Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome three IndyCar Series drivers to today's teleconference. All three of these drivers were in the hunt for the IndyCar Series Championship going into the 16th and final race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway in October of last year. Joining us in the first half hour of the call is 2003 IndyCar Series Champion Scott Dixon who won the series title by 18 points over Gil deFerran. Also joining us in the first 30 minutes is Tony Kanaan who led the points Championship for much of the season last year before finally finishing forth behind Dixon, deFerran and Helio Castroneves. Scott, let us start with you, obviously as you enter the 2004 season, you must feel a certain amount of pressure as you get set to defend your title. Is the pressure you feel this year different than it felt 12 months ago.
SCOTT DIXON: I think you always have a certain amount of pressure just to perform and make sure you do well. Even being with such a good team like Team Target, I kind of like the pressure. It pushes you. I think even this year with Darren, I think it will be good to have a good teammate to do that as well. But I wouldn't say there's anymore this year to defend. I think we set the same goals this year as we did for last year and that's to try and win the Championship again and obviously the big one now is the Indianapolis 500, so, I can't really say that for myself that there's more pressure.
TOM SAVAGE: You talked about the Indianapolis 500. I am curious is your goal more focused on defending your title this year or perhaps a shot at winning Indy.
SCOTT DIXON: I think short team it's definitely Indianapolis. We had a very good car there last year. Team was very strong. We both sort of came up short and obviously I had fuel problems, things like that, and also didn't finish the race because of hitting the wall or whatever at the end of the race. But I think, yeah, short-term for the first part of season that's going to be our main goal for myself and probably for the team.
TOM SAVAGE: Do you feel and I guess pardon the pun, that you have a target on your car this year with guys gunning for you each weekend now that you are the champ?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it was the same last year. We were, I think, set a very high standard in how fast we were at every circuit. I think as the season progresses you pick up sort of four, five guys that you need to watch and try and beat. So I think it's the same. It's not going to be just one person that everybody is going to try and beat. It is going to be a good four, five people that they have to watch out for.
TOM SAVAGE: Let's hear from Andretti Green Racing driver Tony Kanaan. Going into that final race at Texas last year, you had as much a shot at winning the title as anyone. Was it frustrating being essentially tied with four other guys going into that final race knowing that you had led for such a large chunk of the season last year?
TONY KANAAN: Well, you know, we got there knowing we had a chance to win the Championship. I would say, yes, we did lead most of the Championship, but because we were consistent, because I would say in my opinion, Scott had a lot of mechanical problems last year to put him down. He should be leading that Championship away before the way that he did. But I would say it was -- I wasn't frustrated. I would say we got there in the last race and everybody had a shot. I took a shot, unfortunately, you know, I was hit, we lost the Championship there, went from first to fourth, so that was the worst that it could be. And I got the worst. Now, I would say we need to keep working to do a better job than what we did last year. We should have won more races, I would say. We need to prepare each other to do that. We only won one race. We'll see. But no, I think it was a good season for the whole 7 Eleven team. We had a lot of ups and downs the first year in the series, and I would say it wasn't as good as what we expected, but you know, there's always a time to make it better.
TOM SAVAGE: Andretti Green will be running a four-car team with Bryan Herta, Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti along with yourself. Tell us the benefits of running a four-car team for the entire season this year.
TONY KANAAN: Definitely a big help because as you guys know, they limit the tests and we don't have a lot of testing days. We cannot test privately. So with four cars we have a lot more information. We can try a lot different things at the same time; which a two-car team has a little bit of disadvantage. So we have four cars to do that. I would say it is a big help. Bryan did help us a lot last year after Dario got hurt, you know, me and Dario, we connect pretty good, so I would say between the four of us, we can come up with a very strong team.
TOM SAVAGE: Let us open it up for questions.
Q. Scott, after winning a Championship and you talked about pressure earlier, but does it take some of the pressure off knowing that you have already done it once; that if you win the second time it is almost like gravy?
SCOTT DIXON: I am not sure. Obviously I think with the Championship it's a big accomplishment. You get that from a race weekend on a smaller level just basically because if you win the race, there's four days, three days that you have been working towards that, you know, you have finally come out with the best possible sort of answer or place that you could have. I think with the Championship it's the same sort of thing. That's the biggest thing I noticed was the weight lifted off my shoulders after the Championship and probably the same for most people just because we knew it was there and there was so much pressure coming in on the last race and quite a bit of time off, but I don't know if it will be any less this year or anymore. I think we just want to go out there and do the same thing, and you know, do what everybody is going to try to do and that's to try and win races. I think that's the easiest way to win a Championship is to win races, and so, I don't think there will be any added pressure or less pressure.
Q. You are going to be running in the IROC Series this year. Talk about that for a moment.
SCOTT DIXON: I haven't really looked into that too much yet. I think the first test is coming up after the Daytona 24 hours that we're doing with Ganassi as well. So I don't know, looking forward to it. I think it will be very interesting and definitely a different style, I think, with sort of a stock car. So I will be going in with an open mind; that's for sure.
Q. Tony, over the years we have gotten to know the fact that you and monkeys had that good luck charm going. Some might say you got a bit of a monkey on your back, to try to get that off to win the Championship.
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, we're going to stop the monkey stuff, I think. So no more among keys. I can take the monkey -- the gorilla out of my arm that I have tattooed but we stop the monkey stuff this year, and we'll see if we can find something else to bring us luck. Maybe a lot of hard work. That's the best way to accomplish it.
Q. When you look at 2004 and knowing how close you got last year, are you just anxious to get the season started and get it underway and try to put together those finishing touches of the Championship?
TONY KANAAN: Definitely, I mean, I can't wait to be back in the car. Since Texas last year I haven't sat in a race car so it has been a long, long time, you know, and I miss that and I can't wait. I think we have a strong year ahead of us. The series is going to be very competitive. I mean, Scott, Dario, Sam, a lot of people that can surprise us, and it's going to be as tough as last year, so definitely my goal is to try and win more races, which I didn't do last year, only did one, and be as consistent as I was. I can't wait to get started.
Q. Scott, do you have a favorite racetrack, maybe one that you think you got a handle on better than some of the others?
SCOTT DIXON: I think for me throughout the season I struggled on the bigger ovals, mile and a half and more, but I really enjoyed the circuit car -- the short ones, mile or less. I think after those meets, I always look forward to go into those as opposed to the other ones, flat out, you sort of cruise around and wait for the last ten laps where I think on the other circuit you can work on the car a lot, get advantages and things like that. So definitely the shorter circuits.
Q. Have you worked any with the newer cars, the newer set-ups or is that -- when can you test?
SCOTT DIXON: We have actually done a few days now with the new car. We did one right before Christmas. Actually we did two days right before Christmas. We did another with the new car early on this month. So we have had a few days.
Q. Everybody is going to kind of go into it with kind of a cold turkey this year?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's going to be interesting. I think with Homestead and Phoenix coming up, those are going to be the times that I think with us we need to do a fair amount of work on our car to get to where we need it. It's hard to say what the others are going through with the Dallara, but I think it's only fair for everybody. You get a couple of days at each circuit. That should be pretty much enough to get yourself sorted.
Q. Tony, with the four-car setup, that's probably pretty much a distinctive advantage than like a one-car team, and how much will the four of you go back and forth on your set-ups?
TONY KANAAN: I would say, I think, in my point of view it's a big advantage to have a four-car team as I said before. We work very well together. This team is known from last year that drivers and engineers work really tight and we got a pretty good connection between each other that's going to help us. It did help me a lot last year and I think some of the other guys, and right now, the team is back together, myself and Dario, and Dan and Bryan, so we get along very well, and we're going to keep exchanging information. Hopefully it will give us an advantage. At the end of the day I would say the series is so competitive that everybody is trying to do different things to be able to have an advantage, but it's still going to see a tight Championship as we saw last year.
Q. Tony, you covered a lot of my stuff, but I have a question about your win at Phoenix. It came early. What do you recall about that? What does it do for you personally? For the team? What do you see about that track now, the configuration and the new car?
TONY KANAAN: Well, that win was very important for me because it was a while that I hadn't won a race and you know, being new to the team, was Hondas first year in IRL, I wanted to give the team and Honda their first win because of all the credibility they gave -- they had on me after I had a tough year and the year before. So it meant a lot, to be honest, it meant a lot to me. I think for the team to put my name in the history of the team and Honda itself giving them their first win, so everybody is going to remember that. The track configuration, I haven't been in Phoenix since they changed it. For what I heard, they didn't change a lot and the new car configuration, I haven't drove it yet either so I am being off, got married, got a lot of time off, so I am anxious to get back, but I would say every year they make changes to slow down the cars which I think it's really important that we have plenty of good engineers on the engine side and the car side and the tire side. Maybe it's going to make the car as fast as we went last year. So I think that all the changes are positive. I have to try them, you know, but I would say we're heading into the right direction.
Q. How hard is it to run for a Championship or when you are in a four-car team or any multiple-car team, what are the minuses of that and how hard is it to run for a Championship in a situation like that?
TONY KANAAN: I think as long as you get along with all your teammates and then it's clear that, you know, at the end of the day, only one guy is going to win the race, only one guy is going to win the Championship. So if you have your teammates working with you, maybe helping you if you need, that's a big advantage. The disadvantage is, if you don't have them working with you, they know everything you are doing so they have the same possibility and they can take a place in the racetrack from you, but, so I think nobody wants to win the Championship -- nobody wants to be given a Championship, so I wouldn't accept that and I don't think anybody would. So I would say it's more advantage on the point of we can work together and especially in the big tracks where you are drafting so you have people that you know that care about you and you are in the same team. So I would say the minuses, you know, basically having more cars that know exactly what you are doing, all the set-ups and all the changes.
Q. Dan Wheldon now will be in his second year. You guys had a lot of fun with him last year. What is your role with him this year and what do you see him doing this year? What do you expect from him?
TONY KANAAN: Dan is still a rookie until Japan because he only started from Japan last year, so we can still call him as a rookie.
TONY KANAAN: After Japan, we're going to take his stripes off, but until then he's still a rookie for us. I think Dan is a very good driver. He's going to be definitely on a hit this year. Everybody gets better in their second year. I remember my first year - and Scott can say it as well - I am expecting him to be very fast and a lot more mature and maybe be there playing for the Championship with us.
Q. Scott, at Indy last year you were really not there near the front. What did you learn from the experiences you had toward the end of the race?
SCOTT DIXON: I think Indy in itself even for the person that goes there the first time it is a huge experience, learning curve, just with the whole format of the whole month and coming down to one day. But I don't know, the race was fairly good. I think we were fairly happy because we had a good car, but we just had a frustrating day with, you know, only getting down to 12 gallons and the car running out of fuel. I think I learned a lot which is going to make a big difference for myself and probably the team this year just because you know what to expect. The race, in general, it is fairly similar to most of the races throughout the year, I think, but it's obviously a different circuit than the others, but just to pace yourself is the key there.
Q. What about the change in the -- going down to three liter tear engine for that race, would be the first one to, you know, to use that engine?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it's going to be very interesting. I think to make sure that they take enough downforce out of the car so they are not so easy to drive and that's going to be the key to how Indy is going to play out. It's obviously a lot of changes coming for that one race, and there's no way they are going to get the horsepower back to two or three liters by just shortening the stroke and things like that, can't really improve anything. So I don't know, I am not really sure what to expect when that comes up, but I just hope they do, you know, a good job of getting the downforce levels right so the cars are still very difficult to drive.
Q. Tony, last year you had the pole stolen away by Helio; then the race, you chased those two Penske cars across the finish line. How frustrating does it get always battling the Penskes and trying to beat them?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, it's not different than trying to beat Scott all year, so it's not frustrating. I would say, you know, what was frustrating last year in that race, the last 25 laps of the race we had a yellow flag every three, four laps, so I never had a chance to get going and try to pass them. That's the way the races are. If I was in the front I would be laughing that we had a lot of yellow flags and the race was going away. That's the way racing is. Obviously, Penske has a reputation in Indy that they won a lot of times and we just -- it's up to us to try to beat them. Getting frustrated is not going to help. We just need to put our heads down and go to work.
Q. You are talking about being with a four-driver team. Always in the past it seemed it was tough to -- for somebody to -- always should be in No. 1, and so forth, do you have a pecking list, so to speak?
TONY KANAAN: Not really. I would say the team, it's for the best interest of the team to make all the cars do well and the No. 1 guy, it's going to be the guy that dictates the results and it's going to be ahead in the Championship. That's how you can say, okay, he will be the No. 1. I mean, we start the year, everybody is No. 1, we all actually maybe number zeros, as you go and, you know, you start fighting for the Championship and one guy has more chance than the other, maybe at the end of the year only one guy is going to have a chance to win like it was last year on my team. Then obviously a little bit of priority is going to come to you. But in the series that you can't make any aero changes or any new pieces to go with the car, there's not a big advantage being the No. 1 because you don't get anything more than your teammates like they do in other series. So I would say you are the guy that dictate, you know, just trying to be ahead of your teammates in the points. That's how you make yourself the No. 1.
Q. Give me your own ideas about the dropping of the engine size for Indy, and what will it mean to you and the other drivers?
TONY KANAAN: Well, like Scott says, I don't know what to expect, but hopefully I am -- I am not an engineer. I am just there to drive the car. Hopefully the changes that they made it is good for the speed and it is going to slow down the cars and hopefully it will be good. I think the people that did it are capable to predict that, and my job, it's to sit and drive, and that's what I am going to do. I am expecting, you know, the best out of it.
Q. Since you have driven the new cars, what differences you might see from last year's cars?
SCOTT DIXON: Most of the time it just, you know, the chassis manufacturer is just -- you know, small improvements to help the car up. I think the problem with this year is, you know, with the aerodynamics changing sort of after three races is sort of hard to know which way to go to try and predict what you need for most of the season. I think the cars will be a little quicker but because we're -- they have obviously got the hole in the air box and things like, the cars are going to be slower, I think, in speed. It is hard to know what gains the engine manufacturers and things like that are going to make. I think the cars will be a little better, just from the point of view on, you know, less drag and maybe a little more downforce. It depends on what sort of strategy they are going for because it is hard to know whether losing all this horsepower is going to make the cars way too grippy and you might need to lose a lot of downforce. At the moment I think we're still trying to determine on what we sort of really need.
Q. Tony, could you talk a little bit about what racing was like when you raced for half the season through the Indianapolis 500 with Michael Andretti, your team owner on the track with you, preparing with you and afterwards, how is it different?
TONY KANAAN: I would say Mike was a lot more stressed after he got out of the car (laughs) just by watching. But it was great. That's something that I will keep it for myself for the rest of my life because it was a pleasure to race against a guy for a long time and then racing with the guy in the same team and learned all the different stuff that once I was like in my rookie years in 1998, 1999 I used to watch him from inside the cars racing against him I would say how can he do that. Some of the moves that he used to make I couldn't understand, so finally I got all the answers when I got on the team with him. And I understood how you can get it done. So it was a pleasure and it's still a pleasure to have him as a team owner. We have a very, very good relationship between the races and we're good friends as well, and I just extended my deal for five more years on the team. So hopefully I am planning to stay here for as long as they want me, and maybe, one day retire and do my farewell season here, but it was a pleasure. And then Mike outside the car is still a race car driver, so he understands a lot, what we're saying, so sometimes having him as a team owner, but being a driver before, it's a big advantage because team owners sometimes, if they are not drivers, they have a tendency to blame on the drivers all the time and having him there, around, he knows that sometimes it's not the drivers. Sometimes it's the car. Sometimes it's a lack of something that people get used to blame on the drivers. That's a big advantage for me, and I would say like I said again, Michael was a very good driver, but now he has a pretty good organization, but he's trying to calm down because definitely it's a very stressful season. All your cars racing and you are standing out on the outside.
TOM SAVAGE: Tony, are your sights set more on winning the IndyCar Series Championship this year or perhaps winning Indianapolis?
TONY KANAAN: Both. Obviously it's two different things, but to me honestly, if you can get both it will be great. If you can get one of them, it will be great. So I would say my focus is to win a Championship and win -- and win Indy but I know it's going to be very, very hard. That's the focus, I would say -- I don't know, I have -- Japan, for me, is very important as well because for Honda - it's a Honda track - so I will take the season as it goes and I will take every race as a Championship race. If you win all of them, if you win most of them, you will be the Champion. But, no, I don't -- I don't differentiate the Championship to Indianapolis. They are both very important.
Q. Scott, talk about going back to New Zealand during the off-season. Was your reception there, obviously, it was warm, but are you recognized in New Zealand? Was it big when you got back home?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, we have always had a lot of good support from New Zealand. They get the races live any race weekend. It's a very sports oriented country, so we have got a lot of, you know, good coverage down there this year and definitely, when I got down there, it was a little crazy. It was all good. It was a good busy. The difference this year I think normally in CART I can do most of my media stuff on the way down to Surfer's in October. Then have mostly Christmas off; whereas this year it was a lot different because I had to try and cram it into a couple of weeks. It was good to see. The support down there was huge. Hopefully we can keep that going.
Q. Back to the trip back home, what was it like standing eye-to-eye with a race horse named after you?
SCOTT DIXON: It was kind of funny actually. That horse has been around for about a year now, I think, when we first found out they wanted to call it Scott Dixon, but it was kind of cool to finally meet the horse and get back there. I think next year we're going to ride on it or something.
Q. How did it come about that they wanted to name the horse after you? What was the process for them being able to borrow your name to name a horse?
SCOTT DIXON: I am not really sure what the process was but I think the tie there was the guy that actually bred it or breeds a lot of horses in New Zealand and over the world actually, was a bit of a racing nut as well and he had raced in Formula 4 when I was younger, so that was the tie there. But I am not sure what sort of things they had to go through to do it. Obviously, I think the main one was just knowing that if I wanted to do that check.
Q. Since the end of the season, you had a big race down there in Brazil, and you got married the same weekend. How hectic has this off-season been for you compared to other off-seasons?
TONY KANAAN: I can tell you, if I need to give anybody advice, don't get married on Friday and race on Saturday. That's not a good mix (laughs). It was busy, I would say it was a good busy. Obviously we had a very good season so all my PR stuff, I had to do it; then I have to organize all the wedding and having all my friends coming from, you know, different parts of the world to the wedding and to the race was an extra thing. But it was a good busy. We had a lot of fun. Unfortunately we didn't win the race for the fifth time in a row, but Marco was there, Andretti, and was part of the team. He did a great job. Zanardi was amazing again, finished fourth in that race, and Jimmy, Oriel, all my friends were there, people that I really cared about that they all showed up at the wedding and ended up doing the race. After that I had a pretty good honeymoon, so I could relax for 15 days. And like I said before, I am bored already. I want to be back in the race car. But it was a very different off-season for me in terms of, you know, every year it's kind of been the same. You go home and you do PR and you relax, and then you come back. This year was much different, but it was very good.
TOM SAVAGE: We appreciate you joining us today. Team Penske driver Sam Hornish joins us now. He finished fifth in the IndyCar Series Championship in 2003 which was actually a remarkable feat considering the slow start the team had at the start of the season last year. Sam, now that you have had a few months to reflect upon it tell us about how you were able to battle back in the points Championship hunt last year.
SAM HORNISH JR: We discussed got pretty lucky, I guess. We had a pretty rough beginning to the season and we were just -- everything that we did, we were trying to make up for a little bit of lack of horsepower and we just were lucky enough that it was one of those things where we got the opportunity to get back into it and to just, you know, be able to keep up and keep ourselves in the points Championship until we had the opportunity to be able to go out there and win some more races. To be where we were at the end of the year was great. Mid-season, early season was not what we expected that we were going to be. We really wanted that third Championship in row so we were going to try everything we could do to get back there. Just sooner or later, you know, we got ourselves in there and it was great for the team. Everybody worked real hard. I wish we would have been able to cap it off with another Championship, but I was pretty happy where we were at compare to the beginning of the season.
TOM SAVAGE: Sam, we have heard you say many times it's been a dream come true for you to be racing for Roger Penske. You haven't had a lot of time behind the wheel with the team yet. Talk about your goals for 2004 as you get set to drive for Team Penske.
SAM HORNISH JR: That's real hard to set some goals because we haven't started the new season yet, but I really think that I can't expect anything but the best. They have -- the performances that they had so far and put together with what I have been able to accomplish I don't see anything but good things, but you never know. You always -- you learn new things. You've got to mesh right. You have got to have the right chemistry. I just hope that we'll be able to put it altogether and be able to go out there and have a good season. Obviously, my goal is to win the Indianapolis 500 and I am sure it's every other teams' goal. But we have such a great track record there, it's kind of hard going into that race because even if you finish second, it's a big let-down.
TOM SAVAGE: You talked about Indianapolis before a lot in the past. Do you feel like going in this year this is your best shot at winning that race?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think definitely, you have really have all these things that can go against you, but I think that with the success that Team Penske has and just their love for winning that race, I think that this is definitely my best opportunity to do it and it may take a year or two. But hopefully not that long. I just, you know, before I retire, that's the big thing. I just want to be able to say that I won that race; whether it happens this year or ten years from now. It's going to happen when it's going to happen. I will keep doing my best until it does.
Q. I know you haven't been to the racetrack as far as being in a race yet with Team Penske, but is it different being a driver for Team Penske so far?
SAM HORNISH JR: Oh, yeah, totally different. I look at all the things that just how they were approached, we had a lot of success myself at Panther Racing, but I just -- I can't believe how much some things are different and some things are the same, but some things are really different. It just -- it starts everywhere. Panther Racing was very professional. I look at all the stuff from doing photos for the cards and for the media guide, for -- just the season stuff, I think I have already had like eight suits and trying to get it just to fit right as far as the racing suit is concerned. And I don't know if I had that many in three years. It's like -- it's unbelievable to me just to see how different things can be. That's really part of the reason I always had dreamed of running for Penske Racing ever since the beginning of my racing career and then when I had the opportunity to do it, you know, I was having a lot of fun and it was real hard to leave Panther Racing, but like I said, I wanted to try something new and definitely this has given me another side of the spectrum to look at and see different things and to be able to just really see what else is out there. That's why I did what I did.
Q. When the announcement was made and you and I talked about going to Team Penske, I did ask you about your facial hair. You said you didn't know and next thing I know I saw a photo and it's gone. Was that your decision?
SAM HORNISH JR: That was my decision. Sometimes you don't have to, you know, you don't have to be told certain things. I just -- I figured that it was a new day, try something new. I just -- I am so happy to be where I am at and to have the opportunity that I have had, you know, sometimes a new look doesn't hurt too much. I have been so impressed with the way this thing has happened, you know, just how things have gone so far, that even if I would have been told this is what you got to do, I would have still done it. That's just part of the deal but I figure sometimes it's better to do things on your own.
Q. Does it feel different? I mean, just being a part of an organization that has so much history and so much success, does it just feel different?
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, sure does. I am still, you know, it's tough because you are meeting all new people, you know, when I was at Panther Racing there wasn't anywhere near 67 employees there like there is at Penske and with the amount of people that have nicknames and second nicknames, you are trying to learn everybody's name (laughs), it is tough. It's really neat to go to -- because of how much history there is with the team even going to the shop, you know, team has been there like for 30 years in that shop, and it may not be what some of the other teams are, but it's super clean, the history is there, the wins from the speedway all came from that shop, and that's -- that's as much of a neat thing. And just also being a driver that had racing heroes like Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr. and to be able to just stand there and talk about things that are completely off the subject of racing with Rick Mears is pretty cool. I am pretty much into custom cars and motorcycles, so it gives us something to talk about. Sometimes it is kind of like really hard to believe, you know, like when Rick calls me on my cell phone and I have got his name programmed. It is kind of blows my mind sometimes, hey, Rick Mears is calling me or Roger Penske is calling me on my cell phone. It is kind of a neat feeling.
Q. Helio is such a serious guy; no jokes there, right?
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, it is kind of like the odd couple, but I heard Gil say one time when it starts out, you are trying not to like him, but it is kind of hard not to. I think that's probably how it's going to work. He's just -- he has got so much energy and, you know, so much exuberance I guess, so excited about things, that I think -- I am kind of a little bit different. I am pretty low-key, but I think we both got pretty good sense of humors even if they are pretty much different. I have had a good time so far.
Q. I must tell you over the years the number of times you and I have talked it sounds as though just talking about it brings more excitement and makes you more excited than I have heard you in years.
SAM HORNISH JR: I just, you know, I have been so excited about being able to do this and we have talked and I talked with Roger last year about doing something and I just was, you know, it was kind of surreal, I guess, I didn't really know what to think about it, you know, it was neat. I could talk to him about it. Maybe we'll do something, didn't really know if it was going to happen or not. Then when it all started happening and even when we made the announcement it still wasn't like really set in. How things are going, I just wait to get out there and get racing because we're coming up -- we're getting real close to the open test start then before you know it, we will be racing. I can't -- it's great to put on that suit and to get in that car and go practice. I can't wait to get into it for the first race and see what happens and then be able to go to the Indy 500 in one of those cars.
Q. I am curious, I talked to Rick a couple of months ago and he said that certainly the intimidation factor is there when you become a member of Team Penske. But he also mentioned that your credentials upon joining the team were so much more impressive than his ever were. I am curious, has that intimidation gone away any?
SAM HORNISH JR: I don't know, I guess I am not really intimidated looking at it, but it is just -- you know, you haven't done the first race, you haven't done the first couple of races, the first 500, so it is almost kind like you are still an outsider because even when you talk about things right at the beginning like even now it's like, you know, well, when I drove the yellow car this is what it felt like, -- you are kind of in between because you don't really talk (laughs) -- you are not really talking to your old team, you are not really sure, you know, how everybody takes things because you get -- after three years you are pretty comfortable with the team; you know what guys like to joke around and what guys don't, and how those kind of things work. Then you know, you had to learn everybody over again. I guess you could say it's a little bit unnerving once in a while because you don't really know what to say, but I haven't been intimidated yet, but I have just been so excited and, you know, like when I crashed the car, I didn't know what to think. I hate crashing a race car, first of all, but you don't ever know, kind of little things, geez, I wish I would have asked him, what is your take on crashing race cars, I know it is always bad, do you expect the drivers -- would you rather have the drivers sometimes push a little bit too hard than always leaving a lot on the table there to work with. So I don't know, sometimes -- that was the most nervous feeling so far, hopefully I won't look to that too many times.
Q. You talked about your relationship already with Rick. He said that the relationship that the two of you would have in the next few years would become very important. How much of a calming effect does Rick Mears have and how much do you learn from a guy like Rick?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think as long as you're willing to learn that having him there is invaluable. It's just, you know, I always tried to learn a little bit more and I guess some drivers get into the mode where when they had their accomplishments that they wouldn't want to listen. I do my best to always try and learn something every time I am at the racetrack. I think that's how you are judged is where you are at in your racing career as long as you are still learning; that's the main thing. I think that I can learn a lot. I don't want to ever be looked at like this is the guy that won't shut-up and quit asking me questions, but I think that -- I think that if you know, getting myself in trouble, if I get to a point where I am not quite comfortable with my line, or, you know, especially when, you know, you get to Indy, I know that there's a lot of things I can do. I hope that I am always smart enough to take his advice throughout the years.
Q. I know your focus has always been on the 500, to win it, but in watching you over the years you have been racing, you had the ability to focus on each race. How do you do that?
SAM HORNISH JR: I just -- I think that every race that I go to is kind of like, you know, no matter what happened last weekend, it's always about: This is a new race; this is a new opportunity to win; put some point on the board and be able to look at that end of season. A lot of people will ask me: What is your favorite racetrack. I love all the tracks. I think that because of the different challenges adds, all the way from Richmond to Indianapolis and everywhere we go in between, you have a little bit of different things that you can learn. Richmond had quite a few bumps coming off of Turn 2 and you had to be pretty calm going across those bumps because you can get the back end out and sometimes when you are running a little bit hard, you want to get that back end out and be able to really get out of the power coming off the corners. So there's so many things you can learn from each track. I think -- I am just, you know, I am never opposed to learning new things. I think that that's probably why I think that I have had the success that I have had is because I just -- I like all the tracks that we go to and never say, wish we would get this weekend over. You know, I go out there and think how do I make myself better and, if we're not quite there, how do we get there.
Q. You were talking about learning and how you try to learn things at every race. How much last year was the first half of last season a learning experience for you going in with an underpowered car and trying to compete with some of the other cars?
SAM HORNISH JR: It was a real learning experience and I guess, humility, that we hadn't been in that situation for a long time. We had two really good years at Panther Racing where, I think, we were competitive for Top-3 at every race that we went to. So how do you go to the first couple of races and trying to figure out: How are we going to get where we need to be? This is not where we have been in the past and how do you keep yourself from getting discouraged? But the team is -- really pulled together. We knew what we had to do. We knew we had to have competitive race cars even though we couldn't get there with horsepower, we knew we had to have the car handling well. We had some pretty good races towards the beginning of the year - Motegi, the car was really good, we could pass on the outside, 3 and 4, I don't think -- there might have been one or two other people that could do that that day. That really helped us out. We really focused on the setup of the car. I think that that helped a lot toward the end of the year once we got the horsepower that we needed, we learned quite a few things with the other three cars that really helped us be able to win the races that we did towards the end of the year. I wish we would have gotten the new engine a little sooner, I mean, I just had to be really smooth. I had to -- sometime like at Indianapolis I had to take some chances that I might not have normally, that I had to make sure that I was calculated. One of the biggest things that we have with the IndyCar is -- the way they are setup right now, especially with the 3.5 liter that we had, you had to keep the momentum of the car up. You cannot ever let of. If you do, you can't hit the breaks. It is always about trying to make your move, setting things up, you know, five, six or more laps down the road, you are getting yourself into a position where, okay, this guy might get caught up in a little bit in traffic so how do I position myself far enough behind him so that if he gets caught up that I can get a run out of him and get by him and the traffic and not worry about it and I think that that helped us out a lot toward the end of the year. It was really tough. We had our work cut out for us, and I was just really proud that none of the guys, you know, gave up. They all -- we just kept working hard at it. And to get a Top-5, you know, it was -- if you would have told us that after the first race that we would have been, yeah, great, we're glad with that, but to be able to go into that last race and have a chance to win, that was another thing (laughs), like -- then it is like, we should have won it. On one end, I was real happy and on the other hand, it wasn't quite good enough.
Q. Do you think that experience, though, will help you in the future? Did that make you a better driver for now and years to come?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think so. I think, you know, I learned a little bit more patience because sometimes you really have to work on it. Sometimes when you don't have quite enough horsepower you have to, like I said, make sure you make your moves at the right time because if you don't get it done, you are going to have to hit the breaks and you are going to lose position to the car behind you. So it's really one of those things where you got to keep that momentum up. I think when you add that more horsepower, that helps out. Whether or not it's going to help me or not this year, I don't know, but like I said, I got to keep trying to make myself better and if I do that, then I can always be happy with what I am doing even if I am not having the results that I want.
Q. Rick Mears has always been good at qualifying. Do you think he can help you any, get that pole position?
SAM HORNISH JR: (Laughs) if there is anything that I have always not been very good at, that has been qualifying. So hopefully -- the thing that I think Rick did the best was saving his car and saving everything to win the Indianapolis 500 because he always knew how to be there right there at the end and I think that, but for a couple of problems, I think that he would have had five, six or seven Indy 500 wins, things that he couldn't control. But he was always -- he won, I guess, three out of his four from the pole, so that's pretty impressive in itself. I think that if I -- as long as I am willing to learn, I think that there is definitely a lot to be learned. I just want to be able to do that, but also on the other hand, not be annoying, keep asking questions that maybe I shouldn't be asking.
TOM SAVAGE: Thanks, everyone for joining us. I would like to thank Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Sam Hornish for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference.
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