CHAMPCAR/CART: Max Wilson interview transcript, Part I

Part 1 of 2: OPENING REMARKS: Geoffrey Harris, Australian Grand Prix Corporation media manager): Welcome everyone, and particularly Max Wilson, a new driver in Australian V8 Supercar competition this year, with John Briggs' Betta Electrical...

Part 1 of 2:

Geoffrey Harris, Australian Grand Prix Corporation media manager):
Welcome everyone, and particularly Max Wilson, a new driver in Australian V8 Supercar competition this year, with John Briggs' Betta Electrical Ford Falcon coming out of Queensland. Max will be making his Australian debut in the Netspace V8 Supercar Showdown at the upcoming 2002 Foster's Australian Grand Prix, which is now a little more than a week away (February 28 to March 3). Max was born in Germany, but grew up in Brazil, and he's had an interesting career, including test driving for the Williams Formula One team and for Michelin, before its return to Formula One a couple of years ago as a tyre supplier. Max has driven alongside guys like Juan Pablo Montoya. Max has taken a lunch break from testing at Willowbank Raceway in Queensland today, and I'll let our media friends pose the questions to Max and let him tell us his story.

New V8 Supercar racer Max Wilson, of Brazil, tests the Ford Falcon.
Photo by Mark Horsburgh, Edge Photographics.

Q. - Could you just explain to us how this V8 Supercar drive came about?

MW - Actually, by the end of last year, when I was doing ChampCars, the team that I was driving for, they didn't know what's going to happen with them this year regarding if they're going to be staying in ChampCars or go to IRL (Indy Racing League) or close the doors. So last December I had a phone call from Alex, who is the engineer from John Briggs Motorsport, and then he invited me to come over here and to have a look at the cars and everything. I just knew the Super V8s from the TV, so when I got here I was really well impressed, especially when I first saw the John Briggs team, and the team looked very professional and the series looked quite professional, too. So I came over here and I did a few laps here at Willowbank, and I really liked the car, so here I am.

Q. - You have obviously been a late inclusion into the Grand Prix field. You and Rick Kelly have been given two extra berths. How did that come about, and obviously that's a pleasing situation for you, to get a debut at the Grand Prix?

MW - Yeah, for me is very important to race on that weekend (first weekend of March) because it doesn't count for the championship, but for me there's going to be some starts and some race action. I'm not used to race those types of cars, and for me it's going to be good for learning. I'm very pleased that those two spots on the grid came up and when I got the news I was very happy and excited, because I think it's going to be really important for me.

Q. - How do you feel in the car? Are you comfortable yet, or still learning?

MW - I'm not that comfortable yet. I'm still learning, because in the whole of my career I just drove like saloon cars or touring cars just once, and all the rest were formula cars. They are completely different cars, and these cars roll a lot and they are a lot heavier to drive, and the fuel is a lot heavier. So I'm still learning. Today is my first proper test, because I came here (Australia) last year, as I said before, and I just did in between laps on the track. So today is the first time that I'm here to run for the whole day. Every time that I get into the car, I get more comfortable with it, but I'm still learning about it.

Q. - Just further to what you were talking about there, with the V8s, apart from the fact it's a heavier car, what are the differences in driving a car like a V8 compared to the karts and the Formula Ones? What are the essential differences?

MW - I think the two main differences are, first of all, I think the braking, it's a lot different because with the Formula One cars, F1 or karts or any formula car, you can brake a lot deeper because the cars are lighter and they know the brakes a lot better. Also, because of downforce, you can carry a lot more speed through the turns, which, with these cars, you have to go a lot slower than the formula cars. But that's the car's limit. They are different cars, but again I just have to learn about it. But other than that, it's still a race car. Just those two other, or another few things, that are quite different. But once I get used to it, I think it will be okay.

Q. - What did you know about our V8 drivers, the Supercar drivers, before you landed this job?

MW - Actually, I didn't know much of the drivers. I had heard about Paul Radisich. When I used to race in Europe, I think he was doing touring cars there, and I always heard very good things about him regarding - I mean, he seems to be very good. The only driver that is doing V8s now that I had met before and raced with was Craig Lowndes, because he did Formula 3000 in 1997 when I first started in 3000. So he did it that season, '97, and that is the only guy that I met before from the V8s.

Q. - Max, could you perhaps tell us a bit about your life. Obviously born in Germany, but brought up in Brazil. Can you just give us a bit of an abbreviated history of your life.

MW - Sure. I was born in Germany, but when I was just over a year old I went to Brazil. My parents are Brazilians and they worked in Germany for like five years. So I went there when I was really just a baby actually, and so I spent the rest of my time in Brazil. Back in 1996, I went back to Germany for a race, I did a German F3 there, and I have been living in Europe for - I lived in Europe from '96 until 2000, when I moved to America to do ChampCars. I grew up in Brazil, I was just born in Germany, but I'm Brazilian 100 per cent.

Q. - Why was it that you chose to base yourself in Germany for most of that time, when you were racing for Petrobas (in F3000) and teams like that, which run out of England? What was it that made you decide to live in Germany rather than, say, England?

MW - Actually, I lived in England from '97 to 2000. I just lived in Germany for '96, because when I was doing Formula Three back in Brazil, the South American Formula Three, I had an invitation from Willy Weber, who is Schumacher's manager. At that time, he used to have an F3 team there in Germany, and he invited me to go to a test when I was doing F3 in South America, and then the following year I did the German F3. So that's why I lived in Germany at the beginning.

Q. - Did you end up driving for Willy Weber's team? Your biography mentions the Prema team, which is the team that Australian Ryan Briscoe was racing for last year in Italy.

MW - I didn't drive for Weber's team because the year that I was supposed to drive, which should be 1996, he sold the team to another guy, so he wasn't running an F3 team any more. So I started the championship with this guy that he sold the team to, and then after a few races this guy had some problems in the team and then I moved to Prema, which is an Italian team, but they were with German F3 at that time. So I started with the team that used to be to belong Weber and then I moved to an Italian team.

Q. - Max, was this decision to come to Australia a choice? Did you have other possibilities, or was this the only thing left for you in 2002?

MW - Actually, at the end of last year, the ChampCar, the thing that I would like to - I mean, my target last year was to do another season in ChampCars, because last year was my first year and I drove for a very small team and we were running 2000 cars in the 2001 season, so it was a really difficult year for me. Then, you know, I was planning to do another year in ChampCars, to try to drive for a better team, or something like this. But last year in ChampCars the teams were kind of difficult because there were some teams shutting the doors and some teams they were moving to IRL. In the end, I still had some opportunities in ChampCars, but now I think the situation there was kind of difficult to be playing around and then ended up without any ride there. So I had this option here. Again, when I first came, I didn't know much about it, but when I arrived here I was really well impressed. So I decided it would be a lot better for me to come over here and start this new direction in my career, than to be trying to go to ChampCars or something like this, and then might not find anything else.

Q. - Do you think that you might return to ChampCars if the opportunity comes up again?

MW - It's hard to say, because I just got here and so far I'm enjoying it very much. As I said before, I just drove in ChampCars last year and the team I drove with was not as good as it could be. So I kind of would like to go there and drive for a better team and to see what I could do, because I think I could do a decent job. But again, so far I'm enjoying it here. So as long as I enjoy to be here, I don't have any reason to move to anywhere else.

Q. - Max, can you just clarify for us the team that you were racing for in ChampCars?

MW - Last year, I drove for - the team's name at the beginning was Brook Racing, or Cheryl Brook Racing, which was like two teams together. Then one of the team investors, which was Larry Blair, he became like a team owner, so the team name was Blair Racing. You know, the people there were really nice people and they worked very hard, but we didn't have a sponsorship so everything was backing by the team owner. It was very difficult, because in ChampCars all the teams are quite professional in these days. So if you don't have a competitive team, with everything that you need to run well, it's very difficult. So, yes, last year we struggled a lot because, as I said, we were running the cars and engines from one year before, so it was kind of difficult. But again, everybody was trying their best; but in the end, it wasn't good enough.

Q. - Max, if we go back about 30 years, we saw the first Brazilian driver arrive in Formula One, Emerson Fittipaldi. Obviously he won a couple of world championships and you've had other drivers, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, who have won world championships. So is this going to be the start of something like that in V8 Supercars? Are you going to be the first of a rash of Brazilians drivers in Australia?

MW - I hope so. For me again, is quite early to say anything. I wish I can do as good as those guys did in F1. For me, just to be the first Brazilian to be driving for the full season of V8 Supercars, I feel very proud about it and I feel very proud to be racing here because it's a great place and good teams, good drivers. I'm just waiting for the first race to see what I can do and have a better idea how is going to be the season for us. Again, I think the team is doing a great job. John Briggs' team and Betta Electrical, sponsoring us, it has been very good support from them. We are here at Willowbank right now and the cars are running really good. So it would be nice to test with a lot of cars, but we are testing by ourselves. Again, at Melbourne we're going to have a better idea where we are.

Q. - Max, what's your goal this year? Where do you sort of see yourself fitting in? Obviously coming from a different background, it would be hard to sort of slot in immediately. Our championship, they say, is one of the toughest in the world to break into, and they're not going to make it pretty easy for you, by the sound of things.

MW - Yeah, I think so. It seems to be really competitive here. You know, I saw some tapes from last year and the field seems to be quite close together. But again, until the first time that you go to the track or with some other cars and other teams, it's hard to judge where I can be. My target, as everybody else, is to be in the front. But if I will be in the front or not is just I have to wait and see. But, so far, I'm feeling more and more comfortable with the car. I know I have to understand that when I go for the first race in Melbourne, I'm going to have like one really proper day of testing and I'll be racing against guys that have been doing this for many, many years, so they have a lot more experience than I do. But I know I have some more experience in some other series, which I don't think some of the drivers they do. So it's going to be interesting.

Q. - Max, in Australian V8 Supercar racing, we have quite a combination of races, with short sprint races at the Grand Prix, some endurance races like Adelaide and Bathurst, and the regular V8 Supercar series races, perhaps about 40 minutes each. So that's quite a mixed bag. Which kind of races do you think would suit you, and perhaps you could tell us about your driving style.

MW - You know, I never race in the V8s. But from my background, after go karts, I start in Formula Fords, Formula Threes. So I pretty much have done all kinds of races regarding the length, because Formula Ford races are like half an hour races or 40 minutes, and then you go to ChampCars, where you do like a 500 (miles), which takes like three hours. So, for each race, you have to have a different approach. Like for sure the sprint race, you have to go like 100 per cent all the time. When you go to Bathurst, you have to be more conservative because the car has to last for 1,000 kilometres. I enjoy more the sprint races because I think there is more action going on, but the long races are interesting, too, because you have to pace yourself. It's good, I enjoy both of them, but I prefer sprint races.

Q. - You mentioned Bathurst, Mount Panorama. This would be, for a race driver, a real challenge. What have you heard? Obviously you have seen about Bathurst. Tell us about how you're looking forward to Mount Panorama, when that one comes around?

MW - Yeah, I heard that it's the biggest race of the year, and I'm going to have to have a teammate - not a teammate - yeah, like a teammate that's going to be driving the same car that I will be doing. But I know at Briggs Motorsport, my mate is Tony Longhurst, who is the current winner from Bathurst. Me and Tony, we go along very well and I really believe that he's going to give me some good tips there and perhaps in the future I can become a winner, too.

Q. - Marcos Ambrose, who shone as one of Ford's rookies last year, came from an open-wheeler background and found it hard to get used to the rough and tumble of banging doors and things like that. Do you see a similar sort of situation for yourself?

MW - Yeah, a little bit. Today I was testing and I'm testing here, and for me I always feel the car is too soft, because I'm used to a different type of car. But I just have to learn how the car behaves here and to understand a bit better how it feels and try to do my best. But it is difficult at the beginning, because everything that you do in the car, the car doesn't feel as comfortable as it could be. But it's just a matter of getting used to it.


Part II

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About this article
Series Supercars , IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Williams