Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MODERATOR: As you can see, this will be an unusual press conference, we have so many players. We'll take a comment from each driver and then get questions and answers from the audience. This is our group of young guns, the group that is under 30, kind of the next generation coming through. Quite an interesting group because if you look at it, we have rookies who have never competed in an IndyCar Series, then our champion Sam Hornish, Jr., champion for the last two years. We'll start with Buddy Rice on this end. Buddy started last year at Michigan and finished second in his first very year in the IndyCar Series. This year will be his first complete season in the IndyCar Series. He's 27 years old and he's from Phoenix, Arizona. The next driver we have is Vitor Meira. Vitor also raced last year but this will be his first complete year with the IndyCar Series. Vitor is from Brazil and is 25 years old. Next to that, probably one of the most recognizable names in the IndyCar Series, Sam Hornish, Jr. sam is from Defiance, Ohio and is of course the 2001 and 2002 IndyCar Series champion. He's 23 years old. Next to Sam is Tomas Scheckter. Thomas is from Cape Town, South Africa, and currently lives in Indianapolis. He is the winner of last year's Michigan race. He also competed in a partial season last year. He's 22 years old. Next to Thomas is Dan Wheldon. He is from England and currently resides in Indianapolis. He debuted last year with Panther Racing, also one of the divers who competed a partial season last year, coming back for a full season in the IndyCar Series. He's 24 years old. It was just announced a couple nights ago he will take the place of Michael Andretti when Michael retires after the Indy 500. Next is Felipe Giaffone. Felipe is from Brazil but lives in Orlando. He is the winner of the Kentucky race last year, starting his third season in the IndyCar Series. He's 28 years old. Next we have one of our rookies in the IndyCar Series, Roger Yasukuawa. Roger is from Los Angeles and he is 25 years old. Next to Roger is another well-known name, Sarah Fisher. She's from Commercial Point, Ohio, currently living in Indianapolis. Sarah first competed in the Indy Racing League in 1999. She has a pole and second place finish. She's 22 years old. Next to Sarah, we have Toranosuke Takagi. He's from Japan and currently lives in the LA area. This is his first year in the IndyCar Series, but has much experience having competed in CART and Formula 1. He's 28 years old, at least for a couple more days. For the new people in the series, what do you think about coming to the Indy car IndyCar Series? For the veterans, what do you think of the competition level? We'll start with Buddy Rice.
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think for the 2003 year, right now with everyone coming out with all new chassis and engines, I think it's going to be a quite competitive series. Also a lot of new teams coming in here, they're stacking up the drivers. I think it's going to be a very competitive season. Cheever Racing, we're happy with the way things are going with our Chevy package, looking to get into a solid year. We're just getting to our second test, trying to get geared up for Indy, then going on for the championship.
MODERATOR: Vitor Meira.
VITOR MEIRA: It's going to be one really tough year with all those really strong teams up there. We have a really good package with Chevrolet. I think my goal is to learn as quick as possible everything. I just did four races and still have a lot to learn. My goal for sure is to win races, but also try to absorb anything as quick as I can so I can be competitive really soon.
MODERATOR: Comments from Sam Hornish, please.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: With new engines, new chassis and a lot of new teams coming in, it's going to be a very exciting year for the IRL. There will be a lot of things to learn for not only myself but the new teams. Everybody's pretty much starting with the same package; not a lot of experience with this car, this engine. We feel that staying with Chevrolet and Delara will give the Pennzoil Panther team what we will need to go out and get our third straight championship.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: We're just learning about the car now. Hopefully in the next couple weeks we get a good understanding for the car and engine, me and Scott can work together, make sure we're competitive before we get to Homestead.
MODERATOR: Dan Wheldon.
DAN WHELDON: Like everybody said, it's going to be very competitive. Our testing in the winter with the new Honda motor has gone very well with Andretti Green Racing. I think we're excited to get the season underway and see where everybody kind of pans out.
FELIPE GIAFFONE: I think tomorrow we're going to start seeing who is going to be strong in the big ovals, who will not. I think we still have time to react if you're not. But I'm pretty confident with the G-Force, this track, also with the Toyota, we're going to be very competitive. We'll see in the other side, at Phoenix in a couple days, how this package is going to work there. But I'm very, very, very proud to be driving for Toyota and also G-Force. I think we're going to have a strong package.
ROGER YASUKAWA: The IndyCar Series, I think this year is going to be very competitive. As for a rookie driver like myself and a rookie team, I think we've got a lot to learn. But we've had a pretty successful test days the last couple weeks. I think a couple more days here and those at Phoenix, we'll be ready for Homestead. I'm looking forward to the season.
MODERATOR: Sarah Fisher.
SARAH FISHER: I'm truly excited because this year I get to driver for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing again, hopefully if we get everything secured by the first race, which is kind of abnormal to everyone else. It's a great opportunity for me because I get to have the same engineer that I've had last year. We bonded quite well. It will be exciting and hopefully we can catch on just as quick as everyone else.
MODERATOR: Toranosuke Takagi.
TORA TAKAGI: The engine and chassis and everything is a new package, I'll be doing my best this season.
MODERATOR: I'd also like to mention that one of the youngest of all our young guns is AJ Foyt IV, 18 years old, and they just announced before this press conference that he will be driving the #14 Conseco G-Force Toyota. AJ is not with us in this press conference because we assume you were able to get his comments in the previous press conference. We'll open it up to questions from the audience.
Q. Vitor, you said they've kind of assigned you the #2. Has that been clarified, you will be the driver of the #2 car?
VITOR MEIRA: I'm going to drive some races, I don't know which ones, I don't know when. Who is going to start the championship, I don't know. But all I know is that for sure I'm going to drive some races. That's so far what I can say, as long as the package is going to be the same one, the Menard Chevrolet. From now that's all I can say, that I just going to drive some races. I don't know how many, and I don't know when.
Q. Tomas Scheckter, you go into this season with a different team. You won your race last year. You showed that you were pretty fast. Do you expect that this is a championship-contending team that you now have and that you have enough experience and maturity and patience to win a championship?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Well, I mean, for sure the team is a championship-winning team. They've proved it many times. I think the pressure is on me. I think I've got a lot to prove. I had a year last year with ups and downs. I need to take all the ups, learn what I can from them, take all the downs and learn from them. I need to make sure that this year I put it all together. Hopefully with the team and the package that Chip has put together, I'll be able to do a good job, and so will the team.
Q. Sarah, coming up through the short-track racing, with the changing face of the IRL, do you see opportunities in the future for young American drivers much like yourself who have come up through the ranks, but as unfunded drivers?
SARAH FISHER: Well, just for clarity, I wasn't a funded driver either. I'm not from a family that has money at all. My mom is a teacher, my dad is self-employed as a little engineer. I know how it comes to be from that route. It's going to be a lot harder for drivers like myself to get into the IndyCar Series just because there's an addition of so many great drivers coming along. It's just going to be a lot harder to secure something, definitely.
Q. Dan, you've been doing a lot of the initial testing for Andretti Green Racing. I guess it's pretty much fallen to you to figure out the car, figure out the engine. How is it all working so far?
DAN WHELDON: Well, the Honda, I think the first test they did with other cars, actually I didn't drive. I think Tony and Michael took over. It was real competitive. Personally, I wouldn't expect anything less from Honda. They've always won in every championship that they've been in. The work I did was with the 2002 car. This will actually be my first day tomorrow in the 2003 car. But from what Tony, Dario and Michael say, the team has done a fantastic job. We're ready to go. We're looking forward to it. I guess we'll see tomorrow afternoon.
Q. A lot of stress for you?
DAN WHELDON: I prefer the stress. I'd much rather be driving than actually being here trying to get a drive, so it's a great opportunity.
Q. Dan, how do you feel that you will be the one selected to step into the car and keep it running for the rest of the season when Michael resigns, retires?
DAN WHELDON: He's certainly the most successful driver right now in America. Obviously, he's competed in all the different series around the world and won races. It's big shoes to fill. But obviously he's going to be on hand for me that I can learn a lot from him. This is going to be -- actually, this is not going to be a full season for me, but pretty much. I've got a lot to learn. I do think he's going to be on hand for me all the time. I think having a team owner that has also been a very successful driver is also going to help that transition. He's been very, very good to learn from. We're looking forward to it.
Q. Dan, after May, are you going to drive the #7 car with Michael's crew or continue with the #26?
DAN WHELDON: I will have a different crew for the Indianapolis 500.
Q. The #7 after that?
DAN WHELDON: To be honest, I don't know that situation right now. I'm sure they're currently taking care of that.
Q. Sam, do you think this is your championship to lose? So many more teams that now look like championship contenders. Are you even fazed by that or do you just worry about what you have at Panther?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I guess we'll start to see tomorrow. That will be the first sign of what's to come. It will be a long year. There's a depth of teams, but I think I raced against the best drivers at one point or another last year. Almost everybody that's here I raced against. Who is to say? Winning one championship is hard enough. Winning two is really hard. Can you make it three in a row with the same driver? It will be tough to tell. I think we have as good a shot as anybody.
Q. Sam, Felipe and Sarah, of all of you people, you have the most experience in the series. Do you think that's going to give you any kind of an advantage with all the difficult competition you have got, not only on the floor here but the other drivers who we're still going to talk to?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's tough to tell. I'd like to say it's an advantage. If this was going to be the third year of the car that we ran last year, I'd say we have an advantage. Since we're starting with a new car and new engine package, we don't have a major advantage. The one thing we do know is we know the tracks, we know most of the drivers. Somebody that joins us that hadn't raced with us last year, they have to learn, with Eddie Cheever, Scott Sharp out on the racetrack, how to deal with that driver.
FELIPE GIAFFONE: I think we're not going to have any advantage on them. They're new drivers, but we're talking about Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Kenny Brack. They're not new, they're not rookies. I think it's just going to be way more competitive. Again, just like Sam said, you're just trying to find out how it's going to be running with them in those big tracks, who you're going to have to be a little bit more concerned for or not. But it's going to be tough.
SARAH FISHER: Even though I'm going into my fourth year this season, I only really truly consider last year's half of the season as experience that's going to carry me forward because I was with a first-class team who had people who were capable of winning, and people who were capable of making myself and Robbie Buhl win races. I'm carrying on with those people, so I really only consider half of a year of really good experience.
Q. Sarah, when you met Schumacher and Prost, did that give you any inkling that sometime down maybe years in your future you would like to go to Formula 1?
SARAH FISHER: I think every driver carries it in their mind to run F1. But for myself, I'm extremely fortunate just to be where I'm at running in the Indy Racing League, in the IndyCar Series. It's a tremendous opportunity for me because I'm an American. I'm a US citizen. I was born and raised here to run the Indianapolis 500 and to compete in open-wheel racing here in the States. That's my number one priority. After meeting Schumacher and Alain Prost, they're two very down-to-earth people. Schumacher is very thankful for his team. He's very thankful for Jean Todt, everybody they've given him. Alain Prost is the same. What I took away from that is to never change, be the same person that I am now, which is humble and down-to-earth.
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