Marlboro Team Penske Media Conference
Topics: Penske Racing
March 1, 1996
SUSAN BRADSHAW: We are down here in Miami to start the season this weekend with the Marlboro Grand Prix in Miami. Paul Tracy is here with me. I am going to hand it over to Paul. Questions, please.
Q. I guess the first thing I wanted to ask you was you think once this race gets underway a lot of the talk about, you know, the other issue is just going to sort of evaporate; the guys' adrenaline going for a championship sort of takes over and the rest of the political issues will sort of fade to the background a little bit?
PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I really haven't thought about it. I guess, you know, I guess I figure once our season starts and we start as championship contenders or are fighting out for the championship, I think a lot of the attention -- I mean, right now there is, I guess, nothing else to talk about because our season hasn't started, so I think once the season starts shaping up and I think there will be more focus on who is going to win the championship; who is running well. Right now, there is not a lot to talk about. I think once we get past the Month of May, you know, I guess the toughest part is going to be past the month of May. I mean, it is probably going to get worse up until then. I think once the race goes off and we get through all of that, we are going to see what everybody's feelings are.
Q. I wanted to know what your reason was exactly for leaving Marlboro Team Penske last year; then returning this year and also considering how the team had dominated in 1994, was it disappointing to leave the team last year?
PAUL TRACY: I didn't want to leave. It wasn't my first choice to leave, but obviously, they wanted to scale back to two cars and Emerson wasn't ready to retire and he was really the guy who brought Marlboro to Penske and he had just gotten Al and he won the championship, and Indy 500 his first season, so I was kind of the odd guy out, and it was, you know -- I kind of said this to a lot of people, I don't think there was -- I didn't have any anticipation of coming back and, really, if our season last years hadn't been different, I mean, if Penske Racing had dominated last year and I had a lack-luster year, then I don't think I would have been back in '96, so I mean, the way things turned out, the way things happened, I think, you know, that is what really set things up. I think had it been different, I wouldn't be here.
Q. Follow-up to that question, you guys absolutely dominated 1994. Was this a once-in-a-lifetime-thing or could that possibly happen again?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime-thing when it happened, but I think the competition, overall, all the way through the field is much tighter. I think it is going to get tougher and tougher to dominate. I mean, just even to dominate a single race; let alone, a whole team dominating a race. I mean, it is going to be tougher and tougher. But I think the chemistry is there again. I think the camaraderie; the chemistry with the crew guys; everybody seems to be real pumped up and our car seems to be good. We seem to have a really good car this year, so I think the ingredients are there. It is what the status of the other teams, I guess, really, is the questionmark. I think our team more up than it has ever been, and maybe that could happen again, but I mean, I think the competition is too tough now to have a situation like that again.
Q. I was wondering when you look at this year entire lineup this year, do you see any drivers that are favorite to take the championship?
PAUL TRACY: Any two?
Q. Yeah, any couple that you --
PAUL TRACY: I think, obviously, Michael and Al are going to be tough. They are experienced. Obviously, Al is going to be my major competition. I think, you know, really those are the two guys that I am focused on the most and I think from there you have got Robby and Gil, and really those are probably the four guys that I am most threatened by, I would say.
Q. Driving with Al now, does that kind of change your style a little bit or does it make you place more higher expectations on yourself this year because you are competing with one of the all-time greats in IndyCar?
PAUL TRACY: Not really. I mean, I try not to focus on anyone guy. I just try to go out and do my own race and set my own pace. I think I have learned more and more of that over the last couple of years that you just can't worry about one guy because there is four, five or six guys that are capable of winning every weekend. I just got to really -- we have sat down and talked with our team and my guys, I mean, really, we just got to focus on ourselves and focus on our own performance; not about what other people are doing; not worry about what is going on down in the pit lane. We just got to stay focused and really almost have blinkers on and concentrate on what we are doing and not have any thoughts about what anybody else is doing.
Q. I have read a lot and people are saying that you are maturing as a driver. Do you feel you are maturing as a driver?
PAUL TRACY: I think so. I think I learned a lot the last two years. I mean, you know, I have had an opportunity to work with both Al and Emerson and last year working with Michael, I mean, those are the three most fiercest competitors that you could ever deal with. I mean, the working situation, I think I have learned a lot from those guys, I mean, especially Al and Michael, I mean, they are in their prime of their career. I have said this to other people - Emerson doesn't have any hang-ups about letting me use the setup or anything like that; whereas, with Michael and Al, I mean, they are going to try to withhold any advantage they can if there is one. So I mean, I guess over the last two years, I guess I have learned to fend for myself a little bit more; not rely if things aren't going right; not to, I guess, not rely on falling back on somebody else. In finding that I am in trouble or we have got problems, we got to work it out ourselves. I guess that is what I have learned, I have just got -- not rely on anybody else.
Q. Have you tempered your driving at all too? Has that changed at all?
PAUL TRACY: I think so. I still have those spirits of overenthusiasm, but I think I have calmed down a little bit more. We had a lot of engine trouble last year with Haas, so I really didn't have the season that I would have liked, but I think I put on some drives and I was always at the front; didn't qualify well. I mean, in the past, if I had qualified 8th or 9th or 10th, that would have spelled disaster most of the time. I would have just gone nuts trying to get to the front. I mean, last year I was able to work my way up to the front; wait for pit spots; get a few guys -- get a few guys on outlaps, and I mean, really worked my way to the front rather than just trying to go all out in the first 10 laps to do it. I think I have learned in that way, it has been a learning experience last year. I mean, it was demoralizing that I never qualified outside the top five or six in three years at Penske Racing. I mean, Elkhart Lake is a good example, I mean, I was 10th on the grid and I have been on the pole three years in a row there, you know, and won the race. So that was frustrating in qualifying, I was pulling my hair out, but I steadily came through and ended up finishing second. I think in the past I just would have gone out there and gone nuts.
Q. Paul, you said the chemistry is already -- you already see it there. Does it feel like you never left?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it definitely was an easy step back in. Really, after last year, you know, coming back, it doesn't even feel like I have been away. I have got the same crew guys and same engineers, so stepping back into the team, it hasn't been a problem. It is almost like I wasn't gone. The chemistry is there. We have got some new crew guys, but they are really coming along really good and the chemistry within the team, I think, is better than it was in 1994, I mean, Al was a little bit of an unknown when he first came in, nobody had worked with him, so that was the transition period and now we had another year, so everybody is real comfortable with each other.
Q. Just wondering do you think, overall, most drivers are looking to get this season started more than in the past, just because they are tired of hearing about all the talk between the CART and IRL?
PAUL TRACY: From my standpoint, I really haven't concentrated on IRL. I mean, I have been focusing on winning this championship. I mean, I am motivated. I have been training all winter and been practicing and I am ready for the season to start. I don't know if a lot of guys can say that they are totally ready and to dive in head first, so I feel my crew guys are ready. We have got a good car. I am fit and ready to go. If the race was going to start in ten minutes, I am ready to go.
Q. Why do you say most guys are not ready to start?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I have had a good off-season of testing. I have been competitive everybody where I have been; fast at all the tracks I have been to, so I feel confident going into the first race and there is a lot of guys that -- other teams, they don't test as much and there is always a big questionmark, "are we going to be competitive" or whatever and that is how I felt last year going into the season. I mean, our off-season testing didn't go that well last year and I didn't get a lot of testing, so I wasn't superconfident going into the first race. I mean, right now I feel more confident than I ever have, so, hopefully, things will go well.
Q. Do you feel you have a lot to prove more so this year than previous years with Marlboro Team Penske?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think, you know, there is more emphasis being laid on my shoulders to do well than there was in the past. In the past, I was always the guy who was hired as the test driver, you know, they had Rick and Al and then Emerson and Al and now coming back, there has been a little bit more emphasis on my input into the team; the direction that we are going with the car, so I guess there is more responsibility, and you know, in turn, I feel better about that. It makes me more confident that, you know, we are making a change, they want my input, it is important to them, so I guess, from that standpoint, I feel more confident within the team.
Q. You kind of addressed that last year you didn't have a good off-season; last year with the cars, you didn't feel real comfortable with it. Team Penske kind have had that feeling going into last year too. Does the feel of this car, it is more like before the 1994 season?
PAUL TRACY: Well, the cars are totally different now. But I mean, with the lower down force -- tires are different. Everything is different. But overall, we have had -- we think the car -- we don't know until everybody else is out there, but our gut feeling is that we have got a really good car. My gut feeling is we have got a good stable car that is easy to set up and it's got a wide range of, you know -- it's got a big platform of where you can have the setup- a lot of cars aren't like that. You either got the setup or you don't. And we feel the car is working pretty well, but who knows, we can go out tomorrow and get totally blown off and could be scratching our heads, you never know. But we have had a good off-season. Testing has gone well. I mean, that is all we can do; try to do as much as we can, but until we get out there on the racetrack with everybody else, you don't know.
Q. The first IRL race and also in spring training there was an indication that Firestone would have a little bit of edge here. Are you a little worried about that?
PAUL TRACY: Sure, I am. I think Firestone, they are pumping a lot of money into it and they have definitely got a great tire, but I think Goodyear is in a transition point now of Leo retiring and so there is really a lot going on and hopefully they can get everything sorted; maybe get a new guy that is going to be, maybe, more aggressive than Leo, and -- but, you know, I think overall, our car seems to be working well with Goodyear's. I think really I was the only guy up there in the times with Goodyear, so, you know, it is hard to say to say if we are, you know -- if we are at a disadvantage. We are not going to know until everybody gets out there together and you never know in testing different days, different conditions, different -- you know, but overall, I think Goodyear is, you know -- I don't think we have got the best tire, but I think I feel there is room for improvement.
Q. As a followup, I know sometimes when they do test sessions on certain drivers they sort of go to ahead of all others to get their opinion. Do you feel that you are in that position now that you sort of want Goodyear to come to you and say, hey, you know, Paul what do you think?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think they were more -- you know, Goodyear is a little conservative from that standpoint. Down here in spring training, I mean, they only had one set of tires for every guy, and they wouldn't give you another set even though there wasn't enough -- there wasn't many guys there, so I think they could be more aggressive from that standpoint; go to the guns and let them have at them, you know what I mean? Maybe be a little bit more aggressive and, sure, you are going to piss some people off, but I mean, the overall gain, I think, is going to be better instead of being diplomatic about everything; just try to get the most out of it and I think it is going to be better for everybody.
Q. What type of track do you feel favors your style, oval or road course?
PAUL TRACY: I like road courses. In fact, it is my favorite, but I mean, I am comfortable on everything. I think that the transition into the first third of the season is going to be key. We have got 5 races out of 7 on ovals. I think I seem to go well on short ovals. I think there is a good opportunity to get an advantage in the points by finishing well in every one; then we go into the mid-season where we get into road courses and, you know, usually that is where I get strong, mid to end of the season where I think the first bit of this year is going to be just key with the five races on ovals.
Q. Al Unser's whole life has revolved around the Indy 500; he admits it is going to be tough not going down there. Yours has not. Is it not going to bother you hardly at all not to --
PAUL TRACY: No, I mean, it doesn't bother me one bit because I haven't won the race, so I don't know what the feeling is like to win the Indy 500. I have no family tradition, so there is really -- I mean, from my standpoint it has really just been a lot of heart ache in Indy. I never finished well. I never -- I have never finished a race; never gone past 100 laps, so I am really not very fond of the place. I have said to a few guys, I mean, to me, to go and race, I mean, I don't care if we go out in the fields and race; in the dirt, as long as I am racing against the best guys that is all that matters and I don't really care what the venue is. It is just the competition thing that matters to me the most; not what the venue is or what the tradition is.
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