CART Media Conference
May 12, 1998
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We are glad you all are able to join us today. We would likes to wish a special welcome to our guest this afternoon driver, Richie Hearn, of Della Penna MotorSports. Good afternoon, Richie. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today.
RICHIE HEARN: No problem, glad to be here.
T.E. McHALE: Richie, driver of the No. 10 Budweiser Ralph's Swift Ford joins us today off a career best 7th place finish in Sunday's Rio 400 on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was, to say the least, an eventful weekend for Richie in that he missed the opportunity to qualify due to a spin on his warmup lap and was gridded last in the 28-car field. Then was black-flagged 36 laps into the race for a pit-lane violation. Despite all that, Richie persevered to lead the first four laps of this FedEx Championship Series Season and continued on to the best finish of his career, topping his previous career best of 9th, established at Gateway and matched at Road America last year. Richie's improvement of 21 positions from his 28th place start to his 7th place finish was the largest in FedEx Championship Series competition since Alex Zanardi drove from 26th to 4th place at Rio de Janeiro last year. Richie earned six PPG Cup Points for Sunday's finish and heads into the May 23rd Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway 17th in the PPG Cup Standings with nine points. The Motorola 300, Round 6 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ABC on Saturday, May 23rd beginning at 1 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up for questions.
Q. Congratulations, Richie. I was hoping you wouldn't mind taking a moment to sort of compare and contrast the competition as you are finding it in CART, versus IRL?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, CART right now is probably the most competitive it has ever been and I would have to say the most competitive open-wheel series in the world right now. I mean, every practice session everybody is trying as hard as they can. And, I mean, as you have seen from almost every race, the qualifying grids are almost -- the whole field is within a second. And so that makes it very tough for us as a team to get every little spot, especially if you have problems in practice, you never seem to make it up. But, I mean, it is the way racing should be and even though it makes it tougher on the teams and the drivers, it is really what you are striving for to beat the best.
Q. If I could ask a follow-up: Do you expect any feelings of regret for any sort of mixed feelings as Indy rolls around?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, I mean, certainly Indianapolis, the race in Indianapolis is special for any driver. I feel fortunate enough to have competed in it in 1996 and finished third there. But, I don't feel any regret changing from the IRL to CART, because that is where I want to be. I am sure I feel just as much regret as any other driver that, you know, the split has happened and really we are not really able to compete on the same level as we used to. But I am 100% where I am and competing against the people that I am.
Q. Your performance in Brazil, do you think that that is a place where the team has turned the corner? I know you got new additions to the team itself and you are working with the Swift and the Firestone tires are new to you this year.
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, I think it will really help us out, I think. We have struggled almost every race in practice with little problems and that has been all -- boils down to really is the lack of testing that we have done since we have gotten the cars which has probably been less than ten days. And, you know, when you go testing, you are testing three things: You are testing for speed. You are testing for mechanical reliability. And, you are also testing the crew. And, when you don't get to do that, things break down. And, that has just been happening on the race week and we have been having some problems with the car that -- just normal problems that any other team has. But, they find out in testing and we have had to find out in the race weekend. Hopefully with this finish this weekend -- I saw the guys at the airport and they are really pumped up and it really changed their whole morale and we can really move forward from there.
Q. Let us start this off as if it's on Sunday morning because we are going to be airing it then. Welcome to KMOX. Congratulations on your finish last week at Rio.
RICHIE HEARN: No problem. Thanks for that, and I am really,, really happy to have that finish.
Q. We want to tell our listeners that you will be on the Budweiser Sports Open Line tomorrow night going out to 44 states and glad to have you along. We will have a few more of the CART people there and we will have a good time there.
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, I am really looking forward to the whole week.
Q. You beat the house car when you beat Andretti and Christian, so, hey, you are not doing too bad.
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, well, I mean we know we have a good team and a good car and a good package. Just a matter of having them all come together. And, you know, I would have liked to have HAD a better starting position than 28th. But, in the end, it worked out all right.
Q. Comparing St. Louis with Rio, we talked about this with some other people.
RICHIE HEARN: Well, Rio is a little bit different than probably any oval that we run on. I really consider it kind of a road course that only goes left. But St. Louis, I think, to me, is probably going to be the toughest race out of the whole circuit because they are changing our aerodynamic package from last year from running the short oval wings to running the super speedway wings and it greatly reduces our down-force. I haven't test there like that, but the word I am getting from other people who have tested there is that it is going to be tough.
Q. It is going to allow some passing, that is for sure. And, of course, you will be doing some gear shifting, I guess, in the short turn.
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, of course. That is the reason why they did that - that last year we were really going around there too fast. When you start getting up in those speeds that we were running last year, it is too tough to pass because the track just seems to get really narrow, the faster you go. So, it is a good thing that they have done that. It is just going to be tough because no one has been able to really test there because it is wintertime when we are testing and it is pretty cold in St. Louis during the winter. We are going to be quite a bit slower in Turn 3 and 4. And, yeah, we will be braking and downshifting in 1 and 2.
Q. We will talk to you tomorrow night, Richie, on Budweiser Sports Open Line. Thanks for taking the time.
RICHIE HEARN: No problem. Okay.
Q. Getting up there in the order.
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, seems like last two races we have gotten better and better. Really we should have finished, you know, fourth or fifth in that race, but I will take 7th.
Q. Not bad. I wanted to ask you about the Swift. Andretti, Fittipaldi and even Hiro Matsushita with an interest in the company there, is there any kind of dialogue going on there among all of you, that do you think helped you or you think will help you?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, yeah, of course. I mean, Newman/Haas, they can't do all the work themselves and so we collaborate on some things - not everything because we also want to beat each other. Also, one of the things that is really different is the tires. Since they are on Goodyear and we are on Firestone, they require different packages altogether - spring package is different, and camber and caster and all that kind of stuff is different. So, we can't compare everything. But there is a lot of talk that does go on.
Q. I hope it pays off for you. I look forward to seeing you climb up the ladder.
RICHIE HEARN: I think it will. The car is a great package. It is just going to take a -- take a little bit of time before we can really get a good handle on it. But, you know, every race we have done what -- we have done well in the race. We just need to do a little bit better in practice and in qualifying.
Q. First of all, I have two questions. No. 1: Talk about the number of pits that you had and how your team can improve. The other question that I have: Talk a little bit about racing before you were born. I heard your mom was pregnant and she quit when she couldn't get the seatbelt around her belly?
RICHIE HEARN: Okay, to your first question there, you want to know how many pit spots we made in the race.
Q. Yeah, I saw you had five of them.
RICHIE HEARN: Well, yeah, well, I mean, I guess -- I only really consider I had two and a half. Let me see. Through the race we stopped on the first yellow flag with the rest of the crew, rest of the teams, and took on fuel and tires. But we had a problem with the jack and when I exited, tried to exit the pits, I hit one of my fuelers and so, that made me come in for a stop and go, or actually just a drive through when we went green that time. So, that really time we really -- we just kind of cruised through the pits. And, I didn't stop. That put me back at the end of the field. Then about 15 laps later was when Paul and de Ferran crashed. I decided since I was still running at the end of the lead lap, I decided to come in and just take on fuel. So I retopped up; I didn't take on tires. Went back out and I didn't stop actually until the last -- I went through the green flag stops and that kind of what put me on top of the list there and then I stopped on the last yellow flag and took on a full stop there. So it is kind of two and a half, really. I mean, the drive-through we didn't do anything. It really didn't hurt us that much because since when I hit my fueler, I stalled at the same time, and it put me back in the back anyways. So, it really didn't change much in our strategy. As far as your other question, my parents both used to race amateur sports, Car Club of America events out here in the west coast - corvettes. They belonged to the Corvette Club and they both had two of them there. My mom used to race as well. She used to race like Solo One events and also in the regular competition in the B-Class, B-Production class for women. And, she actually raced pregnant until probably, you know, three or four months until really she started to show and the seatbelt wouldn't take it anymore. So she quit after that. But then after I was born, they raced for about three or four more years, too.
Q. Do you think that instinct is carried over?
RICHIE HEARN: I don't know. I guess it could be. If there is anyway to -- if there is anyway to get instinct, that is probably the best way to do it. I have been around it all my life and obviously before I was even born, I was around it, so I think, you know, that is what really got me involved. And, you know, it wasn't like I decided I wanted to be a race car driver some day. It was already, I think, already in my mind that that is what I wanted to do before I even did it.
Q. You spoke a few moments ago about the fact that at the beginning of the season and up to Rio, it was just like little things that kept getting in your way. I am wondering, until Rio and then, I guess, before the finish of the race, was some frustration starting to mount up?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, yeah. I mean a little bit for John and I, and the guys on the team. We have been having a lot of little problems each race. And, you know, I don't think I have gone to one race this year yet where I have run every practice session completely. So, I am always -- seems like I am always behind going into the race weekend, onto the race day itself. But, you know, we didn't have a very good week start to the Rio race. We had a lot of problems in practice, and then I spun in qualifying; didn't even get a lap. But, you know, everything worked out well on Sunday for us, and, you know, like I was saying earlier, the guys seem really relieved and I think sometimes you have a race like that it eases people up a little bit and they don't make mistakes as much and hopefully we go to St. Louis week have a completely trouble-free weekend.
Q. When you received word that you were being black-flagged for the pit-spot violation, was there a thing in you that went: Oh, no, here we go again?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, no, actually I knew it was coming because I know if you have any kind of problems in the pits - run over a hose or, obviously you hit somebody, or hit a tire, you get a drive-through penalty. So I was expecting it. And, yeah, maybe a little bit. My biggest worry was coming in under green and then if it went green long enough, after that, I would be able to stay in front of the leaders. I didn't want to get lapped. So, that was my biggest concern. But, actually, what it did is it actually worked out good for us at the end because since they put me in the back of the field when I was -- when I was saying that next yellow flag came out when Paul and de Ferran crashed, I decided to come in and top-up because I wasn't going to lose any -- I wouldn't have lost any track position anyways. I was already really the last car in line there. And, that kind of is what put us ahead of the rest of the field as far as pit spots. If I would have been running like 14th, 15th, at the time of when I came if, I probably wouldn't have come in during that yellow because I would have lost too much track position. Then I would have had to pit under the green like everyone else.
Q. Talk a little bit about the bond between you and your owner John Della Penna?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, John and I have been together a long time this. This is our fifth year together. And, he kind of plucked me out of nowhere when I was running Sports 2000 and in the Dodge series in 1993. And we hooked up and did very well in the Atlantic Series. And, when we first got together, our goal was to do exactly what we have been doing: Win the Atlantic Championship in 1995 and then move into CART and, you know, compete against the best. And, it has been a long road, but we have accomplished a lot together and we get along really well. We can get along in two ways: We can get along as just regular friendship type of thing where we can hang out outside of racing, play golf, or go to dinner and things like that. Or we can get we get along in the business side where he is the owner, I am the driver and we work together to make the car faster together to win races. It really works out well because there is not a lot of drivers out there who can say they have that type of relationship with their owner. And, if I have any kind of problems or anything, I can come to him and I trust every decision he makes. I don't have to ever second-guess him.
Q. There was a lot of back-marker problems according to Alex Zanardi and you seem to be experiencing some of it as well. Are people not observing the blue flag like Alex was indicating?
RICHIE HEARN: Pretty much, yeah. We have -- there are some drivers out there who could do a much better job at, you know, being a little bit more respectable, give a little more respect to the faster cars on the track. I have the same problem in that race with a couple of drivers where they were a lap down and they want to race you for a reason I don't understand. I mean, I wouldn't do that. If I am a lap down, I don't want to get in somebody's way and ruin their race. But there is other drivers that -- I don't know if they just don't see the blue flag or if they are -- maybe they are in such a zone out there that they are really not paying attention to what is going on, they are just racing themselves. It can cause problems. I haven't seen the race on TV, but I heard what happened with Alex and, you know, it is unfortunate because you work your butt off the whole race and to have potentially someone else change the course for you at the very end is very frustrating.
Q. Talking about this upcoming race, can you sort of give us a feel of the track through -- where the passing zones would be --
RICHIE HEARN: St. Louis is a tough race. It is a mile-and-a-quarter track and it is pretty quick. I think with the new wing package that we have to run there, you will see a lot of passing going into Turn 1. Mostly because we will be braking and downshifting there. So it is an opportunity if you -- you come off of Turn 3 and 4 pretty quickly and if you can run right with somebody coming off the corner, you can get the draft and pull out and then outbreak him going into Turn 1 there. You will possibly see some passing going into Turn 3 as well because as the track widens up, and, you know, if the track stays together, you will be able to have to have two grooves through 3 and 4. So, it is going to be tough because it is a little bit narrower than the last couple of tracks we have been running on, so, passing is going to be at a premium. And, track position in the pit spots are going to be real, real important as well.
Q. If you could bear with one more IRL question, I know you talked very fondly of Mr. Della Penna in terms of giving you opportunity to get started, but I am wondering do you feel looking back that the IRL in your case, you know, played the role that it stated it intended to, in giving American drivers opportunity?
RICHIE HEARN: Well, for us it was a little different really. We -- the reason why we did the IRL in the first place is we -- at the end of 1995 when we won the Atlantic Championship, we planned to go into CART. But in that short period of time, I mean, the season ends in October and, you know, the season starts up pretty much right away, we weren't able to really get a full program together to run a full season in CART. We had enough money to do -- probably we could have done probably half the season with no testing. But, we would -- we thought about doing that but we also wanted to run at the 500. And so, the IRL gave us the opportunity to kind of tune-up for CART. I mean, the level of competition is really not as high as CART; especially then, and, so, we were able to run up front immediately and really kind of get a lot of exposure for our sponsors right away and gain a lot of experience for myself and John and the crew because there is a lot more to it than running, you know, a 75-mile Atlantic races to 500-mile CART races. And, also, we also both wanted to do the Indy 500 before they changed the cars. We knew they were going to change the cars to their current package with the stock blocks and the non-turbocharged cars, we really wanted to race there with the cars that were current at the time. I am glad I did it because it really gave me a lot of practice and a lot of experience, so in 1997 when I moved up to CART I felt I was a little more prepared than if I would have just jumped out of Atlantic, it would have been a little tougher.
T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for today. We want to say thanks to all of you for joining us and thanks to Richie, best of luck in the upcoming Motorola 300 in Budweiser's hometown of St. Louis on the 23rd of May.
RICHIE HEARN: Thank you very much.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks again to all of you for joining us and we will talk to you again next week.
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