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Champ Car Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Champ Car

Champ Car Media Conference

Eric Bachelart
Justin Wilson
March 25, 2004

ERIC MAUK: Thank you, everyone, for joining us for another very special Champ Car teleconference as we continue our preparations for the season-opening Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to take place in the streets of Long Beach, the 30th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 16th through the 18th. I'm calling you today or speaking to you today from Sebring International Raceway where we actually have nine Champ Cars on track today testing as teams are starting to get down into it in preparation for the 2004 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford campaign. Today we are joined by the co-owner of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, Mr. Eric Bachelart who joins us for a very special announcement. Mr. Bachelart, I'll go ahead and turn things over to you and you can tell everybody why we're here today.

ERIC BACHELART: Hello, everybody. And thank you for being with us today. Well, you know, we are very excited today to announce the signing of Justin Wilson for the 2004 Champ Car World Series with the Lola chassis. This is a very good evolution, you know, for our team. Of course, we are extremely happy to have Justin on board. Justin has some very good experience in Formula 1, won the Formula 3000 season in 2001, and we feel is one of the -- is going to be one of the very best drivers in the series. So this is combined with the fact that we've upgraded our effort with the Lola chassis. So I think that this is very exciting for us, and we just looking forward to have a great season in 2004.

ERIC MAUK: Before we get to Justin, you guys had a successful rookie Champ Car season. Obviously, it wasn't your rookie season in open-wheel racing, but your first with Champ Car, ran with Mario Haberfeld last year. 11 Top 10 finishes, three top fives, you finished 12th in the points. What did you learn that first year in Champ Cars that you hope to take with you this year?

ERIC BACHELART: Well, you know, of course we have learned a lot. You know, this has been kind of a dream finally to be in Champ Cars. I mean, I started this team about seven years ago now, and started with one car in Indy Lights. And basically every year the teams have been progressing and getting stronger to the point that we finally have been able to join the Champ Car series last year. Honestly, that was the goal from day one, you know, just be able to run with the Champ Cars. I think we have a very good season last year, excellent collaboration with Mario Haberfeld. Again, we learned a lot. I think we put a very strong organization together, got a very good group of people, good crew. Again, learned a lot from scratch basically. We had no data. We had not much reference. As you know, we joined efforts by running a team for Emerson Fittipaldi as well out of our job, and that's something that we managed completely, as well. So, I mean, again, we have just put a pretty good organization in place, and right now here moving with Justin, with the Lola chassis, it's a very good step that we're doing in order to become one of the top teams in the series. I think it takes time to build a strong organization, but it's very important for us that every year be stronger and better. And I think this year we definitely have some chance for a podium finish, and hopefully try to target a win. I believe that Justin is very capable of doing that, you know, the very good things with Champ Cars, with equal equipment. We're going to have, you know, a Lola chassis like many of the top teams. We believe that we're going to be a very good contender this year.

ERIC MAUK: Justin Wilson, who is joining us today from England, brings one of the top racing pedigrees out there for young racing car drivers to the Champ Car World Series, an FIA international F-3000 champion, joining former F-3000 champion Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira in the series. Formula 1 experience, he drove with a pair of teams last year in the championship, and has had success in pretty much every level he's been in, including Formula Palmer Audi, and many other series all the way from back in your days when you were in karting, Justin. First of all, I'd like to congratulate you on the deal and welcome you to the Champ Car World Series. How does it feel to get this deal done?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it feels great, actually have the deal sorted out and be thinking about the main job that we've got to do, and that's the racing.

ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about how this deal came about. What attracted you to Champ Cars?

JUSTIN WILSON: I've always followed Champ Cars. I remember watching it on TV. I think Nigel Mansell is the guy who opened a lot of the British eyes to Champ Cars. So now it's something you follow through coming up in your own career. It's something I came across, a few Champ Car races, when I was looking to join Formula 1, right about the same time. I had to decide Formula 1 or Champ Cars. At that time, I was based in Europe, so Formula 1 was the option I chose. But now, I can't continue in Formula 1, I think this is the logical step to keep my career moving and still be in a competitive, good, single-seat racing environment.

ERIC MAUK: Again, congratulations. We look forward to see you on the track beginning in Long Beach in a few weeks. We'll go ahead and take questions now.

Q. Eric, where do things stand in terms of putting a second team together, and if you hope to have that in place by Long Beach?

ERIC BACHELART: Yes, I think we're very close. It's very possible that we will finalize this today - I mean, definitely before the end of the week. We are Thursday today. I think we are very close of that. So I think it's important, you know, to have a two-car team, and we have the structure to do this at the moment. I mean, I think definitely it's going to be good to share some data, having more resources, you know, more engineering. So it makes good sense for us. Basically it's what we did last year. This is what we're going to do again, except that this year it's going to be 100% under our control, two cars under the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing entries.

Q. We have seen a couple teams leave the Champ Car series in recent weeks. What made you decide to stay?

ERIC BACHELART: Well, I mean, as I said early on, for me, Champ Cars is always what I've been willing to do. I mean, I'm from Europe, always been very attracted to road racing. Yeah, I mean, winter has been tough, no doubt about it. But we're still focused and always believed that there's going to be a solution. We have not been distracted looking at other possibilities. I mean, we've had close communication, you know, with the people at Champ Cars, and this is what we wanted to do. I'm so glad that finally it's coming together, to bring some other good news. That's good. It's a good news. In the past, bad news bring other bad news, but it turn now. Honestly, I have very good faith about the future, about the new ownership, the directions that the series is taking. I think we're going to have a very good field in Long Beach, very competitive series again with some new blood and some new drivers. I mean, as far as I know right now, this is all going to be very, very good drivers. I think the championship is going to be competitive, going to be some new rule changes that is going to make it a bit more exciting. So, I mean, it's great. It's the kind of situation sometimes you say, "Okay, this is my approach. This is what I want to do." Honestly, during the winter, a few times I've been thinking, I say, "Well, I hope I'm right." We kept a bunch of people on board for the winter. Every day they all look at me and say, "What's going on? Are we going to be okay? Are we going to be okay?" I always kept on the same line. I said, "Guys, you know, it's going to be okay. The series is going to work. We going to be in business." At the end of the day, again, it worked. I guess I was right to have stayed in it and keep the trust in Champ Cars.

Q. Justin, I look forward to seeing you out there. Was it kind of frustrating the way that you were sort of regulated out of Formula 1 by what seems to me a very strange rule about third drivers?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously it's disappointing not to be able to continue on in that position. I had things that were looking very positive to take that third driver position. Sometimes fate has a strange way of dealing. I'm looking forward to the new season racing in Champ Cars. I mean, that's at the end of the day what we all want to go out and do. We all want to get on the track and enjoy our racing and put on a good show. That's definitely what I'm looking forward to it. It's one of the main things that has always appealed to me about this championship.

Q. Justin, you obviously had your test a year ago or so with Newman/Haas, so you have some familiarity with the Champ Car. As you look ahead to the run up to Long Beach, what is your test program? How do you look at the learning curve you're going to have to go through in preparation for the first race, a street circuit in particular, that you can't test on specifically, that whole ball of wax?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's going to be a challenge, like I say, a new circuit to learn. I hope to be out in the car late next week, trying to just get used to the car. Like you said, I've tested for Newman/Haas, but that was on an oval. I need to get used to it on a road course and see what it's like, then trying to get my head around the first race. It's going to be a steep learning curve. To be honest, for the last 12 months, that's all I've been used to. I went to Melbourne last year with only a few laps in the old Menardi. Turn up, go out for the first time Friday morning, and you've got it all to do. Before you know, you're qualifying Friday afternoon. It's the same kind of thing. You've got to perform. It's tough, but hopefully after a few races, you'll get into it and be able to be more competitive. But the idea is to be as competitive as possible from the start.

Q. Justin, I know you've been working towards this for a long time. You were asked a question about how it's going to be to get into the series for the first race. You obviously paid attention to how the series has developed, its trials and tribulations over the winter. What has been your thought process in trying to get into this series?

JUSTIN WILSON: Well, I think it's quite a good time to get in. Obviously, it's had its difficult times over the last year or so. But I think now it's looking as if everything's very positive. It's going to be on its way back up. I hope to get my foot in the door and get in there while it's possible. You know, the hope is it's going to be a very strong championship this year, and the next couple of years it's going to grow. I'll be there to stay on and enjoy a good career doing what I prefer, which is racing.

Q. The sponsorship has been difficult for everybody because of the uncertainty of the sale to OWRS, the economic situation worldwide. Was it a sponsorship problem that delayed this announcement? Is Justin having to bring some money to your team? How is it all working out?

ERIC BACHELART: No, I mean, I would say that we're quite fortunate that we have a very long relationship with Mi-Jack products, you know. Mi-Jack has been a great sponsor to us, and also is a partner in our team. Most of this has been made possible with Mi-Jack. I mean, they've been supporting us for all these years. I mean, we have a relationship for 12 years now. It's kind of a long, happy story. Again, Mi-Jack has enjoyed a lot the series last year. The series includes very good locations for Mi-Jack, as well. They've been entertaining a lot of customers that they have with all the ports where the series is going to. It makes very good sense to them. Yeah, this is good to work with people, you know, that just supporting you this way. So basically most of the funding is coming from Mi-Jack.

Q. Justin, I was reading recently that there's probably more British drivers over here on this side of the pond than in F1 now. What is bringing everybody over here?

JUSTIN WILSON: The opportunities, that's what brings most people to America. In England and in Europe, in general, the situation is even worse than it is in the States as far as trying to find drives. It's tough, you know. There's not many places to go. Formula 1, it's very difficult. There's a few drivers that are taking vast amounts of money for their drives. That makes it impossible to compete against. You have to look elsewhere.

Q. Eric, what remains to be done to complete the second car deal? Is it pretty much a done deal or could it still fall through?

ERIC BACHELART: I think it's pretty much a done deal, yeah. I think it's pretty much a done deal. Again, I hope to announce the details of it tomorrow. But until it's signed, you don't want to say too much (laughter). But, again, I hope it's going to be signed later today and make an announcement tomorrow. Once again, I think we're going to have a pretty good field. So, yeah, all the details have been sorted out. Just the contract is being checked by the lawyers at the moment. I don't expect much problems really at the moment.

Q. Justin, I just wanted to ask you, you've had some testing, as you said, with Newman/Haas, but it was on an oval. Let's just take it to a basic difference between the Formula 1 cars you're familiar with and the Champ Cars. There's vast differences in the way they handle: the braking is certainly different, and the turbo charges on the Champ Cars, the normal aspirations on the F1 cars. Give us a couple seconds of what you think the biggest difference is going to be in how these cars are going to perform?

JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, the engine is the biggest difference. As you said, it's a turbocharged engine, whereas the F1 is normally aspirated. I don't think that's going to be too much of a challenge, as I've driven turbo race cars before and did the Formula Palmer Audi championship with a turbo. You had to adapt to that and make sure you had the best performance out of the turbo that you could. There's a few little things that you have to pick up. Some find it more natural than others. But the rest of the car, the Formula 1 car, I believe is a fair bit lighter, and therefore it reacts quicker. You take more of a beating, as well, with it because your body is a little bit behind the car when you make some of those corners. I think the Champ Car, I'm presuming, but I believe it's going to handle so much better than a Formula 1 car in the slower corners because of the slick tires. The Formula 1 car is quite difficult to get used to in some of the slow corners because it doesn't always do what you're wanting it to do with the steering wheel. In that respect, I'm looking forward to getting back on slick tires and getting a good feel for that and being able to push the car in low speed and high speed. There's a few other things. I believe the Champ Car runs steel discs, whereas the F1 is carbon. I don't think that has much effect on the actual performance, it's just obviously less mass to turn and more consistent. But, again, it's something you get used to when you're racing other cars. You don't always have carbon fiber brakes.

Q. A few comments about a much friendlier kind of togetherness atmosphere in the Champ Car pit in North America compared to what we've come to understand is a pretty political atmosphere in Formula 1. There's kind of a camaraderie that goes up and down pit lane. I guess you've got to be looking forward to that.

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, definitely. Again, it's more what you're brought up with. I wouldn't say that karting and the junior formulas are overfriendly, but compared to F1, it is friendly. Going back to something more open where you actually get time to see the other drivers and speak to them, and have respect for each other, as well. I'm just looking forward to the whole deal.

Q. Justin, I just wanted to get clarification on your contract status with Menardi. Are you completely finished with them now? I believe your rookie season last year was supposed to be the beginning of a three-year contract period with the team or in F1. Can you clarify that for me?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's like most drivers sign. You sign a one-year deal that as an option for a further two years to make it a three-year deal. But obviously Menardi didn't take that option because I was already left Menardi before the end of the season. They did a deal with Jaguar, which allowed me -- Jaguar did a deal with them, rather, which allowed me to transfer cars. That was never going to be an option to stay on at Menardi as continuing the contract in those terms.

Q. So nobody owns your F1 rights at the moment?

JUSTIN WILSON: No, not at the minute.

Q. Justin, how do you assess your competitive possibilities this year, especially in the rookie chase?

JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, I'm open to be very competitive. But I know there's a fair few guys who have been in there a few years. It's going to be extremely quick. Obviously ones, Paul Tracy, Bruno Junqueira, Sebastien has made a good name for himself. I hope, like Eric said at the beginning of this, that we can be fighting for podiums, and then at some point in the year pick up a win. You know, who knows. I wouldn't say my aim is to win races this year, because I'll just get shot down in flames. I want to come in, find my feet first, see where we can end up.

Q. Eric, you mentioned you probably will have a two-car team. Will that be a two-car Lola team or one and one?

ERIC BACHELART: I probably will have one and one. You know, the thing at the moment, there's a lot of interest right now with the Champ Car, you know, Indianapolis, we're looking at the website, we're just talking, just get rumors from the crew and stuff like this. But it seems there is still some people that are trying to find some deals, as well. I don't know what Emerson is going to do. Some teams might do more cars. One of the problems that we have at the moment is we're not sure we can locate some more Lolas at the moment. On the other hand, we have still quite a few Reynards here in the shop. Over the winter, we kept on working on these cars and made some improvement to the car. We did five days of testing during the winter. I mean, could make sense to keep a Reynard at this time. I mean, idly speaking, for sure you want to have two and two Lolas with the two best drivers that you can get. But, again, I believe as a team it takes a progression over the years. I hope that if we can't do that this year, we'll be able to do that next year. It's a bit where we stand. Once again, I mean, it's not signed. I think it's very close. I tell you, the first race is in about three weeks, so we don't have much time to think about what we're doing. We'll have to make some quick decisions, you know, and, again, try to go testing at the end of the next week. It's important for the drivers, you know, of course, to get good preparation, but also to know each other better in the work environment, the racetrack. I have no doubt that Justin will adapt quickly, as he said, this is what he's been doing in Formula 1 last year. But, still, we want to give him the best chance and get the best preparation before the first race.

Q. What is it going to be like now going from a Formula 1 where Jaguar was at a big disadvantage to the top teams, where you really didn't have a chance to win a race, coming to a series where most of the cars are pretty equal? How do you feel about that? A little bit related to this, you mentioned Palmer Audi, I think they had a push to pass button in that series. If they did, could you comment on that? Now the Champ Car series is going to have that.

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously I'm really looking forward to being at equal equipment again. That's what I've been used to in my junior career. It's frustrating, no matter how often you tell yourself that you can only do so much, it is frustrating that you can't have the opportunity to fight for something better at the weekend. That's why I like this opportunity at the minute. I think it's great that we're all using the same Cosworth engine. It's something I'm looking forward to, getting back out there in the same cars. Like you say, we have the push to pass button now, which is a very similar thing to what we had the Palmer Audi days. I'll have that previous experience. I don't see the cars lifting the front wheels and flying past each other. But I think it should give us enough of an edge to make what is nearly an overtaking maneuver into an overtaking maneuver. There's a bit of strategy, as well, how you use it, when you use it. There's a lot of thought yet to go into it. But I'm sure everyone's looking into it already.

Q. Justin, for those who may not be familiar with the type of driver you are, if you could, describe how you drive, what your personality is behind the wheel?

JUSTIN WILSON: Well, behind the wheel, my personality's a bit different to how I am outside the car. When I get in the car, I'm a lot more up front and determined and show my determination. I try to be an attacking driver. I don't want to just sit back and relax and let everyone else do the work. I want to do the overtaking, make sure it's good, clean, get so you're okay. It's the racetrack that I enjoy the most. I like to push the car hard and make sure I get the most out of the car and be as quick as possible through that.

Q. Do you feel in Formula 1 the politics that goes on takes some of the fun out of racing there?

JUSTIN WILSON: It is a little bit of a distraction. Obviously, the key to Formula 1 is trying to ignore a lot of that. Obviously, the more experience you have, the easier it is to do. But, yeah, that's something that most drivers want to stay away from and just get on with what we know best.

Q. Justin, it's my recollection you're fairly tall. I understand you'll be testing next week. I'm wondering if you had a chance to figure out how comfortable you're going to be in the car and how much testing time you're going to have between now and Long Beach?

JUSTIN WILSON: The answer to your question is, yes, I am pretty tall. 6'3" and a half or 192 centimeters, probably one of the tallest again. But I do fit in the car. I sat in the car two days ago at the workshop for the team. You know, it seemed to be more than comfortable. I believe I'll go back there the start of next week to make a seat, ready for the first test. I'm hoping to get three or four days testing in before the first race.

Q. Justin, what do you know about the CART circuit, Champ Car circuit here in the United States, which one do you think will fit better for what you're used to from Formula 1?

JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, there's a lot of road courses, street courses. I believe I'll -- I think I'll do best on the circuits like Elkhart Lake, which is similar to the Formula 1 circuits. I think that's more what I'm used to. I'll adapt to that quicker. But I hope that, you know, I can get on top of all the street circuits. I finished second at Monaco in Formula 3000, so I don't have a problem with the street circuits, I really enjoy that. But we only get to do one of those a year in the F1, whereas with the Champ Cars, we do quite a few more. I think it's going to be quite challenging, and quite an enjoyable one, as well. There's no room for error. It's got to be accurate and consistent.

Q. Justin, can you tell us what is more important for you, to be winning races or to earn money?

JUSTIN WILSON: To win races, definitely. There's no question. I want to be out there. That's the deal I put together, along with my manager, Jonathan. When we started Formula 1, we said how my career's going to unfold, I wouldn't be earning the most money out of any of the drivers, but that was one sacrifice I was willing to make to be out there racing. A lot of people bought into that share option, and it's those people that allowed me to make my career in Formula 1 last year, and they're staying with me this year. That's not linked to Formula 1 in any way, it's down to me. I'm very fortunate to have them supporting me.

Q. What do you know about Hermano Rodriguez and the track of Monterrey?

JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, I've seen it a little bit on TV. But I think it's going to be quite an interesting experience from what people tell me. I'm looking forward to it. I hear it's unbelievable crowd, atmosphere. I can't wait to get there.

Q. Can you tell me what you think about the situation between IRL and open-wheel racing?

ERIC BACHELART: The situation?

Q. The bet of Mr. Kalkhoven of $900,000 that he will put.

ERIC BACHELART: Well, I think there's no doubt that Kevin is going to win it, you know. That's a given, for sure. I mean, it's a lot of influence. I mean, you know, if I look at it, there's been a lot of talk all about that. But I can tell you, I'm in Champ Car here, the three owners, Kevin, Paul and Gerry, they just been trying to save open-wheel racing, road racing here in North America. I mean, you know, it's amazing to see the time and energy and money that these people have been putting to save the series. On the other hand, it's amazing to see what IRL is trying to do just to have the monopoly on open-wheel racing. This is in agreement with NASCAR. You know, just basically NASCAR and IRL just want to have the monopoly of motorsport and motor racing in the US, period. I'm very uncomfortable with that, you know. I mean, on the other hand, you have Champ Cars, the organization here, just trying to do a good job and make this right. It's incredible to see how the IRL is behaving and how NASCAR is behaving, just to kill Champ Cars. I mean, it's not right. It's definitely very much wrong. You know, at the end of the day for me, I'm not in politics. We have been in IRL in 2002. But, believe me, I am very thankful for all the support and all what these people are doing to keep open-wheel racing on the road course and street courses in North America. I believe it's going to be good, it's going to be successful, it's going to work well. Time will tell. I mean, who knows what's happening the end of next year when Toyota will focus more effort in NASCAR. That's another depart. But, I mean, again, right now, let's focus on our business, and that's working on having a good show in Long Beach and a strong series in '04 and beyond.

ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much. That will Brian end to our teleconference today. I'd like to thank Eric Bachelart and Justin Wilson for coming on today and talking to the press. Congratulations on your announcement. We'll look for another announcement soon.


JUSTIN WILSON: Thank you very much.

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