Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
April 11, 2006
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll have two guests joining us this afternoon. IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp will be with us in a couple of minutes, and joining us to start the call is Infiniti Pro Series driver Jonathan Klein.
Jonathan is a rookie in the Infiniti Pro Series, driving the No. 27 Klein Tools car for Andretti Green Racing. He qualified second in his debut at Homestead and recorded back-to-back fifth place finishes in the doubleheader at St. Petersburg. He ranks sixth in points as we get ready for the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jonathan is also a freshman at the University of Dayton. He's balancing his schoolwork and racing career. In fact, he's taking a couple minutes right now ducking out of class to join us. We'll try to keep him for a couple minutes.
Jonathan, you have gotten off to a pretty strong start so far this season. Tell us about your first couple races in the Infiniti Pro Series, how things are going for you so far.
JONATHAN KLEIN: Things have been good. We've shown a lot of speed these first two races. Homestead was looking great until an incident with me and Chris Festa. At least we know we're there. Right now me and my teammates are the ones to beat.
We're pretty excited, definitely happy with the results at St. Petersburg. It's unfortunate we couldn't get on the podium. Two top fives is definitely what we're looking for. We want to maximize points even if it means we're one or two positions away from the top three.
Pretty pleased so far with how the season's going.
TIM HARMS: You came in with Andretti Green Racing which has the partnership with Sam Schmidt. Historically, the last couple years, a very strong team. What types of goals did you set for yourself for this year? Did you have designs on this being a championship season or a season just to learn things?
JONATHAN KLEIN: Well, obviously a championship is always what everyone is going to go for, no matter what the reality is. Going into this year, our goal is to finish every race. Obviously, we don't have a good track record with that so far. From here on out, we're looking to finish every race and do so in the most successful fashion, whether it's top five, top three. Our goal is to just make sure we keep all four corners on the car for all weekend and maximize points and gain experience.
So far we're happy with how it's going. We've done significant testing. I'm getting more comfortable in the car. Things are headed in the right direction.
TIM HARMS: Our next couple events, the open test and the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, how much time have you spent there in the past and what does it mean to you to be able to get out on the track actually for the first time?
JONATHAN KLEIN: Yeah, it will be my first time on track actually. I have been attending the 500 for the last three seasons. It's pretty magnificent to be there watching the Indy 500. I remember in 2003, it was my first year there, just watching the three rows of cars coming out of turn four to take the flag is breathtaking. I'm real excited to finally get my chance to get on the track and see what I can do.
TIM HARMS: Running with Andretti Green Racing, obviously a championship-caliber team at the IndyCar level, have you had a chance to interact with the IndyCar drivers, anyone giving you tips, feedback, mentoring you?
JONATHAN KLEIN: Yeah, the three veteran drivers on the team, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Bryan Herta, have all played a helping hand in helping me develop me and my teammate Jaime Camara, to give us pointers. Sometimes they'll come by and talk to us about what's happening with their program. We can relate that to what's going on with me and Jaime on the track. There's an interconnection between their data and what they're experiencing in the car. They can help us out in that respect.
They also have Marco Andretti driving, he's a young driver, looking to gain as much experience as possible. He doesn't spend as much time helping coach us because he's kind of in the same position as we are right now, trying to learn and gain experience.
It's great being affiliated with Andretti Green Racing because there's so much support from the drivers and administration for Jaime and I.
TIM HARMS: We'll take some questions for Jonathan.
Q. What is your native town?
JONATHAN KLEIN: I'm from Long Grove, Illinois, a small suburb northwest of Chicago, Illinois.
Q. Why the University of Dayton?
JONATHAN KLEIN: To be honest, it was a nice quick five-minute online application. I ended up going to a Catholic high school. Although I'm not religious, I kind of enjoyed the atmosphere, the way people treat each other in a Catholic community through education. Also I have a lot of friends that go here. Part of the decision was I didn't want to be at a place where I had no support, no friendships there to begin with. It's only an hour and a half outside of Indianapolis, so it's convenient in that sense.
Q. What is your ultimate goal? Move on up to the IndyCar Series? What drives you right now?
JONATHAN KLEIN: Yeah, absolutely that's the main goal, is to become a successful driver in the Indy Racing League. That's been my goal for pretty much as long as I can remember back in the days even when it was just CART and one series, even when they split. Open-wheel, the top rung of either open-wheel series is what I've been striving for. The direction that the IRL and the Infiniti Pro Series is heading is definitely the most enticing route. My goal is to absolutely be in the IRL.
Q. How can you balance going to school and doing the racing? Obviously it's going to be easier in the summer. How do you balance all that hard work?
JONATHAN KLEIN: Yeah, hard work is an understatement really. It's a lot of working ahead while I'm at school. I have an upcoming event. Then when I get back, it's also a lot of catch-up because, you know, as opposed to high school, college, one day in college is the -- the work load is equivalent to about a week in high school.
It's been tough. I'm working, you know, my butt off to keep up and stay focused. Sometimes it's difficult. You know, as long as I just stay focused and don't stray off of the path of school and then racing, it's not so bad.
Q. Do your teachers understand what you're going through? I know you're studying business. They want all of your attention.
JONATHAN KLEIN: Yeah, some of the teachers are more flexible than others. I happen to have one teacher who actually does media work at the Kentucky Speedway. He obviously was all for it. Whenever I had to miss class, he'd say, "Go have fun, I'll see you what you get back." There are other teachers who don't really understand the importance of what I'm trying to do here. It's been tough dealing with that. The UD newspaper just came out with an article, I was on the front page. That kind of helped put it into perspective for some of my teachers.
TIM HARMS: Jonathan, thanks for taking time out of your schedule today for us and good luck the rest of the season.
JONATHAN KLEIN: Not a problem. Thank you very much.
TIM HARMS: We're joined now by IndyCar Series veteran Scott Sharp. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT SHARP: How you doing today?
TIM HARMS: Great. Thanks for joining us.
SCOTT SHARP: No problem.
TIM HARMS: Scott is back for the second season in the No. 8 Delphi Fernandez Racing machine. Last year he recorded his ninth career victory with a win at Kentucky Speedway. He's off to a strong start in 2006 with top 10 finishes in the first two races. He also has a very strong history at Twin Ring Motegi, winning the inaugural event there in 2003, finishing ninth in 2004, and finishing second last year.
Scott, let's talk about Motegi a little bit first. It's a different type of track than anything else we race at. What are some of the unique challenges about Motegi and what has made you so successful there?
SCOTT SHARP: I really love the track. For that matter, it's just a great trip. Growing up, I've enjoyed Japanese cuisine. My dad a long time ago was a Datsun dealer. I guess I always figured at some point I'd go to Japan. Certainly back in '03 was my first time to go there. Just the outpouring of support we get from the Japanese fans, it's pretty amazing how knowledgeable they are when we all race in their country one time a year. They're so enthusiastic. They're there so early in the morning. It's tremendous.
The track itself, it's a pretty unique mixture. Turns one and two -- none of the track is very highly banked, but turns one and two are pretty easily flat out and really becomes a drafting opportunity for our cars, much like maybe some of our big-bank tracks. Certainly an opportunity if you can come off four at all close to someone, you're really going to get the chance to really use the draft and hopefully slingshot by someone.
But then, you know, getting down to the other end the track in three and four, it's completely different. You need the grip in the car. You're off the throttle. Some guys choose to use the brake a little bit. You're really asking for the mechanical grip out of the car to get through this quickly. Being that turns one and two are so flat out, it's really one super long straightaway from the exit of four back to the entry of three. That's a very important end of the track.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned a few things you like about the trip to Japan. Away from the track, are there some other things -- what are some of the other things you enjoy about the trip?
SCOTT SHARP: I think just obviously the exposure to a completely different country. There's obviously a large amount of Japanese influence in our series, of course from Honda and Firestone, company ties. Certainly on our car, Delphi has a large presence in the Asia/Pacific rim. That's a real flourishing area of the world for them. Totaba (ph) is a Japanese company. It's always a really important trip for us.
I think when we had the chance to go over there and win for our first time out there, that just got everyone super excited, including myself, but certainly gives you such great feelings about coming back there. I know all of the sponsors I just mentioned got a lot of great publicity and a lot of talk about our win after that event.
Within our company's ties and our team's ties, it really created a lot of buzz every time we come back.
TIM HARMS: After Motegi, you'll be coming back for your 10th Indianapolis 500. You finished seventh last year, qualified 3rd. This is going to be the second year with the format where 11 cars lock in their qualifying spot on pole day. With everyone having the same Honda power this year, how tough is it going to be to crack that top 11?
SCOTT SHARP: I think certainly the competition level keeps rising, no doubt. We've all talked about what a great on-track product we have, especially at so many of the high-banked tracks, the bigger tracks. To think we're going to take that kind of a package and make it even more equal for this year, there's going to be some pretty eye-opening races, that's for sure.
I think that plays a little bit in Indianapolis, as well. Indy is different. It's a very low-banked track. Certainly the handling characteristics of the car maybe a little more important at Indy. With everyone theoretically being on the same power, more and more -- I think everyone running the Dallara chassis, man, just thinking about that, it's going to be so tight trying to get into those top 10 spots. It's literally going to be a 10th of a second per lap is going to have some pretty large implications.
TIM HARMS: Along that same line, last year we saw Team Penske on that first day pull Sam Hornish's time off the board and take another shot. They ended up improving their odds. With the increase in competitiveness of the field, from your perspective, are there enough things that you can tweak that it's kind of worth making that gamble if you're 10th or 11th to try to move up in the field?
SCOTT SHARP: Obviously it all depends on your situation. Certainly conditions can rapidly change at Indy. Even from the morning practice we have there till a couple, two or three hours later when you go out for qualifying, the car can all of a sudden take on a completely different handling characteristics if you're not on top of things.
I think if you go out on a run, suddenly the car is a lot tighter than you thought it was, you scrub off a lot more speed, you felt like you left enough on the table, certainly there's scenarios there where it would be worthwhile to pull your car and do it again.
Obviously, the luxury of getting in that first day takes pressure off. Probably most of the cars that get in the first day don't run the second day. That's sort of a nice breather certainly for everyone on the team as opposed to starting all back up and having to do it again the next day.
So, I think if you felt like you had the speed to be in the top 10, something happened that caused you -- you weren't to get all that speed out of the car, I think you'll see more people trying to make those little last-minute tweaks and make a run for that.
TIM HARMS: We'll open it up for questions for Scott.
Q. Talk about the Indy test, how helpful that was to have that before Indy practice, especially in your situation where you ran well there last year? How much more does that help you?
SCOTT SHARP: At first I was surprised there was an Indy test. When I first heard about it, I was like, We're about to go spend three weeks there, why are we testing? In hindsight, looking back at it, I'm really glad we had the chance to test there. Obviously, this year you're going to have to choose when you want to run a little bit more with the limit on engines and miles. I still think there's obviously a lot of engine miles there for you to run, it's just it's not unlimited and you're not going to see guys running all day every day.
For us, we had a bit of a change over the winter. Basically I have a new engineer in John Dick, very experienced. He's been the technical director of the team. He was Kosuke's engineer last year. He came over to me, Chris went over to Kosuke's car. With that a lot of the crew swapped as well. To top that off, our side of the team just went to a Dallara chassis for the ovals literally right before the Homestead race. We are still coming to grips a little bit with that chassis.
Fernandez has typically been one of the Panoz teams. We will still run that on the road course. Obviously, have a real comfort level and a knowledge base a lot of data to support the Panoz. The Dallara is different enough of a chassis that things don't compare. You can't just take a setup off of the Panoz and throw it right on a Dallara. Certainly we have some work to do there.
Getting a chance to run for the day at Indy helped us learn a few things that will translate at Motegi for us and also just get a first day under the belt, get it sorted. I think it obviously gave us a much better spot to start from on opening day than if we had gone in there cold.
Q. The limits on testing this year, how are you looking at it now? Is it one of those things where you're going to try to really get seven days' worth of work in maybe one or two days?
SCOTT SHARP: Meaning at Indy?
Q. In terms of the season, but also Indy since that's the next track coming up.
SCOTT SHARP: Indy is nice because obviously, first of all, I mean, I think it's smart. I'd much rather -- in general terms, I'd rather be an advocate for there being more races and less testing. It costs just as much really to go testing as it does racing. You don't get obviously any chance to get your sponsors the exposure, all the positives that come out of a race weekend. If there's going to be a lot of expense going out the door to, let's say, have 15 or 20 test days, I'd much rather see them cut that down and do the racing.
Obviously, we're at the point now where there is very minimal testing. It's a tough situation if you're behind because especially when you roll into some of the short weekends, I guess a great example of that was Homestead. For other circumstances, Kosuke's team switched over to the Dallara for all tracks for the entire season back in the winter. They went to the early test at Phoenix and Homestead, got the grips a little bit with the Dallara. For us, that's a great example for what I'm saying here because we went into Homestead and really you have three half-hour sessions and it's time to go qualify the car. You're not going to learn a brand-new car in three half-hour sessions.
For teams that are a little behind, it makes it -- you don't have the luxury of being able to say, okay, let's go even maybe someplace we don't race on and just spend a couple days learning the nuances of a car. You don't have that luxury any more.
Indy's certainly an advantage. Having all the track time we have there, you have the chance to explore some things. You can spend a few hours in an afternoon going down a path that maybe you wouldn't otherwise spend any of that time on given a short weekend.
For us, it will be a great opportunity to learn more about the Dallara and try some things that our engineers are thinking about. I'm sure, no matter what, we'll come out of the month of May so much more knowledgeable about the car. Certainly with that amount of time at Indy, you really can hopefully -- you've got the time on the track to be able to hone that setup. There's obviously different variations of what the ultimate setup is. Ultimately, you're certainly going to have the time to get to where you need to be.
I think in the nature of cost cutting, I'm a supporter of the limiting on testing, but it really makes you use the time you do have on the track wisely.
Q. Since you're going to spend the entire month of May working with the Dallara chassis, next week you have to go to Watkins Glen and run the Panoz, how do you turn your head around for that?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, you know, I think it wasn't too much of a problem for us doing that between the Homestead -- back-to-back Homestead/St. Pete. Obviously your approach, your technique, your style in the car, is so much different from an oval to a road course anyway that it almost makes it easy. I think in a lot of ways it makes it easier on our team being able to have a Panoz that is our dedicated road course car and not having to strip an oval car down and rebuild it in a road course trim in a rushed manner.
I don't see that being a big challenge for me. I think the bigger thing for everyone is just obviously it's a tough stretch there, coming off the whole month and going straight. I don't think in the history of IRL have we had back-to-back weekends coming off the 500, then have another race at Texas right after that.
It will be more I think just taxing on everybody mentally to really get their heads in the game, be ready to really make the most out of Watkins Glen.
TIM HARMS: Scott, thanks again for joining us. We appreciate it. Best of luck.
SCOTT SHARP: Thanks a lot. Looking forward to it.
TIM HARMS: One quick announcement. The next Indy Racing League teleconference will be on Tuesday, May 2nd.
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