CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH HVM-CTE RACING CO-OWNER KEITH WIGGINS AND NELSON PHILIPPE
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to another exciting Champ Car media teleconference where I have the honor of announcing another one of the drivers that will make up the field for the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. I am joined today by the co-owner of HVM-CTE Racing Mr. Keith Wiggins. We are very pleased to announce that HVM-CTE Racing will be campaigning Nelson Philippe in the #4 car this year during the 2006 season. Nelson will be returning for his third year in Champ Car.
While he may be perhaps more well-known for being the youngest driver ever in Champ Car racing, he was last year named the winner of the Bosch Most Improved Driver Award, an award voted on by the drivers in the series. Really showed what Nelson had been able to accomplish in his second year. Nelson, congratulations to you. I'd like to throw things over to Mr. Wiggins for some opening remarks.
KEITH WIGGINS: Good morning, everybody, or good afternoon to some. We're very pleased to do the announcement. Everybody's juggling keeping surprises as long as possible.
I think for ourselves and for Nelson, we've been talking really for quite some time - in fact, since the end of last year. As we know our team went through an interesting transition last year. "Transition" is one description. I'm sure we haven't finished that transition yet. You know, we were very focused on getting back on our feet in a sensible program looking at the talent. As we all know, the key is with good engineering and good drivers that makes the biggest difference.
We felt very strongly, liked very much what we saw Nelson do over the last couple of years. He may or may not agree, but I thought at the beginning he jumped in the deep end two and a half, three years ago, but he did a very good swim. We're very excited because I think he's at another level. We've had drivers here which you expect results from, and sometimes for various reasons you don't always get.
We're quite excited at this time to take someone who is still climbing the ladder and is hungry to do a good job. I think together we'll want to prove what we can do. I think he's come of age and I'm hoping we'll give him what he needs to prove that we can do a good job.
ERIC MAUK: We talked in December after the end of the season was still fresh. As you alluded to kind of a tough year at times for HVM-CTE. At that time back in December, you thought you had the morale back up and the guys were hungry to get back out on the racetrack. Now with the signing of Nelson, like you said the clock ticking toward the Grand Prix of Long Beach, you still think the morale is good and you guys are pointed in the right direction?
KEITH WIGGINS: I think so. For the guys, I mean, to stick through last year almost completely intact is a credit to the team. It wasn't much fun. We didn't really know where we were going. Even the first race at Long Beach was a bit I won't say something because we're on air, but you know what I mean (laughter). We kept it together. We have a good crew. The quality is still there. We still know how to make race cars go pretty quick, I think.
They've all been following when we're doing, and like everybody else, wanted to know how we put things together. You have to tame the enthusiasm with trying to make it all work. The biggest thing that we didn't have last year was really any stability. We had stability as a team, but financially and driver-wise. Once you get into that spiral of relying on it from race to race, I've been through that experience, it's hard to pull yourself out of the dive, so to speak.
I think the biggest goal here is that we've got a more calmer system. We know exactly with Cedric things were done much later than we wanted to, but we have a strong focus on where we need to achieve. We want to put the drivers into place. We've done that now. We're working on the second driver.
We've all got a challenge, now everybody is excited to go testing. Nelson has been here all last week. Everybody is very excited and motivated to get back and go racing again. That's sort of why we do the business. We're all pretty happy, real excited.
ERIC MAUK: Excellent. Congratulations on today's announcement. Nelson, coming back for your third season in the Champ Car, moving over to HVM-CTE Racing, tell us about your thoughts today.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Hello everybody. Thank you for being here.
I'm definitely very, very pumped and very excited about this new season. I feel, you know, like I'm a new me and I am improved. I really want to win this year. "Win" in terms of accomplishing the goals that we set early for the team. You know, I'm very much looking forward to testing this week in Sebring, just getting back out there. It's been a while since I've been in the car. I'm very much looking forward to that.
I mean, like Keith said, I was there last week for a whole week. I mean, the team dynamic over there is just great, and everybody gets along very good. You know, I've been working with my engineer Will Phillips. The relationship is already there. I just met these guys, but I feel very much at home. Everybody is fresh. Another time, like Keith said, everybody wants to win and everybody, including myself, wants to prove some people wrong. I think we're in a good position to do that this year.
ERIC MAUK: Last year, as we alluded to, you were named the winner of the most improved driver award, set career highs for qualifying and race results, qualified sixth at a very tricky track in San Jose, finished seventh in Mexico City. That finish there helped France clinch its first Nations Cup, and later that night named by your peers as the Most Improved Driver of the Year. Tell us about how you felt things went last year, what the most important thing that you learned from last season.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Well, definitely receiving that award was very nice because it's voted by the drivers. It's definitely something I appreciated a lot. I mean, the number one thing I should say I learned last year, I really learned to mind my own business, take care of my own thing, talk with my engineer, and just focus on my driving. I think it definitely paid off a lot. I mean, I'm just very excited. There's a lot of emotion today because I was waiting for a long time to announce this. Finally it's here, so I'm happy.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We look forward to seeing you the end of this week in Sebring. We'll go ahead and take questions from the media.
Q: Nelson, the first question would be, obviously by my count this is your third team in three years. What is it about the CTE-HVM that really attracted you to join this team?
NELSON PHILIPPE: You're right, this is my third team in three years. You all know what happened with the first team I was with. That's one of the reasons, otherwise there would have been only two teams, I guess. You know what, I'm a very young driver. In the young driver's career, I think you have to experience a lot of things. I really wanted to be with different teams and learn a lot. To be honest with you, this year there's no other team that I'd rather be with than CTE-HVM. They're really a team that want to win.
They struggled last year. There's no doubt about it. We can see it in the results. But just talking to Keith, talking to everybody at the team, they just want to prove everybody wrong. I think it's the right attitude. We're going in with a lot of - I can't find the word - but we're very hungry for race wins and podiums and a bit of everything. We just want to be up there.
Q: Keith, where does the second car stand? You have a contract with Ronnie Bremer. Is that the most likely direction you'll go with the second car? How would you describe the status of the second car at this point?
KEITH WIGGINS: Open (laughter). Of course, we have an option, a contract, with Ronnie. We've always made it clear what our goal was. I'm sure it doesn't elude anybody's attention or common sense to work out that that has to be backed up by money. We all know nothing's easy in the current situation.
We're still talking with Ronnie. We still have a lot of good things that the team is really starting to get some good momentum in terms of relationships. But nothing's done until it's done. Yes, we're talking to other drivers because everybody has to keep their options at this stage. In summary, we've got a couple weeks to go. It's closer than everybody would choose, but it's not probably unusual recently. We're going to work on it in the next one to two weeks. We should be able to tell you where we're going with the second car.
Q: Keith, many schools of thought as you're a car and team owner, whether or not you go with a young driver who has some experience or you seek out that seasoned veteran driver. As a car and team owner, which do you prefer to work with?
KEITH WIGGINS: I would always prefer to work with young hungry drivers. In the past success -- in a previous life maybe, longer ago than I care to remember. The ultimate answer to that question, and again it shouldn't, but sometimes it stems around your financial circumstances. If you're well-sorted, you have the backing, then you look for whoever's the champion in one of the other series, a young guy, you take him testing, you develop him.
You get a slight compromise these days because perhaps with the testing restrictions, everybody's looking after their budgets, how many test days they do. Of course, that challenge becomes somewhat steeper. In our series, unless they've done Atlantics, clearly their track learning curve is tough with the type of tracks we go to. You have to balance it. Nelson is a very young driver, but he's got some experience. He's made a few mistakes, he's bounced off a few walls.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Not that many (laughter).
KEITH WIGGINS: Somehow I'm sure it won't be the last. Ultimately, you know, as long as you do it trying, that's the main thing. I would always lean towards the younger guys who are up-and-coming. Talent will always win over experience. I'm not a big fan of the older boys. Obviously, there's sometimes marketing opportunities. But the youth is where I see it, to be honest, on balance. There's always different circumstances.
Q: Nelson, you had an interesting situation last year where you worked with an absolutely green-as-grass rookie with Andrew Ranger. Talk about the interplay you had with that Canadian.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Well, at the beginning of the year he was very hyped up. I agree, he's a very good driver, but I think it all went to his head very quickly in Toronto. From there, I don't know, he lost it. Once I got the better hand on him, he started to be a very nice guy. All I have to say is, you know, I would gladly see him back in Champ Car. He was a good guy.
Q: A long time out of the car for you, Nelson. Do you feel you're properly prepared coming into the season? Do you feel behind the eight ball a little bit?
NELSON PHILIPPE: A little bit. I mean, I'm not the only driver in this situation. To be honest with you, I've been working out and training really like a madman. I may be three times as fit as he was last year at my fittest. I'm ready to go. That's why we're going to be testing for three days here in Sebring, just so I can get back up to speed.
I mean, some drivers are probably not going to have even one day under their belt before Long Beach. I think the most important thing is to get the dynamic within the team to just get the energy flowing right and it will be okay. I'm definitely not scared. I'm just looking forward to going. I know it's going to be a good year, so.
Q: Keith, are you going to be running one car in this test this week?
KEITH WIGGINS: That's an interesting question. We have two cars there. We may well evaluate someone. That's just a decision we have to make. Like everything in life, timing and planning, the best laid plans... We chose to do this because we felt three days, the team has progressed, we have some development that we never did anything last year. We have some stuff that we want to progress. It's useful. That's the reason we chose Sebring. We felt it's over four days, so it's two days with a gap, then another day. We have the two cars down there. It seems a really good opportunity obviously for another driver to run. Most of the costs are incurred to do it.
We've been in negotiations. If you can't show your hand, you have to try and finish negotiations before, not the other way around. If you get it finished two days afterwards, then it's a shame that you've wasted the opportunity to give the other driver some time in the car. We're sort of evaluating that. A long-winded answer to your question is we'll probably make that decision in the next day or so. There may well be two cars -- there will be two cars. We may run two drivers or we may just run Nelson.
Q: Nelson, you said earlier "this year is a new me." What did you mean by that exactly?
NELSON PHILIPPE: What I meant, I'm much more focused, much more ready. I mean, sorry, but I'm ready to kick some ass. You know, all I have to say is I made a lot of mistakes in my career. It's not the way a lot of drivers would choose to have their young career. But, hey, that's the way mine was.
Like Keith said, I swam and I came out of it. I've been recognized as a fairly good driver, I guess. I mean, this year I just feel different in the sense that I'm much more ready. I'm not ready to hang around mid pack any more; I'm ready to fight for podiums every race.
Q: You also said you needed to prove some things to people. How do you prove it to them and what do you need to prove?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Results, right? Results are the best thing to prove to people, right? That's something that you'll see during the year. I don't want to say anything right now because I don't, so that's it.
Q: You say you've been working out a lot. Have you done any karting or anything of that type to get ready for the test this weekend or just regular workout stuff?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I've been doing a lot of workout, cardio. The only thing I drove since Mexico City, I drove a go-kart with my little brother Richard. We both had the same go-kart last weekend. We went and ran some laps. It was very interesting, very fun. Just wanted to get my reflexes back a little bit.
We were close to the lap record at the track we went to. Doesn't seem like I lost it. Actually, it feels like everything came back even better than it was last year. I'm just ready. I've been doing a lot of PlayStation also, Gran Turismo 4 is a great game with a steering wheel. That's all I've been doing. But a lot of cardio. I really want to be in tip-top shape for every race this year.
Q: Do you feel you were not in top shape in your first two years of competition?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Not where I wanted to be. Definitely not. That's something I learned. I definitely wasn't in a good enough shape to get the results I wanted. This year I made sure that this is not going to happen again. I mean, I'm ripped, I'm ready to go.
Q: Nelson, will you be bringing over the sponsor you had last year?
KEITH WIGGINS: Do you want me to answer that one? At this stage we're hoping to -- we're putting together a sponsorship package, an overall sponsor for CTE-HVM Racing. I think within a short period of time, you'll see what goes on the cars. It will probably be mainly new stuff.
Q: Same sponsor for both cars, you're saying?
KEITH WIGGINS: Yes. That may vary a little bit between individuals smaller. But on an overall program, yes, the plan will be that there will be one main sponsor.
Q: Has there been any other changes to the team in terms of engineers or any other personnel for this year going forward to improve the team?
KEITH WIGGINS: I don't think -- I may sound arrogant. It was a difficult time, but I think the team was pretty resourceful and pretty capable. There have been a couple of subtle personnel. All of the crew, all of the key people stayed the same. We plan to keep the engineering the same. Michael Cannon did leave us recently. We've hired another very capable engineer to replace him. I'm not too worried.
The integrity, the group, the core, like everything, the team has gone through a few changes. Hopefully no one really notices too much. A group is bigger than individuals. Other than that, I think I can safely say apart from maybe a truckie or one mechanic here or there, the whole group will be back to fight another day.
Q: Nelson, we've made a lot about this swimming metaphor. As you look back on it, would you do it again or maybe take another year or so of training before you jumped into the major leagues of Champ Car?
NELSON PHILIPPE: There's many ways to look at that. I'm very proud of myself in the sense that I had the balls to actually jump in the Champ Car when I was 17, which took a lot of guts. But at the same time I look at my brother, and he has the perfect career. I wish I could have that.
You know, I don't regret anything I've done. My brother's learning with winning and I'm learning with a lot of mistakes I made. I'm very glad of the route I took. Like I said, it took a lot of courage and a lot of personality to make such a big jump so young. I know you're tired of the swimming metaphors, but, listen, I did swim and I'm ready to do some freestyle this year.
Q: Do you think it would have helped any to have maybe a veteran driver like Bourdais, Tracy, Vasser?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Vasser, yes. A Tracy or a Bourdais, I don't think they would help me. But a Vasser, yeah. To be honest with you, the fact that I had to learn with no veteran driver, especially last year, it proves that I really improved. I'm very proud of it because I improved by myself. It's very rewarding.
Q: You must be proud of the fact that your peers voted you most improved to show they recognized the work you're putting in?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Yes. Like I said, that was definitely a very nice thing to have. Hopefully this year they think I'm most improved driver again because I still want to go that much better. Hopefully I'll be most improved driver again.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to today's Champ Car media teleconference. Again, congratulations to Keith Wiggins of HVM-CTE Racing and his newest driver Nelson Philippe. We look forward to seeing you at Sebring at the end of this week.
KEITH WIGGINS: Thank you.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Thank you.