Eric Bachelart and Justin Wilson
March 25, 2004
MAUK: Thank you everyone for joining us for another very special Champ Car
teleconference as we continue our preparations for the season-opening race, to
take place in the streets of Long Beach - the 30th running of the Toyota Grand
Prix of Long Beach, April 16th through the 18th. I'm am speaking to you today
from Sebring International Raceway where we have nine Champ Cars on track
testing as teams are starting to get down into it, in preparation for the 2004
Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford campaign.
Today we are joined by the co-owner of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, Mr. Eric
Bachelart, who joins us for a very special announcement. Mr. Bachelart I'll go
ahead and turn things over to you and you can tell everybody why we're here
ERIC BACHELART: Hello, everybody. And thank you for being with us today. Well,
we are very excited today to announce the signing of Justin Wilson for the 2004
Champ Car World Series with the Lola chassis. This is a very good evolution for
our team. Of course, we are extremely happy to have Justin on board.
Justin has some very good experience in Formula 1, won the Formula 3000 season
in 2001, and we feel is going to be one of the very best drivers in the series.
So this is combined with the fact that we've upgraded our effort with the Lola
This is very exciting for us and we just looking forward to having a great
season in 2004.
ERIC MAUK: Before we get to Justin, you guys had a successful rookie Champ Car
season. Obviously, it wasn't your rookie season in open-wheel racing, but your
first with Champ Car, where you ran with Mario Haberfeld last year. Eleven
top-ten finishes, three top-fives and you finished 12th in the points. What did
you learn that first year in Champ Car that you hope to take with you this year?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, of course we have learned a lot. This has been kind of a
dream finally to be in Champ Car. I started this team about seven years ago now,
and started with one car in Indy Lights. And basically every year the teams have
been progressing and getting stronger to the point that we finally have been
able to join the Champ Car series last year. Honestly, that was the goal from
day one, just be able to run with Champ Car.
I think we have a very good season last year, excellent collaboration with Mario
Haberfeld. Again, we learned a lot. I think we put a very strong organization
together, got a very good group of people, good crew. Again, we learned a lot
from scratch basically. We had no data. We didn’t have much reference.
As you know, we joined efforts by running a team for Emerson Fittipaldi, and
that's something that we managed completely.
So again, we have just put a pretty good organization in place. Right now here
moving with Justin, with the Lola chassis, it's a very good step that we're
taking in order to become one of the top teams in the series.
I think it takes time to build a strong organization, but it's very important
for us that every year be stronger and better. And I think this year we
definitely have some chance for a podium finish, and hopefully try to target a
win. I believe that Justin is very capable of doing that. You know, the very
good thing with Champ Car is equal equipment. We're going to have, a Lola
chassis like many of the top teams. We believe that we're going to be a very
good contender this year.
ERIC MAUK: Justin Wilson, who is joining us today from England, brings one of
the top racing pedigrees out there for young racing car drivers to the Champ Car
World Series, an FIA international F-3000 champion, joining former F-3000
champion Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira in the series. Formula 1
experience, he drove with a pair of teams last year in the championship, and has
had success in pretty much every level he's been in, including Formula Palmer
Audi, and many other series all the way from back in your days when you were in
Justin, first of all, I'd like to congratulate you on the deal and welcome you
to the Champ Car World Series. How does it feel to get this deal done?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it feels great, actually have the deal sorted out and be
thinking about the main job that we've got to do, and that's the racing.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about how this deal came about. What attracted
you to Champ Car?
JUSTIN WILSON: I've always followed Champ Car. I remember watching it on TV. I
think Nigel Mansell is the guy who opened a lot of the British eyes to Champ
Car. So now it's something you follow through coming up in your own career. It's
something I came across, a few Champ Car races, when I was looking to join
Formula 1, right about the same time. I had to decide Formula 1 or Champ Car. At
that time, I was based in Europe, so Formula 1 was the option I chose.
But now, I can't continue in Formula 1, I think this is the logical step to keep
my career moving and still be in a competitive, good, single-seat racing
ERIC MAUK: Again, congratulations. We look forward to see you on the track
beginning in Long Beach in a few weeks.
We'll go ahead and take questions now.
Q. Eric, where do things stand in terms of putting a second team together, and
if you hope to have that in place by Long Beach?
ERIC BACHELART: Yes, I think we're very close. It's very possible that we will
finalize this today - definitely before the end of the week. We are at Thursday
today. I think we are very close to that.
So I think it's important to have a two-car team, and we have the structure to
do this at the moment. Definitely it's going to be good to share some data,
having more resources, more engineering. So it makes good sense for us.
Basically it's what we did last year. This is what we're going to do again,
except that this year it's going to be 100% under our control, two cars under
the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing entries.
Q. We have seen a couple teams leave the Champ Car series in recent weeks. What
made you decide to stay?
ERIC BACHELART: Well as I said early on, for me, Champ Car is always what I've
been willing to do. I'm from Europe, always been very attracted to road racing.
Yeah winter has been tough, no doubt about it. But we're still focused and
always believed that there's going to be a solution. We have not been distracted
looking at other possibilities. We've had close communication, you know, with
the people at Champ Car, and this is what we wanted to do. I'm so glad that
finally it's coming together, to bring some other good news. It's good news. In
the past, bad news brings other bad news, but its turning now.
Honestly, I have very good faith about the future, about the new ownership, the
direction that the series is taking. I think we're going to have a very good
field in Long Beach, very competitive series again with some new blood and some
new drivers. As far as I know right now, they are all going to be very, very
I think the championship is going to be competitive, going to be some new rule
changes that are going to make it a bit more exciting. So it's great. It's the
kind of situation sometimes you say, “Okay, this is my approach. This is what I
want to do.” Honestly, during the winter, a few times I've thought, “Well, I
hope I'm right." We kept a bunch of people on board for the winter. Every day
they all look at me and say, “What's going on? Are we going to be okay? Are we
going to be okay?” I always kept on the same line. I said, “Guys, you know, it's
going to be okay. The series is going to work. We are going to be in business.”
At the end of the day, again, it worked. I guess I was right to have stayed in
it and keep the trust in Champ Car.
Q. Justin, I look forward to seeing you out there. Was it kind of frustrating
the way that you were sort of regulated out of Formula 1 by what seems to me a
very strange rule about third drivers?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously it's disappointing not to be able to continue on
in that position. I had things that were looking very positive to take that
third driver position. Sometimes fate has a strange way of dealing.
I'm looking forward to the new season racing in Champ Car. I mean, at the end of
the day that’s what we all want to go out and do. We all want to get on the
track and enjoy our racing and put on a good show. That's definitely what I'm
looking forward to it. It's one of the main things that have always appealed to
me about this championship.
Q. Justin, you obviously had your test a year ago or so with Newman/Haas, so you
have some familiarity with Champ Car. As you look ahead to the run up to Long
Beach, what is your test program? How do you look at the learning curve you're
going to have to go through in preparation for the first race, a street circuit
in particular, that you can't test on specifically, that whole ball of wax?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's going to be a challenge, like I said a new circuit to
learn. I hope to be out in the car late next week, trying to just get used to
the car. Like you said, I've tested for Newman/Haas, but that was on an oval. I
need to get used to it on a road course and see what it's like, then trying to
get my head around the first race. It's going to be a steep learning curve.
To be honest, for the last 12 months, that's all I've been used to. I went to
Melbourne last year with only a few laps in the old Menardi. Show up, go out for
the first time Friday morning, and you've got it all to do. Before you know,
you're qualifying Friday afternoon. It's the same kind of thing. You've got to
perform. It's tough, but hopefully after a few races, you'll get into it and be
able to be more competitive. But the idea is to be as competitive as possible
from the start.
Q. Justin, I know you've been working towards this for a long time. You were
asked a question about how it's going to be to get into the series for the first
race. You obviously paid attention to how the series has developed its trials
and tribulations over the winter. What has been your thought process in trying
to get into this series?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, I think it's quite a good time to get in. Obviously, it's
had its difficult times over the last year or so. But I think now it's looking
as if everything's very positive. It's going to be on its way back up. I hope to
get my foot in the door and get in there while it's possible.
You know, the hope is it's going to be a very strong championship this year, and
the next couple of years it's going to grow. I'll be there to stay on and enjoy
a good career doing what I prefer, which is racing.
Q. The sponsorship has been difficult for everybody because of the uncertainty
of the sale to OWRS, the economic situation worldwide. Was it a sponsorship
problem that delayed this announcement? Does Justin have to bring some money to
your team? How is it all working out?
ERIC BACHELART: No, I mean, I would say that we're quite fortunate that we have
a very long relationship with Mi-Jack products. Mi-Jack has been a great sponsor
to us, and also is a partner in our team. Most of this has been made possible
They've been supporting us for all these years. We’ve had a relationship for 12
years now. It's kind of a long, happy story. Again, Mi-Jack has enjoyed a lot of
the series last year. The series includes very good locations for Mi-Jack as
well. They've been entertaining a lot of customers in all the ports where the
series goes to. It makes very good sense to them.
It is good to work with people that just support you this way. So basically most
of the funding is coming from Mi-Jack.
Q. Justin, I was reading recently that there are probably more British drivers
over here on this side of the pond than in F1 now. What is bringing everybody
JUSTIN WILSON: The opportunities, that's what brings most people to America. In
England and in Europe, in general, the situation is even worse than it is in the
States as far as trying to find drives. It's tough, you know. There aren’t many
places to go. Formula 1, it’s very difficult. There are a few drivers that are
taking vast amounts of money for their drives. That makes it impossible to
compete against. You have to look elsewhere.
Q. Eric, what remains to be done to complete the second car deal? Is it pretty
much a done deal or could it still fall through?
ERIC BACHELART: I think it's pretty much a done deal, yeah. Again, I hope to
announce the details of it tomorrow. But until it's signed, you don't want to
say too much (laughter). But, again, I hope it's going to be signed later today
and make an announcement tomorrow. Once again, I think we're going to have a
pretty good field. So, yeah, all the details have been sorted out. The contract
is being checked by the lawyers at the moment. I don't expect many problems.
Q. Justin, I just wanted to ask you, you've had some testing, as you said, with
Newman/Haas, but it was on an oval. Let's just take it to a basic difference
between the Formula 1 cars you're familiar with and the Champ Cars. There are
vast differences in the way they handle: the braking is certainly different, and
the turbo charges on the Champ Cars, the normal aspirations on the F1 cars. Give
us a couple seconds of what you think the biggest difference is going to be in
how these cars are going to perform?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, the engine is the biggest difference. As you said,
it's a turbocharged engine, whereas the F1 is normally aspirated. I don't think
that's going to be too much of a challenge, as I've driven turbo race cars
before and did the Formula Palmer Audi Championship with a turbo. You had to
adapt to that and make sure you had the best performance out of the turbo that
There are a few little things that you have to pick up. Some find it more
natural than others. But the rest of the car, the Formula 1 car, I believe is a
fair bit lighter, and therefore it reacts quicker. You take more of a beating,
as well, with it because your body is a little bit behind the car when you make
some of those corners.
I think Champ Car, I'm presuming but I believe, is going to handle so much
better than a Formula 1 car in slower corners because of the slick tires. The
Formula 1 car is quite difficult to get used to in some of the slow corners
because it doesn't always do what you're want it to do with the steering wheel.
In that respect, I'm looking forward to getting back on slick tires and get a
good feel for that and be able to push the car in low speed and high speed.
There are a few other things. I believe the Champ Car runs steel discs, whereas
the F1 is carbon. I don't think that has much effect on the actual performance,
it's just obviously less mass to turn and more consistent. But, again, it's
something you get used to when you're racing other cars. You don't always have
carbon fiber brakes.
Q. A few comments about a much friendlier kind of togetherness atmosphere in the
Champ Car pit in North America compared to what we've come to understand is a
pretty political atmosphere in Formula 1. There's kind of a camaraderie that
goes up and down pit lane. I guess you've got to be looking forward to that.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, definitely. Again, it's more what you're brought up with. I
wouldn't say that karting and the junior formulas are overfriendly, but compared
to F1, it is friendly.
Going back to something more open where you actually get time to see the other
drivers and speak to them, and have respect for each other, as well. I'm just
looking forward to the whole deal.
Q. Justin, I just wanted to get clarification on your contract status with
Minardi. Are you completely finished with them now? I believe your rookie season
last year was supposed to be the beginning of a three-year contract period with
the team or in F1. Can you clarify that for me?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's like most drivers sign. You sign a one-year deal that
has an option for a further two years to make it a three-year deal. But
obviously Minardi didn't take that option because I already left Minardi before
the end of the season. They did a deal with Jaguar, which allowed me -- Jaguar
did a deal with them rather - which allowed me to transfer cars. That was never
going to be an option to stay on at Minardi to continue the contract in those
Q. So nobody owns your F1 rights at the moment?
JUSTIN WILSON: No, not at the minute.
Q. Justin, how do you assess your competitive possibilities this year,
especially in the rookie chase?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, I'm hoping to be very competitive. But I know there's
a fair few guys who have been in there a few years. It's going to be extremely
quick. Obviously ones, Paul Tracy, Bruno Junqueira, Sebastien has made a good
name for himself. I hope, like Eric said at the beginning of this, that we can
be fighting for podiums, and then at some point in the year pick up a win. You
know, who knows.
I wouldn't say my aim is to win races this year, because I'll just get shot down
in flames. I want to come in, find my feet first, see where we can end up.
Q. Eric, you mentioned you probably will have a two-car team. Will that be a
two-car Lola team or one and one?
ERIC BACHELART: I probably will have one and one. The thing at the moment,
there's a lot of interest right now with Champ Car. We're looking at the
website; we're just talking, getting rumors from the crew and stuff like that.
But it seems there are still some people that are trying to find deals, as well.
I don't know what Emerson is going to do. Some teams might do more cars.
One of the problems that we have at the moment is we're not sure we can locate
some more Lolas. On the other hand, we have still quite a few Reynards here in
the shop. Over the winter, we kept on working on these cars and made some
improvement to the car. We did five days of testing during the winter. It could
make sense to keep a Reynard at this time. Idly speaking, for sure you want to
have two and two Lolas with the two best drivers that you can get. But, again, I
believe as a team it takes a progression over the years. I hope that if we can't
do that this year, we'll be able to do that next year. It's a bit where we
Once again it's not signed. I think it's very close. I tell you, the first race
is in about three weeks, so we don't have much time to think about what we're
doing. We'll have to make some quick decisions and, again, try to go testing at
the end of the next week.
It's important for the drivers of course, to get good preparation, but also to
know each other better in the work environment, the racetrack. I have no doubt
that Justin will adapt quickly, as he said, this is what he's been doing in
Formula 1 last year. But, still, we want to give him the best chance and get the
best preparation before the first race.
Q. What is it going to be like now going from a Formula 1 where Jaguar was at a
big disadvantage to the top teams, where you really didn't have a chance to win
a race, coming to a series where most of the cars are pretty equal? How do you
feel about that? A little bit related to this, you mentioned Palmer Audi, I
think they had a push to pass button in that series. If they did, could you
comment on that? Now the Champ Car series is going to have that.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously I'm really looking forward to being at equal
equipment again. That's what I've been used to in my junior career. It's
frustrating, no matter how often you tell yourself that you can only do so much,
it is frustrating that you can't have the opportunity to fight for something
better at the weekend.
That's why I like this opportunity at the minute. I think it's great that we're
all using the same Cosworth engine. It's something I'm looking forward to,
getting back out there in the same cars. Like you say, we have the push to pass
button now, which is a very similar thing to what we had the Palmer Audi days.
I'll have that previous experience.
I don't see the cars lifting the front wheels and flying past each other. But I
think it should give us enough of an edge to make what is nearly an overtaking
maneuver into an overtaking maneuver. There's a bit of strategy, as well, how
you use it, when you use it. There's a lot of thought yet to go into it. But I'm
sure everyone's looking into it already.
Q. Justin, for those who may not be familiar with the type of driver you are, if
you could, describe how you drive, what your personality is behind the wheel?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, behind the wheel, my personality's a bit different to how I
am outside the car. When I get in the car, I'm a lot more up front and
determined and show my determination. I try to be an attacking driver. I don't
want to just sit back and relax and let everyone else do the work. I want to do
the overtaking, make sure it's good, clean, get so you're okay. It's the
racetrack that I enjoy the most. I like to push the car hard and make sure I get
the most out of the car and be as quick as possible through that.
Q. Do you feel in Formula 1 the politics that goes on takes some of the fun out
of racing there?
JUSTIN WILSON: It is a little bit of a distraction. Obviously, the key to
Formula 1 is trying to ignore a lot of that. Obviously, the more experience you
have, the easier it is to do.
But, yeah, that's something that most drivers want to stay away from and just
get on with what we know best.
Q. Justin, it's my recollection you're fairly tall. I understand you'll be
testing next week. I'm wondering if you had a chance to figure out how
comfortable you're going to be in the car and how much testing time you're going
to have between now and Long Beach?
JUSTIN WILSON: The answer to your question is, yes, I am pretty tall. 6'3" and a
half or 192 centimeters, probably one of the tallest again. But I do fit in the
car. I sat in the car two days ago at the workshop for the team. You know, it
seemed to be more than comfortable. I believe I'll go back there the start of
next week to make a seat, ready for the first test. I'm hoping to get three or
four days testing in before the first race.
Q. Justin, what do you know about the Champ Car circuits here in the United
States? Which one do you think will fit better for what you're used to from
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, there's a lot of road courses, street courses. I think
I'll do best on the circuits like Elkhart Lake, which is similar to the Formula
1 circuits. I think that's more what I'm used to. I'll adapt to that quicker.
But I hope that I can get on top of all the street circuits. I finished second
at Monaco in Formula 3000, so I don't have a problem with the street circuits, I
really enjoy that. But we only get to do one of those a year in the F1, whereas
with Champ Car, we do quite a few more.
I think it's going to be quite challenging, and quite an enjoyable one, as well.
There's no room for error. It's got to be accurate and consistent.
Q. Justin, can you tell us what is more important for you, to be winning races
or to earn money?
JUSTIN WILSON: To win races, definitely. There's no question. I want to be out
there. That's the deal I put together, along with my manager, Jonathan. When we
started Formula 1, we said how my career's going to unfold, I would be earning
the least money out of all the drivers, but that was one sacrifice I was willing
to make to be out there racing. A lot of people bought into that share option,
and it's those people that allowed me to make my career in Formula 1 last year,
and they're staying with me this year. That's not linked to Formula 1 in any
way, it's down to me. I'm very fortunate to have them supporting me.
Q. What do you know about Hermano Rodriguez and the track of Monterrey?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, I've seen it a little bit on TV. But I think it's
going to be quite an interesting experience from what people tell me. I'm
looking forward to it. I hear it's an unbelievable crowd and atmosphere. I can't
wait to get there.
Q. Can you tell me what you think about the situation between IRL and open-wheel
ERIC BACHELART: The situation?
Q. The bet Mr. Kalkhoven proposed of $100,000 at Tuesday’s press conference in
ERIC BACHELART: Well, I think there's no doubt that Kevin is going to win it.
That's a given, for sure. I mean, it's a lot of influence. If you look at it,
there's been a lot of talk about that. But I can tell you, I'm in Champ Car
here, the three owners, Kevin, Paul and Gerry, they just been trying to save
open-wheel racing, road racing here in North America.
It's amazing to see the time and energy and money that these people have been
putting to save the series. On the other hand, it's amazing to see what IRL is
trying to do just to have the monopoly on open-wheel racing. This is in
agreement with NASCAR. Basically NASCAR and IRL just want to have the monopoly
of motorsport and motor racing in the US, period.
I'm very uncomfortable with that, you know. On the other hand, you have Champ
Car, the organization here, just trying to do a good job and make this right.
It's incredible to see how the IRL is behaving and how NASCAR is behaving, just
to kill Champ Car. It’s not right. You know, at the end of the day for me, I'm
not in politics. We have been in IRL in 2002. But, believe me, I am very
thankful for all the support and what these people are doing to keep open-wheel
racing on the road courses and street courses in North America. I believe it's
going to be good, it's going to be successful, and it’s going to work well.
Time will tell. Who knows what's happening the end of next year when Toyota will
focus more effort in NASCAR. That's another depart. But again, right now, let's
focus on our business, and that's working on having a good show in Long Beach
and a strong series in '04 and beyond.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much. That will bring an end to our teleconference
today. I'd like to thank Eric Bachelart and Justin Wilson for coming on today
and talking to the press. Congratulations on your announcement. We'll look for
another announcement soon.
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