Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, everyone for joining us today on a very special Champ Car media teleconference where we are coming at you live from Sebring, Florida, cloudy, overcast, cold Sebring Florida, which is a sentence you get to say very often. We are here for another exciting driver announcement as we continue to work toward firming up our driver and team lineup for the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. We are joined today by the co-owner of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Mr. Eric Bachelart, and his new driver and I am very pleased to announce that the driver who last year set the Champ Car record for becoming the youngest driver ever to start a Champ Car race when he started at Long Beach at the age of 17; Nelson Philippe is today being announced as one of the drivers for the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team for 2005. Nelson and Eric, congratulations, a very big announcement for you today If I could, Eric, let me ask you, you got to work with Nelson at the end of last year and he put up some of his best results of the year after he came over to Mi-Jack. Tell us a little bit about what you see in Nelson Philippe and how this came about for this year.
ERIC BACHELART: Well, you know, thank you very much for and thank you very much for having this conference call. We basically did the first setting with Nelson, that was more than a year ago, if I remember properly, that was around August or September 2003, and we were -- right away, you know, Nelson show a very good potential for Champ Car. We did some more testing over the winter between 2003 and 2004, and I believe that Nelson is a very good talent. Obviously, he's still very young, as you just said, Eric, but, you know, I think last year has been a very good learning year and Nelson has been learning very quickly. And, you know, I think that this year, you know, the team has learned more about the Lola. Nelson learned more about Champ Cars. You know, I'm very pleased that we can keep on working together because we have a very good continuity where we know each other well and I think we've developed some good competency with Nelson and the team, and I think, you know, on top of that, we are still very early in the season, and we're going to start testing tomorrow and build a very strong preparation for the first race in Long Beach. So we are ambitious and we believe that Nelson will do a good job and, you know, that we can be a very strong contender for the season.
ERIC MAUK: This will be your third year in Champ Car World Series competition, and last year obviously a very strong year for you. You had Justin Wilson in the seat and you got him in the front row in Cleveland, your first front row start in Champ Car, and you also ran a second car for most of the year, as we mentioned, Nelson ran that the tail end of the year, but you guys were right there knocking on the door. You were a podium threat at a number of places last year, and you haven't -- it doesn't look like you sat back and rested on those laurels. You came out this year and added new guys to the team. Tell us a little bit how preparations are going from a team standpoint.
ERIC BACHELART: Well, basically this year is the first year that we have been able to improve the team over the winter, and so we've been working quite hard on that. As you said, we've hired some new people. We've kept all of the people we had last year, but we've hired Bruce Ashmore as our technical director; that's something that we didn't have last year. And so we have, you know, also looking at some new development parts for the car. Again, we are fairly ambitious, so we are definitely going to bring the bar a bit higher as far as the winter development, aerodynamic, new shock absorber development. So, all of that has been put in place, and so we're in the process of now working through this development. And, you know, this race is very competitive, there are some very strong teams over there, some very strong drivers. I think this is the beauty of the series is that it's very open and I think that, you know, we have a very good chance to do well and do the same results that we did with Justin last year, so we are looking to do that with Nelson this year. So Nelson is the first driver we signed, and, you know, we are going to put him as a leader this year with our team, and, you know, again, we just -- you know, we have some pretty high expectations.
ERIC MAUK: We are looking forward to seeing you guys back on the track. Left of luck this year, Mr. Bachelart. Nelson, 11 starts last year. You come home with four Top-10 finishes, and you took a season-high of ninth in Las Vegas after joining the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team. Coming back for a sophomore season, tell us a little bit about how you feel getting ready for 2005.
NELSON PHILIPPE: First of all, hello, everybody. I feel very good. It feels kind of weird, I came to the racetrack this morning and I was saying to myself, "I'm an 18-year-old veteran," and it's just kind of weird to say. But I'm really looking for a strong, strong season this year. I know that I can improve in so many -- so many aspects of my driving and the whole preparation. And like Eric said, we've really had some good complexity (ph) and we've been working hard together for a long time, and the technical aspect of the team and everything that goes around being successful in Champ Car is really what we're working on right now. You know, we're looking for a very strong year.
ERIC MAUK: A lot of people might not know this, but you were one of the few drivers we've ever had in my three seasons of Champ Car that in the off-season called Champ Car offices looking for some help for some marketing and sponsorship proposals that you were putting together. You put these together pretty much on your own and just needed a couple of things from us, but it showed in the off-season you were working and beating the bushes and trying to find that sponsorship and a lot of guys -- a lot of guys might take that off-season off and do some training and not really think about it, but you were out there kicking the cage and trying to come up with that sponsorship. How tough is it at 18 to juggle getting ready to drive a race car, and going out and finding sponsorship to allow you to drive that race car?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Well, actually, you know, it's not tough and being 18 is nothing. It's my job and I love doing it, so every aspect of it, I like to. And like you said, I worked hard with my whole team this off-season to try to get as many sponsors as possible, and I think we've had some very good contacts and we have some very -- I think we'll have some good news announced in a little while. Referring to the way how I deal with things about racing, just keeping my head up and, you know, not taking too much -- how do you say -- not putting too much pressure on myself, putting just the right amount and just looking forward to kicking some butt.
ERIC MAUK: We'll see you out here in the race car at Sebring here, like Eric said, tomorrow morning you'll be out there. Tell us a little bit, you made 11 starts last year and you came in basically cold in the Champ Cars, what did you take out of that first year; what's most important thing you learned from that first year last year?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I think that last year was a very tough year. I think I probably had maybe one of the toughest years of all the drivers because I had to switch teams. And jumping into the series with big, big cars, you know, coming where I'm from, it's a big jump, and it's something that I was ready for and I wanted to do -- oh, I lost my word in French, in English. No, no, just the fact that I -- I completely lost my train of thought. I'm sorry.
ERIC MAUK: That's quite all right. That'll happen from time to time. Happens to the best of us. Wait till you get older. Let's kick it over to the media now. (Laughing.)
NELSON PHILIPPE: Don't say until I get older.
Q. Last year, you didn't get to race in Toronto because that's when you had your situation, let's put it that way, with Rocketsports. My first question would be: Can you tell us a year later or half a year later what happened here in Toronto? We never really got an answer because you were gone by the time most of the media got down to your pits and whatnot.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Well, I don't really want to answer any questions from last year. This is 2005 and I'm really looking forward to a great season this year. What happened with Rocketsports happened, and that's it. There's nothing to say there.
Q. Let me ask a follow-up question. Looking at your record from last year, I notice in nine of your 11 starts, you improved over your start position, you finished higher than you started. Is qualifying higher this year one of your goals, and was that a problem you had last year?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I don't think it was a problem. It was just the team and I, we were struggling sometimes to get the most out of the car and I think it's from my inexperience. But this year I raised the bar a lot, and I really aim to qualify much better than I did last year.
Q. What do you have to learn about qualifying, if you could expand on that question?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Well, you know, just the main thing is how to use 100% of the car in a little amount of time.
ERIC BACHELART: One thing, working with Nelson last year, keep in mind, also, that when you are a rookie and Nelson, again, he had to -- he was learning the racetrack, as well, and I can say that sometimes he had a reasonable and careful approach when, you know, he was facing a new track. The nice thing when you're in the rookie season, you're always a bit of a disadvantage with some veterans that have been there for many years, so you know you have to find out the characteristic of the racetrack and that's been most of the time, you know, from the first time that Nelson was on the track to the last lap of the race, you know, he has been improving quite a bit through the whole weekend. And I felt that he's been more than once very strong in some race this year. Austria was a very good example and he was really strong, you know, in the race. The first day he had to find out, you know, again, the tricks in the racetrack and make a good improvement the second day, and comes the race, start, you know, quite strong in the race; just in addition to what he said.
Q. First of all for, Eric, the addition of Bruce Ashmore to me is a significant add to this team when you figure that he used to be part of the technical brain behind, first, Reynard and then Lola, to have him with the Mi-Jack team is a tremendous plus as far as I can see it, and obviously you would agree?
ERIC BACHELART: Yes, absolutely. I know Bruce for quite a few years. I tell you, our team, we start from a small Indy Lights team with just one car back in 1997. You know, we have been growing every year. I tell you, just till a few years ago, having the possibility of meeting Bruce and picking his brain on a few things was always enjoyable. And, I mean, you know, again, I've known him for quite a few years now and I'm really glad that he's on board. I think that he's very knowledgeable and especially with this position of, you know, chief engineer or technical director. I mean, he's good at managing people and he's a very positive and enthusiastic person. Also, he knows a lot of people, you know, outside the team, and I think he can bring us to the next level and help us with growing and becoming a top team. So, you know, last year, we had some very good engineers, but we are all busy and a bit shorthanded together, and I felt that, you know, I needed to work with somebody over there that would manage the engineers and get the most out of everybody, and also, you know, just put some lines and some directions about what to do, where to go. So, you know, Bruce has been on board for not that long, an estimate I would say probably a good two weeks now, but we have already, you know, made some very good progress and put in the directions, you know, looking at the wind tunnel (ph) and what we are going to do and stuff like this. I feel very good and will be that we're able to do that.
Q. Last year it was sort of a pivotal year for the Champ Car World Series with all of the court fight and everything else and they wanted to get that season 2004 under their belt and start pointing towards a more positive direction, which I really think it has. You've got to be able to detect that the end of last year, everybody said, okay, I think we're going to be all right; would you have detected that sort of air of optimism around this series now?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I don't understand your question exactly. Could you explain it in a little bit more simple way?
Q. Sure. Last year was kind of a pivotal year for the series in terms of whether it was going to last and stick around. Now that you've got one full season done and completed. 2005 has got to be an optimistic feeling up and down the pits, and I think you'd probably agree with that, too.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Yes, I'd completely agree. The series really picked it up. You know, it's going to be a great year. We've got some great racetracks, great people, great drivers, great teams. It's going to be a very good show. And like you say, everybody in the pit lane is very optimistic and you can see everybody is smiling.
Q. Starting with Nelson, last year you were 17 years old and you came from Barber Dodge, what was it like to drive a Champ Car, making that step at such a young age; was it a bit overwhelming?
NELSON PHILIPPE: I don't know if it was overwhelming. It was a lot, yes. You know, it's something that I went into and I knew it would be hard, and it was especially hard with everything that happened during the year. But I'm very glad that I was able to race last year, and because this year I feel much stronger, and like I said this before, I prefer to learn with the big dogs than to learn in something else and I had the opportunity to make the jump. So, you know, I did it. And this year, I feel much more confident and I know that, once again, I said this before, but I know I can improve in many, many aspects of my driving.
Q. Eric, question for you. This is the first of two drivers. What's your plans for announcing a second driver? Are you going to be testing a number of drivers, and if so, could you tell us who you're going to be testing?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, you know, we're taking advantage of this test here with Nelson to test a few other drivers. We're quite busy. You know, today, we're testing a French driver called Bruce Johanni (ph) and Matthew Haliday from New Zealand. We worked with him a few years ago in Indy Lights. And tomorrow and Sunday we're testing Alex Figge, as well, that was in Formula Atlantic last year. We're going to keep on doing some testing, probably we're going to do something again mid-February or third week of February around Homestead. Yeah, I mean, you know, we have got a lot of interest from many drivers, and so I feel pretty good that we'll do an announcement with our second driver fairly shortly, I would say, you know, probably three weeks or something like this. I mean, yeah, we spoke about, you know, where Champ Car stands today, and I tell you that interest has picked up tremendously. You know, I don't know how many drivers have been contacting us, but really a lot. So that tells you that a lot of people didn't believe that Champ Car would survive, in '04, and it did and it survived and got stronger, as well. Of course, we know about the TV announcement in Europe and also in the U.S., which is a much stronger package. So, you know think we're going to be fine. I think we're going to have a very good year in '05, as a team and as a series. Again, I'm very keen with the effort of the three series owners, what they have put together and their continued support.
Q. Obviously you have not announced any sponsors today, is it safe to assume that Mi-Jack will be on board?
ERIC BACHELART: Mi-Jack is a partner with the team, as you know, but also, here we have been working on some pretty exciting sponsors for the entry with Nelson. Again, I think that we'll see in a few weeks we're going to make an announcement and we have two very good direction as far as sponsors and it's going to be some new sponsors for the series. So, I mean, yeah, I feel pretty good about it, I really do. So, yeah, the car will be well-funded with a good sponsor on it. And then for the second car, we're working quite flat-out. We have been working, we have been improving the team on the technical aspect, but also on the sales and marketing. We have three full-time people working in that department now, and, you know, this is also the way to go to grow the team. So, I mean, you know, it's still a challenge. I still have to get better, everybody knows that, but I can see that there's a lot of maturation around Champ Cars and interest has picked up with the cooperation towards our series.
Q. Nelson, I wanted to compliment you on your ability to put your driving talents and your business and sales skills together to get yourself back on the Champ Car starting grid?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Yeah, my dad kind of helped me, he's a very good businessman so I kind of took some tips from him. With Eric, we have been working hard and I think we have some very nice sponsorship deals to announce in a few weeks.
Q. So from that European perspective, so obviously you're a European racing in a North American-based series; so does that mean we might see some European companies sponsoring the team?
NELSON PHILIPPE: You might. That's all I'm going to say. No, you will see, it's fairly interesting. They are fairly international companies and because Champ Car is fairly international itself, so I don't think we can go either for only American-based or only European-based. We need to go for something that's pretty well right.
Q. When you find you're talking to sponsors or potential sponsors, what do you find is the biggest obstacle that you run into or that you run up against that they are asking you?
NELSON PHILIPPE: Of course they ask me always my experience, and you know, I always debate the fact that I am young and I still have a lot to prove. And this year is the year to prove to people that -- who Nelson Philippe is.
Q. Mr. Bachelart, make could you comment on the same question, because obviously you're in the same drive to get sponsorship for the team, so what are some of the common questions you're coming up against?
ERIC BACHELART: Everybody company is specific, but really, Nelson's profile has been helping us quite a bit because, I mean, his unique profile. And basically we have been approaching some companies that can match, you know, Nelson's profile and also that, you know, are attracted with the demographics that Nelson can represent. So, I mean, that's quite interesting, and we have some very good reception, you know, from some companies that attracted, again, with Nelson's image. So that is one thing, I mean, of course, you know, the good announcement, you know, this winter is the TV package, you know, and the seven races that we have on network, and that's always very appealing for sponsors; the fact that in Europe, you know, the race are broadcast on Eurosport, as well, has been a good thing. Just the TV package has been much stronger and it help us, you know, a lot, selling sponsorship for Champ Cars. You know, I mean, after that, again, every company is different, you know, and when we knock on the door on some companies, we're just, you know, we're going to sell some B2B, business to business to some. To some we're going to sell Nelson's image. Everything is a bit different, you know, but, yeah, we have a lot of activities, you know, all of these past months. We're getting sponsorship and I think we're starting to get results.
Q. I sense from you that the companies are a lot more receptive and there's more optimism within the companies; in other words, about the direction the series is going and the health of the series, in addition to the driver lineup that are in the series overall, etc.?
ERIC BACHELART: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, a year ago, believe me, it was a very difficult mission. It's way different now. Of course, you know, we have to keep on working in the direction of developing the series and developing the awareness of the series and our drivers. You know, there's still a lot of work to be done, obviously. But I think everybody is working in the same direction and I'm optimistic and positive, you know. We know it's difficult, it's a challenge, no doubt about it. But, you know, when you look at it, I mean, I really believe that between the series owners and the series itself and different teams, if you come in the pit lane you're going to see that everybody is pulling in the same direction and we have of course the support of the drivers. Generally speaking, the drivers has been helping as much as they can with the fans and so, you know, I mean, there was just a pretty good spirit.
ERIC MAUK: As you can all hear in the background, the cars have refired the engines here again at Sebring even though the clouds have not quite gone away yet. We're going to let Eric and Nelson get back to it. Eric, I know you've got a couple, like you mentioned, a couple of young chargers out there in your equipment right now, so we'll let you get back to them. Gentlemen, again, congratulations from all of us, and thank you for coming on today.
NELSON PHILIPPE: Thank you, and I just want to apologize because I'm a little bit rusty, I haven't talked English to the press in a little while. So sorry if I hesitated a little. (Laughing).
ERIC MAUK: You have plenty of practice as we go along, Nelson. For all of the media on the call, we will be issuing test reports from Sebring following each day's events. So we'll get you caught up on everything that goes on out here. And as always if you have any questions or anything we can help you with at Champ Car public relations, please don't hesitate to call.
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