Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix April 7, 2000 Participants: Neil Micklewright, Vice President -Operations, Team Player's (Ford) Tom Anderson, Managing Director, Target Chip Ganassi (Toyota) Morris Nunn, Owner, Mo Nunn Racing ...
Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix April 7, 2000
Neil Micklewright, Vice President -Operations, Team Player's (Ford)
Tom Anderson, Managing Director, Target Chip Ganassi (Toyota)
Morris Nunn, Owner, Mo Nunn Racing (Mercedes-Benz)
Tim Cindric, Managing Director, Marlboro Team Penske (Honda)
Q. Can each of you address the differences in philosophies between the manufacturers you raced with last year and the manufacturers that you are with this year?
Tom Anderson, Target Chip Ganassi: "I think it's definitely different. Every company has different philosophies and different ways of doing business. I think right now we are still learning the differences. It's still early in our career with Toyota and with our previous manufacturer we were very comfortable with each other so it's interesting to see the different philosophies even though the previous manufacturer and Toyota are from Japan."
Mo Nunn, Mo Nunn Racing: "Well, as you may know, I had no choice. I have every confidence that Mercedes-Benz will perform and put this engine up front. In Formula One they achieved that, so I don't see any reason they can't achieve that here."
Tim Cindric, Marlboro Team Penske: "Obviously at Marlboro Team Penske, the engine isn't the only change we made. Obviously it was a difficult decision for Roger (Penske) to make having had a relationship with Mercedes and Ilmor in the past. He looked across the board at everything and looked at the manufacturers who have gotten the job done in the past, and there is no arguing with Honda's track record over the past few years. For us it's not only different in terms of the name and make on the engine itself, it's also very different for us in terms of not being able to control our own engine rebuilds. This team has been the only one in the paddock for some time that has been able to service their own engines independent of the manufacturer. So not only did we change from Mercedes to Honda, but we changed the way the team operates on a day to day basis. But, certainly the Honda guys know how to get the job done."
Neil Micklewright, Team Player's: "Our decision to change to the Ford-Cosworth engine was based on many factors. All of my colleagues here, along with myself, had to put together a package for our drivers and team that we believe will be the package to have. One of the things that greatly interested us with Ford are the things that you tend not to see at the racetrack such as the support and technological resources that they have available to us in Dearborn, Michigan. We have been very fortunate so far to be able to make use of all those resources as far as chassis development, engine development and so forth. You try to guess based on past performance which is going to be the engine to have and keep your fingers crossed that you made the right choice."
Q. One of the reasons that you changed engines is for an advantage. In open-wheel racing today you don't have the opportunity to play with the engines. Years ago, you got to make your engine settings. Is that a plus or a minus, not having to worry about how the engine is set up?
Anderson: "It takes a whole lot off the table. I don't even know how many pieces are in our current engine. The technology and the amount of effort the manufacturers are putting into this program is tremendous. I couldn't even begin to count the amount of people you would have to add to your program in order to be competitive in this day and time."
Nunn: "I just receive a Mercedes 500 class car and I opened the hood, looked inside, and then I closed the hood. These engines today are so technically complicated that we don't have the experience that we used to have with the older-type engines. So we need the support and all the people they have because we can't do it anymore."
Q. Tim (Cindric), because you had guys last year that rebuilt the engines and now you don't do that anymore, did you have to cut people or did you reassign them?
Cindric: "In our situation, because we ran a one car team for most of last season, the strength is usually your people within your team. So, you take the guys and figure out what their strengths are. They can do a lot more than work on engines, and expanding to a two-car team, we decided to utilize their talents whether it be on the race team or back in the shop. So everyone that worked in our engine shop last year is still with the company one way or another."
Q. You began to talk about some of the other factors other than the performance on the track. Can you talk about the other service and resources that the manufacturers offer. What sort of considerations are there other than power and reliability?
Micklewright: "Since we don't' work on the engines, and I think we all choose not to because that's not where our expertise lies, what that does is make the relationship with your engine supplier that much more important. The type of corporate structure that they have at Ford, and the type of work environment they use, it becomes important to create a better marriage between team and manufacturer. Certainly in our case we thought that going racing with Ford-Cosworth was more keeping with our own culture.
Cindric: "A lot of these manufacturers are involved in Formula One and other forms of racing and you draw on that expertise. There are tools they use in those forms of racing; vehicle dynamic tools, simulation tools, and other things that they can actually give your engineering staff to use. It's more than just good engines."
Anderson: "When we were making the decision to go to Toyota and saw the size of the company, the resources and the desire they had to see us come to their program as well as the amount of talent they accumulated in Southern California, we thought this company could really improve our position in the series. We thought in order to continue to grow, we felt Toyota had the resources and enthusiasm to do it."
Nunn: "This is all new to me, being an owner, I am trying to adjust to the position because it's very difficult to delegate to new people in the team. All of the manufacturers in the series have the goal to sell motor cars in the United States. It's big business and it's a very important market for Mercedes and the people who build these engines and I am sure they can get the job done."
Q. If you were King for a day and could adjust the type of formula or the rules at all, what would change?
Anderson: "I'd like to see something happen in Michigan and Fontana. We are in a political situation there where cars see 250 mph in the draft and I wish we could come to some kind of resolution to put on a competitive race at a much slower speed."
Nunn: "I'd like to see everyone back at the 500."
Cindric: "I think some of the technical advancements are beyond the cars and engines. Technically, we can put a lot of resources into barriers and that type of thing to make the racing even better than what it is and maybe make the risk a little less than what it is."
Micklewright: "I'd agree with what everyone else said, but if there was one thing I could add, it would be that only blue cars should be allowed to win!"
Q. Everyone talks about the importance of chemistry on a team and I know that with the sophistication of the engines these days, each team has a dedicated engine tech. How long does it take the team to develop a repoire with the engine tech, and from your experience, how do the manufacturers' approach and philosophies differ?
Nunn: "I have know all of my guys for some time and we have blended together very well, no problems at all. Everybody is keen to perform. Each engine manufacturer approaches things differently. Honda listened to everything you had to say and gave nothing back other than the engine. With Mercedes-Benz, it goes both ways."
Anderson: "From our positions, every time we have a new engine person assigned to our team we need to poke him a bit to see what kind of sense of humor they have. It's all about communication; they bring a whole world to us. We certainly can't pedal these cars around the racetrack. The more information they bring the better we can perform. It's a growing thing over the year and we really get disappointed when there is a change in personnel."
Cindric: "The situation with Gil de Ferran, who has been with Honda for some time, and Helio has is different. There is a certain distinction between the two and how they operate because Gil understands very much the Honda way. I wouldn't agree with what Morris said about the Honda way, but you definitely see a difference, and you hope Helio and his trackside engineer develop the same rapport that Gil has had with that company for quite some time and that's certainly a strength. With all the changes we have had with our team, it makes one thing a bit easier than what it could have been."
Micklewright: "I think the engine technicians are a bit like relatives, in that you can't choose them. The car can't win the race without the engine and the engine can't win a race without the car. So you look for a relationship that's going to be give and take in both direction and certainly the Ford-Cosworth personnel have the same goals and attitudes as our team, and right now, it's working really well."
Q. You have an oval race here this weekend, then a street race across the country next weekend and then you are off to the other side of the world. What kind of logistical problems does that kind of schedule present?
Nunn: "Well, I delegate. If I could change it I wouldn't have back-to-back races. Only in certain circumstances like, say, if we are on the west coast and we do Vancouver and Laguna back-to-back, that's okay. All of these back-to-back races I would change. It's a lot of work for the crew, but luckily I don't have to do that.
Anderson: "I think you will have some teams working on back-up cars, preparing them for Long Beach, when the green flag drops here. For us, we are going to have our truck stop back in Indy and the guys are going to do an all-nighter to turn the cars around so the truck drivers can sleep for 18-hours and get back on the road. Other people you may see doing it in the paddock in Long Beach. If we get rained out on Sunday and have to be here on Monday, we have a plan in place for that, but it's going to make things a lot worse on Wednesday and Thursday in Long Beach."
Cindric: "There are going to be different philosophies on how to prepare for Long Beach. Obviously our team has the closest home base to here, but we need look very seriously at the type of venue we are running week-in and week-out, what kind of venue it is and so forth and try to manage the work to try to keep all the good people in the series here."
Micklewright: "I think the back-to-back races need to occur when it makes more logistical sense. Our teams' philosophy to handle this is to increase the number of cars we own, which just increases the overall cost and budget. Fortunately, our two primary cars for Long Beach are back in Indianapolis being prepared right now. My own view, I'd prefer to see fewer races but of much higher quality."
Q. One of the stumbling blocks between CART and the IRL getting back together last year was the lease vs. buy engine philosophy. Form your perspective; do you think the CART engine manufacturers made the right stand by saying they all want a leased engine program?
Anderson: "That's an interesting question, and maybe I have a little more insight than the other manufacturers because we bought some IRL engines. >From what I have seen so far, if you run those engines to the same degree we run our CART engines, at ten-tenths, your cost per race is going to be pretty similar. There are people not doing that right now in the other series only because the money is not there. But, as soon as the money is there to do it, there are a lot of options on those IRL engine and we are finding out that in order to get the engines to where they need to be, the costs are pretty similar. The whole point of the manufacturer lease programs is so the technology they are working on today stays within their company and isn't shared with the rest of the automotive community. So, if we didn't have a lease program and one of our guys left to work for another manufacturer, that information goes away. To me, it's confidentially that brings in the point of leasing. I want to be on the leading edge of technology and I like the fact that these people are working on things that you are going to see on road cars in three years. Anyone here can go and buy a new car and take it apart and see what's in it, but you are looking at three-year-old technology. In the paddock here today, you have today's technology."
Micklewright: "The proprietary information that is contained in the engines is a valid reason for them to be leased. However, there is also a budgetary concern. One thing about having a lease program with the engines is that the development is included in the cost of the lease. You can start off the year having a much better idea of what your costs are at the beginning of the season. With the costs running as high as they are, I think that's quite a benefit to be able to plan ahead and adjust your cash flow appropriately."
Cindric: "I would say most of the top teams look at their situation, and the IRL and the Indy 500 in particular, and the more you find out about it, it's not necessarily as the IRL has proposed or written. I think that there are a few engine manufacturers in that series that have confidential things as well, and make no mistake, there are agreements there to keep those confidential programs within that engine rebuild shop or whatever it may be. So it's not quite as it seems to the public."
Q. Do the manufacturers control your gearboxes? If not what happens if you put the wrong gear in and over rev the engine?
Nunn: "The teams control those. They would be on to you pretty quick if you over rev the engines. They are knocking on the door if you even touch the rev limiter."
Q. What do you see that the series can do to start filling the grandstands?
Anderson: "Start spending money on itself. Put pressure on Andrew Craig to start promoting the series and quite leaving it up to everyone else. And you can quote me on it."
Cindric: "As far as the media and so forth, we need to get away from the IRL vs. CART and focus on what we do week-in and week-out. The people are tired of hearing about it. The ones that care understand, and the ones who don't, really don't care to hear about it anymore. We just need to focus on what we do right here and bring the story to the people. Our racing is the best in the country, if not the best in the world. We just need to keep exposing the people to it and anything the teams can do in terms of getting the drivers or their people in front of the press and the media needs to be done. We all need to be very cooperative in making that happen."
Micklewright: "I agree that the bottom line is getting people in the seats. We need to spend more money on self-promotion but at the end of the day, you can have the seats filled one time, but if it isn't a good race, they are not going to be coming back. I think there are things that can be done to perhaps enhance the overall excitement and feeling that people carry away from the race."
FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS THAT FOLLOWED THE OFFICIAL END OF THE FORUM:
On the lack of American drivers and what needs to be done to fill the grandstands. . . .
Anderson: "There are so many good things about this series and CART has made some steps in the right direction, but we have a lot further to go. I don't think that we necessarily need more Americans. America has become such a diverse place. We pride ourselves on our diversity and we want people from every race to come out. We would like to think we are open to everyone. Look at what Chris Pook does, he sells out that race in Long Beach. We need to do the same thing here in Nazareth, Miami, and Houston. Chicago was a success. Target spent a lot of money on promotion and in support of the Chicago race and we packed the place. Chicago is an example of how to promote a race and we all need to take notice of it. I think the series needs to do more demographic research. I know Target has and they know that there are 60,000 Colombians in Houston. A cigarette company spent millions of dollars to make NASCAR a household name. If we just sit back it's not going to happen. But hey, I don't know how to do all these things. It's not my job. I work in the grease. This is a job for the other guys.