Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
December 20, 2006
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone, thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference, we have a number of guests on the line today from Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The team has been a full-time member of the IndyCar Series since 2002, and won the IndyCar Series Championship in 2003, and have some exciting plans for the 2007 season.
Here to tell us about those plans is team managing director, Mike Hull.
MIKE HULL: First I'd like to thank everybody that's taken time this week in this holiday mode to be working like we have. Secondly, the Indy Pro Series is, it is right up our alley in terms of what we do with young talent.
Without belaboring that, it's fair to say that we work hard to enhance the value of young drivers and we've always done that, both in the ranks of open and closed wheel racing. And a few months ago, a good friend of ours, John De La Pena, came to us and was representing Pablo Perez at the time and still is, and actually represents not only America but Argentina very well. And with the idea that they wanted us to run a car for Pablo in this series, in the IPS series.
We've always been very interested in doing it but have not really figured out a way to do it in our mind successfully, so we decided because of John's friendship over the years with us and the team, both with Chip and myself, we would take a look at that and as a result of that we ended up involving ourselves or inviting participation from Chris Festa. So we have two young drivers, Pablo and Chris, and we're working very hard here internally, and soon externally, with some testing to be prepared to race.
And it's important to us and we think it's important for people to understand what the statement is that we're making. We fully support IndyCar Racing, and we've taken credit for good things and we've taken shots because sometimes people think that, you know, we're looking somewhere else to race, but actually I think this makes a pretty strong and firm statement about who we are, what we represent, what our brand is, and where we're going with IndyCar Racing, and it's important for us to run a program. We think all the IRL teams should be running programs in-house, and we're not the first to do it, and we know that others are going to be doing it this year but we think it's very important to be doing it, so we're happy to make this announcement.
TIM HARMS: I know one of the comments in the press release talked about this is kind of a very important program on its own, not necessarily tied to the IndyCar Series program. But at the same time, one of the major benefits of running a program in the Indy Pro Series is the fact that you earn bonus test days for the IndyCar program, not only for the IndyCar drivers, but it's also important for the Indy Pro Series drivers to get some seat time in the IndyCar Series car.
Tell us a little bit about how important those bonus test days are to the Indy Car Series program, and then kind of on a side note to that, maybe you can tell us, just obviously both of the series now are very diverse on the schedule, road courses, street courses, short ovals, Super Speedways. How will having an Indy Pro Series running on those same type of circuits on a very diverse schedule also benefit the IndyCar program?
MIKE HULL: I think that everybody's assumption are the test days are the most important part of the deal. We don't look at it like that. They are important to us, there's no question about it. But what they actually allow us to be able to do is be able to work with -- and in this case, because it is in-house, we can look at young drivers firsthand. We see them every day in action in our building with our mechanics, at the racetrack. We intend they would be a part of the things that they do with IndyCar team with what they do with IPS and that would include the test days we would do.
The second thing is, our business is all about people. It's how the people work together. And this is an opportunity in a climate that's a bit tough currently. The open-wheel climate is not the best place to be, but what this does is it allows us to be able to look at additional staff members here. It allows us to be able to look at additional engineers, mechanics and staff members, and that's a big deal for us because all those people are the future of what we do here at Chip Ganassi Racing. So those are the reasons why we're interested in doing this.
TIM HARMS: We are also joined on the call today by drivers Chris Festa and Pablo Perez. Good afternoon, guys. Congratulations to both of you. Chris will be returning for his third season in the Indy Pro Series. The Atlanta native has 19 Top-10 finishes in 23 starts and a best finish of second in Phoenix in 2005. And Pablo hails from Argentina and will be competing in the United States for the first time. He's competed in South America in Formula 3 for several seasons, driving for a team co-owned by IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves, and you'll find complete biographies on both of the drivers at www.IndyCar.com.
Let me ask you a couple of questions, too. Chris, congratulations on this opportunity for 2007. I was talking recently with an official from another Indy Pro Series team who heard that Chip Ganassi Racing was considering coming into the series, and he said that that worried him; because he knew that when Ganassi goes into something, he has a reputation, obviously, the team does, for doing things 100%, and that they would be very tough competition on the track. So I have to imagine that makes you feel good going into an operation with that kind of reputation.
CHRIS FESTA: It absolutely makes me feel good, that Ganassi does everything 100%, and that's what it takes to win this racing. It makes me feel very good because I know I'm going to have great cars underneath me and great personnel looking after they to give me the best opportunity to put it down on the race rack. Somebody like me coming into their third season without a win, coming into with somebody like Chip Ganassi Racing who is going to do it properly from their side really is a great feeling for me going into the season.
TIM HARMS: And obviously with the change in team is one thing, but are there any other things that you're doing maybe differently this year as the series keeps getting more and more competitive to prepare yourself as you go in that you think will help you get into victory lane?
CHRIS FESTA: Well, I'm looking at back on the past two years on all of the mistakes I've made, and things I should have done differently, and as well as I'm working myself a lot harder in the gym to prepare myself physically for the car as well. Because with the competition getting better, I'm just going to have to work a whole lot harder within the car on the track as well as have my mind in the more proper state to compete against these guys.
TIM HARMS: And Pablo, thanks for joining us, especially for calling such a long distance, from Argentina today. The Indy Pro Series has had some top competitors come in from South America and Formula 3 in the past, championship driver Thiago Medeiros being one and race winner John Racamera (ph) being another.
Talk about the opportunity of being able to compete in the United States and in the Indy Pro Series.
PABLO PEREZ: Okay, thank you. First of all I'm very excited to join Chip Ganassi Racing. This is a big step for me. This is a big step for reaching my goals. And I know that Ganassi Racing, with Chip, Mike and John, they will do the best possible for me, and it's like a dream come true. This is a big family. I visited the shop last week and it was incredible. I saw the car and I'm very looking forward for the first test.
TIM HARMS: You touched briefly on some of your long-term goals and I know you've mentioned that the Indianapolis 500 is really an ultimate goal for you, what type of short-term goals do you have for this season and the Indy Pro Series that will then help you as you try to move on?
PABLO PEREZ: I think that my first goal is to finish all the races. That is very important for me because, as you know, I'm a rookie. This is my first year in the United States, and so I have to finish all the races. Also, if I have the chance to win one race, it would be great, but I know that next year when we start will be a lot of competition. And I think that my first goal is to finish all of the races, and if we finish in the Top-5, it would be awesome, you know.
Q. Any chance of a third car in your program at the Indy 500, and I guess I'll start with that.
MIKE HULL: Today was supposed to be an announcement about the Indy Pro Series and I know that IndyCar Racing is very important to all of us. At present, we do not have plans for a third car.
Q. Is there any opportunity for the Colombian to be involved? I know the schedule is really tight.
MIKE HULL: If you're referring to Juan Pablo Montoya as a Colombian, I would say that in the first year of his NASCAR involvement, because that have and because of the pressures they are going to be under and the goals that they have set for themselves there, with the Chevron Texaco team, that the likelihood of that is probably remote.
But you know, you'd have to talk to Juan about that. If something came to pass where any driver like Juan was available to us, you know that this team would do everything that it could to get that driver into the race, but there are no plans for that at present.
Q. What is it that you guys get -- besides actually test days, what is it that you guys get out of doing this thing?
MIKE HULL: We think it's a good -- as we kind of said at the beginning, it's important for us always to look at people. That for us is absolutely critical for our future.
Racing and racing series and what we do, some are consistent, some are inconsistent in terms of the direction that they go, but by doing this program, we'll be able to look at Pablo and we'll be able to look at Chris as race drivers. We'll be able to look at the engineers that we hired to help us with this program, with the mechanics that help us with this; with the sponsorship value and the value back, the value added, it's all of those things that are important to us. Because some of these drivers and over time -- this is not a one-year program for us, but over time. And some of the mechanics and some of the engineers, and, in fact, some of the people that helped support this program will all be keepers for us. They will help the sport and they will help Chip Ganassi Racing.
And any time you can increase your exposure and can increase the tentacles that you have in racing, it's a benefit. Chip Ganassi Racing is not a single-dimension situation as you know. We race in NASCAR in two divisions. We race in the Indy Racing League, we now will race in the Indy Pro Series, and we race in the Grand American Rolex prototype division.
So all of those things are basically done under one large umbrella, and they all have value and that's what this is all about.
Q. The thing is, you mentioned Grand Am, is there any chance that either one of these two guys, or what's your plans for the Rolex 24 and Daytona prototypes?
MIKE HULL: Well, I'm not in a position today to announce what we are doing with the driver lineup. But the driver lineup has been decided prior to what we did prior to the signup with this. We would like both our IPS guys to be involved in Daytona and by the fact or by the clear direction that we've set for both of these guys, either one of them would be a good choice for anybody in the prototype division at Daytona. They would hold their own against anybody.
So at present, we don't have a spot for them with those teams, but that was kind of predetermined by something we worked on quite a while ago, and by way of information, we'll have an announcement after the first of the year after the driver lineup for Daytona.
Q. And speaking of that, though, Mr. Perez, I understood, drove for Helio down in Argentina, if I was correct, or in South America at any rate, what's it like working for him, Mr. Perez?
PABLO PEREZ: It was fantastic. I know very well Helio when I went to see the Indy race. To work with a team over there in the Brazil area, and as you know, all of the races, the Brazilian guys are very fast, very aggressive. So I worked with him and also that was the other owner of the team.
Q. Pablo, with Juan Montoya signing with Chip Ganassi Racing, has that raised the profile of this team down in South America where Chip Ganassi is much better known than perhaps he was before?
PABLO PEREZ: Yeah, you know, all in South America, people always love the racing, so I think that this team, a lot of people will be very happy. Because we never have Argentina driver over there, so for me it's an honor to be the first one.
It's great for me to sign with Chip Ganassi and all the people because everybody knows in South America the potential of Chip Ganassi. So I feel a little pressure about that, but I think that it will be okay for my first year because I'm a rookie. So I don't have the pressure to win my first year.
Q. And is open-wheel racing more popular than stock car racing in South America?
PABLO PEREZ: No. Stock cars are more, you know, the people of South America like stock cars. But I think that with this deal and we have a lot of young people over there that have the potential to race in the United States or Europe, and well, I think that it will go next year because of this deal, you know.
Q. Part of this program is you are going to have to turn your Indy cars over for half a day at least at a time to these drivers. How much confidence do you have in these drivers in their ability -- do you have to look at their ability to move up, do you even let them do the Pro Series deal?
MIKE HULL: Well, that's certainly I think in some people's mind would be a liability, and in ours, we think it's a clear, positive asset to what we are doing.
We think that these two guys are capable of being drivers for the future in major open-wheel racing. And we intend for them to be part of our test program on a 50/50 basis as the rules are defined during the season when we have an opportunity to test.
Everybody thinks -- everybody thinks that we're just going to go out and use up the test days, but in reality, if you look at the schedule of events that we have before us to be able to do the IndyCar Series, and as a matter of fact, to do the Indy Pro Series, it's going to be tough to do those test days.
So the test days are important to us. Assessing the driver talent for 2008 is important for us, also. And they will be ready to test when we have the days.
Q. What do you think of the IndyCar schedule for this year, is it too compact, is it too crowded?
MIKE HULL: I think -- I think it's a good schedule, first of all. The races that we're going to do are all in good marketing areas. As time goes on, we know that the IndyCar officials have told us they are going to tweak that schedule to try to improve it geographically.
But the intent is correct. The compactness helps us to be able to generate momentum, and that's what we need. Momentum is the most important thing for our future, and that's what we need.
So the schedule is fine. Now in terms of what we do as a race team, it's a lot of work to turn an open-wheel car around the way you have to turn it around week-in and week-out, because by comparison to NASCAR who has over 35 events a year, if you don't add the all-star races to it, they have a fleet of automobiles, and it's a lot of work for those guys, but it's not the same thing. If we bring a chassis home and turn it for the next race and if we have a problem with that car, it makes it even more difficult.
So the teams are going to have to change the way they do business internally to be able to ride the momentum that can be created.
Q. How much personnel are you going to have to add to do this team properly?
MIKE HULL: Just in terms of numbers?
MIKE HULL: We have outlined a staff of nine or ten people to help us run two cars. The one good thing that we do have here is we've got a staff internally with a lot of shop-based people. So our IPS program will be part of the Grand Am and part of the IRL package that is run internally.
So those staff members on the IPS program can draw upon all of the stops that we have in the building, the paint shop, the carbon shop, the fab shop and so on to help them turn the cars between events.
So we intend to run this program on an equal basis to all our other programs. So I'm not sure how to answer that question in terms of what the staff actually is, because you could say it's a staff of a hundred people.
Q. But you'll add a few mechanics, engineers?
MIKE HULL: The core group to run this program is nine or ten we feel.
Q. Are you pretty close to where you need to be?
MIKE HULL: In terms of hiring?
MIKE HULL: Are you applying? Are you applying for a job?
Q. Why, certainly, Mike.
MIKE HULL: We're not there yet, but we're getting there. (Laughing).
Q. No work for someone with hot air, huh?
MIKE HULL: Well, I don't know, you've got a lot of experience. (Laughter).
Q. Okay, back to square one now. Pablo, are you going to move to Indianapolis for total immersion?
PABLO PEREZ: At the first moment, no. I will travel a lot. But it will being impossible for me to live in Indianapolis because of my family and my work, I also work, but my first priority is, you know, to race.
So I will travel a lot from Argentina to the United States.
Q. Back to you, Mike. You haven't said anything about sponsorship for this program.
MIKE HULL: Sponsorship will be announced. It has not been completed yet. We decided we'll announce the whole package when we're ready to work outside of it.
Q. One more question for Chris. Chris, do you feel an extra pressure to perform, because you're going to your third team now and because these guys are always running at the front, at least now that they are on equal basis with everyone else in the IndyCar Series?
CHRIS FESTA: Well, I prefer to not look at it as much as pressure as much as look at it as another opportunity to do it. And I feel being with Chip Ganassi Racing that I have the best opportunity I've had in past years to accomplish that.
So for me, I just need to sit down and focus on what I need to do and the best way to go about doing it.
TIM HARMS: Gentlemen, congratulations to all of and you thanks again for joining us.
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