Marlboro Team Penske Media Conference
Topics: Penske Racing
BRIAN MUIR: Thank you for calling. I hope you enjoyed Swan Lake or whatever that was. Sorry about the delay, but Al and Paul have been testing the new '97 Marlboro Penske Mercedes in Phoenix, and Homestead, Florida the last few weeks. And, of course, getting ready for spring training which is January 30 through February 1 at Homestead and then the Marlboro Grand Prix will open the season in Miami on March 2. We have got quite a few people on our conference today, so I am just going to up it up for questions and go right ahead.
Q. Could you just give us an update on how the testing has gone and how this car appears different from last year's?
AL UNSER, JR.: Certainly. First off, I want to thank everybody for joining us. And, the car is real good. It is definitely better than our last year's car and so we are -- testing has been going very well.
Q. Last year's car looked good going in as well, it seems to me. Have you been able to do any different testing this year - seems to me you are going to the same tracks as usual - to make sure that the same kind of problems don't show up?
PAUL TRACY: Well, there is only a certain amount of tracks you can really run at during the winter. And, that is either out here in Phoenix or in Florida. The only track that we physically run at, that we can really test at is Homestead and Laguna is very tough to get onto because of the noise. So, we have do have a test plan in Laguna before the season starts and we are just trying to not run into the same problems that we had last year.
Q. It is hard for an outsider to read what kind of problems did exist with the car relative to changes in elevation that was mentioned in the Marlboro Penske press release because, you know, it seemed to go so well at Elkhart Lake and yet, you know, Laguna Seca is the other extreme, I guess. Can either one of you explain that a bit?
PAUL TRACY: You can try. I was going to let you do it Paul.
AL UNSER, JR.: We really kind of felt that when we got on a track with uphill and downhill and so on, that really the geometry of the car really didn't fit it proper. And, at least, you know, that is our best guess, you know, we are still learning and so on. And, I think the engineers are too.
Q. What was the situation at Elkhart Lake then? A lot of ups and downs there.
AL UNSER, JR.: I think Elkhart Lake was, you know, a combination of several things. The front road disappeared at Turn 2.
Q. It helps.
AL UNSER, JR.: We had great pit stops and we just worked our way to the front.
Q. We spoke last Saturday morning. One of the things that we discussed was the new fuel capacity of the tanks. I am wondering in these test sessions of the last week, are you spending more time working with pit spots than you did in year's past?
AL UNSER, JR.: We really are. Our crew has always been real good at pit stops, so, you know, it is going to be a three-stop strategy rather than doing it on 2. But the key is going to be field mileage. We only get a certain amount of fuel which is the same as I think as last year. And, the key is going to be getting good fuel mileage. So, we have been doing a lot of longer runs concentrating on our fuel mileage. You have got to make a certain number to get to the end of the race. So, that is going to be even more important than how many stops we are doing.
Q. I listened back to the interview when you and I and Billy spoke just before the program aired. One of the things that stands out. It sounded as though you were preparing mentally -- as much mentally for these test sessions as you were physically with the car. Is that a correct assessment?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, we go at it really hard and do our best at all the tests. I don't know where you got the mental or anything like that. We didn't win a race last year so we are extremely hungry.
Q. Paul, just wanted to ask you if you are feeling anymore settled after the personnel difficulties that you went through in 1996? You had mentioned them earlier as part of the problem you might have been having last year. Are you feeling a bit better about the way you are racing?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I really am. It was great. I had a great Christmas break and got to run the car right before Christmas and had a real greatest at Firebird in Phoenix. So, I am pretty excited about the year coming. The new car has been working real well. I mean, we have got -- we have added some more tests I have seen in the last couple of days since we got back from Homestead, so, it is going to be pretty busy and I am pretty prepared for it.
Q. I wanted to ask both of you, I know last year had to be a little frustrating for a couple of guys used to winning a lot of races and I had wondered if you could talk about how much more fired up that as for you this year?
PAUL TRACY: Everybody is pretty focused. Roger is real focused. I know Al is, myself, the whole team, all the engineers. We have just been hitting it real hard, like Al said, been testing a lot and have a lot more tests to come in the next three weeks, so we are staying pretty busy.
AL UNSER, JR.: Exactly what Paul said. We are working real hard and it will be good.
Q. Al, you guys are running with five inches engines in boost this year. I am curious, is that a noticeable difference from last year and if so, where do you notice that on the track?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, pretty much everywhere, really. The horsepower is less. And, you know, we are going to have to really pretty much work on the car getting it through the corner because we don't have the horsepower to get down the straight-a-way like we did last year. So, it is definitely noticeable.
Q. I have a question for both Al or Paul, whoever wants to answer it. Have you guys had a chance to test cars focusing specifically on some of the aerodynamic rule changes and if so, does that effect how the car feels in your setups and so on?
PAUL TRACY: We have been -- our biggest change of the year really is Homestead with the speedway wings and the last day of our last test Al got a pretty good handle on it there and got going pretty well. But, that is really the biggest change of the year is going to be the race at Homestead without the short oval wings. Down-forcewise, I think the car is real good. I had a great test at PIR even though we don't race there, the car was, I think, a little bit better than last year's car, short oval trim. And, that was even with a reduction in down-force, the car felt really good and was real positive. But, Homestead is going to be a tricky race because speedway wings, you have got a massive reduction of down-force; probably going to have 30 cars trying to race in pretty tight turns and heavy breaking. So, that is going to make for pretty tricky conditions.
Q. Any changes in team personnel in terms of who is assigned to which car this year?
PAUL TRACY: I think everything is pretty much the same for Al. I have a new engineer. His name is Ian Reed. Nigel Beresford has moved up to technical director for the team.
Q. Where did Ian Reed come from Paul?
PAUL TRACY: He joined our team last year. Previous to that he had worked for Tom Walkinshaw for a long time when TWR was at Ligier in '95.
Q. Al, can you talk a little bit about the tire situation at the moment. Could you address that a little bit, Al, if you wouldn't mind?
AL UNSER, JR.: We are working really hard with Goodyear. They are working really hard at it. So, you know, maybe right now we are testing tires and so on and it is really a bit early to really tell, but you know, we are hard at work with Goodyear and hopefully we will have a better year with the tires than last year.
Q. I guess you ran a few laps on the unfinished California Speedway yesterday or today. Can you tell us a little bit about?
PAUL TRACY: Not yet. We got pushed back because of weather. They had some rain, so they couldn't finish some of the paving. I think both of us are leaving today.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about how difficult it is to get the advantage that Penske used to have? They used to call it the unfair advantage. You don't seem to have that anymore. How difficult is it to come back?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well we are trying to get it back, for sure. I really believe that we still have an advantage, you know, with Roger especially in the pits and he is a great strategist and so we are -- it has gotten so competitive out there with the engine war going on and with the tire war going on, it has really put everybody equal. And, so, we are having better shows nowadays than we did in the past.
PAUL TRACY: I would have to agree with that. A lot of the teams now are -- there is a dozen teams that are technically very strong. It is just tough to get any type of a big advantage, the way the series is structured; the way everything is formatted, it just makes for very competitive racing. That is ultimately what the drivers want and what the fans want is to have tight competitive racing. There is no where else where you can get the first 18 to 20 cars within a second, so, I mean, that is fantastic racing.
Q. Do you both see the same kind of competition this year as last year with perhaps two or three teams up there all the time?
PAUL TRACY: I think I see it a little bit tougher because there are a couple new guys coming in and obviously they are pretty quick and couple of guys moved around within teams and new opportunities. So, I see it is going to be probably even more competitive.
AL UNSER, JR.: And I agree with Paul.
Q. Al, what is your view on running the Indianapolis 500 again?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, you know, we are going to miss it, for sure. But, the same old story the speedway brought it on and they changed the rules and so on, so, you know, what can I say?
Q. Depends how far you want to stick your neck out, I guess.
AL UNSER, JR.: Well --
Q. I am sorry. Would you hope in the future that there wouldn't be a conflict in the scheduling and there would always be the possibility of Penske Racing playing that game as well?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, for sure. You know, the Indy 500 is definitely a big race and so on. But, all the races at CART are world events and, you know, we are wanting to go and show the world what we have and so I am very proud to be a part of CART.
Q. What do you think of what the car ought to be called? I mean, do you still find yourself calling it an IndyCar?
AL UNSER, JR.: I pretty much call them "champ cars."
Q. Have you always? Has it always been the natural?
AL UNSER, JR.: Pretty much. That is what dad called them when I was growing up and so on. So, you know, they are the best cars in the world.
Q. Gee, that solves the problem doesn't it, that is even -- that has even good tradition.
AL UNSER, JR.: Yep.
Q. One question I'd like for each of you to answer it. Obviously in testing you look for -- you look for speed. But is there also something else that determines at the end of a session what you two guys would consider to make a successful test session?
PAUL TRACY: I think, really, consistency is -- I mean, you have got to look for consistency as well. Just being able to do one lap is obviously important in terms of qualifying. But, you have got to be able to turn those laps all day long. That is where you are going to end up at the front in the end. I think we are just trying to make a more consistent car. I think the new car is more consistent. It is more forgivable, more drivable; easy to drive; not as physically demanding to drive as last year's car. I think that is going to make for our races. We will be able to drive more consistently and keep more intensive pace during the race rather than, you know, last year's car seemed to fall off pretty quickly. And, I think we have got a more consistent package.
AL UNSER, JR.: And I agree with Paul. I think, you know, consistency is definitely the key with performance. And, you know, the car is definitely easier to drive than last year's car. So, -- but it is still -- I really feel it is too early to tell. We are going to find out on race day down at Homestead.
Q. How is your back, Paul, are you fully recovered now?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I mean, I am pretty much fully recovered. It still gets a little sore once in a while. I am Struggling with the flu. A lot of the crew guys caught a cold over the Christmas holidays and I picked it up at the test in Homestead. So, I am trying to get through that the next couple of days.
Q. Would the lowering the boost add to the competitiveness of the engines making things closer?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it is definitely -- there is a different format, so, you know, you are obviously trying to make as much horsepower as you can. And, I know that guys at Ilmor and Mercedes are looking at different ideas; having less boost puts less strain on the motor. They can build things maybe a little bit lighter. Build the valve train a little bit lighter because it can withstand it. It is a little bit more forgiving with the less boost. So, they can make maybe more RPMs and gain the horsepower back, some of it back. You are not going to gain it all. But, they can try to change things up. I think with all the different manufacturers, there are a lot of different ideas going on.
Q. Al or Paul, last year Honda seemed to have the edge on the Mercedes engine earlier in the season and Mercedes caught up halfway through or so. From what you have seen this year, do you think the Mercedes is going to come out of the box and be competitive right from the start?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, I think it is going to be a lot more competitive than it was at the beginning of the season last year. We are pretty much right there with Honda and you know, we are happy with it so far.
PAUL TRACY: I think we are all pretty happy. We go to test and we have been with other Honda teams and we always have a radar gun out and our straight-a-way speeds have been good everywhere. But, again, it is a package you have got to have. It is not just engine and car. It is not just tires. You have got to put everything together and I think we have got a good package.
Q. Are you fellows doing anything different in training? Paul, in particular, carts, bikes?
PAUL TRACY: I have just been training a lot; doing a lot of exercising, cardiovascular. We have been real busy testing the car so that has kept me in good driving shape. We have been in the car almost every week, really, since about the beginning of December. So, it has been a hectic Christmas and we have been driving a lot and that really keeps you in the best shape, driving.
Q. Are there any restrictions on the amount of testing? I had it in my head that this year you were limited to a certain number of days or is that just after the season starts? What is that?
PAUL TRACY: We are limited to 20 days per driver, but that is not including Goodyear test days. And, obviously Goodyear has been working real hard and probably 90% of our time so far this winter has been tire development for Goodyear. And, they have been working hard. And, we have been trying to put a lot of input in and we have been pretty prepared. A lot of teams have been waiting to get their new cars and we have done a lot of testing, obviously, with our last year's car and with the Reynard and we have just got our new car before Christmas so we have kept pretty busy.
Q. How much time have you got in the new car?
PAUL TRACY: We have got about eight days now. I have done four and Al has done four and Al, is, I guess, going back to Homestead again this week. And, I will be there next week and then we will have spring training coming up.
Q. Well, guys, without getting into the idea, everybody being competitive, can you name some of the drivers you think that will be prepared and ready to go right from the beginning?
PAUL TRACY: I will let Al give that one a try.
AL UNSER, JR.: You were doing so good. Gosh, just about everybody that was pretty much running up front last year you know you have got Jimmy Vasser, the Target Team, they are going to be tough. He was putting in some quick times down at Homestead. And, you know, Bobby Rahal's team, with Bryan Herta, he almost won the last race there. So, you know, he is going to be tough. I think Michael and Christian with their new car, you know, we really don't know what the performance is or what the reliability is going to be. But, you know, knowing Newman Haas, they are going to have a good car. And, hopefully, Paul and I will be right up there with them. There is a lot of teams that, you know, that I can't even think of right now that, you know, they are go be tough, Greg Moore.
Q. Have crossed paths with Greg in testing?
PAUL TRACY: No, we haven't. I actually saw him couple days before Christmas. He was testing at the other side of Firebird. He is pretty happy with their car and we had actually just talked about the Mercedes engine. He was saying how happy he was with the new engine. He is obviously going to be strong. And, I think Steve Horne's team will be strong. So, there is, really, you know, 10 cars that are capable of winning right there. I mean, the list goes on, Gil de Ferran goes on and on and on, Scott Pruett, going to be tough.
Q. Coming off a year when you haven't won and you have won as much as you have, how important is it for you to get a win under your belt early in the year?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, it is as important as, you know, all the other wins, really. We are going to try hard at it right at the beginning and try to win as many as we can. We need to put the number one on the Marlboro cars.
Q. Who looks at your uncle Bobby's snowmobiles?
AL UNSER, JR.: Not me. Actually we still have one lost up there, so....
Q. Have you been doing quite a lot of snowmobiling yourself?
AL UNSER, JR.: You bet. You bet, as much as we can actually. You know, we have been, like Paul said, we have been driving the car pretty much and so when we are not in the car we are up in Chama.
Q. Paul, as a follow-up, I have here in front of me a copy of the new CART rule book and the explanation about the aerodynamic changes is a little bit complex, to say the least. Are you saying that Homestead is the only race at which the speedway wings will be used and that the other short ovals such as Milwaukee, Nazareth it will be the bigger wings that we are used to could? You explain that in laymen terms?
PAUL TRACY: That is pretty much how I understand, that is the way we are going to be running it, is the speedway wings at Homestead. I kind of classify Homestead, it is a short oval to me. It is not like a Michigan or an Indianapolis. Corners are pretty tight. And, the speedway wings, there is a huge, huge reduction in down-force compared to short oval wings. As far as I know, we are only running the short oval ring or we are going to be running the speedway wings only at Homestead and obviously at Michigan and California.
Q. Not going head-to-head with Indianapolis and actually you guys are going to be racing here for the first time on a new track. Is this a good idea to get away from racing on the same day and maybe having a different venue and not going head-to-head like you did last year?
PAUL TRACY: It is probably not a lot of point in trying to compete head-to-head. I mean, I don't think we are a different class of racing than what the IRL is now. I mean, last year they were using basically the same types of cars as we were using. They were obviously real similar. Now they have got different cars, different motors, different tires, no turbochargers. It is a completely different formula than what we are running. So there is really, you know, my understanding of it, there was not a lot of point to compete on the same day. We are running our own series and, you know, same as Formula I is running their own series. We don't try to keep against them head-to-head in any way, shape or form. So, you know, the IRL is a different series now. They are not running the same equipment as we are. Don't need to compete and try to compete head-to-head with them.
AL UNSER, JR.: And, I agree with Paul.
Q. But is it a good idea - the race here is going to be about 300 miles. I think it is not going to be a 500 mile race. It is going to be on Saturday. The crowd is going to be about 50,000 not, you know, 100,000 like Michigan, so, it is definitely a down-scaled event.
PAUL TRACY: I don't think it is at all, really, myself. It is part of our championship and our championship is our prize possession. That is what we are shooting for is a championship and that is a very important race to the whole series.
Q. Have either of you spoken with Emmo lately? Has he given any indication of what he is going to do this year?
AL UNSER, JR.: No, I haven't talked to Emerson for quite a few weeks.
PAUL TRACY: I haven't talked to him myself since I was in Germany and he didn't know what his plans were at that stage.
Q. There were a lot of rumors, stories going around at one point that Roger was going to back away from the team a little bit and there was speculation that whoever it would be running it, whether it was his son or Hogan or whomever, doesn't sound like that is the case at all. Can you talk about that a bit?
AL UNSER, JR.: Really, I think Roger is getting more involved than he has in the past and, you know, he definitely feels, you know, the way, really, the whole team feels is we didn't win a race and so, you know, we are only as good as our last race. And, it is not first place and so Roger is definitely focused and into it real deep.
Q. Can you tell us how that is apparent already?
AL UNSER, JR.: Well, just being in touch at the test and I guess he went and saw Paul run on Sunday out at PIR, but you know, he is calling like about probably eight to ten times a day when we are running and really wanting to know what is going on.
Q. Does he talk to you or to the engineers or --?
AL UNSER, JR.: He talks to everybody.
PAUL TRACY: He talks to everybody, really. He called here when Al was running at Homestead just -- I was calling there to see how Al was running; he was calling in and then calling me to tell me how Al was running and I already knew. So, he has been pretty involved - a lot more involved than he has been in the last year or two.
Q. That obviously makes both of you feel all the better, maybe not in the 8th call, but can't hurt to have him that involved.
PAUL TRACY: Well, he definitely is real serious about it. There is no second guessing. There is no -- he wants to know exactly what the results are and if there is any questionmark, then we do it again. And, he wants to know whether it is a go or whether, you know, if some of the changes we have made, whether it works or doesn't work, and there is no in between. He wants definite answers.
BRIAN MUIR: Any other questions for Al or Paul? We will wrap it up here in a few minutes. Very good. We will have a transcript of this conference on Marlboro Racing News as soon as possible. Let us know what weeks do to help you. Thank you for calling.
Q. Thanks Al, Paul.
AL UNSER, JR.: Thanks, guys.
PAUL TRACY: Thanks.
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