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CART FedEx Championship Series: Honda Indy 300

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Honda Indy 300

CART FedEx Championship Series: Honda Indy 300

Chris Kneifel
John Lopes
Adam Saal
October 27, 2002


MERRILL CAIN: I'd like to bring up the members of the competition staff to answer a few questions about today's race. We're joined by Adam Saal, CART vice president of communications, CART steward Chris Kneifel joins us, and president of competition John Lopes joins us. John, obviously a tough race, a lot of conditions that were thrown at us by Mother Nature today. If you could, a lot of the media here covering the series, talk about the process for shortening the race, what went into the decision, and to make it an official race, halfway point of the race, and why it was scheduled for 35 laps instead of when we originally decided to shorten the race.

JOHN LOPES: I'd like first to mention for those of you who haven't been around CART this year, typically when we have a great day of weather, they call it Pook weather. Chris announced the official end to the drought in Queensland. We might want to refer to that as Pook weather. I want to congratulation the members of the racing operations staff today. They had a difficult task at race control, faced with some very difficult questions throughout the race. Secondly, I think the fans got an unfortunately up-close view of our safety team in action at the beginning of the race. They are the best in the business, did an amazing job with something we always fear, and that's a dual extrication where you actually have to take two drivers out of a car. To answer your question, typically race distances are calculated based upon a TV window. For this particular race, the halfway mark was 36 laps. A race is official when it is run halfway, or 36 laps, per the rule book. So the race became official at 36 laps.

MERRILL CAIN: Because the original distance was set for 70?

JOHN LOPES: Yes. Basically that's a short synopsis. The way we calculate 70 laps at the beginning is based on a 2 hour, 10 minute window for television.

MERRILL CAIN: Despite the fact that after the accident we shortened the race by 20 laps, you went back to the original distance to determine half the race?

JOHN LOPES: The way the rule book reads is that the official distance for the race, it's an official race, halfway of the covered scheduled distance, which was 70. So officially the race halfway mark was 36 no matter how we shortened the race throughout.

MERRILL CAIN: Chris Kneifel, if you could speak to the issue, the conditions that the drivers faced during the course of this race was obviously very difficult. Talk about the measures that race control took to try and make it as competitive a race as we could, and make it safe for the competitors.

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Obviously, Mother Nature got the better side of us today, no question about that. Not having really done this with this type of weather here in Australia before, we thought the track conditions permitted to go ahead and get the race started. We chose initially going for a single-file start. We asked the drivers to give some spacing. Obviously, that didn't happen on the first start. Turned into a bad situation on the front straightaway in the obvious red flag situation. During the cleanup, the rains came again shortly after we got restarted. We just got upside down and were never able to get back on top of it. We were hoping to have better things happen today; it just didn't work out.

MERRILL CAIN: Adam Saal, if you could speak to the situation. A tough situation, tough decisions. You've been through a lot of these races. You know how tough the decision to make is.

ADAM SAAL: That is actually why I'm joining, because we did have a great weekend here. It seemed we were in a completely different situation. That's Australia. One day it seems fine, next day literally the skies open up. It was a great event. Many milestones this weekend. Incredible attendance. We also made it clear we're going to be back here through 2008 with a great continuation of a great event. This is definitely a memorable one. But frankly we've been through some dark and rainy races here before. We always managed come back and have a great time. I'd like to thank IMG, Jeff Jones, everybody on the crew who made it a great effort for us, it was an outstanding event. Again, not the result we wanted. I want to thank these guys for coming here directly. I explained to them that it's late in the day, they came in to speak with all of you. We do appreciate that.

MERRILL CAIN: Because of the late hour, we want to take some questions from the media quickly.

Q. Chris Kneifel, given the conditions at the start, does that present a case for rolling starts to come under review in those conditions?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Rolling starts versus standing starts? That's an ongoing debate. We had a CART fan forum in Columbus, Ohio, a few months back. A lot of our fans love the standing starts. I guess it's an ongoing question. It's something we consider all the time. Right now, this is how we start our races. I have to tell you, you can have some pretty awful stack-ups with standing starts, as well. The incident today , it's something that happened. You can have a bad deal like that with a standing start. We had some contact that led to track blockage and guys ran into each other.

Q. If the race could have been called at 36 laps, why wasn't it? I think Michael Andretti might have won at 36 laps. Perhaps because he's going to IRL, that wasn't a desirable outcome?

JOHN LOPES: Absolutely not. In fact, I observed the stewards making their decision, and it was a very tough decision. Chris, you might want to elaborate on this. We were in a situation where there were several drivers cycled to have pit stops on laps 36 and 37. As such, the stewards didn't want to play God and choose who was going to win the race. What they did is they stepped aside and they convened and decided what was the best way to conduct the finish of the race. That was to have the race go as long as possible with respect to light, and cycle everyone through their pit stops at least two times. So what happened was, in effect, everyone cycled through twice, and they let the race go for as long as possible, and they called it at lap 40.

MERRILL CAIN: Chris, do you want to elaborate?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Keeping the maximum number for the pit stop window 20 laps, that kind of became the magic number. 40, 41 was the magic number. Obviously, as we crept closer to 40, the weather persisted in a downward trend. Light was obviously difficult. Our pace car was also running out of gas.

Q. You were playing God. You have this half distance rule in atrocious conditions where it seemed you should finish the race as soon as possible, you let it go on another four laps, turned the results upside down. With all due respect to Mario, the guy is dead last, spends half the race in the pits, it doesn't seem to me that you're being very consistent about playing God because you really shouldn't have extended four laps in these conditions on the safety issue thing.

CHRIS KNEIFEL: I would venture to guess no matter what lap we picked, there was going to be people that were happy and people that were not happy, and possibly even more than unhappy. I think that goes without saying. It's not our job to worry about who we please and who we don't please, nor is it our job to look and see who might win, who might not win, based on the different strategies that play out. It's our job to make every attempt to make decisions that are based on integrity and thoughtfulness. We really believe that getting to a point where everyone will have had to make an equal number of pit stops was a fair decision. Obviously, in the Michael Andretti situation, they pitted I believe lap 16, which would have took him to 36, which would have been the number that it became an official race. If you wanted to really look carefully into that, there would be a very interesting rule book interpretation based on that because technically he was due in the pits at lap 36. I would venture to guess, although I certainly would not be so presumptuous to speak for everyone, but I would venture to guess the cars immediately behind Michael at that time, which were the two of the cars, I believe there was a third one, but for sure the Team Rahal car, Vasser and Jourdain, I'm not sure which order, but Team Rahal pitted on lap 17. It's entirely possible they had a different interpretation of that rule. All I'm saying is, we were in a situation. No matter where we came down on this one, it wasn't pretty. We're very aware of that. Days like this don't make us happy because there's nothing that I personally care more about than our drivers and our teams in this racing series. When it goes the wrong way on us, we're very aware of that. It's just our job to make the best decisions we can and to be fair and have integrity and move along. I can assure you that any insinuation that I and my fellow stewards made a decision that was based on doing something wrong to Michael Andretti because of his decision to go race in another series, that's just wrong, that's wrong. I've known Michael for many, many years. I don't do things like that.

Q. Do you have the name of the pace car driver?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Gail T-r-u-e-s-s.

Q. Chris, when it looks as bad as it did, there wasn't any racing going on, why not red flag it and come back tomorrow? You have a big crowd here, the consideration of the people. Can you think about a red flag at all?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Nothing would have made me happier than to red flag it and come back tomorrow.

JOHN LOPES: We actually talked to the promoter early on in the race to see if we could race tomorrow. He said no. It has to do with business interruption and street closure issues. On an oval, typically we would red flag the race and come back and race the next day. That wasn't an option. We also wanted to give the fans, who paid their money, traveled so far to be here, a chance to see the cars on track. We also wanted to have a checkered flag. If not, if we would have red flagged the race, we would have had one of the races in the championship go without points awarded. We decided to move forward in a very, very difficult situation. It was really our only option.

Q. There appeared to be an animated conversation behind the garage. Could you tell me the substance? Slight delay from the 3:15 reschedule.

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Would you be referring when we got the drivers together?

Q. Yes.

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Actually, I wouldn't categorize that as animated at all. I just thought there were a lot of questions, and the best thing to do was to get all the drivers together, make sure that we're all on the same page as to what we were going to do procedurally to carry on with the race, make sure we had a good understanding of when we were looking for in terms of going ahead and getting the race restarted. The input of these guys is invaluable. It's their butts that are on the line out there. It's important that they were all on the same page in knowing and understanding what we were looking to do. Truth be known, the guys came up with some excellent ideas and some very valuable input as to how we chose to go ahead and get the race restarted. Having that dialogue with the guys, it's very important. It's one of those things that they pulled together when they need to.

ADAM SAAL: If I could add a little bit to that. Dario Franchitti took it upon himself to come up to the tower and offer some very positive and constructive and very cordial recommendations.

CHRIS KNEIFEL: This was a new one in my book, both as an official and driver.

MERRILL CAIN: Thank you very much. We appreciate the job that you guys do. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

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