» BACK TO CRASH.NET

Crash.Net IndyCar News

Q&A: Paul Stoddart - EXCLUSIVE

20 May 2007

Paul Stoddart's arrival in the Champ Car World Series attracted much hype following his years in Formula One, but the out-spoken Aussie has quietly got on with building a front-running team to carry the famous Minardi moniker.

Crash.net caught up with 'Stoddy' during the recent European Tour to promote Champ Car's events in Holland and Belgium, and he spoke candidly about both the return to motorsport's 'home' continent and the progress Minardi Team USA has made in its first season.

Q:
The first question has to be 'why Champ Car'? You were in Formula One, you got out of Formula One - couldn't you just have put your feet up and retired?

Paul Stoddart:
I don't think I was ready for retirement quite yet! I think I got out of formula one at the right time. I'd gone up against [FIA president Max] Mosley and failed, and the right thing to do was leave. I think I left holding my head high, but I wasn't finished with racing, and obviously we had kept the F1 two-seaters, which are now very much a part of the Champ Car weekend, so it was unfinished business. I had meetings last year with Kevin Kalkhoven and he convinced me to come and have a look at a few races. He did say that it was all the things I wanted in Formula One, in terms of having an event that is fan-friendly, and it really is. Certainly, there is no doubt that we pull in crowds who are enthusiastic about their racing, and that we thoroughly, thoroughly entertain them over a three-day festival of speed. And to top all of that off, what a fantastic feeling to have a Minardi on the podium in two of the first three races.

Q:
What differences have you found running a team in Champ Car to your days in F1?

PS:
Firstly, the money. I can run a two-car team that is successful and capable of winning races for $10million - and that would not have gone very far in F1 terms, although we probably managed to get the best value for dollars spent. It's just that, in Champ Car, we can do it much better. that's obviously the biggest thing. The second thing is that there is a 'can do' attitude where, if you come across a problem, we can find a way through it. [Champ Car] isn't rife with all the politics that sometimes stifled good decisions in F1.

Q:
What was the decision to come in with an existing team like HVM instead of bringing Minardi in as its own entity?

PS:
Mainly because of the geographical location. Obviously, the team is based in Indianapolis, where most of the teams are based. Why HVM? Well, Keith Wiggins - another F1 'refugee' for want of a better word - is a guy I get on with fantastically well. We just hit it off straight away. And, of the races I went to, HVM was a winner in one of them, in my home country of Australia as it happened. That took my attention. I wanted a race-winning team, a team that was capable. Minardi is not there to make up the numbers, we want to actually do something - as you have seen from the first three races. So I wanted a team that would go forward, and I wanted a team where it was feasible that I could integrate my F1 guys with their Champ Car guys, and that has really thoroughly worked. We all work out of the same factory on Gasoline Avenue [sic], the factory lent itself to us coming in as there was a big vacant area that we could move into and customise for the F1 build shop, so it has just really worked. It'd be a very good marriage.

Q:
You were linked to a number of drivers once you were announced as coming in to Champ Car, so how did you eventually decide on Dan Clarke and Robert Doornbos?

PS:
I think I'd decided, it's just you guys didn't know to be honest! Robert was always there, it was just some contractual things with Red Bull to negotiate, but I probably knew about Robert before I even bought the team, if I'm really honest. As far as Dan is concerned, I wanted to bring forward somebody [with experience] - I didn't want to go in with two rookies. Obviously, Robert has shown what a rookie can do, but I wanted to be serious about the racing and make sure that we had a good mix of drivers, and the ideal world for me was to either have Dan or at least another guy [with experience]. Dan was obviously coming off his rookie year, but I wanted someone coming forward with a good background who would share that information with Robert to make the team stronger. It was pretty close but, in the end, Dan got it.

Q:
At the same time, there was talk of a third car - what happened to that?

PS:
There was no funding, to be honest. Two cars was enough, we had a fully-funded budget for the year to do two cars properly rather than struggle to do three. Had there been another driver with a budget come along... there's no doubt that we were talking to Nelson Philippe - he was one of our preferred drivers as well, having driven for the team last year and having a race victory under his belt - and, if he had come with a full budget, possibly we would have run with a third car. If we had had any quality driver come to us with a full budget, we would have run a third car - and still will.

Q:
Three races into the season and two podiums for Minardi, but does it surprise you that it was Robert and not Dan up there?

PS:
No, but it could have gone either way. Dan went in with both hands tied behind his back in that he had never driven the car before the Friday [in Las Vegas]. And I mean never - not in the factory, up the road, whatever, before he turned wheels in anger in Vegas. So that was a hell of a step for him, because they are a very different car compared to the old Lola. With those first three races being back to back, I think Dan did an incredible job, and he's proved that again in testing. He knows where he's heading and things are going to get better for Dan.

Q:
Was the fact that you'd be coming in with the new Panoz, and everyone starting from scratch, another factor in your decision to come to Champ Car?

PS:
It certainly helped. There are good things and bad things about a new car, there always is. We're not all able to carry forward spares, which hurts in the pockets, but the car has proven to be quite good actually. Like any car, it's had its teething problems, but there's no way you can go to a race now and say that someone's got ten years of history, six years of history, and have spent millions of dollars developing this part or that part. The new car has definitely helped, but what I think has also helped is the slight change in the regulations to stop the amount of testing and the aero work that gave the teams with the biggest budgets a phenomenal boost.

Q:
Where do you think Minardi Team USA realistically stands alongside the likes of Newman/Haas and Forsythe?

PS:
There is no doubt we are a top three team. Whether we remain a top three team all year will depend on us keeping focused and on the drivers keeping the cars on the black stuff because, in Champ Car, more than anything, the old adage of 'to finish first, first you have to finish' applies. There are so many street circuits where the walls have teeth, it's like we're doing a dozen Monacos! Effectively, one mistake is just not forgiven, so the guys have got to drive sensible races, not always for the win... It may be that the championship is won by a guy who wins a lot of races but, equally, as we're seeing in F1 at the moment, Lewis Hamilton is leading but hasn't won a race yet. It could be the same thing in Champ Cars, with a guy who is finishing regularly all the time, taking those points, taking those points, there at the end. Our aim hasn't changed - to be a top three team.

Q:
Champ Car has been established in your homeland for almost two decades now, but how important is it for the series to come back to Europe?

PS:
It's massively important. Champ Car is a truly international series, there is no doubt about that. If you look at the dots on the map, you've got dots in all the areas that matter and there is no doubt that, if you want to be an international racing series, you have to be in Europe. It's a no-brainer. no-one's going to argue that point. Could we see more races here? Possibly. We're certainly going to be talking to people and it wouldn't be impossible to have a triple-header over here. It would be quite logistically feasible. Obviously, half our drivers are European, some team owners are European, so I think [Champ Car] has got a future in Europe. The Dutch are the most enthusiastic motorsport fans in the whole world - there is no doubt about that - and I expect the Assen and Zolder events will be ones to be remembered. I think they will be so well-supported that, from a promoter's point of view, they will be wanting to do them again. The key to it is continuity - you don't want to be changing events every year, you want to see them become long-standing venues. Two decades in Australia, countless races in US cities, you do need stability in the schedule and I think we'll get that. I think, in particular, it may be nice to add one more race, in the UK or wherever, in Europe so we do a triple-header next year. That's the whole thing about Champ Car - it's on the up.

Q:
You've got a British driver, Minardi is still working out of its base at Ledbury, so how important would it be for you to have a British race?

PS:
It would give us a very competitive advantage because we're just down the road to the factory! Obviously, we're integrating the two-seater guys - who've been working with me for a decade now - with the Champ Car guys, so it would be like a homecoming for them. Seriously, it would give us a bit of an edge, because the factory is there, with all the facilities, so we can repair things, we can change things. Having said that, the British fans are, again, very very enthusiastic motorsport fans, so I think any Champ Car race will be phenomenally attended - whether they are in Holland, Belgium, here, or even in France or Germany or Italy. any of the European power bases would be a good venue for Champ Car.


» BACK TO CRASH.NET