This Week in Ford Racing July 23, 2002 CART FedEx Championship Neil Micklewright joined Player's/Forsythe in 1994 as the team's vice-president of operations and has used his 25-plus years of experience to mold the organization into one of the...
This Week in Ford Racing
July 23, 2002
CART FedEx Championship
Neil Micklewright joined Player's/Forsythe in 1994 as the team's vice-president of operations and has used his 25-plus years of experience to mold the organization into one of the top teams in CART. Coming off a 2001 season that saw his drivers combine for a race victory (Patrick Carpentier, Michigan), capture two pole positions (Alex Tagliani, Vancouver and Fontana) and finish 10th (Carpentier) and 11th (Tagliani) in the championship, expectations were understandably raised for 2002. Following Carpentier's victory in Cleveland, Micklewright reflects on the team's struggles and success thus far this season.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT - Vice President of Operations, Player's/Forsythe Racing
ARE YOU HAVING THE SEASON YOU EXPECTED? "No, not at all. I think in the off-season testing we were reasonably encouraged and in the first couple of races we were about where we thought we'd be and were getting better. Mechanically, we've been a lot more reliable in the early season than we were last year and certainly made a lot of progress and got a lot of points early on. But since then, the last few races have been pretty dismal and we're finding ourselves struggling somewhat, so we're looking for the answers and we'll keep on fighting."
WHAT'S THE ONE SPECIFIC THING THAT YOU CAN POINT TO THAT HAS CAUSED YOU TO STRUGGLE RECENTLY? "Traction control."
WHAT HAVE THE ISSUE BEEN WITH THAT? "I think the issue mainly is that the traction control, while it's been improved and it's been worked on, some enhancements were introduced which would normally be beneficial. Unfortunately, they also introduced bugs into the system that Ford and Cosworth have had to spend a fair amount of effort trying to get rid of, which detracted from the time that was spent on other areas of the engine. We also found that over the last couple of races the traction control has masked some of the deficiencies of the car to the point where we've almost started running without it to make sure we know where the car is and then try to turn it on later. And that's not the whole thing, obviously. I mean, we've got some other issues as well - some bad pit stops and other things as we go along. All in all, it's been a challenge so far, but we've still got the rest of the season to go, so we'll just keep working away."
HAS THIS BEEN A DISAPPOINTING SEASON FOR YOU? I ASSUME YOU HAD HIGHER EXPECTATIONS BASED ON WHAT THE TEAM ACCOMPLISHED IN 2001. "Yeah, I mean thus far it has been a disappointment. Based on where we were at the end of last year and the roll we felt we were on, we've made the car better since then. Obviously it didn't do us any great favors when the manufacturer of our car went out of business. We've overcome for the most part now, but it means that the team has had to expend energies in overcoming that issue that might have been better spent in actually doing further development. But you know all those things, ifs and buts and maybes, but yeah, so far I'm disappointed."
HOW HAVE YOU WORKED TO OVERCOME THE SITUATION WITH REYNARD? "We've basically just become more self-sufficient. We were already reasonably self-sufficient, but we just had to address a few areas where we knew there would be shortcomings with Reynard closing down. We addressed most of those during the month of May."
WITH THE IMPENDING CANADIAN LEGISLATION IMPACTING THE ABILITY OF TOBACCO COMPANIES TO SPONSOR TEAMS AND SPORTING EVENTS, DO YOU SENSE ADDED PRESSURE TO PRODUCE RESULTS THIS SEASON? "I think there is, but I don't think it's coming from the sponsor. I think it's more internal pressure from ourselves because we want to succeed and we expect to succeed. We have all the tools necessary to succeed and it's very frustrating when you can't get all the ingredients put into the soufflé so that it rises. Again, we're just going to keep on trying because that's all we can do."
DO YOU THINK PATRICK'S VICTORY IN CLEVELAND COULD PROVIDE THE SPARK THE TEAM NEEDS? "Well, one always hopes that you'll get on a roll and keep right on going to the end of the season. If you remember, it was right about this time last year that things started coming around for us. I don't know if we're necessarily dealing with exactly the same situation right now and we've still got a long ways to go to be as good as we need to be on a consistent basis. But it's a start. I'll take it and we'll work on it from here."
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR DRIVERS, PATRICK CARPENTIER AND ALEX TAGLIANI? "I think in general they haven't had a bad season. I think they've both been at a high level of fitness and I think a high level of focus and intensity with what they're trying to achieve. But, of course, when you get that high level of intensity and focus any frustrations that are there become exacerbated. But they've been doing a good job."
HOW HAS 'TAG' CHANGED AS A DRIVER SINCE HE FIRST BROKE INTO THE SERIES IN 2000? "He's a lot more settled and mature than he was, which comes back to the focus and intensity. He's 'Mr. Business,' all the time; he wants to get out there and get the job done. Certainly we've noticed significant changes in him as a human being and as a driver."
HE'S ACCOMPLISHED ALMOST EVERYTHING ON THE TRACK - POLE POSITIONS, LED RACES, SCORED PODIUM FINISHES - EXCEPT WIN A RACE. WHAT DOES HE NEED TO DO TO GET OVER THE HUMP AND WIN THAT FIRST RACE? "Well, I think a lot of that comes down to the team needing to supply him with consistently good and competitive cars. And, because it is a sport, you need an element of luck. You can make a lot of your own luck but you can't make the last 15 percent, basically. He needs a little bit of luck, but we need to be providing him with a consistently competitive car."
WHERE ARE YOU IN YOUR DISCUSSIONS WITH PATRICK FOR THE FUTURE? "Well, the same thing applies to both drivers. At this point, because we're not performing, every aspect and every component of the team is being looked at and being reviewed and that includes the drivers, who at the end of the day are employees, the same as the rest of us. So we're looking at every facet of the team to try and discover our weaknesses and discrepancies and make good on them."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COSWORTH BEING THE SOLE ENGINE SUPPLIER TO CART FOR NEXT SEASON? SOME PEOPLE HAVE SPECULATED THAT THE QUALITY OF RACING MAY SUFFER. "I don't see why the quality of the racing should suffer. If we go back to the mid- and late '80s the situation there was that everyone was running a Cosworth engine simply because that's all there was and those were the years of some of our very best racing. I think the engine being the same for everybody, I mean certainly it's an equalizer and there's not going to be the gobs of money floating around that some of the other engine manufacturers have brought to the table, but I don't see it hurting the racing. I think it might even improve the racing and make it even closer."
DO YOU THINK IT WAS THE RIGHT MOVE? "Absolutely. For where CART is right now I think it's the right move because the one thing CART needs to do is stabilize and to build a bridge from here to the future. I think that in cooperation with Cosworth that it's a very positive move for everyone involved."
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE AS CART'S NEXT ENGINE FORMULA? DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE? "I guess I don't really have much of a preference. Running turbocharged engines is something that is pretty much unique to CART and I think at this point it's probably not a bad thing to have some items that are unique to the series. Some people would prefer to run normally aspirated (engines), but I think right now a lot can be learned from turbocharged engines. There are more and more people in the commercial world that are introducing turbochargers to their road cars, whether as aftermarket items or whatever. I think there's a place for them, and I would just prefer to see us stick with the turbos."
YOU DOMINATED THE FIRST TWO DAYS IN VANCOUVER LAST YEAR WITH BOTH ALEX AND PATRICK QUALIFYING ON THE FRONT ROW. ALEX WAS RUNNING AWAY WITH THE RACE BEFORE A MECHANICAL FAILURE SIDELINED HIM AND PATRICK GOT PUNTED OUT OF A TOP-FIVE FINISH LATE IN THE DAY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS YOU HEAD BACK THIS SEASON? "If you had asked me a couple of races ago what our thoughts were heading back to Vancouver, I'd say we were very optimistic. But in the last couple of races we've been failing to produce good competitive cars, so I have mixed feelings right now. It's going to be hard for us to repeat what we accomplished last year, but first and foremost we've got to make reliable cars to get to the end of the race. And some of the things we're learning here and some stuff we're going to introduce before we head to Vancouver will keep us in the hunt."
WAS THAT A RACE THAT GOT AWAY FROM YOU? "Oh, absolutely. Bottom line is, as you pointed out, we had the front row, the cars were very competitive and we had a mechanical failure that should have been avoided."
WHAT CAN YOU TAKE FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE LAST SEASON IN VANCOUVER AND APPLY THIS WEEKEND EVEN THOUGH SO MUCH HAS CHANGED WITH THE CARS AND THE ENGINES? "You can, but it's hard to say just what you can apply. Basically, we'll go there with something very similar to the setup we ran last year and see how that feels. Again, the cars change from year to year, as do the track surfaces, but we've got a fairly good idea of where we need to be, at least for a starting point."