Conquest Racing Driver Announcement Teleconference Transcript THE MODERATOR: Hello, everybody and sorry for the delay. We were trying to connect with Montpellier, where our guest, Franck Perera, is joining us. We also have Eric Bachelart in Florida, who is a bit tight on time, so we'll move fairly quickly.
Eric is, of course, between sessions testing with his Atlantics team, joins (us) in this exciting announcement today in that they have signed Franck Perera, who was last year's Rookie of the Year in the Atlantics Championship, and more recently posted the fastest time among all drivers during the recent Champ Car World Series testing at Sebring. He will be joining their team for the 2008 season.
Just to be very clear, Franck did not receive the $2 million scholarship for the 2008 season that's annually provided to the team that employs the Atlantics champion from the previous season. He has earned his ride with Conquest on merit and is not bringing the $2 million enhancement bonus with him.
So without further adieu, I want to ask Eric a question. Clearly you're excited after this past weekend and Franck's performance down there. Obviously your sponsors and your new partner and you are approaching the 2008 season with much more of a results oriented program. Can you discuss that a little bit?
ERIC BACHELART: Yes, first of all, hello everybody, and bonjour tout le monde. I understand that we have some French media on the call, as well.
Obviously this year will be very focused on performance, and yes, we've been very fortunate to get some new sponsors behind us with Opes Prime and ARES, and thanks to them we will run two cars this season. It's crucial to have a two car team to be competitive.
And from there, we've been developing our engineering department and we have hired a new engineer, his name is Eric Zeto. He was the technical director at Forsythe for the past eight years. And I mean, of course, we need to have the best drivers in our team, and we are very happy to have Franck with us. I really consider him without a doubt as one of the most talented drivers in Champ Car, and as everybody knows, he proved that two days ago.
We have a new partner, his name is Anthony Blumberg. He is very passionate about racing. And he has a very strong will to win, so he definitely gave me a bit of pressure to do that. But I'm very committed to not disappoint him.
So this is a bit the first ingredients that we have put together these past months, so we've been very, very busy, and couldn't dream to have a better start than the best time with Franck in Sebring a few days ago.
THE MODERATOR: Franck, great seeing you down in Florida and great the time we spent here in Indianapolis when you first arrived. Clearly you were the hottest driver in Atlantics in the second half of the season last year, never finishing lower than the podium in the last eight races and having won in Mont Tremblant, Toronto and Elkhart Lake. Tell us a little bit about your season last year. You were able to obviously turn it on more in the second half than initially.
FRANCK PERERA: Yeah, it was a tough season, you know, because it was a new challenge for me to race in America, and I wanted to thank, first, CJMotorsport who gave me a chance to continue my career, especially in America. It was a great season, and I had a nice fight with Matos.
But, you know, in the beginning it was not that easy. You have a lot of races and I didn't test except Laguna and then when we had the break in May, I could improve so much with the team and the car, and then everything (came) slowly. And in a crescendo and the results came and we could fight for the championship. Unfortunately I lost it.
But anyway, it was a great season, and I had the opportunity to be in Champ Car and so now I'm really glad to be in Champ Car and for sure, I want to thank Cooper Tires and Mazda and Carlos Bobeda who was incredible with me last year.
THE MODERATOR: Franck recorded a lap on Monday of 49.806 around the short course in Sebring, the fastest time among all drivers--both the established drivers … who were down there and some of those who were testing.
Q. When you first started fielding teams in the Champ Car World Series, the budget was tight and it appears this year that you finally have enough funding to run two cars and probably do this thing, if you pardon the expression, the right way. Just talk about how it's going to be different this year because you have adequate funding, it would appear, to run two cars and be as competitive as I think you want to be.
ERIC BACHELART: Yes, of course, this is a good opportunity and this is something that I've been waiting for a long time. In the past years, we had to make some compromise, and you know, thinking that well, we need to stay in the business and survive and open up ourselves to some new opportunities.
That happened end of last year when I met Anthony Blumberg that heard about us and heard good things and felt that we had good people, but we were a bit short in funding. He said, "Well, I'd like to help you out."
So we did the last two races together, and we developed a good relationship. There was an opportunity for him to become a partner in the company. My previous partner, Mike Lanigan he got involved with Newman/Haas. So therefore took my interest in the company and presented it to some business partners and with the will to develop Conquest Racing to the next level.
So this is what we are doing. We are very excited about it and it's a very exciting times. You know, developing the company, having more people and, basically it's a good opportunity to be competitive and win races.
Obviously, we have a plan for three years, so this is going to be the first year of bringing Conquest to the next level. As I said before, I was I have seen Franck running in Atlantics last year because we have a team in Atlantics, as well. I saw what he did, and we met last year. Franck came to two races in Europe with us and (stuck) around our team.
Yeah, we developed a nice relationship together and I was really, really motivated to have him on board. Obviously we didn't get disappointed after the first test. He's very talented, very mature, very nice to work with.
So this is the first of our drivers, and we'll take a bit of time to decide on our second driver. We would like to have somebody that will challenge Franck and that will basically bring the teams to the top.
Q. Would you talk about your three year plan, beginning of the season going into the season, some of the negative stuff has been swirling around the media supposedly in a pending reunion with the other series, and some fans are wondering whether or not Champ Car was even going to operate in 2008. Obviously they are and there are some positive things. Talk about that, deflecting some negative stuff going into the season but with your two cars and your three year plan, this is still in the recovery mode and things are full speed ahead for 2008.
ERIC BACHELART: Well, obviously yeah, there's been some negatives in the press. But myself, I would like to focus on the positives. And the first positive for me is the product.
I mean, the product is excellent. And if you look at it, we just signed our deals right before Christmas as far as the sponsorship agreement and we started hiring people basically a month ago, and we came to the test here with a very good driver, good engineering staff and we can run at the front. Tell me any other series in the world where you can do that
So now obviously I realize this is just a test and we have much more to do, and I take it we need to make this team stronger. But we have time before the first race.
I mean, I don't think that we could do that in the other open wheel racing series that is in the U.S. So the product is actually fantastic. If you look at the venues, the venues are great. It's global, and for people like us, we get funding in Australia, we are going to race in Europe, we have a global schedule that is really good, and attendance is still really strong
So this is the thing that basically convinced my new partner and the other sponsors to come on board and to come and join us. So, I mean, the rest, yeah, it's not in my hands, and nothing I can do about it. I just hope that everything is going to be good. I have faith in it. I have been talking with Kevin Kalkhoven these past few weeks. I met with Jerry Forsythe, as well, and they have guaranteed me that we are going to be fine, and I have faith in them and their honesty and they never disappoint.
I think we'll be fine, and down the road, if we ever merge, it's probably going to be a good thing, but not right now. It's probably going to take some time if you want to do that, and in the meantime, I just want to focus on what we have and just have a great season in '08.
Q. Franck, tell me the main difference that you're really enjoying, the differences between the cars. The Champ Car has a lot more power and torque, and it's a different machine, but what's one thing you like that the Atlantic machine didn't do?
FRANCK PERERA: Yeah, for sure, it quite a different car. You know, the power of the car is so different, and it's something similar to Formula 1 and I was lucky in the past to test for Formula 1 for Toyota and for sure it was a good experience for me to to have me for the Champ Car.
Atlantics a great series, great car and good for young drivers, you know, and the series is a success this year again.
But the Champ Car, it's a great car. It's so strong and I'm excited doing the season in Champ Car. We have races everywhere and interesting tracks.
Q. Last year you came over and before the Atlantic season started you set the fastest pace, and you had a wonderful, remarkable year. This year you go to Sebring, get in the Champ Car and you set the fastest space. Does that give you extra confidence going into the season?
FRANCK PERERA: Thanks for that, and yes, it's good to start the season and open this in form, and especially in Champ Car, where everybody, everything is completely new for me. It's a new track for me again, and the level of the series is really, really high again. There's new drivers from Europe, from GP2, and so it's really strong.
Last year for sure, I had a good test, that's why I made the decision to do Atlantic and it was pretty difficult in the first race. Yeah, now I'm focused on my season and I will see how it's going on. We still have so much to do. It's just the first test, and everybody still have to work a lot on the car, and maybe there's going to be some new drivers because we still don't know where Will or Robert is going to be, and they are strong drivers.
But it's good we showed time and we can already fight with the top teams, Newman and Forsythe. It's good now and everybody knows what we have to do, and it's going to be a very, very interesting year for both.
Q. Did you ever talk to Tony George?
ERIC BACHELART: No.
Q. For Franck, you touched a bit about what it means to start off going very quickly, but if my understanding is correct, the times you set at Sebring was actually faster than the best that was set by Sebastien Bourdais last year. And we understood there was an awful lot of rubber down on the track, but it was the same for everybody and you ended up quickest of all. Again, what does that say to you about the team, and in the fact that the team is going through a lot of growth right now, but even the first time you go to the racetrack, you're obviously setting the pace.
FRANCK PERERA: Yeah, for sure, it's incredible. I think the last time, you know, that we have done on the last day.
But yeah, again it was not that easy because I came just a couple days before the test and we fix everything but we did a great job and I'm really happy to work with Eric and Conquest Racing. It's a new challenge and I think it's a great challenge and we have a big opportunity for everybody to do something good this year.
And I'm so glad to work with Eric Zeto. He's a really great engineer and we have a very good feeling immediately the first day, and two days, incredible and the last day was again so good physically. I was better than in the beginning. I was really, really good, and we prove in the car we are able to be quite faster than the others
But the season is still long and for sure I will not stop it's just the first one. I want to be in the top all the time. So we will see how it will go.
Q. Not to deflect attention away from Franck, but Simon Pagenaud was also there at the test, and I wonder if you could maybe talk about how Simon did, but also just your philosophy of filling that second seat and who you are looking for in terms of experience and all of that.
ERIC BACHELART: Well, yeah, it's important that we have somebody that can challenge Franck. I think that's the best way just to progress as a team all together. So we need to have the best driver available, so Simon is a good choice. He won the Atlantics in '06 as everybody knows, and he's been doing a very good job last season.
So, very interested with Simon, still talking with a few of the drivers, as well, and we just want to make sure that we are doing the best choice possible. So we will debrief with Simon when we are going back to Indianapolis next week, so we will sit down together and decide if we would do something together for the season.
I mean, obviously Simon was probably not as comfortable as Franck at the test. I obviously don't believe that it's his abilities. We need to understand what happened, and again, this is what we do when we are going back to Indianapolis next week.
We had a test we have a bit of a break now. The next test is in a month from now. So I feel that we have a bit of time to make the decision, but on the other hand, I don't want to wait too long because we want to be well prepared when we get to Laguna Seca.
So I would say we are in a position to sign somebody very quickly.
Q. Tell us about getting the maximum out of the car; the brakes, the tire, coming to grips with the Champ Car in general and getting the maximum lap time, what can you say from a driver's point of view and the specifics of that?
FRANCK PERERA: Yeah, it's really a strong car, I think it's stronger than Formula 1, it's just completely different things, you know, electronics and brakes and everything. So for sure, my limited experience in testing F1 and Toyota and my season in GP2 helped me a lot for the Champ Car.
But last year, I was in Atlantic and I had a chance to go on the track and now to drive the Champ Car is great. It's really strong, and it's so much horsepower and the weight in it, and the steering is really heavy. It's not that easy and the track was so grippy this time after the Indy car and ALMS testing, so it was not that easy. And physically, especially, because we are just in the beginning of the season.
But it was great and I love racing, especially in America. I'm really enjoying it so much better than I was in Europe and I am really excited to join the Champ Car and it's just the beginning, so that's nice.