An Interview With: KEITH WIGGINS PAUL STODDART ROBERT DOORNBOS DAN CLARKE ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's media teleconference as we continue to gear up for the 2007 season opener, the Vegas Grand Prix which will take place in the streets of Las...
An Interview With:
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's media teleconference as we continue to gear up for the 2007 season opener, the Vegas Grand Prix which will take place in the streets of Las Vegas April 6-8 with the race coming on Sunday the 8th.
Today we are here for a driver announcement or a team announcement I should say with one of our newest Champ Car teams, Minardi Team USA. We are currently joined by the owners of Minardi Team USA, Mr. Keith Wiggins and Paul Stoddart. Thank you for joining us today.
We are also joined by their driver lineup and for the announcement of today's drivers we will throw things over to Mr. Keith Wiggins. Keith?
KEITH WIGGINS: Hi, everybody. Welcome back. The winter, we've stretched it out as long as we can to keep everything excited, but I think following on from our last announcement, which obviously was the excitement of having Paul come and take the team, we've been rebranded. I thought it was rather ironic to introduce a brand new team but each year you keep hearing my voice.
But we're still here and under this new setup we're excited to improve further on what we did last year, and as a key to that obviously is getting best drivers we possibly could.
So I think we are very excited to announce that Robert Doornbos and Dan Clarke will be our driver lineup for 2007.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, very exciting announcement. Champ Car followers will obviously recognize both of those, Robert who has been testing with the team through the first three open tests in the preseason, and then Dan Clarke who was second in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings, a year ago won his first pole with a great run at Road America and finished on the podium in Denver.
Mr. Stoddart, another step forward for your team, tell us about your thought process heading into today.
PAUL STODDART: Thanks Eric, I'm happy to announce both Robert and Dan, in fairness to the media on the call, Robert was probably the worst kept secret in Champ Car. No doubt Robert was a clear target of ours when really the whole idea came together last year. His name was very much in the frame for the driver. Took a while to get it all put together but pleased to say that he will be driving for us in the 2007 season and doing that in conjunction with his Formula 1 testing duties for Red Bull Racing.
Dan is well known to the Champ Car circuit with a good rookie year last year and he was loyal throughout testing while we were trying to put a contract together. Dan actually turned down the offer to do a test driver with another team because he felt he wanted to be with Minardi and to keep the continuity from last year into 2007, and I think he's going to be a very, very, very fast and successful driver this year. I think he's proved that he's earned the name Speedy Dan and I think he will do a fantastic job.
It was important to us to actually have some continuity in the team and to have an experienced teammate albeit coming into his second year, but an experienced teammate nevertheless for Robert. All in all, I think we've got a fantastic lineup and I think we'll be, as Keith said, looking to improve on last year's results.
ERIC MAUK: Dan, you are first by order of seniority, you have 14 starts under your belt in the Champ Car World Series, and coming back for your second year, seven Top 10's last year on your way to second in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings.
As Paul said you wanted to come back to a team and have a little bit of continuity. How important is it to you to stay with the same squad as you head into your second season?
DAN CLARKE: Well, ever since Mexico, really, just wanted to start the next season right away and get on with everything, just like Keith was eager to get the ball rolling.
But of course, there's a lot of budget stuff and whatever for the people to negotiate, so it has been a long winter. But as Paul said, I stayed loyal to the team and I believe in continuity and I built a relationship here. And even though I didn't get to test or drive, I stayed focused on the season and training hard and coming on to a test and believe that it would just happen eventually and kept preparing. Now it feels like there's work just to be continued before the first race.
ERIC MAUK: Heading into your second Champ Car season and you've been around the circuit and seen what Champ Car has to offer and seen most of the venues, tell us about your personal expectations for year two.
DAN CLARKE: Well, I expect to go out and use the experience that I've built, and now like I said, the same relationships with the team, it's all very relaxed and like a family and we don't are to worry about each other. We know how each other works. I expecting to out and use my experience, and I feel quite relaxed now even without having driven the car from witnessing the tests.
I've heard from many sources that it feels very much similar just with more downforce. Someone said that steering is even lighter and power shift, I'm sure it's just going to take a session or a couple of sessions to get used to. I'm quite relaxed that all of the preparation of making it through the winter is going to pay off and we are just going to set off easily and build from there.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We are all definitely looking forward to seeing you out on the racetrack in Vegas.
Robert, two-year part-time veteran of the Formula 1 wars, made 11 starts through 2005 and 2006. In 2005 he raced for Paul Stoddart with Minardi. In 2006 he made three starts with Red Bull Racing. 2004 he was third in FIA International F3000 Championship, which is the same series that has given us a number of Champ Car stars in the last few seasons such as Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira. Robert has made a run from all three of the open tests we've had this year and has been fast running in the Top-5 in many of the sessions.
Robert, congratulations on today's announcement and give us some of your thoughts as you head into your rookie Champ Car season?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Thanks for announcing it. I didn't expect to race for Paul Stoddart again after 2005, but yeah, I'm happy to be joining the team again. Obviously it's on a different side of the Atlantic. But no, I felt right away very comfortable. The team did an amazing job if you ask me since the first test at Sebring where time was not on our side. I flew in the night before the test and we had to make a seat during the night. It was not until but we closed the gap to the fastest drivers and I think the last test was positive as well. Basically the winter has been too long and I can't wait to get started racing again.
ERIC MAUK: Talk to us about the DP01, a brand new race car, you've done well in it so far, tell us about your thoughts and what -- how the car feels to you.
ROBERT DOORNBOS: To be honest to you, it was quite a bit of change again. For sure if I would have jumped out from 2000 straight into this car, I would have felt more comfortable from the first lap.
But Formula 1, you get very spoiled in F1. There's so many gadgets on the car and here it's a bit more back-to-basics. Like that steering was a bit lighter; but for me it's a bit heavier because I'm used to power steering. All that stuff, it's good to have the traction control on your right feet again and to feel the car, work the car. It's brand new for everybody, and so it's not so easy to find the sweet spot straightaway but I think we are definitely going into the right direction.
In a way it makes such a big difference with these cars. The car overall is like 200 kilos heavier than the Formula 1 car. You feel that in the corners and you have a bit less downforce. No, I think still, the lap times are quite impressive; if you saw also Laguna that people are running almost a second quicker than what they did with the Lola. Yeah, I can only expect a great season of racing with a good race car.
Q: I wanted to ask Dan about how the lack of knowledge of the car is going to affect his ability to throw the car around in his characteristic style from last year and whether he's going to be intimidated by learning the car on the street circuit.
DAN CLARKE: Well, I can't deny that made I had a bit of a style like that to begin the season, but thanks to the team, I mellowed out a little bit with driving the car.
But no, I've been through a lot of new street circuit last year, so I have the experience of arriving in new places and finding a few unexpected situations, but just having to adapt literally on Friday morning. So, I don't know, just take it in stride like I did last year and by the end of the year we showed that we can adapt quite quickly.
Q: A question to Robert, the fact is that the series will not be televised in the Netherlands, and how do you feel that the Dutch audience will back it?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: Well, thanks for the question. Well, be to be honest I think that the most important thing is that there are a lot of spectators at the circuit and obviously the television will not be like it is in Formula 1. But I heard somebody whispering in my ear that it will be broadcasted in Holland, so I will just wait for the announcement. If not, for sure I'll invite all of my fans and make sure that the two races in Europe are going to be great.
PAUL STODDART: I'm almost certain it's going to be broadcast in Holland. You will have to wait for the announcement, but I think that problem is going to disappear.
Q: In all of the series or just the race in Assen?
PAUL STODDART: I believe all of the series but let's wait and see.
Q: I understand there's in interest in Red Bull that they might be supporting Robert and also it might show on the car; is that a fact?
ROBERT DOORNBOS: I'll be a Red Bull supported driver like Allmendinger was supposed to be and Jani is. I don't think there's a lot of Red Bull livery on the car. I think the most important thing is overall, my helmet, it's a bit like A.J. had as well last year. But I'm convinced that the team did a mega job in facing the car and we'll just have to wait and fee for Vegas how it looks.
ERIC MAUK: The Champ Car television package internationally is something that they are working on very difficult conveniently and we expect to have an announcement on the full international package hopefully within the next week or two.
Q: I guess maybe a question to Keith, you have this sort of interesting situation where you have a driver with one year of experience in Champ Car but no experience in the particular car itself, while you have Robert with three tests in the car, but not much -- no experience in terms of actual, you know, in terms of actual, you know, actual Champ Car competition and just how you think -- how you think that dynamic is going to work particular any if the first weekend at Las Vegas.
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, we are actually just going to morph the two of them together and we'll have the perfect solution.
No, I think it's obviously a consideration in our driver choices as well. There's no question in my mind they have both got very high talent and that's the first thing, because if they don't have that, you're never going to get anywhere anyway. With the events we do, the street races, it's all about people being able to push and make the maximum out of a situation that is not perfect and get the best out of the car and the situation.
I think you said it right; they have both got experience, and the good thing is they have both got different experiences and I hope that both will draw off of each other. One has got more experience of driving some of those cars and one has got some important knowledge of the events and has got some under his belt. I think to be honest if they have both got the talent and the experiences together, if we work as a good team, then, you know, we'll have a good outcome.
Q: Either of the others, you're going with a second-year driver in Dan Clarke, who I believe finished 12th in the series last year, and a rookie, and there are several experienced drivers who, in fact, finished higher in the standings last year, I think particularly Andrew Ranger who is Canadian, being a little chauvinist here. Any reason why some of these more experienced drivers didn't get more consideration from you folks or do you know something that has not been announced that might be forthcoming about their futures?
KEITH WIGGINS: Paul, do you want me to --
PAUL STODDART: No, it's all over to you, Keith.
KEITH WIGGINS: Thank you very much. I think the answer is in life, people, of course, everybody manages, everybody has opinions, right, and some people have beliefs in certain people and I think some people have more experience at picking drivers and choosing them. I think there's a lot of good drivers out there. But circumstances are never always the same.
I believe some of the drivers that are out there that have finished high up in the championship have finished high up in the championship several years, but they have not won it, so that probably gives you my opinion; that it's time to always look for the new people that are coming in who have the aggression and a fresh approach and are still hungry to win and haven't forgotten how to win. At the same time you have people like Andrew Ranger, a similar character, he's young and he's still fired up.
But I think it's clear to say with Paul, obviously there's a relationship with Robert and with us, there's a relationship with Dan and we've already touched on the fact that continuity is important. There's a chemistry about the relationships with the people that you work well together with. So it's logical we would go with some people we feel comfortable can do the job rather than someone we haven't worked with in the past unless they stand out and shine.
So I think it's a number of factors, like all of these decision are. They are made up of a number of key factors, but make no doubt, we believe these drivers, from our experiences, are capable of doing the job, and you don't always judge them by different circumstances that have gone before. So we believe in these guys, and the chemistry has been there and is built up.
Continued in part 2