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Champ Car Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Champ Car

Champ Car Media Conference

Ronnie Bremer
Keith Wiggins
Bjorn Wirdheim
April 4, 2005

ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to a Champ Car media teleconference on Monday, April 4th. As we head into the season opening weekend of the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford as we all head for the streets of Long Beach, the 31st running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach takes place this weekend. We get underway Friday, April 8th. Sunday's 81-lap race will be on the 10th, Sunday, begins at 4 p.m. eastern, and that will be televised live across the country on NBC. Another very exciting announcement for us today as we continue to finalize our driver lineup for the 2005 series. We are joined today by the members of HVM, Incorporated, formerly known as Herdez Competition. We're joined by team co-owner Keith Wiggins and his two drivers for the 2005 season. It is my great pleasure to announce that Bjorn Wirdheim will be driving the #4 HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone in the 2005 Championship, and he will be joined in that stable by Ronnie Bremer, who will drive the #55 HVM machine. Bjorn Wirdheim, as many of you may already know, is a former FIA International 3000 championship winner. He won that championship in 2003. He follows in a long line of F-3000 champions to come to Champ Car, men like Alex Zanardi, Sebastien Bourdais, Bruno Junqueira and Justin Wilson. He will be joined by Ronnie Bremer. Many of you may know Ronnie from last year, he made his debut in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, after two years running in the British F-3 Championship. Mr. Wiggins, tell us a little bit about what interests you about these drivers and how you came to this decision today.

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, obviously it's been probably the most interesting road we've had in the short history of the team. Obviously, it's been an interesting winter. We've had a lot of changes, and certainly things have come together a lot later. But I have to say, I think we've ended up as a stronger lineup than we've ever had in terms of drivers, and we're certainly very excited about that. It's been a question of, as we all know, picking the best drivers, is always a great thing and a straightforward thing to do, but we've obviously had to look at how we could put the package together to make it work, and that's been the biggest challenge. But it's interesting, as I say, we've worked hard. As it's turned out, we've got the best lineup we've had. In that case, we're extremely excited about it.

ERIC MAUK: We're very excited about it, as well. It does add to what is a very talented driver lineup up and down the Champ Car paddock. Bjorn, as we mentioned before, you won the FIA, F-3000 Championship in 2003. You tested with Jaguar last year in Formula 1. You got a good amount of seat time there. Now you come to the Champ Car World Series. You got some seat time in the Champ Cars down in Sebring. Tell us a little bit about what you think about the Champ Cars.

BJORN WIRDHEIM: I've been looking forward to getting into Champ Car for quite a long time now. I mean, I spent last year as a test driver in Formula 1, trying to get into Formula 1. Unfortunately, it didn't happen with Jaguar as a team. Ever since I've been looking at other alternatives. And Champ Car has been on top of my list, without a doubt. I've been over to test the car before with both PKV Racing and Patrick Racing. I think it's a fantastic championship. I'm looking forward to it also because it's competitive, and there are some very interesting races on the calendar.

ERIC MAUK: Having run in F-3000, you've had a little bit of experience on the street circuits, but tell us a little bit about what you expect heading into Long Beach.

BJORN WIRDHEIM: I really enjoy racing on street circuits. That's where I've had my biggest success, I guess. I mean, I've raced on Pau in France, I've done Macau, I've done Monaco in Formula 3000. Therefore, I'm confident that we'll be able to do a good job at Long Beach. I'm actually in the workshop now. I just had a look at a video of last year's race. I just can't wait to get there.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Very exciting day for you, obviously, and a very exciting day for us. We look forward to seeing you this weekend.


ERIC MAUK: Ronnie, you've had a little more experience on the streets of Long Beach. You made your Toyota Atlantic debut there a year ago. You started seventh, finished a very strong fourth. First of all, congratulations on this move. Tell us what your thoughts are on joining HVM and the Champ Car World Series.

RONNIE BREMER: Yeah, thanks a lot. It's a great, great opportunity for me to join such a professional team as HVM is, a professional series as Champ Car has developed. Looking very forward to it. I think the car is awesome. The Bridgestone tires are pretty good. The Ford-Cosworth motor is very, very strong at the same time and reliable. So, yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's a dream coming true for me. Getting up to Champ Car, that was my goal when I decided to move my career to the United States. It was very good for me, you know, to learn the circuits in Atlantic and all that. It should help me a little bit now. I get a chance with such a short notice. I haven't really been able to have any test days, only that one test day at Sebring. But the team, HVM, is so professional. So I don't see any problems going into Long Beach without having too much testing. I'm pretty sure the race will go very good for me.

ERIC MAUK: For the benefit of our media members on the call, while last year was Ronnie's first year in open-wheel racing in North America, he has a very deep history over in Europe. He ran two seasons in the British Formula 3 championship, had 10 top five's in 2003, and he finished second in the prestigious and very competitive Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch back in 2001 before coming across the pond. Ronnie, going back to the Long Beach experience from a year ago, as we said, you started seventh, finished a strong fourth, tell us a little bit about what you learned about Long Beach and what you expect from that racetrack this year.

RONNIE BREMER: I learned a lot, you know, because in Europe normally you don't have any -- you have a couple street circuits, but not many. I did Macau, as well, like Bjorn was saying. Unfortunately, I haven't done Monaco or anything. But I like street circuits as well. I think it's better. The driver has to be a little bit stronger than the car has to be, I think, on a street circuit. Long Beach, it's a very, very cool circuit to be on. It was very good for me to get the experience last year, and I liked Long Beach a lot. Yeah, just taking the whole thing like it is, I think it's a good thing for me that I at least did a race there last year so I know a little bit about the circuit, where the bumps are, and all that. But I'm sure Bjorn is a good driver and he'll find out pretty quick, as well.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Look forward to seeing you this weekend as well.


ERIC MAUK: We'll take questions from our media members on the call now.

Q. Ronnie, if you look at this field of drivers, this is probably one of the strongest fields Champ Car has had in several years. Knowing what you know about Champ Car, do you feel it's kind of like how it was back in the old days before everything started happening within open-wheel racing?

RONNIE BREMER: Yeah, I think so. To be honest, I actually think that the competition is stronger this year than it was at that time, but it's definitely up there without a doubt. It's very competitive. A lot of strong drivers showed their ability last year, like Allmendinger did a good job, Wilson coming in, a lot of European drivers coming in, putting the whole thing up. It's a lot of strong drivers. Sebastien Bourdais did a very good job, as well, coming in for his second year. Yeah, it will be very strong, no doubt.

Q. Keith, given that you're going into Long Beach with two guys who at the end of the day, your team really doesn't have as much familiarity with it as you'd like, and vice versa, could you talk about sort of what the realistic goals and what your sort of plan of attack is at Long Beach. Presumably then maybe using that gap between Long Beach and the second race at Monterrey to really sort of, in a sense, complete your pre-season testing program with these guys.

KEITH WIGGINS: Yeah, well, there's no doubt that normally this time of the year we'd have already put, you know, two or three thousand miles under our belt. But I think I've always said in the past, I mean, the end of the day, if you haven't got the right drivers, you can go around forever and not achieve anything. I've always been a big supporter of European structure for training drivers. I think if you've got good drivers, you know, you're going to be competitive. Certainly the team, while we've done a lot more development in past years up until the first race, we also built up a library, you know, we're fairly experienced action as most of the good teams are these days with the Lola/Cosworth. Going to Long Beach with the same car and the rules that we have, you know, I think everybody here is confident that we'll turn up to Long Beach competitive as anybody. To be quite honest, I don't think our expectations are any lower than they would normally be, which is we should go to Long Beach with the goal of winning the race. I don't see any compromise than that, other than both guys, you know, need a bit more time in the car. But if we fill them up with petrol, let them run, I have great expectations that come Sunday we should be up there, potentially even better than we've been before.

Q. Keith, just wondering, the addition of your two drivers brings your field now up to 17. Are you confident that you will have 18 drivers? How do you generally assess the strength of the series compared to this time last year and perhaps in comparison to 2000 when you first joined Bettenhausen and the series?

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I think there's a couple -- I mean, you know, quality competition is different to numbers. And I think we've already covered that. There's no question to me, it's happened in other series in the past, whether you've got 16 highly talented drivers or 20 makeups of odd bad teams, you know, turning up at different races. I think we've already covered the fact that the quality's going to be better than it was last year. There's no doubt to me the quality is very strong. Comparing it to 2000, yes, it is. Because, you know, things move on. People have images of good guys. Usually by the time they've left, that's when they become famous. And good guys, whereas while they're doing it, they're still making names for themselves. We've seen all of them come over as rookies and sort of be the series looking down at them until they've kicked some ass. Basically that's exactly the same situation here. I mean, all drivers move on. If you brought some of those drivers back in now, they'd be beaten at races, and they'd probably do some good races and not. I think the level is up. In terms of numbers, I'm pretty confident that we'll have 18 cars. I know the series is committed to that. To me, if we had 17 or 16 top quality, it's still going to be good racing, but I'm pretty confident I'm sure that we'll have at least 18 cars.

Q. Bjorn, Ronnie, you were in the Atlantic Series last year, so you saw what was going on with the Champ Car series, but, Bjorn, what did think of looking at the series from overseas, all its problems last year, what did you think of the series, and what sort of prompted you to make a move over here, knowing that maybe the series wasn't on solid four wheels?

BJORN WIRDHEIM: Well, I mean, I've been following Champ Car for quite a long while. You know, reading about it in the press at one point, it didn't look that positive, I guess. But things have turned around. And the best thing is that the series has a good group of people that have been able to get everything pointing in the right direction. It's a strong group of people. I mean, everybody can see that the championship is up-and-coming, and it's getting better every year. For me, you know, there was no doubt that this was the place to be.

Q. Mr. Keith Wiggins, can you tell us what happened with the dream to have Mexican drivers?

KEITH WIGGINS: The dream? Well, we had a Mexican driver. Obviously, there was a firm plan to try and develop that into a two-car Mexican team. That was something that we worked on very hard. I think, you know, ultimately what happened in reality was that there wasn't really enough interest or sponsorship opportunities in Mexico to make that happen. The reality is that it takes money to run and to operate. We weren't able to find that in Mexico.

Q. Bjorn, what do you think about being in Monterrey with a Mexican team?

BJORN WIRDHEIM: I think it will be a great experience. I've never been to Mexico before. But I've heard lots about the circuit and I can only say I'm looking forward to it.

ERIC MAUK: The Monterrey race will be the second race of the Champ Car season, May 22nd at Monterrey's Fundidora Park.

Q. Keith, the international expansion of the series is pretty remarkable when you think of yourself, where you come from, where your drivers come from. They're talking about a race in Korea, another one in Japan. We're still finding the teams are struggling somewhat to find, as you just mentioned with the Mexican reporter there, sponsorship money, NAFTA, around the world. While the series is expanding internationally, it's still tough to get out there and find money to sponsor these drivers. Are you finding that or is that just part of the evolution of what needs to go before it solidifies itself?

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I'm calling from a pay phone, so obviously things are tight (laughter). You know, it's tough anywhere in the world. Of course, you know, everybody's worked on cost-cutting measures, costs of racing. There's a lot of competition. Europe has a slightly different attack on it. There's less alternatives. I mean, here in the US, of course, there's a lot of sports, there's a lot of motorsports, and fans have different requirements. I mean, it's an entertainment, and there's a lot of entertainment. It's become tougher in the last few years. Champ Car has been through a difficult period. Television obviously is a big key for us to bring partners on. We do a lot of other activities completely outside of the race events. But, you know, there's a big, big effort regarding television and our PR. There's been some ups and downs. Obviously, Champ Car has had some ups and downs in its past. It always takes a while to shake that off and move forward. I mean, we've got the product, which is the best product. It's the best series that I've ever done. We've got the race attendances. Now as you see this year, television is a lot clearer where we're going to go, and people can find it. I think Europe is a huge move forward now with Eurosport and all of the other channels that are going to take it. Suddenly people are getting a feel for it. There's more European drivers, and therefore I think we'll see expansion in those markets. Yes, it's tough. It's still going to be tough. But I think the road ahead proves that I think in the next year -- at the moment, we're selling, the record to date, if you go in and look at sponsorship, you're always going to say, "This is the TV from last year." You can't sell this year. You can sell a potential. As we go further down the road, there will be new results to work on. That's exactly, unfortunately, what happened in Mexico. Last year we lost a TV halfway through the year. Although it's been resolved, that has a big effect, a knock-on effect for everything. We've got to build back up, but we are going to new markets as well as now improving the communication within the markets that we've had. Therefore, we're also getting some new markets, which are going to be pretty exciting. I think the bottom line is we've all got to keep our heads down and see it turn around.

Q. Working with Jaguar in Formula 1 in testing working with cars that have a tremendous number of electronic aids in terms of traction control, launch control, et cetera, to a Champ Car, where you pretty much have to control everything. There's no traction control, no launch control, if the car gets underneath you, it's up to the driver to bring it back. To you that's got to be a pretty refreshing approach.

BJORN WIRDHEIM: Absolutely. It's something I really like about Champ Car, in fact. It's more of a challenge from a driver's point of view. I mean, Formula 1 car is very, very different to anything else you can drive nowadays. But, I mean, Champ Car is very similar to Formula 3000 that I did before. And I really enjoy, you know, having to work a gear stick inside the cockpit and using the clutch. That means also as a driver, it's easier for you to make a bigger difference inside the cockpit. So it's a challenge. It's something that I think is very good for the championship.

Q. Is Champ Car popular in Sweden and Denmark or is this year going to be a year where maybe there's going to be a good television package and we're going to see maybe the series get some more popularity there, with you guys being in the series, maybe with better TV? What can you tell us about your country?

BJORN WIRDHEIM: Well, I mean, Champ Car is well-known in Sweden. Kenny Brack did it a few years ago. There's a huge interest in Champ Car in Sweden because, as you all know, we haven't got a Formula 1 driver. Kenny Brack is no longer racing single-seaters. I mean, there's a big interest in me. Hopefully we'll get one of the Swedish television channels to broadcast it, as well. I mean, the Scandinavian market, I guess it's not very big, but I still think it's good to have it.

Q. Ronnie, how about you?

RONNIE BREMER: Yeah, it's pretty much the same thing. Magnussen has been in Champ Car a few years ago. A lot of people know what Champ Car is in Denmark. It will definitely grow big this year with a Danish driver. What they like about Champ Car is that nothing is decided before the flag. Where you can see in Formula 1, it changed a little bit this year, but last year it was pretty much Schumacher winning every race. Here there's more racing. You are not allowed to block and stuff like that, so they like the racing more. This year they get the opportunity because Eurosport is broadcasting it live. At the moment, it looks like they will find out tomorrow that the Danish national TV station will broadcast it, as well. I'm sure it will grow even bigger than it is, but they needed a Danish driver to be there, or even a Swedish driver. It's a good combination with two Scandinavian drivers, especially for the same team. I think it will create a lot of good things in Scandinavia. Maybe it's not that big, like Bjorn said, but there's still a lot of people who want to see it. I'm sure you'll see later on in the season people coming over with Swedish and Danish flags and stuff like that. I think it's very good for Scandinavia, having two Scandinavian drivers.

Q. Keith, did you announce any sponsorship for the two cars yet?

KEITH WIGGINS: No, we haven't announced anything yet. Obviously, there will be sponsors. Both the drivers have their own sponsors. We still have one or two of the smaller ones, but we're working -- we were hoping to have something announced at Long Beach, but I think by the time Monterrey comes, we should be able to give you sort of a full layout.

Q. Bjorn, we're in the middle of a hockey strike here. I know Sweden is a big hockey country. Any thoughts on no NHL? Are you affected by it at all?

BJORN WIRDHEIM: No, I'm not personally affected. The thing is, I'm a hockey fan, and I always support the Swedish national team. Apart from that, I don't watch much of it, so I can't say it has affected me very much.

ERIC MAUK: Peter Forsberg found a place to play anyway, so we're squared away there.

Q. Ronnie, knowing what you know about the Champ Cars from last year, how tough Newman/Haas was, Forsythe, all these guys have had so much testing ahead of you, is there some concern starting the season, in a sense, behind in that area?

RONNIE BREMER: Yes and no. Of course, it's always better when you can test more and stuff like that. But, like I said before, I think the team is so professional and have such a good teamwork, with two strong drivers and me and Bjorn are, I think we can push each other along. I think personally we'll do very well. The good thing about Champ Car is it's the same car; it's just the combination of putting the right stuff on. I know from last year that HVM was running pretty well with Dominguez at that time, as well. So I don't see why we shouldn't be able to do some competitive times. But there's a bit of lack of experience in the Champ Car, especially for me. But the test went pretty good. I'm pretty sure we'll be up there quite quickly. One of the good things maybe by coming in as a new one is you might be a little bit more hungry than guys like Paul Tracy and Sebastien. I'm not saying they're not hungry, but maybe I'm just a little bit more hungry than they are. I'm pretty sure we'll do well with a professional team like HVM.

Q. Bjorn, this has got to be the ultimate in driver sharing that you are going to have to do in the first few races, driver sharing information from you and Ronnie as teammates.

BJORN WIRDHEIM: Yeah, of course. I mean, as I said, I spent the day here in the workshop. I met all the engineers. I'm really pleased to have ended up here because their priority is obviously to get good setups for both drivers. I mean, when you have two drivers, you have to make use of all the information. I mean, Ronnie has been around Long Beach before, so he's going to be up to speed quickly. If we could push each other during the season, that's what we need.

Q. Keith, what happened with the Verstoppen deal? As of last week, we were talking to his manager and were set up with an interview about joining the team. What happened there?

KEITH WIGGINS: You can never count your chickens till they hatch, can you (laughter)? To cover your last question, one thing about the team, there are never any secrets between drivers anyway. That would always be a prerequisite. I mean, we work together as one big group. That is sort of standard practice. Back to your other question, though. Obviously, Jos was very popular, had a lot of support to come here. I think Champ Car were keen to have him. Certainly another good driver. I remember him from the first time round, which reminds me I'm still continuing to get old. I remember Roberto Moreno first time around in Formula Ford, so I'm really old. It's just a case of putting everything in place. Quite honestly, we were late in doing everything, so therefore when it's last minute, things can change pretty quickly. I mean, you can negotiate with drivers, and that may take you three or four months. We managed to condense everything into a couple of weeks, so things are going to change quickly. Ultimately, he would have loved to have done it, but we couldn't get the package to work and for everything to gel to everybody's satisfaction, let's put it that way.

Q. Keith, do you still consider yourself a Mexican team? With Jourdain gone, Fernandez, Lavin, and Dominguez down to Forsythe, how will the series be seen in Mexico, do you think?

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, you know, unfortunately it's important that everybody does have their heroes, and clearly you follow your heroes, and it can generate interest. I'm sure Spain is a lot keener on Formula 1 at the moment. That's a fact of life, is as one market is a bit quiet, the next one picks up. Mexico is obviously a fantastic place for their motorsport, their love of it, just the same as Brazil. Hopefully they will still follow the series because they still have the top Mexican driver in their series. They won't have four or five drivers, but there's always a cure for that, which is obviously to support them. For us, we have a great affiliation. Of course, our major owner is Mexican. We still have that culture and still enjoy it, but we're all in a business so we don't forget that side of it or our support or our love of tequila. You know, things can change as time goes forward, but we have to get on with business.

Q. Sponsorship is obviously a key to attracting drivers. If a team has to go for a lesser driver because he's able to bring the money than a more talented driver, how do you think that falls with fans, how does that affect any series?

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I don't know how many years I've been doing this, but I would say that that's probably a basic principle which has never changed in 30 years. Usually the slower drivers have more money. The ones that you really want don't have it. I mean, obviously it's a goal not to have an effect, i.e., HVM has always been a team that's employed its drivers, and that's the best situation. But in every series across the world, there's compromises. Sometimes they have partners which they can bring to make a package. Everybody wants the best or should want the best drivers that they can get, and obviously want the sponsorship to do the job. Juggling the mix is something that, from what I'm aware, has been happening since I started in the business. Sometimes it's better than others.

ERIC MAUK: That will bring to a close our Champ Car media teleconference today. I'd like to, again, congratulate Bjorn Wirdheim and Ronnie Bremer, as well as Keith Wiggins and HVM Incorporated. We look forward to a strong season from you in 2005 and beyond. Thanks for joining us, gentlemen. For the media on the call, as we head into Long Beach this weekend, if there is anything you need from Champ Car Public Relations, you can reach us at our Indianapolis office at 317-715-4100. Thank you for your interest in the Champ Car World Series and have a good afternoon.

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