CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland Town Meeting press conference, Part II

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett Part 2 of 6 Adam Saal: Scott will take that side of the grid; I'll take this side. If you have a question, please raise your hand.

Transcript of Town Meeting: Portland with Chris Pook, Jimmy Vasser, Bill Hildick, Lon Bromley and Scott Pruett

Part 2 of 6

Adam Saal: Scott will take that side of the grid; I'll take this side. If you have a question, please raise your hand. This young lady will get us started tonight. You don't have to say your name, but if you could let us know your hometown, whether it be a block away, a few hundred miles away. We are on the Internet with video and audio feeds as well.

Q: I'm Chris. I live in Portland. My husband is from Long Beach. I just want to say thank you to Chris Pook for helping our series. My husband and I, my family, we've been coming to Portland for the last six years. I have two little boys that are big fans, especially my seven-year-old is a big fan of Max Papis. I was wondering, is there any news with Max Papis? Is he coming back to the series? I also heard that Brands Hatch is tape delayed five days. I wanted to know a little about that.

Pruett: Tell the true story about Max Papis. I know it (laughter).

Pook: I think Max, if the Fittipaldi team runs a second car, which they're talking about running later on this summer, I think Max is probably lined up for that seat. We'd like to have Max back. He's a great character. The Brands race takes place on a traditional motor racing date in England called Bank Holiday Monday, which is May the 5th. It's a CBS race. It will be carried on the Saturday afternoon, the following Saturday, which I believe is May the 10th, on CBS. It's very tough to get sports on midweek, on all the networks of this country, because the soaps are so demanding in their times (laughter).

It will be on Saturday on CBS. Then the next day, again on CBS, you'll have the race from Lausitz Ring. You'll have two days of racing that weekend on CBS. CBS is already making an effort in the series. We actually are building our relationship there, increasing our relationship with CBS almost every week. We're very, very excited about that. But thank you for your question.

Q: I have a question about the pit stops. I know in the past they've had a few issues from time to time, the fuel probes, the drivers leaving before their car is fueled. Is there a reason why they don't leave those cars up on the air jacks until they're done fueling?

Vasser: I get this one, huh (laughter)? I get the fireballs. Well, there is not a reason why. Perhaps they should. It could be a safety issue. You know, it's never been -- it's always been in the way that the team should make the decision when to put the car up, put the car down. It hasn't been controlled in the past. It could be something that could be looked at in the future. That's a very good question.

Pook: It is actually being looked at right now by Lee Dykstra and John Lopes, particularly since the Mexico City incident with Tony Kanaan's team. Again, you know, you have different opinions from every team. Some teams who have not had a problem, they want to come in and out just as fast as they possibly can. A team that's had a problem is probably more prone to saying, "This is something we should do.

Q: As a driver, does it matter?

Vasser: Yeah, it does. If you're already on the ground when the fueling is over, then you go. If you have to wait for the fueling to get finished, then they drop the car, then hit the ground and go, you can win or lose the race in the pits. It's probably about a second and a half longer to do it that way.

Q: My question is for Chris Pook. My name is Grace Skinner. I'm assistant chief of F&C here in the Oregon region. I'm also about a 20-year volunteer observer with CART, starting with Long Beach. My question is, I understand the business purposes in combining the workers, the F&C workers with SCCA. I'm just wondering why it was necessary at the national convention speech to include the phrase "they can't match the skills and dedication of the SCCA corner workers"? The majority of the workers are SCCA members. That really upset a lot of people.

Pook: Yes, I know it did. But we had three or four really bad incidents last year that cost drivers a tremendous amount of time, particularly at Toronto. One was a really unfortunate incident involving Franchitti where he was accused of cutting the corner. He was put back, penalized for it. All four observers in the corner said he cut the corner. His team said he didn't, Dario said he didn't. A half hour afterwards, we reviewed the overhead from the helicopter taking the overheads, and he did not cut the corner. We have three other incidents later in the year where we had this problem. We just basically said that we're going to go back with the SCCA.

The observers who are with us on the SCCA licenses are still with us, but we were carrying a large amount of observers. Laguna Seca is a example. I went to the corkscrew last year. There were four CART observers there. Four of them had cameras taking pictures. One was not actually paying attention to the racetrack. You look at that and you look at what drivers put into these events, and the calls that they are subjected to, you're talking about a guy's career. You're talking about a guy, he goes out and races, he races 110% every single time, we have to give him the very best we possibly can.

Maybe I was overgenerous in my statements about casting all the observers in one lot. Maybe that's not quite fair and correct. But we are going to fall back to the SCCA and the regions and allow them, they've got certain rules, certain standards that work for the SCCA, and their observers work week in and week out. We think that we should rely upon that cadre of volunteers they have throughout the country because it's very consistent throughout the country to do that level of work for them.

Q: You've used the word "volunteer" a number of times. You have to remember, they're all volunteers, whether they're SCCA or CART. Most of the card holders are also SCCA members. I don't know, I wasn't in Toronto, I wasn't in Laguna Seca. I was told there were no hard card holders at the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Most likely many of the people in Toronto were also SCCA members. That is my point, that many of the CART observers are also SCCA members. You've really divided it.

Pook: If we've offended anybody, I'm sorry. But I have decisions to make in this company. I made a decision that we would work closely with the Sports Car Club of America, we would reestablish that relationship with them. One of the things within that reestablishment of that relationship was a much greater use of Sports Car Club of America volunteer officials throughout all of our races. We need to get to a level of consistency.

If we've offended you, I'm sorry, but I can't make all the decisions that will make everybody happy all the time. As I told the troops when I started this job, we will make decisions. We will not be indecisive. We will make decisions. Indecisiveness has been one of the problems. I think Bill will tell you it's troubled CART horribly in the last five or six years. My apologies if I offended you, but I've got to do what I've got to do.

Q: My name is Bob. I have a question for Jimmy. First I want to jump on the Chris Pook bandwagon. I want to thank you for everything you've done in the last year or so. As a race fan, I don't know if you remember me in Vancouver, but I came up to you and said, "Thank you for everything you're doing." It's going to be a year or two down the road, we're going to be looking at 20, 30 cars a race. It's going to be great again like the good old days. Thank you very much.

My question goes to Jimmy. With the new Ford power plants, the rpms have gone from 16 (thousand) to 12. Your horsepower is down from 900 to about 750. You're taking away the traction control devices. We have a lot of new rookies this year, although they're very, very talented, obviously Sunday's race, you could tell that. Is there any thought process going into doing something like Formula 1 does with preheating tires or is Bridgestone thinking about coming up with softer compounds? How far is that going to go? When we get on some tracks that are going to be real tight in the pits, you're going to see guys peeling out. There's already talking about the mid gears are real torquey. Is that going to be an issue or do you think after a couple of races they guys are going to settle down and we won't see any issues? What is your thought on that as a driver?

Vasser: First and foremost, there hasn't been that much of a horsepower drop. The engines are still making in excess of 800 horsepower. They did drop the revs from 16 thousand to 12 thousand, which I thought was going to be more dramatic than it is from the cockpit. What they also did is they gave us 10 more inches of boost, manifold pressure. That's where they got the horsepower back. Since the engines are only turning 12 thousand rpms, it's some kind of revelation, now they last much longer, where we used to pull them out practically every day when they had these big manufacturer deals, you know, 300-mile motors, qualifying engines, 500 at the maximum, you'd be shaking in your boots if you found out your engine had 400 some miles on it.

But now, we go testing places, and we do the same lap times. Virtually they have the same horsepower. Now the engines go over 1,000 miles, 1,200 miles for an engine. Imagine what this does for the cost. It's all part of Chris' master plan to bring the cost of racing down, and that's how you're going to get to your more cars. That's the case with the engine. It's a fantastic package. With the extra turbo boost comes a little bit of a lag so it's a little more difficult to drive, like I said before.

Your issue about the tires, you're spot on. We have been talking amongst the officials and the driver group about doing some things with the tires, particularly the rain tire I think is the first change they're going to make. The rain tire is going to be softer. There hasn't really been a need for Bridgestone/Firestone to really be on the cutting edge of rain tire development as it pertains to our series. Since they drove Goodyear out of racing, you know, there hasn't been any competition. We've had just kind of a real run-of-the-mill, not a very good rain tire. But they certainly have the technology and know how to build it. They're going to go ahead and build us a much better rain tire this year.

Over the years, the tire warmers have almost been something that we've kind of talked about, have sent up to the board, which is a group of the owners, for consideration, not just on road courses, but on cold days on the ovals. Scott could tell you, some of the most treacherous laps that I end up driving in a Champ Car are the ones I pull out of the pits on new tires. It's really, really difficult, really easy to make a mistake. I think it's something that maybe Chris can talk about a little more, but it's something that's being considered again - at least I hope so.

I think it's always been kicked down before because they said, "It's too expensive. Now we all got to go out and buy tire blankets." Little did they know, if they did the math, all the crashes they had over the years on cold tires, they probably could have had a room full of tire blankets. Maybe it's something you'll see in the future.

Q: I'm from Portland, Oregon. First of all, great job so far. In two years or three years, you're planning to go to V-10 normally aspirated. I've been reading about Formula 1, and they are trying to get their engines to last longer. What I'm seeing is possibly a merging of some commonality of engines and parts, chassis. Can you address that?

Pook: Well, I think that's somewhat coincidental that the FIA are looking to bring their costs down at the same time. We have to remember the economy now in the year 2000 is completely different than the economy of the 1990s. We're all very sensitive to that. If we can develop a level of efficiency in engines, we will do so. Ours is going to be quite a simple V-10 engine. So far two of the manufacturers that are talking about it are actually going to use the current engine, which is basically a V-8. When the turbo goes away, there will be some space at the back of the car, they'll drop two more parts in the back of the car to make it a V-10. It will probably rev 13 thousand and produce the same horsepower that Jimmy is talking about now.

It is all about economics.  We do need to bring the costs of racing down,
but we can't do it and take away some of the technology.  We like the
V-10 engine.  I don't know if any of you ever heard a V-10 engine.  It's
a pretty exciting engine to listen to.  One of the good things about our
turbocharged engines now, they sound pretty dramatic.  It's a wonderful
sound.  That's part of our sport.  I think the V-10 will be an equally
crisp, exciting sound.  We will work to that end. Are we going to have
the same engine as Formula 1?  No.  They're in a different league to us
completely.  We always like to be number two.  You never want to be
number one because you get knocked off when you're number one.  If you're
number two, it's easier.  That's really where we're going.

Q: Welcome to Portland. I have a couple of kudos and comments. But Chris, I'm sure I speak on behalf of most of us, thank you for saving us. It's important. We're glad you're here. To the Simple Green team, thanks for keeping Alex on the planet. That's important. As fans, we very much recognize that. Jimmy, appreciate you being American (laughter).

Vasser: Don't thank me. Thank my parents.

Q: With the leadership in place, I know we'll have a lot more Americans behind. Bill, I want to thank you. 19 years ago I was living down in the Bay Area. A buddy of mine said, "You need to come up to Portland, they have a race." 20 years later here I am living. So thank you. Chris, back to your question about number one, number two, maybe this is premature, because we have a lot of Champ Car conversations to have here, but what is the short-term if not the long-term relationship that we as CART want to have with Formula 1 and maybe you could even speak to the perspective about what Formula 1 wants to have with CART?

Pook: Well, I'll try and dance around the answer as best as I can. First of all, I think Formula 1 needs to be back in the United States at a level where it was when Formula 1 was running at Watkins and then at Long Beach and at Detroit. It's very, very exciting, very good, very high quality. We need Formula 1 to be back in this country strong again, not in decline as it is at the moment. We all need to look up to something. It's a good pinnacle to look to. We're going to work with Formula 1 to see if we can help them get back up where they belong.

From our perspective, our relationship with them, I have no difficulty when we can attract guys like Montoya or Villeneuve. I think Jimmy will tell you this young Frenchman Bourdais is pretty special. If we can attract youngsters from all over the world, including from our own country, which is a very high priority of ours, is to get young Americans into our series, effectively into our series, then that's going to raise the entire level of the competition if we do that. So that's good. If we lose them to Formula 1, I have no difficulty to that at all. I think that speaks as an honor to our series. This man to my left here is absolutely responsible for the ability of Juan Montoya to be the rounded driver he is today because when he came over here, Jimmy took him under his wing and taught him how to drive here.

Vasser: Montoya didn't need a whole lot of help.

Pook: Well, he said on numerous occasions that he is where he is because of what he learned over here. Jimmy did the same thing with Zanardi. He's actual got another pupil now in young Ryan Hunter-Reay, who he's tutoring through the process.

Vasser: I have some brochures out in the lobby for my driving school. I'm going to be opening that up (laughter).

Pook: Just send me the commission, will you? It would be good for us to have that system. Indeed, we've had Formula 1 drivers on their way back down. One of the guys that was at St. Petersburg was Nigel Mansell, who was world champion, came over here, drove. Emerson came back also from Formula 1. So the door is open. We have Mika Salo hanging around. Any of these guys that are out there, after they're done with Formula 1, if they want to stop by and visit us on the way to retirement, the more the merrier.

Vasser: We have more fun. One thing all the guys talk about in Formula 1, it's stale, they don't really have a lot of fun. They know we have a good time. We have great fans like yourselves. I think you can see a lot more cross-pollination over time.

Pook: It's healthy.

Pruett: Spent time with Nigel Mansell over the weekend. He is absolutely trying to talk Pat Patrick into driving a car. "Got to get back in this thing." While we're at it, another guy we need to introduce, Mike Nealy, President of Global Events, they've been right in the middle of this Portland Grand Prix forever. A lot of hard work and dedication from he and his whole staff.

Part III

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Mika Salo , Nigel Mansell , Scott Pruett , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Chris Pook