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DATE News (chronologically)
10/31/07
nascar
Montoya’s rookie season praised by peers

An Interview with:
JACQUES VILLENEUVE
PATRICK CARPENTIER
DARIO FRANCHITTI

(L to R) Franchitti, Carpentier and Villeneuve

THE MODERATOR: We will begin now with Jacques Villeneuve from Bill Davis Racing; Patrick Carpentier from Gillette Evernham Motorsports. This is the first full-scale Car of Tomorrow test. Jacques, you were at Talladega. That's my mistake. Tell us what you've learned so far in a day and a half.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: It's definitely a different beast than the truck to drive. More speed down the straight. Corners more speed, have to slow down. It's very different to drive and it's very difficult to drive.

And the tires drop off quite quickly as well. So to get your best lap out, you really have to go out hard and try to figure out a lot of things at the same time. So it's tough. But it's fun. So progress every time and that's what matters.

THE MODERATOR: Patrick.

Montoya

PATRICK CARPENTIER: For me it was the first time on the oval with the Car of Tomorrow. We tested that in Kentucky with the car of today or yesterday. And it went pretty well. But the track here is really challenging. It's a new track for me also.

So it's fast. The cars come up to the corners at tremendous speeds. They've got no downforce and they weigh a ton. It's very hard. You're always moving sideways and pushing and trying to get the car in the right lane. And it's been a challenge. Yesterday morning when I got in it, in the first, probably the morning, the whole morning I thought, man, am I going to figure this out one of these days? But it was better, the afternoon was a bit better and this morning is better again.

I got Kasey and Elliott to just keep coming to the car talk to me, explain to me what to do with the throttle and different things and it really helps out quite a bit. So quite a bit more comfortable this morning. Not fully comfortable yet but it's a lot better than yesterday morning.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q For both you gentlemen, I'd like to ask you what you think your reception is going to be this coming year by, let's say, the traditional NASCAR fan base and whether you think that being cast in or what you'll probably be cast in, as the role of villains is a motivating factor to you.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I've never been a villain, so that will be a first for me. (Laughing) but for me I feel like I have part of it because part of my life I lived here in the states. My kids, they're Americans. And we live in Vegas, and I'm a U.S. citizen. So I've always been – I remember when I was young doing speed skating, going to Lake Placid to train over the winter and stuff like that.

But I think it is what it is. I think because the Car of Tomorrow, maybe the teams they want to take a little bit more chance, because I guess with the other car, as already explained to me, experience plays a big part into it. It's almost impossible to come in and keep up with these guys with all the experience and technical background they have.

And I think with the Car of Tomorrow, that's why you see so many guys coming. It's not the first time. Tony comes from Open Wheel, and you've got Casey Mears comes from open wheels and Robbie Gordon. And Kasey Kane did some open wheels too and Jeff Gordon you've got a lot of guys, this year you just got a lot of guys coming in at the same time.

But I think the reason for that is because the switch to the Car of Tomorrow and you see that there's a opportunity for guys to learn and adapt and be able to be up there with these guys later in the year. Otherwise I think it would be very difficult?

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Dario Franchitti. Quick statement about how your day and a half has been here in Atlanta.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Interesting. It seems like in the mornings we do better than in the afternoons. There's a little more grip and it feels slightly closer to what I'm used to. In the afternoons when the track gets really slick, the car's moving around a lot more and I'm just – the thing I'm getting used to is fighting the limit of this car. And following people actually I've managed to see exactly what they're doing in the car and you can see how a lot of the quick guys the car doesn't move quite as much as I'm used to.

So that's the next project is just to get used to that and start searching out the lane that works when it's hot and it's kind of been thrown at the deep end coming here to one of the fastest mile and a half tracks never driven a COT or Cup car of any kind. Never driven on a one and a half mile track with a stock car.

So as I say, it's certainly been a learning experience.

Q Jacques, can you talk about the brush with the wall today, what happened and also did running the trucks help you the last couple of days?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: First of all, with the truck, they drive very differently, because you carry the throttle all the way into the corner, just lift a little bit. Slower down the straight quicker around the corner. It drives very differently. Different lines through the corner. Not a huge help.

The brush with the wall, yesterday we ended up running the high line and brushed the wall with the rear of the car a few times. Seemed like it was okay. The car was tighter today, went in fast like yesterday and didn't turn. So used the wall to cushion to turn, which was okay, didn't really do any damage. But that's not the way to go.

Q If all three of you could just kind of give your impressions of Montoya's rookie season and also just for you three, I mean going into next season, what kind of benchmark or expectations do you think he's maybe created for you.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Juan Pablo did a great rookie season, without any stock car experience. And after having driven one now, it's obvious to me anyway how difficult a job it is and how good he's done.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Basically he's pretty much the reason we're all sitting here today because he did so well this year.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I mean I agree with these guys. Working in the team with Juan, you see how well he has adapted and it's been really helpful to have him on the team because I'm going through that same thing right now. But he's just done a terrific job this year. And again what Jacques said, having driven the car now, you realize what an impressive job he has done?

Q Dario, quite a long time ago you were driving in Germany, DTM cars, Burns. And also this is a totally different type of racing, NASCAR. Is there any kind of experience you can take over to NASCAR from the DTM times?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, not really. I think the physical side of the racing maybe a little bit. But as far as driving the car, no. It's completely different. I think the DTM car really did a lot of things you wanted. You could program it to do different corner to corner, but with this car in the car you really have no adjustment and you have to adjust your driving. So, no, it's another step from that completely, a new learning curve?

Q Do you think the big adjustment for you might be the schedule and the demands for time, 38 weekends a year to race and all the other things that go on being a Cup driver?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know. We'll see. I think the biggest adjustment right now is just driving the car then we'll deal with the rest of it as it comes. But definitely a busy schedule for sure. It's a long schedule. Compared to the IndyCar series, the Cup and the Busch schedules are certainly as intense but double the length but that will be different. But right now it's just driving the car.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yes, it's pretty busy for me. But I've always loved ovals. And that's what I want to do. NASCAR is the place. I was doing it in IRL but I stopped at the end of '05 because I didn't want to do it there anymore. So we've been working on it for a while and for me it's unbelievable opportunity for me to be here and so we talk about it with my wife and everybody and I won't see the kids as much, but it's such an unbelievable opportunity that it's going to be – I might travel with the motor coach from race to race when they're close together so visit the country at the same time.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: The schedule is demanding, obviously, but I don't think it's any worse than what I've been used to and one where there was less racing but a lot more testing, and with overseas flight going to Australia and all that, it made it very difficult. So I don't see that as a negative. If anything, when you're in the car you'd rather be racing than testing anyway.

Q Before you walked in, Jeff Burton was up here talking about how there are hundreds of guys running in the dirt track series right now who have enough talent to be in this league, don't have a rich uncle or father, have trouble finding a sponsor, that type of thing. It's not a perfect meritocracy getting a seat. Do you think you might get sideways glances from the NASCAR fans as you come out here later on in the year?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Not completely because we've also achieved things in racing in the past and on ovals. So it's not like we come out of nowhere suddenly with just a big dollar sign.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Jacques's made a good point. To win the Indy 500, as we both have, in the past, won ovals, too, it's been a good job of where we've been. And I see it from both sides. I see the young kids coming up. We all did the same thing as kids. We're trying to get rides and every kid goes through that. But I think what we've managed to achieve so far has allowed us to be in this position. And ultimately it's the team owners who have come to us and said hey we want you to come do this because of that. And the same way as they pick young kids as well.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think even now the path is different from when everyone was watching, I think it's Jimmie Johnson coming from motorcross, which is pretty different from anything that any of these guys have done. I don't know how it happens or it doesn't and for us we work really hard and did the race, the Busch race in Montreal and it went really, really well. And after that we got a test on the oval and that went really well, too.

And Ray and Mr. Gillette decided to give me a shot. Obviously I know there's guys that have been running on the dirt track all their life trying to come up. But sometimes it's just timing. Everybody gets different opportunities. For us what we did in Montreal and like you said we ran a lot of ovals. For me I've been on an oval since I was five. But it was different with speed skating, but it's still kind of similar to me and it's not the same speed and you're the engine. But to me it's the same thing. When I got on the oval in the Indy cars at first it felt like home because of that. So it's just different path and everybody, even now the guys that aren't there have gone through different path, and it's just unbelievable opportunity.

Like the spotter told me, once you get your name on that thing, it's a good part done. So it's fantastic?

Q Jacques, forget as a driver for a second, what is the significance or the importance to you, I know you want to make a big splash in the sport as a driver, but what's the significance and the importance of wanting to buy into a team and be a team owner as well?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I'm not really involved in any of that. But I can imagine as a driver it brings security. Right now I'm concentrating on making sure we're racing next year.

Q What is the status with you and BDR right now?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I'm not discussing any of that personally.

Q So far Sam Hornish has been 0 for all the attempts he's made to get into Cup races. Can you speak to how difficult the psychological adjustment is to come to NASCAR racing from where you've been, where you've been real successful winning races, winning championships, how difficult is that adjustment?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I think the hardest thing I find driving those cars is getting the one lap and quality trim on new tires. That's the most difficult thing to do.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think I've raced against Sam a lot and I think he's a really good driver. And having now jumped into the COT I can see what he's up against, because it's such an adjustment. I think if we take some of the best guys in the Cup and put them straight in an IndyCar and say go try and qualify near the front, it's an adjustment. It's just so different and so as I say I can now see what Sam's up against and it's tough and for him it's going to be tough for us next year as well.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: As you sit in the car and drive it around the track, you have no idea how difficult this is and how much time you need in the car to get adjusted to it. So now it's going to be a very difficult for me going to Phoenix. We'll have to qualify the car and now I know what I'm going to be up against. I mean we did a test in Kentucky and it went 12 and I thought it might not be too bad but coming to the track here it's a whole different animal than every race, weekend, like you say. For me right now I'm doing my fast lap comes in the fourth or fifth lap. But to do it on the first and second lap is a whole different story again.

Q This question is for all three drivers. How much of your former fan base do you expect will follow you to NASCAR?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I guess the ones in Europe might find it a little difficult because it's not easy to see NASCAR in Europe. But I know I've been chatting with people on forums. Some of them have got set up to be able to see what was going on. There's a fan base in Canada obviously being Canadian, and after having raced in the states and in IndyCar and winning the Indy 500, there was a fan base in the states. So hopefully this will carry on.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: For me hopefully to build a fan base also over here but when we did the race in Montreal, the grandstands were packed with people and they loved it. And they wanted to see the race. I'm thinking about New Hampshire and the racetracks that are fairly close, there should be – Watkins Glen, there should be a lot of people coming. But to build a fan base would also be great.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'm hoping a lot of IndyCar fans will come to the races and tune into the Cup races and the Busch races.

In Europe as Jacques said it's very, very difficult to get the races on live right now and that's something that we're going to try to change so we can get the European fans and the fans in the UK, get them into watching the races because when they see how competitive it is and how close it is, I'm sure they're going to love it.

Q I want to ask you about the off season, what you'll be doing professionally and personally to get ready for 2008.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Testing. I see a lot of testing in my future. I think that will be it. Hopefully get some time off. But certainly a lot of testing.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: Same thing, just need to, like talked to Joe Nemechek before I went in, you need to sit and live in that car every day if you can as much as you can, so just sit in the car and test. And buy a motor coach that will be important.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: The same thing as possible. I'm expecting another kid next month so that will be the next thing on the plans and just get as much time as possible on track.

Q Jeff Burton, another thing he was talking about was a lot of guys coming, the Open Wheel guys come over, he said while not stressing there shouldn't be any kind of standard or qualification or trying to shut anybody out, they said there might come a point where more and more non-American drivers get into the series it might be an issue because it's an American-based sport, a lot of American fans and pointed out how IndyCar was perhaps hurt by having a lack of American drivers. Can you three comment on that? Is that a legitimate concern or should it be open to everyone?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think certainly next year we've seen an influx of non-U.S. drivers. When you compare it to the size of the field, it's a very small percentage. I think it's good for the international side of NASCAR. But I think NASCAR is always going to be predominantly U.S. drivers. I don't see that changing. I think that's good for the sport and that's one of the reasons it's so successful as well. And I think that will continue.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think I was reading the newspaper and they were talking about the football, where they're going to – they might go play in London for a game or two. So it's not only happening over here in this sponsorship. You take Coca Cola or any sponsors, it's all worldwide. And in today's world, I think any sports anywhere will have to become with the Internet and everything, everything is connected together. And I think that's a good way to go.

But I think it's good that most of the field stays the way it is now. But any sports in the future will have to go that route for products and sponsors and many different reasons because it's all becoming interacting together more and more.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: The main point there's more available internationally, whatever level you look at, sponsors or even drivers, you want the bigger the pool, the more choice you have. And if you look at any sport, any sport has become popular over the years has become more and more international. It's just a natural evolution, partly because the sport becoming better and bigger opens the eyes of everyone that's not in that country from abroad. And they want to try and come in and that opens the door to some international sponsors and so on.

PATRICK CARPENTIER: To watch it on TV is one thing but once you see a race live anywhere NASCAR is going to go, like when they won Montreal this summer, they were sold out and around the world I think people are going to love the sports and embrace it. So I think it's a good thing.

Q Jacques, very personal question. In case in the future you look at an extremely attractive offer to go back to Formula One from a team, will you do it or stay in NASCAR?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I'm done with F1. I spent a lot of years there and gave it everything I had. I don't think I would have energy for F1 right now.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

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