Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. The Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program is scheduled for Monday, April 26th. We have two participants joining us on today's call. Red Bull/Cheever Racing entry Ed Carpenter will join us at the top of the call, followed by Mark Taylor, who will drive the Panther Racing/Menards/Johns-Manville entry in this year's Indianapolis 500. Let's begin with Ed Carpenter, who entering ROP is 19th in IndyCar Series points and third in the Rookie-of-the-Year points championship behind Kosuke Matsuura and Mark Taylor. Carpenter has experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by winning the inaugural Menards Infiniti Pro Series Freedom 100 last May. His best finish in 2004 was 12th at the opener in Miami in February. Ed, thanks for joining us today.
ED CARPENTER: No problem.
TOM SAVAGE: The first, most obvious question for you is you enter ROP next week, and can you repeat your feat of winning at IMS like you did last May?
ED CARPENTER: That's the plan. I mean, it's that time of the year, and we're shifting gears, getting everything ready for May. I'm getting myself ready. That's the focus. I don't think we'd be there if we didn't think we could win.
TOM SAVAGE: A couple weeks ago there was a 3.0 liter test at the speedway. Have you been on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an IndyCar Series car?
ED CARPENTER: Not yet. I drove the two-seater out there last season. That's as close as I've gotten. My Pro Series car I drove last year actually went faster than that. I'm looking forward to this week. It will be a big week, three weeks of testing. It will be nice to get on the track and help Chevy keep developing that three liter.
TOM SAVAGE: What kind of changes are you expecting? Different feel of the car? Is there going to be a big difference from your Pro Series time out there?
ED CARPENTER: Sure. I mean, so far, from what I've experienced at the other tracks we've ran, there's definitely a big speed gap, and that speed is what makes these cars difficult to drive. Indianapolis is the hardest track we go to. I'm just looking forward to the challenge.
TOM SAVAGE: Have you enjoyed that switch from the Pro Series cars to the Indy cars?
ED CARPENTER: Yeah, it's been great. But at the same time I'm really glad I spent two years in the Pro Series. It's definitely helped me make a smoother transition. I think Mark and I both could attest to that. But I'm really having a good time. It's definitely challenging, but it's always fun to have a good challenge.
TOM SAVAGE: What about coming up from a Silver Crown, the USAC ranks? A huge difference between those Pro Series cars, the downforce? Is there a huge difference taking that step?
ED CARPENTER: Oh, yeah. I mean, that's the reason why I wanted to get involved in the Infiniti Pro Series, was just because USAC is great, it's great racing, it's intense, competitive, but it's front engine, there's no downforce. It's big tires, everything else, tons of power. I wanted to get in the intermediary, just kind of a smaller step to prepare myself, learn about a rear-engine car, aerodynamics, get some seat time in that. It's been a good adjustment. But, I mean, I learned how to race in USAC. Never forget that.
TOM SAVAGE: We talked about USAC. Do you have that itch at all to jump back in one?
ED CARPENTER: I mean, I love that type of racing. I love racing Sprint cars. I love the memories that I have from racing Sprint cars. So there's always a little bit of desire to do that. But, I mean, I'm happy doing what I'm doing. I have a lot of goals to accomplish here with Red Bull Team Cheever. So yes and no. I would like to try to put something together to take my teammate Alex Barron out and maybe get Eddie back in a Sprint car, maybe go out and do a test day somewhere just to fulfill that itch. But it would be good fun. Alex has never been in a Sprint car. It would be a good day of fun. I'm trying to make that happen.
TOM SAVAGE: Let's open it to up questions from the media.
Q. Ed, when you look at the Indianapolis 500, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
ED CARPENTER: Just all the years I've watched it and wanting to participate in it. I mean, that's been my drive all these years I've been racing, was to get to this point in my career. Now I'm just less than a week away from turning my first lap there in an IndyCar. I mean, I'm really not trying to think too much about it other than just focusing my mind a hundred percent on it, knowing what we have to accomplish, figuring out what I need to do to get all our goals accomplished.
Q. You drive for Eddie Cheever, who of course won the Indy 500, came to the Indy 500 from a Formula 1 career, one of the first oval tracks that he saw. What has Eddie said to you or can you feel the spirit of what Indy means to him?
ED CARPENTER: Well, I mean, he hasn't really said much to this point. But just being a part of this team which has a 500 win under its belt, I mean, you can tell that there's a need to get back there again. I mean, last year the team won the pit stop competition. Eddie has won the 500. Indy is what this whole team gets up for every season. I mean, it's that time of month. Everybody's got their head down working. Just getting back from Japan today. We're going to start prepping everything for the month of May.
Q. Everything up to this point, even though there's been races for points and what have you, has actually been a lead-up to the Indy 500. In some respect, will you be glad to get that out of the way and just settle into a racing season?
ED CARPENTER: Well, I look forward to the summer months every year. I mean, coming from my Sprint car background, I was running at least two races a week. I mean, it's kind of hard for me going with months in between races. That's the thing you do look forward to after Indy, is your season really gets into a rhythm, you don't have time for a break. That's when I enjoy it. The fitness we worked so hard on, that's when it all comes into play, when the season gets grueling. I'm just looking forward to the month of May. It's going to be exciting. Hopefully the best comes out of it.
Q. Ed, you said you've been preparing yourself for the month of May. Is that more physical or mental?
ED CARPENTER: Both. I mean, it's 500 miles. You have to be strong in both areas to win that race. I mean, everything's a constant preparation. Like Ron just said a second ago, the three races we've had have just been a buildup to Indy. They haven't gone quite to plan, but that's not going to deter us from working hard and getting everything we need to get done done.
Q. You're going from three and a half liters to three liters. Do you think that will help you at all because it's going to be the same learning curve for everyone else? Everyone's got a new engine; everyone has to figure out how to make their chassis work. Does that level the playing field at all, do you think?
ED CARPENTER: Oh, I don't know. I don't know about that. I think I'll be less frustrated with it because I've never experienced the speed of a three and a half liter there. I think a lot of guys are going to be frustrated because it is going to be down a little power. I'm sure Chevy will be making good power with the three liter. I think that will be the biggest thing, is I've never been there in an IndyCar. I'm going to have more of an open mind than remembering how it was that some of the veteran drivers are going to have problem with.
Q. That's to your benefit, I guess?
ED CARPENTER: Yes and no. But, I mean, experience is experience at Indy. I mean, it's the one track where we'll be on track every day the whole month of May and probably never see the same conditions twice. I think that's where the experience of the veteran comes in. That's why I feel good to have Eddie working behind me.
Q. And Alex as well?
ED CARPENTER: Alex as well. Last season I ran for AJ Foyt. We won the Pro Series race. A big reason we won that race is because of AJ, the experiences he's had at Indy, his successes. It carried over to me.
TOM SAVAGE: As a fan or employee of the league, just being at the speedway on race day morning, there's so much going on. I feel the pressure. I'm just sitting there watching. Have you given any thought to race day morning when everything is going on, how you're going to handle that? Do you approach it as just another race?
ED CARPENTER: I mean, you have to approach it as another race, but you're kidding yourself if you take it as just another race. I've thought a lot about race morning. I live just a couple blocks away. All these past years, I walk into the track every morning. I'll probably do the same thing this year, probably just a little bit earlier. I mean, we'll be preparing all month. Hopefully by the day race day comes, everything will be in place. We'll know we will have a good car; it will just be a matter of going out and racing a smart race, putting ourselves in the right position.
TOM SAVAGE: Do you remember your first 500?
ED CARPENTER: Yeah. I mean, I remember years, winners. I was too busy playing around. I remember spending a lot of time over in the turn two suites watching. For some reason, I remember watching qualifying more than anything in '89, back when Rick Mears was driving the Pennzoil car. I remember me, my brother and cousins were all rooting for him. I've got a lot of memories.
TOM SAVAGE: Who growing up is your racing hero?
ED CARPENTER: I would say growing up most of the years I followed Al Unser, Jr., who was the best man in my parents' wedding. We always played with his kids when we were kids. So I followed him a lot. We always spent time with AJ. Once I was a little older, Eddie Cheever was a close family friend. Those three drivers were always the people I followed. Mostly Al Junior, though.
TOM SAVAGE: Ed, appreciate it very much. We'll be joined by Mark Taylor in just a minute. But we appreciate it. We will see you Monday at ROP.
ED CARPENTER: Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: We'd like to welcome IndyCar Series rookie Mark Taylor, 17th in the series points championship and second in the Rookie-of-the-Year standing, trailing Kosuke Matsuura. In his three IndyCar Series starts, Taylor has a best finish of 12th at Phoenix last month. Taylor had a good run going last weekend in Japan, but crashed on lap 167, but was running sixth at the time. Mark, thanks very much for joining us.
MARK TAYLOR: That's okay. Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: Obviously coming off an Infiniti Pro Series championship last year, a strong run in last year's Freedom 100, where you finished third, you've got to feel good going into next week's ROP.
MARK TAYLOR: Absolutely. It will be great fun to be able to get out there for the first time. With the new engine package, as well, with the way the cars are working this year, with less downforce, it's going to be a real experience out there. Obviously, from the experience that we had last year racing around there, maybe we'll have a small advantage, but it's going to be a big step up compared from the Infiniti cars to the Indy cars.
Q. I'll ask you the same question I asked Ed. Have you spent any time in an IndyCar Series car at the speedway?
MARK TAYLOR: No. We're just there to watch the tests a couple weeks ago with the new three liter engines out there. I haven't actually had time to get in the car and go around. It will be the first time on Sunday.
TOM SAVAGE: Going into it, what are your thoughts about how much different the car will feel? Do you think it will be a lot different than last year's Freedom 100?
MARK TAYLOR: I expect it will be. It's going to be a lot quicker going into turn one and turn three, especially. It's a tricky track in every car that you drive around there. We'll see what the weather conditions are going to be like on Sunday. Hopefully they won't be too much like today. It's pretty miserable out there today. It's going to be just a question of getting out on track, spending as much time out there. It's a good point in the year because we haven't had much time out on the track at the moment for rookies. Normally in previous years, you'd have more opportunities to get out on track. This whole month of May will be great for us to be able to get the time in the car and get it working well.
TOM SAVAGE: You totally dominated the Pro Series last year. You had a great run going at Japan. Obviously, you can hang with these guys. What really are your realistic goals heading into May?
MARK TAYLOR: I don't know. It's going to be a tough race. We're going to be hoping to be up at the front. From how Japan went, I was learning very early on in the weekend, but we came through on qualifying on the race day, and we were up the front. Hopefully it's going to be the same in Indianapolis. I can see the car is going to work extremely well. Panther makes sure the Menards car is working extremely well out there. I expect nothing less in Indianapolis. It's going to be a very long race, and one that the car is going to need to work well all the way through.
TOM SAVAGE: Let's go ahead and open it up to questions for Mark Taylor.
Q. Mark, coming from England, what does the Indy 500 mean to you?
MARK TAYLOR: I mean, it's one of the biggest races in the whole world. As far as attendance-wise, I think it's the biggest sporting event in the world. It's just amazing to see that amount of fans assembled in one place. It's going to be a huge month for me, the first 500, a great opportunity to go out there and showcase my talents. It hasn't been a stellar performance so far the beginning of the year, but it's gradually getting there. More and more time in the car hopefully I'll get in May, I'll be able to really do well in the 500. It's a real race that I'm looking forward to.
Q. In the States, a lot of young drivers reach a point very early in their life when they watch the Indy 500, they go to an Indy 500, they say, "That's where I want to be someday." Can you remember when, growing up in England, that hit you, that someday you'd like to be in the Indy 500?
MARK TAYLOR: It's mainly focused on Formula 1 in England. It would be difficult to say a precise time when the Indianapolis 500 was a big race for me. It's more focused on, say, Monaco or the British Grand Prix to do well at. That's where you focus your career on. There's probably a point where I was doing Formula 3, kind of broadening your horizons, as it were, to look at what else is there to do other than Formula 1, to see the great abilities that other drivers have throughout the world. The Indianapolis 500 is definitely the race when you look at the different nationalities that race in it, the standard of drivers that come to it, and the amount of drivers that are involved in it, it is definitely the race to win because of that. Because of the amount of cars that are involved, because of how difficult it is just to qualify for it, it makes it a stellar event.
Q. Speaking of Formula 1, of course this weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the death Senna. Your thoughts of Senna and what he meant to you?
MARK TAYLOR: He was a great driver, the best driver that I certainly watched and that I can remember throughout the whole of motor racing. He was a big hero of mine. I can remember watching Formula 1 races. Just in qualifying as well in the races, he stood head and shoulders above the rest. Just a superb driver with a great mental attitude as well as great reflexes. He could do anything with any car. I think a driver that everyone looked up to.
Q. When you think back to the weekend that that happened, do you remember what you were doing, what went through your mind?
MARK TAYLOR: I can remember I missed the Grand Prix. I wasn't actually watching it. I can't remember what I was doing at the time. It was a huge shock when I heard the news. It's just one of those tragic moments in motorsport that you wish would never happen.
TOM SAVAGE: Just a footnote. The Indianapolis 500 is the world's largest one-day sporting event. Let's go ahead and continue questions.
Q. Mark, there have been quite a few drivers from the United Kingdom who have come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Is there one in particular whose career you remember here for his success at the speedway or even an entrant, for that matter?
MARK TAYLOR: Well, they all did so well over here. I'm fairly young. Nigel Mansell is probably the most recent one that I would have focused on over here and noticed how well he had done over here. It's very big news over in England whenever someone comes over here and does well. For him to come over here, he didn't win the race, but he was very quick, very unfortunate not to, I think. He's one that I probably focused on as far as my lifetime was concerned, and of course there were many before that who exceeded his opportunity over here. There are many English drivers. I hope to add my name to them who did well over here.
Q. You're obviously going to be trying to take Rookie-of-the-Year honors this year. Beyond that, is there a goal besides the usual of doing well, finishing up front? Do you have any set goals beyond Rookie-of-the-Year?
MARK TAYLOR: I mean, you need your luck at the 500. I think whoever wins it will have to have their fair portion of luck. It's extremely tough this year. The competition is extremely high. The toughest competition probably for a number of years now, I feel. To get into the top five would be a major achievement, of course. If the luck is with me, I think we can do better than that. I will be looking for a top five performance, I think.
Q. Is there anything that you feel you could have done better in the first three races at this point?
MARK TAYLOR: Well, as it's a rookie year, you always want more time in the car. I feel if I'd had the opportunity to maybe have a few more tests before the first race, I think I could have ironed out maybe some of the mistakes I did through the race, or prior to that in the weekend. At this point, I'm just getting more comfortable in the car. I think the finish at Phoenix, although it was disappointing where we did finish, it was good to get the time in the car. I was just getting more and more comfortable in it. I think that's what you saw in Japan. I was just able to learn a new track in the two days that we had to learn it and go out there in the race and really push hard and overtake, get the car really working well for me. It was just unfortunate the way that Japan finished. We were very close to the end. We were on the lead lap. I think the whole team did extremely well. The Menards John-Mansville crew did extremely good pit stops for me, therefore we were running in the top five for part of the race. I think we were sixth when we crashed out. But still, it was very close to the end. A very good finish, if we had finished. It's just building on that, making sure that I keep my confidence up, make sure that I can feel what's going on with the race car. I think Indianapolis is extremely important to make sure that in the length of those runs, the car doesn't change too much, and continue driving it hard, make sure I can overtake people.
Q. How did you like working with Tom Sneva last week? Will he be continuing with you?
MARK TAYLOR: He did a great job. I was surprised how well he was able to fit into the mould up there. It's a very tough job to do. I'm glad to say he's going to continue on for the rest of the year. He's got a lot of experience. He's good friends with Pancho. He's able to help. They're able to talk together, just get some ideas off each other. Hopefully he'll be able to continue helping me through the whole year.
Q. He did help you a lot last weekend?
MARK TAYLOR: Absolutely. Any spotter helps the driver as much as possible. He's the eyes from above and can see what's going on. There were some very tricky moments in the race where you were trying to fight for positions, you're trying to overtake lap cars. He's able to tell me what's going on kind of just maybe a few places ahead which I can't see. Or if there's a yellow that's going to come out in a moment, if maybe the car ahead which I'm trying to overtake for position could get caught up with lap traffic, that's an important part of it. Timing my moves, he can see maybe if I'm timing it a little wrong just to help me out to try and get the move made before we go into the corner.
TOM SAVAGE: Mark, thanks very much for joining us today. We will see you Monday at ROP. Thanks again.
MARK TAYLOR: Great, thank you.
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