CHAMPCAR/CART: PKV Racing teleconference transcript, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: In America we have an old saying, especially in the south that sometimes we think the grass is greener on the other side; apparently you thought so when you went to Formula 1. How long were you in Formula 1 when you...

Continued from part 2

Q: In America we have an old saying, especially in the south that sometimes we think the grass is greener on the other side; apparently you thought so when you went to Formula 1. How long were you in Formula 1 when you said to yourself, or did you say to yourself, "Gee, I wish I'd have stayed right where I was in Champ Car"?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Let me just tell you short story. When I went over here in 2002, I was 100% happy in America. I never wanted to race anything else, but Champ Car at that time was -- nobody knew exactly what was going to happen to Champ Car in 2003. And at the same time, I had this opportunity to go and drive Formula 1 for a couple of years.

So it was the kind of thing that it was here a bit uncertain. While over there in Formula 1 was something for sure, was something certain for me; it was something concrete.

So, that was the main reason why, and obviously having a chance to drive an F-1 car, which is -- every race car driver wants to drive an F-1 car one of these days. I thought if I want to do that some day in my life, I think that is my opportunity and I cannot miss it, but never because I thought it was nicer over there or if it was better to race or more fun or whatever.

I always -- in this position, I always liked Champ Car better. And I say that for years, I say that now not because I am back in Champ Cars. Ask one of my teammates that I had in the past, Oriol Servia, he always said to me, "Man, you cannot say this, now you are going to Formula 1, you always said that you didn't like it over there, you like it over here."

I says, "Yeah, but here we don't know what's going to happen next year." And I really like Champ Cars and I never thought that the grass was going to be greener over there.

Q: What is it about Champ Cars that you like?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I just like the rules. I like the fact that the driver with his engineers, with his team can make a much bigger difference than any other series you can imagine. I mean, any other top series, I mean, top-class series that you can imagine, because if you think F-1, for example, they have the guy that can make a bigger difference on the car performance is just the designer or maybe the aerodynamicist, not the driver and the teamwork in setting up the car.

What I like here is if you get to the racetrack and you are not on the pace, everything you need to make that car on the pace for the next day, everything is in the truck. It's just a combination of springs and shocks and let's say, suspension, geometries and aerodynamic settings. Everyone has basically the same things. So if you're slow, you'd better get back on the truck and think a little bit more with your engineers and your mechanics. The answer is there; you just have to find. Obviously, it's not easy, but this is what I like about it.

You always, every race weekend you go to, have the hope that you can win the race, you always have the chance to win the race, because everyone at the end of the day, everyone has the same cars. The difference is all setup. This is very interesting I think. It's one of the top two or three series in the whole world as far as open-wheel goes. This is very exciting. This is why I like it here so much.

Q: Jimmy, this is a bit off of the subject, but two or three weeks ago we spoke with A.J. Allmendinger about his getting involved with that scholarship program in New Zealand, but he said that he was following your lead because "it was Jimmy Vasser that helped me get into that series and helped propel my career to where it is today." How does that make you feel when you hear a young driver say, "Jimmy Vasser sets the example for me"?

JIMMY VASSER: That's very flattering. I think drivers when they get to my position, have an obligation to help the young guys along. Just by giving some sound advice and maybe a little support really makes a big difference in the career path of a young guy. There are a lot of hard times out there, there are guys that really deserve the opportunity and the chance that could change the rest of their careers, and other people just don't get that.

So whenever I have an opportunity to affect somebody's career with maybe just a little push or something, then I go ahead and do it.

Paul Tracy, by the way, was even more significant in A.J.'s coming along, and he's the one that brought A.J.'s path to my attention and he deserves much more credit with A.J. than I do. It's flattering and it's satisfying when you see the little help here and there really make a big difference.

Q: And he did mention Paul, by the way. Jimmy, congratulations to everybody on the team and good luck this year.

JIMMY VASSER: Thank you.

Q: Two questions. One I question would go to Jim McGee first. Jim, I believe that you had said that you were going to test Ryan Dalziel and Bjorn Wirdheim again this coming, I guess week, in Sebring. I guess is that off now?

JIM McGEE: Yes, that was an alternative plan if we couldn't have worked our program out with Cristiano, but fortunately we were able to do that and so those plans are now cancelled.

Q: Cristiano, when you were in the series last, there was no push-to-pass button, are you looking forward to that and how it works and do you think it's a good thing for the series?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, I definitely think it's a good thing for the series. I think anything that brings more excitement for the crowd, I think it's good, and definitely the push-to-pass button does that.

It makes it interesting in some places because it can become quite difficult to pass, especially when we're running and racing against cars that are quite even on performance with the car you're driving. With this push-to-pass button, you can play around a little bit and you can make the guy use his push-to-pass a little bit and you can save a little bit more. It's just another thing that adds up to the whole strategy of the race that you have to be smart and know how to use it well.

Q: We're seeing the loss of some great natural-terrain road courses in the series and moving more towards the street circuits. How do you as a driver feel about that?

JIMMY VASSER: Well, obviously, the romance of racing around Elkhart Lake or Laguna Seca is very important to the purist in driving, but unfortunately over the last few years, the crowds have been diminishing. So from a business aspect, you have to understand that the series has to do that, and I think as drivers, we understand that we need a healthy series to be able to have jobs and race cars.

So, I think everybody thinks it's unfortunate, but you know.

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: I agree with Jimmy. Obviously we as drivers are definitely going to miss driving in Elkhart Lake and in Laguna for example as Jimmy said, but we need to understand the series' needs. And definitely, if you look on the near past of the series, our street races have been a lot more successful as far as the crowd goes. So we need to understand that we need to be racing more on street courses than in road courses, but I'm sure all of the drivers are going to miss it because it was I think probably the best that you can get to drive these race cars on road courses.

Q: Do you find street circuits easier or harder than natural-terrain courses?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Depends a lot, I think it depends a lot on the drivers. Some guys get used to street courses a little bit more than the normal road courses.

I like them both the same. I think my performances in both are similar. I find that the street course usually has a little bit less margin for error, but at the same time, the speed is a little bit slower. So there I think that they are about evenly-matched.

Q: Cristiano, yesterday I forgot to ask you, which is more physical, Formula 1 or Champ Car?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, the Formula 1 car is a lot easier physically than the Champ Cars. Formula 1 is just more difficult on the neck, because usually you drive road courses with long corners, so it can become quite tough on the neck with the G-forces that you are pulling.

The Champ Car, because of the braking being it's two brakes and you have to use more power to decelerate the car, you don't have power steering, you have to shift the gears, you have slick tires, that all adds load to the steering wheel, and, of course, to your body, too. So you are using more all of your muscles to drive the race car, and that, of course, makes your heartbeat go up.

So I imagine in an F-1 race, if the average heart rate for me for example would be around 150, 160, in a Champ Car race it would be more 160, 175. It would be a little harder physically apart from the neck. On the neck, the Formula 1 is definitely more difficult.

Q: Jimmy, the sponsor on board, can they be announced or --

DAN PETTIT: We have not announced a second sponsor yet, but as I said earlier, Kevin and myself and others are working closely with a number of them, so we are hopeful that we'll announce something fairly soon.

Q: I just wanted to find out how instrumental was Paul Newman on getting you back on the Champ Car grid?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, Paul Newman, he did everything he could to try to get me back on the Champ Car grid with his team. Unfortunately it didn't work the way we were expecting, but I think him and the whole Newman/Haas team, they have tried everything they could as far as the effort and trying to find a sponsor and trying to get a team to a three-car organization, but at the end of the day it didn't happen. With my deal with PKV, he has nothing to do with this deal; this is a completely separated thing. It's all the efforts of Kevin Kalkhoven and Dan Pettit and Jimmy Vasser, and, of course, Jim McGee, too. So those are the guys that have something to do with the deal with PKV now.

Q: How long ago did you start these plans with PKV or even Newman/Haas? How long ago did you initiate these plans?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: With Newman/Haas, I've been talking to them since probably November, just a bit before the Mexico race. And with PKV we started to talk just maybe just after the Mexico race, I don't remember if it was late November or early December. But this has been something that we've been talking for a while, and I'm happy that we have been able to put it together now.

Q: What's it going to feel like going to toe-to-toe against your Newman/Haas or former Newman/Haas teammates?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: Well, just the same as if I would have gone against any other people now. They are not my team any more so I have to fight them like hell. (Laughing).

Q: Can you just share with us, you've had some success on the Toronto streets, Toronto Molson Indy specifically. Can you share with us how eager you are to get back and to compete on the streets of Toronto once again?

CRISTIANO DA MATTA: The Toronto event is always one of events I enjoy the most because of the proximity of the driver and the general public. The track is always crowded. There is always a lot of people on the Sunday. And the Canadian race fans seem to like the Champ Cars a lot like, not only in Toronto, but every time we went racing in Vancouver and Montreal.

But the thing about Toronto, I'm not sure about the numbers but by looking at the paddock, is the paddock is always more crowded than in Vancouver and Montreal. So it's a good feeling for the driver.

Q: Dan and Jimmy, you've got all of your ducks in a row, but there's still many teams out there who the have not got full sponsorship packages and drivers. With the season set to kick off in a brief nine weeks or so, are you concerned at all for the series overall as the other teams are still scrambling to get things done?

DAN PETTIT: You know, we are always concerned, but certainly if you look at where we were last year versus this year, I think everyone is in better shape than they were. They are certainly not where they want to be, but building a series again, rebuilding the series, it takes a long time. I think Kevin unfortunately would love to be here today, but he is in the air flying to another meeting for the series. So I think he's doing everything he can to make sure that not only is the series strong, but I think as it gets stronger, it helps all of the teams themselves because they can they can get sponsors a little bit more easily. And certainly it's a tough year, I think teams are going to be working all year long to secure sponsors, bits and pieces of sponsors this year, and also securing next year, but it's always a concern.

Q: Jimmy do you have anything to add?

JIMMY VASSER: No, I concur with Dan. I think while you're right, not all of the teams are set, I think that in the coming weeks, you're going to see the picture of the grid come more into focus with drivers that have great pedigrees and great history. So there will be plenty of deep competition once we start the season in Long Beach.

Q: Can the case be made for you guys collectively helping out some of the other smaller, less fortunate teams, just in a backroom kind of role to help them to strengthen their position for the overall health and benefit of the series?

DAN PETTIT: I think last year, all of the owners really got together and they helped each other out a lot. It's simple things, like doing painting for another team or whatever we have to do. We've done a lot to help the other teams, and the owners are very good that way. It's kind of a brotherhood almost at this point. I was kind of surprised that to see that they all got along so well and tried so hard to help each other.

TOM McGOVERN: Thank you, everybody for joining us on the call today. We're going to wrap it up now and especially want to thank PKV Racing for the wonderful news today and wish them success on the season, and we'd also like to thank all of the journalists for their coverage of the Bridgestone Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Paul Newman , A.J. Allmendinger , Bjorn Wirdheim , Kevin Kalkhoven