An interview with Derrick Walker, Darren Manning and Rodolfo Lavin. Part 2 of 2.
Adam Saal: You heard [Champ Car President and CEO] Chris Pook say we want to put the racing back in racing and we are very happy with what we saw at Laguna Seca. Just recap briefly if you can the train of thought as to what we are trying to achieve in trying to have more drivable but raceable cars.
Derrick Walker: For many years, CART has really needed to take a big bite out of the horsepower because we have really been going in some situations way too quick. We have been taking a lot away from the car, aerodynamics, which has made it not as drivable from a race car point of view. It's not creating good racing by taking the downforce out of the car. So taking a big bite out of the engine power has now dropped the ratio between the amount of grip you have and the amount of power.
So I think you are going to see some pretty good racing here. I think it's probably not really become that obvious yet, but I think you're going to see a lot of sideways racing and that will make the cars look a lot more like a handful; it will be a lot more side by side. I think we will have some good racing.
It does two things. It gets racing back the way we want it, so it's back in the driver's control. And it's a side-by-side race car now, and you have got enough downforce relative to power to actually have a lot more passing opportunity which you didn't have, which the other thing is that obviously there's a cost issue.
We have basically halved the cost of these engines from one year to the next. Last year there probably weren't too many people paying for their engines, but if they were, it would be double what we are fronting up this year, for the same number of races and we are going to have some runs, two races in a row. So it's a huge cost savings for the team. I think it's a great first step.
Adam Saal: Your comments, not an entirely different package, but certainly different in many respects. Looking forward to having a car a little bit looser?
Darren Manning: Well, I think you know I have done a lot of work - I did a first year run with traction control and a lot of development on that. It did take a lot more of the driver aspect out of it. You'd drop a little when the car went around the corner. I think it will be good, especially with everybody having the same engines this year. There will be no difference. It will be totally down to driver/engineering setting the car up and controlling it on the gas pedal. That's exciting for me because if I work harder and better than everybody else at that, it gives me an advantage.
Q: The move with Reynard North America last year, it may have been seen as a pretty brave move. Would you make the same move today?
Derrick Walker: Yeah, I would, actually. I think when you look at what is the Reynard and why Reynard, well, right now, we have got a two-year freeze on the car and there's only a Lola and a Reynard. The development is really what it needs right now. There's plenty of cars and plenty of spare parts, so we have got two years to develop the car and keep it functional because we have got cost and we have a rule change coming up in 2005.
So what that does to us, us as Walker Racing who has acquired a valuable asset in Reynard, is that gives me a little bit of time to find some capital funding or a technical partner who wants to invest. Because obviously for us to be in a position to actually end up as being a manufacturer and building cars in 2005 with the new regulation, that's exciting. I think that's a great opportunity.
Whether it came out of somebody else's misfortune, Adrian Reynard, you know, he was very gracious in helping us being able to do that. So if we could create a future for the car and for us along with it, I think I would do it again, absolutely.
Q: In Rockingham, we had a long chat, and you even at that stage were quite strong in your feeling that your future lay in CART, yet it was a turbulent time. Why were you so in favor of CART, especially with the rocky road that appeared?
Darren Manning: I'm a racing car driver; I think the biggest opportunity I see the CART series giving me is an opportunity to race. I see this as just a fantastic opportunity as a driver. In any team you can win a race and it's still a good opportunity to progress maybe into Formula 1. It's a fantastic World Series, racing on some of the best places in the world.
Q: I know the chase for sponsorship is ongoing. You have two non-American drivers, which is great. Is it any easier, the fact that it's a more global championship, because it often gets criticized that it's gone too global, but has it opened up the door for a team like yourselves to look for non-American sponsors, non-American drivers?
Derrick Walker: That's a good question. We are actually looking in every direction for sponsorship, so you never exclude any one area. In the examples of these two guys right here, one of the most important regions to CART as we look at the CART product is Mexico. And for everybody who ever went to Mexico races, you will see that there are a lot of race fans there who love our product.
So naturally if you're going to go look for sponsorship, you are going to look for driers, you've got to look into the market where there's a high interest there and there are a lot of emerging drivers coming out of Mexico. That was where we looked when we started going down that path, and then another important region obviously is Europe and the U.K., specifically. So for Darren, that made a heck of a lot of sense to us.
It's a hard sell here in America because there's so many other ways for sponsors to find their money, so much competition. We have looked in many different areas and certainly when you look at the CART series, I don't personally believe it should be just a domestic series. I think it's got a lot more value to have an international element in it or a Mexico element or a Canadian element. I think it all complements what we have.
I think that's what makes our racing strong is by having that competition and that interest. I think we are right on track as CART and the folks in the northeast region certainly, American drivers, we need them, too, because we need all nationalities.
Q: How long did it take to put the field together, and what type of engineering support are you going to be able to give these guys and how are you doing there?
Derrick Walker: In Rodolfo's case, we actually started talking in Mexico City. It didn't take very long. There was high interest from Rodolfo and from Corona to be in CART. So, that process was really just step by step and it happened very quickly. What we didn't do was announce it. Although, there was a lot of things it was said we had, but we waited to announce it because we wanted to make an announcement that talked about our whole program. So Rodolfo sat on ice for a little while there, probably got about 1,000 calls saying, "You really racing or are you not?" So that's where we were with that.
In Darren's case, it happened in maybe about ten minutes? (Laughter) No, it was probably about a week. But, you know, we had been talking before, so it was not just all of a sudden. We were talking a lot sooner. You know, it came together.
As far as the engineering support, you can answer that question a little bit broader than that. One of the things where you come out -- let's face it, when you see CART come out of the year that it had last year and you see the changes that have happened in the support in this sport, there's a lot of nervous people there, least to say your employees. We have a huge support within our company; that all of our engineering staff that we had on as a contract, they are well suited to be able to handle the challenge of two drivers.
Adam Saal: Your time frame to get through the next week: We do have Spring Training which officially kicks off at six o'clock Sunday in St. Petersburg, Florida with a reception, and then we host of media events that Monday before we migrate over to Sebring International Raceway for some on-track testing for three days. What do you have to do in the shop to get ready for that, and when are you shipping these guys down there?
Derrick Walker: It's been quite a challenge for the employees, apart from the fact that I take too long to get these deals done. The cars we had last year were obviously Toyotas, so we had to convert these cars over.
Part of our other hat that we wear with the Reynard; we wanted to see how many Reynard teams were out there. So we ordered enough kits to convert as many cars. So we delayed the process of manufacturing the kits, so the kits have literally been coming in the last week here.
So the crunch to pull all that together, put an engine in that was not in that car before, put all of the paint schemes together, get the drivers in for seat fittings yesterday and today; so it's literally going to roll out of here on Saturday, at the latest, and we'll be on track as soon as we can.
I think that, really, you couldn't really do something like that without the experience and dedication of the people we have. But we are going to be in good shape. I indicated that come the St. Petersburg race, you may see a few different things on the car. We are all in the works trying to pull that together as quick as we can.