Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MODERATOR: Welcome to the IndyCar Press Conference. We have visiting with us today IndyCar Series drivers Gil de Ferran and Sam Hornish Jr.. Our first guest is Gil de Ferran. He currently drives the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone and has two victories to his credit this year, those being the 2003 Indianapolis 500 as well as the Firestone Indy 200, Nashville SuperSpeedway and he currently stands second in the IndyCar series points standings, just 25 points shy of current leader and current teammate Helio Castroneves. And yesterday it was announced that Gil would be retiring at the conclusion of the 2003 season. Gil, good morning and thanks for joining us today.
GIL de FERRAN: Good morning.
MODERATOR: The decision to retire ranks as one of the biggest decisions a person makes in their lifetime. If you can take us through some of your thoughts and the decisions that led up to you making this announcement.
GIL de FERRAN: Sure. First of all, I want to say it was a very difficult and emotional decision for me because being a race car driver it's all I have known really since I was a teenager; that's what I aimed to do since I was a kid so it was a very big decision, very big decision for me. I think this thought was bouncing in my mind since very early this year; to be honest, even before the season started it was something that I was thinking about and I guess the very fact that I was thinking about I didn't perceive it is as being a good sign. Certainly after we won the Indy 500 this year and as we were approaching the middle of the season I felt it was important for me to make a call whether I was going to continue or not. Really more in regards to -- with regards to the team and our partners and everybody else involved. I don't think it was fair for me to wait until the last race of the season to finally say, well, that's it, I have finished. Which to be quite honest with you, from a purely selfish standpoint it probably is what I would have preferred to do, but it was not really a realistic and fair option in my mind. From that point onwards, early July, I told Roger that I would not be continuing and I guess I felt it was important to leave while I was at the peak of my career. And move on to different things and look forward to an onwards and upwards career doing something else.
MODERATOR: Did your victory at Indianapolis this year help ease the decision or solidify the decision to retire?
GIL de FERRAN: Yes and no. I guess it helped, you know, underlying the fact that my feeling that I did have accomplished here, I guess more than I could possibly dream of. It felt like the Indy 500 was a big factor on that front but on the other hand, I guess I am trying to guess whether -- what the peak of my career is. And right now I just won the Indy 500 and this season I am still in the fight for the Championship this year I guess, you know, if I could just look back in a few year's time, look, I won my last Championship and I won my last race and I won the last Indy 500 I competed on, that, I guess, would be the kind of memory I would like to have; rather than, yeah, my last couple of years I didn't enjoy, I didn't enjoy my last couple of years in racing not as much as, you know, as I did before and so on and so forth.
MODERATOR: Looking back on your career, specifically with team Penske, you joined the team at a time when it was going through some struggles, but since joining them you have helped give them several series Championships and Indianapolis 500 victories. When you look back on your time with team Penske there has to be a feeling of accomplishment.
GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. Certainly my time at Team Penske is probably one of the most enjoyable times of my life; both from a professional and a personal standpoint and, you know, what we were able to accomplish together in my mind is incredible, and you know, I will -- I will forever cherish the memory of this last full season.
MODERATOR: At this time, I'd like to go up and open our forum to the media. We do a complete transcript of the call as a reminder. It will be sent to you via e-mail and fax machine. Let us open the forum for questions.
Q. When you made the decision and then just one day, two days afterwards, is there more pressure on you now that you have made the announcement or is there less pressure that you made the announcement?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't think it changes all that much. I guess because you know, the motivation to win the last three races and to try to win the Championship is within me. And I guess I have in racing with that decision taken, even though it hasn't been announced since early July and, you know, I hope you think that it hasn't really changed the way I approach my races and my driving. So I guess in my mind it doesn't really change much going forward to these last three races.
Q. How much or did the fact that you were entered last year and you were entered this year factor in?
GIL de FERRAN: I guess in my mind, for me to be able to race properly and to be competitive and to drive at my best, I had to put both accidents behind me. I couldn't really sit in the car with fear in my heart and afraid of possible consequences. I am very radical like that. You either race and drive, you know, full-hearted and with all enthusiasm and aggression that you have, or you don't do it at all. So from a psychological standpoint I had to put them behind me even before I got in the car. So I guess in my mind I would say that it did not play a very big part in this decision. For me the decision was more about not wanting to go to a decline. You see what I mean. I guess the very fact that I was questioning whether I should continue or not, was a sign that perhaps, you know, and at some point in the near future I was maybe about to turn a corner. And I did not really want to go through that, that period of, you know, thinking of well, maybe last year I would have done a better job at this. That -- for the way I operate in my mind, that's very important for me. I am really -- I really couldn't live with the thought that I am not doing as good a job as I did in the past.
Q. What is next?
GIL de FERRAN: Right now there's no concrete plans, I guess, to be announced.
I think the only one decision so far is that driving will no longer be the main focus of my life and you know, looking forward I guess I have been racing for 21 years and I guess I gathered a lot of experience with racing, all aspects of racing with cars and a little bit with business and I developed and formed some good relationships over the years; certainly the one with the Penske Organization and Roger, him and the guys there, it's probably ranks as one of the most important ones. I would like to make good use of this experiences and this relationships in the future. In what way, shape, or form exactly, (laughs), I have not come to that decision yet. Right now I am focused on finishing this Championship on a high note.
Q. You still do a better job of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame than Ozzie Osborne; as least you knew the words?
GIL de FERRAN: Maybe I should do a record, what do you think. He was very successful.
Q. I don't know about that. Anyway, Rick Mears retired when he was 41. You are retiring just six years younger than that. A lot of people thought that Rick's career ended far too early. How, in your mind, keep from the self-doubt that maybe I still got it in me, I still want to go out there and do it, how do you suppress the competitive desires that a race driver has?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't know, that's the problem I have to deal with going forward. To be honest with you, I am sure I am going to have a few itches here and there in the future because I love racing. I always did, and I probably always will, you know, and in a way, I do not know the answer to that question. But the other side of the coin, a lot of funny stories that happened yesterday, you know, yesterday I was trying to contact a few people that were friends or people that I felt played a very important role in my life and my career, certainly one of those people was Jackie Stewart. So I called Jackie said and he said, first thing he said, he says, how old are you. I said 35. He said, oh, you lasted one more year than I did. (Laughs). So I don't know, it's hard to know exactly when the time is to stop and at what age and so on so forth. I guess I just felt it was my time.
Q. Rick did a really good job when he got out of the car; he never ever even came close to getting back in. Never showed any signs of wanting to do it. When he quit, he quit. Have you spoken with him? Have you talked with him? Has he given you advice because there probably will be a transition period where it's going to be a little difficult for you?
GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. I mean, you know, Rick was very young, you know, he felt very strongly about that because you know, it was discussed about that a lot because you know, and I share his opinion on that. I think it's difficult for you to be competitive when you are not doing this full-time. It's hard enough for you to be in the thick of it when you are doing it 24/7 and you are thinking about it all the time and you are training all the time and you are driving all the time, even then you don't win every race, so used to do it in a spur of the moment, it's even more difficult. Currently I have no plans to do any race or do any driving and stuff like that. My mind right now is that, you know, driving is not something I want to focus on going forward. I have no plans to do any sporadic races or anything like that. That's it.
Q. At your age though you have a lot more years left, you know, in life, what is it that you would like to do? What are your other interests? What can you see yourself doing as a post-racing career?
GIL de FERRAN: I love racing, like I said. I love cars. I love technology. I always did. I went to engineering school because it was something that I really wanted to do. I wanted to learn more about cars and technology and how things are built, made, and developed. That has been a passion of mine that maybe I will dedicate myself going forward. But like I said, there's a lot of things that I'd like to do that I guess I suppressed for the sake of my focusing on my driving career that now I will try to open those fires back again after October and explore things going forward. In a way I am not in great hurry to make a big decision here.
Q. A couple of years ago when the Penske Team moved into the IRL you were a little less than excited about the possibility of full-time oval racing. Looking into the future, did that help to expedite your decision to leave? Would you have stayed if there was some road racing in the IRL's future schedule?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I know that was widely talked about when we made it the move to the IRL. But those feelings were far from what I was feeling at the time. Never made any secret that I missed road racing, but, you know, -- as far as I was concerned I was excited about staying with Team Penske and doing what we are doing. And I guess trying to answer your question, I guess I did miss road racing and I guess I will, in a way, miss road racing. But my decision had more to do with trying to catch me ride the wave, you know, while I am at the crest of the wave rather than waiting for the wave to brake.
Q. Your name has great value but it ends up being attached to another form of racing, or have you talked specifically to Roger about taking on a role like Rick has?
GIL de FERRAN: I don't know. I feel like I have a good relationship with Roger and the team and, you know, I like racing. I enjoy racing very much. But I haven't made a specific decision as to what I am going to do going forward. I guess there will be another conference somewhere in the future.
Q. Does that future include the United States, will you return to Brazil or maybe is there a Europe in your -- in the next horizon, the next frontier for you?
GIL de FERRAN: I guess, you know, part of my family is Brazil. My wife is British, so the other part of my family is in the U.K.. I have also some family in France, but I have to tell you that I have been in America, I guess for nine years now, and I certainly very much enjoy living here and I feel very much at home where I am right now, so, you know, I guess if duty calls me somewhere else I will have to go somewhere else. But currently I have no plans to move. I really enjoy where I am, and I have got no plans to go anywhere else.
Q. Could you imagine, going back to '99 when Roger first talked to you that in these four years since you have come with him starting in 2000 you would have accomplished as much as you did if?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I guess from my standpoint, you know, we, you know, winning four Championship and winning 50%(laughs) -- you know, it's really -- that's what I mean, sometimes I sit back and I think about it and I say, wow, it's been a amazing relationship. Certainly, if I am fortunate enough to win this one, that will be 75% of the Championship (inaudible) with Roger, and that really would be amazing. But it's been a great journey. Driving for Team Penske is not anything that I could have hoped for and it's really been a dream come true for me. I have enjoyed it not only from a professional perspective, and because of the success on the racetrack and the accolades and so on so forth, but from a personal standpoint it's really been a wonderful time for me. I guess you may have caught some of that, you know, during interviews and the conversations that we had over the years, even from 2001 and 2002, but I guess I am here to repeat that again.
Q. At any time when you -- when Roger called you, he was in the middle of a slump which by the way you ended, but did you ever think you were taking a little risk with your career?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think with every decision that goes there is a risk. Nothing is perfect. There's no guaranteed-anything in life, I don't believe, you know, but I have to tell you that when I spoke to Roger back in early 1999 it only took me a few minutes to realize, you know, how much commitment he had going forward to bring the team back to success. And certainly his track record and the commitment he portrayed, I mean, in my mind, that was the best possible. I certainly didn't want to be on the other end of it, you know, fighting against him from what I heard. And it proved -- I guess it proves to be the right decision.
Q. I know the people in Ft. Lauderdale will be happy to hear that you are staying for a little while. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions. First, did Helio try to talk you out of this decision at all?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, you know, Helio was a bit shocked, I think, at least that was my read. We have developed a great relationship as teammates and as friends, but even though he is a very good friend of mine, I had to keep even him out of it, there were so many confidential negotiations going on and so much secrecy and things around on the whole thing that unfortunately we had to keep Helio out of it. So he really didn't have a chance to try to talk me out of it. (Laughs). But that's one thing that I will definitely miss is the good times I had with Helio over the years. We will remain friends, I guess, he lives just down the road so we'll be seeing him a lot more often.
Q. You mentioned that there was something you couldn't do because of racing, I know when a couple of the hockey players retired they said, now I can go skiing or do this, is there something that you have really been putting off that you'd love to do right now once your racing career is over?
GIL de FERRAN: I guess, you know, the side of it, there's one side of when you have a career that takes most of your time, you know, you don't have a lot of time to go and see friends and see people that you'd like to see a little more often. Maybe I will spend a little more time doing that, but for me, what I was trying to say it was not a matter of focus. I always kept myself from thinking about other things because I always thought that that was bad for my focus or my driving. So every time I start to day-dream about this, that and the other, I am like okay, no, no, no, no, wipe that out of your mind, focus on your driving and training, so on and so forth. So it's funny because even when you are running, you know, I used, especially before the accident, I used to run a lot up and down the beach here all the time; I am running thinking about the weekend, thinking about my driving, so on and so forth. Trying to stop myself from thinking about any other thing.
Q. Even though racing is an inherently risky sport, racing primarily on ovals the last couple of years, had you found that oval racing had just become a little bit more dangerous in light of some of the injuries that you have had?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think there's risk involved in any sort of racing and certainly risk involved with high-speed oval racing, but in a way that's something that I understood and accepted from day one. I guess if I was that afraid of those risks I wouldn't be even sitting in the car and certainly I guess I was very aware of those risks; especially after the accident, in Chicago and Phoenix and even though those events occurred, in my mind, the decision was to go on because I still loved what I did and I enjoyed very much the driving and the racing.
Q. You were saying that the last couple of years hadn't been as much fun as before. Was there -- what one thing just wasn't fun for you --
GIL de FERRAN: No, no, no. You misunderstood me. I did not say that. I said that I did not want to go through a period where I wasn't enjoying, that I would be enjoying any racing all that much. And I really didn't want to go through a period like that. Right now, I feel that, you know, my driving is as good as it ever was, you know, right now I sit in the car and I am excited. I enjoy what I do and, you know, it's a good time to stop while I feel I am at my best and while I am feeling I am enjoying what I do. I guess what I was trying to say is I did not want to go through a period of decline where later on in life my memories would have been from these last two years that perhaps wasn't so good. But currently I am having a great time and exactly because of that I want to stop right here, trying to test the hot waters while it's still cooking.
Q. Is there any chance that we'll see you come back just for the month of May next year to defend your 500?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, right now that's not currently in the plans. I mean, I guess -- I think it would be a very difficult thing to do just to step back in the car for a race, but, you know, I guess you can never say never, but right now that's not what I am planning to do. I am planning to stop driving altogether.
Q. How involved were you, if at all, in the decision to bring Sam to take your place?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I guess, from the standpoint of the timing I may have been indirectly somewhat involved, you know, because, with all modesty apart, I know that the good drivers get signed up quite early, you know, anywhere, you know, from June to August, within that window, if you are one of the top drivers in the market you are going to get signed up. So I knew really I couldn't wait until October for me to make a call whether I was going to stop or not because then I knew Penske Racing wouldn't be able to get a first-class replacement. So I guess the timing of my making a call, had everything to do with my knowledge about the drivers' market.
Q. You talked a little bit before about Helio's reaction. What was Roger's reaction to all of this and could you tell me a little bit about how this all came about vis-a-vis you said something about negotiations and talks?
GIL de FERRAN: Say again?
Q. What was Roger's reaction to all of this?
GIL de FERRAN: I guess Roger and I always had a very open relationship, you know, and I mean, when we were talking about the future and what my role was going to be I was the first guy to say look, that's bouncing in my head. He was very supportive, you decide whatever you want to do, you know, if you are committed to do it you will have a place here. That was really the main message that came across, which I thought was very nice, made me -- put me in a very comfortable position because I knew I could decide either way.
MODERATOR: Everyone has been talking about your retirement, what you are going to be doing down the road, all that, but the fact remains there are three races remaining on the 2003 IndyCar Series schedule. Right now you are sitting in second place. Trailing your teammate Helio. Can you wrap up your career with an IndyCar Series Championship?
GIL de FERRAN: I think there's a very concrete possibility. I mean, I think we have been having a very competitive season and I think our position in the points standings reflect that, but you know, certainly that will be no walk in the park, let us put it this way. I know Helio is very, very strong, you know, and I know Tony is very strong, I know Scott is very strong and certainly Sam is also very strong and certainly in my mind those are the main candidates for this year, so I am ready to fight for it until the very end. I guess from a personal standpoint it would be great to look back and thank God, I won my last race and I won my last Championship and I leisurely came out on top. So I guess we'll wait and see and it will be a fighting end to this season, that's for sure.
MODERATOR: Gil, thanks again for joining us today and the best of luck in your pursuit of the Championship.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Now let's welcome Indy car Series driver,Sam Hornish Jr.. Sam currently drives the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther/Delora/ChevroletFirestone. The two-time IndyCar Series Champion has nine career IndyCar Series victories and currently stands fifth in the drivers points standings. And it was announced yesterday that he will be replacing the retiring Gil de Ferran at Team Penske beginning in the 2004 season. Sam, welcome, and thanks again for joining us today.
SAM HORNISH JR: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Well, over the last months speculations were all over the place as far as where and for whom you would be driving next season. Tell us, if you can, how the opportunity to drive for Team Penske came about.
SAM HORNISH JR: It really all started last year, you know, we had had some talks with Team Penske and there was no opportunity to really do anything. We mutually let each other know that we were interested in some time pursuing a program but I was still under contract with Panther Racing, and they were still under contract with both of their drivers and they really didn't want to do a three-car program. We just kind of put everything on hold and when Gil got ready to come out with his retirement after Kansas when he came to them and told them that that's what he was thinking, they contacted us and we started talking about the possibility have coming in there.
MODERATOR: You had said all along you would make your announcement by the end of August. How did you pinpoint that time? Why not wait until the end of season or even announce it a few weeks prior to when you did?
SAM HORNISH JR: Like Gil was saying, the good rides and good drivers get taken at that point. I wanted to get everything done. I knew of the opportunities that I had, that I would be able to make that decision. But it was really a good thing the way everything worked out and I am real happy with helping ^ west. It was a tough decision to make, a hard decision to make, I knew that, but keep all your options open and have your mind made up by the end of August.
MODERATOR: This past weekend at Nazareth the closing laps of the race you a tremendous battle going with Helio Castroneves. At any time during or after the race when you were in the post-race press conference did the thought cross your mind that this guy was going to be wearing the same colors as you next season?
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, I mean, I wanted to beat him so badly (laughs); that's kind of, you know, I really was trying hard to get around him, and I thought there's no better way than knowing what I knew on Sunday going into Monday, there was nothing that I wanted to do more than to win that race, to go into that -- make that announcement as the winner of the race before that. It just didn't happen that way. I know that points are very important and I need to gain as many points as I could, and having the bad luck that some of the other drivers had, I needed to finish first and if I could get a run on Helio and get the job done, I was definitely going to go for it. But I didn't have that opportunity to get the pass made.
MODERATOR: Sam, at this time, let us open our forum for questions from the media.
Q. There's been so much speculation on the NASCAR side about your arrival or who you'd be racing with; what you would be doing and reports still say there's a possibility even though you are with Penske on the IRL side that stock car racing isn't out of the realm of possibility. Can you just address the situation please and kind of put all the rumors to rest.
SAM HORNISH JR: Right now I am focused on the IndyCar side of it and winning the Indianapolis 500. Team Penske has had an awesome record at the Indy 500 and I think that's, you know, the foreseeable future that needs to be my focus, is to wining Indianapolis 500 and to wining races over here, it's -- that's as far as I can see right now; that's what I am going to be focusing on. That's the job that I have been hired to do is to drive IndyCars.
Q. Have you discussed with Roger any possibilities of perhaps doing something like the Daytona 500, something that doesn't conflict with the IRL schedule in the near future?
SAM HORNISH JR: You know, right now the focus is on the IndyCars. We haven't talked about those things. Right now anything that takes my focus away from driving IndyCars we have a lot of testing that we'll be doing, so that's the focus right now. That's what we're going to be working on.
Q. As the week progressed last week and you heard and read all the reports that put you in NASCAR, what in the world was going through your mind?
SAM HORNISH JR: It is amazing how people take more of what you don't into account than what you do say. That's what I was thinking. It's kind of a weird thing how saying that you are going to have a new opportunity or try something new is automatically referred to going into NASCAR racing. I just was trying to keep my -- trying to keep calm, do all the things that I had to do to try and go and win at Nazareth and while I didn't get that job done, it was about as close as you can get without doing it.
Q. Did you laugh?
SAM HORNISH JR: Did I laugh? You know, that's one of the main things that I wanted to make sure that I never did was, you know, I tried my best not to mislead anybody. I never said -- I said that there were options to go there, but I never said that that's what I was going to do. I tried -- that was the hardest part about it because you want to be able to make your announcement when it's time and to have time to go through and talk to everybody and plan out the situation and what everybody is going to say. So you kind of got to keep it bottled up; which was hard, but I am glad that everything was able to calm down a little bit before -- during the weekend so that I could focus on my driving the race car. That still is my focus, to try and go out there and win a Championship. While it is a long shot we're going to give it our best shot.
Q. One of the things you said last week was the fact that when you started this whole thing of going into the Indy Racing League, you weren't sure what you would do or what your success would be. Now that you have signed with Penske is this a bit unbelievable that in such a short time you have made such progress?
SAM HORNISH JR: I am really happy the way things have gone. Like I have said before, I never knew -- I never imagine that I'd be an IndyCar driver. It was always a goal of mine but I didn't -- while I wanted it, I didn't actually -- you know, I didn't actually think that it would happen. And then now to have won races and Championships, I think the next thing to win an Indianapolis 500 is to get the ride that I got. It's unreal to me. I remember towards the beginning of my go-karting career, I remember having a dream that I had a meeting with Roger and Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan and they wanted me to come drive with them. I thought that -- like when I woke up in the morning, I thought there's no way that will ever happen. Kind of cool. Kind of a cool thing to be involved with that.
Q. Two questions. One, about team orders, has Roger spoken to you about facial hair yet?
SAM HORNISH JR: No, but Gil yesterday gave me a razor and shaving cream, but I figured until Mr. Penske tells me that I need to shave, I will wait.
Q. On the serious side how do you handle -- you are in a delicate situation. You got a great team who -- you mutually hit the high points of success. How -- is it delicate to talk to them about, you know, what is going on, or is all of your team so focused and you on winning the Championship that it looks like business as usual?
SAM HORNISH JR: Well, you know, as far as any talks that I have with them about next year, we don't talk about anything that's going on this year but as far as my talks with Team Penske right now, we talk about off-track stuff; none of the on-track stuff. So I am still contracted to drive for Panther and I am doing the best job that I could do for them. They have really given me some good cars over the past couple of years and we're going to really focus on that. When you get to the racetrack, it's time to race; it's not time to talk about all those other things. We're doing the best that week to be business as usual. I know it's hard on the guys and it is hard on me also, but that's the way we have got to handle it, as professional as we can.
Q. Is Poncho Carter, is he staying with the team, do you know or is he -- do you want him with you at Penske?
SAM HORNISH JR: Poncho has been a great father for me. As far as I know, he's staying with the team. I haven't talked to anybody at the team, any of the sponsors, anything like that about moving to come with me. I don't want to take anything away from Panther's program. That was a great fit for me when I got into that car with all the people that they had put together, and, you know, while people made up their minds to do things that they want to, I would never pursue somebody that's going to leave with me or take anything away from their program.
Q. How difficult really a decision was this to you to make here? You are going to team that gives you the best chance that you have had to win the Indy 500, but yet Panther Racing kind of made you what you are really, how difficult was this really for you to do?
SAM HORNISH JR: Panther Racing gave me an opportunity at the end of 2000 just to come in and try to show what I can do. I feel that I made the best that I could with that opportunity. While coming into my new situation, there's no excuses now. If I can't win the Indianapolis 500 in the program that I am in, I am probably not going to do it. It was a tough decision to make. I have made a lot of friends at Panther Racing. I don't consider any of those persons not to be a friend to me. That was a tough decision to make, but on the other hand, you know, this is business and people make decisions in their lives, and I definitely wouldn't hold any of them back from doing something that they thought was the better fit for them or that was going -- or it was something that they always wanted to do, so I never expected them to do the same thing to me. While I knew it would be tough for all of us, it was a decision that I had to make.
Q. How soon after the season have you guys talked about maybe starting to test and learn the Toyota and learn the team and everything like that?
SAM HORNISH JR: We haven't scheduled anything right now. The focus is on the 2003 season and after that, I will really be looking forward to my first test with them. As it stands right now we haven't had any talks with them about doing any tests.
Q. You reached a sense of quality at Panther. Any other options other than staying at Panther to going to Penske?
SAM HORNISH JR: Really the way I look at it, I had a lot of options and, you know, when everything came together being able to do the Penske deal, that was what I was going to do. I have been a big fan of a lot of drivers that came through that and I guess I am a fan -- was a fan of the team also. When I got that opportunity I felt that it is only right, everything that I ever dreamed about doing as a child and a young adult was to drive for that team. So I figured I couldn't turn it down. Panther Racing, you know, was a very natural fit for me and I have had -- having a great time working with them and I feel that if I didn't do something -- if I didn't make the decision that I did make that was -- they were definitely right there also. I know what a good job that we've all done together.
Q. Penske means Toyota and Toyota is going to mean NASCAR pretty soon. Is that a possibility in your future to -- ever any thoughts about possibly becoming part of the Toyota effort in NASCAR?
SAM HORNISH JR: Right now everything that we've talked about has been focused on the IndyCar side. That's what we're planning on doing, winning -- I am trying to win Indianapolis 500. They have obviously got a great record there. They know how to get the job done. That's what we're going to be focused on as far as the foreseeable future goes.
Q. As far as this season goes, the improvement in the Chevrolet motor must be very rewarding for you and now you started the season kind of at the back of the line; now you are very much in the front of the line and have a chance to win championships.
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, while it's a longshot with the Championship, they have gone through the first nine or so races of the year and, you know, actually only have ten races but the tenth race we feel pretty -- it feels almost kind of like winners the fact that we're still in this Championship. White it is a longshot, we're going to do everything we can to go out and win the last three races of the year. We figured with the Champ Car -- we have had a few seconds and a first and probably the combined loss with the second place with two car lengths so we're pretty excited about the rest of the season and we're just really focused on trying to win that Championship. And I don't wish bad luck upon anybody, but it's going to take a little bit of that for us to win that.
Q. When I read where you signed a multi-year contract. Does that mean more than one or 50 years or what does that mean?
SAM HORNISH JR: It means more than one, but not lifetime. While this was a very tough decision to make, you know, I hoped that it's probably the last decision that I will have to make as far as that goes. It was so tough to do and hopefully I will be able to do a good job over there and they will want to keep me around.
Q. When Team Penske joined the IRL last year, immediately Helio tried to kind of mark his territory or stake out his territory, I guess. But you always had really high level of respect for Gil. Just talk a little bit about what he's meant to the sport and the fact that you are replacing him and his character and how much you really enjoyed racing with him?
SAM HORNISH JR: He is a great competitor on the track and he's a great spokesman off the track. A lot of people look at Penske Racing, you got Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr, and Danny Sullivan and so on, all these other drivers, and they say, how does it feel to be living up to great drivers like that. But when you look at Gil, he's really put himself in the record books. He got 100th victory for the Penske, won two Championships and the Indianapolis 500, so I mean, it will be very big success to fill. But I am looking forward to it. I think that it will be a lot of fun to go over there and see if I can get the job done.
Q. But as a person I think you always had a high level of respect for Gil, the way he carried himself.
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, he's got a lot of good things to say about the sport and about the other drivers and always handles himself very professionally. I think that we could definitely have some more drivers that could handle themselves that way and it would be a good thing for the league.
Q. At what point did you know that this was the direction you were going to go and is Daytona a possibility for next year?
SAM HORNISH JR: Everything was finalized, basically the ink is still wet on it, but it was pretty much finalized within the last week. It was a big deal for me to be able to come into this program and like I said before, it was a dream as child to be in one of these cars. And as far as the Daytona thing goes, I am focused on winning the Indy 500 and as far as the foreseeable future goes there won't be a NASCAR program.
Q. You pretty much come to be identified with the IRL. Did loyalty to the IRL play any part in your decision at all?
SAM HORNISH JR: I feel that definitely I had -- I had an opportunity within the IRL that I probably wouldn't have had if it wasn't for the IRL. There wasn't very many young American drivers coming into the CART Series, so being that I could get into the IRL and get my feet wet and to be able to have the success in the short amount of time that I have had, I feel that there is a little bit of loyalty there and the IRL does also have the Indianapolis 500, I guess maybe I kind of look at it from the fact that maybe it's time for me to give a little bit back to the IRL.
Q. I am wondering if you have talked to Helio yet about your move and also curious when John Barnes knew that you were going to be driving for Penske?
SAM HORNISH JR: I actually talked to Helio a little bit yesterday and he's a little bit of a comedian so he wanted to know how come I was pushing him so hard in the race. I didn't want him to feel that I am not going to race him hard. I wanted to win that race really bad. But like I said, last week we told Panther that I wouldn't be back, we would let them know, and while yesterday morning was the day of it, we knew we were going to try to keep everything under wraps, so that's when they knew.
Q. Do you think this whole opportunity would have come to pass had you not held (inaudible) the Penske guys last year for the title when they were expected to come over and dominate the series that by you winning, that you feel like it made you the guy to get when they started looking around for a replacement?
SAM HORNISH JR: No, I don't think it hurt any. I think that I have given my all as a competitor against that team and I will continue to give my all and even now the talks still that they don't expect anything more from me to race them hard and clean like I always try to do. They want a Champion driver and they want a three-time Champion driver just like they want, I feel that while right now they still want one of their drivers to win the Championship, but if they can't do it, I am sure they'd like me to. It's kind of a tough place to be in, but I feel that the stuff that I have done on the track is why they picked me and even throughout this year, hopefully I will be a good spokesman for them and I will win a lot of races for them.
Q. Have you had a chance to ponder the irony of this whole thing, coming together who you are driving for?
SAM HORNISH JR: How is it ironic?
Q. I mean, that a team that you are racing against and your thought to be the favorite, now you are going to be driving for them next year?
SAM HORNISH JR: I mean, it goes back to everything I have ever done, it is a natural progression even when I came into the IRL, I was started with PDM Racing, kind of a very low budget, but we had the money to get to the track and put the car out there and I have done a test with Panther Racing and we ran at Kentucky and I ran Scott Goodyear hard all day; he ended up finishing ahead of me, but that's when I knew that I would get the contract suddenly. Basically unless you go to do another series, you are going to be racing before people that you have raced against before.
Q. Does this surprise you that even though you have said that you are focusing on the IRL, driving an IndyCar, that people still ask about are you going to race at NASCAR?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think that's the big question that a lot of people want to know. It doesn't really surprise me at all. A lot of people, you know, I guess probably want to see what I can do put up against that. But back when I was going through all of my options and talking to people, I said a lot of times that Dale Earnhardt Jr. told me that you have to make up your mind when you get up in the morning, you want to be a stock car driver or open-wheel driver and I feel that not winning the Indy 500 and being able to be in the position where I can run for Roger Penske, I feel that there's a lot of good reasons.
Q. Even though we're quite a few months away, from the Indy 500, do you feel more pressure now that you are with Team Penske to win the Indy 500?
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, but I put enough pressure on myself I want to win that and probably I am probably my biggest critic, and also put more pressure on myself. It is getting any bigger. I have put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself the last couple of years to do that.
Q. You have probably answered this a thousand times. I think it's relevant again. Kind of summarize what Indy means to you, has meant to you throughout your racing career and also has that changed in the past couple of days now that you have joined Roger's team?
SAM HORNISH JR: Winning the Indianapolis 500, just being able to compete in the Indy 500 was something that I never thought that I would be able to do. Now that I have found that, it is the next logical progression, I said many times, there's some things that you want to do. I've got the opportunity to compete now and I want the opportunity to win and I feel I have positioned myself in the best opportunity to do that and the pressure is on, I guess, but trying to do -- even if, you know -- I try not to think about all that stuff too much, focusing on trying to win this third Championship. Trying to figure out ways to get the job done.
Q. Another question on the NASCAR issue. You said you want to win Indy. You talked about racing in the Daytona 500. If you had a chance to race in NASCAR but it meant starting in the trucks and working your way through the trucks, the whole progression, would that get in the way -- would that be disappointing to you or would you rather just jump right in to racing in -- at the Daytona 500?
SAM HORNISH JR: If I were to do something like that, you know, I don't, you know, want to be spending the rest of my life getting to that point. But they -- you do have to have a certain amount of testing time, but, as I said before, the focus is on winning the Indy 500 and running the IndyCar program. That's the sponsors that are involved in that program, and to be able to put me in that car and part of the reason why I decided to come to this team. So I am focused on doing my best for them and not worried about all the things that are further down the road.
MODERATOR: That's all the time we have for today. Congratulations on your announcement yesterday. Congratulations on your season thus far and the best of luck down the road in the final three races.
SAM HORNISH JR: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's teleconference.
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