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Champ Car World Series: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, ChampCar World Series

Champ Car World Series: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

John Anderson
Lee Dykstra
Chris Kneifel
John Lopes
February 21, 2003


ERIC MAUK: Good afternoon, thank you for joining us for this 2003 rules update briefing. Just kind of wanted to give you guys a chance to talk to the people that shape the rules for the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. To my right, the vice president of operations for Champ Car, John Lopes. Mr. Lopes, we'll let you go ahead and introduce the rest of the members of the esteemed panel.

JOHN LOPES: Thanks, Eric. I want to take a second to introduce the panel. Lee Dykstra to my right, director of technology. John Anderson, a great new pick for us in the off-season, senior manager of technology. Chris Kneifel, our chief steward, notably now director of competition as well. Kevin Vanderlaan is team manager of our electronics department, heads up all electronics, and the timing and scoring group, as well. Just as an introduction, I wanted to point out some of the significant things that have happened in racing operations in the off-season. We've completely restructured. It's to the credit of both Lee Dykstra and Chris Kneifel. We learned a lot over the past year working together as a team. I think it's important to use the word "team" because we now have a staff in the competition and technology departments where the entire group comes from team-based background. I think that's very, very important. I would say that esprit is quite high among the group. Lee now heading up the technology section has in his right hand a guy in John Anderson who comes with significant experience at the team level, Team Green last year, and Kevin on the electronics side bring an awful lot to the table. Chris Kneifel now as chief steward appropriately for the first time, the chief steward now heads up the competition section of what we do. Chris has dramatically rebuilt his group. We felt last year we made strong strides on the technology side, but on the competition side, again, we needed to up our game and improve. In the off-season, Chris did a lot of soul searching and an awful lot of work. He's brought on some great people. Chris, just listening on channel one today, you can really tell the difference. It's a very professional group. They really set the tone in the garage. Quite proud of them. That's just a general introduction of where we're at.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you, John. For Lee Dykstra, a lot of changes in the off-season. We went to the exclusive engine manufacturer, made some modifications there. If you could, talk about the process you had to go through to get where we are today and tell us a little bit about how you feel about where we sit as we get ready to start the season in two days.

LEE DYKSTRA: It certainly took a lot of work working with Cosworth to get sort of the optimum combination for this year. What we've arrived at is essentially more boost in the engine and a reduced rpm. The combination of the two gives us essentially the horsepower that we want to have, plus the life. The important thing is that we wanted to extend the life of the engine from 800 to 1200 miles, especially from where it was normally before, which was about 400 miles. We also have a spec ECU, engine control unit, in the car to eliminate traction control. We've also eliminated the driver adjustment as far as fuel enrichment. The boost levels are such that essentially we have more low-end power. A combination of no traction control and better low-end power makes it more difficult to drive, which again we're trying to make a situation where there can be more passing. We also have reduced horsepower at the ovals, which is one of the problems, why essentially we had to take aerodynamics off the cars before. Now on short ovals we can run road course aerodynamics as well. On the chassis end, for the Fontana race we have a different rear wing in conjunction with 700 horsepower. We have the road course, like I said. As far as on a short oval like Milwaukee, we've initiated the driver situation where we adjust the driver weight or car weight for the driver based on the average weight of all the drivers. We also have some new electronics that Kevin can get into as far as controlling this from just controlling essentially the competitors.

ERIC MAUK: John Anderson, obviously not your first rodeo. You've been through this quite a few times. First time recently from the CART point of view. Just your thoughts on how different it is for you to be on this side of the bench down in pit lane.

JOHN ANDERSON: Obviously, being on the other side of the wall for so long, you get very focused on what pertains to your team. The big opportunity I've had now with this particular job is the fact that you have to spread yourself up and down pit lane. You see so many of the guys that you raced against for years, how they tackle a particular problem, put their cars together. It's a good opportunity to see quite a wide range of thoughts and how those thoughts have showed themselves through on the cars. The big advantage I have obviously is having raced against these guys, I've known a lot of them for years, and it gives me a good opportunity, a leg up, in what I'm doing with the job to be able to approach them on a personal level. We're encouraging obviously our pit officials, I cannot say anything more highly for what's happened, not just the officials, but the volunteers. The one thing I didn't appreciate with the years I've been running in the CART series is how much it depends on the volunteers, and the spirit of these people, their experience. I tell you, a lot of the teams could do very well just giving a round of applause after each and every race because they make it happen.

ERIC MAUK: Chris Kneifel, tell us a little bit about what you did in revamping your race operations or in the control tower this year. Obviously, a lot of changes, something you worked hard on to get a staff in there that had good chemistry that could work with the teams.

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Chemistry is obviously a big part of what we were looking for up there, not just in race control, but as John alluded to earlier, the chemistry that now exists in the full racing operations side. It's very important to have that so you can function as a single unit and be effective. Up in race control what we've done is brought in two new stewards, Beau Barfield and Tony Kester, both have extensive driving backgrounds. Beau most recently had been chief steward of the Ford 2000 series, the Z-Tech series, so he has officiating experience. Jim Swintell, who is our long-time starter, we asked him to move off the start/stand and come up to race control. He also has the title of steward, but his primary responsibility is working with the corner workers. He runs the land line operation, basically the part of the line that goes with the flagging communications all way around the racetrack. We took Paul Lleyton, who is our safety dispatcher from last year, who worked in the pit lane for somewheres around 20 years. He's very familiar with everything. We put Paul on our main CART radio on channels one and two, which is the main communication from race control to the teams in the pit lane. So Paul is operating that for us. As John mentioned, today it went very well. He does a great job. He's used to that environment. He owns three Burger King franchises. He's used to the fast food environment, so he knows how to listen to five things at once and make sure he gets the orders right. His experience lends itself well to the duties we have up in race control. Additionally we have a new safety dispatcher, a guy I've known for many, many years. He was a long time club racer, and he's moved up and is working out very well as our safety dispatcher. The one real common theme we have is we've brought a lot of racing experience into race control. That just helps us, again, just watch the races more closely. We're all very much on the same page. It's proven to I think be the start of something good.

ERIC MAUK: Just in the first couple sessions we've had so far, like John said, you listen to the radio, the demeanor of the team shows it's starting to pay off a little bit. We'll open it up to questions to the media.

Q. (Inaudible)?

JOHN LOPES: I think there's certainly a trade-off that we had to make on the technology side to cut costs. I think, as you know, CART has always prided itself on being a high-tech series, and we're still high tech. The cars are still a piece of art from the fan standpoint. But in the current economic environment, we're seeing this across the board in all forms of motorsport, cost-cutting is absolutely a top priority. One of the things we use as the measure is: Can the fans tell the difference? Does it affect the show? It's very important. A fan can't tell the difference. Your average fan couldn't tell the difference on all the aero bits that are on the car, but they can certainly tell the general outline of the car, the sleekness of the car, and the general configuration. However, a lot of what was done was done for the benefit of engineering alone. Max Mosley had just a brilliant piece that he wrote to the F1 teams outlining their cost reductions. It was funny because it was almost like he was sitting in our office. We're tackling the same issues. So yes, we are trying to flatten the cost curve. We're going to do some more for next year. By 2005, when we enter the 2005 season, we hope we'll have our model in place.

Q. (Inaudible)?

JOHN LOPES: Right now, it's an interactive process, both on the chassis side and engine side. Lee has been working both with his resources internally within the paddock and externally with manufacturers in discussing the formula. At the same time the second-prong attack is to handle the marketing side of the equation. They do go hand in hand because our plan right now is not to just flat out announce what the formula is and then go search for people. We're actually doing them together. In other words, search for people as in companies that wish to support the series, both on the chassis side and on the manufacturer's side, engine manufacturing side. So we're doing it together. Our target is to have the initial project complete by second quarter. But I can say we pretty much know where we're going on the engine and chassis side, won't discuss it much privately because we don't intend to repeat the failed experiment of the past several years in CART on that side. If we're quiet about the issue, it's because we're working hard on it in the background, and we're logging a lot of frequent flyer miles talking to people, trying to build up the manufacturers, on the engine side and the chassis side. And there are several that we're talking to in both regards. We've had a lot of significant interest recently on the chassis side, as well. Lee has had a couple meetings today already with manufacturers interested in the future.

Q. (Inaudible)?

JOHN LOPES: No, that's not true. They have not asked us to do that. What we're doing right now is focusing on these two years because Ford has stepped up, been a great partner. Quite frankly, one of the big stories we believe out of the early part of this year is the Ford-Cosworth engine. It's been a strong motor. In fact, in testing, the fastest laps were laid down with 1100 miles on the motor I believe at Sebring by Bourdais. We're really focusing on that. With respect to the future, again, it's a process that is going to take some time. But Ford is definitely one of the companies that we hope to have on board when we go back to the multi-engine format.

ERIC MAUK: Lee, obviously last year the Lola was dominant of the two chassis we ran in Champ Car, won 16 races, 18 poles. In the off-season you looked at ways to balance that gap a little bit. Can you share some of those ideas, what we're doing to try and bring things back to a little more even keel in the chassis part?

LEE DYKSTRA: Well, we have the aero freeze in place from that standpoint. It's not in our interest to equate against one manufacturer than the other. However, we are looking in 2004 to do perhaps an aero change to try to maybe get a little better equation between the two.

Q. (Inaudible)?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Without a doubt. I mean, one of the huge assets that both Tony and Beau bring to the party is they have extensive driving experience. They're fantastic race car drivers in their own right. They're experienced. They know coaching. They know teaching. They know every aspect of this sport. They definitely can do that. As a matter of fact, Beau took it upon himself to go down and speak with one of our new drivers this morning after he had a couple small problems this morning in the practice session. He can have that sort of dialogue with them. That's certainly an added bonus. It's not that these guys -- everyone needs coaching, I suppose, and that's certainly not our purpose to coach them, but we can attempt to help them if we see something that might be going a little bit wrong, and certainly have the ability to have the right sort of dialogue with them.

Q. (Inaudible)?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Actually, I wish I could go out there and stand in a few places and watch because I reckon it's pretty darn thrilling. This is a great racetrack, without a doubt. You know, there's some places, as with any street course, if it goes wrong, it can potentially get pretty ugly. That's the nature of racing. Obviously, we strive to build these courses, to make them as safe as possible. We spend a lot of time working on that. But I think the footprint, the layout of this track is very conducive to aggressive driving, to great racing, overtaking, and certainly has places that are very, very challenging to the drivers. There's a few places here I reckon separate the men from the boys.

Q. (Inaudible)?

CHRIS KNEIFEL: Absolutely. The gentleman's name is Joe Wilbur. He's been a long time starter for the Atlantic Series, and served as assistant to our ex-starter Jim. He's very familiar with all the procedures and protocols in Champ Car as well as all the other CART-sanctioned series. In addition, Joe Wilbur's background, he came out of Sprint cars. He was a Sprint car starter for a long time. He actually got his start at the Milwaukee Mile. He's from the Chicago area. He's been with our organization for a long time. This is a guy that's probably got 25 years of start/stand experience.

Q. (Inaudible)?

JOHN LOPES: That is the $24,000 question in the office right now. It's a good question, because I think we've seen both with Falcon and with the Riley Scott experiments that it is difficult for more than two to survive in the big series. We haven't made that decision yet. Right now we are actually talking to the manufacturers about it, as well. Generally their position is they like competition, they're racers. But right now we're talking to more than five. Ultimately, we intend that the support series manufacturer will be one of the Champ Car manufacturers in order to create an economy for the manufacturers to help make them strong. Whether we end up with two, three or four is still subject to some debate. In other words, we have more than one series to open up to the manufacturers. The sports series will always be a spec manufacturer, however. That kind of gives you an outline. It's not decided at this point.

Q. (Inaudible)?

JOHN LOPES: Lee, maybe you could explain Barber Dodge. It's a bit of a different situation in terms of how they work their chassis.

LEE DYKSTRA: The Barber Dodge situation is essentially they sell a design to the Barber Dodge series. They're free to outsource the parts on their own. It's a little different business model than you essentially have in Atlantic.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you all for attending. Be reminded that first round of Champ Car qualifying for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg gets underway at 3:10 this afternoon. We will have the top three drivers from that session up here on the stage at 4:30.

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