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IndyCar Series: Firestone Indy 400

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Firestone Indy 400

IndyCar Series: Firestone Indy 400

Alex Barron
Sam Hornish, Jr.
Mo Nunn
Tomas Scheckter
July 27, 2003


BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everybody to our Top 3 finishers press conference for today's Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. I think I speak for everyone just to saying, "Wow!" Our second place finisher with us today is Sam Hornish, Jr. He started fourth, finished second. Sam led 126 laps today. He has now finished in the Top 5 in three of the last five races. Sam, I guess to start with you, you have won quite a few of these by-a-nose races. Today you were on the other end of it. Give us your thoughts.

SAM HORNISH, JR.: What was the margin of victory?

THE MODERATOR: 121 thousandths of a second, fourth closest finish in IndyCar Series history.

SAM HORNISH, JR.: That doesn't make it any better. It was a great race. I had a lot of fun out there today. Good to be back and running toward the front of the pack on these big tracks. Just came up a little bit short. We knew we had to be in the lead, knew you had to stay down on the bottom because it was too easy for somebody to get a run on you low. He timed it right. He worked on it for about the last 20 laps, kept coming up, dropping back. I knew that one of those times he was going to get right. He happened to get it right on the last lap. He saved it for the end, so that's what you're supposed to do. Just came up a little short.

THE MODERATOR: Our third place finisher today, Tomas Scheckter, started from the pole, finished third. This is his second Top 5 finish of the season. He has now led laps in six of the last eight races, including today. Tell us about your run.

TOMAS SCHECKTER: It was great. It was such a mix-up, so many quick cars out there. I mean, if you were stuck in sixth, sometimes you'd be stuck there for seven or eight laps because everybody was going three-wide, and there was nowhere to get by. I think numerous people maybe could have won this race. It was just really who got in the front and who stayed side-by-side around. Third lane you could use, but you really couldn't pass on it.

THE MODERATOR: I'll toss out a question. Tomas came in a little early. The heat was obviously present today. How did it affect you, or did it, in the cockpit as you were running, Sam?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: Heat wasn't too bad. We go to Kansas and a lot of other places that are hotter than this. But it was another good day here. You know, being from around this area, I know how hot and humid it can get. Today we got kind of a break. I was just glad that the rain stayed away all day. I think after that last pit stop, when we came out, it was sprinkling a little bit. I thought, "Oh, this is great." I came out in sixth, I think. It was one of those days where it looked like it was going to rain all day long. Luckily it didn't.

THE MODERATOR: We can take questions from the media.

Q. Sam, it seemed your engine was superior on restart, especially the start of the race, blasted into the lead before you got to the starting line. Also several other restarts you pulled away from the field. How good was that engine on acceleration?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, compared to some of the problems we've had earlier in the year, it really -- I had to really work on my restart, how I did my restarts, being in the right gear, having the car up to the right rpm, strategizing what I was going to do as soon as it came out. It's really helped out a little bit. No doubt that the generation four engine has more torque than what we had been running previously. I think all in all, dealing with what we dealt with at the beginning of the year has helped our team and myself, you know, be better people as far as knowing what the car needs, so we have everything that we need, we are better able to use it.

Q. The bump from the pits, did that affect your handling?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: No, not really. We had been a little bit loose most of the day when I was right up behind another car. It was hard to keep the car down on the bottom line because the back end kept wanting to step out. The way this track is built, there's the banking at the bottom, it's a little bit less than the next lane, so when you get across there, it really wiggles the car. If the car is already a little bit loose, you slide up a little bit, it gets even more loose. Being up front was the best place for me to be today because I could stay down on the bottom and I didn't have to worry about the air being taken off the wings. The bump coming out of the pits didn't affect the car. Tomas didn't have anywhere to go. It was one of those deals where it was five cars in the room where about three could fit. It wasn't a big hit.

Q. Sam, could you take us through that last coming out of four lap there, what was going through your mind, what you felt you had to do with Alex.

SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, what I thought I had to do was just keep him behind me. I mean, there was not really a whole lot I could do. When you pick the bottom line, there's nothing you can do. There's no blocking in this series. There's no moving to impede the progress of another car. I knew that I had to pick my line, which the bottom line was what worked best for me all day, and hope he didn't get the run exactly right on the last lap. He had it.

Q. Tomas, at the start of the race, when his yellow car went blasting by the outside of you, did you think he may have jumped the start any?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: No, he's definitely good at restarts. He's got a good spotter up there, as well. Sometimes, you know, we're just slow pushing the right pedal, that's what happens. I haven't been great at restarts. The start was actually -- I think I was third passing the start/finish line. I thought as the leader I should start the race or decide when this race should start. I was going to start a little bit later. Everybody else didn't agree with that (laughter). I ended up fourth into the first turn. You know, it was fine. I think I got back in the lead in a couple of laps. That's what's great about this track, great about the IRL, you know, it's not a single-file race, it's three abreast. If you do have a little problem like we did, you can get back.

Q. Tomas, talk about the contact with Alex with 30 laps to go.

TOMAS SCHECKTER: I didn't even know what my spotter was saying. He was like low, high, low, behind, looking. I felt like switching it off after a while (laughter). Then it was low, low, low. A little bump, I got sideways. I just saw smoke behind me. I don't know what happened. Did he spin? I'm not sure. He got loose and bumped into me?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think what happened was we were all three like side by side. I think he just pushed up a little bit, got in the wake of my car, then the car continued to push up. These cars, you can run right up behind somebody as long as -- as long as they're not moving. You know, I think when it started to push up, he got into my wake. As you cross the wake, it makes the car about twice as bad as what it is any other time. I'm sure that's what happened.

Q. Tomas, could you talk about that time in the race where Sam was checking out away from things? You were a little critical yesterday or disappointed for Toyota and Honda. Were you thinking you got snookered on this one?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: No. One thing that I do have to say, it's great racing with Sam. He's a great driver. He's very fair on the track. He knows what's happening around him. To race out there with him today was great. But I think as a driver, it's not our problem, you know. It's a problem that Toyota, Honda and Chevy have to sort out. If the IRL decides to do what they do, so be it, let's go racing.

Q. Sam, as we're talking right now about that final caution, you had nearly an eight-second lead. Looked like you stretched it out a little bit. What was going through your thoughts when that yellow came out?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. I was trying to figure it out in my head because I knew when the cars that were like second, third, fourth behind me, I knew when they pitted, because they pitted about three laps after I did, maybe four. So I'm saying, "Well, we all started, we had a yellow flag, all pitted at the same time, so we started. They went four more laps than what I did. The next time, they'll be able to go eight more laps after I pit. Then, okay, this is what lap I'm going have to pit at." I figured it out. I was trying to figure it out, whether or not they could make it to the end with one less stop than what I did. I think it was going to be they were going to have to stop one more time also. I was thinking, let's have another yellow flag, we all have to pit one more time before the end. On the other hand, I was thinking, "Maybe I shouldn't have asked for that." That's part of racing: you always want something you don't have.

Q. With all the frustrations you've gone through this year, when you go down to the bowling alley on Monday night, you were probably taking a lot of frustration out on the pins. When you go tomorrow night, I'm sure it's going to be more of a relaxed time. Talk about how your spirits have been boosted by all this?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I mean, I'm about as happy as I could be outside of winning right now, with the fact that, you know, the new engine debuted as well as it did, no problems at all. We ran up front, whole bunch of laps, did everything that we could do. In Michigan, an hour away from home, have a day off tomorrow. A bunch of my buddies took the day off. We're going to go out to the lake. Be a nice, relaxing day tomorrow. I'm glad after the hectic schedule we've had with all the testing, getting this new engine ready, all the PR appearances, doing everything we've had to do between Pennzoil, Chevrolet, Firestone, all the great sponsors that we have, that I get a day off tomorrow.

Q. Sam, what will it feel like to go to the generation three engine after this?

SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, if we were coming back here, I'd be a little bit disappointed. I guess that we're going to Gateway, which is a handling track, which is where we have another two Top 5 finishes of the year. I'm glad we have that opportunity just to go to a handling track, not another horsepower track. It's one race that we have to deal with. We'll go through it, deal the best we can. Look forward to the last five races of the year, try to do what we did today, which was gain a lot of points on the leader.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on an exciting race. Sam Hornish, Jr. has been involved in six of the 10 closest finishes in IndyCar Series history. He has won four, finished second twice. At this time, we'd like to welcome the winner of today's Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Alex Barron. Congratulations. I guess to start with, at any point during the race, did you think, "I might have thrown it away"?

ALEX BARRON: Well, I don't know whose doing it was. Scheckter and I got into it coming off of four. I don't know whose fault it was. I was screaming on the radio that it was his fault. You know, I have to see the tape before I pass blame on anybody. But I was pretty upset. We came in, put some tires on the car, and I was pretty angry. The guys had to settle me down a little bit. But they did a good job and we got a heck of a restart. At that point, when I went into turn one, I just went in flat out because I knew it was a do-or-die. I didn't know if the car was damaged or not, if I bent a tow link or anything. The car was great, solid all the way to the end. We were able to go flat out. The timing to try to pass there at the end was really difficult. About six laps from the end, I don't know if Sam hit a button or something, but seemed to have a little bit more power (laughter). He was inching away from me a little bit coming off of two. I was fortunate enough there on the last lap. Four laps previous to that I timed it where I could get a run coming off of two. That's what I did my last lap. Four laps from the end, I was in front of him. It was really close. If the start/finish were any further down, I'm sure it would have been a different story. The car was running really strong, you know, all race. We had a little bit of a hiccup with the spin. But good pit stops. Solid all day.

THE MODERATOR: Today's victory was Alex's second career win. He won last year at Nashville. He has now finished in the Top 10 in three of four IndyCar Series starts this year. With his win, Mo Nunn Racing is now the fourth different Toyota team to win a race this year.

Q. So far you've been IndyCar Series' best utility player. Do you feel you've earned a position in the starting lineup?

ALEX BARRON: I hope my glove stays warm from now on. It's been a long season. But every time I've gotten the shot to drive, whether it's been with Roger Penske or Mo Nunn, the cars have been really strong. That's what I want to do when I go race. In my career since I moved up to IndyCar, I've done a lot of development programs, you know, when I go racing, I want to race competitively with a competitive car. I was fortunate enough to get that all four races this year. Hopefully I continue to get the opportunity to do that.

Q. You referred to the spin as a "hiccup". How lucky a moment is that for a driver?

ALEX BARRON: Well, some drivers will say they're fully skilled and they pulled it all off on their own. There's a lot of luck involved. A little bit of skill. You know, the car has to start rotating around where you can say sometimes when it's rotating, there's nothing you can do about it because of the turning radius of the car. The cars are very stiff. You know, there was a lot of luck involved in that. We were just enough to bring it back around. It fired right back up, when I left the clutch out. Fired right back up, downshifted, took off. We were lucky enough not to bend anything.

Q. Coming out of four, what had to happen? You said you timed it. Sam said earlier that you timed it just right. Could you explain what exactly you meant there?

ALEX BARRON: Well, going into one, I wanted to be far enough back to where I was behind him coming off of two. That way I had the slip stream in order to get a jump down the back straight. So I had momentum going into three, so I could carry the speed through three and four. That way coming off of four, if you stay tight with the other driver, which I feel really comfortable with Sam doing, came down the front straight, we just inched forward enough to win the race. A little bit of doubt that that was going to work, but that was our only chance to do it. Again, if the start/finish would have been three-quarters more of the length of the straightaway, there would have been a different outcome. We did that four laps previous and it worked. We just gave it a shot.

Q. Alex, coming out of turn four at this track, will that be pretty special for you, the spinout and the big move both in the general same vicinity?

ALEX BARRON: Yeah, I mean, today the car was so good, we were just in a zone really. You know, we were just really fast, just looking forward, trying to pick up spots on the track. Seems like we ran side by side with Sam for about four thousand laps. We just had a solid car. We just did everything we could to try to get it running the last lap. We were fortunate enough that it worked out.

Q. Tomas Scheckter was saying there was a massive amount of stress out there in the fight at the end of the race, he was literally exhausted. How much stress is there when you're out there in order to do that type of racing on the edge?

ALEX BARRON: Well, the only stress I had besides the fact I spun was my water bottle didn't work halfway through the race (laughter). You know, I was get a little bit thirsty near the end. It wasn't a big deal. All the drivers we run with here that were in the front, you know, very talented. Again, running with Sam, we ran neck and neck, lap after lap. It was very comfortable. It was just a strategic and timing issue. We were just fortunate to come out ahead.

Q. Because the hiccup happened so quickly, tell us where you thought you were and how the contact occurred.

ALEX BARRON: Well, turn four flattens off on the exit of four. You're going to have a little bit of understeer right there. I think, you know, every driver that's come through there all weekend knows that's going to happen. I tried to keep my line down low, but it seemed like Scheckter came down just enough to where it just rubbed my right front. You know, when you got locked in the steering to stay low, you touch like that, it just spun the car around. You know, it just happened. That's the way it goes. I didn't know how it was going to turn out from then on out. Like I said, the car didn't get damaged. We were able to move forward from there.

Q. Is that a little scary?

ALEX BARRON: I wasn't really scared because we were spinning away from the wall. I was more worried of the fact that we could damage the car and then such a great day could turn into a disaster. The car started to come back around the front straight. First thing you're thinking is Sharp is coming down, I thought maybe he was going to come into me. Then I turned it back, counter steered, rolled forward, put it back in gear and it fired right up. Again, the car took off, went yellow, we pitted, right back in the game.

Q. Alex, Sam has won so many of these close races from the outside, last season particularly the outside line was always the line to have. Were you surprised that he gave up? He stayed glued to the inside the entire time you were trying to take him on the outside. Were you surprised?

ALEX BARRON: No. I mean, the Ganassi cars, everybody was running low when they were in front. A little bit faster when you're up about mid track. The problem is, somebody can get underneath you. If they come underneath you, they take the air out on the exit, you lose your momentum. Shorter distance on the inside. The cars have, you know, pretty good grip. Everybody was pretty much doing it. Everybody was making every try to pass on the outside.

Q. It doesn't seem like you can win a close one on the inside (inaudible). What is your reason for that?

ALEX BARRON: Horsepower. Definitely horsepower.

Q. When Hornish was driving off in the sunset, he had close to an eight-second lead. Were you beginning to think, "They gave them a little bit too much of a break," as a Toyota driver?

ALEX BARRON: Who was that?

Q. Hornish, eight seconds ahead.

ALEX BARRON: Did you say the Cosworth? Did I misunderstand?

Q. Do you think they gave him a break.

ALEX BARRON: I get it. Sorry. I'm a little slow. Yeah, I mean, I was running with him for 20 laps straight. Like five laps from the end, I don't know if the funny button got pushed or what, but he took off. He had a little bit more power. I was talking on the radio saying, "Something happened. The engine changed note and he's pulling forward a little bit." I didn't know what it was. I didn't have one of those so I was a little bit worried (laughter). He seemed to come back the last two laps. He seemed to come back somewhere to what my speed was, then he just got a good run.

Q. What are you doing to stay on top of your game? You were out of the series the first part of the series, you've come back in real strong.

ALEX BARRON: Well, I think a big part of that was Roger Penske gave me a few test days. He had me do some testing at the speedway. I drove in Japan for him. That's one thing when you drive for Roger, you drive a lot of laps. I think he was a big key for getting up to speed quick when I got the call from Mo Nunn. And there he is.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Mo Nunn.

Q. When Hornish checked out, he looked like he was going to drive off into the sunset. Were you beginning to think as a Toyota owner, "They got a little bit too much of a break there?"

MO NUNN: Well, obviously the engine is very strong. Yeah, he was running away. But if you do make a break, it's very difficult to catch back up. We were watching his fuel consumption. It was pretty heavy. We kind of had probably six gallons of fuel advantage over him. Depending how the yellows were going to work out, if there were any or not, I think if it had been all green, I don't think -- he would have had to make one more stop than us.

Q. Can you talk about the way Alex responded from the spin? He admitted he was pretty angry.

MO NUNN: I haven't got over the shock yet. I saw another car going off to the wall. I thought, "Oh, here we go again." But, no, the little hair I got left went from silver to white. He collected it very well. I was quite relieved. I know from when I drove, that can find you quite a bit of time. When you do something like that, you get angry, more aggressive.

Q. Alex has proven to be IndyCar Series' best utility player. Do you think he's finally earned a position in the starting lineup?

MO NUNN: I haven't known him very long. He should be a regular driver from what we've seen so far, when he's raced for us. And he's American. Yeah, it's obviously good for the series. Felipe called right away and said, "Do I still have a drive?"

Q. Alex, you mentioned the change in the sound of Sam's engine. We noticed there were at least two or three drivers shifting going into one, off of two. Did you have your car geared where you were doing any shifting at all?

ALEX BARRON: I don't know if I could tell you or not.

Q. Sure, you can.

ALEX BARRON: We were shifting sometimes. I don't know if he was shifting, I don't think that's what I was hearing, the note change of his engine. Usually it's timing. When timing gets put in the engine, the engine note becomes raspier and louder. That's what I heard. Again, it seemed like he had a little bit more power. Two laps from the end, it seemed like it came back to where we were. About five laps from the end, it definitely picked up a little bit.

THE MODERATOR: As a final note, today's Toyota victory is its seventh in the last eight IndyCar Series events, its eighth total win this season.



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