Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
May 24, 2006
ERIC MAUK: We have Rocketsports owner and Champ Car World Series co-owner, Mr. Paul Gentilozzi. Mr. Gentilozzi, thank you for joining us today.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Always a pleasure.
ERIC MAUK: And we have a very exciting announcement as Rocketsports announces today that they will be campaigning Champ Car Atlantic veteran Tonis Kasemets for a minimum of six races in the 2006 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season beginning with the June 18th event at Portland International Raceway.
Tonis Kasemets, a three-time winner in the Atlantics last year, he finished second in the championship, won twice at Portland and won at Road America, so a proven young driver. And this means that the top three finishers in the Atlantic Championship in 2005 will have competed in the Champ Car World Series in 2006, so it's a boost to the driver development program.
Mr. Gentilozzi, tell us a little bit about Tonis Kasemets and what attracted you to bring him on as a race car driver.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Well, the obvious one is that certainly last year I watched Tonis; really should have won a championship in the Atlantic. I watched a real competitor work very, very hard to get to the race each week and to win races, and that's something, that kind of commitment and enthusiasm, it's very difficult to find in a race driver today.
But my relationship with him goes back to I think the year 2000 when we met at a regional banquet or a banquet in Chicago region of SECA, and I can remember Tonis coming up to me, I was the speaker that night, and asking me questions about how he moves up the ladder and what the progression is like for racing. We've had a five-year, six-year relationship. The last couple of years I've certainly admired everything he's done and have spent considerable time watching him.
ERIC MAUK: This will be a two-car team. You've got the #8 car obviously with Nicky Pastorelli in place and he will be driving #18. You've run two cars in the past and you're no stranger to such an effort. Tell us about the team that's going to campaign the second car.
PAUL GENTILOZZI: We wanted to run two cars all year, and the chronicle of our Brazilian attempt that everyone saw, that business deal didn't happen. Sometimes deals get written but don't get executed and we started the year with only one car. Now, the circumstances are perfect to bring back a driver. Even though Tonis will be a rookie, he knows the racetracks we're about to race on. He's had an opportunity to sit in a Champ Car seat and do some great testing with the RuSPORT team. He came out of that test really highly-regarded, but that's not the issue. We believe in Tonis and we believe he can be the best rookie as we go forward.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We're looking forward to seeing Rocketsports cars on the track in Portland and beyond.
Tonis, you've been battling very hard to get into Champ Car and now making the announcement, what does it mean to you.
TONIS KASEMETS: It means quite a lot. And I want to say hello to everybody and I would like to thank Paul and Rocketsports for giving me that opportunity. In the age of seeing as I'm young, in racing they call me a veteran which now I'm going to be a rookie in Champ Car, so it's all up and downs and downs and confusing for somebody, but I'll take my chance and I would like to do the best I can with. It's been pretty much a dream come true, a roller coaster for me, so I'm really, really looking forward.
And I'm seeing Rocketsports now for two weekends and they are good group of guys, they are working hard at it. So really looking to work with Paul and his son, John. I hope we will have a great time doing that.
ERIC MAUK: You've come up through the open-wheel ranks starting with coming over from Europe, you were in the USF 2000 series for a couple years, you made 18 starts in the Atlantic series running in the last two seasons, six podium finishes last year, obviously very strong, last year in Champ Car Atlantic as we alluded to before, you've done a good bit of testing including a story about a 35-degree day you ran in Chicago for Dale Coy (ph) as I remember last year. Tell us how you feel in a Champ Car and how a Champ Car feels in relation to anything else you've driven before.
TONIS KASEMETS: You know what, it starts in the very low, from a continental from an Atlantic and with sponsors who have helped me, and TMI, and driving all kind of different cars, form a LA 2000, Formula Ford, Formula Atlantic, and then now I've had quite a few chances doing test with Champ Cars. And I think it's good that I have all these different opportunities and different conditions to do that, to just make my driving better.
It just almost feels like I'm a red wine which is not released yet, so they are keeping it aging up and then when they finally pour some in the glass, I hope it's very good.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations on the announcement today. We really look forward to seeing you out on the track beginning in Portland.
TONIS KASEMETS: Thank you very much. And I would also like to thank Larry Holt from Multimatic helping us with dynamic suspension, and I would like to thank my family, also, who have supported me through all of these up-and-downs, and it's pretty good. Hopefully fans will have a good time as well watching us on the racetrack.
Q. Was there a sponsor announced for this effort?
TONIS KASEMETS: Yes, it is Multimatic and Flexovit Abrasive in New York, they have been supporting me since '98. And this would have been a main sponsor right now on the car.
Q. You mentioned support from Multimatic. Will they also be providing sponsorship or are they going to be providing technical support?
TONIS KASEMETS: They will be providing technical support.
Q. Paul, as team owner, what does it mean to have a second car, is that better for the team overall?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: I think it absolutely is. It's difficult enough. We have a rookie in Nicky Pastorelli, who has not been to any of these racetracks. He came to us the second race of the season and had not raced here; had raced in Champ Car and certainly not raced on the kind of tracks.
So Tonis will bring a real native information base tracks that he's familiar with; he understands the kind of race car that he wants. So selfishly, it's an assist to the whole team, and whenever you can compare two drivers data, when you can overlay, one driver is always faster in one section than another and they can feed off each other to make each other better. So I think it's a significant improvement from an experience and engineering standpoint.
Q. Is Multimatic new to the team, is it a new addition?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Multimatic, we've been an OMP (ph) team for several years and we look forward to the opportunity to work with Larry Holt and his company. They have achieved tremendous success.
Q. It was mentioned six races, possibly more, is that what I heard; is that if the money is there?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Well, we are all investing in this. We want Tonis to have a great season, but there are -- there's always some financial invitations, so we're going forward with the commitment to do a minimum of six. We would certainly like to run him all of the races if we can make him commercially available.
Q. Will that be consecutive races?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: No. The schedule jumps around a little bit. We're trying to finish that now. I would say by tomorrow we'll be able to put out a release with the exact races.
Q. You are from Estonia, which in the early 90s was part of the Soviet Union, where, when, how did you begin your career, did you start there or did you have to leave the country?
TONIS KASEMETS: I started when I was eight with go-kart racing in Estonia and raced until '93 was the last race in go-karts and in Baltic states. End of '94 I did a Nation Cup in Danworth (ph) with team Estonia, and in '95 I moved to the U.S.
Q. And will you be doing any testing before Portland?
TONIS KASEMETS: We are planning.
Q. Like next month?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: As soon as possible.
Q. You did do some testing last month with Nick Pastorelli in Milwaukee, and given he is a relative newcomer to the ovals, what are the team's strategy and expectations going into the race next weekend?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Well, Milwaukee is going to be tough. Nicky comes from a road racing background and has not had any oval experience, and certainly Milwaukee is a very intimidating racetrack. So we are going in there with the idea of simply having a safe race and allowing his learning curve to be at his pace. I'm hoping Tonis can come join us and share his experience with Nike. He's been great, Tonis has been a great asset technically the last couple of weeks. It's given him a chance to integrate into the team without having the responsibility of being on the racetrack right away.
Q. This year several drivers have moved up from Atlantics, are you pleased with the way Champ Car is now nurturing and encouraging new talent, or would you like to see more and if so, what?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Well, I think that it's been a fantastic mix. We have a great group of rookies. Probably the most talented rookies that we've had in several years, which says a lot for the Atlantic series and the momentum that it can generate as drivers go forward.
It's interesting to me, some fans are very anxious for the rookies to compete immediately with the veterans, and as any experienced race driver knows, it takes a lot of time with to develop that feel and confidence in a race car. So we've seen rookies with great spirit and enthusiasm like Dan Clarke, and we've seen drivers like Jan Heylen come and show very consistently that he can compete at a high level.
Q. I believe you won the Portland Atlantic race if memory serves me correctly, does that weigh on you being your first race this year this Champ Car?
TONIS KASEMETS: I think so. I think it's very important to start in a comfortable place where you know the racetrack very well, and I think that was a decision that Paul and I made is that we go somewhere where we all feel comfortable.
ERIC MAUK: Talking about Portland. You ran on that racetrack in '04 with the older style curves, and last year you won twice after they opened up that a little bit and obviously made for a faster track, but how much from a driver's perspective did it really change things?
TONIS KASEMETS: Really didn't change much. It was a little bit better for your first lap after the start and more chance you'll go and not get penalties.
But Portland is a cool track. It's a very driver track and also have to have a very nice car so it's a very nice place, very good facility and a lot of fans all there.
ERIC MAUK: Have you had much of a chance to experiment, to test with the Cosworth power-to-pass mechanism in your Champ Car testing?
TONIS KASEMETS: I have been looking forward. I have not had a chance of pushing that button. I don't know what that feels like yet.
ERIC MAUK: Paul, are you going to turn him loose on that?
PAUL GENTILOZZI: Absolutely. The thing that I don't have any insecurity about is Tonis' desire and ability to step on the gas pedal or do anything that makes more horsepower. We have a lot of confidence in that.
ERIC MAUK: It appears that the media grilling has finished for the day, so we'll go ahead and wrap up our congratulations. Congratulations to Paul, Rocketsports Racing and Tonis, and we look forward to seeing you guys all on the racetrack in Portland.
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