CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Race officials press conference, part I

An interview with Chris Pook, Chris Kneifel And John Lopes. Part 1 of 2. Adam Saal: We'll get started. As most of our friends in the Mexican press know, we began what's been a very action-packed year in the FedEx Championship Series with a...

An interview with Chris Pook, Chris Kneifel And John Lopes.

Part 1 of 2.

Adam Saal: We'll get started. As most of our friends in the Mexican press know, we began what's been a very action-packed year in the FedEx Championship Series with a state-of-the-art press conference in Monterrey, up north in Monterrey. We just thought it would be appropriate to spend some time again with our media friends from all over the world, including our gracious hosts here in Mexico, to have a similar press conference.

At Monterrey you may recall we did introduce several rules we enacted at that race, designed to improve the competition throughout the entire season. We'll hear from John Lopes, our Vice President of Racing Operations, as well as our Chief Steward, Chris Kneifel, to hear how some of those rules went this year, what worked, what didn't work, perhaps what we'll use for next year, maybe a few more surprises for next year we could detail.

However, we are privileged to have with us our President and CEO, Chris Pook, who was scheduled to join us yesterday. We were working on some announcements for 2003. We're going to give you two for the price of one today.

Chris, if you could open up with some comments about how this season has gone for you, where you feel we've made some accomplishments and where we need to go.

Chris Pook: Good morning. First of all, I think I'd like to talk about this event for one second, to congratulate the organizers, not only on the building of a really superb facility with such a tremendous tradition to it, but just in their promotion of the event. You can't go anywhere in this great city without knowing there's a motor car race taking place at this facility. They are to be congratulated in just everything they've done. Their presentation, promotion, the racetrack itself, the working quarters for our teams and the working quarters for the media, it's just really outstanding.

As you know, we started the year, we told you we would be a work in progress. We wanted to make some changes throughout the year. We wanted to bring back, if we could, some racing into the racing. I think by and large our officials, under the direction of John Lopes, our Vice President of Racing Operations, and Chris Kneifel, our Chief Steward, have done an outstanding job.

I think last weekend, two weekends ago at Fontana [Calif.], the fact that Chris for the second time this year was able to implement his red flag rule with a few laps to go, and clearly we had a difficult situation on the racetrack, I think that was an outstanding call. The rule was designed to do that. He followed the rule. As you know, we had a great finish for the fans under the green flag. People tend to forget that the same thing was done in Vancouver. We had a huge accident just before the end. The race was red flagged, then finished under the green flag. All that's very, very positive, indeed.

Clearly next year, a different engine formula with the standard Cosworth turbocharged engine at 750 horsepower. We're going to, we believe, bring a lot more racing back in. I think some of the things that are forgotten here a little bit is that the chassis that these guys are driving are chassis designed for 750 horsepower motors, they were not designed for 900 horsepower motors. I think we've got a situation at hand here where the chassis has not kept up with the development of the motor. This is not Formula 1 where if a motor picks up 10 or 15 horsepower, the chassis gets redesigned. As we go into 2003, when you have 750 horsepower motors driving these chassis, you're going to see a whole different level of competition on the racetrack.

We will continue to look at our rules wherever we can - John and Chris can talk to that - to see where we can effect some rule changes that will maintain the integrity of the competition, but at the same time will pick up the level of the competition. That's important. That's the job of a sanctioning body. At the end of the day, we must put on a competitive race. As you know, this year we've had incredibly competitive qualifying. It's been really a tremendous year for that.

Some of our races have lacked a certain amount of the passing for the lead that the media and the audience wanted. We've had some tremendous passing in the field, had some good strategies in the pits, but at the end of the day what we must do is make sure we have really good racing on the racetrack.

We continue to move forward in our rule package looking at 2005. Work has already started on what the engine package will look like in that year. Very shortly we're opening up the conversation to the chassis manufacturers as to what the chassis should look at. I'm on record as saying in 2005 we want to have a V10, normally aspirated, gasoline-powered engine, developing about 750 horsepower, with a 1,200-mile life to it, that's important for us in the presentation, and of course on-board starters which we think are absolutely critical.

By and large, I think we've had a good year. We've got obviously another great qualifying session to take place this afternoon, and another great race tomorrow.

I thank you in the media for your support as we move forward. At times you've been critical of us and we've been critical of you, but that's fair enough, that's what it's all about. Good dialogue. As I said earlier this year, I have no difficulty with taking the heat as long as when the time comes to write about some of the good things we've done, you don't forget to write about that. I think by and large that has happened with the media. I thank you very much, indeed, for your support in that area.

Adam Saal: John, let's move to you. Chris covered a lot of ground on the technical side. Talk about some of the things that you felt worked from the on-track perspective. We'll ask Chris to talk to some of the rules related to the competition. Where are we going with some enhancements on the car?

John Lopes: Several things transpired over the past year. I think that is really a credit to Chris Kneifel and Lee Dykstra, our Director of Technology and Competition, who spent the last two nights in the hospital here with a little bit of perhaps Montezuma's revenge. He is healthy and back at the hotel.

I think one of the biggest areas we gained this year was in the technology side of the house, improving our ability to enforce the rules. We implemented a new technical inspections system, which I would encourage you to take a look at our Buckeye [fueling] system, we're quite proud of it.

Also we were able this year to improve our circuit development efforts. That's come quite a long way. On the electronics decide, Kevin [Vander Laan] came to us from Ford via Jaguar, and he helped us manage, I believe, what was a very sticky situation earlier in the year with traction control. I think that is one of the significant areas we've improved in this year. We've been able to manage we like to call them land mines of the past, like the pop-off valve situation, which seems ages ago at this point.

We had a developing situation earlier this year with traction control. In our cooperation with the manufacturers, both Toyota, Honda, Ford as well, worked with us to manage that situation along with the people on the technical staff. We're quite proud of that.

I might add, CART would like to thank Honda and Toyota for their participation and support over all these years. We're going to miss them, but we look forward to having them back in the future and look forward to moving forward with our relationship with Cosworth.

I think the other significant thing is the franchise board has been moving in lock step with management. That's been quite key in enacting new rules. In terms of what we've accomplished this year, that's where we've been at.

In terms of next year, you're going to see the high downforce package on the short ovals next year. We believe that's extremely important to get the cars side by side again. With a little bit less horsepower in the Cosworth package and the high downforce cars, you're going to see side-by-side racing as we did years ago in CART.

We're also going to most likely be eliminating the mandatory pit stop window. There's been some discussion about that. It worked well in Fontana this year; other places it did not. In general, we believe the more rules we enact, the more we create artificial racing. Less is more in that kind of situation. You'll probably see those go away.

Also something important for Chris Kneifel is the ability as a steward to apply fundamental fairness to the rule making. This year we had several situations where the stewards by the rule book had to make the call that necessarily wasn't fundamentally fair. A good one to point to is Adrian Fernandez at Rockingham [England] this year, was brought in for a penalty for speeding on the pit lanes. At that time Adrian actually was only a couple one-thousandths of a second in excess of the speed limit. The way the rule book reads, the penalty has to be applied right at the speeding mark. In the future, Chris will be able to use his discretion.

Other than that, I think next year you're going to see an awful lot of exciting racing with some cagey veterans and some very hungry young rookies coming in, some Europeans, Mexicans, as well as Canadians. You'll probably see 10 countries represented.

Adam Saal: We left a little bit for Chris to talk about in the area of competition, regulations. We talked about the scheduled pit stops as well as the red flag procedures. If we missed any, please talk about them. Quite frankly, tell us what gave you a little bit of gray hair this year and what put a smile on your face. Definitely some challenging opportunities, but you also walked out of race control many times saying, "We pulled it off, did a good job." Share with us some of the highs and lows of the season.

Chris Kneifel: John and Chris touched on most of the important things. The one thing we missed there was taking the fuel mixer knobs out of the car. Since we're doing a single-brand manufacturer, we're not going to be in the fuel economy game anymore. We will take the fuel stop windows out.

On the fundamental fairness that John talked about, it really is very frustrating as a race official knowing that you're spoiling a guy's day for a relatively minor infraction, being it lifting an air hose in the pits, a minor pit violation. It hurts me and the guys I work with as much as it hurts the competitors. We want to get rid of that.

We're taking good measures and steps so it will allow us to enforce penalties when there's been an unfair gain or someone doing something that was on the wrong side of the law. But if there was no performance advantage, no gain, you can almost go on the no-harm, no-foul. We're going to work very hard on a number of areas so we can get the rule book tailored so we can do that.

The other thing we're going to do in terms of correction is we're going to set it up with the rule book so we can take our time in some cases to make some of the calls. To use an analogy that Chris Pook used, where we raise the yellow flag, let the teams and participants involved know they're under scrutiny for any given situation. In a given period of time, we will be able to make a final determination and either call a penalty or no penalty in that case. There's a lot of things that we're going to do to that will really change the way that we do business.

To me it's very exciting. Again, in terms of producing better-quality racing, part of that is not chopping a guy's head off for something that wasn't really necessary. I'm very excited about that.

The other thing is we're looking to really do a good job in terms of upgrading the quality of people we have. I always see change as being a good thing. I'm very excited to see new guys that are hungry, new blood coming into the series. You see guys with fire, new blood, that's exciting to watch.

To touch on what Adam suggested, some of the highs and lows. I think the lows are pretty obvious. To me, I'm always very positive and very upbeat. Just being part of this series and knowing that the leadership that we have here at CART is taking us in a formidable direction, it's a great team to be part of, great to work with such great guys, knowing that we've got a light at the end of the tunnel. It's good stuff.

-cart-

Race officials press conference part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Kneifel , Chris Pook