CHAMPCAR/CART: Homestead Friday forum

Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota Manufacturer's Forum March 24, 2000 Participants: Jim Aust, Toyota Robert Clarke, Honda Dan Davis, Ford Paul Ray, Mercedes-Benz Q. Tell us about programs -- the gains and changes since last ...

Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota

Manufacturer's Forum
March 24, 2000
Jim Aust, Toyota
Robert Clarke, Honda
Dan Davis, Ford
Paul Ray, Mercedes-Benz

Q. Tell us about programs -- the gains and changes since last year?

Robert Clarke, Honda: At spring training, we got kind of an eye-opener. It was obvious to us, and probably everyone else, that performance-wise we were a little off the mark compared to our competitors. You go off at the end of each season and start development working toward next season not knowing exactly where you'll be when you get back to the race track. When we showed up Spring Training, we found out we were quite behind where we needed to be. Since then, we've come up with some good developments and there are others still in the loop that we're pursuing right now. We think we're there. Basically, we're looking to do what we've done the past few years and that's to win the championship. That's our only objective, and the only one that's acceptable to us.

Dan Davis, Ford: As most of you know there's a new Ford engine, the XF. We've got a lot of teams to change over to the new XF. I think there's 10 cars here. There's been a lot of work to do over the winter break to get the new engine ready to go - to get it prepared and to get the quantity required for all the teams that were at Spring Training and are here. One of the things you may not know is that all of our engines are basically the same. So when it comes time to change over what that means is the entire fleet changes over. We don't have some engines that are a year old and then other engines. They're all the same. So for us, it's a pretty big lump to go through and do a complete new engine...all the pieces and have them ready for everyone simultaneously. It's been a tough winter. The performance seems to be good, but now it's up to Sunday to see how everything shakes out.

Paul Ray, Mercedes-Benz: I think everyone who's been around for a few years has seen that our performance, not only last year, but for the last two years, has been as stellar as it has been in previous years. We recognize in our own company that we needed to make some fairly dramatic changes. So we've shaken our engineering staff up a great deal over in the U.K. We've appointed a new chief engineer in North Hampton who's been in place for about four months. Probably everyone here has a new engine for the year, this one being a complete departure from the engine we've had for the last few years. It's a brand new design. It's heralding tremendous results on the dynos and it's a lot more powerful than the previous engines. But with that big step in power comes reliability concerns and we now have, at least for the beginning of the season, understand those reliability problems and we have fixes for all of them. Although those fixes sometimes take a bit longer than you'd like to take to the race track. We try to provide all teams with the same engine, same specification whenever possible. We've got a tough hill to climb to get this engine reliable. We think we've got it understood and we just need to start running it on the race track. This morning, we were fairly pleased with our competitiveness, showing the power and gains we've made have put us back where we need to be.

Jim Aust, Toyota: Needless to say we're extremely excited about this year. Last year at this time, we had five cars and five drivers, and we've got five cars and five drivers this year, but we have four new ones in Juan Montoya, Jimmy Vasser, Oriol Servia and Norberto Fontana. Talk about a year of change, this is a big one for Toyota. Add to that the new engine we've got this year in the American-built RV8E, which we ran on a very limited basis last year. We've made a lot of progress over the year through a lot of dedication that we've put into the program over the past four years that we think is going to have a tremendous finish. We're ready to line them up and get them started.

Q. Does the declining number of American drivers concern you?

Dan Davis (F): It's a concern. As a manufacturer we don't pick the drivers, the teams do - and the teams always pick the best driver they can get into the seat obviously, but we'd like to see more U.S. drivers in the series in the series. We're always thinking of ways to help that process, but it's a not an easy one. Robert Clarke (H): The team is the one making the calls. We try to be involved in that process and encourage them to go one direction or the other, but ultimately it's their final decision.

Jim Aust (T): A lot of people have talked about the issue. It's something that we've looked at and I don't know that we have a lot of control over. We've talked about the possibility of some of the talented, young drivers coming up from the Toyota Atlantic series and there are some good drivers there. Now, we need to find a way to find some sponsorship for them and put them into this series.

Q. Do you think too much is being made of the lack of American drivers when the U.S. is becoming more diversified - when it's sometimes overlooked that CART has the best drivers in a very internationally diverse field?

Robert Clarke (H): That's a pretty good point you make. It's something you think CART would embrace and promote to their advantage.

Dan Davis (F): At the end of the day as an owner, you're going to put the best possible driver you can into your seat. Is there a way to get more Americans up through the farm system so that they become the best possible drivers that go in these seats and I'd like to see us improve on that. To some extent Ford Motor Company is working toward that and I'd like to do more of it.

Paul Ray (MB): There's no doubt Mercedes wants to see German drivers involved in the series. I think international drivers are very, very good for the series. In order to take the series out in a global fashion, you need drivers from many countries, not just specializing from one particular country. You need the best and that way you promote the series as the best.

Q. Do you see CART racing in Europe as beneficial? Do you have any influence on it?

Paul Ray (MB): Mercedes is obviously very, very keen on the German race. Mercedes has some small involvement in the German oval. I think it's fair to say that going to Germany would be a priority. As far as the U.K. race, it is regarded as the Mecca for motorsports. I was at one of the early races and I have to say the reaction to the American cars coming over was fantastic and I think it would get the same reaction now.

Dan Davis (F): The way I look at it is let's get venues full of people and full of excitement. Let's get to those venues and get them full. That's what we want to see. I don't care where they are.

Q. The engine manufacturers do so much promotion for the series...what kind of feedback do you get from your bosses?

Dan Davis (F): We evaluate every series we race in every year - CART, NASCAR, F1. There's always concern about our evaluation of CART and how it's going. We really need to get the TV audience up and get fans in the seats. We haven't been asked to participate to that level of being asked here's where we might go, here are the people that will attend and here are the benefits. We'd like to see CART get more value. I think you get it by making sure there is a better TV audience, and by making sure you do fill the stands better. If that means there are venues where the stands aren't full, then let's move them. To me it's not a US-Europe-Asia, it's wherever you go, let's get the stands full and let's have a really great race that people want to watch on television. That's what we need to go off and do collectively.

Jim Aust (T): The obvious thing is we need to put people in the seats and we need to get the television ratings up. Although the TV audience was up some last year, there's still a great deal of improvement that can be made here in the United States. The other issue that comes up if, and when, you go to more international races, is the cost that goes with it and who's going to pay for that and that's something that needs to be looked at as well. There are a lot of great venues here in the United States and some possibilities that are still here in addition to what the potential is on the international scene. I think we need to get the people in the seats and the audience there, regardless where.

Robert Clarke (H): I would like to see the series focus in the North American market. Probably my comments would be different last year, but now that we're racing in Formula One and heavily in Europe it's not so important for us in the CART series. We feel the races should be in the markets where we can get the greatest number of spectators and TV audience within the US market.

Q. From watching other motorsports and seeing empty seats and falling TV ratings, is this happening all over?

Dan Davis (F): There's so much more sports on television anymore that it looks, to us anyway, that there are so many more choices that all sports are down - it doesn't matter what sport you look at - football, basketball, whatever, it's down a little bit. It looks like NASCAR is down a little bit. With NASCAR, they have added a tremendous amount of seats at so many venues. Early in the year, it's it's cold and rainy and not real nice out. The fact that they've added so many seats and it's questionable on whether you're going to get wet and cold - I'd like to reserve judgement until late Spring when the weather starts to cooperate, let's get a look at what the seats look like and get a better idea on that.

Q. How has your Formula One involvement affected your programs?

Robert Clarke (H): Our original idea when the company was going back to Formula One was it would affect our program, but I can happily say to date it's only benefited our program. There were some changes in personnel that were very concerning in the beginning - people that have been involved in our program for a long time being moved over to the Formula One program, but actually that was a good thing because they carried with them a relationship with the CART side and when things were developed in the Formula One program basically they've been shared with us and it's been a win-win situation.

It's not just one-way. There has been a lot of things, particularly on the engine production side of the program, here on the CART side, supplying so many engines and building them that we've learned a lot about assembly procedures and techniques that we have been passed on that have actually been assumed by the Formula One program that are actually helping them right now.

Paul Ray (MB): We've run both for some time now and I can say it's probably only benefits both. In the early days of our F1 program, a lot of our development came from the CART program because you have parallel parts development and were able to exchange information back and forth, so it isn't necessarily a one-way street. Formula One has bigger budgets so there pace of development is faster, but the greatest area of Formula One developments are generally in areas of high technology, which generally aren't permitted in our sport. So it doesn't always transfer across like you might think it would. Mercedes is happy to support both programs. A presence in America is extremely important, so that's why we obviously are concerned about television ratings and the races in North America.

Jim Aust (T): I'm sure you all know that it was only last year that Toyota made the announcement that it would be getting into Formula One, so it's really too early to tell if it will affect the CART program. We would anticipate it would not have any affect at all on us in a negative side, and on the positive side, hopefully there's some things that the Formula One people will be able to come up with that will be a benefit to us as they move forward. That particular program, as I'm sure with the other manufacturers here, will have people working on it in Europe and it's totally separate from what we do here in the United States.

Dan Davis (F): We try extremely hard within Ford that no matter whatever racing series we're in, to try to share knowledge between all racing series so that each program somehow helps each other. You may have a program that may seem low-tech somewhere but they come up with people processes or other things that may not be high-tech like a Formula One, but you can learn. Part of the leveraging we try to do is to take all racing series of which we have central people responsible for all series, there's an engineering group that is involved in every series, I'm involved with every series. By organization, we try to make sure that you can share between series and you can learn between series. It's amazing that some of the things you don't think are all that important can find their way into the high-tech stuff.

Q. Robert, is your engine a new design or an evolution and what did you do in six weeks to improve your situation?

Robert Clarke (H): It's an evolution. For a lay person to look at them, they would probably think it's the same engine. Basically, we just tried to accelerate the things we had in progress. We didn't go back and look at things we could pursue, but instead looked at things we already had in progress and tried to accelerate it.

Q. How much longer can the CART engine formula last?

Paul Ray (MB): It can last a long time. There are various ways you can restrict power of engines if you want to. There are ways of reducing the boost a small amount further. But you can do it by restricting the revs you can run to. You can do it by limiting the amount of air that flows into the engines or a little more obscure you can do it by restricting the fuel you provide to the engines. There are ways of limiting the power of the engine to pretty much any level you want, so you can keep a 2.65-liter, turbo-charged formula from a technical standpoint for as long as you want to providing you'll accept some artificial restrictions to that engine. Whether the 2.65-liter engine is right for CART in the future is really up to CART to decide.

Q. How do you put more people in the seats and more viewers in front of TV?

Dan Davis (F): There are some venues that simply don't draw people anymore. There are other venues that do seem to draw people. We have to look at how these events are promoted. What areas of the country and which companies are willing to promote and which aren't. You just have to stand back and get real serious about the fact that it's a priority. You go look at the things that are working and the things that aren't and you accelerate the things that are working. I don't think it's rocket science involved. You just have to decide that it's a high priority and have to make some tough decisions. I think there are some real tough decisions ahead of you when you decide to do that - and it's easy to push off tough decisions. It's really complicated, but eventually I think the sanctioning body has to take the lead and the rest of us have to jump in and help them.

Jim Aust (T): I think CART' has to take the lead in it. They've taken a step with the addition of Pat Leahy coming on a couple of months ago. Pat's got some things in mind and he's getting to the point where he's about to let people know what CART is thinking. I think CART has to take the lead on it and everyone else can fall in line and do what we've been doing in the past - that's providing the sponsorships and the advertising and the things of that nature that provide more value to the things that CART is proposing.

Paul Ray (MB): As manufacturers in any meeting we've had with CART, we've never tried to steer engine formulas or force anything down their throat. In this matter it's the same as that, CART has to show us the way and we'll follow.

Robert Clarke (H): We've offered to help. Considering the nature of the business we're involved in - we're selling product in all the markets we race in - we can be very instrumental in helping them.

Q. Is rules stability an essential reason you keep interest in this formula and makes the formula so competitive?

Dan Davis (F): Before you change it, you have to think why are you changing it and will the new one enjoy the same longevity that we've enjoyed up to now?

Paul Ray (MB): Stability is the key to it all. It's not just saying we have to do this for the next 10 years, but having an absolute stability that prevents change from coming too rapidly. You need significant warning to change things, and even then the ripple affect of that change can be very long. At the moment, we have a two-year warning of any engine formula changes, but if the engine formula did change dramatically, you can expect a disparity between the engines following that change for at least 3 or 4 more years. It takes a very, very long time to get all the engines up to an equal performance.

Jim Aust (T): With the longevity we've had with the current spec engine, hopefully we can give you a better idea of what that does competitively as far as the series is concerned. We're all anticipating a great CART season this year with the changes that have been taken place, and, hopefully, the teams and the engine manufacturers will be able to provide that for the fans.

Robert Clarke (H): I think it's going to be the most competitive season Honda has ever seen. It's looking very exciting and may the best come out on top.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Oriol Servia , Robert Clark , Norberto Fontana