Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
June 27, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We have two guests joining us today as the league prepares for events in two different cities this weekend. 2003 Indy Car Series Champion Scott Dixon will join us in a few minutes as he prepares for this weekend's Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway, and we have points leader Jay Howard.
Jay will be competing in the Indy Challenge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend. Jay is a rookie in the Indy Pro Series driving the #7 Lucas Oil Products for Sam Schmidt Motor Sports. He has a 22-point advantage after five of 12 races, he has two third-place finishes this season and two second-place finishes including the Freedom 100 run on the oval at Indianapolis prior to the 500.
Jay is originally from Basildon, England and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. He came to the U.S. in two you though four winning his debut in a Formula Ford car and dominated that series last year with nine wins.
Just tell us a little bit about your adaptation to America, both on the racetrack and off, are there different racing styles, maybe unwritten rules or things on the track that are different from what you are used to in Europe?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, for sure. Obviously the biggest thing being in America is 95 percent of the time, the weather is fantastic, especially where I live. That obviously plays a bit of a part. The weather was a lot more unpredictable in England, a lot more wet weather racing in England. Unfortunately that really didn't help me at Watkins Glen.
For sure I'm having a great time here in America and obviously last year was a pretty successful year for me. We were hoping to continue my momentum into this year and sort of start giving me the opportunity to race with him and doing my best to make that worthwhile.
Unfortunately we have not had what I would call a good season. Although everyone keeps telling me it's fantastic that you're leading the championship, I want to win races and I haven't won a race yet. Not really happy about that.
But, I'm hoping this weekend especially in front of the F1 crowds and a lot of other guys from the Atlantic Championship and other people from other championships all around the world come to this race, it's definitely going to be a pretty big race and an important race for the year. So hopefully we can turn our season around this weekend and get a win in front of all the crowds and in front of the F1 guys; that's certainly something I want to do.
THE MODERATOR: You talked a lot about this season and not quite meeting your expectations so far. Talk about the Pro Series car in general, making the step up from the Formula Ford car into the Pro Series. How does the car feel to you.
JAY HOWARD: The car is definitely different to anything I've driven before. I've definitely been used to lighter cars. To be fair, every car you get in is different. I've managed to adapt to every car that I got in. Last year I did F2000 all year, and Sam got me a race in the master's series in Richmond, just a one-off race to see how we would do for more seat time and such. We turned up and we won there. So that was really good. And everyone said it was impossible; I was never going to be able to do it and we proved them all wrong, so that was good.
I've proved that I can jump into pretty much any car and be quick straightaway. So it's definitely not been a problem adapting to the car, but for sure it's different from what I've driven before. But yeah, no, I like the car and I'm liking it more and more, the more developing we do with it.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously ovals are fairly new to you, as well. The transition, we're only really I guess in the second half of the season has more of the ovals than the first half has, which is Homestead and Indianapolis behind us. How have you done the ovals?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I like them. It's a lot more fun when you're in traffic and when you're running in a pack. Actually, it's really nice when I'm leading and people are close behind me; that's what I like.
Yeah, I mean, driving around on your own, people say it's boring. I wouldn't say it was boring, but it is definitely a lot more fun when you're running with other cars and just you really have to change your line and stuff like that.
It's been a little bit of a learning process for me, but I believe if you can drive a road course real good and you have, you know -- you're not afraid of the car and you don't mind if the car is flying around a little bit. The bigger thing I think that people struggle on in the ovals is you get up behind the car and get close and obviously it takes all the air Away from the front of the car and understeers. If you're afraid of that, the car obviously stops moving around on you, if you're afraid of that, forget it, you're not going to be fast. You're not going to be able to run in traffic. So just have to trust the car and not think about it really.
Miami, there's big banking in the car always, so really secure there and for sure we have an advantage over anyone. That is really -- looking back now, especially as I haven't won since, that's definitely a downer for me. We're blatantly faster than anyone and we led, I don't know, maybe 60 laps of a race and after the restart, we had a little bit of a technical issue which made me drop back to third and I ended up finishing third. That was not such a great weekend but we definitely had the speed. That was great.
And Indianapolis, a lot of people saw that, we were close but not quite close enough. For sure we've been strong on the ovals and, yeah, we're always going to be pushing and trying to improve because no one or no thing or anything sits still in racing, you're always moving on and always getting faster. So can't be complacent with that. So we're working on that as I'm sure everyone else is.
But I believe I'm with some great guys and we will -- wins are just around the corner.
THE MODERATOR: You kind of addressed this, but let me ask it anyway. Obviously there's still quite a few races left but it's kind of a similar situation to what Wade Cunningham had last year all the way up until the last race. He led the points but he didn't win until that race and you're in the same situation, haven't been able to find victory lane yet. It sounds like your mindset, though, is still much more focused on doing whatever it takes to win, rather than maybe playing it safe and protecting the points lead. Do I get that sense correctly?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I mean, there always is that thing in the back of your head where, yeah, the championship is important.
But to be honest, I've won championships in the past and not thinking about finishing 90 percent of the time and you've just got to push to win. As soon as you start thinking about other things, your concentration isn't 100% focused on what you're doing. That's when you crash and that's when things starting to wrong.
So I'm just always 100% pushing and you know, I've been racing long enough now to know when or not to get into a crash, and once I've overtaken or driving around with a lead on my own, I'm pretty experienced with that. So that's not too much of an issue. But for sure, one thing, a little advantage that I have over Wade, comparing me against Wade last year is that Wade had never won a race in America, so at least I have a really good record prior to this. It's just a few little fundamental things that stops us from wing.
For sure, we know we're capable of doing and hopefully everything falls together and the wins will start coming for sure.
Q. You've talked about a lot of things, but tell me, what has Sam Schmidt brought to your education in the Pro Series?
JAY HOWARD: A lot of things. The biggest thing is obviously his experience in racing and doing what he did. And he's very good just very good to talk to before a race, and especially with the ovals for me, not having any experience doing the ovals at the start of the year, it was great to have Sam around and he would always talk to me and just giving me inside knowledge and such, relating to when he raced. That's obviously been a help and that definitely helped me in Miami and Indianapolis, considering my tires, and just being patient. He's helped me and taught me that.
For road course stuff, a lot of the time he sort of let's me get on with it. And he's always giving me advice and telling me a bit about the tracks because 95 percent of these tracks are new to me and he'll give some advice on what's what.
Yeah, I mean, for sure, he's been a great help and our worst race this year was when Sam couldn't make it. So I think that reflects, again, on how important it is having Sam around.
Q. Being on a championship team, and Sam has had champions in the past, does that put any more weight on your shoulders to bring home the title this year?
JAY HOWARD: No, I mean -- yeah, and no. Yeah, from other people may look in and say, well, Sam Schmidt's cars are the best and why aren't they winning this year. Everyone's got their own view, and everyone's got a different opinion and their views on what's happening in the thing and what's not and what the past brings and what the future holds.
We're just doing the best job we can. I'm not going to let anything like that influence how I think. I want to win, that's it, and it doesn't matter what the history is. I want to win and that's all I can say. I'm not going to let anyone or anything influence our goals. As far as what happened in the past, and as far as most of motor racing is concerned, you're only as good as your last race. If you've won the last five, and your last race you finished eighth, well, you finished eighth, people only remember your last race, a lot of short memories in racing, so just keep winning.
Q. I want to know if you're having fun and what your ultimate goals are in the United States.
JAY HOWARD: Yes, I'm having fun for sure. I'm doing what I love and what I do best. I don't know what I would do if I wasn't racing.
I mean, as for goes, obviously a ride in IRL is definitely top of the list. The Indy 500 is obviously the big race. So if I can do or should I say, outdo, what my fellow country men have done in the Indy 500 and winning the championship, then that would be really good. So hopefully I can find myself a decent ride next year and I can go out and show the rest of the world what I can do stepping up again. I'm sure it's not an issue moving into the big cars.
THE MODERATOR: Jay, thanks a lot for taking the time to join us, appreciate that, and best of luck this weekend.
We welcome Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Chip Ganassi Target Racing car. Scott is in his fourth season in the IndyCar Series. He won the championship in 2003 and this year he's recorded four Top-5 finishes in the first seven races, including a win at Watkins Glen and a second on the one-and-a-half-mile track in Texas. Scott won the pole at Kansas in 2003 and recently topped the speed chart there during an open test.
Scott, first of all, maybe just give us a little bit of a recap of the year. It's got to be a great feeling to have the Honda power and be so competitive again.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's been big for Target Racing this year, and having Dan join me as a teammate, he had such a big year last year with the 500 and obviously the championship. We had lots of good changes over the winter with the chassis, going to the Dallara and also the engine change from Toyota to Honda. I think even from the first test we were 1, 2, and we had great speed.
There's many races this year where we have not been able to capitalize and actually take away wins, where I think we should have, Japan, Indy, Texas. It's been a good year for us, but still, you know, we're very disappointed that we haven't been able to do a little better. But, you know, from the last couple of years, it's very good finishing second and third at some of these places. Overall, happy and it's great to be back racing near the top.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned having Dan Wheldon as a teammate this year and very good things for Target Chip Ganassi having two series champions. Do you have a similar enough driving style where you can really share a lot of information, or do you have different styles where it's just really to the so much that you can share.
SCOTT DIXON: It's been fairly similar. For me, it's a big learning curve going to a Honda Dallara, and I think it's the same for Dan on the road courses with the G-forces. It's been up and down, and some places we don't really turn up -- we have a little bit of differences, but I think we're starting to narrow in on a lot of similar -- inaudible -- sort of heading towards one point where I think early on we were often in another direction.
I think for me it's learning a lot about the new car and trying to follow Dan with what he's done in the past, and he's obviously been very competitive and had good race cars, AGR, and with Andy, his engineer, it will be interesting. So far, I think it's heading in the right direction. You're always going to have a few little different things that you like and dislike, or against other drivers. I think we are fairly close.
THE MODERATOR: You've had two very good days in testing out at Kansas, the test a couple of Mondays ago and the official open day on Tuesday. Just tell us about the high expectations now as you head there for the race.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, the car was very good. We were lucky enough to do a test which is good to help them out. You know -- inaudible -- I was feeling fairly good right out of the box and coming to testing the car just had -- inaudible -- given most of our outlets were pretty much quicker than most of the field.
We got through a lot of our test program on both cars, the 9 and the 10, and I think we ended up 1, 2, and that's fairly comfortable. I think the race is probably going to be a little different there. It's possible going to be a little bit warmer. The day we tested at Kansas was fairly warm conditions. We were struggling; I think most people were struggling at 3 and 4. 1 and 2 was decent. We were fairly happy with how the two days went. We had some problems and got through what we needed to.
THE MODERATOR: The weather will be a little different as you mentioned. One thing we noticed at Texas this year, too, we didn't see as much of the pack racing that we're used to seeing there. Kansas, of course, well known for close finishes and side-by-side racing. Do you foresee a different type of race at Kansas from what we've seen in the past?
SCOTT DIXON: I think even Texas would be the one that you would say would be the closest racing throughout any time, and that was very spread and kind of one line. You know when you have new tires and things like that -- maybe towards the end there might have been bit more of that, once the cars got back together after the stops. Texas was so spread, there was really only one caution, and it was just so spread out with green flag stops which is always the case.
But I think the tires this year have made a big difference, and just don't have as much grip and that doesn't really allow the cars to stay very close to each other. I think it's part of what the league is trying to do is to spread it out a little bit so the cars are not in huge packs a lot of time, which limits the amount of crashing which we've seen already. In some ways it's a good thing and in others it's not so good because the racing is not as good. But I do believe at Kansas it will be even more spread.
Q. Being that you are currently the youngest winner of an open-wheel event, I'm curious of your thoughts on Marco Andretti. What have you seen from him so far, and from what you've seen, do you think that he has what it takes to one day become a top-tier driver on the IRL circuit?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, Marco is a great guy and he's obviously done big things now. I think he's pretty much at the top level. I think he will mature a little as time goes on.
. Even though he's pretty decent at the moment, I didn't think that record will stand for too long. It will be broken quite quickly because he has been competitive this year and he almost won the 500 and he'll have a chance at some races later on in the season. So far, he's shown a lot of speed and I don't think he's even wrecked yet, so he's definitely getting the job done.
Q. Sitting third and fourth, you and Dan in the points standings at this point, what do you make of the points race at the midway point in the season?
SCOTT DIXON: There's definitely time to start chasing down. We have been a little disappointed to see where we're at at the moment. I think we let slip quite a few races already, just, you know, with silly mistakes or wrong -- things going a little wrong with the car, through no problem of anybody's. We need to make sure that we do start charging at them. I think this next stretch of races, we definitely need to step it up and make sure that we don't let these little things take us out of these races. It's a bit of a tough point in the year. I know we've got five or six weeks coming up, it's time to get on it and make a break and start dominating.
Q. What would be your biggest regret at this point in the season? You talk about the little mistakes, does a moment or a race that you could have and do over again, what would it be?
SCOTT DIXON: There would be a few, actually. St. Pete, just got into the lead and the clutch broke. I think the 500 -- inaudible -- but that's what we had to deal with, you know, even for Dan was very dominant, and at Texas as well. So I think there's quite a few that we would like to change at the moment.
Q. How can you explain such dominance by your team and the Penske team, to have all seven races this year won by one or the other teams seem to be -- is that really rare or is it a flukey thing, or what exactly are your teams doing that's so much better than everyone else?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, you know, I think the teams are definitely world-class teams. Over the year, you can see that they have won championships and are very dominant.
I think the last two years, especially -- inaudible -- keeping up with every other team. It does take a lot of little things because cars are so similar, to try and get as much as you can out of it. And that's pretty much all it comes down to is that they have had to work so hard over the last two years to try and make a difference and pick up speed against an inferior engine.
Q. You were on the outside last year kind of watching AVR dominate for so much of the season. Can you sense any frustration in the other teams who are having to chase you and Penske week after week?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you can definitely see it. There's already -- you can see it in the people and just on the other teams. It's kind of like what we had to go through in '04. It's very hard coming off such a strong year, and for those guys, two strong years, with Kanaan winning and Dan, and just dominating a lot of races. It is tough to deal with, and firsthand, we know what it's like and that's not something that you can deal with too easy. You know, I think you'll see people trying to jump teams and all kinds of things going on later in the year. It's unfortunate but that's how the cycle goes.
Q. It seems to me that you've rededicated yourself in so many ways this year, just as the team has. I am wondering, are you doing anything more physically to prepare for races than you had before, are you still doing the same stuff?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's pretty much the same stuff. It's actually even been a lot harder this year with the schedule. It's hard to -- inaudible -- maybe go to a couple races in August. It's been very similar, probably not in the weight room as much, but definitely on the bike and in the pool. But just in general, it's been very tough to get away from the track or away from the appearances this year more than any year for some reason.
Q. So that makes it more difficult to stay in shape?
SCOTT DIXON: It does a little. You know, you still get away a little bit, but at least, you know, it seems that we're in the car a lot more which is quite nice and that keeps you in shape a lot more than normal.
Q. Do you think your conditioning will help on a hot, hot, hot day like your expecting at Kansas?
SCOTT DIXON: Definitely wouldn't hurt it. It's hot a lot of the time, but probably on a hot day at Kansas it will help a little bit. But the ovals to be honest are not that difficult, as opposed to a road course or something like that.
Q. You've been on the pole at Kansas before and you've done very well in the practice this year, but you've never really had a great final success in terms of final positioning. What is your key to success at Kansas this career?
SCOTT DIXON: Kansas is always a very tough race. I think '03, Thomas and myself were very dominant. I think we led just about every lap and then we had fuel problems and the car ran out of fuel, which put us out of the race at the end. The last two years -- this year we've got the speed, we just need to make sure we have a good, consistent race car. You know, you just keep pushing yourself and finish laps and hope to have a decent run at it. There are a lot of things coming into these races and that's why they are all so difficult to win. Just put it all together and hopefully finish at the front.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, thanks for taking the time and good luck this weekend.
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