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Latest Champ Car News and Commentary

Cristiano da Matta/Dale Coyne announcement
Press Conference transcript

 March 29, 2006

ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us on today's Champ Car media teleconference as we come to you live from California Speedway. We continue to finalize the driver lineup for the 2006 Bridgestone Presents Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, which will begin its season April 7 through 9 with the Grand Prix of Long Beach here in the streets of Long Beach, California.

Today it is my pleasure to be able to bring you another one of the drivers that will be attacking the streets of Long Beach in just a week and a half. Right now I'm joined by the owner of Dale Coyne Racing, Mr. Dale Coyne. I'll turn it over to you.

DALE COYNE: Thank you, Eric. We're happy to be here a week before the first race getting ready for what should be a great season for us. We are definitely planning on running two cars this season, and we're pleased to announce the first one of those drivers today, which is a name everyone is familiar with, and that's Cristiano da Matta. We're very honored to have someone of his level come to our team. I think we've done a good job with some pretty good drivers in the past, and his credentials what we've done, I think it's going to be a pretty fun year for all of us, and we look forward to what we can do this year and do a better job than we've ever done in the past.

ERIC MAUK: Cristiano, thank you for joining us today. As everybody knows, Cristiano, the 2002 Champ Car World Series champion, 12 wins under his belt and returns this year after two seasons in Formula 1 and got right back to Victory Lane winning at Portland International Raceway. Congratulations. Tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the announcement today.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, thank you. I'm excited to have the opportunity to race in Champ Car another year. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. We've worked hard during the winter to try to put this deal together, and we don't have a lot of time for preparation before Long Beach, but I think the experience from the previous years, plus we are not changing chassis this year, so the one they used last season, actually we're going to be using as far as setup and development we're going to be using pretty much the same stuff.

We're hoping to have a good season. I think we can do a good job. I think we can hopefully finish the season in the top 8, who knows, top 6 if we can do a real good job. I'm excited about it, it's a new experience for me, but it's a challenge and I'm happy to do it.

ERIC MAUK: Dale, tell us about how this deal came together.

DALE COYNE: Well, I think we've tasted some good performance in the past, whether that's here or Fontana a few years ago with Alex Barron or certainly the things that we did with Oriol Servia the last few years. I was committed and I wanted to be sure we had a guy and a car that could do a really good job for us. Cristiano reminded me this morning driving in that if we had added all our drivers' points this year we would have finished better in the Championship because we bounced around with a couple different drivers. I think we want to improve upon that. He certainly is one of the best guys we could get to fulfill the desire that we have to get up on the podium and try to get in the middle of that thing.

ERIC MAUK: Cristiano, you alluded a little while ago to what you were doing two weeks before the offer and it kind of came down to the wire. I know you were back in Brazil lining up a couple fallback options in case nothing came through for you here. Were you starting to get a little worried?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, a little worried I think is a huge understatement. I was really, really worried. I had some options to race touring cars back in Brazil. There are a couple good series over there, but at my age I think it's too early for me to go to that, and I wanted to have a couple more years on open wheel.

When Dale called me, first I hesitated a little bit. I wasn't sure if I would do it or not. Then he called me again and he showed me how excited he was about the team for this year, the stuff that is going on inside his team, and convinced me that we can have a decent season. Obviously it was not too difficult to convince me because I've known Dale for a couple of years, and I know he's a very how can I say it, black and white. Everything that he tells you he's going to do, he actually delivers to you.

He told me that the stuff we're going to be able to do this year as far as development and mechanics and engineers, I think we can have a very good season and I think we can have some fun on the racetrack. So after he told me what his plans were, it was not too difficult to convince me.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We look forward to seeing you guys on the track as soon as we get to Long Beach.

Q. These driver signings are great, they're coming in fast here. Cristiano, good to talk to you. You did Champ Cars, won a championship, tried Formula 1, came back to Champ Cars. Nothing can be said to undervalue how good a fit this is for a driver in a series, and it's quite obvious that you're excited about this because Champ Car racing, the entire series, is just a good fit for you.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yes, it's definitely a series that I enjoy racing at. It's probably as a driver where I've been the happiest in my whole career, and it's just a huge pleasure for me to drive these cars and race those races. I love the venues we go to, I love driving these cars; I think they're a great challenge to drive. They are difficult to drive. It's not everyone that can make one of those cars go fast, and it's a tough series. It's very challenging to go up there against a team of the best drivers in the world and try to compete for those type of races. We compete on oval, street courses, road courses, and that makes it exciting for me. I mean, this is the place I wanted to be.

Q. Dale, for you, could you just give us sort of the names that maybe you want to drop in here when you talked about the fact that this team with Cristiano this year is going to do some things you may not have been able to do in the past in terms of engineering and some of the support staff. What are the additionals for 2006 that come to the table to land Cristiano to give this team a little bit better outlook this year?

DALE COYNE: At the end of 2004 with Oriol, we looked at our program and said what do we need to do. We did a nice job, had a podium, tied for 9th with Oriol in the Championship in the 2004. We looked at several things to change and make our team better and we did some of that development last year.

We need a solid program with the right people and a consistent driver, and we've signed this thing, we're going through the year; it's not a partial year, it's a year program. Coming back to the team is David Watson who was the engineer of Oriol in 2004 and has been with us on and off since 1996, with our team more than the other team. Andy Greene, Eric, Mike, Terry, all the guys are still there with the team that were there in 2004, so it's really that 2004 mix that's back together. That coupled with some development things we did last year which we're going to expand upon this year a little bit I think sets the table for a competitive year.

It's interesting, when we ran here at Fontana it's kind of emotional for me because the strongest race we ever ran here was in 2000 with Alex Barron when we had engine troubles that probably cost him the race. I think if you look at what we can do, the cars are so similar, I just think we can really do some good things this year, having all the pieces in place.

Q. It's an awfully late start just one week before the first race. I suppose it's helped by the fact that the testing restrictions are so tight this year, but just talk about the fact that it is so late.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Obviously we only have, apart from the Champ Car's official test that we're going to have, this is actually the first one, we only get three test days, three extra days that we can choose where to go. I mean, I've been talking to some different drivers. Some of them, like I was talking to Bruno Junqueira last night and he's already out of test days but it doesn't mean he tested a whole lot more than us. He only had three days more, you know.

One thing that really makes a difference that probably we are a little bit late and I'll be a little bit more concerned, is that some of these teams like Newman/Haas, RuSPORT and Forsythe, they've been working all winter long on their programs and taking their cars to shaker rigs and doing some development while we're starting there kind of late. So that would worry me maybe more than the lack of testing we have right now because the testing on the racetrack, we don't have much of that anyway. I'll be a little bit more worried by the weaker development, that maybe we lost a couple of months there.

But we've been running these cars for so long that they're in the stage of development that it's difficult to find a little bit. If you work you always find an extra edge, but hopefully we're not going to be too far away. Those three teams I've mentioned, I know it's going to be difficult to beat them, but everybody else, I think we should have a fair shot in competing against everybody else.

DALE COYNE: I agree. I mean, we are planning on doing all the Champ Car tests and some other things. We're probably going to do some more running during the break between Portland test and Houston. We have ground to make up for, that's for sure. We just pulled the engineering staff together and that hurts a little bit. But I think everybody is highly, highly motivated, and we've got a lot of work to do in a short period of time. We'll be focused on it. I think we're going to be fine.

Q. Start with Cristiano, what are your feelings on joining a team that has done well in the past but still hasn't won a Champ Car race? Are you having the feeling that having like a top 5 for Dale Coyne would be like a win for Newman/Haas, or do you think you can actually challenge for a win this year?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: When we started talking, me and Dale, we were talking about Dale first came to me and said I've never won a race, so maybe this is going to be the year. I mean, last year when I signed with PKV, they had never won a race before and I won a race for them in Portland. Back in 2000 when I was driving for PPI, they had never won a race. I won a race that year. So actually winning a race for a team that has never won a race sometimes is a much bigger achievement than winning four races in the same championship for a team that has won a lot. It can be much tougher to win a race, for example, for a team that has never won just because you carry the monkey on your back. It's not only about development and everything else, but winning the first race, it kind of weighs a little bit.

But on the other hand, as I was telling you when I started to talk to Dale about all that, and we're talking about a race win right from the start. In my mind, I think to talk about race wins at this point is a little bit underestimating Newman/Haas and RuSPORT and Forsythe, those guys that have been working all winter long in their programs and taking the cars to wind tunnel and shaker rig and doing all kinds of simulation things with the car. So that we are going to win a race and compete with these guys right away, it's being a little bit too optimistic in my view. We can always win a race in some different circumstances like in a yellow flag or gambling with the strategy a little bit; definitely there's nothing that will stop us from doing that.

But the performance I think is going to be our goal. I would say it is not to try to beat these guys on the racetrack because I think performance wise we're going to be hopefully not too far behind, but I think we'll be behind them. I think our goal will be to beat everybody else, all the other teams on the paddock. I think we can hopefully fight against them at the same level, and if we can finish the championship I think in the top 5 is going to be almost like a championship win for us.

Q. Dale, do you have any expectations on the sponsorship for this car? Are you going to announce that soon?

DALE COYNE: We have several things we're working on. American Medical Response has taken a smaller position this year. They've got some issues in their company that they're going through. We have several things we're working on. I don't know that they'll be in place for this race, but I'm sure they will be for Houston. We're committed to the program no matter what happens, so we're excited about it.

Q. Question about Milwaukee: Does the oval give you an opportunity, either one of you can answer this, to maybe level the playing field a little bit since there is just the one oval for everybody to test this year?

DALE COYNE: I think we've all been there many times, for years and years. I think it helps us probably a little bit because I think it's tougher for rookies there at that track. It is a flat oval, and it does take a certain level to get used to that. I think we're pleased to have a veteran driver when we go to that track.

Q. Question for Dale: I'm wondering if there's going to be another announcement coming up soon about the second car, or if you're still deciding between a couple of names.

DALE COYNE: We're still looking at a couple different people. We're testing Nicky Pastorelli today, and there's still some other people that we're looking at, too, so we'll see how it all evolves. I would hope we'd have that done by the end of this week.

ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about what you get out of testing at the infield track here at Fontana. A lot of people will be surprised that we do run out here at California Speedway.

DALE COYNE: Today I think we're going to get a muddy car (laughter). It's a good place. I mean, it's a little bit different than the other test tracks we run. It's not 100 percent conducive to some of the race tracks we run, but it's a place we can work on power and submission, especially in the group here starting out. It works good. It's convenient for the Long Beach event coming up, but right now we've got to grab what opportunities we can grab, and as Cristiano said, it's a tight test availability. So if it's here we've got to grab it.

ERIC MAUK: We'll bring an end to our teleconference today. Thank you very much for your participation today.

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