CHAMPCAR/CART: Michigan Friday Forum Transcript

CART Manufacturer's Forum Michigan Speedway Mid-Season Report Brooklyn, MI (July 24, 1999) - The following is a transcript of highlights of Friday's "Manufacturer's Forum" news conference held here at Michigan Speedway. This weeks...

CART Manufacturer's Forum Michigan Speedway Mid-Season Report

Brooklyn, MI (July 24, 1999) - The following is a transcript of highlights of Friday's "Manufacturer's Forum" news conference held here at Michigan Speedway. This weeks conference featured representatives of each manufacturer, commenting on issues and events just past the mid-point in the 1999 CART FedEx Championship Series.

The Participants: Greg Specht, North American Racing Operations Manager, Ford Racing Technology Robert Clarke, General Manager, Honda Performance Development Paul Ray, Vice-President, Ilmor Engineering (for Mercedes-Benz) Lee White, Group Vice-President & General Manager, Toyota Racing Development

QUESTION: To start off today, let's have everyone give a mid-season report on how you've been doing this year, as well as what we can look forward to in the second half of the season.

Greg Specht (Ford): At the risk of maybe getting into a little hot water with our teams, I'm pleased with the performance of the engine, but we're unhappy with the fact that we're not leading the championship points race at this point in time. But of course a lot of circumstances to into that, beyond anybody's control. At any rate, we're pleased with the power output of the Ford Cosworth engine, we're pleased with the durability of that engine, we're having a very good year in that regard. And we've been working on what we believe is the one weakness we have, and that is 'drivebility'. We've spent a lot of time over the winter and during the early part of the season to improve the driveability of the engine, which we heard as the major complaint from our teams, and we've made some significant advances in that regard. Overall, we're pretty pleased with the Cosworth XD this year and look forward to a strong second half.

Lee White (Toyota): Toyota is pleased with our progress this year, with the RV8D. We've worked significantly on power delivery, torque, driveability, weight reduction, heat rejection and all the other things that affect how the drivers and teams are able to utilize the engine in this league. We've made significant progress, for those of you who've paid attention to trap speeds and the like, everything but finishes. And we're quite pleased with our engine. We've worked very hard with out teams to improve their race craft. We're looking forward to podium finishes before the end of the season.

Paul Ray (Mercedes-Benz): I think, for us, Greg stole my speech. Basically, we're very pleased with the progress we've made with the engine. There's no doubt that we can't say anything else at this point in the year, really. I think all of us get to try out parts and things during the winter, and then put those things on the racetrack during the first half of the year. Then it's about improving the performance of those parts. We know that we've made significant gains, both in top-end performance and in driveability. According to some of our drivers, it's not enough, and we've got to keep going at it. So obviously we're still flat out on in, the driveability side of things, increasing the performance of the engine and it's a tremendous battle, especially when you have people like Robert sitting next to me who've somehow seem to capture all the limelight, all the time. So it's just a constant battle for us to just keep pushing forward and finding what the next weak link of the engine is. For us, driveability and road course performance needs to be improved dramatically from both our own and our team's perspective. That's obviously the area of focus for us.

Robert Clarke (Honda): Our situation is kind of the opposite of Greg and Paul's. We're extremely pleased with the performance of our teams and our drivers. In fact, we believe that is Honda's biggest advantage right now, the strength of our teams and drivers. On the other hand our engine development, if anything is behind schedule, we have not achieved the targets that we would like to achieve this year, and we're working feverishly to achieve those targets within the season. So we're not satisfied with the results so far - I mean, obviously we're pleased with the on-track results, but we have not met the objectives we originally set out for this season so, we're still working very hard on that. It's mainly the top-end power, we're pleased with the driveability, we've had very good success on the electronics side but on the mechanical side we're a little short of our targets.

Q: Everybody out there is talking about 'driveability'. That's kind of the buzzword right now. Can a couple of you at least address that, what driveability means to you.

G. Specht (Ford): Well, I've gotten a lot of feedback from the drivers, who've told me what it means to them and it is a little tough to describe and define because each driver will tell you something a little bit different. What we try to do during the winter, this year, was try to quantify it in objective terms. By going racing, and testing, and gathering data and trying to correlate that to what the driver was telling us. And it basically boils down to, starting off at a slow turn at low rpm - four or five thousand rpm - and as the driver comes out of the turn and starts rolling into the throttle what they're looking for is a steady, even, increase in power proportional to the travel of the throttle. And that doesn't always happen. The worst case is when you get on the throttle and you have what we call a 'stumble' where instead of an increase in power you have maybe a hesitation or a dip in power and then it comes on very strong. That's probably the most dramatic example of driveability. Again, what the driver is looking for is pretty much a linear response as he rolls into the throttle and a concurrent increase in torque in the engine.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): Drivebility is really about low-speed performance on racetracks. You have to think of these cars as driving a reasonably powered road car on sheet ice. Because that's about the amount of grip you have a low speed and anything you can do to make the engine performance somewhat of a linear relationship obviously tremendously helps giving the driver the ability to drive the car. Because these things are incredibly difficult to drive, any abrupt power delivery or change in torque isn't helpful, and a lot of what we're trying to do is make this better. But the rules are actually very restrictive with what we can do and can't do. So you're fighting rules problems as well that restrict you from making certain changes.

Q: What rules make it difficult?

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): Things like how we're allowed to control turbocharger boost. Unlike a normally aspirated engine you have the added problem of the turbocharger at some point is going to increase the power level significantly. We're not allowed to control the turbocharger boost below the maximum level, we're not allowed any form of electronic throttle or hydraulic throttle as they are in Formula One, and we not allowed to attenuate the power in any way, because of the traction control rules.

Q: Would your particular companies be willing to make the concessions needed to bring open wheel racing together? And how important is that to each of you?

G. Sprecht (Ford): Getting the two series together is very important to us. We think it is important to the sport as well. Ford is willing to do what is reasonable and we will take some positive steps to make that happen. And I think that's true of everybody involved in the situation. Certainly, the sport has suffered as a result of the split, it continues to suffer, and unless we do something to turn it around it will continue with the trend we have seen thus far. It's high on our agenda, it's important to us, and we will work hard to make it happen.

L. White (Toyota): Certainly from Toyota's view, we consider it to be paramount that in the future there be one open wheel series, and that we be able to go to the Indianapolis 500 and compete. We are very willing to consider almost any option, in rules, in order to achieve that, within reason, that meets our marketing objectives, and the other reasons we're involved: technological advancements and so on. But it's very high on our agenda right now to try and help make that happen. The possibility exists.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): From Mercedes viewpoint, it's clearly very important to get one series in this country and obviously we'd like to get back to the speedway to be able to continue the short tradition we started there in '94. But, it can't come at any price. It's very important that Mercedes compete in high technology series. That is one of our reasons for being here and so yes we are prepared to make some compromises to make the two series come together, and we're happy to take part in any discussions that are going on.

R. Clarke (Honda): For the livelihood of the sport, it's obvious that Honda feels the two groups need to come together. We're not totally dissatisfied with this series. In fact, we're quite satisfied with everything other than the promotional side, the TV ratings and marketing. Honda also is willing to make compromises, as long as they are within the corporate philosophy and the objectives we've set out for HPD.

Q: Would you guys be willing to change the engine formula, or do away with the lease programs, to make this happen?

R. Clarke (Honda): I think all the parties involved in the discussion are trying to have an open mind. You can have one definition, I guess, of what constitutes a lease, or buying and selling engines. If you take them (the IRL) on their past definition, then probably not. But again, having an open mind and thinking how we could possibly address what the IRL is trying to achieve, maybe there are other ways to approach it.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): I think I would repeat what Robert just said. Basically, we're taking the approach of considering any form of changes with a very open mind. We're happy to discuss anything but we're not capable of changing everything that we've built up over the past four or five years and just say 'that doesn't work anymore'. The way the engine manufacturers work with CART and within CART, works very, very well. It's an extremely successful engine formula, and the way we interact with our teams and provide engines and so on is extremely successful. To head off in a different direction, of selling engine parts to anyone that just wants them isn't necessarily the best way to represent Mercedes in this country. So it needs to be done with a little bit of rationalized thought, to get the best answer to the problem and not just throwing engines about in the air.

L. White (Toyota): Certainly from Toyota's point of view we'd prefer the system that we have in CART, because it helps us protect the technology that we've been able to develop, and I'm sure that the other three manufacturers here agree with me on that. We, Toyota, are involved you know in the Atlantic series, where we have five approved engine builders we sell parts to that build and supply engines to 40 to 50 competitors in North America. We've considered and do think that if something like that were to be proposed as a, not as an alternative, but as a companion method of doing business in a combined series we would give that consideration. I think it has some possibilities. But we would prefer to still be able to lease engines as well.

G. Sprecht (Ford): That's a major sticking point, and leasing versus selling may come down to semantics. What we're concerned about is to make sure that we protect the technology that we now have, and the technology that we will develop in the future. Having said that, there are ways to accomplish that and we don't think that the lease versus selling is the 'job stopper' in terms of putting the two series back together. We really believe, as my colleagues have said, there is a way to accomplish that without compromising the technology that we possess, and without driving costs in the series to the point where people who are currently participating in both CART and IRL can't afford to do it. If we can reach that agreement in terms of the rules and if we think that it represents stability, Ford is ready to go out and design, develop and build a completely new engine for that purpose.

Q: A follow up, can you talk about a change in the engine formula. Is that in the cards, and are you guys willing to make a change in the direction the formula is headed?

G. Sprecht (Ford): It's tough to use the correct adjectives, and I don't want to speak for anyone else, but are we willing to change? Yes. And that's why I say we're willing, once we reach an agreement that we all buy into, and we think has longevity, is going to be what the fan out there wants, we're willing to go out there and design, build and supply those engines.

Q: What kind of lead time to you need in order to make this kind of big jump in your engine program? What kind of months or years are we talking about?

L. White (Toyota): I think that everyone up here would agree that if we're talking about the year 2001 we're very close to being out of time. We will have to know, probably by Labor Day, the first of September, if we're going to go to a completely new formula. If discussions were to drag on to the end of the year it would be very, very difficult for the year 2001.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): The problem isn't the design and the prototype, it's actually making enough volume to be able to provide the field with sufficient quantities.

Q: Then, can anything be done for the year 2000?

L. White (Toyota): If there were to be an affiliation of some sort for the year 2000 it would have to be a formula of some sort that would handicap certain engines so everyone could run what there is, and that would be extremely difficult.

Q: (unintelligible)

L. White (Toyota): I think you'll find that the four manufacturers represented here are keeping an open mind on virtually every aspect of these discussions. I have been involved in virtually every discussion held so far and I haven't seen any reluctance to have a completely open mind by anyone at this table.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): Equally, there are lots of ways of achieving parity as well. An individual manufacturer's engine, there are lots of ways of achieving parity without everyone feeling they need to build their own engines in order to feel that they have that parity.

Q: Myself, over the last couple of weeks in talking to a lot of drivers, you get the sense that some kind of an agreement is close. One more thing I want to throw in here. I had a chance a week ago to talk to the Disney people, and they told me there is nothing planned there or next year, that there has been no indication given that there will be a race there next year at all.

G. Specht (Ford):  I'll throw my two cents worth into it.  Certainly, I
agree with Lee.  If we reach an agreement by Labor Day, we could have a
package ready by 2001.  That's the first thing.  But there is a sense of
urgency to 'getting it done' in order to accomplish that.  And, are we
actively pursuing it?  You bet.
L. White (Toyota):  I hope you all understand that there may be some
reluctance to go into too much detail.  Please.  

Q: I want to pick up on something that Lee mentioned a couple of questions ago. You used the term 'handicap' which obviously leads to questions about the dreaded equivalency formula, or something like that. Again, I just wonder if Lee or any of the four of you could just give a general comment about the various pitfalls of equivalency formulas.

L. White (Toyota): Actually, I kinda wish Paul would take that one! Personally, I have experience with equivalency formulas, mixing turbocharged engines with normally aspirated engines, because I spent a lot of years racing sports cars. And I can tell you from experience that I usually always won with the turbocharged engine. Maybe that was just because that's what I had, but, although in one case I did beat the turbocharged engine with a normally aspirated engine. So, it can be done, but it is very difficult. Paul actually came up with an idea that has some interest, has some bearing, so maybe I'll pass this over to Paul and let him comment.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): Gee, thanks Lee. It would be very difficult, because obviously there's enormous differences between the cars, the engines, the performance of the engines, normally aspirated versus turbocharged. But there are obviously things you can do with the engines to limit the performance of either engine - air restrictors and all sorts of things we'd all be agreeable to trying. But equally, there is the opportunity to adjust the speed of the car with aerodynamics. The Handford Device is a very, very useful device for actually slowing the cars down, as we've seen here. And it's quite 'trim-able' to actually be able to get the car whatever top speed you want it to have, based on the performance of the engine. And so if we can match our engine performance roughly on top speed, or peak power I should say, between normally aspirated and turbocharged engine. Then trim the rest of the vehicle with a Handford-style wing, then you've actually got something there that can give you enough equivalency on super speedway style tracks to make it a viable option for one year. I think it'd be very risky to consider it for more than one year. And, as we all have said, given enough opportunity we could have (a joint formula) ready for 2001 anyway. So really we're only looking at about a year.

G. Specht (Ford): I guess I would follow up on what Lee and Paul said. Certainly, long term, none of us wants to get involved in that (equivalency). But, maybe taking a look at whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, for 2000 it might be fun to go there and have the final showdown between CART and the IRL and have some kind of equivalency rule. Can you image all the controversy and the arguments and fun things that would happen around that - it might make for a hell of a race and a hell of an event. The validity of it may be in question, but it might be fun.

Q:  Just how realistic is making that Labor Day deadline?  Do you think it
will happen?  Any of you.

G. Specht (Ford): Well, it's do-able. A lot of people want to make it happen.

L. White (Toyota): In a lot of ways, we're just passengers on this train. Just like the rest of you.

Q: Who's the engineer?

Q: Getting back to the Handford Device for a moment. How does the Handford Device affect the engine? There was a lot of talk before the race last year that there might be a lot of motor problems, but that wasn't the case.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): It actually worked the opposite. Basically, the Handford wing is just a device that creates drag, and drag and power are measured in the same units. The Handford Device is, if you'd like, a parachute. And so it hangs off the back of the car there and drags the car down, just as effectively as the engine speeds the car up. And so you reach when the drag in the car and the power of the engine become the same, the thing will stop accelerating. So if you make the parachute bigger, you can obviously slow the car down a little.

L. White (Toyota): Another thing the Handford wing does well is reduce downforce. So I think the reason from a team standpoint there were concerns about the engine were everyone thought there'd be so much drag you would just have a very high duty cycle, with the driver's foot flat to the floor all the way around the racetrack. Which, on a perfect lap, that's true. But once the guys started running in the race, and start running in the draft, the drivers are actually gear-shifting, they gain so much speed with the draft down the straight they have to lift in the corners. So the duty cycle, form our standpoint, has been somewhat reduced. Certainly, last year, we saw great durability and great racing so we're all very much in favor of that (Handford) system.

Q: What is your view of an optimum engine formula?


L. White (Toyota): I think it's Robert's turn.

R. Clarke (Honda): An open and free design formula.

G. Specht (Ford): I guess that's a good way of putting it, Robert. What we want to maintain is the ability to use our creative juices and our energy and expertise to push the envelope. And I think that is one of the concerns that we all have, that it doesn't become so conservative that it doesn't really generate that interest on the part of us and our engineers, and you, and the fans. That's a key point.

Q: Why is high technology important to you?

G. Specht (Ford):  Well, in this series, that's part of what we try to
market - our technological expertise.  So we don't want to lose that.

L. White (Toyota): Certainly, we all want to work technology and prove our engineering and grow our young engineers and compete with each other. This is a big part of why we're all here, not just the fact that we compete with each other as companies, in the market place. And, if you posed that question as 'what would we like to see', we'd all like to see what Robert just described, what Greg just described. But I think we also accept the fact that there's going to have to be some degree of compromise, and we're all prepared to go - some of us more than others in the degree of significant compromise - but if you assume, and we've used this analogy among ourselves. If you assume that Formula One is a "10" on a scale of 1 to 10, and NASCAR is probably more than a 2 or a 3, probably more of a 3.5 in terms of it's technology for people who really know about it. CART's maybe an 8. We're hoping that somewhere between a 5 and a 7 is where we end up, and I think the 'other side' is probably hoping for something between a 3 and a 5. But for sure we'll have to see how those discussions come out. The 'plumb' is out there: one unified competitive series with races at the highest level in this country, the ability to export that series overseas, showcase it, bring back the fans, bring up the TV ratings, get some return on our investment and at the same time retain the ability to compete among ourselves, as companies, both in technology and in the marketplace.

P. Ray (Mercedes-Benz): Technology obviously is something that is exciting to a lot of people. Formula One is arguably the largest, most-watched motorsport in the world. It showcases very high technology, and clearly technology does sell. It creates a good image and it is very important to Mercedes-Benz to be involved in a high technology series. We're currently involved in several high-technology series. It's part of our program, it's part of why we compete in auto racing at all. And therefore maintaining a certain level of honesty where you can say 'this is our high technology engine' and not report it as high technology when they're really not, is not a marketing program we want to get involved in. So we want to maintain a certain level of technology, and would certainly hate to see that technology taken away in order just to compete.

R. Clarke (Honda): It's been reported before, and I'll say it again: Honda considers itself an engine company rather than an automobile or engine company. And we pride ourselves on the expertise and technology our company has. We like the challenge of showing that through our racing. And we basically entered this series because we viewed it as the premier racing series in North America. And that premier series should have very open and challenging rules. We've accepted the CART rules, they are of course to a degree limiting, particularly in materials. But then open in other areas to allowing our engineers to explore them. And we have found it to be a very big challenge, and we enjoy competing against our counterparts here. But as Paul said, it would be very disappointing to us to lose the ability to show that technology. We feel we are quite good at it, and to take that away, to take away the ability for us to express that on the track, also takes away the challenge to our engineers, and that is very important to Honda. We have three objectives to our program. One of course is to win on Sunday so we can sell on Monday. But the others are to motivate our associates throughout our company by being involved in such a series that showcases high technology. And the third being to train and develop engineers in our company. So, the technology is extremely important to Honda.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robert Clark
Teams Toyota Racing