Champ Car media teleconference transcript with former Portland race winners Mark Blundell, Mario Andretti and Alex Zanardi. Part 2 of 2 Eric Mauk: The 1996 race you started off that race in the dry; then the rains came by halfway through as...
Champ Car media teleconference transcript with former Portland race winners Mark Blundell, Mario Andretti and Alex Zanardi.
Part 2 of 2
Eric Mauk: The 1996 race you started off that race in the dry; then the rains came by halfway through as the rains usually do when we go to Portland. What is the key to getting around that track in the rain?
Alex Zanardi: Well, it's certainly a different key when you have wet tires but in that particular case I actually had slicks. It was very difficult. It was a dramatic race, and actually I was kind of wondering at the beginning of the race itself I couldn't see any anybody in my mirrors because I pulled away so easily and so rapidly that I said -- at that beginning of the season I used to have a lot of bad luck that was taking away results from me. Sometimes I actually feel that you are unlucky and maybe it's just a question of having the experience to hold the pressure and control the event, but for whatever reason I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy very good results after that point and so when I saw the first drops of rain in my shield, I said, okay, here we go, that's what it's going to take from me today. And I couldn't believe my eyes because it actually started pouring rain right when I was going to go in any way for fuel and tires.
Obviously I couldn't help my team at all because in the back straight it was dry and it was not raining and as I approached the pit lane it was pouring and I couldn't help them at all. I couldn't make the call myself to go with slicks or with wet. Turns out that we just went with the original plan, so we just filled the car with gas and put another set of slicks. And as I left pit lane it was just like on ice, to be on ice. It was definitely, very, very difficult to keep the car on the black road and not on the green one (grass).
The good thing is as I hit the back straight of the circuit it was pretty dry so I could pull quite a lot of speed and doing that I put some heat in the tires that helped me a lot also on the wet part. But it just lasted a couple of laps and then it quit raining and eventually the circuit dried up really, really rapidly. That saved my day, definitely, because I only lost the lead for fuel stops, then I came back in control of the situation. But for sure, in the middle part of it, my eyes were pretty fixed to keep control on what I was doing.
Q: I guess Alex, before you got on Mario was talking about the need to kind of find the right balance around all the turns and the varying kinds of turns at Portland. Another way to look at Portland, at least I have always understood is in a very shorthanded way is that some people say that it's in some ways like two drag strips connected by a bunch of corners because obviously you have the long front straight and the high speed back straight and with the turns at each end. But I am wondering how that -- just how you think that the drivers will approach that this year given that everybody has, you know, basically exactly the same amount of horsepower, you know, whereas in the past maybe, you know, if -- maybe Mark, you know, with the Mercedes, when you won or Alex with the Honda, or Mario with Chevys and Fords, you know, you might have approached it differently, but given that everybody is going to have the same amount of power how do you think that that's going -- what sort of challenge do you think that's going to present to the drivers and teams this year? This is for all three of you.
Mario Andretti: I feel that a compromise is going to be the premium here, like you said, you cannot afford a lot of downforce from the wings because you cannot afford the drag. You have got two straightaways that are very, very important for the speed, yet when you get to the corners you're really dying for that downforce. So here you go with a compromise. Believe me, in the areas where you need the downforce, you really, really love it. But now more than ever I think you are going to have to find that middle ground and that's going to be a pretty tricky situation, obviously, for the driver to deal with.
Alex Zanardi: I definitely agree with Mario and on top of that I would say that Portland, it seems to be very difficult to also find a good mechanical balance because if on other circuits you may have places where you just need the car to turn in rapidly but then you just need to turn the power and deliver all the power on the ground so you need good traction. In Portland you have middle and high speed turns where you have got to have a car that turns well but that stays in line for a long, long time and that's what you need to have a good balance.
Now the compromise normally is to run slightly stiff around the back, to have the front and the rear more kind of in the same motion and always keep a good balance with the car and distance of the corner. The down point is by doing that normally the rear can become slightly nervous. So it's always a compromise the end of the day, and certainly whoever is going to find the best compromise between springs, shock absorbers, downforce and everything, he could end up probably even more rewarded than he would in the past because as you said, there were years where Honda was dominant or where Mercedes had a flat edge on other people, but like when Mark won that race that year, at the end of the day, certainly spend some more words about that but he had a very, very competitive car everywhere like in Elkhart Lake as well they were very competitive. To a certain degree Elkhart Lake reminds me a lot like Portland for the way you stay long, long times in the corners.
Mark Blundell: I agree with Alex and Mario there, we use the word compromise and it truly is a compromise in trying to achieve a balance for a car which is going to be pretty much the same output of power across the grid. But I think the one other area where people are going to have to emphasize themselves on making sure that they get the best compromise is to see who is going to be able to use the tires the best because that's going to be an important factor for that kind of racing now because everybody has the same output so once you've got your aero compromise, your mechanical balance, who is going to use their tires efficiently because that's going to be where they are going to gain the advantage over the course of the race.
Q: The weather is often a factor, I should say, at Portland. Obviously it was in one of Alex's wins and certainly in Mark's. Mark, could you talk a little bit about driving that track in the rain which comes in their often and in your particular case, you had the right tire and it was a big sprint to the finish, just talk about your particular win that day in those conditions and just dealing with those conditions, in general, at Portland?
Mark Blundell: I think one of the factors, you know, and I know for sure with Alex and Mario, drivers of that stature, I am sure they say the same thing is when you are in a race where you are faced with rain and then the rain starts to come down, the important element is the timing of when you may change tires. Sometimes some guys get on the tire a little bit too early and it doesn't suit the conditions and that's when you kill your race and then sometimes you time it just right -- and it's not always a skill call by any means. It may not be the call from the cockpit or the call from inside the pit lane. It may just be an element of luck which just times out nicely. That's one of the biggest issues.
Some guys are suited to driving in wet conditions more than others. Some guys just struggle with it and some are okay with it. Personally I have always been okay with it from day one being from England and my racing career there I had to be faced with rain every other weekend, so it didn't factor out the problem of that blunder. As I say competing in Portland at that event was truly a great one and a rewarding one to go through those conditions and to drive in those dry conditions and be faced with the wet conditions as well. And to drive in those conditions is also something which is of high reward to me because you are always pushing the envelope trying to find that little bit more grip, and in very dicey conditions and just trying to get that little bit extra and if you get it right, it can be a big knock on the stopwatch coming into the lap.
Q: Mario, Alex any comment you'd like to add about the rain and encountering those kinds of conditions at Portland, changing conditions or running in the rain in particular there?
Mario Andretti: Here again you have all the high speed and in the small corners and again when you go into the Festival Corners, for instance, it's wet, it's really the guy that can really have a feel for how to put the power down can really shine, as to accelerating from first gear in the wet is pretty tricky. All these things play, again, then you have the esses just before the last corner where you know, you can gain or lose an awful lot of time but just not having the confidence in the car, for instance, through there, so, you got a mix of things thrown at you and the wet as Mark says, the conditions are always dodgy, and if you go off in those areas, I mean, you are going to stop in Seattle, you know, because you get into the grass. So you don't want to do that. So it's quite a task for the driver in the wet there, I would say. It's probably one of the difficult tracks to really do well in the wet. The guys that just do a little bit better than others in the wet that are usually the ones that really shine in that place.
Alex Zanardi: Personally I would agree but if I can only add one thing is when you have the best car out there, nevertheless, you are not interested in showing your ability in the wet at all. I mean, you just are very content with the way the situation is going. But obviously if that's not the case, if you are fighting for 5th or 6th place, and then a few drops of rain starts to come down if you feel you have something, then that maybe the opportunity you are looking for because obviously when the situation starts to change that's when -- that's the option for the bravest drivers, for the most powers to prove that they have something more compared to others.
I remember the race that Mark won in 1997 I was doing pretty well up to the point then the circuit finally dried up and we actually made a mistake ourselves calling the wrong set of tires. But I remember I was starting from the back and there at Turn 1 there's a piece of concrete which you definitely wanted to avoid when the circuit was completely wet. But after it started to dry I noticed that very few drivers changed their line out of the corner and that concrete dried up immediately and I was actually using that piece of concrete to heat the tires up and get much better traction in order to make a pass in Turn 4 which normally is not possible. But because I was coming up with so much better traction compared to other opponents, you know, that particular situation made that overtaking a little bit more possible. Not all the drivers realized that. They were probably very concentrating on what they were doing, keeping the car in the black. Not a lot of people realized that that option was available. So that's when you feel rewarded because if you win a race in that situation you may say, of course, I had a very good car, car was good enough to do this kind of job but certainly I did my part.
Q: I wanted to the check with Mario and I know we're talking Portland, but kind of relates to what he said earlier about he and his relationship with Michael. It's just when you saw Michael get out of the car after leading in Indianapolis this year, what emotions went through your mind -- what went through your mind as Michael got out of that car there, there wouldn't be another Andretti, just me in '69 at Indy?
Mario Andretti: Well, a rollercoaster of emotions is what I experienced at that point to be honest with you. I really -- I felt so badly for Michael because at that point he was in the position to really come up with a great result at Indianapolis, at least for his last race and if he would have come out the cockpit, you know, a winner obviously, it would have been, you know, okay, the joy of all joys to see that happen and then to see him come out of the cockpit with that type of disappointment after he was doing such a great job, I just -- my heart just broke for him, to be honest with you. But that's, you know, that's the way it is. We experienced that before unfortunately. But this time it was different.
Q: Mark, you have gone through a successful career in sports cars. Do you see any future in returning to the open-wheel cars?
Mark Blundell: Actually I was in sports car racing in '89 and '90 as well before I even went into Formula One and then Champ Car Racing, but sports car race is a great form of racing and it's also very nice as well because there's a lot of camaraderie with sharing the car with other drivers. Would I see myself going back into the single seater? Yeah, if the right opportunity existed then definitely, you know, but it's all about having the right opportunities and I don't really want to put myself in a situation that's not competitive, you know, I would ideally like to return to the states because I feel I have got some unfinished business there, but the offers that -- not so much now, but when I first came back from the U.S., what was being put in front of me just didn't have the resources against them to be competitive. And that for me, just doesn't make any sense. I'm not getting any younger, we're getting older, don't bounce like I used to and I want to be in a situation where I have the possibility to win races. If that doesn't happen then I think I'd soon as not do it.
Q: Alex, I read something, you were quoted as saying I am only good for a big effort that doesn't last very long and I don't think I have got the determination and the self-discipline that it takes to be a car owner. You made me laugh, I am sorry, when you said that. Have you changed your mind? Do you really believe that about yourself?
Alex Zanardi: Oh, well, not really. I mean, I don't know, maybe if a good opportunity would come along, but I guess this would definitely be more wise if I happen to live in the United States because I really enjoy my participation as a driver in Champ Cars, with CART, and I guess that could be an opportunity if I was there. But obviously I am not interested in just putting my name to a team and come two times a year. That's definitely not for me. But after all, you know what I really meant was that I don't think I would be a very good owner because an owner is somebody that thinks about his business that tries to live up to his people the best possible opportunity for everybody to do their job correctly. So it's somebody of thinking 360 degrees.
I think I have been good enough, let us put it that way, to do my job as an individual on Sunday afternoon to give my contribution to be part of a team that as a team went on and won the races, but everything was coming from somebody else, from Chip Ganassi obviously, of course, but from people like Tom Anderson; Morris Nunn, from the technical point of view and, you know, to be part of that team was really one of the greatest experiences I had in my racing career. Of course I did my part and I ended up enjoying a lot of great satisfactions, but I don't think I would have done the same job in Tom Anderson's shoes or Michael's shoes neither in Chip Ganassi at all because I mean, I had to admit that Chip always had and answer for all the requests that we had. So I think I will always be a fan and I think of me, again, still as a driver. I still feel like I am a driver. I am not a professional anymore but I still feel very passionate for this sport and if I will come back to a form of racing it will be in the driver spot.
Q: You said that do you like going to Portland because you like pretty girls coming up and kissing you and giving you roses. Are you going to come back on this anniversary celebration of Portland just so you can get roses and kisses?
Alex Zanardi: Unfortunately good thing that my wife is not listening to this, but in any case unfortunately I have other commitments, but Portland it's a beautiful place and for sure eventually I will come again to this fantastic city.
Eric Mauk: We'll go ahead and wrap this up. Mario and Alex thank you again very much. It's always a pleasure to having you guys joining us. Best of luck as you go down the road. Hopefully we'll be talking to both of you real soon.
Mario Andretti: Thank you. Thanks to everyone that was on here.
Alex Zanardi: Thank you very much to everyone and especially good-bye to my friend Mario Andretti.