CHAMPCAR/CART: Vasser, Hunter-Reay, Maia press conference, part II

CART Champ Car media teleconference with Champ Car drivers Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay with Barber Dodge Pro Series champion Leo Maia. Part 2 of 2 Eric Mauk: We'll open it up to questions from the media. Q: Thoughts on the Denver...

CART Champ Car media teleconference with Champ Car drivers Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay with Barber Dodge Pro Series champion Leo Maia.

Part 2 of 2

Eric Mauk: We'll open it up to questions from the media.

Q: Thoughts on the Denver track now? It's still pretty narrow, it's hard to pass on. Of course, it was rough last year. We have it pretty well smoothed out from what I understand. Your thoughts on coming into Denver, chance to do well here.

Jimmy Vasser: I hope it's smoother. It was really bumpy last year. I had just come off in a test in the off-road buggy that I raced in the Baja 1000. Thought it was more bumpy at Denver than the off-road buggy, for sure. Anyhow, that's part of the challenge, is the track. Also there was a section where it was extremely slippery and the pavement they had put down had zero grip on it, so it was kind -- it was a strange course. The race was good. I like the layout. I think it was a great venue for a show like that. But, you know, a lot of street circuits we go on are tight. That's okay. As long as the surface is good and the grip levels are good, then you can race hard, have a couple decent braking zones to go for some overtaking maneuvers. You know, I like Denver as a city. I think it's a great venue for us. As far as the track surface goes, that remains to be seen.

Q: It was an interesting race from the standpoint last year that kind of once the green flag went down, you guys got into a single file mode that carried on for almost 60 some laps. Do you see that kind of as a possibility again this year because of the tightness of the course?

Jimmy Vasser: It's always a possibility, you know, with Champ Cars. You know, the competition level is so tight, it's hard to pass somebody that, you know, you might be a 10th or two, a lap quicker, especially if they don't want to let you by. But this year, we're not allowed to really throw any blocking maneuvers. You have to leave a braking zone open on the inside. Also, there's no traction control. So I would guess that you probably won't see that this year. I think there's more opportunity for more of a wide-open race.

Q: Hunter, your situation, I don't think you probably raced in Denver, have you?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: I did race there last year in Atlantics.

Q: Your thoughts on the course then?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Well, I just -- like Jimmy said, it was incredibly bumpy in an Atlantic car. I can only imagine what it would be like in a Champ Car. I love the event itself. The layout is great, that big long straight down to that tight braking zone will create a lot of passing this year.

Q: That turn between four and five?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: I think so, yeah. Hopefully the bumpy situation will be a little bit better. The track will be a bit smoother. But, I mean, I can't wait to get there in a Champ Car for sure. You know, last year the bumps caught me out going into one. I ended up turning the car around. You know, qualified well there. I think I qualified second there last year. Hopefully it will be good again this year.

Q: Jimmy, Sam Hornish came within a couple milliseconds of your speed record yesterday. How much of a sense of pride do you have about that mark? Pretty impressive mark you threw up at Fontana. How would you like to see it stay up there as an open-wheel record for speed?

Jimmy Vasser: I don't know, it sounds kind of cool, 'fastest race ever.' It's really a product of how many yellows there are, the distance of the race. Our race was a 500-mile race that I had only a couple yellows. Potentially the race speed could be in the 220s. But it's just a product of yellows. Yesterday's race didn't have a lot of yellows, I think they had one. The race distance was only 300 miles. I mean, if you had a hundred mile race with no yellows... It's just a product of the math. I think it sounds cool and all that, but it's really not a feat of gritting your teeth and making a faster race. Qualifying, usually it's a product of that. It looked to me -- I saw the race off and on a bit. Didn't really get a chance to watch the whole thing. Looked to me like Sam drove a great race. His car was fast. Whatever that engine is, whatever they call it, I guess they call it a Chevrolet. I know who built it, I know the guys who built it. I think they should be very proud. They built a good engine. The guys at Cosworth do a heck of a lot on a really limited budget compared to the likes of TRD and HPD. I think they should be proud.

Q: I remember talking last year after Long Beach about two Americans, you and Michael Andretti were on the podium with Max. You said you liked the international flavor of the series. You have the American flags on your suits. When you hear people make comments about American drivers, you have a pretty easygoing personality, does that get your dander up? How to you react to denigrating comments about American drivers?

Jimmy Vasser: I think it's not very smart on their part. I certainly don't take it personal because I know they're not talking about me (laughter). But, you know, I think -- you know, everybody is entitled to their opinion, right? There are some fantastic drivers around the world. I think the problem is, it's not the lack of speed in the American drivers' genetic makeup, it's just a lack of, in my opinion, support, national support. There's not a lot of nationalism from the lower formula on up. I mean, an American driver can't drive a Player's car. It's only for Canadian drivers. It would be tough for an American to get in the Gigante car or the Tecate car because they're only for Mexicans.

This is around the world. They have young driver programs in many different countries around the world, South America, Europe, so forth. They really don't have one -- they haven't had one for long here. If they do, I know they have the Red Bull thing going on, they haven't had a really organized system that supports and champions young American drivers. I think it's just because there's too many things for the Americans to get into. There's football, baseball, basketball, you know, just a lot of different things. There's just not a lot of enthusiasm for the support side of it.

I think those things are changing with what Ryan has gone through and what Leo talked about, young guys coming up. AJ Allmendinger is coming up. He's, for sure, a great talent, as well. I think we're going to see some more come up. A lot of young American drivers go the way of the Saturday night tracks, the dirt tracks, the fairgrounds, with hopes to make it into NASCAR. I think that's kind of the case. I don't take anything personally.

Q: I didn't think you did. Ryan, could you answer that question, too? Against the backdrop of what JJ Yeley has done, the names he has surpassed are royalty, guys like AJ Foyt, of open-wheel racing in America. Somebody the other day said our path to the next level is NASCAR. That's preposterous when we have people like you and him in open-wheel cars.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Basically, I think it's like a trend or something like that. I you know, this guy has cool jeans or I want them too, something like that. They keep saying the same thing, like American drivers can't get it done. Really, I had the car that could compete in Mid-Ohio, and ended up doing it. I have a car that's equal to Manning or Haberfeld or any of these guys who have won F3000 championships, this, that and the other. I'm right there competing with them, beating them. So it just doesn't hold any water really at all. I think Jimmy hit it on the head. We don't have a proper support system here for American drivers.

Q: Heading into Montreal, which is such a fabulous racetrack, do you guys feel the history of the place? I know it's going to be a better track for you than some of the other road courses because it is pretty smooth. Does that play into your preparations?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: The track is pretty smooth. You do have to realize we clobber the curbs there. We'll lift the car a foot off the air going over some of those curbs. The surface itself may be pretty smooth, but when it comes down to it, on a fast lap, on the racing line, you're actually lifting the car way off the ground, which is a disadvantage to the Reynard. It will have its ups and downs for us that weekend. But as for the Grand Prix track, you know, that's great, excellent. It's an honor to be racing there. Driving a car with 800 horsepower, 750 horsepower, with no traction control, no driver aids or anything like that, on a track like that, you can't do that anywhere else in the world. It may suit the Lola a little bit more going over the curbs like that. I'm a rookie so I have yet to speak from years and years of experience. I'm not really sure. But I would think that's the way it's going to go.

Q: Following up on one of the previous questions, Jimmy, Ryan, the lack of support for American drivers, Mid-Ohio was quite exciting watching the US team, being that you were the only team with two US drivers, trying to chase down the Canadians. From a fan standpoint, it was wild. What do you guys do to get support for development? Clearly your cars are red, white and blue, American flag and all. Something like the US Postal Service would look on the side pods. Is the team looking at doing something like that?

Jimmy Vasser: I think absolutely, they're working very hard. I think there's some positive things going on for sponsorship. Some of it hinges on obviously what's going to happen with the series next year, waiting for a schedule, things along those lines. I know they do have some things working. They're working on them all year long. From my standpoint, it's very disappointing to see, you know, that we're struggling to achieve some good backing. You know, the whole theme of our team is American, and it's great. I think the aesthetics of the team are fantastic. The foundation is there. But, you know, we really need a good, solid sponsor. Obviously, a good, solid American company is what makes sense. I don't think either of us would have any problem, you know, even driving the Playtex Panty Liner Special, as long as we got good sponsorship, we could get out there and do some good development.

I think that we're poised for a good future along those lines. You know, first and foremost, the future of the series needs to come into focus, then it will make it a lot easier for guys like Stefan to put the pieces together. But the Postal would be great. Coca-Cola would be a good, great, old-school American company, would be fantastic for us.

Q: It's definitely a huge hit in the financial pocketbook. Looking at the way the team has developed from almost a late starter into you guys being on the podium, damn close to it, I'm thinking that Stefan is almost a micromanager given that he's still an active racer and really is working hard. Can you talk about how he's developed the team, how it is working with him?

Jimmy Vasser: I mean, the team in its current state, it was his vision, probably minus a big sponsor. Stefan has a great history in many different types of motorsport over the years. He's kind of a detail guy. But yet I don't see him inside the team as a micromanager. I think he allows the people that he's hired to do their job and expects them to. You know, as we sit now, you know, some things could have been better throughout the season. We had certainly hoped to have better performance up to this point. But, you know, we didn't realize some of the challenges, the extra challenges, the Reynard was going to pose. As we sit now, like I said, Stefan has done a good job to put the team in this position to springboard forward. We're waiting on a few things to happen for us to be able to do that.

Q: Jimmy, I wanted to ask you, you and Paul Tracy have been friends for a long time. Just as a friend, obviously you'd rather see the American Spirit cars up front, but to see what's gone on, how things have fallen into place for him after what he's gone through, what has that been like as a friend to see him potentially chasing down a CART championship?

Jimmy Vasser: Well, I mean, he deserves to be a champion. He's been a great driver on the series for a long time, won a lot of races. I don't need to give you his resume. He's an exciting driver, great guy to have in the series. I know how hard he's been working, you know, over the last few years to get himself in this position. I think he deserves to be a champion. But having said that, he needs to make it happen. You know, in my opinion, I tell him the same thing, really it's his to lose. He's got arguably the best car out there, really he's got the most experience with the guys he's running the championship for. He needs to not do things like he did like at Elkhart Lake, not do things like I did at Mid-Ohio.

He knows what he's got to do. You know, I hope he can win it. He is a friend. I think he'd be a great champion, great name to adorn the trophy. Bruno (Junqueira) is not going to lay down, though. I think (Michel) Jourdain is in there, too, with a good chance. He's real consistent. You know, it's going to be exciting to see what transpires over the next six races.

Q: To see the emotion that's been on hand for these Molson Indy events in Toronto and Vancouver, now a bigger one in Montreal, what is it like to see someone bask in the adulation of his countrymen like that?

Jimmy Vasser: I think it's cool. It's good to see. I'm a sports guy. I like to see things like that.

Q: Ryan, Jimmy, given that the first offer to buy CART has been thrown on the table officially this morning, don't need you guys to get political, about I'm curious, are you guys signed for next year or at least optioned?

Jimmy Vasser: Ryan, do you want to go with that one?

Ryan Hunter-Reay:  I mean, things have yet to kind of pan out in my
situation.  You know, hopefully American Spirit will be around.  Hopefully
it will be a successful organization.  You know, a whole bunch of optimistic
thoughts.  At this point I need to concentrate on going to Montreal and
doing a good job.  I have no real news on my exact position for next year.

Q: Jimmy?

Jimmy Vasser: The team has an option on me. It's coming up. I'm not sure if they're going to be in a position to pick it up. Whether they do or not, it remains to be seen kind of what's going to go on with the series. I understand about the first offer to buy it out, so forth. But I'm also working in other arenas to see what transpires. For me, you know, if I can't put myself in a situation where I honestly think I can run for race wins and potentially a championship, then... This year has been a little frustrating to be racing where we are. We'll just have to see what transpires, make decisions when it's time.

Q: Fingers crossed. I'm sure we all are that way.

Jimmy Vasser: Absolutely.

Eric Mauk: We'll let you get back to it. Got to go ahead and get up to Montreal. Best of luck to all of you. You can see final round qualifying live on SPEED Channel Saturday, 2 p.m. eastern, and you can catch the race also on SPEED channel, tape delayed basis, at 9 p.m. eastern. Thanks for joining us today.

Jimmy Vasser: Thank you.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Thank you.

Leo Maia: Okay, thanks.

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Part II

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About this article
Series Barber Pro , IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sam Hornis