Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
March 28, 2006
ERIC MAUK: I am joined today by one of the co-owners of CTE Racing - HVM Mr. Keith Wiggins, and we have the pleasure of making yet another driver announcement as it is my pleasure to announce the driver of what will now be the #14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola Bridgestone, I'd like to welcome Dan Clarke to the call. Dan Clarke, the 22-year-old from Yorkshire, England will be making his debut in the Champ Car World Series, the young man has a strong pedigree, he ran in the British F3 Championship last year and in 2004 won the very prestigious Formula Ford Festival over in the U.K.
Dan, congratulations and welcome to the Champ Car World Series.
DAN CLARKE: Thanks, Eric.
ERIC MAUK: For Keith Wiggins, you tested in Sebring last week and got a good number of miles with Dan as well as Nelson Philippe. Congratulations on finalizing your driver lineup and tell us what interested you and what attracted to you Dan Clarke.
KEITH WIGGINS: I think it was his legs, actually. As you said it's been one of those winters again where we've taken things down to the wire a little bit. It's been good to work through and have some options to consider. Dan came down to us, as you said before, he's quite young, and I think someone made that on last conference call about us going for young drivers. I guess we've clearly made that statement this year.
But as you said, you keep a good eye on drivers and anybody in Europe, I think what's Dan done, the Formula Ford Championship Festival can go out and be competitive and win races in your first year in Formula 3 is a pretty good indication of talent. Then it's just a question of the learning curve and stepping up to Champ Car. We did actually talk to Dan many months back, I think even I suggested to him, well, maybe a year in Atlantics would be a good training ground, not to rush into it.
He's certainly proved to us and we've had the opportunity to test him. All I can say is -- maybe kids are growing up quicker these days, I don't know, but he seems to have a very solid head on his shoulders about the whole thing. Certainly was very impressive in the test, just the way he reacted with everybody. And indeed, you know, he got down to the times, considering there was a reasonable amount of rubber down -- it was quite a grippy track. It's always physical to get into these cars and drive basically two-and-a-half days, two-and-three-quarter days, whatever. He did a great job, he was quick, and by the end of it, he got down to competitive times with his teammate, which is impressive. I think that everybody is excited about what lies ahead.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We're very excited to see you guys out here and on the streets of Long Beach in just a couple of weeks.
As Keith alluded to, running in the U.K. Formula Ford Championship in 2004 and earned nine podium finishes that season. He won at the big racetrack at Spa-Francorchamps, not a track for the faint of heart. And last year in the British F3, seven podiums, one at Castle Combe and also qualified for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix. Tell us a little bit, you've had some time in the champ cars, tell us what you think of them and what attracted you to come to the Champ Car World Series?
DAN CLARKE: Well, I think I can't really say anything new other than what you guys already know and what's already been discussed I'm sure. Champ Car is what it is really. It is an honor to be here and just the fact that the drivers that are already in the championship, I've never raced against before, it's just a really big step up for me.
I can say that having only known about this for a week now, it has not properly sunk in yet and that I'm going to be at Long Beach in a week's time, I'm just trying my hardest to prepare for that. I've got a list as long as my arm and a book from each engineer of what to kind of absorb and everything that I'm going to have to deal with come to the weekend and the race. I'm just really focused on keeping my head down and taking object board as much as I can.
I'm sure I won't be surprised if Long Beach just passes me by and the whole Champ Car and -- I don't know what the right word is, the whole experience of it will probably just pass me by and that I won't realize I've done it until probably Monday or Tuesday afterwards.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us about you ran in Macau, one of the great street course races anywhere in the world, and you're coming over to Champ Car where we run a number of street courses, and starting at one of the toughest ones we have in Long Beach. Tell us your thoughts about running on the streets and especially having had a little bit of experience at Macau.
DAN CLARKE: That's right. It wasn't until November that I had never raised on a street circuit before. But I got a chance to go to Macau, and that was a last-minute decision, as well, with a new team and it turned out really well. But as it turned out, it went really well. I bonded with the team just like I have here. Turning up last week at Sebring, really getting to know the guys I feel like good with the crew and the engineers and the whole environment, and I'm just hanging out in Indy for the week and it's really enjoyable.
Yeah, I went to Macau and I think a lot of the things are similar to Long Beach where you can expect with as the week goes on how the track changes and the experience that some drivers have and some drivers don't and how it affects car set ups or doesn't as the case may be. So I have some experience, but not much.
ERIC MAUK: You'll get plenty more as we go along. Congratulations. We look forward to seeing you out here in a week.
Q. Tell us about driving the Champ Car there for the first time, what you had to adopt to, what the challenges were, how did all of that go?
DAN CLARK: Well, as it happened, obviously, yeah, the Sebring, the big Sebring race with the sports cars just the weekend before, I actually just got to the track. I think it was a bit of a baptism of fire with going around the circuit at that time. Sebring is quite bumpy and the lap is quite short and compact. There's not much chance to get a break anyway. But there's a huge amount of grip, as well. So I spent a couple of days just being thrown about, thrown about inside the cockpit, hanging on for dear life, because the car has got three times more power than I've been used to with the Formula 3 car.
But as with most steps up in the cars, at first it all flashes you by really quickly and you do literally feel like you're hanging on, trying your hardest to look like you Mo what you're doing as well. As the days go on, it all kind of slows down and your brain catches up with the speed of everything and you get into a rhythm and you relax and that's when you start to be able to feel more of what the car is doing and you can make changes and improvements with setups and give better feedback?
Q. Tell us about why you decided to definitely pursue the Champ Car option?
DAN CLARK: Well, partly I think just because as any ambitious racing driver, you have to set your sights high, as high as possible, you do have to be realistic with what you're capable of and how big of a jump you can make.
Looking at what opportunities we had for this year, we had options with British F3 again where we would have been a favorite for the championship, and we were well in line for going in that direction with a team there. We also had the opportunity with the European F3 series, as well, with a good team there, Promo Power (ph) team.
As it happened, we just got this opportunity with the Champ Car, and you can't kind of predict too much about how well you do. I think there is an element of trust and experience that I have with my manager between us that it is a challenge that sooner or later is going to be able to adapt and become capable of taking on. The stage right now is building towards that, and Long Beach is going to be a really big learning curve; I'm sure a big experience for me.
Q. You drove Robinson (ph) last year, didn't you?
DAN CLARK: That's right.
Q. It's interesting that you turn your back on opportunities there, you're with such a high-profile team, and particularly with they are switching to Mercedes engines this year, and you look at Champ Car as a legitimate option rather than F-1?
DAN CLARK: Well, I don't think I'd say we'd turned our backs on Formula 1 or anything like that. I think the successes of Leonardo (ph) and Montoya has shown that you can achieve in Champ Car, you've always got the opportunity are golly back across.
But the formula that Champ Car seems to have that differs from the expected usual European way, it's a very open series, and as a driver coming into a team, I feel confident that especially now that I get to know the personnel here, that we can actually achieve good results, with what we've got and as the test shows, we've got a lot to feel positive about. So with Champ Car, I feel like I can step into this situation and then absorb as much as I can and have the opportunity to make the most of that when it comes to the races.
Q. You're testing this week at Sebring, not at Fontana?
DAN CLARK: That was last weekend. I'm in the workshop now.
Q. You're obviously aware being from york shire that the amount of English know-how in the Champ Car World Series, you think about guys like Justin Wilson even going back to folks and guys like Nigel Mansell, Mr. Keith Wiggins, the erstwhile fellow that he is; Lola involved; and of course, a lot of engineers and mechanics. A lot of English excellence, you've got to be aware that have as you come into the series?
DAN CLARK: Yeah, sure. It seems any team I get to meet, there's always somebody in there who has got a few Yorkshire tea bags in there, as well.
Q. Keith, you're into a situation now where you're attacking the schedule with two young guys, you had Nelson Philippe on and we talked about that in the last conference call. You like this idea of going in with two young guys, Dan, the absolute rookie and Nelson with some experience, but you're attacking this series yet again with two very young guys.
KEITH WIGGINS: Yeah, and I wondered if you would be on the same call and remind me of that. We have gone older, he's actually older than Nelson. But Nelson, I reminded Nelson that he's now the father figure in the team, so he's aged quite quickly in a week.
I think same thing as I said to you last time. I always believe in talent, young talent. As we know this year, there's a lot of outside source, outside reasonings for why you make the decisions you make. As I said before, we recognized that Dan could drive racing cars. The question was, you know, there's no doubt as I said to you last time in the series, there is obviously a benefit to having experience, to knowing the tracks, knowing the conditions and having been around the circuit in the past.
So it's not just all about taking young guys, but it's also a question of seeing what talent is available at the right time, and how you can put a package together.
Now, again, with Nelson, he's young, but you know, it's just a year, so he has got that experience. The opportunity came up with Dan and for various reasons, we came together. He's clearly shown he's got the speed. I think we're well aware, or I'm certainly aware, that it will I think take time, and of course, we can always be pleasantly surprised.
But we expect that he's got a steep learning curve, so I don't think anybody is expecting him to -- we're expecting him to take a steady approach to learn and I'm confident that by the middle of the season, he'll be competitive. I think we'll be going to each race expecting more and knowing that more is there and that it will come sooner or later depending on just giving the guys a chance to gel.
It would be nice to keep a path for the team now where it goes into maybe more than just one year, different driver changes and all of the various things we've had to do in the last year. I think a bit of continuity in two drivers going into a second year or whatever, then I think you would see some real strength. Planning ahead is probably something we haven't done lately and you don't hear very often moment. I think it can pay dividends long at the point.
Q. I guess you have not done a lot of off-season testing, or maybe you have, but after this first race in Long Beach, there's a gap between Long Beach and Houston, will you be using up some of your test days that you have left to get your two young drivers more acclimated to the team?
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, pole days are basically Tuesday and Wednesday. You go from Long Beach to pole in one of the organized tests. We'll definitely be doing that and we'll make some more decisions then after that. Clearly we still have to plan carefully for the season. We've got, you know -- we have four days which turned out to be three good days of testing down at Sebring. We felt that was more relevant for information and useful to the team for Long Beach.
To be honest until that point in time, because we were discussing with Dan and, say, the first day was Nelson and then we put him in, so it's always difficult. We had to make a plan, and like all of the best laid plans, sometimes they change. We took the decision to do the Sebring, which I think proved to be the right decision and we got the most miles considering we had, you know, open days, three of those days. The guys got much more mileage than they would have gotten at Fontana. As soon as the first race is under their belt, I'm sure as Dan said, then you'll have a bit of breath. Going to Portland will be very good for them, and then we'll make our decisions from then onwards.
Q. You had mentioned on last conference call that you were going to be announcing a new sponsorship package that you were still working on, is that getting pretty closely and will it happen before Long Beach?
KEITH WIGGINS: We'll have something at Long Beach. I think what we're working on is -- I don't think it probably will be done at Long Beach, no, and I just say that because these things always take longer than as always. It's quite a unique sort of deal to put together.
So I think probably after Long Beach we'll announce it, but we'll have some stuff for Long Beach.
Q. Dan, it's your rookie season and you don't really know the tracks at all, what are your goals for this year? At the end of the year, what would have to happen for you to call the year a success?
DAN CLARK: I think to come away every year, you want to come away with some kind of trophy or title. It helps the confidence and it helps the sponsors and the teams and something that you can translate to people. For sure the Rookie of the Year title would be something that I'm going to be aiming for.
But honestly with everything that I've got to kind of take on and adapt to, I'm really just focused on not the rest of the rookies in the field but just trying to learn from everybody and not afraid of challenge from whatever grid position I find myself in at Long Beach. I'm just fighting for the race and positions and try to maximize our potential that we have here with the mechanics and engineers.
Q. You worked with Nelson at Sebring last year and wonder how his driving style matches up with yours and if you'll be able to take advantage of Nelson's two prior years in the Champ Car World Series very much, or if you have two totally different driving styles and will be pretty much on your own and also what do you plan on learning from the team and experience that HVM brings to the season this year?
DAN CLARK: Firstly, my aim is to just almost kind of replicate what Nelson does. He's got the experience of being in the Champ Car and he knows what speed the car will do. Like Sebring, he knows exactly how the car goes through each corner.
Really I'll just focus on copying that really so I can get a feel for the car myself and so far when it's come to driver feedback on the cars, we both said similar things as well and that's quite positive because that's going to help us both through test sessions when we get to these street circuits where testing is limited and we can both almost go into different directions with set ups and then rules are going to apply to each of us and it's going to help us grow more as a team. I think that's what anyone will agree, that's what you want. It's still early days and so far I'm fortunate enough to have a quick teammate, somebody who has experience as well and I can use their data to learn and the idea is to be able to push Nelson and Nelson can push me and we can work together as a team.
Q. There's been a lot of talk in the news recently about possible unification. As a team owner in Champ Car, how do you feel about unification between Champ Car and the IRL?
KEITH WIGGINS: I don't think anybody could deny that it makes great business sense for us to have one very strong series, one open-wheel strong series in the U.S. I've made no secret that I personally love Champ Car and I'm not really a big oval fan, so I like this series.
Of course, we always have to be of find of what makes sense for us, for our partners so that we can all be healthy and give a good return. So I think it's pretty obvious that one series would be a good direction.
Q. Given the events of this past weekend in Homestead where there was an unfortunate accident, what do you view as a good mix of ovals and road and street courses, if there were to be a combined series?
KEITH WIGGINS: I think that you have to look at the markets. As I say, I don't have a love for them, you think more importantly it's where the tracks are, where those markets that are going to be good for our sport and for our partners and our sponsors. I think one thing that we've hone is that street, the downtown events are fantastic marketplaces. Unfortunately, I think there's many ovals in those areas, so I would say we would have to -- if there was such a thing as one, then you would have to get a mix of both. There's obviously some very sort of prestigious ovals, some good events to go to.
I think it would also be important to have the right markets to go down to as well, so that's something that you would have to sit down and go through what ones work and what ones don't. I suspect you'd come up with probably more road courses than ovals. But that's an exercise everybody could get their teeth into such an event occurred.
Q. It was announced middle of last season that Ronny Bremmer had signed with the HVM team, wondering what his status is now that the second seat has been filled?
KEITH WIGGINS: Well, Ronny, he's there, he's available. Again, we had a good relationship with Ronny. He's a good talent, another young driver that came in, and you know, showed speed and clearly in a second year, he would do a good job.
We still have a relationship. His status at the moment is obviously looking for a drive and we'll give him all the help that we can. And he's still in our bank of colleagues, if you like, for the future. At the moment, he's on the marketplace for a drive and we would be very keen and happy to see if he could get one, as long as it's not with a team that's too quick.
ERIC MAUK: We'll go ahead and bring an end to our Champ Car media teleconference today. Again, congratulations to Keith wig insurance and Dan Clarke for their announcement today.
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