CHAMPCAR/CART: Darren Manning, Phil Barker press conference, part I

An interview with Darren Manning Phil Barker Part 1 0f 2 INDIANAPOLIS (September 10, 2002) - What follows is the transcript of the CART weekly teleconference presented by WorldCom featuring CART FedEx Championship Series rookie driver Darren...

An interview with
Darren Manning
Phil Barker

Part 1 0f 2

INDIANAPOLIS (September 10, 2002) - What follows is the transcript of the CART weekly teleconference presented by WorldCom featuring CART FedEx Championship Series rookie driver Darren Manning and Phil Barker, team manager for Team St. George.

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today on this week's CART media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We're pleased to be joined today by two representatives from the newest team competing in the CART FedEx Championship Series, Team St. George, which is set to make its debut this weekend at the Rockingham 500 in Corby, England. We'd like to first welcome in Darren Manning, who will be driving the #19 Team St. George Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone in a few days. Darren, like to welcome you in. Congratulations. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

Darren Manning: Thanks very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

Merrill Cain: We're also joined by Phil Barker, who is the team manager for Team St. George. Thank you for taking some time to talk with us today.

Phil Barker: Thank you.

Merrill Cain: Both gentlemen are joining us live from England. It's about 7 o'clock over there, if I'm not mistaken. We appreciate you staying up late with us tonight. We'd like to give a little bit of background on our guests before we open it up for questions. Darren is a 27-year-old high-stakes racer, having run competitively in the FIA International F3000 series for two seasons, finishing 10th in last season's standings. Darren has been a test driver for British American Racing and the Williams Team in Formula 1 ranks, and he was the winner the prestigious Macau Grand Prix which is the All-Star race in the F-3 ranks, that came in 1999. Lately Darren has been trying his hand at oval track racing, running cars in the ASCAR series in his native England. This will be his first race on an oval in an open-wheel car this weekend.

Little bit of background of Phil Barker. Phil is a Northampton native who began his racing career as an engineer for Ray Mallock, Ltd., a specialized automotive engineering company in the UK. After working as an engineer in Formula 1 for several years, he rejoined Ray Mallock and headed up several touring and sports car programs for the company, including competition in the 24 hours of Le Mans over the last two years with the team. Phil, let's start with the questions with you. First off, tell us about the formation of Team St. George and what you've been doing to prepare for the race this weekend the last couple weeks. We also know that you are working with Dale Coyne Racing as well as Ray Mallock, Ltd. Can you give us an overview of the team?

Phil Barker: The project came together - the first discussions were about a week ago with Rockingham. They were looking effectively to see whether they would be interested in the Team St. George. Essentially, we were. Two weeks ago we got the green light on the project. At that point then we was aware our partners would be Dale Coyne Racing. After the last two weeks, we've had a lot of busy contacts with Dale Coyne Racing sorting out exactly which company can provide which resource for the project, bearing in mind we don't have a massive history, to be honest, no history in single-seat racing, but a wealth of history in other formulas. We went through all of the resources needed, engineers, mechanics, fabricators, et cetera, and picking the skills from both parties till we came up with a team which we think is capable of running one of these cars.

Merrill Cain: Tell us what your efforts have been like as you're trying to get the team up to speed for this weekend. Kind of a feverous pitch for you.

Phil Barker: Yeah, things have been rather busy for us. We checked the car on a Saturday evening from Stanstead. Tuesday we endeavored to start the rookie test for Darren. We had a few little glitches with the telemetry, couldn't run the car. We finished the test on the Wednesday. We've slowly been getting the guys working together nice and steady, no major panics. Over the week at the RML factory, the guys have been gelling together quite well, culminating in the car being finished today and having quite a heavy session on pit stop practice, just generally seeing which guys could perform at what level. It was very interesting.

Merrill Cain: Tell us a little bit about what went into the selection of Darren as your driver.

Phil Barker: Well, there was a lot of consideration. I mean, the primary consideration that went in was that the driver had to be English. As you know, we've got quite a few hot shoes that are actually doing Formula 1 test driving. Essentially a short list of drivers was collated. It was systematically a case of going through the drivers to see who fits into our criteria. As it happened, Darren shone through.

Merrill Cain: Darren, a good opportunity to switch over to you. I know you're familiar with the Rockingham track from your ASCAR experience, and also in testing over the last week or so as Phil mentioned the rookie test there. What are your thoughts on the Champ Car? What do you think about the performance of the car compared to other things you've driven? What are your realistic expectations for this weekend, keeping in mind it is your first go around with a team in the CART series in general? Darren Manning: Firstly, with regards to the car, I mean, the guys, especially David Watson, the engineer, he gave me a great car to perform our rookie test, instilled a lot of confidence in me, enabled me to just basically go faster and faster with each lap I completed. You know, Formula 1 cars are still pretty fast-paced in their own right. Monza, I've done quite a lot of testing, where top speeds are over 230 miles per hour. Everybody knows the performing capabilities of a Formula 1 car with the carbon brakes and the downforce. I'm used to extremely fast cars, but not particularly on oval tracks where you don't really decelerate very much and you have to carry a lot of momentum. But I felt I coped with that pretty well.

It's difficult to say what my expectations are. As a racing driver, obviously I want to win as much as the next guy. But obviously I'm very realistic. Being in racing for as long as I have, I know that obviously lots of things can go wrong, and you don't necessarily always get the rub of the green. I might not get the best qualifying slots. Who knows. Everybody is well aware of what racing is all about. But on the other side of that, we know oval racing you can win from anywhere on the grid effectively. We see guys like Paul Tracy regularly winning from midway down the field after a pole qualifying or something. In that respect, we could maybe get lucky. But I'm looking for a good result and possibly sneaking into Top 10.

Merrill Cain: We know you'll have a strong fan contingent over there. No doubt about that. Let's open it up and take a few questions.

Q: Darren, first of all, over here in the States with every sport we always talk about home field advantage. Do you have home field advantage?

Darren Manning: I hope so, I really hope so (laughter). You know, hopefully it's a good excuse for the English guys to get the England jerseys back on after the World Cup, you know, really give us some support. Motor racing, you very rarely get a car that's flying the flag for your country. So I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a very rare thing. I think the weather is going to be fantastic apparently next weekend. Hopefully the grandstands are going to be packed with white and red shirts.

Q: As an Englishman, you have some pretty big shoes to fill on the CART series.

Darren Manning: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm pretty experienced racing, starting karting when I was 10 years old. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I'm a great believer of deserving -- you know, if I'm 10th on the grid, for example, that's where I deserve to be. I'm faster than the guys behind me, not as fast as the guys in front of me. Not too much pressure put on myself. But if I'm not on the pace, I certainly will be putting a lot of pressure on myself to make myself go faster.

Q: Talk about the first time that someone said, "We think we may be able to give you an opportunity to race at Rockingham"?

Darren Manning: It was a bit of a jaw-dropper really. We've been negotiating. My name had been touted around, as Phil had been saying, for about eight weeks or so. My name had been in the frame. But as soon as they told me, it all happened so quickly, you know, the team and everything, the car getting or here. I think I found out on something like the Saturday, then I had a seat fitting on the Monday straight after that, out in the car on Tuesday. I'd been preparing physically in the gym and things, but nothing as quick a jump-in as that.

Q: Darren, just want to know, oval racing to most Europeans, both fans and drivers, is still a bit of an unusual kind of an animal. This is something that is North American in that aspect. Do you ever think you'll feel comfortable on ovals? Do you think that the English race fan will ever really cotton to just going around in circles? It's more complicated than that.

Darren Manning: Yeah, definitely. I mean, like you were saying, the ASCAR series, this is pretty new over here. This year, the crowds have been absolutely spectacular. The British Touring Car Championship has been very big in English motor racing for the past couple of decades. Now I believe the crowds that they're getting at some of the ASCAR races are equaling if not out-doing the touring car. So people are tending to want and get a bit more experienced.

Also it's a lot more exciting. There's a lot of coverage on English television, in the media and things. People are getting more excited. I mean, for example, I watch Champ Car racing. I generally never watch Formula 1, put it that way. Things like this, I think we're really pushing hard to get people in the seats, to get them excited, and hopefully Team St. George is another step in that direction.

Q: Phil, we had heard initially that some of the equipment you'll be using is stuff used at Sigma Racing. Is it Ford, Lola, Bridgestone tires?

Phil Barker: Yeah, that combination is still together. We think we have a competitive package.

Q: Have you had any updates on that thing at all or is it basically stuff as it sat on the floor at Sigma?

Phil Barker: It's been updated to the current 2002 package. We expect it to be competitive.

Q: Darren, this is your very first Champ car race. Would you have preferred it to be on a road course or do you think you'll adapt to the oval quickly?

Darren Manning: To be honest, I'm just so delighted and honored to be out in a Champ Car, I'm not too worried about either. I mean, probably I would have preferred it to be on a street circuit or a road course, if you like, as that's where my forte has been. I'm sure I can do a good enough job on the oval.

Q: Have you been fitted for a HANS device and will you be wearing one this weekend?

Darren Manning: I certainly have and I certainly will be, yes. I know what that's all about. I've done a lot of development on the equipment for the BAR Team that they're going to be running next year hopefully with not necessarily HANS, but their own version thereof. I'm a big believer in that. We use the Hutchens device in the ASCAR, as well.

Q: You're comfortable with the HANS device, fits you okay?

Darren Manning: Yeah, not a problem. Just a little bit of extra padding underneath to fit my wide neck (laughter).

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Manning, Barker press conference, Part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Paul Tracy , Ray Mallock , Dale Coyne
Teams Williams , Dale Coyne Racing