Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car, RuSPORT
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, everyone, for joining us for our Champ Car teleconference today in which we are fortunate enough to be able to announce yet another driver for the 2004 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Another driver that will be taking the green flag at the season opener April 18th at Long Beach, the 30th anniversary of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. I am joined by the owner of RuSPORT, the defending Toyota Atlantic champions from a year ago and the newest of the Champ Car entries, the owner Mr. Carl Russo. Carl, I'd like to go ahead and turn the call over for you and let everybody know why we're here today
CARL RUSSO: Good morning, Eric. Thank you very much. Obviously, joining us is Michel Jourdain and Jeremy Dale, the president, is on the phone as well. We're here to announce Michel joining the team. Obviously, we are very excited to have a championship contending join our team at such a young age, our Champ Car age being not yet one. Obviously, we had a very successful season last year and we're very much looking forward to coming to the grid with one car at Long Beach with AJ Allmendinger. The opportunity to have Michel join us is too good to pass up. We're going to be stretching, putting two cars on the grid at Long Beach and see how well we do through the season.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, Carl, Jeremy, Michel. Carl, you put the team together. Obviously you had been a driver in the Toyota Atlantic championship in years past. You put the team together last year with Aaron Justus, AJ, won the championship. Now you're making the move to the Champ Cars. What about the Champ Car World Series encouraged you to make this move?
CARL RUSSO: It was a long evaluation that we took in looking at where it was best for RuSPORT to grow. I think there's really two reasons. One is the team has its roots in road racing, and so that's a big determining factor. But the other is really a business-driven factor. When we look at the demographics of the fans of Champ Car and look at the loyalty of the fans of Champ Car, we believe there's an opportunity to build a successful and viable business in this paddock. So that's why we're focused here.
ERIC MAUK: Michel Jourdain, joins RuSPORT. The 27-year-old Mexican is one of the most veteran drivers in the series. He'll be entering his eighth year of competition, already a veteran of 138 starts. He comes off his most successful Champ Car season to date last year, where he scored his first two wins of his career, winning at Milwaukee, setting a Champ Car single-race record leading 234 laps around The Milwaukee Mile. He also scored a victory at Montreal last year and won the pole at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Michel, congratulations. Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit about how it feels to finally get this long journey over with and get a seat in the Champ Car World Series?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Thank you very much, Eric. I'm very, very happy to be officially back in Champ Car. You know, I mean, the last three weeks, this is like a big dream come true, to be part of RuSPORT. I mean, I'm sure this team is going to become one of the best teams in open-wheel racing history. When I got the opportunity, it was like very, very hard to pass up. So I'm really looking forward for this year. I've never seen a group of people so committed, so professional, and wanting to win so bad. It's just a great opportunity for me to be part of them. I'm really looking forward for the next couple of weeks to come to Long Beach and the rest of the season.
ERIC MAUK: You get a chance to work with AJ Allmendinger this year, obviously one of the bright young rookies in the Champ Car paddock. Having made your first Champ Car start when you were only 19, can you relate to what AJ is going through this year, and how do you expect to be able to work with him this year?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: No, first of all AJ is an amazing guy. I like him a lot. He's a great guy. I'm sure we'll become great friends, first of all. As a driver, he's so fast, you know. The talent he has, it's amazing. I'm sure, I mean, with my experience I'm going to be able -- he's going to be able to learn some things from me, but I'm sure I'm going to be able to learn a lot of things from him. We'll help each other and make sure, you know, we push each other to the limit, working together, you know. First we need to try to beat everybody else, and then I'll try to beat him and he'll try to beat me. But about him making his first start, I think we're in completely different situations. When I started my first Champ Car race here in 1996, and him this year. In the end I think for both of us, when I was in his situation, for both of us it's a big dream come true. I think he's much better prepared and I'm sure he'll do very, very good. I'm sure he'll do things like when Zanardi, Montoya or Greg Moore came in as rookies. I can't wait for him to impress everybody.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much, Michel. We at Champ Car are very excited to have you on board and look forward to seeing you on the grid at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 18th. We'll take questions from the media.
Q. Mr. Russo, after all the talks and everything, Champ Car starts, how do you feel with one of the best drivers in the series like Michel Jourdain?
CARL RUSSO: Great question. We are thrilled. To put it as bluntly as I can, as you know, we were committed to running one car. And I dare say that we are running two only because Michel became available. So if there is such a thing as a gift from God, we'll take it.
Q. How thoughtful was the negotiation with Gigante, how difficult were the talks with the sponsor?
CARL RUSSO: I think Gigante has been a great supporter of Michel and a great supporter of Champ Car. I would put it this way: they're committed partners of ours going forward and we're looking forward to doing a great job for them and making it a long partnership. But not tough at all.
Q. Michel, what is the goal for you?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: For sure my goal is to win races, you know. I'm potential here in RuSPORT, we will be contending for winning races pretty soon. I'm sure the first couple of races will not be easy because of how late everything is. But if there is a team that could have done faster than anybody, it was RuSPORT. I mean, for sure the goal is to be winning races this year, and hopefully fighting for the championship again like last year.
Q. I want to ask Carl, how is AJ doing with his elbow, his arm?
CARL RUSSO: He seems to be doing okay. For everyone's reference, AJ has a really, really bad case of I guess we would call it bursitis. He has an inflamed bursa in his elbow. But he ran a full race distance. He had not run a full race distance prior to that. He seemed to do well. So I believe he's going to be doing fine.
Q. Michel, you've been in Champ Car for eight years. You've been racing before that. Didn't anybody ever tell you never go to the racetrack without your helmet and suit?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Never go where?
Q. You show up at the racetrack without your helmet and suit the other day.
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: I didn't have it with me.
Q. Didn't you ever learn?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, I know, but I didn't have it with me in the first time, so I will have to buy one. But I have a lot of good friends that I can borrow things from them (laughter).
Q. Did this come around really quickly, the deal with RuSPORT?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Yes, very quickly. But it was the way it had to happen, if I want to start the Long Beach Grand Prix, and also for them, you know.
Q. Michel, can you tell me how and when Bobby Rahal told you he wanted to pull his team out of Champ Cars and how did that make you feel?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, it was around that time when Adrian made his announcement. It was, of course, a terrible thing, you know. We were together with Team Rahal fighting for the championship, winning races, being really competitive, you know. Until that time, I was thinking it was going to be the same this year, you know, getting concentrated on winning the championship with the same guys and all that. It was really, really hard, and really sad, you know, to see them leave. But this is where I want to be and these are the races I want to win. I'm here, I want to win them. I decided to stay here because this is what I thought was best for me and my career.
Q. Can you talk about driving the Ford Focus midget last week?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Just a little bit in qualifying, a little practice session. I did like probably 15 laps or something like that. Then we couldn't do the race. But it was an amazing experience. I'm really thankful to Ford for giving me the opportunity. Those cars are so much fun. I really want to do it again soon hopefully.
Q. Michel, can you tell me what reason you preferred RuSPORT than to Newman/Haas?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: We have many options to decide, teams to go. But to me RuSPORT, like I said before, I've never seen people so determined as ever in my life in racing. I'm sure this team is going to become one of the biggest in history. Probably the opportunity was not going to be there for me. Not looking at many opportunities, this just became for me the best.
Q. How many years do you think with this team?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, I mean, we are looking at having a long relationship, you know. I do believe in long relationships. Like he was with Herdez for many years. The plan was to be with Team Rahal for many years. It didn't work out. I'll be here hopefully many years.
Q. Carl, you said you saw Champ Car as a good choice to get in for business reasons. I'm wondering if you could tell me with all that's gone on, the bankruptcy, new owners, what makes it attractive to you?
CARL RUSSO: Great question. And it begins with the fans. You know, if you go to the events, and I'm sure you have, there was one in Miami last year, the events throughout the year have extraordinary turnout and just a very, very loyal fan base. The demographic is also a demographic that I think speaks to the potential commercial partners that we would be looking to work with as well. So it's the combination of those two pieces, coupled with what's coming on the TV side, which we think is a very exciting package. So all in all, we put it all together and decided this is the business place for us to go.
Q. I don't know the whole background very well, but had you ever considered going into the IRL?
CARL RUSSO: The answer is yes. We are a competitive race team. We intend to remain a competitive race team throughout. If it comes down to having to race wheelbarrows, we'll race wheelbarrows. But we certainly looked at all the alternatives. After pretty careful consideration, we felt very clearly this was the best business place for us to be and that's why we chose to compete in Champ Car.
Q. Carl, you raced a bit, drawn into the sport that way. Now you have this team you've established. Could you tell us a little about your approach to establishing and building your race team and tell us about your personnel, perhaps Jeremy Dale could brief us on some of the key people and how it's going to operate. Carl, begin with your approach, philosophy, how you put things in place
CARL RUSSO: I'll try and keep it brief, then I'll introduce Jeremy and let Jeremy take you through the team personnel. I guess the best way to describe it is, it's a business and it's a sport. We want to be good sports people. We want to look for the fair advantage, and we want to recognize that while we're trying to beat all of our competitors in the paddock, we also are inexorably tied to them. We want to treat them fairly and that we're in addition to any paddock we're in. From an approach standpoint, we've tried to be very deliberate and frankly we've tried to study every other team we could find to study from the Champ Car paddock through Formula 1 through NASCAR, et cetera, to come up with what we felt was the right formula to be competitive going forward. With that kind of a selection, it begins and ends with lots of people. We believe in symmetry. We believe in a two-car team. We didn't think we would be able to reach a two-car team, and it's still going to be a stretch for us to do it. Obviously, having AJ and Michel is absolutely a great pairing. From a team structure standpoint, the team has a president. The president is Jeremy Dale, as you know, a long-time veteran road racer. Now he joins us as the president. He has here for coming on two years. Jeremy, maybe you want to go through a couple of the key personnel as well.
JEREMY DALE: It's interesting, from a personnel standpoint, it's kind of changing by the day here. As Carl said, the two-car team was never in the plan. We're out there right now putting folks together. But a couple of key people, Steve Wolf, our operations director. He's carrying a very, very big load right now, trying to get the second car up and running for Michel, and literally to try and come up with cars. That's a big, big challenge. Steve has an enormous weight on his shoulders. Our chief race engineer, David Brown, new to us this year, very interesting guy, not a lot of experience here in North America, but has two World Championships with Williams under his belt, one with Prost and the other with Nigel Mansell. A very capable individual in the race engineering role. As I said, under those guys, it's kind of growing by the day. But we put a very, very solid group of people together about 15 months to go to run the Atlantic program. Basically, most of those folks are still with us. Great group of people, very committed as Michel said. It's basically because of them that we're capable of ramping up this second car.
Q. At least for a brief time you were part of the ownership consortium, the formation consortium of open-wheel racing. What led you to back away from that role?
CARL RUSSO: Great question. Simply put, what led me to back away from it was time. As you may be aware, I'm the president, CEO of a company in northern California called Calix. It began as something -- the ownership consortium began as something that was taking up a little bit of time on the weekends. It started to become something that was looking like a full-time job. The challenge for me is being in a leadership role in a company, that is a full-time job. So rather than slow down the process or get in the way, I chose -- I thought what was the better part of valor, if you will, which was to get out of the way and let those three gentlemen continue on.
Q. Michel said obviously the goal is to win races. But having put this thing still basically coming together with no testing, realistically what are you thinking? Three or four races down the road? Is this whole year going to be kind of just getting things together?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: It's very hard to tell if it's going to be one, two, three or four or five races, you know. It's very hard. But, I mean, they are doing -- in RuSPORT, they are doing their best to get the best possible people and available people. You know, the good thing is that they were working until two, three weeks ago on a very good CART team. I'm sure even if they had stayed with a single-car team, it was going to win races this year. I think because of that, it's going to make the problem of making a second car in such a short time, it's going to make it possible winning races in a shorter time than what it would have done in any other place.
ERIC MAUK: To clarify, the team has done some testing. Michel was in the car last week at Sebring. He ran Friday in relief of AJ, as Carl talked about before, he had the bursitis in the arm, had to sit out on Friday, and Michel was able to step in there. The team does have some testing under its belt.
Q. Carl or Jeremy, I know you're building a new shop. I know it's not ready yet, as far as I understand. Are you able to fit in the two-car team in the existing shop or will you be leasing some more space?
JEREMY DALE: That's an easy one. The trucks used to live inside, now they're going to live outside. They used to have a nice life, now it's not so nice. We don't have to rent any other space. We're going to be packing them in in terms of office space a little bit. I don't know if our phone system can handle it, but we're fine. We will stay where we are for the coming season.
Q. Mr. Russo, this is the first year in Champ Car. Do you feel like you could win the first year out?
CARL RUSSO: I'll tell you, as you know from our conversations, I don't know what to expect when you go into one of these things. These are very, very competitive teams with some of the best drivers in the world sitting in this paddock. The talent this year, in my opinion, is better than it's been in quite some time. I think it's going to be very, very difficult. That having been said, let me state the long-term goal. We're going to win races and we're going to win championships. I think we've got the two drivers to do both. I'm highly confident that we will achieve it. I have no idea what's the learning curve and the ramp is going to be. The guys are running flat out right now. I would be thrilled if we are able to start to run competitively early and contend for winning races. We're certainly going to do our level best to put Michel in a position where he can compete for a championship. But I just don't know.
Q. Michel, if I'm not too impertinent, I would like to know, the reason why Rahal left a perfect and rich team like Gigante to go you know where?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Why?
Q. He didn't tell you anything? He just said "good-bye"?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: He thought it was the best in the situation he was, and that's it. Maybe I think you should ask him that question. That would be better because, I mean, he tried to get me over there, and that was it.
Q. Will you feel the difference when you change the technical part over there, the engineer, mechanic, so on?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, of course. It's going to be a different group of people. Is not the first time in my career that I move teams. You know, it's a challenge. But I'm looking forward for the challenge and I'm sure RuSPORT are going to give me the best possible engineering group because that's their goal, you know, to have the best engineering group and have the best cars on the track.
Q. I'd like to know any plans to test before the season begins with practice on the 16th of April?
JEREMY DALE: The trucks presently are on their way back from Florida. We did quite a bit of testing in Florida. As you know, there are a number of other Champ Car teams down there. We will get back out to Fontana. I believe there will be a number of teams joining us. That's the week leading into the Long Beach race weekend, sometime that week. I don't know if it's Monday or Tuesday. We'll certainly get the cars off the trailers and get them back on the racetrack before they roll here at Long Beach on Friday morning.
Q. I understand that you do have a couple more tubs in the pipeline. Do you have any idea when you'll be expecting to get those?
JEREMY DALE: It depends on a lot. We're not going to be in quite as comfortable a position as we'd like to be for Long Beach in terms of what we have for race cars and spares, et cetera, et cetera, because cars are essentially unavailable. The grid is forming up here, and there's a lot of cars on the grid. Everyone wants Lolas. That's a bit of a challenge. We've committed to purchasing two new cars. They're in the pipeline. I expect by the time we show up at Monterrey, we have those cars.
Q. Carl, expansion like what you're doing is more than just buying new equipment. What else was required to not just only move up from Toyota Atlantic to Champ Car, but now to add a second Champ Car team in such a short period of time?
CARL RUSSO: Well, you're exactly right. We've stated all along, beginning last year, that there's nothing underneath our tent that somebody else can't buy. It's absolutely about people. It's not about what you buy. And that is the biggest challenge for us. It's the reason that we chose to originally go to a one-car team. The guys that built I think a very formidable two-car Toyota Atlantic team, if you actually looked at the head count, sort of fit into a very nice one-car Champ Car team. So it's people, people, people, people. Then the other piece is, any time you expand rapidly, you want to keep a sharp eye out that you don't lose your culture. Those are really the areas.
Q. "Lose your culture," what is that?
CARL RUSSO: We focus very much on what we stand for, how we behave, just the culture of the team. If you have a specific culture, let's just say with 10 people, you add 20 new people to it, you're likely to dilute that culture. A big focus area for us will be to keep the culture of the team quite focused.
Q. Did your success in Toyota Atlantic encourage you to make the step to Champ Car and feel comfortable enough to add the second car?
CARL RUSSO: There's no question that our success in Toyota Atlantic was a wonderful thing, somewhat unexpected for sure, and that it encouraged us to move up, that along with the opportunities we felt existed in Champ Car. What encouraged us to go to a two-car team, frankly, was Michel, the fact that Michel became available was something that we looked out a year and said, "Would if we could at the end of 2004, going into 2005, putting a two-car team on the grid, who would we put in those cars?" AJ and Michel would be the two people we would have wanted to do in the team anyway. So it's a big stress, but it's Michel that causes us to do this.
Q. You were willing to make the step to Michel even if a sponsor like Gigante wasn't hanging there with him?
CARL RUSSO: Yes.
Q. Michel, if you would, the thought process in the period between you got the phone call from Bobby Rahal while you were in Mexico, then making the decision to go with what essentially sounds like a great start-up team, but really it is a start-up team. What are some of the minute things you look at RuSPORT?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, I mean, like I said, it's a lot of things. Like Carl said, you know, a team is mostly, like any other business, about the people that you have and the resources and tools you give those people to do their job. I just think -- I've never seen a group of people so committed to all that, you know, to get the best group of people possible and to give them all the tools and resources for them to do their best job. That's what I saw here, you know. It could be a huge opportunity for my career to be part of this team. That was it.
Q. Looking at it now, a lot of times we say that when bad things happen, maybe it's all for the better, do you look at it that way?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: Well, of course, exactly. Like you said, when I got the phone call from Bobby, all those days discussing about me going or staying, whatever, you know, it's pretty hard because of that, because of the people I was working with over there. It's an amazing group of people. They gave me my first couple of wins, fighting for the championship. I thought I was going to be doing the same. But, I mean, in my career I've been through very tough moments. A month, two, three, four months later or a year later, I see that most of those things have been for the better. And here, after a couple of weeks, I do feel already that all that was for the better.
Q. Carl, it seemed as though for a couple of years the Civil War between Champ Car and the IRL, at least politically and outspoken-wise, seemed to be settling down. With everything that went on in court and here in the last few weeks, it seems like the battle has flared up again. Is there going to be a time when everybody just needs to get down to the business of racing and at some point, to be quite blunt, say, "Let's shut this up, let's all do our business and let them take care of what they're doing"?
CARL RUSSO: I think it's a great question. Speaking for the team, the team has been there for quite some time, and obviously with the addition of Michel is way there because we just have no time to think about anything other than what the job is at hand and getting it done. I think to your question, though, ultimately as both seasons get going, you see championships going on, drivers competing against drivers, fans following the series, I think all of that just sort of dies down and everybody gets back to business. It is what it is. From my perspective, the best thing we can do as a team is focus on competing with the other teams in the paddock and meeting the needs of our marketing partners and let's get on with it.
ERIC MAUK: Michel is in Long Beach in the middle of an advanced media day. We'll take a couple more questions.
Q. If my question has been answered before, please let me know. A thought to Michel, given that Team Rahal is not going to be sort of your direct competition this year, what is the sort of relationship you have there with the engineers and such? You have your own data book and memories of chassis setups at races. Obviously you're not going to be competing with Team Rahal, are you sort of free to get that information from Ray and Tim and the technical staff at Team Rahal to bring to RuSPORT?
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR.: I mean, the relationship is very good with everybody over there, I'm friends. That data, that information, it's theirs. No, I mean, that's it. I wish I had it with me because, of course, there is very valuable information over there. But it's theirs and that's it.
Q. Jeremy and Carl, the location of your team in Denver. Obviously, quality of life, it's a great place to be, but in terms of running a race team, having to kind of ramp up literally at the drop of a hat here from a one-car to two-car team, maybe it's more difficult than it would be in Indianapolis where obviously there's a lot of teams. Could you talk about that challenge in getting the right kind of people to run that?
CARL RUSSO: Jeremy, do you want to do the Denver boosterism piece.
JEREMY DALE: Certainly, you're right, if we were in Indy, it would be a little bit easier to pick up the phone and get people. I must give Steve credit, because the last week to 10 days for him has been very busy. You would also be very surprised, if you were to make your way around the paddock, you'd be very surprised at how many people in the paddock are from Colorado, number one. Number two, you hit the nail on the head. The quality of life is very good there. We love it there. It's very central to what you do. If you look at the schedule, it makes a lot of sense. There are tons of resources for us to tap into. We don't have any problems getting people to come there. Recruiting, every time you are doing something like this, ramping it up as quickly as we are, that's a challenge. But everyone that's there loves it there. We actually believe that there's a certain amount of competitive advantage in isolation, if you will. Maybe in the short-term it's a bit more painful, but we believe in the long-term it's absolutely the right place to be
CARL RUSSO: If I can add one piece to that. Not that we are trying to create the motorsports equivalent of a gulag. But Reading, Pennsylvania, doesn't seem to have impeded anyone to what is a fine, fine team in North America, which is Penske. We do believe in a very simple principle, which is during the race weekend, away from the racetrack, at all times stay focused on what we do and ignore everything else, then we'll go compete on the weekends and see where we stand. All too often it's too easy to start wondering what is going on in someone else's tent to your own distraction. Rather than, if you will, reading the news, how about making the news?
Q. Getting into the first race, being competitive and all that, I would imagine, Carl, that having Michel on board should be able to alleviate the stress of not having a race setup book simply because he can relate data based on his experience better to the engineer
CARL RUSSO: I'd like to actually broaden the answer to your question because I think your question is spot on in many ways more than just a setup. Clearly Michel has a feel for those cars. He's been competitive in these cars. He's won races in these cars. Up until the last race or two of the season, he almost won the championship last year. He brings an enormous amount to the team from just your point of view as to what the cars feel like, how it should behave, et cetera. But the second thing that he brings, he bring brings more than a hundred races at this level. It's not just the car; it's the event, it's the circumstances, it's the mindset, it's the psychology. There's just so many things that he brings to the team that maybe we should give him a raise. No, never mind (laughter). There's an extraordinary amount that he brings to this team in many, many ways other than the one you were speaking to. I just wanted to tell you that I think you're absolutely right, and in many more ways, as well.
ERIC MAUK: This will bring an end to our Champ Car media teleconference today. I'd like to thank Carl Russo, Jeremy Dale, and Michel Jourdain for joining us today. We'll see you all April 16th at Long Beach.
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