Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to this week's Indy Racing League weekly teleconference. This past weekend the Indy Racing League crowned champions in both the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and the IndyCar Series. Our guests today will reflect on both of those championships. Joining us in a few minutes will be the three co-owners of Andretti Green Racing, Michael Andretti, Kim Green, and Kevin Savoree. The AGR team clinched its first title in the IndyCar Series on Sunday when Tony Kanaan finished second in the Toyota Indy 400. With us right now is Thiago Medeiros, the 2004 Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion. In 11 races this season, Thiago has recorded five wins and a series record seven poles, and at one point earlier in the season he set a league record with four consecutive victories. Thiago, thank you for joining us today.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Nice for you to give me the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: First of all, congratulations on the championship. I know it was your goal really the whole season to win the championship. What does it mean to you now that you've had a couple days to realize you've achieved that goal?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Means a lot for me. I think now I'm ready to move up to IRL next year. I know everybody know I have been congratulated by all my friends and everybody I know in the motor racing world. The team has worked hard for me and we got the best results together.
THE MODERATOR: Did you have any type of special celebrating to do over the weekend once you clinched the title?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Not yet. The race was -- the end of the race was kind of sad for us. We didn't have enough time to celebrate. We're going to celebrate for sure after Texas.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned the end of the race. For anybody that saw the race, it was kind of a frightening crash. But you walked away unscathed. Everything is okay?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Yes, I'm fine. It was just sad to finish that way, but I couldn't walk away from the car. The pit crew give me a big help. But I was totally okay. Then I just went to the hospital basically to check if I was okay. But nothing happened. I'm glad I came out of that accident safe and without injuries.
THE MODERATOR: We've had 11 races. You've won five of those, started from the pole seven times. Obviously very strong, very dominating season. Is there one thing that stands out to you as the top memory for you from the season?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I remember when I was leading Milwaukee, I almost lapped the field again like I did in Phoenix. Front wheel bearing went away, then I had some other problems like Miami and Michigan, some tires problem. I'm keep thinking doing well. We have championships, have big advantage, but our results as the team, keep us motivating to the next one. Could have been better for us, but there is no "if" in the motor racing world. You just have to think forward and go to the next one.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of the next one, the last race of the season is at Texas Motor Speedway on October 16th. That is where you got your first win last year in your rookie season. That has to hold a special place for you. Tell us a little about your thoughts about Texas and the final race of the year.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Well, for sure, I have really good memories from Texas Motor Speedway. Is a really nice track, that allow us to run nose to tail. Really close packing of cars. Two- or three-wide, there is no problem at all to do that at that track because the asphalt and the grip level overall, it's really good. Just special place where I got my first win in the series. So for sure I will be hunting to keep my -- save the lead and let nobody win this race because is a special place for me.
THE MODERATOR: Your very first answer to the question, you talked a little bit about your hopes to move up to the IndyCar Series in 2005. Obviously the first two champions that we've had in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, AJ Foyt IV and Mark Taylor, have gone on and are full-time drivers in the IndyCar Series. How are things going for you right now in your quest to find a ride for next year?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: We know that my manager, Fernando, is working on way to move up to IRL. I mean, we're trying to find some other tests to have more time in the seat and get more experience in the IRL car, then we'll be better because I just had one test in IRL car, so there's not enough time. So we're trying to find some other test to be working the car, playing with the setup a little bit, and learn a little bit more about the car, then will be easier. But we're trying to do our best. I think the best thing we can do right now is keep winning. I think we'll be in a good shape to move up to IndyCar next year.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take some questions for Thiago.
Q. How do you feel about coming up next year on road circuits?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: That's my background. I grew up in the road course. First of all I want to say thanks for my great season. I grew up in the road course. Then I moved to US. I learned two years about oval racing. For sure wanted to go back to my background. I started to race when I was eight years old in go-kart, then I move to open-wheel series. I drove Formula Vauxhall in Brazil, they call Formula Chevrolet. Then I did three years in the Formula 3 South American championship. So for sure I was successful to move up to the next level here in the Infiniti Pro Series. I'm looking forward to go back to my background in IRL series.
Q. Is it hard for a driver to go from an oval to a road course or does that create problems for you?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I don't think that will be a problem for me because that's my background, that's what I came from. But the most important thing was in the past of my career, I learn how to drive the car on my limit, not on the car's limit, not overdriving the car. Was a really important thing for me because in oval, the things start to happen a lot faster. When the driver's not confident a hundred percent in himself to drive the car, do one or two laps overdriving the car, it's quite a bit easy to make mistakes, then you become a passenger, there is no chance, you just hit the wall. That's how it is. Sometimes the driver is not (inaudible) the car in the oval track, he's allowed to do that in the road course track.
Q. It looked like toward the end of the season, you've gotten a lot more competition than you had at the start of the year. Can you talk about the growth of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, please.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Yes, thanks. I think everybody has learned a lot more about the car and is getting more competitive every time. Not only the drivers start to have more confident in each other to run side by side, but other teams have learned a lot about the cars, and everybody is getting closer and closer because we are on the edge, for sure. I mean, that's what this series' all about, you know, close racing, really competitive, so sometimes when you're not a hundred percent, somebody else is doing that. Sometimes just a little bit about lucky, as well.
Q. As we saw last weekend by the accidents there. Everybody is trying really, really hard, aren't they?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Yeah. The end of the race, nobody was giving nobody enough room. I just feel bad to finish that way, but I'm glad with the championship, but I want to win that race, too.
Q. If you don't find an IRL ride, IndyCar Series ride, will you return in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series next year?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I'm not thinking about that right now. But it's just hard because if I keep winning the Pro Series, there's nothing special with that. It's just about the risk, if I lose. Like, oh, he has been beated for somebody else. So we still thinking about that. Definitely that's not my idea. I'm 22 years old. I still have a lot of time. I had in my life to do some other things, but I don't know when I'm going to do. I just thinking to move up to IRL right now.
Q. You'll have to get Sam to get back in the IRL. Last teleconference, he said he was going to stay with Menards Infiniti Pro Series, but you're going to have to convince him to go back over to the IndyCar Series for you. Again, congratulations.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Thank you.
Q. I was going to point out that the first two Menards Infiniti Pro Series champions haven't had that much success in the IndyCar Series. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to stay back, but you seem convinced that you need to move on. The fact that the other two guys haven't had much success, does that discourage you at all?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I'd like to say, I mean, everybody has a different situation. The IRL has a different package that you can run, not only about chassis, but engine as well, different combinations. Maybe we would be better, maybe not. It's just hard to say. You know, how things go. There may be some other teams that have more money to develop, there are other teams that don't have the money to develop the equipment. You are restrict about some other stuff. I mean, I know how good I am, and I know I have the talent, for sure. I mean, I don't think I do have to show nothing else, nobody else. I mean, it still give me a chance, for sure I will be doing my best to get the ride. We working some other stuff to put some money together and bring a little bit more because exchange is pretty hard to bring money from Brazil, because exchange is three for one right now. It's hard to get sponsor down there.
Q. Is your agent talking to anybody right now in the IndyCar Series, serious talks with anyone?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Yeah, we are talk to different teams and we are trying to find some other test to have more team to have more experience to play a little bit with the car and the setups and will be not only one test I have but will be some other tests that we can talk about and then say that I learn a lot about the setups and then I played one day for the whole day with different setups, different combination that will be a lot better for me, and as well give me a lot more confidence, then I will learn more about the IRL car because kind of be similar. But for sure is completely different when you are running in a big pack of cars.
THE MODERATOR: Thiago, congratulations again to you. Thanks for joining us today. We'll see you down at Texas Motor Speedway.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now on the call by the three co-owners of Andretti Green Racing, Michael Andretti, Kevin Green, Kevin Savoree. Gentlemen, congratulations on the championship. Michael, you won a championship as a driver in 1991. Now you have a championship as a team owner. How do you compare the two experiences?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's actually different, but, you know, good in different ways. When you win it as a driver, obviously it gives -- I don't know how to explain it -- but a different accomplishment when you do it as a team owner. When you do it as a team owner, it's a whole team effort. It's just been a very enjoyable experience, the drivers that we have, having the partners that I have with Kim and Kevin for one, that's where it starts. It's great to see all your ideas --
THE MODERATOR: I think we lost Michael. Perhaps he'll call back in. Kim, question for you. This is the second year AGR has competed in the Indy Racing League. How satisfying is it to you to win the championship so soon?
KIM GREEN: Certainly very, very satisfying. You know, certainly we had a plan if we were going to be involved as a company going forward, Andretti Green Racing, we were certainly going to put every effort toward putting together competitive programs and giving ourselves a chance to win. We were very, very close in our first year to winning the championship. I think everybody on the team worked even harder this year, and obviously our partner at Honda, with their engine program, worked very hard this year. Extremely satisfying. Going into the season, we certainly felt like we should have a chance, and that maybe several of our drivers could compete for the championship. That's obviously how it's turning out, which is fantastic.
THE MODERATOR: What role do you think adding a fourth car to the team played in getting from, as you said, close to championship last year over the hump and winning it?
KIM GREEN: Well, I think Bryan Herta came in as a substitute for Dario last year and really did a very, very good job substituting and worked well with Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon. At the end of the year, at that point we were going to have Dario back for this year, an opportunity came up for a fourth car, we all felt like Bryan fit so well with the team, he was immediately the first choice. I think it's been very, very good. The four drivers worked so well together, and I think certainly Bryan was a big catalyst to that being successful. Michael also being out of a driver's seat now allows him to focus a bit more time on other aspects of the team, including the drivers especially, not having to think about his own car setup.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin, the drivers on this team all get along very well. We've seen them play a lot of practical jokes on each other this year. Is that attitude, that type of camaraderie among them, limited to the drivers or is that really kind of the corporate culture there at Andretti Green Racing?
KEVIN SAVOREE: Just following up with what Kim said, there's obviously great chemistry amongst the drivers. You know, there's also probably some mad science that goes on now and again with the owners, the rest of the team. So I think there's plenty of joking around that goes on. We all want to have fun working, but at the same time we're very, very serious when it comes to our business. When we have the right balance, that's what makes it perfect.
THE MODERATOR: We have Michael Andretti back with us. We do want to open it up for questions.
Q. Michael, in the five-year plan when the three of you all got together and set down and said, "Here is what we're going to do," was there a championship within that five-year plan?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think last year the way we came out of the blocks, I think it surprised us a little bit. But after coming out of the blocks like that, we felt like we had a lot of momentum going into this year that we were definitely thinking championship because we almost did win last year with Tony. You know, we put this team together to win. That's why we're out there. You know, did it surprise us as a team that we did it as quick as we did? Probably. But then again not. If you look at our team and the people we have, all that, it shouldn't be a surprise because we have a lot of great people on this team.
Q. Last week we talked with Tony. He agreed with us that the lack of team orders as far as which car is No. 1, which is No. 2, so forth, given the background of what open-wheel racing has been over the years is a bit unusual. Is this something that you guys talked about you, you and Kevin and Kim, and said, "We're going to let every guy show his own talent, there will not be a No. 1 car"?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for one, we have to worry about each sponsor, obviously, on each car. If we were to say, "This car is No. 1, the other one isn't," one sponsor wouldn't be very happy, the one that was the No. 2. We approach it as, you know, four equal cars out there. You know, that sounds like an easy job, but it's very difficult. Really, I think the credit goes to the management run by Kim. I mean, they do such an unbelievable job to make it all equal between the four cars. When they're able to do that, everybody within each team then knows that they have an equal shot at winning. They are more willing to work as one team instead of their own team. I think that's the beauty of this team. Everybody works for that common goal, and that is for all four cars to be up front all the time.
Q. Compare the last lap of the last time that you won the championship when you were coming down to the checkered flag to the last lap that Tony was taking. How long was that lap? What were you doing at that moment? Anything could have happened.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, it felt a little different because when I won the championship, Bobby Rahal dropped out during the race, and I knew I won it that way. But it was nerve-wracking, like I say, when we found out they were going to do a white and green flag lap. You know, you hold your breath. In those places, with a win on the line, people do some crazy stuff. But, you know, obviously Tony did a good start, and then him and Adrian were able to pull away from the other guys, you know, be safe anyway.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Very emotional. Just happy. Just so happy for everybody on this team. Start with Tony, here is a guy that's gone through a lot of hard luck, but in my mind was always a champion, and now he finally proved it. Then everybody within the whole team. If you look at his teammates, how happy they were for him, it was so genuine. It makes you feel really, really good.
Q. Concerning Tony Kanaan, he won race in CART, won one championship in Dayton Indy Lights. He really had been pounding around pretty much with Mo Nunn Racing before you took him on. What did you see? How did you believe that he had championship material? Anybody can answer this.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I feel like I can answer it because I had forehand knowledge of his driving because I raced against him. Tony was a hard charger, a clean racer, a guy that I thought drove very smart when he was on the racetrack. He was very aware of what was going on. That was me knowing it forehand. Also, on top of it, his personality, he's just a great guy. We knew that he would work very well with Dario, because he and Dario were also very close friends. That's how it all came about really.
Q. Kevin and Kim didn't need any convincing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: They can answer that. I don't think so. I think they all saw that. Our first goal was to sign Dario, which we did. Our next goal was to go after Tony. I think we were all three in agreement on that. Kim and Kevin can answer for themselves.
KIM GREEN: I think Michael summed it up very, very well.
Q. For anybody that wants to answer this, how many employees do you have in your organization right now?
KEVIN SAVOREE: We have 85 full-time employees.
Q. With the four sponsors, to land four sponsors, keep them all happy this day and age in motorsports is a tremendous accomplishment. Who gets credit for that? Are all your sponsors coming back next year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Do you want to answer that, Kevin?
KEVIN SAVOREE: Well, I think, again, it's a lot of hard work. We all spend an awful lot of hours working with our sponsors, working on programs that incorporate racing into their business models. Again, Michael is a big part of that. He's a great brand ambassador for all of our companies, along with our drivers. I mean, great personalities. Again, it's all the fits that work with those sponsors. You know, right now we're working really hard with all of them, and obviously with Klein Tools and Jim Beam we announced in Chicago they had signed long-term deals, so we're really thrilled about that. We're working really hard on the others. We hope to have those finalized here in the near future. But obviously the results on the racetrack is a great first step for that. We'll keep after it.
Q. Kevin or Kim, can you comment about Michael, the way he's adapted to being a team owner? Everybody knew what a great driver he was. Raised a lot of eyebrows when he retired at a relatively young age. Seems to have taken to this business part very easily.
KIM GREEN: Well, certainly I had quite a lot of forehand experience working with Michael. He drove on the Team Motorola program at Team Green. I ran that pit during the race weekends and got to work closely with Mike. Just like he was back in the days of kicking our butt when he was on an opposition team, he always gave a hundred percent every time he hopped in the race car. I found that the same with his stepping over to an ownership role. He gives you a hundred percent all the time. He's very straightforward, honest, open to ideas, and really I think as a combination, the three of us all have some different personalities and strengths, and we work quite well together. I think it's been a good combination.
KEVIN SAVOREE: I guess I would say that another way also is that even though Michael is new to race team ownership, Michael's got a lot of other business interests. So as far as being the CEO of companies, Michael had experience doing that. Obviously, from the racetrack, he was a tremendous racer. So those skill sets melded pretty well together. I think the skill set that he brought, it was really there. Again, he's a great leader. That's what's gotten us to where we are.
Q. Four cars were good for you this year. Are you interested in more cars next year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think we're at our limit right now. I think we're really happy with what we have going. To just say, "We're going to add a fifth car," just doesn't really make sense. You know, we think we are at our capacity right now. We just now want to build on it and make it better than what it was this year.
Q. The other teams seem to have picked up on what you've done with multiple cars. I suppose that will probably make more competition for you next year.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, we'll see. I think it's good for the series, for one. I think you're going to find that it's not as easy as you think. Our team is pretty unique, and that is because of the personalities we have, they all get along so well. That's the challenge that they're going to have when you add that many cars to a team. It will be quite interesting to see how they are able to work it. The other thing is the history of this team, you know, we as a team before we even bought it, the people within this team have been used to doing multi-car things since like 2001. We've been running at least three cars. I think that experience has been invaluable for us. I think there's going to be some learning curves for a lot of these teams that haven't done that.
Q. You as an owner, Michael, seems like you had a lot of fun when you quit driving.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I did. I really did. I was just sick of the pressure, being under the pressure all the time. My whole life was always like that. I could never have fun. You know, now when I don't have to be training every day, I don't have to be on top of my game and all that, I just feel like I'm way more relaxed than I used to be when I drove. Now I'm actually having fun. I can't say that I actually had fun when I was driving, and now I finally am.
Q. To any one of you three gentlemen, you said you weren't adding a fifth car next year, but you are adding to your business promoting the race at St. Petersburg. Talk about that type of expansion and how that affects the entire Andretti Green organization.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'll let you answer that, Kevin.
KEVIN SAVOREE: For us, Mike and Kim and I sat down in Kansas City this year and talked about the opportunity and the marketplace and what it meant to the league, what we felt like it meant for our business. I think we came away from there with a commitment that we wanted to try to make it happen. But just as with any business model that we work on here, we try to look at putting the right people in place. It's never about throwing lots of people at problems; it's about putting the right people in place. So we came away from there with, "How can we make that happen?" We worked with Barry, Kim's brother, and he was very excited about the opportunity and the marketplace. We had had a long-term relationship with a marketing company that also happens to represent Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon. We felt like we had a good relationship with them. Really, again, it's about the chemistry we had amongst that group. So once we felt like we could put that together and went down and met with the City and saw the excitement that Mayor Baker and Kevin Dunn with Economic Development down there had for having a race event in their city, we were just met with open arms. It became very apparent that the market wanted a car race and wanted it in a big way. We went back to the Indy Racing League, (inaudible) sanction agreement, it all fell together fairly quickly from there. For us, it's really more from an administrative standpoint for our duties, and just making sure administratively that the right partners, whether it's the CSS Stellar Gem Group, or Barry Green, have our support when they call for it. It's really more that Barry is the general manager, and he's heading that event up. We're all looking forward to being down there April the 3rd.
Q. Michael, when you look down at the garage area, paddock area, you see so many long-term teams with championships and what have you, Penske, Ganassi, some of those, is there special satisfaction in the fact that the three of you have been able to put something together in such a short time and actually beat these guys at their own game?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, absolutely. It makes you feel real good. These are guys that I've been racing against my whole life, guys like Penske and Ganassi, those guys, and Rahal. To go out and beat them in our second year, that really makes you feel good and feels like you really accomplished something. I have so much respect for all those guys. To go out and do it the way we did this year just really I think makes each and every one of us proud.
THE MODERATOR: That looks like our last question for the afternoon. Gentlemen, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule this afternoon to join us. Congratulations again on a great season.
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