Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Homestead-Miami Speedway as we open the 2005 IRL IndyCar Series season with the open test for all of the IndyCar Series teams, as we begin preparation for our 17-race schedule, which will kick off here on Sunday, March the 6th, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway Motorsports Complex with the running of the Toyota Indy 300. We all look forward to that event very, very much. We had two great days of road course testing, the first road course test in terms of an open test for IndyCar Series competitors. We want to let you know we do have several media activities scheduled for today. This first press conference this morning will be to introduce you all to the drivers that will be considered eligible for the Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year award and the newcomers to the series. You might remember last year, Darren Manning was in the boat where he was a newcomer to the series, but with his veteran status did not qualify for the Rookie-of-the-Year award which carries a $50,000 cash bonus at the end of the season, and Darren was quite dismayed to hear that. Everyone new to the series that has not participated in the Indy 500 will be considered a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Schedule-wise for today, this press conference will take place. We will break for one-on-ones immediately following the press conference fess activity. Shortly after that lunch will be served and provided by the Indy Racing League just across the way. We invite you to have something to eat, then head back over here as just after 12:00, we will have our road course review. Dario Franchitti, John Lewis and Kevin Blanch will be available during that noon press conference. At 1:00 veteran returnees, including 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan, Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon, Tomas Scheckter, Alex Barron will all be a part of that press conference. Target Chip Ganassi Racing will be here at 2:30 with their three drivers. Then at 3:00, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The participants will include Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold, the team owners, and Roger Yasukawa, the driver of the No. 24 car. It is a pleasure to welcome all six of the drivers to the podium this morning. Let's introduce them to you and I'll start from the far side. Paul Dana last season finished second in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Hemelgarn Johnson Motor Sports. He has not turned a wheel this weekend in an IndyCar Series car, but word is that he and Ron are very close on a deal. We will talk to him about that in anticipation of him competing as a rookie in the IndyCar Series in 2005. Great to have with us for the first time at least in the official capacity Tomas Enge, who the deal was announced in Prague I guess just a couple days ago with Panther Racing. He will be driving the No. 2 car this year. Tomas actually competed with us two events last year, driving for Patrick Racing. It's a great pleasure to welcome Tomas Enge as a rookie in the IndyCar Series full-fledged in 2005. Kosuke Matsuura, the 2004 IndyCar Series Rookie-of-the-Year returns with Fernandez Racing once again. Once again, we're looking very much forward to watching Kosuke Matsuura participate. Very strong last year, particularly in the second half of the season. Ryan Briscoe was named on Monday as the third driver for the Chip Ganassi Racing team. Ryan comes to us after the last couple of years working with Toyota as their Formula 1 test driver, and he was an eye-opener early on on Tuesday, the first day of the test. He did top the charts here on the road course testing. Good to see him. Had an opportunity for the first time to speak with Patrick Carpentier. Great to see him. He is teaming with Alex Barron at Red Bull Cheever Racing. He will be driving the 83 car, Alex will be driving the 51. Patrick, obviously with his experience, will not be eligible for the Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year award but will be a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year for the Indy 500. We're going to get a clarification, if you want it, Pat, Patrick or Patrick. Danica Patrick was introduced as the third driver of the Rahal Letterman Racing about a month ago. She will be teaming with Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 champion, and with Vitor Meira. She and Buddy will be driving cars, identical, Argent Mortgage Pioneer machines. She will be in the 16, Buddy Rice will be in the 15. I think we have microphones in all of our drivers. We'll open it up. Let's get opening comments from each of you. Paul, let's start with you first. We'll go in the order that we introduced you. What is the status of your deal with Ron Hemelgarn? Where does it stand for 2005 for you?
PAUL DANA: First of all, thank you for having me here. We worked with Ron last year, with Hemelgarn, and also the sponsor, which is the Ethanol industry. It has been the program's intention since late last year to step up. It is going to happen. We are going to be at the first race in Homestead. It's just, given the size of our program on the Ethanol side, there's over 25 companies involved that make it happen, and some late issues coming together with formalizing the program, we've been unable to do a formal announcement yet. I have done two tests with Ron. He kept an '02 spec Dallara up and running in his shop specifically for the purpose of being able to take drivers he worked with in the Pro Series and start getting them experience in the IndyCars. We did a day at Phoenix and a day at Homestead in the back part of '04. We're waiting on pinning down some equipment details. We will most likely be at the Phoenix open test and we expect to have a formal announcement between now and the Phoenix open test. Part of it, the Ethanol industry, they've got a new color scheme and a new logo that is going to be a part of the announcement. It's a lot of details unfortunately we weren't able to make it here, but it is happening and you can look at us for Homestead for the first race.
MIKE KING: Tomas Enge, for the first time last year participated in a couple IndyCar Series events, but for the first time Tuesday. You have the Formula 1 experience. Give us a take because you were fastest in the morning session right out of the box on Tuesday. First off, welcome. Secondly, how are you fitting with the team?
TOMAS ENGE: I would like to also thank you having me here on the stage. Well, first of all, basically the deal was done between me and Panther Racing quite late. It was on Tuesday this week. And, obviously, I was not able to participate with them before Christmas when they were testing down here on road course test, which I missed that, these one or two days they were here. Well, these two days we've done, it was quite great for us because we done a lot of work, like everybody else. But I was really surprised the first day, the first morning, that I was quickest. I thought, you know, just everybody else were just looking around and not driving fast or whatever. But the main thing was that we get so far really well with the team, or I get with the team really well. And everybody is like helping me a lot to get into the series, which is going to be difficult for somebody who has been doing 13 years on a road courses only and have experience just with two races on ovals. Tomas Scheckter, my teammate, is a great help, as well. We get on really well. We know each other from past Formula 3000 already, as well. I just wanted to thank you so far to the team. They are doing really good job for me.
MIKE KING: Kosuke Matsuura drives the No. 55  super gray Fernandez Racing machine, Honda-powered. It is a Honda-powered Panoz, isn't it?
KOSUKE MATSUURA: Yes.
MIKE KING: Kosuke, you had a great year in 2004 by most rookie standards. You were very competitive certainly in the second half of the season, running in the top five in a couple of races. We talked earlier. You believe you could win maybe multiple races in 2005 and contend for the championship. First off, a take on your 2004 rookie campaign and how optimistic you are coming back with this team for 2005?
KOSUKE MATSUURA: You know, first of all, I'm very happy to driving with Fernandez Racing. Obviously, I couldn't win last year, but I have like so many good races, like Michigan, Kentucky, Motegi, Indianapolis 500. But, you know, last year, I was really unlucky season. Hopefully, you know, I have some more luck and hopefully win one race this year.
MIKE KING: Ryan, first off, welcome. Great to have you. If you could, you obviously were fast right out of the box. You probably, of all the drivers on the track here this week, have more miles on road courses than anyone in the last year. But give us your take on your first couple of days in an IndyCar Series machine and how quickly you've become adapted to it.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, it's great to be here. It's fantastic having the opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing. It's an amazing team. They're greatt people to be working with. I've had a great test here. I seem to be adapting quite well to the car on the road course. It's not so difficult to adapt to. It's a good car to drive. It's really responsive to setup changes. We've been able to get through our entire program and make some good improvements. That's been really good. Especially with Toyota, as well, we've been working a lot on the engine with the drivability, so on, which it's all new for road course racing. We've been doing a lot of work there. It's been a very positive start.
MIKE KING: You were fastest first day. Dario Franchitti was fast yesterday. The team as a whole was a little off the pace yesterday compared to some others. Were you just working on new things on the car?
RYAN BRISCOE: I guess the overall lap time wasn't terrific, but during the day I reckon our times were pretty quick. I was doing 11.1s on old tires, and that was pretty competitive. We never really got much track time at all. I think we only did around 30 laps or something. We had an engine change during the day, also a big stop during the morning. We sat most of the day on the sidelines. But when we're on the track, it was looking good. Yesterday was more about just trying various car setups and so on rather than looking for actual pure speed on the track.
MIKE KING: What is it going to be? Is it Pat? Patrick or Patrick?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Whatever you want is fine. Patrick is fine.
MIKE KING: I asked Alex Barron how the two of you were getting along. He said, "The guy speaks French, I don't understand a word he says."
PATRICK CARPENTIER: We had dinner together last night.
MIKE KING: You were teammates earlier on in your career, right?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, not teammates. But we raced together. Actually for me it's a good thing with Red Bull Cheever and Toyota coming back together because used to be with Toyota in Formula Atlantic when we clinched the championship. It's certainly good to be back with these guys this year. I'm looking forward with the ovals and everything. But with Alex, we raced together in IndyCars, a little bit in Atlantic, but I was never his teammate. He's a very good guy actually. We get along pretty well. We're going to share a lot of information this year to try to be up at the front all the time. We had a first test at Sebring in December. It was first to understand the car a little bit. We made some major improvements for this test here the last couple of days. There's still some to go. But we're looking forward to it actually. I think we're strong engineering side on the team, I'm looking forward to it this year.
MIKE KING: You were obviously a veteran of open-wheel racing, but new to this team. Just observing the last couple of days and watching the way you and Alex and the team interact, I would have thought you'd been a member of that team for two or three seasons. It seems to come very naturally.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah. It clicked very well, especially with Ian, my engineer, who does a very good job. We started a little bit slow on Tuesday, then jut kept working our way up and up and up and getting closer every time. We're really happy about that. There's still a little bit of work to do, but I think we definitely know where we're going. So I'm looking forward to what's coming.
MIKE KING: Danica Patrick has been climbing the ladder now for the last few years. Danica, even though you're still just 21, right?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm 22.
MIKE KING: You turned 22 since we talked.
DANICA PATRICK: 23 since.
MIKE KING: Seems like we've been hearing your name for a long time, and you're still very, very young. Give us your take at being at this point in your career now and what you expect of yourself here in your rookie season with Rahal Letterman.
DANICA PATRICK: Well, you know, I guess I am sort of young still, but I expect to do well and I expect to move up the ranks. I guess if I had a five-year plan when I was 15 or 16 years old, I'm a year off of what I thought I would be doing. It's exciting. Sometimes I have to step back and realize that it's happening and I'm driving IndyCars. 14 years later, this is my 14th season, and I'm driving for a great team, Rahal Letterman. I have great sponsors, Argent, Pioneer, Honda. It means a lot that they stand behind me and believe in me like the team does, and lots of people. So it's exciting. I'm ready. Let's begin.
MIKE KING: Enough with me. Let's get to your questions.
Q. Patrick, explain to us the switch to the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: For me, I always loved ovals. It's always something I wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do the Indy 500. For me, with everything coming together, like I said earlier, with Toyota and Red Bull Cheever, there was a great opportunity. I'm really looking forward to that. I love the close racing. And from what I've seen on TV last year, it's pretty spectacular. That's why I switched to the IRL.
MIKE KING: Have you seen a lot of the events?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, there were quite a few. Michigan was a great event. There were a few that had good finishes and good racing. I really enjoyed that. I was watching Buddy and a couple of these guys battling together at the front. It was fun to see. The finish is really close, and it's something I like.
Q. The difference in the IRL racing has been more be patient instead of the slingshot that CART saw in its four days of oval racing in the last few years. Does it take a different mentality or mindset?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: From what I remember, not too many years ago, but a few years ago with Al Unser, Jr. at Milwaukee, we did eight laps side by side. This day was the most enjoyable race I've ever done, and it was on an oval. So for me to come back and watch these guys on TV, seems to be a lot of fun. For me it was a natural decision to do that. I've been speed skating when I was young. It was on a short-track oval. Always kind of been involved in some way, not with an engine, but on oval racing. So for me to come back to that is fantastic.
MIKE KING: Kosuke is not eligible for Rookie-of-the-Year since he won it last year. Patrick, the same situation with his veteran status. Neither of those drivers eligible for the 2005 Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year. The other four drivers will be eligible in 2005. Everyone but Kosuke will be a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kosuke has attained veteran status.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: What about the 50,000?
MIKE KING: The 50,000 you're not eligible for. Kosuke has already gotten his. He can't get it.
KOSUKE MATSUURA: I got twice. Is the same prize money at last year?
MIKE KING: Don't hold me to it because I'm not writing the check. I'm not sure.
KOSUKE MATSUURA: Just trophy.
Q. Paul, do you have an engine nailed down yet? Is the team Hemelgarn Johnson or just Hemelgarn?
PAUL DANA: The IndyCar team is just Hemelgarn Racing. Roger Johnson, who is the leading team owner in Silver Crown, is a partner in the Pro Series team. He actually owned the car I raced all last year. When we step up is just Hemelgarn Racing. The formal name will be Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing. And, no, we don't have a motor program confirmed yet.
Q. One word, an adjective they would use to describe the way they race?
PAUL DANA: Smooth.
TOMAS ENGE: Flat out.
KOSUKE MATSUURA: Be careful wall.
MIKE KING: That's more than one word, Kosuke. We will allow that.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Ride the wall if it's faster.
DANICA PATRICK: Determined.
MIKE KING: You have a little insight there. Both Kosuke and Patrick have something going with the walls there.
Q. Patrick, did you participate in the road course test?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, we ran at Sebring before Christmas and, the last couple of days.
Q. What is your early take on the car?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. The car is really, really smooth around the corner. The other one, it jerks a little bit more into the steering when you're turning. This one is really smooth. I was really, really impressed from it. When I heard a little bit I was afraid of what it was going to be. I heard some stuff about the shifting and downshifting. It downshifts really well. It upshifts really well. It brakes pretty well, too. Before December, we had some brake issues, which we all fixed for this test, the last couple of days. The last couple of days have been a lot better. Every time I get back in the car, the improvements are huge. So to me it's a fun car to drive actually. It's a car you can throw around quite a bit and push. So I really like driving that car. I really do.
MIKE KING: Ryan, a bit curious about your anticipation for running on ovals. I know you spend a lot of time with Darren Manning when you were testing late last year I believe at Phoenix. Darren talked an awful lot about his first experience racing here at Homestead a year ago, said at one point he thought to himself, "What in the world am I doing going three-wide through turn four at about 213?" How do you anticipate the side-by-side, close-knit racing that is kind of the hallmark of the series?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I don't really know what to expect. Hopefully I'll just adapt to it and it won't be a problem. But I'm sure it will take a bit of practice and it will take maybe a little bit of time to build up some confidence because it's very high speeds, it's close racing. I've been watching a lot of the videos of the races and so on. It's definitely different to anything I've done before. But I had a test at Phoenix in November. I did lots of laps around that track. Had to get a feel of the car for the speeds and so on. It's quite daunting in the beginning, but in the end you sort of get used to it and you don't notice the speed too much. Tomorrow's going to be the first time I ever drive with other cars around me on the oval. I just want to get as much track times a possible and just work up to it.
MIKE KING: Have Darren and Scott had much advice for you at this point?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, it's difficult because, I mean, they try to help out, we talk about how you're supposed to run the car setup-wise. There's a lot of strategy involved in the race. They're helping me out with that. But in the end, a lot of it's going to come down to getting personal confidence in the car.
MIKE KING: Danica, the same question can apply to you. You've built your resume on road and street course racing by and large. The anticipation of racing on an oval in pack-type racing, and the type of advice I guess that you've either sought or received from Vitor and Buddy.
DANICA PATRICK: I think they're good guys to learn from. Vitor is like the king of going high. I'm sure he'll be good for a little bit of knowledge of what that's like. Buddy obviously, too, can drive on ovals. They've got experience, unlike myself. Same as Ryan, I haven't driven on a big oval with other cars. So it's going to be different. When I was at Kentucky and drove a little bit, I have driven on a big oval. But the team told me to go out there for, you know, 30, 40 laps at the end of the day and try up, try down, try the different lines. It was dirty up high because I was the only one running around. At I'm going up high, I'm inching one wheel at a time. I'm like, This is crazy, how am I going to go three abreast? I think the track will clean off, you get a high line, just keep your foot down, sounds like. Simple as that, right?
MIKE KING: Probably the best philosophy. Once the flag drops. We'll go ahead and break for one-on-ones.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|