Q & A with Paul Stoddart
|Tuesday, December 19th 2006, 11:55 GMT|
Ever since Paul Stoddart sold his Formula One to Red Bull at the end of 2005, there have been countless rumours about a possible comeback somewhere in motor racing.
After briefly toying with the Australian V8 Supercar series, Stoddart this week finally confirmed that he will become a Champ Car team boss.
Shortly after announcing the deal that will see him tie up with Keith Wiggins at the CTE Racing-HVM team, Stoddart spoke to reporters about his plans for the future.
Paul Stoddart: "Good morning and good evening to everybody. First of all, may I say the very professional way that Champ Car goes about running this series, we looked long and hard before making this decision. That's one of the key reasons for us joining Champ Car ranks.
"We look forward to an exciting time and some really close racing, particularly with the new Panoz DP01 car. Keith has done a fantastic job and to finish fourth in the championship, particularly given their budget was a really, really serious effort.
"Minardi Team USA, we are looking to actually extend and build on the good work that Keith and his people have done, and we'll bring a few interesting aspects to the team and I'm looking forward to a really, really solid 2007."
Q: First of all I wanted to ask, in the press release it says that you'll be running a multi-car team. How exact can you be? Are we talking three cars, four cars? What's the situation?
Stoddart: "It's two cars, two cars confirmed, and we have not discounted a third car. We are obviously talking to people at the moment that would make that happen or not, as the case may be."
Q: Is there a chance Katherine Legge could be part of your lineup?
Stoddart: "There is a chance that Katherine, together with several other drivers, could be a part of our line-up. I think the only hint I've given on that so far is to say that there's somebody who has driven a Minardi likely in the lineup at some point next year."
Q: I understand that there will be some Dutch investments, because Dutch millionaire and entrepreneur Harry Muermans is probably involved; and the second question is, there are talks that Jos Verstappen might join Champ Car, and will be driving for the Team USA since he has also driven in F1?
Stoddart: "First of all, to your first question, Harry Muermans is not only a business associate but he's also a good friend as well, and yes, you are correct that there will be some involvement from Harry Muermans. The exact nature of that involvement is not yet finalized. I was with Harry yesterday in Rotterdam, and again, that will be an announcement made in the new year, but yes, there will be some involvement.
"As for Jos Verstappen, Jos and I go back a long way. He drove for me in 2003, but I go back as far as '97 with Jos and we have a good working relationship. I think he would be an asset to the series. I think he would be an asset to Minardi Team USA and yes, there are negotiations going on, but again, there will be no announcements this side of the new year."
Q: And your thoughts on another Dutchman, Robert Doornbos?
Stoddart: "Robert, another ex-Minardi driver, a driver I've worked with and a driver I thought did incredibly well in the second half of '05, and obviously had another chance to do the last three races of the Formula One 2006 season.
"Again, Robert is someone we are talking to. I think as you guys - particularly the Holland media -know, I myself personally and indeed through Minardi have had a tremendous relationship with Holland over the years and long may it continue. So expect some exciting announcements in the new year."
Q. When you talked to us in Australia, we asked if you were just bored, what really drove you, did you want to get back to Formula One? In the final analysis, what was the one thing that made you want to come to Champ Car - the fact that you didn't have to raise $300 million, or the fact that you just missed racing, or can you be more specific?
Stoddart: "First of all, I think it was the fact that I found a team that I could identify with. Keith and I jelled and got on really from the first minute we met, and that is true. You do have a warm feeling when you meet people, whether they are people you can work with and think like-mindedly to yourself and you think you can go forward with them.
"With Keith and his team, I found a team of real professionals that probably needed a little bit more funding, a little bit more encouragement to actually get the job done. My first visit with HVM made me more than curious and that was just after I'd seen you in Australia. And, of course, further negotiations led to today's announcement.
"And I feel very confident about our investment - it is as it was in Minardi. Our investment is in the people and I think we have a good team of people and I'm looking forward to good results. So that's the main motivation. And just to correct you on one other thing, I never did raise $300 million."
Q: The only thing we keep hearing is that you're helping with the second European race; that they are trying to get you involved with your contacts over in Europe as far as trying to help be the promoter over there; any truth to that?
Stoddart: "Not in the '07 season. I have already stated that in future years, I would be more than happy to assist with colleagues and contacts, but no, I can confirm not for the '07 season."
Q: Paul can you talk about your thoughts in pretty much introducing the Minardi brand in the American market?
Stoddart: "I think Minardi has been traditionally known over the years as a team that tries to punch above its weight. We had struggled year after year to attain budgets that weren't good enough to fight in F1, and the figure of 50 million was mentioned, and that's a pretty accurate figure.
"As you know, budgets far less than that can do a lot more in Champ Car, and that's one of the attractions of coming to this series. It's very affordable racing in a professional and well-organized way that gives everyone a reasonable chance without going into the stratosphere to find a budget. Certainly bringing our ability to find a necessary level of money, which in Champ Car could give us a little bit more than what perhaps it did in F1.
"And the other thing I think we probably bring is the Minardi never-say-die attitude; that what you need to achieve is not necessarily, you know, miracles. We used to joke and say miracles, they take a little bit longer but the impossible we did straightaway."
Q: Enjoyed knowing Cedric the Entertainer, will he have any continued involvement with the team?
Stoddart: "Certainly hope so. We've kept the door open for Cedric and we think there's a lot of work and effort into that relationship. Keith is probably a little better qualified to answer that than I am at the moment.
"But I certainly, from a personal point of view, think he's had a lot to add and it will dovetail nicely into another programme we have heading into Champ Car for '07 and beyond. So, yeah, I hope he stays involved."
Q: Paul, welcome to the series. Look forward very much to working with you, you're renowned for a man who is somewhat of "a character", someone who is never afraid to speak his mind and says exactly what he thinks. I would imagine that legacy would continue with Champ Car; would I be accurate?
Stoddart: "I'm hoping that it won't have to in the way that it did in Formula One. I hope that I won't need to ever get as political and as boisterous as I needed to do there. No, I have a great relationship with Kevin Kalkhoven as well, and that dates back a few years now.
"So I really do think that working with all of the guys is going to be a refreshing period as against some of the stress that was there in Formula One, particularly the last few years, and sure as hell continued without me."
Q: Do you feel like with a brand new car that you guys are on more of an equal footing with the other teams, especially when you're talking about the first race in Las Vegas?
Stoddart: "Yes, I mean, that obviously is one of the attractions that got me involved. It was a good time to come in with the new car, and it was a leveling of the playing field but also I equally do not underestimate the talent and ability that's already out there. So, you know, we are going to go in with high expectations, but with a dash of reality thrown in."
Q: Paul, obviously you talked about getting the money sponsorship on the Formula One front, the difficulties there, what do you think the key selling points are for Champ Car?
Stoddart: "I think first of all, the budget that you're looking to attain is a sensible budget. And I wouldn't say it's very achievable; if it was easy everybody would do it. But it is achievable, because you're getting more bang for your buck. That's the only easy way to put it. Champ Car represents a tremendous investment.
"And from a sponsor-payback point of view, I think we've got a few ideas that perhaps are a little bit different to those that have been tried in the past. And I'm very, very confident that we will attain the budget that we set for this year and the budgets we're already looking to for years 2008, 2009 and beyond. I think we will make it.
"I don't underestimate the fact that people will say, you can't attain Formula One-type budgets in any other form of sport or in any other form of motorsport. But I think there's a good, a good level playing field that will allow teams to go out there and market successfully and get the type of sponsors into the series and into the teams that will allow us to fund, fully fund, our year-in, year-out programs, so I feel quite confident."
Q: Not so much selling points, but what do you think the key strengths are of Champ Car?
Stoddart: "First that, it's a well-organized, well-run, well-disciplined series with participants that when the lights go out - they race from lights to flag, but it doesn't strike me as it's got anywhere near the politics that you do get in some other forms of motorsport. And secondly, I do feel that racing on street circuits and on oval circuits give us a bit of an edge as well.
"I think it makes a tremendous spectator sport from the aspect of, you know, whether it be corporate hospitality or whether it be entertaining, sponsors, or just the general public at large. I think Champ Car has proven, particularly with these three-day festivals, it is actually a fan-friendly series, and I think that's incredibly important. Because the day you forget the fans is the day you start to degrade your own business."
Q: No comparison to F1?
Stoddart: "No comparison, and that's something Minardi tried to strive, and which is bringing it back to the people. And I think Champ Car has certainly already achieved that and that's certainly one of the things that attracted me to Champ Car."
Q: You and Keith were the kind of guys who share a similar background in having been sort of the leading lights, the leading forces in a couple of Formula One teams, to steal a line from Paul, punched above their weight, I wonder if there is something in your characters that helped the relationship gel?
Stoddart: "No, look there is certainly some certain synergies there. Keith, we actually joked about this because Keith left F1 the year I came into it. And I think, you know, F1, they call it the Piranha Club; certainly it doesn't take prisoners; comparisons like it's a baptism of fire etc. They have all been used over the years. But it is a tough, no-holds-barred business, and it is business, unfortunately.
"Unfortunately the sport side really is somewhat overshadowed by the politics in the business, which is quite sad. But it does actually get one ready for just about anything else, and I think Keith and I have both been through the mill at different times. We know what it's like to have to fight and for what we believe, in and yes, I'm sure that's part of what made us quick straightaway.
"But nevertheless, both of us have got our feet on the ground and we know that our challenge is to do a good job in 2007 in Champ Car and beyond. And the Formula One background can be interesting, but we forget all of that when the lights go green in Vegas."
Q: Can you elaborate on what your role will be day-to-day?
Stoddart: "I think, look, there's no question, and we said in the press statement that, Keith will be remaining in charge of the day-to-day aspect and management of the team. Certainly what I'll bring to it will be resource, and also probably a little bit of street wisdom that I've acquired over the years.
"I think there is no issue with us about the way the team is going forward. I've already met all of the guys. I was lucky enough to be at the Christmas party with them on Friday evening, and that was a good chance to get around and meet everyone.
"They are a good, motivated bunch of guys, and we are obviously going to bring a new form and strengthen that team, and it is just that; it's strengthening the team.
"We both have the same goal, which is to get up there and to win races. And if we can't win them, to get damn close in trying to win them. I don't actually see too many conflicts, and if I did think that, then the chances are that we would not have got into this deal in the first place. And I don't see as Keith working for me; I see it as us working together and there's a monumental difference there."
Q: Paul, when you were in F1, it was sort of part of necessity, but you had quite a history of bringing drivers into the series. There is a series called the Atlantic series, is there any sort of possibility you might end up with Minardi there as well?
Stoddart: "At the moment, the answer is no, only because there is not a lot of time as has been previously mentioned. We take delivery of the new car on Wednesday and the first tests are in January.
"So there's not enough time now to think seriously about Atlantics. But it does seem to be a tremendous formula. It certainly produces awfully good people and I do think it's something we could be looking at seriously in the future, but not for '07."
Q: I guess you saw the Atlantic this year and the new car and the new format and everything else and the new cars coming in next year, can you talk a little bit about how you feel things are going to work out next year with Champ Car with the new car, the new rules and all of the like?
Stoddart: "Well, I think we've got some exciting new races as well. I think that race in Vegas is going to be memorable to say the least. I was privileged enough to go around the circuit on Tuesday last, and I think it's going to be absolutely fantastic.
"The new car is a leveling of the playing field. The top teams will always get back up there. But it gives a chance for a team like us
"that's coming in with a few new ideas and perhaps a bit more funding just to use our engineering experience to get an early advantage and perhaps do something a bit special. I think we can have some exciting times ahead.
"I really do think that it's the right series for us. It's something that as I said before, it brings the whole sport to the people, to the fans, and that's important for me. There is some great racing, a new car. It's certainly the right time for us."
Q: Paul, curious even though if you live abroad, will you personally plan on being at all of the races next year?
Stoddart: "If I'm not at all, it will be near, when people say to me where I live these days I say 37,000 feet because that's what it feels like, I really do mean that. I do a lot of traveling. I think having an airline does help a little bit, but certainly it's my aim to be at not just races, but at tests, as well."
Q: Paul, obviously you like the series, that's why you're joining, but how do you feel about the good news coming out of Champ Car recently?
Stoddart: "It's fantastic and it's the decision that now is the right time to do it. Champ Car has a tremendously exciting future. And as I said right at the start, what brought me into it is it's well organized and it's fan-friendly. If you add that to the fact that we have a new car and a leveling of the playing field, I think it is something that is right for us to do."
Q: So you talk about how you find these people friendly and easy to work with, are you going to find it that way when it's in the heat of competition, as well?
Stoddart: "I've had a lot of experience with situations, and I'd like to think, anyway, I mean, time will be a judge of this. But I'd like to think that I'm a reasonably good judge of people, and certainly, you know, there was a real bonus being able to go on Friday night, because obviously I met Keith and I had met Kevin and I had met various other people at that level. But I had not had a lot of time to meet and greet the boys, and that was a great opportunity Friday.
"I came away at some ungodly hour Saturday morning feeling very, very positive. But the decision was right, the people were right. I made it very clear to them that we are only going to strengthen, we are not looking to do anything else and that we also are fully aware, that we come in with plates on at this stage, and we are going to look listen and learn and strengthening and hope that it's a recipe for success."
Q: I noticed that no one seems to be talking about American drivers. Can you talk about what Americans would need to get to this level so that they would be prepared and ready to compete at this level?
Stoddart: "I think you've got American drivers coming on. I actually think that Atlantics and other series will bring on Americans. It's just that at this moment in time, I can see there does seem to be more foreigners out there than there is homegrown talents.
"But I'm sure that over time that's going to be addressed and some of the American drivers are actually not in America. They are competing elsewhere. You know, let's give it time. I think everyone is aware of the need to have national heroes."
Q: Paul, in the beginning you alluded to two drivers being confirmed, with a possibility of more. Can you talk about if the drivers from last year, Nelson Philippe and Dan Clarke, are in the mix or not? And the second part of the question is, you mentioned the possibility of a third car, is there any possibility of a fourth car or is three your absolute maximum?
Stoddart: "It was actually two cars that were confirmed with a possibility of a third. In terms of drivers, yes, for sure, both Nelson and Dan are still in the picture. And in addition to that there are at least two other drivers that we are talking very seriously to and one or two that we are in earlier stages of negotiations with.
"So it would be wrong for us to go into that today other than to say that we are actively talking to four and more. And a fourth car, I think that would be a bit much for next year. I think a third car is what we're aiming for and if we can see that we've got three drivers that will complement each other, complement the information and data feedback to the team, you know, then it's a possibility."
Q: Is your goal to have all two or three drivers before the first test in January?
Stoddart: "That's what we're hoping for. We've self imposed a date of January 15 as the day that we would like to know who our two drivers are for sure, and we will probably still be negotiating with the third.
Q: In Australia, we talked about the possibility of the Minardi two-seater cars maybe being used; is that still in the mix for this next year?
Stoddart: "Certainly is and I think you know that's something again that will be discussed in more detail in the new year. But yeah, I think it's fair it say that you'll certainly see them at some point."
Q: Paul, with your arrival from the F1 community and now with the Champ Car World Series, is it realistic to think that there are others in the F1 community that are like you, going to look at the Champ Car World Series as something that they may also want to do?
Stoddart: "I think it's early days to say that. But what I would probably do is just turn that around a little bit and say that Champ Car is viewed as being very credible, very respectable and very well managed, so you could not discount that possibility.
"I think I'm the only one that's publicly said it but I know privately there's at least one other Formula [One] team owner who is quietly thinking about it at this point in time."