CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi: This Week in Ford Racing 2002-04-23

CART FedEx Championship Series Ford and Cosworth Racing have enjoyed an unsurpassed amount of success at the Twin Ring Motegi in the four years that the facility has hosted a CART race. Since the Champ Cars first appeared at the ...

CART FedEx Championship Series

Ford and Cosworth Racing have enjoyed an unsurpassed amount of success at the Twin Ring Motegi in the four years that the facility has hosted a CART race. Since the Champ Cars first appeared at the state-of-the-art track in 1998, Ford-Cosworth has won all four CART races contested there, including two with the Cosworth XD engine in '98 and '99, and two in '00 and '01 with its replacement, the Cosworth XF. In the 17 CART races contested on oval tracks since the XF made its debut in 2000, Ford-Cosworth has scored 40 top-five finishes, nine victories and made 27 podium appearances.

BRUCE WOOD - Cosworth Racing CART Program Director

YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED SOME SUCCESS IN EACH OF THE FIRST TWO RACES THIS SEASON, BUT ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE RESULTS? "Yeah, I think so. Overall we're pretty pleased and I think that the XF engine is certainly a match for both Honda and Toyota. I would also say that probably Cosworth and Toyota are the most evenly matched with perhaps a small gap back to Honda. But I would also say that Honda seems to always start a little slower than we do at the beginning of the season before making rapid progress in the beginning of the season, whereas we always start with everything we've got. But as you say, we were fast in each of the first couple of races. Team Rahal lost Kenny Brack, Max Papis and [engineer] Don Halliday, and I must admit that we were slightly nervous as to how that would affect the team. Obviously the whole team went through a big upheaval and we were slightly nervous as to whether they would be able to maintain the winning ways they had last year. But I must say that so far they've looked absolutely fantastic. I think Jimmy [Vasser] looks completely revitalized and really looks like a man that could win the championship and Michel [Jourdain, Jr.], plenty of people could have written him off as a 'has been' in the past, but no question he's amazed a lot of people. The more he runs at the front I'm sure he's going to score a podium very soon and I'm hopeful that he can score his first win as well. He's not the sort of guy that's going to let his confidence run away with him so I guess we're hoping for great things from Michel. The Player's cars were fast in Mexico but had a very disappointing weekend in Long Beach where they just could not find the speed they wanted. But it's been a good couple of races and we're happy with our progress so far."

TEAM RAHAL WAS AS STRONG AS ANYBODY ON THE OVALS IN 2001, THE PLAYER'S DRIVERS HAVE DONE WELL IN OVAL RACES IN THE PAST AND MAX PAPIS IS PERHAPS THE BEST OVAL DRIVER TO HAVE NEVER WON ON A SUPERSPEEDWAY. YOU HAVE TO FEEL CONFIDENT THAT FORD-COSWORTH CAN BE VERY COMPETITIVE ON THE OVALS AGAIN THIS SEASON. "Our engine certainly still has the power to be on top on the ovals and as you say, nobody could better Team Rahal last year. Max, who I feel is perhaps the 'King of the Speedways,' with the number of races that he could have or should have won, could win that elusive 500-miler if his team can give him a good car. But yeah, we're very excited about going to Motegi this weekend. I guess that we're conscious of the fact that Honda and Toyota will be absolutely pulling all the stops out, especially if this is the last race there. We're not really expecting too much out of qualifying because we're not going there with a particularly fast qualifying spec, but I guess we're hoping that the race will come our way. I think we have five cars that certainly could be running near the front and economy should be less of an issue this year, but should it factor in during the race hopefully we'll still have that ace up our sleeve as well."

COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THE FACT THAT FORD-COSWORTH HAS WON FOUR STRAIGHT RACES AT THE TWIN RING MOTEGI SINCE IT OPENED IN 1998? "It's a fantastic record, and one of my proudest achievements is the fact that we've managed to win that race four times. It's a bit like the superspeedways in that it's a testament to engine power and I guess we've always shown to be at the top of the pile there because that's the lifeblood of what we do. And I think that any kind of record like that is nice to have, so it's meant a lot to us. Are we going to hold it for a fifth year running? Well I guess the odds have to be stacked against us, but you probably could've said that in each of the last couple of years. We'll just have to hope that we can maintain our winning ways, but I do believe that we have some of the best oval drivers in the series and if anybody can win the race they can."

DO YOU FEEL ANY ADDED PRESSURE BECAUSE YOU'VE WON FOUR CONSECUTIVE RACES AT MOTEGI OR DO YOU JUST CONTINUE TO DO YOUR THING? "We just keep on doing the same thing, really. At the end of the day it's worth 20 points and we treat it the same as any other race. I guess we would really love to win five in a row because no other race has been as successful for us and we haven't won four in a row anywhere else in the series. It would be nice to keep that tradition alive, but at the end of the day it's just like any other race on the schedule. I know for Honda and Toyota it's obviously a big focus and to them it's probably worth a whole lot more than 20 points, so they're probably under a lot of pressure to try and capture that elusive win. Hopefully that works to our advantage because they're under a lot more pressure to get a win there than we are."

ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT YOUR FOUR-RACE WINNING STREAK AT MOTEGI IS THAT A FORD-COSWORTH POWERED CAR HAS NEVER SAT ON THE POLE THERE. "I think Motegi is one of those places where it's quite easy to overtake, so if you've got a good car and start anywhere in the top 10 you can make it to the front in just a handful of laps. If you've got the best car or best car and engine combination then it's very unlikely anyone's going to be able to stop you because it's a place that's good to pass and drivers can get into a good rhythm. So I don't think where you start has a big effect on the end result. Last year Kenny [Brack] started sixth but clearly had the best combination and got the job done. It's one of those places that because we approach it much like any other race, although we have a qualifying spec of engine there, it's really not much of a step up on the race engine. I think that maybe the other guys have had a much bigger difference between their qualifying and race engine specs so they tend to look great in qualifying but maybe step back a bit behind us in the race trim."

CAN YOU POINT TO A SPECIFIC REASON AS TO WHY YOU'VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL AT MOTEGI? IS IT DUE TO THE DRIVERS AND TEAMS THAT YOU'VE HAD OR IS IT THAT THE ENGINE IS JUST THAT GOOD AT THIS TRACK? "It's a little bit of everything I guess. I think we've always been lucky to have some of the great oval drivers in the series. We had Michael [Andretti] for a long, long time, Adrian [Fernandez] for a long time and we've still got Max [Papis]. Jimmy [Vasser] has been a strong contender on the ovals in the past, Michel [Jourdain, Jr.] is coming along in that respect, and of course, Patrick [Carpentier] got his first career Champ Car victory last season on a superspeedway [Michigan]. But I think if you had to pick the four top oval drivers currently on the circuit, I guess you'd probably pick Michael, Max, Adrian and Kenny, and all of them have driven for us or still do drive for us, and I think that's played to our advantage. Motegi is also very hard on the cars and on the engines, so the teams that really know how to put a car together aren't going to have any of those silly failures that sometimes trouble all of us. Good teams know how to put together cars that are able to last the distance, and that's a very important part of being successful at Motegi."

THERE'S ALSO SOMETHING TO BE SAID ABOUT WHAT FORD-COSWORTH HAS ACCOMPLISHED IN OVAL RACES. SINCE THE XF WAS INTRODUCED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 2000 SEASON, THE OVAL TRACKS, REGARDLESS OF SIZE, HAVE BEEN WHERE YOU HAVE ENJOYED THE MOST SUCCESS. "Absolutely. I guess in years past it's been said that we have had the most top-end power but our driveability wasn't as good as the others. Last year I think we made some big, big steps with our driveability and this year with the advent of traction control that's enabled us to make even bigger steps. We like to think we've always had the most powerful engine and certainly it's a thing that we've always put the most work into. Whenever there was a choice to be made between power or driveability we always tend to go for the power option. Our ability to make a lot of power, coupled with the reliability that our engines have shown, and it's those two things that have paid dividends for us on the ovals."

SINCE THE XF DEBUTED IN 2000, THERE'S BEEN 17 OVAL RACES ON ONE MILE, 1.5-MILE AND TWO-MILE SUPERSPEEDWAYS. IN THOSE RACES, AT LEAST ONE CAR POWERED BY FORD-COSWORTH HAS FINISHED ON THE PODIUM, WHICH CERTAINLY SPEAKS TO THE POWER AND RELIABILITY THAT YOU'RE ABLE TO PRODUCE, ESPECIALLY IN THE 500-MILE RACES. "Well, there's no doubt about it that the 500-mile races have been good to us recently, which is funny because you don't have to go back too far into the mid-1990's to see that those races weren't so good for us. But certainly with the XF and during the last couple years with the XD, which won the first two races at Motegi, we've had some great results on the super speedways and the fast ovals. We kind of class Germany, Rockingham and Motegi all together to an extent, and all of them were very successful for us with two victories, including a one, two, three finish in Germany and a second-place result at Rockingham. I guess the ovals have kind of become our specialty, and I personally prefer the ovals to the road courses."

WHY IS THAT? "I just think that as a spectator it's more exciting racing. I don't know anybody who has actually seen an oval race in person who hasn't come away sort of 'wowed' by the whole experience. And I guess as an engineer it's just that much of a harsher test, particularly at places like Motegi where the engine is giving absolutely all it possibly can, which for us kind of makes it more exciting."

THE TWIN RING MOTEGI IS A UNIQUE FACILITY WITH SORT OF A TEARDROP SHAPED TRACK. DOES THAT PRESENT YOU WITH ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES OR PROBLEMS? "No, it doesn't present us with any particular challenges. The biggest thing about Motegi is its very high duty cycle because the drivers are on the throttle for most of the lap. It's also very high speed, whereas on a short oval the speed split drops several thousand RPM. At Motegi it's a very small speed split so it's more like a superspeedway in that the engine is constantly in that very high speed area. Because of that, it is a challenge for us and we do have a specific Motegi endurance cycle. When we sign the engine off at the beginning of the year for all the ovals, street and road courses with one endurance cycle, we have a different endurance cycle just for Motegi, which is that much harder. We've done that in each of the last three years just in recognition of that fact that it's a very harsh race for the engines."

IS THIS THE ONE RACE WHERE THE ENGINE IS UNDER THE MOST STRESS FOR THE LONGEST PERIOD OF TIME, EVEN THOUGH IT'S NOT A 500-MILE RACE? "It pretty much is. The 500-mile races nowadays with the Handford Wing result in so much drafting that nobody really wants to lead the race and they all sit in each other's slipstream. And to an extent, they all kind of cruise around during the 500-milers until the last 50 miles. Motegi doesn't tend to be like that. Instead it tends to be more a race from the beginning whereas the 500-milers are really only decided in the last few laps. Because the 500-mile races are such a lottery - you could have an absolutely fantastic engine and the perfect car but be punted off by somebody on a restart - we tend to be very conservative with the engine spec and the engine revs that we use. We figure that if you can make it to the end you've got as good a chance as anybody to win. Motegi tends to be more of a race for the entire 300 miles and we tend to run rev limits that are closer to what we run for the rest of the year and not as conservative."

WILL THAT BE AN EVEN BIGGER FACTOR THIS YEAR WITH THE NEW RULES THAT REQUIRE PITSTOPS ON CERTAIN LAPS IN HOPES OF ELIMINATING THE ECONOMY RUNS? NOW THAT DRIVERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO NOT RUN 'LEAN' AND GO ALL OUT FOR THE ENTIRE RACE, WILL THAT STRESS THE ENGINE EVEN MORE? "Well, it tended to be that everybody would go flat out anyway but would just have the fuel mixture leaned right out, which is actually worse for the engine. If anything, it'll probably be better for the engine because although everybody might run full rich for 20 laps, which they never would've done in the past, the power differential between full rich and full lean is not that great. But the temperatures in the engine go up dramatically at full lean so to run the whole race at minus 16 or something is actually much worse than to run the whole race at full rich. So, if anything, it's likely that the engines will actually see an easier life this year by running predominantly with full fueling."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Kenny Brack