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Champ Car Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Champ Car

Champ Car Media Conference

Roberto Moreno
Keith Wiggins
February 18, 2003

ERIC MAUK: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on today's Champ Car weekly teleconference as we continue to preview the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Today we're going to talk to two of the main forces behind Herdez Competition and the new two-car team there. We will be speaking with the driver of the #4 Herdez Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone, Roberto Moreno. He's doing a promotional appearance and will be joining us shortly. For the moment, we'll talk to Keith Wiggins. Keith is the general manager of the squad, one of the men that helped put this thing together. Keith, thank you for joining us today.

KEITH WIGGINS: Glad to be here. Thank you very much.

ERIC MAUK: If you could, as we talked about earlier, it might have been one of the worst kept secrets in motorsports, the fact that you were going to expand to a two-car team, bring Roberto on. Can you talk us through how you came to this decision, how you got Roberto on board for 2003.

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, I guess, as a lot of us do that have been around a while, you know Roberto very well from past lives. Clearly at one stage last year, having won CART as a rookie, Roberto was someone good to talk to to see if we could put something together. As the drivers come up in the frame, Roberto we felt was a good part to add to our package as we wanted to expand into a top team. We basically had discussions like everybody in the winter periods. Probably around November time we pretty well were committed to the program, plans were in place. Herdez is our big partner, as well as owners. We put a program together that allowed us to go forward with the proposed program. We had a little bit of a hiccup in December, like happens in this business. A couple of sponsors we had, that had been with the program, decided that they wanted to not be with the program for various reasons anymore, financially, the current climate, everything else. The reason we went a bit quiet, I like to err on the side of caution. Obviously, that gave us a little bit of a concern. We were 90% there with the program. We decided we just needed to buy a bit of time to be able to fill that gap and continue negotiating with Roberto. Basically that's what we did. We were trying to get all the bits and pieces together. That's why you saw that delay period. Of course, we carried on testing with him because we had every intention of doing it. But until pen's to paper, we thought it not the right thing to do. It was a pretty bad way that it progressed, but for us it didn't really make any difference. Once it was resolved, we made it public, although everybody knew it, so to speak.

ERIC MAUK: We are now joined by Roberto Moreno. Roberto, thank you for joining us on the call. Welcome to today's teleconference.

ROBERTO MORENO: My pleasure to be here.

KEITH WIGGINS: I think I have to fine you for being late.

ROBERTO MORENO: I was actually doing an appearance (laughter).

ERIC MAUK: As we were just talking, it was not the biggest surprise of the year that you were hired. As Keith said, you had been doing some testing. Once you were actually signed during spring training, you probably had more miles under your belt testing this pre-season than a lot of guys do. You're not coming into this thing cold. You had a lot of testing. How are things going so far this pre-season for you?

ROBERTO MORENO: I'm very happy. The miles is something I needed to make up for the time I spent out of the race car for the past year. It's always difficult to get back, it takes a little time. But the Herdez Competition team gave great support behind me, gave me some of the miles I needed. Now I got the rust out of me and I'm ready to compete. It's great to be with the Herdez Competition team because they always believed in me. Keith Wiggins, we go back to my first year when I went to race in England, back in '79. We know each other that long. We respect a lot each other. Keith has made this program grow. He saw the needs to make it a two-car team, to develop the team, and to bring rookies and be able to succeed with them. He's achieved that finally this year. We are ready to compete. I'm very, very excited about being part of the Herdez Competition team.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. I speak for everyone in the CART community, we all look forward to seeing you back in the car this year. I will turn it over for questions now.

Q. Roberto, I was talking with Mario last week, and he was just thrilled to have you on board, saying he felt there was a lot he could learn from you. Talk about that role as not only driving the car, but in a sense becoming a mentor for a young driver.

ROBERTO MORENO: Well, to be honest with you, it's not being a mentor. It's basically having a teammate that has seen so many situations in the past always helps because you can always relate to something with that driver. Mario is a very, very talented driver. I think being a rookie on a one-car team has helped him a lot. It gave him the ability to learn all the racetracks. He's ready now to take advantage of that. Basically I'll give an example. When we go to a racetrack, there's a certain corner that has a particular problem with the car that I might know what could fix that. Mario can take advantage of that where he could probably not know what it would take. That little extra bit that I can add to the situation might make a difference. It happens with all of us. When I started, I had good people to relate to.

Q. Talk about being away from the race car, what you went through with that.

ROBERTO MORENO: Well, being away from the racetrack, I'll be available for Mario for whatever he needs from me. I always adjust to whatever needs the team has for me. Whatever he needs, I'll be there. But I think he's very capable already. He just didn't have the experience that I can add to.

Q. Not racing, how did that affect you?

ROBERTO MORENO: That's a good question. It's very, very hard. It has been very frustrating for me to know that I should be out there competing. Having to be at home or at the racetrack chasing a ride for the following year seems to be a pattern in my life, in my career. But I'm far away from giving up. I kept pushing as hard as I could. Through the year, I developed a good relationship with Keith Wiggins and Tom Brown. It finally came together for this year. It's very frustrating to be out of racing tracks, that's all I can tell you. You can do as much go-karting as you want to be sharp with your reflexes, you can exercise a lot, but nothing is as good as driving a racing car, believe me.

Q. Keith, so far in pre-season testing, we've seen a big improvement out of your team in terms of times compared to last year. Is that all because of Roberto or have you made other changes that have really helped a lot?

KEITH WIGGINS: I think the team's grown a lot. Obviously, I still feel that what we had as a group and as a team was good and came a long way. If you look back to December 2000 when we effectively started the program, I think if you look back at the bits with Michel when we were testing Laguna the previous years, if you look at some of Mario's, there's been a lot of occasions when we've been quick, but it's been in sporadics, it hasn't been consistent. As Roberto has highlighted, that comes from a number of reasons when you've got a team with a rookie and a lot of pressure on him and us trying to develop. I always believed that we built a very core team. The thing was to expand it. That comes in several ways. You know, Roberto is key to looking at different avenues, coming in fresh as he explained, the experience. We've all got experience from different walks of the business. But for him to be able to come in and say, "I think you're doing it this way, we should look at doing it another way," being able to do that, because you know you have two cars anyway, so one can go off and experiment. Roberto has the experience. He has engineering experience. On top of that, having two cars allows you to expand the engineering side because a one-car effort, a two-car effort is less expensive as an accumulation. We've been lucky to bring in some more engineering into the structure. Obviously, Tom is key. Tom and myself just running a team is probably not like some teams, although I'm a great believer that big teams fall over themselves and can be full of some air. Like all racing teams, it's about personalities and chemistry. I think we've got to the stage now where we've brought some good people in. Tom is really able to have a group that works under him now. Roberto into that group is really key because he's his own engineer, as well as experience. It's a package, and the package needs all of those elements. I don't feel we were as far away as we looked. We were doing everything right, but we needed a few more ingredients to compete continuously and to show our form. We've put more bits in place.

Q. Roberto, what do you think of the track you'll be racing at this weekend? Do you think it's a good street circuit?

ROBERTO MORENO: I was quite impressed when I saw it a couple weeks ago. I think it's going to be a fast street course. There's a good chicane behind the pits which I think is going to be one of the old types of corners that you have to give the most there, some great straights, very wide for passing. I think the city did a good job in resurfacing the racetrack just for us to make sure we're comfortable. If the track has the grip that we're hoping to have, I think it's going to be a good street course. I think all of us are going to like it.

Q. Roberto, you've been known for being able to master the fuel economy runs in the past, really conserve your fuel, end up making up places that way in the race. With the rules change for this year, how do you think that will affect your driving style? Is that still something you think about or will you be able to adapt to the new rules?

ROBERTO MORENO: You just have to be up to the new rules. At that time there was a gap there that somebody could take advantage of it. I think me and a couple other drivers were mastering that skill. We always looked for some kind of way to be the odd number out there, do a little bit extra. It still pays off in some places to save fuel, but not as much as it used to. I used to gain sometimes two laps in a stint which could mean a lot because if somebody comes in the pits and goes out with cold tires, they could make a mistake here and there and take advantage of that. Most of the times we were able to do the extra two laps faster than anybody could ever do in a race and gain a lot of time on that. But to answer your question, we just have to adapt to the new rules and find another edge somewhere. As there's more experience and the years go past, there's less and less possibilities to take advantage because the rules tie you down to not get those breaks. But there's always something out there we'll find.

Q. Cosworth made the statement it believes the engine will be able to go 1500 miles between rebuilds. The initial dyno-test showed it would be able to go the distance. We know the dyno produces different results than on track. Being one of the teams that has logged a lot of test miles, does it appear you will be able to go 1500 miles between rebuilds or are the results different?

ROBERTO MORENO: I'll let Keith answer that.

KEITH WIGGINS: I can make a comment and then you can. The actual life is 1200 miles, not 1500. All I can say is we've had two engines that have basically done that mileage, I think 1196 and 1195, something like that. Both those engines performed well. They've done the mileage and done a very good job. I think they've had a couple little issues, but that's always to be expected. They're making amends to fix those. From what I understand, the engines that they've also power checked them once they've returned, they've been within the limit they're aiming for, which is like five percent, I think six horsepower. They've done a very good job.

ROBERTO MORENO: I would agree with that. I would even add to say that when they did change my engine at the test, I couldn't feel the difference.

Q. Roberto, before the recent talk about CART being a feeder series for Formula 1, the trend has been towards teams hiring drivers who have relatively little or no experience, and about half your age. With that in mind, how did you have to try to sell yourself over the past year to prospective team owners and sponsors? How do you convince them you're still competitive and relevant?

ROBERTO MORENO: It gets more and more difficult as the years go by. Racing is changing a lot and people have to adapt. Unfortunately, sponsorship is something I never had and I'm not getting any younger. I can only sell myself on what I have. Fortunately, there's people like Keith there that are willing to go the extra mile and invest in somebody like myself and find a way to use me in the team, get me behind the wheel of a car, which is a place I'm happiest. I think, to answer your question, it is indeed very, very difficult. That's why I spent a year out of a race car last year. But I'm still fortunate enough to keep myself up to date, to still be in a way used by a team different than being young and have a sponsorship.

Q. Keith, some people have mentioned over the winter they think that for the cost of fielding a one-car operation in 2002 a given team owner should be able to expand to a two-car team in 2003 for more or less the same cost. Was that the case for Herdez? Would you consider that a true statement? You mentioned earlier you had lost some of your existing sponsors over the past year. I was wondering if you were able to replace any of those?

KEITH WIGGINS: Well, obviously Grupo Herdez, Enrique is a key function, owner of our company, are significantly behind a number of issues, that also covers the point you just discussed with Roberto. Obviously, personality and ability of the driver to fit into a program, make it work is key. It's not just me that's involved in that decision. Just repeat your question again.

Q. Were you able to replace the sponsors that you had lost over the course of the winter? How much did the cost cutting in 2003 affect your ability to field a second car?

KEITH WIGGINS: I mean, I always said it would help us. Some people have quoted different things saying that we could run two cars for the price of one last year. I think it was no secret that we were one of those teams that wasn't at the top ranks by any means. I would say there is certainly no other team out there paying more than we were last year for sort of the customer level of engine. So it clearly helped us. I don't think it's true to say that you can run two cars for the price of one, but in the climate as it is now I would say it takes you halfway, takes you 50% toward the second car. You still have to achieve more, but obviously you've got more to offer. I would say the sponsorship climate is difficult for everyone at this time. That's where I was going with my last part. Obviously we have partners that are very key to us. We have to have other outside commercial input. Some of that changes for various reasons because of the climate and also other people come in who have support from the same sponsor. It's always difficult to fill those gaps. We have achieved some of that, and we're working hard to put the final touches on that. We'll continue to work like most teams do, I suppose, for the rest of the year. You have to watch the money very carefully. We had to step up, but the rules greatly helped us and gave us a springboard to do that.

Q. Roberto, how long do you like to test in a new car to feel comfortable?

ROBERTO MORENO: As much as possible is the right answer. With the rules we have, I think the amount of testing we had was quite good. I did a little check down with the engine with Dale Coyne doing a job for Ford which sort of was a good, slow, progressive test in Firebird. Then we went with the Herdez Competition team to Sebring, did a couple days there. Did a good testing at Laguna Seca for another three days. When we came back to Sebring for the spring training, that's when I started to take advantage of all the testing I've done because by then I got to know about the Lola car, which is a very delicate, different car to set up than what I was used to in the past. That was the right amount of testing for a guy that was a year away to freshen himself up and be ready for the first race.

Q. We've seen similar if not faster lap times this year with the lower horsepower. I guess that's been explained because of the increased torque, midrange power from the higher boost pressure. Are we going to see that on all the road and street courses? Are we going to see slower speeds at the ovals? What do you expect to see?

ROBERTO MORENO: From what I've seen, it's difficult for me to predict, especially because I wasn't driving last year, but just taking my experience into account, from what I've seen in the testing, I think we're going to be on the edge of speed or a little bit faster - at least some of the teams will anyhow. I expect to see that in most of the road courses. I'm not so sure on the street courses because last year you had traction control, which is something I never used, but I know it does help a lot on street courses. Without that aid this year, drivers will have to work harder to put the power down. There's a little question mark on the street courses, but most certainly on the road courses you will see similar speeds or faster. On the ovals, it depends what wing package we're going to have on the ovals. I expect the power to be up there. All they've done, the power, they basically put in a different rev range. The rev range of the engine now is shorter which makes a bit more tricky for the driver to drive. That's all it is. They've compensated the revs they cut with bringing the power band lower basically. Now you've got roundabout a hundred horsepower more throughout the range of the revs, but you have around I think, I will say a round number because some engines were running much higher revs, but 4,000 revs less than they were used to.

Q. Do you notice a turbo lag again this year or is that not there?

ROBERTO MORENO: Well, the turbo lag is the same way, but you feel it more now because you have less rev range to work with. So anything you can gain on the bottom means a lot now since the engine stops at 12 instead of 16 or past 16. The lag always comes when there's no turbo spinning. Anything you can take advantage of is a benefit, so you feel more, yes.

Q. Roberto, you had a brief spell with the Bettenhausen team back in 1997 filling in for Patrick Carpentier. From your perspective, how much would you say the team has changed since then?

ROBERTO MORENO: You bring me back memories. I almost got that drive until Emerson Fittipaldi convinced Tom Bettenhausen that he should take Helio Castroneves. The team has Tom Brown there. Keith has changed the team this year by quite a lot. He's brought new, good people to make the team go from a one-car team to a two-car team. It's a hard job to do. If you look at the Herdez team now, you see some very good, experienced faces there. He's chosen one by one very, very well, which has made the transition from a one-car team to a two-car team a very, very smooth one. I more or less from the outside saw that happening, and now I'm very, very pleased with the level that it is now. Back then it was different. It was I believe a lot less money. I think Tom was doing something on a very tight string. I think Tom Brown is a major part of the engineering package of that team and the strength that came from Tom's time, Tom Bettenhausen's time, and it's up there. He's now taking a step back, allowing two new engineers to work with each driver, giving new ideas. What I'm trying to say here is the team that in the past used to be all around him, now it's a group of very, very experienced people working together. I think that's what I'm trying to get to.

Q. Roberto, with the amount of rookies in the series this year, how do you think this will affect the races?

ROBERTO MORENO: I think being a rookie, it doesn't mean that you don't know what you're doing. Those guys, they come from good backgrounds. We might not have seen them because some of them come from Europe, but most of them have good backgrounds and will probably surprise a lot of people over here. I think some mistakes are expected with rookies, that's all I can say. But a rookie in the right team might be up there doing the right job and taking little extra chances that somebody experienced would be waiting for the right time to do it. I see a very, very interesting race this year with hungry drivers and drivers waiting for the right moment to take advantage of a situation. It will be a very interesting race, in my opinion.

ERIC MAUK: That brings us to a conclusion of our weekly teleconference. Thank you for joining us today. Best of luck this coming week at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Thank you for joining us today, to the media on the call. We get our season underway this weekend, qualifying Friday and Saturday, race day is Sunday in the streets of St. Petersburg, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Catch all the action live on SPEED Channel Saturday qualifying and during Sunday's event. Thank you for joining us, have a good day.

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