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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Phil Giebler
Dan Wheldon
March 2, 2004


TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome two IndyCar drivers who had successful races over the weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway to today's teleconference. Menards Infiniti Pro Series rookie Phil Giebler took his first laps on an oval at the IRL open test in Phoenix just weeks ago and went on to win the Homestead-Miami 100 on Sunday. He joins us in the first segment of today's call. Also Dan Wheldon will be joining us in just a few minutes. He is last year's IndyCar Series Rookie-of-the-Year and also had a strong showing at Homestead, finishing in third place behind Sam Hornish, Jr., and Helio Castroneves. Phil, we'll start with you. Thanks for joining us on today's call.

PHIL GIEBLER: Thanks for having me.

TOM SAVAGE: We talked about this in the post race press conference, but yours was an incredible story of winning at Homestead, it being your first time on an oval. Can you talk about Sunday's race?

PHIL GIEBLER: For me, I thought it was going to be a learning experience and I just wanted to get laps under my belt. Obviously, I was going for the win no matter what. But, you know, I didn't really think that -- after the first opening laps I had to start in the back and I had to work my way through. I stayed calm, you know, just kept a steady race. I just made my way up to the front slowly, made my pass for the lead. It was a good start to the season, for sure.

TOM SAVAGE: You talk about starting in the back. Did it take long really for you to get comfortable on that oval because you did make your way through the field very methodical, seemed like you had been on there for ages.

PHIL GIEBLER: You know, coming from road racing, you know, your opening laps are actually a lot more crazy. You have a lot of guys going different places and everybody's trying to make their moves on opening laps. On the oval, it was just a matter of just settling in. It wasn't as crazy as I thought it would be actually, maybe because I wasn't right in the middle. You know, I was watching everybody from the back. I could really gauge to see where everybody was going, and I didn't have to worry about anybody behind me. So that probably helped a little bit.

TOM SAVAGE: You sometimes talk about these speeds on these high-bank tracks like this. But obviously it didn't bother you that much. But were speeds on that track, did it affect you? Did it get your attention early in the week?

PHIL GIEBLER: Definitely. Like the first time I was on the track was obviously on Friday. And I didn't get a chance to go around on a road car or anything like that. Compared to Phoenix, which was my first test a couple weeks ago, you're hitting 35 miles an hour faster than you do at Phoenix. So it was definitely an eye opener. Everybody I talked to, you know, just said, "Just work up slowly to it." After a few laps, you obviously get used to it. But it's pretty wild when you get out there and you're going 190 and you're on the high banks. It's a different feeling. Your perception is so different. It was definitely an eye opener.

TOM SAVAGE: Definitely got a lot of people's attention over the weekend. I'd be interested in hearing what your goals were heading into Homestead. Was a victory on your first oval race even a consideration or was it getting used to the car, the series, the circuit?

PHIL GIEBLER: Obviously, I wanted to win and I wanted to show well in my first race. And I knew with the team that we had with Western Union and Keith Duesenberg Racing, we had a really good shot at it. From my test in Phoenix, you know, I felt really comfortable in the car. I was definitely shooting for a win. Really just wanted to get points and make some good strides towards the championship.

TOM SAVAGE: What are your future plans in racing? Is it to move up to the IndyCar Series or perhaps qualify for the Indianapolis 500?

PHIL GIEBLER: Yeah. I mean, those things are definitely on my list of things to do. But, you know, I want to make a career out of racing, and I've spent half my life preparing for something like this. Whatever opportunities come up in the future, you know, I'll have to take all those one at a time and just see what I got going on. You know, I'd love to race in the IRL. Obviously, the Indy 500 is a dream race for any driver, anywhere they're competing. Both of those are definitely stuff I'd like to do. Really I'd like to go out and race and go out and compete against the best in the world.

TOM SAVAGE: Very good. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions now.

Q. Except for the obvious differences between road racing and the oval, the fact that you only turn left on the oval, what differences did you see during the race?

PHIL GIEBLER: Well, during the whole weekend, you definitely have to approach it differently because everything's happening in smaller amounts, and you're looking for something that's completely different from road racing. To try to improve the car, you have to be a lot more sensitive to changes, what's going on on the car. That was probably one of the main things I had to adjust to. I really had to try to figure out what I had to look for in the car and the data to see what the best way to get in a better car was. And in the race, it was just being patient was a big part of it. You know, don't make any mistakes. And it paid off.

Q. In oval racing as compared to road racing, the mistakes, you pay a little higher price. In road racing, of course, if you miss a turn, you bump wheels with someone, you have plenty of grass to run off on. You don't have that in oval racing. At any point did that enter your mind?

PHIL GIEBLER: Well, I think even before I went on to the track in Phoenix, before my first test, it's obviously something that you consider. And I'm not too worried about just running out by myself or running on any track. I'm not really worried about it. But the things you do worry about are mechanical failures and other drivers making mistakes and taking you out of the race. You know, one little mistake in a race turns into a big accident. There's no way around it on an oval. So that's definitely in the back of your mind. But, you know, you just try not to think about it and just focus on the race. It didn't bother me at all in the race one bit.

Q. How closely did you watch the Toyota 300? If you did, what were you looking for?

PHIL GIEBLER: Are you talking about the IRL race?

Q. Yes.

PHIL GIEBLER: Yeah, I watched a little bit on the big screen and I was watching some guys in the pits just to see what a few of their strategies were, just to see how some of the guys pace themselves. You see some guys trying to make it up to the front quite quickly, and some guys out there that are just patient, just working, you know, one lap by one lap. That was Hornish who I saw, you know, just persistent, just kept a cool head.

Q. When you won the race, when you drove under the checkered flag, were you surprised?

PHIL GIEBLER: I wouldn't say surprised, no, because I knew I had a good car. The race kind of came to me with the yellows and the one stop we had to make to check for the tires. You know, I felt that it was just going my way all day. You know, I wasn't surprised. I was very, very happy for obviously the team, Western Union, and obviously myself. It was just a big relief just to get that under our belts in the first round.

Q. You spent four or five of the last years over in Europe aiming at a Formula 1 ride. Have you kind of given up on that idea? Do you really think they want an American? There's so many young guys that have gone over there. They can't seem to get a decent look.

PHIL GIEBLER: Well, to answer the first question, no, I definitely haven't given up. I'm just -- you know, if I can get there later down the road, that's something I obviously want to do. I want to be competing against the best in the world, and that's my main goal, to get as high -- to the highest level I can. I think they would accept an American driver. You know, they really want the drivers that go into the series to be proven in European grounds. You know, I don't think they're too favorable of people just showing up, you know, think they're going to show the Europeans who's boss, you know, in their first year over there. You kind of have to earn your respect over there, you know, just make headway little by little. You know, I think I was on a pretty good path over there.

Q. Growing up being a road course driver, did you think much about the Indy 500? You'll be driving in the race here, the Infiniti race here this year. Have you been to the speedway ever?

PHIL GIEBLER: Well, I'll answer the last question first. Yeah, I've been to the speedway a couple times. Almost every time I think I've been there has been for the Formula 1 race. That just goes to show where my focus has been over the past couple years. And, yeah, I mean, I always thought about doing the Indy 500. It's America's biggest open-wheel race, for sure. You know, I'd love to do it. I'd love to be in a position to win the race. That's one thing, you know, I'll keep in my sights. I can't remember what the second question was.

Q. You're going to drive in the Infiniti race here.

PHIL GIEBLER: Oh, yeah.

Q. In May.

PHIL GIEBLER: Yeah, I'm looking forward to that, the Infiniti Pro cars I think are maybe a little under-performance for that circuit. It's just so big. I think it's going to be very valuable for track time. It's going to be great to just get out there and, you know, just to run those laps around Indy that are going to be great. If anything, it's just going to be a good experience and good learning.

Q. How did this deal come together with Keith Duesenberg? Was it a last-minute thing?

PHIL GIEBLER: Yeah, I didn't know if I was going to Homestead until really Tuesday of last week. So that was definitely last minute. I was working really hard with Keith and everybody to make it happen. Keith himself has been looking at me for almost two years now. And he, you know, has been calling, inquiring if I was going back to America. It just worked out this time. Everything just fit together. The timing was right.

Q. Is this for a full season now?

PHIL GIEBLER: Yes.

Q. You started at the back of the pack because you couldn't get the engine fired up, correct?

PHIL GIEBLER: Yeah.

Q. You learned a lot about what other people were doing, racemanship I guess, on your way up to the front.

PHIL GIEBLER: Yeah, I think everybody in the pits just wanted to make it exciting, so they kept my engine from firing until everybody went out (laughter). It definitely was a learning experience. Everybody raced really fairly, which I was really happy to run against everybody I came up on. Everybody gave me reasonable room. It was definitely a good experience to get that under my belt. I think as a first race, that was, you know, the best way I could go into a season, just going out there and running with guys wheel to wheel.

Q. What kind of condition were your tires in when you made that mandatory stop when they red flagged?

PHIL GIEBLER: My tires were looking pretty good. I was having to run behind people. Obviously my car wasn't handling as good as I'd hoped for, or as good as it would on its own. But I felt pretty comfortable I could run the whole race. I wasn't hurting too bad. I was running within the limits of the car. I wasn't forcing too much on the tires, just trying to keep them there for the end.

TOM SAVAGE: Thank you very much, Phil. We appreciate you joining us today. We will see you in a couple weeks down in Phoenix. Thank you very much again.

PHIL GIEBLER: Thanks.

TOM SAVAGE: IndyCar Series Dan Wheldon joins us now. Dan was leading the Toyota Indy 300 on Homestead-Miami Speedway with just 12 laps to go. Penske teammate Sam Hornish and Helio Castroneves found their way around him on lap 188. Dan's third place finish at Homestead ties a career best, as he finished third in last season's finale at the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. With his third place finish over the weekend, Dan has now finished in the Top 10 in seven straight events in the IndyCar Series. Dan, thanks for joining us on today's call.

DAN WHELDON: Thank you. Pleasure to be on again.

TOM SAVAGE: Absolutely. Dan, can you talk a little about those final few laps at Homestead as you tried to hold off Team Penske.

DAN WHELDON: I think obviously between the guy calling my race, Tony Cartman, and the guys that managed to do the stops so quickly, and obviously Eddie Jones doing a good job with the handling of the car, I was put in a pretty strong position. I think maybe in hindsight, with the amount of downforce that I went for, it meant that I wasn't quite running as fast as the Penskes on my own in clean air. I managed to, I think, have about I believe probably 10, 15, maybe even 20 car lengths with I think about 15 to go. I could just see them. They were working very well together. Kind of when they were running in tandem, that meant they were actually going even quicker. So I could just see them. Actually, when they overtook me, it was right behind my teammate, Bryan Herta. I was running pretty close to him going into turn three. The two Penskes just kind of went on the side of me. It's early on in the season. It was more sensible to just try and bring the thing home on the podium rather than risking anything else. I mean, that was our intention going into the weekend. We're disappointed with our qualifying performance after being so strong in pre-season testing. But, you know, we want to score strongly in these first three races. Maybe we can risk a little bit more at the Indy 500. That's obviously where we're very keen on winning. I think all in all, a good result. I think all four of our cars were very quick. I think we're looking forward to Phoenix now, which is going to be another tough event.

TOM SAVAGE: After those guys got around you, did you think of even having a shot at running them down? As you mentioned before, were you thinking, "We're so early in the season, let's be happy with third"?

DAN WHELDON: Obviously, if there was any chance of running them down, I was going to do it. But they really seemed to have a little bit more speed on their own. They were just slowly breaking away. Even in the draft, I couldn't quite stay with them. But nonetheless, I mean, it's a good result. It certainly is something that we can build on. And, like I've said in earlier conversations with the media, I think the way this point system works, you've got to keep scoring consistently and highly. I mean, a third place result is not too bad at the end of the day.

TOM SAVAGE: As we mentioned before, you've really been very consistent in the past several races, finishing in the Top 10 seven straight times. It seems as though you've really found a rhythm with these cars in the series. Is that a true statement?

DAN WHELDON: Yeah. I think the biggest thing for me is just the experience. I mean, the league is ridiculously competitive right now. I don't think there's anything like it out there. I mean, it really is. You're trying to get every last hundredth out of the car to be competitive. Having now gained more seat time and more race experience in comparison to obviously how I started my career, even though I did a lot of testing prior, I found a setup that I like. I'm just becoming used to working in the draft. I mean, it's obviously different to what I've been brought up with. I'm starting to get a handle on that. Obviously, I mean, I'm in a very unique situation where I've started off my IRL career in a strong team. That's been a big help. Every time our car gets rolled off the truck, I mean, Andretti Green Racing have it very well-prepared. The setup is very, very close. And Honda obviously gives us great motors. I mean, I'm in a unique situation that way, so I'm very thankful for that.

TOM SAVAGE: Very good, Dan. Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for the media on line.

Q. When you saw the Penske cars closing in on you, was there anything you could do or just say, "I'm going to hold my line and see what happens"?

DAN WHELDON: Well, I could see them coming. Actually, at one point, I know I looked in my mirror between one and two, they looked ever so close. So I was thinking maybe if they didn't watch their Ps and Qs, something was going to happen in that respect. Obviously, I know those guys are way too professional. There's always that hope that you're going to stay where you are, particularly when you haven't got your first win under your belt. But, like I said, there wasn't really much I could do when they kind of fanned over side of me, I was actually trying to guess which one was which because they look so similar when they come up behind you. I had a feeling it would be Hornish on the high side, I have to say. But, no, there really wasn't that much I could do. The amount that they were quicker than me meant that they were able to pass me. For instance, I was able to hold Tora Takagi off at the end. He was pretty similar to my pace. So from that standpoint, I could actually hold him off. But those two definitely, definitely were very competitive. And, you know, you're going to win some and then you're going to lose some. But obviously I think that's a good strong points finish, and like I said earlier, something to build on for the remainder of the season.

Q. You said you had trouble deciding which car belonged to Hornish and which car belonged to Castroneves. Would it have made a difference had you known who was in which car in the strategy that you do? They do drive differently.

DAN WHELDON: No, not really. I mean, what can you do when they come either side of you? There's nothing you can do. Obviously I think, and it's something that was very apparent, the drivers out there I think certainly gave one another room. You've got to do that in this type of racing, particularly on the one-and-a-half mile high banks. So, no, there wasn't particularly anything I could have done, even if I had known which one was which. The main thing was to bring the car home with a strong finish.

Q. We noticed in the race that there were more than one occasion when it just seemed like cars were drifting around the racetrack. Can you comment on why that was occurring?

DAN WHELDON: You know, from my standpoint, I think everybody expected it to be a superspeedway-type race. Obviously, you've got to set your car up for that. But what makes this track unique is the radius of the corners. They're so tight. It really is difficult to be able to sustain a great-handling car throughout the full fuel stint. I think what was happening perhaps, especially with the wind, is it was difficult to run the low line. And with that difficulty, people were just kind of having to move up the track. And consequently, when you've got somebody on the high side, and you're drifting up, there's a point there where you're either going to have to back off or, two, the other guy on the high side is going to have to give you a little more room. I never had any near-misses, fortunately. I think there was some incidents. I know Dario had an incident which kind of he was just an innocent bystander in. Unfortunately, he was put into the wall. But from my standpoint, I didn't come up against any guys like that that were drifting up into me. But I did notice it was difficult to keep your car down. I think the reasons I just explained were why.

Q. Drifting up. That's kind an oxymoron.

DAN WHELDON: No. It is, but it isn't. If the car is understeering, you're on the low line, you've got somebody on the high side of you, you've got to, otherwise you're going to cause an accident. I think Brian Barnhart did a good job in the drivers meeting certainly explaining to the new guys the style of racing. If you go in on the low line, you've got to stay on the low line because there could be somebody above you. If you understeer, you've got to understand that you have to back out of it. That person, I mean, he can't always read that you're going to understeer up into him, so you have to back out. It's just common sense and respect for the other people on the track.

Q. Did you notice, as you tour the racetrack, you see the SAFER barrier there. We got a notice in Fontana they're going to begin the construction of that first week in April. That will be in place in October. The more and more tracks you run at have that barrier. Is that something the drivers notice and do you talk about that?

DAN WHELDON: Yes. It's definitely something the drivers notice. And it's something I think the drivers appreciate a great deal. I mean, I think certainly the league with the tracks are working very hard on improving safety, and I think it's a constant progression. I certainly notice it and, like I say, appreciate it. I don't think we always talk about it as much as we should. But, yeah, I certainly prefer racing on tracks that are fitted with the SAFER barrier.

Q. With four teams at Andretti Green Racing, when you guys get together and compare notes, are there things you've already picked up on that has given you a better handle for the track, more speed, things that you got that you would not have gotten had you not had three other teammates?

DAN WHELDON: It really isn't four teams. I mean, we are unique. And I say this in the fact that there's really not, I don't think, many teams, although they have multiple drivers, multiple cars, that work together as closely as we do. That comes from the owners and the upper-level management. And, yes, it's a big help for me. Certainly the three that I have are very, very good drivers. I mean, I'm pretty confident that you could take them to any championship across the globe and put them in a car, pretty much guarantee they're going to run up front. So from my standpoint, I've got great teammates. What makes them very special is they're very willing to help. They really don't have to because, obviously, that's knowledge that they've gained and it's an advantage for them to have that. But they are very, very open. There is certainly stuff that I pick up that I wouldn't pick up otherwise. You know what? Just having three different teammates, I think I wouldn't be able to learn as much as with the three that I have, but my boss is not short of information either. Mr. Andretti is king of information. When you've won as many races as he has and been in situations he has, just from being around him, you can pick up on a lot of stuff. So I'm certainly very fortunate I think to be in the team that I'm in, and that's why I just want to make the most of it. I've obviously had a fair bit of experience now - still obviously not as much as I would like. But I'm really starting to be able to utilize that.

Q. Now that we have one week, how is the situation with Her Majesty's Indy Racing League Society? With you and Dario, Mary Taylor, Derek Manning, is there going to be a support group there for you?

DAN WHELDON: Yeah. I just got back home last night. I was reading one of the newspapers, motorsport newspapers that they have. I guess they're calling us the Fab Four. It really seems to be taking off in the UK. I mean, it comes on a perfect time over there. It's on kind of early evening on a Sunday night. You know what, I've said this before, but the people just love watching it. In Formula 1, you really don't see much overtaking. Now, I'd be very surprised if anybody who watched that IndyCar race could say that they found that boring. If they did, I'd love to speak to them. They must be crazy. But it's great to watch, certainly for the Europeans, like I say, because they love seeing the overtaking. It's on at a great time. The coverage that they have is good, and getting better and better. Now it's four English people. Let me say three English and one Scottish. Dario would get mad if I didn't say that. It's taking off.

Q. You watched the Penske teams go nose-to-tail and got a little more speed. Are you guys going to try that in the next race to see if one of your teammates and you hook up and the other two hook up the same way?

DAN WHELDON: Well, no. We work very closely. For certainly the first part of that race, we were running kind of one-by-one all four of us in unison. I don't know exactly what position we were in. No, we can certainly work that closely, and if not closer. The situation didn't allow for that. As for Phoenix, it's going to be a different type of race. It's not going to be a side-by-side race. Phoenix is a very difficult track, particularly with the changes they've made to the car. So we won't be able to enforce the strategy that we know perhaps Penske had different to us. But certainly for the next superspeedway-type race, we will try some things. I think we know that Penske were doing to make them that little bit quicker. I mean, certainly how my car in the race performed, I mean, we were very, very good in traffic, and perhaps thinking that the race towards the end would be a little bit closer. But I certainly think -- I'm not saying that we went the wrong way, because obviously I had to come from 14th. But we will be working towards making sure that we are quick on our own so we can compete with those guys in the next superspeedway-type race.

Q. What is the feeling of a driver when you're in third place, coming around that last turn, you see the two guys directly in front of you battling it out? Do you sit there and wonder: Are they going to hit? What do I do? Where do I go?

DAN WHELDON: They were certainly running close at the end. But it was just -- you know, I was kind of busy holding Tora Takagi off at the time so I (could/couldn't) keep my eye on them. I was trying to make sure I could stay in their draft to give me as much speed as possible. I think the worst feeling is when you see them coming from behind, just catching you bit by bit. I think that's the worst feeling, particularly when you're leading with only a few to go. But, like I say, my time is coming. As long as I keep scoring good results and finishing as high as I can, the intention here is to be up for the championship at the end of the season. And we're putting particular emphasis, I should say, on Motegi. Certainly for Honda it would be great for me to win that race for Honda, and the Indianapolis 500. We've just got to keep scoring strongly and make sure we perform as best we possibly can every weekend and see where that brings us at the end of the season.

Q. Speaking of the 500, last year you had like three races under your belt. This year you've got a whole season and three. How do you look ahead now to how you'll feel, even though they're going to change the engine somewhat going in this year?

DAN WHELDON: Well, I think I'll pretty much feel the same. I mean, you don't really feel any different. You just perhaps race a little bit different. Obviously, I think perhaps at Indy last year I tried to force some issues, rather than just let the race come to you. I think obviously that's perhaps where I'd be different. But, you know, for me, last year, it was different from the standpoint I really didn't know how I was going to feel during the whole month, including the race. I mean, I obviously knew it was going to be special, but to be honest, I really didn't realize how special that event was and how unique it was. I'm looking forward to having those same kind of feelings in the pit of my stomach every morning when you wake up and you go to the track. It lasts for a whole month, and I just love that. I wish we could have more races that last a month long. I know the writers would not agree, but as a driver, I just love that. I mean, it certainly is a special race. I'm looking forward to it coming around.

Q. Tell me, is your team pretty much intact from last year? I see Eddie Jones is still with you. What about other members of the squad?

DAN WHELDON: The famous Eddie Jones is just in between drives. I think he's just engineering me before he gets his next big break. No, really, pretty much my whole team is intact. I have Eddie Jones and Bill Bates as the primary engineer and assistant. I think the only change that we've made is actually one of my tire guys, Steve Price, has gone to Tony Kanaan's side, and John Kaminsky has been replaced by Mike Horvak. Actually, to replace Steve Price, the tire guy, we've brought in a great new guy, Donnie. He came actually from Kelley Racing. I definitely think the crew that I have is very, very strong. This is the first time ever in my career that I've been able to continue a relationship with them into the next year. Normally I'm always moving up. So it's nice to be in that position where you're working with the same people. They're a great group. I mean, every time I come in to pit, they always make me positions. I mean, that's obviously a big benefit in this particular style of racing. I love being with them and working with them. We're looking forward to some more success and hopefully my first victory pretty soon.

TOM SAVAGE: Before we wrap it up here, I have to ask real quick, as long as we're talking about Indianapolis, but through the Jim Beam Indy 500 sweepstakes, somebody is going to win $1 million if you win this year's Indy 500. Somebody is hoping you have your priorities in order during the month of May.

DAN WHELDON: You have to say I have the most awesome sponsors in Jim Beam and Klein Tools. The things they do, I obviously have some added pressure, with the Jim Beam sweepstakes that you can sign up to be part of at the Jim Beam website, did which is Jim Beam.com, and also any liquor stores they have the note pads you can fill in and sign. It will be a particularly special occasion if we can win that race and make somebody $1 million. That's what we're gunning for. We'll see what we can do.

TOM SAVAGE: Very cool. Dan, thank you very much. We'll see you here in about two and a half weeks down in Phoenix.

DAN WHELDON: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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