CART Online (October 19) -- Interview with Team KOOL Green owner Barry Green and his new team drivers Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. The CART interview took place last week when Green announced the new driver lineup. BARRY GREEN: After much...
CART Online (October 19) -- Interview with Team KOOL Green owner Barry Green and his new team drivers Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. The CART interview took place last week when Green announced the new driver lineup.
BARRY GREEN: After much speculation and anticipation, it is my pleasure to announce Team KOOL Green's plans for next season. We will be fielding two cars with the KOOL sponsorship in the 1998 CART World Series.
And, we have a fantastic driver lineup. Driving the No. 26 car will be CART veteran Paul Tracy and driving the No. 27 car will be CART rookie standout, Dario Franchitti. Our drivers will be running the same package as we used last season. That is the Reynard chassis with Honda power and Firestone tires.
Both Dario and Paul are here at the race shop us and Dario is with us now on the teleconference and Paul will join us shortly.
CART: Thank you, Barry, and congratulations. Dario Franchitti joins us now. Dario recently completed his rookie season in the PPG CART World Series driving the Hogan Motor Leasing Incorporated, Reynard Mercedes for Hogan Racing. His season was highlighted by his first career pole position at Toronto and a 9th place finish in his second career start at Australia. He led laps at Gateway, Detroit, and Michigan, making him the only rookie driver to lead three events this season. He led a total of 47 laps, tops among rookies, and recorded the fastest race laps at both Gateway and Detroit.
At this point we will begin taking questions for Dario and Barry. Paul Tracy, as Barry said, will join us later. We will begin.
Q. Barry, I understand that you were pretty close to having Andre Ribeiro lined up last week and then things kind of got shuffled around. Can you just talk a little bit about the scramble that you have been through in the last week to pull all this together?
BARRY GREEN: Yes, been a little bit of scramble, but thank goodness we were patient and Andre was one of the drivers that we were talking to along with Robby Gordon. And, we were talking to anyone that we thought could help us, help this team run at the front and at the 11th hour, Paul Tracy became available. And, of course, we just jumped at that opportunity putting Paul and Dario together, we think is just a fantastic combination.
Q. Congratulations, Barry. This is quite a pairing you have put together. Obviously you are excited about it and everybody else is. First of all, if you can comment, you know, a little bit on what attracted you to Dario and how you look at his coming into the team and, you know, also what you think Paul's strengths truly are?
BARRY GREEN: Yes, Dario attracted a lot of teams out there this year. He came into the series and impressed right away. He was with a one-car operation, so obviously his test driving abilities are very, very good. And, that is a real must for me. He did a great job with just -- in a one-car team and proved that he was very fast. We like what we saw and, you know, we were talking to him very early in the season. And, I think there were many, many teams that were quite keen to get him signed up for next season.
Although I had had the odd conversation with Paul, you know, we didn't really get serious at all until just last week. And, when that opportunity came up, you know, we thought it would be a brilliant combination. Paul is very, very fast and we think the combination of him and Dario working together, Paul's experience and especially on the ovals, which will help Dario, I think the two of them working together will be very, very strong. We are certainly very excited.
Q. Dario, just about coming into the series, and how tough it was to tell Mercedes what was going to happen, but you did the thing every race you had to take care of yourself. I don't think anybody, maybe other than Carl Hogan, has a problem with that.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, for me to leave Mercedes was the most, I am not exaggerating, the most difficult decision of my life. Because they were very, very good to me and really helped me to where I am now. But, you know, the opportunity to be part of the Team KOOL Green was just too good to miss.
Really, I am very excited to be here and I am very excited to working with Honda next year. And, also, I am excited to working with Paul. That happened last week and I think it is just going to be great to work with him and get the experience that he has and try to learn some stuff from him.
When Barry first told me that Paul was coming to the team, I was on my cell phone and the phone went out and he phoned me back two seconds later and he said, you know -- did you just hang up there; did I upset you that much? But, I am really excited to working here and I am looking forward to the 1998 season.
Q. Barry, last year you were -- ended up signing an American driver for Team KOOL Green because of the desire to have an American driver. This year you end up with a Scotsman and a Canadian. So has the rule about getting American drivers gone out the window?
BARRY GREEN: No, it hasn't gone out the window. In fact, tomorrow, just -- we start our academy program out in Las Vegas. We spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of money on that program, so that is still very much in place. But, we had to get back to what the real goals are for this team. And, this team, we employ a lot of great people in this team and every one of these guys want to run at the front. Our sponsors want to run at the front. That is the name of this game. And, we had to get this team back to the front. And, we think that we had to go out -- to do that, we think we had to go out and hire the best combination that we could put together. And, you know, it came down to a few weeks after the season - I wanted it in place long before the end of the season, and it didn't quite happen. And, by gosh, I am so pleased that we waited and finished up with this combination.
And, that is the goal. The goal is to run at the front. We needed the best equipment, the best drivers and the best team to do that. We think we have put that together now.
And, the American tradition -- I mean, the American driver tradition will carry on and we have got to build that program. And, like I said, we are starting that tomorrow out in Las Vegas.
Q. How hard was it to sell a two-car team to your sponsor without having a firm driver commitment?
BARRY GREEN: Of course that is what -- it took a lot of time. Obviously it is a huge commitment on any sponsor's part to be involved at this level. It is a great series. It is a very, very competitive series. We run a lot of races now. We do a lot of testing. We want to buy all the latest and greatest stuff to run at the front, so it is a huge commitment. Our sponsors are very excited about this series and where it is going and the venues that we run at. Obviously their return on their investment is good and they can finally justify to go to that next level.
We think it is important - we think that, you know, it is a challenge to run two-car teams. A two-car team is not twice as big as a one-car team. It is probably three or four times as big as a one-car team. But I have done that in the past very successfully and know what the benefits are there. And we believe that without doubt running a two-car team with a couple of drivers like we have now, is a competitive edge and we needed to get to that next step.
But, KOOL just believed in the program; believed in the series and believed in the team and they are a great bunch of people to be with. And, sure, it was a big decision, but look what we have finished up with. And, our new season will start just next week. We are off testing next week. And, the whole team is excited. The sponsor is excited and the drivers are excited, so looking forward to next year.
Q. I guess a question to Dario to sort of follow-up a little up on what was asked a while back: Your ties with Mercedes-Benz were sort of long standing obviously. Now Mercedes really seems to be really getting into its stride, shall we say, in Formula 1, and one might say that this kind of -- do you see this move of severing your ties with Mercedes as basically closing the door on Formula I in the future or just where does that stand? R. DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I don't see it as closing the door in Formula I at all. Formula I is something that I would like to do in the future. But, I was thinking for next year that the best opportunity was for me here right here with Team KOOL Green and they have a Honda package and I am very happy to be running with them.
As I said before, it was a difficult decision to leave Mercedes, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. And, there we go.
Q. Again, another question to Dario: It has sort of been well known, shall we say, around the paddock for, goodness, maybe a couple of months even now that the chances were very good that you would end up with Team KOOL Green and yet there was no official announcement made. And, I just wondered, if there was -- if either Barry or Dario could shed any light on basically why it took so long to make the announcement.
BARRY GREEN: Well, certainly we had been talking for quite sometime. There were rumors out there -Dario and I basically came to an agreement on terms just after Laguna.
As you know, the contracts are quite complicated. Remember, please, that Dario is managed by Jacques Villeneuve's manager, a very strong management team, so the contracts are very, very complicated. We finally got them signed just a little while ago.
But, you know, we still had commitments to us to another driver and certainly Dario, to another team, and we felt that we shouldn't -- no announcement should be made until the end of the season. Our team in the meantime was working very, very hard on putting the second car together. And, we really wanted to announce our lineup all in one.
And, again, I am glad that we were patient and we hung around long enough to sign up Paul Tracy.
Q. I wondered if I could ask both Dario and Barry, what they consider to be the key in making a two-car team work.
BARRY GREEN: I will answer it quickly. First, we back at Galles/Kraco ran that operation with Al Unser, Jr. and Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan and we feel we have got a pretty good handle on how to run that. Many of my people that are with me here today, my crew chiefs and managers are people that were with me back there at that operation.
It is no different than just running a normal team, I think, Dan, we know that Dario can drive and win. We know that Paul can drive and win. We know this team can win. There is only one thing left and that is just the communication channel and how well the team will work together and how well the team will pull in the same direction. I am so big on teamwork. And, my favorite saying - and I have said it a million times - you can take the eight best mechanics in the word and have the worse race team. You have got to have the best team. Not the best mechanics, the best drivers, you have got to have the best team. That is going to be our secret. These guys have -- Dario has to learn, Paul and vice versa, and the team have to learn these drivers, and wrap their arms around them, and understand what makes them tick; understand what is going to make them go to that next level. And, I just I think that the chemistry here is just going to be perfect and it is going to be a lot of work, but at the end of the day, communication, just how well we communicate as a group.
Q. Dario, what do you say about what you need from a team when it becomes a two-car team?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I totally believe what Barry is saying there. It is all about communication, first of all, and all about the two drivers working together because really the team is going to take the lead from the drivers and if they are fighting and stuff, there is no way it is going to work. I get along well with Paul and I think we can work really well together. And, I think the whole team will work very well together. They are a great bunch guys. I met them this morning. They all seem really good. And, I think with the information from two cars, it is going to be a good year. But we will see.
Q. First of all, for Barry, what has happened with Parker Johnstone? There was some suggestion that he might remain with you as a test driver. Can you shed some light on that first of all, please?
BARRY GREEN: No, I don't know exactly what Parker is doing about his future plan. He is free to explore other options. Parker -- neither Parker nor I were happy with the way the season played out. I think Parker lost confidence in the team and, certainly, the team lost confidence in Parker. Again, the chemistry wasn't right. No matter what we were going to do, we would not be able to get it to work. And we decided that it was best to go our own way.
And, we haven't finalized our plans as to what Parker is doing in the future as of yet. But, you know, as I said, he is free to explore all other options.
Q. Dario, last year, this past season, many people thought when Patrick Carpentier started to falter a little bit that you might be able to overtake for the rookie crown. In light of what was being offered to me, you missed by being knocked out of races yourself. What happened, do you think, was it rookie jitters whatever? What do you think you have learned from this year to carry into next season?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Tom Brown, who is Patrick's engineer, came up to me one day and he said to me, neither of you guys want to win this championship here, Patrick is falling off bikes breaking his shoulder and I was just -- every time I got the chance to score points, we didn't manage it, for whatever reason.
I think towards the end of the season I started to get very frustrated in my driving and I think you can see I was just pushing too hard on occasions because of them, the lost opportunities. As a team we had a lot of things going for us we; just didn't get it together completely and that was a big disappointment for me because I think we could have done it, really. If you look at the points we scored, and you look at some -- the way we led races and qualified pole positions, that sort of thing, we should have scored a lot more points than that. But ifs and buts, and all that doesn't work, you have got to score points. And, I am going to work on that for next year.
Q. Barry, wondering if a decision has been made on team engineer for next year. I know Tony (Cicale) in mid-season had talked about wanting to reretire and I wondered if you have talked him into signing for another term?
BARRY GREEN: It was about the same day, same month same week that Tony tells me that every year. But to be honest with you, I have yet to have a serious discussion with Tony.
Tony is a guy that I talk to when my plans are firmly in place and that has just happened. I don't talk to Tony about what if and this, that, and the other. Tony wants to know what our plans are and how I can fit in. All my efforts have been put into putting this two-car program together and getting these two drivers signed and sealed.
And, now I can sit back and start looking at how we piece the other parts of the puzzle together.
CART: We are going to introduce Paul Tracy who joins us now. Paul finished fifth in the PPG Cup race this season driving the Marlboro Penske Mercedes for Marlboro Team Penske.
He scored 121 points with consecutive victories at Nazareth, Rio de Janeiro and Gateway and won pole positions at Nazareth and Milwaukee. He became the 7th driver in PPG CART World Series history to win three consecutive events. Joining Rick Mears in 1981, Bobby Rahal in 1986, Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989. Al Unser, Jr. in 1990 and 1994, and Michael Andretti in 1991.
PPG Cup Champion Alex Zanardi later became the 8th driver to win three in a row with victories at Michigan Speedway, Mid-Ohio and Road America.
Paul finished second in the series with 336 laps led. And, his victory at Nazareth made him one of only two drivers to win from the pole this season; joining Zanardi who did so at Cleveland. Paul owns 13 career victories and 11 pole positions in 94 PPG CART World Series career starts.
Q. I'd like to ask Paul. I asked Roger (Penske) a couple of days ago and said that you came to him in Toronto and expressed dissatisfaction with the package there. And, he pretty much intimated that the decision to leave that team was more yours than his. Is that a fair assessment?
PAUL TRACY: I would say that really wasn't the case. This kind of -- my situation came out of the blue. It came out of the blue as of last Thursday.
I had expressed displeasure with the performance of the car to my engineers. And, it was a frustrating season for everybody. We started off the year fantastic, leading the championship, and then basically ran into a big wall in terms of performance. We were not moving forward, and people were getting into the stride, other teams, and subsequently we were going down and down in the qualifying order. And, that was getting very frustrating. And, you know, it is like Barry said, you have got to have communication if you are going to move forward. And, it is something that really wasn't talked about.
But, at the end of the day, you know, I was released as of last Thursday, and obviously was scrambling to put together a deal and very, very lucky that I was able to get together with Barry and Team KOOL Green and Brown & Williamson. It came together very quickly, but it is the right situation for me and the team.
Q. Paul, I guess after you were released, that happened, you talked to obviously to Barry and to quite a few other CART team owners. I gather that you had quite a few offers even a couple from Formula 1. Can you tell us, you know, what was the attraction to Barry, and how quickly you made the decision to pursue this route?
PAUL TRACY: I mean, obviously, you have got to look at the complete package and the package being the team and the equipment, obviously with Reynard Honda and Firestone, that is key.
I looked at the type of sponsorship that was in place, the people that Barry is working with. And, obviously, I was -- I have been impressed with the KOOL operation right from the get-go. Really there was -- I was actually surprised by the amount of options that were still available. But, really, before I even had started, my No. 1 choice, right off the top of my head, was with Barry and KOOL. And, I did talk to other teams, you know, Pat Patrick, Gerry Forsythe, Carl Hogan, a couple of Formula 1 teams; all in about a 24-hour span. I was basically on the phone for 24 hours straight.
But, really in my heart of hearts, I had already made my decision what would be the best place for me to go. I was just hoping that Barry was of the same opinion of what he needed everything and me worked out.
Q. Just a quick follow-up if I may, Paul: Are you there in the shop now in Indianapolis?
PAUL TRACY: Yes.
Q. Is that the first time you have ever been to Barry's shop?
PAUL TRACY: Yes, first time I have been here.
Q. Have you had a chance to look around? What are your initial impressions of the facility and so forth?
PAUL TRACY: It is impressive. I really haven't seen -- I have been at Newman/Haas, obviously, for one year and Penske for six years of my career. And, this place, really, I haven't seen a shop as well equipped as this other than the time that I went and did a test for Benneton in Formula I. I mean, all the ingredients are here, the people who are here are long-time employees that Barry has had. There is a lot of chemistry here and a lot of great people to work with and I am very, very excited about it.
Q. Paul, is the toughest thing as far as leaving Team Penske going to be the salary cut or is it a salary cut?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously, there is a lot of question about that. I have a very strong contract with Barry that we put together. I am impressed at the time frame that we were able to put it together. I think the whole thing was put to bed in less than 24 hours. Obviously, he has been very generous to me as well as KOOL, given the situation in how late everything came together.
So, I mean, I am very happy with what I have put together and I feel it is the best opportunity for me right from the very start of my career to win a championship in Indy car.
Q. Every season brings its ups and downs. You have certainly had an up-and-down season. What do you think you have learned, though, from this season that will help you into next season?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it is exactly what Barry was talking about earlier. I mean, the key to our relationship, of how we got together on this thing, was open lines of communication. That is what we need together to work this team into a championship winning team. It has been done once before, with Barry with Jacques. And that is very much my focus.
I mean, I have got a new opportunity. I am coming in here. I have got to learn the people. I have got to learn the engineers. They have to learn me, so there is going to be -- communication is going to be key. And, we have got a short amount of time here to get everything in place, by the time March rolls around, so, we have got a lot of work. But, I think it is going to be a fun project. And I think it is going to be an opportunity for everybody to really have a good time and enjoy themselves. And, when things are going well and you are enjoying yourself, that is when things are going right.
Q. Paul, any thoughts of moving nearer to the shop?
PAUL TRACY: I like it out in Arizona right now. I don't get a lot of opportunity to be there, so, that is where I like to be. I have seen the testing schedule and there is going to be plenty of opportunity to test and bond and I like to be in Arizona during the winter just simply because of the weather and the opportunity to do the stuff that I like to do in the off-season.
Q. If I could just ask one quick one: Can either Paul or Barry say how long the contract is for?
PAUL TRACY: I can say this that Barry and I have made a commitment to each other. It is a long-term commitment. We are moving forward with this team and, you know, he wants to win and I want to win. And, that is the first and foremost goal. And, we are going forward with a commitment to each other that this is -- we are going to be together for a while.
Q. When you were first released by Penske, was there a lot of bitterness towards Roger and the team? R. PAUL TRACY: I mean, there are -- obviously, there is. I mean, it is -- it wasn't my decision. It is not something that I wanted. I was under the impression that I was committed for next year. I had been involved in meetings for next year's car; what they were doing with their tire situation. As far as I knew, up until last Thursday, I was on the team. And, obviously it came as a big shock to me. I was dumbfounded, in shock; I didn't know what to think. It was almost like a bad dream.
I immediately was making phone calls and I knew as soon as I walked out the door where I wanted to go if there was a place available and that was with Barry. And, I wasn't sure what his situation was and, you know, when you are in that state of emotions, you are at the point of thinking "Is my career over; am I going to get a chance to land a top class seat" because that is what I have been accustomed to through my whole career I have been with Penske Racing and Newman/Haas. So, obviously this came as a big shock, both of those seats are now not available to me and to get the opportunity to drive for another championship winning team, I guess is unprecedented.
I have had three key opportunities and I feel that this is the best one that I have ever been involved in. I have always been in the shadow of, you know, say Al or Emerson or Rick at Team Penske. And when I was with Newman/Haas, you know, kind of played second driver to Michael. And, to be involved with Barry as the key guy here and Dario is obviously a fantastic driver and he is going to learn a lot, I guess, we are kind of leading the charge here. And, it feels good to have this opportunity. So, I am going to make the most of it.
Q. Paul, how is it going to feel not having to develop a car again completely for your team next year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I guess from my standpoint it feels good. I mean, the Reynard Firestone Honda package is second to none. They have won two back-to-black championships.
I guess, you know, from my standpoint now is the time. I have got all the pieces in place. Barry has the team in place. We have got the equipment. There is really -- Barry and I have no excuses to be made. And, you know, we are ready for this challenge and ready to move forward and start testing next week.
Q. Paul, you sort of touched on it. You will be working with a very competitive package next year. You don't have experience with Honda and Firestone, but you did at least get a chance to test, goodness, I guess it would have been a '96, yeah, a '96 Reynard at the end of last season, so have some sort of sense of what the Reynard car is all about. And I just wondered if you could share some of your thoughts on what you expect out of the 1998 car?
PAUL TRACY: I don't really know much about the 1988 car. Obviously, this has come together fairly quick but having driven the '96 and obviously they have made improvements to the 1997.
When I had driven the '96, I mean it just did everything that it was supposed to do. You could drive the car and, you know, and just concentrate on driving instead of fighting and wrestling and trying to manhandle the car. I mean, that is what our objective was is to try to get at Penske, but couldn't achieve it.
And, obviously Reynard has got a fantastic car. I have got a long-term relationship with them. I had driven for Reynard when I was at a younger age, 16, and 17 as a works driver in Formula 2000. I have known Rick and Adrian a long time and have a good relationship with them. So this is really coming around full circle for me. It is a fantastic opportunity and I would think one that they are very excited about and I am very excited about working with them again.
Q. If I could ask another question: You referred to having had some contact with some Formula 1 teams. I wondered if you could be any more explicit about that?
PAUL TRACY: There is -- obviously there is rides available and it has always been a goal of mine to go to Formula I, but, you know, really, that was, you know, from my standpoint, was the second option and my first option, what I wanted, was to hook up with Barry.
Obviously, I have got a goal here and that is to win a CART Championship. I felt that, you know, I have been here six years now, racing full-time since 1993 and this is something that I have to achieve before I go to the next step. And, it is something that I feel I have the best opportunity that I have ever had in 1998.
Q. Barry, could you kind of talk us through the chain of events; when you first heard from --presumably you first heard from Paul, and just how long and what all was involved in the 24 hours or so it took to put the thing together?
BARRY GREEN: As I said, I talked to Paul several months ago, but he seemed pretty well situated. I talked to all the drivers in the pit lane and then, you know, we were out talking to Andre to Robby, to a couple of other guys too, and trying to come up with a driver that, you know, we felt was strong enough to go back to KOOL and say we have got a great package here; let us go forward with this.
And, I had some unusual phone calls from friends that there were some rumblings out there; even the night before, I guess, that something might be going astray at Penske. And, the next day Paul called me and said, "I am a driver." And I said, "Well, I have got a team." He said, "What do we need to do?" I said, "We need to sign a contract." So we went from there.
Q. I mean, really, how long did it really take to put the contract together and get everything nailed down?
BARRY GREEN: Well, Paul has got a great manager, Dave Stevens, and someone that we have known for a couple of years and someone that has also worked with Brown & Williamson in the bike arena. And, you know, we didn't have to Paul didn't have to come and sell himself. We knew what his qualities were and I think he knew what our qualities were. KOOL is very -- Brown & Williamson are very, very involved in our day-to-day decisions in our team, and we are one big happy family and it didn't take long before we got answers back and feelings back from everyone that that was the best thing for Team KOOL Green. And, I guess just over 24 hours, really, later we had a contract in place and signed and I think a lot of happy campers sitting around a table.