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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Alex Zanardi
March 3, 1998

T.E. McHALE: At this point we are pleased to welcome Alex Zanardi 1997 PPG Cup Champion. Alex joins Jacques Villeneuve as the only drivers in CART history to win Rookie-of-the-Year honors followed by the PPG Cup Championship in their first two seasons in the series. Alex posted series' leading totals of five victories and four pole positions last season with wins at Long Beach, Cleveland, Michigan Speedway, Mid-Ohio and Road America and poles at Homestead, Australia, Cleveland and Vancouver. Early in the season he established FedEx Championship Series records for consecutive pole positions and consecutive front-row starts with 6 and 11, respectively. Alex and Target/Chip Ganassi racing teammate Jimmy Vasser are attempting to become the only the second pair of teammates to win three consecutive PPG Cup Championships joining Rick Mears and Al Unser who won three titles in a row for Penske Racing between 1981 and 1983. As he has for the past two seasons, Alex will campaign a Target Reynard Honda in this year's FedEx Championship Series. Alex, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

ALEX ZANARDI: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Q. Where are you?

ALEX ZANARDI: I am in Phoenix and due to the delay of this conference call right now, I am in the airport. So, I wish to apologize in advance if anybody will hear some strange noise or some voices.

Q. I wanted to ask how the situation is for your team specifically in terms of engineering? There was a lot of talk last year about Morris Nunn having a reduced kind of roll. How have things shaped up for you?

ALEX ZANARDI: Right now we have a new engineer that is actually coming from Formula I and his name is David Clarke. He was working on the past season for the Aeros (phonetic) team. He certainly doesn't have any experience in the CART Racing, but for that, I guess we still have Morris Nunn on our side as he will always be present to all the test and all the races more in the role of a supervisor. But, still his advice, he will always be more than welcome when he will think it is right to do so. So, I think we are in a good situation because he is a smart guy and although he doesn't have experience, he may have a sort of fresh mind and he may be able to bring to the team some new ideas as I basically did in 1996 when I first joined Target/Chip Ganassi Racing because coming from a different world I could easily point a finger to the areas where I thought we could have made some gains and where maybe, perhaps, our engineers like Morris Nunn and Julian Robertson, which is Jimmy Vasser's engineer, which is kind of I wouldn't say stuck, but for sure, almost running out of ideas. So, I think it is a good situation and right now everything is working fine. Everybody is sitting in his position pretty well. It looks like you know, besides the technical aspect, everybody is enjoying the relationship which is more of a question of character, if you understand. So, I am pretty confident everything is going to fit in place.

Q. How is your own approach different this year?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, there is no difference, I guess. Last year everybody point the finger at me like probably the favorite for the Championship and I didn't have any extra pressure because I did believe that I had obviously a great shot for the Cup. I am not asking the entire world to believe in me, but I have to do it otherwise I would have to pick up a different job. So I am starting with the same feeling knowing that in motor racing that there are a thousand things that can go wrong, so you are not always supposed to win even if you do the best job you can. But, if you have the equipment as it looked like we do in our case, you know, it is not easier than last year. But, on the other hand, shouldn't be any more difficult. So, we will do our best.

Q. Some people have been complaining already about the 1998 Reynard. I know ostensibly you guys were kind of the factory-test team in a way. I wondered if that still is the case and if you guys have been experiencing similar problems?

ALEX ZANARDI: No, I guess there is no problems. Maybe the complaints that you have heard are more referred to the new engines and when I say engines I don't simply mean like Honda, in our case. Mercedes or Ford Cosworth, those manufacturers have done great changes in the design and the consent of their new engines and not in all the cases everything has fell into place right away. In our particular case with the Honda, we didn't had any problems. I mean, the car is working pretty well. We know that it is not a huge improvement compared from last year because you put the 1997 and the '98 car together you look at it and you won't see any difference. So, even in terms of performance, it is not a huge step forward, but, the package has been optimized and we are pretty confident that it is better. So, having said that, I know that last year's car was a very good car, was really competitive, so, we are pretty confident that once again we are going to have a real, real, real good product. But, I guess it is left to be seen what other manufacturers -- what Penske had done during the winter. For sure, they kept something in their pocket as we did and the end of playing is going to be March 15th in Homestead; we will see there.

Q. One other about yourself and driving style. I know sometimes it is hard to analyze yourself in a way. But, there are always a lot of people that talk about how aggressive some people are and then as they get older and so-called matured, then they plan their moves a bit more and then attack at certain points. You have seemed to be very aggressive, but also made some astounding moving when you carved your way back up to Cleveland and you came back and won at Laguna. Do you see yourself just as aggressive even more now or is it tempered now by a few more years on the circuit? How do you analyze yourself?

ALEX ZANARDI: I don't want to sound arrogant. You have to say what you think, obviously. For sure, I always try to get the best out of the equipment I have even in the past when I wasn't doing so well. Obviously it is a question of experience, a question of learning from your own mistakes and that is what I think I did. Now, getting more experience doesn't necessarily mean that I have to be more cautious or, let us say, you know, more quiet and be happy even with something that is not exactly close to my own limit. The goal is always to get everything you can; not leave anything unattended. I guess the difference is maybe in the past I used to try overtaking somebody and maybe end up in the wall. Right now I try to overtake somebody and most of the time I succeed. I don't feel I am an aggressive driver because in America they use the aggressive word to describe somebody that always takes chances and try to all the races that are involved, doesn't care and doesn't care, and tries it anyway counting on the fact that he is going to be lucky - I don't see it that way because I don't count on luck. I want to try to get in front of people, if I feel that I am faster, and I want to try to win a race even if I come back from last and I am already second and I know that everybody, even if I finish second, is going to hug me and is going to pat my back and say "Good job." If I know that I can get into the lead, I want to get in the lead. But that doesn't mean that I want to win at all costs. If somebody beats me because they are faster than me, I am going to be the first one to go there and shake his hand and say "Congratulations." And, sure, I am not going to be pleased, but I will use that disappointment inside myself as a great motivating factor to try to learn and get even better for the following event. You know, on top of everything I have to say that up to Laguna Seca last year I was the driver that completed more miles along the season. So, if I would have just been aggressive and try and take chances all the time, I don't think I would have completed so many miles. So once again, I just try to go out there and get the best out of the car. That is the way I drive. And, in the future with more experience I will try even more to reduce the risk, but not stay behind because this is my job and this is what I am paid to do.

Q. Still plan on doing victory doughnuts after the wins?

ALEX ZANARDI: Oh, you bet. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe -- I will have to come up with something different. But, once again, you know, last year when I did come up with the doughnuts was not to draw attention on myself. It was just a way of celebrating because I was very happy for the results I got.

Q. I was going to ask you as the current champion if you would give me your assessment of Dario Franchitti?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, there is no doubt that Dario is a very, very fast driver and I am going to keep an eye on him this year because he could create to us all a lot of problems. There is no doubt that he will be in the position more than once this year to win a race and I wish him luck because besides the fact that he is a very good driver, he is also a very nice guy. So, I think last year he has been maybe sometime a little bit too impatient and that has cost him a lot because it was not -- he had the opportunity to win the -- his opposition was not really-I wouldn't say not strong, because those guys were good, but not maybe irresistible and he failed to do that. But I am sure that you know, he is a smart kid and he will learn from his mistakes and he will do very well this year.

Q. Will he benefit from being in a two-car team?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well that is a good question, you see, because good drivers, drivers that are due to become champions, they will always benefit from that situation because it means that they are smart; they are openminded; they are not scared of any teammate because they feel strong and they actually like to have teammate which will always be a good reference point for themselves and will always be in the situation where it can teach you something. So, I guess in Dario's, it will. Because Paul is a very, very fast driver, very talented and his skill inside the setups, I think that will be a benefit for Dario. If he will use this factor to his own advantage it will just be in better shape.

Q. I am wondering with everything that goes along in being a Champion, did it get in the way during the off-season at all or did it change your life?

ALEX ZANARDI: (Laughs) I had obviously a lot of requests for appearance and this is the way it goes and I don't complain because this is once again the job I choose to do and that was the ultimate target to use a familiar expression. I am delighted to be in the position where I have a lot of requests, I have a lot of people looking for me and wanting something for me. Unfortunately, sometimes you may look like the bad boy because sometime it happens that you have to say no to somebody, you have got to have priority. You just have 24 hours a day like all the other human beings in this world and on top of everything, you have to concentrate and focus on your main goal which is try to win races. So, it is very, very important to keep good balance in life because otherwise you -- especially in a series like the FedEx CART Series, we have 19 races, a lot of testing, it is not impossible to do too much. And, to end up in the middle of the season feeling sick of your race car, I don't want to do that. I love my job. I think I am dedicated to my job, but more than that, I am in love with it. That is why I put the extra effort it takes to get the best out of you. If it would just be a question of dedication, I don't think I would do it that well. I mean, because by the time my wife asked me the first time, hey, let us go back to the hotel and take a shower after practice, I will go. I would go. Now I am so in love, and I am so enthusiastic about what I do that she has to ask me about ten times before she can get me out of there. I always like to spend time with my engineers talking about the car; try a way to make it better because every time you make it better you push harder; you go faster around the corners and here it comes another little problem. That is the next thing you have to try to solve. That is the next thing you have to try to improve to go even faster. So, there is never an end of the effort you can put in motor racing, in a job like ours. And, so that is why sometime I have, unfortunately, to say no to some of those requests because I didn't have the time to do it. But in any case it was also very, very enjoyable because during the winter we went to a lot of parties with our technical partners like Honda, Firestone, Target, our main sponsor and all the associated sponsors and to see all these people and you go up on the stage and you give them a little speech and they all stand up and clap you, it makes you feel very proud. Makes you feel that you have worked very hard, but you have had a lot of people looking at you counting on you like the one that is going to do the job they choose you for. So it is very nice.

Q. Was there ever a moment in all the times that you get like a Champion during the off-season where there was a quiet moment and there was a personal realization that you did it regardless of the team, the team is wonderful and all that, but, Alex Zanardi, you were behind the wheel and you did it?

ALEX ZANARDI: (Laughs) Well, this is -- okay talking about the last part of your question, this is a sensation that you always enjoy every time you leave the circuit Sunday night when you have won a race because despite the fact that, for sure, you may have competitive equipment and in our case the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, we do have very competitive equipment, there is not much you can do with it, you know that other teams have similar equipment and other drivers are in the same situation as you, so, besides the little trick that you can make with the setup on Sunday afternoon the one that wins the race must step very hard on the gas otherwise there is something -- there is something that wouldn't happen. So this is a sensation that you do enjoy and feel very often when you win because of the way our series is. If I felt like I was a champ during the winter, yeah, well, when I had the dinner with all my friends, which is the thing -- and my family which is the thing that I am missing the most while I am out here in the United States, I had a dinner with them and I had -- I had some time with them and I then start to realize that, you know, I had the title in my pocket, which felt very good.

Q. Pressure to get it back?

ALEX ZANARDI: No. Because, as I said before, it is a question of confidence, I guess. Pressure is on you, I believe when everybody, due to something that happened probably in the previous season, everybody pointed the finger at you saying, hey, you are the man; you can do it and despite all that, you may not -- you don't believe in that. Or at least, I am not saying you don't believe in yourself but you have some doubts, you are scared but you are not going to be able to do it. I never felt scared first of all, because in my own mind, sure, the desire is really high to win another Championship. But, I know that the desire is not going to make me go any faster. I cannot let the desire go through into my driving. I have learned that from experience and so that is why I try to drive very hard, but I always try to keep focus to what my limit and the limit of the car is without letting the desire interfere with my driving. So, no, there is no extra pressure. I would like to win another Championship. I know that I am capable of doing it like, unfortunately, I would say a lot of other drivers are because they are very talented and they have very good equipment. I will try to be better than them and I hope that will be the case.

Q. When you line up on next Sunday in Homestead who do you see chasing you for the Championship this year?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, I think there is no doubt that I wouldn't surprise you if I say Michael. He was strong last year Homestead. He will be strong this year providing the Swift is going to be competitive. I guess Greg Moore is going to do even better last year and he is probably going to surprise a lot of people because he is a guy on -- if you look on the steep part of his learning curve going up, so, if he won and you know what you can expect from a guy like Michael Andretti or Jimmy Vasser, you know that Greg Moore is going to be fast, but you don't know how fast he is going to go because you know for sure he is learning and he was fast already last year, so he is going to be even faster this year. Jimmy Vasser, I see him basically every week and I can tell you that he is really motivated. He ended up the season very well last year so he is very, very motivated and he is incredibly talented. He is a very good driver; especially, I think he is a better driver than myself; especially on the ovals. And, on top of that, everything he can really count on -- on our team we share all the information so he can rely on my help and we are always aware of what the other side is doing. So, I guess, you know, these three guys are the toughest. Then there is others likes Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran, Gugelmin, a lot of others that can surprise everybody and go out and win races and grab the Cup. But, that is the good part of our series, isn't it? The fact that it is always very unpredictable and that is what makes it exciting for the fans.

Q. What do you expect out of Bobby Rahal this year declaring it's his last season, finally being, it seems like, on the right side of the curve equipment-wise with everything including tires now?

ALEX ZANARDI: For sure since last season he is going to raise his own salary. And, for sure he has an extra bit of motivation because it is his last season. He has switched from Goodyear to Firestone thinking that that was probably the only ingredient that was lacking in his package and so he has a great desire of showing that he is still capable of doing the job. It is just a question that he want to take more care about his family about his horse business and that is why he is deciding to pull out of racing as a driver. So, I am expecting to see him on the winner's circle probably more than once.

Q. You were talking about your driving style earlier. And what kind of sets you apart a little bit. If everybody drove like you on Sunday, what kind of racing would we see out there?

ALEX ZANARDI: Very interesting one, I guess. (Laughs) I don't know, I mean, I don't want to be polemic, but I heard a lot of -- well, not a lot - I heard few drivers last year talking to the press and giving quotes like when Zanardi comes along you have to move over because he never brakes, so if you don't move, he hits you. But, I don't think that is the case. And, as a matter of fact, I have showed that I do pass people because I -- in some cases I have braked later, but I didn't went straight on, I just brake, turn, made the corner and go. So, if everybody would drive as me everybody in some situation wouldn't be able to pass because I don't know, I mean, maybe those guys should think that they should brake a little bit later and I wouldn't be able to pass them. I don't pass because I want to pass somebody. I don't pass because I am crazy. I pass because I see the opportunity and I am paid a lot of money from Mr. Chip Ganassi to do this kind of things, you know, Target doesn't pay us the big bucks to get bad exposure. They want to see us trying to win races. That is why they always call up and they say what can we do to improve the team. What can we do this, what can we do that. Do we need more money for development. They really -- this is, in a way, the only pressure we have, if you understand what I am saying because we have No. 1 sponsors and we have to perform like No. 1. But, once again, it is not a question of desire because if I believe that it is impossible to overtake somebody, I may be very happy with the position I have already gained. In Toronto last year, I was running probably a 10th faster than Mark Blundell, was towards the ends of the race. He did a few mistakes, but then he got himself back into shape and I knew that at that point, you know, having done mistakes and so forth, he probably was saying to himself come on, okay, let us keep it, you know, let us keep the focus. We have to concentrate. I can't lose this race, you know, I know that I have got Zanardi behind me, but he wouldn't get me because I have a good car and I am going to try to win that thing. I was looking for the opportunity, opportunity never arrived. Well, I was happy with second and I was smiling on the podium because I was -- I got that day the best result I could get. So that is what I am going to do once again. But, if I have a driver in front of me that is a little slower and I see the opportunity, I am going to go for it.

Q. What is the greatest thing or the best thing about being the Champion?

ALEX ZANARDI: The great thing I would have to say about a week to explain to you, it is -- I can't really say, it is just to put that thing on your resume because to me I wouldn't say it is history now, but really I am already focused on the '98 one, but, no, it is great. It is just this feeling of being able to say "I did it." I mean, God has given me a life and in my life I haven't really worked my time away. I have really done something good. Sure enough, I am being lucky and I do see it very, very lucky. Don't get me wrong, there are guys that used to race go-carts with me that have as much talent or probably even more and they never had one of the opportunities I had in my career. Many times I felt, but while I was failing, I learn and so finally I felt at one point, okay, here I am, I am ready, if I have another chance, I won't fail. I will get the best out of it. Fortunately, for me, I did have another chance - Chip Ganassi decided to sign for me and I had the opportunity to drive for a very competitive team and here I am talking to you. So, the ultimate goal obviously is winning races and a Championship. So that is what is great about it. Bad thing, I guess, is once that you lose a little bit of your private life, you become a public person and you cannot pull back from that role because it is like everybody owns a little piece of you and you have this duty because this is what you have decided to do and there is so many business and financial aspects involved with motor racing at such a high level like we do that you have duties of, you know, doing not simply public appearance, but really become a public person and the second fact is that you have to run No. 1 on the car and I don't like No. 1. I hate it.

Q. Is that right?

ALEX ZANARDI: Yeah, well, I don't like it.

Q. I didn't know that. Why don't you like it?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, because I don't know, it is like -- it is like running with your own signature on the top of your hat and showing that to the entire world. I feel like I am showing to everybody that I am the champ and, okay, I am the Champion, but, hey, that is history; we are going on a new one and we will have a new Champion - I don't know.

Q. Interesting. Thanks.

ALEX ZANARDI: You are welcome.

Q. Make an equipment comment on the fact that a former World Champion drove in the same type of style that you drove in a race last year in Spain; he has been pretty much crucified for that driving style that you have pretty much accepted. I don't think you would be so obvious and knock someone off the racetrack, but that was a very aggressive move. Make a comment on the crucifixion on Schumacher and the press and, you know, the fact that maybe it was a little bit more than what he really had coming to him?


Q. Especially since your driving style is fairly aggressive like his own?

ALEX ZANARDI: To answer this question I have to put myself in the pants of a fan, not of a racing driver, otherwise I wouldn't be honest, so I really hope that nobody is going to interpret my answer like, hey, what do you think what would you have done at this place, you know, like that. I have made mistakes probably even worse than what he did. Fortunately, didn't have on me all the attention that I had at that moment. I think, yes, probably everybody overreact for what happened which is something that happens pretty often in races. It is just that drivers normally do a better job of hiding their moves behind the fact that they explain they were trying to do something else. I guess what Schumacher did was double mistake because not simply he did something that you are not supposed to do, but also he put himself in a situation where he doesn't have a second explanation. Let me explain you better. If Schumacher (inaudible) they have -- that was really deep into that corner, go and gain the inside, going into the following corner, where normally it is impossible to overtake somebody and then try a desperate move, well, if Jacques would have been smart, he would have -- wouldn't let him go and so in the best case, he wouldn't gain the position back. In the worst case, they would have both gone off. But at least, what he couldn't say to the entire world could have been I was trying to overtake the guy. Now, with what he did, he cannot definitely say he was trying to overtake the guy or take the position because he was in the outside and what he did was purposely explainable just in the way that everybody did. So, I think not simply -- he also wasn't very smart. The bottom line is that the difference between a Champion and a fast driver is that if you put the two guys together one week after the race and watch the tape of the race, the champ will say -- will think in his mind what I did in that thousandth of a second of time I had to decide what to do is the thing I would do now a week after, you know, even if I had a week off to think I would do exactly the same thing because what I did was exactly the best thing I had to do. And the fast driver, which is not the champ, he is the one that say, oh, boy, I should have done this, I could have done that, you know, and he is always going to be like that. I guess everybody was really surprised because in that kind of situation everybody, I guess, was expecting more Jacques to fell, to the best in that thousandth of a second, sometime you have to decide what to do and everybody was expecting Schumacher to be the coolest and the toughest that would have taken advantage of that. So for everybody that was rooting for Schumacher was a great disappointment for having seen him doing that and for everybody that was against him, that there is a lot of people obviously, especially when you are winning for very long time people that initially pull for you, then they start to feel a bit jealous and so when they have the opportunity, they don't simply shoot you. They shoot you 20 times to make sure that you died. So....

Q. I appreciate the Champion's perspective on that. I appreciate that.

ALEX ZANARDI: This is my point of view, but the bottom line is if Schumacher could go back in time, he would do probably something different.

Q. I just did have one other quick one, Schumacher did so good in the early 1990s and got into Formula I and then was out, Jacques now did so good; is still going. They both had similar dominating styles to the way that you have dominated the last about year and a half or so. I wonder at the same time when they get out of Formula I, then it seems very reluctant for any of their teams to bring them back again referring to Schumacher and a couple of other situations in the past. I wonder, for yourself, has there been any interest on your side or on any team's side doing anything with F-I and would there be any fear with that, that having been in and out; that there would be little chance to get back in again?

ALEX ZANARDI: It is very simple, Formula I is a very, very expensive Formula and team manager feel like they have duty of running things perfectly well and they cannot take chances. So, even when they believe in you like 900.9% they kind of like to see somebody else take the chance first of running you and then if you do fantastic job like they thought you were capable of, then they are prepared to pay you know, big money to get you maybe out of the contract to do something once they are 100% sure that you are the man they are looking for. But, they cannot afford to bring somebody on board on their ship, that they that may not do his part during the entire time of the season. That is why it is so difficult for young driver to make it in Formula I. It is not that people don't consider them. It is not that people are blind and don't see their talent. It is just that people don't want to take the chance. People that are running big teams and they have the responsibility of running a team that has sometime the budget is about 200 million dollars, so I guess it is as simple as that. But when you do well, they all get together and say, oh, I knew it, I said it. I always said that guy was good. And in my particular case, I guess for what I did in the United States, a lot of people came back to me and say, hey, I knew you could do it. Now it is kind of proof that I am capable of doing a certain job. So, yes, I had some offers to go back to Formula I. But I didn't even consider those offers because I was on the contract with the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing for the time of three years. This is my last year of the contract. But it doesn't necessarily mean that I will go to Formula I because for my Formula I is neither a particular target or dream, it is nothing like that. I rate Formula I as high as CART and I am really enjoying myself. Probably that is the reason why I also try to be very, very loyal to the contract that I had with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing because at the end of the day, I mean, it was not a suffering. I really enjoy myself in the past two years and I look forward to enjoy myself even more this year.

T.E. McHALE: At this point I am going to step in because it is obvious, since Alex is calling us from an airport that he probably has a plane to catch. So we are going to wrap up this marathon for today. I want to thank all of you who stuck with us through this whole thing. I want to thank Alex Zanardi for joining this afternoon. Best of luck, Alex, in your attempt to defend your FedEx Championship Series Championship in 1998.

ALEX ZANARDI: Thank you very much. I would like to take the opportunity to thank everybody that joined in the conference, I will see you in Miami, if not along the season, thanks.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Alex, again. Thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon. Please join us next week when our guest will be defending Marlboro Grand Prix of Marlboro presented by Toyota Champion Michael Andretti. Thanks again to all of you and good afternoon.

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