Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
February 20, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference where we have another exciting announcement leading into the Bridgestone Presents Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season. As the driver lineup continues to take shape, today it's my pleasure to announce that veteran Mario Dominguez will be back in the series this year, and again taking on the role of driver for Forsythe Championship Racing. Mario will drive the #7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone as prepares to get underway with his fifth Champ Car season after a number of years in the Dayton Indy Lights series, part of the driver development system back in the CART era.
Mario, welcome to the call today.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, thank you very much, and happy to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Mario, obviously a little better situation this year than last year. Last year you jumped into the #7 car, pretty much at the very last minute, one week before we got underway with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; didn't really slow you down, you finished fifth despite not having been in the car at all. You have a little bit more lead time this year. You guys are going to be out testing Thursday, I believe. Tell us a little bit how the extra time helps you.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It's a huge help. Forsythe is a great team. I think it's the best team out there, so it's obviously a benefit for any driver to be their driver because they can always be fast. But I'm going to have a little bit of time of testing before the season; and now that, you know, we all know each other, the team knows what I like, I know what they like, and we really have a very good chemistry going. We have a very good chemistry the whole year, so I think this year of continuity is going to be great. And being with Paul again is going to be fantastic. We both share a lot of information and it's been great to be with Forsythe.
I think definitely this year we're going to be a very strong team, and I expect nothing less than Paul and I fighting for the championship.
THE MODERATOR: Mario finished ninth in the points standings last year, but was battling for a top 5, had a couple of incidents the last two races of the year last year, neither one of them of your own making, Mario, that kind of knocked you back in the points a little bit, but you finished in the top 10 each of the three Champ Car seasons. Tell us a little bit, you alluded to getting into the car late but still putting together a good year, but tell us a little bit about what it takes from a driver standpoint to build team chemistry and how tough it is to get acclimated to a new team.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I don't know, it depends, you know, the way that the people on the team are, and everybody at Forsythe was very welcoming, and I mean everybody, you know, from Neil Micklewright to Mr. Forsythe to the truck drivers to the guys that are in the shop fabricating that never come to the races. Everybody was great, so I enjoy it.
Also, I probably like to spend a little bit more time with the teams than other drivers, but I like that to build some camaraderie around there. I don't know, for me it was very easy, they were very good and very welcoming. So like I said, it's a very profession team, they are very hard working, very, very strict but at the same time they are all a great group of people.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us a little bit about what you've been doing in the off-season.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, in Mexico, I've been working out every day. I've been doing a lot of go-karting, about three times a week. So I should be in pretty good shape, just trying to get us, you know, us as ready as I can before the season because, you know, the test days are very limit. The more training I do, the better, so it's going to help me perform better. Especially go-karting is a big help. It helps me a lot, too, to get into shape that way. It's been a very good off-season, but I've had enough. It's been too long, the holidays have been great, but that's it. I want to start to get racing again and start to get to work.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on today's announcement, and we look forward to seeing you back in the car soon.
We are also joined by Mr. Neil Micklewright and Neil has definitely had his hands full this off-season, a four-car Champ Car Atlantic Championship effort being put together, and now getting back on track with a two-car Champ Car effort. Tell us a little bit about just how preparations are going, Neil.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, first of all, thanks for the welcome, and hello to everybody listening.
Yeah, we've been pretty busy. There's no two ways about that. But all in all, I think the preparations have been coming together wonderfully. Obviously I'm delighted that Mario is back with us again this year, and to have that knowledge well in advance of the testing and the race season itself is a great benefit to everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us a little bit about what you saw in Mario that made you want to bring him back this year. And we talked about last year he jumped in the car with no testing in Long Beach and put in the second row and finished in the top five and had a real strong season for you guys. Tell us about your thoughts and your evaluation of Mario.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, I think certainly as you mentioned, his performance under less than ideal circumstances right at the beginning of last year was something of an eye-opener. He's obviously a very gifted driver, and I'm a firm believer that it takes time to create the relationships and the give and take in any team dynamic. You know, during the course of 2005, we were able to forge much stronger bonds with Mario and recognize even more of his abilities than we thought were there in the first instance.
You know, for me it's a bit of a no-brainer. I think as Mario had stated, we've created a relationship; the continuity there is a major plus. We all know him and he knows us, and it's just a natural to go forward with this.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations to you, as well, and we look forward to seeing you guys on track again real soon.
Q. I guess for Neil, the last couple of years has been pretty much Newman/Haas has pretty much had things largely their way. On any given weekend obviously they can and have been beaten, but what do you think it's going to take to really mount an effort that's going to take it all the way through the end of the season and the championship and be able to win on a weekly basis, you know, what do you see different this year than in the past couple of years?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, thanks for the question, that is a good one. I think it's fairly clear that certainly during 2005, and to a lesser degree I think in 2004, Newman/Haas, they have a fabulous team, a fabulous lineup and a great deal of depth in their engineering capacity and ability.
I think there's a few areas where our team perhaps has not fallen behind, perhaps has not explored some of the same avenues to the same extent Newman/Haas has. We're trying very hard to correct that and see what we can actually bring to the table for 2006. I think we were competitive pretty much every event we went to last year, and we're always up there with the possibility of a win. Of course, in this business, you need some degree of luck, as well. And while we can't necessarily manufacture the luck, we look to take better some of the opportunities for potentials that come up and of course not to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Q. Mario, it's an interesting time at Forsythe Championship Racing, that of course nobody knows for sure, but Paul is definitely taking a look at other options with his Busch program and what-have-you, and just I wonder if you can maybe talk a little bit about how you view this year as a way of maybe making a pretty firm statement about your being involved in the team on a long-term basis.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: For sure. I think this is the year, you know, we have to perform and we have to make it. I believe I have the team behind me and I have the right equipment, really Forsythe gives 110% in everything they do, and it's nice to know that I have a competitive package. Of course Newman/Haas have been very strong. It is a well-known fact that they have certain mechanical things in the car that nobody -- that no other team has the availability to, but that doesn't mean -- they have obviously done their homework right. I think there's going to be a lot of other teams and drivers just like there was last year who are going to be competitive like RuSPORT and PKV and all of the other teams and drivers are also going to be fast.
You know, with Forsythe, I think we can do it. Having Paul as a teammate is always a big plus, you know, and we worked hard together, we work well. And I think like I said before, we should definitely be fighting for the championship and for race wins all the time. I think that's the most important thing, just to be competitive in every race, show up there and be in the top and make a lot of points and try to get those wins.
Q. Indeed, indeed. Well, best of luck and I hope you get some of those wins this year.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I hope so, too. The whole team deserves it and I'm going to work very hard to get them.
Q. Do you know if the support staff is going to be the same, Jason Weatherford (ph) and Mike Lufski (ph), are they still going to be involved with the #7?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: From what I know, yes, but I think you'd be better off asking Neil. From what I know, yeah, it's all going to be the same. I haven't heard of any major changes so far.
Q. If you learned one big thing off of running with Paul Tracy, what do you think it is?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: You know what I like about Paul is that sometimes I know the car is not very good, and you know, the car can be set up a little bit better to make it go faster, but he can still make it go fast and not many drivers can do that.
Q. Neil, question for you, you're kind of hoping that maybe Forsythe Racing this year, the whole thing including, as Eric mentioned, the four-car Atlantic teams includes Canadian teams Hingcliff (ph), that this squad is going to be like a very good restaurant; the busier you get, the better the restaurant gets. Are you looking to having the four cars on the Atlantic side and you have Paul and you've got Mario on the Champ Car side. If you were not busy before, you're going to be even busier, but I kind of think you like it that way?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Absolutely, and clearly we here at Forsythe Championship Racing are firm believers in the Atlantic Series, and look forward to it growing.
But there are so many perhaps intangible benefits from running in multiple series at the same time, particularly with both of these under the Champ Car banner: It's a breeding ground, not just for drivers but engineers, mechanics, for interaction between people coming up and people who are here already, and I think that's only beneficial and good.
Yeah, we enjoy being busy. I think it's a sign of the growth of Champ Car and its sustained growth and how things are getting better for the future.
Q. With other drivers you may think that if Paul has got his other foot in the NASCAR/Busch thing, he's going to come into Champ Car and that other drivers will be distracted; I don't think you're going to have that problem with PT.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I don't anticipate it being a problem. You know, the end of the day, PT is a race car driver and he likes racing. Certainly a driver of his stature, he's devoted so much of his time to open-wheel racing, and he's looking to try his hand at a few other areas. I don't view that as being something that would be a distraction. If anything, it's keeping him in the seat; he's doing something, rather than sitting and watching TV.
Q. The situation you faced at Long Beach last year when you stepped into the Forsythe car for the first time for the first practice session there, would you have to say that was one of most toughest or most unusual situations of your career?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, that was unusual, because I did show up on Thursday and I introduced myself to the team saying, "Hi, I'm Mario, I'm your new driver," and it was interesting.
But I tell you what, though, just I started with the team and I felt at home right away. I didn't really have a big problem, and I guess it showed, you know, that weekend. But, you know, there was a lot of things that you have to sort out during the year with certain things with the team that you have to improve that you like best and that you don't like, things like that. That's why I think having that year of experience with the team is going to be a huge help for this 2006, just knowing what we're going to do makes a huge difference.
Q. Just to follow up, even though did you not win a race last year as you did the previous two years, did you consider the 2005 season a success, and what will you be working on to improve this year?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, no, I wasn't very pleased honestly to tell you the truth with how the season went. My biggest problem, the biggest deal was that I did not finish five races. So that was terrible, not finishing five races just hurt me a lot in the points. I believe I had a strong shot at finishing in the top three in the championship towards the end. The two races I didn't finish in the end didn't help us. And I think this year, you know, having left the season without a win, that's always not that good.
So I do expect a lot more. I'm going to work a lot harder, and I am going to do everything in my power to get those race wins and to fight for the top spot in the championship.
Q. Neil, there is an article of speculation that in the next championship testing, Forsythe will bring a couple of two Mexican young boys, can you give us a little hint? I will protect you in case --
THE MODERATOR: The other 20 guys we're not going to vouch for on the call.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Yeah, it's news to me. At this point with today's announcement, I think that obviously we've confirmed our driver lineup now for 2006. And running anybody else, whether they be Mexican or whatever, while I haven't heard anything like that or been involved in it, obviously that would be perhaps favors or just testing to see how certain people do, but I don't anticipate anything of that nature happening prior to this season.
Q. The testing will be Thursday? When will be the next testing?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Yeah, this coming Thursday, I believe.
Q. Mario, I want to ask you something, you know, Mexico is very good, talk about the crisis that there is in Mexico, we don't see good drivers, good young driver, we don't see sponsor. We see that the GP2 (ph) end up in Mexico, what happened with the sponsor and the rest?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I think the biggest problem for this year that we faced, and that is a huge problem, is that the soccer World Cup is going to be happening this year. So that takes a lot of the attention and a lot of the money from every company that I know, and they all want to put their money into it.
It's always the same thing every time there's a World Cup year. So we just have to fight against that and show the sponsors and show the people that we are probably a better investment opportunity for the kind of people they are trying to reach. So that's what we have to keep working on and working hard on it.
Q. Does it make you captain or honorary captain of the team?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Honorary captain of the team? (Laughing). I don't know, I'm just one of the loyal subjects.
Q. Beginning with Neil, I was wondering from this announcement means 2006 Forsythe lineup is all set?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Yeah, I believe it to be. Certainly there's been no discussion with regards to entering a third car which I presume is what you're asking.
So, yeah, we're set with Paul Tracy and Mario, and then of course the four drivers in our Atlantic program.
Q. I believe you're the only Mexican driver confirmed so far this year. Do you expect to be the only Mexican in Champ Car this year, would that be a special burden?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I don't know, I was the only Mexican for most of last year. So, you know, hopefully we can have some other Mexicans, that's always good.
But most important is that if I am, you know, racing, I get the results and that's going to bring a lot more coverage to Champ Car in Mexico and to myself, and it's just going to make Champ Car bigger. That's the whole idea that I start getting very, very good results from early on and make a lot of noise for us over here.
Q. Mario, when you look at what occurred last season, the off-season, beginning with the off-season to this year, because of not having to run around until the last minute of the off-season in 2005, do you feel that your season will be better and mentally you're better this year?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I certainly think so. I think I'm better in every aspect, and like you say, mentally it's a huge help. I know what I'm getting into. I'm not worried whether I'm going to have a ride or not. I've just been working hard on my physical side, and mentally it's just a very big difference that I know that I'm going to show up on a team that everybody knows each other, we have a great chemistry and we all want to win races. It's just believe it or not, it really makes a huge difference.
Q. And my question for Neil, I'm going to go back to the Newman/Haas thing, I know you spend most of your time preparing your team, but you've got to be in the last couple of years looking over your shoulder at Newman/Haas trying to figure out a way to beat this team. Can this team be beat, or do they have to beat themselves?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: No, I think that any team can be beat. I think at this point quite honestly, they have been doing a better job than we have. And it's up to us to raise our game. Most certainly they or any other team can be beat.
Q. You're going to be having four Atlantic drivers plus Paul, are you and Paul going to be able to help these Atlantic drivers, and how much help are you going to give them, given that at some point they are going to be your competitors?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: I'm sure, you know, we can definitely be of help a few times. Although, normally the teams are handled together but at the same time separate. I'm always willing to help the younger drivers and they always talk to me and whatever. I think it will be good to also build a good relationship with all of them because at the same time we are all part of the same team, which is Forsythe. Whether they win or we win, I know Mr. Forsythe is going to be happy, so we can all contribute to that. It will be good.
Q. Will there be any way for them to provide you any assistance when you're on the track, given track conditions or something like that?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Absolutely. I think that's also very important. In fact, a lot of times before the qualifying or things like that at the races, I do go up and ask the Atlantic drivers, hey, you know, how was the track or how was this and what sort of conditions did you face.
So having four guys there, I think it's going to be very good for us because we can definitely get a lot of feedback on that.
THE MODERATOR: Again, congratulations to Mario Dominguez and Neil Micklewright and the whole Forsythe Championship Racing squad, and we look forward to a successful 2006.
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