CHAMPCAR/CART: Carl Haas, Paul Newman press conference, part I

An interview with Newman/Haas Racing co-owners Carl Haas and Paul Newman. Part 1 of 2 Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today in this week's CART media teleconference. We have a very special championship ...

An interview with Newman/Haas Racing co-owners Carl Haas and Paul Newman.

Part 1 of 2

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today in this week's CART media teleconference. We have a very special championship teleconference on tap for us this afternoon as we welcome to the call the co-owners of Newman/Haas Racing, who of course clinched the CART FedEx Championship Series title on Sunday in Miami with Cristiano da Matta winning the CART Grand Prix Americas and taking home the Vanderbilt Cup Trophy. Carl Haas and Paul Newman join us today. Congratulations on the victory and championship this weekend. Thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us this afternoon.

Carl Haas: Thank you.

Paul Newman: Same here.

Merrill Cain: Before we go any further, we have a special guest, CART president and CEO Chris Pook. Chris wanted to call in quickly to offer up his congratulations to Paul and Carl. Can you hear us?

Chris Pook: Absolutely. Carl and Paul, many congratulations to both of you on a splendid performance with a great driver, Cristiano da Matta, great team. You set the mark early in the season, you let the others have a run at it, and they did, and you prevailed. As always, Newman/Haas put forward a tremendous effort. It's yet another championship that both of you so richly deserve. On behalf of all the CART fans around the country and the world, the entire CART team, its shareholders, management, our sincere congratulations on a tremendous championship.

Paul Newman: Thank you.

Merrill Cain: Well said as always. We appreciate it. We know you're busy in Chicago.

Chris Pook: Have a great conference. Thank you.

Merrill Cain: We'd like to focus today's questions on this season's performance by the team. We ask you to refrain asking questions about the team's plan for next year, including driver, sponsor, series speculation. I think both gentlemen would agree with me at this point it's purely speculation. They've agreed to spend some time with us this afternoon and we ask the media to respect those simple guidelines for the call.

Carl, if we could start off with you. This was in many ways a dream season. It has been a dream season for the team. Not only did the #6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone come home with its seventh win, the #11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone driven by Christian Fittipaldi has had a great year. That was the second time the team had a 1-2 finish, the first coming at Laguna Seca earlier in the season. This is the fourth title for Newman/Haas Racing, the first coming in 1984 with Mario Andretti, 1991 with Michael Andretti, and 1993 with Nigel Mansell. Can you give us an overview about what this particular championship run has meant to the team? Can you compare this title to the other three you experienced in CART?

Carl Haas: 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. Obviously, 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.

Merrill Cain: We're joined by Paul Newman. Paul, can you talk about what it's been like working with such a talented driver like Cristiano da Matta over the past two seasons. How special was it to capture the championship in Miami, and being able to do it with a win like you did on Sunday, not having to secure it with a second or third place finish or waiting till later in the year?

Paul Newman: Well, I don't know. By and large, if you take all the ingredients that go to make up a team, I don't think we've had a finer combination. Cristiano gives credible and accurate feedback. That was interpreted by the crew. 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.

Merrill Cain: Let's open it up and take some questions.

Q: Carl, I was told that Justin Wilson was going to be testing one of your cars at Homestead yesterday. Did that actually happen? Can you tell us how the test went?

Carl Haas: We did do a brief test with Justin at Homestead. I haven't had a chance really to talk to our engineers. They're on their way back. The outcome of it, I understand it was a good test.

Q: Carl, Cristiano was under a lot of pressure when he joined your team last year. He had some big shoes to fill, replacing Michael Andretti. Can you talk about how he came through that and how he's really stepped up his game even more this year?

Carl Haas: I've been watching Cristiano some. I watched him somewhat when he was in Indy Lights, then when he drove Champ cars for Toyota, Cal Wells. I was fairly impressed with him. Made a great effort, both Paul and I did, in order to hire him. I think he did a great job last year. I don't know if my records are right. He won three races in a row. He won the last two at the end, won the race in Australia and he won the Fontana race, then it carried over, he won the first race of this season. It looked really good.

Last year it took a little while to get everybody together, engineering and so forth. We made a few little changes for this year, brought in Rocky (Rocquelin), one of our engineers, brought in some new blood into the thing, molded very, very well with our current engineering group. It was certainly a factor. We did some testing with Cristiano going into this year. That all was going very well. We kind of got everything sort of figured out. Paul said it. We were just really all together. Probably the team was more together than any time that I can remember, and that goes not only for the engineers, but for our crew and our team managers and everyone. I'd like to give you all the names, but it would take too long, and there's too many. But we saw the potential from what Cristiano could do obviously from last year with the success he had late in the season.

Q: This is actually the 20th season for your team, Newman/Haas Racing. I think it's fair to say that one of the strengths of the team is the stability, personnel. Your team manager, John (Tzouanakis), has been there from the start. You have a lot of guys that have been there a long time, a lot of experience, a lot of stability. Could you both talk about what an important element that is to the team, and if you've really deliberately tried to maintain it that way, how the team works in that way.

Paul Newman: Carl, that's your baby.

Carl Haas: I think you're being modest. You certainly know. If you want me to answer it. Yes, I think it's important. You know, like you say, there's a lot of people that have been here a long time. 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, you know, 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. We've had a few shortcomings. Sometimes our pit stops weren't the best, and other times they were the best. But we've been doing a lot of pit stop practicing, too, to improve that. It's paid off many, many times. But the major thing in racing today, I guess it's always been it somewhat, obviously the top of the list comes the driver. With Cristiano, that speaks for itself. Probably at an equal basis, but not as much glory, is the engineering department. The engineering department we have with the guys that we have, I think it's certainly second to none.

Paul Newman: I would wager that our turnover at Newman/Haas is less than any other team in the series.

Q: Paul, you've done your racing, you are a student of driving, you've had great drivers like Mario and Nigel Mansell. How do you see Cristiano's development in the two years that you've had him in your team?

Paul Newman: Well, 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.

Merrill Cain: Paul, I happened to be at the first test where Cristiano joined the team. It seemed talking to the crew members that there was a sense of I guess renewed vigor with the team from Cristiano's personality. Can you talk about the personality he brings to the team?

Paul Newman: 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.

Carl Haas: Good point.

Q: Carl, just to expand a little bit on the changes that you made, I don't think we can underline the way that the engineering department really got in behind this thing, and as Paul said, made the whole combination work. You talk about adding drivers. Could you talk about how important it was to bring Rocky in, his new ideas, vitality to work with Brian and (Chief Engineer) Peter (Gibbons), get that engineering department to sort of improve? It was certainly very good, but you needed that extra thing, always making sure that the infrastructure behind the driver improves along with the driver. If you're going to make a change there, sometimes behind the scenes with the engineering department is just as important to your success as the driver is.

Carl Haas: Just a little background. Peter 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, never can pronounce his last name, and we 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. I don't know if I'm answering it. That's about it.

Q: Paul, I remember reading an old quote attributed to you. I don't know if this thing has been bent over the years. I remember someone quoting you as saying that if you had discovered auto racing before you became an actor, you may have had a much different career. Has that quote been bent over the years? Were you serious about that?

Paul Newman: I can only say baloney. I have to be honest. I had a very minor talent. I started late.

Carl Haas: 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.

Paul Newman: Not bad is not good (laughter).

Carl Haas: You're very, very clever. You understand the sport very, very well - probably more than anybody realizes it.

Paul Newman: Well, thank you. But if I look back on everything, I got into it at exactly the right time. There were very, very little expectations from me. I was 47. I was lucky enough always to have the best equipment. I was secure enough in my occupation to be able to take enough time off to really try to do it. I think for 12 years I never did anything from May until October except drive. That was very helpful. It turned out just fine the way it was. I don't think I'd want to change anything.

Merrill Cain: Paul, I think you're being too bashful. You did drive to victory at Road Atlanta, Easter Sunday, in the rain no less. You still have quite a bit of talent.

Paul Newman: Thank you.

-cart- Newman/Haas press conference, part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi , Nigel Mansell , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , Chris Pook , Cristiano da Matta
Teams ART Grand Prix