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

CART Champ Car Columbus Town Meeting Transcript with Derrick Walker, Bobby Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, John Lopes and Danica Patrick CALVIN FISH: Steve, another question. Q: Jim, from Marion, Ohio. Sebastien, what is your first impression...

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

CALVIN FISH: Steve, another question.

Q: Jim, from Marion, Ohio. Sebastien, what is your first impression of the Champ Car series? Do you have any comments to what Bruno Junqueira has been saying during his interviews after the races?

CALVIN FISH: I'm not sure Sebastien is aware what Bruno said on Saturday. How many people watched the qualifying show on Saturday?

As Bruno tends to do a little bit after he doesn't have a great run, he gets a little frustrated at the end of the session and either Derek Daley or myself has the opportunity to try to wind him up a little bit.

He actually said on that day that he took your setup from the morning session and it didn't work for him, so obviously you know nothing about race cars. Paul's comeback was that Sebastien has had four poles and won three races and Bruno hasn't won any or had any poles yet. So there you go.

Maybe talk about the team atmosphere in Newman/Haas. They're one of the most intense teams out there. Certainly when we try to break into their communications during a race broadcast, we get very little out of them. Do the teams work as one? Certainly Bruno said you shared some information on Saturday. Or do you really compete against one another on a race weekend?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Oh, definitely, mostly I'm there because they wanted the second driver with technical abilities. So they chose me because of the test in Sebring for the first time in my career, in a Champ Car. Actually, the difference between Ricardo and I was they analyzed us; the way I was speaking with the engineers, try to improve situations.

We definitely are working as a group. We all share the information. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work for one or another. But, you know, it's kind of situations when you jump out of the car, you're a bit frustrated, you say something you shouldn't. Actually, he went to me and said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that, but I was just frustrated."

I think also sometimes, and I don't want to say anything bad about anything, but it's just, you know, we all try to make a show, as you and everybody, just try to make a hot mix.

CALVIN FISH: We try and stir it up a little bit, yes, we do.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Tom, he's pretty good for that. It's no problem. It's no-brainer. Everybody is doing his job and we have a lot of fun. This team, I can tell you, Newman/Haas Racing, is a big family. It's not a small word to say. I really enjoy being there and am expecting to stay there for a long time.

CALVIN FISH: Something else, when you have two drivers on a team, sometimes they have very different driving styles. Talking to some of the engineering squad at Newman/Haas and Sebastien can correct me if I'm wrong here, but they say Sebastien is very smooth, drives a car very similar to Cristiano da Matta last year, whereas Bruno really attacks the corners. Sometimes a setup that works on one car will not work on the other.

Derrick, you run a two-car team quite often. Is that a problem when you have two drivers who like a car that's completely different?

DERRICK WALKER: Yeah, it is. Sometimes there's almost nothing you can transfer over from one to the other because their style demands a different setup. Last year we had Tora Takagi. He was very aggressive going into the corner. We could never get the car to be there when he wanted it. We fought long and hard to try to give him a stable car on entry, but he just went in so deep, it was just very hard. So this year we're sort of suffering. All of the setups we had from last year, these real aggressive, stiff setups, don't work with either of our two drivers.

Fortunately, our two drivers actually have similar comments, although they drive a little bit differently. One is more aggressive than the other. But their actual interpretation of what the car is doing we find is actually very similar, and the feedback is good from both of them, so it helps us in the long run.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The biggest difference between Bruno and I, he doesn't really care if the car is a bit unsure on the entry. I prefer a really stable rear. Sometimes it's a bit difficult to achieve with the Lola, which is a nervous entry. It's pretty much why they choose me, because still we can drive and start with the same baseline car, try to get a read on some changes and try to compare and go ahead.

CALVIN FISH: On the subject of having a teammate, maybe, Danica, we talk about you and your rookie season in the Toyota Atlantic championship. Is it a steep learning curve, jumping into the championship, as competitive as it is? Jon Fogarty last year's champion drove your car in a test here at Mid-Ohio. Do you think in some ways it would help to you have a baseline on the team, someone to confer with?

DANICA PATRICK: You know, that is one of the issues, is having a teammate that doesn't drive like you. I think it can help in a sense that you can know if your baseline is somewhere close or somewhere miles away. You can test things like wing packages, different set of shocks or something. You can really go through stuff. I guess it goes a bit quicker, and you can also look at speed traces on a graph and just see, is it because I'm just braking entirely too late and the car cannot get into the corner?

I think for me, it's a matter of being able to see on speed traces where you're better, where you're worse. Maybe it's just a matter of carrying three miles an hour more which produces more downforce, then all of a sudden you have a settled car. That I think is what for me would be the biggest gain as a teammate.

As far as setup goes, I've never been the same as anyone else. I think that's pretty common within drivers. You can't really run the exact same setup as someone else.

ADAM SAAL: Question.

Q: Julie from Plain City, Ohio. I want to thank you for being here again this year. I have a couple of questions. One is, when will we see a finalized schedule for 2004? And as an avid Mid-Ohio fan, should I be concerned that the respected Chris Pook is not with us this evening?

CALVIN FISH: I'll let John answer both of those.

JOHN LOPES: No. Chris was actually out of Indianapolis today, meeting with one of the series sponsors about extending the relationship. Then we have board meetings coming up over the next couple days. So he is stuck in spreadsheets tonight and dinner with board members. We've got some important annual meetings coming up over the next couple of days. That's where he's at.

In terms of the schedule, we have a big board up in the conference room upstairs. It's got these little Velcro strips on it. We're really trying to fit TV dates with venue dates right now. We made the CBS announcement where they've made available 10 dates for us this year. So we're trying to fit that in as well as negotiate the other TV dates. Our intent is to do them both.

While I have the mic... Someone asked a question about Newman/Haas. I have to tell you a great story about your owner.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Great stories about my owners. There's no truth to the rumor he was actually in the Ronald McDonald suit at Cleveland.

JOHN LOPES: Carl is one of the all-time classics. He always has a cigar in his mouth. Have you ever seen Carl bless his car before the race? Have any of you ever seen that? In Mid-Ohio, really check it out before the race. Scott Roembke from Rahal is here. He blesses your car before the race, right?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yes. But this time he blessed the wrong car.

JOHN LOPES: Yes. He comes up to the car and he touches the nose and the tires and he puts his cigar down, the only time he takes it out, he touches the car and he blesses it. This one time he blesses the car, and he looks up and Bobby Rahal is in the car looking at him.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The funny story is Bobby won the race this time and Carl was absolutely sure it was his fault.

CALVIN FISH: Another question from the audience.

Q: I'm Duane from Columbus. I have a question I was hoping to ask Bobby, but I was a little too late. I thought it would be a good question for him because of his perspective as a team owner on both sides of the fence. I believe Derrick has also been on the other side so I'll throw it to you. It's the old topic of a merger.

Do you agree with Robin Miller that a merger is necessary for long-term survival or is it not necessary or is it flatly impossible?

DERRICK WALKER: The million dollar question. I think if you look at open-wheel racing in America, it would certainly be a lot better off if there was only one series and we all concentrated our efforts on one series. However, the chances of that happening are probably slim to none unless one of the series takes a dive and doesn't recover. I don't see that.

We've had many, many meetings that have never been reported by Robin Miller with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to try and find a way to resolve the future of open-wheel racing to everybody's gain.

It's not that the speedway is so anti-CART or anti-doing an amalgamation. It's just there's been so many complicated issues to pull together to satisfy everybody's needs to actually make it happen. It is that complicated that it never happened.

I think we're resolved for the foreseeable future to just get on and make it work as best we can. Probably with some work on the part of both series to try and coexist as opposed to go against, head to head, each other, we could probably successfully do that.

At the end of the day, maybe you the fans are the winner of the contest. When all is said and done, you get a lot more racing. And that's unfortunately how it's going to be for a while, but it would be better if we were all together. But I don't see the mechanism for that to happen at the moment.

Q: Thank you, John. Special thanks to Chris Pook for fighting off the Evil Empire of Tony George. Heard a lot of complaints lately during qualifying, drivers being held up by cars either on their in or out laps, holding them up, messing up their fast lap.

CALVIN FISH: Did Paul Tracy's name ever come up in any of this?

Q: I was thinking of Carpentier. But Paul's name came up, too. Can CART do anything about that?

JOHN LOPES: I think it would be Sebastien.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: We had a long discussion in the last racing briefing before the race in Toronto. Actually it came up that they were going to issue a rule to try to avoid blocking during qualifying session.

Obviously, I do think that in the street course a single-car qualifying would be better because basically everybody's trying to make a lap, every single corner is blind. Even if you don't want to block someone, sometimes it happens because you slow down, you try to make your gap, and suddenly somebody arrive in your back and it's too late.

It's a very, very difficult point. I think it always happened, and it will always be like that. But for sure, some drivers don't help, that's sure.

CALVIN FISH: John, are you looking at different ways of achieving that next year and beyond? We have Scott Roembke in the group from Team Rahal. He shared an idea with me at dinner the other night, creating a super five at the end, giving them a burnout at the end, where the guys have to qualify in the top five or ten, then have a one-lap shootout, each guy having a clear lap at the end. Have you looked at other ideas?

JOHN LOPES: Actually, we have. It all surrounds giving the fans the best possible show we can. Ultimately, that's what we're out there to do. In the past, when we had two sessions, it didn't work out, it wasn't fair to the competitors, it wasn't as exciting a show. The all-skate qualifying as we call it was designed to give the fans an hour on track. It's created some unique problems, like Sebastien said. On the street courses it's tight. One of the things we have tackled is exactly what you're alluding to. And that is have the first half of the session be an all-skate, and then you take the top five or the Top 10 at that point for the second half and they have a shootout single car to see who is quickest for the top five or top ten positions. That's sort after DTM type way of qualifying.

In certain tracks, Miami this year we're going to be single-car qualifying because the circuit is so tight. So there's always ways to skin the cat. Certainly if you have any ideas, we'll be around, and we certainly listen to them.

Q: Scott Woodard from Arlington, Ohio. First, Derrick, thanks for staying with CART this year. That was a big boost when I read that on the Internet, that you were going to be here. Thank you.

My question is for John. You might not even know this. On CBS' coverage last week, we only got to see about an hour of the race. For some reason, we have to live around Ohio State Buckeyes here. Is there any plan to do anything like, I hate to say the word NASCAR, but they have the pay-per-view, diehard fans want to watch the race, I would gladly pay to see a race and not ten zillion commercials?

JOHN LOPES: The discussion is still in its infancy. There is some discussion of having two types of race format broadcasts: One being a very traditional type of broadcast, and the other being a little bit of a spiced up show to show the fans the other things that are going on. There's so much happening at a place like Toronto that the fans don't see. You know, the parties, the things that are going on in hospitality, literally people 10 deep in the crowd. Sometimes you don't have time to really capture everything that's going on.

There's a discussion about the network broadcasts having a little more zip to it, if you will, a more traditional broadcast on a pay-per-view or cable type situation.

That's something that Terry Linger and his group, a very talented group who I think you would all agree have really raised the bar in terms of race broadcasts. That's something they're looking at for the future.

CALVIN FISH: The key question is, did you see the beginning when Derek Daley fell over during his standup? You got the good stuff.

JOHN LOPES: We kept replaying that in race control with the TIVO.

Part V

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Tora Takagi , Jon Fogarty , Sébastien Bourdais , Chris Pook , Tony George , Robin Miller , Danica Patrick , Cristiano da Matta