CHAMPCAR/CART: Vasser, Hunter-Reay, Maia press conference, part I

CART Champ Car media teleconference with Champ Car drivers Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay with Barber Dodge Pro Series champion Leo Maia. Part 1 of 2 Eric Mauk: Thank you all for joining us today for the CART Champ Car media teleconference.

CART Champ Car media teleconference with Champ Car drivers Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay with Barber Dodge Pro Series champion Leo Maia.

Part 1 of 2

Eric Mauk: Thank you all for joining us today for the CART Champ Car media teleconference. Today we are joined by a pair of Champ Car drivers as well as the new Barber Dodge Pro Series champion Leo Maia. We are joined today by Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay, two drivers for American Spirit Team Johansson who are coming off their best weekend as a team of the season after the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, and are heading into the Molson Indy Montreal, and for Leo Maia, the 2003 Barber Dodge champion, heading into the final Barber Dodge race of the year, having already clinched the championship. However, he can set a series record by picking up his seventh victory of the year if he does so in the Molson Indy Montreal. Thanks for joining us today and taking time to talk to the media.

We'll introduce Jimmy Vasser, driver of the #12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone, coming off what could have been a very strong run at Mid-Ohio, had some problems in qualifying, absolutely tore through the field, made one of the better charges of the season, getting all the way up to fourth before an unfortunate error ended his day. Jimmy, just take us back through that. Obviously, you've had great cars before; you had another strong car at Mid-Ohio. Take us through that weekend.

Jimmy Vasser: Well, yeah, I think the engineering department did a good job preparing us for the race. I did a test day at Mid-Ohio, pretty much the only testing we've done really as a team. We found a few things, but it kind of backed up the theory that the starting setup was pretty close, the car felt pretty balanced, pretty good. I think we were confident going in that we were going to have decent cars for both Ryan and myself.

On my side of the team, we made some mistakes from the get-go. We were competitive Friday with a lot of fuel in the car all day long, but we were still not too bad really for the amount of fuel we had. Then Saturday obviously for those that know what's going on during the race weekend, we didn't even get to qualify basically. But Ryan qualified real well, showed again that the cars were quick. Then obviously my race, starting in the back, you know, I was a little bit surprised that it was easier to move through the field than I was anticipating. We had alternative plans to go out of sequence in the strategy, but I waved those off because I felt the car was real strong. I thought that I had made some moves up until lap 10 early on, and I felt like I could get off the keyhole good and close enough to cars in front of me that, you know, would enable me to outbrake them off the back straight.

The guys did a good job in the pits all day long. The car was fantastic up until the point where, you know, I made a mistake and got a little too much wheel spin over the rise on the backside. Just came around a little too much for me and just lost control, threw it away. That was kind of a drag. But certainly, you know, I thought that it showed well for the team obviously with Ryan. Ryan did a good job. You know, he showed if he has the car with some speed, that he qualified the car up there and ran a good race. You know, brought it home on the podium, which is a good thing for the team.

Eric Mauk: Obviously, you've been around a while. You've been with a lot of the top flight teams with the series. You won the series championship in '96. You're with a rookie team this year, but a team that seems to be starting to be putting it together. Are you happy with where things are at the moment?

Jimmy Vasser: You're never happy, are you? I mean, we still have the Reynard chassis, which is, you know, pretty much a disadvantage across the board. And we're still working some things out. Unfortunately, I got some problems on my side of the engineering over the last week, might be having some changes there for next weekend. That's not a good thing. Ed Nathman left the team late last week. You know, I'm trying to coax him back. The best thing for me is to have him finish out the season, but I'm not sure that's even a possibility now. So, you know, you're always having hurdles put in front of you. Some you can see down the road, some they just kind of pop up in front of you. You're never really happy.

But certainly, you know, last weekend I think was a booster for the team. It's going to be interesting to see if that momentum gain from Mid-Ohio is something that the team can feed off of. You know, sometimes they can, and sometimes they can't. It's going to be up to the team. While we wish that's the case, you know, it remains to be seen.

Eric Mauk: Heading into this weekend's event, the Molson Indy Montreal, 2.709 mile permanent road course in Montreal, your 200th career start. Tell us what that means to you, to make 200 career starts in Champ Car.

Jimmy Vasser: Well, I think, you know, it's pretty cool. I haven't been really looking forward to it for very long. They kind of told me it's coming up. You know, it's just a number, right? I had my 199th last weekend. Didn't seem that big of a deal. But I guess it means I'm getting old, right (laughter)?

Eric Mauk: Not quite yet.

Jimmy Vasser: 200 starts. But that's cool. You know, I thought -- when I started, you don't think you're going to race that many races. When I first started, my first few years in Champ Car, I thought, man, if I could have a 10-year career, that would be fantastic. After a couple years ago, after I achieved that, I thought, you know, didn't really think about the numbers so much. But I guess that's a cool thing.

Eric Mauk: Absolutely. Here is to hoping we'll be talking about 250, 300 somewhere down the line.

Jimmy Vasser: Easy, man. I don't think so, bro. 300 (laughter)?

Eric Mauk: I'd like to bring in Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone. Ryan, a graduate of the Champ Car Ladder System, started in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, competed in the Toyota Atlantic series, now running his rookie season in the Champ Cars, coming off his best race as a Champ Car driver in the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio two weeks ago, in which he started second, and finished third, ran up front all day, earned his first podium and the first podium for American Spirit Team Johansson. Ryan, after the event, everything was all smiles. You kind of didn't really look like the whole thing had sunk in yet. Now that you had a week to think about it, what does earning that first podium mean to you?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: It's absolutely huge, as you can imagine. It's just excellent. You know, like you say, it didn't really sink in that day too much just because it's all kind of surreal. But, yeah, it's definitely here. It's sunk in. Now I got to go do the job again in Montreal. Hopefully we can get the car. Like Jimmy said, hopefully we can feed off of it and continue.

Eric Mauk: Do you feel a little more confident? Do you feel a little more acclimated, raring to go for the next event?

Ryan Hunter-Reay: Oh, sure I am, absolutely. You know, I'm very optimistic. But I am a realist. We do have a Reynard. Some of these tracks we go to, we're going to be at quite a disadvantage. You know, I know that. We'll just go, we'll work like we did at Mid-Ohio and see what we come out with. Hopefully the engineering department will do as good a job off the track and hopefully I'll do as good a job on the track, and hopefully the pit crew will do everything there, and we'll get hopefully a similar result. I'm just looking to hopefully get within the top five this weekend. That would be great. You know, we've got a bit of a hurdle to jump, as well, with some of the personnel on the team. We'll see how it goes. I mean, we're just going race by race here.

Eric Mauk: Tell us your thoughts on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, you ran there last year in Atlantics, qualified sixth but had a little trouble on race day. Tell us about that racetrack.

Ryan Hunter-Reay:  Been there once really in Atlantics.  It was a great
track, love it.  Big straights, chicanes.  I love it to a certain extent.
It's not like one of my favorites.  But, you know, the event itself is
unbelievable.  The fans there are so supportive, it's such a great event for
CART.  The cars will be great there.  The racing will be great.  You know, I
can't wait.  For sure, I can't wait.  I also saw Carpentier qualified fourth
there last year.  That gives us a glimmer of hope.

Eric Mauk: Patrick qualified fourth there last year in a Reynard just like you guys will be driving. 168,000 fans came out last year for the three-day event. A lot of those will come out looking at our new Barber Dodge Pro Series champion, Leo Maia. First of all, congratulations on clinching the championship. First time we have a chance to talk to you on the media teleconference since then. Tell us what winning this championship means to you.

Leo Maia: Thanks a lot for the congratulations, Eric. I mean, the championship means so much to me just because going into this season, man, I've been working so hard off the track, on the track, doing everything I can to win the championship, really dedicating myself like a hundred percent. When you really dedicate yourself like that, you really focus on something, you work really hard to get something, I mean, when it comes true, it's just a really enormous feeling of satisfaction, like a real big feeling of accomplishment. It means the world to me and, you know, on top of that, you still get the Career Enhancement Award the Pro Series provides, $100,000, try to move up into Atlantics next year, and the two-day test with the No. 1 team in the Toyota Atlantics right now. It's just great in every respect.

Eric Mauk: The Career Enhancement Award, like you said, moving up to Toyota Atlantics, providing that money for a Toyota Atlantic ride next year. You're on the line with two other guys that have taken that same path, gone up the CART Ladder System, having success in Champ Cars, as Jimmy has had for a long time now. Does it make you feel a little better about your future, seeing what these guys have now done, knowing they came from the same background as you did?

Leo Maia: Oh, yeah. To see Ryan on the podium was inspirational for me. I'm trying to follow in his footsteps, you know. You know, he's sort of the proof that the ladder system works. You know, all the critics out there who said anything that Atlantics or American drivers couldn't cut it or that European drivers are better, I think Ryan showed them, you know, last weekend the truth really, that American drivers are just as quick as anyone, probably quicker than all those Europeans, you know. But, you know, it really gives me a lot of hope, you know, to see these guys come up through the same way I want to come up. The fact that they made it just, you know, gives me hope, it's that light at the end of the tunnel that makes me work even harder.


Part II

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Series Barber Pro , IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Gilles Villeneuve , Ryan Hunter-Reay