CHAMPCAR/CART: Pollock, Lemarie press conference, part II

An interview with Craig Pollock and Patrick Lemarie. Part 2 of 2. Q: Where is the business case for this team, given that open-wheel racing in this country is struggling to raise money in this economy and against NASCAR, and secondly, can you...

An interview with Craig Pollock and Patrick Lemarie. Part 2 of 2.

Q: Where is the business case for this team, given that open-wheel racing in this country is struggling to raise money in this economy and against NASCAR, and secondly, can you give me your take on what you see in the future of CART that some of the previously stalwart teams don't? What do you see as the key to CART having a revival, please?

Craig Pollock: The business case of the team is actually quite a simple one. In British American Racing Formula 1, we started off with a huge budget. There's no question that the budget was ample for starting up a team, and every year when we set up our annual budget, it was $180 million or $120 million, our goal was to use the $180 million or $120 million. In CART you set yourself up a budget and you can actually work towards that budget, and with stringent control, you can still have an extremely competitive team working within the budget. Anything that's over and above that budget that's an income becomes profit. The business case is, basically, one, you can go out and win races within a budget. If you bypass the budget, you make profit, so that's business. There's profitability.

The second thing is, Champ Car today, I would say that -- let's look at last year. Formula 1 and Champ Car fell down into an all-time low, so there's the peaks and the troughs. The peak for Champ Car for me was probably about 1995 and 1996 when Jacques won the championship. That was certainly my peak, or maybe a couple of years thereafter, and it went down into a very big lull last year because of all of the infighting and people just jumping off the ship.

Today, there's a huge opportunity. People that are actually coming into the series are people with quite a lot of experience. There's also a lot of financial clout coming into the series, including my own partner in PK Racing, Jerry Forsythe, has huge financial clout and teams are getting very close together to make sure that they are going to help out Chris Pook and everybody working in CART to make sure this series turns around.

There's thinking, I think, along the same way and the teams are actually communicating and helping each other out, which I have never seen in Formula 1. But I also think that Chris Pook is leading Champ Car in the right direction. He is talking to people and he is trying to do something with TV media for the future. He is starting to talk about an international series, instead of just being a national series, as it was in the past. And I think he is fully of the understanding that there are two series in the country, IRL and Champ Car and they are both here to stay and they have different brands. So worry about your own brand, worry about your own series and just do your job.

Q: Profit is the driving force of any business, but I'm struggling to see how you're going to make a profit -- where are you going to make your profit from, not just prize money? Do you have sponsorship or banking? At the moment it doesn't seem that you are pouring money in and I want to know how it's going to come back.

Craig Pollock: Well, what we are doing is the company has been capitalized to a level where we can keep the company running for a sufficient amount of time, a very good amount of time without sponsorship. I have been working on the sponsorship side with my contacts for quite a while time now.

Do not forget that this actually started up, literally, a couple of weeks before Christmas and we are still in the month of January, and I know what it takes to get sponsorship. I know how hard it is. I'm not arrogant about it, but we have got not just very good leads; we are getting very, very close to the right type of sponsorship. And it's basically the sponsorship level has to be over the amount that you need to run the car, and then you are talking about profits. Today, if you want me to announce a sponsor, I'm not going to do it. If you ask me if I have any sponsors that we are talking about to, it gets into dozens of sponsors.

I think that's the only thing that will help CART is when you get right type of sponsorship coming in, it gives credibility. Certainly myself starting up a team with Kevin certainly helps a little bit the credibility of CART and future of CART, and they know it and they are appreciative of it. They are helping tremendously towards sponsors and suppliers. I have never seen that happen in Formula 1, not once.

Q: On a personal note, the big move now back to Indianapolis and Patrick moving back to North America, how do you both feel on that score?

Craig Pollock: I'm very excited about it. The best years that I ever spent in motor racing had to be around Formula Atlantic and Indy years. With Jacques, it was just great fun. But back then, I didn't have as much work to do as I have today, so I'm really looking forward to it. I hope -- I said at the beginning of British American Racing that we are going to have fun. Well, I lied because I didn't have too much fun. It was just hard work all the way. But also, I enjoyed that to a certain extent. I think across here, I've got a lot of good people working with me. I've got Russell Cameron running the team and he's done absolutely an unbelievable job. And getting Patrick on here certainly is going to make my life an awful lot easier because I have confidence he is going to go out there and do the job as well.

Q: Patrick, how do you feel about it?

Patrick Lemarie: Well, I feel very excited because when I was here racing ten years ago, I met Craig, I said that I really want to race here. Well, I was back in Europe in and in F3000 and a little bit of Formula 1 and testing. Even when I was testing Formula 1, my eyes was on North America and I was always following the Champ Cars. For me it's a great, great day and I'm so happy to be back here.

Q: Some of your favorite tracks are over here?

Patrick Lemarie: Well, it's a fantastic series. I think it's the most difficult series in the world because you race everywhere, super ovals, street race, normal tracks, and you have everything to be happy about it. I like the speed, I like fast cars, so I think this year I will be happy.

Q: At the press conference here in Montreal a couple of weeks ago, you mentioned that both the engineer and the drivers needed to work well together. Who will be your chief engineer?

Craig Pollock: We are actually discussing today with two engineers, two head engineers with an awful lot of experience. I'm not in the position to announce, but both engineers have said that they will take on the position if the job is going to be offered. I would like to say by spring training that we will be able to announce something. If not, it will be right before the first race. It's a little bit like Patrick. What I said was: The team, we have to have worked together in the past, but it's also a question of the amount of experience because we have to accelerate making the team competitive.

Q: When you raced in the Atlantics series, you got a chance to race on some of the circuits you will be racing this year. Do you expect that to be an advantage for you at those tracks, and what was your first impression about racing from that experience?

Patrick Lemarie: Well, I think there's only Laguna Seca and Long Beach that I will know, so it's not a lot. I think the main thing is if the team is working well together and you feel well in a car, I don't think learning to drive will be the main problem. I have been testing a lot in Formula 1 on a different track, and it was after a few laps you knew if the car was well setup. So I think it is more important to be working well as a team and be comfortable in the car and I think that will be the main thing.

Q: We hear a lot of talk about the adjustments drivers make in going from CART to Formula 1. How does it work the other way, and what is your biggest concern going from a Formula 1 car to a CART car?

Patrick Lemarie: Well, I think I have to be careful the first lap because in CART, braking is a little bit earlier and you are coming less speed in turn than Formula 1. I spoke with Jacques Villeneuve on the phone three days ago and he said just be careful, Cristiano da Matta has been in Formula 1 for two months and he still has problems to brake late and carry speed in turning. So don't go straight on the first lap. I just have to be careful with the brakes and the turning on the first time in the car.

Q: You have a quick time frame for the team and you talk about trying to have success as quickly as possible. How long are you willing to wait for Patrick to adjust to CART and what kind of advice can you give him?

Craig Pollock: Well, first part of advice is the more pressure we put on Patrick, the worse he is going to do. I think he knows and he's already confident that he's just going to do the job. He will be the first one to know, actually, if he doesn't do the job for any reason at all. I think we know each other well enough that we are going to sit down and talk about it. I don't even envision that that's going to happen.

We are talking about being competitive. That's all we want to be is be competitive, but we are very realistic that it's going to be a hard job at the start and we have got to build it up. It's going to take time, and we are going to have to give him that time to be part of the team. It's not just Patrick that's going to mess up. It will be us, as well. We will mess up. We are going to have to go through a learning process, and I've got the experience, Patrick has the experience, and the other person that doesn't have the experience is my new partner, Kevin. He's going to have to learn what motor racing is all about, and he's an extremely intelligent and well-versed businessman. I am on the phone constantly with him just keeping him informed. So we know what we are talking about. Give us a chance and we will give Patrick a chance.

Q: He has not been in racing constantly for the last four years, but he has been doing a lot of miles and laps, do you think that's really going to help him when he gets in the car setting up and getting used to how things are working?

Craig Pollock: Actually, I do. He's been a fantastic collaborator for the last four years in British American Racing, and the way he has set the car up has been extremely good. He's been very open-minded. The funny thing is, his setup is very close to that of Jacques, and I think this is going to be very good for the CART side. Because in CART, if you get a very good setup and you have a car you can drive anywhere in the circuit, it gives you confidence. Patrick, I also know him from skiing, we have done quite a lot of skiing together so I know how competitive he is in skiing. I just see a competitive predator out there. I think he is going to be great.

Q: When we talked on the day of the announcement in Indianapolis, you mentioned that while in Miami in October, you bought into the vision of Chris Pook. I'm wondering, on the plane ride back, did you at first think about Patrick as your driver?

Craig Pollock: I've been thinking about Patrick as a driver for a long time. I just have in my head what I need out of a driver at this particular time the qualities that Patrick has shown me in the past year. So, yes, of course, I was thinking about Patrick as a driver. But I was absolutely adamant I was not going to say to anybody, even Chris Pook -- the CART series, they do tend to push to have certain drivers in the series. One thing Chris has also said very clearly is he would love to have a German driver in the series, he would love a British driver in the series and he would love a French driver. Well, now he's got definitely a French driver in the series. And it's good for the series because it opens up a market and the French market is a huge market the same way the Germans are a huge market.

Q: Patrick, when Craig called you and told you that he wanted you as his driver, what were your first emotions?

Patrick Lemarie: I was like, wow, I always said to Craig when I was testing in Formula 1, I want to go to CART, it's a fantastic series. I think it's the most difficult series in the world, even more difficult than F-1 because the tracks are so different. I thought I could do very well there. So it was a big day.

Q: How hard was it as a racer for four years to compete only against yourself in setting cars up?

Patrick Lemarie: I'm a racer.  I started racing when I was 12.  This is
not a problem, to go to racing after two years, four years.  The point
is, Formula 1 kept me very sharp and focused on my driving.  I learned a
lot of things and got big experience.  I think I will be fine.  Racing,
it's natural.  You have racing in your blood and this is not a problem.

Q: You mentioned that Chris Pook is talking about CART as an international series now. Is that at all helping you with your sponsorship hunt?

Craig Pollock: It absolutely is, because it opens up the sponsorship possibilities internationally. I come from Europe. That's where my best sponsors are, or best sponsor possibilities are, and it gives me the opportunity to argue effectively what the sponsors need for these particular markets. It probably also is kind of handy that I speak a couple of languages, some of them pretty bad, but I can communicate in a few languages and that tends to help. And it tends to help to have drivers that can communicate in another language. It helps to have a series that is traveling abroad. So I think it's just going in the right direction. It feels like a mini-Formula 1 series at the moment.

Q: Do you see opportunities for CART possibly to maybe replace Formula 1 in some venues where Formula 1 doesn't race any more in the future?

Craig Pollock: I definitely -- Bernie signed up so many circuits and he's promised them so many races and he can't come through on his promises. I would say if Chris Pook, he's negotiating with Bernie and helping out Bernie by talking to Spa, talking to Brands Hatch, talking to Estoril, talking to the various different major circuits. I have to say that I have raced on them all and they are great circuits and would be great for Formula 1 again. If Formula 1 can't go there, why should we?

Moderator: Thank you very much. This has been a great day for Pollock Kalkhoven Racing and I believe that the Champ Car World Series of 2003 will be more exciting than ever. To all of the participants. Thank you very much for having been online with us.

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Pollock, Lemarie, part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Patrick Lemarié , Chris Pook , Cristiano da Matta
Teams British American Racing