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CHAMP CAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 18, 2003
ERIC MAUK: Thank you for joining us for today's CART Media Teleconference in advance of G.I. Joe's 200 taking place this weekend at Portland International Raceway where the sun has been shining all week except for when we threw open the blinds today and now there's heavy clouds everywhere. But Jerry Boone and the people in Portland this is just a temporary thing and it never rains in Portland and everything is going to be good for this weekend. We are joined this morning, actually morning in the west coast, by A.J. ALLmendinger, Toyota Atlantic points leader and wire-to-wire winner from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last weekend. Thank for joining us.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Thank you for having me.
ERIC MAUK: We'll also be joined by Max Papis, who is making his return to the CART Champ Car Series this weekend. He hasn't dialed in yet, but we expect him any time. We'll get him to you guys as soon as we can. We'll start off with A.J., Your first season in Toyota Atlantic and you came in obviously hoping to do well, but thinking it might be a little more of a learning experience and now here you are after just a handful of races leading the points and doing exactly what some people thought you might do just coming in here and running up front every weekend how do you feel.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Hasn't been a bad season yet. (Laughs). RuSport has given me a great car all year. The team just helped my learning curve so quick because we have such great people around us and even though it is a new team with everybody coming together, filled with a lot of experience people so my learning concerning has been quick. Every weekend they have given me great cars and it's been great so far. I am looking forward to this weekend here in Portland and for the rest of the year.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about some of those people. This is a team that's really stepping up into their first major Toyota Atlantic effort running two cars and running some talented drivers, and for a team making that statement their first time out, they have got have some good people behind them. Tell us a little bit about the guys.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: The owner is Carl Russo, he actually ran in the series last year with PDR, and this year bought the team and is now named RuSport. I mean, he's a great owner. For one, given me the opportunity to be here, and also my teammate Aaron Justus because both of us don't have the money just to do this on our own, so him giving us the opportunity and he's really got a great mindset, I mean, what he wants out of this team and where he wants to take it in the future. Being part of that is so exciting for myself and he's put great people around us to make, as I said, the learning curve easier and to have this team come together very quick with the president Jeremy Dale which people know him and associate him with Barber Dodge over the past many seasons. And Jeremy kind of runs the day-to-day operations. And then Steve Wolf the team operator, and then on the technical side Gerald Tyler which is well known in the Atlantic paddock with engineering. He was with Luis Diaz as an engineer last year with Dorricott. And now he's our actual technical director so he kind of overlooks everything in the technical aspect and I have my race engineer Burke Harrison which was Paul Tracy's engineer in his Indy Lights Championship and also Jon Fogarty's Atlantic engineer last year for his Championship. And we just have -- the crew that has been put together is just great. It's basically put together from a lot of Atlantic teams and other series all around. With that, we have a good group of guys working together. Michael Harvey is the head crew chief that overlooks the whole crew, and I mean, altogether everybody is working well together. That was key because we knew coming in the season the team was going to be good and it was only a matter of how quick we came together and over testing my teammate and I we're working well together, and everybody together, and I think it's shown right away, not only last week at Monterey, but through Long Beach and even at the beginning of the season in Mexico.
ERIC MAUK: Absolutely to put a team like that together and a couple of talented young guys behind the wheel, it ought to be a force to be reckoned the rest of the year. You mentioned Aaron Justus, former US F2000 Champion that had a real nice run in Long Beach and you guys are poised for big things to come for the rest of the season. Let us go back and talk about Laguna Seca a little lit, about the closest you get to a home track. Everywhere you went all weekend you were surrounded by a group of people that were wanting to see you do will well and just talk about how satisfying it was to dominate in front of your home crowd.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, that weekend last weekend was about as perfect as we could have. We had a good test there in April, so the team had a good baseline to start with, and I mean, I felt like last year in the Barber Dodge Pro Series I kind of let myself down because I felt I had a chance to win the race and I just didn't make the right moves at the right time. Coming into this weekend or last weekend I knew we were going to have a good car and of course I had a lot of family and friends there and it was just -- one, it was just good to see everybody again that I hadn't seen in a while and two, I love Laguna Seca as a racetrack and Monterey as a town. And we put the car on the racetrack and the thing was good right away, and it was just a matter of all weekend working with my engineer and just finding those fine points in the car just to make it a little bit better, and the first qualifying session, even though we qualified provisional pole, I didn't think the car was still as good as it could be. In the second qualifying session on Saturday morning we made some changes and we really hit the setup and made just a little minor change for the race that I felt that we needed to make to make the car good throughout the entire 30-lap race. We hit the setup and the thing was just amazing. And it's just one of those times that any race car driver knows that when the car is that good you are just out there -- you are not fighting the car. You just become one with it. And because of that, it was just-- it was just an amazing weekend, and the bigger picture was we won the race an extended the points lead and now we have confidence heading into this weekend and for the rest of the year that we can do that every weekend.
ERIC MAUK: We're now joined by Max Papis making his 2003 Champ Car World Series debut as the driver of the No. 27 Ford Cosworth Lola Bridgestone for PK Racing this weekend. Max, thanks for joining us.
MAX PAPIS: How are we doing?
ERIC MAUK: Max, obviously no stranger to the Champ Car World Series, 106 starts in his career, he has 3 wins, a pair of poles, he has a win from the pole here in Portland. If you could just tell us a little bit about how this whole thing came together and how you ended up in the seat of the 27 car.
MAX PAPIS: First of all, let me tell to all the people that are here listening to us that it is a great pleasure to talk to all of you guys again. I just arrived back from Le Mans yesterday where I raced and we had a fantastic finish, you know, we finished 5th overall. It was amazing success there. And to all the people at PK Racing, I want to thank Kevin Kalkhoven and Craig Pollock for creating this opportunity.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about coming back to Portland, obviously a track where you had great success. Runnerup at 2000, won from the pole here in 2001. You were all poised to back at it again when things fell through for you and the Sigma Team unfortunately. Your thoughts about coming back to Portland.
MAX PAPIS: First of all, let's say last time I raced over here I kicked ass. I won from pole and dominated the race so I left Portland last time I raced over here as the King of Portland and I am coming back with the same will that put me over there in the first position, one and a half year ago. Unfortunately last year was a sad end to a great beginning that we had with Sigma Autosport, in five races was able to go twice on the podium and I was able as well at the same time to meet great people within my mechanics and my engineers at Sigma Autosport and unfortunately Portland was a very sad moment for us because we arrived over here and for the reason that everybody knew, we would not be to be able to race. That was basically the end of the great task that we were putting together last year. So everything came together very quickly over here at PK Racing I was actually -- I was visiting the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix when I received a phone call from Mauricio Gugelmin actually asking what was the situation, what we were doing, and what was my situation as a race car driver for 2003 and I said, you know, stand by because I think there could be some opportunities coming up. And I think that that's how everything came together. I definitely have to thank Don Panoz for being so kind to allow me to come over here and drive in Champ Car again and I will definitely continue my effort in ALMS Championship in all the remaining races that I am not going to have a conflict with the CART Championship, and I am looking forward to achieve success over here because these guys -- I just met them yesterday but I know many of them for several years. I am looking forward to starting a relationship with John Ward, the engineer, he is new to this environment of PK Racing as well, but I have known him for several years, since actually the beginning of when I came over here in the United States in 1996. And I feel that we could get some pretty good satisfaction over here. As I always say, don't count me out.
ERIC MAUK: We definitely look forward to seeing you behind the wheel. Let us open it up to questions.
Q. Max, you tested Winston Cup; then you ran in sports cars. Did you think that maybe the door was closed on Champ Cars at all or had you pretty much thought you are not going to get a ride again; how were you looking at it?
MAX PAPIS: Honestly I didn't really look at it. I don't know how I could explain. I tried my best to be able to continue my effort in Champ Car at the beginning of the season when we were negotiating and trying to do a lot of things, and I was in contact with all the people here in Champ Car because I have been racing here for so many years, and I always kept in close contact and I knew when a situation was going to arrive I am sure that people kept me in mind; that's basically what happened.I drove -- I tested Winston Cup car. I have my deal in sports car with Don Panoz which I have been really focused on and we achieved great successes in two races, and I feel that these things came together because I believe in fate. We were here together at the beginning of the race last year, me and all my mechanics standing on pit wall without a race car, and now I am back, I am back with a good team, with a good effort, and I couldn't be more pleased than that. So I never really put a lot of thought, as I said, in the beginning on like you said the doors are closed, if I don't bring money, this and that, and that I just -- I just put my head down and went with the opportunities I had at those stages, and I think that it's a nice thing to know that people haven't forgot that it was someone that was walking around the paddock, you know, like me, I had 11 podium finishes and three wins, I think they were worth something. So I feel that all these things that they contributed in making this decision for PK Racing, and I think the things I am the most glad is the support I had from all the people within, you know, the organization and all the people all the race fans, you know, my web site has been really filled with emails and nice messages and all these things make me really, really proud.
Q. Max, how much time have you been able to spend in the current configuration Champ Car? It's a little bit different than what you drove last year. Have you been able to do much testing or will Portland be your first real time in the new car?
MAX PAPIS: I haven't been even sitting in a Champ Car this year, and I didn't even get close. I feel that now -- actually I am here under the tent of PK Racing and they are fitting the seats in the car and on my pedals and everything, so, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½s going to be first time out on Friday morning and there are still going to be some hurdles to overcome and situations to create and you know, things to be addressed, but one thing I can promise you that my will to succeed and my determination are greater than ever. I have a lot of fire inside of me. As I said, people better watch out because I have a lot of fire.
Q. Max, last year when you were here, a lot of people speculated that your team financially was on some pretty thin ice. On Friday when they sort of pulled the plug on the engine was that a surprise at all to you? Was it something that you expected and what had happened, were you more angry than disappointed, or were you just sort of resigned to the fact that that's the way it is in racing sometimes?
MAX PAPIS: I don't accept the situations like the one that happened at Sigma last year, you know, of course. But I am a professional person and I couldn't do anything about it then. I signed a contract that was restricted to certain things, say that we were competing for a Championship and we would have -- I had certain reassurement from the people -- from the team of the people -- from the group of Sigma at the beginning of the season but that's the past. Now that was definitely a difficult moment, especially you know, racing is -- it's a great sport, but the things that really made me sad was seeing all my mechanics and all the people that came over here to support me than they were not able to see me racing. They were not able to see the defending Champion being out there on the racetrack. I think that that was the thing that made me the most sad because I know inside of me that I will have other opportunities and I will -- I am sure I would have been able to achieve my goals later on in my life, but that moment was particularly sad, especially to see the tears in the eyes of my mechanics that they had been working really hard on the cars, to see, you know, all their effort being left on the side like that, was something that -- you know, really gave me a lot of, you know, gave me a really hard time because I am a people person. I give them all my heart and I felt pretty sad. As I said, this is the past. I am glad to see most of the guys that have been working with me last year still involved in Champ Car and as I said, again, you know, I have tremendous will to achieve my goals. I think that the determination is inside of me never changed for a bit. It's actually maybe even greater than it was ever before. I keep the past in the past and I look for future in the future, for more success because that's how I am. Motor racing is a great sport and you should live it with a smile on your face and with determination and being a professional person. That's what I am here trying to do this weekend.
Q. I can assure you there's a lot of people in Portland that are real excited about you coming back.
MAX PAPIS: I tell you this is one of the places that I enjoy the most since I came over here the first time in 1997, the atmosphere, the people how you guys made me feel in the last three years, it's something that you couldn't buy with the money. You better make sure that I will do everything is in my power to be able to give back to all the people that here supported me. It's pretty cool to know that I am the only winner that that's going to be racing this weekend.
Q. Tell me how you are feeling.
MAX PAPIS: I feel that I mean, everybody is entitled to their opinion and I don't want to comment on any speculation. The only thing I know is that I just came back from a 24-hour race where we had an excellent finish, drove for about 9 hours or something like that, so I think that it's still going to be a different deal being seated in the Champ Car. You have to set realistic goals. But I am a great believer in fate and I know it's going to take a little bit of time to jell together and create the right situation, but I am a person who builds his career with a lot of will and determination. On the physical side, on the mental side I think that I have never been as strong as I am right now. Being out of the car last year, watching the racing from the TV, or from the pit lane, made me realize I am back, I am ready with even more fire and determination than I had before. I know that God, you know, takes care of good people. I just that's one of the reasons why I think I am back here.
Q. You come back a winner for patience and for fortitude because other people would have quit in your situation.
MAX PAPIS: One thing I am I know I am a very consistent person, and unfortunately in difficult situations when the economical situation are tough, it's difficult to make -- people can't make all the decisions that they really would like, and therefore, they are forced into certain decisions because of other reasons that are not sometimes racing or sports reasons. I felt that I knew my time was going to come, you know, just a matter of being patient and wanting to be involved with a very professional organization Russell Cameron has been running PK Racing from the beginning of the season. He has a great history of, you know, of being one of the top guys at PacWest and I am really, really glad to be back mere with Mauricio Gugelmin, who was a great supporter of me at the beginning of my career in Champ Car. He taught me a lot. Of course I had kicked his ass several times so he stopped telling me fix right and left after I started to be a little bit quicker than him. I feel he's a great person, great to have him back and it's fantastic to have the eyes of a race car driver, so that means I will be able to come over and actually ask him what I am doing, when I am coming out of the car and I knew that I will get a straightforward answer from the guy.
Q. I have already a headline for the story, Emperor of Portland. Win the race, congratulations?
MAX PAPIS: Thanks so much. I will make my best to make that happen.
Q. A.J., I am wondering the success you have had does the Champ Car circuit suddenly seem a lot closer?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I realized certainly this year, especially -- my dream of achieving Champ Car is so much closer than I have expected it to be. But right now as I have told everybody that you know, now there's still eight races left in the Toyota Atlantic Championship and as much as the press wants to talk about my future and what possibility there is, I have signed with RuSport to win the Toyota Atlantic Championship and that's my goal and right now I am looking straight at that, putting 110% effort towards that, and I know and I realized last year with Barber Dodge that if I do all the right things and I be myself, and I go out there and win races like I know how to, and that my opportunity will come. So right now I am just kind of taking that one step at a time and as I said, there's eight races left, eight races that I want to win, in the Toyota Atlantic Championship, and I think with the team that I am with that that's a possibility of winning every race. Now obviously you have got to click every weekend, but contending every weekend is something that we're going to be able to do. And right now, that's what I am going to do, as the year gets on down the months, around August, September, then we'll see where we stand as a team and what our plans are, and what the next step is, but right now I am just having fun where I am at, and letting everything come to me and so far it's worked and I believe that if do I all the right things that I have done so far and just keep doing it, that I will get that opportunity.
Q. They say so much of that chemistry with the team is so important. Yet so many guys struggle with that communication thing. You come to a brand new team, you guys have clicked like a hand in a glove. Maybe that tells you something about your abilities.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, that's something that I am learning about myself. That's something that my owner Carl Russo told me when he signed me that I had to be one of the leaders on this team because the crew feeds off of me, you know, my engineer and I, we feed off of each other, and I take good pride in knowing that right now that I am able to communicate with my crew and my engineering staff and the whole team as one and help bring the team closer together and as quick as could be done. I am just going to keep learning from everything that I do, the mistakes that I make and I think, for that, I have good people surrounding me and they keep me in tune with what's going on and what I need to fix, if I feed to fix something or if as one we need to fix something. But, yeah, I mean, I am having so much fun and learning so much and I look forward to the chances and opportunities in the future, not only in racing, but as you said, as a leader, and being able to bring a team together. So it's been great so far and I know it will be down the line.
Q. Max, I saw the e-mail that you were coming back and made my whole day. What kind of opportunity is it to be with Kevin Kalkhoven and Craig Pollock? What kind of opportunity do you have with this new team?
MAX PAPIS: First of all, let me tell you that I am extremely proud of being back over here. As I told Robin before, you know, it really give me a lot of joy to be back first of all, in Portland with what happened last year and when I had mixed feelings with great satisfaction before and the great sadness the year after and it's just -- I mean, it's just amazing for me. I am really, really proud. I am going to put my head down and you know, work as hard I can as I have always done in my career, keep working in a humble environment, and I feel that you know, Mr. Kalkhoven has been giving a lot to the sport this year. He started up a brand new team together with Craig Pollock. I know Craig for many years because I raced with Jacques Villeneuve in Formula 3 back in Italy, so it is a long time relation and I feel that I tell you, I really enjoy the -- just the few hours I spend over here with the guys and I feel that I am fitting right back in like almost like if I never left. It's pretty amazing for me. Of course we need to set realistic goals because there are people out there are not stupid, I mean, people that are winning races, they deserve great success and great respect, but I am not afraid of anybody. I know that I can stand on my own and I can go out and prove the ability of the team and prove the ability of myself. All these guys over here they need some satisfaction, they have been working really their ass off since the beginning of the season and I hope I am going to be the man to bring them the satisfaction because if the satisfaction of success will be based on will and determination, it will definitely come because I think that I will put whatever it takes to achieve that.
Q. The paddock is going to be a sunny place this weekend since you will be in Portland.
MAX PAPIS: Thank you so much. Your words make me very proud. That's the reason why I had a smile on my face since I start talking to you guys.
Q. Obviously glad to have you back Max very exciting to have you around actually driving the car rather than watching them. I guess that's maybe one of the questions I have is I mean, I remember certainly running into you at Spring Training this year and trying to think maybe a couple of other times over the course of the year and just wondered, you know, if maybe from your perspective of spectating, you know, either you know, in person, or on television, kind of what your -- what your take on you know, the Champ Car Series is this year, and maybe if that time watching things you know, in person and on TV wasn't you know, wasn't wasted and maybe fun, you have learned some things that maybe you could apply to you know, apply it to when you get in the car on Friday morning?
MAX PAPIS: As I said to you, first of all, for me it's a great pleasure to be here talking to you guys as a Champ Car driver, not just someone who is walking around the paddock, and the reason why this is happening is to thank Kevin Kalkhoven, Craig, Pollock, Russell Cameron and the team to create the situation for me. And you know, you saw me around talking and creating some situations and opportunities from the beginning of the season and that I think that's one of the reasons why I am over here at the moment because I always kept contact with all the people. I am a professional person and I am a very dedicated fellow to what I am doing, and watching things from the outside definitely contributed in creating more will to succeed inside of me and more determination to achieve my goals because I am not the kind of guy that looks from the, you know, from behind the fences and say wow, I would like to do that, my time is gone. I look behind the fences and I go and say just wait for a second when I come back I am going to kick your ass. That has always been my attitude since the beginning -- since I have been out of a car. But I always felt that this is a very competitive series you know, they have incredible races, multiple winners, and it's definitely not an easy job to be out there and compete for success. We all know over here I personally know about it because I have been in that position with achieving great success with big teams and having to prove yourself with some other teams. I feel that I have been in kind of all the situations possible and I am ready to come out there and take what it gives me and add a little bit more because that's what I think I can do. I can add a little bit, I can take the situation, shake it up, and make it become more of a situation that will help us achieve our goals. Of course, as I say to you again it is a get difficult series it's very difficult. It's very difficult to achieve success no matter if you have ten cars competing for the lead or 30 cars. I am pretty much aware of that, but I am more determined than ever. I tell you, if it's going to require for me to jump out of the car and push it, I will. I will do whatever it takes.
Q. Hopefully not. So far the reliability of the Fords has been pretty good I don't see you pushing the car much?
MAX PAPIS: (Laughs).
Q. Talking about standing and observing. Can you perhaps talk a little bit about just what it is that a guy like you know, an experienced guy like Mauricio can bring to the program and particularly to you as another set of eyes out there watching what is going on?
MAX PAPIS: First of all, I am really glad to see Mauricio just to see him over here and to see his involvement and to talk to him, you know, he was pretty important on me being over here and I think what it is going to be able to do for me would be a little bit for what I did at Fernandez Racing for Shinji Nakano when I was not driving last year, the eyes of a driver see certain things that nobody else can see. And I was able last year to spend a little bit of time with Shinji, especially Elkhart Lake and share a bit of -- share a bit of time together and talk face-to-face, in a straightforward, telling him I think that I saw this, I saw these things, why this is happening, and been trying to do this another way. I believe that a pair of eyes of someone who really knows why you are holding the steering wheel in the way you are holding it, why you are turning it the way you are turning it is going to contribute a lot to achieve my success. You have got to be humble because I realize that all these people, all the guys here in the series have been racing since the beginning of the year, but I am not afraid of -- I have been competing and beating all of them before as they beat me sometimes. So I feel that -- I like challenges. This is a big one, but I am ready to take it and it's a great task and I am going to do everything it takes on my side to achieve my goals. As I say, the determination is not what is missing at this stage.I want to congratulate as well A.J., I followed A.J. on the internet and all those things that he has been doing I am glad that a -- some of his dreams are coming true, because he seems that he's putting a lot of effort into achieving his goals and his dreams. I think that for me from the outside is really nice to hear a young guy that has a particular idea on how he wants to achieve his success in the sport. Best of luck to him as well.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Thank you, Max.
Q. A.J. obviously you had a pretty -- you enjoyed a pretty successful, pretty dominant weekend at Laguna Seca. Just technically speaking do you think that just the setup in the car and what you learned about the car at Laguna Seca how that's going to apply to a fairly different racetrack at Portland?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, obviously as you said, there are two different race tracks and weekends like that don't happen every weekend. I wish they would obviously. But we didn't test here because our engineering staff has a good baseline from what they ran last year here with Dorricott and Luis winning the race. So I feel confident that we're going to have a good setup right away. I have experienced winning the Barber Dodge Pro Series race here last year so I am not too worried about having to learn the track in the Atlantic car. I feel like with my ability I can run a racetrack very quickly in any car that I get into. So it is just kind of the same attitude going into this weekend as it was last and every weekend that we go into, just if the car setup is there right away then just fine-tuning on it, but if not, not panicking, and knowing that you know, we have the right people and with my communication with the engineering staff and my feedback and theirs back to me that we can get the car right for me by race time. We'll just take that same attitude into this weekend and for the rest of the season. So far it has been working for us; hopefully it won't be any different from this weekend.
ERIC MAUK: We'll wrap up for today. Appreciate you taking the time to come out and best of luck this weekend at Portland and down the rest of the 2003 season.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Max, I look forward to seeing you there this weekend.
MAX PAPIS: Thanks, everybody, for always keeping the great support that you always gave me. For me I'd like to talk about people and I am really proud of being back with all this support. It really makes me proud and makes me proud of all the things I have done in my career, as I have always said I am always looking for the best win and the one is going to come. Don't count me out.
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