Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
November 14, 2007
DAVID HIGDON: Hello, everybody, good afternoon. Good morning to those on the West coast. Good late afternoon to those from Europe. We have a full roster of guests today, which we're very pleased to introduce.
I'm going to turn it over first to Walker Racing owner, Derrick Walker who is calling in from Los Angeles where he's at the Auto Show with his brand-new red, white and blue car that looks fabulous.
Derrick, why don't you introduce the special occasion today.
DERRICK WALKER: Well, first of all, good morning, everybody. And thank you for joining us this morning. We're very pleased in our third year of the Atlantic Series to announce we're expanding our program next year to include one more driver, and that makes a total of three.
Today's announcement is about two of those drivers which I think is very exciting both for the team and for the series, and hopefully for them to participate in the Atlantic Series.
Today's announcement announces officially that the Mansell sons of Nigel Mansell, Leo and Greg will join the Atlantic Series next year for competition in the Atlantic Formula.
They will be joining our existing team which has Kevin Lacroix, who has already been announced at Elkhart Lake. So a three-car team, very exciting to have them on board.
And very interesting that these drivers who have raced competitively in Europe will come to America Racing the Atlantic Series next year.
Of course, for us old fogies who raced our teams against their father, Nigel Mansell, it is somewhat of a very unique year for us to join forces having raced against him a few years ago and enjoyed that experience. So we're glad to welcome them to the team, and we're looking forward to a great season. So that is our announcement for today.
DAVID HIGDON: Why don't we start, I'll ask the question of Leo Mansell who is in the United Kingdom. He's hereto known as the older one, and the taller one, by the way. Makes his dad look even short, right, Leo?
LEO MANSELL: Yeah, absolutely.
DAVID HIGDON: Leo is 22, and he has this past year completed in the British Absolut Championship. So why don't I give the older brother the first question. Tell us the difference between you and the brother, and don't get too crazy on this first introductory press conference (laughing).
LEO MANSELL: The difference between Greg and I, we're very, very similar. We try our best to help each other in every way we can to improve. We're one and two on the track, we've got a lot more people to race against.
I think we have slightly different driver styles, and we have to adapt the car in different ways. But all in all, I think we're very similar. Pretty different personalities. I think Greg is a bit more outgoing, maybe I'm a bit more passive. But all in all we're very much alike and I look forward to the season in 2008.
DAVID HIGDON: Well, welcome, Leo. We're looking forward to having you over here. And as you know, Champ Car has expanded into Europe this past year, and we'll be in three races overseas. You'll be in the United States with the Atlantics, of course. It's one big family, and we're glad to have you on board.
LEO MANSELL: Thank you.
DAVID HIGDON: Let's go to your younger brother, Greg, who is 20. You started with Leo competing in go-karts in 2005. Why don't you tell us a little about what it's like growing up not only as the younger bro', but also in having the great name of Mansell attached to you in motor sports?
GREG MANSELL: I think one of the things to answer that question is you don't know what it's like not to be a Mansell, so we don't really think about it much. Obviously, there are perks and there are downfalls with racing, especially in cart. There is a little more interest than anyone else would have got.
It started out as pressure from the start. But now we can turn it into positives and hopefully use it to get some more sponsors and media attention. It's all really exciting and I'm getting excited about this year coming up.
DAVID HIGDON: Why don't I ask Nigel to tell us what led you to come back across the pond and compete in the Atlantics Championship?
NIGEL MANSELL : I think it's an incredible opportunity for the Atlantics (indiscernible) to go racing. Obviously, they've just completed the British Formula 3 Series. The Atlantics cars stepped up with 100 horsepower more. And I think the prize from this is fantastic. To the winner $2 million which goes to a Champ Car team where they can move up into Champ Car, which is basically the Formula 1 of the American Series, compared to our series over here.
And the cars are very exciting to drive. You know, with the tunnel underneath the corner speeds, the G-force, and it's just a wonderful step up in the career.
I think all new circuits, new destinations. For me, personally, I'm looking forward to acquainting with a lot of old friends. I just don't know. I just think they'll lap it up. Paul said to me years ago come and have a great adventure. And I think Leo and Greg and walker are a wonderful team, and I think we're going to have an exciting time in 2008.
DAVID HIGDON: Great, Nigel. I know that you were talking to Derrick for several weeks, and recently we put out the 2008 schedule for the Atlantics. Had a chance to look at it, were you pleasantly surprised with the changes that we made, a couple stand-alone events an extra event in Mexico City? What are your thoughts on the 2008 schedule for Atlantics?
NIGEL MANSELL: I think it's the most professional season that you've put out. And (indiscernible) the cars, the series, I think to start the series off at Long Beach for the first race and finishing down in Mexico. It's like a full International calendar with four races on the calendar shooting all over America.
It's just going to be a wonderful challenge and an incredible experience. I think with Walker Racing, hopefully, we'll come out and do a great job.
DAVID HIGDON: Great, thanks, Nigel.
Q. Greg and Leo, I wonder if I could get your thoughts how the Atlantic car compares to the F3 car you've been driving the last year?
LEO MANSELL: I think the car's fantastic to drive. It gave us a great challenge. It's 100 horsepower more or thereabouts, and the cars are a lot bigger and the mechanical grips and the tunnel underneath the car offers a lot more downforce. And it's a big improvement on the F3 car. So it's a big challenge for somebody.
And I think that's the biggest thing we enjoy is wondering what the car's going to be like. It's surpassed our expectations, greatly.
GREG MANSELL: The thing we want is a bit of a handful. The Atlantics cars have a lot more jar on the input. Like in an F3 car if you get it hooked up, it will be quick. But in the Atlantics, it's a lot more down to the driver. You can't hassle a bad car around the track because you have the big tires and more power. So it's a lot more fun to drive, and a lot more physical on the brakes and the corners which is good fun for a driver.
Q. I wonder if I could ask Nigel a quick one. In your championship season back in '93, you were racing against Paul Tracy who was a 24-year-old, up and comer then. You had some great races. Wonder if you could offer some thought on that and racing on your birthday?
NIGEL MANSELL: It was brilliant with just a few laps to go. I think myself and a few others on the outside taking the laps on the one and two, and holding the lead for the last three or four laps. It was a wonderful win and a good birthday present.
I have to say the most exciting thing for me is having my two sons making it into Motorsport. And just to add to what they answered to your question is, you know, the 50-minute races duration that you have with the Atlantics is a much bigger challenge.
The F3 races in Europe, obviously, in England the series is about 25 minutes, 30 minutes sometimes. And sometimes it's shorter. So having 50 minutes is a lot bigger challenge. I think they'll enjoy it. It's a great step forward.
I think the package that the Champ Car Atlantic Series has is a great end game for stepping up into Motorsports. So I'm very excited for them, and I'm very excited for Walker Racing.
Q. I want to start with Derrick on the west coast there.
And you I spoke about things you look for in young drivers. Why don't we continue with that and say what did you see in the two young Mansell drivers?
DERRICK WALKER: Good question. We tested in Florida which the temperature was extremely hot, and I wondered how they were going to hold up having a test in such extreme conditions. And we were all pleasantly surprised. They tested for two days, and we ran up some 900 miles every day.
Every opportunity we had to make an improvement in the car, they maximized the car. They kept getting quicker and quicker and quicker. And we've all been there where you see the track getting extremely hot, and the gains come small gains if at all during the day. We kept making progress.
I was very impressed by their professionalism, their desire to win. They're very focused both of them. And the whole energy that comes from drivers that are that focused and really have that much determination to win and learn really is infectious. And it really worked well for the team. The team responded. And as I said, we kept making changes, and we kept getting quicker. So I think we've got a great combination here, and I'm really looking forward to the year.
Q. How did you keep these two young drivers, your sons, from having heavy competition against once another? Or did you even try to do that?
NIGEL MANSELL: Well, it's a little bit of a mystery. I thought they'd be professional golfers up until a couple of years ago. But they had this desire for a long time, and they were going into the circumstances if it will happen. But they had the last two years experience in Motorsport. And from the standing start they've both done fantastically well.
I think what excites me more than anything is, I've been around the block a few times on both sides of the Atlantic, is like Derrick said, you know, yes, it's personal because they're my sons, but they stand alone. And for other people to speak very well of them with their professionalism, determination, and the hard work ethic that they do with training away from the circuit, I think speaks volumes to them as drivers.
So I'm just in the background, supporting them, just trying to give them the opportunity to maximize that opportunity this year in 2008 with such a great team with Walker Racing.
Q. And my final question, Sebastien Bourdais going back across the Atlantic. Your thoughts on whether he was able to do in the Champ Car Series?
NIGEL MANSELL: I think that's such a fantastic vote of confidence for Champ Car as a series. Here's Formula 1 that can take any drivers anywhere in the world, and Sebastien has a great opportunity to get in Formula 1. Hopefully, the first year he'll consolidate. He's been very victorious in Champ Car. And I think that's a good thing.
It just demonstrates where Champ Car is going to go from now, I believe, from strength to strength. I think it's a wonderful vote of confidence when you have the pinnacle of Motorsport now signing up drivers from Champ Car to come across the Atlantic.
I believe because having won both series, and I feel very privileged to be in the position of being able to be a spokesman like that, is only three other drivers and myself that won both the championships both sides of the Atlantic. Champ Car I think is going to break out and show the world more now with the racing and what a great series it is.
Q. I was wondering what you think you can achieve in your first year in Atlantics? Whether you regard this as a two-year program and then go up to Champ Car in 2010? Or whether you think you might be able to progress as soon as 2009? Because obviously, I appreciate that you came into motoracing quite late in life. That's directed to either Leo or Greg?
LEO MANSELL: I think next year is going to be a bit of a challenge. We have a new car to learn more and more about. But I think we're going to take every day that comes, get on top of the car, get on top of the tracks as quickly as we come, and see what happens. Obviously, I think any driver would love to be a professional driver as soon as they could. But on the other hand, you gain experience and strive to achieve as much as you can before you take that step up. So I think we have to concentrate on today and see what the future brings.
GREG MANSELL: I think as Leo said, we have a lot to learn with Atlantics cars. They're a new car to us. We have preseason testing, but all the tracks are brand-new as well. And the way the Americans do the racing, the longer races, we've only done a 15-minute race before. That's going to be very hard mentally and physically.
So I think we don't know how it's going to go as much as anyone else. If it goes well, obviously, that will be fantastic. Then again, two years is good as well. We can't predict anything from this point.
NIGEL MANSELL : I'd love to add something if I may. I think we surprised a lot of people in Europe this year from a standing start, from, not my opinion, but a lot of people have been incredibly impressed. And I think they're very professional, hard-working drivers. I think at times they're exceptionally talented and quick. And I'd say not to put the head on the chopping block, I think they'll surprise quite a few people, perhaps not all of the time, but certainly some of the time. Nothing would surprise me, I've learned that in my racing career. Nothing would surprise me.
DAVID HIGDON: I wanted to wrap it up with a couple other questions. Are you familiar with the Champ Car drivers, even particularly the UK drivers, Justin Wilson, Dan Clarke? Have you watched any of the Champ Car racing over the last couple of years?
LEO MANSELL: Yeah, I've watched 80% of the races when I'm around or at home I turn it on. Just talking about Mexico City, the last race which we just saw a few days ago, I think that's giving the Champ Car season strength to strength. And for us as drivers, it's very, very exciting. Formula, in our opinion, it's always been somewhere I've aspired to be. And after what our dad did in the early '90s, it's always been a place that we'd love to be.
So now to be going over to Champ Car Atlantics Series and racing and following most of the races where the ChampCars are, is very, very exciting.
DAVID HIGDON: Greg, maybe a little bit on what you plan to do in terms of where you're going to live and all that stuff next year, what are your plans for next year?
GREG MANSELL: Just immediately my parents have a house in Clearwater, so we'll be over there well before the races to climatize, get used to the heat again and get over the jet lag. And when there is a big space in the gap of the year, we'll be back over in England.
But we'll be over in America with plenty of time to train and do what we can. If Champ Car is a full-fledged season, so if anything happened there in the future, we'd have to think about moving to America. But for the immediate year, we'll do as we are this year and traveling to the races and traveling back.
DAVID HIGDON: I asked Leo upfront - the difference between the two, clearly, two unique individuals. How would you describe the differences between the two from a father's perspective?
NIGEL MANSELL: The motivation is similar, the work ethic is different. They both get to the same place in different ways.
I think they both can do an outstanding job.
I think they're going to actually apply themselves even better in 2008, because I believe that Walker Racing will bring the best for both of them. It is a breath of fresh air for any driver to be with a professional team to see and know that their cars are loved and looked after and prepared as well as they possibly can be.
I think Walker Racing will see that these two drivers will not only maximize the speed of their cars, but will do their best to look after them as well, so they can build for the future and tune them and get them even quicker for their race on race.
So I see that the gap will come down. It will be very close with the both of them. Hopefully, after the testing in January and February, both Walker Racing, and Team Mansell, shall we say, with Leo and Greg, they'll be ready for the season, which looks tremendous looking at the program.
DAVID HIGDON: Obviously, you're stepping up in your third year in Atlantics. Three drivers, much bigger commitment to not only the Atlantics, but Champ Car overall. How do you think this will change the way you approach the Atlantics as well as the Champ Car World Series?
DERRICK WALKER: Stepping up to a three-car program means we need more people, certainly. And we need to structure our team so we can give all three drivers equal opportunity. That is always the objective of a race team.
I think when you look at this announcement, I think what you're see is the Atlantics Series is really beginning to come back to where it was several years ago. I think the positive steps that have been taken over the last couple of years, the new car and as Nigel mentioned, the prize that goes with the champion to get them into Champ Car, it really shows that Atlantics is the place to go, because it's going to take you somewhere if you're good enough.
I think when you look at the advancements with the Mansells deciding to come from Europe, from F3, where I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities for them to race over there - for them to come over to the Atlantics Series, speaks very highly for the Atlantics. Which is really the area where we need to grow our stars and our cars for the future for Champ Car.
So I think this is a really positive announcement for the series as much as it is for Walker Racing. We recognize the challenge and the importance of making sure that we do everything we can do to become as successful as these drivers can be on our team. Because there is an important mission here, it's more than being the championship for Walker Racing or for being one of the Mansell boys, but it's by showing that the series works for American Open Wheel.
So we're up to the challenge, and we're really looking forward to next year. So we'll be out there trying just as hard as everybody else in the series, I'm sure.
DAVID HIGDON: Thank you, and enjoy the L.A. Auto Show. Special thanks to Leo, Greg, and Nigel Mansell joining us late afternoon in the United Kingdom.
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