Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
April 22, 2003
ERIC MAUK: Today we are delighted to be joined by the driver of the #15 Royal Automobile Club Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone, Mr. Darren Manning. Thank you for joining us today.
DARREN MANNING: Not a problem.
ERIC MAUK: We regret to inform you that Derrick Walker, team owner of Walker Racing, could not join us today. We know he was scheduled, but we are having a franchise board meeting, board of directors meeting, I should say, here at Champ Car headquarters, and Derek was hoping to sneak out of it, come down for a few minutes and talk to you guys, unfortunately the meeting heated up a little bit, they took a short break for lunch, and he was unable to join us. We apologize for any inconvenience there. But it does mean we get to spend a little more time with Darren heading into what is probably one of the races you circled early on when the schedule came out, Darren, as we go back to Brands Hatch, a circuit you spent quite a bit of time on in your early racing career.
DARREN MANNING: That's right. It was actually the circuit that I started my single-seat racing career on. I did a winter series there in a junior kind of starter category in preparation for a full season. Well, just coming straight out of the CART I thought I best have a bit of practice doing some standing starts and things like that. So there was a winter series put on at Brands Hatch, Formula First category, held over five races. So, yeah, got some good fond memories.
ERIC MAUK: You ran in that series two years, if memory serves, finished second both years. Tell us a little bit about those cars, what kind of challenge that proved for you.
DARREN MANNING: I only did the Formula First for the winter series, then I went into Vauxhall Junior. They're very similar in looks to a Formula Ford car with no wings, but actually a slick, short car, slick tires. Everybody's got the same sealed chassis and sealed engine. So it's a pretty -- what I thought was coming out of CART, not the big money to spend on, you know, the Van Diemen or the Swift or whatever Formula Ford chassis and different engine. It was a cheaper starting category, supported quite heavily by Vauxhall. And then after that first year coming in second, actually to Ralph Firman, a good friend of mine as well, he moved up into the senior category of the Vauxhall championships, which was a slicks and wings category, a bit like maybe your Barber Dodge Series.
ERIC MAUK: Heading to Brands Hatch, obviously not the first time you've run the Champ Cars in front of the home country crowd as you made your debut last year at Rockingham Motor Speedway, ran 18 laps there, finished ninth in what was a very successful debut. Heading back to England this year, talk a little bit about the pressure of performing in front of the home crowd.
DARREN MANNING: Well, I mean, I'm not really -- you know, pressure I believe is something you put on yourself, to be honest. I'm looking forward to it, you know, more than ever really. You know, hopefully going to revel in this new-found atmosphere that I hope I'm going to be finding there. You know, Rockingham was very much a short-notice thing where I only found about the drive about two weeks before the actual race, but now I'm a seasoned campaigner and got a few races under my belt. A lot of the guys -- a lot of spectators will know who I am, I guess. I've been watching the races on tele. It's going to be a different kind of pressure to last year, definitely, but hopefully something that will spur me on rather than make me go backwards.
ERIC MAUK: Definitely appears that you're finding your way in the Champ Cars, now heading into what is your fifth career start. You finished seventh at Monterrey, Mexico, finished eighth at Long Beach, and qualified a career best 10th. Are you happy with the way things have started so far?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, very much. I mean, very happy in one respect with the way the races have been going. I've been able to overtake and come up through the field, but slightly disappointed in the first couple of qualifying sessions, not really fulfilling our full potential. We had a fuel pickup problem at the first race where we thought we should have qualified in the top six, and I broke a gear unfortunately at Monterrey, Mexico, where I thought I was maybe on line for a top five qualifying position. So, yeah, the guys have given me a good car underneath me to do a good job really, so hopefully this is going to continue and it's going to be good going into Brands Hatch for the next race.
ERIC MAUK: Absolutely. We're looking forward to it, as I'm sure a lot of other people are. We'll go ahead and open it up to questions for the media now.
Q. Obviously, you've got probably more experience than anybody else on the Brands Hatch circuit. You have your three races this year under your belt as well as the end of last year. You know what a Champ Car is all about. What do you think, what are going to be the big challenges in getting around Brands Hatch? Do you see any places to pass? What do you think a lap time will be? All those questions.
DARREN MANNING: All those questions at once? You always sort me out. I think as challenges, firstly, it's going to be the closest thing to an oval that we've run on, as in road course, especially road course trim with braking, lots of gear changes and things. I mean, there's fast corners like Paddock Hill Bend and (inaudible) kink at the back, which are going to be very, very challenging. But I think the fact that it's so many right-handers, it's going to be very, very tough on the outside tires, especially in a long two-hour race. It's going to be very setup crucial. Also we're going to be fighting for thousandths of a second. I know it's very close this year on lap times, and probably always has been I think in CART, you know, tenths of seconds separating grid slots. But I think at Brands, it's going to be thousandths of a second. So setups and getting that perfect lap in, what's now actually I think one-car qualifying, I believe, so getting a perfect lap in that qualifying is going to be crucial. And overtaking? Well, I mean, like any circuit now where if you brake a meter too late, you're going to run wide. It's always difficult to overtake, even with long straights. But going into paddock, you can (inaudible) a bit inside. You've got a little bit of room to collect a little bit of distance to collect the car before you come out of paddock. You can get a mistake coming up on the exit of paddock, as well. You can get a good run up into Druids, which is a bit hard-braking and down into second gear. I know the Formula 3 cars there are running at around 41 seconds, I think. Obviously, we don't have much space to stretch our legs over there, 220 horsepower little beauties. But I think we're probably going to be getting into the 37s, I would say. Pretty fast.
Q. Keep you busy.
DARREN MANNING: Exactly, for a couple of hours. Yeah, it's going to be pretty hectic out there. I think it's going to be pretty physically and mentally challenging, you know, because there's going to be 20 cars in the race or whatever. And, you know, you're going to be battling for tenths of seconds for the whole two hours. There's just going to be no rest in your mirrors and no rest actually in front of you either. So it's going to be very, very tough, I think.
Q. Absolutely. Five or six corners in what you say could be a 37-second lap or so.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah. There's no real straights on it either. You know, in the Formula 3s and the other categories that race there, that I've raced there in the past, you know, you do have a little bit of a rest and you can pick your line and take the hills and things down some of the straights, take some straight lines. But I think in a Champ Car, we're just not going to have time. There's just going to be no straights and no resting, definitely.
ERIC MAUK: Just to clarify what Darren was referring to, there will be single-car qualifying for the Brands Hatch event. Each competitor will get six laps, one of those being an out lap, another being an in lap. We will have four timed laps. There will be two sessions. A further press release will be put out by Champ Car later today on that, as well as the new pit stop rules that will go into effect for Brands Hatch.
Q. How do you feel about the single-car qualifying? Obviously, if you're taking some guesses if that's going to be enough laps to get your compounds warm. And just a second question. How do you feel about the competitiveness of the Reynard chassis to this point and looking forward?
DARREN MANNING: Well, with regard to, you know, the one-car qualifying, I think for me actually I've been a lot further up the grid earlier on in the qualifying sessions, especially on early laps, so I think it's going to be good for me. A lot of my racing in the past of Formula 3000, racing over in Japan, the qualifying has been very, very early on in the lap window that you have. There's maybe no limitation on laps, but limitation on tires, like especially Formula 3000. Qualifying after Formula 1 has been out, the fastest time of a three-quarter of an hour session is generally the first 10 minutes. Four timed laps? Well, I think because, like I was saying before, you know, the fact that, you know, there's no real straights. I think the tires are going to be up to temperature pretty fast, even though it's probably not going to be the hottest time of the year over here in England. But I think Brands is a good surface, pretty abrasive. I don't think it should be a problem for getting some good heat and grip out of these Bridgestone tires. The competitiveness of the Reynard? Well, to be honest, like I was saying, I mean, we thought we should have qualified sixth and fifth respectively at St. Pete and Mexico, which, you know, for myself and the limited amount of testing time we've had in the car, I don't think's too bad. We had laps in the data to prove that. Long Beach, yeah, it looks like the Reynards did struggle there a little bit more than the first two races. But to be honest, I mean, we had a very poor first day, which is where most of the setup work is done. A lot of the drivers, like Paul Tracy and things saying if you don't have a good car out of the transporter, with a short amount of testing time before the qualifying, your weekend's already, you know -- you're already on a bit of a losing streak, if you like. So in Long Beach, we were on a bit of (inaudible) to nothing already. But I've been happy. You know, we did a couple of days at Portland, as well. I'm sure with more time in the car, we're going to get more and more competitive.
Q. What would you tell a mate who is not much into racing about why he should come and see this race at Brands Hatch?
DARREN MANNING: Well, I mean, it's going to be like nothing else that anybody's ever seen before, to be honest. You know, these cars, this year especially, I think without the traction control, everybody's got the same engine. It's just so close and furious racing. I mean, we all said after Long Beach, it was like "What a two-hour qualifying session." It was so flat out and so close. There's lots of overtaking. Also Brands Hatch, indeed, even though it's quite short, the Grand Prix circuit there is probably my favorite British circuit, and very high up on my list of worldwide circuits, as well. So it's a shame we're not running there. For obvious safety reasons is why we're not going. The Indy circuit, anywhere where you stand, you can see the whole of the circuit, and it will just be fantastic. Nobody will know where to look, there will be that much going on.
Q. What was that experience like when you had the autograph session, you carried the colors of the US Air Force, and obviously your country was a great ally of ours? What was that experience like? What kind of feedback did you get from the fans when you were over there that Sunday morning?
DARREN MANNING: It was fantastic, to be honest. I got lots of pats on the back, "Thanks for supporting us." There was a couple of ex-pilots and things that were there, as well, quite a few actually that were all very pleased and taking photographs with us. I went over to the recruitment -- the Air Force had a recruitment stand I think in the exhibition center. Went over there, there was a massive cue for autographs. It was received really, really well. To be honest, everywhere I go, I was getting the same -- you know, I was wearing the cap and the T-shirt all weekend. It was different, but very nice.
Q. At Edwards Air Force base down in Southern California, I know a lot of those guys called me and said, "How do I get that stuff he was wearing?" You created a merchandising fire storm.
DARREN MANNING: There you go, absolutely. I mean, so high visibility, so accessible, CART now, it was a perfect opportunity to say, "Good on you, boys," effectively support the troops.
Q. There's so many rookies in the field this year, guys that are fairly inexperienced. Can you catch Paul Tracy? Can you sense with each race, the experience factor, you're kind of closing that gap with the guy in the Team Player's car?
DARREN MANNING: I mean, yeah, he's one to catch. But he's one of many for us all really. I think he'll be one of the first to say that he's been maybe fortunate to win the first three. He has been competitive, but certainly not uncatchable. Like, for example, we're all rookies out there. But Sebastien and myself, we've been racing for -- I think if you add up all my karting, as well, I think I've been driving for something like 17 years now, racing for 17 years now. So we are rookies in the Champ Car state of things, in the amount of races we've had, but, you know, we're all -- all these rookies that have come in this year, we have good high (inaudible), I think. I think Sebastien has really shown it in the obviously championship-winning car, that it can do the job when given the right bit of kick. So hopefully I can get up there and start pulling -- be in front of him instead of behind him.
Q. The Edwards guy said they're coming to Fontana to see you at the end of the year. Hopefully the merchandise will be out. Everyone is pulling for the #15 car.
DARREN MANNING: I'll make sure we get some stuff by then. Hopefully we will by the end of the year.
ERIC MAUK: Tell those guys to hang on. I'm joined by Walker Racing's PR representative Melissa Watson who is furiously scribbling down notes when you talked about merchandising there.
Q. You mentioned the change, Eric, in pit stop procedures for Brands Hatch. Do you know if that's continuing beyond Brands Hatch or will there be another change?
ERIC MAUK: Stay tuned, my friend. We have a couple of press releases done. They should be hitting the wire today or tomorrow. All secrets will be revealed, all fears will be allayed.
Q. I'm sure you're thrilled to go to Brands Hatch. You mentioned how tough it was at Long Beach with the qualifying-type pace during the race.
DARREN MANNING: Oh, yeah.
Q. And good test for the drivers. How do you think the rest of the Champ Car drivers will handle the pace at Brands Hatch, considering there will be really no brakes in a lap?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Hopefully worse than me (laughter), with my evil racing driver hat on there. No, I'm sure they'll be fine. All the drivers are supremely fit. But, like I say, it is going to be a real test of your mental ability as well as your physical ability. You know, there's going to be cars behind you, there's going to be cars in front of you, you're going to be lapping cars, cars coming out of the pits. You know, it's going to be very, very tough. But from what I've seen so far, you know, like I say, just like qualifying pace, and racing flat out, what's nearly an endurance race - time, two hours. You don't see many guys at LeMans doing more than two hours per stint. But how hard the racing was for the full race distance over these first few races, you know, is showing me that I don't think it will be a problem going to Brands.
Q. Because the track is kind of tight and somewhat narrow for the Champ Cars, do you see a lot of wheel banging going on in order to make a pass?
DARREN MANNING: Will that be good for the spectators?
Q. I don't know about the spectators, but the cars probably won't like it too much.
DARREN MANNING: Well, I had quite a bit of wheel banging and cars launching over the top of me in Mexico. The Reynard, at least, survived. I won't be too worried if there is a bit of that. To be honest, it's not actually so narrow as some of the circuits we've been racing on so far even. So there are obviously some narrow points in it, but it's pretty wide, like going into paddock and out the back of the track. I don't think it should be too much of a problem. All these other guys, we all give each other a little bit of respect - even though it's probably just a little bit.
Q. You mentioned how good the Grand Prix circuit would be. Where do you see it might be dangerous for the Champ Cars?
DARREN MANNING: Everywhere (laughter).
DARREN MANNING: No, it's just -- I mean, it's not too much -- I mean, we race on street circuits, don't we, where there's barriers. It's extremely fast. There's a really long straight followed by a couple of very, very fast -- there will be maybe one 50 -, one 60-mile an hour turn, and there's just not very much runoff, then straight into trees, unfortunately. So it will take a lot of work, I believe, to get the runoff areas to CART safety standards, which are obviously very, very high.
Q. Your excitement for racing at Brands is really coming out. You mentioned that pressure is what you put on yourself. Maybe talk a little bit about how excited you are going to race there.
DARREN MANNING: Extremely excited. I've got about 20,000 friends and family coming down nearly (laughter). Well, not that many. But there's going to be great support. It's a race that all my friends and family can come down to see, which I'm really pleased about. From what I'm seeing so far over here, been back for the last couple of days, is going to be, you know, an awesome crowd of all guys carrying plenty of Union Jacks. It's going to be a bit of a different experience. Experienced a bit of it at Rockingham last year, but this season this is going to be something else. Like you say, it's exciting, but I'm really looking forward to it, and hopefully going to really enjoy it. I mean, I'm enjoying my racing in Champ Cars, as it is. I haven't raced in any of the other formula like it. And to be at the world championship status that it's got, world series that it is, the quality of competitors and teams, you know, you think it would be very hard-nosed. It is hard work, obviously, but it's so enjoyable to race, and I think that gets the best out of me definitely.
ERIC MAUK: Darren, I know you have a lot to do. I appreciate you joining us all the way from England today.
DARREN MANNING: Not a problem.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much. Best of luck. We'll see you guys next week.
DARREN MANNING: Thank you very much. I'll see you all there.
ERIC MAUK: This brings to a close today's CART teleconference, presented by MCI. Keep in mind that the London Champ Car Trophy to be run on the 1.2 mile Brands Hatch short course will take place from May 3rd to May 5th, keeping in mind that May 5th is a Monday, a bank holiday in England. Thank you all and have a good day.
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