CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach pre-race teleconference, part 1

CHAMP CAR MEDIA TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, JUSTIN WILSON, PAUL TRACY AND BRUNO JUNQUEIRA ERIC MAUK: Thank you, and welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference, as we lead into this weekend's 2006 ...


ERIC MAUK: Thank you, and welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference, as we lead into this weekend's 2006 Bridgestone Presents Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season opener, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach that takes place on the streets of Long Beach April 7 through 9. Of course the race will be Sunday afternoon, takes the green flag at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, 1:00 p.m. Pacific and can be seen live on NBC.

Today we have the privilege of being joined by four of the gentlemen that have to be considered as championship contenders as we head into the '06 season. We have our two-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais, he'll be joining us here shortly. He is on another interview so I apologize for that. His teammate, driver of the No. 2 Newman/Haas Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone Bruno Junqueira; 2003 Champ Car World Series champion and the winningest active driver in all of North America in open wheel racing, the driver of the No. 3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing Paul Tracy; as well as last year's third place finisher in the Championship, driver of the No. 9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone Justin Wilson. Thank you for joining us today.

We will start with Paul. Heading to Long Beach, a four-time champion of the Grand Prix at Long Beach. You've done all the testing you're going to do. It's time to go racing. Tell us how you feel heading into this weekend.

PAUL TRACY: I feel good. Long Beach for me starting off the year, like you said, it's a race I've won four times. Three of those times have been really in the last five years. I'm excited about it. It seems since they introduced the corners over by the aquarium and around the fountain, it's a track that I've really excelled at and enjoyed a lot, and it's one of the most exciting races for us. You know, for me it's always a joy to start the season off at Long Beach. The crowd is great, and everybody is excited to come out of the box and show well. Our team is pumped up and we're ready to go.

ERIC MAUK: Three victories in 236 starts, 69 podium finishes for Paul Tracy. As we head into the race season, talk about how you feel your championship hopes stand.

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think my championship aspirations are the same as they've been every year. Our goal is to win races, and I think the last season we really had the speed and we had the ability to win a lot of races, but bad luck and some instances with Sebastien and a mistake on my part in Denver, which cost us a race, and a couple of other incidents with running out of fuel and having an oil leak in Australia when we were leading. Those things don't help your chances. You know, I think that our team, we have the ability, we have the speed; we just need to cut out the mistakes and some of the bad luck, and this year we're going to be a factor.

ERIC MAUK: Justin, 27 starts, you're getting ready for your third year of Champ Car competition, breakthrough season last year, two wins, two poles, a trio of podium finishes and finished third in the points standings. Tell us how you feel heading into the season opener.

JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously very excited, looking forward to the new season. I think Long Beach is going to be an interesting race. Something that Paul said, all the drivers want to start off the season strong and have a good showing at Long Beach. It would be nice to get on the podium for that particular event. As Paul said earlier, it sets the stage for the rest of the year, try and make the podium as often as possible and cut out all the ifs and buts.

Like Paul said, as well, you look back on your season and you think, oh, I didn't do this or if we didn't have that, you just can't afford it. That's really where Newman/Haas and Sebastien have been very strong, and that's what we're working towards is not having moments of regret.

ERIC MAUK: To elaborate on that a little bit, obviously Newman/Haas Racing has been one of the teams that you've definitely got to beat in order to win this championship. They've showed it over the last couple years especially but over the last -- if you look back at the statistics, from your standpoint, how do you close that gap?

JUSTIN WILSON: You know, we're just working very hard on all the areas where we think we're weak, and that's basically the bottom line is they don't seem to have any weak areas. They're strong in every different aspect of Champ Car, whether it's road, street or whatever; you've got to have all those attributes to be a champion. We're working on our weakest area, which last year was street circuits, so we've put a lot of effort into understanding that. The problem is you don't get to test as much, so it's tough. But I believe in RuSPORT and I think we can really work towards getting the No. 9 CDW car at the front.

ERIC MAUK: Speaking of Newman/Haas Racing, a young man very familiar with the inner workings of that squad, Bruno Junqueira getting ready to join us, 73 starts, 8 wins, 28 podium finishes in those 73 starts. Bruno hits the streets of Long Beach this year with an active streak of eight consecutive podium finishes in Champ Car competition. Bruno, this is going to be the first interview I've done with you in a year where I'm not going to ask you how you feel because you've been testing everything under the sun and you've obviously recovered from your accident in Indianapolis because you look strong in the car and obviously feel good. Let's talk about what you think your chances are heading into Long Beach.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: I feel pretty good. I'm up to it again. I've been doing some long runs, last week in Fontana. I'm racing at a really good pace, but I'm not expecting any results from Long Beach yet. It's too early to say, but I'm expecting to give my best, enjoy the race. I'm sure that I can give my best, as I did for the last year, and I'll get a good result in Long Beach.

I like Long Beach a lot; last three years I've been on the podium, and the race is the season opener, expected to have a good crowd, be great for the California area, and I'm sure that's going to be a very exciting race, going to be very close. I hope they can put the Newman/Haas car up front and can do it very nice.

ERIC MAUK: Bruno led qualifying last year, Friday qualifying, started on the outside of the front row and brought the car home in third place. Bruno is also the first driver since Bobby Rahal covering the years '82 to '86 to win races each of his first five years in the series. Let's address the question we asked Justin a little bit ago about Newman/Haas Racing. Tell us a little bit about Newman/Haas; what makes them strong, gives them the advantage they seem to have?

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA: For sure they are a very special team. For my 19 years racing it's the best team I've ever raced with. The consistency of the team is the most important factor, to have people working on a team -- at least half the people that actually work on racing, they have been working for Newman/Haas for more than ten years. Some people have been working since day one of Newman/Haas Racing. Because everybody knows each other, everybody knows what each other has to do, it's very important to put the projects and everything forward. I think the consistent work that Newman/Haas has makes the team really strong.

ERIC MAUK: We look forward to seeing each of you guys next week, and best of luck as we head into the season opener.

Q: Look forward to seeing you guys on the weekend. Paul, if I can direct this question to you, when CART was ready to go bankrupt there and a bunch of the drivers, name drivers in the series jumped to the IRL, it sort of took away some of the aura of Champ Car and now guys like Justin and Sebastien and some of the other drivers have been around for three or four years. Do you think people are starting to come back and starting to recognize these guys in the same way that they recognize the Dario Franchittis and some of those other drivers that you used to race with in the old CART series?

PAUL TRACY: Well, for me it's a question where I came up through -- when I first started, I raced against Rick Mears and Mario Andretti, and those guys started to retire. There was a wave of Formula 1 drivers that were kind of late, mid-'90s to late '90s, that moved through Champ Car before the bankruptcy, and that wave of drivers, the Mark Blundells and that group, we had a wave of guys that came who were ex-Formula 1 guys, and they kind of got to the age of retirement. I've kind of kept going. Then the next wave of drivers came along. It started with Montoya, and then it was Bruno and now Sebastien, Justin, so there's a new crop, so to speak, of talent. It just takes time to get these talented guys to build a fan base in North America.

Guys like Dario and Tony Kanaan came in kind of that wave just after the Mark Blundells and the Mauricio Gugelmins in the '90s, and it takes a couple of years to build a rapport with the fan base in North America, and that's happening now with -- Bruno has been in the series now for five or six years, and Justin it will be his third year and Sebastien his fourth. So they're becoming more of a name in the United States.

I'm really the guy that's kind of been through the whole thing from the start, the guys from the old school, the Rick Mearses and the A. J. Foyts and these guys, I started when they were still racing, Mario Andretti. So I've seen the whole wave back to the big heroes of open wheel racing to all the new guys now. It just really takes time to build a fan base. I think it's a great series, and I think that's why the fans are attracted to it. They like seeing new guys come in and develop as drivers.

Q: If I could follow that, as you talk about this new wave of drivers coming in, while the public is getting to know them, NASCAR has a huge gap in popularity with racing fans in North America. What does Champ Car and what do you drivers in the Champ Car series have to do to try and close that gap somewhat?

PAUL TRACY: Well, that's a massive gap. To close the fan base that they have in NASCAR. NASCAR has done a great job of promoting their drivers, and they're going through now a wave of drivers that are kind of getting out of the sport, the Michael Waltrips, he's still racing 20 plus years now, probably more.

Now if you watch NASCAR closely, they're getting into a whole wave of promotion with the Kasey Kahnes and Denny Hamlins and all these guys coming up from Busch, and that's the next -- they're starting to get the fans more familiar with these guys because that's the next -- that's going to be their fan base now. That's the next group of guys that are coming up. That's really what Champ Car needs to do is just promote the drivers, the new guys that come in, and promote.

ERIC MAUK: We are now joined by the two-time defending champion No. 1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone Sebastien Bourdais. Thank you for joining us today.


ERIC MAUK: Sebastien, heading into Long Beach, you've got 45 starts under your belt, 24 podium finishes, 16 wins, quite a resume so far after just three years in the Series. Sitting here and listening to Paul talk about when he came up and the guys he ran against and the things he's seen and where he is now, what would it mean to you to be sitting here on a call 10 to 12 years from now having compiled a career something like what Paul has put together?

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it's obviously quite remarkable to go through different generations and still be at the top of your game; not that Paul is old or anything, but he's obviously been able to keep his performance at a very high level, which quite a few drivers sometimes struggle with.

He was kind of early to emerge as a young driver, and it's great to see him still as eager to win as ever when he gets closer to, as you say, the 40s. I just hope that I will have that passion keep on going with me and to just be able to have a long and successful career.

ERIC MAUK: You're defending champion on the streets of Long Beach as we head back there this weekend. Tell us about your thoughts heading into the Long Beach race.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's been a tough winter. I think everybody at Newman/Haas Racing really realized that it was not going to be easy to stay at the top, and they worked really hard. I think the McDonald's relationship with Newman/Haas is coming together and we have a great team and great people. So that's going to be our main, I think, focus is to try and solidify what we've got, and in the meantime hope that basically what we've got is good enough to give a run for these guys and also to stay at the very front.

Q: Justin, I wanted to ask you a question, a little bit about your mindset when you approach Long Beach. It's the first race of the year and one of your biggest races of the year. When you're in the race, do you look at it somewhat conservatively because it is the first race in terms of you have a long year ahead of you so you don't want to be too aggressive, or is it the opposite where you want to be very aggressive because you want a really good finish coming out of the box?

JUSTIN WILSON: I think that depends on the situation you're in at that particular point. If you're fighting for a podium, then you're going to try a little bit harder and maybe take some more risks to secure a podium. If you're first or second you can try and look after your equipment to make sure you make the finish. It really just depends. That's what all the drivers at a certain level are capable of doing, keeping your aggression level throughout the race so you can get the most out of the moment.

Q: For Paul, you talked in the introduction about a couple of the mistakes you might have made last year to widen the gap between yourself and Sebastien, but I want to talk to you about two incidents, one in Toronto with a gas situation, and again, the one in Denver. Have you addressed with the team that these kinds of things cannot happen this year if you want to challenge for the Championship?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, our fuel situation in Toronto was really just a mistake. We had a calculation error with what we thought the engine was burning versus what we had in the tank. You know, we've gone through our whole fueling system this last winter. In Fontana last week we did run-out tests just to see if the calculation number, if there was any error in calculation, what is actually being burned.

We've had a little bit of issues with that throughout the course of last year. We didn't seem to be able to get the fuel mileage that some of the other teams were getting, especially at places like Montreal. We just seemed to, for whatever reason -- we don't have the fueling system right. That's something that we've been addressing over the winter. When it came down to it, at Toronto we thought we had more than enough fuel in the tank to do another lap or do a couple of more laps, but it ran out. We didn't know it was going to run out.

So I think that we've made a big effort to try to address, like I said, our fueling system and how our system operates inside the fuel cell and how it calculates on the computer. So that's one of the things that -- that's one of the differences now between winning and losing races. If you can't go as far as the next guy and have to pit a lap earlier, then you lose so much time on the track, it's hard to make up.

Q: Just a follow-up, Paul, I would suggest that you do have a lot of confidence in Forsythe, that they're going to give you the equipment, they're going to give you the kind of help you need to win the Championship this year?

PAUL TRACY: Well, for sure, I've had a long talk just this last week with my engineer Eric (Zeto). It's very tough. Like Bruno said when we started this teleconference, when you have a team that's been at the Newman/Haas level for 20 plus years, they've been a championship contender, they've had people that have worked at Newman/Haas since day one, the majority of that team has been intact for a long, long period of time, so they have systems built up and a work process that runs very smoothly.

When you really look at it, I mean, when I joined the Forsythe team back in 2003, they were really never a championship contender up until that point. So what we're competing against is a team that is virtually pretty new for this level of racing. We've had our fair share of turnover in terms of personnel, people coming, people going, and when you're trying to compete against a team that's had systems in place for over 20 years and has been a championship contender for every year that I can remember since I've been racing, it's tough. But we need to try to step up to that level, and that's what the goal is.

I mean, the test last week for us was a good test, but when we come away and I looked at the test, I see two Newman/Haas cars at the top, I see two RuSPORT cars that were in front of us with now an engineer from Newman/Haas, and then Oriol (Servia) was quicker than me and he drove for Newman/Haas and has some understanding of the setups there. There's obviously a common thread there, and we need to step up to that level.

Q: Quick question for Justin and then another one for Paul. Justin, it just seems that while there's always been a lot of interest from the Brazilian contingent and certainly from the Canadian contingent, it just appears that the interest in Champ Car racing from the European Union just keeps getting larger and larger.

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's definitely got popularity and it's something that's appealing to younger drivers back in Europe. My brother is 16 years old, and he's not thinking about how he's going to get to Formula 1, he's thinking about how he's going to get to Champ Car. I think it's really healthy for Champ Car on the whole, and hopefully we'll see more of the young drivers who are inspired to race at this level.

Q: Paul, I want to ask you about the car. There's a new car coming in next year as you know. It really hasn't changed at all really for the last number of seasons, you've driven this thing longer than anybody on this call has. I don't want to use a "pang of sadness," but you know this darn thing really well and know how to set the thing up and now we're going to wipe the slate clean and give everybody a new car. First of all, are you worried about the danger of looking too far ahead, but are you worried about this car is going to go bye-bye and being in a new boat next year?

PAUL TRACY: Well, everybody will be in the same boat, and I think that this car has served its purpose. It's allowed cost containment over the last five or six years, which is really what the series needs. It's time now for a new generation of car. Are there some things that I would like to see in the new generation of car that maybe are not there? I think it would be good to have electronic shifting; that seems to be the norm in most series now, whether it's endurance racing cars, Formula 1, A1GP has semiautomatic shifting, so I think that would be something that would be a nice feature.

But they feel that the cost of that is probably prohibitive. To work with new aerodynamics and suspension and rockers and all that kind of stuff, it presents a new challenge. Instead of just trying to microanalyze every time you have a car that you've worked with for six years, you've kind of run out of room to improve. I think, like I said, the car has served its purpose; it's time to have a new evolution of car.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Kasey Kahne , Sébastien Bourdais , Denny Hamlin