CART Champ Car World Series Teleconference Max Papis and A.J. Allmendinger Part 1 of 2 Eric Mauk: Thank you for joining us for today's CART Media Teleconference in advance of G.I. Joe's 200 taking place this weekend at Portland International...
CART Champ Car World Series Teleconference
Max Papis and A.J. Allmendinger
Part 1 of 2
Eric Mauk: Thank you for joining us for today's CART Media Teleconference in advance of G.I. Joe's 200 taking place this weekend at Portland International Raceway where the sun has been shining all week except for when we threw open the blinds today and now there's heavy clouds everywhere. But Jerry Boone and the people in Portland this is just a temporary thing and it never rains in Portland and everything is going to be good for this weekend. We are joined this morning, actually morning in the west coast, by A.J. Allmendinger, Toyota Atlantic points leader and wire-to-wire winner from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last weekend. Thank for joining us.
A.J. Allmendinger: Thank you for having me.
Eric Mauk: We'll also be joined by Max Papis, who is making his return to the CART Champ Car Series this weekend. He hasn't dialed in yet, but we expect him any time. We'll get him to you guys as soon as we can. We'll start off with A.J., Your first season in Toyota Atlantic and you came in obviously hoping to do well, but thinking it might be a little more of a learning experience and now here you are after just a handful of races leading the points and doing exactly what some people thought you might do just coming in here and running up front every weekend how do you feel.
A.J. Allmendinger: Hasn't been a bad season yet. (Laughs). RuSport has given me a great car all year. The team just helped my learning curve so quick because we have such great people around us and even though it is a new team with everybody coming together, filled with a lot of experience people so my learning concerning has been quick. Every weekend they have given me great cars and it's been great so far. I am looking forward to this weekend here in Portland and for the rest of the year.
Eric Mauk: Tell us a little bit about some of those people. This is a team that's really stepping up into their first major Toyota Atlantic effort running two cars and running some talented drivers, and for a team making that statement their first time out, they have got have some good people behind them. Tell us a little bit about the guys.
A.J. Allmendinger: The owner is Carl Russo, he actually ran in the series last year with PDR, and this year bought the team and is now named RuSport. I mean, he's a great owner. For one, given me the opportunity to be here, and also my teammate Aaron Justus because both of us don't have the money just to do this on our own, so him giving us the opportunity and he's really got a great mindset, I mean, what he wants out of this team and where he wants to take it in the future. Being part of that is so exciting for myself and he's put great people around us to make, as I said, the learning curve easier and to have this team come together very quick with the president Jeremy Dale which people know him and associate him with Barber Dodge over the past many seasons. And Jeremy kind of runs the day-to-day operations.
And then Steve Wolf the team operator, and then on the technical side Gerald Tyler which is well known in the Atlantic paddock with engineering. He was with Luis Diaz as an engineer last year with Dorricott. And now he's our actual technical director so he kind of overlooks everything in the technical aspect and I have my race engineer Burke Harrison which was Paul Tracy's engineer in his Indy Lights Championship and also Jon Fogarty's Atlantic engineer last year for his Championship. And we just have -- the crew that has been put together is just great. It's basically put together from a lot of Atlantic teams and other series all around. With that, we have a good group of guys working together. Michael Harvey is the head crew chief that overlooks the whole crew, and I mean, altogether everybody is working well together. That was key because we knew coming in the season the team was going to be good and it was only a matter of how quick we came together and over testing my teammate and I we're working well together, and everybody together, and I think it's shown right away, not only last week at Monterey, but through Long Beach and even at the beginning of the season in Mexico.
Eric Mauk: Absolutely to put a team like that together and a couple of talented young guys behind the wheel, it ought to be a force to be reckoned the rest of the year. You mentioned Aaron Justus, former US F2000 Champion that had a real nice run in Long Beach and you guys are poised for big things to come for the rest of the season. Let us go back and talk about Laguna Seca a little lit, about the closest you get to a home track. Everywhere you went all weekend you were surrounded by a group of people that were wanting to see you do will well and just talk about how satisfying it was to dominate in front of your home crowd.
A.J. Allmendinger: Yeah, that weekend last weekend was about as perfect as we could have. We had a good test there in April, so the team had a good baseline to start with, and I mean, I felt like last year in the Barber Dodge Pro Series I kind of let myself down because I felt I had a chance to win the race and I just didn't make the right moves at the right time. Coming into this weekend or last weekend I knew we were going to have a good car and of course I had a lot of family and friends there and it was just -- one, it was just good to see everybody again that I hadn't seen in a while and two, I love Laguna Seca as a racetrack and Monterey as a town. And we put the car on the racetrack and the thing was good right away, and it was just a matter of all weekend working with my engineer and just finding those fine points in the car just to make it a little bit better, and the first qualifying session, even though we qualified provisional pole, I didn't think the car was still as good as it could be.
In the second qualifying session on Saturday morning we made some changes and we really hit the setup and made just a little minor change for the race that I felt that we needed to make to make the car good throughout the entire 30-lap race. We hit the setup and the thing was just amazing. And it's just one of those times that any race car driver knows that when the car is that good you are just out there -- you are not fighting the car. You just become one with it. And because of that, it was just-- it was just an amazing weekend, and the bigger picture was we won the race an extended the points lead and now we have confidence heading into this weekend and for the rest of the year that we can do that every weekend.
Eric Mauk: We're now joined by Max Papis making his 2003 Champ Car World Series debut as the driver of the No. 27 Ford Cosworth Lola Bridgestone for PK Racing this weekend. Max, thanks for joining us.
Max Papis: How are we doing?
Eric Mauk: Max, obviously no stranger to the Champ Car World Series, 106 starts in his career, he has 3 wins, a pair of poles, he has a win from the pole here in Portland. If you could just tell us a little bit about how this whole thing came together and how you ended up in the seat of the 27 car.
Max Papis: First of all, let me tell to all the people that are here listening to us that it is a great pleasure to talk to all of you guys again. I just arrived back from Le Mans yesterday where I raced and we had a fantastic finish, you know, we finished 5th overall. It was amazing success there. And to all the people at PK Racing, I want to thank Kevin Kalkhoven and Craig Pollock for creating this opportunity.
Eric Mauk: Tell us a little bit about coming back to Portland, obviously a track where you had great success. Runnerup at 2000, won from the pole here in 2001. You were all poised to back at it again when things fell through for you and the Sigma Team unfortunately. Your thoughts about coming back to Portland.
Max Papis: First of all, let's say last time I raced over here I kicked ass. I won from pole and dominated the race so I left Portland last time I raced over here as the King of Portland and I am coming back with the same will that put me over there in the first position, one and a half year ago. Unfortunately last year was a sad end to a great beginning that we had with Sigma Autosport, in five races was able to go twice on the podium and I was able as well at the same time to meet great people within my mechanics and my engineers at Sigma Autosport and unfortunately Portland was a very sad moment for us because we arrived over here and for the reason that everybody knew, we would not be to be able to race. That was basically the end of the great task that we were putting together last year.
So everything came together very quickly over here at PK Racing I was actually -- I was visiting the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix when I received a phone call from Mauricio Gugelmin actually asking what was the situation, what we were doing, and what was my situation as a race car driver for 2003 and I said, you know, stand by because I think there could be some opportunities coming up. And I think that that's how everything came together. I definitely have to thank Don Panoz for being so kind to allow me to come over here and drive in Champ Car again and I will definitely continue my effort in ALMS Championship in all the remaining races that I am not going to have a conflict with the CART Championship, and I am looking forward to achieve success over here because these guys -- I just met them yesterday but I know many of them for several years. I am looking forward to starting a relationship with John Ward, the engineer, he is new to this environment of PK Racing as well, but I have known him for several years, since actually the beginning of when I came over here in the United States in 1996. And I feel that we could get some pretty good satisfaction over here. As I always say, don't count me out.
Eric Mauk: We definitely look forward to seeing you behind the wheel. Let us open it up to questions.
Q: Max, you tested Winston Cup; then you ran in sports cars. Did you think that maybe the door was closed on Champ Cars at all or had you pretty much thought you are not going to get a ride again; how were you looking at it?
Max Papis: Honestly I didn't really look at it. I don't know how I could explain. I tried my best to be able to continue my effort in Champ Car at the beginning of the season when we were negotiating and trying to do a lot of things, and I was in contact with all the people here in Champ Car because I have been racing here for so many years, and I always kept in close contact and I knew when a situation was going to arrive I am sure that people kept me in mind; that's basically what happened.
I drove -- I tested Winston Cup car. I have my deal in sports car with Don Panoz which I have been really focused on and we achieved great successes in two races, and I feel that these things came together because I believe in fate. We were here together at the beginning of the race last year, me and all my mechanics standing on pit wall without a race car, and now I am back, I am back with a good team, with a good effort, and I couldn't be more pleased than that.
So I never really put a lot of thought, as I said, in the beginning on like you said the doors are closed, if I don't bring money, this and that, and that I just -- I just put my head down and went with the opportunities I had at those stages, and I think that it's a nice thing to know that people haven't forgot that it was someone that was walking around the paddock, you know, like me, I had 11 podium finishes and three wins, I think they were worth something. So I feel that all these things that they contributed in making this decision for PK Racing, and I think the things I am the most glad is the support I had from all the people within, you know, the organization and all the people all the race fans, you know, my web site has been really filled with emails and nice messages and all these things make me really, really proud.
Q: Max, how much time have you been able to spend in the current configuration Champ Car? It's a little bit different than what you drove last year. Have you been able to do much testing or will Portland be your first real time in the new car?
Max Papis: I haven't been even sitting in a Champ Car this year, and I didn't even get close. I feel that now -- actually I am here under the tent of PK Racing and they are fitting the seats in the car and on my pedals and everything, so, it's going to be first time out on Friday morning and there are still going to be some hurdles to overcome and situations to create and you know, things to be addressed, but one thing I can promise you that my will to succeed and my determination are greater than ever. I have a lot of fire inside of me. As I said, people better watch out because I have a lot of fire.
Q: Max, last year when you were here, a lot of people speculated that your team financially was on some pretty thin ice. On Friday when they sort of pulled the plug on the engine was that a surprise at all to you? Was it something that you expected and what had happened, were you more angry than disappointed, or were you just sort of resigned to the fact that that's the way it is in racing sometimes?
Max Papis: I don't accept the situations like the one that happened at Sigma last year, you know, of course. But I am a professional person and I couldn't do anything about it then. I signed a contract that was restricted to certain things, say that we were competing for a Championship and we would have -- I had certain reassurement from the people -- from the team of the people -- from the group of Sigma at the beginning of the season but that's the past.
Now that was definitely a difficult moment, especially you know, racing is -- it's a great sport, but the things that really made me sad was seeing all my mechanics and all the people that came over here to support me than they were not able to see me racing. They were not able to see the defending Champion being out there on the racetrack. I think that that was the thing that made me the most sad because I know inside of me that I will have other opportunities and I will -- I am sure I would have been able to achieve my goals later on in my life, but that moment was particularly sad, especially to see the tears in the eyes of my mechanics that they had been working really hard on the cars, to see, you know, all their effort being left on the side like that, was something that -- you know, really gave me a lot of, you know, gave me a really hard time because I am a people person. I give them all my heart and I felt pretty sad.
As I said, this is the past. I am glad to see most of the guys that have been working with me last year still involved in Champ Car and as I said, again, you know, I have tremendous will to achieve my goals. I think that the determination is inside of me never changed for a bit. It's actually maybe even greater than it was ever before. I keep the past in the past and I look for future in the future, for more success because that's how I am. Motor racing is a great sport and you should live it with a smile on your face and with determination and being a professional person. That's what I am here trying to do this weekend.