CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: This Week in Ford Racing - Keith Wiggins

CART FedEx Championship Herdez Competition's managing director, Keith Wiggins, has played a major part in the development of the team since arriving midway through the 2000 season. With over 25 years of experience in various forms of motorsports...

CART FedEx Championship

Herdez Competition's managing director, Keith Wiggins, has played a major part in the development of the team since arriving midway through the 2000 season. With over 25 years of experience in various forms of motorsports around the world, including Formula One, Formula 3 and Formula Ford, Wiggins has helped build Herdez Competition into a solid team. The 2002 season has been especially rewarding for Wiggins as Herdez Competition recorded its first victory in 17 years of competition on October 27th in Surfer's Paradise, Australia.

KEITH WIGGINS - Managing Director/Minority Owner, Herdez Competition

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT YOUR EXPECTATIONS WERE COMING INTO THIS SEASON AND WHERE THE TEAM IS IN RELATION TO THOSE EXPECTATIONS.

"I think since taking over effectively a new team prior to 2001 expectations were pretty high. Last year we came in showing that we had potential - we had a quick car and a pretty good team. It's always hard to take over something already existing and starting anew in a sense because there are lots of philosophies and it takes time to turn it into a team. There's also competition from other series as well, so getting good people is difficult and performance is related to having good people, but I think last year we made good progress. We were frustrated in some instances, but I thought the potential was there and I thought we were making progress. When this year started we continued to make some changes, we added new blood and added to our expectations, which like always in racing are pretty high. We haven't really come close to achieving what we had hoped, but we always keep going. I mean, that's our job. There's no magic in this business and I have no doubt that we are capable of being successful. It's been tough for Mario (Dominguez) as well because he's learning ... one car with a rookie driver and he's struggled a little bit. We had some issues this year as well, not only our own ... I don't believe in luck but we've had a few issues with the engine or black flags from CART or rules discrepancies and we've had a couple of mechanical problems of our own. But we'll keep growing and developing the team and more than ever we're committed to running a second car (next year). We'll still be here, there's no question about that."

WHEN YOU TOOK CONTROL OF THE TEAM DID YOU COME IN WITH A SPECIFIC PLAN? A THREE-YEAR PLAN? A FIVE-YEAR PLAN?

"We laid out, like you do on the corporate side, I laid out a three-year plan because my belief is that it takes you three years to get a good group of people together so the team runs like clockwork. And having looked at it with a European mentality, I should say that it could take longer here because it's hard to find all the good people because there's a lot of other series here and the base of talent has a lot of options from which to pick from. But once you set that corporate philosophy, you try to put it together as quickly as possible. At the beginning of 2001, we came out running competitively in testing with new equipment and I think we were at the level where I think we could've done a lot better than we did. So I guess progress this year has been a lot slower because putting some new bits in and some management bits we put in didn't quite work out and it's been harder putting the last pieces together. That plan hasn't changed, but I guess the progress this year hasn't been where I would've liked it to be, although I still think we're headed for that target."

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO RUN A ONE-CAR TEAM IN THIS SERIES WITH A ROOKIE DRIVER?

"In my past I've never run a one-car team because we've always had two cars. I think the level of competition in Europe is very strong and the grid is very reminiscent of where one second covers the entire grid, even in a more spec series. And normally you take rookies each year because drivers are progressing through each series, but I think in Europe there's a lot of talent in Formula 3, Formula 3000 or Formula Ford, who have raced on all of those race tracks. A lot of those drivers are also moving up together and therefore the level of aggression has always been there through the stages of development. If you look at CART, and I think it's still by far the most competitive series, that one, one-and-a-half seconds is generally covering the grid, and the level of competition here has gotten to that stage. But when drivers come into CART from other series, they don't have that same level of competition that might prepare them as well as it might be in Europe. There's a great pool of experienced drivers here in this series, however I still believe there's a tendency to be very stale in picking what's in the pool. You know, 'We'll pick this guy because he has a lot of experience and he'll do a good job.' Well, I like to look for who's going to be the next 'dynamite' talent, who's career is on the upswing, put him in the car and see what he can do. In my opinion you should always go for the young, aggressive talent when looking for a driver."

BUT HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE THAT SECOND CAR AND ALL THE ADDITIONAL DATA THAT IT GENERATES?

"In our situation, specifically, to have a second car that has an experienced driver obviously is a huge help because you have that data to look at. I don't think it affected us too much last year because Michel (Jourdain, Jr.) had experience and we knew from the data from Lola that in certain races we would have an advantage and a very good car. We still believe we do, but sometimes it'd be nice to have it proved one way or the other and an experienced driver could tell you yes or no. He can tell you this is what this is and this could be better and that would help out the team and allow Mario to look at that and see that he's quicker through here than I am. That pool of information, especially when you're only getting an hour in the morning and then you get only 15 laps, you've got to do it and get on with the job. But having that resource would be a huge gain and it's hurt us this year more than I expected it to."

WHERE IS MARIO IN HIS DEVELOPMENT AS A DRIVER?

"I think he's learning a lot this season. The level of competition here in CART is tough and it doesn't give you a break. A half-a-second ... very often he's been within a second, which is not good for us but in any other series it would probably be in the middle somewhere. He adapted very quickly to the car when we were testing, even though he didn't know the track very well, and he did a good job. I think it's the variety of tracks, the fitness and the constant effort that need learning. He's learning the tracks, how to give feedback about the car in a short period of time and to having to do dinners for sponsors. He's been like a sponge, really, learning all the time."

HAVE YOU HAD TO WORK AT KEEPING HIM FROM GETTING FRUSTRATED?

"Again, as a one-car (team) it's been difficult because in the beginning his confidence was quite high when we were doing well. The season-opener in Monterrey was a point where he was really into doing a decent job and in that instance we had a problem, which let him down. Long Beach was no big deal (crashed out), but then the pressure from everybody increased. Then we went through a lull and I think we improved during that time, but at the moment we're teetering on that confidence level. If we had the fourth place that was taken away from us in Japan, I think that would've been a huge leap forward for everybody. And we've had to be harder more recently as well to work hard at putting together all the necessary ingredients and therefore that's taken a toll."

AS A MINORITY OWNER, HAVE YOU BEEN CONCERNED WITH THE OFFTRACK POLITICS THAT HAVE SURROUNDED CART THIS SEASON?

"I think I would've been more concerned had it carried on the way it was. Obviously, it's quite a cultural difference to come and see the series compared to other series and it took awhile for it to go down to where it is and I believe now it's on the way up again. It took a little time for it to be mismanaged and I think what's happening now is the right way to go and I think the people who are in place are the right people. I think CART still has a lot of weaknesses, but then every series has when you're dealing with a big group of people. But I think they're going in the right direction. Fundamentally, it's still the best series with the best races, the best venues, the best type of races, the best mix of races and we go to the best markets. Once we get our act together and get our messages out there we'll be fine."

ARE YOU PLEASED WITH THE TECHNICAL PACKAGE FOR NEXT SEASON?

"Yeah, I am. I love technology and you have to be aware of what sells and what's important. Obviously, not seeing manufacturers here in the short term initially could be not desirable, but there's absolutely no reason for having them here for the wrong reason and with the wrong mix or with the wrong engine package. We could've ended up with a very bad package that really wasn't attractive for anybody to build, so you've got to accept those mistakes, stop and go forward. I think what we're doing is building a base for the future, and the base that we'll have will be great because Cosworth ... I've worked in Europe with Cosworth in a one-make series before and they're the people that can do it properly. It'll be very competitive and reliable and the racing will still be good. The fast guys will still be at the front and the slow guys will still be at the back. It'd be nice to have more selection of chassis manufacturers, but we still have two and I have no doubt that in the next two years there'll be extra ones coming in. And then again, we'll be stronger than we are now and have better racing."

WITH JUST ONE ENGINE MANUFACTURER, DOES THAT PUT MORE PRESSURE ON THE TEAMS AND DRIVERS TO FIND AN ADVANTAGE?

"I think that's true. Honestly, I think any one of the three engines in this series could win the championship, so it still comes down to the drivers, the teams and the engineers. Anybody who thinks that the engine they have will suddenly elevate them to the front is probably misconceived. But each year you see one particular manufacturer that probably has a little bit of an advantage, but again, the dominant team of that manufacturer also has the driver at the right time of his life and a very, very good car. You really need all three parts to win. I still think the emphasis will still be on the drivers and the engineering, just the same as it always has been."

HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE TWO MEXICAN RACES IN MONTERREY AND MEXICO CITY TO YOUR TEAM AND YOUR SPONSOR?

"I would say that for our group it couldn't be better - opening and finishing the season in Mexico. It's great for us. Obviously, we'll expand beyond that to a different cultural differences when we add a second car next year. The markets are important for the Herdez Group, not only the Mexican markets, but also the American market and that's why they're here. There's no doubt that it's huge for them to be in such popular markets where they love racing. It's really good for everybody."

HOW IMPORTANT ARE CART'S INTERNATIONAL RACES TO YOUR GROUP?

"Personally, and I guess I have a little different slant being a European, I see it as the whole world and it's important that our series has that ability because there's plenty of companies, especially in the United States and Mexico, that export to Europe. I would think that it suits some people and it doesn't suit others, but I think it's another specialty of our series. For us it's important to be seen outside of the country because a lot of people are insular and don't care about the rest of the world, but it's important to our group. The Herdez Group has distribution in Spain and other parts of Europe, it's important and it will help certain people involved in the sport. Everybody has a different reason for being here and it's just another option in the portfolio that's good for some people. But I think we should continue doing them."

HERDEZ HAS REALLY SHOWN A COMMITMENT TO THE SERIES IN THE LAST YEAR AND A HALF WITH THE ADDITION OF A NEW TRANSPORTER, NEW HOSPITALITY UNIT AND THE POSSIBILITY OF EXPANDING TO TWO CARS FOR NEXT SEASON. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ITS INVOLVEMENT IN THE SPORT?

"They're a fantastic group and they are very committed and want to continue their support from a marketing point of view. But it's also important for their image because they are a hugely professional organization, not only in the quality of their products but in everything that they do. Sometimes there's perception outside of that country about how the people do things or lag behind, but they can do things as good as anybody so there's a combination of marketing reasons and also pride about what they can do. I think what we've done as a team is show them how things should be done to get results, both in the marketplace and on the race track. If you're going to do it you've got to do it properly. Maybe this year results-wise we're not where we want to be, however we're developing a lot of other business opportunities and are working very hard with them to bring other sponsorship and business-to-business opportunities which will develop a second car and help Herdez. We've tried to guide them into the right way of doing things because sometimes a small level of involvement doesn't get you what you want because you don't have control. It's a tough business; the toughest business around to do this, but they're committed to doing it. Everybody is always under pressure and they're trying to do a good job."

-ford-

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