T.E. McHALE: Our guest today is driver GIL de FERRAN of Marlboro Team Penske who parlayed a runner-up finish in Sunday's Shell 300 at the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway into the first FedEx Championship Series points lead of his six-year career.
Good afternoon, Gil, and thank you for joining us today.
GIL de FERRAN: Good afternoon. It's my pleasure.
T.E. McHALE: In his first season with Marlboro Team Penske, Gil, driver the No. 2 Marlboro Honda Reynard took over the points lead Sunday by posting his fourth Top-5 finish in the last five starts, including podium results of third at Chicago and second at Mid-Ohio. Became the first Marlboro Team Penske driver to lead the championship since Paul Tracy following Round 11 at Toronto in 1997, and he now holds the championship lead later in the season than any Marlboro Team Penske driver since Al Unser, Jr. drove to the 1994 Championship.
Gil enters Sunday's Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway with 132 points, six ahead of second place Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing who has 126. Through 16 of 20 rounds, the championship race is so tight that a mere 17 points separate the first through sixth place drivers.
Following Gil and Michael are Paul Tracy of Team KOOL/Green, third with 122 points; Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing, fourth with 118; rookie Kenny
Brack of Team Rahal, fifth with 116; and Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing, sixth with 115.
For his part Gil, owns victories at Nazareth and Portland this season and has qualified among the Top-5 drivers with 13 of 16 starts with polls at Homestead, Long Beach and Mid-Ohio. He has scored championship points with 12 of 16 finishes and has been running at the finish in 12 of 16 events; tied for second with Brack and Jimmy Vasser, one behind Adrian Fernandez series-leading 13.
The Motorola 300, Round 16 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live on ESPN2 on Sunday September 17, beginning at 2:30 PM Eastern time.
Q. With four races, left you've got a reasonably wide open street course, a tight street course, a short oval and the super speedway. Could you sort of analyze where you think you might have an advantage over the closest rivals and where you might have to be fighting uphill a little bit?
GIL de FERRAN: To be honest, I feel fairly comfortable with the tracks we're going to. We tested well in St. Louis. Also, we've won, you know, a short oval race earlier this year; so I'm fairly confident there. However, I'm not so sure we hold any big advantage over there. We've been very competitive in the street circuits. But, I mean, it's always tight in those tracks.
Put it this way: I expect us to run well in all of the four races left as we have been since the year started. But I don't foresee us having a huge upper hand on any of the last four races left.
Q. I imagine things must be going pretty well and spirits must be pretty high around Penske these days. Is it a feeling that you guys are on top of the game right now?
GIL de FERRAN: Yes and no. Obviously, you know, we are all fairly pleased with not only my results, but Helio's results. We're both doing fairly well this year.
The team as a whole is really pumped up. Everybody is very, very pleased with the way things are going. But there is a general sense of -- this is no time to congratulate ourselves just yet, if you see what I mean. We still feel that, you know, it's not time -- this is not a good time to get our eyes off the ball and start patting ourselves on the back, if you see what I mean.
Yeah, we did okay -- that was, you know, at least in my mind, that was very much apparent after the race in Laguna Seca. It was great, like great, great, great. Hours later I walked into the motor home and all the technical director, the two chief mechanics and everybody was there having a meeting about what we needed to do the next weekend, you know, and that was two hours after the race in Laguna had ended, reviewing everything and everything else. There is a real focus on -- always on the next task ahead, rather than we're-doing-great sort of scenario.
Q. You all have done a lot of work with Penske -- (inaudible)?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, it's kind of hard to pin down. I think, you know, one factor why we've been doing well this year, I think the reason for our success as a whole is really a number of factors that, you know, all come together to form this -- well, you what you know as today's reality, I guess and for sure. One of them has been the good development work that has been going on on the aerodynamics and on the mechanical side of the car. Certainly, you know, the aerodynamic development program that is conducted in the U.K. has given us some good results. And together with the work with -- that all the race engineers or the track side engineers are doing from readying and developing the suspension of the car and everything else, everything combined is really what gives us the -- gives us the overall result. For me, it is hard to separate one thing for another, if you see what I mean.
Q. Did you think going into this year you would have the success you're having; that you would be doing this well at this stage?
GIL de FERRAN: To be quite honest with you, when I first signed up with Roger, in fact, that was the very reason why I signed up with him. I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to succeed. I certainly had enough confidence in my own ability that I thought I was capable of achieving some success.
But after speaking with Roger, I felt that there was tremendous commitment on his behalf to do everything that was necessary, and that was right after we signed the deal in the middle of last year. And from that point on, I really forgot all my expectations, forgot all of my, you know, all my immediate short-term goals or anything like that. All I did was concentrate on my -- on my daily task, you know, on the problems that I had to tackle each day, or, you know, what to do every day to get the best performance and to develop both myself and the car and the team the most and see where we're going to end up, if you see what I mean. Not really setting a goal out, like hopefully we'll win a race by the first two races or anything like that. I had no goals of that kind in my mind.
So I just concentrated on my work, and the result was whatever is was going to be, was going to be, if you see what I mean. And obviously we are pleased that there is -- that that has been going, using some good profit, I guess.
Q. What safety issues do you see at the remaining four tracks? What issues do you see at the remaining four tracks as far as safety, driver safety is concerned?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't really understand your question. I guess my view on safety generally speaking, not only on the last four races, but for all races is that it is a never-ending question quest to achieve a non-achievable goal, if you see what I mean.
I think it is everybody's duty to try to make everything as safe as they can, and it's, you know -- and one has to understand that there is always going to be some risk inherent to our sport. And as long as we all understand that and as long as we do everything in our powers to reduce those risks as much as we can, then I guess that's all that we can do.
So, I feel confident the work has been going on this season and last season and even the season before that has followed that philosophy.
So, I am satisfied with that, and that doesn't mean that things cannot change or cannot improve in the future. So, it's a bit of a funny thing, you know, because it's -- at the same time you're satisfied to sit in the car and go racing. You want to see things moving as you -- as you move along.
Q. And with the suspension failure Helio had at Vancouver, did you have that at all on your mind at Laguna Seca?
GIL de FERRAN: Not whatsoever. I mean, I spoke to Nigel, our technical director. He was there. He hand-carried some parts to Laguna Seca. He was there. He explained to me exactly what happened, and explained to me what they did to rectify the problem and from that point on, it was completely out of my mind.
Q. And lastly, is there any talk from Roger that you've heard about the possibility of him bringing back the Penske chassis?
GIL de FERRAN: At this point, this has not been discussed. At least with me it has not.
Q. I have a question about the HANS device. Have you considered that at all?
GIL de FERRAN: Indeed. We have been trying to make it fit to me, and to my considerable-size neck, and the car. And if we can make everything work, I'll try it out in St. Louis.
Q. Of the six fellows who are within 17 points, I find it interesting that there is one each from six multi-car teams. Can you just discuss what that says about this series?
GIL de FERRAN: It is my view that ever since I joined the series in '95, I think that rather than level everything from the bottom, you know, every team -- or most teams, I would say, have done a tremendous job in making themselves better and better and better and getting closer to what used to be considered, you know, one or two top teams, if you see what I mean.
So, now I think that the level of the top, you know, six or seven teams is really, really close. I mean, we're talking about some of the best professionals in the business in the world. I think a lot of these teams that are running in our series now really have very little to lose in relation to any racing organization in the world, I would say.
Q. I don't know if a driver even allows this to enter his mind, but four races left, can you afford to one bad race and still win this championship or has it gotten to the point where if they gave you four fourth place finishes, you'd take them just for the points?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't know. For sure, what happens now is you have four races to go, if you drop 20 points to a guy who is a championship contender, it becomes more difficult to make up that difference because you have one race less to make up that difference, and that is the key issue here. Obviously, you cannot race like a granny, if you see what I mean. You've still got to go out there and try to win the races. But, you know, getting to the end is extremely important.
Q. Doesn't seem like anybody wants to race like a granny.
GIL de FERRAN: It just seems that everybody -- I tell you, these guys are tough. This year's championship is really not been easy at all.
Q. I've got one more if I may throw it out there real quick, and I'm sure it's in the record books, but what has been your fate at Gateway, in St. Louis there?
GIL de FERRAN: I've had mixed results over there. I've finished in the podium there before. I think in '97 in the first time I race -- '97 I think was the first time we raced there.
Q. And Tracy won that time, I think.
GIL de FERRAN: I think I finished sixth and the didn't finish the other time. You know, I think we had three races there and I finish once on the podium.
Q. This is the last year that you will be racing in St. Louis. How do you feel about the loss of St. Louis racetrack?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think it is something that to be honest, I haven't really spent much time thinking about. You know, it's one of those things to me like going or not going to Indianapolis. Those sorts of question, I mean, I've got to be on my control and I don't really -- I don't really spend that much energy on the subject, if you see what I mean. Just, okay, we're going there we're going there, we're going there, we're not going there if you see what I mean.
I had some good races there. Sometimes we had some good crowds there. I don't know, to be honest.
Q. You're in the middle of three races in a row. How difficult are those three races in a row on your body?
GIL de FERRAN: Very difficult. Very difficult. I really wish we didn't have to go through those three weekends in a row, because it's really, really tough. You really don't have a lot of time to physically recover from the races and to mentally prepare yourself to the next one.
But it is what it is. So we've just got to keep going.
T.E. McHALE: If I could step in here really quickly, just to clarify the point, we're actually in the middle or ending our stretch of three races in a row. Earlier in the year we did Detroit, Portland and Cleveland in a row, and then we took a week off and we did Toronto and Chicago. So having done Vancouver, Laguna and St. Louis will be the third time this season we've had stretches of three races on consecutive weekends, just to clear that up for you. Sorry to jump in, go ahead.
Thank you, and thanks to you, Gil for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in the Motorola 300 this weekend and in your pursuit of your first FedEx Championship Series Championship.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you.
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