Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MODERATOR: Alex, what are your impressions of the 1.5 mile oval at Homestead.
ALEX BARRON: I think it's quite different than last year. Speeds were quite higher, but with high banking I think you will see a lot more of two people running side-by-side, possibly three at times, and I think it will cause for a better race when we go back there at end of February.
MODERATOR: What areas do you plan to work on before the season opening on February 29, will you be testing at Phoenix next week.
ALEX BARRON: Yeah, we go there, I think we test Wednesday, Thursday of next week. And we're just trying to get everything together to do the best we can for when the season starts. But so far it's gone fairly well, and I think that we've still got a lot of work to do, but everybody is working really hard to get ready for next week.
MODERATOR: Ed, you are the rookie of the group, you have run a number of IRL Indy Car series races in 2003. What are some areas you have gained some experience working with this team and Eddie Cheever?
ED CARPENTER: It's the most organized team I've been with yet in my career. So it's been a lot easier to learn, being in a structured environment, working with the engineering group that they have put in place here, and Alex. Also, I'm just learning more and more about the cars, obviously. I have a lot to learn being a rookie. So just learning general knowledge about the cars and changes we need to make when the car is doing certain things are the areas I've been learning the most and need to continue to learn.
Q. How about your first impressions of the first test at Miami, Homestead Miami, and what do you look forward to in that first race going back there with the variable banking and safety barriers in place and everything like that?
ED CARPENTER: I think the track did a nice job with all of the changes. I wasn't sure what to expect going in there with the mile-and-a half configuration high-banked. I was afraid it was going to be like some of the others, the Chicagos and Kansases, but actually it was still somewhat challenging. The margin of getting your car working well isn't quite as big as some of the tracks, so I thought it was a fun challenge. The test went well for me. It was the first time I got to work with my group of guys on the 52 car, so I was glad to get the chemistry started there and get something started to carry on to Phoenix.
Q. Is there anything in particular at Phoenix that you and Alex need to work on aside from communication with the crews and the like?
ED CARPENTER: I think the biggest thing is it's a different aero package than what we just tested at Miami. With the limited testing this season, we just have to take advantage of all of the track time we get and gather as much data as we can and gather as much data about this car configuration. We have to be as efficient at this test and learn as much as we can about the chassis.
ALEX BARRON: I think when we go to Phoenix, it being a one-mile oval with the new aero package that's put on the car, we'll get a lot of data. Some of the references that we get, we'll go back and analyze when we get back to the shop annd try to adjust accordingly. But so far, everything has gone really well and the difference between the mile-and-a-half, and the one-mile I think is considerably different. We just have to see how it plays out when we get there.
Q. Alex, when you drove at Homestead, exactly how different was that racetrack and what will it do for the opening race?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think the higher bank than last year caused for closer racing for sure. It will be harder for a car to be in the lead and pull away, I think, considerably. But the track is pretty flat on the bottom and the banking ramps up quite quickly. So probably you'll see a lot of overtaking on the low and the high line. I think with that going on, a lot of the cars that start in the back of the field probably will, if they have a back ball point, will be able to move forward which will make it more exciting at the end of the day.
Q. As a driver, do you like it better?
ALEX BARRON: Yeah, I do. I think with the wind conditions that we are driving in, we'll probably simulate somewhat of what we're going to deal with when we go back there. At the end of the movement too, when it heats up, it seems to change, also. When we get there, we will have to re-evaluate again and see what we have to do to make the changes for the heat.
Q. And for you, Mr. Carpenter, when you drove with traffic, and I think this -- was this your first time in a full IRL car?
ED CARPENTER: No. I ran three races last season. I have limited experience but this is my first time in the new 2004 chassis and everything.
Q. Explain the differences for you as a rookie.
ED CARPENTER: Just as a rookie there's a lot of things that I have to learn. It's my first time at this racetrack and in Indy car. Granted, it's a new track, so it's everyone's first time there. I was just looking to go into that test and getting comfortable and getting acclimated with my crew. We have new engineers. Eddie has done a great job of upgrading the team through the winter. Just trying to get started to build that chemistry we are going to need on the team to win races.
Q. Do you find a lack of power on the new-sized motor from last year?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I don't think there's much of a lack of power. The biggest difference is the snorkel and the slot in the air box. But the engine manufacturers developed the engine so quickly and moved forward that I think they have made up most of it. When we go to the 3.0 litre in Indy, I think there will be a considerable drop in power. But again, engine manufacturers, they catch up so fast. It's hard to say exactly what it will be at when we get to Indianapolis.
Q. Do you find the soft wall that they have got at Homestead is going to be an advantage to you guys or not soft wall?
ED CARPENTER: I don't ever really put much emphasis on focusing on the wall. On the other hand, it is nice going into a track where you know they are doing everything they can to improve the facility safety-wise. So it's not something that I think about, and it's comforting to know that they do have the safety barriers.
Q. You have both alluded to the changes and the upgrades that Eddie has made on the team. Are there specific people who have been added to the team who are really making a difference for both of you?
ALEX BARRON: I think so. I think more than anything that they are running two cars now at Cheever Racing. A lot of the key players that are on the team, we have two very good engineers. One is very new with Stefan Dwornik. We have got some good data guys and we have a lot of really good mechanics. Everybody has just worked so hard to make everything gel. I think that's come together pretty good, but we've still got a ways to go. Everybody is trying to work together really positively. I think still going back there, we are still going to have to concentrate very hard on getting a good race car. A lot of the teams have tested quite a bit more than we have. But I think with the guys that we have, we seem to work fairly efficiently and we are looking forward to going to Phoenix to get a better reference on what we need to do.
Q. What about the difference in the car for this year, it seems like Dallara did a lot more homework on G-force even though they were the champs last year, most of the Dallara's were defunct for this testing session. Of course we know that testing doesn't mean anything once you get to a real race, but how happy are you with the new chassis?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think Dallara did a great job with the new rule, the hole in the air box and everything. They have done a lot of research and done a good job in working with that. It's working good now, but everything changes come Indy. So we will have to reevaluate that in May. Right now, I am happy with the work they have done in the off-season.
Q. Ed, I wanted to ask you, the Infiniti Pro, did it prepare you to make this step, did what you learn there, was it helpful in taking this step up?
ED CARPENTER: I think so. There's no series that can fully prepare you. I think you can either do it or you can't. The thing that the Infiniti Pro does do is take some of the learning curve out of it, make it so it's not so steep. So I'm happy with the two years of experience I got out of the Infiniti Pro. I learned a lot and it's giving me a good baseline to come to an Indy Car series with team Cheever.
Q. Why do you think there's only, what, less than five or six cars, less than ten, certainly, showed up at the early season testing?
ED CARPENTER: I was kind of disappointed to see that but I'm sure that they will have 10 to 12 cars at the first race. I talked to the people in the series and they are confident they will have ten to 12 cars. So it's a new series and it's struggling right now, but I think they are doing all of right things to make it a successful series so we'll just see what happens.
Q. What are you looking for, what's going to be -- what's going to satisfy you and what's going to disappoint you about this coming season?
ED CARPENTER: Well, we have a lot of goals. One of my top goals is winning the Rookie of the Year award and just putting ourselves in position to win races and ultimately be in the championship hunt come at the end of the season.
Q. Alex , the Dallara, will it be different at Phoenix than Homestead, tighter radiuses, one-mile track, will you have to get the feel for everything almost new again?
ALEX BARRON: I think the track being a one-mile oval is quite a bit different than Homestead. Handling will play a big part there also. But I think that like Ed was saying, Dallara has done so much development in the off-season, I think that the car is working exceptionally well. G-force, I'm sure is developing everything they can, too, in order to be competitive. So it's hard to say what's going to happen here at the test. And whatever goes on there, I'm sure that both manufacturers will push hard in order to do some things for the race when they go back to Miami at the end of the month.
Q. Alex, you have had two strong runs at the Indy 500, would you kind of reflect on those two years and then kind of how you think that experience will help you as you go into your third year?
ALEX BARRON: Well, 2002, my first year, went very well. We were there, a little bit underpowered with our motor package. We had good fuel mileage and ran strong. Ended up fourth and got Rookie of the Year there. In 2003 it was kind of a last-minute deal driving the Meyer car for at Mo Nunn Racing. We had to qualify in the second weekend and went really well and then we moved up and drove on consistently during the event. The experience that I had there, now I think that it's sufficient enough that if we do our homework and if we get a good car for the race there on Sunday, I think that we've got a good shot at trying to go for the win.
Q. I'd like to ask Ed, you talk about the Infiniti Pro Series giving you a baseline for the Indy Car series, talk about the adjustment that there is coming from one series to the next, what kind of an adjustment you've had to make.
ED CARPENTER: Well, obviously the speed is a lot faster, a lot more power than the Indy Car series. The biggest thing is there a lot more ways to tune and adjust the handling in Indy cars. So I'm just getting up to speed with all of the things we are allowed to do with the rule package and keep improving my feedback just to help the engineering group more.
Q. To ask Alex, what is the big difference this year now that you've got a full-time ride, as opposed to last year, is it much more comfortable this year to start knowing that you're going to be with Team Cheever?
ALEX BARRON: I think more than anything it's stability, knowing that the chemistry that you build on will be there throughout the year. It's tough when you go from team to team, working with a set of guys and different team owners and everything that you build on, you lose and then you have to start all over when you go to the next team. I think when if you start the year strong and you have that going for you, you can build on it and just make it better and better every week.
Q. Alex, the testing rules now in the IRL, makes it tough for smaller teams to have enough time to gather data during a test session, do you think it's an unfair advantage between maybe having the more cars, the merrier?
ALEX BARRON: I think so. I think having two cars is definitely better than having one. There will be a lot of simulation off the track also, but if you have references from two cars from just physically running the cars and going along with the simulation, I think it all plays a big part in how you develop the car.
Q. Drivers like different set ups. Is there a problem between taking data and applying it between the two cars?
ALEX BARRON: I think so far we have seemed to have liked very similar cars. We have only done limited testing but everything has gone pretty similar from one car to the next.
Q. Have you found it comfortable or can you find the time to maybe help or mentor Ed to make the step into the faster Indy cars?
ALEX BARRON: We work together as teammates very well on and off the track, and I think that he's learned a great deal as of now. But he's going about it the right way and being teammates and working with Eddie, he has a lot of experience, a lot of input and with the three of us together. I think it's going to be strong and with IRL. You need to be strong every weekend and you have to keep pushing, and any time you slack off, the other teams seem to move forward, and you have to make sure you are there every weekend in order to go for the championship.
Q. I know he's on the line now, but did he come from the Infiniti Pro with strong enough skills to be successful this year?
ED CARPENTER: I think so. I don't think I would be here if that wasn't the case. So I'm just looking forward to the opportunity I have here and making the best of it and working with the team and Alex and Eddie and learn everything I can to be successful as a driver and as a team.
Q. Alex, let me put you on the spot. Let's assume Ed is not on the line. Did he learn enough from the Infiniti Pro Series it make this transition?
ALEX BARRON: Definitely, I think just looking at the three races he did last year, with PDM, he had good results. He especially coming from Sprint cars with so much power and so much car control that he definitely has the credentials to get in. It's all of the little things that you have to learn that are really tough, but the only way you can do that is trial and error. I definitely think he's prepared to try to go after the Rookie of the Year.
Q. Alex, you were talking about Indy here awhile ago, but you went from 25th to sixth and then 26th to fourth. This year, with a team -- you have a team capable of qualifying up high and you'll have the background of a few races. How will that change the way you'll approach the 500?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think being at Indy, you have to approach it one day at a time. I remember in 2003, just the qualifying session with the wind and the cold temperatures, it kind of threw everybody for a loop. Until the two years that I've been there, it changes from day-to-day and some of the experience that I've learned with the other teams, I think that will carry over. But there's a lot of variables that go there on race day, a lot of things happen and you've just got to make sure you get a good foundation with a solid race car for the whole 500 miles.
Q. Just driving there with a change in the engine and a loss of power somewhat, will that change the way you drive the car any?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think it's going to be interesting to see where we are at power-wise. But, you know, the race will still carry on in order, strategically the way you are going about it. Fuel mileage, I'm not sure what that will be. That will play a big part in it. I don't know if it's going to bunch everybody up more so than it did in the past years. It's hard to say. There's a lot of variables involved with the engine manufacturers doing that. But I think that the main purpose of the IRL is trying to slow the cars down a bit at that time of year, and being at that race is probably a good idea. It's going to be very interesting. There's a lot of question marks that everybody has with that rule and we'll just have to see what happens when the 3.0 litre engine comes about.
Q. Eddie, last year, you spent a year with A.J. Foyt. What kind of a learning experience was that and how did that prepare you for working with Eddie Cheever?
ED CARPENTER: It definitely was a learning experience working with A.J. I would say I learned more character-building things than I did actual things with the race car and driving-wise. I think my skin is definitely a lot thicker after spending a year with A.J.. But, that's all part of the game. You have to have thick skin in the Indy Car series with how intense it is and the competition being so high. So I definitely think that some of the things I went through before help me this season.
Q. Driving three races at the end of last year, does that take some of the pressure off you as a -- even though you're still quote, unquote, a rookie, does that take some of the pressure off you going into this season?
ED CARPENTER: A little bit. I've been in those situations and I've drove my way from the back to the front so I know that I can do it. It's just a matter of putting pressure on myself to improve and better my team all the time. There's always pressure, but I'm really happy that I was able to start with three races last year instead of going in with no references to this season.
MODERATOR: We'll turn our attention to Red Bull Team owner Eddie Cheever who is joining us this week on the Indy racing teleconference. Eddie, let's start out with a recap of areas in which you were pleased with in testing at Homestead Miami Speedway last week with Alex and Ed Carpenter.
EDDIE CHEEVER: Obviously, the first one that comes to mind is the performance of the Chevy engine, the reliability. It was also the first time that we ran the new updated kit with the Dallara. Everything ran smoothly. We had a lot of tests and things that we went through this. Was a good back to school test for the whole team, for the whole technical group.
MODERATOR: This is your first year with a two-car team. What are the difference things that you're seeing in regards of communication? Obviously the workload is a little bit more here for you and the two drivers; in the limited time that you've seen them together, what are your impressions?
EDDIE CHEEVER: It's actually the third year with the second two-car team. WE had with one in '98 and one in 2002 and again this year. The workload is heavier, obviously, for the team. There's a lot more information. There's a lot more opportunity to study trends and understand which way to develop the cars than we had last year with a one-car team. It's just a question of taking advantage of the technical opportunities that are there. We have a finite amount of time to run the cars with the limited testing schedule and new rules, so you have to be able to get everything you can information-wise out of the drivers and the cars every time you test. So what we have managed to do at Homestead, it would have obviously managed to take us four days instead of two if we had run a one-car team.
Q. There was a story in the Indianapolis Star this week regarding a possible, and I underline the word possible, shortage of engines. Has Chevrolet talked to you about that and do you have any concerns?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Chevrolet asked us if we would be running a third car for the Indianapolis 500 -- and I am assuming that's what you're alluding to, and we told them that is definitely a consideration for us to run another car at the Indianapolis 500. But I have not heard of any shortage of engines for the up and coming year. For Indy we are changing from a 3.0 litre to 2.0 litre, and I have not heard any problems to that, but I'm sure it will stretch the ability of all of the engine manufacturers to get the engines out there on time. But I have not heard anything to lead me to believe that they will not have enough engines.
Q. Now, when you look at the opening test at Homestead, on a scale of one to five, where would you put your team at this point?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Internally I would say that our performance was probably a three. There's a lot of room for us to grow. Comparing to the cars that were there, I would definitely give us a four. But you don't really know what everybody else is running. You don't know what everybody else is trying to learn. We had a schedule of work that we had to go through and we were very successful in doing most of that. The cars ran well. They ran reliably. They ran fast. So I would say we were relatively competitive. This series is changing so quickly that you really don't know what it's going to take to win races until you're probably halfway into the first race. So there's a lot of things that we feel that we have to improve upon that we have made enormous gains from last year.
Q. Do we in the media sometimes read too much into speeds during practice sessions, especially preseason practice sessions?
EDDIE CHEEVER: No, I don't think so. At the end of the day, the speed -- there's two things you can judge a race team by. One is the speed is and the second is how many races they finish leading. In winter testing, there is very little else that the media or the drivers or the teams can focus on than just pure speed. So I think it's indicative of how well a car is performing, but it is not the only criteria that you can judge a team by. But no, not at all. I'm in racing because of the speed. Speed is what it's all about. When you are up there in the Top-5 you are obviously doing something. And it's something that the public can embrace, the public embraces somebody that happens to be the one, and if you happen to be the one, it's a positive thing. Every day at Indy when we run, there's a mad rush in what we call "happy hour" to be the fastest car. It serves no purpose towards the race, but it is something that everybody aims to own.
Q. And it helps get that publicity for the next day's headlines; right?
EDDIE CHEEVER: It helps that, and it helps the team and it helps the race car drivers and annoys the other ones who are not faster.
Q. Where are you as a driver, are you definitely done, is that third car at Indy possibly for you? Where do you stand on that?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Right now I'm sitting in my office and I don't have any driver suit on. As a team we are very happy with the drivers that we have for this season. We have a very good mix between Alex and Ed. They are both at two different parts of their career. My driving career is no longer a priority for this race team. I really don't know what else to add to that. We will be running a third car and it has not been decided who will be driving. It I'm not trying to be coy by not answering your question. I just don't have an answer for you.
Q. Tell me where you think things are headed in the long-term with the CART partners winning in court, where do you think that will be a year from now, two years from now, because of the decision that was made last week?
EDDIE CHEEVER: I think that it is inevitable that there will be only one open-wheel series in the United States. I know, I can only tell you that I know the direction that our series will be going in and the partners that we're going forward with. We have Chevy, Toyota and Honda that are investing both technical money and marketing money inside of the series. We race on a lot of ISC tracks. We have a lot's a very good schedule and we probably will be doing road races in the future. I am very optimistic on our future. I don't really follow what the other group is doing. I think it's unfortunate that the opportunity to have one series was not taken, but that really does not affect what we are doing.
Q. Let me ask you something a little more poignant about this engine manufacturer deal. A lot of times in the past in various racing series, when manufacturers either auto or engine manufacturers have come in and become so dominant in a series that they kind of dictate and maybe have a part to play in the future of the series, do you fear that might be happening in the IRL?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Well, I have spent most of my career in Formula 1 where there was a Mr. Bernie Eckelstone (ph) who managed to keep all of the cats herded in the right direction; everybody following one interest; that was the interest the sport, and he did so very well. The latter part of my career has been spent in the Indy Racing League where Tony's vision has really quite clear, not everybody has to agree with it, but it is quite clear. So I think that IRL has to guard against many things, but the most important thing that they have to guard against is making sure that the concept that the IRL was started on maim remains intact. I don't see any manufacturer having a large advantage on another one. It's a very difficult technical battle right now between Chevy and the two Japanese competitors. But it is truly at this point just a technical battle. So I don't think that will happen here. The IRL is not run by a committee. There is not a partnership. It is the George Holeman family that runs it and they have been running it very successfully. I see no reason why that should not continue in the foreseeable future here. I don't know if I've answered your question.
Q. I think you've answered it as far as you can or plan to. Let me ask you a little different area. You mentioned your background at Formula 1 and I know the background in sports cars, but a lot of drivers in America right now are coming from Sprint cars and dirt tracks including one of your drivers, is that the place now where people are getting their experience to handle the kinds of speeds and power that are available in the major leagues of American racing?
EDDIE CHEEVER: That's a very good question. I think it is the only place that it is available. The whole hierarchy of how a driver trains in America to go into Indy racing, into Indy racing league cars or to go into NASCAR really has it's only basis in midgets and silver crowns and USEC, really. I think a lot can be done in those series to bridge the technological gap that there is now and that really is why the Indy Pro Series was created in the Indy Racing League, so that you can give drivers a taste of what an Indy Car would be before jumping into one as they had done in the past. That is where it comes from but I think a lot can be done to improve. I think underneath there should be a unified go-kart series like they have in Europe where a lot of young drivers can battle against each other and the best can come out from there and be better prepared to race in Formula 3 as they do in Europe. I think the European system is really more efficient than the American system.
Q. As a team owner there a lot of effort being made to market to young people. We saw what happened in the Super bowl with the half-time show fiasco and the effort to reach what people think are on young minds. Is there any emphasis on continuing to market to the plans that currently exist?
EDDIE CHEEVER: I think the difference between the fiasco and at the Super Bowl, people are attracted to racing for its -- it attracts a certain type of fan that loves speed, loves excitement. It is truly, we talked about extreme sports, driving a racing car around a Speedway at 220 miles an hour just inches from the wall is about as extreme as any sport can be. I don't think we actually tailor for a certain part of the population. There's a certain part of the population that is attracted to racing. But we do have to work on making it more available than it has been in the past.
Q. Alex, I guess I'm not asking this specifically to your speed and performance during the week last week at Homestead but how close do you think most of the people were to being final -- legal is not the word I want to use, but close to specifications, given that we really don't know some of the specifications, so are the basic times that we saw the other day, do you think they are valid?
ALEX BARRON: I think so. Especially on the draft, at mid-day everybody was drafting each other so much. I think in practice, the speeds will probably be very similar for sure.
Q. And tell me how long -- and this is relevant to Hornish having a kind of new engineering staff to work with. How long does it take for a driver to adjust?
ALEX BARRON: I think there's a lot of variables to that. It can be so much different from one to the other. It would be hard to say exactly where that would be. But sometimes it takes a week and sometimes it takes a half a season, so it's really hard to answer that question.
Q. How do you herd cats, by the way, Eddie?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Great difficulty.
Q. Last year you were talking about wanting to get back into a car, but needing an engine and package that was competitive, how much did seeing how well the Chevy package was going, how much did that whet your appetite to get back in a car?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Very much so. But, I mean I get up every morning before I go for my morning run, I'm a race car driver until about 12 o'clock when I get into the office and the telephone starts lighting up and you have meetings and deals to do. It just keeps being pushed back farther into the day. Both Alex and Ed spend all of their day doing exactly what you need to become a race car, a successful race car driver, working out and doing all of those things that lead you to being competitive in the race car. When you see the cars running around, of course you want to jump in it and see how it runs and measure yourself up against others. But I think that the drivers we have now in our team are doing a great job and they are putting a lot of effort into it, a lot more effort than I would be able to put no it. So I would not be doing our company justice if I could not spend as much time as our current drivers do getting ready. That was such a long answer, I forgot what the question was.
Q. So we could say that you are saying in physical condition and May comes around and you're looking for the third driver, that third driver still may be somebody with the company already?
EDDIE CHEEVER: You never know.
Q. Eddie, I understand that you bring your drivers to Orlando to work out with you, is that as much to get the chemistry started or to see if they are in the proper condition to get their racing season started?
EDDIE CHEEVER: A variety of things. A race team is a small family. You are always under battle and there's always a lot of pressure during the weekends, and I think it's good that the drivers have a good chemistry among themselves. It is also, quite frankly, to see if they are in good condition. Having driven race cars for most of my life and having been around race car drivers, I have a pretty good feel for what is required physically to do a good job. It's a lot of work. We put a lot of grueling hours going through those workouts and testing drivers and seeing where they are at and giving them some goals that they can achieve.
Q. Are you giving Ed any dispensation to do a couple of Sprint races this year?
EDDIE CHEEVER: Dispensation, isn't that something the Pope does?
Q. Well, aren't you the Pope of this team?
EDDIE CHEEVER: No. Actually Ed has never brought that subject up. We haven't talked about that. But I'm assuming if he wanted to, he would ask Max Jones and that would be a question between him and Max.
Q. Ed, are you going to do that?
ED CARPENTER: I'm past that part of my career. I've been racing my whole life to get to Indy cars and have the opportunity to race in the Indy 500, and right now it takes so much to be successful at this level that I want to put all of my focus on being successful and making Red Bull Cheever Racing a better place to be. I mean, I don't really have any drive to go back and race them. It would be fun but I'm content where I'm at, and I just want to do everything I can to be successful at this level.
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