Continued from part 1 Q: Bjorn, what do you think about being in Monterrey with a Mexican team? BJORN WIRDHEIM: I think it will be a great experience. I've never been to Mexico before. But I've heard lots about the circuit and I can ...
Continued from part 1
Q: Bjorn, what do you think about being in Monterrey with a Mexican team?
BJORN WIRDHEIM: I think it will be a great experience. I've never been to Mexico before. But I've heard lots about the circuit and I can only say I'm looking forward to it.
ERIC MAUK: The Monterrey race will be the second race of the Champ Car season, May 22nd at Monterrey's Fundidora Park.
Q: Keith, the international expansion of the series is pretty remarkable when you think of yourself, where you come from, where your drivers come from. They're talking about a race in Korea, another one in Japan. We're still finding the teams are struggling somewhat to find, as you just mentioned with the Mexican reporter there, sponsorship money, NAFTA, around the world. While the series is expanding internationally, it's still tough to get out there and find money to sponsor these drivers. Are you finding that or is that just part of the evolution of what needs to go before it solidifies itself?
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I'm calling from a pay phone, so obviously things are tight (laughter).
You know, it's tough anywhere in the world. Of course, you know, everybody's worked on cost-cutting measures, costs of racing. There's a lot of competition. Europe has a slightly different attack on it. There's less alternatives. I mean, here in the US, of course, there's a lot of sports, there's a lot of motorsports, and fans have different requirements. I mean, it's an entertainment, and there's a lot of entertainment.
It's become tougher in the last few years. Champ Car has been through a difficult period. Television obviously is a big key for us to bring partners on. We do a lot of other activities completely outside of the race events. But, you know, there's a big, big effort regarding television and our PR. There's been some ups and downs. Obviously, Champ Car has had some ups and downs in its past. It always takes a while to shake that off and move forward.
I mean, we've got the product, which is the best product. It's the best series that I've ever done. We've got the race attendances. Now as you see this year, television is a lot clearer where we're going to go, and people can find it. I think Europe is a huge move forward now with Eurosport and all of the other channels that are going to take it. Suddenly people are getting a feel for it. There's more European drivers, and therefore I think we'll see expansion in those markets.
Yes, it's tough. It's still going to be tough. But I think the road ahead proves that I think in the next year -- at the moment, we're selling, the record to date, if you go in and look at sponsorship, you're always going to say, "This is the TV from last year." You can't sell this year. You can sell a potential. As we go further down the road, there will be new results to work on.
That's exactly, unfortunately, what happened in Mexico. Last year we lost a TV halfway through the year. Although it's been resolved, that has a big effect, a knock-on effect for everything. We've got to build back up, but we are going to new markets as well as now improving the communication within the markets that we've had. Therefore, we're also getting some new markets, which are going to be pretty exciting. I think the bottom line is we've all got to keep our heads down and see it turn around.
Q: Working with Jaguar in Formula 1 in testing working with cars that have a tremendous number of electronic aids in terms of traction control, launch control, et cetera, to a Champ Car, where you pretty much have to control everything. There's no traction control, no launch control, if the car gets underneath you, it's up to the driver to bring it back. To you, that's got to be a pretty refreshing approach.
BJORN WIRDHEIM: Absolutely. It's something I really like about Champ Car, in fact. It's more of a challenge from a driver's point of view. I mean, Formula 1 car is very, very different to anything else you can drive nowadays. But Champ Car is very similar to Formula 3000 that I did before. And I really enjoy, you know, having to work a gear stick inside the cockpit and using the clutch. That means also as a driver, it's easier for you to make a bigger difference inside the cockpit. So it's a challenge. It's something that I think is very good for the championship.
Q: Is Champ Car popular in Sweden and Denmark or is this year going to be a year where maybe there's going to be a good television package and we're going to see maybe the series get some more popularity there, with you guys being in the series, maybe with better TV? What can you tell us about your country?
BJORN WIRDHEIM: Well, I mean, Champ Car is well-known in Sweden. Kenny Brack did it a few years ago. There's a huge interest in Champ Car in Sweden because, as you all know, we haven't got a Formula 1 driver. Kenny Brack is no longer racing single-seaters. So there is a big interest in me.
Hopefully we'll get one of the Swedish television channels to broadcast it, as well. I mean, the Scandinavian market, I guess it's not very big, but I still think it's good to have it.
Q: Ronnie, how about you?
RONNIE BREMER: Yeah, it's pretty much the same thing. Magnussen has been in Champ Car a few years ago. A lot of people know what Champ Car is in Denmark. It will definitely grow big this year with a Danish driver. What they like about Champ Car is that nothing is decided before the flag. Where you can see in Formula 1, it changed a little bit this year, but last year it was pretty much Schumacher winning every race. Here, there's more racing. You are not allowed to block and stuff like that, so they like the racing more. This year they get the opportunity to watch because Eurosport is broadcasting the races live.
At the moment, it looks like they will find out tomorrow that the Danish national TV station will broadcast it, as well. I'm sure it will grow even bigger than it is, but they needed a Danish driver to be there, or even a Swedish driver. It's a good combination with two Scandinavian drivers, especially for the same team. I think it will create a lot of good things in Scandinavia.
Maybe it's not that big, like Bjorn said, but there's still a lot of people who want to see it. I'm sure you'll see later on in the season people coming over with Swedish and Danish flags and stuff like that.
I think it's very good for Scandinavia, having two Scandinavian drivers.
Q: Keith, did you announce any sponsorship for the two cars yet?
KEITH WIGGINS: No, we haven't announced anything yet. Obviously, there will be sponsors. Both the drivers have their own sponsors. We still have one or two of the smaller ones, but we're working on it and we are hoping to have something announced at Long Beach, but I think by the time Monterrey comes, we should be able to give you sort of a full layout.
Q: Bjorn, we're in the middle of a hockey strike here. I know Sweden is a big hockey country. Any thoughts on no NHL? Are you affected by it at all?
BJORN WIRDHEIM: No, I'm not personally affected. The thing is, I'm a hockey fan, and I always support the Swedish national team. Apart from that, I don't watch much of it, so I can't say it has affected me very much.
ERIC MAUK: Peter Forsberg found a place to play anyway, so we're squared away there.
Q: Ronnie, knowing what you know about the Champ Cars from last year, how tough Newman/Haas was, Forsythe, all these guys have had so much testing ahead of you, is there some concern starting the season, in a sense, behind in that area?
RONNIE BREMER: Yes and no. Of course, it's always better when you can test more and stuff like that. But, like I said before, I think the team is so professional and have such good teamwork, with two strong drivers, me and Bjorn, I think we can push each other along. I think personally we'll do very well. The good thing about Champ Car is it's the same car; it's just the combination of putting the right stuff on.
I know from last year that HVM was running pretty well with Dominguez at that time, as well. So I don't see why we shouldn't be able to do some competitive times. But there's a bit of lack of experience in the Champ Car, especially for me. But the test went pretty good. I'm pretty sure we'll be up there quite quickly. One of the good things maybe by coming in as a new one is you might be a little bit hungrier than guys like Paul Tracy and Sebastien. I'm not saying they're not hungry, but maybe I'm just a little bit hungrier than they are.
I'm pretty sure we'll do well with a professional team like HVM.
Q: Bjorn, this has got to be the ultimate in driver sharing that you are going to have to do in the first few races, driver sharing information from you and Ronnie as teammates.
BJORN WIRDHEIM: Yeah, of course. I spent the day here in the workshop. I met all the engineers. I'm really pleased to have ended up here because their priority is obviously to get good setups for both drivers. I mean, when you have two drivers, you have to make use of all the information. Ronnie has been around Long Beach before, so he's going to be up to speed quickly. If we could push each other during the season, that's what we need.
Q: Keith, what happened with the Verstoppen deal? As of last week, we were talking to his manager and were set up with an interview about joining the team. What happened there?
KEITH WIGGINS: You can never count your chickens till they hatch, can you (laughter)?
To cover your last question, one thing about the team, there are never any secrets between drivers anyway. That would always be a prerequisite. I mean, we work together as one big group. That is sort of standard practice.
Back to your other question, though. Obviously, Jos was very popular, had a lot of support to come here. I think Champ Car was keen to have him. He certainly would have been another good driver. I remember him from the first time round, which reminds me I'm still continuing to get old. I remember Roberto Moreno first time around in Formula Ford, so I'm really old.
It's just a case of putting everything in place. Quite honestly, we were late in doing everything, so therefore when it is last minute, things can change pretty quickly. I mean, you can negotiate with drivers, and that may take you three or four months. We managed to condense everything into a couple of weeks, so things are going to change quickly. Ultimately, he would have loved to have done it, but we couldn't get the package to work and for everything to gel to everybody's satisfaction, let's put it that way.
Q: Keith, do you still consider yourself a Mexican team? With Jourdain gone, Fernandez, Lavin, and Dominguez down to Forsythe, how will the series be seen in Mexico, do you think?
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, you know, unfortunately it's important that everybody does have their heroes, and clearly you follow your heroes, and it can generate interest. I'm sure Spain is a lot keener on Formula 1 at the moment.
That's a fact of life, is as one market is a bit quiet, the next one picks up. Mexico is obviously a fantastic place for their motorsport, their love of it, just the same as Brazil. Hopefully they will still follow the series because they still have the top Mexican driver in their series. They won't have four or five drivers, but there's always a cure for that, which is obviously to support them.
For us, we have a great affiliation. Of course, our major owner is Mexican. We still have that culture and still enjoy it, but we're all in a business so we don't forget that side of it or our support or our love of tequila. You know, things can change as time goes forward, but we have to get on with business.
Q: Sponsorship is obviously a key to attracting drivers. If a team has to go for a lesser driver because he's able to bring the money than a more talented driver, how do you think that falls with fans, how does that affect any series?
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I don't know how many years I've been doing this, but I would say that that's probably a basic principle which has never changed in 30 years. Usually the slower drivers have more money. The ones that you really want don't have it. I mean, obviously it's a goal not to have an effect, i.e., HVM has always been a team that's employed its drivers, and that's the best situation.
But in every series across the world, there are compromises. Sometimes they have partners which they can bring to make a package. Everybody wants the best or should want the best drivers that they can get, and obviously want the sponsorship to do the job. Juggling the mix is something that, from what I'm aware, has been happening since I started in the business. Sometimes it's better than others.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring to a close our Champ Car media teleconference today. I'd like to, again, congratulate Bjorn Wirdheim and Ronnie Bremer, as well as Keith Wiggins and HVM Incorporated. We look forward to a strong season from you in 2005 and beyond. Thanks for joining us, gentlemen.