Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
TOM McGOVERN: This is Tom McGovern over at the Champ Car World Series, and I'd like to welcome you to the first Bridgestone Presents Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford teleconference for 2005. We have some pretty exciting news that was announced a little earlier today with the addition of 2002 champion Cristiano da Matta back in the series, and on today's call we have PKV Racing owner Dan Pettit, along with owner/driver Jimmy Vasser, PKV Racing general manager Jim McGee, and the newest member of the team, Cristiano da Matta. Why don't you start and welcome Cristiano to the team.
DAN PETTIT: Cristiano, this is Dan, and welcome on board. We are very excited to have you. Unfortunately we haven't met yet in person, but we've talked on the phone a couple of times. I have to say we are all excited on behalf of myself and Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser. We are so excited to have you, and your presence here means a lot to us. We have been working very, very hard in putting together a team that can be a serious contender, and I think with your presence here, not only at PKV Racing, but also Champ Car, I think it gives the image that we have finally decided to be very strong and it also says that Champ Car is real. So thank you very much for joining our team and having the confidence in us.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I appreciate it, Dan. I'm very excited about joining the team, very happy about what I've seen here and spending -- having spent like a day and a half here now at the shop and seeing that a lot of work has been done over the winter. The guys were not just sitting here looking at the cars; a lot of work has been done. Everybody is real excited. Everybody is working real hard. I think if we continue with the same mentality, we should be collecting the fruits maybe earlier than we expected. So I'm very, very, very excited about that.
DAN PETTIT: Good, good. Thank you. I think we've put a lot of effort into our off-season to obviously get the elements put together. We've got Jim McGee on board, who I'm very proud to say has joined us, and we're currently working hard to get our car into a very championship position in terms of its elements that actually go on the car. And with the drivers now and the team that we have in place, I think that we're going to be pretty -- pretty good this year. Maybe a few words from Jim. Maybe you could talk about what you're doing with the car and how the team is performing?
JIM McGEE: Thank you, Dan. No, we've got a lot of excitement that's been generated, not only by Cristiano coming aboard, but, you know, the news from Champ Car about the TV package and the scheduling; and the future really looks bright. It's been, you know, very fortunate for me to be able to come in here; and Russ Cameron, who has been here for the last couple of years, you know, Russ did a great job in organizing this over the last couple of years. And I've been able to come in here and pick up from where he left off and do some of the things that probably he wasn't able to do. And, you know, the addition to Cristiano -- the addition of Cristiano to the team really kind of cements the package that we were looking for. We've got, you know, a great group of people, most of them I've worked with in the past and myself personally, I think that Kevin Kalkhoven and Dan Pettit and Jimmy Vasser really have given us all of the ingredients that it's going to take to perform in a championship way, and it's now up to us to mix the ingredients and come up with a car that's going to be competitive all year and put us back on the podium. But I'm certainly, you know, pleased with the way everything's gone and hopefully we can show some good results quicker than a lot of people expect.
JIMMY VASSER: I'd like to reiterate what Dan and Cristiano and Jim have said -- this is Jimmy Vasser. We very excited to have Cristiano in the team. I can tell you from experience that the most important thing in the success of a Champ Car team is chemistry and teamwork, and Cristiano has shown in the past that he is certainly capable of being a good teammate and a champion. And this really rounds us out now, PKV Racing, just under only one year old, a team of champions and the face of our team has completely changed and we are very excited to tackle the championship. And I think that we're well-positioned to surprise a lot of people out there. I hear a lot of talk about upcoming team like RuSPORT and obviously the reigning champions in Newman/Haas, with the Forsythe team, I think now that PKV is definitely going to be one of the teams in the forefront of this upcoming season. Cristiano, I know it's been a little bit of hard work over the last month, but really, really excited about working with you.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I appreciate it, Jimmy. As I said to them, it's my pleasure to be here. It's the place I wanted to be is racing Champ Cars. So I think it's a great opportunity for me to be associated with you guys, and from what I've seen so far, as I said before, I think we -- I'm sure we'll get there, but I think we'll get there earlier than we expected.
JIMMY VASSER: Good, we've got to put some trophies on the wall there in the lobby.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, that's what missing here.
JIMMY VASSER: There's only a couple. We're going to build a new shelf.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, we are working on it, right.
TOM McGOVERN: Well, thank you guys very much, and now why don't we open up the call to questions from the media.
Q. Questions for three of the guys there. First of all, Cristiano, we just talked to you last week about your Rolex 24 stuff and you were saying you were very close in coming back on to the grid with Champ Car. To come back to a series that was so good to you and you won some championships there, compared to the F-1 pressure cooker that you came from, this has got to be like a dream come true I guess to get back. I know you probably already thought you could, but to land with a team like this has got to be a dream come true for you?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, it's definitely a very good feeling to be able to, as I said, a series that always treat me so well. It's almost like a feeling of coming back home. And with PKV with Jim McGee on the team, having Jimmy as a teammate, and we spent this whole month like talking about it and they are explaining all of the projects, all of the development programs that we have inside here. I really believe we're going to be racing our game, comparing to what the team has done last season, I think we are going to be quite -- I think we will be much better shape. So, I'm very, very happy about everything, about the opportunity, about being here, about what I've seen here on the team so far, and with the people I'm associated with right now, I think it's overall, it's just a great opportunity for me and I'm sure we're going to be able to translate the whole thing into good results in the races.
Q. Jimmy, if I can ask you a question, too. When you put the team together along with Kevin and Mr. Pettit, you know, budget is one thing and to have a big bank account is one thing, but to have the personnel to be able to use those resources to success the addition of Jim McGee and Cristiano da Matta, that's two huge big pieces of the puzzle to get to the top of where you need to go.
JIMMY VASSER: Absolutely. You look at the list of accomplishments that those two guys have and what they bring to the team; you just can't replace that. Kevin Kalkhoven and Dan Pettit brought me into the ownership realm for a reason, to help build the team to a front runner. And it took some time for us I think last season to realize where the deficiencies were and really, Dan Pettit and myself have been charged to work on the race team side, as Kevin obviously is very busy in many other aspects of the sport. You know, sometimes it takes a little bit longer to do than you want to. You want instant gratification, but I think that the moves that we've made certainly have caught the eyes and the attention of our competitors. You know, these are the decisions we strongly feel are the right ones for our team, and we're just really excited to get the PKV Racing cars on the track this weekend at Sebring for our first test sessions.
Q. Jim, we just talked to you a couple of days ago. Having teammates that genuinely get along I think is very important over the history with Vasser, back in the old days with Zanardi, those guys got along so very, very well, and Cristiano was always a good team guy and an easygoing guy to get along with. It's been described that there's speed in that when the two guys genuinely get along off the racetrack, as well as on the racetrack, and I think you'll probably agree with that over your history in the business?
JIM McGEE: Yes, it is, and it's the concept of what's best for the business, what's best for the team. You know, these two guys, they are going to do what's best for the team because they know their success is going to be the success that we have on the team, not the individual's success that each guy would have. You know, I've been involved on both sides of the fence with different drivers, and, you know, Jimmy certainly has been a great teammate. As you can look back with people like Zanardi and Montoya, and you know he's proven that his whole involvement in the team is for the better of the team, and Cristiano is the same way. For me to have these two types of individuals driving for us, that's a huge benefit because it really brings the team concept together and it filters down through the engineering through the mechanics, through the truck drivers, everybody is working for the betterment of the team not any individual betterment, and so it really is; it's just what you want in an organization.
Q. Gentlemen, I'd just like to know since we realize that Jimmy is driving the #12 Gulfstream/Lola, do you have commercial partners lined up for the #21?
DAN PETTIT: Let me talk, this is Dan Pettit. Kevin and I are working very hard -- actually, all of us are, in trying to get the right sponsorship. We have a number of them that we're talking to. They haven't landed yet, but we have an awfully active list of candidates and so we hope before race season that we will have the right announcement.
Q. And Cristiano, I know that you have some obligations this weekend, will you be doing anything at Sebring before you go to the Rolex 24?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, the plan we have right now is kind of crazy but I think it's going to work. I'm going to be going to Daytona tonight. I'm going to be making a seat because I still haven't tested the car Ford (ph) I'm going to drive this weekend. Then I'm going to drive on Thursday. I'm going to do both sessions. As soon as the second session is over, I'm going to jump in the car, the road car, drive to Sebring, I'm going to get there on Thursday, I don't know, five, six o'clock in the afternoon, just check the pedals, check the seat because everything is new, and then drive Friday the whole day. So I'm going to be missing the two 45-minute sessions on the Friday at Daytona.
Q. You've got a lot on your plate, boy.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Yeah, but I think it's going to work. We had the option to -- maybe for me to drive the car later on in Sebring, not this weekend, but I'm so anxious to get back in the car. It's been so long I haven't been driving the race car I want to get this first day behind me as quick as I can and get these rust out of my arms as quick as I can, too, so I can be back up to speed soon.
Q. Cristiano, there was a lot of talk about you going to Newman/Haas, can you tell us what happened there and how you ended up with PKV?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, the whole time I have been talking to PKV and Newman/Haas. They are the two teams I've been talking to basically this off-season. The Newman/Haas thing, it would depend on a couple of different things, and it was starting to get later, late and late to the start of the test season. So is it was -- I started to feel like with what we have with PKV now was something more concrete. The Newman/Haas, they would have to turn the two-car organization into a three-car organization and we had to go after a sponsorship to try to fund eventually the third car that I was supposedly to drive if I would have signed there. And PKV, they had everything in hand. Like the two cars were here, the team was here, the deal was all ready to go. They needed the second driver to be teammates with Jimmy. So, with the addition of Jim McGee on the team and all of the talk that we had during January, basically, it made me, convinced me that it was a pretty good deal and it's a team that maybe you're not going to start as competitive as Newman/Haas; because they are the champions, we are not going to start like they are going to start the season. But I think they have a lot of potential to grow up as a team and with everyone we have involved on the team right now, I think we have everything we need here at the shop. We just have to find the right combination setups and we just need -- really, we need to do hard work on the racetrack.
Q. Since you last raced in this series, the series has changed ownerships and there's a lot of concern about the future of open-wheel racing in North America. What is your take on the future of this series after being away for a couple of years?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I've been following CART mostly on the sports side. I've been watching most of the races on TV while I was away. I know most of the things that have been going on, mostly on the sports side. Obviously I know a little bit on, let's say, the organization side, I know a little bit of what's going on, but maybe I don't know enough to give you a proper answer. But I can say right now I think the direction that Champ Car has taken over this last year I think is the correct direction to go. I think with (Kevin) Kalkhoven showing how serious he is about this business, this series, by buying Cosworth and having such a great package TV package for the year, I think that all shows the people there in command of the series, they are here not just playing around. They are here seriously and they want to see this thing happen and see this series being as successful as it was in the past. So I see a good future for the series. In my eyes I see a good future of the series; otherwise, I wouldn't have any interest to come back here, too. I came back because I believe in the series, I believe in the true sport that the series is, and I think that this is the place to be.
Q. For either Dan or Jim or Jimmy, I would like to know if you foresee a role in the future for Ryan Dalziel and Bjorn Wirdheim with the team, and that is if there's any consideration of perhaps adding a third car to the team, maybe not this year or maybe next year, I don't know.
DAN PETTIT: Yes, we've looked at him very hard, and I think in the future we would continue to look at him and probably there may be a spot for him. But this year we are concentrating on a two-car, team and if events come down the road here that says we would have three cars, we would do it. But at this point, the answer is he is a future person that we would look at hard. We have a lot of respect for him, think he's a good driver and we'd take a serious look at him. But right now, we're just concentrating on the two cars.
Q. Cristiano, since you left the Champ Car World Series, I don't think much has changed in the technology of the cars, except maybe there's been a reduction in horsepower for the longevity of the engines and no traction control. And you're coming from Formula 1 which has been highly sophisticated. I imagine this is going to be more of a drivers-skills series to you than the super technology that you had in Formula 1, and is that going to be more enjoyable for you as a driver? And secondly, now that they have equalized the weight of the drivers, is that going to affect your competitiveness?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I think the fact that there is less technology and it's a bit more up to the driver over here is one of the main reasons why I chose to race in Champ Car is because the race car driver, as a sportsman, you want to try to measure yourself against the best guys in the business, but obviously in the same similar conditions as possible. Because if the cars start to be too different from each other, it's difficult to see who is being the best driver out there. So, I think actually with the weight rule, there's always been a lot of talk about this, the weight of the driver and the car together, I think is the correct thing to do. Because if the guy has an advantage to be lighter and the other guy is heavier, he doesn't have to pay a penalty just because he was born like that, and I think it's a good rule and I support it. I just don't think it's going to affect my competitiveness at all.
Q. One question I would have I guess maybe for Dan would be, you and Kevin are still relatively new to the business of racing, and I just wonder if you could maybe discuss or talk a little bit about the input that you got from your partner, Mr. Vasser, on basically a lot of the stuff you've done here in terms of bringing in Jim McGee, and now obviously higher Cristiano?
DAN PETTIT: For myself, I'm the newest, of course. Kevin has been around the racing for some time and active as an owner for a little bit longer than I have, but the one thing we have been is we are fairly good business people. We looked at what makes a great team last year versus the teams that weren't very great, and we could see they had certain elements that the not-so-great teams had, and the first was they had a very knowledgeable manager. We just didn't have the guy that could run it to the peak that it needed to be. Although we had a good one that organized it well, I think we came to the conclusion very quickly that we needed a super manager with a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, and as Jim came on the radar screen, we knew we had to have Jim. We are just thrilled that he was happy enough to come with us. As far as the other elements, we could see that, you know, there is a difference in the cars and the cars have to have someone like a Jim and his engineers working on the car and getting the elements right. The other thing is, we needed a good driver, a great driver. We have that in Jimmy Vasser. But when you look at the good teams, you could see that there's a huge advantage when a two-driver team had two good drivers in there and they could communicate and get the setups right very quickly and I think we missed that. And when we looked at how these other guys set up so quickly and we had to struggle, we could see we needed another very good driver, and that's when we started looking around. And when Cristiano came on the scene, we just started talking. Although we did not compete against the Newman/Haas team, we waited for them to give us their blessing, and when that happened, we started talking very seriously with Cristiano and eventually he agreed to come on board. I think that put together the last element that we needed to really go forward. So that was our observation. And Jimmy, who we rely on heavily to give us the right advice, has kept giving us the people and the right advice, and so we're just thrilled that we now have all of the elements.
Q. Jimmy, for you, if you could maybe kind of take the broad view here and talk about from the series, the overall standpoint, as word started to filter out that Cristiano was going to land at PKV, I guess there was a feeling that it was probably better for the series as a whole to have a second really strong, experienced -- obviously a champion at PKV and make PKV a very strong two-car team rather than having him at Newman/Haas as a three-car team and overall, that it was obviously good for PKV but probably better for the series overall to have him at PKV than to have -- than to sort of, you know, augment an already powerful team at Newman/Haas. I wonder if you could maybe --
JIMMY VASSER: I think from my standpoint, that wasn't our focus at all in what's the best interests of the series. Wear just very selfish in wanting to have what's best for PKV and to have the opportunity -- and the other guys we looked at, both Ryan Dalziel and Bjorn Wirdheim were fantastic, very well accomplished, fast drivers. But, I mean, you have the opportunity to bring in an ex-champion with the race wins and the experience that Cristiano has, immediately, you know, the difference is a fast rookie or a champion. It's purely in the best interests of our racing team that we made our decision. And I think that, you know, the fallout of that is, yeah, I think you're right, I think it is great for Champ Car, too. But I think that's just one of the consequences of him coming to our team. We're just fully focused on putting this race team in the winner's circle, and like I said earlier, putting some trophies on the shelf. And Cristiano was the best man for the job and we feel victorious in the fact that we got him.
Q. Cristiano, again, welcome back to the series, and I guess you'll get a lot of practice in the next few days at moving that funny thing people call a gear shift lever in a Champ Car and the Grand Am car after having dealt with paddles and the like for a couple of years.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, being it's only two years in the paddles and it's funny, even funnier thing. But I think the area that there is -- there is some area that I'm going to find a little bit difficult to come back to 100% with Champ Car will be I think the power steering that I had in the F-1, I don't have in the Champ Cars. I think this is going to -- I'm probably going to have a sore arm on the first couple of days of testing. But, I'm ready. I'm very well prepared physically. I haven't been stopped on all of this time that I haven't been driving. I've been driving go-karts a little bit here and there, and I've been training physically very hard. So I think it's just a matter of to wake up those muscles that have been sleeping a little bit, those very specific muscles, but I really don't think the shifting is going to be a problem.
Q. Anything left on the wish list? Is there an engineer you'd like to get? Is there a seven post shaker in the future? What's left to complete the team?
JIM McGEE: Well, I think, you know, we've been able to come in here over the last three or four months and more or less complete our wish list. We looked at, you know, the areas in engineering that were lacking and the areas in development. They weren't able to do last year because, you know, last year was kind of a ram-and-cram deal for Russ Cameron because of them switching from a one- to a two-car team, and unfortunately, you know, he didn't have the time or the capacity to get into a lot of the detail work. You know, that was one of my primary concerns. And working with Jimmy Vasser on this, we've talked a lot over the last couple of months about what we needed to do in and the areas we needed to work on. So we've been working very, very hard establishing a proper shock and vehicle dynamics program and weight reduction program. And all of the little detail work, you know, that you kind of miss, and you know we've stripped these cars to the bones, we've done twist tests on them to make sure we've had all of the right components and then the basic package is correct. Because the way you win races is you have to have all of the basics correct, and once you have that, then it's a matter of detail work and teamwork. And you know, we've got a great team here, a great organization, and so you know we've been able to do a lot of that that was not able to be done last year.
Q. Jimmy Vasser, with Cristiano's return, that means there will now be four former champions on the grid at every race. This has to be good for the series.
JIMMY VASSER: Absolutely. It's great for the series. It's been a long time sense we've had four champions in the series. I can't remember the last time. Aside from how fantastic it is for us at PKV, we touched on this a little earlier, but I think it's just another indication that Champ Car is alive and getting better and moving in the right direction. I think that over time, I think you're going to see some more fantastic, very talented drivers filling up some of the spots on the other teams, and I mean, I think it's shaping up to be as competitive as it has been in a long time.
Q. Cristiano, you spent a couple of years in maybe the most competitive form of racing in the industry. Did you come out of that maybe a better driver do you think, and when you come into the Champ Car series now, do you feel any more confidence than you had before when you left?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, as a professional, one of my tasks is to try to learn every single day when I'm on the race track, when I'm on the shop, when I'm discussing with the engineers what we're going to and when I'm discussing with the mechanics what we need to do. And definitely in Formula 1, I was able to see a lot of different things, not necessarily good or bad, but I was able to see many things that are maybe done in a different way than they are done here in American racing. And that was very interesting for me, not only on the technical side, also as far as driving style goes because the Formula 1 car requires a slightly different driving style than the Champ Car. Definitely I am more complete as a driver than I was when I left here, and I know some stuff that I didn't know before, and I think this maybe can help me and show me some of the difficulties I might have had like here on the past maybe I have some more ideas how to find solutions for those things.
Q. Want to give one, without giving away too much to the opposition, can you say one thing that you feel more comfortable with, bringing that to the able now?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Sorry, I didn't understand the question.
Q. Is there one thing that you bring to the table now that maybe you didn't have before? You said you had learned several things; can you talk about what one of those things might be?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: It's difficult to mention one thing, it's all details in driving, ways like brake -- especially braking and corner entry. Maybe I've learned in there how to do this part of the cornering a couple of different ways instead of doing in the always classical way, always trying to brake as straight as you can and then turning in. Things that I didn't used to do before, I think I struggled a little bit in the F-1 car in my first couple of tests. But if you ask me if I think this is going to change my complete way of driving, I don't think so, but racing in Champ Cars is full of details. As Jim was saying, the cars are all the same, the engines are all the same. It's all about the setups, setting up the cars, working with the engineers. And I feel like I have a few details, like nothing big, but I have a few details that I feel I'm a little bit better than I was when I left here.
Q. Jimmy, you mentioned, and I want to paraphrase something that you said earlier in the conversation; that you saw some deficiencies during the season last year that you knew when the season ended they needed to be fixed. Was one of those things that you saw and you said to your partners and yourself, "I need a teammate"?
JIMMY VASSER: That was -- yeah, that was one thing. Roberto Gonzalez was put into a bit of a tough position as a rookie and not a lot of track time, but it was pretty apparent that his lack of experience early on as a teammate and the team was more of a hindrance in moving the team forward than being helpful and being a partner of mine to help move things forward. So that was something that was pretty apparent early on that we needed to focus on changing for this year.
Q. Question now for Jim McGee. Having the experience of Cristiano da Matta and Jimmy Vasser, as a team manager, does it make your job a little bit easier having these two guys to feed you information, as opposed to having a veteran like Jimmy and an inexperienced driver?
JIM McGEE: Certainly. It really brings a lot to the table. It brings a lot from Jimmy's standpoint, he's got a teammate that they can discuss the issues and work together for, you know, the benefit of the team. And also, from Cristiano's standpoint, you know, Jimmy can shortcut a lot of his reintroduction into Champ Car with, you know, some of the things that he's seen change over the last couple of years since Cristiano has been here. But I think I could not have asked for a better combination driver-wise, because these guys have been there, they are team players. And like I say, that filters down throughout the whole team. And you know, the successful combinations are the teams that can eliminate the superstars and everybody gets down, they do the job and they work together as a team; that's when you get the results.
Q. In America we have an old saying, especially in the south that sometimes we think the grass is greener on the other side; apparently you thought so when you went to Formula 1. How long were you in Formula 1 when you said to yourself, or did you say to yourself, "Gee, I wish I'd have stayed right where I was in Champ Car"?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Let me just tell you short story. When I went over here in 2002, I was 100% happy in America. I never wanted to race anything else, but Champ Car at that time was -- nobody knew exactly what was going to happen to Champ Car in 2003. And at the same time, I had this opportunity to go and drive Formula 1 for a couple of years. So it was the kind of thing that it was here a bit uncertain. While over there in Formula 1 was something for sure, was something certain for me; it was something concrete. So, that was the main reason why, and obviously having a chance to drive an F-1 car, which is -- every race car driver wants to drive an F-1 car one of these days. I thought if I want to do that some day in my life, I think that is my opportunity and I cannot miss it, but never because I thought it was nicer over there or if it was better to race or more fun or whatever. I always -- in this position, I always liked Champ Car better. And I say that for years, I say that now not because I am back in Champ Cars. Ask one of my teammates that I had in the past, Oriol Servia, he always said to me, "Man, you cannot say this, now you are going to Formula 1, you always said that you didn't like it over there, you like it over here." I says, "Yeah, but here we don't know what's going to happen next year." And I really like Champ Cars and I never thought that the grass was going to be greener over there.
Q. What is it about Champ Cars that you like?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I just like the rules. I like the fact that the driver with his engineers, with his team can make a much bigger difference than any other series you can imagine. I mean, any other top series, I mean, top-class series that you can imagine, because if you think F-1, for example, they have the guy that can make a bigger difference on the car performance is just the designer or maybe the aerodynamicist, not the driver and the teamwork in setting up the car. What I like here is if you get to the racetrack and you are not on the pace, everything you need to make that car on the pace for the next day, everything is in the truck. It's just a combination of springs and shocks and let's say, suspension, geometries and aerodynamic settings. Everyone has basically the same things. So if you're slow, you'd better get back on the truck and think a little bit more with your engineers and your mechanics. The answer is there; you just have to find. Obviously, it's not easy, but this is what I like about it. You always, every race weekend you go to, you always have the hope that you can win the race, you always have the chance to win the race, because everyone at the end of the day, everyone has the same cars. The difference is all setup. This is very interesting I think. And it's the type of -- usually, you get that only on the junior series, right, that you have spec series, all the cars are the same, it's just driver and teamwork. But you have that in a series like Champ Car, it's a top -- if you say, it's one of the top two or three series in the whole world as far as open-wheel goes. This is very exciting. This is why I like it here so much.
Q. Jimmy, this is a bit off of the subject, but two or three weeks ago we spoke with A.J. Allmendinger about his getting involved with that scholarship program in New Zealand, but he said that he was following your lead because "it was Jimmy Vasser that helped me get into that series and helped propel my career to where it is today." How does that make you feel when you hear a young driver say, "Jimmy Vasser sets the example for me"?
JIMMY VASSER: That's very flattering. I think drivers when they get -- I guess when they get to my position, they have an obligation to help the young guys along and they don't have the -- sometimes they have a lot of questions and they don't know what to expect. And just by giving some sound advice and maybe a little support, a push from a sponsor, a little bit of money here and there, really makes a big difference in the career path of a young guy. There's a lot of times out there, that there's guys that really deserve the opportunity and the chance that could change the rest of their careers and they don't get it. So whenever I have an opportunity to affect somebody's career with maybe just a little push or something, then I go ahead and do it. Paul Tracy, by the way, was even more significant in A.J.'s coming along, and he's the one that brought A.J.'s path to my attention and he deserves much more credit with A.J. than I do. It's flattering and it's satisfying when you see the little help here and there really make a big difference.
Q. And he did mention Paul, by the way. Jimmy, congratulations to everybody on the team and good luck this year.
JIMMY VASSER: Thank you.
Q. Two questions. One I guess to would go to Jim McGee first. Jim, I believe that you had said that you were going to test Ryan Dalziel and Bjorn Wirdheim again this coming, I guess week, in Sebring. I guess is that off now?
JIM McGEE: Yes, that was an alternative plan if, you know, we couldn't have worked our program out with Cristiano, but fortunately we were able to do that and so those plans are now cancelled.
Q. Cristiano, when you were in the series last, there was no push-to-pass button, are you looking forward to that and how it works and do you think it's a good thing for the series?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I definitely think it's a good thing for the series. I think anything that brings more excitement for the crowd, I think it's good, and definitely the push-to-pass button does that. It makes it -- some places we know that with all cars, it can become quite difficult to pass, especially when we're running and racing against cars that are quite even on performance with the car you're driving, becomes quite -- overtaking becomes quite a hard maneuver. And with this push-to-pass button, you can play around a little bit and you can make the guy use his push-to-pass a little bit and you can save a little bit more. It's just another thing that adds up to the whole strategy of the race that you have to be smart and know how to use it well.
Q. We're seeing the loss of some great natural-terrain road courses in the series and moving more towards the street circuits. How do you as a driver feel about that?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, obviously, the romance of racing around Elkhart Lake or Laguna Seca is very important to the purist in driving, but unfortunately over the last few years, the crowds have been diminishing. So from a business aspect, you have to understand that the series has to do that, and I think as drivers, we understand that we need a healthy series to be able to have jobs and race cars. So, I think everybody thinks it's unfortunate, but you know, I kind of liken it to following attendance in baseball games and football games; unless they are able to produce a new, modern, more-geared-towards-the-fans stadium, and they come back. So I think our new stadiums have taken the races downtown to the streets is the future for our style of racing.
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I agree with Jimmy. Obviously we as drivers are definitely going to miss driving in Elkhart Lake and in Laguna for example as Jimmy said, but we need to understand the series needs. And definitely, if you look on the near past of the series, our street races have been a lot more successful as far as the crowd goes. So we need to understand that we need to be racing more on street courses than in road courses, but I'm sure all of the drivers are going to miss it because it was -- it was I think probably the best that you can get to drive these race cars on road courses.
Q. Do you find street circuits easier or harder than natural-terrain courses?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Depends a lot, I think it depends a lot on the drivers. Some guys get used to street courses a little bit more easier than the normal road courses. I like them both the same. I think my performances in both either way is similar. I find it -- street course usually you have a little bit less margin for error, but at the same time, the speed is a little bit slower. So there I think that they are about evenly-matched.
Q. Cristiano, yesterday I forgot to ask you, which is more physical, Formula 1 or Champ Car?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, the Formula 1 is a lot easier physically than the Champ Cars, on all of the muscles of your body and also in your -- let's say in your cardio, on the pulmonary and cardio fitness, it's a lot easier. Formula 1 is just more difficult on the neck, because usually you drive road courses with long corners, so it can become quite tough on the neck with the G-forces that you are pulling. The Champ Car, because of the braking being it's two brakes and you have to use more power to decelerate the car, you don't have power steering, you have to shift the gears, you have slick tires, that all adds load to the steering wheel, and, of course, to your body, too. So you are using more all of your muscles to drive the race car, and that, of course, makes your heartbeat go up. So I imagine -- I imagine in an F-1 race, if the average heart rate for me for example would be around 150, 160, in a Champ Car race it would be more 160, 175. It would be a little harder physically apart from the neck. On the neck, the Formula 1 is definitely more difficult.
Q. Jimmy, the sponsor on board, can they be announced or --
DAN PETTIT: We have not announced a second sponsor yet, but as I said earlier, Kevin and myself and others are working closely with a number of them, so we are hopeful that we'll announce something fairly soon.
Q. I just wanted to find out how instrumental was Paul Newman on getting you back on the Champ Car grid?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, Paul Newman, he did everything he could to try to get me back on the Champ Car grid with his team. Unfortunately it didn't work the way we were expecting, but I think him and the whole Newman/Haas team, they have tried everything they could as far as the effort and trying to find a sponsor and trying to get a team to a three-car organization, but at the end of the day it didn't happen. With my deal with PKV, he has nothing to do with this deal; this is a completely separated thing. It's all the efforts of Kevin Kalkhoven and Dan Pettit and Jimmy Vasser, and, of course, Jim McGee, too. So those are the guys that have something to do with the deal with PKV now.
Q. How long ago did you start these plans with PKV or even Newman/Haas? How long ago did you initiate these plans?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: With Newman/Haas, I've been talking to them since probably November, just a bit before the Mexico race. And with PKV we started to talk just maybe just after the Mexico race, I don't remember if it was late November or early December. But this has been something that we've been talking for a while, and I'm happy that we have been able to put it together now.
Q. What's it going to feel like going to toe-to-toe against your Newman/Haas or former Newman/Haas teammates?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, just the same as if I would have gone against any other people now. They are not my team any more so I have to fight them like hell. (Laughing).
Q. Can you just share with us, you've had some success on the Toronto streets, Toronto Molton Indy specifically. Can you share with us how eager you are to get back and to compete on the streets of Toronto once again?
CRISTIANO DA MATTA: The Toronto events is always one of events I enjoy the most because of the proximity of the driver and the general public. The track is always crowded. There is always a lot of people on the Sundays. And the Canadian race fans seem to like the Champ Cars a lot like, not only in Toronto, but every time we went racing in Vancouver, it was the same, and when we went on racing, Montreal was the same, too. I think it's just like every one in Canada just likes the Champ Car series. But the thing about Toronto is probably -- I'm not sure about the numbers but by looking at the paddock is the place that the paddock looks crowded more than in Vancouver and more in Montreal -- more than in Montreal. So it's a good feeling for the driver. It's just like -- I bet it's the same for basketball player, shows up in the stadium, the thing is packed, it's a much better feeling for him.
Q. Dan and Jimmy, you've got all of your ducks in a row, but there's still many teams out there who the have not got full sponsorship packages and drivers. With the season set to kick off in a brief nine weeks or so, are you concerned at all for the series overall as the other teams are still scrambling to get things done?
DAN PETTIT: You know, we are always concerned, but certainly if you look at where we were last year versus this year, I think everyone is in better shape than they were. They are certainly not where they want to be, but building a series again, rebuilding the series, it takes a long time. I think Kevin unfortunately would love to be here today, but he is in the air flying to another meeting for the series. So I think he's doing everything he can to make sure that not only is the series strong, but I think as it gets stronger, it helps all of the teams themselves because they can they can get sponsors a little bit more easily. And certainly it's a tough year, I think teams are going to be working all year long to secure sponsors, bits and pieces of sponsors this year, and also securing next year, but it's always a concern.
Q. Jimmy do you have anything to add?
JIMMY VASSER: No, I concur with Dan. I think while you're right, not all of the teams are set, I think that in the coming weeks, you're going to see the picture of the grid come more into focus with drivers that have great pedigrees and great history. So there will be -- there is going to be plenty of deep in competition once we start the season in Long Beach.
Q. Can the case be made for you guys collectively helping out some of the other smaller, less fortunate teams, just in a backroom kind of role to help them to strengthen their position for the overall health and benefit of the series?
DAN PETTIT: I think last year, all of the owners really got together and they helped each other out a lot. You know, it's simple things like doing painting for another team or whatever we have to do. We've done a lot to help the other teams, and the owners are very good that way. It's kind of a brotherhood almost at this point. I was kind of surprised that to see that they all got along so well and tried so hard to help each other.
TOM McGOVERN: Thank you, everybody for joining us on the call today. We're going to wrap it up now and especially want to thank PKV Racing for the wonderful news today and wish them success on the season, and we'd also like to thank all of the journalists for their coverage of the Bridgestone Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
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