CHAMPCAR/CART: Rocketsports Racing Champ Car press conference, part III

Champ Car Teleconference January 17, 2003 An Interview with: Paul Gentilozzi Alex Tagliani Part 3 of 3 Q: And how would you describe yourself as a boss now because you used to drive? Gentilozzi: I think, and I have told a great many ...

Champ Car Teleconference
January 17, 2003

An Interview with:
Paul Gentilozzi
Alex Tagliani

Part 3 of 3

Q: And how would you describe yourself as a boss now because you used to drive?

Gentilozzi: I think, and I have told a great many people, that I have seen many things in Alex as a driver that I saw in myself as I look back - a desire to achieve and to win - and I hope now that as I have gotten older that age has given me the advantage of some knowledge. That's really what I want to do is share that knowledge and for a guy that sets that many fast laps - it's time to win. Sometimes it just takes the right ingredients to make that happen.

Q: Will you be a tough boss?

Gentilozzi: I am a tough boss just like I am a little bit of a tough father. Being a boss is not much different than being a father. There are days when you have to reassure your sons and your driver, and days when you might have to kick some ass.

Tagliani: I am the same thing, I got a pretty good guy for my boss, so I am prepared to have a good relationship with Paul, and I am sure if we qualify up front he is not going to make me start last like my dad would have, so that's an advantage.

No, but I think for me I have a side that is very human. I am emotional, and I really take the time to see the character and the person the way they are, and Paul is very impressive as a person and he makes me feel very comfortable. I feel that I am in a position where I am part of something, we are building something together and I am glad that he decided to have me to drive his team. My job is going to be to represent Johnson Controls and the associate sponsor and we are going to do the best we can and work really hard. The time that I am going to spend in the truck or at the shop or whatever to make this team go fast, I don't care. I am prepared for anything. And he is willing to have me do that, so that's why I feel comfortable and I am excited for the season.

Q: The temperament of Mr. Gentilozzi may not be very well known. He was a hockey player at Michigan State University quite a few pucks ago, and for those of you that have dealt with hockey players in the past, that might give you a little better insight what you and Alex are getting into, here.

Q: Since you brought it up, Paul, what position did you play at Michigan State?

Gentilozzi: I was mostly in the penalty box. I was a defenseman.

Q: With racing is it realistic for you to be on the podium this year with a first-year team?

Tagliani: Oh, yeah, it is, it's a first-year team, but there are a lot of people that have CART experience. They have worked on CART teams previously, and the engineer that is going to work for the team was working for the last four years at Penske, so there is a great deal of experience there, and we have the tools, the equipment, we have cars, everything is competitive. We have to work a little bit and find out the setup to go fast.

Everybody is going to be on the same engine. Without the traction control I think it's going to make for interesting racing. There is going to be a lot of things that happen in a race and everything is open at this time. I don't think we are right now the top team in CART because we don't have any base. We are going to have to find those bases but we have everything to find them, and as soon as we can put our finger on a good set-up and everything we that need, the ingredients to be competitive, we are going to remain competitive very consistently.

Q:  Paul, what made you decide to go open wheel as opposed to something
with fenders?  I thought you might do something else?

Gentilozzi: I really think that our background in sports car racing put us in line with Champ Car, and when you have been a Trans-Am team, we were a sport race for CART really for the last 20 years, as long as CART has been in existence. You look over the fence at the big guys and you come to admire guys like Roger Penske and Pat Patrick. They are really, as team owners, the role models, and we felt best adapted at being that kind of team.

Q:  They are making a big deal about this is going to be one of the best
funded teams in CART.  What do they mean by that?

Gentilozzi: I guess they thought I had money until I started doing this. The best way to make a small fortune is to start out with a big one and go racing.

Q: Just a little bit sort of off the subject to both of you, actually. Yesterday CART announced, and Cleveland announced, that that race is going to be under the lights this year. Obviously, Paul, you have experience racing at Cleveland in the daylight, and obviously, Alex, you do, too. Could you share your thoughts about that announcement and what you expect this July at Cleveland.

Gentilozzi: Well, I guess I will go first. Cleveland is a great city full of people who love racing and CART's decision to race at night, I think, is really exciting. That riverfront area and the area on the lakefront is full of restaurants and hotels and people and we need to make this race an event, not just a race, and I think CART's staff has done that.

I think from Alex's perspective Cleveland is a much more challenging racetrack than people give it credit, it's a simple one to learn but a hard one to go fast on because of the bumps and identity. Having done a lot of Sebrings and LeMans I know what racing at night is like and I think this is going to be exciting.

Q: One of the things that we always hear from drivers at Cleveland is one of the challenges there is that the runways are so wide and generally featureless, you know, that it's sometimes not so much hard to get your bearings but there aren't the reference points that you are used to on most natural terrain and street circuits. Obviously this is going to be another wrinkle into it. Obviously it's going to be light enough and it's going to be a little different than it was and I just wonder what you will expect there.

Tagliani: I always said that CART needs to do some stuff for increasing the excitement in racing, and if that's a solution for them, I think it's going to be fun because especially that city, like Paul was saying, there is a lot of things that's going on at night. I think the race in Cleveland will become more than the race, it will become an activity, it will become something exciting for the teams, entertainment for everybody, so hopefully you will have even more success and, technically, as a driver, Cleveland is very difficult because there is no reference points.

There are some places where it's very difficult to see where you have to turn in and things like that. So your vision is even worse on that type of track, and at night time we don't know yet what's going to be the reflection of the lights, or how much lighting we are going to have. So all these things are difficult to answer, but for sure the show is going to be fantastic and we have some backfire into the exhaust, it's going to be even more so. I think the fans are going to enjoy open road racing at night time.

Q: My first question is, Paul, over the winter, right before Christmas, I bought a new car, and about the third day I bought it my 18-year old daughter took it out for a drive, and it was the longest three hours I ever spent in my life. That car is probably pennies compared to your investment. That first race, how is it going to feel to have someone else drive your car?

Gentilozzi: I am glad you brought that up because that's a hard thing to do. I had a little taste of it the last race in the Trans-Am season. I was at VIR and I crashed and broke my ribs in practice, and I started the race, but after about seven or eight laps I couldn't drive anymore because of the pain. So I put Jack Willis in and that was the first time I had ever watched someone drive my car. And I have kind of gotten over the hump.

The good thing is I have got a lot of faith in Alex. And I am comfortable now, I talked to Bobby Rahal about this at some length, how you quit driving and just focus on owning. And it's not an easy thing to do because you have anxiety, you have desire. I will get over it, though. I never had any desire to drive a Champ Car and so I am going to be really comfortable, I think, after a few minutes having Alex as my guy.

Q: Alex, you have talked about Paul's ability to bench race with you, so to speak. Were there other things that you saw within this team because, quite frankly, the pressure was for you to find something that fit well? It wasn't like you had to have a job to earn your keep for next season, so you were the choice of the litter.

Tagliani: No, I think Paul made the decision, and I am glad and I feel fortunate that I am going to be driving for Rocketsports Racing next year. But for the team, it's a new team that is getting started. Paul worked really hard to put all the team together, and really good people together, and I don't think he is going into Champ Cars just to have a Champ Car team and be seen as an owner.

I think he is going there to be successful and I am ready to work really hard to be successful in this team, so it's exciting and the team is going to be based in Lansing, Michigan - away from all the other teams - so we are going to be focused and concentrate on the work we need to do to be able to get out of 2003 with some good results.

Q: Interesting comment that you made. He is going to be an owner but not an owner just to be a Champ Car owner. Have you seen a lot of owners that use that almost as an ownership role as an ego trip? And you laughed there.

Gentilozzi: We have a motto at our team about going racing, and it says "we are not here to make friends, we can afford to bring our own." I think it's easy to get caught up in the culture of just owning a team, and that's not the objective at all. It's about competition. That's what we thrive on. And I can park my motor home in the parking lot and set up a little grill and have a picnic. I don't need to do that.

Q: And apparently, Alex, you like that concept?

Tagliani: That's something that Paul has for him and I think it's what makes him who he is, and I think other guys that are working for him, they like his attitude and that's why maybe they work really hard for him. What he is trying to build here can be very special and very different from any other team and I am sure that it's not going to take ten years for this team to win the championship.

Tagliani:  I am going to have to go pretty soon because I am going
to be late and my wife is going to kill me.  We have to get a wedding
certificate.  I am an hour away from there.

Q: Paul, I have going to ask you, you had mentioned Alex's qualities as a driver, but from what we understand, Player's, because of the situation with Paul Tracy, they had Alex under contract and were trying to find a ride for him. Now, does that make him even more attractive to you? Because, from what we understand, rather than paying a portion of his salary or all of his salary, so you not only get a talented driver but you get a little bit of a kick there with somebody helping with the funding of the team?

Gentilozzi: That absolutely was not it. It's funny because several people have written that, and obviously they don't know me. That wasn't a part of our consideration. First of all, there are a lot of talented drivers around the CART series that can do a job and can do the job, but I needed a guy I could share with philosophically.

We didn't come into this looking for a driver whose salary was paid and we talked to a lot of drivers. That's a function of motorsports today, but that's an insult to Alex. I mean, he is a driver that could drive for anybody, and so we went after this and we made our decision based on his ability. Let's assume your budget is 6 and a half or 7 million dollars, you are sure not going to worry about a few hundred thousand dollars in regards to his performance.

Q: But is Player's in some ways subsidizing him?

Gentilozzi: He is an associate sponsor of the team.

Q: But you basically are just saying, then, for people to assume that he is there because Player's is kicking in a bunch of money, that's totally wrong?

Gentilozzi: That's baloney and it's insulting.

Q: Thanks for calling. I appreciate everybody coming out and joining us. Again, Mr. Gentilozzi, congratulations and we look forward to seeing you and getting fired up on the 2003 season.

Part I


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Paul Gentilozzi , Roger Penske