Continued from part 2
Q: You mentioned several times about chemistry being so important. Whenever you get a group of demanding people together, it is extremely important. Where does it fit in your list of choosing one driver or another in deciding to put drivers together as a team?
CARL RUSSO: Great question. It's way up there on the list. It may arguably be one of the top three. Let me just say the following. When you get into the Champ Car paddock, all these drivers are quick, they're all talented, they're all experienced. I think there's probably three or four or five, I don't remember the number, of Formula 3000 champions in paddock, there's Toyota Atlantic champions in the paddock. There are a lot of winners in this paddock. They're all quick, they're all proven.
You start to then look at the more subtle things about technical feedback, how they fit in with the culture of the team, and to your point, that word "chemistry". It's extremely important. A lot of things can make it go wrong and it takes a lot of attention to make it go right.
So we rate it very highly and we work very hard at it. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it less than right.
Q: Do you ever bring the two together and give them a chance to interact and then observe? Have you ever dismissed someone after watching the two of them come together and interact at whatever level they interact at?
CARL RUSSO: You know, as you get to know people, you can start to observe them and see what you think might be a good fit for the team. So even before anything starts, you can go down that path.
And, by the way, the inverse to that is there's also people that you can sort of say, "They're not going to be a good fit for the team." Even though they may be great performers, they may not fit the team.
So I think you're doing that all the time. We've certainly observed -- I mean, one of the things that I observed, which was a lot of fun, unfortunately at the time it didn't end up the way we wanted to, Justin ended up finishing ahead of AJ - was the race in Portland where these two young men went at it the whole race, a number of times side by side, and I think neither gentlemen put a wheel wrong, at least not that I saw, and they had a heck of a fight. It's that kind of fighting, sporting spirit that for us is almost all important.
Q: Did Justin become a gleam in Carl Russo's eye at that point or at some point later in the season?
CARL RUSSO: Hell, no. I hated him at that point (laughter). He was in the way of what we were trying to achieve.
I don't know if it's a gleam. To your point, I think you're always observing talent and you're always looking for what are the right pieces that are going to fit our culture and allow us to get to the front. We are very, very eager to get at the top step of the podium and to compete for the championship.
You should know that 97% of the team is together and back again next year, and we're making some very small percentage changes, but we hope they'll have large effect.
Q: Carl, you've mentioned a couple times about a team personality, I forget the exact words you used, but is that personality derived from who Carl Russo is, you put your imprint on that team, and it becomes an extension of your personality?
CARL RUSSO: I think that the leadership of any business certainly sets a tone, and to the extent that I'm one of the leaders in the team, I'll certainly help set that tone, and what we believe in as a culture.
But to your question, Jeremy Dale, Steve Wulff, David Brown, AJ Allmendinger, and how Justin Wilson, along with other leaders in the team, all either believe in it or not and make it our own.
So, yes, I think leadership's important, but it's certainly broader than just one person, that being me.
Q: Carl, you talked a lot about chemistry. That is one of the characteristics of the most successful racing partnerships. I wondered what qualities in Justin, other than his speed obviously, that you thought stood out to you and said he's going to be a good fit in this team?
CARL RUSSO: There's a number. As you get to know Justin, the first thing that strikes you is there's a very quiet confidence about loving the act of driving the race car, and perhaps one of the ways that I express myself is through driving the race car.
The second thing that you notice right away is his honesty. And when I say "honesty," I don't mean to say that he's honest with me. What you sense is that he's honest with himself and how he's doing versus how the race car is doing and other things. When you're competing in a series that is so closely competitive as this series is, that honest understanding of yourself versus the car is what enables you to be able to compete at the highest levels and tune these cars.
So if I were to pick two things, those are two things right away.
The third is watching him interact with fans. Away from the race car, we believe that you make fans one at a time. And I think both AJ and Justin are superlative with the fans.
Q: Justin, now in the off-season when you get together with your friends back home over a pint, what do you say? How do you describe your North American open-wheel experience to your friends and former colleagues?
JUSTIN WILSON: I'm going to tell them exactly what I think, and that is it's a great place for a driver to be. It's fun, it's competitive. The racing's very serious. But, you know, the people don't take themselves too seriously. It's a good environment in the paddock.
I've enjoyed my season. I'm looking forward to competing in it for a number of years.
Q: Carl, can you comment in general on the direction that the series is going and how you feel about that, the moves with Mr. Kalkhoven purchasing Cosworth?
CARL RUSSO: I'd love to.
For me, Champ Car and the business model you're seeing evolve represents the future of high-tech motorsport. You know, the Cosworth engines, I think everybody looked at Cosworth, I was asked the question: Does that cement the future of Champ Car? And my answer was: Actually, no. What cements the future of Champ Car are the leaders of Champ Car.
And with Kevin and Gerry and Paul, these folks have expressed the past, they're pursuing the past, they're investing in the series. That kind of sound, solid leadership is what secures Champ Car. Cosworth is merely one piece of it.
So for me I guess the way I'd put it is simply this: before I was an owner, I was a fan. And what I want to see are people competing with people. And I think the series gives a platform where you can see great drivers competing with each other. You can see in the cars and watch them dealing with the cars and the competition. You can see the engineers that are trying to tune the cars and work on those cars. And what you don't see are 800 software engineers that are writing code to make sure when you step on the throttle, the tires don't slip.
For me, an open-wheel standpoint, I can't think of a more defining challenge for a great race car driver than an open-wheel series where I've got roughly the same equipment as everyone else, where I have to drive the car and command the car, and I have to do so over streets, road courses, airports and ovals. I think it's outstanding.
Q: Justin Wilson, when you look back at Formula 1 and see the confusion that's growing there, are you happy to be here in Champ Car?
JUSTIN WILSON: I'm very happy to be with Champ Car. I mean, Formula 1 is still great. That's what it is. But for me at the minute, my future is here. You know, I'm very pleased to be in a good environment. That's really what I like about Champ Car and about RuSPORT, it's a good environment where I can do what I want to do, which is to go out and win races.
Q: Even though your dream at the beginning of your career was to be in F1, maybe not Champ Car, you're still happy to be here and make this as a destination for your career and not as maybe a steppingstone to go back to F1?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yes, yes, definitely. I mean, as a child growing up, you see F1, especially from Europe, it's what drivers want to do. But I've followed CART and then Champ Car for a number of years. My following started back when Nigel moved across. It's always something that fascinated me: quick cars that can race. They're a bit heavier than a Formula 1 car so the braking distance is long farther. Guys can actually race. That's what I see Champ Car as all about.
It's something that I've wanted to be a part of. I mean, ultimately, you're looking at Formula 1. But the racing side I wanted to be a part of. Now I'm here, I enjoy it. This is where my future's going to be for a few years.
Q: Justin Wilson, in the quiet moments when you're with AJ and a playing video game, having a brew, when he asks you about F1, what do you tell him?
JUSTIN WILSON: Usually a comment about green grass and a fence comes to mind. You know, this is not a bad place to be, and enjoy it while we can.
Q: Do you know anything about Michel's future? He has no sponsor, no team. Are you going to call your Hispanic affairs office?
CARL RUSSO: I guess that question is for me.
I don't know anything about Michel's future. But I do have a belief. You have a proven race winner that's an outstanding individual and human being. I believe Michel is going to be in this paddock and be in a competitive situation.
As far as what we are doing in Mexico, we have yet to determine that. But our office has done an outstanding job there, and that will be reviewed over the next coming months.
ERIC MAUK: That will wrap-up our teleconference today. I appreciate everybody coming on. Justin, AJ, Carl, again, thank you for sharing this news with us in such a timely fashion. Best of luck in the 2005 season and beyond.
CARL RUSSO: Thank you.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Thank you.
JUSTIN WILSON: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you for participating.