An interview with: GIL DE FERRAN T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We appreciate all of you taking the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is defending FedEx Championship Series ...
An interview with: GIL DE FERRAN
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We appreciate all of you taking the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske who drove to his first victory of the season in last Saturday's inaugural Rockingham 500 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.
Good afternoon, Gil, congratulations on your first victory of the year and thanks for being with us today.
GIL DE FERRAN: Good afternoon.
T.E. McHALE: Gil, the driver of the No. 1 Marlboro Honda/Reynard became the 11th different race winner of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season, tying a record established last year. The victory was the sixth of his career and his first since last year at Portland, as well as the second oval triumph of his career, joining a win at Nazareth last year.
Gil has finished among the Top 5 drivers in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts, with four podium finishes, including second at Mid-Ohio and Vancouver, and third at Chicago, in addition to Saturday's victory.
The run has propelled him into second place in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 141 points, behind Kenny Brack of Team Rahal who leads with 147 points heading into the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, round 18 of the FedEx Championship Series which will be televised live on ESPN on Sunday, October 7th, beginning at 2 p.m. eastern time.
With that we will open it up to questions for Gil.
Q. If you could talk a little bit about your consistency this season. I guess you got close to wins and everything, but had you figured that in the absence of victories that you wanted to try to at least finish in the Top 5 or so, gain enough points so when you finally got the win, it would really make a difference, instead of having to win?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think the way I see it, you know, you got to tackle those things race by race. Certainly in this championship that we run, and the way the points are awarded and everything, you got to be at the end whenever possible.
The thing is so competitive that I think it's very, very difficult for you to win every weekend. So when you're not able to win, then you got to come up with whatever you can. Certainly that has been -- ever since last year, we've been trying to win every race. We haven't been in a position to win every race.
When we don't win, you can't lose your head and throw it in the wall, you know, or in the gravel trap, for that matter. We've been very competitive. I think this year we've been in a position to win a number of times, but unfortunately hasn't really come our way. But many times, even when it hasn't come our way, I was able to bring home some points, which is extremely important in the end of the day.
I'll just try to do the best I can, I guess.
Q. What things have you been really pleased with in terms of how the car is running that's allowed you to really hang in there until you got that win?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think certainly as I've been working now for nearly two years with the team, you know, our relationship has matured. I think we're working better together this year than we were last year. You know, we've been able to be more consistently fast than perhaps even last year. That to me, the fact that every weekend or every race weekend we've been most of the time in a position to fight for the win I think has been very pleasing to me.
Q. Three-part question for you. It's about attitudes. This is about Rockingham. I was wondering what you thought of some of the European press asking pointed questions about CART safety? Do you think they changed after the race? I'm wondering if you spoke to any British fans after the race and what they thought?
GIL DE FERRAN: The only pointed question I had to deal with from the British press was really regarding the circuit and the situation with the "weepers" there, what I thought about that. That's really the only really pointed question which I felt they were -- that the European press were trying to get at the circuit a little bit. At least towards me, there were no other controversial questions regarding safety of CART and the track that we run and all that.
As far as aftermath of the race, impressions from fans and friends, even European, particularly English press, I have to say most of the -- well, all of the reports I have were extremely positive, you know. I had some friends on the stands that said it was probably one of the most fantastic things they ever seen. Certainly I seen some clippings from the English press which, despite the fact that we had the issue there by not running two days in a row, the race was so good that that nearly wiped out all the bad taste that that was leaving in everybody's mouth because the race was so spectacular. They mostly wrote about that.
All the reports I have were very positive.
Q. One guy said the dawn of a new era in racing in Great Britain.
GIL DE FERRAN: Some very, very positive reports.
Q. Do you feel that was your best drive of your career?
GIL DE FERRAN: I thought it was a good drive (laughter). I actually feel probably one of my best drives of my career actually happened this year, as well, in Cleveland. I think I reckon that was an (inaudible) drive, even though I only finished fourth. I reckon Cleveland was a better drive.
Q. What do you think of CART expanding out to the international scene? It sounds like you think Europe was good, Germany and England. Do you feel they were good?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think so. I think basically, you know, that expansion, the beginning of the whole issue there, to my mind, came from a demand that was both internal and external. You know, there was a lot of interest from inside the series, a lot of players inside the series, including sponsors, had interest in going overseas. There was certainly demand from overseas entities, as well as fans, you know, to have one race abroad.
I think CART took a leap of faith there and decided to try to take the races over there. I have to say this European Tour was largely successful. Certainly there were some issues there with weather and not being able to run as much as we would have liked. But the impressions I had from the fans, and certainly both races were quite exciting, I would classify as a success.
Certainly if I was in an advisory position to CART, which I'm not, the only thing I would say was try to put the race on in a window between June and August where the likelihood of having better weather in Germany and England are higher.
Q. As a driver, I'm assuming earlier on you had some aspirations of maybe driving in Formula 1. For whatever reason, that didn't happen, hasn't happened yet. Do you as a driver like the fact that CART is becoming almost like a World Championship like Formula 1 in that you compete around the world. Do you like that?
GIL DE FERRAN: Even though the championship is mostly North American, I kind of always regarded the championship as a bit of a World Championship really because you really have an influx of talent, not only on the driving front, but elsewhere, everywhere really, from the whole international pool of talents, if you see what I mean.
To me, that's where I place the most importance really, is the level of the people that compete in the championship. That is to me what make the championship more or less important. That's why, in my mind, I always welcome new talent coming in, both from a team standpoint and from a driver standpoint.
Q. That was a fantastic finish to the race. Could you maybe describe for us what was going through your mind the last couple of laps when Kenny passed you?
GIL DE FERRAN: Certainly I rather if it wasn't all that exciting, to be quite honest. I'm sure you guys all enjoyed it. I must say I like when it's a little more boring (laughter).
Basically I felt like I had the situation there under control. As the race was winding to a close, I was very comfortable with the way the car was running. I wasn't feeling particularly threatened by Kenny. Certainly I knew he was there. You know, I had traffic to deal with.
Sure enough, two laps to go, you know, I thought I stick my nose there underneath Max, maybe hope that he would let me by. I guess, you know, he didn't, which he has the right to do so.
But the end result of that is I came out of that turn in a real bad shape, very slow. Kenny was able to just slingshot past me. At that point I was just thinking, "Well, you know, we got two laps to go here. Let's see what we can do."
I knew the car was running strong. I knew that Kenny would have to contend with the same problems that I had, which was traffic. You know, I just didn't let off. I thought to myself, "I got two laps to try to undo this."
Coming into the last lap, I think he felt he couldn't make by the traffic safely, so he decided to try to leave enough of a gap so he could make the last few turns quite fast. By doing that, I was able to get a good run at him through turn two and three, you know, be slightly ahead of him going into turn four. At that point I had a good line going into turn four. I thought to myself, "Right, here we go. Here or never again."
I had a good line into the turn, just made it by him. I was thrilled. It was very exciting.
Q. With CART's success now in Germany, England, Mexico, Japan, do you feel the lack of American drivers, slowly becoming fewer and fewer drivers in CART, do you think that hurts them in the United States?
GIL DE FERRAN: It's really hard for me to judge that. I think -- let's put it this way. It would be good if Jeff Gordon was racing with us. I think that would be helpful. I guess, you know, I think having a guy like him racing last year was certainly bring a lot of recognition and attention to our series, in the same way that when Nigel Mansell came over here as the current world champion, that brought a lot of attention internationally to CART.
I guess if you had a guy racing like him as well, that would be true inside this country.
Q. What are you planning on doing this weekend? Are you going to try to bring some luck to David or are you staying home?
GIL DE FERRAN: I probably going to go up to Indianapolis on Saturday, but just for the day.
Q. You're not going to stay for Sunday?
GIL DE FERRAN: Most likely not, no.
Q. But you never know?
GIL DE FERRAN: You never know.
Q. It sounds like you still pretty much are walking on the clouds after this race. How do you get back to central and prepare for the next one?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, it's all back to the same old routine, you know, physically training every day and trying to prepare for the next race. You know, certainly the win in Rockingham was nice, and we're in a good position in the championship. I'm in a sort of "what's next" sort of mood.
Q. I'm sure Angela and the kids were happy to see you when you got home?
GIL DE FERRAN: I have to say it was a tough week for all of us, especially with the events here in the US, Alex's accident, all of that, my family being unable to meet me in the UK as they were meant to. It was really a difficult week for us. It was very, very nice to be back.
Q. You drove on two new tracks in the past two weeks. Can you talk about what you thought about the particular shape and character of Germany and Rockingham following that?
GIL DE FERRAN: They were two very, very different racetracks, different again from anything else we run over here. I mean, Germany was a triangular track which was extremely, extremely fast, very flat, not a lot of banking. I thought it was actually going to be quicker than it was actually was, but you had to back off the throttle on all three turns. Very unique. Very different.
England was extremely fast (laughter). I mean, it was kind of a trapezoidal shaped track with four turns. Turn one and two in England remind me a little bit of Indianapolis actually. Turn four, it was more like a Homestead turn. It was an interesting mix. I found Rockingham quite a challenging racetrack from that standpoint, because you have very different turns everywhere.
It was good. I mean, it's interesting really because when you think about oval tracks, you think in limited terms. I guess when you go to tracks like that, you can see there are many interpretations of what an oval track can be.
Q. Homestead, which is more of a traditional oval, then with Rockingham still 1.5 miles, but it seemed like the passing opportunities were greater at Rockingham.
GIL DE FERRAN: It was difficult to pass over there, too. Certainly it wasn't easy. But it was still good racing. I tell you, the track was so new and we had so little track time, there really wasn't two grooves on it. There was a good one and a half, and you could stagger yourself a little bit, get good runs out of the turns and make passes, as you saw many of them during the race.
Q. We're talking in the US about the short ovals or medium ovals, how to make them more competitive. Would you suggest they look at some configurations like Rockingham, say?
GIL DE FERRAN: I don't know. I think variety is the spice of life, in a way (laughter). I'm against some sort of standardization, if you see what I mean. I think every track has got its little different challenge. I certainly have driven in a lot of mile, mile and a half ovals. You know, some of them were difficult to overtake than others, some are faster than others. But I rather them all be different.
You know, I think it depends on the car configuration and the type of weekend you have. Some years you have very exciting races, and other years you have less exciting races. I think that comes with the territory. I think it's impossible for you to have every year a race that is decided on the last lap over every racetrack. I think that's unrealistic to expect that.
Q. Now that you've had a chance to run the wing configuration that was used in Europe, would you recommend that for other tracks in the US? Do you feel it improved the racing? Seemed that it did.
GIL DE FERRAN: I think certainly it's easier to follow the cars ahead of you. I think especially for the small ovals, that's a better option than what we used in Chicago, for example, and in Milwaukee and in Nazareth.
I think for those tracks, I think that's a better option of the current options that we use. That's looking further towards the future. If there is something a little better, that's something that I haven't stopped to think about it. But it was better than the configuration we used in the three ovals that I just mentioned.
Q. Will you be making your feelings known to CART about this?
GIL DE FERRAN: Yes, without a doubt.
Q. I know you're a close family man. So many things happened while you were in Europe, separated from your family. It was a time when I could imagine you wanted to be close to your family. Can you talk about the impact of being away?
GIL DE FERRAN: Certainly. I mean, it was a very, very difficult two weeks there for us. We regard this country as our home. My wife was meant to join me in the UK with my kids. She was unable to make the trip. Certainly, the worst thing during these times is uncertainty. You don't know what's going to happen next. You don't want to be far away. It was very difficult to remain focused and to know exactly what action to take.
At the end, we thought that probably for her to stay put here at home in Florida was the best thing, and for me to join her as soon as possible. I was able to be with them Sunday right after Rockingham, after a very long 16-day trip for me. Trust me, it was very emotional to reencounter everybody. Nice to see everything was in good shape over here.
Q. In the race for points, there's some talk that I've had with other drivers that the incentive to race from fifth to fourth or sixth to fifth is not always there because the purses aren't large enough. Can you talk about that? Is there an incentive for the driver to go back in the pack to race, especially late in the event?
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, I think I certainly don't look at it from the purse standpoint. I believe I race the same way whether I've racing for $1 or $1 million. I'm very much a purist from that standpoint. You race because you love the sport. So to me the point situation is by far the most important consideration there.
I don't agree with that statement. I think every point counts. You know, whether you're racing between first and second or between eighth and ninth, the considerations are the same. Whether you going to make a pass or not is the percentage of chance that you have of making it stick, not ending up in the wall.
The same way that I wouldn't try to make a pass, which I think only has a two percent chance of working, if I'm going from second to first, I wouldn't attempt the same pass if I was going from ninth to eighth because I think the percentages of success are far too small.
I think I don't agree with that. My mindset was always the same throughout the races, whether I'm racing for lower or higher positions.
Q. Four races left to go. The common wisdom says that you and the Honda/Reynards have the advantage on the road courses. Kenny won four ovals. Mindful you have the world record at Fontana. What have I left out there?
GIL DE FERRAN: What do you mean?
Q. Is that too much of a simplification of the points battle?
GIL DE FERRAN: I mean, what do you mean? Do you think it's a foregone conclusion from my side?
Q. Not exactly. Do you feel with three road races coming up versus one oval, you have an advantage? I'll make it simple.
GIL DE FERRAN: Sorry.
Q. I didn't ask a good question.
GIL DE FERRAN: Well, let me tell you something, we certainly haven't been running particularly well on the ovals this year. Helio probably did a better job than I did on the ovals. It was nice to win a race in Rockingham where we were having a lot of difficulty getting it all together. That to me from a championship standpoint was an extreme positive.
Looking forward to Houston and Laguna and Australia, I will be disappointed if I was off the pace. But then again, I don't think it would be -- I think Kenny will be strong, too. He was strong in Vancouver. I think they improved tremendously on that front. I'm not so sure we hold that much of an upper hand going to the next three races here.
Fontana, I don't really know what to expect at this point.
Q. Has there been a point this season where even though you've been running well where you wondered, "What is it going to take for us to win a race?"
GIL DE FERRAN: I have to say I tried very hard to avoid getting frustrated. Certainly, as a driver, as a team, you want to win every race. Basically from what I could see, from where I was sitting, I thought we were running well. From my analysis of it, we hadn't had a weekend yet where we all came together. It was mostly circumstantial more than anything else. I mean, it was kind of almost like nobody's fault sort of thing.
Take, for example, Cleveland, where I had high hopes of actually dominating the race, since we were extremely quick in practice. Come qualifying, we had one of those one session in the dry, one session in the wet. We ended up starting the race way in the back.
I really tried to keep perspective and keep going, if you know what I mean. I try to be very practical about this sort of analysis.
Q. Now that you have a win, how much of a breakthrough was this? Was there relief on your part? You've been doing everything right, but finally it's showing some results.
GIL DE FERRAN: Let me tell you, certainly very, very, very nice to win. But I guess because my level of frustration was not that high, it wasn't like a big relief or anything like that. It was like, "Yeah, great" sort of thing. "Let's keep going." I have to say I was a little frustrated after Vancouver, where I had a good chance to win, and I made a small error there, ended up with second place.
I think particularly in light of Vancouver, I was quite happy to cross the line first there.
Q. How hard is it to defend a title like you had to do this year? Has this required a lot more work? Do you feel nothing has changed in terms of the overall picture?
GIL DE FERRAN: I think the way I looked at it from the beginning of the year, you know, certainly already winter testing brought that home, is that I wasn't really defending my title, I was trying to win another one. I know it sounds similar, but there is a difference there, because one puts you in a defensive sort of position.
You know, I'm trying to defend my title. The other one, which was day to day you felt that anyway, "Okay, everybody is starting from zero points, and I got as much of a chance as anybody else to win another championship." When you start running, already before the first race, you can see that. Everybody is fighting for the best times, see who is top dog, who is going to start the season best, all that.
When you get in the car, even though you got the number one in the car, you faced with the same troubles. If you have a bad day, despite the fact you number one written on the car, you end up outside of the Top 10. That really drills it home. It's like, "Okay, really you got to get your stuff together and try to win another one."
I don't know if I was clear.
Q. I guess it's where you look at trying -- you're focused more on winning another title rather than keeping somebody else from getting it?
GIL DE FERRAN: That's exactly my point. Certainly it's hard to win the first one. Just as difficult to put myself in this position so far on the second chase.
Q. The answer to the past question was one of the best I heard, about going to get another title instead of defending one. In football sometimes you concentrate so much on winning a championship that it might delay your preparation for the next season. Last year you went deep into the season before it was definite that you had won. Did you find it tough getting up to speed this year because so much of your effort was spent last year in winning the championship?
GIL DE FERRAN: Let me tell you, you know, the month of November last year, right after Fontana, it was a beautiful month where all I did was kind of enjoy the sweet taste that I had in my mouth. However, when I start to get going again in already late November and early December, I didn't have too much of a problem winding myself up to speed. I guess I never lost the desire to go race, even though I achieved the championship last year. Getting going again was not so much of a problem.
Actually, in my preparations for this year, one of my biggest problems, probably one of the most difficult years that I had to prepare for a season, was because I had two quite substantial accidents within a period of a week that put me out of the car for a good month. That really was quite a big concern, quite a big problem to deal with as I prepare for this year.
Q. So the push now towards the championship probably adds a little more excitement towards the end of the season?
GIL DE FERRAN: Yeah. I mean, we got to keep pushing. I certainly don't see Kenny as the only contender. I think certainly Helio and Michael and perhaps to a lesser extent Cristiano and Dario are right there. It's going to be an exciting finish. At this point it's hard to say what's going to happen.
T.E. McHALE: We'll wrap it up for the afternoon. We want to thank defending FedEx Championship Series series champion Gil de Ferran for joining us this afternoon. Thanks for being with us. Best of luck in the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.
GIL DE FERRAN: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon. We'll talk to you next week.