CHAMPCAR/CART: PKV Racing teleconference transcript, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Since you last raced in this series, the series has changed ownerships and there's a lot of concern about the future of open-wheel racing in North America. What is your take on the future of this series after being...

Continued from part 1

Q: Since you last raced in this series, the series has changed ownerships and there's a lot of concern about the future of open-wheel racing in North America. What is your take on the future of this series after being away for a couple of years?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I've been following CART mostly on the sports side. I've been watching most of the races on TV while I was away. I know most of the things that have been going on, mostly on the sports side. Obviously I know a little bit on, let's say, the organization side, I know a little bit of what's going on, but maybe I don't know enough to give you a proper answer.

But I can say right now I think the direction that Champ Car has taken over this last year I think is the correct direction to go. I think with (Kevin) Kalkhoven showing how serious he is about this business, this series, by buying Cosworth and having such a great package TV package for the year, I think that all shows the people there in command of the series, they are here not just playing around. They are here seriously and they want to see this thing happen and see this series being as successful as it was in the past.

So I see a good future for the series. In my eyes I see a good future of the series; otherwise, I wouldn't have any interest to come back here, too. I came back because I believe in the series, I believe in the true sport that the series is, and I think that this is the place to be.

Q: For either Dan or Jim or Jimmy, I would like to know if you foresee a role in the future for Ryan Dalziel and Bjorn Wirdheim with the team, and that is if there's any consideration of perhaps adding a third car to the team, maybe not this year or maybe next year, I don't know.

DAN PETTIT: Yes, we've looked at him very hard, and I think in the future we will continue to look at him and probably there may be a spot for him. But this year we are concentrating on a two-car team and if events come down the road here that says we would have three cars, we would do it. But at this point, the answer is he is a future person that we would look at hard. We have a lot of respect for him, think he's a good driver and we'd take a serious look at him. But right now, we're just concentrating on the two cars.

Q: Cristiano, since you left the Champ Car World Series, I don't think much has changed in the technology of the cars, except maybe there's been a reduction in horsepower for the longevity of the engines and no traction control. And you're coming from Formula 1 which has been highly sophisticated. I imagine this is going to be more of a drivers-skills series to you than the super technology that you had in Formula 1, and is that going to be more enjoyable for you as a driver? And secondly, now that they have equalized the weight of the drivers, is that going to affect your competitiveness?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I think the fact that there is less technology and it's a bit more up to the driver over here is one of the main reasons why I chose to race in Champ Car is because the race car driver, as a sportsman, you want to try to measure yourself against the best guys in the business, but obviously in the same similar conditions as possible. Because if the cars start to be too different from each other, it's difficult to see who is being the best driver out there.

So, I think actually with the weight rule, there's always been a lot of talk about this, the weight of the driver and the car together, I think is the correct thing to do. Because if the guy has an advantage to be lighter and the other guy is heavier, he doesn't have to pay a penalty just because he was born like that, and I think it's a good rule and I support it. I just don't think it's going to affect my competitiveness at all.

Q: One question I would have I guess maybe for Dan would be, you and Kevin are still relatively new to the business of racing, and I just wonder if you could maybe discuss or talk a little bit about the input that you got from your partner, Mr.. Vasser, on basically a lot of the stuff you've done here in terms of bringing in Jim McGee, and now obviously higher Cristiano?

DAN PETTIT: For myself, I'm the newest, of course. Kevin has been around the racing for some time and active as an owner for a little bit longer than I have, but the one thing we have been is we are fairly good business people. We looked at what makes a great team last year versus the teams that weren't very great, and we could see they had certain elements that the not-so-great teams had, and the first was they had a very knowledgeable manager. We just didn't have the guy that could run it to the peak that it needed to be. Although we had a good one that organized it well, I think we came to the conclusion very quickly that we needed a super manager with a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, and as Jim came on the radar screen, we knew we had to have Jim. We are just thrilled that he was happy enough to come with us.

As far as the other elements, we could see that, you know, there is a difference in the cars and the cars have to have someone like a Jim and his engineers working on the car and getting the elements right.

The other thing is we needed a good driver, a great driver. We have that in Jimmy Vasser. But when you look at the good teams, you could see that there's a huge advantage when a two-driver team had two good drivers in there and they could communicate and get the setups right very quickly and I think we missed that. And when we looked at how these other guys set up so quickly and we had to struggle, we could see we needed another very good driver, and that's when we started looking around. And when Cristiano came on the scene, we just started talking. Although we did not compete against the Newman/Haas team, we waited for them to give us their blessing, and when that happened, we started talking very seriously with Cristiano and eventually he agreed to come on board. I think that put together the last element that we needed to really go forward. So that was our observation. And Jimmy, who we rely on heavily to give us the right advice, has kept giving us the people and the right advice, and so we're just thrilled that we now have all of the elements.

Q: Jimmy, for you, if you could maybe kind of take the broad view here and talk about from the series, the overall standpoint, as word started to filter out that Cristiano was going to land at PKV, I guess there was a feeling that it was probably better for the series as a whole to have a second really strong, experienced -- obviously a champion at PKV and make PKV a very strong two-car team rather than having him at Newman/Haas as a three-car team and overall, that it was obviously good for PKV but probably better for the series overall to have him at PKV than to have -- than to sort of, you know, augment an already powerful team at Newman/Haas. I wonder if you could maybe --

JIMMY VASSER: I think from my standpoint, that wasn't our focus at all in what's the best interest of the series. We're just very selfish in wanting to have what's best for PKV and the other guys we looked at, both Ryan Dalziel and Bjorn Wirdheim were fantastic, very well accomplished, fast drivers. But, I mean, you have the opportunity to bring in an ex-champion with the race wins and the experience that Cristiano has, immediately, you know, the difference is a fast rookie or a champion. It's purely in the best interests of our racing team that we made our decision.

And I think that, you know, the fallout of that is, yeah, I think you're right, I think it is great for Champ Car, too. But I think that's just one of the consequences of him coming to our team. We're just fully focused on putting this race team in the winner's circle, and like I said earlier, putting some trophies on the shelf. And Cristiano was the best man for the job and we feel victorious in the fact that we got him.

Q: Cristiano, again, welcome back to the series, and I guess you'll get a lot of practice in the next few days at moving that funny thing people call a gear shift lever in a Champ Car and the Grand Am car after having dealt with paddles and the like for a couple of years.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, being it's only two years in the paddles, but I think there is some area that I'm going to find a little bit difficult to come back to 100% with Champ Car will be I think the power steering that I had in the F-1, I don't have in the Champ Cars. I think this is going to -- I'm probably going to have a sore arm on the first couple of days of testing.

But, I'm ready. I'm very well prepared physically. I haven't been stopped on all of this time that I haven't been driving. I've been driving go-karts a little bit here and there, and I've been training physically very hard. So I think it's just a matter of to wake up those muscles that have been sleeping a little bit, those very specific muscles, but I really don't think the shifting is going to be a problem.

Q: Anything left on the wish list? Is there an engineer you'd like to get? Is there a seven post shaker in the future? What's left to complete the team?

JIM McGEE: Well, I think, you know, we've been able to come in here over the last three or four months and more or less complete our wish list. We looked at, you know, the areas in engineering that were lacking and the areas in development. They weren't able to do last year because, you know, last year was kind of a ram-and-cram deal for Russ Cameron because of them switching from a one- to a two-car team, and unfortunately, you know, he didn't have the time or the capacity to get into a lot of the detail work.

You know, that was one of my primary concerns. And working with Jimmy Vasser on this, we've talked a lot over the last couple of months about what we needed to do in and the areas we needed to work on. So we've been working very, very hard establishing a proper shock and vehicle dynamics program and weight reduction program. And all of the little detail work, you know, that you kind of miss, and you know we've stripped these cars to the bones, we've done twist tests on them to make sure we've had all of the right components and then the basic package is correct. Because the way you win races is you have to have all of the basics correct, and once you have that, then it's a matter of detail work and teamwork. And you know, we've got a great team here, a great organization, and so you know we've been able to do a lot of that that was not able to be done last year.

Q: Jimmy Vasser, with Cristiano's return, that means there will now be four former champions on the grid at every race. This has to be good for the series.

JIMMY VASSER: Absolutely. It's great for the series. It's been a long time sense we've had four champions in the series. I can't remember the last time.

Aside from how fantastic it is for us at PKV, we touched on this a little earlier, but I think it's just another indication that Champ Car is alive and getting better and moving in the right direction. I think that over time, I think you're going to see some more fantastic, very talented drivers filling up some of the spots on the other teams, and I mean, I think it's shaping up to be as competitive as it has been in a long time.

Q: Cristiano, you spent a couple of years in maybe the most competitive form of racing in the industry. Did you come out of that maybe a better driver do you think, and when you come into the Champ Car series now, do you feel any more confidence than you had before when you left?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, as a professional, one of my tasks is to try to learn every single day when I'm on the race track, when I'm at the shop, when I'm discussing with the engineers what we're going to and when I'm discussing with the mechanics what we need to do. Definitely in Formula 1, I was able to see a lot of different things, not necessarily good or bad, but I was able to see many things that are maybe done in a different way than they are done here in American racing. And that was very interesting for me, not only on the technical side, also as far as driving style goes because the Formula 1 car requires a slightly different driving style than the Champ Car.

Definitely I am more complete as a driver than I was when I left here, and I know some stuff that I didn't know before, and I think this maybe can help me and show me some of the difficulties I might have had like here on the past maybe I have some more ideas how to find solutions for those things.

Q: Want to give one, without giving away too much to the opposition; can you say one thing that you feel more comfortable with, bringing that to the able now?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Sorry, I didn't understand the question.

Q: Is there one thing that you bring to the table now that maybe you didn't have before? You said you had learned several things; can you talk about what one of those things might be?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: It's difficult to mention one thing, it's all details in driving, especially braking and corner entry. Maybe I've learned in there how to do this part of the cornering a couple of different ways instead of doing in the always classical way, always trying to brake as straight as you can and then turning in. Things that I didn't used to do before, I think I struggled a little bit in the F-1 car in my first couple of tests.

But if you ask me if I think this is going to change my complete way of driving, I don't think so, but racing in Champ Cars is full of details. As Jim was saying, the cars are all the same, the engines are all the same. It's all about the setups, setting up the cars, working with the engineers. And I feel like I have a few details, like nothing big, but I have a few details that I feel I'm a little bit better than I was when I left here.

Q: Jimmy, you mentioned, and I want to paraphrase something that you said earlier in the conversation; that you saw some deficiencies during the season last year that you knew when the season ended they needed to be fixed. Was one of those things that you saw and you said to your partners and yourself, "I need a teammate"?

JIMMY VASSER: Yeah, that was one thing. Roberto Gonzalez was put into a bit of a tough position as a rookie and not a lot of track time, but it was pretty apparent that his lack of experience early on as a teammate and the team was more of a hindrance in moving the team forward than being helpful and being a partner of mine to help move things forward. So that was something that was pretty apparent early on that we needed to focus on changing for this year.

Q: Question now for Jim McGee. Having the experience of Cristiano da Matta and Jimmy Vasser, as a team manager, does it make your job a little bit easier having these two guys to feed you information, as opposed to having a veteran like Jimmy and an inexperienced driver?

JIM McGEE: Certainly. It really brings a lot to the table. It brings a lot from Jimmy's standpoint, he's got a teammate that they can discuss the issues and work together for, you know, the benefit of the team. And also, from Cristiano's standpoint, you know, Jimmy can shortcut a lot of his reintroduction into Champ Car with some of the things that he's seen change over the last couple of years since Cristiano has been here.

But I think I could not have asked for a better combination driver-wise, because these guys have been there, they are team players. And like I say, that filters down throughout the whole team. And you know, the successful combinations are the teams that can eliminate the superstars and everybody gets down, they do the job and they work together as a team; that's when you get the results.

Continued in part 3

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Jimmy Vasser , Roberto Gonzalez , Bjorn Wirdheim