Continued from part 1 ANDREAS WIRTH: Well, at the end of the season actually after Denver I tried to win the championship, but it came different. I don't really know what to say about that now. After Road America or after the accident at...
Continued from part 1
ANDREAS WIRTH: Well, at the end of the season actually after Denver I tried to win the championship, but it came different. I don't really know what to say about that now. After Road America or after the accident at Road America, it was definitely my goal to go into Champ Car if I finished let's say the top two or top three. But everything came different, so I knew after the accident that I would do the Atlantic series again because of the $2 million incentive, and I think that that's the biggest help a driver can get from a series.
Like Leo said, I think that's something which is new to motor sport. That's one thing which makes it so attractive for all the drivers for this year. But I really think that I did the right decision now, and I'm really looking forward to starting the season off.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Last year ran really well for us. We had a good streak at the end of the season, and are basically going into a season where the competition is. Once the new package for '06 was announced for Champ Car, the interest in the series was just instant and it was overwhelming. There was sure that there was going to be a lot of talent in the field, a lot of good teams coming in. You want to come and drive against them. So it was really a no-brainer for us.
And then from that point on, it was just trying to narrow down who would give us the best opportunity to succeed in this series, and we made a short list of teams, and we happened to land ourselves with the No. 1 choice. It put us in good position for next year. The team is capable. I'm very confident in my own abilities and I've got great teammates backing me up, so we have no excuses for next year.
RICHARD PHILLIPE: Well, after the 2005 season ended, after winning the championship, I was for sure clear that I wasn't going to go another year in BMW, so we looked straight ahead at Champ Car Atlantic. It looked to be the best, the most competitive. The $2 million was for sure very attractive for the possible 2007 season in Champ Car. Same with most of us, you know, we spoke to a lot of teams with my manager, and put down a couple of teams on a list, and Forsythe was No. 1. We ended up having a deal with them, so I'm very pleased and can't wait to get in the car.
Q: Ambitious I don't think is too strong a word to use, an ambitious effort. I guess maybe I'd focus one question toward sort of the elder statesman of the driving crew, Leo. The last few years have really kind of been -- I think as you are sort of living proof, a difficult car for young drivers in America, what with the sort of the demise of Indy Lights and obviously the Infiniti Pro Series hasn't really taken off in any meaningful way, and as we saw in the last couple years, the Atlantic series was sort of in decline, at least in terms of numbers, just in terms of the costs and everything, a lot of reasons behind that.
But can you talk about the new Atlantic series just seems -- certainly in your case and probably in a lot of other guys like you, it really seems to be the right series at the right time, does it not?
LEONARDO MAIA: That's exactly right. It's just perfect timing. In my case, I was able to -- I don't want to say luck into it, but it's just everything sort of fell right in the right spot, and I had been having such bad luck the last couple of years that I was sort of on the verge of giving up. One thing happened and then another thing happened and then the dominos started to fall. Now I'm sitting here talking to you, which really is what I was dreaming for since the beginning.
Q: Could you maybe talk a little bit about how difficult it was and maybe what some of the obstacles were to getting a full program together the last couple of years?
LEONARDO MAIA: It's been really, really tough, to be honest. To make a long story short, about a year ago, I was in the middle of downtown Torino in Italy and ended up handcuffed to the side of a car, and now I'm sitting here talking to you. Things change in a hurry. I just want to say don't give up; if you have something you want, chase after it. I'm proof that it can happen. You'll get there.
Q: I guess sort of a general question to all four of you, the drivers, and Neil, as well, you're looking at -- I don't know, I've sort of lost track of the actual numbers here, but I think we're looking at probably a good, let's say a good 30 serious drivers and cars at a minimum, at least at the start of the year, and just what it means to a driver in terms of his pedigree, if you will, to a driver who's able to win a championship above and beyond the $2 million prize money, somebody who beats two dozen or maybe as many as three dozen other really talented drivers? That's a pretty big feather in his cap in terms of moving up to Champ Cars.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: I'll take that one happily. It is a major challenge. You know, the program that we've put together is very ambitious, but we're looking forward to that. I think in terms of getting out there for all of these young men, certainly we intend to give them the best equipment possible.
The nice thing from my perspective is they're still fairly impressionable. I feel that myself along with the other team members of Forsythe Championship, we can bring a lot to the table in terms of helping their skills and helping them to be the best they can be. Certainly if we go out to a race and there are a total of 36 cars out there, first of all, we've got to beat the other 32, and then these guys worry about beating each other.
I think that with the type of attitude that they're bringing to the table right now, which is very professional and quite pleasing to me, it's going to be a very interesting season. I think it's going to be quite sporting with the level of competitiveness that everybody is going to show, and I certainly believe that we've got the group of people to make the very most of the opportunities.
Q: Speaking again as not just the vice president of Forsythe Racing but as a guy who's been around the sport as a team manager or in a management role for a long time, again, a guy who wins -- not just a guy who wins a championship, but even guys who win one or two races, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, that pretty well singles them out as being pretty serious talents if they're beating, as you say, 24 or 36 other pretty decent drivers.
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Absolutely it does, and I think that the way that the new Champ Car Atlantic is heading, I think we're going to perhaps see a return to the heady days of the late '70s and early '80s where it is very much the breeding ground for the majority of the very best drivers. I think the series will get an opportunity for the very best to shine. I probably anticipate each of these four young men winning races in this coming year, and at least one of them being the champion.
Q: Neil, you didn't have the opportunity to test these drivers as far as I know. How did you go about selecting these four young men?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Yeah, you're correct, we did not have the opportunity to test them. I'm not altogether convinced that had we been able to test them that we would have learned anything that made it any easier for us to make our decisions. In view of the fact that the car we're going to be using is brand new, that puts everybody pretty much in the same situation. So what we did was to take a very close look at the past performances and what we viewed to be the future potential of these of the people that we selected. It was not an overnight thing.
We also had lists that we narrowed down, and I'm just overjoyed that they were able to get what I viewed as being the best four up-and-coming drivers in the world right now.
Q: Other than the series being good, a good place to be and to help Champ Car, as far as for your team itself, what is this Atlantic program going to do for your Champ Car team?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, there's a great deal of synergy obviously between the Atlantic team and the Champ Car team. I think that the level of support that the owners of Champ Car have put into the Atlantic team, the interest that they've generated I think needs to be looked upon as an indication of their thoughts about the future.
From a team point of view, that commitment is also the same. We've had a reasonably successful Champ Car team that we hope will be for successful in the future, and we're doing our bit not only to be supportive of the new series but also to build relationships with drivers, with mechanics, with engineers, and essentially the ladder system isn't just for drivers; it's for all people that are involved in motor racing. So it gives us an opportunity to eventually get young engineers, for instance, up-and-coming mechanics, all of who are just as important as anyone else in the overall team.
So it essentially becomes a system for the Champ Car team as well as being its own entity.
Q: Any sponsorship announcements on the horizon for these four cars, and will there be any team orders?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Let me answer those questions in reverse order, if I may. No, there will be no team orders, with one exception; I don't expect them to run into each other.
And with regards to sponsors, there will be some announcements in the coming weeks, but nothing that we're at liberty to announce at this moment.
Q: Well, my question for the gentlemen is you excited about the new type car, the series, the way it's going? I just can't believe what is in store for the '06 season for the Atlantic series.
LEONARDO MAIA: Well, obviously we're all incredibly excited. At least for me, I can't wait to get going. There's a lot of hype around the series right now, a lot of the sort of chat rooms I've been looking at says it's even going to be better than the Champ Car series, and I think it will be. We're going to have an enormous amount of talent that we race against in pretty much every event. So it's going to be tough. You could possibly have a different winner in every single race. That's how competitive I think the series is going to be.
I'm looking forward to a really, really tough fight. I know I've sort of armed myself with the best people and equipment possible, and I just hope we can come out on top.
Q: Do you feel that a multi-car team is more of a hindrance, or would you prefer to be on like a one-car team?
LEONARDO MAIA: To be honest, it depends on the situation. With this situation here at Forsythe and with the new car and with the Atlantic program, it's a huge program to have more cars just because the testing is so restricted in the series that any extra time or any extra data you can gather is going to be an advantage. There aren't too many situations where it's a disadvantage. There's no downside to it. It's just more for the team, more data, more everything.
ERIC MAUK: Talk about what you do to stay sharp between now and when you get in that Atlantic car in the middle of March. James, where are you headed?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Obviously it's going to be a step up between driving last year and Champ Car Atlantic next year. There's going to be a pretty intense workout regimen. Every day it will be something, a lot of cardio, weight training, especially working on my neck a little bit.
Also getting into a go-kart. Shifter carts are great training tools. They are remarkably quick and they keep your reaction times up, keep you on the ball because we don't get the new cars until late March. So it'll definitely be a lot of sweating going on before we even hit the track.
RICHARD PHILLIPE: Well, I have a trainer that we got from Europe to come over just for a few months from now until the first race. So basically when I'm home, I do an hour -- a session of cardio and a session of weight training every day. Cardio goes from biking to swimming, running, go-kart, and weight training is always at the gym.
You know, the go-kart I haven't been able to do too much of unfortunately, but to keep my driving technique sharp, I think I street race illegally without a license (laughter).
ANDREAS WIRTH: I mean, workout definitely every day, and I would try to do a lot of mental training between when the season starts because I think that's 50 percent of everything is in your head. I think that's important, that's very important, too. That's just something you can do before the season because I think after the season starts, there's not that much time to do that stuff or to work with stuff like that.
So I try to do as much as I can before everything starts mentally, and physical-wise, so I will definitely be ready.
LEONARDO MAIA: I'm going to cut my alcohol intake from a 12-pack to a 6-pack. That should be enough (laughter).
You know, go-karting obviously is I think the best way to stay in shape. I like to go go-karting every day. Unfortunately that's not possible. If I can't go-kart I'm on a bike or running or swimming obviously. That's the best way to stay in shape for me.
Q: I guess this is another question for Neil. There's that $2 million pot of gold sitting out there at the end of the year for somebody to take. A four-car super team, your odds of winning that are pretty good I would say. Have you thought about what -- I'm not sure exactly who gets the money, whether it's the driver who gets the money, but he has to use it to get the Champ Car ride if I understand correctly. Have you thought about if one of your drivers were to win, using that money and put that person into driving the Champ Car?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: Well, it's an interesting question. I think that the $2 million accrues to the driver that wins the championship and is there and needs to be spent on a Champ Car ride. We have options on all these young men going toward the future, so hopefully depending on how things work out, we could consider in the future running a third car in Champ Car. Who knows what the future brings. But certainly we've got them on board now because we think that they're the wave of the future, and whichever one of them wins the championship and the money that goes with it, then certainly we'll bend over backwards to make sure that they get a top quality ride with somebody in Champ Car.
Q: You've now announced your four-car team. Any plans to make some announcements in the near future to finalize your Champ Car team?
NEIL MICKLEWRIGHT: There's no specific plans in place right now, but I do anticipate in the next few weeks being able to make the announcement after it's finalized.