CART FedEx Championship Series Engine Manufacturer's Forum Friday, June 18, 1999 Portland International Raceway Participants: Buddy Lindblom, Team Manager, Player's/Forsythe -- Mercedes-Benz Jim McGee, Team Manager,...
CART FedEx Championship Series
Engine Manufacturer's Forum
Friday, June 18, 1999 Portland International Raceway
Participants: Buddy Lindblom, Team Manager, Player's/Forsythe -- Mercedes-Benz Jim McGee, Team Manager, Patrick Racing -- Ford Cosworth Mike Held, Team Manager/Co-Owner, Gordon Racing --Toyota Mike Hull, General Manager, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing * Honda
QUESTION: CAN EACH OF YOU COMMENT ON THE CLOSENESS OF THE COMPETITION?
MCGEE (FORD): "It's really a great series we have here, with Ford, Honda, Mercedes and Toyota. The fact is that you can't pick a winner from week to week, because the cars are so close and the engines are so close. The interest from the technical side continues to get bigger and bigger. It amazes me how close they are. You would think that with all the technology available to these companies, there would be a bigger spread. This year Ford purchased Cosworth, and they've looked at Honda's program and Toyota's program. They control their own destiny now, and I think that's a big step forward, and you're going to see benefits from that."
HULL (HONDA): "It's evident when you pick up a grid sheet on Friday or Saturday afternoon, no matter where we're racing in the world, the times are very close, and the engine portion of that package contributes to that greatly. When Target Chip Ganassi Racing started with Honda in 1996, we had a clear advantage. We had a terrific race driver who won a championship. We had an advantage with the tires and the engine program, and I think that that woke up the other engine manufacturers a little bit. They've worked really hard to catch up, and unfortunately, they have. Honda is working harder today than they were when we started in 1996. For down the road, they're busting their humps to get us where what we need for the rest of this year, and for the spec changes for the motor for next year. We have some good things coming."
HELD (TOYOTA): "We've seen dramatic improvements in reliability, and I think across the board, reliability of all the engine manufacturers has improved where we just don't have cars blowing up now. Now that we consider that a given, it becomes who can tune the best race car and who's got the best driver. The engine formula we have right now is pretty solid. "As a young team, we have a whole bunch of other issues to deal with irrespective of our engine program, so we certainly don't view that as a handicap. There are other issues that we have to deal with. We consider this the most competitive racing series in the world."
LINDBLOM (MERCEDES): "One sign of the competitiveness is that the engine manufacturers are helping some of their teams out with wind tunnels, going beyond what their job with the motor is, just to try to help the teams out. From Mercedes' standpoint, we've been strong on the ovals up to this year, and we've concentrated a lot over the winter and after Long Beach on the driveability of the engine. Mercedes has spent many hours on the dyno, as I'm sure the others do. The engine has improved greatly, as evidenced today when the session was pretty wet, and Patrick Carpentier was second-quick. So we have made gains in the driveability of the engine, and we're happy about that. It's just very competitive, and it's so difficult to gain any small advantage." QUESTION: CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE RECENT PIT LANE INCIDENTS, AND GIVE US YOUR VIEW ON THE SAFETY ISSUE?
LINDBLOM (MERCEDES): "We just had an owner's meeting this morning regarding the rules. There were a lot of different opinions in there. The bottom line is because of the competitiveness, everyone is trying to get that last little bit in the pit lane. You're talking about human decisions that involve people's lives. The guys getting hurt are the fuel and the vent guys * they're the last ones to leave the car. The guy on the right front or the outside front or the driver, it's a tough deal for them because they have a lot to think about -- cars coming down pit lane, is my guy clear. What we're trying to do is figure out the best way, and it's not that simple. There are a lot of factors, and there were a lot of opinions. "The bottom line is we have to make it safer for the two guys that are hung out over the car. It's difficult for them; they're waving about balanced over the car, and they're stuck between the wheels. If you had to make a recipe for disaster, you have most of the ingredients right there, and all you need is a split-second decision by the driver or the guy on the right front to brew up the disaster. We all have good intentions of improving safety, but the question is what's the best way to do it. Every time you introduce something, you affect something else that might not have been considered, and so you might make it worse, and that is the last thing we want to do."
HELD (TOYOTA): "Coming from the safety side, which is my background, I was pleased that CART enforced the helmet ruling. It's been a long time coming. There are some issues with the helmets, such as visibility. For the most part, it's a sameness issue because it's equal for all the teams. We have addressed the other issues, such as how we let the car off the jack and who is responsible for that, should we fuel with the car on the pavement or up in the air? If the car is on the ground and you fuel on the ground, there's always the chance of a miscommunication between the driver and the guy in the front, and then we have a disaster, which is what we've just seen. And it's not just guys getting hurt, it's an issue of pulling the fuel tank over. We were lucky in St. Louis that that didn't happen. "All of the owners, the general managers and the crew chiefs are very concerned. It is so competitive now that races are literally won and lost in the pits. All we can tell you is that everyone is concerned, and we are addressing it. I'm sure we'll come up with a proper solution and make it work."
HULL (HONDA): "The competitiveness is probably part of what has caused the problems. We wouldn't have the incidents here that we've had at the last couple of events. We probably won't have a full course yellow. They'll cycle in on a pace car yellow, and be more scattered coming in. They won't have to wait to come in, and that will aid in reducing the commotion in the pit boxes. The problem is that typically when we choose for the pits, we choose downstream as close as possible to the pit exit. The fast guys are all at one end and the slower ones at the other, and so what happens is they all come in together. And you're trying to beat the guy you're racing with, who often is in the next pit. Maybe out of the corner of their eye the pit guys are watching what's happening in the next pit. Let's face it, this is a big part of the race, and their job is to help their driver pass any way they can. "Our guys practice at home every day. But there's a human element, and when it's time for the car to hit the ground and leave, practice ends and adrenaline begins. We try to make sure our guys are prepared. The helmet is a good start, maybe a suit of armor is better. As adults, I hope that we can take away the ego things, and the 18 opinions of what we have to do, and come together with one opinion and stop these incidents. That's what we have to do."
MCGEE (FORD): "CART is addressing this, and trying to be scientific about what we're doing. We all realize that the guys are vulnerable. People make mistakes, and all we can do is try to protect people as much as we can. It's probably CART's prime objective in the series to sort this out. Probably by Cleveland and certainly by Elkhart, you'll see some changes that will be really good."
QUESTION: IS COSWORTH COMING UP WITH SOMETHING NEW?
MCGEE (FORD): "Ford has stepped up to the plate, and I think it will be a new engine for next year. The combined efforts between their Formula One and CART technology is beginning to be pooled. They've done an excellent job with the longevity we've had. Certainly it's still a very competitive engine. Some of the resources available now to Ford Cosworth are more than ever before. With one entity, it's a lot easier to pass the technology back and forth. You'll see big improvements in next year's package."
QUESTION: ON THE NASCAR WINSTON CUP SIDE, WE HEAR ABOUT HOW TOUGH IT IS TO HIRE AND KEEP GOOD PEOPLE. WITH THE COMPETITION GETTING STRONGER, ARE YOU FACING THE SAME PROBLEM?
HELD (TOYOTA): "You have no idea. For our team specifically, that is probably the thing we underestimated the most. As a new team coming together, one of the first things you work on is raising money. For us, that was fairly straight-forward from the beginning. The part we underestimated was the people. The tough part is, looking at our schedule now, with 20 races and all the testing, a lot of the guys now have families. Guys like Buddy and me, who grew up together, have families now. With 20 weeks of racing, and 60 days of racing. it really is the same as Winston Cup. This is one of the things that we need to address -- how do we put a limit on that before we burn our people into the pavement? This is a priority."
LINDBLOM (MERCEDES): "It is very difficult to find people. We've been looking for a couple of mechanics. You don't just want a warm body, you want the best person you can find. It's especially hard during the season. If we add more races and unless we limit testing, you'll be looking at more of a Winston Cup style operation of a team. But with the cost of these cars, we don't have the luxury of having 10 cars in the shop. We go with a base group of guys, not all of whom can work on a whole car back there, but on subassemblies and things to help out in the rotation. And you have to have your own training."
HULL (HONDA): "Motor racing has become more of an entertainment industry and as a by-product of that, we now have sponsors we have to answer to from a business base. And they expect results. Instead of having a core group of guys that work in February and go surfing from November and then come back and work after three months off, they work all year long. We have health insurance, we have 401k programs, we have two weeks paid vacation. If you've been with Target Chip Ganassi for five years, you actually get three weeks. I don't know when you get to take it though. With the race in Hawaii in November, we'd like to participate in because it's a lot of money, it pushes the vacation later in the year, then we have new cars coming. What are you going to do? "We have 85 people under our roof that support the race team, and we're looking for more. You have two choices, you train them or you steal them. That's it. There's nothing in between. We have both programs going right now. We don't go poaching, but if a guy isn't happy where he is and he comes banging on the door, we'll hire him. Three years ago, we saw this coming, and we started an apprentice training program. "The other thing is that our team has a very aggressive owner. He thinks it's important to be racing in new venues, and we as a team have to support that. Our guys will work from one to 10. Our guys work 9 at night to 6 in the morning when it's necessary with all the Midwest races. That's the direction we have to go in. If you call that NASCAR style racing, I don't know. If we have 25 races and test 65 days and that's what it takes, then we have to come up with the money and keep our people satisfied so they come back to work. If you keep the people happy, you give the team the opportunity to come out here and win events, and that's what it's all about."
MCGEE (FORD): "It opens up a lot of opportunity. If you have a good person that has the right attitude, you can train them. If you get good people that are dedicated, there is opportunity. We try to keep at least three or four new guys in the loop, and they grow into top-notch guys. Racing is growing and CART has opened up a lot of opportunities to a lot of people.
QUESTION: GIVEN THE SCHEDULE, WHAT IS A REASONABLE NUMBER OF TEST DATES?
MCGEE (FORD): "We are all looking at this. We don't feel like we test as much as we do. We test because he tests, he tests because we test. We haven't tested at Michigan or Fontana in the last two years, but we sat on pole at both races. Whether it's the sponsor or whatever, you do it defensively. I would like to see testing reduced dramatically because with the technology and data we have on these cars, it really isn't that necessary. We shouldn't be where there aren't fans in the stands, just burning each other out. I would like to see testing decreased."
HULL (HONDA): "Whatever is the number of days that they give us, we're always going to try to take advantage of those days. I've been home six days in the last six weeks. We have a test team so they test. Our race team traveled on the road 101 days, our test team was on the road 62 days. If you don't have a test team, you can figure out what that does to people. The owners as a group have to come to an agreement on what is comfortable for us to do. If they give us 70 days of testing, we'll go out and find the money to do it. If they give us 20 days, we'll do that. A good team utilized every minute at their disposal. "We also have to do a lot of work with Firestone, so we'll have a tire to run. In our case, we do a little more work. We're lucky to have the days, and we take advantage of them. "I don't think people will stop testing though. What will happen is that if we can't go to a circuit to test, we'll find other ways. We'll spend a lot of money on simulation programs and wind tunnels. The better teams will find a way because they want to be prepared. So you're not going to see a reduction in the amount of money spent on testing, it will just be spent in a different way."
HELD (TOYOTA): "I'm not sure they'll be a complete reduction in testing ever, but everyone in the core group would desire to dramatically reduce it. They're looking at making another day of practice, on a Thursday before the race weekend. You're already going to be there anyway. Across the board, everyone has an interest in reducing the number of dates. From our perspective, it's important for our young team to get out and test. Over the course of the next few months, they'll iron out the solution."
LINDBLOM (MERCEDES): "Generally speaking, banning testing wouldn't result in a huge change in the grid. The fast guys will still be fast and the slow guys will still be slow. But the other thing is the safety aspect. Sometimes the tracks we test at are questionable. Even at the good tracks, there might not be the same level of care. We bring a CART safety guy with us. Perhaps having a CART-sanctioned test, with all the things you have on a race weekend, the helicopter and everything, would solve this."
MCGEE (FORD): "Buddy brought up a good point. Testing is more dangerous than racing. You don't have the facilities and safety you do at a race. The open testing issue is going to be well-received. It cuts the costs down. This would narrow down everything and bring better results."
LINDBLOM (MERCEDES): "You can't rent a track exclusively, so sometimes, there's 12 cars there, so you may as well have an open test."
HULL (HONDA): There are rules about how many cars can be at the track, so we hire our own safety people. We make sure a helicopter is sitting there. A lot of the people that show up are CART people, and they have to get more time off from work and have to be reimbursed for their time and their travel. We wouldn't have a test like that without them. Homestead is probably a good location because it's just a 10-minute ride by helicopter to the hospital if we have a problem. It would be much better for us if it could be organized like what NASCAR has, with manufacturers' days and test days."
MCGEE (FORD): "One of the things we haven't talked about, but one of the big reasons that CART is so competitive now is the engine leasing program. It's the best thing that's happened. The manufacturers have control over their product. You're not throwing junk parts in the motor because you don't want to put a new crankshaft in. I was really against it when it started, but after I saw the benefits, and the fact that the manufacturers' name is on it and they should have control on the product they produce. That has been the key factor in not only the closeness of the engines but in the reliability and that fact that we have 20, 22, 27 cars finishing a race. I can remember the days when only six or seven cars running. It's been a great program."