CHAMPCAR/CART: Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting, part II

CART Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting Transcript with Derrick Walker, Bobby Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, John Lopes and Danica Patrick CALVIN FISH: Sebastien, would you like to comment? Since that time we've implemented the no blocking rule. ...

CART Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting Transcript with Derrick Walker, Bobby Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, John Lopes and Danica Patrick

CALVIN FISH: Sebastien, would you like to comment? Since that time we've implemented the no blocking rule. Just so everyone understands, the stewards would allow one move, so you can move from one side of the track, your normal line, make one essential blocking move. Since that time they've now stopped that. It really seems to have created some better racing. Sebastien, coming from Europe where you probably blocked five or six times, I went through the same thing, this is a big change.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I don't know. I think for the show, and I hope that I deserve the race in Germany hopefully, but basically it's a point which happened with Mario. He started to fight very early in the race, was changing lines very quickly, which basically when I got the lead, I was just dropping from outside to inside and looking straight toward the inside. So it's not blocking actually; it's just choosing your line.

No, but I'm really serious, you know. It's something that basically you were allowed to do, and you're not anymore because now you cannot change your line even once.

If the Germany race would happen again, I couldn't do what I was able to in the rules. You know, I think we've seen really warm races in US. I was the first to enjoy it when I was a kid watching Champ Cars, as all of you I think. It's just to try to make in it a safe manner. The Germany race was pretty exciting. At some point during the race, it got pretty dangerous, especially when I had to cross the grass. Basically I was right there, and he didn't see me. That's why he got penalized. I didn't do the same, at least I hope so.

You know, about the fact that it needs to have really quick decisions, you know, it's also to try to make it fair for everybody. That's why sometimes it takes some time to make the decision and make the call, because if you do it too quickly, with just the reaction, it's better sometimes to watch the tape once, twice, three times before to make the decision.

JOHN LOPES: Maybe I could add to that, Sebastien. On Paul's call in Portland, it would be great if we could invite all of you to race control sometimes. Unfortunately, we're usually in a confined area with no air-conditioning.

In that particular situation, we don't have instant replay on demand in race control. We work with the television producers on one of the screens to give us instant replay. But in Portland, in particular, we were trying to get a replay. The reason is last year, there was a couple of bad calls that we made. One was in Motegi on Dominquez' car when he was coming into the pits. The other was on Franchitti at Toronto when we had three course observers tell us he had four wheels over the curb. We flipped him back, it was very controversial.

What happened in both those instances after the race, we went back and we could not recreate the violation by video from all the cameras. So now the standard is, if there is a violation, or we get a call from a course observer, because in the streets sometimes we don't have a proper TV camera angle or eyes on the actual violation, what we will do is we will call and actually get a replay where they can verify what happened.

In Paul's instance, we had the call from the pit lane official, and John Anderson, former manager of Team Green, now heading pit lane officials, they're a top-notch bunch. We grade them on a weekly level just like the NFL grades their officials. Once that call comes up, we ask for the replay from a couple different angles. Once we get the replay, there's an analysis of what the penalty will be.

In that situation, what happened, if you remember in Germany, when Patrick Lemarie was taken out by Michel, we gave Michel a 10-second penalty because he took somebody out of the race. In retrospect, in grading ourselves in the after action, we would have been more severe in that penalty.

In Paul's situation, he didn't take somebody out. It was a lane violation. So half as severe, gave him half the amount of time. Actually that difference ended up allowing Michel to make the pass. So it gives you a little bit of an idea of what the steward's philosophy is.

CALVIN FISH: Do we have Bobby back?

BOBBY RAHAL: I'm here.

CALVIN FISH: One thing you want to say is Bobby is with us for a limited time this evening. Hopefully Danica --

DANICA PATRICK: Did I make you mad with my comment, Bob?

BOBBY RAHAL: I didn't even hear it (laughter).

CALVIN FISH: Let's go to the crowd again with Adam.

ADAM SAAL: You may want to help each other with Derrick's microphone. It's crackling. We want to hear every word he has to say.

Q: I'm Mike, I'm a Champ Car fan. Anyhow, most people here know about the split. Myself and a whole bunch of other people I see in this room that I've seen at races over the years, we were around for the first split back in 1978. We started out as USAC because that's where Champ Cars ran, then Dan Gurney came one the white paper, made the idea for CART, then we saw the sport grow, go through some difficult times. Actually what I'm getting to, I'll get to the punch line quick, one track owner in 1980 had a vision to make a showcase for CART. Michelle, if you're here, your dad, Jim Trueman, my hat is off to him. He spent untolled personal millions of dollars making Mid-Ohio a showcase. For 25 years, roughly, we've had just a wonderful, wonderful event there. I just want to see it keep going. I understand the vision. I totally understand the vision of making event-based things. You know, Long Beach, I've been there. I've been to every CART event in the country, not every year, but I've hit every one. The street races are great, Cleveland is fun, Long Beach is wonderful. But please, please, please, keep Mid-Ohio. Thank you.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you.

CALVIN FISH: Maybe we'll get Bobby to comment on that. Certainly Bobby has a strong association with Mr. Jim Trueman. Bobby, I know you love Mid-Ohio. Talk about what the fans have meant to you here, both yourself, your career, your racing organization now.

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think, first off, I couldn't agree more with the gentleman. You know, I remember the first day that Jim took me up there when he had bought it. It was a mud hole. He was really recreating the entire place. Every time I go up there, I just can't think of a better road racing circuit for the fans in particular, which was his whole motivation, with all the mounding that took place, to create a great place for the fans to watch road racing.

You know, as Derrick well knows, Derrick and I fought long and hard for Mid-Ohio, Elkhart Lake, Laguna over the years in the board meetings. There were some people who weren't supportive of road racing, but there have been an awful lot that were. I'm not on the board anymore, but I'm hoping Derrick can still exert all his influence.

Without question, I mean, Jim Trueman brought me to Columbus in 1981. I so often think how racing would be different today if he were still alive. I think there's no question his impact was great, even in the small amount of time he was here as an owner and as a track promoter and what have you. Certainly Michelle has carried I think the baton very well.

You know, I look forward every year to going to Mid-Ohio. It's always nice to have the level of support we've had over the years there. Certainly it was kind of like, you know, that gave us an extra little horsepower, whatever, to do well.

I look forward to coming back in a couple weeks. Of course, with Danica now there in Atlantic, hopefully we'll end up with two victories.

DANICA PATRICK: Good plan.

CALVIN FISH: I'm sure, Danica, you'd like nothing better than to win here on Team Rahal ground this weekend, home turf, next month when we come back. How are things looking down the road? I know you've been testing hard. You've had a change in the engine program. What do you foresee for the rest of the season?

DANICA PATRICK: We are working through it, and we'll get there more consistently. I think that's been the problem. We've been up and down. That's frustrating as a driver because sometimes you go into a weekend, you know, like the first race, you have a great one, and then you show well again, and then all of a sudden you hit somewhere like Laguna Seca and you go, "Why am I here? What am I doing wrong?" It's so frustrating.

I think that's just the things that you go through when you're a first-year team and when you don't have anyone else to base yourself off of. I was never a fan - Bob, you know - of teammates. I kind of have never been put in first place when it's been teammates, especially my time in England.

CALVIN FISH: They like being a teammate with you, especially when you put your overalls on.

DANICA PATRICK: We all do change in the truck at the same time. It's weird. It's remarkable how all of a sudden they come out of the woodwork and at mechanics have to grab something (laughter). I'll, you know, fess up to it and say we probably would have been better with a teammate.

BOBBY RAHAL: I heard that, Danica.

DANICA PATRICK: You're always right, you know that, right? You're like a mother.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thanks.

DANICA PATRICK: But a father.

CALVIN FISH: Another question.

Q: My name is Tony. I'm from here in Columbus. I had two comments that really come off of some suggestions from last year's town meeting. There was a lot of good, productive conversation. Two of the things, one of the them involves looking at the road courses, really embracing what that is about, really seriously looking at the standing start. When you look at a grid, look at the road race, a standing start is an exciting beginning to a race. Something that CART needs to go back to. John, I'll have you comment on both of these since you have authority for that.

JOHN LOPES: Less than I'd like actually.

Q: You can pass my thoughts along. That's fine. The other thing I'd really like to look at is, how we're looking right now, I really feel that these mandatory pit windows is sort of killing some of the power of the race. I really think that pit strategy, you look in Formula 1 what that's doing, is creating a whole other dimension. When we take it out of there, we're trying to make this parade into the pits, everybody is coming out, like this little competition in there. I'd really like us to look at the point where people can look at all the strategies from a team perspective and start a whole different dimension, go back to the racing as it was.

CALVIN FISH: We'll let John answer the first one on the standing starts and Derrick can answer the second one.

John.

JOHN LOPES: There are a couple of things we're looking at for next year to improve the racing overall. We took it to one level this year certainly with the things we've discussed earlier. We are discussing standing starts for next year. Just out of curiosity?

(Applause.)

JOHN LOPES: This weekend, we didn't have the prettiest start, for example. But in a place like Toronto, the only way you're going to prevent that with a running start, without having five restarts, is to have a standing start.

The other thing that almost assuredly you'll see next year is the push to pass button be reintroduced. We're talking with Cosworth about that right now.

CALVIN FISH: Derrick, talking about the pit windows. Last year we really saw a lot of races become economy runs. That was two years ago we saw a lot of economy runs. The beginning of the 2002 season, these pit windows were introduced. There are really two sides to the coin on that one. Which side of the coin do you stand up on?

DERRICK WALKER: In some respects, the strategy is probably -- there's more involved now than there was before. When it was an economy run, it was very simple: you just had to save fuel and stay out as long as you possibly could and hope you found a yellow when you could come in and do a pit stop under the yellow.

Right now you have a maximum number of laps and you have a mandated number of stops. So every time there's a pit stop, there's an opportunity to overtake. So we've got a little bit of strategy. Granted, we're only playing with 10ths of a second when it comes to the pit stop at the moment. We're trying to shave some time off to get round somebody.

But it's very difficult to actually, you know, have a race where you can't have some sort of chance of having a segment where it's just totally boring and nobody is overtaking, everybody is just running around and around and around.

When you actually introduced the mandated pit stops, we actually run flat out all the time. There's nobody saving fuel out there. They're just trying to see how the yellows fall, and when they come in, how they can do something as quick as possible to get round somebody. So if you didn't have that, we would all be doing fuel economy runs.

The fuel control is no longer in the car, so that's helped some. But there's still a lot the driver can do. If we were left to our own devices, and we didn't have the mandated pit stops, we'd be out there training and practicing to see how far we could stretch a gallon of gas.

It is a problem you're always going to have in some respects where you have cars that are fairly even, and you're dealing with a race the way we are, and fuel stops being a feature of it. You want more rather than less pit stops. That's where the mandated number I think helps a little bit.

But it's not a magic bullet by any means. It's just another variation. Formula 1 have a different situation altogether. They have a totally different starting point, which is also something we should consider, too. That's not a bad idea either for our racing.

Part III

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Patrick Lemarié , Bobby Rahal , Dan Gurney , Sébastien Bourdais , Danica Patrick