Champ Car Teleconference January 17, 2003 An Interview with Stefan Johansson, Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Hunter-Reay Part 1 of 2 Eric Mauk: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. Today we are joined by Stephan Johansson, owner of American ...
Champ Car Teleconference
January 17, 2003
An Interview with Stefan Johansson, Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Part 1 of 2
Eric Mauk: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. Today we are joined by Stephan Johansson, owner of American Spirit Team Johansson, one of the newest teams that will contest the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. He has an announcement concerning his two drivers for the upcoming season so welcome Stefan, and you have the floor.
Stefan Johnansson: Today I am making an announcement that I have been working on for quite some time, in announcing our drivers for 2003. I would like to welcome Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay to American Spirit Team Johansson. I think we have a good lineup to go with a good team. We have experience and speed.
Mauk: Jimmy Vasser is one of the veterans of the Champ Car World Series and returns for his 12th season of CART competition. He has 10 career wins and eight poles, one of those wins coming last season as he won the fastest open-wheel race in history, taking the 500-miler at California Speedway in an average speed of 197.995mph. He has also put together one of the longest consecutive-start streaks in CART history, having taken the green flag in 164 straight events.
Jimmy Vasser: American Spirit Team Johansson is shaping up and I think it's also looking like it's going to be a great year, a lot of fantastic announcements for the series and new involvement from new teams. So while we're probably not going to have our cars out on the track next week, we're getting ready and real excited to get the equipment on the track in spring training.
Mauk: Ryan Hunter-Reay will be looking to start a streak of his own as he enters his rookie season of Champ Car competition this year. The 22-year-old Floridian has made his way up the CART ladder system from the Barber Dodge Pro Series where he won Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2000 through the Toyota Atlantic Series where he took three wins last year and finished sixth in the point standings and will make his champ car debut this year at St. Petersburg. Ryan, welcome to the call. Congratulations.
Ryan Hunter-Reay: Thanks so glad to be here.
Mauk: Ryan, just real quick, can you talk about what this means to you. Obviously it's something you've wanted to attain for quite some time and now that it's here, tell us some of your feelings.
Hunter-Reay: It's just huge. I don't even think words can describe it. I've been working for this since the first day of karting and finally now everything is just beginning. I just really have to take advantage of the situation. I'm going to be learning from some unbelievable experience here with Jimmy and Stefan Johansson as a team owner. It's just going to be excellent. I'm going to learn from Jimmy and my engineer, Graham Taylor. It's just going to be excellent. I just have to be a sponge this season and I'm going to be going 110 percent from the first turn.
Mauk: We have a very large media contingent today and we're kind of on a tight time schedule so we'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q: Stefan, you've been looking to this for a long time. Just talk us through how long you've been wanting to step up into Champ Car as a team owner and how it's finally come about.
Johansson: Obviously, when we started the (Indy Lights) team back in '97, the goal was always to move in to CART. Unfortunately, it didn't materialize in the years to follow there. I think the whole situation at that time made it just very, very difficult to put a coherent deal together, so I went into the sports car thing for a few years, and obviously had pretty good success there with the team and so on, and this opportunity presented itself about halfway through the last year. I was working diligently on it for the most part of last year actually and was very pleased to having been able to put it together, and the fact that we actually have the only two Americans in the series right now and it's obviously very -- although I'm Swedish, this is a very patriotic deal we've got here as far as with the name and so on and I think we've on to something really good here. I think what (CART CEO) Chris (Pook) has done with the series since he came aboard has obviously brought it a huge amount of momentum here which is really to a large part enabled people like myself to put together a deal to run on a team in the series.
Q: Jimmy, you've had a lot of talk about what you're going to be doing for the 2003 season. Can you say what this means and what else you've been considering up until now?
Vasser: Well, Stefan and I started talking probably a good couple months before the end of the season, and I was kicking around the idea of going and starting to do some Busch racing, maybe full-time NASCAR, but also talking with Stefan hoping that this thing would come together and as it looked liked it would more and more, I started changing my focus to full-time CART again and with all the great things that go with it. It seemed like there was a lot of negative energy about CART and things started turning around and I think, in particular, though, the last month and a half, it's really caused a lot of positive things so the timing was right to do the deal with Stefan. Stefan and I were great friends. We go back a ways and that made it that much more interesting for me and hopefully working with Ryan Hunter-Reay. The folks around the shop got a really good feeling around the team, and so I'm really excited about it and I'll try to sprinkle some Busch racing in in between. Obviously, it's secondary priority for the season but do that as well.
Q: What is the realistic goal or expectation for this team considering it is a start-up team? What are you looking to establish there year?
Vasser: Well, going to accomplish everything we can. I mean, winning races and perhaps the championship is always the goal no matter what race team you're on and I think with the personnel that we have on the team and Stefan's experience, we can realistically achieve those things. As with anything else, it's just got to be one step at a time and keep it simple, and if do that, then hopefully things will come around and also getting Ryan Hunter-Reay, and I think he's going to be a fast learner. He's capable of achieving some of our goals as well.
Q: Is there a lot of champ car experience on the team in the shop?
Vasser: Oh, yeah, just a tremendous amount with Ed Nathman and Rob Hill and guys all the way down the line I think we've got as much experience on the team as anybody out there.
Q: Stefan, can you talk about the fact that everybody has the same engine, everybody's got a turbo charged? Is this a good year to start a team as far as maybe you don't feel like maybe you're as far behind as you would have been coming in cold?
Johansson: Absolutely. I think there's no question about that. I think that we all know it turned into almost an engine formula the last couple of years here with qualifying engines and all the rest of that. So I think that that's going to play a big part to level the playing field a little bit, especially for new teams like ourselves. So yes, for sure, I think this definitely will swing back a lot more to the relationship between the driver and engineer, for example. And like Jimmy said, I think there's a lot to be said for just keeping things simple and stick to the basics and not try to get too clever but just work on the program and stick to that.
Q: Stefan, as a follow up, will you guys have any big sponsorship announcements or you just have partners or can you talk about how the team was put together?
Johansson: Obviously, I have some very, very good partners behind me, and that's basically the nucleus of the structure at the moment. We are working on a number of sponsorship deals but we're not ready to announce anything as of today.
Q: In this particular year when there isn't going to be a host of teams with a lot of experience, this may be the right time to take a chance that you might not have taken earlier in your career?
Vasser: What kind of chances you talking about?
Q: Championship chances. I mean, this is the kind of year where a new team could win a championship that in year's past they couldn't?
Vasser: Yeah, perhaps. The team is new but it's not really new with the personnel that's there. It's got the feel of a team that's been established for some time, and you're always going to want to go for championships, and you always think that you can, but I don't regard it as a big chance or anything like that. I think that it is a little bit different than some of the teams that have been there in the past, new teams that are coming in and drivers, they're going to pose different challenges and bring new competition. So it's never going to be easy to win a championship.
Q: You alluded to the Busch program so where does that leave the program, your program in the Busch series?
Vasser: Well, it just has real limited goals in the number of races that I'm going to run. Right now, the only race I'm going to run for sure is the Daytona race the day before the 500, and obviously, whatever I do there is secondary to the CART program and have to see how that comes along. It doesn't have full-time funding for the limited number of races that I can do so that obviously is going to have something to do with it, but there's an interest there for me to get some experience there and essentially create a transition to NASCAR up to two years.
Q: There's always a lot made about keeping U.S. drivers in this series. When Champ Car is now so international and a good driver is a good driver no matter what country he comes from. Was in the back of Stefan's mind that, hey, it might not be a bad idea to get a team here with two American drivers on it?
Johansson: It so happens, and of course we put a lot of emphasis on American spirit and so on, but quite frankly, Jimmy was always my first choice. As soon as we decided to run two cars, Jimmy was always on front line because I know how he operates on the team. Not only is he fast, more than fast enough to win races or championships, but he's probably the best team player you can find. There's absolutely certain that there's no coincidence both Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya achieved the results they did thanks to Jimmy. I mean, I know that, to us, is a huge, huge factor in getting Jimmy on board, the fact that he can lead the team. He's a total team player, and that really was the bones of my decision to do this apart from the fact that, as Jimmy said before, we're very good friends, of course, but first and foremost, he's absolutely the man for the job.
Q: Jimmy, let me ask you about that. Guys work well with teammates and some guys don't work well with teammates, but I think as Stefan said, you have a reputation of working very well with other drivers and here comes a young guy in who's basically green as the grass in these cars and is going to look for you for guidance. I know that that is kind of an environment that you thrive on, isn't it.
Vasser: I don't mind it. It's not the first thing I go out and look for to be a mentor all the time, but Ryan is a good kid and I also am the same, I like to learn from teammates too, and I expect to have a two-way street with Ryan. I don't force myself on anybody when they're a teammate. If they want my help, that's fine, but I expect the same back at times when I need help, too, so just seems like it's been that way over the years since I'm always the guy that's been on the team before. I've been around a little longer and probably more for coincidental than anything.