Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: Welcome to the first open test course. The Indy Car Series will not be on the track until tomorrow. The Infiniti Pro Series will probably be on the track around noon today. It's taken a long time to drive the track with the humidity, but we're pleased to first welcome these four drivers who last year combined for nine wins during the 2003 season. So these are the heavy hitters. Led of course by the defending 2003 Indy Car Series Champion, Scott Dixon from New Zealand, who just returned from home where I understand he received quite a hero's welcome and deservedly so and came eye-to-eye with the race horse, the pacer, that bears his name, who I guess deservedly so is just as fast as Scott is. Scott Dixon has won, what is it, four of his ten first starts?
SCOTT DIXON: Four of seven.
MIKE KING: So the winning percentage is somewhere around 60 or 70 percent. He drives for Target Chip/Ganassi Racing, and it's a great pleasure to have him back at the defending series champion. Our second place finisher in points last year unfortunately is not returning this year as an active driver, Gil de Ferran, who was Helio Castroneves' teammate at Marlboro Team Penske. Gil retired at the end of the 2003 season. However Helio is here and ready to go. He finished third in points last year, with wins at Gateway and Nazareth. And let me mention that Scott won here at Homestead last year and he is the defending champion from the Toyota Indy. Helio, two-time Indy 500-mile race winner and third in points last year. Tony Kanaan last year, it was his first full year in the Indy car series and he started out with a bang. He won the first two poles of the season, the first two MBNA Pole Awards and won the race in Phoenix. And until he and Helio touched at Texas Motor Speedway it looked like the championship was going to come down to the last lap of the season. Tony, who was in contention all season long with the Andretti Green 7/11 car, winds up fourth in points. And Sam Hornish, Junior driving for Pennzoil Panther Racing went on a tear there at the end of the season. He won races at Kentucky, California and Chicago to put himself back in it. He winded up fifth in points. He was the two-time defending series champion going into the last race of the season but he winds up fifth last year. Once again these drivers represent nine of the 16 races that were run last season were won by these drivers so without a doubt, this is the elite of the Indy Car Series class of 2004.
Q. Scott how was the trip back home and the reception?
SCOTT DIXON: The off-season was kind of short I think for most of us. I got two weeks right before Christmas and had to be back for another Firestone test on the 12th. So my trip was much shorter than normal. Fairly busy, too, because normally I'd go back in October on the way to Surfer's and do most of my media stuff there. So this time, I was trying to catch up with family and get the media stuff out of the way in two weeks and have a few parties, too. So it got tight, but it was good to be back home. It was very warm, hot, and it wasn't, you know, too kind to come back to the weather in Indy, anyway. I don't know, it's a good time back.
MIKE KING: Helio spent the off-season playing tennis with presidents among other things. Tell us about your off-season and preparations for 2004.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, now I have the connections so watch out. Well, I had a good time actually. Went to see my friend right beside me; he got married. You got really drunk, I tell you, we've never seen you -- (Laughter) that's okay. I remember that time. Anyway, we had a great time. Obviously I also spent time with Gil and his family down in Brazil when I went back for testing as well. We ran here and in Homestead and also ran in Phoenix to know the new layout of the circuit which is very nice. Again, back for Christmas and New Year's Eve which was good. As you said, I played the Chris Evert event with Mr. President, Senior, was very nice, in fact. We had a great time. Also, just last week, we were with Owen at the Pacers game in Indy, which my buddy now was the man, so it was good. I've been having a great time. Now we are here, ready to start 2004 and hopefully going to be good to us.
MIKE KING: Tony, as Helio mentioned, you spent time during the off-season getting married. You get married on Friday you race on Saturday and you say that's not a very good combination.
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, don't do that, guys. Not good. Well, yeah, obviously, I'm very happy. It was a good time. I got to see my old friends that I haven't seen for awhile. And all of the guys from Europe, they came down for the wedding and then we did the race together, too. It was amazing again. They finished fourth with Jimmy and Jourdain. I think we ran out of luck, I would say. After you guys see the pictures from the wedding, you see the way I was, we had no way we were going to win that race. That was by one o'clock in the morning on Saturday which was a racing start, I wasn't feeling very good. So it's not a good combination. But I had a good off-season. I didn't do any testing. So I had planned to have teammates that did it for me. I did all of the honey dos: "Honey, do this." "Honey, do that." (Laughter.) So I finished my vacation putting up two houses because we have a house now in Brazil and organizing everything. I'm happy, back with 7/11 on board and let's see what's going to happen.
MIKE KING: Scott, Helio and Tony all returned with the same teams they competed with in 2003. That obviously is not the case for Sam Hornish, Junior. And Sam you led Panther Racing, you joined Marlboro Team Penske, it's been an off-season of transition, I have to assume.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It sure has, learning new people, learning names. We did a lot of testing. It just seemed like it wasn't much of an off-season at all. Really enjoy everything that's been going out on. Super excited to get the season underway. So many speculations on what may and what may not happen. I'm ready for everything to get started. It's been a great year so far and really looking forward to the new season.
Q. Can you talk about the engine change from 3.5 to 3.0 three litres, which won't take place until May in Indianapolis. So at least for this week you will be running with a 3.5 engine. Can you talk about that rule change?
SCOTT DIXON: Even the difference it made with the hold on the air box seems to have been taken a bit out of the car. We had been estimating it since last year, anyway. The only thing that is going to come up is basically, hopefully, with losing all of this horsepower, we are not going to have too much grip. I think that's going to be a big challenge for the series. I am sure they are very capable of compromising with the downforce. But it's kind of going to be a hard thing to work out, I think. You've got to also try to win the first three races, but plan for the other 13 throughout the year when you hit the changes for the month of May. I don't know. Obviously I think it's a good thing it's going to slow the cars down. It's going to make it safer. I just hope it's not going to be too easy to drive the car.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I agree with Scott. No doubt about what IRL has been doing, it's trying to make it safe, not only for us, but also for the mechanics, for the teams and for the public. So definitely, as Scott said, we have a hold on the air box, on the engine cover to make sure we slow down a little bit. And again from Indy and that point, no doubt about it, we are going to slow down again. Racing is a dangerous sport. Still going to have some tough calls. But that's the way you progress. That's the way you are trying to learn. And obviously, IRL is taking care of it and taking the right actions.
TONY KANAAN: I think it's a positive change. But I can give you a better answer after I try it. So I can't make any comments right now. But I think the people that made the calls are people that understand about racing, and they definitely know what they are doing. I support them 100%.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think it's the same thing that we saw going from the 4.0 to 3.5 litters in 2000. It's just a matter of time that the engineers and everybody will get the speed back eventually. It's a means to be able to take some of the horsepower and also let us have a bit more variation with the wings to make the cars more raceable. Not necessarily in the fact that there's 22 cars running right close together, but that we still are able to pass, but to spread the field out just a little bit. We had a great race in California. We had five, six, eight guys that were fighting for the win, able to run real close together but it wasn't the whole field like it was at Texas. You get that many cars running together for 300 miles or whatever it is, it's just kind of sometimes there's a recipe for disaster, because there's so many things that you have no idea what's going to change, what's going to affect somebody. You can have a tire go down or an engine problem and you take out four or five cars; it just not very good for the series if we don't have cars finishing races.
MIKE KING: The race that Sam alluded to at California Speedway last year set a closed course speed record in motor sports history as he and Scott ran 1,2 with a race average over 207 miles an hour, race average speed.
Q. Making the reductions that have been made, as far as the rule changes, how does that separate the field as opposed to -- you're saying it's still going to close to call so to speak. How will it separate the field?
SCOTT DIXON: I think that's what I was talking about. A lot of the rules with the wings and things like that haven't really come out. There's been speculation of how much grip they are taking away, but I think that's going to be the only way to separate the field is making sure that they have taken enough grip away and the cars are difficult to drive. And then you know, you'll see the better teams, the better drivers work better with that equipment. And that's the only thing I think that's going to stretch it out. But then you have to compromise that you still need to be able to pass. So it's not like the CART days where it was so light on downforce that you couldn't even pass.
Q. If we see the reduction of grip or downforce in the cars, we're going to see driving styles change dramatically, won't we, from driver to driver?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, yeah. As Scott says, good teams, good drivers will make a little difference. Again, tracks like Texas, for example, does give an average to everyone trying to be close to each other. Again, those changes, no doubt about it, will make our races close again. It's not something that everybody is going to take off. Again it's going to be challenging. Everybody is still going to be looking for the 100,000th of a second to make sure that you can be on the finish line.
Q. You said you have not tested since you got out of the car at the end of the season. Scott, you Helio and Sam have all run at the track with the new configuration, so could we get the three of you to address how different this race will be in 2004, as opposed to when this was relatively a flat track?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it's hard to say at the moment. We have all been testing here. We have been running pretty much by ourselves. I think the only time I got with someone was probably Sam at the last test. I don't know, I think over the next couple days you'll get a better idea, but it's turned out to a circuit that I dislike, as I do with most of the high banks, but for NASCAR and maybe for the racing it might be a little better. From what I saw, you even struggled going on the high side and I was quite a bit slower. So, I don't know. It's going to be interesting, especially with the variable, the gradient and the angle of the circuit, I think it's going to maybe give some people a bit of grief, but we'll have to see in the next couple of days, I guess.
Q. Your impressions of the reconfiguration?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Homestead did a phenomenal job. Again the surface seems to be very smooth and obviously, turned out to be interesting for our type of cars. Normally it was very difficult to be flat-out here. Now you're able to take more chances and flat-out all of the time. I believe the track is, the more cars on the track, put more rubber, I'm sure the track will be good and we'll see Kansas Chicago, those circuits, the wind is still playing a big factor. It's not just something, okay, relax and forget about it, like Fontana or Michigan. It is going to be exciting. You have to be actually ready for anything because any gust of wind might catch you by surprise. Let's wait and see.
Q. Interestingly enough you lead the series all-time-win-wise with 11, and most people seem to think of you as winning the close races at the high bank tracks. You won twice here, the first two races that the series contested here at Homestead, so you kind of have a unique spin on this deal. You're good on the high banks, but you were also pretty good here the first couple of years. What's your take on the changes?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'm pretty partial to the old tracks. It was so wide that you could really have your car working at a very -- quite a few different places on the racetrack to be able to pass here. You know, I knew that they were going to get ready to make a change when I watched the 2002 finale race for the NASCAR here because they were running down on the apron because they were trying to pinch the whole track off. So I knew they were going to try to make a change. This was pretty drastic. It did accomplish what they were trying to do as far as being able to have close races here. It's just, it was a track that was really suited well to Indy cars and you could have good races here. I think that there's going to be good, close races here. No the matter what happens, it's kind of like going back to how is taking the horsepower away from the engine, how does that affect the racing? Last year, you saw the last, I don't know, four or five races of the year and who was -- it was the same five guys every time that were right there, first through fifth. And no matter where we went at, whether it was Nazareth or Kentucky or California or Texas, all of the championship contenders were there and they were right there at the end. So I think you take that away, it just kind of helps sort things out a little bit and get some people that are newer and don't have quite as much experience that it's going to -- this is just another track that's going to throw them in there and force them to be up there racing hard the whole race. In my mind, it's good because it gives them the race experience, but it's not necessarily the greatest thing because if they make a mistake, it tends to be pretty big at these tracks.
MIKE KING: Helio, I want to go back to something that you mentioned. The first three years, I hear at Homestead a lot of the drivers talked about dealing with the wind off of the banking on to the flat of a straightaway. You mentioned watching out for gusts now coming off the big banking. Is there a dramatic difference one way or the other or is it an equitable situation dealing with the wind on the high bank as it was with the lower banking?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The good news is at least it's warning you when the car starts in the front first and the low bank and the rare suddenly snaps and you have no idea what to do. So right now, again, the track, it's not easy. If you do have a good car, but you'll be able to go flat-out with no problems. So obviously, they have a little more experience running beside each other or behind each other. I didn't have that; I was just by myself. And when I was by myself with the wind gust, I noticed some kind of a difficult level. So it's just a matter of take it easy and be aware.
Q. Sam, can you talk more about the move from Pennzoil Panther Racing to Marlboro Team Penske?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Basically, at the end of 2002, I knew I had another year to run on my contract with Panther Racing and I wanted to explore other options and see what else was out there. We had a lot of success out there and sometimes you put yourself in a comfort zone and you don't really know exactly what's the biggest benefactor to stay there. So you just want to look around. From the time I was a kid, I admired Penske race car drivers. I never actually thought that I would be one of them. So it's kind of exciting to be able to do that. I'm really looking forward to this year. That was the only way I knew to further my career was to come to this position. The Indianapolis 500 means so much to me. When you look at the Penske success that they have had over not just the past three years, but since 1972. It's just phenomenal amount of time for how many cars have been put into that race. That's the way I look at it. That's my best chance to win the Indy 500 and that's what keeps me racing right now and that's what has my focus.
Q. Can you talk about the possibility of CART about with the Indy Racing League bidding on the CART assets, and I guess we'll know tomorrow at this time what's going to happen? What's the drivers' take on what's going on?
TONY KANAAN: The drivers' take is -- I don't know, I can't speak for all of us. We all want to go to road courses. But it's up to the big guys to decide what's going to happen. Obviously, it's obvious for everybody that we are both hurting. So what's more sensible to do, we all have an opinion. Let's see what the judge is going to see. Everybody is hurting. Motor racing is hurting because of it. You know, if it happens, great. I think we can all go back and start being one thing and then grow. I think IRL has a lot more potential right now than any other open-wheel racing series. All of the drivers are here. It's obvious what we want, but let's see what the judge is going to decide.
Q. You were first to know that the three drivers, Scott, Helio and Tony that competed in the CART series how the Indy Car Series cars will compete and adapt to road course racing?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We usually have the turbo charger in CART and now we are running with aspirator. I don't think it is going to change much. Everybody is going to be on the same condition. Street circuit obviously is straight. Road course obviously is great. The series has been phenomenal. It's growing every year. I don't think our car is going to have any problem. The g-force, it's been going a good job, and as Tony said, it's a race car. So as long as everybody has the same type of equipment, I don't think it's going to be hard on anyone. Actually I believe it's going to be very exciting.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I agree with Helio. I think the cars are probably going to be similar to an Indy Lights car or something, just the way they are balanced and how the engines are. I think it will be good racing. Even a CART car in Long Beach and stuff it was fairly hard to pass. Whereas you look at Indy Lights races, they are pretty close. I think the racing will be very good with this kind of car that they have at the moment.
Q. You said you thought it would be more fun.
TONY KANAAN: Well, we have no traction control. We have no turbo. There is going to be a lot more up to the driver to drive the car. I mean -- it's just a matter of adapting the car. I would say, I think it's going to be more fun, because like Scott mentioned, it's going to be a lot different and the cars I think we are going to have to drive them a lot more.
Q. Sam, you have been in the Indy Car Series for the last four seasons, four and a half seasons and have not driven on road or street courses in that time. But in your climb up the ladder, you did an awful lot of road course racing. Your take on what looks to be in 2005 an opportunity to add some courses; it looks like perhaps even an opportunity in 2004?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's just been great. I like the IRL for what it is. I think they need to remember what's allowed them to get to the point where they are purchasing CART assets. I think that two to three, maybe four road courses or races that are off ovals would be good for the series because it would bring some more fan base. While I'm excited do it, I want to see how I match up against these guys. I didn't get to race against these guys when I was running Toyota Atlantics and Formula Ford and go-carts. So really, you know what you can do with them on the ovals. So it's always a good thing to see what you can do on rode cars and put them on a different venue. The courses will be remarkable based on the fact that it takes more horsepower away because right now cars are about momentum; you lose momentum, you are going to be get passed by two or three guys in a close race. And if you over drive these cars on a road course, get too deep into the corners or make a mistake, you are going to get passed. I think it will be great for the series, as far as I think the cars will be good for a lot of passing on the road courses and the ovals. It can only go forward hopefully.
MIKE KING: Thanks, looking forward to watching you guys out there tomorrow.
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