CHAMPCAR/CART: Lopes, Dykstra press conference, part I

An interview with John Lopes and Lee Dykstra September 24, 2002 Part 1 of 2 Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this week's CART media teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations. We're happy...

An interview with John Lopes and Lee Dykstra
September 24, 2002

Part 1 of 2

Merrill Cain: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this week's CART media teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART Public Relations.

We're happy to welcome to the call this afternoon two of the gentlemen who set the policy and the rules and regulations that directly affect the racing on the track each and every weekend in the CART FedEx Championship Series.

We're joined today by John Lopes, CART's Vice President of Racing Operations and Lee Dykstra, Director of Technology and Competition for CART.

Gentlemen, thanks for taking a few minutes to speak with us today. We invited both John and Lee to join us today not only to talk about some of the rules or regulations of competition currently in effect in the CART FedEx Championship Series, but we would also like to outline some of the recent changes in competition that will take effect next season.

John Lopes, we will start off with you, the CART franchise board recently approved a few key rule changes that will be put into effect in 2003; perhaps the most significant of these changes is eliminating the use of traction control in the series and a decision to do away with the fuel enrichment control switch in a further effort to eliminate fuel economy runs in CART.

Talk about these two key moves and how this will change and ultimately improve the racing quality within the series.

John Lopes: I think the first being traction control and then I might ask Lee to add to that. But I think with traction control, we found ourselves in a very sticky situation earlier this year with all three of our manufacturers. We believe in the past CART had not done a good job of managing its controversies as it would be with respect to the engine manufacturers and quite frankly, the traction control situation was rushing up on us rapidly this year.

And so it was, frankly, more of a situation where policing it was impossible. We had through [CART President and CEO] Mr. Pook's relationship with [Formula 1 rights holder] Mr. Ecclestone, had some conversations with Formula 1 about the amount of dollars they put into policing traction control and were unable to really do it successfully.

When we realized that we couldn't police it what we had to do was somehow gather a consensus with the manufacturers to all agree that we had to run it in the best interest of the series. Ultimately that's what they all agreed to do. And we were able to go ahead and legalize it this year.

However, we have learned this year it's probably not in the best interest of the racing on track entertainment product to have traction control. We found that this year it has created a situation of even greater parity among the competitors with traction control. And I think people like to see the drivers slide through the turns a little bit. And so our plan for next year is it has been abolished for next year and we are going to be able to run in a traction control free environment next year and give a little more to driver skill.

Lee, if you could add to that as to how we're going to facilitate that and ensure that no one is getting around the rule.

Lee Dykstra: We intend to do this because we have a spec engine, so from a Cosworth standpoint we can control the engine control unit as far as its makeup. And we're going to do that by eliminating traction control and essentially giving the driver maybe five torque maps which is very aggressive as far as the engine is concerned for him to control and that's the extent of it.

There will also be no fuel enrichment switch in the ECU [engine control unit] so we'll eliminate the fuel economy runs by means of internal control rather than trying to do it externally with our pitstop windows.

Merrill Cain: CART has also made a commitment to increase side-by-side racing on the short oval courses for next year. A test will be scheduled in the next few weeks here that will simulate the 2003 competition packages in the series using a slightly de-tuned version of the Cosworth engine currently in use in CART as well as using the current road course wing package. Can you talk about how this will affect the cars, their ability to run in traffic and improving the racing quality on short ovals for next year.

Lee Dykstra: Certainly. The Cosworth engine that we're making as a spec engine allows us again to control the horsepower so we're specing something around 700 horsepower. That in the past, because we've had considerably more than that, has made us reduce aerodynamic downforce to limit the speeds on a short oval. By having the reduced horsepower we can cut down the power requirements and add some more downforce to get some more side-by-side racing.

Certainly back in the late '90s, '98, 1997, we did have very good racing on the short ovals and by using the road course aero package we intend to get back to that same situation.

Merrill Cain: This was a test that CART was hoping to schedule a few weeks ago, but because of some components that weren't up to spec with Cosworth standards we had to postpone that test. Are we looking at the next few weeks here to try and reschedule a new test to try to get this accomplished?

Lee Dykstra: Certainly. Cosworth has committed to the test and we're in communication with them ostensibly to try to get this again.

The engine that we're trying to do for the test will simulate what we're going to run next year so it wasn't a matter of just taking an existing engine an putting it in the car.

Merrill Cain: Gentlemen, let us open it up for questions from the media.

Q: I think just in terms of the traction control issue, first of all. Now I assume this is going to be essentially in effect for the next two years along with the spec engine program. Have you looked at anything more in the long-term as far as 2005 and the more open rules and coming back to the whole thorny issue of controlling traction control that John alluded to?

Lee Dykstra: I think when we start getting more than one manufacturer we're going to have to address that issue again.

Certainly maybe by then we will have other things in place that we can stay with the traction control and at that point in time have other increased aerodynamic downforce along with other things to get our passing back.

Q: One other question, if I may, as far as the fuel mileage window this year, which is perhaps working well on the road courses, but there's been a lot of criticism from fans in particular, I would say as well as the media, that maybe on the ovals that it's making it a little bit too confusing and forcing people to run similar strategies. Is there any consideration to perhaps rescinding that particular rule on ovals for next year?

Lee Dykstra: That was one of the reasons why we got rid of the fuel enrichment switch, so it's actually under consideration for both road courses and ovals. The intention of having the window this year was to have the windows wide enough that there could be variable strategy and people have elected not to do that kind of thing. And, you know, perhaps by eliminating the windows and not allowing the fuel enrichment switch in, that maybe gradually will come back.

John Lopes: In the last franchise board meeting the issue was discussed at some length and I think everyone was in agreement that it needs to be revisited, but management was tasked with going back and taking a look at what some of the alternatives would be and readdressing them in the fourth quarter meeting. So our intent is to have that put to bed before the end of the calendar year.

Merrill Cain: Before we get to our next question, I also want to throw this open to you. You mentioned here some of these rules will be evaluated at the end of the season talking about what worked and what didn't work. I wanted you to quickly comment on some of the rules and decisions that have been made and come under fire recently by some of the competitors, specifically there were some issues that had cropped up during the race in Rockingham that affected some of the teams.

John Lopes: Well, I think the one that really sticks out was Adrian Fernandez' penalty. Adrian was quite frustrated; showed his frustration, and although it didn't make for bad TV, it certainly didn't make for a happy team owner in Adrian. So we had some long conversations about it. We also met with [co owner] Tom Anderson about it this week. And where Adrian was frustrated was that he was docked for speeding, coming out under a yellow flag condition, and he was simply in a line of cars, but his car did in fact speed. What happened is there are antennas in the ground that mark your positions from A to B. Adrian was speeding. The problem with the rule book right now is it offers the stewards no flexibility. It's really black and white. Basically if the driver is speeding, then the penalty under Chapter 10 has to be applied by the steward.

Now there's some discretion in there for the steward to apply a less severe penalty and that's what we tried to do in Adrian's case. We tried to send him to the back of the line for the restart. But that didn't happen. Then of course at that point we had to go ahead and apply the penalties.

Adrian's argument is that since he gained no advantage by passing under yellow, coming out of the pits under a yellow flag condition, that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. And he has got a good point, but the key thing that we're trying to convey to Adrian on this particular issue is that that's a rule we can't rewrite mid-race. It's something that has to be addressed at the end of the season.

Now, this particular incident occurred in the second stage of the pit lane speed limit. I believe the second stage was 85 miles an hour speed limit. And that was put into place in response to the [Alex] Zanardi incident that had happened last year. Actually the drivers at the pre-race meeting asked us to extend that area that was covered. So we're not going to see that again this year. You won't see a second stage pit lane speed limit situation this season. And in the off-season we're going to address, particularly in these types of infractions, the penalty fitting the crime. In other words, our position is that the chief stewards should have some flexibility to apply fundamental fairness. That being, are you speeding as a safety violation in pit road or is it simply because your car registers two or three 100ths of a second faster in a line coming out from a pitstop, or was it egregious like Scott Dixon's violation during the race. I believe he was clocked at 104 miles an hour.

So there has to be some type of fundamental fairness applied. Right now the rules don't provide that. The stewards did make the right call under the rule book at the time.

Merrill Cain: Thanks.

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Lopes, Dykstra press conference, part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Dixon , Tom Anderson