Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
March 29, 2007
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference as we continue to move forward towards the 2007 Champ Car World Series season opener which will take place August 6 through 8 on the streets of Las Vegas, the season opening Vegas Grand Prix.
Today I'm joined by the general manager of Forsythe Championship Racing, Mr. Neil Micklewright, as Forsythe Championship Racing announces its second car and second driver for the 2007 season. I am very pleased and honored to announce that six-year Champ Car veteran Mario Dominguez will be in the seat of the No. 7 Forsythe Championship Racing machine, a deal that is set for the first three races, and the team helps will continue for the remainder of the campaign.
Neil, thanks for joining us today. Big announcement. Tell us a little bit about how this came about.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Good morning, everybody. Obviously we're very pleased to be able to announce this. As we've been going through the pre-season testing, getting ready for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, obviously we were looking around to see who might potentially be the second driver.
Putting all of our ducks in a row, ultimately the decision came down to run Mario. We're delighted to be able to get back into a relationship with Mario. He's done well for us in the past.
Right now we're just excited about the prospect of it. Hopefully we'll be able to continue that relationship beyond the first three races.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Mario Dominguez, a five-year veteran of the Champ Car battlefields has 78 starts, all of them in consecutive fashion. Mario actually has the longest current streak of consecutive starts in Champ Car with those 78 starts. He has two victories to his credit. He earned his first Champ Car pole a year ago when he led qualifying in Houston, where he went onto lead a career-best 63 laps in that race before finishing third. 11 podiums, two of those coming a year ago. He finished ninth in the final standings.
Mario, congratulations on everything. Tell us about your thoughts on rejoining Forsythe Championship Racing.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, thank you very much. Good morning to everybody that's listening.
What can I tell you? I'm very excited. I'm really happy. I couldn't believe it when I got a call from Neil Micklewright. It's a wonderful opportunity given to me again by Gerry Forsythe and Forsythe Championship Racing.
It's been a tough off-season. I've been working really, really hard every single day to try to get sponsors, to try to get what's needed in order for me to race in Champ Car. But the fact that I'm going to be able to start the season with Forsythe, with a team that would be like coming back home, it's just the best news possible I could have ever gotten.
I think it's going to be great. It's going to help all the companies that I've been dealing with here in Mexico, try to get them to come in for the rest of the season. It's going to help Champ Car in Mexico and Champ Car in the United States/Hispanic market and, of course, me.
I'm very excited. Right now there's no words to describe how happy I am. I'm just going to go out there and give it my best so I can give Mr. Forsythe and all of Mexico the results they deserve. Last year there was a lot of unfinished business at Forsythe. I believe this is the year to make it up to them and win races, go out there and win. That's how we're going to be able to put a successful program for the rest of the year.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We're very happy for you here at Champ Car World Series. This is a situation that Mario is not unfamiliar with. Jumped into a Forsythe car a couple weeks before the season started back in 2005, took it to a top five finish, the season opener in Long Beach.
Mario, you've had a chance to do a little bit of testing in the DP01. You ran the open test in Sebring back in January. Tell us your thoughts.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I had a chance to drive the new Panoz in Sebring. I think it's fantastic. Panoz did a great job with the car. I think it's got a lot of downforce. Technologically speaking it's a lot more advanced. This car is going to make for better racing, improve the show for the fans, and certainly improve the driving excitement for the drivers.
It already proved to be really fast when it broke the Formula One track record in Laguna Seca. The car was already going faster than the regular Lola in Sebring right on the first set.
It's a car that really suits my driving style. You can really push hard and be aggressive. The car will take it. It's a very enjoyable car to drive as far as from a driver standpoint. It's very demanding, as well. It's not easy, but at the same time you can enjoy it a lot. The new paddle shifting is good, makes it a lot easier than before.
I think it's a great thing for Champ Car and for also the drivers, of course, because we always like to drive cars that are faster, to have a new car. For the fans, it's going to improve the show.
ERIC MAUK: We'll go ahead and open things up to the media now.
Q. Mario, it's got to be a bit of a relief, but also it's now a great opportunity, but you got to make it happen this time. You have had a bit of an odyssey all through the winter, searching for rides everywhere. Tell us about that. Do you feel a particular pressure to produce?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, of course, I believe there is a need and a pressure to get results, not only for the sponsors in Mexico but for Mr. Forsythe and for myself. That will help for me to get a full-time ride for this year.
But that's always the case in racing. It's nothing new. We're out there to win. That's what we should be doing.
As far as during the year, I've been working very, very hard every day since the end of the last race to try to get a budget together to be able to race in a competitive Champ Car team. It hasn't been easy, but I believe it's looking good.
With Pemex, there was a bit of a problem because there was a change in government. I've gotten stuck a little bit there. A lot of people thought I was going to have Pemex for sure. I believe they're going to come through. I have a couple other people that I'm working also to come in for the rest of the year.
As of right now, I am very, very happy and thankful to Telmex and Mr. Carlos Slim for his support and the (indiscernible) Group, who is a construction company in Mexico for the first three races. That's very valuable for me, I believe, to have a company like Telmex that is very, very well-recognized with Mexico. It's great for Champ Car and myself and the fans.
I hope that I can get results and they're going to be happy and we're going to continue for the rest of the year.
Q. Mario, unfortunately it's only a seat for the first three races. Could you tell me about your seat time in the car thus far? What kind of testing have you had in the DP01?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I tested for three days in Sebring, on the first set with the RuSPORT team. I did a very complete test there where we started from just shaking the car down to long runs to try to get to see if the car was consistent and if it was reliable.
It turns out it's a very reliable car right off the bat. The car never had any major failures, nothing really bad go wrong with it. Just a few little glitches here and there that were quickly fixed, and we kept running.
I got to know the car pretty good. I will certainly know what to expect for the first race in Las Vegas.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk to P.T. at all about rejoining the team?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I haven't had a chance to talk to Paul about rejoining, but I'm excited to race with Paul again. He's obviously, I'd like to say, the best driver in Champ Car. To run alongside, it's great. We're good friends. We get along very well. I like him as a person. I know his quality as a driver.
I think him and I, we're doing a very good job together as teammates before. So the fact that I'm joining him again is going to be very good for me.
Q. Paul has a reputation for being outspoken obviously. He really speaks his mind. He said a couple rough things. You said you're friendly. Did that affect you at all going in, or have you made some adjustments in your own thought process and smoothed that out with Paul?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I've never had a problem with Paul either when I was with the team or when I left. To tell you the truth, I don't even remember if he had said anything rough. If he did, you know, it doesn't matter. I never heard it. It's all in the past.
I think right now it's the time to look into the future. You know, absolutely I have no grudges with Paul at all. On the other hand, like I said, we're good friends. Every time we see each other at the track, we talk. He's a good person.
Q. Heading into Las Vegas, you've had minimal seat time in the new car, but you have a lot of experience in Champ Car. Do you think that experience is enough to overcome your lack of seat time in this particular car?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I believe so. I think I got three days that were very valuable. I know what to expect from the car. I know what the car needs, the way it needs to be driven in order to be fast. You know, it's obviously a small disadvantage, but at the same time, like you say, I am an experienced driver. I should be able to overcome that. I don't see that as an obstacle.
Q. How popular has Champ Car become in Mexico? Do you think with you being on Team Forsythe now it will grow even more?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, Champ Car is very popular in Mexico. It has been for the past eight years. It's a great success here. People in Mexico love it. They love the show. It has obviously become popular because they've had Mexican drivers that have had success in Champ Car. For example, Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain and myself have all been successful in Champ Car, and I have a strong following because of that.
This year there was the NASCAR Busch race in Mexico. It didn't even draw half the court. Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain were driving here, and they didn't draw a big crowd. The grandstands were fairly empty. Whereas last year, racing here in Mexico City, we got quite a good crowd, like about a hundred thousand people.
People appreciate open-wheel racing and they especially appreciate Champ Car because they always know that the race is going to be exciting and it's going to be fun. Having a Mexican in a good team as Forsythe that has the opportunity to win races and get good results is always exciting for the Mexican fans. This is certainly going to help a lot to increase its popularity and have everybody very happy down here in Mexico.
Q. You talked about the difficulty or time you had to spend all winter getting together a budget even for these three races. I was talking to Andrew Ranger. He had the same sort of difficulty. He's now switching to NASCAR Canada, which is sort of a feeder system for NASCAR. Your thoughts on the frustrations of drivers today trying to raise money to get a ride in Champ Car.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, of course, it's tough. I'm not going to say it's the ideal situation where a driver has to go out there and raise the money. But the fact is that that is the reality right now in open-wheel racing. The teams need to be funded. The money has to come out of somewhere. Sometimes that's part of a driver's job. You have to go out there and work hard and talk to companies and convince them and sell yourself, sell Champ Car, in order for them to support you.
I don't see it as a bad thing. It's not the ideal thing. But I've always been a very hard worker. If that's what it takes for me to keep on racing in Champ Car, you know, that's what I have to do, and I will do it. I will persevere and try to do my best to go out there and find the necessary budget to run in a competitive team.
Q. Neil, along the same lines, did you even consider Andrew Ranger as a driver this year? Perhaps looking at it in a larger picture, is Champ Car using good young drivers because of this whole thing about trying to raise the money to get a ride?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Certainly Andrew, along with a host of other drivers, were considered by us. Ultimately for a multitude of reasons we decided to present the opportunity to Mario.
I think that certainly Champ Car and several other series in actual fact have and are going to continue to struggle to find the funding in the present economic climate that we're dealing with for some of these young up-and-coming drivers.
I know that Andrew has been trying very hard to keep a full-time seat in Champ Car. But it's really a sign of the times that we're in. I think clearly we've still got a lot of work to do in order to build Champ Car racing to the point where it can attract the type of sponsorship that we'd all like to see. I'd much prefer the teams were able to bring in a sponsor and then choose the drivers. It's just not where we are at the moment.
ERIC MAUK: To back up on Neil's point, the question was about a dearth of young driving talent. If you look at the entry list and what you're going to see at Las Vegas, not only do we have a bunch of very talented veterans, but these guys are to go to be chased by fast young guys.
Will Power in his second year is going to be a threat to win races; Neel Jani, a rookie in the No. 21 Red Bull PKV Racing car has been in the top three of almost every open test we've run this year. You're going to see another rookie announced a little later today who is going to be very fast, Simon Pagenaud, who is the Champ Car Atlantic champion running alongside Will Power for Team Australia.
Robert Doornbos, who was announced yesterday at Menardis, is a guy that has Formula One experience, has been in the top five. Very strong nucleus of good young talent coming after Mario and the rest of the guys this year when we get to Las Vegas.
Q. Neil, we all know the benefits of having two cars to be competitive in the series. Talk a little bit about the way these two guys debrief. It's critical to have two drivers, but it's nowhere if these guys around willing to share their information and data. Talk about the cooperation between Mario and P.T.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Certainly that was part of the consideration when we were selecting a driver. Our past experience with Mario indicated that his style of debrief and the way in which he works with the engineers and with his teammate with regards to the setups is very good.
I would like to reiterate, despite what may be thought or said about Paul being outspoken, he says what he's thinking at the time, but there is a genuine affection between he and Mario. They do get along very well.
As we go forward and learn more about the DP01, I certainly think that the feedback from Mario, as well as Paul, is going to be very beneficial to us.
Q. The DP01 is a new car. The Lola is gone. What does this car do that maybe the old Lola didn't do?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: You know, that's going to be a little bit hard to quantify in view of the fact that it's going to do something different at each event.
Certainly what we found so far is that it's a very, very responsive car. The changes that we made to it, I think it responds somewhat more easily to the changes we make in a way that we would be better able to predict. Ultimately what it does better is it goes faster.
Q. Neil, this deal came together kind of late here in the season. As a team manager, is that difficult for you to put it all together in time for Vegas?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: No, not really. Obviously we're a team with not insignificant resources. A lot of things had been done and put in place with the view of us likely running a second car. As such, we're responding to that.
Naturally we would have liked to have been able to announce this a little sooner, but an awful lot of things were in place. We'll be there with bells on.
Q. Who will be the engineer for Mario?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: We haven't announced it. It will be Alex Timmermans.
Q. Mario, Telmex is on your car backing you just for the first three races, or will they stay on if you stay on for the whole year?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, for now it's for the first three races. You never know what can happen in the future. Carlos Slim has always been a big supporter of Champ Car and motor racing. I believe if everything goes well with me, the championship and the results, there's a big possibility of keeping it for the long-term.
Right now we're going to take it step by step to the first three races. It would certainly be fantastic to have Telmex on the car for the rest of the year.
Q. Have you heard anything about the TV deal for Mexico? Will Champ Car be broadcast live in Mexico this year? In the past it's been off and on. It's hurt drivers like you looking for sponsorship.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Yes, I've been working very close with TV Azteca. Last year I worked closely with them to promote the race in Mexico City a lot. I did a lot of promotions with them. They even put me on a soap opera. It turned out to be very beneficial for them and for Champ Car.
We got a lot of people at the race, a lot of people came to watch me. I've been in close contact with them. Certainly the fact that I am racing in the car right now is going to help a lot in order to have them televise the races live.
At this point in time I do not have news on whether they're going to do it right away or not. This is certainly a big step forward in order to be able to do that.
Q. Neil, with the precision of the testing of the DP01, new modification, how do you foresee the performance of the car in Las Vegas? What was the biggest problem that you have to resolve?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: That's a difficult question to answer. Obviously we haven't run at Las Vegas. Nobody has. Certainly the characteristics of the car at this point is that it's very nimble, responsive to the changes that both the team makes and also that the driver inputs. We think it's going to be very fast on all of the circuits. But I think it will shine particularly on the streets.
As far as the biggest problem we've had to overcome thus far, I don't think there's been a major problem. There's been a few new car blues as we would call them, things that each team wants to try and do just a little bit differently, making sure that things are reliable. It would be difficult for me to say that there's been one big issue.
Q. Neil, Gerald had been quite insistent at the beginning of the year he wasn't going to run a second car unless sufficient funding was found. Is the team happy with the situation right now, at least for the first three races, that the budget has been taken care of?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, I guess the answer to that question is self-evident in view of the fact that Mario is in the car. Obviously it's not always just about money. I think Mr. Forsythe recognizes the benefit of his running a second car.
Certainly we, being the team and Indeck, our primary sponsor, have some very extensive and serious business interests in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. There are things there that make the relationship and our intent to try and extend those relationships in Latin America, it all fits together very well for us.
Q. Mario, during the Rolex 24 At Daytona, you were sporting a different sweater at that time. What happened with those options?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Which sweater? I'm sorry?
Q. You were wearing another team's jersey at the time. Looked like you would be driving for another team.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: At the Rolex 24, that is correct. The deal there with RuSPORT never came through. It just didn't happen. Right now I had been talking to very many other teams, try to get all my options open. The fact that I'm actually going to be able to race with Forsythe again, to tell you the truth, for me is a dream come true for many reasons. Most important, I believe there's a lot of unfinished business. I want to give the team victories that I could have and should have done last year.
For the Mexican fans and I think everybody, this is a great story, the fact that last year we parted ways and now we're back together. I think it's a great story. I hope to make it an even better story by giving the team and my sponsors good results.
Q. Mario, in regards to Telmex, what will it take for Telmex and you to stay together for the entire season? Does this depend strictly upon how well you do in the first three races?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I guess it depends more upon Telmex being interested in supporting Champ Car. I did talk to them. They told me they wanted to first see a good, strong field of drivers. There is no question, there's been a lot of rumors and things being said about Champ Car in the past few weeks. But the fact is that once the season starts, once the people see what great racing is going to be, what great races are going to be put on the first part of the calendar year, which is Vegas, Long Beach and Houston, everything else is going to be forgotten and people are going to be excited about the series.
All that is certainly going to help. Of course, if I get good results it's going to help even more to try to get sponsors like Telmex on board for the rest of the season, as well as all the other companies that I'm still in negotiations with.
This is a good opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it. Hopefully that way the Mexican people and the Mexican companies will support me for the rest of the year.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring our Champ Car media teleconference to a close today. Again, congratulations to Neil Micklewright, Forsythe Championship Racing, and Mario Dominguez. We look forward to seeing you at the season opener, the Vegas Grand Prix, August 6th through 8th.
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