CHAMPCAR/CART: Interview with Wally Dallenbach and Lee Dykstra 2002-02-19

CART teleconference transcript MODERATOR: We are now joined by one of the most well respected names in most sports, Wally Dallenbach. Thanks for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Most of you are more than familiar with his ...

CART teleconference transcript

MODERATOR: We are now joined by one of the most well respected names in most sports, Wally Dallenbach. Thanks for taking the time to join us this afternoon.

Most of you are more than familiar with his accomplishments through the years but he competed as a driver racing Indy cars from 1965 through 1979 winning five races over that time frame. Wally stepped out of the car in 1980 to help assist CART as a race official and he became the chief steward of the series in 1981. Wally presided over 298 champ car events from 1981 through 1999 when he decided to step aside as chief steward. After serving as a key role to the chief steward in both the 2000, 2001 FedEx Championship Series season, he decided to come out of retirement and rejoins the race control staff this year, returning to the role of chief steward where he will work closely with Chris Kneifel, who served in that capacity last season.

On behalf of CART, let me just say that we are happy to have him back. And like you said earlier, Wally, you never really left, but we are happy to have you back in the fold.

We are also pleased to be joined by a new member of the CART racing operations staff, veteran racing engineer Lee Dykstra came on board with CART in early January. He will serve as director of technology and competition overseeing carts technical program and the race competition staff, as well as playing a key role in competition rules CART has established beginning in the 2003 season and beyond.

Lee has worked in racing for some 33 years working as a design engineer with Ford, Kar-Kraft and serving as president of Indianapolis-based Special Chassis, Inc. Most recently, Lee served as race engineer for the No. 77 Forsythe Championship racing entry in a 2001 FedEx Championship Series season, driven by Bryan Herta.

Lee, thank you very much for joining us today.

LEE DYKSTRA: My pleasure.

MODERATOR: With all of the recent technical and competition rules, changes announced by CART in the last week or so, we thought this would be a great opportunity for the media to ask some questions of the experts.

With that, we'll open it up to questions both Lee and Wally.

Q. I would like to ask Lee Dykstra two questions: First of all, I remember him when he worked with Patrick Carpentier as an engineer; why did he take that job. And also, I would like to ask him if he thinks the three engine manufacturers will be ready with a traction control for the first race in Monterrey.

LEE DYKSTRA: First question , I have a lot of respect for Patrick and his ability. That's obviously, you know, a major reason for taking that particular job. I enjoyed very much working with him during the couple of years that we did work together, and, you know, like I said, I have a lot of respect for his ability.

As far as the second question is concerned, all three manufacturers at some time in the past have done development on traction control. They are currently taking engineering or manufacturers' days to do further development to sort of finalize the things, but I have no doubt that all three of them will be ready for Monterrey.

MODERATOR: Lee, can you just take a second and tell us a little bit about traction control, why CART is putting this into place in 2002. It was announced last Friday, all of the engine manufacturers bought into the concept. If you could just talk about the concept behind traction control, we had a few questions on that earlier in today's call.

LEE DYKSTRA: The traction control was put in as allowing it because of the difficulty of trying to police not having traction control.

With the current electronic systems that we have for engine control, it's very, very difficult to try to get a handle on things that are done that simulate traction control in one gear or, you know, at a particular place in a corner or that sort of thing.

So rather than having, you know, a big hassle as far as accusations between manufacturers and stuff, they graciously agree that we will mandate the traction control and eliminate that as a possible argued point.

MODERATOR: Thank you for clarifying that.

Q. Wally, you've been at this game, obviously, in a number of roles for a long time. Is this the biggest group of rule changes and such that you've seen in your career, and how do you think that's going to affect the competition and your gentlemen's roles in regulating it?

WALLY DALLENBACH: Well, there's no doubt it's been the biggest change I've seen in 20-some years that I've been involved as an official. And changes are really going to be challenging, not only for the officials, but I think for everybody involved. I feel like they are good changes and they are changes that are needed to bring some excitement back into the sport.

Policing them is going to be difficult and there's going to be some miscues and trial and error as we perfect the system as we go into it. But I think conceptually, those changes should create a better aroma for television and the fan. They are going to have to spend a little time understanding it, as well.

Challenge, yes it is. But will it make it better for racing? I think it will. Probably needs to be polished, but that will come as time goes by.

Q. Last year at Monterrey, you said essentially that you hoped that Chris was the last guy standing on Fantasy Island; and that having come true, which is why you're back here, what can you do to help Chris understand the things that he did wrong last year, or maybe not necessarily wrong, but what can you do to help him so that he can assume this and you can go back to Colorado?

WALLY DALLENBACH: That was probably as much responsible for Chris getting the job as anyone, and I have a lot of faith in him and I feel that his qualities are there.

He walked into a year in the sport when there was a lot of turmoil and there was a lot of things happening, and we all know what they were. Along with that, I think he really felt strong about being independent and doing his own thing initially, and as the year wore on, certain things, you know, took place. Some of them were nature. Some of them were otherwise, whatever they were; they caused some problems.

The bottom line was that he got beat up a little. That's going to make him stronger for the long haul, and so maybe he did drop down on one knee by the time the season ended; I've been there. But what I would like to do, I came back on board, not only on his behalf, but I believe in CART and I believe in where they are going. And I was there for the first round when we broke away from another organization, and it was -- believe me, it was just as tough then.

Collectively, I think we are going to make a good strong team -- I think what will happen ultimately is he will come out stronger for the future.

MODERATOR: You had mentioned, I believe, when we were in Monterey California, a few weeks ago, that the changes, the things that are happening in CART under Chris Pook's leadership and all of the rules and competition changes that we've got. Do you still have that feeling and where do you see this going?

WALLY DALLENBACH: Even so, when you look at the equipment, the tools, the events, everything involved, the technology involved in 1979 and 1980 -- and having said that, you know, it's very clear in my mind when eight of us were denied even the practice time at Indianapolis at one point and had to go through the course to get back in there, those are scars that are clear in my mind. And out of all of that business that went on, we built an organization that was really strong and versatile. And what's unique about CART, of course, is the fact that we can probably race on fly paper if we had to. That is second to none in auto racing.

Those qualities in this series are worth fighting for. Yeah, we have had some problems the last couple of years, and that's what went through my head, to come back and meet the challenge. Try to get strong again and in the black and try to be a part of what it should be.

MODERATOR: Again, we are happy to have you back.

Q. Wally, with the advent of traction control and Bridgestone coming in now, I know there's going to be some subtle changes. Does traction control present a new set of problems to deal with tires?

WALLY DALLENBACH: No. I think not. I think actually traction control will probably be easier on tires, generally speaking. In relating to your own car, it's like having an open dip -- inaudible -- or something like that where better application to the power goes through the ground and various ingredients; and I think that will help the tire situation.

And also, I think we'll, you know, it will make it somewhat easier to drive these cars in some of the areas, but at the same time, it will make them perform better, and that's what we are looking for. We are looking for our cars to look good out there and to race side by side. This is certainly going to help that.

Q. Do you foresee any changes in the race staff, as far as you are concerned, with race control or observers or any more changes in that area this year, or are you pretty well set?

WALLY DALLENBACH: I think we're close to where we need to be. I think we need a couple -- a couple guys on our staff yet who can fill some gaps. But race control looks pretty strong, and people around me, I feel very good about. I feel that after the first race or two, based on the new rules and how we are going to monitor them and things like that, which in itself will be a challenge, but, I mean, we may be just seeing possibly one more person up in race control monitoring, maybe one additional screen or more.

But the good news is I think we are ready to make those moves if we have to, and it's going to be an exciting challenge, both up there and on the racetrack.

Q. How is the relationship with you, Chris and the Atlantics?

WALLY DALLENBACH: Atlantics have always been close to me. I was a car owner in '84. My son drove one of the cars. I was not only chief steward, but I was a car owner. So I feel real close to the Atlantic, always have. I think they are the perfect race car for the training series. I think what they did replaced the Midget of the 50s. If I was small enough and young enough, I would probably be in one myself.

As far as Chris (Kneifel) is concerned, he is going to take a leadership role there, and he's going to be very close to me when he's not doing that; and the trade-offs I think will work great because we are going to lean on each other through the whole season.

Q. Lee, how are you going to track all of these new changes -- inaudible -- this year, and also keep track of what's going to be happening next year with technical setups?

LEE DYKSTRA: After I stop walking on water, you mean?

Yeah, it's difficult. Of course, I've got some help here. I've got Steve Dixon, as far as, you know, at the racetrack and as far as the technical inspection and that sort of thing, and I'm going to rely heavily on him.

We are just, you know, going to go as quickly as we can as far as the 2003 regulations, because obviously, all of these manufacturers are sort of -- need information in order to make our time deadline for October/November.

Q. What about 2003, have you had any conversations with Reynard or Lola to stay in the series?

LEE DYKSTRA: Yeah, I've had numerous conversation with, not only them, some of the other chassis manufacturers, as well.

Q. How about engines, I've heard in the past that there should be no problem --

LEE DYKSTRA: In fact, (Vice President of Racing Operations) John Lopes has been involved with that stuff pretty deeply as far as -- there's a lot of stuff that has not come out in the press that we are doing that at some point in time, this stuff will be announced. But certainly the situation looks very good.

Q. I assume that both you and Wally are extremely happy to have Chris Pook on board?

LEE DYKSTRA: I think this whole thing, you know, it sort of starts on the top and just sort of filters down. If you have strong leadership like Chris, then that allows you to work within your pasture, whatever, to get things done.

WALLY DALLENBACH: I agree. One of the big reasons why I signed back on is I had a lot of faith in Chris Pook, and I'm going to back him up as much as I can in my capacity.

Q. Question for Lee. When we got the announcement that you've come on board, I think it stated that you would be working very closely with the rule changes for the new engines for 2003. I have a two-part question. The first part is: The engine manufacturers that have been mentioned as suppliers would be Toyota, John Judd and Tom Walkinshaw; that's been discussed, but I don't know how definite it is. My question is: For John Judd and Walkinshaw, what would be the source of their engines, because to me they are a builder and not a manufacturer.

LEE DYKSTRA: It would be a situation similar to more -- where essentially they are building an engine it's badged as some other manufacturer. In other words, they do manufacture engines. John Judd's engine won the 24 at Daytona.

Q. That was just confusing to me. And my second part of that question is: For the 2003 rules, I've read that we're going to use the basic tub which would follow the IRL rules, but the aerodynamic package would be the same for CART, and I know you need to have that for road course racing; you can't use an oval package for a road course. And because -- it's my understanding that our engines will be maybe a couple hundred horsepower less, I would think that the aerodynamics that we've taken away so much from the race cars over the years to slow them down to compensate for engine performance increased, wouldn't we be changing or would we be going back to any of our previous aerodynamic designs?

LEE DYKSTRA: Certainly. Certainly. We will be adding downforce for the short oval tracks. We'll be looking at taking out drag for Fontana to get to a performance level that we think is necessary for these cars.

Q. And that brings to mind, when you said Fontana, we use a Hanford there, and I've seen it in print that that's going to be utilized in 2003, but will we even need that?

LEE DYKSTRA: That's something that we'll look at. Obviously, we're in the early throws of this sort of thing, but there is some adjustability in the Hanford wing. Last year, we add the three-inch section on the back and things like that could conceivably come off. In our rules meeting, we said that we were going to try to maintain the current CART aero packages with adjustments.

Q. But the idea is, when we get done with all of that and you finalize what it's going to be, we should see better racing; right?

LEE DYKSTRA: For sure. If we add downforce for the short ovals and that sort of thing, we certainly should see back the to 1998-99 type of racing situations.

Q. Lee, I've got a two-part question here. The first part of it: This traction control system, is it controlled by the engine; in other words, cutting REVs or by the brakes or is it both in combination?

LEE DYKSTRA: No. The brakes -- there is no braking as such. So it's strictly engine, engine power reduction, either through spark or fuel.

Q. I guess related to this, I'm not a technician, so I might be asking a dumb question here. But in street cars, a lot of street cars using the traction control systems have altitude control, as well, to help -- supposedly help a car from losing the rear end. Is that going to be possible with any of these traction control systems, and if so, how are you going to be able to use that against the rules and then are you going to be able to police it?

LEE DYKSTRA: Because they have anti-- lock braking, they have the ability to selectively lock on essentially any corner on the car. We do not have that ability. Essentially the traction control will be that, but not a stability control as such, which is what the auto manufacturers call it.

Q. The rule book, when will that be released? There's been a lot of talk about these new rules, but will there actually be a release of the rule book in the near future?

LEE DYKSTRA: That will be on the Web here shortly. It's sitting down there essentially. We have got one issue that we want to resolve here, but at this stage, it's ready to go. So the teams will have it for sure in their hands before Monterrey, and it will be available to you guys as well, on the CART Web site.

Q. As far as the 2003 package have you done any simulation with regard to performance, and do you expect there to be a similar performance that we see today in terms of overall lap times, or do you expect a certain percentage drop off in times?

LEE DYKSTRA: I would think that our current performance on short ovals will be quite similar. The road course, to be honest with you, I have not done a lot of simulations to see what that looks like, but I think it's going to be pretty close.

Q. The tub is going to be the same as the IRL and the engine is very, very similar. What do you think the cost is going to be if a team wants to convert the car over to the same IRL car as Indy; is there an estimate of what that might cost a team to do that? Or would a team just buy a whole new car?

LEE DYKSTRA: Our owners specifically asked that we mandate the CART tub so essentially they could change that over, and that's the premise that we are going on. Whether we achieve that or not, that's hard to say because there's so many factors there. But it will be a common tub that a Lola or Reynard will build.

As far as the cost of the conversion, essentially, it comes down to, you know, the cost of the car minus the tub cost, because you are changing the aerodynamics, you are changing the gear box, the wheel housing, the suspension.

Racing these days is so specialized that, essentially, you run something different than you run for a road course.

Q. So it's not really going to be too easy cost-wise for a team to bop back and forth between two different series if they wanted to?

LEE DYKSTRA: Well, it's easier than it is now.

MODERATOR: Thanks again for joining us today, gentlemen, and thanks to all who participated in today's call.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach , Chris Kneifel , Patrick Carpentier , Bryan Herta , Chris Pook , Tom Walkinshaw