This Week in Ford Racing August 6, 2002 CART FedEx Championship Despite one race victory and three drivers currently among the top 10 in the championship standings, the first half of the 2002 season has gone anything but smoothly for Cosworth...
This Week in Ford Racing
August 6, 2002
CART FedEx Championship
Despite one race victory and three drivers currently among the top 10 in the championship standings, the first half of the 2002 season has gone anything but smoothly for Cosworth Racing. Saddled with the failure of Sigma Autosport and holding negotiations with CART regarding both a 3.5-liter normally-aspirated and 2.65-liter turbocharged engine formulas has kept the wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company busy both on and off the track. With just nine races remaining on the schedule, Bruce Wood, Cosworth's CART Program Director, reflects on the first half of the '02 season.
BRUCE WOOD - CART Program Director, Cosworth Racing
WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THAT THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON HAS BEEN A CHALLENGING ONE? "Yeah, but I think I'd probably go as far as disappointing. We started the season well, I think we had a reasonably good winter of testing and I was pleased with our results in both Mexico and Long Beach. Every time you start a new season you never quite know where you're going to come out relative to the opposition. I guess that was apparent this season more than any other in light of the rivalry between Honda and Toyota and we were a little nervous that we might not be in quite the same league. So we were pleased to see in the first two races that we were in very good shape, especially in Long Beach where Jimmy (Vasser) got pole and was in position to win the race. But after that things certainly tailed off, tailed off quite a lot, and I guess we had a particularly poor spell at some of the early permanent road courses, like Laguna Seca, Portland, etc. Obviously it was nice in Cleveland to finally get a win and it's easy to say that it was overdue. But I think in fairness we didn't do justice to ourselves in those four races during the first part of the season and hopefully we managed to turn things around in Cleveland."
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR PERFORMANCE BEGAN TO SLIP? "Although the general perception is our traction control is not our strength, I don't think our traction control has ever been inferior to anyone else's. I think we had a little trouble introducing some new developments and then we ended up firefighting. Once we ended up firefighting it turned into a real snowball effect and it became very difficult to recover from that, but I think we had traction control that worked very well in the first two races. We identified some things that we could do that would be improvements, but when we tried to introduce them unfortunately we also introduced some bugs in the software. The level of software now is incredibly complex and the implementation of traction control just added to what the ECU (Engine Control Unit) was already doing. And frankly, we did make some mistakes. We introduced some bugs and once that happens you're chasing them and we took our eyes off the sort of everyday track support issues. Of course, then we started having problems with completely unrelated issues. And really it was after the Toronto race weekend where we had all sorts of difficulties that we took a step back and decided to wipe the slate clean and review the way we were doing things. Were we trying to run before we could walk? Some of the things we were introducing were only going to move us forward hundredths of a second, yet by introducing bugs with them it ended up moving us back tenths of a second. So we made a wide-ranging review of how we were doing things and perhaps prioritized things slightly differently."
DO YOU THINK YOU UNDERESTIMATED THE WORKLOAD THAT TRACTION CONTROL REQUIRES? "I don't think so. I'm completely happy with the way we went around trying to introduce things and I think it's as simple as we made a couple of mistakes. Unfortunately, they just happened to be with the traction control. They could just have easily been with the design of our piston and then we'd have been failing pistons, but we didn't. We made a few mistakes with the introduction of traction control and we suffered for that. But I don't think we underestimated the task."
YOU SAID AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON THAT TRACTION CONTROL WAS WORTH A FEW TENTHS OF A SECOND PER LAP WHEN OPERATING PROPERLY. DO YOU THINK THAT WHEN IT'S NOT WORKING CORRECTLY IT CAN BE A BIGGER PENALTY, EVEN FOR THE FACT THAT THE DRIVER KNOWS IT'S NOT WORKING? "Yeah, I think that's true. Because it's so apparent to the driver whether it's working or not it's something that's very much in the forefront of his mind. And I guess we demonstrated in Toronto that it's possible to get completely hung up on it. At Toronto we might've been better to have turned the thing off from the beginning and pretend we didn't have it at all and just optimize the car. And I think that was a good demonstration of how it's possible to get completely hung up on traction control. I mean we were doing lap after lap trying to make it work while we weren't making any improvements to the car. I think if we had just turned it off and pretended it wasn't here and just improved the car like we would've done in years past we might've done a lot better. It's very easy for traction control to become the focus of everything bad."
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT WENT INTO THE IMPROVEMENTS YOU DEMONSTRATED IN CLEVELAND. "Prior to Toronto, every piece of software that had been introduced we had problems with. We had problems on Friday and Saturday morning in Toronto, but actually by Saturday afternoon we had finally ironed them all out. Unfortunately, by then it was really too late and we had prevented the teams from having enough time to work on improving their chassis so the cars weren't particularly good. Consequently, we didn't qualify well and the perception was that we didn't have a very good race. In fact, by race time in Toronto we had ironed out most of our problems, and say, the problems were two-fold really. We made mistakes in the code in introducing things that were flawed. We actually fixed that before the race in Toronto, but then we also discovered that managing traction control was too much to expect the track support engineer to handle. We had a big session in Toronto with all the teams and asked them what the problem was; and the fact was we were losing our way. The unanimous feeling was that the problems stemmed from the fact that the guy trying to run the car simply couldn't work on the traction control as well, so going into Cleveland we changed that setup. We basically made one person on each team responsible for traction control, which is a completely different person from the one who's running the car. We tried to separate the job of running the car and managing traction control, and I think that's been a big step forward. It's allowed the guy running the car to go back to focusing on the job at hand, which has prevented many of the silly mistakes that we were making earlier in the year. It's allowed the guys focusing on traction control to not have to worry about whether the battery is dead or things like that. So I think separating out the jobs was an important part of our improvements."
HOW HAVE THE DRIVERS BEEN IN WORKING WITH YOU TO CORRECT THE PROBLEMS YOU HAD WITH THE TRACTION CONTROL? "They've been great because it would be very easy for them to point the finger at us and say that we're not doing our bit and they really haven't been like that. Even through the most frustrating times for Player's, particularly at Toronto, which is a big race for them, the drivers and the whole team have been very positive and willing to work with us. And we've been the same with them on the occasions when there's been room for improvement on their part. It's been said so many times before that it's a team thing, but the drivers have been very positive in helping us make progress with the traction control."
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE RACE WIN IN CLEVELAND? VINDICATION? RELIEF? "Relief, certainly! (laughing) This is probably the longest we've gone without a victory to begin the season (eight races) since 1992 when Ford started, so I've been counting off the races. I watched qualifying in Cleveland on the Internet and I was really pleased that Pat (Carpentier) had P-2. In speaking to the guys here by telephone the feeling was that he had a strong car and was in a good position to challenge for the win. It was certainly gratifying to see the result in Cleveland, partly because they're the guys who are trying extremely hard. You saw several other cars fail during the race and Michael (Andretti) expected his car to go another 100 yards before it failed, so it was gratifying to win the race pretty much on performance. Okay, (Cristiano) da Matta was in front of us and I think we would've struggled to pass him, but if Dario (Franchitti) had stayed in the race I think Pat would've stayed ahead of him. I definitely think we were there on merit; we didn't have any engine problems and it was nice to get a deserved win instead of a lucky win."
WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THAT YOU WERE SURPRISED THAT IT TOOK SO LONG TO GET THAT FIRST VICTORY OF THE SEASON? "I was surprised really, especially after Mexico and Long Beach, because if we had been terrible at both of the those races I wouldn't have been so surprised. But given that we looked strong there and given the difficult nature of those circuits, which are very much affected by traction control, we felt we had a really strong product. And the truth is that we have had a really strong product all season. We lost our way by making a few mistakes and we hold our hand up to that, and it just shows how easy it is to make one or two mistakes that on their own are pretty little things but can potentially snowball into something huge. So yeah, I was surprised that after our early success it took so long to actually get a win."
THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON HAS ALSO BEEN TUMULTUOUS FOR COSWORTH OFF THE TRACK. THERE WAS THE FAILURE OF SIGMA AUTOSPORT, DISCUSSIONS REGARDING THE 3.5 NORMALLY-ASPIRATED ENGINE FORMULA, NEGOTIATIONS WITH CART TO BE IT'S SOLE SUPPLIER OF ENGINES FOR 2003 AND THE GENERAL FEELING OF NOT KNOWING WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS. HAS THAT BEEN A DISTRACTION? "It's very difficult to go through a time like this and not be affected, and certainly for me personally it's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. One day the world's your oyster and the very next day it seems like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. I think for everybody involved it has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and one thing that I'm certainly proud of is that the whole group, both in England and in Torrance, have remained very focused. We were told last year that Ford would be pulling out of CART at the end of this season, so all through the latter part of last year it wasn't at all clear to us where our future lie. And to be honest, through the early part of this year it hasn't been at all clear either. It has become easier to map it out in the last couple of months, but I'm certainly very proud of that fact that everybody has put their heads down and carried on. Everybody at Cosworth has put forth a tremendous effort to give us an engine that was as good as anyone else's, although perhaps we didn't make the best use of it. But I think it would've been easy for everybody to lose focus and that would've been quite understandable, but I'm proud that everybody didn't and got on with the job at hand."
TALK ABOUT COSWORTH'S AGREEMENT WITH CART TO BE IT'S SOLE ENGINE SUPPLIER NEXT SEASON. IT'S CERTAINLY A ROLE THAT COSWORTH HAS FULFILLED IN THE PAST. "I think it's something that should be very good for Cosworth and for CART. One of the great things about CART today is that it's not in denial anymore and it acknowledges that these are tough times and that there are tough times ahead. And like the first step in any recovery, it's important to acknowledge that there's a problem. I think CART has acknowledged the sort of problems it's facing and recognized that Cosworth's offer to supply engines can be an integral part of building the series back to what it's been in the past and what it can hopefully be in the future. I think it's great news for CART and all the fans because it's going to give us stability for the next two years and hopefully longer than that. It's possible to trace a lot of CART's problems over the last couple of years to the politics of the engine manufacturers. For once CART will be able to step back from that and concentrate on the things it needs to, like getting the television and race audiences up and getting sponsors on board without having that enormous distraction of the politics of the engine manufacturers."
TALK ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR DRIVERS SO FAR THIS SEASON. UNFORTUNATLY YOU LOST MAX (PAPIS) AFTER JUST A HANDFUL OF RACES, HOWEVER YOU HAVE THREE DRIVERS CURRENTLY AMONG THE TOP 10 IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS. "Obviously, we're down to five drivers after starting with six, but I think from the beginning of the season we've had quality there. We've worked with Max for years and years and he's become a real important part of Cosworth's culture and it was a great shame to see him stop driving. But I think all of our drivers are very strong. Both Pat and (Alex) "Tag" (Tagliani) finished strongly last season, had strong winters, and unfortunately they really haven't really had the first half of the season that we'd hoped for, due in part to our problems with the traction control, but due to other problems as well. I guess we all said if Player's could start this season the way they finished last season then they'd be running for the championship from the first race. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out like that, but I think Pat and Tag are excellent drivers, they have both really persevered and hopefully the dark times are over for them. At Team Rahal, this is the first time I've worked with Jimmy (Vasser) and it's a lot of fun working with him. He's a relaxed driver and clearly still fast. In Vancouver he got provisional pole and after he had spun out and lost the time, I said, 'Bad luck,' but he said, 'That's not bad luck, I just made a dumb mistake.' And you know it's nice to actually hear somebody say that (laughing)! And Michel (Jourdain, Jr.) has sort of been the revelation of the season, particularly in the early part where we had a run of top-five finishes. Although he's sort of struggled lately, you couldn't ask to work with a nicer guy and it's nice to see things going well for him. He scored more points in the first three races that he got all of last year, so it's good that he can finally show what he's capable of doing. And for Mario (Dominguez), obviously he's new to CART and he's admitted that he's got a lot to learn. But equally he's rarely put a foot wrong in most of the races and I think he's going to be a bright star for the future."
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON, WHAT ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS FOR YOU TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL LATTER PART OF THE YEAR? "We hope that at Cleveland we put some stability in place that had eluded us for a few races, and I think we needed to get that solid platform move forward from. We do have some further enhancements on the engine that we hope to bring out a little later on, but some of the races that are coming up will be among the hardest on the engine. Elkhart Lake, in particular, is always a hard race on the engine, and this year the race distance is increased by I think about 60-odd miles. Therefore, we're not looking to introduce anything new before then because we acknowledge that both Mid-Ohio, which comes up next, and Elkhart Lake are very tough races and it would be a bad time to try and introduce anything new that's going to move the performance of the engine. After that we're hoping to introduce some enhancements and we're hoping to have a little more for Rockingham, which is obviously an important race for us. (Cristiano) da Matta seems to have everything dialed in right now but stranger things have happened. He's not guaranteed the championship by any means yet, and I still think we're in a position to fight for that. Jimmy's had such bad luck, getting knocked out in the first corner in I think three or four races, and without that I think he could be right there challenging for the championship. I think we've got four drivers that could potentially challenge for the title, although I acknowledge that da Matta has a big lead at the moment, but things can change. He only needs a little bad luck to go his way and a little good fortune to go our way and it could be very different by the end of the season."