Alex Zanardi Q&A

With CART's permission, here is a transcript of a special CART media teleconference on the announcement of double champion Alex Zanardi's return to the series with Mo Nunn Racing as team-mate to Tony Kanaan.

Alex Zanardi Q&A

Q: Alex, after you tested at Sebring with Morris last summer, did something click then? What sent you over the limit to say, 'I have to do this again'?

Alex Zanardi: That was a test that had no further implication. At least that was not part of the plan. It was a hard season for Mo Nunn Racing, especially due to the fact that they lost Tony in the middle of the season because of the accident that he had in Detroit.

At that point, they had to do a test. I think Morris can probably fill my answer even more. But the purpose of the test was really just to get some indications in what I thought about the work that they had done in the set-up of the car up to that point into the season.

It's no secret to anybody that Morris and I had a great relationship when we were both working for Mr Ganassi in the years I was there. The chemistry between the two of us has always been good enough to produce very special results.

I believe it was a wise decision for him to ask me to drive his car for a couple of days and see if he could either learn something or not.

I don't think I need to do a test then sit down with Morris to decide to set the fire up again. It was more a question of finding the motivation to come back and drive, and that test had nothing to do with that.

You know that I've been going back and forth with my mind in terms of 'Can I do it?' Will I have to give up too much about my normal life, my family and whatever.

Finally, I came to this conclusion that, yes, I want to do it. Yes, I am determined to do everything it takes to put together a winning effort, but not at all costs. It had to be a situation where I could certainly enjoy what I was doing. I think under this point of view, it had to be definitely competitive because I don't want to come back and just take part in events; I want to try, if I can, to have the machine to compete for top positions.

Earlier in the year, I wasn't sure. When you decide to stop racing or whatever, sometimes it can be a very hard season, maybe the results don't come, you know, you might feel that you've done all of this and you need a rest, you get fed up with all the air travel, hotels and so forth.

I'm sure that Alex, in the middle of the year, wasn't thinking that he wanted to come back to CART. I mean, this is my view. I don't know what he'll say.

Our test that we did was two-fold in a way. I didn't tell Alex this at the time, but I asked him to do a test to verify some of the development we were doing on the engine. We wanted another opinion. But I was hoping at the end of the test that he might say, "Let me do Toronto for you." That was our intention because we needed a driver at that time.

I didn't feel he was ready, didn't see the motivation. But when you are at home, where he is in Monte Carlo, sailing in his boat, whatever he's doing, I think that can get, after a while... well, you start missing what you did before. Now, from seeing him again in Fontana, I see that his motivation has changed. Maybe the boat isn't fulfilling what he needs in life. He's a very young man, so I know with myself that I was trying to retire, and the same thing happened. You do start to miss what you were doing.

I didn't see the motivation earlier on. Only he knows that. I do see it now. He seems very, very determined.

Well, it's very nice what Morris said. If I could just add something, it's not because he can hear me, but it's certainly been a very special thing for me, a gift that I have received from this. You like to meet somebody like Morris. I miss the nights where I was driving him crazy, trying to change the last thing in the set-up that could allow me to win the race, when I wasn't happy with what he had done so far. Like at 9:00 in the evening, we were still there. I miss those nights. I'm planning to drive him a little bit crazy again this year!

I also miss the feeling that you get when you go around the corner. I know the oval in Rio is not going to be part of our calendar, unfortunately, but the sensation when you're coming out of a corner like Turn 1 in Rio, go through third, fourth, fifth, sixth gear, feel the power of the engine, the lateral forces pushing you towards the wall, but you're fighting the car to keep it on the road, it's fantastic.

I can't really explain to you how this happens, what are the steps that take you to that point. I start to dream in the night these things, I start to dream in the nights my meetings with Morris, to try to make the car better, what it actually is, the sensation when you do drive a good car and you take it to a good point in the race, and you achieve something important. So I'm missing all that.

It's certainly the main reason why I decide to drive again. It's also challenging the fact that although Morris is not a teenager, certainly his team is a very young team, a very hungry team, a team that wants to succeed. I think we got everything with the Reynard chassis and especially with the Honda engine. We got everything it takes to try to do well this coming year.

Well, it's definitely a whole different deal for me. I always had the whole team working for me. It was very easy, I'd say. We've been saying, as soon as I joined Morris, that I felt I need a team mate. I think who else we should ask. We have Alex and I have a very good relationship with him. We have a lot of fun together.

I think with all the success he had in the past, actually I can learn a lot from him. Definitely it's going to be a big help for me. I had a very good teammate in the past with Helio (Castroneves) in Indy Lights. We made a very good team.

I'm very happy that this deal is done so we can go ahead and start to work, me and him going to make Morris go a little bit more crazy...

As long as there's no technical information going out! I'm sure Tony will do a very good impersonation of Alex because if ever Tony doesn't succeed in motor racing he has a television career, I think.

Well, we're kind of in the middle of that right now because we've got quite a lot of extra staff joining us in the engineering department, also in the crew. We haven't finalised all those positions, but, sure, both guys are going to have the same equipment. I think our team is a racing team. We're out there to win. The best man will be at the front. We're going to do everything we can to make this team -- with these guys, you know, everybody pulling together. That was something we had in Chip's team, everyone involved, Jimmy and Alex worked together, thoroughly congratulated each other on each of their successes. That was a kind of first for me to see how two guys could get on and be genuinely happy for each other's success.

I will be doing everything I can to keep that in this team. There's always egos involved in any team. It's my job to make sure we run super smooth. I think overall we're a very young team, but for our second year to have a driver line-up like we have, it's a fantastic opportunity for everybody working in our team. Everybody's very excited. I'm sure these two guys are going to keep each other on their toes.

No, we weren't leaning that way. We're very fortunate in what happened. Unfortunate in one way, fortunate in another. Our commitment was to Mercedes. I have great respect for Paul Morgan. They helped us to get this team started. You know, it wasn't their wishes that Mercedes withdrew, but that's a fact of life. It was a surprise to us at the time. We were disappointed when that happened.

We're very fortunate in both the drivers now have ran Honda engines. We had great success with Honda. We had a good relationship. We were just very fortunate, very happy that they were able to supply us for next year.

Well, the answer to the first part of your question is maybe... Maybe the two events in Europe were a little factor, but I think CART came up with some new rules, especially concerning testing; not allowing anybody to do any test all during the season and limiting the number of days over the winter. The limit of 10 maximum days, also has a technical implication that is helping our team, I believe. Because we've been basically getting together so late into the season means that right now we're not ready, and because the team is also changing the engine, it also means that it's going to take a little bit more time for us to start our testing. So the fact that in any case we can only do a maximum of 10 days, each driver, we know exactly what we've got to do.

Besides this consideration, it's obviously important for me to spend as much time as I can with my family. But I believe that now that I've seen the calendar and have seen that, for instance, in the first part of the season, we're basically racing all around the world, so it doesn't really make a great difference to me or to anybody whether I'm living permanently in the United States or whether I'm still based in Monaco to go to those races. I think it's possible.

The fact that we don't have any testing helps and makes it possible. Now I know it's not the ideal environment to raise a kid, to take it to the circuit and to have him at the circuit with your wife, but certainly I know that is ideal for him to spend as much time as he can with me. It is certainly for me because I love him very much. This is what I will do then in the middle part of the season. I will try to find a nice place to live in America for June, July and August, and stay over in the States permanently for those three months. Right after Vancouver, I will then take the family back to Europe. As you know, we will have those two races respectively in Germany and then in England.

It's not going to be easy, but I think it's possible. I'm young. My son is actually very young. I think I will be able to give him the time it takes and also to find the time it takes to race at 120 percent and to fulfill not just Morris' expectation, but also my own expectations, which is to try to do very well next year.

Well, I would like to come up with something that would be so good for you guys to write down in your magazines, for the good name of the series!

In reality, I'm just going to be honest. My situation is very particular. I'm at a point of my career where I don't feel I've given what I could. I think I can still drive very fast and I can still achieve great satisfaction for my team, for myself and for our sponsors.

Having said that, I could not find right now motivation from a good salary. I could not find it from the ego of seeing my name in a big column in a very important magazine. I mean, those things are nice. Those things are obviously important, but are not everything. Especially for a guy like me that has had the possibility, the luck to drive great racing cars and win very important races, to have satisfactions in life, to earn also a good amount of money, for the life I intend to live, it's certainly more than enough.

But still, you know, one day you wake up and you say, 'I want to do something that makes me feel alive, that proves to me that again, you know, I can do it. I want to mix myself up with those guys again.'

It sounds like the story of the guy that says bad things about something that he couldn't have. But, believe me, that is not the case because when I left Formula 1, I did not slam the door at all, I just left because unfortunately it was the end of a marriage between me and Williams, but I still have a lot of respect for Frank in spite of all that happened. There is a lot of people who feel, given the right opportunity, that I could still do a better job because I had a couple of phone calls just two weeks ago about the possibility of driving again in Formula 1. But to me that series has gone into a direction that is not certainly in the direction of the sport. Formula 1 chose a long time ago to be the maximum expression of the technology into a motorsport discipline. This is OK, but that has taken away a lot from the sport. I mean, you watch those races, and there is a guy that is driving a certain car that has qualified one-tenth faster than another, the race is on, the guy pulls into the distance a tenth of a second per lap, and almost looks easy, which I know it's not, but it looks like there is nothing the guy behind can do to challenge that other car.

So to cut the story short, what I wanted, what I was looking for again is a challenge where certainly to drive the best car is obviously a great advantage, but that best car is not absolutely unbeatable. I was looking for a challenge where, if you are a good driver, if you are capable to give your engineers the right information, eventually in the course of the season you will be able to make it, you will be able to succeed.

I think this is what CART is. It's a World Championship. It's a very, very important championship. Someone may believe that it's not as important as Formula 1. Well, I don't care. I couldn't care less. What I want is to mix myself again with people that are very, very hard opponents, that they will not give you an inch of course, even when you driving at above 200 miles an hour, but you can drink a glass of wine after the race together and mix with them.

Again, I think what helped to take this decision is also the fact that, as I said, I'm going to be driving for a team that is going to make me probably enjoy what I'm doing much more than others. I've always also been very, very fortunate in my career by having very nice team mates, other than in 1991 I drove beside Andrea de Cesaris, that was not a nice experience, but other than that I've always had the pleasure of working with some very nice guys. I'm not saying I'm going to find out. I know already because I know Tony very well and I know already we going to have a great relationship. Tony is a super guy. If he has a down point it is that he's super fast! It's going to take away a lot of attention from myself if he goes super fast. But this is part of the game.

I think is actually the only thing you can call 'our' business is to try to get the best possible car, try to develop it as well as you can, but go out, drop the shield, and try to be the final thing that makes a difference. Try to win the race yourself and not simply know that you're going to win the race simply because you driving a car that is unbeatable.

: When I joined Chip Ganassi Racing, certainly Chip had everything in line to get a great result, but it was not considered at the time the Ferrari of racing. It then became. I'm not going to say thanks to neither me nor to Jimmy or whoever, certainly thanks to the great job that Chip did in pulling everything together. But I know for sure that at least two of the key elements of those success, which were Morris Nunn and myself, are going to be trying next year to, again, recreate the same kind of success and get all the success we had with Honda. That is going to be also part of the package. I'm actually very, very excited about that.

I did not consider myself an underdog when I first came in '96, and I did not consider myself the main favourite in 1998 when I then went on and scored 15 podium finishes in a 19-race season. I just know that we have a car that for sure somebody will take to the winner's circle next year, the Reynard. We have an engine that, for sure, is going to give us the possibility to challenge everyone for the championship. I have an engineer that has won many, many races in his career as a team owner.

I have a team mate that is going to push me to not leave anything in my pocket. I am a driver that has proven that he's capable. I never felt like I'm the best driver in the world. I never thought that. I just believe I'm good enough to win races with the right equipment. I believe I will have the right equipment, so I don't think there is any reasons why I shouldn't be in the position to win races next year. Therefore, I don't consider myself neither a favourite nor an underdog.

I know there is a lot of work to do because our team is new, is young, there is ground to cover. All that for me is just exciting because it is challenging. I actually like this situation very much so, probably more than if I had to go and drive for a team that had everything in place. Is not just about achieving; is also about helping to be in the position where you can achieve something.

For sure they're going to expect more than they did in '96. I believe actually it's normal. That's a typical kind of answer. I don't feel pressure. Even if you did, you wouldn't say, right! The reality is, I mean, I don't care. People can expect whatever they want. I normally put pressure on myself, that's why I feel my reserve. The pressure will just come from the desire of doing well.

Over time, an athlete normally learns how to control that pressure, how to turn desire into motivation and into effort, but not into fogging the vision of trying to see what you have to do in order to win races. Therefore, it's going to be a challenge, very hard. The expectations from everybody are certainly different than when I start, but everything changes in life.

I believe it's going to be much harder for those newcomers that are trying to make it now in the series because when I first came, I remember if I would do really bad, people would have plenty of excuses for me because I was a rookie. If I would do just kind of decent, people would be almost surprised and pat my back.

But actually before the end of the year, I actually won races. People started to wonder whether I was coming from the same planet as all the others. Then all of a sudden I think I've changed that mentality. I go and everybody is saying, "Well, nobody will ever replace Alex." Then Juan Montoya comes, my God, he wins the championship in his first season.

What now are the expectations for a rookie? If a rookie wins a race along a season, it's just normal, isn't it? This is what probably people will think now. If those two guys that are going to be driving for Chip next year will just win a race, each one apiece, I think everybody will think that is disappointing, which I don't think is the case.

It's always difficult to win races. It doesn't matter who you are. All I can say is that I am going to try my best. If my best is not first place in the championship, as long as it is my best, I will be happy.

I still have the same concern. It's like, you know, everybody knows that smoking is dangerous, but there's a lot of people that still smoke. My wife is one...

People knows that after 60 years, sex is dangerous for the young, but there's still people that do that.

I know that to race on the ovals is particularly dangerous, much more dangerous than racing on road courses. But at the end of the day, I cannot deny that is a lot of fun. If you select this as a profession or if you been lucky enough to be selected and do this as a profession, to drive a racecar, you've got to love the speed, you've got to love the feeling that you get when you travelling above 200 miles an hour. I am very disappointed that Rio is no longer part of our calendar as a race. I loved that place. I think those are the kind of ovals where we should be racing on.

Therefore, you can't say, 'Oh, yes, I really like to drive on a road course, but I don't like to run on an oval, it's not nice.' It's fantastic. It's beautiful. On the other hand, when you stop and put both feet back on earth, you say, 'Boy, but it was pretty dangerous when I lost the car at that point. What about if I hadn't caught it back?"'

That is the kind of considerations you make. I'll try to be wise and careful, but that does not mean I will give away results if I know I'm in the position. I will try the best I can to win races on ovals. That would be a fantastic satisfaction for me.

Tony was a two-year contract with an option. He's done one year, so there's one more year with an option for a third. Alex, we've agreed to do one year at the moment, see how we do. If he -- what shall I say -- enjoys himself, wins races, is happy with the team, I'm sure he's not going anywhere else.

: Any focus on Indy? Not at the moment, although there's been lots of inquiries and talks. It's something we can't even think about right now.

: Four days, starting December 18. Two days for Tony and two days for Alex.

It's great.

Well, Alex is a winner. Everybody wants a winner. There's sponsors, Honda, they were very high on Alex. Pioneer is a sponsor, and the whole team, everyone knows what he's done in the past. He's a very young man. There's nothing to stop him doing again what he did before. We're going to give him the equipment to do that. We'll expect everybody -- it's going to be hard work for everyone in the team.

I don't see any difference. I'm in a different position. If these guys touch the wall, it's a little different. Before I never gave it a thought because Chip was paying the bills. I'll have to look at that.

I can add something to Morris' answer: a key element is the fact that he really likes -- actually loves -- a special kind of coffee they just sell in Italy. Every time I go back and forth, he wants me to bring him some packs of that coffee!

He bought me a supply. The supply is just about out. I thought it was time we contacted him again...

As I said earlier on, for me, at this point of my career, to many degrees, I've done what I wanted to do. If I have to find the motivation, the only way where I can achieve that is by first of all doing something that I can enjoy. I've really, really enjoyed the relationship with Morris when I was racing with him. Also the fact that I can work also again with people that became friends at Honda and also they're going to give us a very, very powerful engine which will put us in the position to run competitively - not just competitively, but very competitively. I'm going to find again some old friends in working with Reynard and a great team mate with Tony.

Having said all that, I also want to add that we have a great partner in Pioneer as our main sponsor which will give us everything it takes to compete at this level and has helped to make all this possible.

It's a great opportunity for a man like me that was just looking for a solution where I could go out, challenge myself, maybe be disappointed on Sunday afternoon, but also have my share of joy and success and satisfaction through the hard work I intend to put in this new adventure.

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Zanardi: 'I want to mix with those guys again'

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