Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today for a Champ Car media teleconference as we come off of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and head to Monterrey, Mexico, for the Tecate Telmex Grand Prix of Monterrey, race number two of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season. We are joined today by two Champ Car drivers as well as one of the young and up-and-coming stars of the Toyota Atlantic championship. Our first driver we will introduce today, the driver of the #2 McDonald's Ford/Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing, Sebastien Bourdais. Sebastien is the 2003 Rookie-of-the-Year award winner for Champ Car and is coming off a season opener where he qualified second, and finished on the podium, finishing third, and he stands third in the championship. Sebastien, thanks for joining us today.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: We are also joined by the No. 5Cummins/Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone for Walker Racing, a Brazilian also entering his second year of the Champ Car competition. He started 14th and finished a strong ninth in at Long Beach, Mario Haberfeld. Thank you for joining us today.
MARIO HABERFELD: It's a pleasure to be here.
ERIC MAUK: From the Toyota Atlantic Championship, one of the youngest drivers in the championship, but he didn't let his age slow him done at the season opener at Long Beach where he finished second to his teammate, Sierra Sierra Enterprises, Ryan Dalziel. Thank you for joining us today Andrew Ranger. We'll Sebastien, a strong run at Long Beach, started second, finished third. Obviously, you wanted to come out and start strong this year a after last year when you came out and won a couple poles, but had a couple problems that set you back. How important was it for you to come out and have a good start?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's very good to start the season like that with the McDonald's/Newman/Haas car. Definitely a much better start than last year. It's been a difficult weekend, during the qualifying sessions got big problems in the first one with traffic. As everybody knows, on Saturday morning, it was raining pretty bad. We did the best at that time. But the track was not in such a good shape to improve the lap times in the practice session. All I was able to do was to expect to do the best I can in the second qualifying session. We achieved that and started up front. Difficult start, but still finished third with a strong pace during the race. I think set the five best start times during the race. The car was very good. I'm looking forward to going to Monterrey, for sure.
ERIC MAUK: You won the pole down there last year, had a strong car, led the first 16 laps of the event. Had an unfortunate radio failure that cost you from making a pit stop, put you at the back of the field. When you were at the back of the field, you put on one of the great shows of the race, came through, made 10 passes, were in sixth place, then unfortunately had minor contact that caused to you have to bow out after 40 laps. A very strong run down there. The team has always done well down there. Newman/Haas has a pair of wins down there. Are you excited about heading again back down there?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Sure. With the experience we had last year, we started back at the first session last year. It looks much easier to restart with what we finished with setup-wise. I'm pretty confident about that. The tire is going to be different. Bridgestone brought a new compound again, so we're going to have to tune the car to match that. I know that the baseline setup is very good. I should restart strong and hopefully make some improvements that will make the strong race finish, too.
ERIC MAUK: What do you like about the track in Monterrey?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think everybody, we agree on that, it's a beautiful environment to race in. The Mexican people are really enthusiastic. It's a great venue. I liked it last year. I mean, it was the first time I came over there. Really, I was thrilled. I think it's a great place to race. It's a slow racetrack, for sure. It's really technical. It's challenging, but it's slow. It's requesting something out of you and your car that usually you don't practice so much. It's good because the walls are pretty far. If you do a mistake, you rarely do a contact. I think it's a pretty neat place to race.
ERIC MAUK: We're definitely looking forward to it. Look forward to seeing you down there. Mario Haberfeld, your deal with Walker came together very late, definitely put you a little bit behind the gun, but you responded well in your season-opener, like we said before, started 14th, ended up with a Top 10 finish. Kind of sum up for us how you think things went for you in Long Beach.
MARIO HABERFELD: I think it was as good as we could expect. We signed a deal to do the season one week before the first race. We only really had an afternoon starting before we went to Long Beach. Through Long Beach, I think it went okay. We were seventh in first practice. We made some changes for qualifying on Friday, which really didn't work. I think we were one of the few cars that didn't go quicker than in the morning, which unfortunately was the only qualifying that really counted because it was the quickest one, as it rained on Saturday. Every other session, we were always in the Top 10, which I think is where we have to look to be with the Reynard this year. It went okay in the race. We had some great pit stops. I drove hard the whole race. We managed to finish in the Top 10. We sort of achieved our objective there. Now we need to improve a bit more. We need to do some testing so I can find out the good things about the walker car and bring some good things that I learned last year from the Conquest car. I think we just need some more testing and we'll be down in Homestead in a week's time, doing two days there, to learn a bit more.
ERIC MAUK: Like you said, two days testing coming up next week down in Homestead. You ran the Reynard last year and had three top fives, had a pretty decent year in the Mi-Jack Conquest Reynard. How different are the Reynards between teams? Have you been in the seat enough with Walker to tell if there's a drastic difference between a Mi-Jack Reynard and a Walker Reynard?
MARIO HABERFELD: It's pretty hard to really compare at this stage. I think after the test, I will know a lot more. As I said, in Long Beach, was pretty hard to compare because I haven't been enough in the car. It rained one day. It's pretty difficult to compare at this point. But I think you have to learn the way the engineers work, because obviously everyone in the team is different. Just have to get used to everyone and see how they work, improve some places, learn some good things that they have. I'm sure we'll be okay for the next race.
ERIC MAUK: Last year as well as Sebastien, it was your first trip to the temporary road course at Fundidora Park. What are your impressions of the track in Mexico?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think it's really good. It's very, very slippery. The track will be improving a lot as the weekend goes on. Although it's not a street circuit, it's like inside a park. I believe it's only used once a year, so it's kind of a street circuit. But the greatest thing about that is that this race, the Mexico City race, is so great to see all the fans, the race is really crowded, there's a lot of fans which really like motor racing, and it's just a lot of fun.
ERIC MAUK: We look forward to seeing you down there. Andrew Ranger, like we said before, one of the up-and-coming young stars. This is a guy that is very well-known in Canada. He's only 17 years old, but has been winning races in Canada in open-wheel for a number of years. Champ Car fans first got a chance to see him last year running in the support series when we went to Toronto and Vancouver, making the first jump to Toyota Atlantic. First race, you started fifth, bringing it home in second. Are you happy with the way things have gone so far, Andrew?
ANDREW RANGER: Yeah, I'm very happy. It's a little bit tough qualification for Long Beach. I do a great start. I speak to my mechanic and say, "You want to pass in the first start." I pass three guy in the start. You know, I'm very happy. The car go great all the race. For me it's the first time I go in Long Beach. It's the first time I go in Mexico on that track. But, you know, I need to learn. I need more practice. It's good for me.
ERIC MAUK: What are your first impressions and how do you feel about the Toyota Atlantic car, the way it feels?
ANDREW RANGER: You know, it's very different from the Fran-Am. Fran-Am is less slippery all the time, no grip. For the Toyota, I have a lot of grip in the back. You turn the car and you can put it on full throttle. With Toyota, it's a great car to drive. It's very, very fun.
ERIC MAUK: A lot of the Canadian fans and media have been following your career, but for those on the call that don't know a whole lot about you, tell us about how you got started, how you got to this point.
ANDREW RANGER: I start last year in open-wheel. I start in Fran-Am. I do one year in Fran-Am you know, my second race, my third race, I win the Grand Prix in Montreal. You know, my family is there, my sponsor. It's for that I go into Toyota Atlantic. I win last in the championship. I do a great year last year. But this year is my first year in Atlantics, I like that car.
ERIC MAUK: We look forward to seeing you all along the schedule this year. We'll open it up for questions to the media.
Q. Sebastien, it's got to be a different frame of mind for you this year because you're no longer a rookie, you know most of these circuits now, you have a year under your belt with tremendous accomplishments. I hate to use the word "confidence", but it's got to do a lot for your confidence. You know most of these places.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know if it's much easier on the confidence because these guys are really strong up there. As you've seen in Long Beach, even with the knowledge of a year of experience, it's not so easy. I guess it makes it easier on the work and less confusing because I know where I'm going, I know where I'm going to start as a car, as a driver. It's much easier to get some references. When I started in Long Beach this year, I was like, "Oh, okay, I know this place. I know how the car is going to handle." I was not so far. I think for sure the season is going to be easier on that side, that aspect. But, you know, you still fighting to try to achieve wins and pole positions. That's never really easy.
Q. Mario, talk about the deal with Walker, going together at the last minute, but in the car count drama we've gone through, in terms of your specific positioning here, the amount of experience that Derrick Walker has. He's a guy who has seen it all, has a tremendous amount of experience. That has to be a plus for you because you have a guy who has basically seen and done it all.
MARIO HABERFELD: For sure, being with Derrick is a great thing. The whole team is very, very well-structured. They have a lot of experience in the series for I don't know how many years. So it's definitely a great place to be racing. Obviously, last year with Eric, everything was new for me and for the team. It was a little bit harder. Although, I think this year Eric has raised up his game. By the end of the season, it was a great team also. But I'm really happy being with Derrick.
Q. Andrew, I think some of your development, something I'm very familiar with because I come from Dirt Modified country, I know the family and your experience has had a great amount of experience with these mighty sideways cars. Guys that seem to come from this pursuit, going sideways on clay tracks, with Kasey Kahne from Nextel Cup, being able to handle a beast like that on dirt seems to do a whole lot for car control, your race craft. Would you agree with that?
ANDREW RANGER: You say dirt, it's not the same. Drive in dirt, I race I think one race in the US in Syracuse. But, no, it's not the same driving. I like the Toyota Atlantic. You do modified three days on practice and race two times. But, no, it's not the same driving. I like the car. It's completely not the same.
Q. Do you think it helps with your car handling overall? It's different. You drive them differently. Does it help if you have an ill-handling Atlantic?
ANDREW RANGER: No, I don't know the dirt help me for that. You're broadside all the time with the dirt. I do dirt for fun, but it's not the same driving. It's helped me a little bit.
Q. Sebastien, you and I spoke at Long Beach, you expressed sort of very -- not to use the word "confidence" again, but you seemed to be particularly confident that you would have a good setup at Monterrey in the next couple weeks. Obviously, you had a good setup there last year. What in particular makes you so optimistic about your chances at Monterrey?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know if I'm so optimistic about Monterrey. I think globally we have the confidence that we have every single tool to achieve the job that we're looking for, which is at the end to try to win the championship. Doesn't mean we're going to do it. For sure, we're going to try very hard. I think this McDonald's car is looking good right now. The situation, last year we had the strong setup in Monterrey, so as in many races. With the experience I have now, I think it should be not only easier, but it should be easier to realize the target. So now the only unknown thing is the tire. If it's not so far, which I think it will not be that far away from what we had last year, we should keep the same philosophy on the car and hopefully it's going to work just fine.
Q. Mario, your thoughts on your first experience with the 'push to pass' button, option tires, how those alternatives worked?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think the option tires for me is a little bit difficult to comment on because we left them both for Saturday, and obviously the track wasn't at its best. I'm not too sure how much better they are. But obviously they're a little bit better. As the 'push to pass' button goes, for sure that's really good. It makes a big difference like for when I pass Lavin, I think there's no way I could have done that without the 'push to pass'. It also brings like the driver has to have some strategy on his mind of when he's going to use it and try to save a bit to the end if someone is wanting to pass you. I think it's a really great thing. It's very exciting not only for the fans but for the drivers and the teams also.
Q. Sebastien, yesterday Formula 1 had some changes. You guys have some changes. The motorsports is changing and making more spectacular, right?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, well I think, you know, we have to adapt to the requests of the crowd. It looks like right now we need to give as good of a show as we can. In order to do that, we need to try to find some tools to allow some more passing, close and big fights during the race. I guess everybody's trying to achieve the same target. But right now it's not very easy. We know that with the recent aerodynamics that we have on the car, it's tough to pass because it's tough to be very close from the guy. I definitely think the 'push to pass' button is a great tool to create some more passing. Hopefully we'll be able to race each other a bit more. I hope we're going to change a bit the new rules to improve that and to try to achieve something even better. Last year, we really were able to push, and the pit window I think was good. I just like to come back on that, you know, it's a great show. I never seen anybody complaining about Champ Car show as quality. You know, we have much more passing than Formula 1. To me it's the best race in the world, for sure.
Q. Sebastien, you're talking about more passing. The rookies are coming from Formula 3000. In Monterrey it's going to be too much pass, right?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know (laughter). I don't know. I think, yeah, we have a very good field this year, very competitive teams, very good drivers coming from European -- with a European background. I think it's going to be close and difficult. So we still have to work out and hopefully we'll see a lot of passing, as you expect. We all do.
Q. Mario, you're a Brazilian. Here in Mexico, we know Brazilian drivers. Do you feel good with the people, with the audience?
MARIO HABERFELD: Yeah, for sure. Thanks for you guys saying you love Brazilian drivers. I think for us. We speak sort of close language. We always enjoy being in Mexico. As I said before, is for sure I think the greatest place as far as fans go. I mean, everybody is very excited. All the fans seem to know motor racing very well. Those two races in Mexico are very, very exciting for sure - not just for the Brazilian drivers, but for any driver of the series. We're obviously very excited being there.
Q. Your technical point of view of Monterrey?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think it's a good track. As I said before, the biggest -- the hardest thing for us is that it's very, very slippery and you have to keep changing the car to adapt to it because the track just gains so much grip by the end of the weekend. But it's a very technical circuit. As Sebastien said, there's a lot of curves that you need to use. There's some quick bits also which hopefully can create some overtaking. But as long as no one overtakes me, it's going to be great (laughter).
Q. Sebastien, I talked to you so much about the rivalry at Long Beach with Paul Tracy. I'm wondering a year later how your relationship has progressed with Bruno as a teammate. Are there things now you can do together on the track without even saying anything? Maybe there's an expectation between you now that wasn't there when you first arrived last year.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know. I think we have a great relationship with Bruno on the track. It's all for yourself, you're trying to achieve the best results you can, you're obviously not going to do anything silly on your teammate. There's no rivalry on the McDonald's car and the PacifiCare car. We're trying to achieve the same thing, to put Newman/Haas cars on the top of the list. You know, we know that to achieve that, it's to the best interest of both of us to work together outside of the car and to try to make sure that we lead the team to the right technical decisions, and that's what we are doing.
Q. You had such a brilliant rookie season last year. In the past, when you've been in a series for a second year, how much better potentially could you be? That's kind of an unfair question, put a lot of pressure on a young man. With the familiarity of an entire year behind you now, potentially how much more do you think you might be able to do this year?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's very difficult to answer that, to quantify how your evolution can be, big or not, it's very difficult. Between my first year in Formula Renault and second year, I progressed a lot. I did the same kind of jump in Formula 3. Then when I arrived at the international level, I think basically my level, my driving skills pretty much kind of, you know, got a (inaudible), that didn't really change till then. I've been driving many different cars, from touring cars, Formula 1s, going through GTs and sports cars. I think my base now is pretty much settled. You know, you always progressing, especially when it's a new series. But I think about my driving skills, I'm not going to progress very much now. It's more that right now I'm going to arrive with one, two, three steps ahead each time on racing weekend when I will approach a CART event, a Champ Car event, because with the experience of the year before, it's just a completely different world.
Q. On the way to Fontana, I stopped at the McDonald's. I asked them -- had a couple of salads. I wonder where the stand-up poster of you was. Trying to get something going with you and McDonald's down here in Southern California.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: All right (laughter).
Q. Sebastien, in this year's Monterrey race, it's a little later. Do you anticipate heat being an issue down there?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know exactly how hot it's going to be. I know it can be very hot, for sure. If it's going to be an issue or not... I don't think it really can be an issue. It's just making life harder for both the car and the driver. But in the past we've demonstrated that the Ford engine was really reliable, even if it was very hot. You know, the only thing is for the driver. We didn't drive the car that much in the pre-season. It's going to be tough for sure if it gets really hot. On the other hand, it's not that physically demanding in Monterrey because the grip level is not very high, so you don't get too many Gs. I'm not too concerned about it. Anyway, it's going to be tough on everybody. I just have to do the best job as I can, as everybody, I guess.
Q. Mario, you're running in a Reynard now. I know there's been some talk by I guess Derrick Walker that he was looking at possibly getting Lolas during the year. Is that still going to be a possibility or are you going to stay with Reynard for the whole year?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think the reason we didn't go to the test in Portland, we were trying to save our days for testing with the Lola if we ever got one. But from Derrick's side and myself, we've both been working very hard to see if we can bring the sponsorship to upgrade to a Lola. At this point in time, we're not going to do it. We can't do it as it stands. But obviously we're always looking at it. If something comes up, I would love to drive a Lola. I'm sure Derrick, too. Like you said, places like Monterrey can be very hot. It's also a bit bumpy. That's really bad for a Reynard chassis. But we just got to make the best, as good as we can, out of it.
Q. Andrew, you're in Toyota Atlantic this year. What are your goals? Have you made out a plan as to how many years you plan on being in Toyota Atlantic? Is your ultimate goal Champ Car, F1? How do you see your career progresses?
ANDREW RANGER: No. For this year, it's Toyota Atlantic. I don't know for the next year. But I want to push hard for a win, do something good. But, you know, for me, I go one step after one step. For next year, I don't know. But I think I need to learn the car, I need to learn the track. You know, me and David work pretty hard for the computer. I want to win the championship. But, you know, I have a good partner, Ryan, pretty good partner. He help me big time for the track. He work the track pretty hard. But I don't know for next year.
Q. Your relationship with David Empringham, what actually is he doing with you? Is a driver/coach? Tell us more.
ANDREW RANGER: David is a great guy. He will work for me in the computer. You know, it's the first time in Long Beach and Mexico. Now he work for the team. You want the team go in the first place. You know, it's a very good guy for me. He help me for the car, he help me for the track. For me it's a very, very good guy.
Q. Is he your driver/coach?
ANDREW RANGER: Yeah, it's a driver/coach for me and Ryan. He drive a lot here. He have a big -- you know, he can help me very good time.
Q. Sebastien, are you planning on doing any LeMans cars this year?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I'm going to do LeMans with Pascale. I went to the prequalifying session, which is basically just a practice session right now. I'm very thankful that Carl and Paul left me to do this race. It's kind of a whole story with this team. I think there's a great thing to achieve. We were keen to build time on the morning sessions. I think we can challenge this. It's going to be interesting.
Q. Mario, I know it was a tough situation coming in with one week before the race. I was wondering if you have any comments on the how the team chemistry is coming together?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think as far as the team chemistry is coming together, it's not really been a problem since I knew most of the people there because Walker Racing is the team who gave me my first Champ Car test. I believe it was September or October two years ago. I knew most of the people anyway. I think obviously as the season goes by, we're going to get better and better at knowing everybody. That always makes a difference. I'm really looking forward to this test next week and hopefully we'll know a lot more after that.
Q. Sebastien and Mario, you both touched upon the 'push to pass' button, how you liked it. I think most drivers have spoken favorably about it. Is the 50 horsepower increase the right level or do you think it needs more horsepower?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think it's probably a reliability issue. You cannot boost the engine forever and expect it's going to last as long as it was before. For sure if there was more, it would make a bigger difference, but it would be also maybe kind of unfair because you would drive by the guy and say "bye." I think it's a good compromise. It gives you between three and five miles advantage depending on the site line. I think it's going to be more vivid and visible at racetracks like Montreal, Elkhart Lake where you have long straight lines and you going to see when the guy is using it.
MARIO HABERFELD: I agree with Sebastien. I think, first of all, it's obviously a reliability issue. But I think 50 is sort of the right number because you don't want too much because it makes racing very artificial. I think it already makes a big difference if you think about five miles an hour at the end of the straight is already a lot when you're close to the guy, plus you also have -- you've been drafting him the whole straight. All the drivers will say they want more, but I think it would make race artificial. I mean, the guy in front would then have no chance at all. It's something that is good to help you pass someone if you're quicker than them, but at the other way, if you had a lot more, it would be passing guys even if you're slower. Then I don't think so that's right.
Q. Mario, there was an earlier question regarding heat and conditioning for drivers. I've heard someone refer to you as Ironman Haberfeld. What do you do to stay in shape?
MARIO HABERFELD: I think I really like this part of my job, which is staying in shape. It's something that was always a hobby to me even before I start racing professionally. I really enjoy it. Since the off-season this year was really long, I decided to do an Ironman in California and it was a really good thing to prepare for. It also prepared me for the racing. As Sebastien said, we couldn't drive the car much before the season. I'm really enjoy that part of my job, and it's something I try to do every day.
Q. Andrew, I talked to Gerry Forsythe at Long Beach. He told me they made 30 different presentations to corporations about getting sponsors, Canadian corporations. Not even a bite. Given what those guys did promote motorsports, Player's, how disappointing is that? Is that a red flag or concern for other young men coming up trying to make their mark?
MARIO HABERFELD: I don't understand what he say.
Q. Team Canada motorsports was with Player's, they couldn't get a single Canadian corporation to succeed them as sponsors. Did that surprise you? Is that something that is going to concern some people in Canada? Those guys did so much to for motor racing and race car drivers in Canada.
MARIO HABERFELD: I know, it's pretty tough to have a sponsor. Proctor and Gamble and Tide, help me very good. I have Snugabite (phonetic). It's tough to have a big sponsor for race. Everybody in Canada like race but don't want to sponsor big money. For me, I have Proctor and Gamble. Patrick Carpentier, me and Patrick, have Proctor and Gamble. For that I go and race because they give me a lot of money.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring a close to our Champ Car media teleconference today. We'd like to thank all the media for their participation.
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