Participants: Neil Ressler, Bobby Rahal, Eddie Irvine Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 NR: Good afternoon. I'm Neil Ressler, chairman and presently CEO of Jag Racing. On my right is Eddie Irvine, our top driver; and on my left is Bobby...
Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000
NR: Good afternoon. I'm Neil Ressler, chairman and presently CEO of Jag Racing. On my right is Eddie Irvine, our top driver; and on my left is Bobby Rahal; and I presume most of you figured out why we're here. I said in Monza, in fact have said a few times lately, that my focus and the focus of the team is moving to next year and beyond next year. I said that we are now focusing carefully on making the right technical decisions for next year and even in some cases for the year following; that we're building the infrastructure of the team; that we're recruiting top people who fill in and strengthen areas that we think need strengthening on our team. I said there that we would be making a series of announcements in the coming weeks; and we're here today to make the first of those announcements, and I think in many ways maybe the most important of them.
I'm delighted to say that Bobby Rahal has agreed to join Jaguar Racing as the chief executive officer and team principal. His experience, as you all know, really speaks for itself and doesn't need any endorsement from me at all. He's shown himself to understand racing at the top levels, to have business acumen, to get along well with people, to be a good team builder, to have the kind of leadership capabilities that will help us greatly at Jag Racing. Speaking for myself, I am delighted that he's agreed to come. I will continue in the role as chairman of Jag Racing. I'm also chairman of Cosworth Racing and of Pi. So I have enough to do to keep me busy with those jobs. Another part of my job is to build a technical bridge back to Ford Motor Company. As many of you may know, I'm an employee of Ford. I've worked at Ford for over 30 years. So I know a lot of the capabilities back at Ford. Doing it the way we're doing it will allow me to focus on the three companies I mentioned, Jag Racing, Cosworth Racing and Pi, and it will allow Bobby to focus entirely on running the team, something he's demonstrated he knows how to do, something we need. I think the combination of me remaining as chairman and doing the things I've outlined and Bobby with all his experience and capabilities, focusing on the running of the team, is a very compatible and mutually advantageous arrangement. This is the first building block. There will be more to come. I'll say once again, I am delighted that Bobby agreed to come. I think we'll open it to questions and the questions can be to myself or to Bobby or to Eddie.
Q: Bobby, can you talk a little bit about what you feel like you bring to Jaguar?
BR: I think first off, I'm sure some people might say, well, what do I know about Formula One? And obviously I think that that really misses the point to a large degree. I think this is a company whose main task is to enter motor racing events and to win them and to represent in this case Jaguar Cars in the manner in which Jaguar would wish to be represented. So I think that irrespective of the specific venue. I think really we're talking about a company and ultimately when you synthesize it all down, the traits or the lessons or the procedures that you need to have a successful company qualify irrespective of that specific venue, as I said. It's not like I'm creating the race set-up, we've got engineers to do that. But my task is to take the organization, work with the various components within the organization to assist in turning it into a winning team because I can't do it myself. This has to be a team effort. So my job is to create that team with the help of the many people that are there. Believe me, I have no illusion about the immensity of this task. Irrespective of whether I had Formula One experience in the last several years or not, this is a huge task; and yet I'm moving there, I'll be living in England and I'm there because I'm ready to take on that challenge. Eddie has certainly proven that he's capable of winning races. My job is to help him do so in the future.
Q: Well, to be successful in Formula One, it appears that it's an all-consuming lifestyle for the people who manage Formula One teams. Bearing that in mind, are you prepared to give that all, everything you have? And how long would you see yourself doing that?
BR: Well, by moving there, I think that's certainly a sign of my commitment to this effort. My family is moving there. So we're digging in, so to speak, and we're going to take this challenge on.
Really, in many respects, this has a lot more relevance to the CART team, for example, than the current situation I'm in right now where I'm really not allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with it. The CART team, we have a very strong organization. So I can still from sort of 35,000 feet, you know, stay very much involved, but my commitment to Neil and to Eddie and to everybody, to Ford Motor Company and Jaguar Cars, is to put forth the effort that's needed to create the organization capable of winning races. And how long does that take? I don't expect miracles. I don't expect that this is going to happen overnight. Finding good people, if you need to find good people, is difficult no matter where you are, whether it's in CART, Formula One or wherever. But certainly I think it's my view that with Neil, I understand their commitment and I would not have undertaken this challenge, frankly, if I did not feel comfortable with the commitment that Neil, Jaguar Cars and Ford Motor Company were making towards this effort. So it's multiple years, I guess. I'll let Neil probably more specifically talk about that, but I do believe even with a hundred percent effort, things aren't going to happen just overnight. It's going to be a long process. But obviously, if we get to the end by winning races and figuring in a championship at some point down the line, then it will all have been worth it.
NR: Bobby, let me just expand on that: the contract is three years. We hope it goes longer than that. But Bobby and I both have talked about the level of commitment. I also live in England, and seeing up close and personal what you referenced, the degree of the commitment that's required, I'm confident that Bobby and his family are prepared to make that commitment.
BR: I hate to come in and not have any easy solutions. I don't think there are easy solutions to any of this. One person does not make a team. This is going to take a tremendous effort across the whole company to create the success that we all want. It's easy to say you want success and you can wish for it, but if you wish for it, it will never happen. You have to actually go out and earn it.
So whether it's engineers or mechanics or what have you, if there's a need -- and I'm not saying there is, I'm just saying if -- then obviously we're committed to trying to find the best people. And I think that just goes, no matter what aspect of the company we're talking about.
Q: Have you been given carte blanche?
BR: I don't know if I would describe it as carte blanche. As I said earlier, I understand the commitment that Neil, Jaguar Cars, Ford, Eddie, everybody, you know, I understand their commitment and the depth of that commitment. I don't think that they're here to run third or to run second. It takes too much effort -- it takes just as much effort to win or not win. But when you're winning, it doesn't feel anywhere near as onerous the amount of effort that's needed.
So I would not have taken this position if I did not feel that the commitment to win -- if I did not feel it was there. I'm confident it's there. It may take some time but it's there and that's the most important part.
Q: Bobby, did you ever consider Formula One during your career as kind of unfinished business and is that one of the reasons that you have taken this now?
BR: Well, I certainly loved living in Europe and racing over there many, many moons ago. There's no question that I, as a boy growing up, I aspired to Formula One. I did make it briefly but at least I made it. But there's no question that coming back now, maybe in some respects vicariously I'm achieving that goal that I had or that dream I had 30 years ago, 35 years ago.
Q: Eddie, what in your mind do you picture from him?
EI: I think his job is going to be, you know, managerial, organizational. They're the qualities you need. Like people, you know, what qualities does a guy need? Jean Todt came from rallying to Ferrari and Jean is doing a fantastic job there. They still haven't quite made it but they're getting close. I think Bobby can bring them things. I think he's a personable character as well, which it's all about, motivating people as well. Having worked with Jean, he was good at that, although the press give him a hard time. But he's very good at that and I think Bobby is going to be the same. He's an ex-driver, so he can relate to my problems and Luciano's problems next year as well.
So I think he's got many things to offer and obviously coming over from America, giving up what he has here -- obviously, he's probably got quite a nice lifestyle here and to give that up and come to the UK shows a level of commitment that's going to be required. The level of commitment in Formula One is second to none, it's all-consuming and that's what's required and nothing less. It's Bobby's job to go out and hire the people to get the job done. He's not going to be going out there and designing the car and changing the tires and doing all this. It's his job to hire the people that will do that to the best of their ability, and know better than anyone else's ability in Formula One. I think he's got a great awareness of that and he's got a great depth of experience in motor racing. He's got a wide range of contacts in motor racing and that can only be invaluable to us.
Q: Eddie, a couple of years ago when Stewart Racing won a race, they looked like they rounded the corner. What's happened in the interim? What's the biggest problem you guys have had?
EI: I think the biggest problem is basically everyone has moved on. Last year you had a lot of bad cars. I thought that the Benetton wasn't a good car, the Williams wasn't a good car, the BAR was a bad car. You know, you get a lot of guys that got it wrong last year; and this year they got it right -- or they didn't get it right because McLaren/Ferrari are the ones who got it right. But they have made a step forward and we probably didn't. We thought we probably had a good car last year and we just modified it a little bit when really it wasn't a car that needed modifying, it was a car that needed a complete rethink, to be honest. That's what I thought. I think we've been left behind a little bit. We've had problems with the clutch which really at the start of the year, if you look at it, I was qualifying 6th, 7th consistently. If you're doing that you're going to get points, basically consistently, if you don't break down; and we had reliability. Johnny had a few problems with reliability but basically had reliability from the start of the season. It wasn't as big an issue as everyone made out. The problem was the clutch. Even though I'd qualify 6th, 7th or 8th, I'd end up 12th or 13th by the first corner. So you're out of the points. Then we've been really, for me we've been looking at next year a lot. We've been trying to understand what was wrong with the car. You know, we have actually improved the car massively. You have to watch the way the car handled in the first few races to the way it handles now; it is a lot better. But we haven't made it actually any quicker; we've maybe made it slightly slower in some aspects. But we've actually built up our knowledge which explains to us why and explains a bit to the guys why they had problems last year at certain places and why we're having problems this year. We're building up a picture which is necessary for going forward.
You know, I'd rather we didn't get any more results for another six months, but we actually understood the big picture what needs to happen and then we can go forward. Because just getting one lucky result like the Nurburgring last year was a great result for the team but you have to say it was rather fortunate. It's better to get consistent thirds and fourths than one race where you get a first and a second or a first and a third, I feel, because that's a better indication of where you actually lie.
As I say, this year has been a tough year for everyone; but for me, I think we have learned a lot. My years at Ferrari have helped me in that respect pinpointing some of the things I felt were wrong. You know, the guys then needed to understand it as well because I'm not an aerodynamicist or an engineer. There's things that are going on that I can say I don't think this is right and I think this is what it is; but then our engineers and our aerodynamicist, they have to go and pinpoint and understand exactly what's happening; and they've done that to a large extent.
Q: What, if anything, changes as far as the operation of the CART team?
BR: Really, in most respects it's not going to change appreciably, other than I will have from a distance, but from sort of a strategic standpoint, you know, a contribution that, as I said, the last six months I haven't been able to have.
But Scott Rempke and the staff that we have, have proven conclusively this year that they really don't need me, done a very good job without my day-to-day presence. And, frankly, I look at this as a real win-win situation. I know there are some people that think that this is a negative but, frankly, I look at this as strengthening a relationship that I have with Ford Motor Company that obviously branches out into different directions. I think it speaks some very positive things about CART. So I look at it as a win-win; and I think, particularly with the partnership that we have with Ford, with a lot of Neil's people in Detroit, I think it's just going to help the team in the end.
Q: When is this effective?
NR: December 1st. But Bobby is coming to the next three F1 races and I'm going to Surfers Paradise (Champ Car race in Australia) to spend the weekend with them.
Q: Where do you see CART going -- without Bobby Rahal -- without a CEO?
BR: Well, I always said it was interim. I don't think I ever conveyed in any way, shape or form to anyone that it was anything but that. I also said at times that no man is more important than the sport. And to say that by my changing from not being the CEO that somehow everything is going to come to a grinding halt I think is ridiculous. I think that there is an executive search going on right now. The level of interest in the position is extremely high. I think probably better than at any time in the past. I view my position in the last several months as nothing more than getting the company ready for a permanent CEO, and that's happening. So I think that, as I said, I'd take a very different look than some people. A lot of people are saying this is a great thing. There are some nay-sayers out there, but I believe that ultimately in the long-term CART is going to be stronger for it and I think certainly Team Rahal, Bobby Rahal is going to be stronger for it. If I do my job, Jaguar Formula One will be stronger for it.
Q: Is there a short list for the CEO?
BR: It's being developed right now. Frankly, there are so many resumes -- I mean realistically there's quite a few. Some are realistic. Some are, you know, "Gee, I loved racing, I think I should be the CEO." I mean, you get the whole gamut but there are a lot of very realistic resumes out there.
Q: Neil, having made a commitment when you took on this job, have you been surprised in any way how big a job it is and how much of a struggle it has maybe been?
NR: Well, we thought from the beginning that there were two jobs here, not one job. The original plan basically that we had developed and had agreed to last fall was that Paul Stewart would serve this year as chief operating officer, I would remain chairman, and would spend as much of the year as necessary to find a chief executive officer. And that's what we would have done except, as some of you may know, in April Paul was diagnosed with having what was described as treatable cancer -- and I'll come back to that in a minute because it looks like it's going the right way. But that kind of forced my hand because now the operating person was no longer in the office. So I ended up moving quickly to England to do both jobs. But, if anything, that intensified the search for a CEO. As a matter of fact, Bobby and I began talking as early as May. So it wasn't very long after Paul was diagnosed that I was already on the trail of Bobby to try to -- well, I say talk him into it but it didn't really take very much talking. The first conversation we had, I think I caught him at a test. It was some place. I think it was a test, actually. I just asked him if he had ever thought about coming to Formula One and outlined what I had in mind; and we were on the way. But is it a big job? Yeah, it's a huge job. I guess I would say that I was a little surprised at some aspects of it. It's more public than I thought it would be. I had spent all those years at Ford in high-pressure jobs but relatively out of the limelight; and all of a sudden you're in the limelight. I was reminded of the saying that there's no shortage of free advice in the world and there's certainly no shortage of free advice in what it takes to make a Formula One team work. It comes in by the truckload each day. But, yeah, it's a big job. As a matter of fact, looking back on it, both these are gigantic jobs and I think both of us are going to be pressed hard to get the job done.
Q: How is Paul (Stewart)?
NR: Oh, thank you for reminding me. Paul completed his six cycles of chemotherapy. I had lunch with him Thursday and he's looking great. You know, during the course of treatment, as is the case with that sort of treatment, one tends to look not so good. Thursday he looked better than I've seen him since before April and is clearly on the road to recovery, is getting more vigorous, doing a bit of exercising. It was really wonderful to see him. So we're all hopeful. Actually, the picture looks quite good for him. So I think that's going to have a happy ending.
Q: Bobby, when Jordan came to Formula One, Ron Dennis said welcome to the piranha club. Are you ready for the political back-biting that occurs in F1?
BR: Well, I've known Ron for a long time. I actually tried to drive for Ron back in 1979, I think it was, or '80. But, yeah, I read Autosport. I understand, but, you know, I think I've got enough on my plate without having to worry about all that stuff. It's like Neil said, I think I'm going to have so much advice as to what to do that I'm going to need wings to stay above it all, frankly. But I understand it's a little different situation than what I'm used to. But I'll let Neil go fight the political battles and I'll worry about the team itself.
Q: It's a three-year contract, Bobby, but you will be judged on results, successes, results. What will be your game plan for success over these three years?
BR: Well, I think we have to be realistic. It's all too easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment and say we're going to go out and, you know, start winning races and this and that. And certainly, that obviously is an objective. But realistically I said earlier I have no illusions about the immensity of that task. I think our first job is to get the company in the right shape to allow Luciano and Eddie to go exercise their craft and do it successfully. Now, that's going to take some time. If you find that there's areas that we need to improve upon, how quickly you can find the components to improve those certainly has a lot to do with how fast you come to grips with the situation. But I'm not going to sit here and tell you that next year we're going to win a race or in three years we're going to be vying for the world championship. Those are the ultimate goals, to be sure. But we've got a job to do right now, which is to get the company in the right shape to achieve all those things. Because if you don't, if you don't have the right people in the right places doing the right things, as I said earlier, I don't care how much you wish for, it's not going to happen. So I'm coming here to win, but at what point in time that's going to come, I'm not going to give you guys anything to hang me by. I'm a little more realistic than that.
Q: Neil, in the late '60s and '70s, Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti (were American drivers in Formula One). Is there any kind of plan in place, Paul Edwards over there running World Formula, is he likely to develop a young American driver?
NR: Yep, I'd like to see an American driver make it in the big time. I think in the foreseeable future that will require that that American driver go compete in Europe. That's the competition, those are the venues that produce world champion drivers.
But having said that, we're not going to choose our drivers on the basis of their nationality, we're going to choose our drivers on the basis of who's most likely to win. If along the way an American comes along and is the best, we'd choose that person. I should also say that part of this team is a Formula Three team that this year raced under the banner of Stewart Racing just because we didn't want to change -- we had enough trouble changing the F1 team, not to try to change the Formula Three team. But they operate out of the same building and we view that as what Jackie Stewart used to describe as a staircase of talent -- in this case just two stairs -- but Formula Three has proven to be a good point of entry into Formula One. People are not going to 3000. Just say Jenson Button, as an example. He came straight from Formula Three to Formula One.
As we develop our Formula Three program further, we'll give Americans, maybe even this year, a crack at it to see whether they can get started. I think that's going to be a long trip, by the way. I don't think that will happen in a year or two. I think it's a long trip. If Americans come to Europe like the Brazilians do -- lots of Brazilians in Europe racing, lots of Brazilians in CART racing, lots of Brazilians in Formula One racing. The reason is they're coming to Europe, competing in the lower formulas, advancing and the best ones rise to the top. That's how Americans can succeed, too.
Q: Bobby, in your brief tenure as CEO at CART, what type of impression do you think you've left on the series?
BR: Well, I'm not sure I'm the one who should answer that, really. I think my brief tenure is still not over.
Q: Do they know that today?
BR: Do they know? Oh, yeah, they know. Oh, yeah, believe me. And are very supportive, I might add. My board of directors -- my current board of directors is very supportive, I might add.
But my impact? I don't know. I think that that's for other people to really comment on. We have things yet to do -- the process is ongoing. As I said earlier, my job is to prepare the table so that the permanent guy coming in doesn't have to deal with all the difficulties, that he can just take it and run with it. We're making progress in that regard.
But, as I say, no one person is doing all of this. We've got a great team up there. Things are happening. So in two months perhaps you should ask some of your contemporaries what the legacy really is because I'm not sure I'm the one qualified to comment on that.
Q: Bobby, can I ask you, do you regard Formula One as the pinnacle of motor sport? You will adapt to Formula One but will the Americans adapt to Formula One as easily?
BR: The answer to the second part of your question, will Americans adapt to Formula One? I mean there's a very rabid group of Formula One fans in this country already. Obviously, the interest level in the States towards Formula One is very low relative to other forms of motor sport. I think the fact that Grand Prix racing has been out of sight, out of mind for -- what -- 10 years now or so hasn't helped that.
Prior to leaving Phoenix, it kind of bounced around to three or four circuits and that certainly didn't help the public following or the interest in F1. But certainly when it was at Watkins Glen or Long Beach, the interest is quite good. So I think over time certainly it can regain -- to what level, I don't know, but it can regain some interest. I think it's a fantastic race.
You say, is it the pinnacle? I think it's different. CART racing is different from Formula One racing as is stock car racing. I think it's arguable. Depending on who you had in the room with you, you'd hear probably three or four different opinions as to what's best. I think they each present tremendous challenges and only the best teams are able to conquer those challenges.
So, you know, to say one is better than the other, I think they're just different. They're apples and oranges; and I think to succeed at either level, at any of those levels takes a tremendous effort.
Q: Bobby, what do you think about Indianapolis as a Formula One venue?
BR: Well, a little over a year ago I actually went around when they were just paving the infield part. It's going to be interesting, that's all I can say. I mean the front straight, I don't know what the terminal velocity will be, but it seems to me it will be well over 200 miles per hour. You know, I don't know. I think that Eddie is able to best reflect on that probably after he's run on it. But I think ten years ago or so Tony expressed to me what if he had the U.S. Grand Prix here and I told him I thought that would be tremendous because you'd have the Indy 500, you'd have the Brickyard 400 and the U.S. Grand Prix all at one place. I don't think of many venues in the world that can claim they have three top-notch events like that.
Q: Eddie, along those lines, Villeneuve this morning was saying, "I'll get to it. I saw it in the plane, no worries." Is this a circuit drivers are not concerned about having not seen before and the high-speed course and no rubber on the infield portion?
EI: I think Jacques has probably been around it on the Sony PlayStation, that's how he's quite confident. I think it's a circuit, they're all circuits and we've got a bit of banking but that shouldn't be an issue. I think maybe where the biggest issue is where we join the banking, I think, is a bit of a step or something someone told me. But all circuits, you get there and you walk them and try to figure them out. Figure who's the best and who has the best car wins and it's that simple. You know, you either come to the corner and you turn left or you turn right. It's pretty much the same all around the world.
Q: Bobby, one of the things you said a couple times this summer is the new role you took on is not what you envisioned in your retirement. How do those concerns seem now when you're packing up and moving to take this job?
BR: Well, I haven't been with my family at all this year, this summer, for example. My family vacation for me was 40 hours in Canada with my family. They were there for three weeks, I was there for 40 hours. So I think, as I've said to many people, I feel we're all going to be together over there. You know, it's more relevant to what I've been doing here in terms of being involved in a racing team. As I say, as interim CEO of CART, I've really been extremely hands-off and I've been living in an airplane on behalf of CART for the last three months. So I think it sounds like it's more work but I think it in some respects is going to allow me to have more time with my family. I lived in England for several years in the '70s, my wife did as well, I think it's going to be a great experience for my family and for my children. So while I'm working hard, they can go out and learn about different worlds and different cultures.
Q: Bobby, having seen this circuit and knowing this banking, and you just heard Eddie's evaluation of it similar to Jacques', what's your evaluation of the drivers' evaluations?
BR: Well, I think that's the way a driver looks at it. They all present different challenges; and this one is going to present challenges initially. But, you know, at this level everybody comes to grip with things pretty quickly. For me, of course, I'm used to running around here going the other way. If you turn left that sharply what will be out of Turn 1 now, you're in deep trouble.
So it's a different animal. But I mean, it's just another challenge, another racetrack, another day and you just get on with it and go fast.
Q: Neil, do you see Ford teams and CART participating in the 500 at this time? And secondly, has Ford got plans to develop a motor that would run here?
NR: Well, as fate would have it, Dan Davis is here somewhere and Dan is a better man to ask. I have been submerged in Formula One. I can't say much about that. I mean, I can make some stuff up, but you probably wouldn't want to hear that.
Q: Can Dan comment now?
NR: Well, he's running out the door. Dan says see him afterwards. I can't say anything about it. I don't know.
Q: Well, Indianapolis must be a place of high drama for you, to win here with Jim Trueman, the split of CART and IRL. When you got off the plane, as another key moment of your life, can you explain it?
BR: It's a little bit like, you know, the Wizard of Oz, the house has landed out here and it's like I'm in a different world again. I have reflected on this many times. When you used to come over here the month of May for that month and you knew every day you were pounding around this place looking for a tenth of a mile an hour or what have you, it truly was a tremendous experience at the time.
This is a whole different atmosphere. I'm excited to see the event this weekend. I think it's a great place and I'm pleased to be here just purely because I think it's great to have a Grand Prix back in the United States; and as I said to Tony (George) some time ago, I think this is a great place for it to be.
Q: About the American driver, do you have an American driver name in mind, a solid program at all?
NR: No, we're going to have two empty seats in Formula Three this year. That is to say for next year. We're arranging some tests at some tracks in Europe. I've asked Bobby to think about whether we would want to test an American driver among the collection. We've already gotten most of the test spots filled because there were already names. But we're going to try to hold a seat, at least one seat in the test open. If an American comes and is best, he gets to drive. That's it.
-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-