CHAMPCAR/CART: Gateway Manufacturers Forum Transcript

Following is the complete transcript from Thursday's Manufacturers Forum from Gateway International Raceway. CART Manufacturer's Forum - St. Louis - Drivers Participants Helio Castro-Neves, ...

Following is the complete transcript from Thursday's Manufacturers Forum from Gateway International Raceway.

CART Manufacturer's Forum - St. Louis - Drivers

Participants Helio Castro-Neves, #9 Hogan Mercedes Christian Fittipaldi, #11 Kmart Ford Scott Pruett, #24 Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Paul Tracy, #26 KOOL Honda

Q. There's talk of a reunion between CART/IRL, What are you hearing? Can it be resolved quickly?

Scott Pruett (Toyota): Clearly, there has been a lot of discussion between CART and IRL. I don't believe anything has been resolved. I don't think anything can be resolved for the year 2000, because there are too many obstacles in the way, the car, the engine rules. Realistically, I think best case would be a resolution in the year 2000. From what I gather, they want to come up and try to put some sort of program together. When that's in place, they'd would get together with car manufacturers and engine manufacturers and see how they could make it all work.

Christian Fittipaldi (Ford): Everyone knows we would really be happy if we could go back there, but it's out of our control. I think there's a lot more accomplished than what we really think. But it's definitely going to take a matter of time, we can't just be packing up everything into the semi and the shop, change the set-ups and go racing. It's more complicated than that. But I think the sooner we go, the better it is for everyone.

Helio Castro-Neves (Mercedes-Benz): I'm sure it would be very nice. All the drivers talk about it, and I've been watching it on TV. It would be great for the series. We would like to have the opportunity to be there. That's a decision that will take a little more time. But if it happens, we'll just be glad to be there.

Q: What makes this track (St. Louis) so much better with the speedway wings more than Milwaukee or Nazareth? Is it the downforce?

Scott Pruett (T): It's not putting downforce in the car because we're running everything we have on the car. It's just a little higher speeds. If you look at the radius in the turns, the banking we have in One and Two and the banking in Three and Four, it gives us the opportunity to carry a little more speed. We have a little more room to work. Nazareth is just a tough track, regardless. You're always turning, it's hard to pass. The races never seem to show well on TV there. In a way in trying to fix the low downforce, they've done well because we don't need to be going around that place in 17 seconds. But in saying that, we need to do it in a way we still give good racing to the fans because at the end of the day if the fans aren't watching what we're doing the sport's on the way down hill anyway. We're paying attention to that - the whole governing body is. We're looking at making a change for next year to increase the downforce somewhat. Let's put more of an emphasis on what we can in maintaining the safety margin, but also in making better racing.

Q. With the higher speeds, should we be able to do some side-by-side racing here in St. Louis?

Scott Pruett (T): Well, we should find out soon.

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): I like it (St. Louis) because we have two straighaways at least. At Nazareth, we have only one small straight. In my opinion, I believe the show's going to be great and it's going to be tough for all sides, but we never know.

Q. Everybody's thoughts on the new wheel tethers?

Christian Fittipaldi (F): It's simple. Theoretically, they should work, but I don't want to be the one to try them.

Paul Tracy (Honda): I think it's a good idea. Anything they can do to help minimize the risks for the fans. They've had a couple of pretty nasty accidents that have involved fans. It's hurt the whole sport. Not only us, but IRL and maybe Formula One. For the casual fan that's looking to get interested in auto racing, they see these types of things happen and it turns them off. I think if we can do anything to make it safer for not only the drivers, but for the fans in the stands, it makes it better for everybody.

Scott Pruett (T): I think it's good that CART's being very pro-active on trying to resolve something. They're not just taking the drivers risk and not considering it, because where they've located the tether on the car is the lower part on the wishbone and it's the farthest arc away. I don't know if you saw the wheel come off of Richie Hearn's car at Motegi, but it came fairly close to Christian. With the tether it may have kept that wheel attached, so what we feel is that this is the first step. Like Christian, I don't want to be the first to try it out, but in paying attention to the safety of the drivers and the fans it's moving in the right direction.

Christian Fittipaldi (F): There is a little bit of concern also. Sometimes it's very good when you hit the wall and all the bits of your car go flying all over the place and they don't stay close to you, especially close to where you sit where it is a very delicate area. Actually, Parker (Johnstone) had a very close experience last year or two years ago when he had an accident at Michigan. Sometimes the driver is just lucky and sometimes you're not that lucky. It's a very delicate issue because you want to take care of the fans, but at the same time it might be better if the wheel just came off the car. Overall, I think it's going to be a lot better for the sport.

Q. Racing under the lights at St. Louis? Intrigued, excited or would you just rather forget about it?

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): I am. I remember I did a go-kart race at night and it was very exciting and I'm sure it's going to be very exciting here as well. It's good for the sport, it's good, I believe, for the fans, and to change a little bit and give more opportunity for everyone to try some different stuff.

Scott Pruett (T): We've seen it in NASCAR, the Saturday night races. I remember growing up and the big thing was to go to the Saturday night race. The big issue has been lighting, but it's looks like they've done it in down in Charlotte and Daytona state-of-the-art. This is the first opportunity to see if it will work for us. I think it would be tremendous to have a race on a Saturday night race.

Paul Tracy (H): For our team, we're not totally positive if we're going to run or not. It's not really dark at that time of day. We're going to have our race engine in and we're not going to want to put any extra miles on the race engine or take the risk of damaging the spare car if something were to happen. We're thinking about maybe running the spare car to make sure the spare car is running good. We're going to see how practice and qualifying goes and how well we are after qualifying, and maybe we'll run the spare car to make sure that car is right just in case we need it for the race.

Christian Fittipaldi (F): I've raced in other cars at night, but not with the help of lights like these. I remember racing under the lights in go-karts and we did pretty much the same times, maybe slightly slower because there is a factor that you couldn't see as well. Believe it or not, but the track we were running was bigger than we're running out here. But I think the fact there we are running a small track and have so many lights here. If you look around the track there are maybe 20-30 light posts out there, something like that, so it should be like running in the day.

Q. Should CART and IRL united, do you have any preferences or solutions for the chassis/engines situation?

Christian Fittipaldi (F): There's no doubt in my head, that I hope they go our way. It's going to be what we're used to and it's going to be a lot less hassle for the teams, working with this for the past 10-15 years. Also because it's quicker. So, I hope they stick with what we have.

Paul Tracy (H): I can see the benefits to both sides. Obviously, I feel like our cars are very safe, but the speeds are getting fairly out of control. I can see benefits to their series. They have different aero packages and seem to be able to race closer wheel-to-wheel, side-by-side with the aero they are running. Th engine package has a little less horsepower, so they're a little bit slower. I can't speak for what's going to happen, but there's going to need to be compromise by both, to slow our cars down a little bit, make the cars a little bit more raceable. To run side-by-side is what we're trying to achieve and I can see a lot of that going on in the IRL, so compromise is what's going to have to happen to get the deal back together. Maybe that's the right step.

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): I've heard its going to be our rules, so that would be great for everyone here. But as long as everything got back together, and we were able just to produce a great show for everyone and just adapt for which way it's going to be. I don't really care which way they go. I've just heard it's going to be like that, but I don't know. A little birdie told me.

Scott Pruett (T): I agree with Paul, CART has been looking at doing an engine spec change for a little over two years and if we can look at it objectively and say let's take the best out of both cars it would be the best. As we continue to progress, the cars get faster. How can we slow these down most effectively and keep the safety up and keep good racing? That's the thought process that needs to go into it.

Q. Scott, what about the thoughts on the CART engine leases with the manufacturers?

Scott Pruett (T): When you're a privateer team, depending on what level you are, from a very well financed team to a not very well financed team, if you're doing your own program you tend to run parts and pieces longer and you tend to have more failures. For the engine manufacturers this isn't a good way to go because they'll blame the engine -- "well, the engine failed." Well, for whatever engine manufacturer this happens to, it's bad press for them even though they didn't have the ability to change it. The amount of money Toyota, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Honda all spend in our series is tremendous. And the fact that when we come into a race, week-in and week-out, for the most part our reliability is first-rate. To be able to keep a handle on that, and keep reliability at that level, you're better off with engine leases.

Q. At what point do they listen to what the drivers say and give you guys a say in what happens?

In Unison: Not very often.

Q. If you go back to Indy now in your current configuration, speeds would probably be close to 240 mph. Do they need to keep speeds down close to 230 and under and what do they need to do?

Paul Tracy (H): I think a compromise. I see benefits in style of car they (IRL) are running, the size of wings they're running, the horsepower that series has to contain the speeds. Right now in this configuration, we'd be running in the 240s, maybe close to 250. That's way too fast. Speeds aren't that much slower with the Hanford device, only five mph less. I see good things in the package they are running and in what we are running, so compromise would work best.

Q. If there's a compromise, would you rather see normally aspirated or turbo-charged engines?

Scott Pruett (T): Personally, I'd rather go with turbo because it sounds a lot better. The governing body has the opportunity, because this sport is very technology driven and because of that we continue to increase horsepower by 30 to 40 every year, with a turbo-charged engine, we have the opportunity to restrict the boost, lower it or change it depending on how much horsepower you want to reduce. If you start out with a 1.8-liter engine and 50" boost and you produce 700 hp, then as that engine develops you say ok, maybe two years down the road maybe we'll take it to 45", but you still have the same basic engine package. I believe that would be the better way to go, instead of running the standard normally-aspirated engine where you continually get better year after year.

Q. Who's going to stop the #4, Montoya?

Paul Tracy (H): Everyone wants to stop him as bad as anyone else. Obviously that team (Target Ganassi) is working very well together and he's proven he's a very good drive. They've had the breaks go all his way and he's had great pit work which counts for a lot. They've put him out in front three or four times and that makes the difference. Not only our team, Team Kool, but everybody has to step up their game if they're going to beat Ganassi because they've got it figured out right now. It's not just the driver, it's the whole team.

Q. There's been talk of as many as 30 races if CART/IRL re-unite. How many do you want to see?

Paul Tracy (H): Looking at our series, the schedule is pretty packed. We have the capability of adding more races, but some of the races they have are not suitable for our type of cars. They're too high banked, and are quite fast. A couple of tracks I'd feel good about racing at - Las Vegas, maybe Texas, but they go to a couple of real high banked one-milers that are not quite suitable to our type of cars. Places like Atlanta would be way too fast, and too highly banked for the loads generated on the car.

Scott Pruett (T): I agree with Paul. Indy, Las Vegas would be tremendous, and Texas. If you look at Charlotte and Atlanta, with the loads and speeds we can produce it's just, from the tire company standpoint, from the safety standpoint, from the speed standpoint, it just wouldn't be the smartest thing to do.

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): I've heard there's going to be 25 races, whether it's right or not (laughs)?

Scott Pruett (T): (Road) Atlanta , Europe, Indy, Texas and Las Vegas that's 25, and Hawaii that's 26...whew!

Q. Christian, the pole winner at Rio the last couple of years has gone on to win his first race later in the year, do you hold much in that?

Christian Fittipaldi (F): To be quite honest, no. You're trying you're best all the time. It just happens, if you look back, maybe it should have happened a couple of times before. For a variety of difference reasons, a couple of times my fault, it didn't happen. I'm happy right now with how it's going. We're having a pretty solid season, but we still have to see what will happen on road courses. To be quite honest, we haven't driven a car with this type of tires on road courses. We went to Long Beach and we're disappointed. We were expecting a lot more from Long Beach, we know we still have to do a little bit more homework for that type of track. I'm not saying that the car is all that great on the ovals, but this is what we have to face. We're racing on the oval this week and next week and there's not a lot of time for us to change a lot. There's still some time for us to get a lot better on the road courses.

Q. What are your thoughts going to the mile oval at Milwaukee with the smaller wings

Scott Pruett (T): We do have a race under our belts at Nazareth. We went and tested between the rain storms at Milwaukee and got some amount of miles, and it seems like it will be better than Nazareth. I think the racing will be better. I'm still not really excited about that downforce level.

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): I'm sure it will be ok. It will be a great show. Nazareth was difficult to pass, but Milwaukee's a little different track. It has two straights and more room. Everyone is more used to the track, we'll just have to wait to see.

Christian Fittipaldi (F): Helio forgot to say that last week we went testing there and after 20 laps he crashed his car into the wall to get out of testing early to fly back to Miami because he was waiting for his girlfriend who was there and in the end, she didn't even come to Miami. So in the end, he nailed his car in the wall and she didn't even show up.

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): It's been a terrible week (laughs).

Paul Tracy (H): I didn't get a chance to test there. We had a crashed car from Rio practice and the paint was destroyed on my race car during the race. My guys needed the time to prepare the car. Dario tested there. He wasn't real happy with the balance on the car, but, it went pretty well. I'm going in blind off what Dario did, but we seem to have a pretty good car on the ovals, better than last year. I've driven the track with big wings, so it will take a little bit of adjustment, but no different than here or Nazareth.

Q. Helio, the car's been quick at all the ovals. How's the car on road or street courses?

Helio Castro-Neves (MB): The last time we tested was Long Beach actually. We didn't have much miles on the road course. We need to figure it out a little bit better, but by the end of the day it seemed like we knew which direction we were headed. In the future, we'll go to some tests and try to improve the car. We've been working very hard. It's difficult when you don't have different cars and you'd don't know which way to go with the set-up. We've been struggling, but we're working hard and doing great. We'll just have to focus a little more on road courses and we'll be fantastic as well.

Courtesy of Ford Racing

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Pruett , Richie Hearn