CHAMPCAR/CART: Heitzler, Andretti, Gugelmin, Herta interview, part I

Participants: Joe Heitzler Michael Andretti Mauricio Gugelmin Bryan Herta Part I T.E. McHale: Thank you. Good afternoon and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. This past ...


Joe Heitzler
Michael Andretti
Mauricio Gugelmin
Bryan Herta

Part I

T.E. McHale: Thank you. Good afternoon and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today.

This past Sunday, Championship Auto Racing Teams announced that it was postponing last weekend's Firestone Firehawk 600 presented by Pioneer at Texas Motor Speedway due to concerns over the physical demands of speeds of over 230 miles an hour and gravity loads in excess of 5 Gs were placing on its drivers.

With us today to discuss that postponement are Joseph Heitzler, President and Chief Executive Officer of Championship Auto Racing Teams and drivers Michael Andretti of Team Motorola; Mauricio Gugelmin of the PacWest Racing Group and Bryan Herta of Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing.

Gentlemen, good afternoon and thanks for being with us today.

A couple of quick notes on our guests before we begin. Joe Heitzler has been CART's president and CEO since last December, prior to which he had built a successful career in sports television production.

Michael Andretti, driver of the Number 39 Motorola Honda Reynard, is CART's all-time victory leader, with 40 wins, and is one shy of tying Al Unser Jr.'s CART 273 career starts.

Mauricio Gugelmin, driver of the Number 17 Nextel PacWest Toyota, is the president of the Championship Drivers Association and has made 130 consecutive FedEx Championship Series starts, tops among active drivers, since his 1993 debut at Mid-Ohio.

Bryan Herta, driver of the Number 77 Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing Ford Reynard, owns two victories, seven poles and nine podium finishes in his eight-year Fed-Ex Championship career.

Before we start with questions, I'd like to remind you all that the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, Round 3 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be telecast live from Nazareth Speedway on ABC-TV this Sunday May 6th, beginning at 1 p.m. eastern time.

Michael, I'd like to first get your thoughts about canceling last week's race, and then secondly just talk a little bit about racing this weekend at Nazareth.

Michael Andretti: I applaud CART for taking the stand that they did. We are in an area -- we have found an area where we can say what is too fast for the physical element. I think we finally found that area. And we didn't get to that area until 4:00 -- we didn't realize it until 4:00 Saturday afternoon in the drivers' meeting when we found out that 21 of the 28 drivers or whatever, I don't know the exact number, but had symptoms of the problems that Doc Olvey talked about of dizziness, of potential blackout situations.

So I guess the point I want to stress is that this is something that we did not know. There was no way we could have forecasted this. It's something that -- it's an area that we've never been before, and now we know. Now we know where we need to go. We know we couldn't pull more than four and a half vertical Gs, and more than five lateral Gs. So we are at that point, and now we will be able to learn from that.

So because of this, CART decided that we were in a very dangerous situation, and it would not be wise to go on with the show at this point because there's a potential of drivers blacking out and anybody blacking out at 230-some miles an hour, could be a little bit of a dangerous situation. So I applaud CART, as I said, and also Joe Heitzler for standing up for the drivers' safety on this.

And so to answer your question, yes, I'm very happy that Joe took the stance that he did, and we were able to postpone this event. It is a bad situation. We apologize to the fans and all that, but the potential of losing the life of a driver is definitely not worth the risk of going on with the show at this time.

To answer your other question, I'm looking forward to coming back to Nazareth here. It looks like it may be the last race, which I'm quite disappointed about, obviously because it is my hometown. We're going to try to make the best of it if we can. Nazareth has been a pretty good racetrack for me, and I'm hoping that I can finish where we started here at Nazareth. We were able to win the first one in 1987, and it would be nice to win the last one.

Joe, in talking with Burton Smith and Eddie Gossage yesterday, do you get the sense that the door might remain open to maybe run another one of their tracks in Las Vegas, or do you think what happened over the weekend is maybe going to end your relationship there? How do you think it stands right at the moment?

Joseph Heitzler: Well, right now at the moment, obviously, on Saturday when this was brought to our attention, and the process that we went through to conclude that we had to do -- that CART had to make a decision that was in the best interests of the safety of our drivers and of our fans and all the other attendant issues at the track, once that decision was made by myself and Dr. Olvey and Kirk Russell and Chris Kneifel and in discussions with Mauricio as president of the drivers association, it was my decision, and my decision only to postpone this race.

Once that announcement was made the entire focus of CART now went to all the issues attendant with our fans who support us and who have allowed us to get to where we are today. And I stayed in Texas yesterday to have several meetings with Texas Motor Speedway, and it is fully our desire to find a means by which our drivers and our business associates and our sponsors can thank the people of Texas for their patience during these unprecedented and unchartered water times. And we have every intention of dealing strictly, No. 1, right now our priority is the fans.

Do you get the sense that Burton Smith is open to try to open a deal to go somewhere else? You have two years left on the contract. How do you think they perceive their relationship with CART?

Joseph Heitzler: I think yesterday at least my impression, and others on my business associates here from CART when we met with Eddie and his management team, was that the fans were the No. 1 priority. We were looking at schedules and the date to return there. We were looking at the criteria associated with that. We slowed the cars down to be on the tracks where the G forces are not recreated, and we're going through all of those issues as we speak.

Joe, is there a possibility that the event could be rescheduled -- looking at the schedule there aren't a whole lot of opportunities of open dates. Could it be rescheduled after the California race?

Joseph Heitzler: That is one of the potential scenarios that we discussed yesterday.

For Mauricio, have you gotten a chance to look at the telemetry that indicates exactly what some of these G forces were, and particularly interested in the lateral G forces, because that keeps getting brought up? And on a banked track, I understood that lateral G forces weren't quite as much of a factor?

Mauricio Gugelmin: Not in our case. I mean, these cars are the fastest cars in the world, and we had lateral forces above 4 Gs, but what I have to bring your attention to that when you have a combination of vertical, very high vertical loads and lateral loads combined is when you reach problems and Dr. Olvey has explained that quite a few times. And we have data to confirm this. But it has been impossible -- to make a matter simple, your blood goes to your socks and it leaves your brain and you start having problems. Particularly if our cars probably doing 22 second laps like some cars did there, doing the 18 seconds of those laps, you roughly pulling very high Gs above five in some areas, and in some areas less, and that creates a lot of the problems, basically.

When you say above five, are you talking about combined?

Mauricio Gugelmin: Yeah, combined. Say, your vertical is high and your lateral is low sometimes, but sometimes they're both high, especially when you're coming out of the bank, your vertical gets light, but it still gets some lateral into it. And depends on where you are on the circuit. They move a little bit. But during all the time it's on your body, and that's what causes the problem.

Joe, out here at Fontana, the Winston Cup has really applauded your guys move, but the one thing they questioned was the timing, they said, with a new track. And you expressed some safety concerns. Why didn't you go there and have a group test earlier and maybe some of these problems could have been exposed at that time?

Michael Andretti: This is not an issue of speed. It's not an issue of any of that, and this is an area that we never suspected. We knew we were going to be at high speeds here, and we could accept that. We were dealing with that fact. But what we did not know and we never even thought of and never entered anybody's mind was the physical side of it, the physical element. That's what this is all about. It's about guys blacking out. And we never, ever had experienced anything like this, like Doc Olvey, in 25 years of racing, he's never seen it, and I've never seen it in my 25 years of racing. It's not about the speeds or anything like that. It's about something that we could not anticipate being a problem.

Mauricio Gugelmin: I have to stress that we did test at Texas, but to explain a little bit how this thing goes, that test was done during the winter. Of course the circuit is very busy. We are also busy finishing our seasons. We only get our new cars late in the year, and it's virtually due to the scheduling and how busy everybody is, including engine manufacturers, getting new engines ready, to get enough cars together in a place that we're going to race like early in the year, but when the weather was different. So when I tested the temperature was at least 20 to 30 degrees cooler than when we ran. We didn't run with enough cars. And until you get everybody with racing minds on it and 28, 26 cars out there together, you can see the speeds that you're going to achieve.

And, of course, there was another two months to develop on everything. And as Michael said, the speeds wasn't the problem, and the track design wasn't the problem, it's just that we found the limit of our human bodies. It's just that the combination of what we had brought us to a place that we've never been before. And I tell you, feeling dizzy in one of those cars is not a pretty sight.

Joseph Heitzler: I think what I would add at this particular point is that in the issues relative to the process that was incorporated here, we -- this was not a speed issue, this was a physiological issue. And the merits of CART's position on this is that it stands on the strength of its medical staff, its chief steward and its race competition department that all of these factors came to play in a process where the No. 1 concern is the safety of the drivers and the safety of the fans. And once these issues were demonstrated we even sought outside counsel from physiological doctors that specialize at NASA, as Dr. Steven Olvey referred to in his comments at the conference, and all of this together, all the stakeholders, and I think the real message here is that not at any time did any driver say he would not drive.

But with the combination of the partnership between drivers, owners, sponsors and medical, we had a system in place that identify a concern, and we were in territories that were not chartered, and we made the right decision under those circumstances. And that's the focus of the message that we have is that this is a sanctioning organization that's faced with the relativity of these dynamics reacted in a unified, orderly and safe manner. And I think that's virtually unprecedented for a sanctioned organization involved in the kind of sport that we're involved in.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Kneifel , Michael Andretti , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Al Unser
Teams Team Zakspeed