T.E. McHALE: Welcome to the CART media teleconference, and thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. Our guest today is driver Gil de Ferran Marlboro Team Penske, who joins us following his historic performance...
T.E. McHALE: Welcome to the CART media teleconference, and thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. Our guest today is driver Gil de Ferran Marlboro Team Penske, who joins us following his historic performance at Nazareth Speedway Saturday, when he provided Penske Racing with the 100th race victory in it's illustrious history. Good afternoon, Gil, and thank you for being with us today. GIL de FERRAN: Good afternoon. T.E. McHALE: Gil, driver of the No. 2 Marlboro Honda Reynard, claimed his fourth career FedEx Championship Series victory at Nazareth Saturday, finishing 8.15 seconds ahead of runner up Mauricio Gugelmin he led the final 68 laps en route to his first ever victory on an oval, which moved him into third place in the Championship. The victory was also Penske's 88th in CART competition, dating to 1979, and its 59th champ car win on an oval. Heading into this weekend's sixth round of the FedEx Championship Series, the Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile, Gil has scored championship points in four of five starts, including finishes of 6th at Homestead, 7th at Long Beach and 9th at Motegi, Japan. He also owns two pole positions this season at Homestead and Long Beach, and ranks second to Juan Montoya in laps led to date with 139. Gil's 68 laps led at Nazareth Saturday moved him past Teo Fabi and into 15th place on the CART career-laps-led list with 808. Heading into Sunday's Miller Lite 225, Gil stands third in the FedEx Championship Series driver's standing with 42 points. The Miller Lite 225, round 6 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ABC this Sunday June 4th, beginning at 4:00 PM Eastern time.
Q. It sounds like things are working out according to plan when you joined your new team. Can you just talk about that? GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, it's a wonderful transition, really. Everything is working out quite well. I mean, obviously when you join a new team and everything is about the -- about the package is new, it really takes a little while for you to climatize to the new engineers, to the new -- for me in particular, to the new tires, and, you know, learn a little bit the ropes about how to -- to extract the maximum out of the team. But, you know, that process is really been ongoing ever since November -- November last year. And, you know, every time that we -- that we test it throughout the winter, we got a little better, little by little. We started the season already well, but, you know, with -- as each race passes, we again -- we seem to perform a little bit better, you know, and we seem to slowly be ironing out our short-comings. I think things obviously are already going pretty well, but I still think there is more to come. You know, there is -- hopefully we'll continue to improve as the year goes on since this is our first year together.
Q. How was the fuel strategy later in the race? GIL de FERRAN: Listen, we were not out of sync, shall I say. We were all together in the same fuel strategy. You know, when we had to do about 100 laps on a fuel tank which was extremely tight, which is we got out of the pits; we obviously needed one yellow. So as soon as we got that first one, we were okay to go to the end. I mean, still, we had to save fuel, but we would have been okay to go to the end. But then we had that -- another one or two, and that really kind of made it easy to get -- to get to the end there. So it was no problem.
Q. Are you going to have similar setups for this week? GIL de FERRAN: We obviously are going to start with a similar car to what we ended up with in Nazareth. And obviously the car proved to be very competitive in the race, and we're going to, you know, probably put a variation of that setup to start with.
Q. Gil, you said your car was perfect at Nazareth. Can you tell us a bit about revisions Team Penske has made to the Reynard and what, in your opinion, those revisions have accomplished? GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think, you know, they did a great job on the car, you know. Basically, ever since we got the cars -- or even before we got the cars in November, you know, Team Penske has been -- especially Penske cars in the U.K. has been working very carefully under development of the car. And not only in performance-enhancing development, but on reliability-enhancing development as well. And I think actually this morning I wrote a note to the guys at Penske cars and said, "Look, a lot of the credit for this win really has to go to you guys, as well," because I think they have enhanced the performance of our car as well as the reliability. So I do believe that the Penske Reynard is a better car than the original Reynard.
Q. You seemed in the post-race interview to be extremely emotional about this win, and as I watched it, I thought about -- I thought back to when you had your first win and it seemed like this one was more emotional, at least at that moment than the first one. GIL de FERRAN: I guess it's kind of hard to sort of measure, but, you know, certainly, a very emotional moment for me. I mean, there's no doubt about it. And, you know, it's difficult to put everything in perspective once you -- as soon as you get out of the car, because you're almost like in a different mode, you know. You're kind of that work mode and you're all business when you sit there in the car and really trying hard not to let the emotions run too high, because it can have a tendency to ruin one's performance. But as soon as you get out of the car, slowly things start to sink in, and as every minute passes, you know, I became move overwhelmed with the whole thing. I guess it's the old saying, "the higher the challenge, the bigger the reward," and maybe I was feeling a little bit of that.
Q. I remember at the beginning of the year, you and I talking about the going to work for Roger Penske, and we even then talked about the possibility of that 100th victory. What did Roger say to you? GIL de FERRAN: When? You mean right after I got out of the car?
Q. Yeah. GIL de FERRAN: I mean, he had a -- kind of both speechless, I suppose. You know, we kind of looked at each other's eyes and, you know, I guess there was not much that needed to be said. He's a great guy. I tell you, I really like the guy. He's -- to me, I mean, he's directly and primarily responsible for -- for the success.
Q. It seemed in Nazareth that a lot of drivers were having trouble compensating for the track or something similar. Did you find any conditions on the track making a little harder to drive? GIL de FERRAN: Well, you know, Nazareth, that's always been extremely difficult racetrack to get it right. In fact, you know, that's part of the reason why I was so happy about the whole -- the whole win and was -- probably winning on one of the tracks which I consider most difficult. It's a source of great pride for me. So, I mean, it was -- you know, it's renowned for being a difficult track; that you can drive consistently fast and be good in traffic, as well, because, I mean, Nazareth, you don't race by yourself; you're always racing traffic. And I guess, you know, both traffic and having a consistent car, people probably had it in -- had difficulties to varying degrees. All I can say is that my car was extremely good both in traffic and very, very consistent, probably one of the best oval cars I ever had.
Q. Coming off of your victory now coming to the Milwaukee Mile, one of the legendary tracks on the circuit and its hard mile oval, how do go about shaping up this weekend? And with the way the point standings is looking right now, Paul has got that lead and now you're getting in there and with Juan coming off of that big win at Indy over the weekend, how do you see this weekend's race shaping up? And do you think Paul is the guy to be right now or is it still Juan or is it still up for grabs early in the season? GIL de FERRAN: Well, as far as we are concerned, obviously, all of the signs are going into Milwaukee are positive. I myself have not tested there, but Helio, my teammate had a good test. I think we have a decent setup and if you put that together with our performance in Nazareth, you know, you have to say that we probably will start with a half-decent car over there. I think that bodes very well for the Milwaukee weekend. As far as the Championship is concerned, to be quite honest with you, it's so early in the season that all I do at this time of the year is not even look too much at the points table. It's just tackle one race at a time. You know, we've got to get to the end, and get to the end amongst the first three or four if possible. And if we do that, most weekends, most race weekends -- then most likely we'll be fighting for the championship in the last three or four races. So I really just start to pay attention to the points table like when it's about, you know, like four or five races to go, and see what happens. So I would say at this point, you know, everybody is my enemy, you know what I mean. It's hard to kind of point one guy out or another. So we've just got to look at each race as they come and try to do the best we can.
Q. When you come back to Wisconsin in August, then it might be a little bit more of a factor? GIL de FERRAN: It's not that -- it's not that important. Each race is very important at this time of the year, but I'm not focusing my energies against anybody in particular, do you see what I mean. I'm not racing against one or another driver, you know. I mean, at this time of the year, you race against everyone, and then later on in the season as the points table -- it goes through a variety of transformations, but as we come to a close of the championship, you then have to start to focus on another driver. And, you say, well, okay, I've got to finish in front of him, and him, you see what I mean. But it's far too early to be doing that right now.
Q. Did you watch the Indy 500 on sun any? GIL de FERRAN: I did indeed. Part of it, anyway.
Q. What did you think of Juan? GIL de FERRAN: Extremely good performance by Juan, and his team, actually. I mean, they, in my mind they did a wonderful job. I mean, one cannot forget that that's his first race in that sort of equipment, and, you know, not only Juan's job on race weekend, but his team's job on getting acquainted and familiar with those technical rules is -- was really very, very commendable.
Q. Can you try to explain it me what it's like trying to go into a new setup, new equipment like that? GIL de FERRAN: I guess that's why I'm raising the point, because I know it's not easy. Obviously, Juan's performance on Sunday was fantastic, but one cannot lose perspective that, you know, being the team's -- his team's first race on that equipment is -- it was really -- the whole thing was quite impressive.
Q. Do you think it makes a point, CART versus IRL? GIL de FERRAN: I mean, it's hard to say. I mean, in my mind, neither the Ganassi team or Juan needed to make any point, even before the race. I mean, they are from my point of view, they have always been first class that's why I've always enjoyed racing against them so much. They are probably one of the best -- Juan represents probably one of the best driver's in the world, and the Team Ganassi is probably one of the best race teams in the world. So, I mean, that's -- that's what to me makes the whole thing really enjoyable is racing against them, it's really quite fantastic because when you do finish in front of them, it's -- it makes it all that more significant.
Q. Did the win on Saturday mark a lot of milestones for you? GIL de FERRAN: Indeed.
Q. The fact that it is your first oval win, you must be really excited about the rest of the season? GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, very much so. In fact, right after the race somebody asked me on an interview, "So, that's the least difficult challenge you have ahead." I said, "well," it's just -- I really considered Nazareth one of the most challenging tracks for me, and, you know throughout the years, I've really worked very hard to become a half-decent oval driver. And really, you know, one of the challenges that I felt I had in front of me was to win one of those ovals, and to win Nazareth, in what it is probably one of the most oval of the ovals, you know what I mean, it's a source of great pride for me.
Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the way you found this team? After all the tough luck that Penske had had the last two years, did you find a team that was lacking some confidence and do you feel like this Nazareth victory is something that can really get everything going? GIL de FERRAN: Well, you know, I mean to be honest what I found is a team of great talent, you know, that maybe needed a little bit of a catalyst. And, you know, right from the start, I was very, very impressed by the team's commitment, generally speaking, which I suppose is a direct reflection of Roger's personality himself. I mean, nothing is too much, and no time is too awkward, if you see what I mean, to get something done. And that -- you know, I felt that that was there from the start, and obviously, the other thing I felt was because they are going through such hard times, you know, everybody somehow, you know, as a group and individually, I think somehow everybody managed to, you know, put everything behind him. And they were all -- with the major and very single-minded focus towards succeeding in the future. So I think if you put everything together, you know, all the new equipment and a couple of, you know, a few additions in the personnel board and everything else that Roger put together, it's obviously becoming quite effective.
Q. What are your impressions of the comparison or contrast between the Honda and the Toyota engine? GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't know, I mean, I really have not -- have not had an opportunity to race wheel-to-wheel very much with either Juan or Jimmy very much this year. I mean, we've been close, but not really fighting with wheel-to-wheel just yet. It's hard for me to judge at that point before, but obviously looking from their results so far, you have to say that there is definitely a major improvement over the performance of last year. But as far as Honda is concerned, I think they are going doing a great job. The engine is proving to be quite reliable, as -- I guess that's not so unusual, it has a very good fuel economy, and I know they are working extremely hard right now. So I think, you know, if I look now towards -- towards the end of the year, I still think the Honda is the engine to have.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you really had never driven at the Milwaukee Mile, how do you go about preparing yourself for this race this weekend? Do you have to rely a lot on Roger on his past experiences in Milwaukee and is it a little bit more grueling to get ready for this race because you've never driven there? GIL de FERRAN: It's not that I've never driven there. I've raced there many years; five times, to be more exact. It's just that we have not together tested this particular year, so we -- I have not had a chance to fine-tune our machine, this year's tires, this year's car, to the Milwaukee Mile. I mean, I know the track very well. Our engineers at Marlboro Team Penske know the track very well. And we should start with a decent setup, since the Nazareth setup and the adjustments we made in the car in Nazareth should translate fairly well to what we're going to use in Milwaukee. And when we get there on Friday and start running, you know, we'll see how it goes.
Q. What do you see as the greatest challenges that the track offers any driver? GIL de FERRAN: I don't know, it seems that that those tracks, the simpler that they look, the more difficult they are. It's a very, very tricky racetrack, a little bit like Nazareth. It's very difficult to have a car that is consistent throughout a full-tank run, and it usually full-tank run. Sometimes you get guys that can go fast and qualify, but come the race, they really have a major drop in performance. T.E. McHALE: Thank you. At this point we will wrap it up for the day. We will let Gil head up to Redding where he's planning on a celebration with his fellows there from Marlboro Team Penske. Again, congratulations on the historic moment Saturday. Thanks for being with us today. Best of luck in the Miller Lite 225 coming up this weekend and in the rest of the Championship Series season. GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much and thanks to everybody for being on the call. T.E. McHALE: And again, let me echo that. Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us this afternoon. Have a good week and we'll talk to you next week.