Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Sam Hornish, Jr.
September 11, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We're joined by 2006 IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish, Jr. Sam won one of the tightest point battles in IndyCar Series history. He entered Sunday's season finale at Chicagoland trailing teammate Helio Castroneves by one point and ended the day tied in points with Dan Wheldon, winning the championship on the tiebreaker. Sam had four race wins this season versus two for Dan.
For the season, Sam won four poles and recorded seven top three finishes, including the four wins, and of course the biggest of those was the 90th Indianapolis 500 in May. Sam is the first three-time champion in the IndyCar Series.
Sam, congratulations on a great season. Tell us what it feels like to be the first three-time champion in the IndyCar Series.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It feels pretty good, I can tell you that much. Especially being the only two-time champion, then going into this season knowing we were going to have an opportunity to battle not only for the Indianapolis 500 win but also for the season-ending championship. I kind of looked at it, I know who I I'm going to be battling. Sure enough. We get down to the end of year, it is the three guys I think I am going to be battling. Two of them already have one championship. I thought the worst thing that could happen is one of them could win because they're multiple champions, then I don't have that thing to myself.
I did put myself a little distance out from those guys. Hopefully I'll be able to hold that record for a little bit longer anyhow.
THE MODERATOR: How does this championship compare to the first two?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Each one is special in their own way, that's for sure. The way I look at it, we've had great opportunities. I feel very lucky that I've even been able to win one, let alone three.
But this one, you know, it was definitely very special to me because of the fact of how hard-fought it was, how the season ended up, winning the 500 during the season, and just the fact of how much competition there really was.
THE MODERATOR: When you think about the championship race itself, was there a defining moment at some point in the season that really is the key now as you look back to really putting you in that championship position?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, there was one thing that I know that really made it hard for me to win the championship, and that was the Michigan race. I know it's probably a little bit opposite of what you're thinking. This is the thing that I think made the championship as close as it was, the fact that our water pump breaking at Michigan. I think we would have had a really good opportunity to win the race there. We led quite a few laps right at the beginning, then we had the problem. Allowed everybody to catch right up in the points. I think if we didn't have that problem there, we probably would have had a little bit more breathing room going into this championship.
THE MODERATOR: You've been kept pretty busy after the race last night, had a bunch of things going so far today. Have you had a chance to celebrate yet or is that still coming later?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I got the rest of my life to celebrate, I guess. I'll just keep doing all the things that they have for me to do until they're done, then I'll try to relax a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for Sam.
Q. As you were looking at the checkered flag coming out of turn four, what was going on in your mind?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Actually, I didn't even look at it. I was trying to figure out a way to get around Dixon. I didn't want to get too close till the last couple laps. I kept having the voice in the back of my head telling me that, Sam, all you got to do is finish third. Kept getting up there trying to win the race as much as I could. Roger would call me back down, I'd move back a little bit. Took a lot of patience yesterday. I figured I'm close enough to the finish line now, I can try to get around him.
Q. With all the records you hold, the accomplishments you've had at a relatively young age, where do you fit in the history book now of American race car drivers? Where is your place?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. Hard to say. Hopefully I'm cracking into the top 100, somewhere in there, that might even be a little high up on the list.
Q. How do you think you'll be remembered? Granted, you have a long way to go. How do you think your career is going to be remembered at this point?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I hope it will be remembered for the positives. There's a lot of drivers that achieve things in their careers, either race too long, people say they should have quit before that time, have problems later on. I hope that I continue to do the right things, I'm looked fondly upon at the end of everything.
Q. What's left to prove for you in this series, in your mind? What do you have to motivate you in this series now that you've accomplished so much?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'd still love -- I want to win some more 500s. That's the big thing. I've got three more to go to put myself anywhere near Rick Mears.
Q. The possible ARCA test, the Busch Series stuff, where does that stand, how will your schedule unfold with that in the fall, if at all?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Right now we're just really focused on IndyCar stuff. We want to continue doing that throughout the year. We said we would talk about it at the end of the season. I guess we're there now, but haven't had that good of an opportunity to sit down with Roger and figure out what our plan is.
With the IndyCar Series being consolidated down into a short amount of months, having the opportunity where I can probably run 10 to 12 races, whether they be ARCA, Busch or whatever in my free time, it gives me that opportunity to go out there and to have a little bit more practice time, little bit more seat time, keep my skills sharpened up. We don't have anything in stone yet, don't know what we're going to do for sure. We're just kind of waiting to see how everything unfolds.
Q. Do you think you had enough left in your car to go around those two?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think we had the opportunity to go and challenge for it. Every time I'd sneak back up there, Roger kind of told me, Hey, all you got to do is finish third here.
I feel that we had a little bit of something for them, but we didn't have -- it wasn't going to be an easy pass. Roger kind of kept telling me, Hey, Sam, all you have to do is finish third here, you've got it in the bag. Don't make any mistakes, don't let them get together and take you out of the race. Kind of sit back and watch it.
On one hand, the racer in me wanted to get up there. On the other hand, I know when Roger has a feeling about something, it usually turns out he's right in the end. I figured I'm going to listen to Roger, hang out here, see what happens. If we got to finish third, that's what happens.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Sam. I know you have some other obligations to get to.
Ladies and gentlemen, happy to report to you we are also joined now by Jay Howard. Sorry we had a little miscommunication earlier. Glad we got you on the line here with us.
Jay, of course, finished third in Saturday's Chicagoland 100 and edged Jonathan Klein by four points in the final point standings, the closest margin in series history. He drove the No. 7 Lucas Oil car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports this season, winning two pole positions in the season opener at Homestead and the season finale at Chicago. He also won two races at Nashville and Kentucky and had two second-place finishes and three thirds. A very impressive season, Jay. Congratulations.
JAY HOWARD: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Saturday's race was very tight. You and Jonathan and Wade battling the whole really 67 laps. Talk us through the race a bit, especially your strategy. How did your strategy evolve from start of the race to finish?
JAY HOWARD: Well, we qualified on pole, so the idea was to get out front, lead as many laps as possible, and then that basically would allow Jonathan to win the race. Worst-case scenario, Jonathan win the race, me finish second. I would still win the championship because I would have accumulated enough points. The race never quite panned out that way. From what people told me, it never really does.
Throughout the race, the strategy kept changing. I actually made contact with Wade maybe about 10 laps in, made some quite bad damage to the front of the car. That made it interesting driving, pretty much 60 laps with the steering bent. That definitely changed my plan. I was never able to run out front once the steering was bent. I just had to do what I had to do to make sure that Jonathan didn't win the race. When the full course yellow came at the end, I just put myself in position where Wade was going to win and that was all that mattered.
THE MODERATOR: You and Johno it sounds like are really good friends. What is it like to battle a teammate and a friend so closely for the championship?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I know Johno was feeling the pressure a little bit more than me. I've got a bit more experience in races like this. As far as I'm concerned, in the back of my mind, he's always my teammate and my good friend. Once helmets go on, you have no friends. That's how I've always been. That's how I'll continue to race.
I had to work with Wade in the race to get my championship. That pretty much says it all really. Just needed to do what I needed to do to win the championship. At the end of the day if I help someone else win the championship, that's not going to benefit my career. Any way possible I could win, that's what I had to do.
THE MODERATOR: After the race, interesting the two of you guys celebrated the championship with some friends. Tell us about how you celebrated.
JAY HOWARD: Well, we just went -- to be honest, it was a pretty quiet evening. We just went downtown Chicago, because Johno is originally from Chicago, that's where he's sort of grown up. We went to a little Italian restaurant, had some dinner, some wine, just sat around and talked about the year, how up and down it was, all the stuff we would and wouldn't have changed about the year. I believe we went to a bar for a little bit after. I knew I had to be at the track, I had things to do on Sunday. We didn't go too crazy.
THE MODERATOR: Let's talk about the season overall for a minute. You came in here I know with very high expectations. You're coming off two Formula Ford championships, one in the UK where you won four races, then here in the U.S. you won nine races last year. It was my impression you really expected to win a lot more than just two races this season as well. Was the series more competitive than you expected or talk about the season.
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I did expect to win more races. We should have won more races. Should have, would have, could have, all that. We did only win two. It wasn't what me, Sam or the team expected. We expected to be halfway through the year, to at least have won two or three races by the sixth or seventh race.
Yeah, I was a little disappointed how many wins we got. Again, in hindsight that doesn't matter. We won the championship.
I wouldn't say it's any more competitive than what I've done before. The guys I raced and beat this year I'd raced and beat in previous years, Bobby Wilson, Wade Cunningham, I raced against them in US (indiscernible), beat those guys. I would actually say Formula Renault in England, there was more drivers in that that were of a higher standard, so to speak, than what I raced against this year. Just more drivers I had to beat. This year realistically there was four or five drivers at each race that might be able to win. In Formula Renault back in England, there was maybe 12, 13 drivers that could win. It was real, real close.
Definitely the competition wasn't any tougher. I just think the cars are a little harder to set up. It definitely is different from a setup point of view than what we experienced before. The cars are very sensitive to changes. I think me as a driver and the team as a team learned a lot. Hopefully I can move on up to the next step, use what I've learned this year, hopefully the team can learn and benefit from my feedback and what I've taught those guys this year and they can progress.
THE MODERATOR: You said build on the things you learned this year. What were some of the biggest things you learned, the biggest improvements in your skill level this season?
JAY HOWARD: I think a big thing was running on the ovals. Never done that before. (Indiscernible) don't really seem to have a, I don't know what you want to call it, technique that I used from racing cars which definitely seemed to work on the 1.5 mile ovals, Nashville, Kentucky, Miami, Chicagoland. The car seems to work there pretty good. I definitely learned a lot going to different places like Milwaukee. I've never seen anywhere like that before.
Every track you go to you learn something new. You can take that and you experiment with that, next track, track after that. I believe I'm pretty much a complete driver when it comes to road courses, all that other good stuff. When it comes to the ovals, that was new to me.
Fortunate enough for me, the ovals didn't intimidate me, the speed or running in traffic, touching wheels. It's not an issue for me. Never scared me in the slightest. That allowed me to learn and progress and develop my oval skills a lot quicker than others.
Like I say, it has been a good year. I hope what I have learned setup-wise, learning about the downforce on the ovals is a big thing. Generally when you go to road courses, it is a little bit different than the ovals, what you're looking for with the downforce.
No, I've learned a lot. Thanks to the team, give me a good car. The car was always pretty fantastic. Yeah, it's just been a great year.
THE MODERATOR: The Indy Pro Series last winter, several changes to the series. Kind of an off-the-track thing was tripling of the prize money. This year before we get to the nice award ceremony, you've earned more than a quarter million dollars in prize money, which I would have to venture to guess is a lot more than just about any other development series pays out. Talk about that, the role of that type of prize money, how you put packaging together for yourself for the future.
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I mean, that is credit to the IRL because it is for sure the most attractive feeder series in the world. I think that's been noticed especially this year. The competition was for sure the most difficult this year in history of IPS. It's great for me to win that, take that away with me.
I speak to people back home. There's a lot of interest in the series. I'm sure there's going to be a lot more drivers next year, which is only good. Good for the country, good for the series.
So, yeah, that has been a big bonus to anyone who has been running in the championship. It just makes it that little it easier, especially for guys that can't really find the budget to go racing, it just helps knowing that even if you finish dead last, you're still going to come away with some prize money, some sort of reward for being there. That also makes teams want to come and run in the series.
For me it allows me to come and live in America, be a driver. Without that prize money, it would make it all that much more difficult to make happen. I don't come from a wealthy background. I have a lot of people to thank for me being here, being in the position I am now.
Yeah, it's definitely a good thing. I believe the IRL should continue to do what they're doing. If they keep beating everyone else on the prize money, the series is just going to keep on growing.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of growth in the series, more and more folks from the IndyCar Series paddock are paying attention to what goes on on the racetrack when the Indy Pro Series cars are on the track. Have you noticed IndyCar Series seems watching what you do? Anybody coming up to you after the races and talking to you about the race, anything like that?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, I mean, I don't think there was once this year that someone didn't say something to me. I did get a comment after the last race that I was very smart, congratulations from several different IndyCar team owners. That's nice. It's nice to know they're watching, see I'm putting on a good show.
Yeah, I mean, they're watching. I think part of the reason why they're watching is because people realize there was a lot of good drivers in the series this year. Previous years it hasn't been so strong. It actually means something to win the championship. As far as I'm concerned, it was one of the most competitive championships in the world. People are watching, that's for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take some questions for Jay.
Q. About next year. Obviously you want to get up into the IndyCar Series. How confident are you? You've had a few discussions with teams, even on a level of they've noticed you. Where do you stand with that for next year?
JAY HOWARD: No pen to paper as such, but a lot of talk and looking very promising. A lot of interest. More interest than I expected, to be honest. That's good. Like I say, nothing actually signed. I would say I'm definitely going to make the move one way or another. It's just, again, so circumstantial which sponsors are on board, who is riding, who is available, who isn't. I believe I will be driving something, just not quite sure which team yet.
THE MODERATOR: Again, congratulations on a fantastic season. Good luck this fall as you pursue those opportunities for next season.
JAY HOWARD: Thanks.
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