Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
February 15, 2006
MERRILL CAIN: Good morning and welcome to a very special Champ Car media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with Champ Car and the Atlantic Series. And Tuesday night was a very significant evening in the history of Champ Car with several announcements, and an unveiling that will help determine the future course of not only the Champ Car World Series, but the Champ Car Atlantic Championships, as well. We're privileged to be joined this morning by two people who played a very significant role in last evening's 2006 Champ Car season launch and Atlantic car unveiling at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Joining us from L.A. is the newest driver in the Champ Car World Series and the first ever full-time female racer in the history of Champ Car, Katherine Legge who was announced last night will compete for PKV Racing in the Bridgestone presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
Katherine, congratulations and thanks for joining us this morning.
KATHERINE LEGGE: Thank you very much.
MERRILL CAIN: We're also happy to welcome Katherine's new boss to the teleconference this morning, Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of both PKV Racing and the Champ Car World Series joins us.
Kevin, congratulations and thanks for spending some time with us on a very special, special morning after an exciting evening last night.
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Well, good morning to everybody.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll cover some of the very significant news items from last night in just a second. But first off, let's start with Katherine. And the story of the Katherine Legge is pretty much well-known now. In the fall of 2004 Katherine went to go speak with Mr. Kalkhoven at the Cosworth headquarters in England. Katherine was able to convince Kevin to give her a chance in the Champ Car Atlantic Series where she took full advantage of the opportunity, winning three races to become the first woman to ever win a major open-wheel race in North America. She ended up finishing third in the championship. After three successful Champ Car test sessions two with PKV Racing in the off-season, she also had a Formula 1 and A1 Grand Prix test and found herself with a very special Valentine's Day present last night: A multi-year contract to drive for PKV Racing in Champ Car.
Your emotions, I'm sure, are just going crazy right now. Can you think back and tell us what it felt like last night when you were presented with that multi-year contract and you knew you were going to be a Champ Car driver?
KATHERINE LEGGE: Yeah, absolutely, it was an awesome feeling. I don't really know how to describe it. Everything is happening so fast and I've got such a huge mountain ahead of me that I need to climb. I'm really excited but I'm apprehensive, as well, and fully aware of the enormity of the task. I hope that I can make the team proud.
MERRILL CAIN: And Kevin, where do we start, after such an exciting evening for Champ Car, first off, please talk about the opportunity that Katherine has with PKV, and why this was the right time for her to move up to Champ Car?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: The story, of course, as you say goes back through Atlantics. She had done well in Atlantics and proved that she was a competitive racer. The big question was whether or not she was going to be fast enough in one of these brutal Champ Cars; and two, whether she had the physical endurance to be able to do so. We determined that by doing two sets of tests, one was at Sebring just literally designed to find out: Can she get as quick as the guys with very little time in the car she proved she could.
The second was to try and dispel the myth that women just aren't strong enough to be able to drive a race car, particularly in the second half of the race. So we put her through a complete race simulation, including pit stops and were very interested to find out what her performance would be like in the second half of the race, because that's where people get tired, make mistakes; they lose their rhythm.
She turned out to do an extremely good job in that, and she's very, very fit. She's on an 18,000-calorie-a-week exercise program. And when you think a mile is 300 calories, you'll begin to understand the sheer nature of the physical aspect of what she has to do.
So she proved she was fast enough, she proved she was fit enough and in the opinion, not only of myself but of people like Jim McGee, who won Indianapolis 500s; Jimmy Vasser, who has been a Champ Car champion, they looked at the data and said, yeah, this could work. And so we made the decision to go ahead, particularly this year, because the car is a known entity. We know the engineering on the '06 car, and so that removes a significant variable in performance.
When it comes to the '07 car, we've got an advantage that all of the teams will have the same car on the same date, but there will also be a steep learning curve in the engineering. And we decided the best thing to do is to use this as a transition year with the known quantity of the car, and give Katherine a chance to understand the aspects of racing without having to worry too much about the engineering of the car.
MERRILL CAIN: Tremendous announcement for Champ Car and great opportunity for Katherine.
I wanted to ask both of you, as you head into this next season, Katherine, and Kevin as well, we'll throw this over to you, what are your expectations? What do you think is a realistic goal? What are you hoping to gain from this upcoming season in Champ Car?
KATHERINE LEGGE: I guess I will know more of what my expectations are nearer to the start of the season, but right now, I want to get to Long Beach. I want to finish Long Beach. I want to just gain experience, finish the race, and kind of re-evaluate from there.
Everybody wants to be Rookie of the Year. I mean, any driver who is a rookie who tells you not is obviously not plugged in right, I think. So obviously Rookie of the Year is one of my goals. Like I said, just finish races and consistent improvement. As long as I'm improving, I'm happy. I just want to keep getting better and better and better and we'll see where that takes me.
MERRILL CAIN: What are your expectations for Katherine this season?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: I'm very realistic. History show that is it takes three to four years for Atlantic driver to become successful in the Champ Car series. Doesn't matter whether you look back to Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser to A.J. Allmendinger, it's a steep learning curve and it takes two or three years, at least, to become successful in such a car.
So I'm approaching it with some degree of reality which is that this is not going to be an overnight success. This is going to be a steep learning curve. It's going to be hard, it's going to be tough. The guys certainly are not going to give her one inch. There won't be any "After you, Madam," out on the race course.
So, you know, I think it comes down to, if everyone understands that there is this learning curve, there is this period of at least three years before somebody can really be a race winner. Then I think we'll all be on the same page.
MERRILL CAIN: One of the other significant things to happen last evening was the unveiling of the new Swift 016A Atlantic car. A new three-year agreement with Mazda was almost announced to serve as the engine supplier along as with Cosworth and the marketing partner for the series. The series will now be known as the Yokohama Presents, the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
Kevin, you referred to last night's announcement as the rebirth of open-wheel racing in North America. Can you talk about new Atlantic car, the future of the Atlantic Championship which enters its 33rd season in 2007?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Yeah, one of the things that became very apparent to us as the partners in open-wheel racing, that's Paul and Jerry and myself, was that you have to rebuild. If you're going to have a viable structure that that's going to be proud of and develop for many years, you need to build it from a very strong foundation. And one of the things that happened in open-wheel sports in the United States and North America was that there wasn't really that strong foundation for people to want to come and develop here.
So we put the Atlantics program together simply because we thought if we could develop a car that was more powerful, drove like a Champ Car, with a confirmed ladder into Champ Car, that it would certainly attract some attention. We never for one second expected the attention it has attracted, some 40-odd cars. It's going to be some of the most exciting racing anywhere in the world. And it's an indication of the huge pent-up demand there's really been for this style of racing and for this system. It's been a very powerful development factor because it brings new teams in to open-wheel racing, it brings in drivers in, that allows to you create these new heros and brings new sponsors in which transfers upwards as the teams, the drivers go up into Champ Car. So in every sense, it is the foundation of what we're anticipating into the future.
MERRILL CAIN: Certainly an exciting time for the Atlantic Championship and the future of Champ Car.
A couple other significant announcements were made, series will introduce standing starts this season, with the first two scheduled to take place at Cleveland in rounds five and six. Newman Walks racing co-owned by legendary actor Paul Newman and his friend, Eddie Walk, announced a two-driver lineup with Joe D'Agostino and Daniel Gaude of New Zealand. Pole Star Racing Group, Katherine's former Atlantic team announced Alan Shuto will be its new driver next season, with sponsorship from PKV Racing. And also Bright Racing announced a two-car team with Chris Oleis (ph) and Dutch driver Ben Jamedia (ph) now brings the total to over 20 drivers announced for the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic championship.
Q. You've got to do one circuit, one season, on many of the tracks that Champ Car runs on, I'm sure that will be an advantage for you, have you given any thought yet to the tracks you haven't seen yet, is that on your radar yet or are you focused on starting the job?
KATHERINE LEGGE: Absolutely. I'm obviously very focused on starting the job. Out of all of them, Milwaukee is the one that I worry about the most just because I've not driven on an oval. So I'll be very interested to go and do some testing there and find out what that's about.
But there are not really that many I haven't driven on. I was very fortunate to be able to do a full season in Atlantics last year, and Houston will be new to everybody. It's going to be a very exciting race and I'm really looking forward to that one. Really, Milwaukee, Mexico City and the Australian race; so I think I'll be on Kevin's computer simulator doing laps and just trying to learning the tracks so they will be no surprise when I get there.
Q. I would like to get sort of, pursue the line that Kevin mentioned about this year being a relatively sort of convenient year, I suppose, for lack of a better term for Katherine, for you to go into Champ Car because the technology and the development of the car is pretty well a known entity versus spending another year in Atlantic this year and then going into Champ Car next year when not only you with you the team would be facing a steep learning curve, and I wonder if you could kind of talk your way through that process and just your thoughts on the fact that this year kind of works better in terms of the technology and the development of the car being a known entity?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Is this for Katherine or myself?
Q. I think you addressed it earlier, so I wanted to get Katherine's thoughts on it.
KATHERINE LEGGE: Well, good question. I feel much more comfortable doing it this way around. I feel I have 100% faith in the team. Both my mechanics and engineers have been so helpful. They have helped me through this whole experience, they have guided me through it because they know everything on that car. They have worked with it for years now and they are fully aware of every idiosyncrasy that it may have. So that has helped me to be able to focus on my driving, trying to improve myself, trying to learn about the car and learn about why this happens, why that happens, why you change this and you get this result. So I think it's been a massive help to do it this year.
I think everybody has a rookie year. Very few people go into their rookie year and set the word alight. It's a learning process. I think for me to go into 2007 and try and learn how to engineer a car as well as worry about driving the big cars, because it's a big different from a 240-horsepower Atlantic to a 750-horsepower car, I think is a really good thing. It's really beneficial for me to be able to get one thing done at a time and get that done properly.
So I'm look forward to 2007 when I can look back on the year and say, right, I've done that, and then learn how to engineer a car, because that side of things really interests me, as well. And I'm spending a lot of time with the team in Indianapolis. I've moved to Indy, and I'm going into the shop every day and they are teaching me things. I had a lesson with the shocks the other week; I'm going to do gear box. They are just talking me through it and in baby steps, and then I'll be able to learn; whereas with the new car, they would be learning as well. So I think it's very good idea.
Q. If you could perhaps elaborate a little bit about the Mazda association with Formula Atlantics and what this brings to the series and kind of the perhaps unofficial perhaps, but synergy to the Mazda Star Series and just how that all works?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: I think first of all we're thrilled to have Mazda as a partner. It was a wonderful announcement. They are excited, we're excited, the series is aimed specifically at their marketplace, so that all works well.
Cosworth have taken the Mazda engine and of course have developed it very significantly. It's running at 300 horsepower and normally aspirated 2.3 litre engine. So any time you're running at well over 100 horsepower per litre, you have an interesting challenge on your hands.
The Mazda engine has proven to be a great development tool. We're going to carry on working on it and working with Mazda, I'm sure we'll see some spinoffs between Mazda and Cosworth in the future. All of that is good news, and I think that when I reflect on having a major manufacturer such as Mazda associated with the development of the engine, with Cosworth, we can see that this is a series that is going to get a lot of attention, and that's great news.
Q. I was just going to ask Katherine after the race here last year, you said you were pretty much convinced that you would need another year in Atlantic; did they have to convince you?
KATHERINE LEGGE: No. I think last year I was convinced I needed another year in Atlantics, and then I drove the car and everything changed.
I have changed my opinion completely. I think -- I thought I needed another year in Atlantics because I thought I needed more experience before I moved into the cars, but everything is a long-term thing. It's not a short-term thing. It's not about 2006. Obviously I have to do well in 2006 in order to move into 2007, but how you define well is not necessarily winning races and dominating or anything like that. It's just being consistent, learning, improving, etc., etc. So I drove the car the first time and I thought, wow, these cars are brutal, I don't know whether I'll be able to do this.
And then I drove the car again, and I thought, this is fun, this is much easier than it was last time. I drove the car for the third time and I'm like, bring it on, I can do this, no problem at all, it's the best thing for me to do. I, of course -- of course I want to drive the big car. I'm partly eager, partly because it's so -- I mean, it's an awesome car to drive. It's great fun, it's a driver's car. It's a massive challenge. I'm one of those people who always challenges myself. I will push myself to the limit and it's a big step.
My lack of experience will go against me in some ways, I'm not sure how yet but it will this year. I just have to make sure that I learn quickly and I make as few mistakes possible and I learning from my mistakes. As long as I'm learning from my mistakes, I'm happy. I think everybody changes your opinion, everybody was of the mindset that I would do another year in Atlantics and then I think we realized that I'm ready and maybe I'm not ready experience-wise, but I'm ready speed-wise and I will do the very best job I can and I think that will prepare us for 2007 and beyond, better. It's all about moving myself forward, it's about moving the team forward and it's about a continual process that is not a short-term thing.
Q. How much did what you did in the off-season in terms of you did a minority test and you drove A1, did that also convince you that you would be ready to make a jump?
KATHERINE LEGGE: No, that had no influence on it at all. I enjoyed driving both. It was a great honor to be given the opportunity to drive both. And it was an experience. And every experience you get in the cockpit of a race car makes you a better driver, I firmly believe that. It had no bearing on whether or not I wanted to do Champ Car. Again, it was just another experience that made me a better driver.
Q. When you saw Katherine grow last year in the Atlantic Series, how proud were you then and then the test that she had at this year that proved that she could drive a Champ Car? Again, how proud are you that you gave her the shot and it looks like it's working out?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Well, first of all from the time that I first saw Katherine, when I told my daughter to go get rid of her because I didn't want to spend my time with her at all, to where we are, as been a fascinating journey. (Laughing). It's a story all of its own.
Pride, of course; concern, of course, and it's just another milestone, but there's a steeper hill ahead. We have to wait and see how Katherine does with that. We obviously have had some degree of confidence.
Again, this wasn't a decision that I made. This was a decision that the team made. It was the engineers. It was Jim McGee, it was Jimmy Vasser, all of whom took a collective vote on this to ensure that we had unanimity of thought.
Pride, certainly, collective agreement that the time was right for Katherine, and not just my pushing it on the team. But as we looked forward, a recognition that there's a very significant mountain of experience that we've got to climb ahead and obviously I'll be there to support Katherine. But when you're in the race car, you're on your own and I'll be sitting on the sidelines watching, but it's down to her.
Q. Before Christmas, we talked with Jimmy Vasser and you just got the inclination that he was resigned to the fact that he was going to step out of the seat. What is that situation now?
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Well, Jimmy has indicated that that's what he wants to do, and I have to say that that's not necessarily what I want him to do. I would obviously be thrilled if he stayed on another year.
But everyone, every athlete makes their decision about when is the right time, and I know that he does it with regret and with a great deal of pride and his accomplishments in the past. So as a friend and as a partner, I will respect whatever decision he makes.
Q. I have a question regarding the fitness program for Katherine. If you could go into more detail; 18,000 calories a week is a lot.
KATHERINE LEGGE: Yeah, I don't know how Kevin knows this stuff. (Laughter) I'm working with a team called Pit Fit in Indianapolis. They are awesome. They are getting me fit and ready and I've been on this program for maybe three weeks now and it's already made a massive difference. I am in the gym twice a day, I'm doing lots of different stuff. I'm doing weight training, I'm doing cardio, I'm doing interval training, I'm taking climbing, I'm doing swimming. It's all-encompassing and it's great fun. I'm having an absolute ball doing it. I'm really, really enjoying it.
I'm seeing a difference, which is most important thing, after such a short period of time. And like Kevin said, I did the race distance and I got out of the car and it was almost, not fresh as a daisy, but it was almost like that. I know now if I was to do that again tomorrow, I'd be able to push 100% and get out of the car at the end and think, well, that was fine, that was good, and that's really all thanks to the guys at Pit Fit and Jim Leo for coming up with this program and helping me through it. They are there every step of the way to give encouragement and telling me what I need to do and how I need to do it, and I'm very grateful to them for that.
Q. I remember talking to you after you won the race in Edmonton and I asked you a question about the comparisons to Danica Patrick with IRL, and you handled it very well, by the way, just saying, 'you know what, she does what she does, I do what I do.' But now that you're in a major, major racing series in Champ Car World Series, I would imagine that the comparisons are going to crop up once again. How prepared are you to deal with the comparisons to Danica Patrick?
KATHERINE LEGGE: You know, she does what she does and I do what I do. That is it. I think she's doing a great job in the IRL. But it's a different series. It's not Champ Car. I need to worry about beating Sebastien Bourdais, Paul Tracy, these guys. Maybe one day we'll get to race against each other; I really hope that happens and we can put all this to rest. But really the only thing that we have in common is the fact that we are both female. Like I say, I'm focused on who I need to beat, not somebody from a different series.
Q. And how key is it that you go to a team like PKV, established and have the means, maybe in comparison to an Andrew Ranger who is starting out with Mi-Jack and a new team, is it that important to you and is that a factor in your decision that you're going to a really established team?
KATHERINE LEGGE: Yeah, absolutely. I think Andrew had a good team as well. I have a lot of respect for Mi-Jack, also, but I don't know where you got that one from, but PKV are awesome. Everybody has been really, really professional, helpful and I couldn't have asked for more. I've made some great friends in a very short space of time and they are very behind me. They are 110% behind me and I'm grateful for that and I have a lot of faith in what they are doing. I've been in the shop every day and I've seen the development of the team and I obviously believe that it's one of the best, if not the best team, on the paddock now. I'm very proud to be part of that.
Q. I initially wanted to ask about, it sounded like when Kevin talked about your training regimen and so forth and the rigorous work out that they put you threw before they hired you, it sounded like maybe they were still comparing 2006 and still trying to draw a comparison between what women do and what men do. And I wondered if there was any frustration on your part but listening to you talk here, it sounds like maybe you wanted to test yourself a little bit to find out if you were prepared to make that step into the car and to race against men.
KATHERINE LEGGE: Absolutely, I think it's only fair that they find out what women are capable of because nobody has done it in the past. There have been no successful female racing drivers. There have been some that have showed potential and promise just as I show right now. There have been no Champ Car champions. There have been none racing right at the forefront, and I think that was very important. I think fitness comes into it. These cars are brutal to drive. They are incredibly difficult, and if I wasn't in the gym twice a day, would I be able to do a race distance as well as the guys? Probably not. I have to work a lot harder at it, but that's part of being female, and I get benefits in other ways.
I think they had every right to wonder whether I could do it or not, and I honestly didn't know whether I could do it or not either until you put yourself in that situation, you can't presume. Presuming doesn't get you anywhere; you need to have facts.
So I thought the team were a bit hard making me do a race distance straight off the bat, I thought, wow, that's a bit mean, but actually, it was the best thing they could have done for me and they know best, and I really do believe that. They have so much experience in these things that they know what's best for me and what's best for the team. I learned so much about myself, my weakness, my strengths, my driving, the car; it was phenomenal. Over those two days I learned more than I have learned in my life before. So it was an extremely valuable experience and I -- I guess you have a gut feeling before you do it whether you could do it or not. I'm one of the things that think I can do it because I won't be beaten by it. I thought I could do it but it's nice, like I say to, have fact and actually do it.
Q. When you look at the starting grid in a Champ Car race and the people you'll be competing against, do you kind of pick out one or two to say, "I'm already more prepared because of this fitness regimen, I'm already more prepared than you are?"
KATHERINE LEGGE: No, I don't look at it like that. I don't know who is prepared and who is not, really. I guess we'll find out when we get to Long Beach. I have to work hard to get to their natural level of fitness. So if I was in the gym once every day, I would probably be at the same level as somebody who never went to the gym. It's a lot harder to push myself to the level of what they are doing if they are working really hard at it.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is I will do everything in my power to do what is required of me and more to be able to eliminate that from anybody's thinking. And if everybody else is doing that, then great and if they are not, then no worries, but I will make myself the fittest and the best I can be.
Q. Finally, it sounds like you your first competitor is going to be sitting in the cockpit of your car and not necessarily the other people that are on the racetrack with you.
KATHERINE LEGGE: Right. You can only do your best, right and I fully intend to do my best. I know that I have the potential to do it. I just need to make the most of that potential. I honestly believe that I can do it otherwise I would be banging my head against a brick wall and I would not be trying. I just have to keep my head down and work really hard and help myself to it.
Q. I'd like to ask the question to find out who the driver is, and I don't really know who you are yet, but sometimes when I ask the driver, what's your favorite music, what's the music in your iPod that gives me a little background on who you are.
KATHERINE LEGGE: I have everything. I really don't have any one band or anything like that, that I that I, that's my kind of music, I'm not massively rock and roll or rap or anything like that. It depends what wind of a mood I'm in. I like anything and everything, sometimes I like other things more than others, and like I said it depends on what mood I'm in. I really like U2 and things like that.
Q. Are British bands more to your liking?
KATHERINE LEGGE: Not really, no. I'm not like massively supportive of Oasis and Blur and people like that because they are British. I think of course England has very good music. But actually, the Americans are the leaders in the music world and like I said, I listen to anything.
Q. What was the music that got you turned on for that big test in Sebring?
KATHERINE LEGGE: I don't remember, I think Fran Montani (ph) and I were driving down to Sebring, and I think he was in control of driving and choosing the music on the way down there. And we kept flicking and finding songs and flick over to another radio station. Like I said, it's nothing in particular.
Q. Does music get you jazzed up for a race or do you like to just go somewhere and shut everything off and get Katherine Legge into the so-called zone?
KATHERINE LEGGE: Go somewhere and shut everything off. I'm not -- I listen to music when I'm training and when I'm at home and occasionally, but really when I'm on the racetrack, it's all about quiet time in your head and just clear everything else out so that you can get on that trance.
Q. And your training music, what are you listening to when you're going through this rigorous workout program?
KATHERINE LEGGE: Something to keep me going.
Q. Whatever that is.
KATHERINE LEGGE: Whatever that is.
MERRILL CAIN: We want to take our time to thank everyone for participating in the phone call today. I know that both Kevin and Katherine have a very big day ahead of them today. Congratulations on a very successful evening last night to both Kevin and Katherine and we look forward to great things for the upcoming Champ Car season. Congratulations, again, Katherine and Kevin.
KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Thank you all for being on the call.
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