CHAMPCAR/CART: Russo, da Matta teleconfernce, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q</I>: Carl, was this decision maybe sped along by the fact that it has become obvious with Paul Tracy's faltering here with Forsythe, that now Justin and the RuSPORT team has become the lead attack unit to try to...

Continued from part 1

Q</I>: Carl, was this decision maybe sped along by the fact that it has become obvious with Paul Tracy's faltering here with Forsythe, that now Justin and the RuSPORT team has become the lead attack unit to try to stop that hamburger car?

CARL RUSSO: Well, we don't refer to it as 'the hamburger car'. We have other invectives that we use. Look, at the end of the day, let's put a frame around this. Sebastien is driving extraordinarily well. As we have said, Newman/Haas is the standard bearer for the series. That's not to discount Forsythe, Mi-Jack, HVM, PKV, Team Australia. All the other teams in the paddock, every team is trying to get to the front.

Having said that, it's very clear that Sebastien has come back over the winter, he got married, and he's making it clear that he's not giving it up. What does that require us to do? I mean, believe me, down to every person that's a member of RuSPORT, we are working night oil to go figure out a way to get in front of them and compete in this championship. Justin sits second. We believe that Cristiano, with his background, his talent, anybody that knows Cristiano knows that he's a fair and upfront competitor, competes in everything he does, we think that's going to help continuous technically forward to do that. Somebody's got to do it, so I'm getting tired of it, how about you?

Q</I>: Cristiano, what do you think you and Justin have to do to stop that #1 car? They already talked to this guy about running the table. What do you think you and Wilson are going to have to do in your position to try and stop Sebastien?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, I think what we have over there, Sebastien and Newman/Haas, they just have probably a little bit more continuity. They're older in the business than what we are right now. I think we have to do what I've seen so far from RuSPORT, which is I haven't had much time, but from what I've seen so far, what I can see from the outside, I think it's just a matter of we don't have to do anything, we just have to keep working the way we are working right now. I think the results will come. It's just a matter of a little bit of time.

I think it's more than fair to say that the gap has closed quite a bit from last year to this year. We'll try to keep on closing this gap more and more. We are aware of that in many types of racetracks, we are actually a little bit better than Newman/Haas are probably. I've seen Justin driving some really good races, mostly on the road courses. Looks like we are in very, very similar levels at Newman/Haas. Some of them we just need a little bit more consistency. That comes with time. We just have to keep on working. It's nothing different than what we're doing here. We just have to keep doing the same and be a little bit patient, of course, but it will come.

Q</I>: Carl, you've been asked this a couple times. I guess I want to ask it again. AJ hasn't won. Did that have any bearing at all on you maybe looking into the horizon and saying that maybe I need him to win sooner than I think he's going to win?

CARL RUSSO: Zero. Not a bit.

Q</I>: It was all a growth issue, where he stood in his driving career and his personal development?

CARL RUSSO: Yeah, it's just like anything else in life and business. If you start managing to results in a business, truthfully I think you're following a fool's folly. What you're trying to manage to are causes, not results. That's all about personal growth, the team growth. You know, to Cristiano's point, we say the same thing. Our goal this year is to put both gentlemen in a position where they can qualify up front and be in a position to compete for the win. If we do that, we're going to get wins. You don't go home and stomp your feet if you don't win. You go home and say, Okay, what happened? Let's postmortem this, figure out what we can improve and go forward. It's not just that way in the team.

Q</I>: You have two drivers now with Formula One experience. Does that indicate where you'd like to build your team maybe with a kind of Formula One attitude maybe, maybe even a Formula One growth pattern out in the horizon somewhere?

CARL RUSSO: Actually, we'd rather go for a professional wrestling sort of approach. For those of you who remember Woody Hayes going off the end zone and tackling, I'm going to go off the end zone and tackle Sebastien if this stuff keeps up.

No, I mean, all kidding aside, clearly we believe that Champ Car is amongst the most technical forms of motorsport in the world. What makes it more challenging is you can't go hire a rocket scientist car designer. You're all starting with the same material. It comes down to these very subtle things you're trying to sort through. Very clearly we are rooted in being a technically oriented team. Having said that, we're not trying to emulate a Formula One team, per se. We're trying to build our own team.

Q</I>: How much time you think is necessary to be accustomed with the new RuSPORT team?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: That's a difficult question. You know, changing teams, it's something that you can either quickly right away or sometimes it takes a little bit. But the way I think I see everybody working here, how hard everybody's pushing, I'm obviously going to be pushing very hard myself to get used to everything as quick as I can. I don't think it's going to take too long, you know. I even have a feeling that it's going to happen probably sooner than everybody expects.

CARL RUSSO: Next Friday afternoon (laughter).

Q</I>: Can you predict the results of next race in Portland where you already won?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Last two times I was there, I won. It's a pretty good place to start with a new team. I have very good memories from Portland. I know quite a bit about the track. Obviously, starting from everything from not mid-season, but from not having tested in the off-season, it's a little bit more difficult. I'm going to have a little bit more homework to do throughout this week. During Portland, probably I'm going to have a little bit more work to do than the other guys.

I couldn't choose a better place to start for me. It's a track I really like. The team -- RuSPORT had a dominant performance there. Although I won the race, the team was running very good. Justin looked unbeatable in the race. I think everything's clicking for us to have a very good start.

Q</I>: I hear you invited the whole press, Carl, to consume a dozen bottles of champagne?

CARL RUSSO: You know, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet.

All kidding aside, to make sure I set all expectations, Cristiano -- I don't think the record and reputation needs to be discussed. We're going to go about doing what we do. We're going to go about being our own culture and processes. I would encourage Cristiano to go about working into the team at the rate he's comfortable, not overpush or under (indiscernible). I know if he does that, the speed will come and he'll be fine. Whatever rate he gets there, I'm certainly comfortable going forward.

Q</I>: Carl, the team has gone forward. It's now clearly the No. 2 team in the Champ Car paddock. I want to get away from the track for a second. On the side of the car, sponsorship is an important factor in keeping these teams together. How is the future of sponsorship with the team now and going into the future with a possible merger of the IRL and Champ Car?

CARL RUSSO: Well, I can't speak to the latter. But I will tell you in the former, we started the team based on the following belief: don't try and sell a product until you have a product to sell. We focused on the performance of the team and tried to build it accordingly. We will continue to do that today and invest in the team to go build the very best product that we can market.

Having said that, we do find doors open to us today in a way unlike they were closed some two years ago. As you know, CDW is a major partner of the team. That relationship continues to grow and bear fruit both on and off the racetrack. We continue to find, frankly, great - how shall I say this - great interest in what's going on in Champ Car and what we're doing.

The merger discussions are whatever they are. They're somewhat distracting at times because just focused on the Champ Car business model, we find people are quite willing to engage and go forward. That's the best way I can answer your question.

Q</I>: Two years ago you came into Toronto, there was a Canadian involvement in the sense that you had the money people.

CARL RUSSO: Western Union. Still a good partner of the team. Thank you for bringing that up.

Q</I>: There's been some question about Canadian corporate support for Champ Car. Do you see opportunities in Canada for you as a businessman as well as a race team owner?

CARL RUSSO: Sure. I mean, you know, in my day job, Calix, we continue to find great opportunities in Canada as we've moved to market there. With RuSPORT, the same thing.

The whole notion of Mexican support or Canadian support or American support, to me it comes down to a very simple thing. Champ Car addresses basically the NAFTA marketplace for a set of very technically astute, high-tech oriented race fans. That's an audience that a whole set of folks would like to get at, whether they're based in Canada, the US, Mexico, frankly whether they're European or Asian. It's up to us to go market it. That's the best way I look at it. You go out and market it. I like to think we are as competitive off the racetrack as we're trying to be on the racetrack

Q</I>: I may be asking a question I should know the answer to. Was there ever a thought given to a third car to make room for both AJ and Cristiano?

CARL RUSSO: That's a great question. As a matter of fact, we have each year looked at the notion of third and fourth cars just to test our own assumptions. Each time we do it, we come back to we feel most comfortable in a two-car symmetrical team with the two very best drivers and crews and equipment that we can to go after it. We had looked at it in the past. We did not look at it in the middle of the season. We've been through the add a car thing on a late notice, and it's not a pretty thing. We'll not be doing that again.

Q</I>: Is it possible that Cristiano could have brought some sponsorship to the team, and that made it easier to select him to replace AJ?

CARL RUSSO: So the answer is, it's possible, but I will tell you the ethic that is RuSPORT, the drivers -- we really don't look to the drivers to do that. We prefer that they don't. We would prefer our drivers to be focused on competing and getting to the front. The team has its own marketing organization that takes care of that. In this case, no. Cristiano, are there any 10 or 15 million dollar sponsors you didn't tell me about?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Not that I know.

CARL RUSSO: Apparently not. It's not an issue here.

Q</I>: I was wondering if in this process, which looks to benefit all parties concerned, if there was an actual contract buyout from Dale Coyne?

CARL RUSSO: I'll be up front with you and say there is not a contract buyout in the way you are phrasing it.

Q</I>: That leaves open the possibility of some remuneration for taking his driver away. Was that part of the program?

CARL RUSSO: So the answer is, no comment. Let me answer it as best I can. Let me put it to you this way: I appreciate what Dale has done with Cristiano. Dale and I are chatting about a whole set of things as we go forward.

Q</I>: Carl, this contract that you did with Cristiano, is that just for the rest of this year or a possible multi-year contract?

CARL RUSSO: The answer is, Cristiano is here through the end of the year. We will look at follow-on years as appropriate.

Q</I>: Cristiano, when you got the phone call, how long did it take you to say yes?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: It was funny, because first I only got a message on my phone because I was out. I was even wondering, Man, what does Carl Russo want with me? I thought of everything. Seriously, I never thought it was going to be something for Portland, you know. I thought maybe something for next year, it would be great. When he told me Portland, it was very exciting. Obviously, didn't take too long for me to say yes. I mean, it's the opportunity I was looking for basically. It's like if I had a plan at the beginning of this year when I was almost out of a ride, all of a sudden last-minute deal with Dale, my plan was obviously to come back to a top team one day, charge for race wins and the championship hopefully again. I mean, my plan, without I know much about it, it just happened a lot quicker than I expected. It was great. I mean, I can't believe how fortunate I am to get an offer like that right at this point in the season.

ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to today's Champ Car media teleconference. Again, congratulations to Carl Russo, the entire RuSPORT team, and Cristiano da Matta. We'll see you on track at Portland International Raceway from the 16th through the 18th of June. Thank you for participating in today's call.

CARL RUSSO: Appreciate it.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Thank you.

-ccws

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Tracy , Carl Russo , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta