Marlboro Team Penske Media Conference
Topics: Penske Racing
BRIAN MUIR: Hello, everybody. This is Bryan Muir. Thanks for joining us. We are going to be joined by Andre Ribeiro who has signed a multi-year contract to drive for Marlboro Team Penske in 1998. He is with us today. Team owner Roger Penske will be with us shortly. We will start the questions with Andre.
Q. Let me start by asking you your the timetable on this whole thing. How long ago did the Penske Team get in touch with you and how did this whole thing come together?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, hello, Mike. Well, this came just after Fontana and we myself and Lincoln, my brother, who works with me, we realized that we should open some negotiations with other teams. Not that we were unhappy with Tasman. But, after three years, it is very important for you to see what is happening with the other people. And, we were talking with team Green and Forsythe and of course this became public. Knowing this, the Team Penske contact us and I think it is pretty simple when a driver is contacted by a team on a level as Penske, there is not a lot to think about. You just have to move as quick as you can to make sure that you can do the deal. So, this was pretty quick. In fact, I had to fly quite a lot on the last few -- on the last week just to make everything happen.
BRIAN MUIR: I should add, Andre is winner of three IndyCar races over the last three seasons, including the Marlboro 500 of Michigan and two pole positions.
Q. Congratulations. Obviously the Penske Team is not -- in the last couple of years has not had the success it had, you know, in past years. What kind of was your thought process of deciding that this was the place that you wanted to be?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, Steve, I think when a team feels that winning three races is not a successful year, this is a team to be with. This is the environment to be with because, for sure, that a lot of teams on IndyCar - and I would say most of the teams on IndyCar - that if they win three races, will be a fantastic year for them. And, this doesn't happen at Penske. I think the commitment to success is on such a level at the Team Penske that makes them work very hard to achieve what is very difficult on the other teams. Again, when I see that a year like this, with three wins, was not a year where the Team Penske could commemorate, then I realized that this is where I should be on a team that thinks that the only objective is -- the goal is the championship.
Q. What is your understanding from the team as to what they want done differently next year as far as from their driver?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, it is difficult to answer this question because I am inside Team Penske for a few days only and of course they will know me after testings and after their season is starting. But, I can tell you that the performance that I have been having on the last three years and the commitment that the team has to success, can become a very successful results. Of course, they want a driver that can be consistent. They want a driver that can win races. But, the most important thing: They want a driver that can win the championship. And I can tell you that I can learn a lot from Al Unser to reach, together with him, the championship.
ROGER PENSKE: Maybe I can answer that question when you are done with Ribeiro.
Q. BRIAN MUIR: We have been joined by Roger Penske. Welcome.
ROGER PENSKE: You want me to answer that question from our perspective? I appreciate being a part of this. I thought it would tie the total process together. I listened to the first questions, obviously. Let me say this: That at the Toronto timeframe, Paul Tracy came to me and also came to the team and felt that probably we were not going to be able to give him the equipment that would be necessary to provide him a competitive package for the future. And, I said: "Well, look, we will review it at the end of the season", and really had no other conversation about it. But, as we appraised our finishes, our results, and Paul's unhappiness of basically what we were able to deliver him as far as equipment in our package, at that point we felt in the best interest for his future and for ours that we would release him from his contract and that is exactly what took place.
Q. What do you look for from Andre in these coming years?
ROGER PENSKE: I think, as I have said before, you look at a driver that has had the ability to win races. He has done that, not only in the CART Series, but also certainly in the series that he came out of the Mini-Indy series. So, to me, that is key. He certainly has a desire to win. From a business perspective, I was very impressed. I had very little time really to talk to him at the early stages, but have had a chance over the last few days to get deeper into his interest and I think the fact that we have just built a plant in Brazil to build engines for OEM's in that part of the world, that the business tie-in can be quite substantial with Andre and his brother. And, in that particular part of the world, certainly will augment our relationships with the people in that -- certainly in Brazil and in that geographical area. So, that is key. Also, I think that we have not had the success as we have wanted to. He mentioned we had three wins. We were criticized when we had 12; we had a bad season when we had six. Obviously, when you looked at 1996, we had no wins. We started off strong this year. But I think that the focus has got to be on a new package and certainly with Paul indicating his dissatisfaction at the Toronto timeframe, that it gave us a chance to reassess our own future and that the best interest would be to bring someone new and Andre obviously brings a brand new perspective to our team.
Q. Was there anyone else that you considered before signing with Andre?
ROGER PENSKE: Quite honestly, we were in the assessment stage. I know that Barry Green had contacted Al Unser wondering whether his contract was up so, there was a lot of people talking to a lot of different drivers. And, I think that some of the text that I have read here over the last week is somewhat surprising because the number of people were not only talking to Andre, but talking even to Al and other drivers. And I think that at this particular time, we had not made the decision. I was made aware that Ribeiro was available; had conversations with him and he said that if he had an offer from us that he would accept it. And, on that basis, then we assessed our current situation and made our decision.
Q. When you first sat down with Roger and started kind of hashing out what he wanted and what you wanted, was there any one thing that he said to you that would have made you say "Wow, this is why Roger Penske wins?"
ANDRE RIBEIRO: I think this is a very easy question - very easy answer. I think the whole conversation, 100%, of course, I know Roger from the racetrack and of course from outside the racetrack, things when I start watching IndyCars and it was on Emerson's days, it was always the name "Penske" that would come for the first time. So I had no questions by the time that I sit with him that this would be the place to be. And, let us put it like this: I think on IndyCar, the desire to be on a team like Penske is the same in Formula I being on a team like Ferrari, it is a dream for the driver.
Q. When you assessed what Andre brought to the package, and you looked at everything - you mentioned something a moment ago with Paul that it sounded to me -- and if I read it wrong, excuse me -- that you are looking for someone who will be with you through the good times, through the hard times and to fight through the inconsistencies to get the consistencies; is that what you saw in Andre?
ROGER PENSKE: Let me just relate the comment on Paul. We had a seven year relationship with Paul. Certainly there were days that he was outstanding and there were other days that together we struggled. He made it quite clear to me and to the team - not just to me - that he was unhappy with the package that he had and this is not anything that is not available through his comments with the team. From my perspective, when I looked at the availability to have Andre, who would be a new face - and I think we need to do a number of things differently as we go forward in 1998 - that it would certainly be a benefit to the team overall, plus, giving Paul the opportunity to take his skills to someone else. And I know these things come fast. You have got to make decisions based on the material that is available to you. And, quite honestly, I wasn't even aware that Ribeiro was available until it was mentioned to me. And then I found out that other people were talking to him too. So I saw Andre - No. 1 he had been a winner. He was the age that certainly would compliment our team. He had the international experience from a business perspective and I had seen him, quite honestly, struggle with a Lola product at the beginning of the season quite miserably; as we had gone through maybe the back end of the season, and he still kept his cool, and finished out the year. I thought that was certainly at least a demonstration of some of his characteristics.
Q. Did you talk to Al about the decision?
ROGER PENSKE: Yeah, I have talked to Al.
Q. His response?
ROGER PENSKE: I think Al is very happy with it and felt he has raced wheel-to-wheel with Andre and feels quite good about it and certainly at the end of the day the only way these guys will learn to get together is by racing with each other and starting to communicate technical knowledge, cross team-to-team as we debrief during test sessions and race sessions. But I think overall, Al was quite pleased.
Q. Congratulations on your new position. I think it is pretty exciting. If I might ask: Roger mentioned Al. You are going now from a position where you had been on a team that you had come up through the ranks with in Indy Lights and had been kind of like the team leader there. Now you find yourself going into, in a sense, you know, Al's turf if you will. Can you talk about how you see your relationship with Al next year and in the years to come?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, I think it is pretty simple. I have around me the most successful people on IndyCar and I have a lot to learn from them. And, Al is probably one of the drivers that I must try to learn from. His characteristics on driving, the way that he faces a race and the way that he works through the race weekend, it is something that I have been trying to learn a lot. Now, I will have the opportunity to work very close with him. And, I also had the opportunity to visit not only the race shop from Penske, but also Penske cars where they do their cars and it is unbelievable the commitment for success that I saw through this weekend. And, again, the resources for a driver to learn, it is unbelievable. So I will try to use everything that is available inside the team to learn and to apply as quick as I can on the racetrack.
Q. Looking back over the 1997 season, obviously some highlights and some not-so-highlights for the team, but I wondered if you look back over 1997, you know, what do you see as the highlights for Marlboro Penske Racing?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think the highlights -- obviously, you'd have to say we won three races. I would also say that as we got from the ovals where we have had some success over the years, the short ovals to the road circuits, we struggled. There is no question about it. We have looked at it. We have a brand new designed car which will be coming out the first of December and we have addressed a number of those things. It is very hard to the middle of the season, as you saw Lola, you know, once you have your package committed from an aerodynamic and mechanical standpoint, it is difficult to change it. I can tell you we did everything possible other than build a new car which just wasn't in the cards as we went forward. But, to me, racing is a continual game and as we all have struggled in racing, every team has, I think that also builds the personality. I certainly tried not to be visible in my actions or communications trying to let our people down. It would be easy for me to say, hey, we don't have a good designer; we don't have this or the engine isn't right or the tires aren't right. I try to keep a high road and certainly there is a lot of circumstances, as you know, and I know, that go into a winning combination. We were not competitive on the road circuits and I think that -- and we had some reliability issues, clutch on Al's car twice when he was very competitive, we had a wheel that came off at one of the pit spots, things that you'd expect from people wouldn't happen. But, those were issues early on that caught us. When I look at the miles completed, we are not where we need to be at the top and I think that is one of the benefits of people who have won races. You look at Zanardi and Vasser and de Ferran, one of the benefits they have had this year is they took a lot of races. I know Zanardi struggled quite hard at the beginning on some of the short ovals, but got his act together at the end and I tip my hat to him.
Q. Would you agree one of the real strong things for you this year was the performance of the Mercedes engine; it had it really got to the point where it was on par or by and large, perhaps even better than the competition?
ROGER PENSKE: There is no question that Mercedes' engines were very, very competitive and certainly were more competitive in 1997 than they were in 1996. That is all the more reason you have to start looking at your own internal capability and that means on the chassis side, aerodynamically and mechanically, and I think we were somewhat behind in that process when you compared us to a Reynard who really dominated the races throughout the year.
Q. It sounds like that you agree in a sense with Paul that the package wasn't all it could have been and if I am correct about that, then what was your problem with him opening up and kind of putting that on the line?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I guess the more important was that Paul felt that he could probably get a better package somewhere else. And, obviously, I wasn't in a position to supply him that. I guess as a team-player - and you have to, from your own eyes, look at the things that we have tried to manage through our process whether it is a mechanic or a driver and their specific duties and results associated with their duties - that we have tried to keep our comments within the team and not to try to take that outside. I think that at this particular time, from our perspective, Paul was quite vocal to us and the team that he didn't feel that we were giving him what he wanted. And, I understood that. We didn't make any outside conversation about that, but dealt with it at the end of year, giving him an opportunity at the end of the year to go somewhere else.
Q. Congratulations on this new partnership. Good luck to you gentlemen. I wonder perhaps Andre might have a comment about this, but you first, Roger, as you know, in the last month or so of the season, Andre's name was linked fairly strong with Brahma and talk about 1998 and his future. As a result of this over the weekend there were quite a few rumors that Brahma might be involved with Andre as an associate or personal sponsor with him or of his car in some way, shape, or form. Can you comment on that at all?
ROGER PENSKE: I have had no direct conversations with Brahma at all. We have had a fully sponsored car for 1998. Andre has had a relationship with these people before through supermarket and other connections - it is my understanding in conversation with he and his brother Lincoln, if there can be an associate relationship with our team in the future, obviously we would be open with that. I can tell you on this phone conversation, I have not had one word with anybody from Brahma.
Q. You talked about the equipment package you have had this year. I notice in the press release you didn't mention Goodyear tires which is what was interesting. The Firestone tires certainly seemed to have a bit of advantage towards the end of the year. Can you address that subject please?
ROGER PENSKE: I think if you look at the results, Goodyear had four wins in 1997, three of them were with our car and one was with a Swift and the balance of the races were won by Firestone. There has been a number of teams that have made the decision to switch to Firestone adding to the people that they already have. Our decision for 1998 and beyond is to maybe contain our relationship with Goodyear. It goes long beyond the racing track itself. It is a business relationship that we have. And, to me, I think Goodyear has the ability and has the commitment for the future to be sure that we will be competitive. So, I would say that we need to hold up our end of the game and be sure that our car is competitive.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Al? He was under a lot of scrutiny this year; a lot of people wrote some negative things about his commitment, you know, his status as a top driver. Obviously you still have confidence in him. Can you talk about that a little bit?
ROGER PENSKE: Al is a top driver, first class driver. I would say this: As we struggle to try to have our package together on the road circuits, certainly Al was a part of that. He knows and I know that he can give us a much better performance in the future. I have lost no confidence in Al at all. He obviously did not indicate to me that he would rather drive for another team or leave our association. And that is one of the strong reasons that I feel that we want to continue together and try to be successful for the future. There was a lot of stories - I wasn't privy to all of them - but I can tell you this: That he tested; he worked hard and certainly had to take the same bumps and bruises that we took as far as some of his finishes. Certainly you can't blame Al at Fontana we had a header break; we had a wheel come off; we had a clutch failure. And those are things that, believe me, this year seemed to always end up on his car. He was running very competitive in the first race as you remember in Miami and we had an engine failure. So, those are things that certainly made his season look a lot more miserable than might have been if some of these things had not happened. But I have full confidence in him for the future.
Q. How much did Marlboro have to do with this deal? If I remember correctly Marlboro is or was one of your personal sponsors.
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Yes, I have been associated with Marlboro for Latin America since 1989. But, this has basically nothing to do with them. The only contact that I had to this time is with the Penske Team, due to our schedule during the weekend where we went to England to visit all the Penske -- both Penske cars and Mercedes, I didn't have the opportunity to talk about anything other give a call to the people that have been supporting me all the time in Brazil. So there is no other connections until this time with any of my sponsors with Penske Team.
ROGER PENSKE: I'd like to make that clear. We did not go out and have a driver buy a ride with our team. He might have associations that ultimately could benefit us through associate sponsorship. As owner of the team, it is our responsibility to provide the drivers. I indicated the day before to my sponsors that we were going to sign Andre. He was someone that had a record of winning and certainly was one that would be accepted in the criteria that we would expect to have as a driver for our sponsor. We had no contact at all with Latin America, re: Andre. That contact obviously had been his in the past. So this was not orchestrated at all by Marlboro. This was a decision that Marlboro Team Penske made themself.
Q. You said that Paul had come to you around Toronto and at that time was, you know, disgruntled with things. He was still very much in the points race then and was like, what, a month removed from winning a race and hadn't even really gone into that tough stretch on the road courses. Were you surprised by the timing of that and with him being unhappy at that particular point of the year, was your mind pretty much made up then that Paul wouldn't be coming back next year?
ROGER PENSKE: I would say that as I have during some rough waters that we have had, Paul and both the team have had over the last seven years, that I wasn't obviously going to make a snap decision because of his -- maybe his comments at that time. But, when I reviewed the entire season and felt what was in the best efforts of what was available to us to go forward, I thought that the move would be good for both of us.
Q. Your business just keeps growing and your commitments outside of racing just keep growing all the time as they had been for a number of years now. Are you still at this point; especially after a couple of very difficult season, are you still feeling as committed to IndyCar Racing as you were before?
ROGER PENSKE: I would say I am even more committed because, as we have in the past, this is a very important part of our business structure. It is a common thread throughout all of our businesses from the standpoint of certainly an advertising medium; a customer entertainment medium, and also for our employees. It gives them someone to root for as part of a total Penske Team through our some 30,000 some employees. So, absolutely, I can't be in this business and not be a performer. And, finishing the way we did this year is not acceptable. Obviously, we were glad to see that the combination worked well on the short ovals, but we were far from being competitive the way we wanted to be on the remainder of the tracks. So I am committed for the future and certainly try to demonstrate that over the weekend. Andre had chance to visit our shop on Saturday; and that we are committed for the future and just exactly what we are doing to try to put ourselves in a more competitive situation.
Q. Now that everything is settled and you are now getting ready to go testing for 1998, do you feel any pressure to succeed since you have now joined one of the most successful teams in all of auto racing?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, I definitely do, but I think and I feel that this pressure is a very positive one. We are motivated by pressure and the driver that can take the pressure as a positive pressure can turn this into very good results. As Roger mentioned, I had the opportunity to visit not only the factory where they make the cars, but also Mercedes. And, I saw what is the commitment for the future there. People are not satisfied with the results they will have. Again, the results were three wins. A lot of the teams, as I said before, would be commemorating having three wins curing the series. And, this type of environment where people are only happy with the best results as possible, is where a driver feels completely comfortable because I am there to win. I am not there just to do races.
Q. You mentioned earlier that the year that you won 12 races you were criticized. Then you get criticized because you don't win. Is that frustrating for you?
ROGER PENSKE: I guess that I gave the scenario that we won 12; then won six the next year. And, of course, we were on our way down. Look, it is. Personally, yeah, it is frustrating to be honest with you. But, I have got to face the facts. We are in a very competitive, very open-type marketplace here in racing today with the interest in all types of racing, if you are going to be in it and be in it as long as we have, we are going to have our critics that are very special as far as what we are doing on an everyday basis, so I have got to take the side of critics and say: "What are we doing wrong." On the other hand, we didn't build our business because we weren't afraid to make decisions and make tough decisions and obviously, this was a tough one here at the end of season, but I think it is one when the water settles down here, that Paul will have a successful ride. I understand going forward, we will have made a change and we will compete against each other, but we certainly enhanced his career. And, I will say that he has also contributed a lot to us during his stay with us as many other drivers have.
Q. Just given the timing of when Paul said that he was unhappy, do you have any feeling at all that he kind of quit on you down the stretch and maybe the results that you had down the stretch weren't entirely indicative of where the team stands?
ROGER PENSKE: No, I would not say that Paul ever quit. No, I would say that he was frustrated. I would certainly say that because we were unable to give him what he wanted and he maybe saw this championship starting to fade away from him. But, no, he put out to the best of his ability throughout the end of the season and that would be very unfair for me to characterize that he hadn't tried as hard as he could. I think at the end of the day, it was time for a change not only for him but for us. And, he had indicated that. He had indicated to the team that he was not happy. Now, whether that was at a frustrating moment, I don't want to characterize that either. But, I would have to say that we needed to make a change. We have to make a big change in our car for 1998 also. We can't just -- this can't just be a derivative of what we had in 1994, 1995, 1996 or 1997. And, that is the only way we are going to make a step ahead and that is what we expect to do.
Q. This is Hal Whiteford (phonetic) with Mercedes-Benz of North America. On behalf of everyone here at Mercedes-Benz, we wanted welcome you to the Mercedes-Benz powered family and especially to Team Penske, which has already been noted as one of the premier teams not just in CART, but in all of motor sports. And, we certainly support the decision that Roger has made. And, from someone that is at everyone of the CART races, I can tell you because I have seen it in the last two and a half to three years, Roger is more committed than ever to a championship at CART. So welcome aboard and we wish you all the best.
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Thank you very much.
Q. There was a report, Roger, today in North Carolina that Al might be moving on to Winston Cup with Richard Petty (Phonetic). You sort of touched on that, but I just wanted to get a direct comment from you on that.
ROGER PENSKE: That certainly would be a surprise to me. I think Al is very much committed to going forward with us next season. That is a rumor I haven't heard of.
Q. That is what I figured, but I just wanted to nail that down?
ROGER PENSKE: As I say, there is a lot of critics out there and a lot of people with rumors at this time of year. No, I think if you called Al up in Albuquerque, he would certainly confirm that he is 100% moving forward on the Indy side. But, I think we have got some work to finish here before we go to Winston Cup racing.
Q. Can you talk little bit about testing? I think a lot of the testing load is probably going to fall on your shoulders this winter because I think Paul did a lot of the testing in the past; particularly on the ovals. How do you feel about that?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, I hope I really do. I am very anxious to drive the car and this can happen early next week. And, I really hope to do as much tests as I can because, as I said to you, I need to learn. I need to learn a lot. I think the people are there. The equipment are there. So, I will be available to be on the car as much as the Team Penske wants. And, for sure, this is the only way to make everything work.
Q. Certainly one of the stand out elements of both races at Michigan and California this year was Mr. Ribeiro himself who could easily have won both races given a little bit of a better fortune. Although, I don't think that those two races in and of themselves led you in his direction, I suspect they didn't hurt.
ROGER PENSKE: Let me say this: When I looked at Andre's statistics and when I -- was made available to me that he was out as an opportunity from the standpoint of maybe making a change and I looked at his statistics, and at the end of the day, and you looked at what he was able to do with a Lola and then the changes as he got into the Reynard, qualified 8th in the first race in Cleveland; then you looked at the end of season when I would say most cars had been developed, most drivers had had an opportunity to understand the cars, he finished third at Laguna Seca, you know, that certainly gave me a comfort level that he was competitive not only -- I had seen it on the ovals, but also because he had won his races primarily on the oval tracks, but could be competitive on the road circuits. With the kind of testing schedule that we are going to have going into the new season, I think it is going to give Andre a chance really to show what he has and also give us additional feedback along with Al. So, it was just not California, but I would say this: As you started to think of someone and you could think back, you know, a few days before, and look at the domination that he sustained during that race against, what I would call, very formidable teams, it was certainly apparent to me that he could be a very good choice. He knew how to win. He certainly wanted to win when I talked with him. As I said, he brought the business-to-business perspective. And, again, as far as the team was concerned, I felt he could be a great spark plug within our organization. And, on the other hand give Paul an opportunity to move on to do something that might serve his future much better.
Q. You have had a long relationship with your race engineer Don Halliday and also, of course, with the Tasman Team. Can you talk a little bit that, the last couple of years?
ANDRE RIBEIRO: Well, you know very well the relationship that I have with Don. This comes from Indy Lights and I definitely did learn a lot from him. I grew a lot. I would be delighted to see him still working with me. But, as you know, Don is committed to his new device, a very nice project that he is trying to put together. He is still working to see what he will do next year. But, we are still talking very close. If I see an opportunity for him to work close to me again, for sure, I will make all the efforts to happen because he is a first-class engineer. He understands what he is doing and I feel that his new project can be very useful for everybody that can get close to him.
Q. Of course we have been talking about your CART team and your unhappiness with the way things went this year. Wondering your feelings about your Winston Cup team and whether we might look for any changes there in the days and months ahead?
ROGER PENSKE: I think from a driver perspective obviously we are happy. Rusty, I guess, is moved into the top 10 after the finish at Talladega. He had a better run with a restrictor plate that we had in a long time qualifying 9th. So I think we have made quite a bit of progress there. Certainly, when you look at overall reliability, again has plagued our team from an engine perspective in the last half a dozen races we have had a much better finishing record, so we don't expect to make any changes other than that we are going to be going to the Taurus which all four teams will have an option to run that next year versus the current Thunderbird. So, we don't expect to make any changes there.
BRIAN MUIR: We are getting near the end here. If there is any final questions, we can take those now and thank you again for calling in.
Q. How important is that 100th victory?
ROGER PENSKE: It is getting to be more and more important now because we have gotten to 99 and at that point, it seems that we have gone backwards instead of forward. It is certainly something that we want to achieve. In fact, both Al and Andre have made it quite clear that they want to get that 100th as soon as we can. Maybe that is the Achilles heal to get over the hill and get forward and get some momentum, but it is very important to us. I think it is just another record that we can say we achieved through the efforts of, you know, many, many drivers, many people sponsors, etcetera; for me, obviously, it is a milestone in our racing career.
BRIAN MUIR: If that is all, we will close it. Thank you again for calling in. And, appreciate the time from Roger and Andre and we will see you in 1998.
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