Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: I want to say welcome to Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Chip Ganassi, team owner, is with us here this afternoon along with 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. Darren Manning, the pride of North Yorkshire, who was slugging away at the golf ball even in late December in northern England. We're happy the golf game is still well. The newest member of the team, Australia's Ryan Briscoe, great to see him. The man that puts it all together, Mike Hull. It's nice to have Mike with us, as well. Chip, let's start with you. The addition of Ryan announced just a few days ago. Three-car team for 2005. You are so busy as a team owner in so many series. If you could, talk about what Ryan brings to this team and how it kind of rounds out the talents that you have competing for the championship in '05.
CHIP GANASSI: Well, thanks, Mike. First and foremost, I want to say hello to all the media, wherever you are. I apologize, one of the stars of our team is down for the count. She has appendicitis and had her appendix removed at Homestead Hospital on Friday evening, so she couldn't be here to sort of coordinate all this. If we're a little bit discombobulated today, that's the reason. Here we are coming into the new season. Yes, Mike, we've added a third car. I think we're augmenting -- I don't know that adding a third car in itself is any -- is as big a news as it is of augmenting the two that we already have. It's more of a -- you know, we think we have a pretty strong team to begin with, and we think -- we only thinking that having a third car is going to make us stronger. We just didn't want any third car. We had some opportunities with some other situations back late summer last year, into the fall, and we really were looking for the right situation. What I mean by "the right situation" is the right driver/team combination. That obviously is what we're so excited about with Ryan. I think, as shown, he was right on the pace, whether it be here or we tested at Phoenix maybe a month ago. I'm not sure, was that a month ago? Just over a month ago, we were in Phoenix. He's been over to Sebring. I'll tell you, you know, on these teams, it's okay to get all excited about things and everything, but I'll tell you what, when you have the mechanics on the team excited, you really know you've done something because those are the guys that are hard to get a rise out of. When they're excited about it, that's a good thing.
MIKE KING: Mike, if you could talk a little bit about the logistics of a three-car team versus a two-car team. From the outside looking in, obviously I would say that it's just a matter of adding another transporter and a bunch of guys to field the car. I know it's much more than that.
MIKE HULL: Yes, it's much more work than running two cars. But our organization is strong with people. I think that's what has made our team over the years have the success that it's had. We've been able to accommodate the flow of projects in the building when we've added projects, or the flow of people to the projects, let's say that. In this case we were very excited about being able to do this because we feel it provides an avenue of additional information for us without hurting the resource that we have. So logistically the simple answer is, yes, we have just added a few people and another transporter. We've done it in the style that's required. As a real example of that, after the first day of running here, all three of our drivers spent an hour and a half together with one of our software guys and studied each other's drive style. So we have one additional driver that we can study. We can take his aspect of driving a particular corner completely apart against the other two guys. We hope that it helps accelerate the growth of all three drivers. In turn, it helps accelerate the growth of the team. That's really what this is all about, is being able to properly manage the growth. I think we do a good job of that.
MIKE KING: How proud were you of the team, the fact that you guys were, what, I think first and fifth overall the first day? I believe Ryan was No. 1.
MIKE HULL: Well, I think that's a testament to the team, certainly a testament to Ryan, and a testament to how aggressive our guys are. It would have been great if we'd have been that the second day. We decided not to rationalize what our performance was over two days here, but rather to say what the reality of our performance is. We were on three parallel test programs for two days. We collectively sit down and look at what each group of people do together and try then to come up with a summation that helps all three groups of people race as a team when we come back to race everywhere we go. That's really how we will measure this performance down the road.
MIKE KING: Let's get some comments from the drivers. We were fortunate enough to talk to Ryan a little bit earlier today as part of the group of drivers that are both newcomers to the series and will compete for the Rookie-of-the-Year award. Scott, let's start with you. You kind of had the sophomore jinx going last year after that great 2003 season. Uncharacteristic, I'm sure. You were not particularly pleased with the way 2004 went. Is it just a matter now of simply saying, "That was then, this is now, let's move on to 2005"?
SCOTT DIXON: I think that's definitely the way to look at it. There's no point in looking back on 2004. It's pretty much old news. I think the team, it's given myself especially more drive to push harder this year and try and get more out of the program than what we did. But I think we just need to focus on the good areas, try and make those better, and maybe look at some of the worser areas and just make them as good as we can. But I think this year everybody's a lot more focused. Toyota is pushing extremely hard. They've had some great products come out already. So we're looking forward to that. As far as the team, with the addition of Ryan and a third car, has been huge so far in the testing that we have done, as Mike said, with different testing programs that we've had. We've been able to gain a lot more sort of information out of what we had and maybe what we would have had in the past. So far I think we've achieved a lot, especially with the team working out all the people and logistics to get everything going smoothly. You can definitely say that hasn't hindered the two-car team, it's just made it stronger with the third.
MIKE KING: Have you determined there is, in fact, something to the talk of the jinx of carrying No. 1 on your race car?
SCOTT DIXON: That keeps coming up. But, you know, that's just -- it's obviously something that happened last year. I can say I'm happy to see No. 9 on the car again. Hopefully it brings the luck we had in '03.
MIKE KING: Darren, you on the other hand got stronger as the season went. Unfortunately you had the injury at California and forced you to sit out the last two races. If you would, just kind of comment on the 2004 season. You started here at Homestead. How did you learn this type of racing and how your season progressed.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, well, I think it was a tough start for me. I had very limited oval experience with these types of cars. As hopefully we can help Ryan along with my experiences and Scott's experiences, you know, help him get up to speed quicker, as well. But, yeah, got up to speed, you know, pretty quickly, and obviously it wasn't the season that Chip or all Team Target have been used to over the many years of racing. So for me it was even tougher. I guess learning everything, learning new team, new engineers, the new way a team goes about things, and a new style of racing, it was a tough first year in the IRL. But looking to capitalize on that for this year. Obviously, didn't go out the way I would have liked to. I think I left a little bit on the table there at the end of this season. Things were really starting to turn around with a lot more performance from Toyota. That's hopefully going to really help us start off this season with a high.
MIKE KING: Chip, I know all things being equal, your team is as good as anybody's when it comes to open-wheel racing. Last year clearly Honda was head and shoulders above Toyota in terms of power. This year, if all things are equal, and Toyota has pulled even with Honda, do you put it on the shoulders of both Scott and Darren, "Go out there and show them what you can do, let's run it at the top, championship chase throughout the season," or how does this team goal-wise say to their drivers, "Do this or that"?
CHIP GANASSI: I think, you know, one of the things about -- one of the things you learn early on in having a team is understanding realistically where you're at and, like Mike said earlier, not rationalizing for a reason one way or the other why you're doing something. It's a tough thing sometimes to look in the mirror at your team or yourself or anybody within the team and say, "Am I doing everything I can to make this team a better team? Am I looking realistically at what we have?" You have to look realistically at what you have to work with and the tools you're given to do a job that you're asked to do. I think realistically we do a good job of that. I don't think we do it in the manner of saying to the drivers, "Okay, we think we're even now, so the pressure's on you." Nobody has to put any pressure on anybody inside this team that's not already implied or already there. We're not that kind of people where we go around pointing fingers. We just get on with what we have to do and work with what we have to work with. I think at the end of the day we're all realistic enough to look at what we have to work with and how we should be performing and how we are performing, you know, sort of take the tally there, if you will.
MIKE KING: Let's open it up to questions.
Q. Chip or Mike, clearly the quality of competition, level of competition, in the IRL has gone up considerably in the last four or five years. Did you feel it was almost a necessity to move to a three-car operation to have the same type of situation that Andretti Green and Rahal have?
CHIP GANASSI: I don't know it's directly because other people do it, we do it. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to it. I mean, I think from a business point of view, it's one thing. From a work load standpoint, it's another. But at the end of the day, what's most important to us is being at the front. If we think it's going to help us be at the front, we're going to do it. If we think it's going to detract from being at the front, we're not going to do it. That's whether it's two cars, three cars, six cars. We're not in racing to be in racing. We're in racing to be at the front and put ourself in a position to win. I can see how there are advantages to the three-car -- to having three over two. Obviously, one could just look in terms of miles you get to do. You could say that, you know, you might go to a race weekend and have somebody doing a test all weekend, then throwing a setup on it for the race or something, testing the whole time, something like that. So I could see lots of different scenarios where having three cars would be an advantage over two or four over three or whatever. You kind of have to take those instances as they come. You're constantly assessing where you are among your competition here. So I think if you have a plan laid down for why or how you're going to do it, if it's a good, solid plan that's chipped into granite, you're going to find yourself in trouble, I think. You've got to be -- you know, it's a new thing for us. It's not entirely new for us to run three cars, but in this series it is. We're looking forward to it. I don't know Mike how you feel.
MIKE HULL: The way I look at it, it's a lot easier than what it was a few years ago, whether it would be in IRL or any other series that this team has ever been in. I think five seasons ago, we did 95 test days. So if you look at it like that, as a two-driver team doing 95 test days, that began to dwindle back a bit, but it was still a lot of testing. This is a piece of cake in comparison. When you're talking about less than 20 events, running one guy in less than 20 events, including the Indianapolis 500, the value that Chip was referring to for the people that help us, that we in turn help to partner up with, it's a huge impact for them as a public spectacle or public entity to be able to do that as opposed to going to Sebring where only the guy in the guardshack and the crows watch you run. This is a heck of an opportunity for us and it's a massive resource for us. We can learn an awful lot where we race. It's simply up to us to manage it.
MIKE KING: Chip, Ryan has been in the 33 car that has been a target car for this test. Will it remain a target car? Will you be announcing a separate package for that car?
CHIP GANASSI: We're finalizing those plans as we speak. We didn't really want to come out here and -- I would say what you see Ryan in this weekend is just the way the cars were painted. We slapped the numbers on them, that was kind of it. We're here to test. I wouldn't look at that car from a commercial point of view as totally baked, if you will. We're finalizing those plans right now. It will be done in a first-class manner. When the time comes to say anything, we'll be happy to say it.
MIKE KING: Scott, if we could get a comment from you about the road course package. You had the opportunity to be here during the test in September, to do one of the initial tests on the road course here. How is the car different? The speed, top lap times are much quicker, but how is the car different from what was originally tested here during that initial test in September?
SCOTT DIXON: I think even from the first test, the (inaudible) did a tremendous job with the package we had. No major issues. In some ways we were probably lucky with the chassis manufacturers that we didn't have any issues with gearboxes or cars overheating an things like that. I think everybody's just redefined the car a little better. They finally worked out a braking package. The braking package over the two days has been very good. I don't think anybody's had any issues. But, you know, I think everybody's going to find more speed just as you get more days on the tracks with these cars, especially being so early. But I think it's great. They've done a good job. It's only going to get better.
Q. Working with Chip means never being bored, you're going to be working the 24 hours at Daytona. Are you looking forward to it? How do you feel about it?
MIKE KING: Scott and Darren are driving with Casey Mears, one of Chip's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers in the 24 Hours. Is Ryan going to be participating as well?
CHIP GANASSI: Ryan will be in with Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz.
MIKE KING: Comments from the three of you on the business of racing for Chip. It is clearly a full-time gig.
SCOTT DIXON: I think all of us are really excited. It's a great way to start the year. I was lucky enough to be able to do it last year as well with Papis and Pruett. It was a lot of fun. Apart from the rain, I don't think anybody was happy with the rain, I think it rained for just over 19 hours. It's a great experience. I hope to be doing a lot more of it. Darren and myself were lucky enough to do a race at the end at California with Chip. We ended up on the podium, which was kind of good. It's a lot of fun. It's a different kind of thing over there. It's a little more laid back. I don't know, all we want to do is go and win, I guess.
DARREN MANNING: I guess the racing is a bit laid back, but the level of intensity Chip puts on the team to perform is exactly the same. That's what we as drivers relish. We're left to do our job of just drive fast. We were lucky enough to help them win the championship last year, coming into that race at Homestead. That gave us and the guys running the car at Daytona a bit of help to start off on the right foot for the 24 Hours this year. Again, the racing mind's thinking. It's a great way to start the season, especially as soon as we are road course racing this year, it's 24 hours of testing for us, turning left and right. With the limited time, it's getting a bit of adrenaline pumping through your veins early on has got to be good for coming to Homestead.
MIKE KING: Ryan, have you ever raced with a roof over your head?
RYAN BRISCOE: I've had one race at the Australian Grand Prix in 2002. I did a race in a Ferrari NGT. But, yeah, I mean, this is just a great opportunity. I have to thank Chip a lot for letting me do this. It's such a prestigious race to be doing. I'll be in the car with Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz. We're in the 01 car, so we're going to be out there trying to break the jinx everyone is talking about with the 01. It's something new, different. I've never done a race that's more than probably an hour and a quarter. So something different. Scott Pruett has been great, a lot of advice. He's an amazing driver. I'm learning a lot from him, for sure.
MIKE KING: With the Grand-Am championship last year, how many championships has this team now won? Any idea?
CHIP GANASSI: Six in nine years -- 10 years.
MIKE KING: I know the success rate is pretty high. Thanks an awful lot.
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