Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
July 26, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests are both rookies in the Indy Racing Car Series, Jeff Simmons, who drives the #17 Team Ethanol, while Marco Andretti drives the #26 NYSE Group Machine.
Jeff is with us to start the call. Hi, Jeff.
JEFF SIMMONS: Hi.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff is a graduate of the Indy Pro Series. He finished second in that series in both 2003 and 2005 and he's tied with Thiago Medeiros with all-time victories with seven. He started the year in the Indy Pro Series winning the season opener at Homestead Miami Speedway and moved up to the Indy Cars Series at Twin Ring Motegi. After a rough start, he's finished in the last ten in the last three races including a 7th at Nashville. As you've made this transition to the IndyCar Series, tell us about those first few races, all of them ending early. Obviously there must have been a lot of frustration there to start the season that way.
JEFF SIMMONS: You always want to get off to a good start especially when you're with a new team. I think it was all a lot more difficult without having the preseason testing and any testing really. I mean, we haven't -- the tracks we've tested on so far was the one day at Kansas. That was our first Top-10. So any extra time we can get on the track is good for us.
But it seems like we just had -- I made some kind of rookie mistakes, and then we were just caught up in some bad luck and unfortunate situations and I think it seems like we've been able to put that behind us now.
THE MODERATOR: Things have gone a lot better lately. You kind of hinted that maybe it's just seat time, but what's made the difference here as things have gotten better?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, some of it is seat time. Obviously we're running the Panoz early on and it was a fast car, but maybe not a great race car at times. It seemed to have some issues in trying to run in turbulence with other cars out there. And then you switch over to the Dallara and we didn't have any real data or info to go on for our setup. So it's taken some time to build that up.
But obviously we've got three Top-10s in a row now, and Danica has got a couple of fourth place finishes now in the last two races. So Buddy was kind of -- Buddy has had some of the bad luck on his side it seems like lately, but hopefully we can get all that turned around. It seems like we're definitely getting more and more competitive each weekend.
THE MODERATOR: And the last three tracks that we go to, really the remaining four tracks are places that you've raced at with the Indy Pro Series, including Michigan where you finished second in 2003. How much does it help to have been to those tracks in a similar type of race car?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, it certainly helps. In Milwaukee, I was surprised to see how sort of similar driving the track was in the IndyCar as it was in the Pro Series car. Some of the tracks are like that and some of them are different.
When we go to Infineon, the level of downforce in the IndyCar is so much higher than the Pro Series and it's much more physical and it really brings a whole different feel to the racetrack. But certainly in places like Chicago and Michigan and all that, I think that it should be a very similar sort of thing. It helps a lot to just know what to expect when we get there.
THE MODERATOR: When you stepped into the ride with Rahal Letterman, you inherited really a very active ethanol sponsorship. Have you enjoyed your role as a spokesperson for ethanol in the IndyCar Series?
JEFF SIMMONS: Absolutely. Everywhere we've gone, we seem to get great reception and obviously with the attention that ethanol has been getting throughout, not just in the IndyCar Series, but throughout the country and with President Bush's remarks on it, we've gotten a great reception and there's a lot of questions we have that which it's always fun to discuss your sponsor with people. That's a fabulous situation and I'm just really blessed to be in a situation where I have a sponsor like ethanol that takes such an active role in trying to promote.
I think one of the best things about having ethenol as a sponsor is it's all sort of positives and all I really have to do is know my facts it kind of sells itself. It's not like Sam Hornish, Jr. is trying to sell a product that they don't use and would have a hard time recommending, you know what I mean.
Q. You guys have heard all the rumors did Danica leaving but it finally happened. How do you guys react to that?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, I think that, you know, in a way we were kind of one of the last to know. I don't know when everybody else did. I had heard the rumors obviously, but you know I didn't get anything official until everybody else did. I think as a team that's actually expecting to hear anything early, kind of get a little bit better of a heads up before the official announcement came. But they didn't get the word she was definitely going until just minutes before the announcement.
Q. How surprised were you to see her leave?
JEFF SIMMONS: Not real surprised. I haven't talked to Bobby about it or anything like that, and I don't know what their feelings were on it and obviously we don't get involved in each other's contracts.
I'm a little bit surprised because Bobby had been with her from the beginning, bringing her up in the Atlantics and all of that. So I thought that she would try to stick it out a little bit through the bad times since she's had so many good times. But she decided to move on, and, you know, obviously we wish her the best and I certainly enjoyed to know her a little bit this year.
Q. When something like this happens, a teammate leaves late in the season and he or she is obviously looking ahead to what's going on, is it still hard to treat that driver as a quote, unquote, real teammate?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, I haven't been in this situation before, so this is something new for me. Obviously we kind of know that whatever we learn right now, she'll probably take with her. She'll take that knowledge with her over there. So that's difficult, but, you know, we're all focusing on trying to win races this year and we've been doing a lot better of late and Danica has had her best finishes of the season lately as well.
Q. What is your contract status with Rahal Letterman, and is the team going to be a two-car team next year or what do you think Bobby's going to do?
JEFF SIMMONS: I don't know for sure. But it sounds to me right now that it will be a two-car team. But certainly all of these things can change.
Right now with my contract, I don't know for sure whether I'll be back with them next year or not. You know, we'll just, like I said to Jim just a second ago, we're just concentrating on this year and I figure that's all I can do right now is concentrate on keep trying to finish up in the Top-10. We really want to get up in the Top-5 here and possibly get a win by the end of the year, but the races are starting to run out. We're just going to focus on that and next year will take care of itself.
Q. Is there any truth to the rumors out there that Rahal may even leave the series? Have you heard any indication from Scott or anybody?
JEFF SIMMONS: No, I haven't heard that at all. I heard that rumor but it certainly wasn't anything that they said.
As far as I know, Team Ethenol will be back with Rahal Letterman racing next year, and as far as I know, you know, they are certainly going to try to be at least a two-car team.
Q. I'm just wondering what the status is with Scott Roembke these days, you could be the one to tell us all if he's doing better. Is he getting around better? What's going on with Scott?
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah, thanks, Anne, he's doing better certainly and he's been making it to the races. We hope he'll be at all the final races. The only one that seems to be a question right now is Sonoma, just because the last I knew he still really had not been cleared to fly but hopefully that will change here in the next couple weeks --
Q. I hope so.
JEFF SIMMONS: -- and he can hop on a plane. He's a little stubborn and probably won't listen anyway and go: "I'll bring a tank of oxygen or something with me on the plane." It's been great having Scott back. I think he's one of the reasons you've seen a bit of a turnaround and hopefully we get more competitive.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks again for joining us and good luck the rest of the way.
We are joined now by Marco Andretti. Thanks for taking some time to join us. Marco drives the #26 NYSE Group car for Andretti Green Racing. Like Jeff, he finished in the back half of the pack in his first three Indy Car Series races. But since then he's certainly established himself as a contender for race wins beginning with a second place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and most recently he has four consecutive Top-10 finishes including two top fives.
Marco, we asked Jeff the same question. After those first three races, was there a sense of frustration, or do you just kind of set those tough results as part of the learning process?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, I definitely -- that's all you can do really is learn. That's what rookie years are for. You need to make all your mistakes now would be the best.
So next year we come back strong and we know what to expect week in week out rather than going to a new track. And obviously I'll still be learning from year-to-year every time out, but the most you're learning is this year and that's what I'm trying to do.
It's tough and it's no fun to learn the hard way but that's the best way you can learn.
THE MODERATOR: Indy obviously is a special month for a lot of reasons, but as a rookie I assume the biggest benefit has to be all the practice time available. How much did that month play a role in your development?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Huge. I mean, I think I aged more that month than I did my whole career because that's what made the difference for me. If you look, like you said my first three races, well the first two I dropped out but I think we finished 12th in Japan.
Definitely I took my time and tried to basically get my act together by the end of the month and we did a really good job of that. I said before the month that I'm happy that it's a full month for sure, just to be able to get things going and I think we did. If you look at my pre-race interview, I said I can win this race. I really think the NYSE car can win this race. I don't just say things just to make myself look good. Really that's what I felt; that we had a good shot at it.
THE MODERATOR: At Michigan now that we head there this weekend, that's the first time you had an opportunity to test an Indy Series car last year. Would that make it extra special to get a first win at Michigan?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, yeah, it would. I think we definitely need to get better on the big Super Speedways. I think that there really an obvious gap that needs to be closed because we don't have the speed that the others do, we really don't. You can always count on Andretti Green being up front in a handling track like Milwaukee, Richmond, stuff like that. But all we can do is just hope we roll off the trailer fast, because the first practice, you know how the weekend is going to go.
THE MODERATOR: I had two questions submitted to me before the call. First one, has the atmosphere which surrounds the IndyCar Series, including the demands from the media, has that been tougher than expected?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No. I expected, you know, basically what it's been. There has not been any surprises off the track for sure because when it's going to be my first big race, I think the month of May was a lot and towards the end of the month it was like, man, I can't wait to get in the car and relax for the race, because it was crazy at some points.
But no, it's good. I think it's good for the series, I think it's good for my name and it's all to be expected.
THE MODERATOR: Second question there is: Have you become Marco Andretti, or are you still the grandson of Mario and the son of Michael?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, I hope I became my own name. You know, I definitely have a lot more work to do to be in their category, my father and grandfather. I think we've been doing good so far, I mean, for a rookie year and for not knowing at the beginning of the season I had no idea how I would stack up. So I'm happy at least that I was a contender for at least one win this year. I'm definitely happy that I'm able to run with these guys. And then next year we come back with a ton more knowledge and as funny as it sounds, we can go for a championship.
Q. With Danica coming on board next year and there's still a few races left in '06, how hard is it to really race hard against her? Are you guys going to be giving her any leeway or anything like that since she'll be joining you next year?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No. I don't think I can let up on her. You know, she's definitely not going to be letting up on us. She's definitely very competitive and it's been shown that he's been having awesome finishes in the last couple races.
No, no way I'm going to let up, you know. I think we're going to race each other like teammates. We're going to be clean and everything like that. But you saw even my teammate Tony Kanaan didn't let up too much.
Q. And how surprised were you that your team signed her?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Not really because I think this team is continuing to make awesome calls and I think it's a good one. I think it's great for the future of our team because you bring a name like that, it's only going to be better. Plus not only the name, but she's a darned good driver.
Q. With Danica's addition there's last year's Rookie of the Year and this year, yourself; does this make Andretti Green the team of the future in the IRL when you look at?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, all I can say is I hope so. I can't tell you if it's going to be for sure or not. But I can tell you that we're going to be very competitive and we're not going to give up because I think this year we might have been a little bit behind.
But we just continued to close the gap on the weekend and do maybe an off-season test or two and be ready to go for next year. That's definitely the goal.
Q. Do you foresee yourself road racing with her? Is that going to be part of your deal next year?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I can't comment on that.
Q. I just wonder, you know, last year you did have that first test at Michigan and it wasn't the greatest and you've taken your time getting accustomed to things here this year. What are your goals going into that race, and what do you like most about the track, what do you dislike most about the track?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I don't know, definitely a tough question. I didn't think the test was that bad for my first Indy car test but I think definitely looking forward to going back there. It's always fun to go back to another place where my father and grandfather had a lot of success. But as for the racetrack I think it's going to be good fun. I like the high-speed ovals for sure. But it's going to be tough because you're going to have to get the thing working.
Q. Do I understand correctly that you are signed for two more seasons after this one through '08; is that right?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah.
Q. The fact that Danica is coming over, does that make you want to explore your options or head out somewhere else to another series or are you content to be where you're at?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Oh, I don't even know how to answer your question. Of course I'm happy that she's coming into the team. Do you think I should leave Andretti Green because she is? No. I think she's only going to contribute to the team and make it better. So, yeah, I definitely want to be a part of it.
Q. Is Formula 1 still on your radar screen down the road?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, it's definitely in the back of my mind, you know. I've always wanted to conquer the World Championship. But if I was over there right now, I think I would be regretting trying to win the Indy 500. It would be nice to be able to do that within the next couple of years for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Marco, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate that and best of luck this weekend.
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