CHAMPCAR/CART: Stoddart, Wiggins telconference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: Paul, when you were in Formula, it was sort of part of necessity, but you had quite a history of bringing drivers into the series. There is a series called the Atlantic series, is there any sort of possibility you might...

Continued from part 2

Q: Paul, when you were in Formula, it was sort of part of necessity, but you had quite a history of bringing drivers into the series. There is a series called the Atlantic series, is there any sort of possibility you might end up with Minardi there as well?

PAUL STODDART: At the moment, the answer is no, only because we need to- there is not a lot of time as has been previously mentioned. We take delivery of the new car on Wednesday and the first tests are in January. So there's not enough time now to think seriously about Atlantics but it does seem to be a tremendous formula. It certainly produces awfully good people and I do think it's something we could be looking at seriously in the future but not for '07.

Q: I guess you saw the Atlantic this year and the new car and the new format and everything else and the new cars coming in next year, can you talk a little bit about how you feel things are going to work out next year with Champ Car with the new car, the new rules and all of the like?

PAUL STODDART: Well, I think we've got some exciting new races as well. I think that race in Vegas is going to be memorable to say the least. I was privileged enough to go around the circuit on Tuesday last, and I think it's going to be absolutely fantastic.

The new car is a leveling of the playing field, as Keith mentioned. The top teams will always get back up there. But it gives a chance for a team like us that's coming in with a few new ideas and perhaps a bit more funding just to use our engineering experience to get an early advantage and perhaps do something a bit special. And I think also with Champ Car you've got the ability that you can bring drivers on if the drivers are good, engineers' championship, and I think we can have some exciting times ahead.

I really do think that it's the right series for us. It's something that as I said before, it brings the whole sport to the people to the fans, that's important for me, some great racing, a new car. It's certainly the right time for us.

Q: Paul, curious even though if you live abroad, will you personally plan on being at all of the races next year?

PAUL STODDART: If I'm not at all, it will be near, when people say to me where I live these days I say 37,000 feet because that's what it feels like, I really do mean that. I do a lot of traveling. I think having an airline does help a little bit, but certainly it's my aim to be at not just races, but at tests, as well.

Q: Obviously Champ Car has had some great news the last couple of weeks, great rebound from past couple tumultuous years, how do you feel with this announcement and all of the announcements coming up before the holiday break?

STEVE JOHNSON: You feel good. You're never quite as far along as you want, and we've got several other things that we just want to try to get finalized before the holidays, don't know if it's a reality or not, but we're working on a lot of good things.

You know, those things are not happening by accident and it's a business plan that we're following. You know, it seems that the good news comes in batches. So I would just say, stay tuned. We have a couple others that we're going to be announcing soon as well.

Q: Paul, obviously you like the series, that's why you're joining, but how do you feel about the good news coming out recently?

PAUL STODDART: It's fantastic and it's the decision that now is the right time to do it. Champ Car has a tremendously exciting future. And as I said right at the start, what brought me into it is it's well-organized and it's fan-friendly. If you add that to the fact that we have a new car and a leveling of the playing field, I think it is something that is right for us to do.

Q: So you talk about how you find these people friendly and easy to work with, are you going to find it that way when it's in the heat of competition, as well?

PAUL STODDART: I've had a lot of experience with situations, and I'd like to think, anyway, I mean, time will be a judge of this. But I'd like to think that I'm a reasonably good judge of people, and certainly, you know, there was a real bonus being able to get Friday night, because obviously I met Keith and I had met Kevin and I had met various other people at that level. But I had not had a lot of time to meet and greet the boys, and that was a great opportunity Friday.

I came away at some ungodly hour Saturday morning feeling very, very positive. But the decision was right, the people were right. I made it very clear to them that we are only going to strengthen, we are not looking to do anything else and that we also are fully aware, that we come in with plates on at this stage, and we are going to look listen and learn and strengthening and hope that it's a recipe for success.

Q: I noticed that no one seems to be talking about American drivers. Can you talk about what Americans would need to get to this level so that they would be prepared and ready to compete at this level?

PAUL STODDART: I think you've got American drivers coming on. I actually think that Atlantics and other series will bring on Americans. It's just that at this moment in time, I can see there does seem to be more foreigners out there than there is home-grown talents. But I'm sure that over time that's going to be addressed and some of the American drivers are actually not in America. They are competing elsewhere. You know, let's give it time. I think everyone is aware of the need to have national heroes.

KEITH WIGGINS: And I think one of the core problems before is that there has not been some really good, identified feeder series. There's been a lot of voids in the latter, and Champ Car has helped address that with especially now the strength of the Atlantic series. There's one series in Europe GP2, Formula 3, there's a whole run and really that's why some of the Americans have gone over is to find that level of competition early on. You'll find that it can't happen overnight obviously but gradually that void will fill with the talent.

Q: Keith, we were talking the other day, if I can just put in a time frame the last time you went into the holidays and the new year feeling secure about the next season, and be honest about it, go all the way back to Enrique and talk about what it usually is like this time of the year for you.

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I'm not sure, funny enough you don't come to work on a Monday morning and say, 'okay, I'm secure' because it's just not in your makeup. You're starting to think about what the next problems are.

Obviously our focus is on the drivers and make sure that we have a competitive team, but it's fairly true to say, I mean, I'm not - maybe I'm not the smartest guy in the world because I've spent a lot of my years even in the earlier days obviously Formulaq over two Christmases was probably enough to - I can't remember what my head was doing at that time.

But you know, the only reason I came over in the beginning, you know, I said I wasn't going to be involved in teams after sort of 16 or 18 years. I said the only reason I did the deal was we got together with Enrique. And when I said when you provide a solid platform, I'll put the team together and that seemed to me like a perfect mix. And you know, again, I have a great loyalty and affection for that period of time. Again, no one planned, but four years with any program is a pretty good run, and then suddenly I ended up sort of my shoulders got a bit wider and there was this situation with a team that you just could not let it die because of what we've built.

And so, yeah, there's a couple of years on, Christmases generally are not a very fun time, I must admit, because you're usually up against it. I mean, how do I get the next year; certainly not the best business you take to the bank, plan for years ahead. Yeah, they are difficult. It's always probably the worst time of the year when you have a team, you're used to doing that and I don't think you should lose sight of that or become complacent.

It is a nice feeling, and I don't think it's really sunk in yet to be honest that we don't have to worry, because we still have to worry. We still have to put the budget together. We still have to get the drivers, and there's less excuses now of course to move up. But I guess, yeah, now that you've actually mentioned it, there's a little less nail-bitingand probably get drunk more this Christmas.

Q: Quick question, Paul, you sort of alluded to maybe doing some things to bring in a few people to sort of strengthen - to further strengthen what was already a pretty good team last year. This comes at a time when other teams seem to kind of be adding with engineering and other capabilities, and with the new car, at least for 2007, the amount of development work that you're allowed to do on the car is going to be very restrictive. I wondered if perhaps and you Keith can both address kind of how the team is going to prepare and maybe attack the 2007 car differently than it has over the past couple of years with what was effectively the spec Lola, but was - but which you could, comparatively more free to develop?

PAUL STODDART: Obviously the Lola, let's go back five years. There was so much development that spending $20 or $25 million was a possibility to develop the car. I think rules have tightened down on the car and I think because the car stayed somewhat stable, it's allowed a lot of the others teams - you know, it's no secret, migration, plenty of engineers have disappeared, a lot of hours have been poached over time and information spreads.

So the car does become a bit more spec in the sense that most people know a lot of the development that the other people have done. You know, with USB these days, it's pretty easy for people, information. It's still there and we still manage, I think even last year we showed that we found some more development in the car ourselves.

But I think the new car, we have a plan for the new car and nothing is going to change and it's just a different mentality. And we've done it in other series, if it's a spec, then what are the areas, you've got to find out what the differences are between that car and this car. And if you've got good engineering, good analysis, then the real key is comparison. And then finding out where the weak areas are and finding the little things that you can do rather than the big things, like going back to the Formula Ford days. Devil is in the detail and I think that's where we will go.

Again, this was alluded to the last question, there's been many years when we've sat here and said, oh, this is what I'd like to do, if only we had the budget to do it. And sometimes it can be a bit grating when you have to take - put some drivers that are not talented into cars which you know are good and try and do development and keep the motivation with engineers to do development. Because, you know, you want the front runners and you want to know that it's put to good use.

Again, one of the good things here is that we've looked at a plan of how to develop a car and looked at that small stuff. This situation now gives us the ability to know that we can carry through all those ideas and know that we've got resources, and you know, a couple of people here and there that we've been talking to, we can go ahead and secure them and carry through, follow through, shall we say.

Q: Paul, in the beginning you alluded to two drivers being confirmed, with a possibility of more. Can you talk about if the drivers from last year, Nelson Philippe and Dan Clarke, are in the mix or not? And the second part of the question is, you mentioned the possibility of a third car, is there any possibility of a fourth car or is three your absolute maximum?

PAUL STODDART: It was actually two cars that were confirmed with a possibility of a third. In terms of drivers, yes, for sure, both Nelson and Dan are still in the picture. And in addition to that there are at least two other drivers that we are talking very seriously to and one or two that we are in earlier stages of negotiations with.

So it would be wrong for us to go into that today other than to say that we are actively talking to four and more. And a fourth car, I think that would be a bit much for next year. I think a third car is what we're aiming for and if we can see that we've got three drivers that will complement each other, complement the information and data feedback to the team, you know, then it's a possibility.

Q: Is your goal to have all two or three drivers before the first test in January?

PAUL STODDART: That's what we're hoping for. We've self imposed a date of January 15 as the day that we would like to know who our two drivers are for sure, and we will probably still be negotiating with the third.

Q: In Australia, we talked about the possibility of the Minardi two-seater cars maybe being used; is that still in the mix for this next year?

PAUL STODDART: Certainly is and I think you know that's something again that will be discussed in more detail in the new year. But yeah, I think it's fair it say that you'll certainly see them at some point.

Q: Paul with your arrival from the Formulaq community and now with the Champ Car World Series, is it realistic to think -- and maybe it's fantasy on my part, I don't know, that there are others in the F1 community that are like you, going to look at the Champ Car World Series as something that they may also want to do?

PAUL STODDART: I think it's early days to say that. But what I would probably do is just turn that around a little bit and say that Champ Car is viewed as being very credible, very respectable and very well managed, so you could not discount that possibility. I think I'm the only one that's publicly said it but I know privately there's at least one other formula team owner who is quietly thinking at this point in time.

Q: And Steve, quick question for you, is there such an animal as an ideal car count in terms of the total number of cars? You're not going to turn anybody down because you saw, wow that's too many or there's too few; is there such an animal as an ideal number for you do you have a number in mind? Is it 24 cars? How would you describe that?

STEVE JOHNSON: I think 22 to 24 cars would be a healthy grid. I think it would be a lot of excitement but really comes down to quality of drivers as well. What you don't want is 24 or 26 cars when half your lap is under yellow or half your race is under yellow. That's not part of the goal. So to answer your question, yeah, 22, 24 would be a great number.

ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to today's Champ Car media teleconference. I'd like to thank Steve Johnson, Paul Stoddart and Keith Wiggins for being on the call today.

-credit: ccws

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Stoddart , Nelson Philippe , Steve Johnson , Daniel Clarke