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CART Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

A.J. Allmendinger
Dario Franchitti
July 30, 2002

ERIC MAUK: We are delighted to be joined by Dario Franchitti, driver the No. 27 KOOL Honda Lola Bridgestone who is, of course, coming off his eighth career champ car win this Sunday when he captured his second Molson Indy Vancouver title. Dario led 19 laps including the last 15 to take his first victory since his 2001 win. The win made him one of three drivers to win more than once in Vancouver, partnering with his 1998 win, and more importantly moved him into second place in the CART FedEx Championship Series point standings, just 38 behind leader Cristiano Da Matta. Dario, thank you for joining us.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Delighted to be here.

ERIC MAUK: Curious for you as to which was the most important outcome of the weekend: Getting your first win and getting something in that column, or closing the gap on Cristiano?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think they were both important. I think obviously it took a win to allow us to close the gap. Yeah the biggest thing of the weekend was in my mind the win, for all sorts of reasons; that we went into the race, particularly winning in Vancouver, it was very special to win that race. Yeah, as you said, it certainly helped towards closing the gap in the Championship. But we've come so close this year so many times to, win a race, to finally get a bit of luck and get it all working our way was very special.

ERIC MAUK: Team Green had one of its best weekends of the year, you guys were up there every session. It comes on the heels of the announcement of Barry getting out and Michael coming in. How do you keep all of the speculation about what's going to happen from being a distraction and being able to get it done on the racetrack?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Paul and I both knew what was going on for a long time. The team had been very good and they have kept us abreast of all of the developments; so it was not a shock to either of us. I think it's difficult to speak for Paul, but I've certainly been in more difficult situations than I am right now, and I'm sure Paul has, too. Myself personally, I'm not worrying too much about it. I'm just going to drive and have fun at the moment and try to do the best possible job I can.

Q. Your next race will be at Mid-Ohio, a track where you've qualified very well, but have not been able to translate too much into strong finishes. Will you be making any changes this year in your methods of attacking the track and your qualifying plans?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No. I think as you say, we've always qualified well there. We just haven't had such a good time in the race. You know, I think the one thing I can do for my side of things is not do what I did last year: Make a stupid mistake. Every other year, I think we've had pretty lousy luck there. Even when we did finish on the podium, we had a big lead at the end of the first portion of the race and then caught a puncture which allowed the guys to catch up. I think if we get a bit of luck there, we are looking good. The car has worked well there, it is one of the few places we have tested the Lola and we are pretty happy with it. Hopefully we can translate that into good performance on race weekend. It doesn't always work out that way. This series is so close now just between hundredths of seconds for position, and hopefully we'll do our homework right and get everything right on the weekend.

Q. Should the team you're with next year go to the IRL, will you go kicking and screaming, or will you look forward to the new challenge?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, right now I don't know who I'm driving for or what I'm doing next year, so that's a decision that has not been made yet. There's going to be a lot of different factors involved in making that decision. I will say that I do love very much what I'm doing with CART just now. I enjoy the challenges of the road courses, against the ovals, against the street courses, and I think it is one of the ultimate challenges, if not the ultimate challenge, for a race car driver. So right now, the only thing that I can really say on that is that I love what I'm doing and I hope to continue doing that.

Q. As a follow-up, if I could, Tom Scheckter was quite incensed this week with the things that went on; another driver was added to his team and his crew was taken away. As a driver, can you see where he's coming from or should a driver just, say, "Hey, the boss can do what he wants and I just drive"?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's always a different situation to talk about other people's problems. I will say that I've been very lucky in the teams I've driven throughout my career in that the team bosses have always treated me very, very well, all the way through my career. I've never been put in a position as Tom Scheckter was over the weekend, which I guess is not very comfortable for a young driver, but he answered -- he gave the perfect answer at end of the day.

Q. The championship situation, it seems to me that there's some parallels here with the '99 season when Juan won a whole bunch of races and then everybody was conceding the Championship to him, and then at end much the season you snuck up on him and got the lead and ended up tied in points. Do you see any parallels is it sort of dejavu all over again?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I hope not after the end result there. I think we had the lead in the Championship at the midway point in the season. And, you know, I think there are certain parallels, our performance is pretty strong, but it's not everything is really needs to be right now. So are there parallels. There are some, but I think right now we've got to do a better job than we did in '99. We've got to put ourselves in position to win as many of these last races as we can, because a lot of the races we have not been quick enough to win them, and the ones that we have, we have messed up. So let's hope that we can do a better job than we did in '99.

Q. Changing the subject slightly, concerning your future, there's been reports on the Internet linking you to the Newman/Haas team or the expanded Newman/Haas team with Andretti perhaps running the third car. Are you in discussions with them?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not at the moment. I've talked to a lot of different people up and down pit lane, but we haven't got into any serious contract negotiations with any team yet, and that includes Team Green at the moment. That's about all there is at the moment. The situation is very fluid and we'll see what happens on that one. And also, don't believe everything you read on the Internet. (Laughs).

Q. Just to be a little bit flippant, with the race coming here to Montreal in three weeks, there's one question which I guess is on the minds of Montreal race fans: And is Ashley coming here?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know. She's actually started working. I'm not sure what her schedule is going to be. She started filming a new movie. She loves to get to as many races as she possibly can, but she's filming on the West Coast, so it might not be possible, unfortunately.

Q. Just missed an opportunity to sell an extra 5,000 tickets.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: (Laughs). Thank you.

Q. Knowing Barry Green as you do, what would it mean to be able to turn to him in Mexico City and hand him the Vanderbilt cup as an outgoing CART champ car owner?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's a nice thought, a great thought. It's one I don't even want to think about because I don't want to jinx it. I think a sports psychologist would tell you: Don't think of the result, just think about doing the best job you possibly can; and that's right now what we are doing. I just hope at the end of the day, we do get the result we want. Since I joined the team in 1998, Barry has been an amazing boss, incredibly supportive. You know, when Paul and I have had our couple of incidents on the track, he's laid down the law, but at the same time, he's a great guy. He appreciates the effort that Paul and I put in on the track and he understands very well, not only what makes the drivers tick, but what makes the whole team tick. I can see why he's been so successful in what he does, and it's been an absolute pleasure to race for him, and hopefully he's going to continue to be involved in the team. Hopefully we can continue that.

Q. You talked about your focus this week. It was ironic, Mark talked about how they had turmoil at the IRL group; you've always had sharp powers of focus. Is it positive to be able to say to yourself: "I'm just going to worry about what's in front of the nose of the car over the next couple of months"; that it might end up taking you to a different level of being locked in into what you're doing, to an even greater success level?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think we've been doing that all year. I just think the weekend, as we have been on a number of occasions this year, we had the car in reasonable condition to be competitive. I'm not saying we had the quickest car at the weekend, but we had a reasonable car. We didn't have any mishaps. We didn't make any mistakes. The guys at Team KOOL Green did a wonderful job at the front. I don't think we have been doing anything differently than we have been at any other race this season, as far as focusing or an effort level.

Q. You've been in several races in the Lola. Can you characterize how different that car is from the Reynard? I gather you like the Lola, but what are the differences that you've discovered between them?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, we had in the last couple of seasons -- we have not been as competitive as we were in the '99 season, and there was a fundamental problem we had with the way we were setting up the Reynard, for me personally. When we shifted to Lola, we changed a number of things, and that helped me get back to driving -- I was able to get the car the way I wanted and get lap time out of it in general. Obviously, at Laguna Seca, that wasn't the case. But we have been getting closer and closer to getting the car work for me and my style of driving. As far as differences, the cars are pretty similar, I think, and I'm definitely used to driving the Lola now. It's better in some areas. In some areas, it needs a bit of work, but we are making most of it, and Al MacDonald and the technical people at Team KOOL Green have done a good job coming up with the setups and getting the car working with not a lot of testing -- in fact, basically no testing. So, that's been a great job from those guys. The people back at the shop have been building the cars and getting at the problems, getting them very, very quickly. It's been a heck of a lot of work for the guys back at the shop, but they have done a fantastic job so far.

Q. Looking toward Mid-Ohio, can you give us a quick lap around the track from your perspective?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'd rather not if you don't mind. I don't like to do that.

Q. Thank you very much.


Q. That was a great run.


Q. I was in the pits and I know you've had some challenges with pit stops in the past, but your final pit stop, I shot the crew doing the service, they were poetic; they seemed to really be hooked up. Can you talk about that?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, the guys have had a couple of tough times this year in the pits. I made my feelings plain, especially after Chicago, that I was not happy and they just needed to refocus. They can all do the job. They just need to believe that they can do it and focus on what we are doing again. You're right, that last pit stop, Al came in on the radio and said "we need a nice, clean pit stop here," and that's exactly what we got. As you say, it was really good. That's a tribute to those guys, and it's always more difficult to do something when you've maybe done it wrong in the past and you've been criticized for doing it. But those guys, they showed their mental strength and their skill and they got it right.

Q. I'm just going through the final run up on those photos to get them up on-line, and it was brilliant. Thank you very much for giving us probably one of the most enjoyable podiums to shoot that I can remember.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: We had a lot of fun up there.

Q. You said the situation regarding your plans for next year is fluid. Have you set for yourself any kind of a time line?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No. I was actually talking to my manager about it tonight, and there's no -- you know, it's not a case of we need to deal with them by this date. We are just right now seeing what's available, talking to everybody, letting everybody get their plans finalized before we at least start to make decisions. So there's no definitive date that things need to be done by.

Q. First of all, one way or another, Barry Green, a big portion of what he has been to your career and to your life will be gone at the end of season. What do you take away from that relationship?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I take away -- I hope it's something that I can take away, is because it's something that's very present during race weekend, is first of all, the support that he gives me. In the whole time I've been racing for the team, I've never felt that he's questioned my ability, my dedication, just basically what I do. You know, I think he believes that both Paul and I are doing our absolute best and he's happy with that and that means a tremendous amount. He's very honest. He's very open. He let's you know exactly what's going on. There's never been any real surprises. There was that one thing with Ian that came as a bit of a surprise, but apart from that, he's let us know exactly what's going on and what the future holds and really made me feel a part of the team. And when I say that, part of the inner workers of the team, with him and Kim and Kevin, and it's really -- from that point of view, it's been a very amazing experience. To watch how he gains the respect of everybody on the team, of all of the mechanics, he doesn't have to say anything. He just has this presence, motivates the people to push harder, and he's a great leader in that respect.

Q. Also, off the subject on to something else, with the fact that you had actually lived in Nashville, which is the heart of NASCAR country, what do you think of the brickyard and the Winston Cup cars running on the Speedway this weekend? Will you watch it and what are your emotions?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'm in Scotland. I'm going to hang out with my friends. And no, I won't be watching this weekend. I didn't even know they were racing there, to be honest.

Q. Has traction control made the drivers make less mistakes, because it seems like we haven't had many, if at all, any on-track passes for the lead this year. Is it because everything is just perfect?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it allows to you get closer to the limit. It adds that sort of security blanket, I feel like. What it does, as well, as you say, it makes it more difficult to make mistakes. It makes it easier to be consistent, and it's not quite as challenging for the drivers. From that point of view, it's not quite as much fun, and I think we have lost some of our advantage, particularly with guys like Paul and I who were before maybe able to control the power better coming out of the turn. Now you just stand on it and the traction control takes care of the wheel spin. One thing it doesn't do, it doesn't give you traction. So you still have to get the car working very, very well. And obviously, the less you use the traction control, the faster you are going to go because it is retarding the engine. So it still slows you down when you are using it; it just means that you maybe can get away with slightly better mistakes than you used to.

Q. If you had a vote, would you vote to eliminate it?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I would have it out of there for sure. But I absolutely understand where CART is coming from, the decision they did, because they could not police the situation anymore. So it's best way -- in the CART environment, it's best way to make sure that everybody was on an equal playing field.

Q. So maybe with one engine maybe they can eliminate it?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, I think one of the reasons there's no passing for the lead in some of the cases is because the guys are so close on lap time. You know, I think it's not that the races are one-sided or boring. It's just we can't -- in a lot of situations, we can't get the advantage because we are so damn close on lap times. So I think, as you say, there's a possibility without traction control there will be more mistakes made or whatever, but purely for driving enjoyment, I would say, yeah, one engine, yeah, get it out of there.

ERIC MAUK: Dario, appreciate you taking the time and enjoy this weekend off and we'll see you at Mid-Ohio.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thank you everybody.

ERIC MAUK: Dario Franchitti, going back to his pursuits in Scotland. We are joined by A.J. Allmendinger, Barber Dodge Pro Series points leader. He has built a 52-point lead after seven events. Despite having just three Barber Dodge races under his belt heading into the season, he has not slowed down since winning at Sebring; he won his fifth race of the weekends taking victory at Vancouver. Couple questions before we get started. Last couple of races you and Rafael Sperafico have had serious battles up at the front and have managed to race each other clean and had a good battle. Is this the beginning of a little rivalry we've seen?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: It's been exciting racing with him. Like you said, the last couple of races we have been battling and it's been clean and that's what makes it so fun. Every weekend, if it comes down to me and him, I know we are going to have a great race together and whoever comes out on top is going to really it earn it.

ERIC MAUK: You started the Barber Dodge season and you did the Team USA Scholarship in New Zealand, but you started without sponsorship, and we had talked before the season started, and you were not sure if you were going to be able to run two or three races and now you've gone out and built a substantial lead. Looking back at start of the year and what you've done now, are you surprised at the amount of success you've been able to have?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Definitely. The season has been amazing so far. Just like you said, the beginning of the year I didn't really know how many races I was going to be able to do and it's taken off. I've always had the confidence in myself that I can do it, but the Barber Dodge Pro Series is so tough, you just don't ever really see anybody to dominate and win the race that many races in one particular season. I mean, it's been a dream season and hopefully for the last three races of the season, it continues.

ERIC MAUK: For those people that might not be up to speed on what you did with Team USA Scholarship this year and the International Formula IV Championship, you and Brian Sellers went over there and had a couple of the best seasons that any Team USA Scholarship driver has had over there. Talk about what that did for and you how that helped you this winter, and what you might have learned over there that you brought to the Barber Dodge Series?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Well, the Team USA Scholarship trip that I took over to New Zealand has been just a big factor in my progression during the season. I have to give a lot of the credit to Brian. Some of the stuff I learned, because going over there, I have always been able to just be able to take a car that I've had and drive the wheels off it and make it go as fast as that car can go, but I've struggled a little bit on the technical side of the aspect of it. Going over there, I was able to work with engineers and see what it took to be able to make a car that I had actually go faster and handle better. And since that trip, I've been able to work with Barry Waddell (ph) all year and during the Barber Dodge Pro Season, and that's been a big factor on making sure that the car is set up to what I like and the car is going to go as fast as it can go with me driving it.

Q. You've been having quite a year this year. In your own mind, given how well you've been doing, has that possibly moved up your aspirations in terms of getting up to the top rung of the leader to champ cars? Do you feel you're still going to need two more years after this or do you think maybe one more year in Atlantics and then champ cars?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: We'll kind of see how it goes. Right now I'm really working on winning the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship, and also working on the funding next season for the Atlantics. Once I find that funding and get the deal done, and then just start testing for the season and during the season how it goes -- as you kind of know, in this sport you have to just let the pieces fall into place. If after next season I hopefully have the season that I've kind of had this year, we'll see but I'm not really going to worry about that until that time comes.

Q. Do you think getting into a champ car now or next year would help you when you ultimately do move up? Do you think that there's going to be a program whereby CART gives guys like you who have a lot of potential to test?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Well, CART is doing a great job right now with the whole ladder system that they have set. I know for the Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship, we will -- the champion will either get an Atlantic test or money towards testing an Atlantic car. They have not decided a certain team yet. Yeah, to be able to do that and get the opportunity -- for myself, I don't really need to drive a champ car next year because my aspirations is to run Atlantics. So maybe for the Atlantic Championship to get a champ car test that, would be great. But right now for the Pro Series Champion, they have already set forth what is going to be needed, and that's going to be testing an Atlantic car at the end of the season.

Q. You've now been able to run the style of courses as you move up into Atlantics you'll be running. Can you characterize which ones you like the best and why?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: I really, really like street courses, because in a way it kind of takes me back to my carting days where they will set up a track in the parking lot with hay bails and cones. It's the same thing; you can't really make any mistakes. You have to hang it on the edge to run as fast as possible, but you have to make sure that you are on your A Game in every corner and the car is set up as perfectly as possible. I've loved all of the tracks I've raced on this season, but I would have to say the street courses are probably the most fun because it lends that the driver can't make any mistakes during that period of time for the whole race. And for me to have to be challenged like that, every corner, every lap, that's what makes it the most fun about driving a race car.

Q. Is that why you do so good on street courses, because that's the challenge that suits you the best?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Yeah, I mean, I feel that's what probably -- for my driving style, is the best characteristic, is that you've got to be fast. So you've got to be keep it on the edge the whole time, but you cannot make any mistakes, and I have really tried all season to not have any mistakes. Fortunately enough I have not have any big ones where I crashed out after a race or made a huge mistake where I damaged a car. On a street course, that's probably the best thing that you can do is really not make any mistakes, but go as fast as possible.

Q. Do you and your engineer do something different for street courses than you do, for, say, Cleveland or the other road courses, to help you out in this area?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Yeah, we've got our specific car setup for a street course. I kind of ran the same setup at Toronto as I did in Vancouver this past weekend, but it's really not as big of a differences from a regular road course, like a Laguna Seca or Portland that I ran Atlantics, a street course race. But there are certain little characteristics that we did change for those two racetracks.

Q. And looking ahead toward a weekend from now, tell me about that track, have you been on it before?

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Yeah, actually Mid-Ohio was the first Pro Series race that I ran last year. I love the track and I feel that I'm so much further ahead in progression than I was last year when I ran that as my first Pro Series race. I'm really looking forward to the race, and hopefully I can do the same thing that I've been doing all year.

ERIC MAUK: We'll let you go, A.J. Appreciate you taking the time to talk to us on the CART weekly teleconference. Enjoy your weekend off, if it is, in fact, a weekend off and we'll look forward to seeing you at Mid -Ohio.

A.J. ALLMENGINER: Thank you for having me.

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