Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
ERIC MAUK: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference. We're joined by some very special guests today, possibly some guests that made the biggest splash of any of the debuting teams at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg a week ago as we are joined by the drivers and owners of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, as well as Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing. I'd like to introduce first of all one of the co-owners of the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, Mr. Eric Bachelart. Eric obviously, a man who made a name as a driver before he became a team owner and is joining the Champ Car World Series this year. Eric, thank you for joining us.
ERIC BACHELART: You're welcome. Hello, everybody.
ERIC MAUK: We're also joined by Mario Haberfeld, driver of the #34 Mi-Jack Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard. Mario opened this past race with a fourth place finish and a very exciting battle with Bruno Junqueira. Again, one of the surprises of the race. Mario, thank you for joining us.
MARIO HABERFELD: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: We're joined by Tiago Monteiro, driver of the #7 Dingman Ford-Cosworth/Reynard. He led for four laps in his debut race and finished a strong seventh place. Thank you for joining us.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Hi, everyone. Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: Eric, obviously a program that kind of came together not necessarily at the last minute, but all the pieces certainly fell together kind of at the last minute. To come out with a fourth place and a seventh place finish for both your cars has to be something you're very pleased with, Eric.
ERIC BACHELART: Yeah, of course. I mean, we couldn't expect to do better than this. This whole program here started a bit over two months ago with Mario. We had the time to do a pretty good testing program with Mario. But when we started at the first testing, I mean, everything was new for everybody. We were not that competitive at that time. Every time we went testing, it went better and better. At the end of the day, we had a very good weekend, I think, very encouraging start with the sixth place of qualifying for Mario, a strong race, finishing fourth. It was a race where it was new for the team, it was new for Mario, it was new for a lot of people. At the end of the day, we just wanted to go over there thinking that we don't want to do any mistake and be at the finish. We did that. Mario was very strong, was pretty aggressive. This is what we want to see. As far as the second entry with the Fittipaldi-Dingman entry, that was even newer than that. I have to say it was probably as impressive because we had about three weeks. First of all, we signed the contract with Emerson and his partners two weeks before the race, and altogether about three weeks of preparation. Tiago did like about a hundred miles of testing on his way to St. Petersburg. As you say, he was able to lead the race and finish seventh. I think we had two very strong showings with both entries. Both drivers did a very good job. That was a very good, very good start. I was very pleased. Everybody did a fantastic job, I think.
ERIC MAUK: Mario, you finished fourth in your first start, ran up front all day. Nobody can say there was any fluke to your performance at all. As Eric said, you qualified well, raced well. Tell us about how you felt about your debut.
MARIO HABERFELD: I think it was great. I mean, we could never imagine that we could finish fourth in our first race. I think it was really more than what we expected. I think we started testing in January. As Eric said, we weren't very competitive, but we were slowly but surely improving every time. I had to swap engineers just one week before the race. That was another thing that theoretically wouldn't have helped. But we all gelled together very well into the first testing in St. Petersburg. I think we were quite competitive. Apart from the Saturday morning test, we were always in the top eight. Qualifying went really well on Friday. We managed to be eighth on the grid, although we only did half the session. We improved the car a little bit more for Saturday afternoon and qualified sixth, which was the best new team, best Reynard. That was very good for us. We were just hoping, as Eric said before, to finish the race. Everything was very new for me. The race was more than two hours long. The longest I had ever raced before was about an hour. I just wanted to finish the race and see how we got on. But the car was quite strong in the race. The team did very good pit stops. We managed to finish fourth. It was really more than what we expected. It was really good. I think it was a good reward for everybody's hard work pre-season.
ERIC MAUK: Tiago, as Eric said, only a hundred miles of testing in a Champ Car before you came out. You led four laps, finished seventh. A very strong performance. Were you as surprised as everyone else seemed to be with how you did?
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Yeah, of course, we were a bit surprised. We knew we were going to be better and better during the weekend. But I wasn't really thinking about leading, especially being within more or less the times of Paul Tracy at the first race. We have so much to learn yet, we have so much to do, it was a good surprise definitely. But now we have to keep our heads cool. We did a good performance, that's for sure. I have a lot to learn with the car yet, get more confidence with the car. We're going to start practicing soon. I think it can only get better. In this kind of racing, with all the circumstances, you can always do a good show if you are at the end of the race. That was our goal. That was a goal, to go through every session until the end, and especially finish the race.
ERIC MAUK: We'll open it up to questions from the media.
Q. Tiago, those four laps that you were out front there leading, a lot of pressure from a guy like Paul Tracy, a lot of experience, so forth. What was it like from your point of view? How difficult was that? How much did you have to contain, control yourself?
TIAGO MONTEIRO: When the team told me P1 on the radio, I was a bit surprised. I was really, really focused on my race, what I was doing. To be honest, for me it was the same to be leading at the time or be 20th. I just wanted to finish the race and keep on to do good work, of course pushing harder and harder, but without committing too many mistakes. That's the point where I did my best lap, so of course I was probably pushing a bit harder. The only thing is, I knew it was Paul Tracy. I didn't want to disturb his race or whatever. I just didn't want to block him. I never closed. At some points I was even taking some advantage, a little bit, and he was coming back. I saw that I was of course a bit slower than him, but not really blocking him. It gave me even more confidence. I just went on pushing harder and harder. It definitely gave me some confidence, that's for sure.
Q. Mario, you obviously had a very good race all around. You had a couple of aggressive racing moments with Bruno Junqueira. He was a bit critical of you in the press conference after. How do you look at that kind of close racing, those particular things? Did the CART stewards have any conversation with you afterwards?
MARIO HABERFELD: First of all, I read some comments on the press of the things he said which I think we should end it here and not start making a big war on the press like he's trying to do, saying if I want to keep alive I need to change my act, that I had a lot of crashes in the past, which I didn't. I really didn't want to get into that, start commenting on these things, because I don't think that's the way to go. If he has a problem with me, he should come and talk to me and sort it out. I talked a lot with Chris Kneifel after the race. He said that he wasn't sure if I had squeezed him because I'm allowed to do one move to the inside, and in my mind that's what I did. Chris wasn't sure at the time if Junqueira was beside me when I did that. We didn't talk at length about it. After that I think Eric has been to CART and maybe he can comment on that later, watch the tape with Chris, prove that he was never beside me when I closed the door. I just watched the race yesterday on the tape, as well. From all the footage I can see, every time I went to the inside, he was never beside me. For sure until someone can show me some footage that shows that he was beside me, I still believe I'm right because I'm allowed to do one move to the inside. Why should I let him through? I was going for position. I'm allowed to do one move to the inside, and that's what I did. In my mind, I don't think I did anything wrong.
ERIC BACHELART: We saw the comments from Bruno, all the comments on the TV as well. I was just around the corner from the CART office in Indianapolis. I went over there to look at the tape with Chris Kneifel. Honestly, it was not as bad as I think what people could have thought at that time. I guarantee you that when we looked at the tape together with Chris, he was fully quiet about the situation. He was not upset at all about a thing. I tell you a few corners before that, Michel Jourdain did the same thing to Mario and nobody talked about it. I mean, if you have a chance, look at it. Mario didn't say anything about Michel neither. When Mario moved to the inside in the straight, but no one was behind him. What we have to see is that today the new 2003 CART championship, it's about new rookies, about fresh blood. All these guys have been racing in Europe, they've been pretty aggressive. I think it's very good for the show. At the end of the day, the only thing that could have been a bit dangerous is that Bruno missed his braking, he braked way too late, and he (inaudible) Michel when Michel was coming to the corner. I guess he didn't behave very well over there and screwed it up a little bit. Well, I mean, I guess it's over. Honestly, I felt it was a bit of action on the racetrack, and it was good for the show. I think this is what people want to see, people fighting pretty hard on the track, close competition, and aggressivity. That's the way I look at it.
Q. Racing, that's what they call it.
ERIC BACHELART: Exactly (laughter). It was great. I mean, really.
Q. To some degree at St. Petersburg, everybody was in the same boat, driving on a totally new track. Monterrey, it will be a little bit different because the drivers and the teams with experience down there will have last year's and the year before's data to work with. It is a very sort of peculiar track. What sort of challenges, different challenges, is that going to provide to you than St. Petersburg? Anybody can take the question.
ERIC BACHELART: Let me start. I mean, the good thing is when we're going to go to Monterrey, the experience we have from St. Petersburg, so that's going to be a good thing. I think the track is pretty smooth over there, which I think it can be a good track for the Reynard. St. Petersburg was a good track for the Reynard. I think Monterrey should be the same. Obviously, we're pretty happy with our setup. We feel there is quite a lot of other things that we didn't have time to try and to develop. Tiago will do some more testing in Fontana. We're going to have two engineers over there, the engineer that will be our technical engineer, John Wald (phonetic) and Don Bricker (phonetic). They're going to try different things they wanted to try. Basically having two teams under the same roof will help us trying more stuff on the car. That's definitely a good thing, again, to have two teams. I mean, yeah, I agree that somehow we haven't been there as a team before, but a lot of crew members and engineers have been there before. I think we have some good reference. I guess the only disadvantage, Tiago and Mario don't know that track. With good preparation, I'm sure they will adapt pretty quickly about it. I guess they should talk themselves about going to a new racetrack and stuff like this, how they feel about it.
MARIO HABERFELD: I think for us St. Petersburg was very good. I think part of that is because it was a new track for everybody. Of course, now we start going to tracks that everybody has been to. It's probably not going to be -- it's probably going to make it be harder for us. In terms of learning the circuit, I think we better learn how to learn circuits quickly because we have to learn all of them. The only circuit I know, it's Brands Hatch. I think it's more dependent on how the car is. If the car has a good balance, it's pretty easy to learn the circuit. If not, if you don't have a good balance, you have to learn the circuit, fight the car, it makes things difficult. I mean, I think we just have to have the same approach as we had in St. Petersburg. We're still a new team with two rookie drivers. We just have to keep cool and go there having in mind that our main objective is to finish the race and score points. If we can have a good weekend like we had in St. Petersburg, great. Otherwise, it's always experience. The more experience we can get will help us further down the road.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: I think one of the good things, Formula 3000 teaches you this, is you have such little time on the track that you really need to prepare very well the prerace weekend. That's one thing I had to learn in 2002, really do a big, big job with the engineers and mechanics before the race. We're going to try and use that, this experience we had those past years, to do it the same in 2003.
Q. St. Petersburg indicated that was the case.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Yes. Sure, the track was different, but I think we got used to the track quite quickly. Like Mario said, if the balance was good, like it was very, very good in St. Petersburg, if the balance is good again, it's easier for us to learn, of course.
Q. Tiago, excellent to have Emerson Fittipaldi back in the series. Does he do any driver coaching with you or does he leave it to your own device to learn? I imagine a guy with that kind of experience has some valuable things you would want to learn.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: A lot actually at the moment. We are still trying to know each other a bit better because we only met in September. But we're getting along very, very well. Of course, I want to learn as much as I can from him. He wants to teach a lot. At the moment, things are going very, very well. I'm always learning, I'm always listening to him. I really have a lot of big respect for him. At the moment, I trust him blindly. I do whatever he thinks is better. I just try and do it. I hope to get the most out of this great opportunity that I have to work with such an experienced person.
Q. The Reynard chassis has gotten a bad reputation in CART the last year, start of this year. It doesn't seem to have been a problem for you. What do you think of your chances for the rest of the year with the Reynard chassis?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think obviously everybody, let's say all the big teams, have a Lola chassis, which apparently they say is better. It's hard for me, for any of us three here to comment, because we never had a Lola chassis. I think so far we're not disappointed at all with the Reynard chassis. I think in St. Petersburg, we managed to have a good result with the Reynard chassis. From what I hear, it works well on a smooth surface. From that point of view, I think St. Petersburg, they really did a great job there making a street circuit as smooth as it was. It was almost like a road course, but it had walls around it. Apparently Monterrey is quite smooth, as well. We're looking forward to that. But for sure when we go to some street circuits where it's bumpy, it's going to be harder for us. In my mind, this is the chassis we have, and this is the one we've got to make work, don't worry with the Lolas. We just have to get a hundred percent out of our car. Hopefully that will be good enough.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Well, yes, more or less like Mario, we don't have a good comparison point anyway. I think during the season, more teams than expected are using the Reynard. I'm sure that's going to help Reynard to move up. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of improvements during the season. I'm not really worried about that at the moment.
ERIC BACHELART: I mean, yeah, we'll have a meeting tomorrow between the three different teams that basically are using the Reynards. We're just going to try to work all together to see what kind of development can be done, eventually spread the cost between ourselves in order to basically get good performance as well on the street courses. Obviously, from what everybody says, that's the weakness of the car, is the street courses. As soon as you have to run the car a bit higher, you're losing quite a bit of downforce. So we have to work on that. At the end of the day, we made it pretty clear when we got Reynard, this is the car that we have, and we're not concerned with the fact we don't have a Lola. We have a Reynard, we're just focused on that. All together so far we find the car is fine. If we can make a bit of development in it, make it better, for sure we will do it. At the end of the day right now, there are six Reynards in the field, I guess it's better for us, because we have a better chance to make some development between the different teams.
Q. You mentioned earlier when you were talking about the battle with Paul Tracy that when you realized it was Tracy, you wanted to make sure, here is a loose quote, that you didn't get in his way. Is that the rookie just knowing who Paul Tracy is and you just want to make sure you stayed out of his way?
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Yes, kind of actually. I've been following CART races actually for years. Paul Tracy, I always liked him actually, his way of driving, his aggressivity. I know he's there fighting for the championship. I didn't want to get in his way. Once again, when I saw that I wasn't blocking him that much, I'm not going to make things easier, I just didn't want to block, to be a pain. Of course, I'm not going to open the way because I was there fighting as well for some position. It's some kind of respect that I have for some drivers. I won't help them to pass, but I just won't be a pain in the ass.
Q. Eight races from now, instead of being just your first-time-out rookie, you're in there with the points battle. You've gained experience yourself. If find yourself in that same situation, do you do the same thing? Do you have that I don't want to say fear but respect that you had for Paul in that first race, the respect may still be there, but do you think you might fight a little harder?
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Yeah, definitely I will always have the respect for those drivers, especially if they're always correct. But there will be a lot more fight, that's for sure. Once again, I won't block him. Hopefully in eight races from now, I'll be quicker and I'll be able to fight with him longer. Once again, I will fight, but I just won't block him.
Q. Eric, the job that these two drivers did over that weekend, how surprised were you that you got the results that you did and that both of these guys brought their cars home and brought them home in good position?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, I mean, what we have to keep in mind is that Tiago and Mario, they've both been very successful in Europe. I mean, Mario won the British Formula 3 championship a few years ago. He knows how to win. Same for Tiago. Tiago has won many races in Formula 3, which is the equivalent of the Formula Atlantic in Europe. So both of them, they've been leading races, they know how to perform under pressure, stuff like this. I think we have here both very talented drivers. People might not know them very well here in the US, but they've been very successful in other categories in Europe. So it's not a surprise to me. I mean, obviously you know the first one we signed was Mario. I met Mario a few years ago. I followed his career. I mean, I honestly have very high expectations. All together for sure we have a big challenge ahead of us because we're a rookie team, rookie driver, we have a Reynard. If you add all these things, it's kind of a challenge. What is very important is how we can work together, the complicity we build all together, the synergy we can have all together. I think we are doing a pretty good job with that so far. I mean, yeah, all together, I don't know if it's luck or whatever, but we did a good weekend, which gives us some good confidence for these both teams. We might have some bad weekends, as well. We're not going to fall apart if that's the case. Again, I think racing in Europe, these lower categories are definitely very aggressive. I mean, they're coming here, and I think they've learned quite a bit the past years, they're ready for this. They've been both in Formula 3000, as well. Last year for Tiago, a few years for Mario. I mean, honestly, I'm very confident with the drivers that we have and they proved they can do the job.
Q. Mario, when you were sitting on the grid, getting ready to go out to start the race, what kind of emotions were you feeling?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think that was one of the best parts of the day. Since we signed the contract, there's a lot of things that a driver has to do before he can actually race, like a lot of meeting with sponsors, things like that, which is something you have to do. But what you really enjoy doing is racing. After all the time and all the waiting, that was going to happen in a moment. At the same time it was a bit, let's say, concerning that it was my first race and I didn't really know what to expect. I was happy that in a few moments something I really enjoy was going to start happening. It was a good moment for me.
Q. I have to wonder if there was a time after the race when you're looking at the result sheet, you're fourth, you go, "Man, I could have been on the podium"?
MARIO HABERFELD: Yeah, for sure. As a racing driver, I think you're never happy. Unless you win the race, and with a pole position, you always want more. At this time I think this fourth place was like a win. I mean, I think we got much better, as I said before, a much better result than we were expecting. Obviously, with a bit more luck or something we could even have finished on the podium, which would have been even greater. We're really happy with this fourth position. As I said, when Bruno was trying to pass me, and he missed his braking, I went at that stage from fifth to tenth. If he had passed me or not passed me, but at least not pushed us both wide, God knows, we could have been even on the podium. It was a possibility. To be honest, we're really happy with the result we got.
Q. Eric, he has to give you a podium.
ERIC BACHELART: We'll work hard on it.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Monterrey is in a few weeks. This is going to be an opportunity.
Q. Have you had any discomfort with the HANS device? A lot of the F1 drivers are complaining like hell. What is your feeling?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think I can comment on that. Since I started using it in Laguna, I had quite big problems with it. Made some changes for Sebring. I was still having problems. The collarbone, it was hurting a lot. Also this back muscle on the neck, it was also hurting there. After 10 minutes, I couldn't feel any more the top part of my arm. After 20 minutes, I had to always stop the car because I couldn't feel my arm at all and my hand. It was really a big problem. One weeks before the race, I flew to Indy. Dr. Trammell was great, came to the workshop, made some measurements, took all the HANS devices he had with them. None of them really fit me, so he ordered a special one for the race. Fortunately, it worked. Since then, nowadays I can drive as if I'm not wearing anything. I think the HANS device is a great thing. I'm really strong about it that everybody has to use it because it can really save your life. The question is, you just have to find the right one. Sometimes it's not so easy. Thanks to Dr. Trammell, now I believe I have a good one. I don't have any problems with it anymore.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: I didn't have really any problems with it. From the beginning, I tried to use it in Road Atlanta, was no problems really. But at the end of the race, of course, it's such a long race, you push really hard on your arms and stuff. I had a little pain in my collarbone. I did feel some numbness, my hands were numb at some points. I'm not sure, maybe it was because of the HANS device, maybe not. I'm not sure. We're going to make some little adjustments. I just had a little pain, but nothing. I never thought about it, I just felt it after the race. Definitely so important to use it that we need to find a way. But for me it wasn't a big problem.
Q. Mario, I believe it was you, a question of whether there was any blocking going on during the race with Bruno Junqueira. Was that you?
MARIO HABERFELD: Yes.
Q. Did CART talk to you afterwards? What was the outcome? There was no penalty, right?
MARIO HABERFELD: We talked about this, but it's no problem, I'll tell you again. I talked with Chris Kneifel after the race. At that time he wasn't sure if I had closed the door on Bruno. He said I'm allowed to go once to the inside, but he just wasn't sure if Bruno was beside me when I did it. After that I watched the tape. For sure I know Bruno wasn't beside me. Having watched the tape from all the angles, he was always behind me when I went to the inside. I haven't done anything wrong in my mind. Eric can comment again maybe. But he's been to CART and watched the tape with Chris. Chris had nothing to say about it. He said it's fine, I haven't done anything wrong. I feel really clear it's no problem at all. I think Bruno is being, I don't know, he lost his head, and I don't know why he's being so aggressive about it. Actually, there's nothing wrong. I think if someone had to be pissed off, it was me, because he's the one that missed his braking point and made me lose five positions. I don't know what else to say.
Q. I'm glad they didn't penalize you. It was refreshing to see some aggressive driving. It was getting stale the last few years.
MARIO HABERFELD: As I said before, Bruno is going for the championship probably. A lot harder job to do that. At the time I was racing for position with him. Although I'm a rookie, there's no way I'm going to let him through just because he's going for the championship. I will always try to defend my position. Obviously, I don't want to put anyone in danger, don't want to do anything wrong. But I was allowed to do one move to the inside, and that's what I did. There's nothing wrong with that.
Q. Eric, the move you made to CART this year, what was your thinking behind it? You had some mixed success in the IRL last year. What was your reasoning for wanting to jump to CART?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, I mean, you know, first of all, I think what CART is putting together right now, I think it's a very good concept. CART is the first series, first major series, to make some decision to cut the cost by quite a big way. I mean, right now IRL is probably doing the opposite. So that has been a big factor. At the end of the day, we have to see what return for the investment we can bring to the sponsors. I think CART is doing a very good job at that right now. The races are very popular. It's a very good attendance at the race. On top of that, it's a more global series. I mean, I'm coming from a European background. I'm very glad to have an opportunity to have some races in Europe, as well, because we have lots of contacts over there, and we feel this is a good fit for us. That's one thing. The second thing is that, I mean, when I started a team about seven years ago, we did the Indy Lights series because I've been racing in CART before myself, been racing Indy Lights before. For quite a while, I wanted to go CART racing. We basically didn't have an opportunity because when all these constrictors were involved, it was difficult for a new team to get into CART. That lead us to go to the IRL. To be honest, we had a very good experience about the IRL. I was very happy the way it went. I mean, I think we were a pretty small team, but we did a pretty good job with what we had. At the end of the day, that opportunity came together. Again, it's something that I truly enjoy. Coming from Europe, I like road course racing. There is a good variety with the racetracks in CART. I think there's a very good competition. I mean, all of that bring us to do this. I guess we're the only ones that did that, to CART from IRL. We're just very happy about it. It's been a pretty good expansion for us, especially putting these two teams together. But I'm not in politics. If we have a chance to put a good program, put a good group of people, be competitive in racing, this is what we're looking at. Hopefully, IRL will have a good series, we'll have a good series, and people will get used to it. I mean, I don't want to be negative with the IRL, but right now I want to do everything I can to make the CART series as strong as I can, participate, put a good show together.
Q. Tiago, how was the first race received in your home country of Portugal? What might that mean if it was a positive reception for a race at Estoril that we hear rumors about?
TIAGO MONTEIRO: It has been huge, actually, a lot more than we expected. Since I've been here, I've been on TV shows, I've been on radio shows. Every day there's pictures in the press. There's not one newspaper or magazine that hasn't talked about it. It's really been crazy. I received more than a few hundred phone calls, 300 messages on my website. My website lately has been more than 2000 visits a day. Before that it was like average I would say 200 or 300. It's really great. The Portuguese fans are just crazy. I mean, some of them knew of course CART but never really followed. For those who didn't know it, now they're in love with CART, not only because of this result, but because of the interesting of the race. Everybody really enjoyed the racing. For sure if we come to Portugal in 2004, it's going to be crazy, it's really going to be crazy. I just heard now that there's some buses already organizing to go to Brands Hatch full of Portuguese fans. It's good. It's fun.
Q. As far as whether there will be a race, it's not up to you, and therefore you couldn't comment any further.
TIAGO MONTEIRO: Yeah, I don't have the elements to comment on that at the moment. But I know the things are going quite well. It couldn't be done this year because of time to organize, but it's definitely on its way to 2004. Once again, of course, I can't confirm it a hundred percent, but it will be done soon.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much. Gentlemen, we'll go ahead and wrap this call up, let you prepare to go testing, heading down to Fontana to do some testing on the road course next week. Best of luck with that. Again, congratulations for the effort at St. Petersburg. We look forward to seeing you all at Monterrey.
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