Rookie Max Wilson has had quite a beginning to his first season in the CART FedEx Championship Series. After beginning the season under the Brooke Racing banner campaigning an Ilmor-powered Lola, Larry Blair took over the team following the race...
Rookie Max Wilson has had quite a beginning to his first season in the CART FedEx Championship Series. After beginning the season under the Brooke Racing banner campaigning an Ilmor-powered Lola, Larry Blair took over the team following the race in Nazareth, renamed it Arciero-Blair Racing and secured engines from Ford-Cosworth for the remainder of the season. Wilson took some time during the Detroit Grand Prix to talk about the challenges of his first season in CART and what he hopes to achieve in the remaining 14 races.
MAX WILSON - #25 Redback Networks Ford-Cosworth
WHAT KIND OF A YEAR HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU?
"First of all, I'm glad to be here. CART, I think, is a great series and my goal has always been to be in the top open-wheel series, and here I am. Even with all the things that didn't go exactly the way I had wanted them to, I'm very happy to be here anyway. This year has been a learning experience for everybody - for me and for the team. We were struggling a little bit, which I think is normal for a new team, but I think we are improving race by race. We would like to be improving quicker, but we are improving and learning with each race. I think for the rest of this season and especially for next, things are going to be much better."
WHEN DID THINGS START FALLING INTO PLACE THAT ENABLED YOU TO COME TO RACE IN CART?
"It actually started when I came here for the first time in 1999. I went to Homestead with a friend of mine, Al Miller, and he invited me to go the race. I had never watched a CART race live before, just on television at that point, so I went there and just loved it because I had been in Europe for many years and things here are completely different. The way things are set up here with the level of competition allowing a lot of drivers and teams can do well, where in Europe in Formula One it's different. A new team in Formula One is going to need a lot of time and a lot of money to make something happen, where here, you're still going to need a lot of time and money, it's completely different. For me as a driver, I wanted to go to the races and have a chance to do a decent job, while here in CART, I think it's quite possible to do it, while in F1, it's a lot more difficult."
HOW DIFFICULT HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU TO ADJUST TO THE "AMERICAN WAY" OF RACING, SUCH AS THE USE OF PIT STOPS, FUEL STRATEGY, ETC.?
"Here there are a lot of new rules for me to get used to, like pace cars, pits, fuel strategy. There are things like when there is an accident the pits are closed and then they are opened, the guys who aren't on the lead lap can't come in while the other guys can. You know I've heard that a lot of people don't enjoy the yellow flags and things like this, but I think they make things more interesting. Not only do you have to do well under the green flag, but it also forces you to develop a good fuel strategy while the yellow flag also packs everybody back together again, so I think it's quite nice. As a driver you're going to be in a situation where you have a 10-second lead but when the yellow comes out everybody packs together, which I don't think will be a good feeling. So I think sometimes it will be good for us and sometimes not, but that's the same for everybody."
HOW FRUSTRATING WAS THE BEGINNING OF THIS SEASON FOR YOU, AND HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO KEEP YOURSELF IN A POSITIVE FRAME OF MIND?
"It was difficult, but before the first race we went to the track twice (to test) before going to Mexico. We were seventh in the morning warm-up, and when my car broke down we were following the Ganassi guys, and I think despite the fact we are not where we would like to be, we are doing a good job. We are going against teams and drivers that have a lot of experience and sometimes when we manage to put things together we can be up there with them sometimes. For this being our first year and the lack of time that we've had, I think we're doing pretty good."
HOW MUCH HAS THE LACK OF TESTING HURT YOU AND THE TEAM? HOW FAR ARE YOU BEHIND EVERYBODY ELSE, ESPECIALLY BEING A ROOKIE?
"I think a lot, and that's the most difficult part for us. Since the beginning of the season, we haven't done any tests. I think the new rules that prevent testing are good because it lowers costs, but even when the big teams don't test, they find some way to improve, either with wind tunnel tests or computer simulations that we don't have. For example, I'm sure that everybody is running the setup that they had at the last street course and I think everybody is trying to improve race by race and day by day, but we don't have the resources yet to do that, so it's kind of difficult. This weekend (in Detroit), we didn't run a lot in the morning on Friday, and then we had some problems during the afternoon and ended up running about 15 laps all day. On Saturday we were trying to put some more laps on the car but we couldn't do as many changes as we would've liked to, so it's been difficult for us. We just started to find ourselves on Sunday morning during the warm-up, but now that we found a little bit better baseline, it's time for the race. I would've liked to work on the car a little bit more, but we ran out of time. Because we can't do any testing before, we are always running a little bit late on getting things right. At least we improved and didn't get any worse and I think we're getting closer to the guys at the front, which I think is good. Hopefully we're going to have a chance to go test and learn some more about the car, and I think that will help us get even better."
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO YOUR CONFIDENCE AND YOUR PSYCHE TO SECURE A COMPETITIVE ENGINE PACKAGE?
"It's a much better feeling, especially on the oval tracks where the engine counts a lot. At Texas, everybody was running the track flat out with average lap speeds in the low 230-mile per hour range while my top speed was 225 (mph), and it was very frustrating. But now we know that any track that we go to we're going to have a package that's as good as anybody else's - we just have to manage to make it work. That's going to be the biggest difference, and that's where the bigger and more experienced teams have an advantage over us. They've been using the Lola/Ford combination for several years and have done testing during the winter while we didn't do anything. That's why I say that despite the lack of time on the track, we are doing pretty good. For sure it's frustrating because everybody would like to be up there, but it's not that simple. There are guys here that operate at a very high level, like Penske, Ganassi, and most of the teams are very good. I'm not saying that we are doing a bad job because I think we are doing very good, but we just haven't had enough time to be as good as them."
HOW IMPORTANT HAS (OWNER) LARRY BLAIR BEEN IN THE FORMATION OF THE NEW TEAM? "He has been very important. He's new to racing, but he's learning fast. This is a completely different world than he's used to operating in, but he's learning quick and has given us some very good support. He's always out there looking out for everybody and trying to make things better, talking about the car and ways to improve the team. He's a very good marketing guy and a good businessman, and he's trying to use that experience here on the race team. There are people here that are feeding him information about racing and teaching him things that he doesn't know because he's never done them before, so he's a great guy. We had some ups and downs at the beginning of the year and I'm very glad that he stayed with us. He trusts that he can be successful, so he took over the team and now we are getting better already."
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH BEFORE THIS SEASON COMES TO AN END?
"My goal since the beginning of the year was to have a competitive car. We have sometimes had a competitive car, like at Mexico and Long Beach, but we had that kind of late and couldn't perform as good as we could. I want to have a good car, and now with the package of the Lola chassis and the Ford engine, I think I have a much better chance of having it. I believe that as soon as we have things right, which I hope we can do very soon, we can do a decent job. This may sound arrogant, but I would love to win a race this year. I know that's not easy, but with all due respect to the other drivers and the other teams, I really believe that if we get all the things right we can score some points and perhaps win a race."
WINNING A RACE FOR A BRAND NEW TEAM IS A VERY LOFTY GOAL.
"I would love to win a race, but if we could just score some points that would be great. I'm not saying that I'm going to win a race today or tomorrow, I'm just saying that if we get things right it's possible. For us, finishing races is important and scoring points is important too, but it doesn't mean I don't want to win. I want to win no matter wins, but the first step is to try and score some points."
YOU'VE RACED THIS SEASON ON A PERMANENT ROAD COURSE, A TEMPORARY STREET COURSE A SHORT OVAL AND TURNED SOME LAPS ON A HIGH-SPEED TRACK AT TEXAS. WHICH DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
"It's a shame that the track in Mexico was dirty and slippery because I liked that track. I'm more used to road courses and I've been on some street courses, but ovals are brand new to me. At the beginning of the year I didn't enjoy the ovals too much because we were really off the pace because of the lack of horsepower. At Milwaukee we didn't run very much because we had problems on Friday, it rained on Saturday, we scrubbed tires during Sunday's warm-up and then we had the race. During the race the car was very good and I had a good time because before I had to always watch my mirrors and let guys pass me, which was really boring. Although I enjoyed racing at Milwaukee, I still have to learn about the ovals because it's a new thing for me."
HOW DO YOU APPROACH DRIVING ON AN OVAL? I'VE HEARD THAT THE REASON WHY SO MANY EUROPEANS HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL RACING ON OVALS IS THAT THEY APPROACH IT AS IF IT WAS A FOUR-TURN ROAD COURSE.
"Yeah, I do too. Depending on the oval, I look at it as a two-, three- or four-turn road course. Milwaukee for me was a two-turn road course. If you put two turns together on a road course they are like an oval, but at ovals you are very quick and you have a lot of different lines. On a road course you don't have so many different lines as you have on an oval - you cannot go side-by-side through the turns - while you can go side-by-side through a turn on an oval, which is new for me. Before Milwaukee, I tested just once on an oval in Phoenix, and then went to Texas, Nazareth and Milwaukee, but I just need to learn more, get used to it and I'll be fine."
SO YOU'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT TWO RACES IN PORTLAND AND CLEVELAND? "Yes, because I've been driving road courses since I was in go-karts 16 years ago and only been on an oval four times, so I'm more familiar with the road and street tracks for sure.
SO YOU'VE NEVER BEEN IN A 500-MILE RACE?
"No, no, never. I've only watched them."
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO MICHIGAN?
"Yeah, I am.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW YOU MIGHT APPROACH SUCH A LONG RACE, ESPECIALLY MENTALLY?
"I talked to some drivers and they told me that the short ovals are more difficult. For me it makes sense because it you go to Michigan or Fontana, the track is so big and so wide that when you overtake people you have space to get four or five cars side by side. On a short oval you can get two cars next to each other and that's it, and those two cars have to be close to each other to fit there. I've never been on a super speedway, but many people have told me that the short ovals are more difficult, and I think they're right. I don't know, I guess I'll have to wait to find out for myself, but I'm really looking forward to trying it and seeing how it is."
ARE THERE ANY TRACKS IN CART, OR THE UNITED STATES, THAT YOU'VE RACES ON PREVIOUSLY?
SO WHEN YOU RACED IN MEXICO TO OPEN THE SEASON, THAT WAS YOUR FIRST RACE IN NORTH AMERICA?
SO YOU HAVE TO LEARN EACH TRACK AS YOU GO.
"Yes, and it's been difficult because it's a new team and we really don't have much information from last year. I also don't have a teammate that has raced here before, so I've had to learn a lot of new things at the same time. That's why I think that despite everything, we're doing pretty good. I'd love to be up there in the top five or the top 10, but I think we are doing a decent job."
SO YOU'VE HAD TO ADJUST TO THE TRACKS, THE CAR AND THE AMERICAN STYLE OF RACING. HAD YOU EVER DONE A PIT STOP BEFORE?
"No. No, I had never done that before except perhaps three or four times before because it started to rain and we had to switch tires."
HOW ABOUT CHANGE TIRES AND TAKE ON FUEL IN LESS THAN 15 SECONDS?
"No, no, never. Actually, before the first race we practiced three or four pit stops, but it was by ourselves and nobody else was on the track. Luckily, everything has gone all right so far, but it's difficult. I'm not used to coming into the pits and seeing a lot of people in the pit lane. Then I have to look and find my guys, and if he doesn't wave to me he's hard to see, and then park in the right place, so every time I come into the pits I try to practice all these things. It's new and I didn't have much time to get used to it, but luckily everything has been good so far."
WAS THERE EVERY A POINT WHERE YOU FELT OVERWHELMED BY IT ALL?
"You know, yes and no. We tested twice and then we went to the first race so I didn't have much time to get used to a lot of things. But at the same time, I had been racing a long time, so I'm supposed to get used to things quick. The only thing difficult for me was I had to get used to things during the race weekends, not when we are practicing by ourselves. Like I said, luckily everything has been working so far, but it's kind of difficult. Even when you see drivers like Michael Andretti, who has been doing this for 20 years, sometimes something goes wrong, and this has happened to us so it's normal."
HAS YOUR CONFIDENCE GROWN WITH EACH PASSING WEEK AND EACH PASSING RACE? "Yes, it has. When we have a good result during practice, warm-up of the race, especially the race, it brings us more motivation. But I have been motivated from the beginning, even when we were struggling a lot because I believe that we can do it. I believe in myself, I believe in my team and I think although we have to learn a lot, I think all the teams that are here experienced these growing pains in the past and this is our time to have it. We just have to learn and hopefully in the future we'll be a top team too."