Champ Car Teleconference January 17, 2003 An Interview with Stefan Johansson, Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Hunter-Reay Part 2 of 2 Q: Stefan, it seems like in a lot of other countries, whether it's Latin America or Scandinavia, that there's a lot ...
Champ Car Teleconference
January 17, 2003
An Interview with Stefan Johansson, Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Part 2 of 2
Q: Stefan, it seems like in a lot of other countries, whether it's Latin America or Scandinavia, that there's a lot corporate interest in drivers younger in their career. You've got to be commended for bringing on an American guy from the ladder system. Why do you suppose it's so tough for young American guys to break in and did some of that go into the naming the team as American Spirit Racing?
Johansson: Well, first of all, I think it doesn't matter who you talk to in whatever country you talk, everybody's complaining that there's no support for their national drivers. The English complain about the same thing. We certainly do in Sweden. Finland is maybe a little bit different, but other all, it's a grind no matter where you are. I can tell you that from experience.
Obviously, we have emphasis on the American spirit and so on, and this is an American series for all intents and purposes. And you know, I think you have plenty of good talent in America. Ryan, in my mind, is by far the best young American driver that's on the radar screen right now to make it big time, and that's the reason he's in our car obviously.
I think one of the problems you have in America, maybe more so than other countries, is that you have so many different categories of racing on the grassroots level that you never get the nucleus of really hard competition. In Europe, for example, although it's starting to spread a little bit, too, I mean, when I came up through the ranks in racing it was karting A International. I raced against the pros and all those guys since I was 12 years old, and we used to see each other every two to three weeks and it was like war from 12 years on. And then you go to Formula 3 and then it's Formula 2, then it's Formula 1 and those only options at the time.
Here you have all these different sprint racing, midgets, you have karting and multiple categories of go-karts, so it seems like it's very spread out all the time, very fragmented through the ranks. And having said that, I think CART is obviously onto something here with the ladder system that they implemented now and I think in years to come, I'm sure we're going to see there's going to be a good posture of young guys coming up through the ranks here now if that becomes successful.
Q: It seems to me the last time you drove a Champ Car was '96. Have you had any thoughts of jumping in the car to see what they're like these day to provide any feedback.
Johansson: No. I don't think so. I'm doing a few sports car races. That's enough to fill my quota. I guess in a way it'd be kind of fun just to try the cars just to see what they're like these days, but as far as racing or anything, no.
Q: Again, sort of continuing on a theme that's been posed to Jimmy a couple times already on the experience of the people there in place at what is the new team. Obviously, you have direct experience working with a couple of them like Rob and Ed and can you talk about how that might in some ways kind of shorten up the learning curve in terms of everybody coming together as a cohesive unit and you in particular?
Vasser: It absolutely should shortcut it. Like I said a little bit, it doesn't have the feel of a complete new team. With all the experience the guys in the shop all the way on down the line, you know, I think that the melding together of everybody and the chemistry, it's all going to happen real quick and to have the feel and look of the team that's been around a long time.
Q: Ryan, from your standpoint, the opportunity to work with a guy like Jimmy who has not only a lot of experience but has a reputation of being a very good teammate to work with and what that means for you?
Hunter-Reay: Absolutely. I couldn't ask for a better situation and the best thing is Jimmy and I knew each other before this as I did the mentor program with him as well and he was a big help. So it's just the whole CART ladder system coming together. Everything is coming together and I'm surrounded by experience. I just have to be a sponge. It's going to be excellent.
Q: For Stefan and Jimmy, because I think Jimmy was involved in the decision as well, but if you can discuss a little bit about your decision to run the Reynard versus the Lola, how that came about and what your thought processes were and what Jimmy's input was into that decision?
Johansson: Obviously, it was a tough decision to make. We were laboring over it considerably and I think between all of us, I think we know every practice session in our head who was where in what car and all, but really, to a certain degree, it was driven by the economics of it, but having said that, looking through the results last year really, seemingly, there weren't that much difference, really. I think obviously that the Lola had the benefit in a very large scale by the numbers. But if you take something like Tony Kanaan, for example, his results really didn't change that much when the switched the Lola. The difference between Rahal's team and Players were virtually identical, so we feel that if you just keep to the focus program, we believe we can stay competitive in this car.
Q: And Jimmy, you raced the Reynard and Lola both so you have good experience. What was your input into that decision?
Vasser: Very much the same as Stefan. I think the Reynard is a little more mechanically friendly to work with and to drive, they mechanical and the balance. However, it was pretty well documented the Lola had a little more downforce, but we also figured with a little less horsepower a little less downforce might not be a bad thing because that ultimately has less drag. And the Reynard, they come with a lot of development as well so I figured at the end of the day I figured that we could probably get the job done with whatever car we went with.
Q: You are going to do 10 to 12 Busch races this year as well as your CART commitment. Do you see this new team being competitive out of the gate? Will you have enough testing going to Florida?
Vasser: Yeah. I think we can be competitive right out of the gate, particularly because of experience and the cars and I think we can get pretty reasonably set up for the first race and the street circuit. They're all just a street fight, so I fully expect to be near the front of the grid.
Q: I wanted to know more about his decision to go with this name as American Spirit and American drivers?
Johansson: Well, it's pretty simple, really. I mean, the series is American, first of all, and I think the emphasis is still on America here and having lived here close to ten years now, I admire most things American. It's a great country, and I think it's a positive thing to embrace the whole American Spirit. I think American Spirit is a pretty cool name.
Q: Stefan, so at this time you don't have sponsorship. You're just going on investors. Are you searching for sponsorship or not going to announce sponsorship at this time.
Johansson: A, we're not going to announce a sponsorship. We're talking to a number of sponsors but really our objective this year, that was my mandate when we started this, is we're funded to run the season and we want to basically spend this year on building very strong relationships. We're here for the long haul. We're a solid company, solid partners to build a very strong long-term relationship. That's going to lead us into the future. So we're not in a huge hurry to announce our sponsorship. We'd rather try to build something that's going to be very solid and long term.
Q: For Jimmy, I want to go back to that team player issue to try to beat it to death if I can. You're known as a team player, and what I'd like to know is, is there somebody in your career of racing who set that example for you or is that just in your nature to be a team player?
Johansson: I think it was early on in my racing career or my Indy car career with Rick Galles. He helped me out a lot, helped out my first year and then we spent a lot of time talking with Rick and watched how he ran his Indy car team. It's all about the team and both sides working together and drivers and everything. I think that's where I kind of got it instilled in me.
Q: We have talked to you several times in the last few months and whenever we ended the call, we always sensed that even though you were talking about doing some stock car racing, we felt like you were holding out like holding out, I'm not going to put words in your mouth, but it seemed like you were holding out just hoping you could stay in open wheel racing because you love it, and that's sense we got. Is that true?
Vasser: Well, it's true that I do love open wheel racing in cars, and there were some uncertainties a few months back about the car count that are being answered, but I was always genuinely just waiting for the right things to come together. Whatever the right thing for me would be whatever came together, and I was also excited about Stefan's opportunity or potential of his team. There were some things that weren't finalized on his end yet.
Q: Ryan, this was one of the potential scenarios that you had to consider throughout the season and you said you would love to drive for Stefan. Are you satisfied with the results so far and can you now better quantify what your expectations and goals are?
Hunter-Reay: 100 percent satisfied. I couldn't ask for a better situation for my first season. I have to pinch myself now and then. Really, my goals for this coming season, just learn as much as I can, and so much there, but don't get me wrong, from the first test, I'm there to win races. I'm there to learn. So rookie of the year would be a goal and I am really just learn from all the experience of the team. Jimmy, as we've been talking about and myself, are just going to take advantage of every opportunity.
Q: For any of you following up on the Reynard discussion, do you feel ongoing development on the chassis might be directed this year?
Johansson: Well, there are some things happening which makes me comfortable. There's going to be some pretty good development. We obviously have some things ourselves. But we think there's some things in the pipeline that's going to make us that makes me feel very comfortable right now.
Q: Stefan, with the American Spirit team name kind of makes us wonder what the cars are going to look like. Do you have the design?
Johansson: Yeah, pretty cool. I think, obviously, they're going to incorporate the American colors and it will be kind of a retro look. It's going to be a nice package.
Mauk: Do you want to announce your car numbers to the media?
Johansson: Yes, we can do that. We got car number 31 for Ryan and we procured number 12 for Jimmy, again obviously, bringing back the memories for him.
Q: When Jimmy was testing the Busch car you made it very clear that the priority was the CART program. Stefan, do you have any worries about his diversifying like that?
Johansson: No, not at all. Jimmy is very professional just like myself. He's been doing this for so many years, it's not a hard thing to adapt to different cars.
Q: Jimmy, a few months back when everything was looking pretty good, did you have concerns about even if you had an opportunity going into CART thinking maybe the competition might be down with the drivers leaving the series, and have those worries been removed?
Vasser: I think doubts all around how many cars so forth, but I think even the perception down in Daytona the last couple days, the perception had turned 180 degrees about the series now. The cars looks good, looks like it's getting better and people are really pulling for it, so I think it's really a pleasant surprise in the last month or two in the cars and driving at that point. I'm very excited about how it's shaping up and drivers coming in.
Q: Recently a lot of bad press about some of the older drivers, are there any drivers you drove with last year that don't have rides now that you'd like to see back for competitive edge?
Vasser: Well, lot of drivers bring that competitiveness. It would be nice to have top race winners like Bryan Herta and Max Papis, but there are a lot of good, young drivers that are very good so there's a lot will more to it than just trying to get a guy in. But young guys are coming in as well, and that will add a lot of credibility to the series.