CHAMPCAR/CART: Walker, Lopez, Dykstra press conference, part II

An interview with: Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker, CART Vice-President John Lopes, CART Racing Operations Lee Dykstra Part 2 of 2 Q: Question to all three of the drivers here. Derrick, in acquiring the assets of Reynard, was there...

An interview with:
Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker,
CART Vice-President John Lopes,
CART Racing Operations Lee Dykstra

Part 2 of 2

Q: Question to all three of the drivers here. Derrick, in acquiring the assets of Reynard, was there ever a time that you thought you might want to change the name of the company and just start fresh, or did you want to hang on to a chassis name that is well-known? Did you contemplate changing the name of it?

Derrick Walker: No. These are Reynard. Anybody that's going to buy anything we're selling, I think if we try to represent it with something other than that, they may think twice about the decision. What we want to be -- be as a facilitator of services to those customers. If those customers want to buy Reynards, that's what we want to sell them, because that's what we've bought. 2005 is another matter. Like I said, if we get an investor or party that comes to a table and participate in CART, whether it is a sheer business for profit or venture or whether it is interest in having a competitive manufacturing company, we may call it something else. For me it doesn't really matter. It's Reynard as far as I'm concerned, and as long as it continues to be a Reynard, I'll be quite happy because I'm a big fan of Reynard.

Q: Exactly. When you talk about the assets of the company and existing cars and chassis and molds as you mentioned in your roll up there, what about personnel staff? You mentioned Adrian was giving you a hand. What about other people that work under him? The drafters, people on design, the people who put the noodles together to come up with designs. Are any of these people still around and available to you to get it ramped up?

Derrick Walker: Yes, indeed. The company I referred to, Oxford Racing Developments, is pure Reynard. They're - ex-employees out of Reynard. Barry Ward is a senior mechanical engineer with Reynard and a key individual in the whole design of the car. He was a chief designer right up until the end there. Simon Head is a -- an aeroengineer, graduate engineer in aerodynamics. He's been looking after the Reynard design last year and he continues on in the new venture. As I mentioned before, Simon Dawson was the man responsible for the production of the Reynard cars and getting all the components together from all the subcontractors. So he was a key component in the organization of pulling all it together and shipping it over to Reynard here in America. So I think I've got -- of the people that were available, I've got very key people. And what makes it really unique is these young people see for the first time a real opportunity to become entrepreneurs in their own right. They have a vested interest, an expertise, and they like us have gained from what was a demise of a great manufacturer, they have benefited and been given an opportunity to see if they can make something off that platform. So we're all a lot of young guys that didn't wake up and say this is what we want to do. You know, there was a situation that happened, and we all looked around and said wonder what we can do here. It started off that way but gained a lot of business sense and vision about this thing. So we're all working really hard to see if we can measure up and be a supplier to CART in 2005 in different -- different brand maybe or who knows, a continuation of the Reynard marque.

Q: Question, if I could, for either John Lopes or Lee Dykstra. How far back have we looked at it with the new Ford Cosworth engine? We know it's going to last a little longer before it requires rebuilds. Does that mean reduction in output in terms of horsepower, and are we looking at different boost limit on this motor to sort of -- I don't want to use the term but I will -- detune it so it lasts a little longer. Anybody?

Lee Dykstra: We've actually reduced the RPM rather than the boost. So essentially we're looking at about 12,000 RPM for reliability. Mostly reliability comes from reduced RPM as opposed to a boost. Because we're an individual supplier we're free to do anything with the boost to achieve the goals we want. One of the goals is to reduce the horsepower of this unit to allow us to do some other things aerodynamicwise and that sort of thing to improve the racing on ovals like we were speaking of earlier.

Q: That's great. John, I don't know if this is under your jurisdiction or perhaps we can get Wally on the conference call. Can you talk about the Townsend Bell episode in Toronto where he was parked after contact with Junqueira. I can't remember a last time in a CART race where a driver has been parked for penalty on a racetrack like that.

John Lopes: There have been as you know multiple incidents with Townsend this year.

Q: Yes.

John Lopes: The incident that occurred, it was enormous booboo. It might have been an understatement of the day. Townsend made a less than judicious move, and Wally thought it was in the best interest of the competitors who were racing on the tracks to park him for the day. I support the decision. I also support Wally's decision to handle Townsend's situation in the fashion that he has over the past 48 hours, and that is to levy a fine and basically put Townsend on notice that he's got one more strike. I think Wally is responsible not only for Townsend's best interest but for the best interest of the other drivers on the track. And in particular what was disturbing to him, I believe, with what occurred this weekend was that Townsend was not in contention for the win in the race and took out a championship competitor. And it just is evidence that he didn't fully think things through. I think in Wally's mind I think it probably will benefit Townsend in the long run and gave him time to think on Sunday afternoon.

Q: Back to Derrick for a second. You got to be really pleased with development with Tora Takagi. Chicago, Toronto, banged off top fives and pretty pleased with his development.

Derrick Walker: Very much so. He's settled down and kind of jump back to the conversation you were just having about Townsend. This time last year we had less than a stellar performance in Toronto. I think to my count we punted off three cars in the race and got a similar warning from Wally. And from that point on I think we started to get the message through to Tora who is really just overdriving and trying too aggressively. I see Townsend very much in a similar vein. I think the guy is obviously very talented and was driving as hard as he can. That's the problem you get sometimes. You get a driver who's young, keen and driving a car that maybe on the day isn't a winner, and he's trying to make up the difference. That's a common mistake for a rookie, is he tries too hard and it catches him out. When I looked at that incident with Townsend, and I know nothing about it, I would say there's a lot more going on behind Townsend that probably affected his judgment when it came to breaking for the corner that, you know, led to the incident. It was a mistake and quite rightly Wally has taken a position on it. And Tora did much the same mistakes last year when he was in a similar position. So I think that's -- that's the thing we teams got to do and the series has got to do is help these guys through the difficult situations. Not necessarily pat them on the back and tell them they have done a great job when they have done a less than acceptable level of performance, but see if there's any talent there that will come to the head and learn from the experience. I would be surprised if Townsend isn't really going to benefit a great deal from this.

John Lopes: If I could add to that, this is John, one of our responsibilities is to mentor the younger drivers and part of the process this week is Wally spent a significant time talking with Townsend and with Jim McGee as to what can be done to help Townsend progress as a driver. He's very talented, he's a young American talent that we want to keep competing in CART. We believe he's going to return to a fine driver. We also view this as part of his learning process.

Q: I'll start with passing or lack thereof. I guess there's some concern in some people's minds next year when there won't be any difference in horsepower between the cars that that will make even possibly less opportunity to pass because everybody will be so equal. Has there been any consideration to do other things, to facilitate differences in the cars; i.e, different tire compound, tire choices or things of that matter?

Lee Dykstra: I'm not sure whether I agree. Certainly now the horsepowers are equal, tires are the thing. I think moves we're making mark next year as far as increased downforce and that sort of thing will make for more passing opportunities. Part of the situation as far as passing also involves the number of cars on the racetrack. So, you know, if we're looking at increased number because of what we're doing here as far as the rules, I think there will be more passing opportunities as well.

John Lopes: Another thing to add to what Lee said, Bridgestone has come to us discussing the possibility of two separate tire compounds for next year going to back to where we were in the past; one being standard tire and second being option tire. Something Lee and his staff are discussing with them right now. We haven't made any decisions on that.

Derrick Walker: If I could add a little to that remark, I think that situation, this situation varies from track to track. On the ovals you tend to find the reason for not being able to overtake is that we have high horsepower levels and we want to keep the speeds within reasonable levels. And we've over the years rather than change the formula, we tried to notch the horsepower down but never done a big enough bite out of it to make a big enough difference without disadvantaged one of the manufacturers or all of them at one time or another. So we've been stuck with this horsepower level which has been too high for the kind of racetracks we run on. And we've taken it away by taking the grip away from the cars; therefore, the driver can't run as much throttle and go so fast with the corners. When we go to the rules next year we're reducing the horsepower, golden opportunity for Lee and competition committee to look at the package what kind of grip levels, what kind of downforce levels do these cars need to help give them more grip in corners but not have over all speed be too high and too dangerous.

On the ovals, that sort of works and will have some effect on the road courses but less of one. On the road courses it is a function of the track, how much room there is and places to overtake and competition as we said over and over again. As we get better and better at it, the front-to-the-back difference becomes closer and closer. And so it -- it is really always going to be there when you have a competitive pack like you have. Something we're going to keep working on, but it is not an easy solution when dealing with a track that has only a few places or some of these tracks have a few places where you can overtake. And the difference in the teams is going to be very, very close because we're competitive. What the formula going forward does, though, which is different than -- when you talk about engines in particular, we're really going to have a situation where the engines, because they're going to cost less, they're going to be more affordable to more teams. So if we get more competition turning up at the races and stronger competition, that -- and available equipment to everybody, that's going to help the competition. It is also going to help in the way that we're going to have equal horsepower levels from team to team. So you don't have a manufacturer who has a huge advantage or has a chosen few teams who can get it and the rest can't. So I think there's some positives into the formula we're heading to. It is not -- it is not all to be viewed as though we're - dumbing it down here. We're actually going to increase interesting parts of racing that we've lost over the years.

Q: If I'm not mistaken, one or all of the engines now -- I believe drivers have a button on the steering wheel which this is -- call it a passing button which gives them extra horsepower. Am I correct in that? If I am, is that going to be available to the drivers next year to maybe help in the passing situation?

Lee Dykstra: I think with the current rule, the button goes away in that these guys are running full rich all the time. So the button was there essentially to go back to a full rich for a short period of time whether it is a length to make a pass or whatever. Under the current -- the way we're racing right now, essentially there's not an overtake button.

Q:    Two more fast questions.  The rules freeze is going to be both '03
and '04; is that correct?  Or just '02 and '03?

Lee Dykstra: '02, '03, '04. We may revisit at the beginning of '04 as far as adjustments to maybe allow a single air upgrade or something like that. For 2003 we will be doing stuff though to incorporate possibly the road course rear wing for some of the ovals that serve, you know, enhancements.

Q: Sounds real good. I guess one last question for Derrick. You have Tora Takagi as your driver, and I don't know the details of his contract. My understanding is there's support from Toyota. Toyota won't be in the series next year, do you anticipate retaining him, or do you think you will have other drivers next year?

Derrick Walker: Good question. I don't know the short answer to that. If I can find a sufficient sponsorship to offer toward a ride for next year, I certainly would do that. I think Tora enjoys the CART series. My comments with him about oval tracks, although I think he runs the ovals very well, he's never seen as something he's particularly interested in doing a lot of. I think his heart is in road racing because that's his background. It is up to me to come up with a deal that says, Tora, would you want to continue racing in CART? That's certainly one of the objectives that I'm currently working on. But it is a little too early yet to know the answer to that question.

Q: I assume you wouldn't know if you're going to have a one- or two-car team either; is that correct?

Derrick Walker: I can tell you my ambition is to have a two-car competitive program, and I'm still working on that theory. I've done that in the past and need to get back there, and getting back there means first I got to find the corporate dollars to pick and put the team together whether it's the right car, the right driver, the right number of people and right amount of development. There's many aspects of it you can't do when you don't have the massive money that you have to nowadays to be very competitive. We're trying to get back there, and certainly two cars work better than one. I would tell that you currently right now Patrick Racing and I are working closely together because there's a single car team that has identical equipment. So we can meet common ground and share a lot of data that helps see what the other team is doing and helps strengthen us both as single teams. So getting back to two car venture for Walker Racing is certainly a major goal of mine.

Q: Without the freeze would you have been able to put this deal together?

Derrick Walker: Actually to tell you the truth, I worked on this deal before the freeze really took effect or actually became reality. So I did -- to be honest, I really got involved in this Reynard deal because at that point I got about 12 or 13, 14 maybe races left of the season to run and got a car that was currently no longer in production. So I didn't hear anybody saying to me hey, why don't you go buy a Lola, here is a ton of money. I got people that hired us to go race with this equipment, and I got to figure a way around it. As I said in my introduction, I thought all the teams could stick together because I really thought we had a massive purchasing power that we could put it all in one bucket. Actually become our own manufacturers and take a share in this entity, but not many of my team owners thought this was a vision they wanted to take up. So in the end I was the only man standing. As I said, Adrian Reynard really helped me a lot to be able to take this opportunity. So I really did it for myself to protect a program for this year. Then CART has made what I think is a good move considering their objectives in the current environment to freeze these -- this car and these major components further. That just played, you know, into our hand to say well, okay. If that's going to stay around another couple years, then we better get a lot more serious about this and see how we can give it a life beyond 2002.

Q: Were you surprised no other owners stepped forward, and as you said you were the last man standing?

Derrick Walker: Yes. I kind of was to tell you the truth. But it seemed -- I don't know this for a fact. It seemed that the teams that were running the Hondas, there was a general impression that they were more aware of that perhaps Reynard was not being -- was not going to be strong enough to be a viable consideration for them, and so there was -- I think there was a lot more planning going on to buy Lola's before Reynard finally closed his doors. So I think there was a movement in that. Then when it finally happened, whatever I was saying, it was already -- train had left the station at that point. When you look at Reynard customers today, we have Forsythe's team who have a lot of resources and a lot of expertise. They were already doing a fair amount themselves. So they liked the idea that somebody was producing parts for them that they didn't want to make. But they didn't need to, by their reckoning, immediately jump into a situation where they acquired Reynard. And Patricks and ourselves, we had every interest in seeing it going. I don't know, I just ended up with being the most interested of anybody, so here I go. And I'm quite looking forward to it right now. I'm quite enthusiastic and interested to see if I can motivate some other entities to become involved and partner with me and help make something of it.

Q: The years I've known you it is not the first time you've taken a step off into the deep end of the pool real quick, huh?

Derrick Walker: Sometimes I've done that but I don't care to mention that because they weren't as successful as I think this one is going to be.

Q: I have a question for Derrick. You talk about we. How much of the Reynard business are you going to be handling or taking in house in Indianapolis?

Derrick Walker1y: Good question. What we have done, we meaning Walker Racing, we've taken the -- the parts that are currently inventory of parts that we purchased from Reynard North America and housed them under our facility to reduce overheads. We have a development program, engineering staff that have been working on developing areas of the car as the rule permits. We had -- we were doing that already. And with the contract that we've done with the engineers and the exemployees of Reynard in the U.K., they are doing production and they are doing development as well. So we coordinate everybody -- everybody's effort and work on supplying parts to anybody that wants to buy them and we -- we produce development and offer it for sale to anybody who wants to race it. It is as simple as that. And we've so far -- we've just, you know, really getting into it. So far it's been working rather well.

Q: Thank you.

Merrill Cain: Thank you talking to us about the chassis situation, we appreciate that. It is all certainly very good news. With Derrick taking over operations of Reynard Chassis we know everything is in good hands and CART has another strong manufacturers in the series. Thank you very much for your time, Derrick. And thank you, John, and Lee as well.

-cart-

Walker, Lopes, Dykstra part I

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tora Takagi , Townsend Bell