CART Media Conference
April 2, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Thanks for being with us on this Good Friday afternoon, and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Our guest this afternoon is Robby Gordon of Team Gordon, the only owner/driver in the FedEx Championship Series. Good afternoon Robby and welcome.
ROBBY GORDON: Good afternoon, T.E.
T.E. McHALE: Robby and co-owners John Reynard and Mike Held formed Team Gordon in January and completed their first FedEx Championship Series at event at the March 21st Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota. They started 18th and finished 19th. Robby, the driver of the No. 22 John Manfeld (ph.) Panasonic Reynard -- Toyota Reynard is in his 8th year in the FedEx Championship Series and owns two career victories and four career pole positions. He made 15 starts for Arciero-Wells Racing during the 1998 FedEx Championship Series season; the top finish of 7th at Nazareth, which stands as the best oval track finish record ever for a Toyota-powered driver in the engine manufacturer's four years in the series. 1999 FedEx Championship Series continues with round two, Firestone Firehawk 500 next Saturday April 10th from Motegi, Japan and returns to U.S. soil for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Sunday, April 18th, from the streets of Long Beach, California. Firestone Firehawk 500 will air live late Friday, early Saturday midnight Eastern on ESPN. Toyota of Long Beach will air live on Sunday, April 18th at 4:00 PM Eastern time. With that, we will open with questions for Robby.
Q. How bad is actually the Swift chassis this year?
ROBBY GORDON: It's actually not bad. I'm going to take a little more heat on our shoulders as a race team. We don't have a -- we didn't have a great technical background when we tested the car before. We made some changes to our engineering group. Kenny Anderson, who was my engineer last year at Arciero-Wells, started with week with me. I'm going to say the problem probably wasn't as much the Swift as Team Gordon not getting up to speed, not having any data, and not having parts is the thing more than anything else. Their inventory is low because it's the first year they have expanded chassis. We weren't comfortable with the Swift chassis the first couple of races.
Q. How was your test at Indianapolis this week?
ROBBY GORDON: Test at Indianapolis is going okay. We're still here. We ran 2.23 today. Pretty happy about that. Just plucking away at it.
Q. I was wondering how different was it going to your first race as an owner/driver as compared to going to -- racing just as the driver?
ROBBY GORDON: It wasn't that different, actually. You know, we were -- we were pretty good up till time to go racing. We consistently were second and third fastest Toyota, which was a way for us to gauge at this point. We qualified second fastest Toyota. I'm going to contribute some of that to the weight of DeMatta and myself. You add 50 pounds to one of these cars: It's like him qualifying with ten gallons of fuel and us qualifying with 20. There's three-tenths of a second, and that's the difference between 6th and 18th.
Q. Is there a different mentality now as an owner when you're at the racetrack?
ROBBY GORDON: No. We bought insurance. We're going to drive the car-- my motto is: Just drive it like I stole it. We're going to run the wheels off it every weekend.
Q. I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about the Long Beach race and how special it is for you to race in your hometown and that kind of stuff.
ROBBY GORDON: That's an extremely important race for us. It's my hometown. Toyota is based ten minutes from there at TMS. It's an extremely important race for all of us. A lot of supporters of mine that will be there, from over the years, people that have supported my racing career. And it's always a fun race; and actually, that's where I saw my first open-wheel race was at Long Beach, 20 years ago. I've always enjoyed Long Beach as a race and as a fan. I went there many years as a fan and watched. I've been fortunate enough to win there at Trans Am. It's a great place to race. A lot of fun. Great beach atmosphere. I say it's our best race on the series right now.
Q. Better than Detroit, Robby?
ROBBY GORDON: I've always been fast at Detroit. I love Detroit. I haven't been as fast at Long Beach as I have at Detroit, but as a fan base, that's our strongest, strongest event.
Q. I was just kidding, but thanks, Robby.
ROBBY GORDON: Hey, I love Detroit.
Q. Sure you do.
ROBBY GORDON: I do.
Q. Go on. Answer the next question, Robby. Thanks.
ROBBY GORDON: Thanks.
ROBBY GORDON: It's already hit. We're wide open from now until Nazareth. We're going to drive -- you know, if you take next week's travel out of the schedule, after that we're testing wide open up until Nazareth. Probably two days a week off that we'll be out of the car. Rest of the time we'll be in the race car.
Q. Well, you haven't got anything else to do those other days.
ROBBY GORDON: That's what I like to do is drive.
Q. Go ahead and test some more.
ROBBY GORDON: The team is getting stronger. You know, the first race was thrashed and we made it. We made it there. You know, we were there on time on Friday. Things went fairly well up until the race. Made a few adjustments to the car that went a little wrong. I had to push in practice, and in morning warm-up we were 10th quickest which was pretty good considering we were on full fuel. We felt that if we could just change the car a little bit and take some of that push away, we would be good in the race. Well, we made it better, and the problem was we made it loose and had a tough time getting a handle on it for the race.
Q. Have you found that when you go from a CART FedEx car to an IRL Pep Boys car -- I got all the sponsors in there -- is there a difference in between the two of them? I know one's a normal aspirator and one is turbocharged, but tell us what the difference is.
ROBBY GORDON: There's a few differences. The IRL car, of course, is not as technically advanced as a CART car. The engine is (inaudible), you know, 15,000 plus RPM like everybody else is today. Ours are a lot easier to work on than the IRL. They are not turbo. They are pretty simple cars. But as far as driving the car, they are pretty similar. They are honestly pretty similar. The only thing difference is, you know, a CART car today is closing in on the 900 horsepower range. IRL car is around the 700 range; so, you do notice a bit of horsepower difference. 200 more horsepower is what, like 20 percent more power. And also, the CART cars have reduced down force. The IRL car is honestly an easier car to drive. When we tested the speedway this week, I want to say our 5th lap we were flat, wide open all four corners. From there, we've trimmed some down force off it, and now we're up in the 2.23 ranges, and that's pretty fast for a 700 horsepower.
Q. Are you going to be at the IRL Media Tour this week?
ROBBY GORDON: No. We leave for Japan on Sunday. Today is our last day testing.
Q. Robby, one thing I notice just talking to you now and from seeing you in the broadcast and everything, although things did not go well at Homestead, you seem to be a lot more relaxed even though you're certainly a lot more busier. Do you feel that's the case right now: Is it because you are a car owner now and you know things are going to be right and going to be there? Is it -- what do you think is making that attitude change?
ROBBY GORDON: You know, it's experience. I've learned a lot over the years at different race teams. We're definitely not at the level we want to be at right now with our team. We're making changes daily. We're trying to get the right, you know, personnel in place to manage, engineer. We made a big step this week with Kenny Anderson. That's going to help out a lot. He was with me Foyt in '93; he was with me at Ganassi in '92; '97, he ran the IRL car with me at the Speedway; '98, he was at Arciero-Wells. We've got some history there. He lives off the same philosophy. We're going to try it keep it simple. Got a lot of changes we need to make to our team. We're very green. Got a lot of guys that are new. But I'm getting comfortable with it. I think by the time we get to Long Beach, we'll be much better than we were at Homestead; and again, we'll be much better at Japan.
Q. You've always been a driver that has set expectations very, very high. Do you feel that you're getting people around you now that are going to have that same philosophy?
ROBBY GORDON: One thing we have with Toyota is they are setting their expectations very high, too. We had some meetings after Homestead where we've got to pick up our act as a team. And that's one thing you get when you come to work for Team Gordon is we expect nothing but the best. And that's what it's going to take to be competitive in this day and age in champ car racing.
Q. I have an advance question about Nazareth and what's going to happen in the two weeks after Long Beach. Where do you expect to test, Robby?
ROBBY GORDON: Our mile oval testing has been very slim. You know we made the chassis change. We're not sure if we're going to run the Swift or if we're going to run the Reynard at Nazareth. We have Long Beach, and then we've got two days at Milwaukee, Friday Saturday after Long Beach at Milwaukee. We're going to leave from Milwaukee, head over to St. Louis. We're going to run St. Louis on Monday and Tuesday and then Nazareth has the first day, has a two-hour session available on Thursday; so, by the time we goat to Nazareth, we are going to have a lot more information regarding the Swift and the Reynard. And we'll also, I believe, have a better handle on our race team as well.
Q. I was down there for the open test earlier this week, and I saw some of the cars with the new aero package and such. It looked like the back end was skating around getting into that second turn. Is that the toughest place on that track?
ROBBY GORDON: Actually, Turn 2 use used to be the easiest corner when we had down force. They have taken a lot of down force away from the cars, and I'm sure they are a handful. I only know what the other drivers are saying, and they say mile oval configuration is very difficult to drive. But it should bring the difference between guys that have car control and guys that don't and guys that can get a better handle on the chassis. It's going to be interesting to see what's happens the next of couple of weeks heading into Nazareth.
Q. I'd like to ask you, what are some of the -- if you could talk about some of the unexpected headaches that have cropped up since January for you.
ROBBY GORDON: We've had numerous different headaches. But the biggest difficulty is getting the whole team pointed in the same direction. You've got 34 guys that are new, working together, and a lot of them have their own different ideas. And to get everybody thinking alike and being a team has been the most difficult.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how it feels for you to be an owner versus a driver and you're taking the same type of risks. Has there been anything that's stood out in your mind -- I know you're still driving as you always did. Has that been a red flag to you, like one big thing that stands out that would make you use any more caution, just like something specific?
ROBBY GORDON: I think, you know, building the team as far as personnel has been the most difficult. Parts are pretty easy. You can call a lot of different manufacturers and get parts. You can, you know, go to the wind tunnel, gather information. The key is just keeping the people communicating has been the most difficult thing. And I believe we're closing in on that. Engineering, we've had some small problems there. Like I said, we made a change this week with the addition of bringing Kenny Anderson aboard. I believe that's going to help out a lot. And the amount of time it takes to assemble a race team, and there's a difference between assembling a race team and assembling a race team that can run for a championship. Attitude has to be the biggest thing. Pit stops are so important. Getting the guys to practice every day. You know, sounds like a pretty easy thing: Hey, we're going to go out and practice. Some guys, you know, "I've been changing tires for 20 years. Why do I need to practice?" It's like, we all need to practice to be the sharpest we can possibly be at all of our skills. That's the same thing we're trying to do testing. I'm trying to sharpen my skills. We going to make some mistakes as a new team, but the key is to try to be as prepared as we can to we don't make the mistakes.
Q. Robby, Motegi is going to be a very important race for Toyota. But it also presents some challenges: Number one, getting there, and also there's the language difference. How does the team address the whole picture of getting to Motegi?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, CART does a very good job actually of getting us to Motegi. Travel arrangements are made via CARD. FedEx does the overseas travel. Actually, the trucks are in Indianapolis today loading -- all teams are; loading the race cars; loading their equipment. It's very difficult. You look at the amount of weight that car CART allows or FedEx allows you to bring that -- the number that each team is allotted with. You've got to be really smart about what you pack and you need to bring only what you need, which for a new team, that's even going to be more difficult for us because we don't have any history at Motegi or any overseas travel; so we were on that back in January. We got nice travel cases made for overseas that are lightweight, and we are just trying to bring the parts that we need. The addition of the engineers will be good because now we won't be bringing, you know, 50 springs. We might bring -- let's say the car starts off with 2,000 pounds springs on all four corners. It might only go a couple hundred pounds up and a couple hundred pounds down, because today in champ car racing, you have to be prepared when you roll out on Friday. You know, with time certain, which means if the car goes out and blows up a motor and oils down the track and you only had ten minutes of practice, that's all you're getting. So, you have to be on your toes prior to showing up at each event mechanically on the car: What springs, what shocks, what aero package you want. And there's not a lot of time to be lost.
Q. And obviously, there's going to be a language barrier in there at some point. Does the team or Toyota supply translators? I've heard with other teams they do. How is all that working with the Japanese public and press over there?
ROBBY GORDON: I'm pretty sure that we do have translators available to us, and it's -- from what my travel people are telling me, they have got a handle on it. They have got buses all lined up for the guys to get back and forth to hotels. And the language barrier is much different than anything we've ever done before. You know, at least some of the Spanish you can take some and make up for it. But Japanese is so different -- language, it's going to be difficult for the guys and I believe we're going to have a translator on board. It is an important race for us. Back on that event for us, being a Toyota team, I'm not going to say there's a lot of pressure, but the expectations are high. They came to us before the race and said: Hey, we expect you to run well; so, that's telling us right now that we had to pick up our pace from where we were at Homestead. Obviously, Toyota is doing it with their engine. It's getting stronger and stronger at each event. I'm looking forward to Motegi. It should be a good race for us, actually.
Q. One final thing on the Toyota engine. When do you expect to see a new development engine come out from Toyota for use in the race?
ROBBY GORDON: That's one thing that's nice. They have been building what's called a Phase V engine, and there is many versions of Phase V. And the Phase V is actually getting very strong. At the same time, they are working on a Phase VI engine, which is a new spec engine. One thing that Toyota is going to do, they have got a goal post. At least they have a Phase V for a goal post. A couple years ago, they didn't have a much of a goal post when we were getting into champ car racing. There's no reason to bring the VI out until it's proven. Toyota has gone through it just like Honda and the rest of them where they show up with a new engine and, you know, they oil down the racetrack, and it doesn't do anybody any good. We can test with this new engine. We can get it right, and it will be a stomper before it comes out for the first race, I'm sure.
Q. Robby, what have you heard about the new configuration of the Long Beach course, and do you think it was time that Long Beach changed the actual configuration?
ROBBY GORDON: I'm sure Al Jr. didn't want it to change. He had that place mastered. I don't know if they needed to change. I think Long Beach had a good track before, but this should make it a little more interesting. Definitely going to be different coming down the straightaway making a left--hand turn instead of a right. I was actually down in Long Beach actually about a month and a half ago, and I haven't quite figured out where they are going to go left at yet. I know they have like a little turnout area, but I'm sure they are doing some paving and working that up right now to make the track different. It's going to be different for teams. A new team like us, hey, it's going to be great for us because we don't have a lot of setups from Long Beach in the past, and now we can start out on a level playing field with everybody else when we show up there.
T.E. McHALE: All right, Rob. We will let you get back to your testing. We thank you for taking the time to be with us this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck in the upcoming Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi and the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, as well as the rest of the FedEx Championship Series. Thanks, Rob.
ROBBY GORDON: Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Just a quick reminder there will be no call next Tuesday because of the time difference from Japan, but thank you all for you can with us Tuesday prior to the April 18th Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach. Thanks, and good afternoon.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|