CART Media Conference
May 19, 1998
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thank you all for joining us today and a special welcome to our guest this afternoon, driver Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green. Welcome, Paul. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today.
PAUL TRACY: Sure.
T.E. McHALE: Paul, driver of the No. 26 KOOL Reynard Honda enters Saturday's Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois as defending Champion having driven to a 2.391 second victory over Patrick Carpentier in last year's inaugural event. His victory capped off a three-way winning streak marking the 8th time in FedEx Championship history that a driver had won three consecutive events in a single season. Paul went on to finish fifth in the PPG Cup Championship with 121 points. This weekend's Motorola 300 is significant to Paul for another reason as he is scheduled to make the 100th start of a Champ Car career which began in 1991. He ranks 8th in both CART career victories with 13 and career pole positions with 12. Among his other accomplishments, Paul currently stands 7th in career laps led with 2028; third in laps led in a single season with 756 in 1993 and he is tied for 7th in career victories from the pole position with 4, joining Bobby Rahal, Alex Zanardi and Johnnie Rutherford. Paul comes to Gateway ranked 10th in this year's PPG Cup Championship with 20 points. The Motorola 300, round 6 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ABC on Saturday, beginning at 1 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up for questions.
Q. When you joined Team KOOL earlier this year, you were really excited about and optimistic about how things would change after last year's frustration with Penske. But on the track, at least, the results haven't been there this year. Paul, can you talk about what is happening and are you disappointed the way things are going so far?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think that overall -- I mean, we have a lot of disappointment in terms of, I think in terms of just bad luck. The performance of the car has been getting better every weekend that we have gone to. We have qualified better. We have been racing better. We have been running in the Top-5 and, frankly, the last two out of the three with Long Beach and Rio, we just, you know, went out with guys running into us. That is just bad luck. We were in good position at Rio for a very strong run. I was real happy with the car and we were running in second, and I felt capable of a Top-3 pretty easily. So, I don't think the results speak for how good the performance of the car has been. We have just had rotten luck.
Q. How are things looking up going into this week's race at Gateway there, Paul? Is your car where you want it to be?
PAUL TRACY: Well, we don't really know. We didn't get a chance to test in Gateway. We went there straight after Nazareth and it rained the day that we were going to test. It was very cold. I guess, from what I understand, a lot of guys that have been testing there, it has been quite cold when they have done the testing in St. Louis and the weather is quite hot right now. Hopefully that will leave things a little bit wide open now for the guys who haven't tested. I feel good. Our performance was good at Motegi. It is a similar type of track to there, but a little bit slower with the same type of wings, so, I feel good about the car's handling. We just need to get some good luck going.
Q. I just wanted -- I was just curious about the results of the team. How are things working out with you and Dario? What has that been like having a teammate who himself is a rookie and you sort of being one of the old men in the circuit these days?
PAUL TRACY: It has been good. Dario and I get along very well. Our relationship is good. A lot of our tests have been two-car tests which has enabled us to kind of branch out a little bit and try different things. And, we have really got a big test scheduled planned in the next few weeks going to Mid-Ohio and to Michigan. And, now that we are getting more into the road courses here in the next couple of weeks, I think you are going to see our performance level jump up because I feel that we have got a better car on the road courses than we have had on the short ovals.
Q. Why is that?
PAUL TRACY: It just seems like we haven't been totally been able to dial the car into -- at least the way that I like it, but it has been getting better with every race. I think that we need to do some more testing. We have got a couple of tests at Michigan and Fontana. I think with the power of the Honda, we can really show what we can do there.
Q. What is it like for you -- with the exception of one year you spent most of your career with Penske and what is it like to come with a new team and a team that is expanding, adding a second driver, that kind of thing this year? What has that side of the experience been like?
PAUL TRACY: It has been a pretty big adjustment. Bigger than I thought it would be; getting used to the new engineers and new crew guys. But, it is a building process. This is a fairly new team. They haven't been around for a long time. A lot of new guys on the team. So everybody is trying to figure out what their position is. And, it is a building process. I think that we are doing better than what we expected to do. Obviously, we felt that we would be running in the Top-5 and we have been doing that. But, we have just had a lot of, like I said, a lot of bad luck. But I feel, overall, that the team is really progressing forward. I think by mid-season we will be looking good.
Q. Has there been any surprises coming to a new organization?
PAUL TRACY: Not really. I mean, it has been fairly straightforward. I mean, it has just taken me a little bit longer than I thought it would to adjust to the car from the -- the difference from a Penske to a Reynard. It requires quite a different driving style, but that is all coming together.
Q. What adjustments have you to make to your driving?
PAUL TRACY: Just the way we set the car up is a lot different than from the Penske. I got used to doing things a certain way and making changes to a car -- you do certain things for understeer and certain things for oversteer, and aerobalance numbers and the amount of percentage front-to-rear down-force you want. The Reynard requires totally different numbers. So everything is pretty foreign to me. And, I am -- you know, you are learning the car all the time. I don't think you ever really stop learning. So, it is just, starting from scratch has been just my -- my reference, you know, "Well, maybe we need to do this," it doesn't translate, you know, so it has been a little bit more difficult.
Q. As you said earlier you are having some bad luck earlier in the year. But the result haven't really been there. How has that been on you mentally? Has it been very tough in terms of dealing with the struggles?
PAUL TRACY: No, not really. Everybody goes through ups and downs. And, like I said, the car has been competitive on race day. We have, you know, Nazareth or at Homestead we didn't qualify very well and ran -- moved up into the Top-5; you know, the same in Japan. We had a Top-5 from starting 16th on the grid. It is a long way back and it is very, very competitive and hard to get by a lot of these guys. Rio we moved up to second place. So, I am very happy with the performance of the car. I know that I am driving well. I feel that I am driving better than I ever have, so, it is just the fact that we have had some bad luck and I don't think we have been able to show our true potential.
Q. You were talking about some of the differences in the car, in your driving style from adjusting to Reynard from Penske. Has there been any mental adjustments that you have had to make there in terms of like your thinking or the way you drive?
PAUL TRACY: Well, everything is an adjustment. The car is a lot different. Just the mannerisms in the car from the Penske's to the Reynard are a lot different. So, it has required me to adjust my driving style. It has been a little bit of a tough habit to break having driven the Penske car for so long. You just get used to what you are driving. So, to change my driving style has been a little bit tougher to break the habit, you know, some of the habits you pick up from one car to the other. But everything is coming together like I said. I feel good and I am getting more and more relaxed in the car and I think it has been -- it is going to show.
Q. Going into Gateway as the reigning champ, any special adjustments you need to make to the car? Anything to have a little bit more of an edge to do to the car to help you out for the race coming up?
PAUL TRACY: It is hard to say. The wings are different this year, so that kind of throws a big questionmark for everybody. The weather has been an issue for testing and conditions of the track. So, I think it is pretty wide open. We have got obviously got to go in there and get the right numbers on the car to run well. Because, you know, if you are a quarter of a second or 4/10 of a second off, you are going to be out of the Top-10. The series is so competitive and if you are not just right-on perfect, you are not going to qualify that well. So, we have got -- we just had a test at Milwaukee and we learned quite a lot of stuff there and hopefully that will translate to St. Louis.
Q. What did you learn in the test?
PAUL TRACY: We ran in conditions that we haven't run in yet all year. The weather conditions, everywhere we have been, have been fairly cool, so it was very hot in Milwaukee and what is what the weather forecasts looks like for St. Louis. We have learned some things about the car and what we need to do spring-wise and aero-wise for that type of weather.
T.E. McHALE: We have a limited amount of time with Paul today because he has a flight to catch. He needs to leave probably at the bottom of the hour or a little bit afterwards. So if we could get you folks to limit your questions to maybe one question and a follow-up that would be very helpful to the other callers on the line. Thanks a lot for that.
Q. Paul, long time no speak. I wondered if you could maybe be -- elaborate a little bit more on the differences that you will be, you know, working with at Gateway this time with the speedway wings as opposed to the high down-force wings and just what, you know, I guess in some sense, you know, what you learned at Motegi probably has more to do with how the car is going to behave than your experience at Gateway last year?
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I think it is going to be tougher than guys think it is going to be to set the car up. And, the track is a similar layout than Motegi, but it is quite a lot smaller, the radius of the turns, so like I said, we didn't get the opportunity to test. We were there, but it rained while we were there. And, from what I have heard from, you know, other guys that Turn 1, which was, you know, just last year with the big wings was go in and just touch the brake and you were pretty much wide open all the way around it. This year, with the small wings, you are going down one to two gears, hard braking. And, three and four last year for me in qualifying was wide open and this year it is pretty hard on the brakes, and maybe down one gear. So, that is going to change the track a lot in terms of the way you drive it. So, really what you did last year doesn't really translate to what you have got to do this year. I mean, last year with the bigger wings you could run, you know, stiffer springs because you had more down-force; you were using the suspension more. With the light down-force, you tend to soften the car up a lot so -- to get the suspension to work a little bit more. But, we will just have to go there and see what the car runs like.
Q. I have got to ask you the obligatory question. This is the third year away from Indy. I wonder if you could just discuss that briefly and how much attention will you pay to that race?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't really pay a lot of attention to it. It is something that is not part of our series and I am just fully concentrated on what we are doing. Sure, I would love to run at Indy and I think everybody would, but with the politics involved and I have got to do what I am paid to do and the job that I have to do. So, we are going to St. Louis, and, you know, it was a great race for me last year, so I am very excited about going back. It is not like it's a disappointment to go there.
Q. You touched a few minutes ago on the competitiveness of the series and qualifying now and how little margin there is for error. Can you talk little bit about just the races itself? It seems it is so competitive as well; it is maybe harder to win races than it used to be.
PAUL TRACY: Oh, it is tough. You have got to have a perfect day; not only on the track, but also in the pits. And, the teams are that competitive. I mean, I was expecting when we didn't qualify as well as I would have liked at Nazareth, you know, I had run the same time at Nazareth that I qualified on the pole a year before and was 10th on the grid. That shows you how much everybody has step up from last year and then in the race, when you typically expect everybody -- a lot of guys could go loose and you have really only got about four, five competitors, everybody throughout the whole field was running 19 second laps all race long. I mean -- I thought that we had a great car in the race at Nazareth and we ended up with a 5th place finish and the car I ran in the 19th all day long. The year before, I ran in the 19th and, you know, only had one competitor Michael Andretti; whereas this year, it was any one of ten days depending on how you came out of the pits that could have won the race.
Q. Being a new team, are the pit stops something that you think have to get faster? Are you losing a little bit from time to time in there?
PAUL TRACY: Well, we did. But, I was very, very happy with the pit stops in -- at our last race in Rio. Granted, we only did one, but we went from whereever we are running from 6th to 4th which is a good stop, so, it is coming down to: You can do your job out on the track, but if you -- if the guys don't get it done in the pit lane, you lose a couple of spots. It is very tough to make it back on the racetrack because how competitive everybody is. So, the guys have been working hard at it. We had a couple of mistakes, and mistakes happen. They have really worked hard in the last couple of weeks. They were doing 50 pit stops per day practice at the shop and on the race weekend. So they are really, really getting it down.
Q. When you talked about the changes you have to make as a driver and drive differently, can you put that into words so the guy in the 10th or 12th or 15th row of the stands might understand what you have to do differently this year with a different car?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it is kind of hard to explain, but you know, the way -- the mannerisms of a race car, every car has got its own little quirks. And, you know, having driven a Penske, I mean, you know, it required a certain, for me to run the car the way I wanted to, required a certain style and the way you would brake and accelerate and turn the car and the way it felt in the middle of the turn. The cars were pretty similar year to year. There wasn't a lot of change in the car. So, you just got accustomed to that and got conditioned, I guess to that type of feel. And, having switched to a Reynard, it was a lot different than what I was used to. It has taken some time for me to change my style and as each test date goes by and every practice day, you are figuring things out on the car that make it particular.
Q. In that respect, you mean you would accelerate differently; more quickly or less quickly --
PAUL TRACY: The way the car feels in the seat of your pants is a lot different than what I am used to. The things that I would do to drive a Penske don't work in the Reynard. I find that, you know, it just doesn't seem to work. I tend to lose time. So, it has required me to change my style and that is hard to do when you get used to doing things a certain way. It is almost like a writer, somebody changing the keys on your typewriter, you get used to something and you can do it effortlessly without even thinking about it, and when you change everything around, that makes you really have to think about what you have to do. So it is an adjustment period and it takes a little bit of time.
Q. A follow-up question regarding Indy. Do you see any resolution, the gap between the two the political gaps getting any closer? Is there any hope from a driver's standpoint of getting back to Indy?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I hope so. I am not really that involved in it. I tried not to get involved emotionally when the split happened. So, I really just got my head down and, you know, when the split happened and just did what I had to do and what I was paid to do. Like I said, I would love to go back to Indy. I think every driver would, but it is out of the driver's hand. It is up to the owners of CART and Tony George to work it out. But everybody is hoping that will happen in time. But, right now, the way it looks, I mean, the series is quite far apart from terms of rules and car specifications, so a merger, there would have to be a lot of compromise on both sides and it is whoever is willing to get the ball rolling, I guess, but I don't know who makes those decisions and who doesn't.
Q. I am wondering if mentally and you can ask 10 drivers and probably get 10 different answers, but mentally is there an advantage going back to a race that you have won?
PAUL TRACY: Well, definitely. I mean, there is always a psychological advantage when you have had a good race there, you have had a win and you go back to that track, you have got a good feeling going into it. So there is always that feeling of, you know, the races I always feel a little bit more uncomfortable going to a racetrack that I haven't won at. The majority of the tracks that I have won at with 13 wins is a lot of the temporary road courses and some of the street courses that we run at, Toronto and places like that that we go to every year. So, I always feel comfortable coming back because I have won there before. You are not trying to figure out the reason why you haven't been able to make things click there. But, for me coming back to St. Louis or Milwaukee, I always had a good feeling because you have had a good performance there; you have won a race, so you know what it takes to get the job done there. There is not a questionmark there.
Q. With the milestone coming up, is your career where you thought it would be at this point or are you a little frustrated?
PAUL TRACY: I mean, you have always got to look at your career -- I haven't really thought about it, the 100-career starts and I always think 13 wins and 12 poles is, I think, pretty good. But, there is a lot of races that we have given away, and a lot of missed opportunity. The record could always be better and there is days where you fell into some races and you where you really shouldn't have won and some guy had bad luck. So it goes both ways. I just know that in my heart I know that I am driving better than I have ever driven and I have got a great team and, you know, more wins are going to come.
Q. Going into the race this week, how much do you take from the last race? Do you do anything a little differently or do you just shrug it right off?
PAUL TRACY: You know, it is one of those things where I feel good about the tracks. We have had a good result there. I would have liked to have tested, but we didn't get the opportunity, so there is a questionmark there, you know, about the performance of the car. We haven't tested. The wings that we are running there make the track really tricky to drive; especially the places that we have been, Homestead, Motegi, so, hopefully the things that we have done there are going to pan out for us in St. Louis. But, again, it is a different track, different conditions, and we will just have to see how it goes.
T.E. McHALE: We are going to wrap up today. Paul is on a tight schedule. We want to thank Paul Tracy for joining us this afternoon. Best of luck in the upcoming Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway on Saturday. Thanks to all of you for joining us. We will talk to you next week.
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