CHAMPCAR/CART: Blundell, Andretti, Zanardi press conference, part I

Champ Car media teleconference transcript with former Portland race winners Mark Blundell, Mario Andretti and Alex Zanardi. Part 1 of 2 Eric Mauk: Good afternoon, appreciate you joining us for this special Champ Car media teleconference where...

Champ Car media teleconference transcript with former Portland race winners Mark Blundell, Mario Andretti and Alex Zanardi.

Part 1 of 2

Eric Mauk: Good afternoon, appreciate you joining us for this special Champ Car media teleconference where we are quite pleased to be joined by a trio of drivers who have had not only great success in their racing careers but especially at Portland International Raceway where we'll be heading for the G.I. Joe's 200 in just a couple of weeks. We're joined today by Mario Andretti who obviously needs no introduction and doesn't need me to run down a litany of his successes. He's one of the most successful drivers ever to sit behind a wheel. He also won twice at Portland.

We are also joined by Mark Blundell. Mark won what is probably the epitome of a close racing duel at Portland. He took the closest victory ever in the history of Champ Car Racing back in 1997. Mark has also done a myriad of things and had a myriad of successes in his Champ Car career and is getting set to undergo another one as he is getting prepared to drive one of those beautiful Bentleys in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next week. Thank you.

First we start with Mario in 1985 Portland winner, you started fourth in '85 and led 29 laps including the last 19 completing a stretch where you won three of the year's first four races of '85. Then in '86 of course, you won on the last lap of that event, you won by 7/100 of a second, and you passed your son Michael on the last lap. You also won the pole there in '84. And obviously a strong mastery of that track, eight top-10 finishes in your Champ Car career there. What was it about Portland that suited your driving style?

Mario Andretti: It is always difficult to say that, I mean, to be able to analyze that. It's just that we come out of the box well, you know, the first race there, as you could see, I was on the pole and I didn't finish, but the following two years, you know, we won. So coming out of the gate in a new venue, you know, having had those results obviously will always put you in the position where you look forward to the event. As it turned out, for several reasons Portland was really a great venue for us from the standpoint of having one of our sponsors based there, Hanna, at the time, which was very prominent on the car.

And then we just found a great venue as far as the fans. The fans in the northwest, just very knowledgeable, the type of fans that make you feel so welcomed. The event has always been well attended and just another one of those venues where Portland, as a city, has been a great host of the event over the years. Great places to go. We all love the opportunity to be able to go to the great restaurants in the evening and enjoy that side of it. Here again, it's one of those venues that's very appealing all the way around.

Eric Mauk: Mark, you took your first ever CART win in Portland, you passed Gil de Ferran about 100 yards from the stripe, again, in the closest finishing series history, a margin victory of 0.027 of a second. You had been close to victory two races before that in Detroit where unfortunately you ran out of fuel pretty much within site of the checkered flag. But then after the Portland win you went on two weeks later and won in Toronto. Was that Portland win a sign to your PacWest Team at the time that you guys could actually put wins together in this series?

Mark Blundell: Yeah, I think so. I think actually Detroit was a signal to us that previous race that you mentioned that we were getting together with a package. To be perfectly honest with you, the biggest issue with me at the time was trying to get me and my race engineer in tune because I had unfortunately had a couple of different race engineers and we got settled down with a guy called Allen McDonald. Once we had an understanding between us, that was it. You could see that there was a transition in the performance of the team and definitely a transition on my side of the fence in terms of the results that we pulled off. Portland was a great race. As Mario was touching on, I think there are some very knowledgeable fans out there and some very educated people about racing. The track also is a pleasure to drive.

Eric Mauk: Tell us about the end of that race. I was talking to John Anderson today who was on the radio with you at the end of that race, and he relates a story that about three or four laps to go he let you know that you were about six seconds behind the leader but didn't bother to tell you who the leader was in that race; and that you really didn't know the pass on de Ferran was for the lead and that you didn't even know that you had won 'til probably halfway through the victory lap.

Mark Blundell: That's exactly correct. I knew that the leader was some several seconds in front of me, about four laps, and John had relayed that across the radio. He didn't tell me who the leader was but it was one of those scenarios where whoever was in front of me I was just going by, it was kind of that deal. Whoever was sort of lined up in front of me I just wanted to get by them. Come the last corner of the last lap when I outdragged Gil to that checkered flag, I had no idea whatsoever that we had just won the race. It wasn't actually 'til we got a couple of corners through and I looked up at the big signal board there with the numbers on and the positions, and I went back on the radio and asked for a confirmation and I guess at that point everybody was congratulating themselves, there was no confirmation back on the radio. So it wasn't until even a couple of more corners from that that I eventually found out that we had won. What really threw me as well was the fact that Gil would put his arm up, so at that point I thought I must be sort of in the mix because Gil is putting his arm up like he's won this thing. Then later I find out that we won and we won by such a small margin was a tremendous thing.

Eric Mauk: Mario, looking at the Portland track, obviously, as we said before, a couple of wins, 8 Top-10s, there. What is the key to being fast at Portland; any one place that you can make or break a race there?

Mario Andretti: Well, it's really a tough place to, for some reason, to be able to sustain the rhythm. When you enter the section after the Festival Curves, there are several corners there that - I tell you what - you really, really pulled the G's through there. You have to hustle the car. It's one of those tracks where the track pays you back when you are very aggressive, when you really attack it. Again, it's just one of those things that seemed like the majority of the field can negotiate the corners and to be able to gain just a little bit of an advantage it's really, really difficult. But it's very satisfying, again, you know, the premium there is to have the car really balanced. Obviously that works anywhere, but here, especially, because you are going left to right and it's usually, especially when it's hot, it gets very slippery, so you have to have a car to have really good traction coming off several key corners, and including onto the straightaway, even though that corner just has a radius that pretty much widens at the exit, still, as aggressive as you have to be, you have to have really good rear traction.

I always enjoyed testing there because seemed like we could always find something crucial to be able to benefit us in the race itself. But here again, you look at it statistically when you look at the rundown and the times for a road course, you know, just about two miles, you definitely see that the times are really -- they are as close as they are usually on an oval.

Eric Mauk: Judging from the result look likes you definitely found something pretty much every time you went there. Guys, we will go ahead and open it up for questions from the media.

Q: I'd like to talk to Mark because we're approaching the 20th anniversary; there's been an awful lot of people talking about the good old races. I wanted to ask Mark, are first wins kind of like first loves where you go and you do other things, but they are always special and you always kind of remember them with a particular fondness?

Mark Blundell: I don't remember my first girlfriend, so.... (Laughs). No, they are. They are. Obviously it wasn't the first win for me because I had won in many other Formulas but my first win in Champ Car Racing and to win there at Portland and the circumstances and in the conditions because that was also something that was very rewarding to me the fact that we had very variable conditions; a lot of guys went off the road trying to do that extra little with it and we put it altogether to come very strong at the end. But it is the fact that once you get that first win in there, it always stays in the back of your mind. What stays in the back of my mind is the amount of effort it took to get there and then the actual feeling of what it was like come the end of it when, after I had known that I had won the race, it was a very, very special moment. Maybe a little bit more extra special in the fact that my team owner at that point was based, not from the area, and it was kind of winning in his backyard. Everything came together on the day.

Q: Mario, how often, if ever, do you and Michael play that 1986 finish; that was a Father's Day deal too if I remember?

Mario Andretti: Yes, well, we actually we like to talk about it, certainly one of the highlights of both of our careers, no question, in that it is interesting, I was waiting for this to be brought up because -- and if it wasn't for Mark that's on this call I was going to challenge-- was going to put out this challenge again about the finish because whenever we crossed the line and I come in, the announcers were saying it was 7/1000 of a second and it was Michael Knight who was our publicist at the time was figuring it's impossible, so he changed it to 7/100.

But I have a huge photo in my sports bar here, an enlarged photo of Michael and I crossing the line and had it all measured and we were two inches, it was two inches advantage that I had at the line at about 170 miles an hour. I think that's pretty close. But nevertheless neither one of us knew for sure because we were looking at each other as we crossed the line. Obviously Michael had a problem, it was almost a situation where, like I was listening to Mark saying, about four, five laps to go, I think it was four laps to go, I was down several, I don't know, probably about 10, twelve seconds and I was basically resigned for a 2nd place finish. All of a sudden my engineer says, Michael is having some fuel pickup problems and so I really stood up on the seat and lo and behold, coming down for the checker, you know, we're coming out of that -- onto the straightaway and he's accelerating and all of a sudden the thing just coughs on him and I just had a run. Poor kid. For a second I felt sorry for him, but (laughs) only for a second.

In victory lane I could tell he was pretty disturbed, quite annoyed, and then he just thought about it. He said okay, dad, Happy Father's Day. But it was a fantastic, can you imagine, father and son and having a situation like that come up with a finish that close, it was tremendous.

Q: With Michael's retirement as a driver now do you look back and say where did all those years go?

Mario Andretti: Yeah, true, true, it's amazing, I say how can a guy be 40 years old when I am 37. (Laughter) but yeah, it's amazing, indeed, how the years fly and just the stint that he and I had together as teammates, I mean, that was quite a few years ago, with Newman/Haas and the fact that we had like 15 podiums together in Champ Car Racing, you know, things like that when we look back it's just phenomenal. Then I look at his record here, we're talking about Portland, you know, the place has been very special to us because here again, I won it twice. And he won it three times. So as a family we have had some great times up there.

Eric Mauk: We are now joined by Alex Zanardi. He took his first ever Champ Car win in 1996 at Portland International Raceway winning from the pole in the rain in '96 . He also won in '98 in a race where he didn't lead until lap 47, but would take over and lead all but five of the last 52 laps to take the win, a win that was the second of a now Champ Car record four consecutive victories. Thank you for joining us today.

Alex Zanardi: Good afternoon to everyone listening.

Eric Mauk: Following up on a question that was asked a little bit ago in your first Champ Car win in Portland in '96 obviously you had had wins in other Formulas coming up to get to where you were, but is that victory in Portland being your first one, is that one that you always look back on fondly, one you always remember?

Alex Zanardi: For sure. Portland is a beautiful city, and I have to admit that when I came to the scene in 1996 I was already so happy to be part of the game it was a great joy to be defined with the No. 4 because my name in the list was always up there with the top guys and I felt it was a great honor already. I didn't know at the time that my name was going to come up on the scene for other reasons which are definitely honorable and in particular, when I finally ended up leading some races and I had some misfortunes at the beginning of that '96 season, I was getting a little impatient suddenly until I finally arrived in Portland and that weekend everything went pretty well.

It was quite a dramatic event because of the rain in the middle part of the race itself, but the car that I had that day was just fantastic, so superior, the car that Target Chip Ganassi gave me that day was definitely the best one out there and so it was a fantastic joy, really, really special. My first ever victory at that level in motor racing and so of course, the memories that it was special.

-cart-

Part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Alex Zanardi , Mark Blundell , Mario Andretti , Chip Ganassi