CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH FORSYTHE CHAMPIONSHIP RACING
ERIC MAUK: Thank you for joining us today on the Champ Car Atlantic media teleconference. We have a very exciting lineup here for you today as we bring on the new four-car Atlantic program put together by Forsythe Championship Racing. We are joined by the four young men that will pilot the Atlantic cars this year, Leonardo Maia, Richard Philippe, James Hinchcliffe and Andreas Wirth, and they are also joined by the general manager of Forsythe, Neil Micklewright. Thank you for joining us today.
First of all, Neil, it's a very big undertaking. You guys obviously have a long and successful history in the Champ Car World Series, but this is a big leap in a new look Atlantic series, and not just to take one or two cars but you go in with four cars and attack this thing. Tell us about the thought process behind it.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, obviously we're very excited about essentially the rebirth of Champ Car Atlantic; recognizing the ladder system for young drivers coming up hopefully leading up to Champ Car is very important. We looked at what an exciting series it is, what we think it can be for open-wheel racing in North America in the coming years, and decided that if we were going to get involved we wanted to get involved in the most professional and the biggest way possible.
That led us then to look and see what talent was actually available out there and look for the best drivers, and it became pretty apparent that there were quite a few very good drivers out there, and we narrowed down the list of the people that we'd like to work with and ended up with four young men as opposed to two. We've been lucky enough and fortunate enough to conclude deals with them.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us about the structure of the team. It's obvious that you will need a few new people to handle this stable. How do you go about building this squad?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Essentially most of the people are now in place. I think obviously we're a professional race team. The Champ Car team will continue to run with its full standard personnel, so we have brought in extra people in order to run the Champ Car Atlantic program. It's a crew of about 20 people, including the engineers, et cetera, and at this point we have about 16 or 17 of those people already on board.
It will run separately, will be under the same building, under the same guys, and one big happy family.
ERIC MAUK: Talk about a very compressed time frame to get this thing up and running. You get delivery of the cars, open test California Speedway, the Fontana Road Course out there the 21st and 22nd of March and then kick things off at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the second week of April. That's a very short amount of time.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Certainly that is a challenge. What we were able to do, though, once we decided several months ago that we were going to get involved in Champ Car Atlantic again, we went ahead and started laying the groundwork for an awful lot of the things that were going to be necessary. Really the only thing that we're waiting for now is the new car to be delivered in early March.
Later this month we'll be doing some practice at Sebring, just essentially just to give these four young men another taste of driving, try and get them in tiptop condition, et cetera. So certainly there are challenges, but as a race team that's already established in Champ Car as previous champions in Atlantic, we pretty much know what's necessary, what we need, and we've got some very good people who are working on that and are putting everything together. Right now everything is either on or ahead of schedule as far as it all coming together.
Don't forget, as well, that with the experience that we've had in the past of running multi-car teams, we were operating in Champ Car as well as Indy Lights and Atlantic, so this isn't something we're just coming out of the blue. We know how to put these things together and hopefully do the best job anybody can do.
ERIC MAUK: Even more recently you ran a three-car Champ Car program, the first time in 10 years that any team had done that, and you did that very well. Let's talk to the four young men that are going to be driving these cars. This is a very talented lineup of racecar drivers, each with strong pedigrees, and as Neil said, he was looking for some of the best talent out there and you've got to think that he found a good cross-section of that as we'll find out as we talk to these guys.
Leo Maia is 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series champion, won six races and seven poles that year and went on to what was then called the Infiniti Pro Series in '04, ran a couple of Atlantic races in '05 and spent much of the last year pounding the pavement in the Atlantic Champ Car paddock trying to ensure your future, and you've got to be happy with the way things turned out.
LEONARDO MAIA: I couldn't be happier. You look at the history of Forsythe Racing, and to be a part of it, it builds your confidence as a driver, makes you feel comfortable. You know that they're going to do whatever they can to help you out and to win. They're totally dedicated to winning. Really it's a situation that's really new to me where they just said you drive the car and we'll do everything in our power to make sure you win. I mean, you can't ask for anything more than that.
ERIC MAUK: You drove the Atlantic car a little bit last year, drove a couple of events at Cleveland but now you attack the season with an entire new team and an entirely new racecar. Talk about the challenges and coming into a new situation with a brand new racecar.
LEONARDO MAIA: It's going to be tough but it's going to be tough for everybody. There's not going to be really any advantages other than track knowledge from the guys that raced last year. I don't know how many are coming back. Andreas will definitely have an advantage over some of the guys there.
Having a new car is great, especially on our team. We have a four-car team, we can do a lot of testing between the four of us and really get it dialed in. We're at a great advantage with that new car. So far everything is looking good with it. I'm really happy and anxious to get going.
ERIC MAUK: I imagine that it helps your confidence a little bit that you've got knowledge of the Champ Car tracks from 2003 when you had some success in the Barber Dodge Pro Series so you know a little bit about what you're getting into.
LEONARDO MAIA: Believe it or not, the tracks kind of change when you jump into a new car. Things happen a little bit quicker so your sight picture is a little bit different. It's definitely tough. I did the Atlantic race in Cleveland, and that was a lot tougher than I was expecting it to be.
I mean, it's the same track but it's almost new because you're in a completely different car that's got so much more downforce than a Barber Dodge, more horsepower and a big step up in every respect. To be driving a new car like that on a track that you've driven before, it may sound -- I know it's the same track and car, but it actually sort of changes the track and how you drive it. It's definitely challenging, but at least I know where to turn left and right. That's the one advantage I do have.
ERIC MAUK: Joining us on the phone from Germany, he'll be coming to Indianapolis to do his seat fitting at the end of the week, Andreas Wirth, and Andreas, as Leo alluded to, ran nearly the full season in the Atlantic championship last year, finished 6th in the overall championship, he's the 2004 BMW champion, 11 podiums in 14 races. Andreas missed the last two events of the Atlantic series last year after being injured in an incident at Road America. First of all, Andreas, thanks for calling in from such a distance; and B, tell everybody a little bit about how you're doing health-wise.
ANDREAS WIRTH: I am fully recovered now. I am ready to go, I am 100 percent again. I did a lot of working out in the last few weeks, and I just tried to recover as fast as possible so I can be back in the car as fast as possible.
I don't know how long it took after the accident to be in good shape again, but now I'm really -- I would say I'm now in the shape that I was in Denver, so I really have to finish some stuff.
ERIC MAUK: If you're in the same shape you were in Denver, that spells trouble because you picked up your first Atlantic series win at the Grand Prix at Denver, also won a pole at Portland. You've got from the Atlantic side a little more experience than the rest of your stable mates. Tell us a little bit, it might be a little early, but do you have any expectations heading into this year?
ANDREAS WIRTH: No. Like Leo already said, I think that it's a new car, and it's new for everyone, I know that I knew the tracks and that's like a small advantage, but new cars and everyone has to get used to these cars, and I think there are a lot of good drivers around. I think it's just who gets used to the car first.
I mean, it includes the driver and the team, and I think with four drivers in the team, like Leo already said, we can test as much or more than the other teams because I don't think that there's another team around which has four cars. I think with four teammates, I think we are really good guys, and I think if everyone can drive some different stuff, we've had limited testing before Long Beach, I think we must be in front of the field.
ERIC MAUK: Talk a little bit about joining a team like Forsythe Championship Racing, a team with a championship pedigree and obviously a big opportunity for you.
ANDREAS WIRTH: What can I say, that's the biggest thing that could happen this year. I'm really, really happy to be a part of that team. That's really -- when I went to the U.S. in 2004 as part of the championship with BMW and we went together with Champ Car, it was always Forsythe. I wanted to be with Forsythe sometime. Now I'm one step closer. I'm not at that place at Forsythe where I want to be, but I would say I'm one step closer, and I think that's something where I can build something up to it.
ERIC MAUK: We'll talk to James Hinchcliffe, James a young man that chased Andreas for most of the year for 2004, finished 2nd in Formula BMW, won three races, finished second in last year's Mazda series, finished top five in the last eight races of the year. James, a big opportunity for you. Tell us a little bit about how you feel.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, I mean, it's pretty obvious. I think we all have the same feeling right now. Kind of like Leo and Andreas have already touched on, this is the caliber of team that every driver wants to race with at some point in their career. I don't think there's a single driver who's looking at Champ Car Atlantic right now who didn't dream about or try to get on this team. So to be one of the four drivers selected is just amazing.
The team has got a great history with Canadian drivers; many of my heroes have come through this team and driven on this team, so it's a dream come true.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit -- it's a new deal for all of you, a very big undertaking four-car team, but you raced against Richard last year, you've raced against Andreas, you seem to know each other, seem to get along pretty well. Seems to be a good atmosphere. Do you think that makes things easier?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: As much as you want to beat everyone on the track, it's also really important to work together. If you get along off the track, then the work you're going to produce is going to be ten times better and be more efficient and more effective. I've raced against both Richard and Andreas in the past, and I'm just getting to know Leo now, but we all seem to be getting along really well. When you know your teammates better and know the guys you're racing against, it improves everybody's game. I think we're going to be able to push each other in a friendly but a competitive way. I mean, four teammates when everyone is learning a new car, I think we've got the advantage going into the season now. No other teams -- the two days of testing before Long Beach, we're going to get four cars with data where a one-car team is going to be at a disadvantage. It's a great formula for the series coming up, personnel, all the guys on the team we've met and been working with the last few weeks getting the deal together have just been phenomenal. You really need a family friendly atmosphere to make a successful team. The minute you walk in the shop you can understand why these guys have been so successful, because they have that formula and they have that feeling around the whole shop.
Q: Richard Phillipe, the 2005 Formula BMW champion, three pins, six poles, ten top 5s last year making a big jump into Atlantic and you're definitely ahead of the curve making this jump at such a young age. Tell us how you feel about this opportunity.
RICHARD PHILLIPE: First of all, going with Forsythe was the best deal possible. Like James said, there's not -- every driver wants to be with Forsythe or to sign with Forsythe. I've driven the car, and it's quite a step, but I'm eager to learn. I need a challenge, and I'm ready to take this challenge.
ERIC MAUK: Your expectations to this year, have you thought about them long enough to set any goals for yourself?
RICHARD PHILLIPE: My goal this year is pretty simple. There's one thing I want to do, and it's win. These guys, my teammates, are going to be competitive and tough, but if I drive to be second, I'm not going to drive.
ERIC MAUK: As most people on the call that will be listening know, you're the brother of Nelson Philippe, who's entering his third season in the Champ Car World Series. You spent time in the Champ Car paddock, seeing the track, just being in the atmosphere. Does that help at all, make you a little looser, take the pressure off you?
RICHARD PHILIPPE: It's a little easier. I've been hanging in the paddock for two years watching Nelson and everything, most of the teams. Learned a lot just by watching. I don't know the tracks. I've only driven on two of the tracks. So learning the tracks is going to be one more challenge, but a lot of drivers are going to be on the same page as I am. I'm sure that Nelson can help with that. It's going to be a good season, and we can walk the track together.
ERIC MAUK: Good luck to all four of you guys. We look forward to seeing you on the racetrack this year.
Q: Congratulations to you guys. Great opportunity for all four of you. I wonder if each of you could tell us a little bit about the end of last season going into the fall and winter and what your goals were. Were you focused on getting rides in Atlantic, did you have other options, were there other series you were looking at? What was your approach and how did this thing come together from that point of view? If Leo would start and we could go through each guy.
LEONARDO MAIA: Well, at the end of last year I wasn't really racing. I was looking really to drive anything. But I was focused on Atlantic because I went to every single Atlantic race. I had been talking to all of the teams, sort of really focusing on the whole Champ Car organization, like the Champ Car World Series and the Atlantic then. Really I just did everything to get on an Atlantic team. I knew with the new car coming that everyone would sort of start on the same page.
I talked to John (Brunner), who's the manager for the Atlantic team here at Forsythe, and we just started talking about each of us and about next year, and that's when I knew I pretty much had to be on this team. I had to be in Atlantic next year. The $2 million driver incentive is something huge and something I don't think motor sports has really seen before. It's just something that definitely closed the deal, to focus on Atlantic, and I just really have to say thank you to Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven and all the people that really got behind the series and really made it possible to sort of bring back the lower formula in open wheel in the U.S. because I think that has been struggling for a long time. Other than that, that's about it.
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