CHAMPCAR/CART: Newman/Haas, Toyota press conference

Earlier today Newman/Haas Racing announced that it had reached an agreement with Cristiano da Matta to fill the seat vacated by Michael Andretti's move to Team KOOL Green in the FedEx Championship Series next year. The team also announced...

Earlier today Newman/Haas Racing announced that it had reached an agreement with Cristiano da Matta to fill the seat vacated by Michael Andretti's move to Team KOOL Green in the FedEx Championship Series next year. The team also announced that it would move from Ford to Toyota power for the upcoming FedEx Championship Series campaign. Participants are: Carl Haas, co-owner of Newman/Haas Racing; his drivers, Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi; and Jim Auft, Toyota's vice president of motor sports.

A couple of notes on our guests before we begin taking questions. Driver of the No. 11 Big K-Mart Route 66 Ford Lola, Christian Fittipaldi recently concluded his sixth season in the FedEx Championship Series in impressive fashion, winning the season-ending Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota at California Speedway, and collecting $1 million for the effort. His season also included podium performances of third at Portland and Mid-Ohio, and he scored championship points in 12 of 19 starts. He finished 12th in the championship with 96 points. Cristiano da Matta, driver of the No. 97 Pioneer WorldCom Toyota Reynard enjoyed an outstanding sophomore season in the FedEx Championship Series, which included his first victory in the Target Grand Prix at Chicago Motor Speedway. He also recorded a podium finish of third at Cleveland, and he finished fifth or better in eight of 20 starts. He finished 10th in the championship with 112 points. Newman/Haas Racing is the second-winningest team in CART history with 58 victories, including three this year and 62 pole positions. The team has won three championships in its 18 years of competition with Mario Andretti in 1984, Michael Andretti in 1991 and Nigel Mansell in 1993. Toyota recently concluded its fifth and most successful season in the FedEx Championship Series, having claimed five victories and seven pole positions in 22,000 events. Paced by Juan Montoya, who led a series-high 820 laps, Toyota-powered drivers led 1,023 of 2,830 laps contested during the season, more than any other manufacturer. Toyota's 275 manufacturers' championship points obliterated its previous high total of 80 points established last year.

Q Congratulations to Carl and Jim and everyone on the new arrangement. Perhaps if I could just ask Cristiano, if you could talk about -- I mean, it was a fairly involved process, I think it is fair to say, that saw you finally arrive at Newman/Haas racing, and if you could talk about what it is about Newman/Haas racing that really attracted you there? Cristiano da Matta: Well, I think the whole team has been proven over many, many years, and they have been competitive. I cannot remember here one year that they have not been competitive. I think at least they won a race at least every year after they opened. I think maybe one year they didn't, but so that's big stuff itself. I think it is a competitive team. They were fighting for the championship this year, and I think putting everything together with Toyota, the team wants to go through that first stage of one getting used to the other. I think we can fight to be championship contenders and try to fight for the championship, of course.

Q I guess if I could ask Carl, if you could sort of turn that around and say what in particular it is about Cristiano that made him so high on your list? Carl Haas: You know, myself and our team have been watching Cristiano's career in racing. To start with, I actually watched him when he raced the Indy Lights series, and obviously very much so during the year 2000. Myself and Paul Newman and our engineers, our entire team, felt that Cristiano is very special race car driver and had lots and lots of potential, and we felt that he could win races with our team.

Q A couple of questions. Cristiano, this arrangement, we heard it was on, we heard it was off; why did it take so long? Christian da Matta: I'm not sure I can speak about everything now, but the deal has been done in a little while. We just took a little bit for us to announce it because we wanted to announce everything at the same time -- the engine change, too. It took a little while. I would say that it was not easy, first of all the situation, the contract situation for both parts was difficult. Once we arrange all those stuff, that was the thing that took us longer to adjust.

Q Was there any period of time that you thought that you might stay where you were? Christian da Matta: I knew it was going to be very difficult to stay where I was.

Q Why? Christian da Matta: Well, first of everything, I had this opportunity at Newman/Haas that I thought it was better for me, and, of course, knowing that it was better for me, I really wanted to take it. Like my heart was here already, even though I was still driving for PPI, and I pushed very hard with everybody, Carl Haas and everybody here who tried to make this deal happen. And, of course, Carl Haas made this big effort and brought me over here. I think the same way I wanted to join this team, he wanted me to drive for his team. It was just a matter of putting all the papers together and make it happen.

Q What, if any, sponsors are you bringing with you to Newman/Haas? Christian da Matta: Well, right now, I don't have any sponsors I am bringing with me to Newman/Haas, apart from a personal sponsor of mine. It is not even signed yet, but it is more likely going to come with me.

Q Carl, just the decision to go with the Toyota engine, do you see that as -- like we saw Honda, who struggled after several years in development and all of the sudden it became the -- in general, of choice, that you needed to contend for a championship. Do you see that happening with Toyota now? Carl Haas: Obviously, I have been following them in the year 2000, the great gains that they have made. Without going into lots of details, we explored the situation, looked at their facility and type of operation that they have. We came to the conclusion that they are getting stronger and stronger and feel that they have total, total commitment towards this program. They wanted to win races and win championships. And the 2000 season certainly showed that they were capable of doing that. And having won races in 2000, pole positions, we felt that the engine, you know, if anything is going to improve for next year. Well, the bottom line is we are kind of honored that Toyota was willing to go with our team, and I think that they knew the capabilities of our team. Having said that, we felt that being with Toyota is going to help us achieve what the goals are. We are very, very happy about it.

Q Now, Toyota came to you and proposed this? Carl Haas: Well, I don't know who came to who, but I would say I came -- initially, I went to them. I think that's correct. I think that the opening discussions -- I went to Toyota.

Q Carl, did you consider Buddy Rice at all for this position? Carl Haas: No, not really. I think Buddy Rice sent me a resume of his career. He certainly looks like he's an up-and-coming driver, but we weren't going in that direction though.

Q How long was the list of candidates for the job? Was it Cristiano all the way or did you interview other drivers? Carl Haas: Well, I've got to think that out. When it really comes right down to it, I think I focused on Cristiano and really didn't seek a lot of other drivers. Although, there were a couple other opportunities which I'd just assume not speak about. But our main name, and I think our team kind of agreed with it; that it would be -- that's the guy that we wanted. I think Christian Fittipaldi was aware of that. He liked him and they know each other and make a good match as teammates. That's one factor.

Q For Mr. Auft from Toyota, how important is it for Toyota to get a team the caliber of Newman/Haas to run its engines? Jim Auft: Obviously, very important for us, to add them to the Ganassi organization, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, of course, very important for us. Carl's history in racing goes back many years, and obviously for us to pick up a team with three championships, 58 victories, it is going to add a tremendous effort to our program for next year. And having said that, obviously we are in this to win a championship, and I think with a team the caliber of Newman/Haas Racing, and along with the drivers, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta, it is going to help us move in a great step towards that direction.

Q I guess questions for Cristiano, first of all, did you initiate the talks with Carl or did they come to you? And once you saw the ride was open, how did the first contact initiate? Christian da Matta: Actually, I don't remember who started first. But I remember talking to Carl a lot earlier than this seat was open. And to be honest with you, the negotiations -- not the negotiations started quite early in the year. If I remember well, probably May or June we were already talking about. So, it was a long process. But your question, I don't remember right now. I think Carl came to me first. I don't remember. But, of course, I always had the interest, and I remember back in 1998 when I was still racing Lights, I had a conversation with Carl down at Michigan, and that was actually the first time I met him.

Q Christian, just your thoughts on the new teammate, and briefly, the new engine, if we could? Christian Fittipaldi: I think both of them are going to be very positive for us. By no means, I think Michael was the real -- I learned a lot with him, but sometimes changes in life are very good, and I wish Michael all the best. But at the same time, hopefully working very close together with him and with the new engine, not only him, but our team is going to be very, very strong. And the factor of that, the championship this year was won by Gil with about 165 points only, and believe it or not, when I missed five races, I scored 130 points, if I am not mistaken. So even missing five races, not racing at all. So, it was very competitive. Like the racing in the CART series is very, very close, and you definitely -- one of the key factors right now is for you to be able to finish all of the races, or at least as much as you can, in the Top-6, Top-5, and that is going to play a major role for you at the end of the year.

Q For Jim and Carl, I'd like to get their perspective vis-a-vis Cristiano and having Toyota experience, and how much that -- in terms of development, and how much that entered into the decision-making process and having some substantial Toyota experience? Carl Haas: Certainly, you know, as I said earlier, I considered Cristiano a top race car driver. Still early in his career, a long way to go. Yes, I don't think it hurt anything to having -- for Cristiano, having been with Toyota this year, and -- which gave him familiarization how the engine acts, and, you know, its driveability, its power, etc., And being used to it. I think that was a plus. Having said that, I'm not sure that, you know, the team went with him because he had previously been driving Toyota. Although, I would say that it is fair to say that certainly it didn't make Toyota unhappy that Cristiano was going to be the driver.

Q Jim, your perspective? Jim Auft: If I could follow up on that. We are very pleased that Cristiano is going to stay with a team that's going to be utilizing the Toyota engines. Having won his first race last year, I believe it was our third race for the year. It certainly is a great thing for us to have a driver that's familiar with the engine and familiar with the support team, the track support, that we bring to racing. And I think, you know, joining with the Newman/Haas Racing team is going to be a great benefit for both the team, as well as Toyota, to have a driver that is familiar with the engine and knows inner workings, as well as having worked with some of the people that are going to be supporting him for next year. I think that is just going to make this effort just that much stronger as we go into next season.

Q Carl, you had a long affiliation with Ford. Being that you had that long affiliation with Ford, what made you change your mind and want to go to the Toyota engine? Carl Haas: Well, it is a difficult question. Certainly, we've had a long-term relationship with Ford, and it has been a good relationship, but I think my bottom line was that -- oh, what I said before: This racing is a tough business. And we really saw that at the conclusion that Toyota was going to be tough to beat the next year, and they were probably -- had great, great commitment and really want to succeed, which, of course, they have been doing in 2000, and a lot more that we can find out for 2001. You know, you really weigh it and make a decision, obviously, and it is based on that you have better racing success.

        Q  Carl, what is the status of Peter Gibbons for next year? 
        Carl Haas:  Peter Gibbons, you know, has been with our team for a
long time, and Peter Gibbons is  -- yes, he's staying with us. 

Q For Christian, how does it feel to be the big brother on a team now, the senior member of the driving staff now? Carl Haas: Could I make another comment on that? And then Christian can answer it himself. I think that Christian is driving for us because we all have faith in Christian. You know, he showed his potential in winning the Fontana race a couple of weeks ago. They say you make your own luck, but in fairness, Christian did have some circumstances, many circumstances, and some of them bad luck, our fault or whatever; that he didn't do better. But he was really in a position to do so on many occasions. He qualified well for almost all of the races, and I'm -- this press conference, obviously we're talking more about Cristiano, simply because he is new to the team. But I certainly, and Paul Newman and the team, certainly think great of Christian and I think it will be a good combination, because I think -- I see it right now, you know, in the heat of battle everybody is out to win for themselves. But right now, there's good chemistry between Christian and Cristiano, which is good to have in a team. I think Christian can hold his own, no problem. I look forward to much more successes from Christian. If I didn't believe that, Christian wouldn't be with us.

Q Christian, again, now you're the senior member -- I want to give him a chance to talk some more. Christian Fittipaldi: I honestly -- like for me, it doesn't really change a lot. Like I have some experience with the team and I think that's going to be really good. But at the same time, I want to try and get the chance to work as close as possible, because above all, the way the series is really competitive. I think both drivers need to get their act together until when it comes to race time; and then when it comes to race time, you guys decide on the track who is going to take the win. But as far as I am concerned, I want to try to work as close as possible until race time, until like five minutes before the start of the race. And then when the flag drops, you go out after your own bread out there. But unfortunately, the situation wasn't exactly 100% with Michael towards the end. Although, I have -- I rate Michael if not the best, one of the best guys out there, and he's a very special person, and he has his interests, I have mine; and at some times, it was a little bit difficult to interact all together. And I think with the way the setup of the team is right now, it is going to be a lot better. And I think this was something that we were missing a little bit in the team, and I think that is going to be huge for next year.

Q Two questions. First for Jim. Jim, this is a big announcement. Can we expect any more announcement from Toyota for new teams for next year, and if so, if what time frame? Jim Auft: We have some other teams that will be using Toyota engines next year. But obviously with respect to the announcements to come, I would prefer that teams make those, as opposed to them coming from Toyota at this time.

Q Okay. Could you say how many cars you think you'll support next year in total? Jim Auft: We will have nine cars next year.

Q Carl, I guess the sponsors of Texaco and Havoline and K-Mart are still the same; is that correct? Carl Haas: Yes, that's correct.

Q They are American companies. Was there any pressure from them at all to find an American driver or did they pretty much give you free rein to choose whoever you wanted? Carl Haas: No, I didn't have any pressure to have one driver. Texaco, obviously, liked Michael Andretti, and we did have some discussion on that; and I had advised Texaco that Michael wasn't going to be with us for 2001.

Q Are those sponsorships that you are currently going to stay on for a number of years? Or when do those sponsorships expire? When do you have to renew those? Can you comment on that? Carl Haas: I think I would not have a lot of comments on it. I think K-Mart goes through next year and Texaco has several years on it.

Q Jim and Cristiano, having run the Toyota engine with each other before, do you think you are going to be able to give Christian and the rest of the team a good leg-up on early testing next year for getting them acclimated with the differences between what they have been running? Jim Auft: Obviously, I think, you know, with Cristiano's past years with Toyota, I think it is going to obviously help him to provide maybe Christian some advice relative to the driveability of the car, things of that nature. But probably the true test of that comes when Christian gets in the car and feels it for himself. But it certainly is great to have a driver like Cristiano that is going to be sitting in a car powered by a Toyota engine, and knowing what, you know, the engine is capable of. So that in itself is going to be a real advantage for us, and I'm sure that Cristiano will be willing to share whatever information that he can with Christian. I know that our track support guys and all of us at Toyota really did appreciate all of the effort that Cristiano gave us last year, the feedback relative to the engine, the driveability, the performance of it, etc. He is one of the truly great drivers in the series, and we are just thankful that he is going to be driving another Toyota-powered car next year. Christian da Matta: For me, it is always difficult to express feelings in words, right. And I have been talking to Christian a little bit about the engine before, but it is like Jim said: Only when he gets in the car he's going to feel what the engine is like. And, of course, for the team, I have taught told as much as I could to the team so far about the engine. But only when they get all this data and when they see the car running, they listen to the engine, just those things that you can only get when you're on the racetrack. But I think just for being around, for knowing how TRD works and knowing the people, knowing how most of them -- close friends of most of them in TRD. So I think in this part it helps; definitely it is not going to hurt. For me it is a pleasure to be with Toyota again. They are the engine manufacturer that I have been with since I started in this series. So, it is good to have the opportunity again, especially coming from the year we've had and knowing that I think we are going to be even stronger next year. Carl Haas: We're certainly moving along with the engine and development.

Q Toyota has announced their withdrawal from off-road racing and Toyota of Japan has committed to a Formula One effort; how much does this affect the commitment to the CART series? Jim Auft: Let me see if I can separate the question. The off-road program that we have been running over the past 18, 19 years has really been a successful program. One, of course, with the driver Ivan Stewart, a lot of success there, a lot of race victories/ and I guess you get to the point eventually of saying, well, you know, how long do we need to run in this series. But the Formula One program and what we do here in the United States are separate programs, and one doesn't really affect the other one. So, we made the decision here in the United States that we had been in the off-road program for many, many, many years and we wanted to concentrate our efforts in CART, and perhaps take a look at some other activities as the racing programs go along in the future. So, Formula One really doesn't play on anything that we do in the United States, I guess, to answer your question.

Q We always hear what that when you pull out of one series, we always worry about you pulling out of CART or something else, and I kind of felt that you all had the total commitment to CART. Carl Haas: I might just add on to that . That's the feeling that I have received from Toyota. Again, that they are really, really committed this program, and I believe that. I guess that you can say the same thing about Honda. You know, they have a Formula One program that's been running for a while. They certainly have not gotten out of the CART series.

Q Carl, how will the possible merger of Chevron and Texaco affect the team's sponsorship package? Carl Haas: Well, I have no idea. That's the $24 question, or the $64 question. I don't really know. I'm not -- I really haven't got time to try and second-guess anything like that. And in the meantime, we've got to concentrate on what we're doing. I have no idea.

Q Jim, how will the increase in engine demand and off-season testing impact your motor sports program? Jim Auft: Well, we are prepared to service the number of vehicles or the number of cars that we are going to be supplying power for the next year. So, I think we are geared up for the substantial increase over the five cars that we provided engines for last year. But we have everything in order and we really don't anticipate any problems. Our program has been coming along and has been growing over the last several years and we're prepared for next year.

Q How much information exchange will there be next year between Toyota teams, if anyone can answer that? Carl Haas: I'm going to answer that, and then I'll let Toyota answer it for themselves afterwards. I welcome the conversations we've had that -- particularly on the engine program; that there would be a lot of cross-over information back and forth. So, we get the best out of it. If you do have a number of top teams run the engine, then you give all that data to Toyota, I think it helps everybody. I think it is the way of really of gaining performance, and the sharing of the information is a benefit to everyone. And I think there's more to gain than to lose. Much more to gain than to lose. Jim Auft: I guess if I could add to that, obviously, we feel that the more information that we can get back from each one of the teams and then absorb, analyze and take it apart and then provide information back to each one of the teams, the better off we're going to be as a whole. And as we all know, each one of the teams and the drivers compete as individuals and as individual teams while they are on the racetrack. But certainly, gathering the information and being able to provide it to each and every one of the teams, and let them use it to the best of their ability is what we're all about. So, the more information that we can provide and the greater the feedback amongst teams that we are going to be providing engines for is just going to make this whole program that much stronger. And as we mentioned earlier, that's really what we're about. We're about helping the teams win driver championships and about Toyota winning an engine manufacturer championship. And we certainly hope that the cooperation that we anticipate from the teams is going to get us a long, long way in that direction for next year.

Q Jim, maybe I have been more asleep at the switch than usual, but it just occurred to me, I'm not entirely sure what your plans are next year in terms of the engines. Are you going to have a new, let's say, Phase VII engine, or is it going to be the Phase VI developed or how would you characterize it? Jim Auft: We are actually making an evolution to the current engine. So we have added some improvements to it, things that are going to be, you know, we hope and anticipate of great benefit for the teams. We have had the opportunity to run the new engine, the revised engine on the 9.0 (ph) and have increased the things that we are hoping to increase, which is horsepower, etc. So, yeah, to answer your question, we have a bit of a change. It is not a totally new engine, but we are making some changes that we are hopeful are going to bring us to the front of the pack at each and every one of the races. Hope that answers your question without giving too much additional information away.

Q Again, it is going to be -- I don't know what the exact designation would be, but let's say a Phase VI-B, let's say, rather than a Phase VII or something like that? Jim Auft: We're actually going to call it Phase VII. The HVF80 (ph) think it is so we're actually making a new designation for the engine.

        We want to particularly thank our guests Carl Haas, Cristiano
da Matta, Christian Fittipaldi and Jim Auft.  Gentleman, thanks for being
with us.  Best of luck in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. 

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi , Nigel Mansell , Paul Newman , Buddy Rice , Peter Gibbons , Carl Haas , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing