The following is a transcript of the media conference held by Prodrive Group Managing Director Nick Fry at Winton Raceway on Saturday July 24, 2004. Good afternoon everybody, my name is Nick Fry, I am the Managing Director of Prodrive and I have...
The following is a transcript of the media conference held by Prodrive Group Managing Director Nick Fry at Winton Raceway on Saturday July 24, 2004.
Good afternoon everybody, my name is Nick Fry, I am the Managing Director of Prodrive and I have the responsibility for all of our racing activities and the road car side of our business as well, which of course includes Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) and Ford Performance Racing (FPR).
I will firstly cover a few issues which may cover some of the points which are of interest and then welcome your questions.
I had the choice of Hockenheim in the sun this weekend or Winton, and for some reason I chose Winton! All jokes aside - I am pleased to be here. I guess this is a sign of how seriously we are taking this.
Last year started very well for FPR -- our first year in V8 Supercars with one win and three podium positions. This year clearly has not gone anywhere near as well as we would have liked or expected with just one podium position gained thus far.
I think we always said right from the start when we got into this that we didn't expect it to be easy, and with all of our motorsport programs we generally say it's a three year program before you really make a successful team. I think it is very much turning out that way. Having said that, this year has been a disappointment and at the moment we appear to be progressing less quickly than we would like. This is the reason why I am down here, to try and help the team identify what we should be doing to make the team more successful.
We have clearly identified a few things that we need to do and some of these I think you will be aware of. One of them is very clear, we need a more experienced team manager and we have been looking around for that person for some time. We hope to make an announcement very shortly as we have identified the person we think can do the job and hopefully that will come to fruition within the next few weeks with the person down here quite shortly. I am comfortable that we will be able to fill this position soon.
On the engine side, I think most of you know that we have had four people from the UK here for some time now and they are going to continue to develop the engines. I am 100% confident that they can do the job. This is the team of people that designed the Ford Mondeo British Touring Car first, second and third Championship winning engine and they also work on our Ferrari Sportscar engines. They are very good at what they do. It has been a little bit more difficult than we expected and we have had some false starts, but we are continuing with the development and there are more developments coming for the engine between now and the end of the season. We will continue to work on that.
The other thing that I am doing here is working out what other engineering support we need to give to John Russell (FPR Chief Engineer). Clearly one person cannot do the whole job and there are a couple of other areas we have identified where we are bringing in some reinforcements and again, I think this can have a fairly quick effect.
The last thing we are doing here is on the driver side of things, some of you may have seen our good friend Alain Menu here recently. Alain has been a good friend of the Prodrive family for some years now and he will be joining us for the endurance races. Partnering him will be Adam Macrow who joins us once again this year. We will also pair Craig Lowndes and Glenn Seton together again for Sandown and Bathurst, which we think will work very well. The objective is clear for Bathurst - to go one better than we did last year.
The bottom line is that we are totally committed to making this work. Clearly David Richards, my boss, with some help from myself and others, have been fairly successful in other Formulae. As I said earlier, V8 Supercars has proven quite difficult, but we are committed to making it successful and winning is the only acceptable solution and we intend to get there.
It is going to take some time -- nice fairy stories only happen in children's books, they don't generally happen in reality, so we have to work hard at it. Committed we are and we will make it work. On that note, I am happy to answer any questions you may like to ask.
Q: Is the team manager you are appointing being sourced locally or internationally?
A: We have looked globally, at the moment it is probably appropriate that I don't say where the person is coming from as I am not sure that this person has informed the current employers.
Q: Does this person have V8 Supercar experience?
A: I'm not answering that question I'm afraid.
Comment: You did say that the person was coming 'down' here , so quite clearly it is not a local person.
A: (Laughter) Read into it whatever you like.
Q: When do you hope to have this person on the ground?
A: I hope to have the new team manager on the ground before Sandown.
Q: Do you expect to have the same two drivers driving with FPR in next year's Championship?
A: Drivers are not our problem as we have two very capable drivers. It is a bit too early to say at this stage -- but our intent at the moment is to keep what we have got and clearly we have got to a better job to convince them that they want to drive for us and that is what we intend to do.
Q: Have you spoken to Craig about his decision?
A: Yes I have spoken to Craig a lot despite only having arrived yesterday morning. We have spoken several times and we will speak some more. It is my intention to find out what the drivers would like us to do and then do it, as this is a good way forward. A few years back I had a similar sort of conversation with Richard Burns the Rally driver when we weren't doing so well. We decided what to do and then we went and did it and we made him World Champion. So listening to people and then responding, especially when you have drivers of such experience, seems like a good way forward.
Q: Do you feel inclined that Craig will stay with the team?
A: We would like him to stay very much and I think that we have got a better than even chance, but it is down to us to convince him that we can do the job and that is what I intend to do.
Q: Are you worried that it might be too late?
Q: In hindsight, do you think that basing the engine development in England was a mistake?
A: I don't think it is a mistake, because I think the people that are doing it are absolutely world class and I have got great confidence in them. Logistically it has been very difficult, obviously there is about 12,000 miles between the two and this makes communications quite difficult, and it makes the logistics of moving things backwards and forwards quite difficult, so we set ourselves quite a task in doing this. As you know, since we have had the new headquarters opened we now have two dyno cells which are now up, running and calibrated so we are starting to do more and more here. So the intention is that over time it will migrate down here and a good engine development person to supplement the person we have already got will be on our list of key personnel.
Q: How long do you think it will take before FPR becomes regularly competitive, can you estimate a timeframe?
A: I would like to think that before the end of this season our cars will be regularly competitive and I would also like to think that the engine that we are developing will be right up there by the end of this season. We've spent 18 months working on this and we have learned one hell of a lot -- we have also learned a lot over the last 24 hours, leave alone the rest of the time. These things can switch upwards and downwards very quickly -- if you look at the improvement of the BAR team, it has moved fairly quickly when you look at some of our competitors in Formula One. The McLaren team is a very good example of how you can go from nowhere to somewhere very quickly, so we shall continue to work at it.
Q: What is morale like with the team?
A: Very good actually, I am very pleasantly surprised. We do not have a problem with the guys not trying, everyone is highly motivated. I spoke to all of the team together this morning and I got a very good reaction. We need to be a little bit more consistent in our development, we're learning a lot and we've gone down some alleyways which didn't quite work, but now I think that we are much more focused on what we do need to do. My experience in the last 24 hours is that the guys are very well motivated as are the drivers.
Q: Could you clarify that engine development continues here, that is, going back to the Australian engines or development will be continuing in the UK?
A: There is no going back -- even when the majority of the work is being done here, at the moment it is kind of split, as I said earlier I anticipate that the majority will be done here, but we will retain the intellectual input of some of the experts in England. I never expected this to be 100% zero. I think we will always retain the input from elsewhere in the Prodrive world, even when the majority of the physical work is done here. One of our big advantages over some of our competitors is that we have a lot of Formulae and a lot of different things going on all over the world and we can learn from one place to the other and that's an advantage that we clearly want to retain.
Q: How long will you be in Australia?
A: This time I am here until Tuesday night, just a quick trip - but I am planning to come back for Bathurst.
Q: What kind of progress have the four Prodrive engine specialists made since arriving here?
A: I would say very good progress. I'm very pleased. All four of them have been here before and I think that they have needed to come back and work on the ground to really understand the issues. The other thing that was vital for us to do was to calibrate the dynamometer and the measuring that we do in England with the new equipment that we have in Australia, otherwise you don't really know what you are measuring. So it was important that they were here. The other important thing that we have is what we call Prodrive Process, which is the way we do things. Part of the learning includes bringing some of our decades of knowledge to people who are new to the team -- so this was a valuable interchange.
Q: Getting back to Craig, will you or have you set a deadline for him to stay with the team?
A: No I don't intend to set a deadline, what I intend to do is convince Craig that we are his best bet for winning races and we need to convince Craig that we have a plan to improve, and he will come to his own decision as to what he wants to do. Clearly it is our great hope that he stays with us.
Q: Within the Prodrive Group, is the lack of results in V8 Supercars this season embarrassing?
A: Yes - it is totally unacceptable. We are used to doing well. It takes time and we are patient as long as things continue to improve. We're realists as we have been doing this for a long time, so we are aware that things take time to mature. However, at the moment this is not progressing quite fast enough. The other Prodrive teams are all doing quite nicely and we want this one to catch up and they will. This is not rocket science - this is not different, it just takes time, we have got to get the team working a little bit better than it is at the moment. It is not for the lack of enthusiasm, it is just getting it all to blend together. It will happen.
Q: Are you surprised with how long it is taken to be more competitive?
A: I wouldn't say surprised - as I said at the start, we thought it would take three years as it usually takes three years. If I have got my statistics right I think it took Stone Brothers five years to win a race and I think it took HRT eight years. In some ways it is unfortunate that we won almost immediately and we probably raised expectations unrealistically both inside and outside of the team and we have fallen back a bit. Maybe that was just natural, maybe that was going to happen anyway. We can get back to where we need to be at this point.
Q: Can you identify a major area of weakness with the team?
A: I think we need a little bit more experience in our race engineering activity. They are very good but youthful. We have already got people helping us on the chassis engineering side and we have very good engine engineering people within the group and here, but I think we need one more with more experience in this area. It is all around improvement, I don't think that there is a silver bullet that can fix any particular weakness. Understanding how the chassis works is also an area we are learning more about all of the time -- yesterday wasn't a good day for us, today has gone a lot better. This morning we have done a lot of different experiments in a very logical fashion with the suspension settings, gathered all of the data and I think we are very comfortable with our position as we sit here now.