CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes's Gugelmin works for safety

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 10, 2000) -- If you think driving a race car every weekend isn't hard work, there are 25 drivers competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series who can set you straight. Talent, skill and bravery are required to succeed as...

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 10, 2000) -- If you think driving a race car every weekend isn't hard work, there are 25 drivers competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series who can set you straight. Talent, skill and bravery are required to succeed as a racing driver.

But add to that the role of chairman of the Championship Driver's Association (CDA), the primary representative for those drivers, and skills such as vision, leadership and diplomacy come to the forefront as well.

Mercedes-Benz driver Mauricio Gugelmin, who campaigns the PacWest Racing Nextel Champ Car, has demonstrated all those skills in his CART career, and was appointed to the two-year leadership position in January.

"It's been a tougher job than I thought it would be," Gugelmin admitted. "As drivers, we all have ideas, and we think our own ideas are the right ones. But my job is to see that we work in a democratic way, and that takes a lot of effort."

Born in Joinville, Brazil, to the son of a timber merchant and antique car collector, Gugelmin began his career racing go-karts before competing in Formula One. Since coming to CART in 1993, Gugelmin has earned one race victory and three poles, and set the closed-course speed record (240.942 mph) with his Mercedes-powered qualifying run at California Speedway in 1997. Gugelmin, who is fluent in four languages, is the first international competitor to be nominated chairman of the CDA.

"Mauricio brings a business mind, experience and valuable common sense to the position," said Jon Potter, CDA Executive Director. "He has earned a great deal of respect from all the drivers, and he knows what this business is about."

The Championship Drivers Association was developed in 1980 with the purpose of giving drivers a unified voice in the sport.

"Our main goal is improving the sport of open-wheel racing, not only for now, but for the long term," said Gugelmin. "There is room for improvement in a lot of areas in CART. For example, there is a big push right now from the drivers to make short-oval racing big again. Our short-oval races used to be strong, but there is so much aerodynamic turbulence and instability with the new wing package that there is no passing. The solution is probably a combination of things, such as taking away some horsepower and giving back some downforce to increase the aerodynamic grip. Then we'll be able to run side by side again, and there will be more passing."

Just as Mercedes-Benz is leading the way for improved driver safety through its developmental work on the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device that will be used in Formula One and CART next year, Mercedes-Benz driver Gugelmin sees safety as one of the most important issues on his agenda.

"We want to make sure that every event is safe and fun for everyone. We are looking at all of the circuits -- at the fences, the barriers, the bridges and the grandstands -- for ways to improve them. We don't just care about the drivers, we also care about the spectators. We're producing an analysis to give to CART so they can see our concerns and recommendations. It was not up to us (drivers) to do this, but I decided to do it because it is the best way for us to contribute to the process."

Gugelmin also sees his leadership role as an opportunity to mentor the younger drivers coming into the sport, and to help them understand the business and commercial aspects as well as the safety and marketing issues.

"When you are young, you only want to deal with what affects you as an individual competitor on the track. But racing is a business, too, and I want CART and the promoters to see us as a group. CART is becoming more international, and we have a very strong niche. The world is different today than it was five or 10 years ago, and we have to run our business just like any other international company. We're no different than Coca-Cola in that respect."

"Most of all, I want to help give vision to the younger drivers," added Gugelmin. "They are the future of our sport."

Off the track, Gugelmin enjoys skin diving, water skiing and boating, and he is an avid web surfer as well. Married to Stella, the couple has twin sons, Bernardo and Giuliano. Their third son, Gabriel, was born July 3rd.

"Even though this is a tough job, I still love doing it," Gugelmin said. "Whatever I do, I want to do it well, and give 100 percent of myself. Once you start to see results, it gives you a very special feeling."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mauricio Gugelmin