T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Jimmy Vasser of Patrick Racing, winner of the 1996 FedEx...
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Jimmy Vasser of Patrick Racing, winner of the 1996 FedEx Championship Series championship. Thanks for being with us. Jimmy, the driver of the No. 40 Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, is in his 10th year of the FedEx Championship Series and his first with Patrick Racing. He joined the Patrick Team following six outstanding seasons with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, for whom he won the 1996 series championship. His years at Target Ganassi included finishes of second in 1998 championship and third in '97 and top ten finishes of all six seasons with the team. All together Jimmy has earned nine Champ Car victories including a 1996 triumph in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and seven pole positions in his FedEx Championship career. His debut with Patrick Racing resulted in a 6th place finish in the March 11th FedEx Championship series season opener in Monterrey, Mexico. Heading into this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, he stands sixth in the FedEx Championship series with eight points. Round Two of the FedEx Championship series will be telecasted live on ABC-TV Sunday, April 8th, beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
What have you done with your spring break?
Jimmy Vasser: Yeah. Just a little fitness, relaxation, a little mix, a little personal.
Good. Be good to get back racing next weekend?
Vasser: Yeah, everybody is ready to go again. We've got another small break after Long Beach. I think there's three weeks off.
Then it gets into it.
Obviously the first race of the season was down in Monterrey, a temporary circuit, and just to look at things very simply, one temporary circuit to the next, one might think that Monterrey was a good indicator of what to expect at Long Beach, but as we know, Monterrey was special given that it was a new track and there wasn't a lot of grip there. I just wondered if you could maybe make a comment as to how much you think Monterrey is kind of a predictor of what's going to happen at Long Beach this weekend?
Vasser: I wouldn't say much. I don't think it would be much of a predictor. But I think the same kind of cars are going to run -- a lot of guys can run up front, but you'll see a lot of familiar faces running good at times. It's a whole different tire. They're different circuits, but they brought a road course tire, and we're going to run the street circuit tire at Long Beach. That's the biggest difference.
And the car setups probably won't be similar because of the different tires, so we encountered some differences in our setup when we were testing in the winter season between the road course and the street circuit tire, and I'm happy to get back on that tire. We tested it with the street circuit tire, and I think with the car that Patrick Racing had at Long Beach, I think we're in a good position to run up front this weekend.
One thing that will be similar probably is pretty large and enthusiastic crowds at both places? A. Yeah. It's always been a party atmosphere in Long Beach, one of the better ones all year. And everybody was happy with the turnout in Monterrey and the festivities. I think it was a great success.
One final thing, obviously a few minutes ago, Toyota announced that it's going to be involved in producing an IRL engine for 2003 and just wondered what your reaction to that is off the top of your head?
Vasser: Well, it won't affect us this year. It won't really affect us next year. And it's my understanding CART really hasn't announced their engine package for the future, so I think the planets and the moons and the stars, they're all lining up for maybe some potential good things to happen there. I've got my fingers crossed.
Jimmy, you alluded momentarily there about the party atmosphere of Long Beach. It's sort of been the trendsetter or the icon of all of CART, a huge crowd year after year. What is it about Long Beach that makes it so special? And the second part of the question is what is it, from a driver's point of view, what does it mean to have the huge crowd there, et cetera?
Vasser: I'll answer the first part of your question. I think it's tradition at Long Beach. The race has been there for so long, and there's great race fans in Southern California. That's really kind of the epicenter of the love of the automobile is California, and hot rodding and all that kind of car enthusiasts atmosphere. We have similar great crowds at Fontana. So I think it's been the history of the race.
And as far as how that affects the drivers, it just creates a great energy. You can feel the energy when you get enthusiastic people and a big crowd and a party atmosphere. People are anticipating the race and another beer, I guess, but it just creates an energy, and the drivers feel it. And as we can feel the lack of it, energy and empty stands, i.e., Michigan. So you have good times with that energy, and sometimes bad.
Potentially -- if I came on late, pardon me -- I was wondering if Jimmy could comment on Toyota's announcement to get involved with the Indy racing in 2003.
T.E. McHALE: You did miss that. Jimmy, maybe you could give a quick synopsis of your earlier comments.
Vasser: Yeah, the obvious thing, it's not going to affect us this year, and/or next year, so I think with -- and also we're waiting for CART's announcement on their engine package for the future. So I think that from a driver's standpoint, I think that it's becoming more and more possible to try to align some rules, for instance, with the engine, which could potentially open up the doors for more CART teams to participate at the Indianapolis 500 in the future. And I think that would be great.
As a driver I'd like to get back there as many times as I could before I retire, and I'm sure other drivers in the CART FedEx Championship series feel the same way.
It kind of has been answered, but I'll phrase this this way. In your view, do you think that Toyota announcing that they're going to supply engines for the IRL will hurt CART by taking money away from the CART series and funnel it towards the other series? Do you have an opinion on that?
Vasser: No, I don't really have an opinion on that. I can speculate and make all kinds of crazy stories up, and potentialities, so I think that Toyota's support of CART up to this point and for the next few years has been fantastic, and so I wouldn't really be in a position to try to analyze that in a negative light.
Other than that, are you happy with the Toyota engine so far this year? You ran other engines -- I guess you ran the same engine last year?
Vasser: Absolutely, Toyota has made some great strides over the last couple of years in the progression over the last few years. They won the first race. They're on top, there's no doubt about it.
I guess in terms of Indy in 2003, I guess there is an interest in your team, if Toyota has engines, and the engines are similar to CART, there is an interest in your team to go there and run?
Vasser: You know what, I can't really speak for Mr. Patrick or Jim McGee that runs the team. I think there's some sort of interest, sure, if things work out. But right now we're focused on -- and I'm not really in discussions that far out with the team -- we're focused on this season right now with Long Beach and trying to get as pumped up with our car for this season. I wish we could be making plans right now for 2003, but to be honest with you, we're not.
Jimmy, the qualifying rules, obviously if you're slow at the previous race you're going to start back, Alex Zanardi didn't think that was going to be a problem with him at a track like Long Beach. Could you comment on that? And there's been a lot of conversation about CART adopting a more Formula 1 type qualifying stance, where they get out and run a certain amount of laps?
Vasser: Yeah, we've been tossing around some ideas about qualifying, and actually I was more energized in those talks last year, when we were two sessions and it had to do with the previous weekend's qualifying, if you got in the slow session or the fast session. And it just didn't really spark much change. I think the owners changed. Instead of from the previous weekend's qualifying, you're doing it from the points, which I thought was cool because it promotes finishing races.
To be honest with you, I think there's been talk about that for a long time, but the way that things like that get changed, they have to move through the board, and you have to have a meeting, I don't know when their next meeting is, and it needs a unanimous type vote. I think what you see is what you're going to get all season long.
Well, with Long Beach, does it really make that much difference to be starting in the slow group?
Vasser: Well, I mean it could. Usually rubber is always going down. Fast group, slow group, that's been the case for years. It's no different now. But you've seen guys run good out of the slow groups and the fast. But with regards to Long Beach, it's probably not a huge deal, but it definitely is an advantage to be in the fast group. And the slow group -- now you won't get such a slow group, fast group thing. You're going to get a guy that didn't finish in the points, it will be more of a mix now, so it should be more interesting.
How do you feel your chances are for the weekend?
Vasser: Fantastic. We tested well on the street circuit tire. Patrick Racing ran well last year, so did I at Long Beach, and I think we're well positioned to run up front. Having said that, I'm not over confident or I'm not expecting anything. You always have to have your eyes open and expect the worst, so you can react quick.
Jimmy, do you have any practical jokes on your teammates yet?
Vasser: On Roberto?
Vasser: He is a big practical joker, so I'm afraid to start throwing the first bombs. I could tell retaliation with him might be far worse than I could ever muster up myself.
What do you think of your ex-teammate and his little adventure in Brazil this weekend?
Vasser: That was great to see. I think -- I'm not surprised at all. It's just a matter of time before he finds his feet over there and is winning races, and I think it won't be too long, too many seasons before we see a world championship from him. He's really a special talent.
Will we see a championship from you this year?
Vasser: I certainly hope so. That's why I'm here.
I gather the move to Patrick has re-energized you, and you and the team are getting along and working well together?
Vasser: Yeah, absolutely. It was an easy transition; slid right in. They're a professional outfit, and they have a very calm demeanor, and just -- like I had been there for a few years already. So it's going good.
Their philosophy is similar to mine. You have to finish races and get points. And we'll be in a position to win races, and we won't want to fumble the ball then.
I don't think it's either Patrick Racing's or my style of racing to try to force anything. When you try to force things, you might get away with it once in a while, but more often than not you're going to end up in the tires. I think you're going to see good things out of us this year.
You mentioned earlier that you're going to have another three-week gap after Long Beach, and quite realistically if Emerson Fittipaldi was to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get a Brazilian race going still for this season, would you be able to physically, one, want to participate in it if CART does go, and would you be open to that still for this year?
Vasser: You mean in that three-week hole?
No, not in that three week, because I know it's not realistic in that time. But anywhere in the schedule?
Vasser: Yeah, certainly, I love going to Brazil and racing there. If they're able to put things together and CART said, 'hey, there's going to be a race,' absolutely. Everybody would be willing to go, and we'd go and make it happen.
But to be honest with you, I think the decision has already been made. Because it's such a big undertaking, you can't just -- it's my opinion, as much as I'd love to see Emerson pull it off or them to do it. I don't think it's really logistically possible to throw it in there somewhere and say we're going. I find that hard to believe. I think they made announcement and decision not to go.
Jimmy, first of all, a friend of mine wants to know where you got that hot bike you were riding around in Michigan last year. He wants one, too.
Vasser: I bought that at an antique store. It's an old Firestone bicycle.
Long Beach, of course, changed configuration over the last couple of years. Since it is going to be essentially the same track this time, do you think you're going to have a better handle on coming to the track, since you're not going to get nearly as much practice before then?
Vasser: I think the track will be similar. Everybody is in the same boat. The way the schedule is now we have more practice on Friday than we've had in the past, and more track time. I think that the important thing is that everybody is on the same playing field. Everybody is similar time, and I think that really won't be an indicator, what's going to happen on the weekend.
The fact that there were so many changes and so many new teams and drivers moving around and everything, did the extra layoff maybe help some of those teams that are new as compared to some of the teams that were more established from last year?
Vasser: Yeah, it gives them more time to organize, catch up. Some teams were thrown together late, and still scrambling together in Mexico to get things together. And one team is the Fernandez team. And the extra time would allow them to catch a deep breath and be more organized for the rest of the season.
Have you been approached by your business associate, Mr. Heitzler about marketing the FedEx Championship series?
Vasser: Well, maybe in a very general sense to the whole driver group, not to me personally. I think he has some high ambitions and a lot of great ideas that are going to take a little time to implement. It's not going to happen overnight. I think he's got some good vision, and it's going to take a matter of a little time to see how that plays out.
Can you offer any specific ways that you think could be used to help market and grow the series?
Vasser: I could, but to be honest with you, I don't really want to make my views in matters of marketing of which I really don't have any say or any input, I really can't guide it. For me, personally, I don't find it necessary for me to publicly announce my views on stuff like that.
I want you to think back to last year, if you could for me, you're certainly an experienced driver on ovals and at Target Ganassi you ran both the IRL and CART. Could you address as a driver the differences between the Champ Car and an IRL car, the difference in terms of the chassis and the power in driving the car?
Vasser: The difference is the power. The IRL car has quite a bit less power and throttle response. The Champ Car is really -- it's almost like a beast compared to the IRL car. The IRL car feels like an Indy Light would as far as acceleration and power, and that's the biggest difference. But from behind the wheel, once you get acclimated to the ergonomics in the cockpit and the lack of power, which really only takes a few laps to get used to, then you're just driving the car around the track, trying to squeeze out -- you have to remember, we pretty much only drove the car at Indianapolis. Then you're trying to extricate all the speed out of it. From that point there's a lot more similarities than differences between the Champ Car and the IRL car. So I think once you get over those few power deficiencies, you're rely really dealing with the same parameters, similar handling and setup changes along those lines.
As a driver, I know you did a test I think at Las Vegas with the team. Did it take you like part of a day to get used to the difference in terms of the feel?
Vasser: Yeah, that's about it. It's certainly not a week thing. You can get used to the car in a couple of days, or a couple of test days, if everything is going right, and half of a day, and then you're focused on dealing with that car and dealing with the idiosyncracies of that chassis. And like I said, there's a lot more similarities between the two than there are differences in the setup and so forth, but the engine formula is the biggest difference in the two series.
Jimmy, in my earlier question we were talking about the energy that drivers get at a place like Long Beach and same here maybe in Toronto, Australia and Mexico in the opening race. Do you have any views on whether CART should maybe start looking at more road races -- street races, and get away from the ovals which seems to be equated more with NASCAR races in the minds of racing fans?
Vasser: Again, I think that certainly the atmosphere at the street races is working for CART. I think CART seems to fit there. However, we've had some great energy at oval races like Chicago. And I think that they need to be promoted. Street races kind of promote themselves. You throw up barriers downtown, and people know when it's coming to town, you see things going on in the cities. And the setup of the race promotes itself, and it's a party atmosphere. Then it has some history, like Toronto and Long Beach and so forth. But I think that -- here I go, I'm going to give you an opinion -- the oval races we have aren't promoted. And when they did promote them; they were successful. I don't know where you put the blame, on the promoter or CART or both, or together they need to promote -- if you promote a tricycle race good enough, people are going to come and watch. That's just my view.
Again, your adaptation to the new Patrick team with those many years with Ganassi, what do you account for the rapid adaptation, and are you surprised you've adapted so quickly?
Vasser: Well, the reason I think I really believe that we were able to adapt quickly and meld together quickly is the people at Patrick Racing; they're a great, easygoing group of people. And I've said this before, I think that comes from Pat and Jim McGee, and that's just the way they are. They've been in the business a long time. They're professionals and the group is very relaxed. They don't make people feel uneasy in their position. They let them do their job, and they're professionals, and they're a good race team, second and third in the championship last year. You have to say the best team in CART as a whole, with the two cars up front. So they're very relaxed, they're very calm, and you've got to give credit where credit is due. And that comes from management. If a team is in disarray and confusion, I don't think you blame the guys either. You have to go to management. In this case I think you give the credit to the management and to the ownership.
Do you have a different view of Patrick now that you've worked for him as you did as a rival?
Vasser: I never knew him very well. I always had a view of him as a very serious, very stoic, very stern. And that was just my opinion from first opinions from years ago. And I hadn't really known him that well. And come to find out he's got one of the most wonderful dry senses of humor you've ever seen. He's very warm. I had the completely opposite opinion of him, and he's a very funny and very good guy to be around and interesting to hang out and chat with him.
You were talking about the comparison of the CART and IRL engines before, and the fact that the IRL engines take a little time to get back up to speed. From a driver's perspective, those engines are around 650 horsepower, how much horsepower will the CART version of this engine, assuming that CART were to adopt this 3.5 liter spec, and make some changes to it, what horsepower range do you feel the engine needs to be in to be a good road course and street course engine?
Vasser: 750, I think that's probably -- I mean that's about what they're going to get out of them, I think. Right now we're probably upwards of 890, 900. If they could get somewhere around 750, 775 out of them, it would bring it down a bit with funky aerodynamic changes, and two, I think it would -- it would make things a little closer. I think that the IRL engine, at least the one I drove, for us in road course configuration, and throughout the season it's just not enough horsepower, so I think that 750 is probably the right area.
T.E. McHALE: Jimmy, thanks for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach and the rest of the championship season.