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Latest Champ Car News and Commentary

Charles Zwolsman Mi-Jack Conquest announcement
Press Conference transcript

 March 21, 2006

ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference. This one promises to be one of the most interesting we've ever done as we do not only not have a team owner today, we also are missing the driver we are near to announce. Unfortunately, the overnight snows in Indianapolis have caused a lot of travel problems for those going west. Eric Bachelart of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing who was here to announce his driver today got caught up in one of those airport delays. He's on his way out to Los Angeles right now as his new Champ Car Atlantic team is testing at Fontana. Unfortunately, the delay put him in the air. We are not able to speak with him. His driver is in a similar situation. We are unable to find him at the moment.

We do have very competent and qualified stand-ins as we take the time today to make the announcement that Mi-Jack Conquest Racing will be fielding a car in the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, for 2005 Champ Car Atlantic champion Charles Zwolsman. This will be Charles' debut season in the Champ Car World Series. As many of you may remember, he ran in the season finale last year at Mexico City, finishing 13th.

I'll turn things over to Mike Lanigan, one of the other co-owners of the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, as well as a man bringing us a brand new Champ Car event in Houston, as well as taking over the event in Cleveland. First of all, Mike, a good positive move for your team. Let's talk about what interests you about Charles Zwolsman.

MIKE LANIGAN: We are very excited about having Charles on board. Being the Atlantic champion, of course, there's a lot of great champions that came from that series, Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser. We're real excited about having this car with Charles. Of course, he did a great job in Europe at some of the other formula races. We're looking forward to having a great year.

ERIC MAUK: Charles will be the first Champ Car Atlantic champion to move directly into Champ Cars since AJ Allmendinger did it two years ago. We are also talking with Chris Mower, the team manager of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing. Chris, tell us about what went into the choice of Charles Zwolsman to drive one of your Champ Cars next year.

CHRIS MOWER: Thank you very much, Eric. To start off with, I think most people would agree that last year Charles wasn't one of the favorites to come through and win the championship in the Atlantic Series. I think that just shows what he accomplished and what he was up against. A lot of the teams and a lot of drivers he was competing against were extremely experienced and he came through on top.

I think the biggest surprise and the biggest eye opener was the very first race in Long Beach where he had to start at the back, and he drove all the way through and finished third. That to me shows someone -- the reason why he was starting at the back was there was a technical infringement. Even though the odds were stacked against him, he didn't give up. He drove his heart out and ended up finishing on the podium. That for us is extremely important, having someone with that much determination.

Also we have tested him a couple of days over the off-season. We were very impressed with his feedback. We're very impressed with his speed. I think he will be a very good fit to the team. We do tend to run rookies quite a lot. I think that is because we are well geared up for that. We have a lot of our engineers, a lot of our crew, they do get a lot of enjoyment out of bringing those drivers along, which the drivers that are rookies to the series. I think it will be a good fit.

ERIC MAUK: Mi-Jack Conquest Racing is a team, as Chris said, that has done well with the rookies. They fielded Justin Wilson two years ago in their debut season in the Champ Cars. He finished second in the Rookie-of-the-Year standings. Last year Andrew Ranger was your rookie, finishing second at Monterrey in his second Champ Car race, making him the youngest driver to stand on the Champ Car podium.

The other thing about Charles, those of you not familiar with the story, he showed up at Long Beach last year not knowing if he even had a car for the next round of the series. They kind of showed up thinking it might be a one-off. He gets a technical violation, as Chris alluded to, starts in the rear, then comes through the field on a very tight Long Beach street track and finishes third. Very impressive. Paved the way for the championship, paid the way for his ascendance to the Champ Car World Series.

I'd like to throw some things open to the media now. We are speaking with Mike Lanigan, one of the co-owners of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, and Chris Mower, team manager.

Q. Mike, Eric mentioned our boy, Mr. Ranger. Could you tell me, are you in talks with him right now and his agent about the second ride at Mi-Jack Conquest?

MIKE LANIGAN: Yes, we are talking to him. He's one of a couple drivers we're talking to. We're pretty optimistic that we will definitely have a second car at Long Beach, but we haven't finalized the negotiations yet. We would certainly love to have the opportunity to have Andrew back.

Q. Could you tell me whether the talks are close or a week away, two weeks away?

MIKE LANIGAN: I would suspect we'll have an announcement within the next 10 days.

Q. Regarding Andrew Ranger, I think, Chris, you alluded to the fact that your team has worked with rookies. At the same time I guess there's some importance in having the continuity from one season to the next with a driver so that he'll be able to provide Charles with the data from last year. Therefore, having already lost Nelson, would it be important you do sign Andrew Ranger so that he can give some data information to Charles Zwolsman?

CHRIS MOWER: Well, like Mike says, we would very much like to run Andrew again. It would be a good fit. Obviously, Andrew has come from the same background as Charles. He would know what Charles would find the most difficult in his transition to Champ Car. I'm sure he would help him with that.

Like you said, we do have data from the tracks that we raced at last year with Andrew. We've also spent a lot of development time over the winter improving the car. We think we've made good strides there. I would very much like to have Andrew in the car when we have our test in Fontana here in a week and a half or so. But, like Mike says, we have to wait. We're talking to a couple of drivers. We have to wait and see exactly who it is that is going to come out on top for that. In answer to your question, it would be a good fit.

Q. The situation with Andrew, is it a case of him coming up with the necessary sponsorship funds?

CHRIS MOWER: I honestly can't say. I don't know. I leave that to Mike and Eric to discuss. I'm more worried about the performance and the crew and that type of thing. I know that we're ready. It's just a case of whoever it's going to be putting them in the car and let them go.

Q. Mike, is it money we're talking about that's preventing you from saying yes?

MIKE LANIGAN: It's not just money, but obviously the economics is one of the priorities at the top. Andrew last year did bring Tide to the table and we appreciate that. It is a combination of negotiating with the agent that Andrew has and also the commitment from the various two or three drivers who we think will be the best fit for us in '06 with Charles. Like Chris had mentioned, I love this kid. This kid has got a lot of talent. Andrew has a lot of talent. He's shown that he can go fast. Hopefully we can work something out with Andrew.

Q. I'm wondering if this team is pretty much intact in terms of crew. Chris, what have you found over the winter?

CHRIS MOWER: Technically you mean?

MIKE LANIGAN: Speed, speed (laughter).

CHRIS MOWER: For obvious reasons, I can't say exactly. There was an area of development that we were concentrating on, an area that we felt we may have been lacking in a bit last year. Through the work of our engineers and the testing we did over the winter, like I said, we made good strides on it.

The feedback that we had from all the drivers we tested it with was positive. Obviously, when we do this, we don't just put it on and go by what the math and the spreadsheets are telling us, we also go very much by the driver feedback. Each one we tried it on said it was a significant improvement, and that backed up the results we were getting elsewhere. Like I say, we're optimistic for what we've done over the winter.

MIKE LANIGAN: To add what Chris had said, we do have the team intact. Our two team engineers are still with us. We have spent a lot of time and energy in developing these cars to be more competitive this year and to give our drivers the best car possible. Not to speak for Chris, but I believe we have pretty much the whole team, both teams, that we worked over the winter pretty much probably 90 or 95% intact.

Q. That continuity really helps.

MIKE LANIGAN: It does.

CHRIS MOWER: It helps not only with the crew, it helps with the drivers, it helps with everything. That's one thing that luckily both Eric and Mike believe in, which makes my job a lot easier. You don't have to retrain people each year to try to do things your way. If you can keep the whole team together, it just runs a lot smoother.

Q. Which is why it might be nice to have continuity with the Canadian driver that all the Canadian journalists are bugging you about.

MIKE LANIGAN: We love the Canadians (laughter).

Q. Chris, we spoke yesterday to Mr. Wiggins. His preference was to work with young drivers as opposed to going after the old veteran. Why do you prefer to work with young drivers?

CHRIS MOWER: Well, like everything, it's got its pros and cons. A definite pro is that when you do get these drivers, they're like a sponge. They're willing to absorb anything you can teach them. They don't have any bad habits as far as maybe ways that they were driving a Champ Car say five or six or seven years ago when they were quite a lot different. Just because it worked back then doesn't mean that it will work now.

Because these drivers are coming in with a clean sheet, so to speak, it does allow you to mould them a bit more into the way you would like them to be and the way that you would like them to react to certain problems and so on and so forth.

As long as you can prove to them that what you're telling them to do is going to make them go quicker, they'll do it. Whereas if you have a veteran, so to speak, sometimes it's a lot more difficult to make them believe or even try what you're suggesting to them.

Q. Mike, is it an odd situation and maybe even potentially a distracting situation putting together a team this year knowing this is the last year for the current equipment and you're going to a new car and new engine situation next year? Is that an odd situation for a team co-owner and manager?

MIKE LANIGAN: Well, certainly it makes it more challenging, that's for sure. There's certainly a lot of talk of new drivers and teams coming in when the new equipment arrives hopefully late this year. The nice thing about having the "last couple years equipment" is that we understand it better, we know what it can do, what it can't do, and we can work from there.

That kind of gives us a little bit of an advantage being a smaller team. We're not one of the huge budget teams, but we think we get a lot out of what we can spend here. We're not all that disappointed with it, in all frankness.

ERIC MAUK: Charles, are you with us?

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: Sorry for the delay, people. I had a little bit of a delay over here.

ERIC MAUK: Quite all right. First of all, tell us a little bit about how you feel today being announced as a driver in the Champ Car World Series.

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: I feel great. I had a good feeling about it all winter, but it took a little time for it to get into fruition. I'm really happy to have signed a deal right now.

ERIC MAUK: You ran last year at Mexico City with us after the Atlantic season was over, got your feet wet, had a decent weekend. Do you feel better going into this year having that race? Did that help you a good bit?

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: I think definitely knowing about how the weekend unwraps itself is going to help me in the first few weekends. I know what is expected of a driver in a Champ Car race weekend. I think that's valuable information.

Q. Charles, what do you think you can realistically expect this season? Do you think you're going to be battling for wins, get some miles under your belt, Rookie-of-the-Year? What are your goals for '06?

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: I think it's pretty difficult to say since I haven't been in a race car for three months now. I think in the start, it will be difficult but I'll grow into it. I have a really good feeling about the team, about our work together. I do feel they have a good technical staff.

I think after a few races we will look forward. Top 10 finishes are always good, but I hope to sometime in the year make a really good result.

Q. Do you think your running in the series last year is going to help you significantly?

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: As I said, it's going to help me in the way that I know what is done in the weekend, how everything is arranged. As far as driving the car, I haven't been driving for three months so I have to just get into the rhythm again. I'll roll into it. The results will be better after a few races, I think.

Q. Charles, have you been working specifically with Eric to get this thing put together or had you been working with other teams? Were they your primary objective?

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: We did have contact with other teams, but from the beginning when I tested with them, I had a good feeling about it. Finally, the team was always in the back of my mind as a team I would like to drive for. In the end, I got to sign with them so I'm very happy with that.

Q. Your first test will be out at California Speedway or are you going to Sebring this week?

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: We'll be going to Fontana the 29th and the 30th.

Q. You were listed as possibly with Team Australia. Maybe you could explain what happened there.

CHARLES ZWOLSMAN: Nothing really happened. No, it's just there were a number of teams which were also interested. Obviously, we also looked into those options. In the end I felt Mi-Jack had the best package maybe. We'll see how it unveils in the rest of the season, but I feel really good about joining the team.

ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to today's media teleconference. Congratulations to Mi-Jack Conquest Racing. We look forward to see you in Fontana next week.

The Champ Car World Series, some of the teams will be testing down here in Sebring, Florida, this week. We'll get testing reports out to you both tomorrow and Thursday, as we draw closer to the season-opening Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 7 through 9, the lid-lifter for the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season. Thank you again for joining us and have a good day.

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