CHAMPCAR/CART: A championship conference with Carl Haas and Paul Newman

Team co-owners Carl Haas and Paul Newman visited with the media today at CART's weekly press teleconference to celebrate the team's race win at the Grand Prix Americas last Sunday in Miami and the clinching of the 2002 CART Driver's Championship...

Team co-owners Carl Haas and Paul Newman visited with the media today at CART's weekly press teleconference to celebrate the team's race win at the Grand Prix Americas last Sunday in Miami and the clinching of the 2002 CART Driver's Championship by their driver, Cristiano da Matta.

The team principles had much to say about the cohesive team at Newman-Haas Racing, which contributed to their enjoyment of this championship season. When Haas was asked to compare this championship with the three previous ones the team has won, he first said: "I don't know if I can compare them. I would say from my point of view this is probably somewhat our finest moment because the whole team was so together, that's from the engineering and the crew, the drivers. It just was a terrific run at it. It all worked really well. Everyone worked together. Everyone was part of it."

When asked again later, he elaborated: "What was rewarding to me was what I've said earlier, how much the team has come together. You know, it was 60, 65 stars. Every time you win a race, it's terrific. I'm on a high. It doesn't last too long - probably till Monday afternoon maybe. In the previous championships, they were wonderful with Mario. Michael won a championship with us, too, I believe. Mansell brought a whole new experience. Mansell was incredibly talented, very quick, very much accepted by the press. He was somewhat different, somewhat different. Not the same. But it was fun to win that one."

Haas specifically described top-level personnel moves at the start of the season that were key ingredients to the team's improvement this year: "We're all family. We do occasionally get some new people and some people leave, but the core has been there a long time, which is good. We've gotten some new, young guys, who got some training from the current people, all the people we have. I think it's important. The other thing that's helped, Brian (Lisles), who was one of our top engineers for a long time, took a management position. He's kind of the general manager. He's brought a lot to the table. He's been doing really, really well because he's been able to get all the people more together.

"Peter (Gibbons) has always been our top engineer in a way. He ran Cristiano's car last year. We made some changes this year. Peter became chief engineer overall, being involved with both Cristiano's car and Christian Fittipaldi's car. We did bring in Rocky (Gillaume Rocquelin) and made him chief engineer in charge of Cristiano's car, working with Peter and everyone else. We used Craig (Hampson) on Fittipaldi's car.

"Those guys kind of work together. It was very much a team, which is hard to put together. You know, everybody is running for their own car. It was a very free exchange of information between the drivers and between the engineers, which normally is a very difficult task to be able to accomplish because, after all, they are sort of competing against each other. We don't have any number one or number two driver, number one team, number two team. That's been working very, very, very, very well. Is it a hundred percent? Probably not. But it's much closer than we've ever had it before. I think that's a big factor. Again, Rocky was welcomed by the rest of the engineering department because he brought some new things. Like you say, all the people have been there a long time, and you get a little bit ingrained with ideas. Rocky brought a little bit of new blood to it. That was welcomed. It probably helped, brought some things that we were looking at differently."

The two owners were quick to praise the drivers for their contribution to the positive atmosphere in the team. Newman said: "They both have very, very positive personalities. I think that brings the whole team up. Even when things are difficult or not going well, they still seem to maintain a positive attitude. The fact that they were friends beforehand might have made it a little easier to communicate, but I don't think that in the long run made any specific difference that I could finger. That kind of positiveness spreads like wildfire through the team. It's critical. It's great fun to watch."

Of course da Matta came in for some specific praise from his two bosses. Haas commented: "Cristiano did a fantastic job. Both Paul and I rate him very, very high. He never made a wrong move. He certainly deserves the championship."

Newman agreed, but wouldn't let da Matta off the hook for his spin out at Mid-Ohio: "Cristiano made one mistake all year. The team made a couple, or we would have gotten there earlier. For me it's exciting for a driver who is sitting there, knowing the operation is absolutely critical, and not make any mistakes. To go out there and not make any mistakes, and still win the race, is a pretty hot combination."

Newman was asked how da Matta had developed over his two years with the team. He replied: "I think the talent was maybe always there. I remember watching him in Detroit before he joined us. My God, moving from the back of the pack, he was three-tenths quicker than anybody on the track. I think the talent was always there. I think it just needed to be joined with proper engineering, responsive engineering, that would bring his talent to life. We got the right combination."

Newman also returned to the subject of the positive spirit that da Matta brings to the team: "He's incredibly positive in his attitude. And even when the car was behaving badly, there was no gloomy kind of response to that. He was always kind of looking forward. That's critical to the crew. I think that was a very important aspect of how well they worked together. There wasn't that negativism or sense of criticism."

Newman was asked about his personal racing participation. He has raced himself for nearly thirty years and drove this season in SCCA Club Racing at the age of 76. One question was about whether he got more pleasure from racing or acting. He remarked: "I can't tell you right now. But (wife) Joanne (Woodward) had the smartest observation. She said, 'In the late '70s, I watched you run out of steam and kind of just enter into new films, go into new films with kind of a dull enthusiasm. But the second you started racing, your enthusiasm for racing led back to your profession. It was interesting to watch that come alive.'"

His business partner of 20 years is also obviously impressed by his racing efforts. Haas said to Newman: "Paul, if you would have started a little earlier, you could have been as quick as any of them. You amaze me because you still do some racing, and not bad, not bad."

At the close of the hour-long teleconference, the two were asked about their views on the future of CART. Haas went first: "From my point of view, I've been with CART, as Paul has, for 20 years. Before that I had some involvement in some ways. I'm very pro-CART. We are going through difficult times, but I'm very high on the job that Chris Pook and his team are doing. It's fair to say next year will be a pivotal year. I think it has an excellent chance of getting better."

Newman said simply: "It's hard to lose enthusiasm for the best racing in the country."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , Chris Pook , Cristiano da Matta