MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on today’s Champ Car Atlantic Championship media teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with the Cooper Tires Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. I’m pleased to welcome to the call today the two new drivers for the Forsythe Championship Racing Atlantic team who will be going after the Atlantic title in 2007, 17-year-old Robert Wickens of Toronto, Canada, and 15-year-old John Edwards of Little Rock, Arkansas. Robert and John, thanks for joining us on the teleconference today.
Robert and John are both products of the Red Bull Junior Team driver development program and the Forsythe team welcomes Red Bull as the primary sponsor for both cars this season.
We’re also joined today by John Brunner, team manager for the Forsythe Atlantic team. He’s here to talk about the team’s outlook for 2007.
We’d also like to welcome Peter Davies, senior vice president of business development for Forsythe Racing, who can talk about how the relationship with the Red Bull program came together to work with Robert and John for the upcoming season.
MERRILL CAIN: We’ll start off first by just getting some quick comments from each of our guests, then we’ll open it up for questions from the media.
We’ll start out first with Peter Davies. Everybody in the Champ Car family is certainly happy to welcome aboard Red Bull for next season. You worked closely with them to pull this deal together. We’d like for you to give us an overview of how the relationship developed and how Robert and John came to join Atlantics and the Forsythe team.
PETER DAVIES: First of all, on behalf of Forsythe Racing, we’ll very proud to partner with Red Bull. They are an extraordinary company. They’ve become deeply entrenched in some of the world’s most exciting sports. We’re very excited that they’ve chosen the Champ Car World Series and the Atlantic program in which to become involved in the premiere form of open-wheel racing.
That was a relationship which really came out of their involvement in Formula One and their relationship formally with Cosworth, which of course Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Kalkhoven have an interest in. They’ve met the principals. They were able to share their vision of the Champ Car and the Atlantic programs with them. Happily, Red Bull thought this was a very good place to bring themselves as a brand, as far as regards to Atlantic goes, to bring Robert and John to Forsythe.
MERRILL CAIN: How did they happen to target these two drivers as the drivers they were going to bring over and join Atlantics? I know these guys have been on the fast track here. Can you speak a little bit about that, how they targeted these two and settled on Forsythe as the team to run with?
PETER DAVIES: As far as the drivers go, that would be an interesting question to ask Robert and John as to why they felt they’d been picked. But certainly their results speak for themselves. All of the teams that are in Atlantic and Champ Car are interested in the young drivers, the talents coming up through the various championships. These two young men have proved themselves at the stages they’ve been in.
Clearly an organization with the resources and the vision that Red Bull has to secure for themselves both personalities and talents has identified them both and taken them through the Formula BMW USA and the European programs. They felt the next logical step for them was to come to the Atlantic Series, deep fields of talented individuals. Having developed the relationship with Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe, we at Forsythe had a recently re-established Atlantic program, and this would be a good place for them not only in terms of I hope our reputation for good equipment, John can talk to that, but also providing a mentoring environment for these younger drivers to mature and develop as they hone their skills on the track.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you, Peter. Good overview of the relationship with Red Bull.
Next up we’ll turn to John Brunner. John, you’ve had a chance to work with Robert and John in testing over the off-season. Can you tell us what you’ve seen from both of these guys on the racetrack. Both very talented young drivers. What do you expect from Forsythe Racing in the 2007 Atlantic season?
JOHN BRUNNER: The drivers, both Robert and John, have done an excellent job so far. They’ve completed four of their six off-season test days. All four have gone very well for both of them. We’re quite impressed with their maturity in the car. They are young. That doesn’t show through in their abilities inside of the car at all. We’ve been really impressed with the work they’ve done so far.
They’ve given outstanding feedback. They’re very accomplished in the car. It’s amazing for their age. Quite unbelievable.
MERRILL CAIN: John, when you look ahead to 2007, obviously the team was a four-car program last year. Will you be a four-car program again? Are you going to focus on two cars for the upcoming season? I’m sure a lot of people are interested in what the plans are moving forward.
JOHN BRUNNER: We were a four-car program last year. With us returning to the series, all the new excitement surrounding the series last year, when we decided to put a program in place to join with the new car, the Mazda motor, the $2 million prize, all of it really came into play. When we decided to jump back in, we wanted to go all in basically. We did come out as a four-car team.
With the 2006 season over, we had a good season. We ran up front all year, which was our focus. Going into this year, though, we felt that it was important to focus more on the two cars, work with John and Robert. The series is very strong on its own. We weren’t just positive at the beginning of last year. When we made our plans, Gerry wanted to be very active in that new program. And obviously the new series is stronger than ever, stronger than it’s been in a long, long time. So this year we will focus on our two cars. The series is in fine shape otherwise.
MERRILL CAIN: Looking for good things again from Forsythe in 2007. Thank you very much, John.
Now let’s hear from the drivers. We’ll start out with Robert Wickens. He’s the 2006 Formula BMW USA champion and one of the rising stars in Canadian open-wheel racing.
Robert, talk about the opportunity you have here in Atlantics with Forsythe and Red Bull, and also touch on following in the footsteps of some of the great Canadian racers who competed for Forsythe in the past, we’re talking about drivers like Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore, Alex Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier, to name a new.
ROBERT WICKENS: Obviously, being a Canadian, getting the opportunity to be a part of Forsythe, really it’s an honor. In Denver when I was fortunate enough to sign the contract with Forsythe and Red Bull, I was speechless just being at the same table with Gerry Forsythe. Everything has just pretty much a dream come true. I find myself pinching myself making sure I’m not sleeping.
Hopefully next year will go pretty well. Obviously every driver hopes to win the championship. I think with the consistent finishes, you can get a decent result.
MERRILL CAIN: Looking for good things from you next season for sure.
John Edwards is a bit of a racing prodigy. After winning the Red Bull driver search, John became the youngest driver ever to earn an FIA license, doing so at age 14. He’s been driving in Europe for Red Bull the past two seasons, racing in the competitive Formula Renault Series. He returns to the US this year, competing with Forsythe Racing.
John, if you could talk about your experiences that have gotten you to this point and what you expect from the 2007 season as you get your first taste of Champ Car Atlantic competition.
JOHN EDWARDS: The past couple years have had a lot of unexpected turns. I was supposed to be karting in Europe, and then one driver got released so I moved up to replace him at a very young age. I was the youngest driver in the series by a couple of years. It was a pretty steep learning curve. I started off at the back, worked my way forward. By the end, I won a race in the North European Championship. I was honestly expecting to be in another year of Formula Renault just because of my age, where I had been so far.
I was really ecstatic to hear that I was going to be with Forsythe because obviously driving the same car for two years, you’re not going to learn much about the car in the third year. To hop into a car that has so much downforce, with a team that teaches you everything you need to know, it’s great because, again, it’s another really a steep learning curve. In only four days I’ve learned really just so much. The Forsythe program has really helped us both.
MERRILL CAIN: John, obviously you’re probably used to being the youngest driver in many of the series you’ve competed in. You’ll be the youngest guy, 16 years old when the season starts in 2007 with Forsythe. Any pressure knowing that you’re the youngest guy out there going against some veteran guys who have been in Atlantics for a few years?
JOHN EDWARDS: No. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if I’m 15 or 18 or something. There are still going to be veteran guys that have had more experience in the car. That’s always going to happen no matter how old you are. We’re just going to have to work to overcome that.
I think we’ve got a great package for next year. Obviously the team has a lot of experience. Even already just in the first test, we had the new Cooper tires. They didn’t know anything about that. They’re systematic about working, figuring out what works on the new tire. I can tell that they know how to evaluate everything. I know they’re helping me a lot to make my driving better, as well.
MERRILL CAIN: Very good, John. Looking forward to seeing you on the racetrack in 2007.
We’ll open it up for questions from the media.
Q. John Brunner, you sort of touched on it a bit. Obviously these are two very, in the big scheme of things, young guys. Last year you had a very young guy in Richard Philippe on the Atlantic team. Is there anything special about the approach you take with “young drivers” or do you treat them as racing drivers and expect them to behave accordingly?
JOHN BRUNNER: I think with Richard, and with John and Robert, we have the same thing. Yes, they’re young, but you approach them the exact same way that you would a veteran in the car. These guys are young in age, like I said, but they’re not young in experience in the race car.
On track, it’s really no different than dealing with any other driver. Outside of the car, sometimes it can get interesting. But that’s what makes it fun. I know what to expect with these two this year from working with Richard last year. We’ll see if it’s similar, but I expect it to be similar.
There’s no issues when it comes to the actual job performance. Your issues turn out to be things like they’re not old enough to rent cars, they have trouble checking into hotel rooms and things like that. Those are the issues that are different than having some of the older drivers.
Q. John, obviously you’ve been racing in Europe for a couple of years. Robert, you’ve had experience at least in the Formula BMW World Run-Offs. It’s long been observed that there’s different standards of racing in Europe versus North America. Traditionally people see the European style of racing much more aggressive than what happens in North America. At the same time last year Atlantics saw quite a few sort of international drivers in the series from beyond North America. How do you think your experience in Europe is going to help you racing in 2007 in Atlantics?
JOHN EDWARDS: Obviously you’re right. Europe is perceived as being a lot more aggressive. I think it is. I think they sort of allow more aggressive blocking rules, et cetera. That doesn’t in any way take away from the competition.
Obviously the Atlantic Series has incredible competition. It’s a great car, a great series. The series organizers are just doing their job, trying to make sure it’s as safe and fair as possible. That’s really the only difference, is that they probably have more strict rules about things such as blocking or aggressive styles.
ROBERT WICKENS: For me, because I’ve been racing in North America all my life, I really have limited European driving experience, to say the least. But from what I’ve gathered from the European driving, it’s pretty much what John said. When it comes to overtaking, everyone does it exactly the same. In the end, the goal is just to get by the guy. In European driving, they seem to make it a lot harder to get by them because with the blocking rules they have in Europe, seems like they don’t even have a rule of no blocking in Europe (laughter).
Coming from the BMW Championship, the blocking rules are sort of similar to the Atlantic: you’re not allowed to. The only difference is in BMW, with the USA Championship, you’re allowed to change your line down the straightaway where with the Atlantics, I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to.
It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment. I think like any driver, it’s very easy to adapt to anything.
Q. Peter, Red Bull made such an impact in Europe. Now all of a sudden it’s starting to make an impact in the U.S. They’re in NASCAR, now they’re very strong in Champ Car. Can you tell me what you think their strategy is here in the U.S. that we’re going to see more and more drivers both in open-wheel racing carrying the Red Bull banner?
PETER DAVIES: Well, they’re certainly one of the most dynamic marketing and branding companies that are involved in sports, across a range of sports. As you say, I believe they hold in the order of 80% market share for the energy drink products in North America. They are taking an approach which is to ensure that their product is in top of mind. They’re very aggressive in their marketing, in getting their product into the right places. NASCAR clearly has eyeballs from the television package. Champ Car delivers the fastest, the most exciting, the most competitive open-wheel racing in North America through its festivals of speed, through all the activities that happen around the races.
Combined with their interest in develop driver talent, to give young drivers the opportunity through the Red Bull Junior Team program in various series, you know, it’s really the kind of implementation and activation that we all love to see sponsors applying in sports.
We’re very excited within the Champ Car community, both in Champ Car and in Atlantics, to see Red Bull getting involved. They spend a lot of money and have a lot of bright minds and employ a lot of resources to maximize their investment. I think that working together, both Forsythe and Atlantic, the program that’s going to be operating with another team in the Champ Car World Series, I think we’re going to see a great marriage. I think we’re going to see Champ Car get a lot of benefit from that. The fans get a lot of benefit. The television package, which we’ve seen for Champ Car and Atlantic, being enhanced and improved this year, partners like Red Bull are going to be a huge asset for the series.
Q. John, you hail from Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s a dirt track state, sprint car state. You’re probably one of the first to drive an open-wheel car outside the United States and probably the first from Arkansas to drive in Champ Car. How did you come from dirt to find the open-wheel and road course racing?
JOHN EDWARDS: Yeah, actually when I tell people I’m a race car driver, they always ask me if I’m ever driving out at I-40 Speedway. That’s not the case. I was actually born in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve only lived in Little Rock for a couple of years.
I got into racing because my dad was racing the Skip Barber Masters Series. He was just doing that for fun. I loved going to the races. I kept asking him if I could get started. Eventually he got me a go-kart.
I started out in karts, just like most Champ Car or Formula One drivers, just driving for fun. I started moving up to cars. Actually when I was 12, I got my license with Skip Barber. Then the following year I won the shootout with Red Bull.
It was really unexpected and really soon. I had always kind of thought I would go to Europe eventually, but I never expected to move over there when I was 13. Red Bull helped me with that. I actually never started or have never been to a dirt track race. I always have been driving on road courses, on pavement.
Q. When you said you’re not from Arkansas originally, but from Kentucky, tongue-in-cheek. That’s a big road racing state as well.
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, I actually started karting, I would drive — my dad and I would drive from Louisville up to Indianapolis, which was just about an hour away. They have a couple go-kart tracks up there I would race at.
Q. John Brunner, obviously one of the big things about the kids is their talent level. Are there some maybe intangibles that you and Red Bull have noticed about these two young men that added to their attraction, enhanced their opportunity to drive for you?
JOHN BRUNNER: I obviously can’t speak for Red Bull. These kids have been in their program for a few years now. For us, when I found out who I was getting in the cars, you immediately start doing as much research on the drivers as you can to find out what you’ve got coming. When they’re this young, there’s not a whole lot of history there. You get a little bit. It’s like, Okay, yeah, they’ve obviously done well where they have been. I had seen Robert at a couple races before. He’s a close friend of James Hinchcliffe – who drove for us last year. Robert had been around our team a little bit before. They’ve done a few races with us, with the Champ Car Atlantic Series. I was able to watch a couple races there at the end. With John, I had not been able to see him, had never met him before. It was just get the information you could.
We went and did the first test with the two of them. It’s amazing. I mean, that’s the thing, age really doesn’t come into this, doesn’t play a big factor at all. The experience that they have doesn’t go along with the age level at all. These kids are experienced race car drivers. We’ve got two young professional drivers. We haven’t seen anything at all out of either one of them to believe anything other than that. They’ve both been doing a wonderful job with the team.
Q. Robert, both of you on this call have exhibited a maturity that a lot of youngsters, like you are, don’t. You’re handling yourselves well on the calls. Have you taken some media training? Is this an influence from Red Bull that helps prepare you to meet and talk to the media? What kind of preparations have you gone through?
ROBERT WICKENS: For me, I haven’t really done that much media training. I know the only real media training I’ve actually done is in the form of BMW Championships, they have this program that’s called the Education and Coaching Program. It’s for a scholarship driver like I was, both years at BMW, it’s free. For anyone else, I think it’s like $3,000.
Anyway, what it does, it gives you a training program, gives you how to find sponsorship, teaches you a little bit of media, like the baseline stuff. Then also just driver coaches throughout the whole weekend, everything that you need to be a better driver.
You learn the most from just experience. It’s always getting in front of press people and just talking. Eventually you have to get it right (laughter).
Really when I got into BMW, I didn’t learn any more than I already knew, like when I started with the media stuff. I mean, I guess, yes, I have had a little bit of media training, but it’s just really experience that makes us as well-spoken as we are.
JOHN EDWARDS: I agree. I haven’t had any formal training with media or anything like that. But I agree with Robert, it’s just an experience thing. You go through interviews. Being a young driver, going to a race weekend with people who are mostly older, you kind of have to adapt maturity, you know, kind of figure out how to get by in that situation. That goes right along with keeping maturity in front of the media.
Yeah, I agree with Robert, it’s mostly just a thing that involves experience.
Q. Robert, the Atlantic Series has always had a great reputation for talented drivers. It’s even more so now with the new program, new car, more horsepower. Is there any feeling of intimidation or is your confidence level such that doesn’t bother you at all and you’re ready for these guys?
ROBERT WICKENS: Honestly, I don’t really feel any intimidation. Then again, I’ve only tested with John (laughter). I haven’t really actually seen how we’re actually doing. I feel like I’m doing pretty good.
Coming from the Formula BMW USA Championship, getting an opportunity to win the championship in 2006, it’s pretty much given me the most confidence I could have going into the 2007 season. It seems like Formula BMW is like — like the Champ Car Atlantic Series is the next jump from the Formula BMW series. Being able to be the champion, going up into the Atlantics, it does give me confidence knowing I was the best of people from BMW, and there are quite a few people from BMW moving into Atlantics.
I think we’ll see how we all play out in the first official test.
JOHN EDWARDS: I don’t feel very much intimidation because I’ve only tested with Robert (laughter).
But, no, it’s great because I think we have one of the best packages in the paddock, just from being with Forsythe. You know, obviously Robert and I are very close in times at each test. We’re both good in different places. I think that’s going to help us regardless of if we have a veteran driver, if we’re both rookies.
I think we both push each other well. We help each other go to the front as far as our driving. Then the engineers and the team management on Forsythe is, I think, the best in the paddock.
It’s hard to be intimidated when you’re on one of the best teams and you’ve got some of the best guys working for you.
Q. You’re both making a transition up to significantly more powerful, more advanced cars. Tell me a little bit about how the transition has gone so far and what the steepest part of the learning curve thus far has been.
JOHN EDWARDS: The biggest part about moving into Atlantics is the downforce. The hardest part is that the downforce creates such a pull to the ground that in the braking zone you can hit the pedal harder than I’ve ever hit it before, and the car will actually respond and stop as opposed to locking up the tires. In other cars with less downforce, you hit the brake that hard, you’ll immediately lock up the tires.
With this, since it grips so well to the ground, you can really stop the car, as well as in high-speed corners, you just have to trust the car. That’s one of the harder things to get used to, but I think both Robby and I are doing very well with that.
ROBERT WICKENS: John pretty much wrapped it up. I mean, the biggest part is the downforce. Your car is basically acts like a vacuum. For me it’s been a problem for the BMW, especially with like a flat-bottom car, that it doesn’t really matter how you hit the gas or anything like that, as long as you can keep up the speed through the corner, you’re fine. With this, the car is much more pitch sensitive. If you hit the gas, you’re not getting as much downforce in the front, you get an understeer. There’s a lot you can do from inside the car to change the handling. They have the front roll bar you can adjust in the car, which is new to both John and I.
It’s a big learning curve, but I think over the four days that we’ve already done, I know me as a driver, I’ve improved a lot. I actually did a test in the Atlantic before the Formula BMW World Finals in Valencia. Like John was saying about the brakes, you can put so much pressure on the pedal. I went into Valencia, go into corner two, I hit the brakes, I actually locked up all four tires. Oh, can’t do that.
I found the best thing about the car is, coming from the BMW tire, it’s cool. Hit the gas, seems like you’re moving, where the BMW is actually pretty slow. The braking is the best part. You can get on the pedal. It’s just a great feeling. Almost feels coming from the BMW you’re driving a Formula One car. I’m wondering what a Formula One car feels like.
Q. You both are pretty new to the cars. You’re learning stuff each time out. John said you seem to be different in different parts of the track. Do you have similar driving styles or different driving styles but you’re sharing information and learning from each other a lot?
ROBERT WICKENS: I would say we definitely have different driving styles, but we can adapt to each other’s. For example, what I think about the test so far, John may think about something else. Seems like John is faster in the high-speed corners, I’m faster in the lower-speed corners. We’re kind of complete opposites, but as teammates it’s basically perfect because we can learn from each other and make each other stronger in each section.
JOHN EDWARDS: I agree with Robby. He’s done very well in the technical sections. I’ve been a little better in the high-speed stuff. I think that’s great. We have a balance. If we can adapt to each other and kind of get better in the areas where the other one is better, we’re both going to move forward to the front. So far in the tests we’ve done that. We’ve been very close in times.
Although we have a little bit different driving styles, Robby is right, we can adapt to each other’s styles in a certain corner. I think that’s really good, that we can learn that off each other.
Q. John Brunner, I caught a few minutes of you testing yesterday. When you come to a track like Moroso with two young drivers, is this trying to get seat time for your drivers or are you actually doing some serious testing trying to get some information? If you are, how much information can you get from a track you’ll be able to use at another track because you won’t be racing here?
JOHN BRUNNER: So far testing with these two, every test we’ve went to, we’ve truly been testing. They’re already accomplished race drivers. We’re not worried about that part. They’re adapting to the car. We’re in a learning process, the testing process, immediately the first test right off the bat was with a new tire. They were getting used to the car, we were learning the new tire.
For here at Moroso, this is the second time in the past couple months we’ve been here. We come here with a list of test items that we need to work on. This track, we chose this track here because it is bumpy, it’s not great for grip. It wears on the tires quite a bit. That’s what we’re used to racing in. Those are the conditions we race in. We can learn some things here that will carry forward to other tracks we’ll be going to, other street venues and things like this.
Q. You also mentioned the tires this year, Atlantics is going with Cooper tires. How much of a difference is it from last year’s tires? How are they holding up compared to last year’s tire?
JOHN BRUNNER: This tire is going to be wonderful for the series. It’s a softer compound, so it cures one of the handling problems with the Atlantic car right off the bat. But also it peaks pretty quick, quicker than the Yokohama did. Once it peaks, like I said, it peaks very quickly, it just levels out and it’s going to be a wonderful race tire. I’m looking forward to it. I think the racing is going to be better.
I think this tire will also bring some strategy back into qualifying because the tire does peak quicker. These guys are going to have to go out and get their qualifying lap in immediately on new tires, which is going to bring a little strategy into the qualifying sessions.
Q. You mentioned it has a softer compound. What was the handling problem last year?
JOHN BRUNNER: The Atlantic car, the 08 and the 014, the new car before, and the new car, the 016, those cars have always understeered. This new tire has helped that right away. It’s taken a lot of the understeer away from the car. Makes the car probably easier to drive in some situations, but it’s balanced the car, which is nice. You’re able to start going some other directions on some of your other setup stuff because you’re not always chasing this understeering situation.
I think the cars, ultimately everyone will be faster. I think the cars will be faster. The tire wears wonderful. These tires go forever. It’s a really nice combination with the car and the tire.
MERRILL CAIN: For both of the drivers, before we let you go. Coming into the Atlantic Championship, steep task for you, with the experience you have had, certainly you’re ready for it on the racetrack, but some of the stuff off the racetrack, do you think working with each other, coming in as you are both rookies into the series, both young drivers, in with the same team, the Red Bull background you both share, some of the stuff dealing with off the track, being away from the parents, traveling on the road, do you think that’s going to help you adapt to life in Atlantic land once the season gets going this year?
JOHN EDWARDS: I’ve been living in Europe for two years. When I first moved over, my mom went with me. She was kind of back and forth. I was alone most of the time. Then this year I was pretty much living alone. Although I did live with my teammates, a couple mechanics. But my parents were normally not there.
I think it’s going to be easier next year because I’ll be living at home, just traveling to the races.
ROBERT WICKENS: For me, obviously I’ve lived at home pretty much all my life except for when I’m in hotels. But so far, honestly I don’t feel a difference from my parents being at the track or when they’re not at the track because my parents, they always just give me my space. On race day, I almost wouldn’t see them at all because we’re always so busy looking at data, trying to find out how to get quicker.
When my parents are there, I don’t even know they’re there. I haven’t really noticed a difference.
I am moving to Indianapolis fairly soon, in the new year. That will be great for me. I’ll be able to be at the shop, train as much as I can to try to make myself the best driver I can for 2007.
MERRILL CAIN: Again, echoing the comments earlier in the call, you both certainly display a level of maturity well beyond your ages. We’re looking forward to see what you can do in the New Year. Thank you all for joining us on the call today. That’s ust about going to wrap up our time on the Champ Car Atlantic media teleconference. I would like to thank Robert Wickens, John Edwards, John Brunner and Peter Davies of Forsythe Racing for joining us on today’s call. Thank you gentlemen and Happy Holidays.