. I mean, they are still very interested. I think it was a little premature, and we launched ourselves into that program, and unfortunately, we were a little ahead of the game and Roberto could not make it. Since then, we added these two guys and I could not accommodate him. You will quite likely see Roberto in another team. The whole family was trying real hard to close the deal and get sponsorship, but it just was a little too much in the time for him that we had, so it did not pan out.
ADAM SAAL: Obviously, we are delighted to have Rudolfo and Darren in the series with us, and we'll keep close tabs on everybody else down in Mexico and every other locale which we look to complete the field. This is our 17th officially announced car for this stage and just one away from our intended goal of 18, and perhaps we will exceed that. Rudolfo, you are matriculating through the CART ladder series; you have done Atlantics, Indy Lights and now champ car. Talk about how you feel knowing that you are going to be a champ car driver for the first time.
RUDOLFO LEVIN: First of all, how are you? I am very excited to be here, very excited to be competing in champ car for the whole season. Very excited to be here with Walker Racing. This is a great team, very successful team, and obviously very thankful with my sponsor, Corona. They have been supporting me for over ten years, and thank God I am the maximum category now. Well, we are going to give 100% of effort and dedication to this to give them the best results.
ADAM SAAL: Darren Manning debuted at Rockingham, even led in that race, and was an incredible driver in his rookie race. Now he's a full-time member with Walker Racing, and you were literally bouncing with excitement when we saw you in the garage not too long ago. How do you feel now that you are going from a one-off to a full season?
DARREN MANNING: It's absolutely a fantastic opportunity, really. You know, it's a top-level category, like everybody knows, and it's a real big step in my career, even from being a test driver in Formula 1 and competing in Formula 3000 for a couple of years. It's a big step up and a great opportunity to be in the CART series and all of these great circuits. Great to be with Walker Racing. It's a fantastic opportunity and really looking forward to it.
ADAM SAAL: It will be outstanding. It's great to have a driver of Darren's capabilities, as well as Rudolfo's.
Q. Derrick, you've got Reynard in your illustration, did you plan to run Reynards? Can you give us an update on the status of that program?
DERRICK WALKER: Absolutely. We are 100% Reynard. One of the problems with the Reynard project is that it took a little while before we could actually count heads, and we are trying all we can to make the car competitive and continue, and having the line up that we have now, what it looks like quite possible to have six drivers driving the Reynard; that really helps us when it comes to developing the program. We have some interesting things that are coming together to increase the competitiveness. What we are really looking forward with 2004 CART said they will allow an update kit, and if we can get an update kits in the works, we will get a bigger step, a bigger gain. I think we will be okay this year. Getting teams signed up and putting some money into it, I think is really going to help.
ADAM SAAL: Let me introduce vice president of operations, John Lopes from CART.
Q. Talk a little bit about how you won the Formula 3 Championship in Japan, is it all about money now, getting in Formula 1?
DARREN MANNING: That's a big part of it. Obviously, Japan gave me a massive opportunity to race a full season. I think in CART and over in Japan, there are maybe a lot more manufacturers, more opportunities with sponsorship and things than in Formula 1 possibly, and maybe the talent may be more recognized than the size of your checkbook. It does seem that way, especially when my friend Wilson (ph), he won the Formula 3000 championship and he's supposedly Junior Formula 1 and even a year later it took a $1 million purse to get in. For me to be competing in champ car, you see Cristiano moving over to Formula 1, hopefully winning some races for Derrick and myself, you never know, in a couple of years time, I might be in Formula 1 as well, but not to sign a big check.
Q. Doing so well for your first oval on a pretty daunting speed race, talk about that.
DARREN MANNING: It was easy, no problem. (Laughing). I mean, to say, as well, the amount of preparation that I had, that was probably the biggest thing for me. I mean, the car was really good and gave me a lot of confidence, really. I think my experience and with the speed that Formula 1 cars, the amount of miles in a Formula 1 car, Grand Prix distances, that helped me a lot with the speed of 220 miles an hour up against a brick wall. And hopefully, that shows how quickly I can learn. It was pretty daunting when I got out there for the first time. I had done a rookie test at 100, so it took a while to get up to passing.
DERRICK WALKER: Do you think I'm going to have any time with these two guys? I'm going to keep them busy, don't you worry. I think what you're looking at, we are going to have our hands full here and be happy for it. So I'm 100% focused on the CART series here and that's going to take all of that, I'm sure.
ADAM SAAL: Question for all three of you. Our open test at Laguna Seca , they said the cars looked more drivable without the traction control. Also, having never driven a champ car, do you think that will actually, help you knowing that you didn't have traction control last year and some of the other elements that the drivers had?
RUDOLFO LEVIN: Well, I think all the cars that I have been driving, they never had that traction control and I really don't know what is driving with that, so that's going to be new for me. Probably is going to be more difficult for the guys who have raced with traction control than for me. I will have to be successful at that and try to learn as fast as I can.
ADAM SAAL: You heard Chris Pook say we want to put the racing back in racing and we are very happy with what we saw at Laguna Seca. Just recap briefly if you can the train of thought as to what we are trying to achieve in trying to have more drivable but raceable cars.
JOHN LOPES: For many years, CART has really needed to take a big bite out of the horsepower because we have really been going in some situations way too quick. We have been taking a lot away from the car, aerodynamics, which has made it not as drivable from a race car point of view. It's not creating good racing by taking the downforce out of the car. So taking a big bite out of the engine power has now dropped the ratio between the amount of grip you have and the amount of power. So I think you are going to see some pretty good racing here. I think it's probably has not really become that obvious yet, but I think you're going to see a lot of sideways racing and that will make the cars look a lot more like a handful; it will be a lot more side by side. I think we will have some good racing. It does two things. It gets racing back the way with want it, so it's back in the driver's control. And it's a side-by-side race car now, and you have got enough downforce relative to power to actually have a lot more passing opportunity which you didn't have, which the other thing is that obviously there's a cost issue. We have basically halved the cost of these engines from one year to the next. Last year there probably wasn't too many people paying for their engines, but if they were, it would be double what we are fronting up this year, for the same number of races and we are going to have some runs, two races in a row. So it's a huge cost savings for the team. I think it's a great first step.
ADAM SAAL: Your comments, not an entirely different package, but certainly different in many respects. Looking forward to having a car a little bit looser?
DARREN MANNING: Well, I think you know I have done a lot of work -- I did a first year run with traction control and a lot of development on that. It did take a lot more of the driver aspect out of it. You'd drop a little when the car went around the corner. I think it will be good, especially with everybody having the same engines this year. There will be no difference. It will be totally down to driver/engineering setting the car up and controlling it on the gas pedal. That's exciting for me because if I work harder and better than everybody else at that, it gives me an advantage.
Q. What you said to people at Reynard North America last year, it was seen as a pretty brave move. Would you make the same move today?
DERRICK WALKER: Yeah, I would, actually. I think when you look at what is the Reynard and why Reynard, well, right now, we have got two-year freeze on the car and there's only a Lola and a Reynard. The development is really what it needs right now. There's plenty of cars and plenty of spare parts, so we have got two years to develop the car and keep it functional because we have got cost and we have a rule change coming up in 2005. So what that does to us, us as Walker Racing who has acquired a valuable asset in Reynard, is that gives me a little bit of time to find some capital funding or a technical partner who wants to invest. Because obviously for us to be in a position to actually end up as being a manufacturer and building cars in 2005 with the new regulation, that's exciting. I think that's a great opportunity. Whether it came out of somebody else's misfortune, Adrian Reynard, you know, he was very gracious in helping us being able to do that. So if we could create a future for the car and for us along with it, I think I would do it again, absolutely.
Q. In Rockingham, we had a long chat, and you even at that stage were quite strong in your feeling that your future lay in CART, yet it was a turbulent time. Why were you so in favor of CART, especially with the rocky road that appeared?
DARREN MANNING: I'm a racing car driver, I think the biggest opportunity I see CART series giving me, an opportunity to race and not wanting the downtrodden -- inaudible -- is the premiere category in the world. But if you are not going to be -- I see this as just a fantastic opportunity as a driver. In any team you can win a race and it's still a good opportunity to progress maybe into Formula 1. It's a fantastic World Series, racing on some of the best places in the world.
Q. I know the chase for sponsorship is ongoing. You have two non-American drivers, which is great. Is it any easier, the fact that it's a more global championship, because it often gets criticized that it's gone too global, but has it opened up the door for a team like yourselves to look for non-American sponsors, non-American drivers?
DERRICK WALKER: That's a good question. We are actually looking in every direction for sponsorship, so you never exclude any one area. In the examples of these two guys right here, one of the most important regions to CART as we look at the CART product is Mexico. And for everybody who ever went to Mexico races, you will see that there is a lot of race fans there who love our product. So naturally if you're going to go look for sponsorship, you are going to look for driers, you've got to look into the market where there's a high interest there and there are a lot of emerging drivers coming out of Mexico. That was where we looked when we started going down that path, and then another important region obviously is Europe and the U.K., specifically. So Darren, that made a heck of a lot of sense to us. It's a hard sell here in America because there's so many other ways for sponsors to find their money, so much competition. We have looked in many different areas and certainly when you look at the CART series, I don't personally believe it should be just a domestic series. I think it's got a lot more value to have an international element in it or a Mexico element or a Canadian element. I think it all complements what we have. I think that's what makes our racing strong is by having that competition and that interest. I think we are right on track as CART and the folks in the northeast region certainly, American drivers, we need them, too, because we need all nationalities.
Q. How long did it take to put the field together, and what type of engineering support are you going to be able to give these guys and how are you doing there?
DERRICK WALKER: In Rudolfo's case, we actually started talking in Mexico City. It didn't take very long. There was high interest from Rudolfo and from Corona to be in CART. So, that process was really just step by step and it happened very quickly. What we didn't do was announce it. Although, there was a lot of things it was said we had, but we waited to announce it because we wanted to make an announcement that talked about our whole program. So Rudolfo sat on ice for a little while there, probably got about 1,000 calls saying, "You really racing or are you not?" So that's where we were with that. In Darren's case, it happened in maybe about ten minutes? (Laughter) No, it was probably about a week. But, you know, we had been talking before, so it was not just suddenly, well, who are we talking out there. We were talking a lot sooner. You know, it came together. As far as the engineering support, you can answer that question a little bit broader than that. One of the things where you come out -- let's face it, when you see CART come out of the year that it had last year and you see the changes that have happened in the support in this sport, there's a lot of nervous people there, least to say your employees. We have a huge support within our company; that all of our engineering staff that we had on as a contract, they are well suited to be able to handle the challenge of two drivers.
ADAM SAAL: Your time frame to get through the next week: We do have spring training which officially kicks off at six o'clock Sunday in St. Petersburg with a reception, and then we ever a host of media events that Monday before we migrate over to Sebring for some on-track testing for three days. What you have to do in the shop to get ready for that, and when are you shipping these guys down there?
DERRICK WALKER: It's been quite a challenge for the employees, apart from the fact that I take too long to get these deals done. The cars we had last year were obviously Toyotas, so we had to convert these cars over. Part of our other hat that we wear with the Reynard, we wanted to say how many Reynard teams were out there. So we ordered enough kits to convert as many cars. So we delayed the process of manufacturing the kits, so the kits have literally been coming in the last week here. So the crunch to pull all that together, put an engine in that was not in that car before, put all of the paint schemes together, get the drivers in for seat fittings yesterday and today; so it's literally going to roll out of here on Saturday, at the latest, and we'll be on track as soon as we can. I think that, really, you couldn't really do something like that without the experience and dedication of the people we have. But we are going to be in good shape. I indicated that come the St. Petersburg race, you may see a few different things on the car. We are all in the works trying to pull that together as quick as we can.
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