CHAMPCAR/CART: An Interview with Lee White

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Thanks for being with us today. Our guest this afternoon is Lee White, group Vice-president of Toyota Racing Development who joins us off Toyota's first ever FedEx Championship Series victory in...

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Thanks for being with us today. Our guest this afternoon is Lee White, group Vice-president of Toyota Racing Development who joins us off Toyota's first ever FedEx Championship Series victory in last week's rain-delayed Miller Light 225 at the Milwaukee Mile. Good afternoon, Lee, congratulations and thanks for being with us today. LEE WHITE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming, and hopefully we will have a nice discussion. T.E. McHALE: All right, to move forward, as we said, Toyota's first victory came last Monday when Juan Montoya drove to the checkered flag in the Miller Light 225 at the Milwaukee Mile. That was the highest of seven top-5 finishes scored so far in six FedEx Championship Series events to date. The other podium finishes in that group would be second by Jimmy Vasser at Rio de Janeiro and third at Long Beach. In addition, Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motor Sports has matched a career best with a pair of 4th place finishes this year at Rio de Janeiro and Japan. What that adds up to is that Toyota is 90 points in the CART Manufacturers Championship in third place, but only 14 points behind leading Ford Cosworth which has 104 and only 6 points out of second place which is held by Honda with 96 points. In addition, Juan Montoya has led 461 of a possible 651 competitive laps contested in the past three FedEx Championship Series events; including 172 out of 201 at Japan; 110 of 225 at Nazareth and 179 of 225 at Milwaukee. As we said heading into this weekend's Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit on the raceway at Belle Isle Toyota stands third in the Manufacturer's Championship with 90 points. The Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit will be televised live on ESPN this Sunday, June 18th beginning at 1:00 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Lee White.

Q. Can you tell us what is the major development for the engine department with Toyota? LEE WHITE: The major development in regards to what, for this particular engine?

        Q.  Yes.
        LEE WHITE:  Over previous engines that we've ran?

Q. Yes. LEE WHITE: This is the sixth evolution of the Toyota CART engine which has been designed and developed over the last four years. So we call it the RV8E and it's predecessor the RV8D which is the fifth evolution was an engine which was designed in Japan primarily produced; all the parts were produced in Japan, although, we built the engines here at TRD in California which went to the racetrack. This particular engine is unique in that it was totally designed by a design staff here at TRD, Toyota Racing Development Costa Meca, California. It was completely developed here for a period of one year and every engine that goes to the racetrack for testing and racing is produced here at TRD in Southern California. Our associates in Japan acquired this engine after the final race of 1999 at Fontana and they have been working very hard helping us with development since that point, but the early design and development was primarily done here. This is probably the most unique thing about this engine in the history of Toyota's involvement. What is unique about it mechanically is all the normal things that you look for improvements in racing engines. It is compared to the RV8D, it is lighter; it's center of mass is lower which helps the whole car package. It produces a little more power, but the most important thing about the power curve, it is just better power - (inaudible) a much broader range. We have been able to focus more on fuel mileage so its fuel mileage, I think is extraordinary. It drivability is quite good and, as always, the No. 1 thing that you look for is durability, and because the engine has delivered all of these other things which has made its performance better, we have been able to focus a great deal of our time on durability development and durability testing that has dramatically improved as well. So those are the main things. As far as specific technical things, I think it is probably better that I don't get into those.

Q. How important for you to have partnership with team Ganassi this year? LEE WHITE: Well, I think that goes without saying that probably the single most important event in Toyota's involvement in the CART Series was our ability to establish a dialogue with Target/Chip Ganassi in the 1999 season, quite early in the season and discuss the CART Series in general with them and also the potential of joining with them as our partners as we move forward in this series and in the year 2000 and beyond. It was a critical -- you ask how important was it. I am happy to say it was a critical turning point in our history and our involvement in this series to acquire a partner in our effort like the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team.

Q. Lee, your involvement with this engine - I know goes back a long way and with TRD - how much do you have to do with the engines that you run in the Atlantic Series and while the engines are totally different I know, is there some carryover in technology between the two? LEE WHITE: Well, you got a couple of questions there. My job at TRD, Toyota Racing Development, basically I am responsible for everything and I report to Jim Aust who is our president. Jim pretty much looks after all the business aspects of what TRD does and my specific responsibilities, since I am the lifelong racer in the bunch, is to look after the competition and the technology and try to keep our engines capable of winning. As far as the CART engine, my background is engineering, my background is engines and racing with a wide experience in development of racing engines and the application of those engines in cars and dealing with teams and series and racing and winning races and winning Championships. So I have a lot to do on a day-to-day basis with the CART engine specifically. My involvement with the Atlantic engine -- our Atlantic program is administered by Dave Wilson who is my vice-president who looks after our sales and marketing activity and also of, what we call, our grass roots activity that Toyota undertakes in North America falls under his area of responsibility. So we, as far as the Atlantic Series go, we at TRD, we have 11 people in our grass roots engine development department. We do all the design, development and testing of the components for those engines and then we sell them to the four approved engine builders for the Atlantic Series. We sell the components and the engines are physically built for the various competitors in that series by those approved builders. So our responsibility is really just administering the series for Toyota, or at least Toyota's involvement in the series and developing the parts for those engines. We do actually build the engines for the Pike's Peak Hill Climb; the core participation by Rod Millen and Johnnie Grieves (phonetic), the core participation with Ivan Stewart and Larry Rossler (phonetic), and we are also currently building engines for the NASCAR Goodies Dash series for Eric VanCleff (phonetic) by those same people. All of those people work for me and fall under me, but they are primarily looked after by Dave Wilson.

Q. A lot of us at first blush would say that is all a new engine, but your experience in the field of building engines is very extensive. At Detroit now, we are going to be on probably the first -- after Long Beach, another road course. Have you made improvements in the engine since Long Beach to move up another place?

LEE WHITE: Well, I certainly hope we have improved the engine since Long Beach. At Long Beach as you know Jimmy qualified second; Juan qualified third. Juan had some serious brake problems in the race and ended up down the run-off roads a lot more than the engine could stand temperature wise. But Jimmy ran very strong there and was in contention for, you know, a second place at the end and with a little luck on pit spots, I think could have even been contending for the win. So we are certainly hoping to carry that forward to Detroit. We have done -- our engines improves every day. We have a tremendous amount of development going on. We do at least, I think our average is one and a half engines per week, that we build just to run on our transient dyno to do mapping and drivability work and fuel mileage work; not to mention many of the engines that come back from the racetrack are used up in this fashion; that they are put on the dyno and used for this as well. So we have made a lot of improvements in that area. We have obviously everybody's continually trying to make a little more power; a little more torque and smooth the power, so it is more driveable and we are not alone in that. Everybody does that and we have made a lot of progress there too. What I hope people don't forget that the Target guys in particular went off and ran Indy, so they weren't off testing on road courses like a lot of the other teams. They participated in the two-day test at Mid-Ohio this week. So they have -- hopefully they have caught up a little bit on some testing time they missed out on since Long Beach. PPI and John Della Penna have been out doing some testing and helping us out with engine development. I think we will be okay but certainly we have to get to Detroit and see how it all stacks up.

Q. You mentioned Target Team at Indy. Are you considering building an engine for that race next year? LEE WHITE: Not at this point, no.

Q. I was just wondering did you have kind of a goal set out for you, five years from now of where you wanted the engine to be and have you accelerated that learning curve? Are you where you wanted to be in four years? LEE WHITE: Four years from now?

Q. No, no. From the development of the engine. Did the win come sooner than you thought? Later? LEE WHITE: Well, I have been with TRD for two and a half years. The program has been in place for, I believe, it is five years now since they first decided to start. I think I have to be honest and say that from the time I started, I expected it to take about two years before we were in a position to win because so many of the things that I was -- my experience told me - had to be in place were not in place. And it just takes that long to recruit the people to change the mental approach to what you are doing; to get the resources in place, and it is not just -- it starts really coming in the front door at TRD. We had a culture to change at TRD. We had to basically build a better engine at TRD. But we also had to complete the equation and find the other, what I consider to be, at least more than 50%, probably 55 to 60 percent of the equation and that is be able to attract teams that race at the front of the field. Basically set the standard for teams that were using our engine already and give them -- basically give them the confidence that the engine was in fact good enough so that they would turn their focus to improving their driving and their engineering and their function as race teams. Reality is that after I came here, I expected it to -- I mean, everyone wants to win the next race and I think racing being racing, we have had situations -- we had situations two years ago at Nazareth in one or two events where had the cards fall in your place, if you are in position, you can win. Certainly last year, had the cards fallen our way at Surfers or a couple of the other events, when Scott Pruett was driving for PPI and certainly Cristiano or Robby -- Robby even at Motegi, there were circumstances there, you know, at the last pit spot at Motegi in 1999, Robby left the pits in third place and most people missed that. But it is a fact. He came in. He ran very strong the whole race. He left the pits in third, and the gearbox broke. So he ended up finishing about 8th. But those are the circumstances that if you are in, you can conceivably win. So it could have happened then. But honestly, I started to expect that we would win when -- at the very first test at Seabring with the Ganassi guys. Because at that point we were able to take their data from their last test at Seabring, lay it over data from our first test at Seabring with them, and believe in our hearts that our engine was as fast as a Honda. And given that circumstance, and the fact that Juan Montoya looked at me and said: This would be no problem, we are going to win races; that is when I started believing that we were going to win races.

Q. I was wondering what -- the possibilities at this point of Toyota eventually venturing into Formula 1. There has been some speculation, some of the magazine say it will happen in a couple of years. Is that something that you can comment on at this point? LEE WHITE: I think you can absolutely count on it. As far as I know it is a done deal and TRD will not play any role in this at this point in time, but Toyota, as a global corporation, has made the decision to go into Formula 1. They are building up their facility at Toyota Team Europe, which is based in Cologne, Germany, it is the same facility and the same people who have done the World Rally Championship and the Lemans' project for Toyota for the last several years. They are beefing that up and recruiting people and to the best of my knowledge, it will be a total works program. They are building a wind tunnel. They are putting in expanded engine development facilities. They will be designing and building the chassis there as well as designing and building the engine there. So I think that you will start to see some testing maybe late in 2001; probably almost certainly by 2002. This is again from the best of my knowledge.

Q. That won't affect any ventures, Toyota's continued commitment to CART then, it doesn't sound like? LEE WHITE: No. Absolutely not. We are assured that it won't. Primarily this is the season that the effort has been made to build up TRD here in California as a world-class engine design and development facility. So that if Toyota decides to go off and do Formula 1 or any other motor sport activity at some other location in the world, it will not take away and it will not detract from our effort in CART.

Q. Back to the grass roots racing program, has Toyota considered supplying engines for the Indy Lights Series? LEE WHITE: The subject has come up, but I must tell you at this point in time we are extremely happy with our involvement in the Toyota Atlantic program and we have been, of course, involved in that program for a very long time. I am not personally aware of any desire at Toyota to support more than one -- one series in the ladder system in open-wheel racing here in the United States. There has been, I think, some discussion about potentially doing away with CART and melding Lights with CART. But I don't think at this point that that is going to move forward. Certainly, we do not have an engine that just would slot into the Lights car and at this point I don't see us having the budget to go and do the tooling and design necessary to build an engine for that.

Q. How possible is reducing the horsepower on the Toyota power plan for short ovals without changing the current engine Formula? LEE WHITE: Wow. This is a subject that is discussed on a pretty regular basis in the rules committee meetings which I participate in. Without a major configuration change in the engine Formula, it is very difficult to do. And very expensive. Because, as you are probably aware, we only run 40 inches 6 boost which is, you know, barely above atmospheric anyway, so without some sort of spec racer type artificial limitation like a sonic restriction device or rev limiter, something like that, it is almost impossible to do that without a major configuration change or a major displacement change in the engines. At this point in time, you know, getting consensus among the engine suppliers for CART is very difficult to do because of the outlay involved in terms of money to do this sort of thing.

Q. If CART staged a race at night, how would this affect Toyota, the Toyota engine? LEE WHITE: Well, I think if they staged a race at the right venue it would be very interesting. I know we did some night practice last year at St. Louis and I thought the cars were really exciting to watch going around there under the lights. As far as how would it affect our engines, I don't think would it affect the engines anymore than, say, racing on a cool day does which we have had a lot of this spring. It tends to make more power. The cool heavy air like you get at night obviously is good for pours power, it makes more power, but it also makes more drag and makes more downforce because it affects the chassis in an equal way too so I don't know that the spectators would notice anything performance-wise because it would be fairly uniform for all the participants or at least a benefit. I have to say I think there are probably certain venues in the summer, short ovals, St. Louis possibly being one, where it is hot and you want to try and get people out to enjoy the race where it might be worth looking at to have a night race.

        Q.  Will we ever see a Toyota Celica racing series?
        LEE WHITE:  As in a spec racing-type series?

Q. Right. LEE WHITE: Well, we kind of have that in the celebrity race, you know, that we have every year in L.A. where we build all the Celicas and the pro celebrities go out and race them around the streets here in Long Beach. As far as expanding on that, it certainly isn't something that I have heard anything about expanding it beyond the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Q. I was just wondering you touched on a little bit ago about how important it was for the Ganassi team to get involved. How difficult has it been working with some of the other teams in terms of the separation between Ganassi's bunch and their bunch? Have they been able to help you as much or it is just a situation where the Ganassi's guys helped put you over the end? LEE WHITE: It hasn't been difficult working with the other teams at all because our teams are good teams. PPI is an excellent team and John Della Penna is an excellent small team. They both have tremendous potential to grow into consistent Top-5 or Top-10 competitors and win races. So that really -- I can't say that has been difficult at all, in no way, because the engines that we build are all built to a standard spec. Everyone gets the same engines. We have assured everyone of that. In fact, we guarantee everyone that. So really that hasn't been an issue. We have obviously at some point, because of development, you have some, you know, an engine that might be a little newer and you may not be able to produce 12 or 15 of those, whatever it takes, to support you for a weekend so that everyone has exactly the same things and sometimes we have to make a decision as to where those engines go. More often than not, those engines go to PPI or to Della Penna. And really there is no rhyme or reason as to why that happens. It is usually just circumstances at the time, and honestly if we have a guy like Jimmy up in points, we tend to give him the more -- the older stuff because it is more proven and more durable as opposed to give him something that has another three or four horsepower. So really I think everyone has been very good. All of the teams; particularly, you know, PPI and Della Penna guys understand Chip Ganassi is our -- Target/Chip Ganassi Racing is our premier team - but can they not be - my God, they are the premier team in the CART Series, so it makes sense that they are our premier team and we don't portray them as anything other than that. So, you know, it really -- it has been very easy dealing with all the teams, no problems.

Q. Earlier in the year when those guys seemed to have trouble finishing races, it seemed like, from a bit of our own perspective and the media, I am sure, is to blame - we will take the rap for it; everybody wants to blame us anyway - that everybody wanted to lump the Toyota as being the problem when in actuality they had a bunch of little things plagued them that haven't plagued them in years -- LEE WHITE: Yeah, you know, that is just the way it is. And we are happy to accept that and we can't say that it was all just little things either. We have our own failings and we don't claim to be perfect. We let Juan down in Homestead when he certainly looked like he had the potential to go off and do what he did at Motegi. We let Jimmy down at Motegi when he was running a strong second and was in a backup winning position. Beyond that, there have been, you know, some other issues with shift cables and, you know, minor problems, so pitstop issues things like, but these things happen, that is racing. If you can't accept that and get on with it, then you are in the wrong business. We knew where we were and the teams knew where we were and I mean, we are working hard. I mean, I think it is -- everyone early in the season had probably more than their share of problems; certainly the Ford guys had quite a few engines fail. We had a couple. The Honda guys had some. So everyone had that, but now I think as we get into the meat of the season, you are going to see everyone kind of coming together with their programs and certainly we hope that we are on stride with everyone else like we should be.

Q. I was curious if there was anything unique about the way that TRD was making their engines available to the team? Is there anything that you are doing to make your lease package more attractive price-wise or any other thing that is going to make you stand out to draw other teams to you? LEE WHITE: Well, we, over the last couple of years, we devolved a way of dealing with our teams that I think is unique and I say that having been with Newmann/Haas and dealt with Cosworths for three years. Of course, I say that having had John Della Penna come to us from being a Cosworth customer and now, of course, having Target/Chip Ganassi Racing come to us having been a Honda customer, so we have learned a bit about how those two manufacturers deal with their teams. We, as a company, I don't want to get into the business aspects because we kind of make it a policy not to discuss our business with our teams at all and I'd like to continue that here, but certainly at the level of support that we provide to teams and that the level of engineering support, technical support, just the sheer involvement with the teams as far as the whole package goes, I believe that we are evolving -- it is still changing, it changes every day, it changes every week -- but I firmly believe that we are evolving a system of dealing with our teams primarily through working with Jeff. I have to give him credit for this because this is something that -- part of the credit for it is something that he and I discussed at length all last year was how we wanted this relationship to work and we put it in place. We put it in the contract and we both worked very hard to make sure we worked as one team and not just a vendor supplying an engine and taking a check and saying there is your engine, go run it. We do business in a much -- it is a subtle difference, but I think a very significant difference and I firmly believe that after we evolve through this year, that if you are not doing business like this going into next year, you will have a hard time competing with us. Because we are going to carry this forward and offer this relationship that we are development now-this way that we do business-we are going to offer that carte blanche across the board to customers that want to come to us and really make it worth their investment in our product.

Q. You look back to starting a couple years ago when TRD ran a very aggressive television ad campaign promoting your image, and if you didn't know any better, you would just think that, boy, there was the winningest engine there ever was. That was even before a pole, that was even before a win. Can you talk about some of the thinking or reasoning or logic behind why that marketing campaign was so prevalent, so long ago? LEE WHITE: Well, it would be hard for me to comment on that because I wasn't part of that. I mean, Toyota has had a long involvement with the CART Series as an event sponsor; as a product sponsor; as, you know, they have basically been the primary sponsor for the Long Beach Toyota Grand Prix. We support, I believe, it is six race tracks, so not only that, we support the Feeder Series, the Toyota Atlantic Series, so, Toyota has been deeply involved in this series long before we won this event. I think it is to their credit that they invest in the series; that they advertise around the series; that they do all the things and tried and do it the right way. Now, I mean, I think if you wanted to have comment about those adds specifically, I'd really rather refer you to Les Unger, someone who was part of that and why Toyota specifically did that, but really, I think at the time those ads were running I was across the fence and working on a team that had Cosworth engines and I looked at those ads with envy, and wondered why Ford Motor Company didn't run the same type of ads and give the racing activity the same level of exposure. Exposure is exposure and I suppose it is a marketing guy's job to go out and make the most of what you have to work with, and if nothing else, I guess it is honest to say that we weren't having the results at that point, but certainly it wasn't for lack of effort and I hope the ads were just -- were showing the type of effort that was being made at that point.

Q. Do you have a definite window of time that you intend to be involved with CART at this level? LEE WHITE: You mean is there a cut off point when we are going to get out of CART? No.

        Q.  That is correct?
        LEE WHITE:  Absolutely not.

Q. In other words, you are just -- LEE WHITE: As far as I know within the -- within what is on my radar screen, which is only so much-you can't say that any company can plan out five years, although, certain companies make up five year plans, but really the furthest out that I think any corporation could plan this level of involvement in expenditure is probably two years, two or three years, and certainly to the best of my knowledge, Toyota plans to be involved at a level where we can win races and compete for championships for at least the next three years.

Q. Just one more question about Chip Ganassi. Seems like everything this guy touches over the last several years just turns to gold. Whether it was the Honda or the Firestone or the Lola and now Toyota. Obviously he has had a lot to do with the success of Toyota too. Could you tell me what makes this team and this guy so special; why has he been able to do so well lately? LEE WHITE: What makes Target/Chip Ganassi special?

Q. Yeah. LEE WHITE: Is the people, without question. Chip is just, I mean, Chip is a go-getter who just doesn't accept losing and not having success, but I believe Chip even will agree that his secret to success is the people that he has been able to put there and keep there. I mean, his management team in Tom Anderson and Mike Hull, the engineering group that he has allowed them to assemble, who -- everyone made a big deal that Mo Nunn was leaving his team. From what I can see, they have become even stronger, I mean, the group of people that he has there, Bill Papis, Julian Robertson, Chuck Matthews, that group of guys Jim Hamilton, combined with my group of guys that go to the racetrack as I stand back and watch them work together are the strongest engineering group with the most depth of anything I have worked with for 25 years in motor sports. It is just phenomenal. Then you combine that with the driving talent that he brings in and the sponsorship that he brings to the package so they have the funding; they have the security; they are able to keep their people, that is their strength. Really it is the people, and in any business in motor sports, competitive endeavor, really always boils down to the people and it is the same thing for TRD. The people that we have here inside TRD are the absolute key. I mean, it isn't me as an individual. There is no individual here that you can point to and say this guy is irreplaceable and the program is going to fall apart without them. It is really the group and coordinating the group to work as a team, as a group, and we have over the last two years have evolved TRD, I think, into an absolute world class organization and we won't take a back seat to anyone. T.E. McHALE: Thanks. With that we will wrap it for afternoon Lee White. Thanks for being our guest this afternoon on the CART weekly teleconference. Best of you luck to you and Toyota in this weekend's Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. LEE WHITE: Thanks a lot, T.E., it has been a great afternoon. T.E. McHALE: Thanks again to all of you who took time to be with us this afternoon. We will talk to you next week. Have a good day.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Scott Pruett , Tom Anderson , Chip Ganassi , Rod Millen , Dave Wilson , Mike Hull , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Toyota Racing