Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
November 11, 2003
KENT JOHNSON: We welcome everybody to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week of Tuesday November 11th. Today we are very happy to be visiting with the newest IndyCar Series driver for the 2004 season that being Darren Manning. Darren Manning was announced this week past as the driver of the No. 10 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force Toyota Firestone for the upcoming 2004 IndyCar Series season. The 28 year old native of North Yorkshire England was the 1999 All Japan F3 Champion. He then served as the test driver for the BAR Honda Formula I team from 2000 through 2002 season and this past season he competed in the CART Series scoring three Top 5 finishes and 15 Top-10 efforts while driving for Walker Racing. In doing so, he recorded a season best second place finish in the season finale in Australia. Darren, good afternoon, and thanks for joining us today.
DARREN MANNING: No problem. Pleasure to be here.
KENT JOHNSON: This past season, driving for Walker Racing, you recorded a solid effort in what was basically an underfunded team in the CART Series. Now, in joining Team Target, you are a member of a Championship winning program. Since your announcement last week have you had time to think about what the future may hold for you.
DARREN MANNING: Well, not much really, it's been pretty much a bit of a whirlwind being in here, doing seat fittings and things like that and just getting to know the guys. And I mean, it's obviously going to be fantastic working with the Target -- the Ganassi guys here and their proven record is second to none in world motor sport even and Scott obviously is going to be a good benchmark for me and I am just excited really. It's the biggest team I have raced with, and just looking forward to it.
KENT JOHNSON: You mentioned your teammate, Scott Dixon, the Series Champion this past year. I believe you and Scott have raced in previous series together. But do you have an established competitive relationship from the past, or are you definitely learning about a new teammate this year?
DARREN MANNING: No, he's definitely a new teammate for me really. The only real experience of racing against him was at Rockingham last year when I did the one-off event over in England there, and didn't really get to meet him very much. I have just -- basically just passed two words to me now this morning, he's been passing through the shop, so while I have been doing my seat fitting, but I am looking forward to it. I have heard lots of good things about him. Like I said, his track record is very well proven and a good yardstick for me if I am, you know, obviously got his dates to look at to see if he's faster than me somewhere and if I am faster than him somewhere, so hopefully we're going to learn off each other and you never know, I might be able to bring something to the teamwork as well.
KENT JOHNSON: Being brand new to the fans of the IndyCar Series, what would you like them to know or what should they know about Darren Manning?
DARREN MANNING: Well, hopefully they are going to find out pretty shortly. I am the kind of guy that will get out there and talk to everybody. I am pretty much a personable kind of character, enjoy my racing, hopefully that will come across in my driving on the track and off. I am so passionate about racing and things, so hopefully that will come across in whatever I do throughout this year, and hopefully there will be lots of opportunities for me to shine on track as well which is where hopefully I can prove myself best.
KENT JOHNSON: Darren, your oval track experience has pretty been limited to, I believe, three starts over the past two seasons - Rockingham, Germany and Milwaukee. But your results have been pretty darn impressive there.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, probably my best results have been on the ovals funny enough. Milwaukee was my best result really this year up until Surfer's where I got up into second. But yeah, I mean, the ovals are pretty new to me. Obviously last year I led maybe 18 laps on my first time out in a Champ Car run on an oval, on a first-time on a single-seater on the oval. So maybe it suits my style of driving, I am not too sure, but you obviously have got to be very precise and critical of the car and things, so hopefully that will suit me and, you know, I turn black better than I do red as well so that's always good.
KENT JOHNSON: You started to answer my next question with your response there, but I mean, your background Formula Vauxhall, karting, British F3, All Japan F3; not a lot of ovals in those series, but yet what is it about you that has allowed you to adapt to different configurations; not just with the cars, but with the type circuits that you come go to.
DARREN MANNING: I think the experience that I have got over my 18 years of racing, if you include the karting, you know, I am not afraid to get in and out of different cars. I even raced in the ASCAR Series last year, kind of European's equivalent of the NASCAR Series which was great. That was good oval experience and great, great fun as well. I am not afraid to, like I say, lend my hand to driving different cars and racing, you know, 11 years in single-seaters in different formulas and, you know, working at driving centers and things like that, doing passenger rides and driving all sorts of different cars on the racetrack, I think my experience lends itself well to being adaptable to different cars and different circuits and also when you race in Europe like in my Formula 3000 days, there was no testing before you went into qualifying; there was very limited testing during the year, so basically when you went to a racetrack, most of the time that you have never seen before, and you were straight out into qualifying. And generally the fastest time in qualifying was the first ten or fifteen minutes of the first session because of the Formula 1 rubber that was let down so you had to learn the track very, very quickly and get down to a time and adapt yourself to the settings that you have, so as well, for me, the ovals are no different to any other racetrack or any -- any car is the same, you have got four wheels, and a go-fast pedal and a slow-down pedal and you know, time to go fast than everybody else. That's just the way I work. I have got to go around faster than everybody else.
KENT JOHNSON: I'd like to open our forum to the media.
Q. I want to get this one out of the way then we'll move on.
DARREN MANNING: Go ahead.
Q. Emotionally when Chip offered you this job and knowing why this job was open, what went through your mind?
DARREN MANNING: Well, it was a lot of mixed feelings really. There was a lot of excitement. We had talked to Chip, you know, when -- before they signed Tony as well, I think I was one of the guys on the short list alongside with Tony. I probably knew it was coming up, the call was going to be coming as well after the unfortunate accident. It was a lot of mixed feelings, excitement that I was going to get the drive, and a lot of sorrow that -- and, you know, I didn't really know what I was feeling, you know, with -- probably going to get offered the drive in these circumstance, I never, never had come across before, and very few drivers do in their career. So everybody has been very supportive and I want to be supportive as possible to all Tony's family and friends and obviously, you know, I will be racing in Tony's memory as well. I think that's all I can say on that matter really.
Q. Racing part itself over this past season the number of times that you and I have talked, the one basis to what you have been able to accomplish is the fact that you did not have the best of equipment when it came with the chassis; you did not have top-flight fun. Now, you are with a Championship team and that has got to give you confidence above all else?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I have been racing a long time and very rarely -- I think there's only been one time that I have had a fully funded, you know, proper professional drive and that was when I won the Championship in Japan. Trust me, I have got a very big smile on my face, you know, inside I know what I can do when I haven't got all the things available to me that I have got this year. I am just excited to get to grips and get out there testing. This is the earliest I have ever been signed before for a new season and to be testing before Christmas and things like that, with these guys, and to be able to pick their brains and, you know, it's a lot more unlimited resources than I have ever had before, so I am really looking forward to it.
Q. When I heard that you had made the deal one of the first things I thought of was I know that there were tons of times that you walked through the paddock in a Champ Car Series and saw what everybody else had, and you had to have a bit of jealously. Now everybody could be a little jealous of you.
DARREN MANNING: About time, aye? For the last 18 years I have been working up to this, so trust me, I am going to revel in it and I am going to be on top of the world with it, trust me.
Q. You make it sound kind of simple, just jump in the neat old car and drive, I am sure it is not quite that easy, but have you practiced any in the IRL car or what are your plans?
DARREN MANNING: No, I have been practicing my seat fittings for the last couple of days, that's about it really. And I have got a good nice selection of videotapes and paperwork that I have requested from the guys to look through before I get out there. But no, there's a test at Homestead next week, where me and Scott are going to be out on probably separate days and then Texas, the beginning of December, looks like I am going to be out. So that's the first time I am going to be in the car that I am going to be running in the car.
Q. Maybe clarify something for me. Where did you start in your racing career?
DARREN MANNING: Well, way back when I was ten years old started in go-karts over in England, moved my way up through the different ranks in karting, mainly British Championships but I raced for the last few years in European and World Championship level karting. Then when I was 17 moved up to single-seaters through Vauxhall Junior, Vauxhall Lotus Senior, Formula 3 and 3000 and the BAR testing which we talked about earlier. So yeah, a long, long route to the top, should I say.
Q. Talk about three English drivers competing in the IndyCar Series next year with yourself, Danny Wheldon, and Taylor?
DARREN MANNING: You never know, we're taking over America, aren't we? No, I have raced a little bit with Danny. He is a bit younger than me, so I remember him from karting. He has had a similar kind of, you know, rise to the IRL as I have; maybe a bit of a similar kind of long route as me. I don't really know Mark very well. He's one of the guys that's risen up pretty recently and obviously put himself over here in the Infinity Pro Series. No, there will be plenty of bacon patties and cups of tea, I am sure.
Q. Do you sense back home that there's a lot more growing interest in oval racing generally? With three natives out there....
DARREN MANNING: Definitely. As well with Dario starting the season off this year and hopefully we'll have him back as well next year and make four Brits out there. But, yeah, definitely, I mean, with the start of Rockingham, the first oval track over in the UK; yeah, it's definitely getting a lot more popular. The ASCAR Series that I ran in last year, this year has been fantastically popular and getting nearly capacity crowds there. I think the excitement and the close racing that people get when they go to the ovals is something new and like it is for drivers and for drivers like myself, so tasting it a little bit more and more.
Q. You have lived in Indianapolis this year and have that big track there, but of course, you went to every other track around North America. What is it going to be like to stay at home the month of May and race in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
DARREN MANNING: It really has been a dream. I am sure many drivers' dream is to race there. I actually went this year and I was up there in the grand stands with a load of my mechanics from Walkers this year, just to be on that side of the fence was something else. But no, it's definitely been a dream to be racing there and as well to -- for me, it is a dream come true to be on a team and in a car that's going to give me a very strong, fighting chance of winning it as well. It's going to be the highlight of my career so far definitely.
Q. Let me ask you about Derrick. They don't even have the deal set in place. Did you sense a lot of uncertainty, fellow employees, what they might be going through right now because the buyout hasn't been done yet?
DARREN MANNING: I don't think there's so much uncertainty about that. It was -- you know, this sport is very, you know, money-oriented with regards to the drives and the teams keeping running and keeping mechanics on, so, you know, unfortunately Derrick, he doesn't have a big team sponsor. That was funded primarily by CART and a few sponsors that Derrick picked up along the way. So that was the biggest uncertainty for those guys. It's a shame. I had a fantastic year with them. They are great bunch of guys I had working on my car even though it was a small skeleton crew, they worked twice as hard to make up for that. It showed, we were fastest practically every time out in pit stops and they'd walk on fire for me, and likewise me for them. It's a shame that they are probably a bit uncertain. I go over there still a little bit at the moment with only being around the corner from them. And they haven't got anybody signed up yet for next year or not really sure what their future is. But as well with -- like you say with the CART thing being slightly uncertain, it's got to be difficult.
Q. I remember I told you that the guys from Edwards Air Force Base had some things for you. They really appreciate you flying the colors at Long Beach. They have some things they want to present you with.
DARREN MANNING: Fantastic. It was a pleasure and honor as well. It was good.
KENT JOHNSON: Going back two and three years when you were a test driver for the BAR Formula 1 venture, tell us a little bit about what goes into that? I mean, from the outside we see and we hear a driver was a test driver, but there has to be a different mindset going in knowing that you are setting something up for somebody else, the end result will not be yours; it's just got to be a different emotional time.
DARREN MANNING: Very much so. You hit the nail on the head there really. Obviously the first few times you are jumping in the car, you do anything to just drive the car. I jumped straight after Formula 3 and I've been -- with limited fund and things, it was my first big chance really to drive like that. But yeah, once you got over that initial novelty factor, yeah, it got frustrating at times. You were never given the chance to do the qualifying runs that they made the, you know, the fast runs you were always on full tanks and race simulations and things like that because obviously Honda were new when I first came in and all the runs that I had to do were race simulations so coming straight out of a dinky little Formula 3 car thrown straight into racing simulation basically just off you go and do a race, and it was tough and, you know, no matter how much begging you did, they always got the preferential treatment but it taught me a lot and the cars are so fast in high-speed corners, got so much downforce and grip, and it pretty much makes everything look slow, seems slow to you, which was great for me because the race I did last year at Rockingham in the Champ Car even that was -- it was well within my limits. So over 200 mile an hour has not been a struggle so that's been good.
Q. There's been a lot of talk since Kenny Brack's record at the end of the year and Tony's tragedy, about maybe the cars are going too fast and the risk/reward of oval track racing in IndyCars, have you come to grips with that, the fact that you are going to be doing just oval racing at 200 miles per hour?
DARREN MANNING: Very much so. I mean, you never want to be flippant about it. But motor sport is dangerous and driving a Formula 1 car or a Champ Car around street circuits, you are up against walls and bouncing around over, you know, over manhole covers and things. Motor sport is dangerous. I am totally confident in the car's safety. Just test, Kenny finished, you know, he's doing as well as he is after such a horrific accident. Obviously Tony's was mightily unfortunate; hopefully very rare, but the safety of the cars from my point of view is without question and I am happy to an jumping in the cars really.
Q. Spent much time with Scott since you signed on?
DARREN MANNING: No, not at all. Like I say, he just had a fleeting visit this morning while I was just finishing off my seat fitting, but there will be plenty of chance for us to be working together so looking forward to that.
Q. The first few days and the few days that you have been in the Chip Ganassi shop what was the one thing that stood out immediately to you that said, wow, this is different?
DARREN MANNING: Well, I think the amount of highly qualified personnel they have got on board was pretty amazing and, you know, just the quality and quantity of resources they have got, just the professionalism. I have obviously worked with the best team -- I guess I worked with BAR, not the best team, but the highest level team I have worked with is BAR and trust me, this organization is well up there with those guys. So I mean, there was a big smile that came across my face as soon as I walked through the door, put it that way.
Q. Knowing all of that, is there pressure on Darren Manning now to say, you know what, this is it, this is my shot; I got to make it work?
DARREN MANNING: Well, there is, but, you know, pressure is what you put on yourself, and, you know, I am confident hopefully you will find that out during the season and I know what I can do, like I say, with a lot less than what I have got here under my -- to my disposal, so I am looking forward to getting out there and causing a few upsets. Maybe they are not upsets, I don't know. I don't know what you guys are thinking you are going to get from me, but I am confident and just looking forward to wining races.
Q. What are we going to get?
DARREN MANNING: Hopefully a lot of race wins and maybe even the Championship. Definitely 500 anyway, I have got that one penciled in already.
Q. Most of your racing has been I guess I want to call it in-line racing where you kind of follow together --
DARREN MANNING: Racing line, yeah.
Q. In the ovals, is it -- is it kind of hard for you to follow everything and everybody, isn't it, to know where you are, you don't see a whole lot out of your cockpit there, do you?
DARREN MANNING: Well, to be honest, I think you do. Obviously I haven't got any experience with the IRL cars but my oval experience, you know, it's been pretty good. The race that we did in Germany was very similar to an IRL race. It was very, very close, the circuit there enabled us to do, you know, two lines around the track, we can go side-by-side consecutive laps without losing any speed, so no, I mean, it's great. Obviously you have got your sponsors which are helping you out, with the kind of peripheral view that you normally have on an open track, so no, I mean, it's pretty good actually.
Q. Just seemed like it's kind of tough to follow everything.
DARREN MANNING: Well, 200 mile an hour, everything gets a bit blurry, but, no, I mean, 200 miles per hour seems probably like to the average road driver about 50 miles per hour, so it's all relative, you know, the better drivers slow that speed down a lot more and have a lot more time to react and see a lot more. They are not as focused just on one spot; where, even though we are probably interlocking wheels at 200 mile an hour, we're probably looking out of the side of our eye, but looking at something else or two or three other different points around the track, so it's part of the job. Part of the job.
Q. When you watched IRL Racing you saw some of these finishes where it seemed like you needed a microscope to figure out who won. What was your reaction?
DARREN MANNING: So exciting, isn't it? And I was hoping I was never going to be in that position really (laughs). You are in a bit of the luck of the Gods but now that I know that I am going to be in that position I am looking forward to it because obviously been looking at the past tapes and looking at -- rehashing a lot of these races that have been so close and mad dashes to the finish line, I just want to get in there and get in the mix now. And you know, all those years of experience are going to help me out. I made the right decision and the right move at the right time to get that microscopic win.
Q. I am just wondering, we have talked about the sad things have happened. Obviously what happened to Kenny and rest his soul, Tony. So much of the year these guys are going wheel-to-wheel at 200 miles an hour. I am just wondering, as a driver, you know what that's like. Watching something like that what do you think?
DARREN MANNING: To be honest, it's pretty cool to be honest. As a driver you want to be in that -- you want to be in that position; especially if it's for the lead or something, and it exciting and, you know, when you are in there, trust me, it is a lot different to when you are watching it outside of the car. Whenever I go and watch on a corner or whatever, watching it on TV, I am saying, do I actually do that? They are saying, well, you are actually faster than those guys or you are getting closer to those guys. I am saying, well, it doesn't seem like that when I am in the car. I think it just a whole thing of slowing things down and being confident in your own ability and being in control. So it's a lot different when you are inside the car though.
KENT JOHNSON: There don't appear to be anymore questions for you this morning. With that, we appreciate you taking time to join us. We wish you the best of luck in the 2004 season and most of all, we look forward to meeting you at the track.
DARREN MANNING: Thank you very much, guys.
KENT JOHNSON: That concludes today teleconference. There is a digital replay available by calling 888-843-8996 - the pass code is 6674241. Our next teleconference will be next week at the same time, noon eastern standard time, Tuesday, November 18. Again, we thank you for joining us today and appreciate your coverage of the Indy Racing League.
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