CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Tracy, Micklewright press conference

CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH PAUL TRACY AND NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT ERIC MAUK: Ladies and Gentlemen, I appreciate you all coming out today for a very special press conference for the Champ Car World Series. As you can see, the two ...

CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH PAUL TRACY AND NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT

ERIC MAUK: Ladies and Gentlemen, I appreciate you all coming out today for a very special press conference for the Champ Car World Series. As you can see, the two gentlemen on my left need very little introduction to most of you in the Champ Car World Series, but we're going to give you to them anyway.

The gentleman immediately to my left, the general manager of Forsythe Championship Racing, Neil Micklewright. And to his left the driver of the #3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, Mr. Paul Tracy.

Today we are gathered here to announce that Paul Tracy has signed a five-year extension to stay with Forsythe Championship Racing and to stay in the Champ Car World Series. The leading active driver in all of Champ Car: 237 starts, 30 victories, 69 podiums in his career. He is, of course, the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion. We'll throw things to Paul for opening remarks. Paul, congratulations on your announcement.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you. It's great to be here again in Houston. Looking forward to this race.

It's just been really just an extension of a good relationship with the team. I'm very comfortable in the team. The team has been very comfortable with me. I've had the opportunity to go out there and explore other things. Really this is what I want to do and what I love to do. I'm just excited about moving forward, moving into a second phase of my career with Forsythe Racing. New car in '07. Potentially, if we all can cross our fingers, a combined championship if that happens. That was really the big -- one of the big factors of wanting to continue.

ERIC MAUK: Let's get a little deeper into that, if we could, please. You made no bones about the way you felt about Champ Car racing in '03, '04 when the bankruptcy took place, Mr. Kalkhoven, Mr. Gentilozzi, Mr. Forsythe took over. Your support, your loyalty during those times is quite possibly the reason we're still here today. Give us a little more of the back story as to why you've decided to stay in Champ Car, what that provides for you.

PAUL TRACY: Well, for me, it allows me to road race. That's what I love to do first and foremost. You know, I've kind of gone through a thing at this point in my career of deciding what I wanted to do, what direction did I want to go. I was going out trying stock cars, racing Grand-Am cars, doing some endurance racing, but this is still what I love to do. I've got a great partnership with the team, a great partnership with Gerry Forsythe who believes in me. He wanted me to continue and stay in this. This is really what I love to do. That's why I've decided to keep going.

ERIC MAUK: Neil, tell us a little bit from the team standpoint what having a guy like Paul Tracy on your squad and staying with the squad for a number of years, what that does for Forsythe Championship Racing.

NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: First of all, good afternoon, everybody. I think that our team went through a fairly major change. The team itself doesn't change what it was doing or how it was doing. But when Paul came along, he made a big, big difference to our performances on a weekend in-and-out basis.

His professionalism is probably the greatest that I've ever experienced in my career. Obviously, we have the occasional up and down that's going to happen in any sport. But his continuing efforts and the skill and the level of professionalism that he brings to the team can't be replicated. Paul still is now, and I assure will be for many years to come, in my opinion at least, the best driver in Champ Car and in open-wheel racing in North America overall. I'm just absolutely delighted, as are the rest of the team members, that after due consideration, Paul has decided this is where his future is.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, both of you. On behalf of the Champ Car World Series, we are equally delighted with the announcement today.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Thank you.

ERIC MAUK: We'll take questions from the media.

Q: What surprise did you get when you went to NASCAR?

PAUL TRACY: I mean, I think the biggest thing that I realized in the NASCAR paddock is just the level of -- the differences in the level of competitiveness between the top teams, Hendrick, Childress, the level of equipment they have versus when you get to be a customer team of theirs or a supported team to, you know, a smaller team. There's a huge variation in terms of equipment.

The teams that have the big aero programs, big shock programs, it's almost impossible to beat them. Our series now has become a much more spec series. Right now we have the Lola. You buy a car out of a box. You can do a few little things to it. Everybody's pretty much on the same playing field, whereas there's a huge variation of have's and have not 's in NASCAR.

Q: How long does it take to learn a new course?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think for us here, this is going to be a pretty tricky track to learn. It's got some fast sections, it's got some slow sections. It looks very bumpy. We spent two hours walking around the track yesterday. I spent another hour riding my bicycle around the track. We've been able to get some knowledge from our Atlantic team. We have four drivers in the Atlantic Series. They've told us what's going on, how the track is, where the rough spots are. You know, once we finally get out there, it will probably take, you know, 20 minutes to learn the track properly. Actually driving it, get your line down, the speeds will be up there at the end of the practice.

Q: Why does Micklewright look so unhappy?

NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Because I'm sweating (laughter). I always look unhappy.

Q: Did the prospect of a merger help with this decision?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think the biggest commitment for me is I've had an opportunity to drive three different types of cars in the last, you know, six months. I had a stint right before Long Beach where I drove three different types of cars within one week. I did a race in Mexico, did a test in Houston, then went and raced a stock car the following weekend. I've had a good taste of what all three series that are in North America are.

I still love driving this car the most. That's what I enjoy the most. You know, I don't really know if the unification is going to happen or not. Obviously, I'm not involved in any of the meetings. It's really down to Gerry and Kevin and Tony George, whether it happens or not. But I'm hearing the same things that you guys do. If it happens, I think it will be great. It would give a great opportunity for open-wheel racing. If that happens, I'd like to be part of the landscape of that.

Q: Will you still be running some NASCAR events?

PAUL TRACY: I'd like to still do some. Obviously, I would like to be in a more competitive situation. I really haven't decided on what I will do next year. Obviously, Gerry has given me the permission to go do some other things on off weekends. It really all depends how the schedule lays out. If we have a six-month off-season like we have now, a five- or six-week break between the first and second race, I would like to do some racing in the off-season.

I would think for sure again that I would go and do the 24 Hours of Daytona. But stock car racing, I'm not sure yet. I would like to. But, like I said, I don't really know what our schedule is for next year. Until that is laid out, see what the possibilities are, I don't really know.

Q: Talk a little bit about what lies ahead in 2007 for you and Champ Car?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it's going to be fun. I think dealing with a new car, I think these cars have served their purpose really well. You know, the teams have done a great job with them. Lola has done a great job. We've kind of reached the top end of the performance level of them. I think it's time for a new package, a fresh start, a fresh sheet of paper to work within. I think that will change the championship a lot as well.

I think our team is ready for it. I think Neil would agree we're working towards what we need to do for '07. I'm set as a driver in place. The team is set. You know, our focus is winning races this year and trying to win the championship, but we're also looking at what we need to do for next year, as well, and the years to come.

Q: Are you excited about the prospect of running and winning an Indy 500?

PAUL TRACY: For sure I'd love to go back if it was one series. To go back, you know, and try to do the one race is hard to do. It's not like showing up at a race like I've been doing now in Grand-Am or stock cars where you show up on Friday morning, get in the car, practice Friday and race Saturday or Saturday night.

Indianapolis takes basically a three- or four-week commitment of trying to do that properly. You've got prerace testing which goes on for three or four days, then basically three weeks to do the race. It takes a huge commitment level to do that. If the two series were together and it was combined, then it's part of the championship. You know, the way our championship is right now, it's not possible to do it being separated.

Q: What are your thoughts about returning to Houston?

PAUL TRACY: I think it's great. I think Houston is a great market for us. It's a race that I've won in the past. There's a lot of fans here, a lot of Hispanic fans for Mario (Dominguez). We've had a really warm welcome here. I think the track is a nice track. Not really too in favor of the chicane they put in at the end of the straightaway. We'll get out there this afternoon and see how it is. You know, next year we'll try to improve the track again.

Q: Does it seem like a lifetime ago since you stood on the podium here?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, I think it was a race that was always wanted to be left on the schedule. It was always a good race for Champ Car. But the streets and the surrounding area of the downtown couldn't accommodate it. So now we have another great venue out here. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

Q: I'm not asking for dollars and cents, Paul, but from a financial perspective, how much of your income comes from prize money? Years ago, all a driver ever got was prize money. Not quite that way any more, is it?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, the series now, the prize money's not as great as it used to be. It's by no means can you compare it to NASCAR either. You know, the majority of my salary comes from salary. It's a monthly salary that I get. You know, the prize money is really secondary to that.

Q: Years ago a driver would say, "Well, if I passed that guy, I knew it was another $200." You don't have that so much any more.

PAUL TRACY: It's a couple thousand dollars now (laughter). It's more than a couple hundred. I still think that way, I need to pass this guy to make some more money.

The prize money, even though it's not as high as probably some of the drivers and the teams want it to be, it's still a negotiating factor in terms of a contract. The team wants more of the prize money, and the driver wants more. But it's still a factor.

Q: Neil, does having a guy like Paul signed on a long-term basis raise the prospects for sponsorship?

NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Certainly it does. I think we all recognize the economic forces which are at play in open-wheel motorsport at the moment. But being able to have a secure and long-term relationship with a driver of Paul's caliber and fame certainly doesn't hurt.

You know, we hope to capitalize on that. It should certainly help. More than anything, it gives us as a team the opportunity to plan long-term for development projects, so on and so forth, with more known entities as we go forward.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you.

-ccws-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Tracy , Tony George