CHAMPCAR/CART: Kurt Busch Champ Car test press conference

Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford press conference following Kurt Busch's demo Champ Car laps with: Kurt Busch Michel Jourdain Jr. Ray Leto Merrill Cain: We are joined by NASCAR star Kurt Busch, who drove the ...

Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford press conference following Kurt Busch's demo Champ Car laps with:
Kurt Busch
Michel Jourdain Jr.
Ray Leto

Merrill Cain: We are joined by NASCAR star Kurt Busch, who drove the Team Rahal Gigante Champ Car today as well as Michel Jourdain Jr. who normally drives the car, along with team manager Ray Leto.

Kurt, we'd just like to hear your initial impressions of the Champ Car, you took 18 laps and seemed comfortable, you improved quite a bit during the course of the session, your last lap was your fastest - a time of 54.72 seconds. There were a few anxious moments but I think everyone would agree that you handled yourself pretty well.

Kurt Busch: The overall experience and the way I was treated by Team Rahal and everyone was first class. As far as explanations of how we were going to proceed in the day as far as explaining things to me inside and outside of the car, they went above and beyond expectations for what I am used to. Of course, I want to commend Michel, he was very polite and very giving as far as advice and just lending his car for me to drive today.

The experience itself is obviously different than driving in a stock car, the first difference is, you're outside the car. The element of wind meant that the speed was lifting me out of the car because I didn't have a downforce helmet, so that was the first thing to overcome, I had to hold my helmet down almost, down the straightaway but generating speed through the corners is much different with the way that the car feels. It feels three times as heavy as a Winston Cup car does, where a Winston Cup car is twice as heavy to begin with. So the weight differences and the aerodynamics and being outside of the car - it's a different way of life.

Cain: We obviously want to thank Team Rahal for allowing Kurt to take some laps in their car and to our valued partners at Ford for allowing this to happen as well as our partners at Bridgestone. Kurt, talk about this, has this always been a dream of yours to run in the Champ Cars?

Busch: I just came from a very humble background of stock car racing. I went to Phoenix, well, what was many years ago for me, probably not that long for some of you, just to experience a Modified, a Super Modified and it was the first real odd thing that I had ever seen, and my dad told me to check it out because it would be the closest thing I would ever see to a Champ Car. It was a bit different to see that. To be from the humble background that I have come from, the opportunity to drive one of these is something that I could not pass up.

The way the day progressed - I mean, I am going to stick to my day job and driving on Sundays in Winston Cup, but the door is somewhat cracked open and this is an experience. The competition level here is just like it is over in Winston Cup as far as the way that you have to create lap times. I underestimated the cold tires and being able to work your tires in is a big part, but you have to do that while trying to outsmart the other guy as far as hitting your braking zones and taking different lines.

Cain: Michel, if you could, talk about the advice that you gave Kurt as you headed into the day. You had quite an opportunity to interact with him throughout the day and what did you tell him about and how do you think he did?

Michel Jourdain Jr: Well, I just told him about a few of the differences that I would have thought he would have to go through. A little bit about the cold tires, a little bit about the turbo and the gears. A little bit of how to drive these things. It's just four tires and a steering wheel so the basics are the same, we just wanted to let him know what to expect so that he wouldn't have any problems.

When we drove around the track I told where the problems were and what were the most difficult parts and the characteristics of each corner, but he did very, very good. Just like we all knew he would.

Cain: Ray, talk a little about how you interacted with Kurt throughout the course of the afternoon and your impression of his 18 laps around the course in the #9 car.

Ray Leto: We kind of went into this week giving Kurt and overview of what we were going to do and like Michel said, he's a very confident race car driver so when you deal with somebody at that level, its not like picking somebody off the street so it's basically a briefing today of the differences between the car and the subtleties of dealing with the gearbox and downshifting and upshifting, go over that with him. Fortunately, these guys are basically the same size so it was easy to get him in the car, just got him comfortable with the HANS deivce and it was a pretty easy transfer.

We had prepared some plots and some engine mapping for him to look at to see some gears at some points around the track and he went out there and it went just as we hoped it would. We know he's a competent race car driver and the details are not too hard to take care of. He's used to driving the car at the limit. The telemetry showed he was really smooth on the throttle, his downshifts were really precise and we had discussed what the downforce would be like and sneaking up on the braking and the fast corners where you could feel the load coming to the car and start to trust the tires. He ticked off a few tenths every lap and I thought the time at the end was quite impressive for a 15-18 lap run

Q: I was wondering if you could tell us what the most difficult part of the track was and overall what part of the car impressed you the most.

Busch: Looking at the track layout and understanding it with Michel driving me around in the rental car, I could see that the section between Turns 1 and 3 was going to be most difficult just with the right-hander in Turn 1 and the two lefts setting you up for Turn 3 there was a unique combination there but yet, it was all wide-open throttle. As I progressed with the spin early and later as I was to generate speed out of that corner, I knew it was a part of the track where I was losing time. Due to the fact of not trusting the downforce because I was light on the throttle at a point where I knew the Cup car would lose traction, when you have that much steering and throttle input into it. But when I learned to trust the downforce as we progressed, I just kept working at it.

The overall braking experience of these cars does not compare to anything I've ever been in and probably will ever drive. I noticed afterward in our review that in a normal Cup car situation, my braking pressures were 800 psi, and today it was 800 psi. Problem is, you can double that and still maintain control. My left foot was telling me it was time to let up on the brake pedal because I was going to lock as wheel but I had twice as much downforce and half as much weight so I probably threw away a second and a half in the braking zones in Turns 1 and 3.

Q: Would it surprise you to hear that some of the guys that saw Jimmy Spencer here a year ago in the Target car said that you were much more impressive?

Busch: I've been given a unique opportunity to come down here and drive this car and I've probably got at least a second per lap on weight on that guy.

Q: What were you thinking when you spun on the first lap? Were you just thinking about what to do next time through or were you saying something else?

Busch: I underestimated the cold-tire situation. In Winston Cup, your fastest laps are the first ones. In Atlanta, we don't life until Turn 1 or 2 on the second time around because of the stickiness of the tires. That was a part of the track where I was going from third to fourth, I was already past the acceleration rate. The thing that I didn't comprehend was the boost rate once I got it in the right rpm zone and the thing zipped around on me. Luckily we were going slow enough where we didn't hurt anything. It is going to take you a good 20 laps to figure every thing out, including a review of the data after 10 laps. There's a lot to balance and to understand with the balance of the car.

Q: How did this come together and was this your first time in an open-wheel car?

Busch: I call this my first experience in an open-wheel car. I have Formula Ford experience but that is irrelevant to what happened today. I was at a Bondurant school four years ago but that is it. I just got the invite to come hang out with Team Rahal and Michel and the whole experience was wonderful. I just hope we can bring them down with us when we have a chance whether it be Charlotte or wherever and let Michel turn some laps.

Q: Can you compare the physical side of being in a Champ Car as opposed to the Cup car?

Busch: Obviously there's two completely different set of physics with the weight of the car and the downforce they create and any driver needs laps around a road course. The first time I showed up at Sears Point, it was with a real light car and no horsepower and the second time I went there and just the way that you go through a stepladder of racing, the way the downforce makes your mind think differently made this a test of what I think about racecars. I am very appreciative and these cars are built by fine craftsman and the help they gave me made this possible. When you have 4,000 pounds of downforce pushing down on these cars, it's a big difference to accept when you are used to having 1,500 pounds on you.

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch , Michel Jourdain