CHAMPCAR/CART: Legge, Kalkhoven teleconference 2006-02-15, part 1

CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH KATHERINE LEGGE AND KEVIN KALKHOVEN MERRILL CAIN: Good morning and welcome to a very special Champ Car media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with Champ Car and the Atlantic Series. And Tuesday night...

CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH KATHERINE LEGGE AND KEVIN KALKHOVEN

MERRILL CAIN: Good morning and welcome to a very special Champ Car media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with Champ Car and the Atlantic Series. And Tuesday night was a very significant evening in the history of Champ Car with several announcements, and an unveiling that will help determine the future course of not only the Champ Car World Series, but the Champ Car Atlantic Championships, as well.

We're privileged to be joined this morning by two people who played a very significant role in last evening's 2006 Champ Car season launch and Atlantic car unveiling at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Joining us from L.A. is the newest driver in the Champ Car World Series and the first ever full-time female racer in the history of Champ Car, Katherine Legge who was announced last night will compete for PKV Racing in the Bridgestone presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

We're also happy to welcome Katherine's new boss to the teleconference this morning, Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of both PKV Racing and the Champ Car World Series joins us.

We'll cover some of the very significant news items from last night in just a second. But first off, let's start with Katherine. And the story of Katherine Legge is pretty much well-known now. In the fall of 2004 Katherine went to go speak with Mr.Kalkhoven at the Cosworth headquarters in England. Katherine was able to convince Kevin to give her a chance in the Champ Car Atlantic Series where she took full advantage of the opportunity, winning three races to become the first woman to ever win a major open-wheel race in North America. She ended up finishing third in the championship. After three successful Champ Car test sessions two with PKV Racing in the off-season, she also had a Formulaq and A1 Grand Prix test and found herself with a very special Valentine's Day present last night: A multi-year contract to drive for PKV Racing in Champ Car.

Your emotions, I'm sure, are just going crazy right now. Can you think back and tell us what it felt like last night when you were presented with that multi-year contract and you knew you were going to be a Champ Car driver?

KATHERINE LEGGE: Yeah, absolutely, it was an awesome feeling. I don't really know how to describe it. Everything is happening so fast and I've got such a huge mountain ahead of me that I need to climb. I'm really excited but I'm apprehensive, as well, and fully aware of the enormity of the task. I hope that I can make the team proud.

MERRILL CAIN: And Kevin, where do we start, after such an exciting evening for Champ Car, first off, please talk about the opportunity that Katherine has with PKV, and why this was the right time for her to move up to Champ Car?

KEVIN KALKHOVEN: The story, of course, as you say goes back through Atlantics. She had done well in Atlantics and proved that she was a competitive racer. The big question was whether or not she was going to be fast enough in one of these brutal Champ Cars; and two, whether she had the physical endurance to be able to do so. We determined that by doing two sets of tests, one was at Sebring just literally designed to find out: Can she get as quick as the guys with very little time in the car she proved she could.

The second was to try and dispel the myth that women just aren't strong enough to be able to drive a race car, particularly in the second half of the race. So we put her through a complete race simulation, including pit stops and were very interested to find out what her performance would be like in the second half of the race, because that's where people get tired, make mistakes; they lose their rhythm.

She turned out to do an extremely good job in that, and she's very, very fit. She's on an 18,000-calorie-a-week exercise program. And when you think a mile is 300 calories, you'll begin to understand the sheer nature of the physical aspect of what she has to do.

So she proved she was fast enough, she proved she was fit enough and in the opinion, not only of myself but of people like Jim McGee, who won Indianapolis 500s; Jimmy Vasser, who has been a Champ Car champion, they looked at the data and said, yeah, this could work. And so we made the decision to go ahead, particularly this year, because the car is a known entity. We know the engineering on the '06 car, and so that removes a significant variable in performance.

When it comes to the '07 car, we've got an advantage that all of the teams will have the same car on the same date, but there will also be a steep learning curve in the engineering. And we decided the best thing to do is to use this as a transition year with the known quantity of the car, and give Katherine a chance to understand the aspects of racing without having to worry too much about the engineering of the car.

MERRILL CAIN: Tremendous announcement for Champ Car and great opportunity for Katherine. I wanted to ask both of you, as you head into this next season, Katherine, and Kevin as well, we'll throw this over to you, what are your expectations? What do you think is a realistic goal. What are you hoping to gain from this upcoming season in Champ Car?

KATHERINE LEGGE: I guess I will know more of what my expectations are nearer to the start of the season, but right now, I want to get to Long Beach. I want to finish Long Beach. I want to just gain experience, finish the race, and kind of re-evaluate from there.

Everybody wants to be Rookie of the Year. I mean, any driver who is a rookie who tells you not is obviously not plugged in right, I think. So obviously Roshfrans the Year is one of my goals. Like I said, just finish races and consistent improvement. As long as I'm improving, I'm happy. I just want to keep getting better and better and better and we'll see where that takes me.

MERRILL CAIN: Kevin, what are your expectations for Katherine this season?

KEVIN KALKHOVEN: I'm very realistic. History show that is it takes three to four years for Atlantic driver to become successful in the Champ Car series. Doesn't matter whether you look back to Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser to A.J. Allmendinger, it's a steep learning curve and it takes two or three years, at least, to become successful in such a car.

So I'm approaching it with some degree of reality which is that this is not going to be an overnight success. This is going to be a steep learning curve. It's going to be hard, it's going to be tough. The guys certainly are not going to give her one inch. There won't be any "After you, Madam," out on the race course.

So, you know, I think it comes down to, if everyone understands that there is this learning curve, there is this period of at least three years before somebody can really be a race winner. Then I think we'll all be on the same page.

MERRILL CAIN: One of the other significant things to happen last evening was the unveiling of the new Swift 016A Atlantic car. A new three-year agreement with Mazda was almost announced to serve as the engine supplier along as with Cosworth and the marketing partner for the series. The series will now be known as the Yokohama Presents, the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

Kevin, you referred to last night's announcement as the rebirth of open-wheel racing in North America. Can you talk about new Atlantic car, the future of the Atlantic Championship which enters its 33rd season in 2007?

KEVIN KALKHOVEN: Yeah, one of the things that became very apparent to us as the partners in open-wheel racing, that's Paul and Jerry and myself, was that you have to rebuild. If you're going to have a viable structure that that's going to be proud of and develop for many years, you need to build it from a very strong foundation. And one of the things that happened in open-wheel sports in the United States and North America was that there wasn't really that strong foundation for people to want to come and develop here.

So we put the Atlantics program together simply because we thought if we could develop a car that was more powerful, drove like a Champ Car, with a confirmed ladder into Champ Car, that it would certainly attract some attention. We never for one second expected the attention it has attracted, some 40-odd cars. It's going to be some of the most exciting racing anywhere in the world. And it's an indication of the huge pent-up demand there's really been for this style of racing and for this system. It's been a very powerful development factor because it brings new teams in to open-wheel racing, it brings in drivers in, that allows to you create these new heroes and brings new sponsors in which transfers upwards as the teams, the drivers go up into Champ Car. So in every sense, it is the foundation of what we're anticipating into the future.

MERRILL CAIN: Certainly an exciting time for the Atlantic Championship and the future of Champ Car.

A couple other significant announcements were made, series will introduce standing starts this season, with the first two scheduled to take place at Cleveland in rounds five and six. Newman Walks racing co-owned by legendary actor Paul Newman and his friend, Eddie Walk, announced a two-driver lineup with Joe D'Agostino and Daniel Gaunt of New Zealand. Pole Star Racing Group, Katherine's former Atlantic team announced Alan Sciuto will be its new driver next season, with sponsorship from PKV Racing. And also Bright Racing announced a two-car team with Chris Souliotisand Dutch driver Ben Jamini now brings the total to over 20 drivers announced for the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic championship.

Q: You've got to do one circuit, one season, on many of the tracks that Champ Car runs on, I'm sure that will be an advantage for you, have you given any thought yet to the tracks you haven't seen yet, is that on your radar yet or are you focused on starting the job?

KATHERINE LEGGE: Absolutely. I'm obviously very focused on starting the job. Out of all of them, Milwaukee is the one that I worry about the most just because I've not driven on an oval. So I'll be very interested to go and do some testing there and find out what that's about.

But there are not really that many I haven't driven on. I was very fortunate to be able to do a full season in Atlantics last year, and Houston will be new to everybody. It's going to be a very exciting race and I'm really looking forward to that one. Really, Milwaukee, Mexico City and the Australian race; so I think I'll be on Kevin's computer simulator doing laps and just trying to learning the tracks so they will be no surprise when I get there.

Q: For Katherine, I would like to get sort of, pursue the line that Kevin mentioned about this year being a relatively sort of convenient year, I suppose, for lack of a better term for Katherine, for you to go into Champ Car because the technology and the development of the car is pretty well a known entity versus spending another year in Atlantic this year and then going into Champ Car next year when not only you with you the team would be facing a steep learning curve, and I wonder if you could kind of talk your way through that process and just your thoughts on the fact that this year kind of works better in terms of the technology and the development of the car being a known entity?

KATHERINE LEGGE: Well, good question. I feel much more comfortable doing it this way around. I feel I have 100% faith in the team. Both my mechanics and engineers have been so helpful. They have helped me through this whole experience, they have guided me through it because they know everything on that car. They have worked with it for years now and they are fully aware of every idiosyncrasy that it may have. So that has helped me to be able to focus on my driving, trying to improve myself, trying to learn about the car and learn about why this happens, why that happens, why you change this and you get this result. So I think it's been a massive help to do it this year.

I think everybody has a rookie year. Very few people go into their rookie year and set the word alight. It's a learning process. I think for me to go into 2007 and try and learn how to engineer a car as well as worry about driving the big cars, because it's a big different from a 240-horsepower Atlantic to a 750-horsepower car, I think is a really good thing. It's really beneficial for me to be able to get one thing done at a time and get that done properly.

So I'm look forward to 2007 when I can look back on the year and say, right, I've done that, and then learn how to engineer a car, because that side of things really interests me, as well. And I'm spending a lot of time with the team in Indianapolis. I've moved to Indy, and I'm going into the shop every day and they are teaching me things. I had a lesson with the shocks the other week; I'm going to do gear box. They are just talking me through it and in baby steps, and then I'll be able to learn; whereas with the new car, they would be learning as well. So I think it's very good idea.

Q: If you could perhaps elaborate a little bit about the Mazda association with Formula Atlantics and what this brings to the series and kind of the perhaps unofficial perhaps, but synergy to the Mazda Star Series and just how that all works?

KEVIN KALKHOVEN: I think first of all we're thrilled to have Mazda as a partner. It was a wonderful announcement. They are excited, we're excited, the series is aimed specifically at their marketplace, so that all works well.

Cosworth have taken the Mazda engine and of course have developed it very significantly. It's running at 300 horsepower and normally aspirated 2.3 liter engine. So any time you're running at well over 100 horsepower per liter, you have an interesting challenge on your hands.

The Mazda engine has proven to be a great development tool. We're going to carry on working on it and working with Mazda, I'm sure we'll see some spinoffs between Mazda and Cosworth in the future. All of that is good news, and I think that when I reflect on having a major manufacturer such as Mazda associated with the development of the engine, with Cosworth, we can see that this is a series that is going to get a lot of attention, and that's great news.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series Atlantic , IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Paul Newman , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Chris Souliotis , Alan Sciuto , Kevin Kalkhoven , Joe D'Agostino , Daniel Gaunt