T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today. I'd like to open this afternoon by turning the call over to Team KOOL Green owner Barry Green who...
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today.
I'd like to open this afternoon by turning the call over to Team KOOL Green owner Barry Green who would like to make a very special announcement.
BARRY GREEN: Thanks T.E. and thank you everyone for being with us. I am actually calling you from Klein Tools Headquarters here in Chicago and a very exciting announcement for me and for Team KOOL Green as we have just signed a new two-year contract with Dario Franchitti.
So it's really exciting news for us. We've built up a tremendous relationship with Dario. He's done a tremendous job for our team and I think all of our partners KOOL, Klein Tools, Honda, Firestone are all very, very excited about extending this relationship. So really good news for us. We've got plenty of races left in this season to have a go at the Championship this year; then two more exciting years to follow. Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Barry, and congratulations to you and Dario and everyone at Team KOOL Green.
Some quick background on Dario before we begin taking questions. He's in his fifth FedEx Championship Series season and his fourth with Team KOOL Green. In 1999 he finished runner-up to Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in the closest FedEx Championship Series Championship in history, which Montoya won on the tie-breaker of most race victories when the two finished the season with exactly 212 Championship points.
Dario also finished third in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series Championship during his inaugural season with Team KOOL Green. He owns seven race victories including one this season at Cleveland and 10 career pole positions in FedEx Championship Series competition.
Dario claimed his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Road America, site of this weekend's Motorola 220 in 1998. He is also the defending pole sitter there and holds the track qualifying record of 145.924 miles per hour established last year.
Dario enters this weekend's Motorola 220 ranked fourth in the FedEx Championship Series Championship with 81 points. The Motorola 220, Round 14 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ESPN this Sunday, August 19th beginning at 1:00 P.M. eastern time.
With that, we'll open it up to questions for Dario or Barry.
Dario, when you came over here just talk about how long you thought you might be here, maybe a two-year deal head back to Formula One and just how this thing has evolved and what you are looking at for the future?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: How are you doing, first of all, Robin?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I didn't really know how long I would be over here. In the case of the first season with Hogan Racing, if I did a good job then we would see what would happen at that point. Then Barry and I did our deal together. And I really didn't know, you know, what was going to happen. Basically what's happened is I have been enjoying myself over here, enjoying the racing, so I am still here.
I am really happy with the team. I love working with Barry and so that's one of the reasons I am still here. It is a great bunch of guys. And to have such a long-term relationship, I think you have to have that enjoyment and you have to first -- one of the biggest things is they give me a chance to win races and championships.
Following up, was it the kind of thing though that you thought: Well, I will come here and get some experience, did -- what did you think you were going to find when you came here? Did you expect it to be as competitive as you found it to be or I guess maybe what your expectations were when I came here.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I didn't really have too many expectations. It's was a big change around for me because I had been driving a touring car in Germany and then to come over here and drive a Champ Car it was a huge change so I really didn't know what to expect. I didn't have any really preconceived ideas. I thought it would be reasonably competitive. It just seems to become more so every year and a bit more difficult. So that certainly keeps me honest and provides a challenge every year.
Can you just discuss a little bit the factors involved in what led you to decide that the best thing for you was to stay here a couple of more years?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, the first thing, you know, I have to do what makes me happy first of all, and this season I have had one of the most enjoyable that I have ever had, racing anything from when I started racing go-karts. That was the first thing really. That was the No. 1 decision - what was going to make me happy. What's going to provide, you know, a chance to win races, the chance to win championships. The guys can do that, and that was the main decision.
Formula One is something that I still look at and think about, but as I say, it's very important for me to be at -- whatever I am doing to be happy and be competitive. Team KOOL Green and Barry and everybody else on the team provided that chance. I am happy to be extending the agreement for another couple of years.
Was this something where talks have been in the works for a while with you and Barry, say, I'd like to work something out, stay here a couple more years? Can you just kind of talk about the dynamics of what kind of brought this together?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It was basically, you know, there wasn't any -- I guess some people came up and talked to my agent or whatever talked to Julian, but my plan was always to stay with Team KOOL Green. I think maybe Barry, it would be better to talk with him about that. Because Julian and Barry negotiated everything. It was from my side relatively painless. I suppose writing the check for Barry was the hard part. But it was all very painless. I know Barry. I trust him, and it was easy. It was, you know, just a continuation really of a great relationship.
Barry, I am wondering Barry where you stand in terms of trying to bring your whole operation to Indy for the 500 next year.
BARRY GREEN: Well, that's something we can look at in the near future here, Steve. My goal was -- my challenge was to keep the team as it is now; keep Team KOOL Green with Paul and with Dario and I have achieved that. And I am really excited. Today this was a big hurdle for me and I didn't want to break up the team. The team has had tremendous, I think, understanding for each other. We work extremely hard. We've been fast at almost every single race. Yes, we would like to have won a few more races than we've won this year, but we've been fast and we've worked hard and we've had a lot of fun along the way. And that's important to everyone because it's a tough schedule.
We definitely will look at the Indy 500. I say look at it -- as I said, my primary goal is to have a competitive CART team and to win the CART Championship. That is the primary goal.
We'll look . We'll wait and see what the schedule looks like for CART for next year and then look at the Indy 500 as a secondary job.
You have heard what Barry said about the Indy 500. I am wondering what your feelings are about going back next year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: For me it wouldn't be a sort of going back. It would be going there for the first time. I have never experienced 500 so it's really a case of, you know, it's Barry's decision. If Barry says, hey, we're going to do the 500 then I will be excited to go there and compete in the race. But right now, as Barry says, my No. 1 priority right now is to try and win Road America this weekend. From that point on try and win the FedEx Championship this season. That's what I am trying to do. Then everything is secondary behind that right now.
Dario, talk about your relationship with Paul and how you two have really worked together as a team?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Paul and I have worked together from the very first test we did really. Obviously we've had our moments on the track when we've been fighting for position, a couple of times we've had contact, taken each other out. But we have a good respect for each other and we get on well. That's very important, first of all. I think we trust each other. We know we're both out there to beat each other but at the same time we're trying to get both cars up at the front and working together, that's the best way to do that. Having Michael as a technical partner is also helping in that process. It is also great to have a teammate like PT. First of all, he's a good guy and that's very important.
Talk about Elkhart Lake, your expectations, what the track is like for you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's a track that I love. I think it's certainly my favorite to drive on the whole calendar. It just a marvelous place to go racing. I think it really suits the Champ Cars. They are really in one of their natural environments so you can really attack that course and have a lot of fun there. It is just a wonderful place.
As for expectations I really don't know. I am going to go out there and try do my best job and see what we can do. Obviously we qualified on the pole last year but that's for the history books. It's all about this weekend and doing the best job we can.
Why do you seem to like road courses better than ovals; is that a fair statement, first of all?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think I enjoy driving road courses as my first -- what I am used to, what I came from. But as far as saying more successful -- certainly I have won more races, but as for performancewise this season, we've been stronger on ovals than we've had on certain road courses due to circumstances, unfortunately, out of the control of myself and the team we haven't had the results yet. Performancewise we've been, I would think, as strong if not stronger than anybody.
After the intelligent move to renew the contract with Barry, I would like an honest answer about what do you think of today's situation with Formula One?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: In what way do you mean?
Regarding in general - bad, good, no good?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I think from a driver's point of view it's very difficult because you have to be in one of two teams. Maybe three teams now to have a chance of winning races. So from that point of view it is difficult. But I think it's still a very good show. I still watch a lot as a fan. But it's very difficult from the outside to comment on the situation but that's just my observations from the outside.
After the first year of curiosity for the return of Formula One in the United States, do you think this year will be the same, we'll have the same success?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I have no idea. I really don't know.
I wonder if could you rate Dario as far as pure driving talent.
BARRY GREEN: Well, that's hard. I think to be fair. I can only compare him with drivers that I have worked with and I have been lucky enough to be with some great drivers. A lot of people have asked how Dario does compare with drivers that I have worked with. I think Villeneuve is a very fair comparison because they approach their job in very, very much the same manner. They expect the cars to be absolutely perfect. They work hard themselves, both Jacques and Dario worked extremely hard. Jacques worked extremely hard himself and Dario works extremely hard on getting the car to how he needs it, and when they do get that car perfect, look out, because they are the fastest on the track.
I think Jacques was lucky enough to and good enough to win an oval. The only surprise I have got with Dario is that he hasn't won an oval yet. But that's not because he hasn't been fast enough. He had had some great drives on ovals. A couple situations where we've had contact or pitstop problems and Dario has driven back to the front. He had had some tremendous drives on the oval.
I think - and I have said this before - that I think Dario Franchitti is faster on the ovals than Jacques Villeneuve was. So I put Dario way up there. I put Paul Tracy way up there. I put Michael Andretti up there. I am very lucky to have these three guys on my team.
Dario, 13th race of the season here at Road America this weekend, you are just 23 points behind Kenny Brack, no points last week for you at Mid-Ohio. Is it the point in the season now where you just can't afford to leave a venue without scoring any points? Is the pressure really increased at this point in the season?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think any race during the season is like that. You can't afford to leave anyplace without points. Unfortunately sometimes you do. I think seeing that happen this year to everybody without exception, whether they are fighting for the Championship or whatever. It is just one of those things. It's annoying when mistakes are made. For me it's more annoying when I make the mistake. So I was pretty upset after the weekend because I made that mistake. But hopefully lifts up our head. There's enough races enough points left. We have a good chance of challenging for this Championship. So that's what I am looking forward to.