Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome two IndyCar Series drivers to today's teleconference. These two drivers had successful open tests last week at Phoenix International Raceway and found significant speed over the first open test of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Darren Manning, who joins Target Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2004 season was tenth quickest at Phoenix with an average speed of 175.801 miles an hour, three miles an hour off the top speed set by his teammate Scott Dixon. Darren, you've been in the car for four full days of open testing with the IRL now. You've gotten quicker each day. Obviously you're getting more and more comfortable in the car.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, no, it's going really, really well. We had a few tests before Christmas, which was great for me. You know, signed up so early, compared to normal, not getting sorted till, you know, this kind of time normally. So, yeah, it's been nice to be able to kind of feed myself into the car and the team, get to know everybody, get to know the car with plenty of miles under my belt, getting ready for the first race. So, no, it's been great.
TOM SAVAGE: Do you feel like that, the four test days we've had, four open test days, you've gotten quicker each of those days, has it gotten significantly more comfortable in each of those four days?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah. I mean, Homestead probably was the easiest of the two tests, you know. I was very comfortable in the car there. The setup was really good. We were just lacking in a little bit of speed really. But, no, I think, you know, Phoenix is probably one of the harder circuits that we go to throughout the year. Yeah, I was struggling a little bit there toward the first day and a half with a really, really loose car which really wasn't inspiring much confidence. It was trying to spin me sideways to either end for the first day and a half. But we got it sorted. And like you say, I ended up I think 10th fastest overall, only a 10th or so off Scott, my teammate. I think if we had maybe another set of tires and some different gears and things, I'm sure I would have be up there with him, which was a great finish to the day.
TOM SAVAGE: Darren, the majority of your racing experience really has been on road and street courses. Again, you seem to be getting more comfortable with the ovals. What is your comfort level with the big ovals this year?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, no, very, very much so. The team undoubtedly is one of the best, if not the best, on the American circuit. And, you know, I've settled in very well with those guys. No, the ovals, you know, for me, they're just, you know, two corners instead of 12 corners or 20 corners. You know, it's just turns that I've got to try and drive faster than everybody else on. No, I don't want to be too cocky or anything, but I feel pretty comfortable from the get-go in my first experience a couple years ago in that one-off race over in Rockingham. So, no, I'm really happy really.
TOM SAVAGE: That was your first race in the Champ Car was in Rockingham on an oval?
DARREN MANNING: Yes, that's right. Over in Rockingham, England, the only kind of oval in the UK. With circuit put on a one-off kind of drive. Team St. George, a pretty good concept, I think. But, yeah, they decided to put me in the car. Yeah, I mean, that's really what kind of got my US career started really.
TOM SAVAGE: Give us your thoughts on coming into the IRL with such a great team, a championship team.
DARREN MANNING: Well, yeah, I mean, it's perfect for me. I mean, I've never had -- well, the only other opportunity I had like this was when I raced over in Japan for the TOMS Toyota Formula 3 team. They were kind of the Chip Ganassi of Formula 3. You know, they were champions from the previous year. They had, you know, a strong engine package in Toyota, similar to what I've got now. They had good setups, like I say, coming off a championship winning season for them. You know, normally I've never had that before. Like I say, that was the only season that I ever had that. And I won a championship with them. You know, normally I'm scrimping and saving, no spare cars, no spare wings, just really, really on a tight budget. So I know what I can do with limited resources, so I really can't wait to get my hands on what these guys have got.
TOM SAVAGE: Very good. Let's go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Can you speak of some of your previous experience in racing, I guess maybe some of us may not be acquainted with it, tell us what you've done before you got here.
DARREN MANNING: Wow, well, where do I start? You know, I started when I was 10 years old in go-karts over in the UK. Raced in British championships, European and World championship level karting with pretty good success. Then when I was 17, I moved into single-seater racing, you know, Formula Vauxhall Junior, which is sort of a Formula Ford equivalent championship. Did a season in that. Came in second in that championship. Moved up into Formula Vauxhall, which is kind of a Barber Dodge kind of equivalent for a couple of years. Raced in British and Euro series races. I think I was fourth or fifth and fourth in those championships. Then moved up into Formula 3 for a few years. Raced in Japan in Formula 3, like I was saying, in '99. Won the championship there. The end of season kind of World Championship Formula 3 races in Macau and Korea. Second place in both places. That really kind of pushed me into the limelight over in Europe in the Formula 1 scene. I got a test contract with BAR, British American Racing. Also a crack, you know, at fully funded Formula 3000 effort. Unfortunately, it was a pretty new team, and had limited success. A few podiums and a few poles, but no wins in my two years there. Then I had to kind of take a bit of a sidestep as funds were running short in Formula 3000. Raced for a partial season in '02 in the ASCAR Series, which is kind of a stock car kind of new series over in the UK. That basically was a Rockingham circuit kind of deal. Because I was kind of one of their drivers, they put me in their Champ Car for the Rockingham race. The last couple years, I'm sure you're familiar with.
Q. What do you hope to achieve this year in the oval racing?
DARREN MANNING: What do I hope for this year?
DARREN MANNING: Well, I mean, I've got a chance -- you know, I'm going to go into every race, I'm sure, with a chance of winning. I mean, you know, they've shown they can lead laps, win races and win a championship. I've got every opportunity. I've got all the resources at hand to really, you know, realize what I can do. You know, I'm going to Homestead really thinking, you know, I stand a great chance of winning. If I go into every race thinking that, then hopefully doing that at the odd time, the championship could hopefully follow. I'm sure Scott has probably got something to say about that. He did it in his first year, so there's no reason why I can't. I'm really looking forward to it.
Q. I may have missed the start, but did you say anything yet about what Dixon said to you at Phoenix with regard to how the G Force was? He was pretty outspoken about the inconsistencies of the car. Did he point that out to you?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's one of the great things about the Ganassi outfit. You know, they get us working so closely together, hopefully that's one of the reasons why they chose me, being a team player. Me and Scott get along well. We discuss, you know, the setups on our car, how our days are going, how we can go better all the time. You know, we're working hard with the engineers together. Yeah, we were both saying exactly the same things. You know, I think with the amount of downforce that the IRL have taken away from the car to try to slow them down, maybe brought the cars a little bit out of their sweet spot. It just took a little bit of time to get them back into that. You know, it's just a little bit of a smaller operating window, putting a bit more of the onus back into the drivers and teams. The drivers don't normally like it to be hard work. They normally like it to jump in and be fast straightaway. We just have a bit of work to do. Obviously, Scott being fastest, I think I was sixth fastest in the second day afternoon, just a 10th or so behind Scott. You know, we were looking all right at the end of the day.
Q. What is your experience with other drivers in this series? I was trying to remember who you've raced with, if anyone.
DARREN MANNING: Well, yeah, nobody really. Let me think. No, I mean, obviously I know Dario and Dan Wheldon pretty well. Dario is obviously a bit older than me, was a few categories ahead of me. Dan was a little bit younger, and so was Mark. So the Brits I haven't raced against very much really. I guess Scott probably in the race at Rockingham in '02 in the Champ Car race. I think that's probably about it.
Q. I didn't know if anybody in the Vauxhall series had been with you.
DARREN MANNING: No, I don't think so, no.
Q. What do you sense about the depth of this IRL field? Certainly looks to me like seven or eight, maybe nine guys could be championship contenders. Do you think it's that deep?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, yeah, without a doubt. If not even more so. Yeah, you've got the three kind of top teams in Ganassi, Penske and the Green outfit there, all massively strong. And it is going to be close. You know, I think with the new rules, like I was saying, you know, put in a bit more of the onus back into the hands of the drivers and teams, you know, a few of the smaller outfits are probably hoping, rubbing their hands together, thinking, "We stand maybe more of a chance now." Yeah, it's going to be close. You know, I'll probably tell you after the first race what it's more like.
Q. You drove for Walker last year, right, Walker Racing?
DARREN MANNING: That's right, yeah.
Q. And you were kind of situated just north of the speedway. What are your thoughts now about coming to the 500, an opportunity? Last year did you see the track, have you gone through the track? What is your experience with it
DARREN MANNING: Well, yeah, I mean, I was actually watching in turn three in the grandstands last year. I went with a few of the mechanics from Walker Racing. Yeah, I mean, I wanted to see what it was like. It's been on my list of trying to race it and win. I had the opportunity to go and watch it as a spectator last year. No, it's great. I mean, 400,000, 500,000 people in one arena in one day. It's unlike nothing else. I can't wait. It's going to be great. The whole month of May buildup to a race. Normally a race is just on a weekend, and you don't get much buildup. But to have a whole month... To live here in Indy, as well, it's going to be the highlight of my career so far. Put it that way.
Q. You and Mark Taylor are both the rookies here. One of the high honors at the speedway the first year is Rookie-of-the-Year. Two British guys competing for it. Will that be kind of interesting to beat him?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, well, unfortunately -- I mean, I'm going to be a rookie at the 500. So, yeah, it's going to be good going up against him in the 500. But they're not putting me in as a rookie for the full season, just for the 500. I guess with my CART experience and oval experience, it's a bit unfair to be calling me a rookie. But, yeah, I'm going to be going for all-out honors at the 500, trust me. Rookie honors, that will be an added bonus.
Q. You had those contracts to test in Formula 1. Is it just too tough to break into Formula 1? Do you have to bring money? What is the situation that you couldn't quite get over the hump and get a full-time ride?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, I mean, it's a number of things. All of those: Money, having the right manager, knowing the right people, just being in the right place at the right time, the right team. It's so massively political. I really appreciated the response that I got from the American teams, both in IRL and CART, after I'd done the race at Rockingham. They seemed to appreciate the job that I did a lot more in the equipment that I had and the experience level that I had. You know, they really looked at every last detail and said, "Wow, this guy actually did a bloody good job." Where if that was a Formula 1, even if I led a few laps out of pit strategy, finished on a lead lap in Top 10 position, they would have said, "So what, he finished ninth." Check pole kind of thing. But it got me big recognition over here and a lot of meetings with all the team bosses, which is impossible in Formula 1 today. So a lot, lot different.
TOM SAVAGE: Just a side note on that previous question. Darren Manning will be considered a rookie at the Indianapolis 500, but will not be eligible for Rookie-of-the-Year honors on a league level.
Q. Just wondering, have you driven an IRL car before the downforce change?
DARREN MANNING: Yes, yes. I drove an '03 car at the end of last year. I got a good comparison between the two. Yeah, like I was saying before, it's made the operating window quite a lot smaller and taken it out of the sweet spot. That's why I guess you saw a lot of guys struggling at Phoenix, where downforce is an issue. Homestead, it's a drag reduction exercise. Obviously with the banking helping you there, you don't really need the downforce. It didn't really affect it too much there, which is why the speeds were pretty similar to the '03 cars. But when we got to Phoenix, we're trying to get as much downforce on the car as possible. Because of the reduction there, it was a little bit more of hard work for the drivers and teams.
Q. Would you consider it as being a major change?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, these cars are operating with a huge amount of downforce on the cars. You know, I think at certain circuits, you know, you're wanting to utilize all that and more. The more downforce you get on the cars, the better, places like Phoenix, these short ovals. Anything that's been taken away is a hindrance, you know, for speed. Obviously, everybody's got the same thing, so it's not too much of an issue in other respects. But it just makes it a little bit tougher, that's all.
Q. You've only had one oval race, I believe, is that correct?
DARREN MANNING: No, no. I raced -- I did three -- I've done Milwaukee, Germany and Rockingham. Two last year and one the year before.
Q. How would you compare the IRL car to the CART cars that you drove?
DARREN MANNING: Well, they're quite a bit different. They've got a bit more downforce than the Champ Cars. Obviously, they're specifically designed to only turn left. The Champ Cars are very much a compromised car for driving street circuits, road circuits and ovals, so you're always compromising what you do on an oval. It's nice to be in a car that's specifically designed in every respect, every nut and bolt, to go fast on an oval. It's been a different kind of mindset for me. You know, it's actually quite nice.
Q. What's the IRL car going to be like on a road course?
DARREN MANNING: Well, I think we're needing -- I think it will be fine. Obviously, quite a few parts on the car need to be changed, like the left-hand side upright, maybe a little bit of suspension, because obviously we're going to be turning left and right. But it should be minor changes. I'm not sure. I'll tell you after we have a go.
Q. The last time a British driver won the Indy 500 was in 1966 when Graham Hill did it. The year before that was Jim Clark. How would you feel in Victory Lane there if you were joining that kind of a crowd?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, you know, it would be such an emotional time. You know, everybody over in England obviously recognizes the Indy 500 as the biggest motor racing event in the world. To not have had a British winner since then, don't worry, it's been well-documented. If I'm the guy to follow in his footsteps, I'll be massively pleased. It does mean a lot. I love the history of motorsport and things. You know, the museum there down at the track and things, I love going down there and seeing all the old cars and things. If I can put my name and car in there, I'll be very pleased.
Q. You mentioned the Indy 500 is something you definitely want to put on your resume. Is this a hiatus? Is your goal still Formula 1? Have you taken a new tact?
DARREN MANNING: I've pretty much taken a new tact, especially now. Maybe, you know, last year until I got this drive effectively, which is obviously one of the best drives in the US, you know, I was possibly thinking still more Formula 1, wondering whether I have got a career in the US. Hopefully it's pretty obvious that I do now, now that I got chose for this drive. I'm looking to really put my roots down here in the States. I love this kind of racing. You know, the American fans are really taking to me. I love it a lot. A lot different to racing in Europe. Obviously, if one of the Top 3 teams, let's say for example, McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, if one of those guys called me up and said, "We have a drive, we want to pay you X amount of millions," I'd talk to them. I mean, I want to win races. There's lots of teams in the US that are capable of doing that in US racing. We're one of the best, that's going to give me a chance every time I go out. If you go over to Formula 1 for one of the midfield back-end teams, if you're not in one of the top three teams, you're not going to stand a chance of winning, no matter what I can generate. I'm happy to be here. I wouldn't reject a top-running Formula 1 team.
TOM SAVAGE: Thanks for joining us, Darren. We will see you at Homestead-Miami in about 10 days.
DARREN MANNING: Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: Indy Racing League veteran Greg Ray joins us now. Greg did not participate in the open test at Homestead-Miami. At Phoenix he was able to get out late in the day on Wednesday and turn 25 laps. However, he got his Honda-powered Panoz G-Force up to speed in a hurry on the final day of testing and ended the test ninth fastest with an average speed of 175.867 miles an hour. Greg, thanks for joining us today. Tell us how you were able to get that car up to speed in Phoenix with virtually zero testing.
GREG RAY: It's new for everybody. The engines have changed so much, the air box, certainly all the chassis manufacturers. We run the G Force. They've made lots of changes with the rules and for safety reasons. Again, we had very limited time. Really it's just the continuity of the team from last year with Jamie the crew chief, Jeff the engineer, we worked well together. The guys did work really hard, very late, the hours, getting the car prepared to get to Phoenix. Really, we just hit the ground running. The car felt very nice, I was very pleased with the G Force chassis. I think Honda has done a great amount of work over the winter. We're very excited. Again, I don't think we even scratched the surface. We never really tried to go fast. We worked just really on the feel and exploring some of the directions that the car could go in for race setup. I think that during the Thursday afternoon session, there are a lot of teams out there running around with full fuel, doing some race simulation. I think we stacked up as good or better than anybody out there. I'm very pleased.
TOM SAVAGE: You have to be encouraged thinking you weren't really thinking getting it up to speed, and here you put the number nine spot up there. You got to be encouraged going to Homestead in 10 days.
GREG RAY: The day before we really shut the car down on Wednesday. I was very uncomfortable starting so late in the day. The shadow over in turn two is pretty dramatic. I had a dark shield on. You couldn't really even see the racetrack. You'd go in and try to spot the apex in the corner, and really all it was was a black wall. You couldn't see anything as far as the racetrack and the wall behind it until you got through the shadow. I told them straightaway that the car was at least a second better than what I was giving it. The next morning, three or four laps into it, that's exactly where the car showed up at. Yeah, so we haven't taxed the bar. We don't really know how fast it is. But we clearly believe that Phoenix we'll be a pacesetter come qualifying time.
TOM SAVAGE: Is there a reason behind the No. 13 on the car, just history of the 13 being superstitious? Is there a reason behind that number?
GREG RAY: Last year when we started the team, we were looking to have identity for ourselves and to have a number that would be our identity. As we went through the mix to find out what was available, what wasn't available, to pick a number for the team, I noticed between the numbers available and the numbers taken, the only number that wasn't present was 13. And I just asked a question, I said, "How come they don't offer the number 13?" They said, "Are you kidding, are you crazy, why would you even ask that?" I said, "I really want that number." And it was the first number really available. In the mix of 1 to 12 was taken, so 13 was available. And I think it's a good signature for us. It's something that everybody identifies us with. I think it's gained a lot of momentum last year. And like I told everybody, I'm not really a superstitious person. I think how you live your life day in and day out, how you believe, what you put into is what you get out of it. I think it's just a good identity for us.
TOM SAVAGE: Well, it has certainly worked being an identity. What are the challenges of being a driver/owner in such a competitive sport, competitive marketplace?
GREG RAY: They're a lot more challenging than I ever thought they would be. Obviously, the business world takes a certain amount of dedication and focus to be successful at. Then being a racing car driver takes really an entirely different, you know, set of tools. With us starting a team, in this day and age, at this level, it's a lot more taxing than I originally thought it would be. We definitely struggled last year getting the business up to where it was going to be, where we needed to be competitive. I think we've done a good job over the winter months getting a lot of -- starting the role of building a bigger financial base, to develop more partners, based on our reputation and dedication that will come to fruition throughout the year to give us that position. I got on the phone there very quickly at the end when Darren Manning was speaking. There's a lot of teams capable, a lot of very intelligent people, but not a lot of teams capable of putting the resources together with the people and the dedication and the passion. I think that's what we stand for at Access Motorsports. But there's still a lot of hard work to do. We're trying to quietly go about getting ourselves up on par to be at the same bar level as an Andretti team, or a Bobby Rahal team, Penske, Ganassi. Those are definitely the marks. We're very happy to be here competing with them. We're tired of having excuses and we're tired of having some of the issues that we have, and that's why we've really been working 24/7 around the off-season to grow into that position.
TOM SAVAGE: You've qualified so well at Indianapolis over the years, sitting on the front row four different times, even held the pole position in 2000. Your highest finish here at 16th and Georgetown is eighth place. Is your goal going forward to win at Indianapolis or perhaps another IndyCar Series championship like you did in '99?
DARREN MANNING: I think we definitely had a car that could win the race last year. We had a very good game plan. Unfortunately, we were just on the edge of maybe not having enough downforce. But the last 50 laps we had a car that was capable of being faster than any car on the racetrack. So it's definitely my goal to win at the Indianapolis 500. That was my goal really from the day that I decided I wanted to give my hand to see if I had the ability to actually drive a race car. That's definitely what it's all about. I think in the past maybe my philosophy at Indy has been a little bit over the top. It was really all about winning, not just about, you know, finishing second or fifth or even being in a position to try to win the race at the end. For some reason, my mindset was to go out there and try to, you know, run away from the beginning and to dominate the race. That philosophy really did not prove to be very effective. So I think my driving has definitely matured. I think we had a great season last year on all accounts, including the Indianapolis 500. We definitely want to take from the good things that we established last year, we want to build some momentum on that. We want to build the business and the financial base to allow me to be a little bit more aggressive, which will definitely show up in race pace, but have the same philosophy of making sure we get to the end. And I think we do that, I honestly believe we are a threat to win races. With the consistent model of running up front, we're a threat to win a championship.
TOM SAVAGE: Very good. Let's open it up for questions for Greg Ray.
Q. You were talking about Indy there. It's kind of come a long way from '97 when you were trying to find sponsors and everything to the point now where you've changed your philosophy. You had that stretch where you were on the front row for four consecutive years. What is it you said you learned about how to win Indy?
GREG RAY: Really I think it's just that focusing more on being completely prepared from A to Z, not just focusing on the big things, the issues that make a car go fast. The league has changed. I mean, the parameters of the racing and the parameters I believe have changed. You know, I road raced from 1992 through 1996. When I first was brought into the Indy Racing League in '97, it was competitive, but it was nowhere near competitive to the level it is today. You know, the culture and the climate, the participation of global manufacturers like Honda have really changed just the whole view of it. The overall racing has changed a lot. I feel like I've had to change my mindset. A lot of that probably is just really maturity in driving. I didn't start driving till I was 25. So while I might seem a mature man or a mature business person, I think I still have a lot to learn behind the wheel. I think last year was a great exercise for myself wearing an owner's hat and wearing a driver's hat. I think that really helped me in a lot of ways. Like I said, our test at Phoenix, the way we went about our business, went about our testing and the interaction of the people we have, I just felt like the bar has moved. I'm definitely reenergized and very focused.
Q. For Indy, they're lowering the engine capacity to 3.0 liters. How quickly will teams adapt to that, set the car up but also the driver driving it with less power?
GREG RAY: Yeah, it is going to change. It's going to change for everybody. It's something that we all kind of have to go out there and test and find out. It's hard to really know as a driver, you know, what the car's going to be like in that configuration. You know, I believe the IRL will probably have additional rule changes past Motegi going into the Indianapolis 500 where there will be some sort of wing change, as well. So I know they're looking at that from a safety perspective. I don't know that it's going to happen, but I believe it is. But if you look in the past where we've gone from four and a half liters to four liters, then from 10,800 to 10,300 on the rpms, now down from three and a half liters to three liters, the manufacturers keep doing a great job of making the cars better and making great horsepower. It will slow the cars down. The race itself will be just as competitive, but the pace will just be a little bit slower as opposed to where it would be if we kept the same engine configuration. I mean, we're going to lose, depending on who you ask, anywhere from 50 to 100 horsepower. That's going to significantly change the overall speed. So I think Brian Barnhart and the Indy Racing League have done a great job of addressing these things and moving the bar for safety and make sure we have a very, very competitive series. We've built a reputation of being the most competitive series out there. That's one element that we don't want to change as we address the safety rules. Just looking very forward to seeing what it has. All the teams are going to react to it and deal with it the best they can.
Q. Mentally, how important is it to do well the first three races and be in position early to fight for the championship?
GREG RAY: I think from a camaraderie standpoint on the team, the guys are working so hard, it certainly allows you a breath of fresh air, some more energy to know you have very consistent finishes, a good, solid start. The thing about motorsport is each weekend is a different event and a whole different world. So one weekend you could have just a really bad weekend from a performance standpoint and then come back and do your homework and get the setup and get everything right for the next weekend. You know, we have many, many opportunities to have good weekends and bad weekends, but it's the consistency of the good weekends that can lead to a championship. So just having that momentum at the beginning of the year definitely builds a lot of strength, it builds a lot of confidence, allows you to make better decisions based on the outcome you're trying to get as opposed to being behind the eight ball right from the very beginning, then having to push very hard to catch up. I think having three solid races before the month of May adds a lot of mental momentum for the team and the drivers and the manufacturers going into the Indy 500. While we have so many great events, even the event directly before it at Motegi, the Texas Motor Speedway, those are both fabulous events. But most people have a special focus for the Indianapolis 500.
TOM SAVAGE: Just curious, talk about your race in Texas, going back home like that. Do you really feel like it's a hometown track? What is your reception when you go back to Texas?
GREG RAY: It's always very nice. First of all, it's a world class facility. I think if you ask all the drivers, you know, where they want to win, 99% of them will tell you if they could have any win, they'd want to win at the Indianapolis 500. But if you took that element out of the question, "Where would you like to race?" They will all tell you the Texas Motor Speedway. It produces great races, a fun race to work at. They do a good job with the staff promoting the race. They're very, very friendly. It makes all the teams, the drivers, the sponsors, just feel like it's a big family environment. That's the race where we always have the most people, both the June race and the fall race, other than the Indianapolis 500, it's the two biggest races of the year. So it is nice. It's nice to be treated by family and friends and people that I've known my entire life here in Texas. And I get to sleep in my own bed, so that's a big plus.
TOM SAVAGE: Are you received down there? Do people know you? Are you received around the track?
GREG RAY: Yeah, I certainly believe if you ask any athlete about how he feels playing on his own home court. While we play at so many different places, I definitely do have an intimate feel of being here in front of other Texans, and again, so many people I have known and known for so long, I think that does build a lot of positive momentum. Yeah, I very much enjoy it.
Q. You were pretty late getting your car on the racetrack. Watching you gain momentum was really neat. You said the focus is obviously to get some momentum up there for the first three races. How important is Motegi to a Honda driver?
GREG RAY: I tell you, in IndyCar racing, Honda has not won at Motegi. Obviously, Honda is a global leader in everything they do, and certainly in the car market. They own that facility, they really support that event. The big reason why we race there, it is quite frankly for a driver's career, and certainly mine from where we're at in the mix of things, winning at Motegi or even having a top five would be just a huge, huge occasion. I know they want to win. That is clearly the focus. That would just be a monumental card in the deck of things to allow us to build a better, stronger relationship with Honda.
Q. You're driving with the Panoz G Force chassis. You were the first of the Honda drivers to use that tub. Some of the other guys are having problems getting up to speed with the 2004 iteration. Do you see any problems with the vehicle? Is it that much different from last year?
GREG RAY: The car is definitely different. I feel to start from the beginning, I definitely feel we were very instrumental in our efforts last year to help some other teams consider running the G Force chassis, including Bobby Rahal and Fernandez Racing. I think Honda has definitely shown interest in looking at the package we had because, again, knowing what we had last year as financial resources, our amount of time testing, other technical resources available to us, we had very little of that. I thought we performed well above our financial means. I think the other teams took up and noticed that, as well. I'm very pleased with the car, with how I ran at Phoenix. Not so much speed, taking a stopwatch completely out of the equation, but just what I felt from the race car. G Force I think has developed a great car. I don't think the testing speed necessarily at Homestead reflected what some of the teams were capable of doing with the G Force car. I know G Force was trying lots of other options. It was the first time Fernandez and Bobby Rahal's team ran the car. They had some teething issues to get used to it, had to learn some setup differentials. Even Ganassi, who won the championship last year, you know, G Force chassis, won the Indy 500. I think everybody wasn't showing their cards. The rules are still only going to be locked into place come the first race. The way the package has come about is G Force has kind of gone one way with the rules interpretation and has focused on some issues, and Dallara has really gone down another. I think they're dead on pace to have great race cars. I think as the rules change and the three-liter engine comes into fact, and we have the wing changes going into the Indy 500 for the rest of the year, I think we'll be competitive right out of the box. But I think G Force will really show its strength as the year comes on. So, again, very pleased to have them as a chassis manufacturer and a technical partner. I think they've done a great job and I think they'll show throughout the year.
TOM SAVAGE: Can you talk about qualifying? You had 13 poles in the IRL. Even last year, your fifth race into it, you started inside third row. You qualify very well. Is it a mental thing that you prepare for on that Saturday?
GREG RAY: No, not really. I mean, qualifying is just a different game. I mean, last year we didn't get to be very aggressive. We couldn't risk the car setup. That was too aggressive. I always operated I think last year, you know, well within the boundaries. We didn't have any on-track incidents really of any kind. I don't include the Chicago event, and practice, because we had a (inaudible) failure. We had a very conservative game plan last year. But qualifying is totally a different event from racing. It's a speed event. It's all about getting the car set up in an entirely different way, and it's about a different approach as far as driving, what you can do in, you know, one 30-second or 20-second baud of time, it's something that you can't do necessarily for two hours on end. I mean, each and every one listening in today can hold their breath for 20 seconds, but they may not be able to do it for two hours. There's a big difference in the overall mental approach, what you can do for a short amount of time. I've always enjoyed qualifying. Like I said, it's just a different event. It's a speed event. You know, but the racing is ultimately what it's all about. Whether you qualified dead last or second or on the pole doesn't really matter. It does allow you to be a little bit more conservative maintaining that position as opposed to having to work your way up through the pack. But winning races is what it's all about. It's about a really good race car setup, not really qualifying as far as winning championships.
Q. Can you talk about the difference this year and last year in getting sponsorship dollars?
GREG RAY: I mean, last year we started our program very late in the season. You know, I think we've built a lot of momentum, our team. I can't really speak for all of them, but I think we've built a lot of momentum of people getting to know our philosophies, getting to know what this team stands for. I think we've also developed a lot of opportunities that will grow in time. As applications that we have set forth, you know, come to fruition, I think we're going to grow. I think we're in a great opportunity moment to really reap the benefits of what we built on last year. There's no doubt it's still very difficult. We're fighting not really just all the other racing that's out there, but we're also, you know, fighting against the NBA and the NFL, hockey league, golf, tennis, everything there is out there. Americans are very busy people. They have lots of options to spend their time and their free resources. That's who we're competing against. We know we have a great product. We know we have great racing. You could take a novice, someone going to the race for the first time, and it is a spectator sport. You have to go once to see it in person before you really get it. I think we're building a lot of momentum. I think having manufacturers like Honda and the others involved, helping us promote the sport, it's going to be very, very instrumental. I do look at it as getting better. Certainly as our national and global economies do mend themselves and get stronger, that will certainly help our case, you know, growing the business that grows our team to be one of the leading teams here in the IRL.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you very much, Greg. We will see you next week down at Homestead-Miami. We wish you the best of luck in 2004.
GREG RAY: Look forward to it.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you.
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