Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to the Indy Racing League's weekly teleconference. We have driver Arie Luyendyk, Jr., From the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and driver Vitor Meira from the Indy Car Series. Arie Luyendyk joins us first. Arie, thanks a lot for joining us today, Arie. Arie is just 22 years old, but already running in his third season in the Menard Infiniti Pro Series. In 22 starts he's finished in the Top-5 in half of those races and in the Top-10 18 times. This season he has already recorded a second and a third place finish after being knocked out of the first race in an early accident. Arie, I know you are inching to make the jump into the Indy Car Series after running strongly for two-plus seasons here in the Pro Series, but you're still only 22. What's your take on that whole situation there?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Well, obviously the main thing is money, that's obviously the hardest thing is to get sponsored and that's basically what we are waiting for. We've had teams approach us for rides and everything but as a rookie I think everybody needs to bring a little sponsor money along with them. That's what's kind of been holding me back, which is a shame. Like you said, I'm only 22 and I have a lot of time, so I'm not really worried about it.
THE MODERATOR: You've got time, as you said, and you've run so well and even led five races over your career, but I know that first win is still eluding you. Do you feel an increased pressure as time goes on to get into victory lane?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Yeah, a little bit. This is only my third season and I finished second, I don't know, six times or something, and finished in the top three. That's a little frustrating, but, you know, it could be worse. I could be finishing a lot worse than second or third. And that first win will come when it's supposed to come and I'm just kind of waiting around for it.
THE MODERATOR: Do you put that pressure mostly on yourself or does it come from any external sources, the team or anybody like that?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I think right now with Sam Schmidt, we have a really great team. Thiago and I have been doing well since he's obviously had a lot of success so far. I think it's just a matter much time, and maybe Kansas will be my race to win, who knows, but so far this season it seems like it's hard, with practice and qualifying in the race. And so this race hopefully everything will be together on my side of the team and get the car running well, and hopefully notch out a win for this race. It would be really great.
THE MODERATOR: Your dad, obviously, had a tremendous career in the race car, when you get two competitive people like that together, a lot of times there could be a lot of friction. Is there some friction between yourself and your dad or how is your relationship there?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: The relationship is good. He's my father, so he's there every race kind of looking over me and making sure everything is going right with the team. It's really helpful to have him around because he has so much great advice to give and that's an important key in how well he's done in the last couple of years. And if I don't have the car to win a race, he'll tell me, "Hey, I don't think you have the car to win the race, try to stay where you're at and hold onto it." Or if I need a little motivation he'll give it to me. It's great to have him around. He's not going to be there for the Kansas race because he's going to Europe. Usually he's there during every race.
THE MODERATOR: Taking a look again at Kansas when we get back on track there this coming weekend, you've had a little bit of hard luck there in the past with 10th and 12th place finishes, but I know you mentioned obviously you're looking with the Sam Schmidt team and the strong season you've had so far to having a lot better result there. What makes that track unique on the circuit from some of the others?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Well, I think it's the first one-and-a-half-mile oval that's kind of similar to the tracks like Chicago and those type of tracks. So it's fun to race there. We've hosted some really good racing, and I think you'll see a lot of drafting and side-by-side going on. That's what's so fun about that place because you can qualify last after Mark Taylor did last year after he got disqualified and still actually win the race because Kansas City promotes from good racing because it gives a chance for the cars to hookup to the Draft. So I'm really looking forward to it. We've had some bad luck there the last couple of years. First year I ran there, I got in an accident trying to pass for second, and last year we got black-flagged. So that put us a lap down. I've had some bad luck, but hopefully that will change this year.
Q. The series itself, do you think it's doing what it was set out to do; are you learning something every time you go out on the track?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: It's funny you ask that. I looked at the in-car camera from Kansas City in 2002, and I totally view myself as a different driver from a few years ago. I've learned so much the last few years. I made so many mistakes in that race that I would not do right now. Yeah, I think I've learned a lot and I think I kind of hit a plateau last year of what I could learn, and that's why I'm really trying to make it to the next level. Even though I have not got that first win, I think I've learned all that I need to learn in this car. For sure, one or two years in this series you will be completely set to be driving an oval and that's why I think you've seen Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt and Mark Taylor move up. Sometimes the results are not very good, but they are still competitive, as you saw Mark Taylor qualify third last weekend.
Q. Do you think it's a necessary step a lot of people are coming from Sprint cars, is this the next logical step for somebody trying to get into the IRL?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I think if you're an open-wheel driver that comes from a series like Formula 3 in Europe or F2000 here in the United States or the Barber Dodge Series, I think it's a great learning tool. I think it's a good step. But for a Sprint car driver, it's extremely necessary. To learn the aerodynamics and the rear suspension of the car is totally crucial when you're coming up from Spring cars. That's really helped Ed Carpenter and a lot of guys, a new series driver, P.J. Chesson, I think it's a valuable tool for them to learn, not so much for the open-wheel guys, but it's just good for everybody.
Q. It would also seem to offer a good opportunity to get some appearances on a larger oval?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Yeah, if you think about it, we are not even running -- our average speed at Indy was around 190 in the Indy cars are 220. So it's 30 miles an hour different usually at the racetracks, and that sounds like a lot on paper but our cars handle very similar. I did my IRL rookie test and the car felt very stable. So it's very similar feeling. So that's great if you want to go to the Indy Car Series.
Q. You just mentioned Mark Taylor, and of course, we found out today that he's been released by Panther Racing. Is there any chance that you might have an opportunity there?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I don't know. I mean, there's a lot of opportunities in the IRL right now, but a lot of the teams want to you bring some sort of amount of money. Obviously an Indy Car Series ride for a whole year costs $8 million; that's how much it takes to run an Indy car competitive. Teams are looking for drivers to bring a million or two to the table in sponsorship and right now we don't have that. So it kind of limits our options and places us with teams that are not as good as the top teams, and that's what kind of holding out for is a really good ride; so that when I come into the series, I want to make an impression that I'm going to be there for a while. I'm waiting for the right time to move up and that's why I decided to do the series again for a third year.
Q. Is it frustrating for you to know that to make that next step, you've got to bring so much money?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: No, I think it's kind of expected. As a rookie, you need to give them something to kind of -- it's a risk, because it's always a risk when you're trying out a new driver, especially when you're a rookie in the Indy Car Series, which is one of most competitive series in the word. The teams need some impetus you in the car and hopefully once you're there, you've solidified your position. It's frustrating, but that's racing. You always have to bring sponsorship to racing. I've been dealing with it ever since I was a kid and it's not going to change when I get older.
Q. You've been here three years. Do you see the series changing in any way that would help the series bring in more cars, more drivers?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: What do you mean, as far as --
Q. Instead of same chassis, same engine, basically spec cars?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: No, I think they are doing -- the formula is perfect. You have the spec engine, the spec car and testing is limited to a certain amount of days in the year, and right now they are doing everything possible to get to the drivers. But for the development series, drivers need to have funding from sponsors and that's always hard to find. The Pro Series has a good schedule or TV schedule; so that's another incentive so they are doing all of the right things. I think right now the economy is a little rough, and it's just really hard for drivers to find money, and that's why car counts are not as high as I would like it to be. But the talent level that's in the Pro Series is very high. It's still very competitive. There are still regular guys out there that are battling every weekend and could win a race at any moment. I think the series is doing a good job.
Q. Your father didn't run at Indy this year, first time in the last few years. Do you still hold hopeful for being able to run the Indy 500 with your father?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I really don't think he would come back another year unless he was in some way linked to the car, if we did like a father/son deal with a team. But I think by himself, I don't think he would run. You know, maybe that's better. He had kind of a tough time the last year he ran and Jay (phonetic) took over his seat. So I think as time went on he said, well, maybe he's getting a little bit older and time to make room for me I guess.
THE MODERATOR: Arie, thank you very much for joining us today. We wish you the best of luck this weekend. Vitor, first of all, congratulations on a great run at Richmond last weekend where you had your career-best second place finish. That must have been a tremendous thrill for you.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, that was. At first I was only a two-race deal, Indianapolis, and going to Texas, and then going to Richmond with a second place was just amazing and I'm just thrilled to be with those guys here.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. And I we're going to touch on that a little bit but since you bring that up, you've had success and really made the most of some limited opportunities. You came in in 2002, debuted in the series' final four races and recorded three Top-10 finishes, then you came back in 2003, missed the first couple of races and then ran ten races. And then you were back looking for a job this off-season. What was that like for you, you know, looking for that job and then seeing the season start and then being without a ride? How did that go for you?
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, it's always tough. It's always tough, I mean, coming to a new team. Well, when you get to the top and you want to be there. You want to stay there, and IRL for me, it's the top of everything. I really wanted to be here, I thought I did a good job on the two previous years, but, well, a lot of good happened with things in 2003. I stayed without a ride, but as you said I loved the first two races, and then I mean I could have been luckier, I mean, just walking around I was just walking around Phoenix paddock and also of the sudden Butch (phonetic) gave me the opportunity to go to Japan and Indianapolis. Well, I'm just, again, I can't thank those guys enough. It's kind of tough staying without a job. Actually, it's more than a job. It's one thing that you love to do, so it's been tougher.
THE MODERATOR: Now, you've demonstrated such great success so far this year, but still your situation is day-to-day kind of depending on the recovery of Kenny Brack. How do you handle that uncertainty going forward?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, that's actually -- it's not the best thing in the world for sure, but, I mean, I couldn't be in a better place with those guys here, they do everything amazingly super professional, and I actually just think day-by-day. That's how I go and it's been working. I work today and tomorrow if everything goes good again, I'm going to work again. So I'm not really worried about tomorrow, because if I do, it's going to be really tough. You start to worry tomorrow about what's going to happen, about what's not going to happen. So I really worry about today and those guys, they give me the opportunity today and I will stick with it and do the best I can to win every race.
THE MODERATOR: I know at one point the team had put three cars out on the grid, with your success, has there been any talk along the lines so far of adding a third car that you know of?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I don't know of. I don't know any of these business decisions and everything. They did three cars which was Roger, Buddy Rice and me at Indianapolis. After Indianapolis, just me and Buddy. They kind of did an expansion of the sponsorship that was only during Indianapolis that they extended. So I had the opportunity to go to Texas and also now Richmond, and to be honest, I don't know, that's one question that Mr. Scott Roembke and Mr. Rahal would for sure answer much better than I could.
THE MODERATOR: You've turned in three consecutive Top-10 finishes now, has that surprised you at all?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, it's surprised me in a way that how good the car is. I mean, I do drive not a lot of cars but I drove quite a few cars in the IRL; and how quick the engineers here and all of the staff, everybody here, how quick they come up with the right setup and the right decisions without any hassle, and that's why it kind of surprise me. The results, it's only the fruit of their work and my work and how good the team works. I think that's where the results comes from. But having a second place like on the fourth race I did for them, it kind of surprised me a little, but again, surprised me the way how good everything is here.
Q. I understand that the team may be making an announcement in the future here at any time now. The past couple of races, have you felt like you were auditioning for a job of any or kind or just driving?
VITOR MEIRA: I was again test driving. It's what I do. It's the only thing I know how to do. So I was driving, I was hired to do that, and that's what I was trying to do, my best. The rest is business decision. All of the other decisions, I'm not a big part of that. I'm hired to drive and I will do the best I can here for those guys. The others, decisions, I don't know. Mr. Scott Roembke, he can answer much better.
Q. Other than Rahal Racing, has anybody else been contacting you about possible driving for them?
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, well, that's hour open. That's what everybody is working for is to expand that throughout rest of the year. Bobby Rahal and Scott Roembke are all working on it. They are really happy with all of the results we have and with all on the track and also out of the track business-wise. I don't see any reason not to continue. But again, it's a decision, it's a sponsorship, it's a big company on both sides, and I can only pray and hope that they make these decisions to continue the rest of the year.
Q. When I've been listening to you talk about the patience that you have regarding this ride and looking for a ride, I begin to understand a little bit more why you're able to do what you did at Texas because it seemed you used that same patience on the racetrack.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you very much. Well, I think the patience comes from wanting so bad, maybe. I will do -- I will always do the maximum for my effort and the maximum of everything to get a good ride and to stay racing and competitive. And I think that comes a little bit -- a little bit comes from it because that's what I know how to do and what I have been doing since I was ten years old. So, you learned a little bit from years and years in racing, and I will keep doing the same thing. I will always do that because that's what I love to do.
Q. Looking at Kansas City, talk about that for a moment.
VITOR MEIRA: Kansas City, last year, we had a good car there, which I was on another team. We had a good car but we unfortunately didn't finish the race because of mechanical problems. It's a race pretty much like Texas, Chicago and a little bit like Homestead. We will have a good power there as everybody saw it depends -- they never stop pushing; and every day, every week, every race we have some more horsepower, some new tricks that they come up with. Again, it's the race like Texas or Chicago where engine is really important. So, we are going to be good. The team is good and everybody, the team just won the 500 with Buddy Rice. I just came in second. The momentum is building. I like this one-and-a-half-mile track. I think it's only a matter of putting it all together, all of the kind of little pieces together to make it happen.
Q. Consider what you have been able to do, and considering the confidence that you have in this race car, and the fact that with the lesser car, you did pretty well at Kansas City last year, something tells me you've got to be real confident that you'll be standing there at the victory podium at the end of the race.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, actually I'm confident every race because, I mean, it's no reason not to be with all of this structure around me. It's amazing the job those guys do, and also, a victory, it's something that you're always looking for, but it's really difficult to make it happen. A victory, you work, work, work and then it comes to you. Because they find the good players, we are doing our best every day to obtain that. But the victory is something that comes with the work, and if it's going to come this weekend, next weekend or later, I don't know. But as long as we keep working the way we are working, we do our best and make the best decisions it's going to come sooner or later.
Q. Again, the word "patience."
VITOR MEIRA: Exactly. This is where patience comes in. With only three races, for example, we are four teams in the championship and only 30 points for second and there's where patience comes in. There's still a lot of races to go on this championship and you never know what can happen. Just stay on the track, keep pushing and something good happens.
Q. Several races this year, especially the last, is that part of your style or what does that say about your driving ability?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, it's being -- we always had a good car, and they even in traffic or qualifying -- but for some reason which I am still about to find out sometimes, for example, Texas I was the first one to go out to qualifying after the track series warm-up. So I kind of took the runner up on the track was very kind of different, and then it kind of didn't help me much and that's why we were kind of -- I think we started 13th there, and wasn't as good at qualifying as we thought it would. And the rest of the races, honestly, I think they thought we were always going to be qualifying a little bit better than they did. And again, I always focus more on the racing than qualifying. That doesn't mean that I don't focus on qualifying. I always focus the max I can on both of them, but again, racing is the important thing. Qualifying, it's important, the further you are, the more forward you are you can be easier that you can avoid a lot of eventual problems that happens on the start of the race. So, I don't know, we've been working as hard in racing and qualifying, but so far for me, now, racing has been a bit stronger car, which is good, but we still have to have a little bit, the qualifying part of it, because if you start like -- the more ahead you start, the better it is.
Q. Great job last Saturday. You really did a did you feel job as did your team. You've driven many different types of cars over the last couple of years, have you had to change how you adapt to a racing car when you get into a different type of package?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, for sure it's a change, but it's not a whole lot different. There are -- the cars give different feedback and feedback you have to learn a lot of tricks that they have. It's not the best situation. But again, it's all speed and speed doesn't change. Racing is just racing, and if you have the speed, you have the speed. So, it's a matter of putting everything together and going for it. It does change, driving different cars and different engines and everything, but the bottom line is, it's always speed and time. So you want to -- it is tough, but not as -- there's not a whole lot different than driving in another car.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks everyone for joining us today on the IRL's weekly teleconference.
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