Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
March 28, 2007
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's media teleconference as we continue to gear up for the 2007 season opener, the Vegas Grand Prix which will take place in the streets of Las Vegas April 6-8 with the race coming on Sunday the 8th.
Today we are here for a driver announcement or a team announcement I should say with one of our newest Champ Car teams, Minardi Team USA. We are currently joined by the owners of Minardi Team USA, Mr. Keith Wiggins and Paul Stoddart. Thank you for joining us today.
We are also joined by their driver lineup and for the announcement of today's drivers we will throw things over to Mr. Keith Wiggins. Keith?
KEITH WIGGINS: Hi, everybody. Welcome back. The winter, we've stretched it out as long as we can to keep everything excited, but I think following on from our last announcement, which obviously was the excitement of having Paul come and take the team, we've been rebranded. I thought it was rather ironic to introduce a brand new team but each year you keep hearing my voice.
But we're still here and under this new setup we're excited to improve further on what we did last year, and as a key to that obviously is getting best drivers we possibly could.
So I think we are very excited to announce that Robert Doornbos and Dan Clarke will be our driver lineup for 2007.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, very exciting announcement. Champ Car followers will obviously recognize both of those, Robert who has been testing with the team through the first three open tests in the preseason, and then Dan Clarke who was second in the Roshfrans Rookie of the Year standings, a year ago won his first pole with a great run at Road America and finished on the podium in Denver.
Mr. Stoddart, another step forward for your team, tell us about your thought process heading into today.
PAUL STODDART: Thanks Eric, I'm happy to announce both rob expert Dan, in fairness to the media on the call, Robert was probably the worst kept secret in Champ Car. No doubt Robert was a clear target of ours when really the whole idea came together last year. His name was very much in the frame for the driver. Took a while to get it all put together but pleased to say that he will be driving for us in the 2007 season and doing that in conjunction with his Formula 1 testing duties for Red Bull Racing.
Dan is well known to the Champ Car circuit with a good rookie year last year and he was loyal throughout testing while we were trying to put a contract together. Dan actually turned down the offer to do a test driver with another team because he felt he wanted to be with Minardi and to keep the continuity from last year into 2007, and I think he's going to be a very, very, very fast and successful driver this year. I think he's proved that he's earned the name Speedy Dan and I think he will do a fantastic job.
It was important to us to actually have some continuity in the team and to have an experienced teammate albeit coming into his second year, but an experienced teammate nevertheless for Robert. All in all, I think we've got a fantastic lineup and I think we'll be, as Keith said, looking to improve on last year's results.
ERIC MAUK: Dan, you are first by order of seniority, you have 14 starts under your belt in the Champ Car World Series, and coming back for your second year, seven Top 10's last year on your way to second in the Roshfrans Rookie of the Year standings.
As Paul said you wanted to come back to a team and have a little bit of continuity. How important is it to you to stay with the same squad as you head into your second season?
DAN CLARKE: Well, ever since México, really, just wanted to start the next season straightaway and get on with everything, just like Keith was eager to get the ball rolling.
But of course, there's a lot of budget stuff and whatever for the people to negotiate, so it has been a long winter. But as Paul said, I stayed loyal to the team and I believe in continuity and I built a relationship here. And even though I didn't get to test or drive, I stayed focused on the season and training hard and coming on to a test and believe that it would just happen eventually and kept preparing.
Now it feels like there's work just to be continued before the first race.
ERIC MAUK: Heading into your second Champ Car season and you've been around the circuit and seen what Champ Car has to offer and seen most of the venues, tell us about your personal expectations for year two.
DAN CLARKE: Well, I expect to go out and use the experience that I've built, and now like I said, the same relationships with the team, it's all very relaxed and like a family and we don't are to worry about each other. We know how each other works. I expecting to out and use my experience, and I feel quite relaxed now even without having driven the car from witnessing the tests.
I've heard from many sources that it feels very much similar just with more downforce. Someone said that steering is even lighter and power shift, I'm sure it's just going to take a session or a couple of sessions to get used to. I'm quite relaxed that all of the preparation of making it through the winter is going to pay off and we are just going to set off easily and build from there.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We are all definitely looking forward to seeing you out on the racetrack in Vegas.
Robert, two-year part-time veteran of the Formula 1 wars, made 11 starts through 2005 and 2006. In 2005 he raced for Paul Stoddart with Minardi. In 2006 he made three starts with Red Bull Racing. 2004 he was third in FIA International F3000 Championship, which is the same series that has given us a number of Champ Car stars in the last few seasons such as Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira. Robert has made a run from all three of the open tests we've had this year and has been fast running in the Top-5 in many of the sessions.
Robert, congratulations on today's announcement and give us some of your thoughts as you head into your rookie Champ Car season?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Thanks for announcing it. I didn't expect to race for Paul Stoddart again after 2005, but yeah, I'm happy to be joining the team again. Obviously it's on a different side of the Atlantic. But no, I felt straightaway very comfortable. The team did an amazing job if you ask me since the first test at Sebring where time was not on our side. I flew in the night before the test and we had to make a seat during the night. It was not until but we closed the gap to the fastest drivers and I think the last test was positive as well.
Basically the winter has been too long and I can't wait to get started racing again.
ERIC MAUK: Talk to us about the DP01, a brand new race car, you've done well in it so far, tell us about your thoughts and what -- how the car feels to you.
ROBERT DOORNBOS: To be honest to you, it was quite a bit of change again. For sure if I would have jumped out from 2000 straight into this car, I would have felt more comfortable from the first lap.
But Formula 1, you get very spoiled in F1. There's so many gadgets on the car and here it's a bit more back-to-basics. Like that steering was a bit lighter; but for me it's a bit heavier because I'm used to power steering. All that stuff, it's good to have the traction control on your right feet again and to feel the car, work the car. It's brand new for everybody, and so it's not so easy to find the sweet spot straightaway but I think we are definitely going into the right direction.
In a way it makes such a big difference with these cars. The car overall is like 200 kilos heavier than the Formula 1 car. You feel that in the corners and you have a bit less downforce. No, I think still, the lap times are quite impressive; if you saw also Laguna that people are running almost a second quicker than what they did with the Lola. Yeah, I can only expect a great season of racing with a good race car.
Q. I wanted to ask Dan about how the lack of knowledge of the car is going to affect his ability to throw the car around in his characteristic style from last year and whether he's going to be intimidated by learning the car on the street circuit.
DAN CLARKE: Well, I can't deny that made I had a bit of a style like that to begin the season, but thanks to the team, I mellowed out a little bit with driving the car.
But no, I've been through a lot of new street circuit last year, so I have the experience of arriving in new places and finding a few unexpected situations, but just having to adapt literally on Friday morning.
So, I don't know, just take it in stride like I did last year and by the end of the year we showed that we can adapt quite quickly.
Q. A question to Robert, the fact is that the series will not be televised in the Netherlands, and how do you feel that the Dutch audience will back it?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Well, thanks for the question. Well, be to be honest I think that the most important thing is that there are a lot of spectators at the circuit and obviously the television will not be like it is in Formula 1. But I heard somebody whispering in my ear that it will be broadcasted in Holland, so I will just wait for the announcement. If not, for sure I'll invite all of my fans and make sure that the two races in Europe are going to be great.
PAUL STODDART: I'm almost certain it's going to be broadcast in Holland. You will have to wait for the announcement, but I think that problem is going to disappear.
Q. In all of the series or just the race in Assen?
PAUL STODDART: I believe all of the series but let's wait and see.
Q. I understand there's in interest in Red Bull that they might be supporting Robert and also it might show on the car; is that a fact?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: I'll be a Red Bull supported driver like Len (ph) was supposed to be and Yanni (ph) is. I don't think there's a lot of Red Bull livery (ph) on the car. I think the most important thing is overall, my helmet, it's a bit like A.J. Allmendinger had as well last year. But I'm convinced that the team did a mega job in facing the car and we'll just have to wait and fee for Vegas how it looks.
ERIC MAUK: The Champ Car television package internationally is something that they are working on very difficult conveniently and we expect to have an announcement on the full international package hopefully within the next week or two.
Q. I guess maybe a question to Keith, you have this sort of interesting situation where you have a driver with one year of experience in Champ Car but no experience in the particular car itself, while you have Robert with three tests in the car, but not much -- no experience in terms of actual, you know, in terms of actual, you know, actual Champ Car competition and just how you think -- how you think that dynamic is going to work particular any if the first weekend at Las Vegas.
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, we are actually just going to morph the two of them together and we'll have the perfect solution.
No, I think it's obviously a consideration in our driver choices as well. There's no question in my mind they have both got very high talent and that's the first thing, because if they don't have that, you're never going to get anywhere anyway. With the events we do, the street races, it's all about people being able to push and make the maximum out of a situation that is not perfect and get the best out of the car and the situation.
I think you said it right; they have both got experience, and the good thing is they have both got different experiences and I hope that both will draw off of each other. One has got more experience of driving some of those cars and one has got some important knowledge of the events and has got some under his belt.
I think to be honest if they have both got the talent and the experiences together, if we work as a good team, then, you know, we'll have a good outcome.
Q. Either of the others, you're going with a second-year driver in Dan Clarke, who I believe finished 12th in the series last year, and a rookie, and there are several experienced drivers who, in fact, finished higher in the standings last year, I think particularly Andrew Ranger who is Canadian, being a little chauvinist here. Any reason why some of these more experienced drivers didn't get more consideration from you folks or do you know something that has not been announced that might be forthcoming about their futures?
KEITH WIGGINS: Paul, do you want me to --
PAUL STODDART: No, it's all over to you, Keith.
KEITH WIGGINS: Thank you very much.
I think the answer is in life, people, of course, everybody manages, everybody has opinions, right, and some people have beliefs in certain people and I think some people have more experience at picking drivers and choosing them. I think there's a lot of good drivers out there. But circumstances are never always the same.
I believe some of the drivers that are out there that have finished high up in the championship have finished high up in the championship several years, but they have not won it, so that probably gives you my opinion; that it's time to always look for the new people that are coming in who have the aggression and a fresh approach and are still hungry to win and haven't forgotten how to win. At the same time you have people like Andrew Ranger, a similar ilk, he's young and he's still fired up.
But I think it's clear to say with Paul, obviously there's a relationship with Robert and with us, there's a relationship with Dan and we've already touched on the fact that continuity is important. There's a chemistry about the relationships with the people that you work well together with. So it's logical we would go with some people we feel comfortable can do the job rather than someone we haven't worked with in the past unless they stand out and shine.
So I think it's a number of factors, like all of these decision are. They are made up of a number of key factors, but make no doubt, we believe these drivers, from our experiences, are capable of doing the job, and you don't always judge them by different circumstances that have gone before. So we believe in these guys, and the chemistry has been there and is built up.
Q. For Keith and for Paul, you've got two quick young drivers here, Dan showed he can run up front, Robert has got a lot of testing experience, I'm sure he will be quick. Theoretically we have a slightly level playing field with the new car this year. Can you talk a little about that aspect, the level playing field and tell us what are your goals for this year; can you win races?
PAUL STODDART: At the end of the day, I think there's no doubt that there's a leveling of the playing field this year. The limited testing basically means that no one thus far has even completed a race distance. No one is arriving in any better position than anyone else into Vegas, and I think it's going to be a year where driver's talent and the race engineers are going to actually shine, as well as the strategy.
I think if you've got a team that has proven that they can win races, which this team has, and you've got good pit strategy, which I have no doubt at all we have one of the best pit strategists in the pit lane; we have a good engineering team and we have two young and really hungry drivers, then yes, I think we can win races.
KEITH WIGGINS: That's the whole reason you set out on the project is to win races. If you didn't go into it believing it -- of course everybody believe it. You have to try and make sure you do a better job, and you can't win them all. And we know we have some good competition with Newman/Haas, but you know, there's always a goal to go for and that's why we're excited with what we've got as a package.
Q. And Paul, can you tell us anything about your two-seater program?
PAUL STODDART: The fans will see it, feel it, touch it so to speak in Vegas, and I think it's going to be something that will be an absolute winner from a promotions point of view. And obviously I couldn't think of anywhere better than the streets of Vegas to actually give someone single-seater experience and to be tearing down the circuit at the kind of speeds we'll be getting up to; for the lucky people that are in those rides, I think it will be a life-changing experience.
Q. How many cars will actually be running Paul?
PAUL STODDART: There will be four cars. We're bringing five there, four to run and one as a spare. We'll probably put them out in twos. That usually works quite well. It's quite good for the passengers having another car on the track at the same time. And also, you've got to remember that we've got to entertain the crowd as well. I think they will be pretty impressed when they see them.
Q. Will they be at all the races?
PAUL STODDART: Ten of the North American races. So yeah, most of the States-side and Canada races.
Q. Dan, question for you, you've had a season under your belt now, Robert comes in looking for gaining that experience, if you had one word of advice for him that you may tell him that he may not be used to or may have to learn, what would that be going into his first year?
DAN CLARKE: Well, I don't think you can think of just one thing. There's probably hundreds of stuff. So when we get together in the trucks behind closed doors, we can share each other's knowledge and build together as a strong team.
Q. Paul or Keith, if you want to tackle this, some of us were looking forward to the standing start possibility and that has been postponed until at least Portland. Nobody was really that comfortable with it. Was there a reason for that or just a question of getting acclimatized to this new mechanism?
PAUL STODDART: I think to be honest, there's quite a number of reasons. Yes, it's getting acclimatized to it. There's also issues that have to be sorted out from a technical point of view. I think many people would be very happy to see standing starts but it's also probably wise for the first three races to keep status quo as a rolling start and get a few of the bugs ironed out perhaps in testing while we have that long break.
Q. Keith, are you relatively -- who is to say whether you are totally comfortable with something, but it's a tall order to come into a new season with a brand new car, are you relatively comfortable in your mind coming into the season with the new pieces, new drivers, whatever you -- do you know what I'm getting at here?
KEITH WIGGINS: Yeah, we've done that many years. I think it's an advantage to go back with a bit of continuity. So that's not really a consideration. The new cars, of course it's something new and reliability is going to be a question mark and I think that is something that everybody has got a bit complacent with the Lola because it became a bit bulletproof. You have to go back to days of, it's not that many years back when Champ Car unlike other series, had brand new chassis whether it was a Lola or Reynard, you were getting your cars bran new. And there was a lot of people spending a lot of money developing there's development every week, a lot of long hours and that was the normal, we just got used to the fact that a Lola gets wheeled out each year.
Of course each year it becomes just a little more reliable to the point where any team can finish the races. So I think it's just -- in a way it's more exciting. It's more refreshing to have the new challenge. I also think no one could be overconfident. No, I'm sure there's going to be some issues. You know, that's part of racing; if we get some issues right and others don't, all the better for us. If we don't and someone else does, all the shame on us. It's just a question of that's what we've got to do.
There's a few teething problems as there always is with a new car but basically, you know, it's based on pretty known technology. So I don't think we're going to have too many problems.
Q. I think you beat around the bush about possible sponsorship for the team, are these cars sponsored and will you be making an announcement in that regard before Vegas or will it be at the Vegas event?
PAUL STODDART: It will be at the Vegas event and you'll see quite a bit of sponsorship, some relating to the drivers obviously and some relating to the team.
But there's always room for more, so to take the previous caller who suggested Red Bull. We're happy to talk to them and indeed to anyone else because there's always room for more.
DAN CLARKE: I can add to that actually, I have some new sponsors. I have a continued relationship with Ticketmasters and the Australian Pink Floyd Show that I had on the car last year and also continue to work with the Imagine Charity based in Liverpool, and also we have a Mirage Casino and also Sun Apps Power (ph) from Canada on board for the first race in Vegas.
So it's nice that we are building some relationships with the Speedy Dan branding and hope to continue some of those for many years.
KEITH WIGGINS: It's fair to say that you'll see a number of good sponsors coming on, both from the hard work that Paul has done; I think he almost was being too -- very reserved in that, but I think you'll see a number of sponsors which I know they want to announce in Vegas which will be good, solid sponsors on to Robert's car, and you know, Chaz (ph) who represents Dan has developed a brand initiative with Dan where you'll see some serious blue Chip companies. Some of them maybe for one race and some longer term, but you'll see some pretty good names to add to his last which they are pretty active in building which he has already mentioned some of those sponsors. But you'll see more come on as well as you will from Paul's side. So it's not going to be a team wandering around with blank sides as you're intimating.
ROBERT DOORNBOS: I'll have to give some extra attention to my sponsors in Vegas then. (Laughter).
Q. There had been talk of maybe trying to run three cars, is that at all a possibility for a partial year, maybe the European races?
PAUL STODDART: It's certainly a possibility later on in the year, but it's not in position in the early stages. You want to get the ones we have reliable. As Keith alluded to, it's a new car, we're still learning the car, as indeed is everyone else. I think we need to get certainly the first half of the season under our belts, and if the right circumstances prevail, who knows, you might see a third car particularly at the European races.
ERIC MAUK: Let's take a second to talk about your reserve, and your test driver is Zsolt Baumgartner. You alluded to a possible third car and the luxury of having a reserve driver with Baumgartner's talent has to be a boon to the team.
KEITH WIGGINS: Absolutely, Zsolt has done so much work for us over the last three and a half years, and certainly he'll be featuring very strongly in driving the two-seater. But of course, as any racing driver will tell you, their heart is in racing, so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility for a third car to come out in the second half of the season if the right circumstances prevail.
Q. In light of today's announcement, it's now pretty much 50/50 between European drivers and drivers from other countries, around the world. Do you think this is a healthy situation? I'd like to ask in particular Paul.
PAUL STODDART: I think David to be honest, you take drivers, I've never -- yes, I leaned a little bit towards Mark Webber because he was an Australian in 2002 but I have all judged drivers on their talent and occasionally -- certainly in the Minardi days they did -- inaudible. But I think the fact that there is as you rightly say, half of the drivers now are European, just tells you that there's a lot of talent around, and that doesn't -- exclude drivers from North America or any other part of the world.
When you find a talented driver, you look for talent first and what part of the world they come from second. I don't think it's going to be in any way damaging to the series. I'm sure there will be some people that will say they would like to see more Americans in there and I think we would all second that. But you've got to take the talent from where it comes from.
Q. So you're happy that -- I mean, you say it was a good thing that we got half European drivers in the year --
PAUL STODDART: It certainly helps. But also Champ Car is becoming rapidly a global series, and there's no doubt in my mind that the European aspect of the drivers can only be a good thing because it is actually going to promote Champ Car in those domestic markets. So I think it's a good thing.
Q. Paul, you have hired a Dutch driver and a British driver for what is arguably an American-based series. Why is it so difficult for teams to find qualified American drivers?
PAUL STODDART: I think it's really luck of the draw, as I just said in that previous question, you don't look at the nationality, you look at the talent. There's to doubt that in the past I've had American drivers. You know, we tested Bryan Herta back in 2003. We've looked at obviously Scott Speed is running now in what was my old team in Minardi. You take the drivers when they come along from wherever they -- nationality really is very much a second position in the global series.
Q. So what can Americans do to make themselves more qualified?
PAUL STODDART: I think they have got to come up through the Junior formula. I mean obviously Atlantics are a tremendous breeding ground and there are some good young kids coming through, so it's just a matter of time before you will see more Americans.
Obviously there is talent around, there's no doubt about that. There's some names that are going to be incredibly exciting in the future and we've got our own one or two. As I say, we certainly would welcome an American driver, but it's just a case of right place, right time.
Q. Robert, if you were to describe your driving style or some fans that have never met you before were asking you about what your style might be like what without them?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: That's a special one. Just have to wait and see, because otherwise I make promises I can't deliver. But with this car for sure it's a different driving style than a Formula 1. In F1 that was very smooth and it was very easy to lose time around the track, and here, you know, I think there's a bit more margin for error because basically with the traction control you have less software in the car, so the driver has to do more work. And, yeah, it will -- it will be exciting.
For me, it's a whole new challenge but it does give me a lot of flashbacks to Formula 3000 which is a carry really enjoyed driving and I was very competitive in and I got my victories and my podium. Hopefully I can do the same in Champ Car.
Q. Another thing you're going to be looking forward to as well is a lot more interplay with the fans than you may have had in former circles, and I think the personality that you have, you've got to be looking forward to that, too.
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Exactly. I think Paul can agree with that as well because when I made my W with his team there were Dutch fans singing in front of his garage and inviting him for par ties and barbecues. I have no problems with the fans and I actually look forward to seeing them at different racetracks.
PAUL STODDART: I have to say I can vouch for that. Robert is very fan friendly. He does put the time in which is something that I think attracted him to Champ Car is that it is very much a fan -- these festivals, this is a fan-friendly series. And also with our own two-seater program, that's what that was based around, bringing open-wheel racing back to the people.
I think you'll be impressed with our drivers and indeed our team in terms of its fan friendliness.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring our media teleconference to a close today and congratulations again to everyone concerned with Minardi Team USA. We look forward to seeing you at the Vegas Grand Prix April 6-8.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|