Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
KENT JOHNSON: Good afternoon. We would like to welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week of Tuesday November 4. Today we'll visit two members of the Panther Racing Team, John Barnes as well as Mark Taylor. John Barnes is co-owner of Panther Racing which recently announced that it will field two cars in the IRL IndyCar series in 2004: The No. 4 Pennzoil/Panther/Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone to be driven by Thomas Scheckter and the recent addition of the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville/Chevrolet/Firestone that will be driven by Mark Taylor, who is the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series Champion. Right now with us is John Barnes. Good morning and thanks for joining us.
JOHN BARNES:: Good morning. You guys doing all right?
KENT JOHNSON: Doing very good. You have alluded over the past few months to the possibility of a second Panther entry for next season. Now that that has come about, tell us what you can, and if you will, about the time-line of how this second car came into reality.
JOHN BARNES:: Well, as I've said a couple of times, we had about three or four different options for sponsorship and funding and all for the second car operation of Panther. In fact we even looked at three at one point in time, John Menari (ph) approached us about three weeks ago, four weeks ago, in fact, the California race when he were waiting to leave and he said to me: "Are you going to be in the office tomorrow? I have something I want to talk to you about." And I said sure. So he called me the next day about noon and said, "Hey, we want to close our operation down. I would still like to stay involved with the IRL and I would like to move the sponsorship over to you guys. You did a great job and would like to continue the winning ways of the Johns Manville Menard entry." And I said, "Yeah, let's talk about it." Three days later, Gary Pedigo, Doug Boles and I flew up to Eu Clair, Wisconsin and basically within about 20 minutes had a handshake deal and came back and we finalized everything at Texas during the Texas race.
KENT JOHNSON: Often times the real a of it I second care is predicated on finding sponsorship, but in this case this sounds like it was part of the package deal.
JOHN BARNES:: It was, yeah. John has a great group of sponsors that have followed him throughout the years, and those people want to say in the IRL and they are really enthusiastic about being part of Panther, so they came on board.
KENT JOHNSON: Now, you have the car in place; time to find a driver. I know Panther Racing looked at many, many possible candidates to fill that seat, but how many decisions did you have knowing you had Tingler (ph) standing on your doorstep basically already within the team's organization and based on what he showed in winning the Menard's Infinit Pro Series this past season?
JOHN BARNES:: It's kind of funny, in the first meeting the Eu Clair, we are having lunch after the meeting and John says, "You know, do you have any ideas how we can solidify the IPS program that I'm sponsoring now?" And I said, "Yeah, I do." He said, "What's that?" I said, "we have a kid for us that drives for us that's won about every race in the Inifinit Pro Series that I felt would be a really good fit for your car." We talked about it for a little bit and decided at that point in time that we ought to start looking that and he did a little due diligence on Mark and came back and said, "Yeah, I think he'd be the guy." And then we agreed upon it at Texas on Saturday.
KENT JOHNSON: Now, you mentioned John Menard and the Menard Infiniti Pro which Menard started sponsoring midway through the season, they will continue to do so next year. And Mark Taylor, we now have seen after two seasons, both of the series champions over the past two years graduate to the IndyCar series. As an owner, what do you see of the product that the Menard Infiniti Pro is producing.
JOHN BARNES:: I think we felt that there was two really good drivers in the Infiniti Pro Series that was ready for the IRL series that was Ed Carpenter, and of course, Mark. Obviously, Ed has been just a tremendous job in the PDM car and I look for great things from him. We focused that way about Mark. Mark really came on strong and he won a lot of races before, but I think the Kansas race was really what made him and he had a good start last and went up through the pack. And he additionally won the race with Ed Carpenter. I think those two guys are really ready to make the next step, and I think that Roger Bailey has done just a tremendous job at the Inifinit Pro Series and adding Butch Minors, a technical guy, I think he's another huge step that the IRL and IPS has made.
KENT JOHNSON: Any time we talk to a driver who has driven for Panther Racing, they are always giving accolades and padding the spotter, Pancho Carter on the back for the outstanding job he's done. We visited with Thomas Scheckter a couple of weeks ago and he talked about his first opportunity to work with Pancho during the test at Milwaukee and I know Pancho was Mark's spotter in the Pro Series, as well. Has anybody sat down and talked about who gets to use Pancho Carter's services next year?
JOHN BARNES:: Pancho is going to be the spotter for the 4 car and we are actually talking to three different people to assume the role of the same situation with Mark. Our spotters are much more involved than just the guy that goes up there and talks on the radio. They are heavily involved in driver development. They sit down with the engineers after the runs and talk about things that they have seen the car do and the driver do and the engineers sit down with the drivers. So, I mean, they are a lot more important to us than just somebody up there that says clear.
KENT JOHNSON: Well, John at this time I would like to open our forum to the media.
Q. How does this relationship now with Menard affect their engine program in building engineers for the Pro Series, does that go under the Panther roof or is the program still there?
JOHN BARNES:: Menard engine development falls under the Menard Engineering, Limited program and that is a totally separate entity. In fact, we have a very large program planned with MCT UK as far as development and engineering help. I think you'll find that the engineering program here in Indianapolis will really come straight on the Infiniti Pro program. I think you'll see the Menard engine group heavily involved with both Infiniti Pro and also with NASCAR engine development, both with General Motors and for some customers that they have. They have some very exciting things happening over there.
Q. You said Panther had some plans for the engine, that would not be working with Jack Ford, though?
JOHN BARNES:: No. We are actually going to do a program with them for our silicone engine program which is also tied to GM, with the short a track engine development.
Q. What are you doing for personnel to run two teams, are you splitting your team up, your No. 4 team, or how do you work them?
JOHN BARNES:: Well, actually, we're not taking anyone off the 4 car. We have had these plans in place for quite a while and then tracking resumes. We have got I would say 95 percent of the people in place at this point in time and hope to fill the rest of the voids by, I would say, no later than Monday next week.
Q. Also, follow-up question, I wasn't too clear on, are you using the same engine supplier that you've been using or are you changing?
JOHN BARNES:: Speedway engineer will continue to build the engines for Panther Racing.
Q. That is the people you have used?
JOHN BARNES:: Yes.
Q. You have a couple of English engineers and a mechanic from England, has that helped in bringing Taylor along, that he has some countrymen to be around?
JOHN BARNES:: To tell you quite frankly, we moved him to Greenwood as soon as he got in and he's got enough Hoosier in him now that it's not going been a problem whatsoever.
Q. You said in Kansas City starting from last and winning, what did you see in him that that was different from winning in the front?
JOHN BARNES:: All of the races he had won up through Kansas, he started first or second and took the lead on the first lap and nobody ever got close enough to him to race with him. He proved to us at that point in time what a great racer he was. Also, at Colorado Springs, it was the same situation. We did a test there and went there basically just to see how he would do under those circumstances because we knew the testing IRL next year is going to be a lot tighter. He performed, again, very well under those circumstances. He's been a work-in-progress, but with Pancho and Woody, and even Andy Brown involved, he's done really a hell of a job the last part of the season.
Q. Well, what is he, 25 or 26, is he more mature than some of the younger guys that have come along?
JOHN BARNES:: Well, yeah, I think so. I think also his upbringing. He's a very solid guy. He thinks he's very methodical about what he does and how he does things, and I mean, the only emotion I ever see out of him is Victory Circle and that has not happened really until lately. James told him how he needs to act there.
Q. Will you continue your Infiniti Pro team?
JOHN BARNES:: No. We just don't really have the space or the manpower to take care of that this year and we are fully committed to the Silver Crown Program. So we're taking a couple of people off IPS program and put them on the Silver Crown Program and rest of the people got put on the IRL team. At this point in time we are going to back off of that, but I think in the near future we'll be back in it because it's done what we wanted it to do. We wanted to use the IPS program to build both mechanics and engineers and drivers for our IRL team, kind of home grown. It just worked fabulous. Between Harvey, Woody, our engineer who will be Mark's engeineer next year in the IRL, just done a fabulous job. He was little Billy Boat's engineer at Indianapolis and Andy Brown has just, I sing high praises for him every day and Chris Griffith's chief mechanic for the IPS program will be Mark's crew chief, also. The IPS program did want Panther Racing wanted it to do. We'll take a year or so off of it and then we get the right opportunity and the right guy to build it again to move somebody up to the IRL. We'll do it again.
Q. How do you believe your relationship with Menard differs from what he had with Cheever?
JOHN BARNES:: I really didn't know what his situation was with Cheever. I never really asked any questions about that and don't have any interest in it. We look forward to our association with John. We have learned a lot, actually, in things that they have done over the years so far that I think will help our racing operation.
Q. About the test at Miami, Homestead, Brian had expressed some, I don't want to stay skepticism, but some concerns about the variable geometry and banking stuff, how did it go yesterday?
JOHN BARNES:: You would have to talk to Brian Barnhart about that. I'm at the airport ready to go to Vegas. I left there this morning and really wasn't around much yesterday.
Q. The comment you made at the beginning, are you now saying that there's no possibilities of a third car for Panther?
JOHN BARNES:: I would say at this point in time we have got one other deal we are talking about. I don't hold out much hope for finalizing it and getting it where we want to be, but you never can tell.
Q. Did you receive all of the equipment and everything from Menard's operation or how does this work?
JOHN BARNES:: We are in a process right now of purchasing all of that. We have got a couple people in our shop that have been there a week going through the inventory and seeing what's applicable that would work within our organization, we'll purchase that stuff and I think we'll have a sale after that.
Q. Your building is pretty big, but is it big enough, is there anything different you have to do with two primary cars now?
JOHN BARNES:: No. I think we've got space to do that. If we expand to a third car, we're going to have to look at some other alternatives. You know, so far, I think we've got everything we need.
Q. Menard has always had an association with a lot of pole positions. Do you think they bring something to you that may help you in that position?
JOHN BARNES:: Well, when I started Panther Racing, we emphasized one thing; that we were there to lead the last lap, not the first one, and that's the one that pays all the money. And we will continue that program. I'm sure, like I said before, there's some things we've learned just from our association so far with Menard that I think will help us possibly in the qualifying. But our emphasis will never change from that standpoint. The praise and accolades that you get for winning a pole are very short. The ones you get for winning races are a lot longer.
Q. I always wondered about this, how does the mechanics of a sponsorship work in terms of the payment schedule, do they give you a lump some at the start or how does that work?
JOHN BARNES:: They are all different. We've not probably 25 sponsorship programs at Panther Racing and all of them are different. Some pay up front 100 percent, some pay monthly, quarterly, they are all different. It just depends on how you want to write it up.
Q. With this transitional phase you guys are in now with the Menard coming on board, you guys are kind of a pretty good belt weather of the economy, if people are optimistic and willing to get involved, are you sensing a difference from a year ago or 18 months ago?
JOHN BARNES:: Like I said a month ago on a teleconference, I think that our racing is the best that there is in the world anywhere. I think as long as we don't change a bunch of things in the rulings and continue to keep the cars where they can race side by side, I think it's going to continue to grow. And the fan base is going to continue to grow, and if we can get our television partners to get on board and start promoting us, you know, I think we'll surpass NASCAR in a couple of years.
KENT JOHNSON: John, I know you have an airplane to catch down there. Thank you for taking time to be with us this morning. Panther Racing has certainly had a busy and exciting off-season, and we wish you the best of luck in your venture next year. At this time we'd like to bring in the driver who has been announced for the No. 2 Menard/Johns Manville/Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. This past season we referred to him as an Infinito Pro Series driver, but niw we can we refer to him as and IndyCar series driver, and that's Mark Taylor. Good morning.
MARK TAYLOR:: Good morning.
KENT JOHNSON: Take us back over the past couple of weeks you test down in Texas in October and then it's a matter of waiting and hoping a ride comes along and, now you've found one and it's with the team that you drove with the past year in the Infiniti Pro Sereis. Tell us about how the ride came about and your feelings now as you look towards your first IndyCar series season.
MARK TAYLOR:: In the middle of the the Infinit Pro Series, it was obvious what a great team Panther Racing is in how well they prepare their cars. I knew that if I could, to be able to move up to them it the IndyCar series, it would be the best option for me to be able to learn and progress in IndyCars. It was always the seat that I wanted to get. It was just the way that it's come about, it's been a dream come true to be able to have the two longest running and the two best teams in the IRL to be able to go to perform a car for me was great news. And to bring in the money from the No. 2 as well, and just about to run those colors, it's going to be a great year for me next year.
KENT JOHNSON: Earlier in the call, John Barnes was talking about how so many of the crew members that you worked this past season are going to be your crew members on the No. 2 car. I guess the one person you're not going to have with you is your spotter, Pancho Carter. Talk about the importance or the familiarity of having crew members around you as you make this step, crew members you are familiar with.
MARK TAYLOR:: It is vital. It's one of the main reasons why teams are able to be so successful. It's an integral part of any team, for the driver to be able to work with the engineer and work with the mechanics and be able to get on and have a good rapport with each other is vitally important just to be able to understand each other on an end of the track. To be able to have the same engineer, Brent Harvey, to be able to have the same mechanics working on the car, I'm able to fully trust them and know what they say to me; it's in my best interests. I'm looking forward to it in the testing and the races in the future. It's going to be a great start for me in my new car series career, as it were.
Q. I know you kind of shook a car down at Texas, they called it a test, but when are you scheduled to make your first official full-blown test in the No. 2 car?
MARK TAYLOR:: I think it's going to be at the beginning of December. I think we are hoping to go down to Phoenix. I'm not 100% certain on what the dates are going to be, but I think we are going to try to get in a a bit of testing before Christmas and the New Year comes around.
Q. You made this year look easy; you had it pretty well cinched up this year, can you do that next year?
MARK TAYLOR:: It's a different series. It's going to be a lot more challenging, I think. The IndyCar, they are a very similar feeling cars from what I felt in the Texas test. Hopefully it will be a smooth transition, but it's going to be -- it's going to be a different ballgame, as it were. You have half the pit stops and I haven't run a race with a pit stop yet and that's going to be a big learning curve for me. They are going to be a lot of changes that hopefully I'm get a lot of experience at before we go into the first race and it will give me an advantage to run as fast as possible right from the beginning of the year.
Q. What do you think -- you made some comments about pits stops, other than your pit stops that seems to probably come to you, but what do you think your other biggest challenge will be?
MARK TAYLOR:: Oh, I'm not sure at the moment. But before I get in the car, it's difficult to say. Of course, the extra speed is going to be a factor to be able to set the car up well and make sure that the car is at its best when I want it to be in a race situation and in qualifying situation. It's all a learning experience. With having Thomas as a teammate he has experience in the car and he will be able to help me learn as I go along to be able to have the experience that some of these engineers at Panther Racing have will be a great help, as well.
Q. John Barnes just said a few minuting ago the Kansas race where you came from the back to win was a key factor when they were looking back and looking at drivers; that you became a driver in that race. How do you feel and can you describe what you did in that race to get to the front?
MARK TAYLOR:: I think I did it through the whole season. It wasn't one particular race. I think Kansas was probably my favorite race of the year, but any race which is competitive like that and you're fighting your way through the field or fighting with people at the front, I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed Chicago and I thought that was a great race and also the Texas race was a great race, too, even though it didn't finish the way that I wanted to. It was still a very tough race and a very enjoyable race. I think there are a number of times to pinpoint one specific time in a year, it was difficult to say that proves me as a driver, but I definitely learned a lot in the Kansas race. It was the first race where I didn't start near the front and it was where Panther really helped me hugely. They explained to me the differences, what you're looking for when you're starting at the back of a race and what you need ti be able to move up and make sure that the car is good and that you're feeling comfortable with the car before you make any rash decisions and make sure you get it to the end. The result was exactly what we wanted. We had an interesting weekend up to that point and it just point the icing on cake that weekend for me. It was great. It was a great race to be involved in with that finish.
Q. At the end of after the first Freedom 100, you got an opportunity to drive on the Speedway and finish third, I think it was. And coming next year to Indianapolis, what are your thoughts and do you feel that maybe you have a little edge now now; that maybe you won't be a raw rookie there?
MARK TAYLOR:: Indianapolis is always a very special race. Having only been there for it this year, it was my first experience of a live 500, and I think that will help me in a way. But I'm not sure how much the Freedom 100 will help me for the Indy 500. They are two different cars, completely different length of race. And I think even the fact that you bring it to 500 is the length of the race and the mental capacity that you need to be able to succeed at it, so it's going to be a very tough and very enjoyable week, month. The whole of May is full-up with testing and with other dates. So it takes a lot of your time but it's also a key point in the year.
Q. Any idea what number will be on your car this year?
MARK TAYLOR:: Yeah, it will be the No. 2. It's the Menard number, so they keep the No. 2.
Q. I was told you were supposed to be down at Homestead to be on the test with Scheckter; have you been able to watch it, have you been able to learn anything down there if you are down there?
MARK TAYLOR:: Well, I'm just here to look over the team, to chat to the engineers and get to know everybody better. As far as the on-track stuff is concerned, I haven't really got to know much about it, but it just -- being able to get to know the people as we are away from home, away from the shop, you get to learn a lot when you're in a test situation. So it's always good fun to be able to have the time to do it.
Q. Have they been able to run any laps?
MARK TAYLOR:: Yes, I'm not sure how many laps they have done. They have done some good testing down here, so we'll see what they think of it afterwards.
Q. A couple other drivers that came up through the Pro Series, the IndyCar, A.J. won the championship, and then pretty much struggled this year. But then Carpenter when he came in the last three races had some success, can you take anything from that looking at a couple other guys who were taking a route now that you are taking?
MARK TAYLOR:: Well, I know that Ed did extremely well in the last few races. It's always difficult to compare drivers and to see the reasons why person has not succeeded as another one might. I'm just confident that once I get in the car that I'll be able to -- I'll be able to learn a lot and do a good job. I know that I'm with the right team with Panther Racing to be able to do that. They will give me a lot of experience and a lot of opportunity to be able to run up the front and near the front and to win races. So it's a huge opportunity and one that I intend to take full advantage of.
Q. Is the change of going from the Infinit cars to the IndyCars, will that require or will you be changing your personal training schedule or what you're doing to stay in training?
MARK TAYLOR:: Well, I work with Vince (ph) at the moment and they do a great job as well. They do have experience in training with the Panther team, the pit crew at the moment. They do have a lot of experience when it comes to an IndyCar driver and what I need to be able to be focused through the whole of the race and to be fit enough to be able to run the car. So I've been able to step up my training from almost the beginning of the year to make sure that I was ready for the opportunity when it came around. I was hoping to actually get in the IndyCar earlier in the year but it wasn't going to happen. I had to be ready at any point to be able to jump in that car and do the best that I could.
Q. What are some of the changes that it entails?
MARK TAYLOR:: It's just making sure that you're as fit as you can be and strengthening your arms is probably a major factor. It's making sure that you're fit enough so that your brain can work even though your body is going through the extreme temperatures and through the extreme work that it will do. As your driving the car, you have to be able to be very calm and be concentrating and thinking about what you're doing on the track.
Q. You came a long way and took on a lot of new challenges, a long way from home and in a new type of racing, what did you find out about yourself and the way you handled these challenges this year?
MARK TAYLOR:: I was surprised how comfortable I felt in Indianapolis and move being into the Panther team. They made it very enjoyable for me. I've thoroughl enjoyed coming over to America to race. It's a completely different feeling to racing in Europe and it was a huge challenge for me, one that many people thought that I shouldn't have made. But I hope now that I've proven them wrong. As far as myself is concerned, I feel that I've grown up quite a lot in the year. It's taught me a lot about media exposure, being able to communicate with a team, being able to set a car up on ovals, running a car on the ovals. There's been so much that I've had to learn through the year and it's difficult to explain it all in just one conversation. But it has been a hugely growing experience for me and one that I'm still continuing to do and one that will only grow as the years grow.
Q. I'm sure you saw the response or heard about the response in New Zealand when Scott won, they were going bananas, they were so proud of their native son; have you let yourself dream about what it might be like to come home and get the bottle of milk and checkered flag and what they would in the United Kingdom if one of the native sons won the Indianapolis 500?
MARK TAYLOR:: The Indianapolis 500, the trick is to pretend it's another race and it's probably one of the hardest things to do. I haven't had the exposure back home so far. It's difficult to think about what it would be like. The best thing is to try and ignore it as much as possible and focus on actually doing it. The important one who will be most proud of me being able to win the 500 would be myself. So as far as everyone else is concerned, if it did happen, they would be able to bask in my glory, as it were, but it would still be one of the things that is most important in my life to be able to do.
Q. We talk the about Brand's Hatch and Silverstone, some of those magical names back in Great Britain, and I get a sense that you already understand what it means to be in the brickyard, and of course next year you get to drive at the Milwaukee Mile which has a huge history; you seem to have picked up very quickly on some of the traditions and hallowed ground --
MARK TAYLOR:: I'll be the first to admit when I came over here, I didn't really understand what the Indianapolis 500 meant. But as soon as you first see it from the air as you're flying into Indianapolis and when you get in the ground in the month of May, you do truly understand that Indianapolis comes alive in that month of the year, and it's a great pleasure this year and it's going to be an even greater pleasure next year to be able to run it.
Q. Did you follow Nigel Mansel (ph) much and his effort after winning the world championship?
MARK TAYLOR:: Yes, I did. I mean, he was known for his Formula 1 exploits and when he came over to do the 500, everyone was very excited. Everyone thought he was going to be able to come over here and dominate it. I think it's always surprised me -- coming over to America in his words, I think they thought he was going to come over and show the Americans how to drive around Indianapolis. He got a big shock when he did it and it's just one of those things that until you come over here, it's just like another ballgame and it's one that's very difficult to overcome to be able to win the 500.
Q. Rookie of the Year at the 500 is also always a big honor, or along with winning the race, and you and probably Ed Carpenter will be among two of the top rookies next; is there a competition between you and him in your mind?
MARK TAYLOR:: I thoroughly enjoy racing with Ed this year. He's a great driver and hopefully he'll be able to to move up into the IndyCar as well next year and be able to show the standard of driving. To say there's a rivalry, I think there's a rivalry with every single driver out there to be able to compete and be there. Of course, I know Ed a little bit better now, but I don't think there is any particular rivalry. We get on very well off-track and we race well together on-track. So, I don't know.
Q. Do you know Darren Manning very well?
MARK TAYLOR:: Not very well. Of course, he's come over here and he's done well in CART, but I don't know him personally, no.
Q. There's stories flying around he might be coming over to the IRL next year, it might make a competitive British sport there?
MARK TAYLOR:: Well, I don't know how true those rumors are. As you, I just heard the rumors. It would be great to have more drivers over and I'm sure he would enjoy the IRL as much as I have this year. It's a great championship to be in. As you can probably see, it's one that more Englishmen are hoping to get into in the future.
Q. The success you've had and both of you, you said you were welcomed and immediately connected with people when you got here, maybe there's a trend here and we will have more people coming?
MARK TAYLOR:: Well, it's a strange thing to be able to come to a country and feel welcomed like you do in America and Indianapolis. I mean, the success and I've done well over here, it's fueled me to come over here and it sure is nice to be able to race on the tracks that we race at in the series. It's just been a complete joy to run this year and I'm really looking forward to next year. Coming over here was the best decision I've made so far in my racing career and I hope to continue.
KENT JOHNSON: Again, we appreciate your time joining us this afternoon and we wish you the best of luck next year as the driver of the No. 2 car for Panther Racing.
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