Editorial

For Alex Figge and PCM it's Baptism by Fire
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 August 2, 2007

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Alex Figge
Mark Cipolloni

American Champ Car rookie Alex Figge and his rookie Champ Car team Pacific Coast Motorsports (PCM) have found the going tough in America's premier open wheel series. 

The reality of the situation is that both rookie drivers (Figge and teammate Ryan Dalziel) and their rookie engineers don't have any Champ Car experience to draw upon, so when things are not going right, they sometimes lose their way.

Despite the spec chassis and engines, running competitively in Champ Car is no easy matter, but the enormity of the situation isn't lost on the pragmatic Alex Figge.

We caught up to the young California on Sunday morning in San Jose.

Q. Why don't you tell our readers how you got started in racing. When did you first decide that you wanted to be a race car driver? 

ALEX FIGGE: My family has always been interested in it. Then I went to a racing school when I was like 16, something like that. And then started racing Formula Mazda and sort of went from there.  But really I have not been racing very long.

Q. Has it been harder than you expected moving up to Champ Car?

ALEX FIGGE: Yeah. I would say it has, just from the standpoint that, you know, two new drivers and a new team has been pretty difficult. Last time I was here was in '04 with Atlantic and it seemed like we always had a top 5 car right out of the truck.

I was telling my engineer, the same one I had in Atlantic, how devastated we were back then to qualify like 4th or something. So it's a bit of a change [running at the back of the field]. Obviously there's still a little bit of something missing between my engineer and I right now.  We're both trying our best and it hasn't quite come together yet unfortunately.

Q. I guess you're both rookies, right, for Champ Car?

ALEX FIGGE: Yep, both rookies. And Ryan's engineer is a rookie, too, as are other guys on our team. So we're just trying to pick it up as fast as we can.

Q. In hindsight if you had to do it over again, would you have picked up more veterans on the team?

ALEX FIGGE:  I think that it would help obviously to have somebody with a vast knowledge base to draw upon.  I think everybody on the team is skilled enough, but when we lose our way we struggle to get back on track sometimes.

Putting it all together in this environment has been difficult, especially since a lot of Lola information transfers over. So without even that it's definitely been hard.

Q.  Did racing in Grand-Am last year help you and your team at all in Champ Car this year?

ALEX FIGGE: Actually, it does help with the racing and making pitstops.  I think I made some  mistakes in the races this year but I don't think I cost anybody anything. Hopefully that's just a product of being through a couple different series and being a little more heads up.

Obviously we're not at the front end of the field right now, but I certainly don't want to be screwing up anybody else's race either. So I think it's a difficult situation to be in, but some of those experiences have helped a lot as far as being comfortable.

Q. Okay. Let's talk about your teammate Ryan Dalziel -  I understand you guys are buddies, good friends.


Alex Figge
Bob Heathcote

ALEX FIGGE: Yeah. We're best friends.

Q. That's great. How is it working out as far as two rookie teammates?

ALEX FIGGE:  The whole combination of an entire rookie team is pretty difficult. But Ryan and I are close and I don't have any ego hang-ups with Ryan and I don't think he has any with me either.

I think that definitely promotes a single goal of just trying to move up the grid and trying to get more consistent.

Q. Are you able to share race setups? Do you guys like the same car setup?

ALEX FIGGE:  Not usually, but the last couple races Ryan and Tim [Ryan's Engineer] seemed to have found a little something. So on Saturday they've ended up making some really good decisions and making some progress. We have definitely been able to share some information and get some gains that way.

Q. Speaking of progress, you qualified 13th in Edmonton and Cleveland, which showed a little promise there.

ALEX FIGGE: Yeah. I think Cleveland was a good weekend. We missed one of the practice sessions due to some car problems, and I think without that we would have had a shot at a decent qualifying result.

Q.  How is your back by the way? You had hurt it in Long Beach.

ALEX FIGGE: It's been slightly sore all season. I'm back to 90%, something like that. I can only feel it after the race it hurts a bit, stuff like that. But really no big deal. Nothing that keeps me out of car or anything like that.

Q. How hard was it stepping out of your car in Houston and letting someone else drive it?

ALEX FIGGE: It was pretty difficult. In one respect, you got to give people a fair shake, and I don't think I would have been able to do a very good job. My guys work pretty damn hard to get the car running and, you know, just to make everything work. To not be able to give them 100 percent is not fair either.

In that respect it was the right thing to do, but it's certainly an embarrassing thing to have to do, you know.

Q. But drivers do get hurt.

ALEX FIGGE: That's true, yes.

Q. I look at where you're at today. I think everybody expects you guys to struggle the first year. Like you said, you're all rookies. Have you set any kind of goals at all for the end of the year? One-year, two-year, three-year goals?

ALEX FIGGE: Obviously I'd like to qualify in the top 10 a few times here. We had some promising results but not quite top-10.  Long Beach  we were strong and then Cleveland and Edmonton seemed like we were picking it up a little bit.

I'd love to have some Top 10s. I think that would make me feel good. To be honest with you, right now it seems like it's been a long time since we sort of pulled ourselves up a little bit.

So I'm trying this morning to remotivate for the race and be able to run a good race and have a good result. I think this place has some potential for people to make some mistakes.

Q.  The field is so tight here.

ALEX FIGGE: I know.

Q. If you're off by two tenths you're out of the top-10.

ALEX FIGGE: Absolutely.

Q. Do you see yourself being a driver long-term, or do you have aspirations of someday being a team owner?

ALEX FIGGE: I certainly have aspirations of being a team owner. But I don't feel like I've reached my goals as a driver yet, and I do feel like I do belong here and I can succeed here given the right situation.

It has definitely been a struggle this year. Right now I'm just trying to stay positive and have good finishes and learn as much as I can.

Q. Some say this is the toughest series to be in. It's so close.

ALEX FIGGE: There are some great teams here, too.

Q. Great teams, and the talent level in Champ Car is really, really good.

ALEX FIGGE: Yeah.

Q.  The series doesn't get as much attention in the media as it should for other reasons, but the quality of the driving, is second to none.

ALEX FIGGE: Yeah. I mean, no question.

Q. What has been the biggest issue in qualifying?

ALEX FIGGE: Sometimes we won't play the traffic right or play the strategy right. That's not anybody's fault; we just don't know. Seems like we're trying something different every weekend, and sometimes we hit it better than other times.

Q. I see your parents are at most of the races. Are they at all the races?

ALEX FIGGE: Yep.

Q. That must feel so good to have their support.

ALEX FIGGE: It's always nice to have their support. My grandma is here this weekend. She lives in Palm Springs, so that's fun. I try to have my friends come out whenever they can get off work. It's always nice to have a support system. Ryan and I being best friends helps a lot, too.

Q. I notice the camaraderie there.

ALEX FIGGE: Yeah, absolutely.

Q. I have to give you credit. To come in here and do what you're doing, you know, it's all rookies.

ALEX FIGGE: It's tough. It's tough.

Q. I saw Ryan, was it last race that he qualified up there pretty high? So there's some potential there.

ALEX FIGGE: Absolutely.

Q. When you guys hit the setup you're going to be okay.

ALEX FIGGE: Absolutely. We're moving in the right direction, and when we make the right decisions I think we're right there.

Q. Next year you might be in a lot better shape.

ALEX FIGGE: Absolutely. I think so.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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