Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: Gentlemen, we may be two in number, but our interest is great. We have Kevin Blanch, the Indy Racing League technical manager. We have John Lewis, who is the senior director of operations for the Indy Racing League. We have Dario Franchitti, who drives the No. 27 Honda-powered Dallara for Andretti Green Racing and who was fastest yesterday during the second day of road course testing, and he turned the fastest lap of the two-day test on the road course. First, Lew, let's talk a little about when it comes to operations, what is different about the IRL and the way that a street race or road course race is conducted versus the way that an oval event will be conducted?
JOHN LEWIS: I think the biggest difference will be at the St. Petersburg venue, simply because it's a temporary circuit. I've gone to Watkins Glen and I've been up to Infineon a couple times. The improvements they've made at those racetracks, it's not going to be much different at all. So that's a good thing. They've got garage areas, very adequate pit lane, timing-scoring building, so on and so forth. So not a bunch of change there. With regard to the St. Pete event, Barry and I have had several discussions. I've got overhead photographs. I've got auto-CAD drawings. Because it's a temporary circuit, your load-in time and your permanent structures just aren't the same. But as far as getting set up, they, too, have more than adequate pit lane. The paddock space might be a little challenging, but nothing that can't be overcome. I guess to answer your question, the changes are probably very few with regard to operationally setting up for the events. So I'd say that's a good thing from the league standpoint.
MIKE KING: Kevin, let's talk about the car. How different is the IndyCar Series oval car from the IndyCar Series road race package?
KEVIN BLANCH: Well, when you go from the smaller ovals, Phoenix, Pikes Peak, them type places, the car won't look a whole lot different than it did at the short ovals. We've added one extra what's called a strake on the front wing, which gives the car a little bit more front end, which is what a lot of guys thought the car may need, get a little more front end, to make the car turn a little better. You'll see the wheels will all be leaning in as opposed to leaning to the left. The rear wing configuration is exactly what we run at the short ovals. The major changes are in the brakes and the brake calipers. We've had to go to a much bigger caliper to stop the car because on the ovals you're not trying to go from 140 miles an hour down to 30 miles an hour. We had to put a much bigger caliper on it. We went to a steel rotor. Other than that, there's not much you'll be able to tell looking from the naked eye what we've done to the car. The suspension itself is a little more beefier, but you can't just look at it and tell. It's just some small changes we've had to do. We have big brake scoops on it because now they are using the brakes. On the ovals, brakes are only used when a car gets in trouble or when he's coming down pit lane. Not a whole lot of naked eye stuff. We went to a diff in the transmission instead after spool which makes it, easy terms, more like a street car, where it has a limited slip rear-end. As one tire gets loaded up, it will drive back and forth so it doesn't have a positive drive (inaudible), which makes it difficult for the car to get around tight corners.
MIKE KING: In terms of feedback you've gotten from drivers and the crews, how happy are they with the way the package is working?
KEVIN BLANCH: I'd say they're real happy, and we are also. The IRL, we're ecstatic at how good we did. We've basically taken an oval track car, for seven or eight years we've strictly run ovals, we've taken a car that was designed to run ovals and converted it into a road course car. To make a call and try to figure out what brakes and how big scoops need to be and did we get the right amount of downforce on the front of the car, we made really good guesses. And that's what they were, they were just educated guesses from doing other forms of racing. We got a few minor changes we need to go away and make, nothing that's major, nothing that the normal fan or anybody that's been here all weekend will even notice. It's just a couple little changes here and there to help the car a little bit better. We were able to make them last a long time, which was the other question we had. We done -- I think Dario even ran in the five-day run or the five-car run we did the very first time, we went away from that, made a couple little changes. Came down here and I'm not sure how many miles or laps he we ran, but we got a lot of time on a lot of cars. Some were up in the 230, 240 mile range. That's race distance stuff. So now we had a couple little adjustments we need to make. We can go away, fix that, come back at get ready at St. Pete, and the cars should be as reliable on the street courses and road courses that we've been able to obtain on the ovals.
MIKE KING: Dario, you were fastest yesterday. You posted the fastest lap of the two days. In looking at the time sheet top to bottom, the field tightened considerably versus what we saw on Tuesday. Give me a take from the driver's point of view. Is this package better, quicker than you expected, because you've had some interaction with the league on what's working, what's not, brake packages, that sort of thing. What is your take on the first two days of road course testing?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the first two days went very, very well. I was amazed at how close the field was. I think a lot of guys, maybe some guys were rusty from not driving road courses for a number of years. There's a couple of guys just getting used to it for the first time. Teams are sort of honing in on a better setup. The drivers are getting the hang of things. I think that's what we're going to see this year. We're going to see just incredibly close fields on the road courses as well as obviously on the ovals. The one thing we did see, as well, from the test here in - was it September we tested here - the lap times have already dropped quite significantly. The tire we ran here, the harder tire we ran here in September, we've picked up about a second already. I think that kind of shows the pace of development, not only with our team, but with the guys at Honda, as well.
MIKE KING: Since the announcement we were going road and street course racing, brakes have seem to kind of been the hot topic of discussion. Kevin, pretty happy with the brake package, the cast-iron versus the carbon cast-iron is what we're using? At least at this point it's kept the field pretty tight.
KEVIN BLANCH: And that was one of our goals. You can take a street car or a road racing car and you can put brakes on that car where you can run so deep into the corner that you prevent any passing because you're able to, you know, drive just as deep into the corner as the guy behind you is. So we looked for something that would be more -- would put it more in the driver's hands. So one lap maybe you can drive in really deep, but you kind of get the brakes heated up, you're warming them up too much, so you got to be careful with it. But it still gives you that opportunity to drive down in there and to pass a guy, whereas when the brakes are such advanced and so good, it takes a lot of that away. So that's kind of what we looked at when we went to this brake package, was to try to make the car -- you know, it's safe brakes. I'm not saying they're not safe. But we didn't want the best brake that you could get because we felt that would take away a lot of the racing. So we tried to get something that was kind of in between the two.
MIKE KING: Dario, from the driver standpoint, do you agree it's going to make the racing much closer, more competitive?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I agree with what Kevin is saying there. We tested the carbon brakes here. Quite frankly, they weren't working for us. They weren't giving me the feel I needed. Some of the other guys, as well. In order to make them cost-effective, the materials they have to make them out of to last a certain length of time, they weren't working. The steel brakes give us a much better feel. There are a couple small issues very easy to address, PFC are doing that. But I definitely agree. I think there's certain packages we could have put on there, you can just hammer the brakes all day. These brakes, there might be a certain amount of brake management in the same way you would look after the tires throughout a stint, which is definitely good. I tell you, the car stopped very, very well. Anybody that was out at turn seven, the hairpin, you could see they stopped pretty well.
MIKE KING: Lew, you and Brian were in race control for both days of the test watching this. Were you surprised that it was as clean as it was? We had some offs, but other than that, there was really no incidents to speak of. It looked like all these teams have been doing this for seasons past.
JOHN LEWIS: Very pleased. Our goal was to come down here and let teams test. That's really the whole essence of hosting something like this. Let them find the limits. How far can I drive into this corner? How quickly do I need to brake? When can I get back on the gas? Every instance we had over the last two days, you had a spin or two, you dropped a couple wheels off at that corner or something, but I think Dario can answer it better than I can certainly, but that's a driver trying to figure out the limits of that car with that particular setup. From what we saw from race control, that's exactly what we wanted. It was perfect.
MIKE KING: Dario, everybody respecting each other, giving each other enough room to feel the cars out?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Some guys, yeah. There are a couple guys already that are starting to.
MIKE KING: Would you like to name names?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I'll keep that to myself. There are definitely a couple guys already getting the reputation of getting in the way on their in-laps or stuff. We'll put an end to that pretty quickly.
MIKE KING: Give us an idea, because I personally have not watched a lot of street and road course either testing or practice or qualifying, I noticed on several occasions, particularly in the infield straightaway after you come off four or five, there were cars that would slow down dramatically and let other cars pass them going into five or six, whichever turn that is, and then would get back on the gas. Was that simply to run behind someone else? I even noticed at one point you almost came to a dead stop and said something or pointed to something off the side of the track there. I wasn't sure what I was seeing.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I was pointing to the fact that one of the marshals was standing out in front of the wall.
MIKE KING: I didn't see him.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I was a bit concerned about that. You come down there, there's about four feet of grass, there's some guy standing on the car side of the wall. He couldn't understand what I was saying, so we got a message relayed to get on the other side of the wall. What you saw there with guys pulling over is just good manners. If you have somebody behind you that looks a little bit quicker, especially in practice, get out of the way, back off, let him through, then get back after it. Don't be holding people up. That's something we saw certainly a couple of guys doing. But the majority of people were very good.
MIKE KING: Questions. I covered a lot of ground, but go ahead.
Q. Can you explain the difference between the Champ Car road course car and what you're running here?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: So basically the oval car?
Q. The Champ Car street car.
MIKE KING: You're comparing the two series, the two packages.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the difference is one is turbocharged, one is not.
Q. How about the brakes, suspension, wing package?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I mean, apples to oranges. It's completely different. It's the difference between one manufacturer and another, one guy's way of doing things. Performance-wise, they seem very similar.
Q. Dario, obviously you would drive whatever the IRL schedules you to drive. Does it make life more interesting for you guys now that you're doing more than just ovals?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely. I think it adds a new dimension to the championship. Makes it more diverse. Gives the driver and the teams a bigger challenge. For me, coming from a road racing background, it's obviously -- it's something I've been looking forward to. I think it can only do good things for the series. I'm very happy to be back doing this.
Q. Cast-iron versus the weight in the car, how does it change the handling characteristics?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There's a fairly significant difference per corner, yeah. But when we tested back to back here in September, we really didn't notice any handling difference. In fact, performance-wise we could go quicker on the steel ones.
Q. How are the dynamics of the championship playing out? How does the addition of the two road and one street course event, how does it change the dynamics of the championship chase?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think, as I said earlier, it adds another dimension to it, makes things a little bit more interesting. You know, rather than just as a driver having to be good on the one and a half, one-mile ovals, whatever, the short ovals, the one and a half stuff, you've got to get things figured out on the street and road courses. With there being three, it's a fairly significant amount of points.
Q. You guys have four cars. Does that play into having more chances?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it helps us. I think having the four cars, we can cover more ground with setups. We can all go out there and try different stuff. We can then reinforce a decision we make by putting a certain change in another car. I think the way we work as a team is definitely helping us with that. Plus we've got a lot of history on our team of doing road courses, street courses, as most of the teams up and down the paddock have. So, yeah.
MIKE KING: Were you surprised that Briscoe was fastest day one out of the box or did you expect that given the amount of time he has spent in the last year or so doing road and street courses?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I thought Briscoe did a very good job the first day. It just depends at any one time what anybody's doing. In a test, there's guys on different programs. But, yeah, I thought he did really well. He's obviously going to be pretty competitive, I would say.
Q. Given the first couple days of testing, reliability versus race distances that we'll run at the three road and street course venues, how are you gauging reliability versus what happened the first couple days at the test?
KEVIN BLANCH: I'd say we're in pretty good shape. Even though it's similar -- quite different from when you test on an oval, I think especially yesterday you seem to have a lot of guys, they're doing qualifying-type runs. You're pounding the car a lot harder when you're doing that than you are when you're racing. Once you start to race, I'm sure Dario will back this up, you kind of have to back yourself up a little bit. You can't use the brakes as hard as you were in a five-lap run. You can't drive in as hard every corner as you did in a five-lap run, because if you do, when you get to the end, there's going to be nothing left. I think, like I say, we had a lot of cars, several cars, up over 200 miles, which is we're figuring out the race distances, but that's close if not more than what we'll run in a race. So I think we're real comfortable with where we're at racing the cars. We didn't have one gearbox problem, to my knowledge, which is -- when you got 19 or 20 cars running, you're going to have problems. It doesn't matter, there's just going to be things happen. Guys are going to miss shifts. Something is going to happen. I think we probably beat these cars up harder in these two days than we will in a three-day weekend. To come out of it with no problems is real promising.
MIKE KING: If this had been preparation for a race weekend, any of those laps you did yesterday, particularly the last one, final eight or ten minutes, was that a ten-tenth lap? Would you have looked at that as a good qualifying lap for this course or were you saving a little bit of something out there, considering it was just a test session?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think as far as my job as a driver, I think finally at the end of the day yesterday I got things together. I think that's a polite way to put it (laughter).
Just getting back used to driving within the limits of the car. I think I probably left a bit on the table, but not a massive amount. It was actually a pretty good lap. There were a 10.1, a 10.2, two 10.2s. But there's more there to be had, for sure, with the car. Again, with the test, we put certain things on the car towards the end of the day that weren't as good as we had at the beginning of the day or the middle but we had to leave them on. But I think a lot of guys were trying pretty hard out there by the amount of people that went off, dropped wheels off, that kind of stuff.
MIKE KING: We'll break out for one-on-ones.
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