An interview with Chris Pook, Derrick Walker and Roberto Gonzalez. part 2 of 2. Q: Could you address what the incentives this year that CART has initiated for next season, financial incentives, the cost-cutting measures, how has that enabled...
An interview with Chris Pook, Derrick Walker and Roberto Gonzalez.
part 2 of 2.
Q: Could you address what the incentives this year that CART has initiated for next season, financial incentives, the cost-cutting measures, how has that enabled you perhaps or played a role in you're being able to run two cars next year?
Derrick Walker: Well, first of all, CART has introduced the system they had several years ago where they incentivize the teams like a franchise system to come along and compete at every event. There's incentives you get as a team which rewards you for participation. That allows the series to go out and sell a guaranteed number of cars at each event. There's that element.
The second element is, because they're out there selling the sport as we are, selling sponsorship for TV, for track signage, they are interested in buying some of our rights. There is a possibility they can buy some spots on our race cars, uniforms and resell it to potential sponsors. They're a true partnership in the sense they're not only a governing body, but they're trying to understand what you need and how they can deliver potential sponsors or give you extra value to sell your sport.
So in the particular case, in Roberto's case, the companies that we're talking to, we're able to talk to them at two levels. We're talking at the track side level with the race car, with Roberto, going racing, at the same time we're talking on the commercial side where they can be involved in the telecast and get the key items that are available from the sanctioning body.
That's one thing, having gone through this process with Roberto now, his potential sponsors, some of the companies we've been talking to, CART is very focused, realizing, helping, trying to develop those opportunities for you. They've given us an added benefit to go out and sell in the marketplace. They're not just a sanctioning body; they're actually helping us sell our company and the sport. Tremendous difference. It's night and day compared with a year ago at this time. There's no comparison.
Q: As I understand it, Roberto had not really been in a Champ Car before today. With no experience at all, are you kind of a little bit starting behind other teams or is everybody pretty much in the same boat because of the switch to the Cosworth package?
Derrick Walker: Well, certainly we're only behind in the sense that Roberto hasn't experienced a CART car in competition yet. That's the same for every rookie. There will be a lot of rookies in the series, new drivers to the series, as Chris has indicated.
I think that's where the team element comes in. We have a lot of experience on our team, a lot of good people. We're used to dealing with young drivers. We actually enjoy young drivers, the enthusiasm that they bring to the team.
Of course, as a team owner, you're always looking at these young guys and saying, "Is this your next Michael Schumacher, Rick Mears," whoever. You're always looking for the spark, getting involved with them at the beginning of their career. It's really exciting. The team is really glued to this program behind Roberto. They sense the energy there.
Q: Derrick, you mentioned there will be new sponsors coming on. Is it safe to assume they'll be Mexican sponsors for Roberto?
Derrick Walker: No, not necessarily. There's a large range of sponsors from different regions. It's not solely Mexican sponsors, no.
Q: Chris, with all the new drivers coming into the series, both rookies and non-rookies, but no CART experience, with the new engines, any thought to opening up the testing to have more test days possibly for these drivers?
Chris Pook: (CART) Vice President of Racing Operations John Lopes, and his technical director Lee Dykstra, are in the process of discussing this now, extra time for the rookies to come in and get them acquainted. Although, by the look of this rookie today, he doesn't need too much acquainting, if he can get the car off the line without stalling it.
Derrick Walker: You need a lot more days, Chris. Come on. We're going to have the budget. Come on.
Chris Pook: There definitely will be some additional days for rookie testing so that when the rookies do get here, they'll be competitive.
I do want to point out to you that Mr. (Andre) Lotterer came here this weekend as a brand-new rookie. He's done an extremely respectable job this weekend. If you remember Darren Manning at Rockingham also was on the verge of being spectacular for his first run.
I'm very, very confident that if you give Roberto a couple of days in the car, the type of car that Derrick is able to put under him, if you go back and look at some of Derrick's qualifying and positioning he's had this year, he's put a very, very good racing car underneath his driver on numerous occasions. I think he will continue to do that. When he does that, the driver that can push the buttons, particularly a young, aggressive driver that's coming out of the 3000 series, that understands the intensity of that competition, I think you're going to be very, very surprised.
Adam Saal: The term "rookie" is going to need revamping. Roberto, how many years have you been racing from go-karts on up?
Roberto Gonzalez: I started in '89. A few (years) now. Actually, I started in Formula Karts in '94. A little over eight years.
Adam Saal: We've certainly seen definitely a steeper learning curve, earlier age, as drivers progress. Again, to make your mark, you need to step up to the top ranks very soon.
Adam Saal: In driver development within Championship Auto Racing Teams, we will have testing of our new Cosworth package at Firebird in Arizona this week. We're going to have some drivers from our ladder system take the car through their paces. It's going to be a Dale Coyne Racing Lola with Ford-Cosworth spec power in a 2003 configuration. I believe Jon Fogarty and Michael Valiante will be taking the seats. We're giving time to the new up-and-comers as we attempt to bring them up to Champ Cars.
Q: Roberto had an excellent year in 2001. This year the results, the ones I see on the Internet, were not all that remarkable. What attracted you to Roberto out of all the drivers in those series?
Derrick Walker: Obviously, I talked to a number of people who had good experience, had seen him race, could evaluate what potential we had there. I think part of the secret of getting involved with young drivers is actually finding them before anybody else does. If you wait too long, you will find there's 10 other guys jumping all over him. Certainly there was a lot of competition with Roberto this weekend, I can tell you. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to protect our position here.
But that's really it. We researched his background, talked to some people that said they had a lot of confidence in his ability. As a team, that's what we need. We need to have some basis to start building a really competitive package. A key ingredient is the driver. We're looking towards the future - as is CART. When you look at the region, you look where the interest is, the kind of events that we're having, this Mexico event is a classic CART event if there ever is one. The experience that we're getting out of what we're seeing here in Mexico is something we need to reproduce as many times as we can, because that's the secret of our success.
When you look at that interest there, you look at the talent that's going to come out of Mexico because of our interest in this region, it's going to be the place to be looking in the future. Hopefully we're ahead of the curve here with Roberto, with the new breed that's coming out of Mexico, to come into CART.
Adam Saal: A couple years ago a young driver named Cristiano da Matta showed up to run in 1997 in Indy Lights after a pretty dismal-looking, on-paper season in Formula 3000, he lit it up right away, jumped up to Champ Cars. We know where he's going. Cristiano will be a guest on David Letterman Tuesday night. As Derrick said, you never know when you're going to find the next Michael Schumacher or Rick Mears.
Final question, please.
Q: Mr. Pook, my English is not too good, but Brazil has a lot of pilots. In this case, Roberto is the fourth (Mexican) pilot in the car. How long do you think Mexico will have a chance to get a championship?
Chris Pook: I think Mexico has a very good chance of getting a CART championship. You have some excellent pilots in the series this year, and next year you're obviously going to have a fourth driver.
I think what's very good down here is the effort that companies, Mexican companies, such as Telmex, Tecate, are putting into the development of young drivers, particularly Carlos Slim [of Telmex], who is passionately supporting the development of Mexican drivers. I have to say to you, if you keep pumping out this young talent, you're going to win a championship here.
I would suggest to you very respectfully that if you have a Mexican pilot that wins the championship here, his next step will be to get a Mexican driver back to Formula 1. You'll have a Mexican driver very shortly in Formula 1. Clearly that's the goal that Roberto has here. He obviously wants to win a championship with us, and he would like to emulate Cristiano da Matta, Juan Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve in going forward. I don't know that for a fact, but I have to assume that.
Roberto Gonzalez: That's right.
Derrick Walker: Subject to his contract, that is (laughter).
Adam Saal: Congratulations, gentlemen. Great luck in the race today, Derrick. Roberto, good luck next year.
Walker Racing press conference, part I