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

CART Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting Transcript with Derrick Walker, Bobby Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, John Lopes and Danica Patrick CALVIN FISH: Sebastien, from a driver perspective, one race this year at Brands Hatch where we actually did...

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

CALVIN FISH: Sebastien, from a driver perspective, one race this year at Brands Hatch where we actually did have that, which you liked of course, because you won that race.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Actually, no. I think with all respect, I have to remember this race because I won it, it was my very first race in Champ Car. I felt this race was probably the worst of the season. You know, there were no mandatory pit stops and we were all saving fuel. Cool, I've been the best on that day.

But, you know, it's not a lot of fun in the car, just driving, cruising around, trying to keep the gap consistent with the car in front of you, and expect that you're going to do one or two laps more on the stint than the guy in front of you.

I think actually strategy with mandatory pit stops is really important. Because, as you've seen, maybe not all of you understood what happened in Cleveland, but if we've been in a position to pass Paul Tracy, just because the strategy was going on. Basically at the end of the second stint, I was not completely close to Paul Tracy, so the team decided to fill the car with fuel, so we were in a position to do a short fill for the next stint, and that worked.

You know, I think it's better to do a full stint flat out and to show a great race for the fans than to cruise around and try to save fuel. The biggest difference with Formula 1 is actually that there are a lot of yellows in our races because of safety reasons, so everybody's trying to catch a yellow stop. If you do that, it's just really, really boring from inside. And I think it's less spectacular for you.

CALVIN FISH: Some different points there. Adam, who is next up there?

Q: I'm Peter from Cincinnati. Yes, you're going to be back at Mid-Ohio. I'll give you 70,000 reasons why you're going to be back at Mid-Ohio.

CALVIN FISH: Best fans in the world, right?

Q: I was going to ask something about standing starts, but since that's already been talked about, how is the V-10 situation looking in 2005, 2006?

JOHN LOPES: We have gone into a bit of a quiet period on engines. We felt that perhaps early on we might have talked a little too much about it. In the past, when CART was getting ready to do an engine change, it was hotly debated in the press.

The nature of our business, since we are in competition, we have to talk to manufacturers on a quiet basis. So we're really not at this point publicly talking about it. What we can say is we've had a lot of interest from manufacturers around the world who are taking a look at us, particularly since the formula is starting to grow again and develop some exciting racing. So there is interest out there.

Other than that, at this point we're not going to make any public statements about the engine formula until we have something definitive to tell you. I couldn't venture to guess when that's going to happen, but certainly it's going to be in the not too distant future, we're going to let you know where we're at.

DERRICK WALKER: However, if you guys can keep a secret, I'll break a board rule and I will tell you all about it (laughter).

No, seriously, there is need for change. There could be an advantage in change. It's a question of when the change comes. Obviously, to make change, it costs money. If you look at the cycle for the engine manufacturers, when they pull the trigger to go build an engine, there's an 18-month cycle before they can roll out engines ready to test. Any decision we make, you have 18 months to think about it before it happens.

You have to look at the sport and the marketplace, where the money is going to come to pay for a new formula. Choosing the time that you decide what you're going to do is very important both from manufacturing and being able to pay for it.

But I think you could see that there's a lot of interest in looking at some new alternatives. I think sooner or later we're going to get there, whether it's five, six, seven, whenever that is. As John says, it's kind of being looked at. That's about where it is at the moment.

But don't tell anybody. It's not the official line.

ADAM SAAL: I think you should give Derrick an extra round of applause. We invited him to attend when Bobby had to go to his important meeting just yesterday, and he didn't miss a beat. He said, "I'm coming out." Thank you, Derrick.

DERRICK WALKER: Bobby owes me.

ADAM SAAL: Having said that, Bobby is out there in between meetings, he has to go. Bobby, any final comments before we say farewell?

BOBBY RAHAL: I just look forward to seeing everybody in Mid-Ohio. I think these town hall meetings have been a great idea. Obviously, there are a lot of very knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans of Champ Car racing. You know, we're all working hard to try to make it better and to see it grow. Without question, without the fan support, it wouldn't exist. I personally just want to thank everybody. Look forward to seeing them up there. Thanks, Derrick, for standing in. I just wish everybody the best. We'll see you in a couple weeks.

CALVIN FISH: Thanks, Bobby. We appreciate it.

ADAM SAAL: Thank you.

CALVIN FISH: Quick technical question for Derrick, as well. One of your drivers [Darren Manning] has these long sideburns. Every week they're getting longer. Is there a point where this becomes a weight penalty and the engineers get concerned?

DERRICK WALKER: Actually, he's gone over to the British Grand Prix. I told him to come back with them off. We'll see if I've got any clout. But I just hate guys with hair (laughter). Girls are okay, guys are horrible.

Q: Jason from Columbus, Ohio. My question is for John. On Thursday evening, will Chris, Bernie, Gerald, Kevin and Paul be sharing champagne and cigars? Secondly, who is picking up the tab?

JOHN LOPES: That will be a hell of a poker game for sure. I think we should throw the tab on Chris for that one. But certainly, no comment (laughter).

CALVIN FISH: Stay tuned.

Q: I'm Mike Clark. I'm treasurer of the Tony George, surely the Antichrist fan club of Arlington. I'm really pleased for everybody that's here, Danica, Sebastien, all of your talent. But I took all of our funds in the club and invested in CART stock about a dollar ago. So, Mr. Walker, Champ Car stock, buy, sell or hold? And thank you for being here.

DERRICK WALKER: Let me say, how shall I answer that one?

ADAM SAAL: Not at all, Derrick. Let the PR guys talk about it.

DERRICK WALKER: Let me think. You've got to do what you've got to do.

ADAM SAAL: You understand, everybody, it is a delicate situation. Any of those important and valid yet sensitive questions, they don't want to duck them, we're here to talk about it, but they are duty bound in many ways.

Q: I'm Aaron from Virginia; I go to school here at Ohio State. My question is more for the off-track contingent up there. I live on the eastern seaboard. Among the major media markets that are Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, there's not really a race that close by. I think whatever it takes to get a race on the eastern seaboard, I-95 corridor, whether it means mending rifts with track owners, whatever it takes, is that a priority right now for CART to get a race somewhere in that area? There used to be two, and there are none currently.

JOHN LOPES: The answer is yes and yes. When we're looking at our market distribution around North America, it's a glaring omission right now, particularly the eastern seaboard. So we are actively looking at prospective venues and attempting to mend relationships with promoters in that part of the world. Look for us at some point, probably in the next couple of years, to try and secure a race in that part of the world.

I couldn't help but notice, the gentleman who asked the question before you. Sir, could you stand up, the gentleman with the goatee. He is a Paul Gentilozzi look alike there.

CALVIN FISH: A kinder, gentler Paul Gentilozzi.

ADAM SAAL: Please, sir.

Q: Joel from Columbus. I speak for everybody by saying that CART is not our favorite sport, it's us. Clap, clap! I want to hear from everybody on that stage, there was a poll conducted in Cleveland by Paul Gentilozzi. V-10s or turbos. Not a hand was risen for V-10s. Keep the heritage of the sport. I want Danica to run in a car with a turbocharged engine. I want to hear everybody's input on that stage. It makes the sport great and it's what keeps us different from every form of racing.

CALVIN FISH: You drove that Ferrari a couple weeks ago. How did you like that?

DANICA PATRICK: It was a fast car. It was almost as fast as the prototype. I see a Ferrari shirt out there. As far as my answer to that, you know, I just want to drive one of them. I just need to get there first, and then I'll have an opinion. So I'm going to pass it on.

DERRICK WALKER: I'm a V-10 man, I have to say. I would like the technical aspect of it, the multi-cylinder. The sound, although I like the V-8 turbocharged, it's done us well, I think V-10 would be it for me. I think it would really knock your doors off when you see that running around all these tracks we go to. I'd be for that.

CALVIN FISH: John, when you're negotiating with some of the manufacturers you're talking to, that is really where they're looking, is that where they want to be, the V-10 configuration?

JOHN LOPES: Interesting, it's been all over the map. It's really been all over the map with the manufacturers. The European manufacturers particularly are focused on the V-10 format, for sure. You know, there are V-10s out there ready to go for us.

But the sentiment conveyed by the fan here tonight, there's a lot of that out there. I think it bears mentioning, not to differ with Derrick, I agree that a V-10 would be spectacular, in terms of dancing with the one that brung you, what Ford and Cosworth have done for Champ Car is absolutely phenomenal. They don't get thanked enough.

I'll just leave it, when we were watching on the screens in race control during Cleveland, the flames started kicking out the back of the car-- we all came unglued. It was great.

CALVIN FISH: I hear you.

Q: Frank, from Dublin. Earlier this year, Chris Pook made a comment about the ladder system, which a driver coming from Toyota Atlantic is not qualified to move up into CART. If you have a feeder system and you have the person running the series not believing in it, how can you grow the drivers move into the series and not have them go off to NASCAR?

DANICA PATRICK: Do you want me to answer this? I don't think that it matters really. If you can drive, you can drive. Look at what's happened with Formula 1. Kimi Raikkonen, he did very little before he went into Formula 1. Jenson Button, the same way. You look at these drivers, if they're talented and they're put in a good car, they can prove to everyone the fact they have lack of experience really, you know, isn't the major part of it all.

I mean, I guess I would like to see it be a bit of a smoother transition between Atlantic and Champ Car with the power. But, you know, I mean, I went from a Formula Ford and tested in Indy Lights and went quicker than most of the guys. I drove Ferrari the other weekend; never drove that before. There have been a lot of situations that I've been put into where I probably should have been, you know, a little out of my league for a while.

But if you can drive, you can drive.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I would agree. It's been pretty much the same for me. Between Formula 1 and Formula 3000, it's twice more horsepower, and still after 50 laps, I was something like 5-10ths off. It's no big deal. If you know how to do it, you know how to do it in any car.

CALVIN FISH: I think it's a lot more than just driving these days, I think Derrick will agree, working with some young rookies. It's the technical ability, feedback. Certainly the Toyota Atlantic championship, there may be a need for a few more horsepower, but I think they're technical race cars, they have to be set up. The guys winning races, it's not just because they're great race car drivers in that series, it's because they have a solid team, great chemistry between the driver and the team.

Bringing them up through this ladder system is not just about what car you're driving, it's developing the chemistry to work with an engineer and give the feedback. I know working with rookies, Derrick, I know that's a big issue for your.

DERRICK WALKER: Yeah, giving them the experience so they can make that transition. I think John will agree with me, having listened, sat through many meetings and heard Chris bark away about his theories on racing, I think he is slightly misquoted or misunderstood in his remarks regarding Atlantic. I think Atlantic has been a great series for us. So was Lights. They were good workhorses for us.

I think if you look at the future, as we look at all of our assets, you look Atlantic, "What would you do with Atlantic?" It's not saying that it's no good, get rid of it, it doesn't do the job. It's really, How can you enhance it? I think that was Chris' point was. Atlantics needs to be jazzed up, to be hyped up, put a bit more power in it, stretch the drivers a little bit more than they're currently being, put some pit stops or other variation.

He's talking about enhancing the Atlantic Series or the feeder series as it would be. So it's not necessarily Atlantics is a waste of time. It's saying, "We need to do more for our feeder series."

Wouldn't you agree, John?

JOHN LOPES: Yes. Chris' comments have prompted an awful lot of meetings, particularly with Toyota, another great partner in the Atlantic series, been supporting the series for years and years, we're in discussions with them right now on cost-cutting measures for the teams to try and get costs down, and to do some things with the current formula, be it with the tires, some of the competition-related rules to spice things up a bit and talking about the future formula with them which will probably feature almost a hundred more horsepower in the car.

Right now, I think they certainly deserve a round of applause for what they've done for Atlantics for all these years. They've supported all the drivers who have come up along the way. You can start rattling off the names, Rahal, Villeneuve, people who have moved up and been very successful, Danica, and one who is coming up in the near future, AJ Allmendinger, who is the real deal. It's an important CART property and we're going to continue to stand behind it.

Part IV

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jenson Button , Kimi Raikkonen , Darren Manning , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Paul Gentilozzi , Sébastien Bourdais , Chris Pook , Tony George , Danica Patrick