Toyota Motorsports Media Conference
February 7, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the Toyota NASCAR teleconference today. We are joined by Jim Aust, who is vice president of Toyota Motorsports and president and CEO of TRD. Welcome, Jim.
The teams are getting ready for Daytona for Toyota's kickoff in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series and the Busch Series, I'm sure there's a lot of excitement with Toyota and throughout the NASCAR garage. Can you tell us a little about the preparations and looking forward to Daytona?
JIM AUST: Well, certainly, you know, this has been a buildup that we have been looking forward to ever since our announcement in January of 2006.
So it's great that, you know, we're this close, but at the same time, certainly there's a lot of apprehension on the part of just about everybody with the exception of our veteran teams that are over in the Craftsman Truck Series.
But, you know, the Busch Series testing has gone well, both tests that we've had so far, the ones that just concluded over in Las Vegas. I think there's a better comfort level there than probably in the Cup series teams. But testing is going well there, certainly. And I think Bill Davis Racing has shown that maybe they are back to their old form. The Michael Waltrip team, doing quite well. Team Red Bull seems to be looking for a bit of help along the way there. But overall, I think that we are prepared for what's going to take place starting later on this week.
Q. I understand your plan for your entrance is in Costa Mesa and these are California Camrys we are going to be seeing out there. How many engines do you produce in Costa Mesa and can you tell us about the development of the American side of the program here?
JIM AUST: Okay. We actually have two different locations where we assemble the engines. The Costa Mesa location is where our headquarters are, if you will, for Toyota Racing and Development, or the legal name is Toyota TRD USA.
So at any rate we have about 185 associates that work in our location there and we also have an engineering location that is in North Carolina. We have about 30 associates there. We build some of the engines here in Costa Mesa and we also build some of them in High Point. But the number of engines that we will assemble throughout the year is probably going to exceed somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 to 900 engines.
Q. Wow, that is a lot of engines. And how long have you been building engines here in Costa Mesa?
JIM AUST: Are you talking specifically about NASCAR engines or are you talking about --
Q. Just overall.
JIM AUST: Overall.
Q. Because you've got lots of other cars, too.
JIM AUST: I guess we started back in the mid 80s, you know, with the IMSA series. So our heritage goes back quite a ways. TRD USA was actually incorporated in 1979.
JIM AUST: So we've been in the United States for a considerable number of years. And originally the company started out as an after-market sales organization and progressed from there, eventually getting to the point where we are today, which starts with basically engine design, as well as the continued development and the assembly of engines.
But if I were to look back, I would say that the mid 80s is where we actually got started in the area of actually building engines. And of course we progressed and built engines for Desert Series in 1997, started building engines for the open-wheel racing series, which at that time was known as CART, moved on to the IRL, and then of course, now most recently being a part of NASCAR.
You know, I think we've touched just about every racing series, every major racing series in the United States as far as engine builds are concerned with the exception of NHRA. We don't do anything in that area.
Q. How big of a role, even though he's on a new team, just starting up, how big of a role is a guy like Brian Vickers going to play in helping you develop for the future, being as he's the only guy that's won a race on your team in the last year?
JIM AUST: Just to clarify, you know, the teams are the ones that hire the drivers. So Brian obviously was hired by team Red Bull, along with his partner there, A.J. Allmendinger.
But my association with Brian has been, considering the fact that I believe he's about 23 years old, somewhere in there. Yet he's extremely mature, has a sense of not only what racing is all about, but you know, also very learned, very knowledgeable, you know, as far as day-to-day activities with regard to a race team is concerned.
I think as far as the Team Red Bull organization, Brian is going to bring a lot of experience that will be of assistance to A.J. as he works his way into this new series. And I happened to be with both of the drivers, I guess it was about a month ago, you know, it's interesting to see Brian take the role as the senior guy between those two. I think A.J. may be a couple of years older than what Brian is. Certainly Brian understands I think what his role is and that the team is expecting him to share in the knowledge that he has as far as racetracks are concerned and any of his driving experience with A.J.
So as far as that team is concerned, certainly he's going to be a great part of the results that they have as the year goes on.
Q. I know you guys have been taking a lot of heat from a lot of people in the garage about how much money you guys are throwing around, as far as from your involvement with other sports like open-wheel where you guys almost subsidized the teams, how much of a ratio of spending are putting into this series as other series when you were involved in them?
JIM AUST: The net result, I guess if I understand your question correctly, the expenditure that we have in NASCAR is actually lower than what we had when we were in open-wheel racing. So I'm not sure that if, you know, is on target with what your thoughts were.
Q. Yeah, it is.
JIM AUST: A lot of what goes on as far as our activity in NASCAR is going to be on the engineering side, the technical side, it's great to have the sponsors, Caterpillar and Napa and Red Bull, to have that financial support for the teams, and, you know, not rely on Toyota to be there to support those activities as you had indicated in open-wheel racing. Although we certainly tried to stay away from that aspect of it as well in open-wheel racing, but it seems that particular sport at the time, anyway, needed some financial assistance, and so we had to provide that in order to maintain our existence in the series.
But NASCAR opens up a whole different avenue here inasmuch as we have all of these great sponsors that are a part of the series. So our entry into the series is going to be one more to where we hope we can actually help the teams relative to their aero packages they are certainly looking to support and on the technical side as far as engine and the engine development is concerned.
Q. Is there any concern on Toyota's part about Red Bull's ability to get one or both cars into the Daytona 500?
JIM AUST: I think I would be remiss if I didn't say yes, there's concern, and I guess it probably doesn't stop with the Team Red Bull cars. You guys I'm sure are very familiar with how the layout works as far as qualifying at Daytona.
You know, it's going to be tough. We're going to have -- there will be eight Camrys that will be attempting to get into the race there. And the eighth one over and above the original seven that we have announced is going to be Mike Skinner. He's going to be driving a car for Bill Davis. So not a lot of slots open.
Of course we will have the Bill Davis car, the number 22 CAT car driven by Dave Blaney will be in, and it looks like the indications are that Dale Jarrett would have the provisional. But then the balance of the Toyotas, six of them, looks like there's going to be in the neighborhood of 20, possibly 25 cars competing for the remaining slots. Considering everything that we have seen as far as practice is concerned, there's a lot of concern on I think everybody's part as to whether or not the other cars are going to be able to make it.
But we think that overall, you know, our chances are as good as everybody else's. So our hopes are that certainly we get the bigger percentage of the remaining six cars in the race.
Q. You mentioned that Red Bull might be looking for a little bit of help. Are they behind at all or is it just the natural hindrances of a start-up team?
JIM AUST: I think that it's probably a start-up organization, and you know, they are basically starting with almost nothing as far as information is concerned about the track other than, you know, what it's brought with the people that Red Bull has been able to hire. So I think that maybe they might be a little bit behind in that regard. Certainly, you know, Michael Waltrip, it's a start-up organization as well. I think that perhaps Michael's experience and Dale's experience are going to help out relative to the qualifying and the racing as far as that team is concerned.
You know, Bill Davis basically is a transition from just the Dodge equipment over to Toyota equipment. So Dave Blaney, maintaining the consistency, continuity there and adding Jeremy in on that. So looking at the three, you would expect that Bill Davis would be a little bit more advanced than the other two, and I think that's what we're seeing as far as testing is concerned.
Q. You come in at the same time that the Car of Tomorrow comes in, does this help you or does it hurt you? In other words, does it help that you're coming in and everybody else is having to make the scramble, too, or does it hurt you because you were geared in one direction and now you've got to go two directions at the same time?
JIM AUST: Well, I think it probably winds up being, we couldn't have chosen a worse time to come into the series from the standpoint of all of the various things that we had to dole with this past year.
You know, we made the announcement January of last year that we were entering the Busch and the Cup series and we were doing that with a 2006 model Camry. And one week later, the company introduced the 2007 model Camry. So even the car of today, we started out with what was then the front part of it was an old model, so we had to change out the nose on the Camry. And then at the same time, NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow, so we got involved with the overall design of that particular car.
In addition to that, we changed out the nose of the tundra from the 2006 to the 2007 model because of the new design on the tundra. And then we also had the -- and that's on the chassis side if you will. And then in addition to that, we had this change that we had to put in effect for our engine for the Cup series.
So with all of those things happening in one year, basically, we as you can imagine have been extremely busy trying to sort through it all.
But I think that, you know, considering where we are at this particular point in our development of all of those things, I think we can step back and say, you know, it's been a long, hard year, but overall, you know, I don't think that we're unprepared; we're probably in fairly good shape as far as heading into Daytona.
Certainly there's a lot of things left to do as far as Car of Tomorrow are concerned, but we have engineers that are working on it, and the teams have been building the cars, so things are progressing. I don't really have a measure as far as some of the more experienced teams, the ones that have been around for a longer period of time to make a comparison. But yeah, we've had plenty to do, no question about that.
Q. If I could ask you a follow-up question, what would make you happy for this season; if you somehow got a car into the Chase? What are the goals? Where do you think you're going to be at the end of this campaign, this first season?
JIM AUST: Sure. You know, I think what we would like to do is be able to run with the competition. I've been saying if we could run in the Top 15, that would be great. I think things that might be icing on the cake are certainly to win a race, and it would be great to have somebody in the Chase at the end of the season.
You know, are those lofty goals? Perhaps. But at the same time, I think they are achievable. We have three great teams and some great drivers, and so overall, I think that our hardware is going to stack up with what competition is. I think that it's a matter of the teams, at this particular point; the two that are inexperienced, getting their organization together and working as a team, and we all know that when you have start-up organizations, that is critical, a key part of it.
I would expect that certainly Bill Davis's team would run well. But overall, I think if we can be consistent running in the Top 15 and if as I mentioned possibly win a race and have somebody in the Chase that, would be a successful year for us.
Q. One other follow-up question. Toyota, a lot of people have made mention of the history that you did well in desert racing, you got out. You did well in IMSA; you dominated IMSA; you got out. CART/IRL; you got out. There's always this concern that, well, Toyota is going to come in, throw in a lot of money and get out. I just wonder if you could make an official position on what your stand is.
JIM AUST: I think once you make the commitment to NASCAR, you know, you're in it for the long haul. You know, we have no intentions of not continuing in the series for a considerable length of time.
I think that you look at racing in the United States as it currently exists, NASCAR certainly is the place to be from a standpoint of the number of fans they have from the television audience and the value that it brings to anybody that is a part of that series. So our expectations are that we've been doing business here in the United States for 50 years coming up in October of 2007, and we want to be a part of the American scene in the production side, as well as the racing side for the foreseeable future as far as we can see.
Q. A week from tomorrow, how many Toyotas in the Daytona 500 field makes you happy or content?
JIM AUST: Eight. How about that. (Laughing).
You know, it would be great to have everybody there. You know, we I think have looked at this realistically, as I mentioned before. It would be fabulous if we can get everybody in. But, you know, the numbers are -- I guess we need to look at them as being, can we get 100%.
And looking at the competition, the other people that have got cars that are entered in that are going to be trying to qualify during the races and things of that nature, I think that if we are to get a bigger percentage of eight in, that would be satisfactory for us. We would feel pretty good about that.
Q. And as far as engines go, how do you feel going in with the unleaded fuel starting up in California?
JIM AUST: You know, we've been working with unleaded fuel for quite some time and it really has not been an issue for us.
You know, I think our engine overall is probably very much or very close we feel to what competition is. You know, we have no way of knowing that for sure of course. But you know, NASCAR kind of watches those things and we have a feel for what our capabilities are power-wise as far as testing is concerned. And feedback from the drivers would indicate that they feel pretty comfortable with the car as far as the power is concerned.
You know, we will do just like everybody else and continue to develop that engine with the hopes of making more power, because I guess that's part of what racing is all about, anyway. But nevertheless, you know, we would like to get to a position where we can say the engine and the chassis are on equal footing with the other three competitors and get it to the point where it's really a team activity and it's driver expertise that gets the results. So we hope to do our share of that, and I think we're pretty well along the way in establishing that.
Q. Brian said the Camry is the only car in the NEXTEL Cup Series where the street model is built in the United States.
JIM AUST: Yes, that is correct, as far as my knowledge is concerned.
Q. That's all I needed, thanks.
JIM AUST: The only other information I have is that the Fusion is made in Mexico and the Chevrolet and the Dodge are both made in Canada. And that's on car of today. I believe that the Chevrolet that's coming, Car of Tomorrow, may not be, I'm not 100% on that one.
Q. Where is the Camry made?
JIM AUST: The Camry is made in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Q. Just trying to get this question out in the open, there's a lot of background talk and mumblings about Toyota and the business model, and I know you've answered this before, but just for the record, do you believe that your level of support to your three teams is on a par, not significantly greater; how would you characterize that in relation to the other manufacturers? And is Toyota subsidizing the teams, you know, sponsorships, allowing them to take less for sponsorships in any way that's not currently sort of the norm in the NASCAR business model?
JIM AUST: You know, I guess probably the best way for me to answer that, David, is to say that our support is in the line of engineering and technological support. That's our focus.
Now, having said that, you know, certainly we have engine programs and car parts programs that we think are similar to what other manufacturers are providing.
But as far as the financial support for the teams, that money is coming from the primary sponsors, the names of which you see on the side of the cars. And so I think our differentiation comes from the fact that we are providing the support through our engineering company, which is TRD, to assist the teams with regard to aerodynamic support, and also through whatever support we can provide from a standpoint of the engine.
So you know, the models that the other three manufacturers have differ in that regard because they don't have a TRD, if you will, that is standing and trying to provide assistance to the teams. It's my understanding that the teams are expected to do all of that themselves. Now, there may be some limited supply -- or, I'm sorry, some limited support, that the other manufacturers do provide to the teams as far as engineering is concerned and things of that nature. But I think our thoughts are that ours might be slightly more in that particular area. But certainly, you know, the financial side of it as I mentioned, the teams are getting that support through their individual sponsors.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us.
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