Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MODERATOR: Brian Stewart is well recognized due to his involvement in motor sports for more than 35 years. He formed his own racing team in the 1970s and was one of the most successful team owners in Indy Lites, winning two championships. Some of his former drivers have included Paul Tracy, Cristiano da Matta, Bryan Herta and Jacques Lazier, and he moved his team to the Menards Infiniti Pro in 2002. Thanks for joining us today.
BRIAN STEWART: Thanks a lot.
MODERATOR: You've been around racing for a long time. What are some of the reasons that made you decide to bring your team to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series?
BRIAN STEWART: I was with Indy Lites for 15 years, and I had good success there, with winning and with young drivers along and moving them up the ladder. I thought, you know, when they stopped Indy Lites or when CART stopped Indy Lites, I could have gone to Atlantic, but I didn't want to go there because I thought it was a step down. And Roger Bailey was telling me that they were going to do a similar series to Lites in the IRL, and that he was going to be in charge of it. So, I dealt with him for, you know, 15 years, and felt comfortable going over there with him. You know, signed up right away.
MODERATOR: As you mentioned, you've got a history on the Indy Lites, and now the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, the developmental series. Do you as an owner have a long-term goal of moving into a bigger series or is this your niche?
BRIAN STEWART: You know, the next step is so huge, you could go bankrupt doing the next step. I feel comfortable with the money that's involved in doing this series same as I did in Indy Lites. And the next step is just so huge, it's not something I personally can do. So unless a really big sponsor came along or, let's say, a person with a lot of money who wanted to be involved in racing, I couldn't make this step on my own. I'd have to have help to do it.
MODERATOR: Obviously, you've developed a reputation, I read off that list of drivers that have worked with you in the past, of really developing the young driving talent. To what do you attribute that past success?
BRIAN STEWART: Well, let's say, our team is slightly older. If you go around the paddock, you'll see that everybody is a bit older than the other teams. And I know that crashing is part of racing, and you know we never, ever get angry when a driver crashes or does anything like that. I think we are more tolerant; I don't know if that's the right word for it, but we just tend to make the driver feel more comfortable racing. I mean, the Toronto Star did a story on da Matta, and I remember the story because it was quite complimentary. He said that I showed him how easy racing was; you just surround yourself with the right people, drive the car and then you'll win. That's what we've tried to do all the time.
MODERATOR: Do you specifically seek out younger drivers to develop or what are you looking for?
BRIAN STEWART: This is my 40th year racing cars. I was a driver myself and then I became a car owner in '73. And so, I've had a lot of fun just taking young guys and making them win. Sometimes they don't know they have it in them, and, you know, you just kind of put the heat on them to get them to do better than they think they can do.
MODERATOR: Obviously, there's a lot of young drivers out there, are there specific characteristics that you look at when you're looking to add somebody to your team?
BRIAN STEWART: It's real hard to say because a lot of times, you do the deals over the phone, and I look at where they are coming from. If a guy has raced in Formula Ford or Formula V, or let's say the Barber Dodge series, you know that there's a lot of competition there. And, you know, as soon as the league phoned me up about Leo Maia, and he won that championship by something like 80 points, so you know that he had to be a good driver. You know, I ran Bryan Herta on the same deal where the Barber Dodge, or the Skip Barber Racing School, gave him that driver enhancement award, so he got $100,000 towards his budget, and, you know, Herta turned out to be a winner. I know before that, Robbie Buhl was a champion, so I knew that some good drivers were the champions there and that Leonardo must be pretty good. And of course, Jesse Mason, he was Canadian Formula V Champion when he was 16; and he did Formula Ford and he won there; and now he's gone over to Britain to go to school and to race, and then also race back here.
MODERATOR: How exactly did you and Jesse come to work together?
BRIAN STEWART: Well, you know, I don't live very far from MA Sport (ph), and on the off-weekends, I'll go down there and hang out and just look at the Formula V guys and the Formula Ford guys and just hang out in general, and, you know, I've known that Jesse was there and that, you know, I just started talking to his father; and you know how it all works, he ends up, you know, coming and doing a test and racing.
MODERATOR: He's had a really strong start with a third in his debut race at Miami Homestead. What kind of future do you see for Jesse?
BRIAN STEWART: Well, I think he could be a professional race car driver. He's going to be a mechanical engineer to enable himself to be a better race car driver. So he's making a big commitment that way. So, I think he can drive good enough, and, you know, he'll have the technical background to go on to the bigger cars. Nobody wants the guys with the big balls anymore. You used to hear that years ago. They still have to be there, but the guy has to be technically sound.
MODERATOR: We're coming off of the test here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Friday, looking forward to the Futaba Freedom 100 in a couple of weeks. As a guy who has been around racing for such a long time, what does it mean to you as a team owner; and secondly, what do you think it means to the young drivers on the team and in the series to be able to run at one of most storied racetracks in the world?
BRIAN STEWART: Well, for me, as a team owner, I think it's probably the pinnacle of all racing in the whole world. You know, although we are the next level, I still think it's really important to win there. I've got a speech all prepared. (Laughing). That's all I can say. It's just incredibly important to win there, and, you know, from a personal standpoint. When we were with CART, I had won on every racetrack that we ever ran on with the exception of Vancouver and Laguna Seca. And I goot da Matta, and I said, "You know, I don't want to put any heat on you, but I never won those two races." And so he won Nazareth, won Vancouver and he won Laguna Seca. I said, okay, good. So Indianapolis, I would say it would be a goal for me.
Q. You talked earlier about the importance of a technical background. How important is it for a young driver to have that engineering background, or at least to have a knowledge that he can, from the cockpit, talk to his crew members about what the car is doing and what it's not doing?
BRIAN STEWART: Well, it's incredibly important. I've had drivers over the years go: "How is the car?" "It's good." "Well, what's it doing?" "Well, it's pretty good." You feel like saying, well, how come you're not first? Because they can't tell you what's going on with the car. Over the years, I've had, not every driver, but Tracy stuck out in my mind; that he could tell us what was going on with the car. Of course, da Matta could, Walter Sallas (ph), there's a whole line of drivers that just technically were really, really good explaining what was going on with the car. And then the engineer can figure it out and make it better. So the driver really has to know what's going on.
Q. Young Mason now, do you see him -- do you see him in a mold of anybody or are these all these new drivers coming up the same sort of -- I hate to use the word "technocraft," but they seem to know the car so well; that they have had a good foundation.
BRIAN STEWART: Well, you know, it's like we were at Homestead there at the first test, and of course, Rick Mears is our driver/coach, and Jesse did pretty well. We went over to Phoenix and he was also doing well there. He was setting the pace for that day, and Rick was talking to me about him. I said, you know, Rick, this guy is going to be a graduate mechanical engineer before he's 20 years of age. He's doing that just to be a better race car driver. Rick was listening to the whole deal, and that's the very same thing that Ryan Newman did in NASCAR. You know, Penske hired him right out of school to be a race car driver, and he had that engineering background. Jesse has taken a similar path, and, you know, we were flying out of Phoenix the next day at four in the afternoon, so I grabbed Tom Wertz (ph) from Penske and I said, Tom, I have a kid you have to keep an eye on here. He said, "Listen, Brian, he was the subject of our dinner conversation last night with Rick and Roger and Tim and myself." So, you know, the big thing is, you have to get them looking at you, and then once they are looking, you have to get a few good results and, you know, we ran the race at. Phoenix just exactly the way we laid it out. And they called the race two laps early -- I'm sorry, at Homestead. We did the Homestead race just the way that we had kind of talked about it the night before, but then they called the race two laps early. So Jesse wasn't able to be first; he was third. But he was like, I forget what the exact time was, maybe a hundredth of a second and two seconds behind first. So we were on the move. One of the things was we decided to conserve our tires because the tires were, I don't want to say -- bad is the wrong word, but they were having tire problems Firestone-wise, and people were beating their tires up. We decided just to conserve our tires and be moderate and then at the end of the race, go for it, which we did. When they called it two laps early, it screwed us up.
Q. Mason is taking to the ovals, obviously, well, but he obviously didn't have much background in oval racing, did he?
BRIAN STEWART: Like a duck to water.
Q. How did that come about? Obviously some guys have troubles with ovals after they have raced their whole young career on the road.
BRIAN STEWART: Well, you know, I don't know what to say. We went down to Nashville for a test and he did pretty well. We had pinned the car to the ground, and we gave it a lot of aerodynamic downforce. So it couldn't get away from him. He did really well at the test. Then we went to Homestead and we started to trim the car out and he was going good. And, you know, the same at Phoenix. Phoenix I considered to be a lot harder than Homestead, and, you know, he was the one setting the pace on test day. We ended up stepping over the line and he had a big crash, but it didn't seem to take the steam out of him because we went back to Homestead and finished third and then at Phoenix, for the first 97 laps, he was third and then he got passed by his teammates and ended up finishing fourth.
Q. Did you have to hell him anything about driving ovals; ovals can get carry, especially when the speed picks up.
BRIAN STEWART: No. You know, the way you run the cars -- I'm the car owner but I try not to interfere with the engineers. The engineer I have, Doug Zister, I have him from Indy Lites and he's a graduate from Waterloo, and he and Jesse are both quiet guys, and they kind of talk in the same level, which is over my head.
Q. When will you show up personally? Do you miss the road racing at all?
BRIAN STEWART: I do. But I know for sure we're going to go back road racing. I've already got the word.
Q. With the Menard Series?
BRIAN STEWART: Yeah.
Q. You might end up back here in Canada racing again?
BRIAN STEWART: I don't think there will be any doubt about it, Rick.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Leo; were you surprised at such a good finish in his first outing with you guys?
BRIAN STEWART: I was. The deal came together so quickly on the third -- like I have a tractor trailer, and the two cars were -- we were loaded, ready to go to Phoenix, the league phoned me up and said, "Listen, we got this driver, Leonardo Maia, and if we can put the deal together, will you run him at Phoenix." And I said, well, you know, he has to do a rookie test, and so I phoned up, and of course on the way, you don't have that many racetracks. I'll phone Texas Speedway and see if they are available. Monday he showed up at Texas, did a rookie test, Johnny Rutherford was there, over saw the rookie test Leonardo. When you go to a rookie test with a brand new driver, what you do is you raise the wings up so that they are providing more downforce. Of course, they made the car a little bit slower, but what it is, is you want to keep the car safe so the guy doesn't put it in the wall. We went there and he was like 3/10ths off of the pole from the year before, which is really, really excellent. You know, he did the test and never got the car out of shape at all. We went to Phoenix, and when he qualified, I believe he qualified 7th, which he was really unhappy with, but he said he had screwed up in qualifying, and in the race, he would do better, which he did.
Q. What are your plans for him for the rest of the year?
BRIAN STEWART: Same as Phoenix. Just give him a good car, and I think that we'll have a dogfight on our hands between the two of them.
Q. And did you know much about him before the league told you that they had him?
BRIAN STEWART: I had never spoken to him or anything like that. I knew they had won the Barber Dodge Championship but I didn't really know anything else about him. I thought he was a Brazilian, but it turns out he was born in Brazil but he's lived in the U.S. for 19 years.
MODERATOR: We look forward to seeing you in Indianapolis in a few weeks.
BRIAN STEWART: Thank you.
MODERATOR: We have Jesse Mason joining us today. Jesse celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday and is the youngest driver in the series. He made his Menard Infiniti Pro Series debut at Homestead where he finished third and followed that up with a fourth place finish at Phoenix. You mentioned to me last week that you went to your first race when you were just two months old. What was it like, your father was a race car driver, what was it like kind of growing up around the sport of racing?
JESSE MASON: It was awesome because my dad always had a car in the garage and always watching him work on it and everything else. Gives you a real feeling that you're -- he's succeeding and that everything is going good. There was a lot of hockey influence up here, and we did that, as well, but racing was always where my heart was.
MODERATOR: That passion for racing, was that geared around being in the car itself or helping out on the engineering and the mechanical side?
JESSE MASON: Definitely from the beginning I wanted to be a driver. There was no doubt about it. You know, watching the guys in the Indy 500 and Formula 1 and everything, it just -- you know, that's where you want to be, and that's where I wanted to be. So my dad and everybody here, I had great support, and we did everything we could to get there.
MODERATOR: When did you actually climb into the car for the first time?
JESSE MASON: The first time I raced was in a go-cart at age 8. I was basically, it was the earliest you could start. You could do stuff in your backyard and that. We didn't do that. We started to take a more professional like approach, but a pre-manufactured car and raced down a club track in New York State. It was great. I learned a ton there, and we moved around the state doing the World Carting Association stuff, the Eastern states and it was just unbelievable. I moved into cars when I was 16 and was able to win the Formula V Championship up here in Canada, which was another big boost to my career. Since then, it's been a smooth progression forward.
MODERATOR: Last year, of course, you competed overseas in the German and British Formula 3 Championships. How exactly did you get to know Brian, and how did that relationship start to get you in a car in the Pro Series this year?
JESSE MASON: Well, you know, being from up here in Canada, you know the teams that are from around here, and you have extreme respect for anybody who can get things done up here. I've always, since I can remember, known of -- known of Brian, known of him and known what he's done. Especially through the success of Tracy, in particular, he had a great respect for him. He's done a lot and he's made a lot of big names in the sport. So that's how I learned of him, and obviously, my dad knew him as well. Him and my dad were able to brew something up for this year, which is a lot better than what I thought it would be, to be honest. It's a dream come true right now.
MODERATOR: You talked about his reputation and obviously how well known and how respected he is. Now that you've been working with him for a few months, how have you benefitted already from working with Brian?
JESSE MASON: Oh, by far, they are the most professional team I've worked with in racing. You know, they go about it very, very seriously, which is good. You know, they want to win. They are not the kind that's just in it for the business side of things. They are in it for the sport. They are in it for the right reasons. They want to win and I want to win. So we have common goals and we have to work together to do that, and it seems to be great. I'm happy with all of the guys that are there. I have probably the best mechanic on the grid in Mo Larson. I know the car is always going to be perfect when I'm out there. My engineer is another big plus, very, very talented guy. You know, like I said, it's a dream come true and I'm glad to be there, definitely.
MODERATOR: You've already had two real strong performances to start the year; what would you like to accomplish in the ten races that we have left?
JESSE MASON: You know, as I said, we always want to win and that's what we are going to push for all the time. I have no illusions about it, but I know it's going to be difficult. Looking at the team and what they have done, and how good that I feel that I work with them and how they work, that's a definite possibility. Even at Indy at the end of may here, I think we have's good shot at it.
Q. Can you remember the first time you watched the Indianapolis 500, and were you influenced at all in the great Canadians that raced at that track?
JESSE MASON: Oh, definitely. I can't say I can remember the first time, but I definitely remember the high points, good years, just getting there at the end and Tracy getting nipped at the end a couple years ago and definitely Villeneuve winning. It's just all unbelievable. I'm just glad that I had a lot of pride that Canada can represent themselves there, and hopefully we can do the same this year, and as well maybe in the IRL in a couple of years.
Q. Have you been on the track? Have you been on IMS yet in your Menards Infiniti Pro car?
JESSE MASON: We just finished the open test there on Friday. Unbelievable facility. It's a giant place. It's very, very large, and when you're out there, you're thinking, well, straightaways are huge, but, you know, you've got to take it seriously and you can't be too much awestruck about the facility and you've got to get down to work.
Q. I asked Brian this question a few minutes ago, and I'll ask you a version of it, what was your -- how was your adaptation to the oval?
JESSE MASON: Well, it seemed to be all right. We went to Nashville. Nashville was my first experience in the car and the oval. At first I was a little timid because the car has quite a bit of power, tons of grip with the underbody and the wings, the car has a lot of grip. And the tires were good all day long at Nashville and I was able to do a nice, slow progression all day, just getting faster and faster as it went on and not take -- not take too many risks and get used to turning left. You know, the cars are set up so that it's pretty easy on the driver to complete a lap, and you've just got to -- you can't really think about the car so much. You have to think about your setup, because that's what the other guys are thinking about, and you don't want to give them any advantage. That's what I do. I think more about the car rather than the track.
Q. Tim and Brian have talked about you going to university and taking an engineering degree. First of all, where are you going to school?
JESSE MASON: I go to school in Swansea, Wales, Swansea institute of Higher Education, it's called. The degree is through the University of Wales in Swansea. It's a motor sport engineering degree, something that's not found so much over here in North America. Ryan Newman was able to get an automotive degree from Purdue, which was, you know, has obviously propelled him into where he is now, and I have extreme respect for him. I just feel that with the -- with a lot of race car drivers out there, there's something you need to do to set yourself apart, side from just the driving side. With greater knowledge, I feel I can be a better driver, and there's my plan.
Q. How do you track that fine line -- you may know, or you'll eventually know maybe more than your engineer, so how do you tread that fine line to not step on his toes? Do you have to be careful of that?
JESSE MASON: Well, I don't know as much about it as he does now.
Q. Well, not Mo.
JESSE MASON: I understand what you're saying. I guess you can have two different opinions on it. I could see that maybe in the future happening, but as engineers we are going to have to work together. As I say, we have to get the common goal and go faster. We've got to do what makes us faster rather than try to battle each other.
Q. How long have you been going to the school?
JESSE MASON: I'm in my second year currently. We finish in June. It a three-year program which is good.
Q. You'll have another year of combining school and racing?
JESSE MASON: That's correct.
Q. So you're flying back and forth across the Atlantic for each race, are you?
JESSE MASON: Yes, currently, that's what I've doing.
Q. That must be quite a grind; obviously it has not affected your driving?
JESSE MASON: It has an effect on your life. I hope it doesn't have too much of an effect on my driving. I take my driving very seriously. I get there a couple of days in advance so that I'm acclimatized and everything. You know, obviously, being at the track is where I want to be, so that's where I'm happiest.
Q. What do you think of your new teammate?
JESSE MASON: Leo is great. I have a lot of respect for him. He did a tremendous job last year, and definitely, he's a bonus to the team. Provides great input that we can apply to both cars. It's good to have another car out there that we can compare setups in a way and see what goes faster. It's good to know that he is a caliber of driver that respects what setups are going to do and has a knowledge of the cars already and can help us work together to help us improve the situation for everybody.
Q. Sam Hornish was talking last year about how it was difficult to have a one-car team, as opposed to now he has Helio as his teammate and now they can test things on each other and go back and forth; do you think that that's something that definitely is going to be an advantage to you?
JESSE MASON: Yeah, definitely. The teams that seem to be successful in our series, well this year, anyway, the Sam Schmidt team is a two-car operation and they seem to work well together. Hopefully me and Leo, as the season progresses can do that, not only with set up, but on the track, as well with drafting and getting towards the front of the field by the end of the race.
Q. Do you know, have you guys known much about each other beforehand? Have you ever crossed paths?
JESSE MASON: No. It's just a situation, really, we've never raced against each other. I had not met him up until we met at Phoenix, but his reputation preceded him a little bit and everybody said what a great guy he was. It's the truth. He's really light-hearted and you can tell, he takes his racing seriously, as we all do, and it's a great thing.
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today and best of luck the rest of the way. We now welcome Leonardo Maia to the teleconference. Leo, thanks for joining us, how are you doing today?
LEONARDO MAIA: Good. How are you doing over there?
MODERATOR: We're doing great. Leo, just 23 years old and coming off the Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship last year. We talked earlier in the call with Brian Stewart about how you got into the Pro Series car at Texas on a Monday and just a few days later in the week were in a car at Phoenix where you finished third. Just recap a little bit. Tell us your thoughts as you went through that whirlwind week back there in March?
LEONARDO MAIA: I had been looking to do something in a race car since the Barber Dodge ended a year ago in August, so just the fact that I'm driving a car was a great thing. I knew I was going to drive a car and that was a great feeling. Came really last second, so, you know it's never good to do it that way because you need a proper amount of testing to really do well and get to know your team, but fortunately for me, Brian Stewart is just incredible. They always put a good car under me and the guys are really fun to work with, great to work with. Everyone there is really good at what they do and they have just made it easier for me. We don't have the 700 horsepower that the Indy cars have and we have a pretty good amount of downforce. The track was pretty easy for me. Got to Phoenix, pretty much the hardest track on the schedule, that was really tough, and it just was a matter of getting comfortable and trying to push the limits and just lucky to walk away on the podium.
MODERATOR: Brian mentioned this, too, during your test and in Phoenix, the team gave you a fairly conservative setup just to get you more acclimated to the series and be careful with you. Now that you've got your feet wet a little bit, do you think you'll be able to hope it up a little bit more?
LEONARDO MAIA: Every lap I do, I feel more comfortable. We just tested at Indy a few days ago, and I really felt comfortable, everything was -- really, it starts to click. So after a while, you sort of get used to all of the little things on the car. You get used to what it does and how I react to certain things and how the wind plays an effect. Oval racing is pretty new to me, so I have to get used to two things at once. I'm going to tracks that I've never been to, oval racing, a new car, new team and these gays have done such a great job they made my life a lot easier.
MODERATOR: You mentioned the test at Indianapolis last Friday; what was that like for you?
LEONARDO MAIA: Man, that was really incredible. It was the first time I've driven at the International, and as soon as I knew I was going to race in the Infiniti Pro Series, that's definitely been what I've been looking forward to the whole time. And it definitely didn't disappoint me, my first lap at Indy, going into turn one, and you've got these long straightaways there, you have a lot of time to think. So all the way down, I'm thinking, "I can't believe I'm driving at Indy, I can't believe I'm driving at Indy." We were going about 190 miles an hour into turn one, and for us, it was flat, so you go into turn one as 190 you've got to turn, all you see in front of you is a concrete wall. So, I mean, really intimidating track. It took me a little bit to get used to it. So once I did good it was great, I can really focus on getting the car faster and faster.
MODERATOR: You're looking forward to race day then here at the Speedway?
LEONARDO MAIA: Yeah.
MODERATOR: I asked Jesse the same question a little bit ago, but obviously Brian Stewart, going back to Brian, he has a great reputation for developing young drivers, and I know you were excited get the chance to work with him. Now that you've had a month or so with Brian, what's it been like working with him?
LEONARDO MAIA: It's been incredible. Brian is a real great guy, a real character, anybody who knows him knows what I'm talking about. He's got a bunch of stories that he tells every night at dinner and just a great guy to work with. He hired the right people. He's got the right team behind him. Hopefully I'll be able to really shown and show with a all of these guys on the team are capable of. I think we are definitely capable of winning races right now. We are definitely capable of winning at indicate and I to win every race, really. The team is excellent and hopefully we can deliver the results.
MODERATOR: What types of things has he helped with you already as you've gotten in the car with him?
LEONARDO MAIA: Just staying calm and relaxed. I mean, oval racing, it's a little by new to me and he's got a lot of experience with that when he ran Indy Lites, and now that he's doing the Infiniti Pro Series, he's got quite a bit of experience with that and I'm still new to it. He's just helping me to get used to it and it's a different type of racing that I'm used to, so he's been on both sides. He's done road races and oval racing. So that's been extremely helpful to have someone who has done both, who has made the transition, same transition that I'm making right now and that's been pretty invaluable to me. Hopefully we'll keep learning and keep teaching me and we'll do good.
MODERATOR: What goals do you have for the rest of the season?
LEONARDO MAIA: I just pretty much ask for the best. I just try to do the best that I can. If that puts me in third place, if that puts me in first, if that puts me in tenth, again, that's all you can ask of yourself. I ask that from myself and I ask that from the team. The team, actually, you don't have to ask that at all, just have to deliver. The team is incredible. Everybody just does their job, nobody complains, nobody slacks off and everything gets done. It's just a great atmosphere.
MODERATOR: Thanks for taking time to join us on the teleconference this afternoon, best of luck in Indianapolis and best of luck rest of the year.
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