CHAMPCAR/CART: Roberto Moreno interview

June 27, 2000 CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, INC. AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTO MORENO T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing. He...

June 27, 2000



T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing. He took the FedEx Championship series points lead for the first time in his seven-year career by finishing second in Sunday's Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 presented by Texaco at Portland International Raceway. Good afternoon, Roberto. Congratulations, and thanks for being with us today. ROBERTO MORENO: Good afternoon. You make me sound old, seven years. T.E. McHALE: No offense intended, I assure you. Thanks for being here. ROBERTO MORENO: Thank you. T.E. McHALE: Driver of the No. 20 Visteon Ford/Reynard is in his first year with Patrick Racing and has his first full-time ride in the FedEx Championship series since 1996 when he drove for Payton/Coyne Racing. Despite being without a victory this season, he has built his championship lead on a consistent performance, which has seen him score points in six of eight events, including podium finishes of second at Homestead and third at Japan, in addition to Sunday's second-place performance. Roberto has registered three of his five career podiums during the current season, and his runner-up efforts at Homestead and Portland matched a career best established at Laguna Seca last year. Roberto has led at least one lap of competition in four events this season, and is the only FedEx Championship driver to have led at least one lap in all three road or street course events to date. Heading into Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix presented by Firstar. He holds a 68-67 championship points lead over Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske. The Marconi Grand Prix presented by Firstar, round nine of the FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast live by ABC-TV this Sunday July 2, beginning at 1:00 PM Eastern time.

Q. I just wanted to ask you, since you didn't have a full-time ride since 1996 and you've been substituting here for the last couple of years, were you almost resigned to the fact that you were going to be -- continue to be a substitute at your age; that you may not ever catch on to a full-time ride on CART? ROBERTO MORENO: No. Because if I did that, I would have completely stopped racing. I never intended to be a substitute. It just happen, you know, you're available, people need you, you go there. But that was -- I never set myself in a position of being substitute driver. Always been trying to get a full-time ride the following year, and I kept in touch with all the team owners and all the engineers that know me from the past and people that I've built relationships with.

Q. If I can just follow up on that quickly, how did you get hooked up with the Patrick Racing? What were some of the circumstances involved there this year? ROBERTO MORENO: I think Jim McGee basically wanted me in the team. He talked to me last year and we started our negotiations then. That's basically how it all came about, Jim McGee and John Ward, they both wanted me on the team and they talked to Patrick about it.

Q. Roberto, can you talk a little bit about what motivated you, what kept your drive going even -- to keep you prepared to get a full-time drive? And can you also talk -- I understand when you were in Formula 3000, you had a contract offer with Ferrari, can you talk about how different your life would have been, maybe if that had actually come to fruition, what that was all about? ROBERTO MORENO: Yeah, you bring some memories back. Basically, I never thought about stopping, ever. It's still -- I guess it's a lot for the sport and it's what I do best; so you just tend to -- wanting to do more and more. Somehow, throughout my life, I always find something positive to do on that season, whatever it is. I get satisfaction of driving racing cars, and also in developing them. So two times, I had to be a test driver to actually earn money to go and race. And this has been the story my life, always trying to raise money to go racing. And, you see, basically -- and this is one of the things that my career went all wrong was because on the key years that you need to go into Formula 3 with one of the best teams so you can show the performance so everybody can see -- like, say, in Formula 1, which was the case in Europe, so you can make the steps towards that. I never had a sponsorship. So I had to sort of become a test driver as early as my third year in my career, to earn money just to be in Europe, to be able to chase a drive or something. In 1988 we were going with a very, very low-budget team, like I had to negotiate the car, which I -- to pay at the end of the year, which I had no money to pay, and I found a team that could afford three races with me in the championship, if I bought them a free car. So I had to negotiate a free car in '88. And then in the negotiation was I won the championship , I didn't have to pay for the car. But if I had won, I would pay for the car at the end of the year. And then I got some friend of mine to sort of guarantee the money for the car, and I found this team that could do three races only with me. So in the third race we won, and we made $5,000. That was a racing poll in France. And with that $5,000, we went to the second -- to the fourth race, which was in Silverstone, England. Then we won that one, and we won -- we earned enough money to go to the next round in Moda, Italy. We won that race, actually got a hat trick record of winning Formula 3000 races, and I still remember this guy very well. Extremely well-dressed, well-spoken, comes to me, gives me a little card and says, well, we'd like to talk to you about a couple things. My boss asked me to come here and give you this card. And the emotions, I had just won the race, I just grabbed the card, put it in my pocket and continued the celebration. Went on with my mechanics and everything, and didn't even take any notice of that. Anyway, two days later, I got home my wife said, "Well, do you need this card here in your suit before I wash it?" I said, "Well, what's that?" And I looked. It was a card from Marco Piccanini, who was the right-hand man from Ferrari. And cutting a long story short, I went to see him in Monte Carlo, and he offered me a three-year contract with Ferrari. And the way it worked was they wanted somebody to develop that first semi-automatic gear box, and somebody that could spend enough time away from the Formula 1 racetracks. And they thought I was the best guy to do that. I say, look, I will do anything that you guys want, as long as you can find me sponsorship to finish my 3,000 season. So we did the deal on that -- (inaudible) -- and I finished the year on that deal. The second year on that contract, they arranged sort of a junior team, who was going to be sort of supported by them and the third year of the contract and that would be my first full season in Formula 1 and the third year in the contract would be a full-time ride with Ferrari. We got to the first year and I won the championship, went back to the Reynard factory, gave the car back and said thank you very much; and did all the development from the day the gear box never worked to the day it won the first race in Brazil. So they indeed put me with Corone (phonetic) and started to help the team to grow, which was a new Formula 1 team, but halfway in that season, Mr. Enzo Ferrari died, and part of the agreement that he had was that it would take over the running of the team. From that day on, all the old contracts was put on the side and old management came on and my contract was not followed through the next year. Even the team I was racing for started to run out of money toward the end of the year. So it was a great opportunity for me, because it gave me the opportunity to finish my 3,000 season, and put me back on the Formula 1 scenery, but always through the back door, and the front door never opened to me on that contract. Well, I guess they would have eventually found me again, but it was just the emotions of the celebration at the time; I didn't take much notice of it.

Q. Can you just sort of outline for us what it must feel like after all this time to look at the standings and say, hey, I'm number one driver right now in CART? How does that feel? Can you talk about that for a moment? ROBERTO MORENO: It's a reward, really. We put a lot of hard work and we knocked on the door a couple of times this year, like Long Beach, winning a race, and then Nazareth, coming in second or maybe even winning, because it looked like there was not another yellow, maybe Gil would have to make a pit stop, from what I understand. And you know, the team we've been chasing and knocking on the door on that, and that was going way from us, and eventually achieve that. It's just, I don't know, it's true, because we worked very, very hard, and I never expected myself to be on the podium a couple of times before the sixth or seventh race. I say that because I'm fighting drivers that -- full-time drivers for two or three years down there, and some drivers maybe have a year behind, but they have -- they have been with good team testing and all that. So I've been out of the picture for so long, doing bits and pieces for ten years. Consistency is something very important for a race car driver. I still remember in the fourth race, when I came home, I felt a little bit unsure until I actually got to the fifth race, that I was actually driving again for the same team, in the back of my mind. So it's things that takes time to work over, and I now feel very, very good about it, because I did develop a great relationship with the team. So I feel now we can -- we can fight on equal terms, but up to now, I've been having a handicap against the other drivers we're fighting for the championship.

Q. Why is that? ROBERTO MORENO: Because they -- just because what I just said. They attack with the latest -- they have been testing, they have been racing last year, and I've been doing bits and pieces; so it's a handicap. And I'm starting to see -- overcoming that now.

Q. Regarding the season opener, you started out with a second-place finish there at Homestead, and was that a big deal for you, knowing that you are a full-time driver now and you went out there and proved that you could do it? You got a runner-up finish, I imagine that was pretty satisfying for you and almost comforting. ROBERTO MORENO: Oh, for sure. Although, the first race was a bit of a lucky race, a lot of people fell off and we -- it paid off to be consistent on that race. It was a great feeling for me. I never -- never thought I could achieve that so early in the season. But the team, they are so well organized and they so experienced, they were able to put me into the pace of the leaders very, very quickly. I remember we started the race with a car that was pushing a lot and I could hardly keep up with the leaders in the beginning, and then after the first pit stop, we already made a good change in the car, it was much better; or after the second pit stop the car was fantastic and we were able to go to the front. It was a tremendous experience for me. It's something they'll never forget. And to be on the podium with Papis -- I remember Papis back in 1993, I was driving touring cars and I was dying to drive a Formula car. I would do anything to drive a Formula car that day -- in that season. And Papis was testing -- and I had just raced in France, and the next day he was going to go test his Formula 3000 car. And he invited me to test his car, just to give me the pleasure to run a Formula car. So it was a great experience to be in the podium with Papis then.

Q. You had such a great ride during the past few years as a substitute, why do you think it was so difficult or why do you think it took you so long to receive a full-time ride; it took you until 2000 to do that? ROBERTO MORENO: I know the answer -- exactly the answer to that one. What I can say is I always been -- whether it was in Europe or whether it was here in the U.S., always had to work hard to get to the top teams. Europe, I had -- I missed -- I think the key was early in my career when people make an impression, that stays for long, long time. And to everybody's mind that everybody meaning team owners and team managers who they look at a young driver coming up: That guy did well in Formula 4, he did well in Formula 3, he did well in 3,000; and you do that in one year after the other, you stick in their mind and they give opportunities to you.

Since my first -- my second year in racing, which was 1980, which I dominated Formula Ford in England and in Europe, the next step which was the important step, Formula 3, I had no money to do it, I had no sponsorship. I could not do anything. And then somebody took me as a test driver, so I had to be a test driver to earn money to stick around Europe and try to race. So I did, indeed, find a team to race for, but a team that needed a driver halfway in the season; it wasn't one of the top teams, so I had to work myself through, and you don't impress the people that matter in the future. And it took me twice as long to make the same process to Formula 1 than any of the guys that were successful in racing. And I believe that's part of it. And when I came to the U.S. in '96 again, that went by ten years since I raced here in CART, '86; people thought I was probably too old for the job. People had not heard about me. You know, between '90 and '96, I had not done much successfully. My best performance was in '88 when I won the 3,000 Championship. I think coming here in '96, ten years later and people just didn't believe I could still do the job; so I made myself, I had a sponsor this time (inaudible) -- just to get back into the -- into CART again. That didn't help me. I thought it would help, because people would see me around -- would see me putting effort to learn the racetracks, to learn the latest about CART, and maybe I could get a break and it never happened. So to answer the question correct, I don't know. But I can only blame on those things, really. Not being able to do -- to be on the right team, early on in my career, to impress enough, to have the front doors of the top teams open for me, always had to find the back door through smaller teams, and try to make this step to the top teams, or sometimes even helping a team to grow, like was the case in 3,000. That's the best I can answer that one.

Q. If you had not been blocked, would you have had enough to pass Gil for the win? ROBERTO MORENO: I would sure try. You see, I made a strategic race in the way of trying to save fuel, but still trying to keep touch with the leaders, and I was able to make two pit stops only just by driving a little different. But unfortunately on a pit stop, I had a bit of a problem with a fuel valve, and even then, we were right behind Gil towards the end. It looked like we had a little bit more than he had at the end, but I will never know, I guess. But I was certainly going to try. And one thing is for sure: He did not -- he stopped a good battle to happen at the end of the race, between me and Gil. That's for sure. Whether I would pass him or not, only God knows.

Q. You came from a road racing background, yet you seem to do well on both ovals and road courses. Do you have a favorite type of circuit that you like, now that you've run the ovals? Do you prefer them or do you still prefer the road courses? ROBERTO MORENO: For me, today, it doesn't matter anymore. Since I developed some skills through the people on Newman/Haas, they teach me how to race oval racing. Even Michael Andretti helped me a lot on that. Today the best tracks I like is Milwaukee and Elkhart Lake, the two racetracks in Wisconsin. Elkhart Lake, because it's very similar to road courses in Europe. And Milwaukee, because I find that place extremely challenging. But, you know, today, there's no preference I can -- oval is -- makes a little more tactics and car setup. But once you learn all that, it's great racing, as well.

Q. Working with so many teams, does that allow you to learn more and become a better driver? ROBERTO MORENO: No. It was actually as a super-sub, or I should say substituting other drivers, it's always a new challenge, because you say something, well, why don't we do things that way. Oh, because you know, that's such a driver like this and that. So you spend a lot of time trying to change a team to walk the way you know how to walk. And it's very, very stressful. And if you noticed, on a few occasions, we only did well toward the race day. Then, the good thing was when I substitute for Newman/Haas the second time, which was last year, I had substituted for them previous in '97, I believe. It was easier, because I under knew everybody; they already knew me. So they were able to adapt to the way I like the car to be set up and things. And every time you change, it takes time to adapt to an engineer's way of working and your way of working with him. And that takes a lot of energy. And it's not as -- like, for example, now, I make one phone call to my engineer and all I have to talk to him is about one little detail for the next race because we've already been through so many things. When you're substituting, you've got to talk about everything. And sometimes there's not enough time for it. So, I don't think it made me a better driver on that respect. But it did help me to get back into the picture again in the eyes of other team managers, team owners like Pat Patrick and Jim McGee and help me to drive. Every time you drive, it's like flying; it puts you back in the picture again. Although I always drove go-carts and kept really sharp my reflexes and things, it's not the same when you need -- when you're driving a champ car. So you need to be like everybody else, you just need to -- how can I say this -- this year, I'm in the same level at the other drivers, or I'm starting to become the same level, because I did the winter testing. I'm working with one engineer, and I'm becoming better every race I do. It was a handicap in a way, before.

Q. Did you jump higher this time than you did at Miami? ROBERTO MORENO: No, not this time. We jump when we receive the first place now.

Q. That's what we're all looking for. Cleveland you ran in '96, not really a great time. I think you finished 14th and then you ran it last year. What are you looking for in the race this year? What you need to do in order to be up there at the front in Cleveland? ROBERTO MORENO: I think that matches what my past performance was in what you just said, in Portland. I was there in '96 and last year. I go in with not a lot of expectations, but I'll be very, very careful and I'll be working very hard to win that race, for sure. But when I go in and approach a race, I hate the pressure. I hate that pressure people say, oh, you're leading the championship, you should do well here and there. All we do is we go there, we do the best we can, and if it's our day, we'll come out the winner. And that's the way we always approach racing, and it's been very successful up to this point. My team has everything it takes now to go there and be competitive, and we're going to try very, very hard. So what it will take to win that race, a different strategy, I believe. It won't be about saving fuel the way we did in Portland. But it will be about being fast, make no mistakes, make quick pit stops, be there at the last stint to fight for the lead.

Q. The first turn at Portland and Cleveland are both ones that you have to be really careful. Can you just take us a brief tour around the track, what you think about each of the turns at Cleveland? ROBERTO MORENO: The first, it's as you say, you just have to be very careful. But what can you do, you just brake at late as possible, try not to cook your tires, and if you are too defensive, the aggressive people will push you out of the way. Sometimes you need to be aggressive; so they will respect you. And it always helps starting up front. But I'll be extremely careful in the first turn. Once the tires get warm, and you get the right pressure, you've got to quick as you can -- sort of medium speed chicane, you have to be very careful with traction on the way out. And then you have a straight to the next sort of -- I would call it a quick S this time. That one, again is traction out of the second part is very important. And then you go to that double apex corner coming back to the pit straight, and had a corner, although they are two conners together, you tend to make one corner, like you apex in the first one, you go all the way to the outside between the two, you make one round corner out of those two conners and you conners and you try to have the front of the car very close to the apex on the first apex to be able to be fast on that corner. Then have sort of a long straight to the quick chicane which you can always get a little bit more out of this, and you always try, oh, you go to the chicane, you say: I could have gone a little faster here. So it is -- very, very careful, when you come off the throttle there, the back doesn't step out on you. If you have a good back, you can make it very fast. Meaning, if your car doesn't upset too much when you back off, when you back off the rear lifts up, if you can make the car stay down and have a strong back end there, it's a great corner and then you're back into the first corner again.

Q. I was standing on the podium on Sunday, and we were all just sort of waiting for you guys to finish with the TV and come up there, but two things. I notice that there's a lot of smoke coming off your engine at the end. Was there a problem starting to happen? ROBERTO MORENO: A lot of people have told me that. I haven't seen that yet. My daughter didn't tape the race for me. She tried to tape and didn't work, and I haven't seen that yet. I had no information on that whatsoever.

Q. The car was going okay, though? ROBERTO MORENO: Yeah, the car was fine. If there was some smoke, there must have been a little oil on the outside of the engine somewhere. It could not have been anything very severe.

Q. On the blocking thing, without getting into any specific details, I assume this is something that will come up in the drivers meeting at Cleveland? ROBERTO MORENO: For me, this is water under the bridge. What can you do? You've got to forgive people and hope they will perform in a different way next time.

Q. Talked to a lot of people and it's clear that your first win is going to happen real soon, and it could have happened in Portland, but, like you say, it's water under the bridge. ROBERTO MORENO: I hope you're right.

Q. My comment, really, is now in Portland, with the runner-up, your team (inaudible) what's going to happen when you actually win the race? ROBERTO MORENO: I have no idea. One thing is for sure: I'm cutting one of the mechanics hair off. He bleached his hair blond and it looks so ugly. I told him: "If I win a race, we're going to cut your hair." And he said: "You've got yourself a deal."

Q. At 40 years old, you're still pretty competitive with those young guys. How do you do that? Do you work out a lot to stay in shape? ROBERTO MORENO: I drive go-carts a lot and that keeps my reflexes up a lot. And I think the other side, too, is just the Lord made me with a very young spirit, and I'm so thankful for that, because I've always been that way. People that know me for 20 years sometimes, they come up to me and say, "you're just the same." It's just me, you know. I do a lot of cycling and swimming. And I drive a lot of go-carts, basically. And that's all I do. Well, I should say, that takes a lot of time to do all that. But I don't feel 41 years old. That's basically the bottom line.

Q. As far as driving go-carts, do you actually drive them in competitive races, or do you just go out by yourself and drive around by yourself? ROBERTO MORENO: Near where I live here, there's a place, Brazilian friend of mine opened this racetrack, and every -- because it's so warm during the day, we test in the evenings. Like today, we're actually going to go testing there. And I just take my go-cart out of my garage and go and drive down there. It's a very, very competitive racetrack, but I don't race because -- racing -- I found if you know race car drivers and you get mixed up in CART racing, everybody aims at you. They must make an overtake on you or they must push you off; it becomes very dangerous to race. Like, I went back to Brazil one winter and what happens is I start -- I did start in the race. If you win, people get upset with you because you won; or if you are beat, they will talk about it the rest of the year: "We beat him and we kicked him out." And it becomes very dangerous to be honest with you. So I tend to avoid racing, unless it's with drivers of the same level as you are and know that you can't get hurt. T.E. McHALE: Thanks a lot for being with us this afternoon. We appreciate you taking the time. We wish you the best of the luck in the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland coming up this weekend and during the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. Thanks again, Roberto. ROBERTO MORENO: Thank you. Really appreciate being part of the conference call. T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us today. Have a good week and we'll talk to you next week.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Roberto Moreno