CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH HVM, INC.'S KEITH WIGGINS, BJORN WIRHEIM AND RONNIE BREMER ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to a Champ Car media teleconference on Monday, April 4th. We head into the season opening weekend of the ...
CHAMP CAR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH HVM, INC.'S KEITH WIGGINS, BJORN WIRHEIM AND RONNIE BREMER
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to a Champ Car media teleconference on Monday, April 4th. We head into the season opening weekend of the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford as we all head for the streets of Long Beach for the 31st running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach which takes place this weekend. We get underway Friday, April 8th. Sunday's 81-lap race will be on the 10th, Sunday, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern, and will be televised live across the country on NBC.
There is another very exciting announcement for us today as we continue to finalize our driver lineup for the 2005 series. We are joined by the members of HVM, Incorporated, formerly known as Herdez Competition. We're joined by team co-owner Keith Wiggins and his two drivers for the 2005 season. It is my great pleasure to announce that Bjorn Wirdheim will be driving the #4 HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone in the 2005 Championship, and he will be joined in that stable by Ronnie Bremer, who will drive the #55 HVM machine.
Bjorn Wirdheim, as many of you may already know, is a former FIA International 3000 championship winner. He won that championship in 2003. He follows in a long line of F-3000 champions to come to Champ Car, men like Alex Zanardi, Sebastien Bourdais, Bruno Junqueira and Justin Wilson. He will be joined by Ronnie Bremer. Many of you may know Ronnie from last year, he made his debut in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, after two years running in the British F-3 Championship.
Mr. Wiggins, tell us a little bit about what interests you about these drivers and how you came to this decision today.
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, obviously it's been probably the most interesting road we've had in the short history of the team. Obviously, it's been an interesting winter. We've had a lot of changes, and certainly things have come together a lot later. But I have to say, I think we've ended up with a stronger lineup than we've ever had in terms of drivers, and we're certainly very excited about that.
It's been a question of, as we all know, picking the best drivers, it is always a great thing and a straightforward thing to do, but we've obviously had to look at how we could put the package together to make it work, and that's been the biggest challenge.
But it's interesting, as I say, we've worked hard. As it's turned out, we've got the best lineup we've had. In that case, we're extremely excited about it.
ERIC MAUK: We're very excited about it, as well. It does add to what is a very talented driver lineup up and down the Champ Car paddock.
Bjorn, as we mentioned before, you won the FIA, F-3000 Championship in 2003. You tested with Jaguar last year in Formula 1. You got a good amount of seat time there. Now you come to the Champ Car World Series. You got some seat time in the Champ Cars down in Sebring. Tell us a little bit about what you think about the Champ Cars.
BJORN WIRDHEIM: I've been looking forward to getting into Champ Car for quite a long time now. I mean, I spent last year as a test driver in Formula 1, trying to get into Formula 1. Unfortunately, it didn't happen with Jaguar as a team. Ever since, I've been looking at other alternatives. And Champ Car has been on top of my list, without a doubt.
I've been over to test the car before with both PKV Racing and Patrick Racing. I think it's a fantastic championship. I'm looking forward to it also because it's competitive, and there are some very interesting races on the calendar.
ERIC MAUK: Having run in F-3000, you've had a little bit of experience on the street circuits, but tell us a little bit about what you expect heading into Long Beach.
BJORN WIRDHEIM: I really enjoy racing on street circuits. That's where I've had my biggest success, I guess. I mean, I've raced on Pau in France, I've done Macau, I've done Monaco in Formula 3000. Therefore, I'm confident that we'll be able to do a good job at Long Beach. I'm actually in the workshop now. I just had a look at a video of last year's race. I just can't wait to get there.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Very exciting day for you, obviously, and a very exciting day for us. We look forward to seeing you this weekend.
BJORN WIRDHEIM: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: Ronnie, you've had a little more experience on the streets of Long Beach. You made your Toyota Atlantic debut there a year ago. You started seventh, finished a very strong fourth. First of all, congratulations on this move. Tell us what your thoughts are on joining HVM and the Champ Car World Series.
RONNIE BREMER: Yeah, thanks a lot. It's a great, great opportunity for me to join such a professional team as HVM is and a professional series as Champ Car has developed. I am looking very forward to it.
I think the car is awesome. The Bridgestone tires are pretty good. The Ford-Cosworth motor is very, very strong at the same time reliable. So, yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's a dream coming true for me. Getting up to Champ Car, which was my goal when I decided to move my career to the United States.
It was very good for me, you know, to learn the circuits in Atlantic and all that. It should help me a little bit now. I get a chance with such a short notice. I haven't really been able to have any test days, only that one test day at Sebring. But the team, HVM, is so professional. So I don't see any problems going into Long Beach without having too much testing.
I'm pretty sure the race will go very good for me.
ERIC MAUK: For the benefit of our media members on the call, while last year was Ronnie's first year in open-wheel racing in North America, he has a very deep history over in Europe. He ran two seasons in the British Formula 3 championship, had 10 top five's in 2003, and he finished second in the prestigious and very competitive Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch back in 2001 before coming across the pond.
Ronnie, going back to the Long Beach experience from a year ago, as we said, you started seventh, finished a strong fourth, tell us a little bit about what you learned about Long Beach and what you expect from that racetrack this year.
RONNIE BREMER: I learned a lot because in Europe there are only a couple street circuits. I did Macau, as well, like Bjorn was saying. Unfortunately, I haven't done Monaco or anything. But I like street circuits as well. I think it's better. The driver has to be a little bit stronger than the car has to be, I think, on a street circuit. Long Beach, it's a very, very cool circuit to be on. It was very good for me to get the experience last year, and I liked Long Beach a lot.
Yeah, just taking the whole thing like it is. I think it's a good thing for me that I at least did a race there last year, so I know a little bit about the circuit, where the bumps are, and all that. But I'm sure Bjorn is a good driver and he'll find out pretty quick, as well.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. Look forward to seeing you this weekend as well.
RONNIE BREMER: Thank you.
ERIC MAUK: We'll take questions from our media members on the call now.
Q: Ronnie, if you look at this field of drivers, this is probably one of the strongest fields Champ Car has had in several years. Knowing what you know about Champ Car, do you feel it's kind of like how it was back in the old days before everything started happening within open-wheel racing?
RONNIE BREMER: Yeah, I think so. To be honest, I actually think that the competition is stronger this year than it was at that time, but it's definitely up there without a doubt. It's very competitive. A lot of strong drivers showed their ability last year, like Allmendinger did a good job, Wilson coming in, a lot of European drivers coming in. The field has a lot of strong drivers. Sebastien Bourdais did a very good job, as well, coming in for his second year.
Yeah, it will be very strong, no doubt.
Q: Keith, given that you're going into Long Beach with two guys who, at the end of the day, your team really doesn't have as much familiarity with it as you'd like, and vice versa, could you talk about sort of what the realistic goals and what your sort of plan of attack is at Long Beach. Presumably then maybe using that gap between Long Beach and the second race at Monterrey to really sort of, in a sense, complete your pre-season testing program with these guys.
KEITH WIGGINS: Yeah, well, there's no doubt that normally this time of the year we'd have already put two or three thousand miles under our belt. But I think as I've always said in the past, at the end of the day, if you haven't got the right drivers, you can go around forever and not achieve anything.
I've always been a big supporter of European structure for training drivers. I think if you've got good drivers, you know, you're going to be competitive. Certainly the team, while we've done a lot more development in past years up until the first race, we also built up a library, you know, we're fairly experienced action as most of the good teams are these days with the Lola/Cosworth. Going to Long Beach with the same car and the rules that we have, you know, I think everybody here is confident that we'll turn up to Long Beach competitive as anybody.
To be quite honest, I don't think our expectations are any lower than they would normally be, which is why we should go to Long Beach with the goal of winning the race. I don't see any compromise than that, other than both guys need a bit more time in the car. But if we fill them up with petrol, let them run, I have great expectations that come Sunday we should be up there, and potentially even better than we've been before.
Q: Keith, just wondering, the addition of your two drivers brings your field now up to 17. Are you confident that you will have 18 drivers? How do you generally assess the strength of the series compared to this time last year and perhaps in comparison to 2000 when you first joined Bettenhausen and the series?
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I think the quality competition is different to numbers. And I think we've already covered that. There's no question to me, it's happened in other series in the past, whether you've got 16 highly talented drivers or 20 makeups of odd bad teams turning up at different races. I think we've already covered the fact that the quality's going to be better than it was last year. There's no doubt to me the quality is very strong.
Comparing it to 2000, yes, it is. Because things move on. People have images of good guys. Usually by the time they've left, that's when they become famous. And good guys, whereas while they're doing it, they're still making names for themselves. We've seen all of them come over as rookies and sort of be the series looking down at them until they've kicked some ass.
Basically that's exactly the same situation here. I mean, all drivers move on. If you brought some of those drivers back in now, they'd be beaten at races, and they'd probably do some good races and not.
I think the level is up.
In terms of numbers, I'm pretty confident that we'll have 18 cars. I know the series is committed to that. To me, if we had 17 or 16 top quality, it's still going to be good racing, but I'm pretty confident I'm sure that we'll have at least 18 cars.
Q: Bjorn, Ronnie - you were in the Atlantic Series last year, so you saw what was going on with the Champ Car series, but, Bjorn, what did think of looking at the series from overseas, all its problems last year, what did you think of the series, and what sort of prompted you to make a move over here, knowing that maybe the series wasn't on solid four wheels?
BJORN WIRDHEIM: Well, I mean, I've been following Champ Car for quite a long while. You know, reading about it in the press at one point, it didn't look that positive, I guess. But things have turned around. And the best thing is that the series has a good group of people that have been able to get everything pointing in the right direction. It's a strong group of people.
I mean, everybody can see that the championship is up-and-coming, and it's getting better every year. For me there was no doubt that this was the place to be.
Q: Mr. Keith Wiggins, can you tell us what happened with the dream to have Mexican drivers?
KEITH WIGGINS: The dream? Well, we had a Mexican driver. Obviously, there was a firm plan to try and develop that into a two-car Mexican team. That was something that we worked on very hard. I think, ultimately what happened in reality was that there wasn't really enough interest or sponsorship opportunities in Mexico to make that happen. The reality is that it takes money to run and to operate. We weren't able to find that in Mexico.
Continued in part 2