September 3, 2004 -- Today, at California Speedway, NEXTEL Cup points leader Jeff Gordon and second place driver Jimmie Johnson announced that they will lead Team USA's effort to reclaim the Nations Cup at the 2004 Race of Champions (ROC) in...
September 3, 2004 -- Today, at California Speedway, NEXTEL Cup points leader Jeff Gordon and second place driver Jimmie Johnson announced that they will lead Team USA's effort to reclaim the Nations Cup at the 2004 Race of Champions (ROC) in Paris, France on December 4th, 2004. Eight countries will compete. Among the other competitors will be Formula One Champ Michael Schumacher (driving for Germany) and current World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (driving for France). In 2002, Gordon and Johnson brought the title home for the United States. Highlights of the press conference:
Q: WHAT IS IT GOING TO BE LIKE FOR YOU TO RACE MICHAEL SCHUMACHER IN EQUAL CARS?
JEFF GORDON: "I'm excited because this is the format we had in the Canary Islands. The way the track is definitely makes things equal. The way the cars were prepared the last time, I feel like things are equal. You also swap cars. So I definitely think it's as equal opportunity as you can get. The style of driving for these cars in all-wheel driving on the dirt is certainly a little bit different than what we're used to doing all the time. But I thought it went very well in the Canary Islands. The more laps Jimmie and I made, the better we got the faster we got. By having a little bit of experience in these cars going back, we can pick up the pace to another level this time even though it's at a different track.
"So, I'm excited. I think Michael certainly brings a lot of interest there. I'm excited that Jimmie and I were able to work out everything and fulfill everything we need to fulfill here in the U.S. We're planning to leave after the banquet (Dec. 3rd), hopefully after one of us has celebrated a championship, and get over there and have some fun."
Q: AND ON TOP OF ALL THAT, JIMMIE IS GETTING MARRIED. HOW DO YOU KEEP UP WITH ALL THIS?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "There are a lot of things going on. I have to give a lot of credit to my fiance. She said you have to do it. You have to defend your title. This is something you can't pass up. We love this great opportunity. The organizers of this race have made it easy for us to get over there and do it and for myself to get back to go get married. It's a great event and I'm glad to see all the exposure the event is getting - especially here in the United States. It's huge over in Europe. We took some booing when we were taking our victory lap with the American flag made me realize we need more interest here in the states. I think with Michael being involved and Jeff and I going back and all the attention it's going to draw, it's really going to raise it to the next level."
Q: WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO BEAT MICHAEL SCHUMACHER HEAD-TO- HEAD?
JEFF GORDON: "I had a chance to meet him when Jimmie and I were in Barcelona for the F-1 race earlier in the year. The first question that he had for me was when was I coming to race there and I said as soon as he retired (laughs) and he said that wasn't going to be any time soon. So this is definitely an opportunity to go there and have some fun in a car that's so different and in an atmosphere that's so much different. I enjoyed it so much the last time I was there. This is a great opportunity for me to go back and have some more fun. But the fact that he's there and I'm going to get to go head-to-head with him is going to be awesome - win or lose, it's still probably the only opportunity I'll ever had to race against Michael Schumacher. I wish we could get some of these guys over here into the IROC Series. But this is cool because they're not cars I'm used to driving and they're not cars he's used to driving - that I know of anyway. I would love to beat him, obviously, but I'm just excited to race him and see what happens."
Q: DESCRIBE THE COURSE AND HOW YOUR STADIUM RACING BACKGROUND WILL HELP
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Yeah, this fits my background. That's why my first time going over to the Canaries, I was really interested in going. It was a different format and a different style of cars. I'd never driven a 4WD car until I went to that event. And they drive completely different. So I had to learn that. In the stadium, it's going to be tight corners. I'm used to rotating the car on the dirt and around 180 degree turns. So hopefully I can carry some experience from my off-road days and have fun. But from the sound of it, it sounds like it's going to be a crossover style race track where you complete a lap and then you cross over so both of you run on each other's course and you try to be the first one back at the end. So you don't have an inside lane with better track conditions versus the outside lane or any distance issues. You both complete a lap on each lane and the first one back to the finish wins. It's really an equal and fun format. When we were over there last time with all the world class drivers and riders and everybody involved, we got to meet a lot of great people and we had a great time. And then we switched our heads and raced each other an had a blast."
Q: LAST WEEK, YOU SAID YOU HAD NO INPUT IN SETTING UP AN IROC CAR. WILL YOU HAVE ANY INPUT IN SETTING UP THESE ROC CARS?
JEFF GORDON: "No, but because you're getting out of one car you're usually getting in another car and the way you're on the dirt, the driver comes into play so much more. How you drive the car is a huge part of this. You're sliding the car sideways around the dirt and it's definitely a car equalizer. You really don't have any input other than getting in the seat and adjust the seat and put the seat belts on and go."
Q: ON THE SAFETY ISSUES OF GETTING INTO SOMEBODY ELSE'S VEHICLE
JEFF GORDON: "I should be able to speak from experience having crashed one of these cars as to how safe they are. I rode in one that flipped over about four or five times and I was in good shape. The car held up very well. These cars are unbelievable. That car I wrecked was about a $4 - 500,000 race car. The safety they put into them and the technology is very good. We wouldn't get in any thing we didn't feel comfortable and safe. I don't know if we get over 60 mph on this track either. It'stight, twisty turns. Again, it brings the driver into play in a big way. But from what I saw of the professionalism before is the only reason I'd be going back."
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "To add to that, you're driving a world rally car. It's like taking one of our Cup teams or a Formula I team and letting somebody else drive it. So it's great equipment. On top of that, everybody has a very high interest in making sure this is safe and that the cars are safe. We wouldn't be putting ourselves in a bad situation."
Q: ARE YOU LEAVING THE NASCAR BANQUET EARLY IN ORDER TO GET THERE?
JEFF GORDON: "We're going to leave after the banquet. We've factored in time to be at the banquet for another one or two hours after the banquet is over. It'll be afterwards when everybody else is going to sleep. We'll climb into a plane and go to sleep and wake up in Paris and go race. The race is the next day. So that's why we've got to get a lot of sleep on that plane on our way there. When we land, we will be pretty close to needing to get to the race track."