Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: I want to introduce our returning veterans, certainly the core group of drivers that will be looked at as championship contenders and perhaps favorites in 2005. We'll start from our left and work our way to the right. First off, Alex Barron. Alex returns with Red Bull Cheever Racing. They have made an engine change. They will switch from the Chevy to the Toyota this year. Alex, we talked a little bit with Patrick, your new teammate at Cheever. I told him about the comment that you couldn't understand a word he said because he was French and he agreed. Alex Barron, a two-time winner in the IndyCar Series, both of these wins coming with Toyotas, is that right?
ALEX BARRON: No. Actually the first one was with Chevrolet. It was before Toyota came in.
MIKE KING: The second one at Michigan was with a Toyota, right?
ALEX BARRON: Yes. Toyota with Mo Nunn.
MIKE KING: Great to see you. Daniel Wheldon, the pride of Emberton, returns with Andretti Green Racing, of course in the familiar No. 26 machine, the Klein Tools Jim Beam car. It's a Honda-powered Dallara. He finished second in points last year to the man that's sitting to his left, Tony Kanaan. Tony returns to defend his 2004 title after an amazing run last season that saw him complete every lap contested during the 2004 IndyCar Series season. Interesting, though, to look at the two of them because between Tony and Dan, you're seeing two drivers that finished in the Top 3 22 times in 2004 and combined for six wins. Really pretty amazing the record the two of them put together. Buddy Rice, of course everyone looks to Buddy now as the Indy 500 champion after a great year in 2004 with the Rahal Letterman team. The driver from Phoenix also won three times, chased Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon -- those guys in the middle chased each other throughout 2004 for the championship. What a year for but Buddy Rice. He of course made history by winning the Indy 500. Wednesday night after testing here, flew up to Dearborn and received his Baby Borg. Is that the last of the gifts for you?
BUDDY RICE: I think so.
MIKE KING: We unveiled his likeness on the Borg-Warner trophy the Wednesday before. Buddy Rice, good to see you again. Tomas Scheckter, who returns with Pennzoil Panther Racing, driving the No. 4 Pennzoil Dallara powered by Chevrolet. We had an opportunity to meet Tomas' teammate Tomas Enge in the earlier press conference. Tomas, we'll start with you. This is a year that I'm sure you were placing a lot of expectations and a lot of hopes on yourself. Give us an idea. The fact that your team at least as of right now, the only Chevy-powered team on the grid, give us an idea of what you expect for yourself this year.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Obviously it's great to come back with the same team. It gives me a little bit of continuity. I know what to expect on the first race. I don't really have to prove anything to the team, my speed or my ability. It's a comfortable start. We just got to make sure that everybody involved puts in a good effort, that includes Chevrolet and everybody on the team. We've got to make sure that we can keep up with these other manufacturers. Obviously, last year was very tough for us. We've learned a lot. Hopefully we can take what we've learned and make sure we get some good results this year. We definitely need it.
MIKE KING: Alex, same question. What do you expect out of yourself and out of the Red Bull Cheever Racing team in 2005? Can this team be a championship contender?
ALEX BARRON: Yeah, I think so. I think Eddie and Max are working real hard. We've done a lot in the off-season for the level of the team. We have a lot of key people right now making decisions. The engineering staff's come a long way. But what you need to do is you need to set a good base in the off-season of things that you need to go after. We got a head start on that this year with being on board with Toyota. I think that's going to bump us up in the right direction. So far it's gone great. We have two strong cars running. Everybody's high-spirited. Our hopes are high. I know we want to get in the front every weekend. We definitely want to go for the championship.
MIKE KING: Buddy, you were third in points in 2004. The Rahal Letterman team has expanded to a three-car operation. You guys continue to run the same package as you did last year, the Honda-powered Panoz cars. Give us a feel for what you guys expect from yourself, Vitor and Danica as you get set for 2005.
BUDDY RICE: I think we're looking for a lot right now. I think adding the third car is going to be a benefit all the way around. Obviously, the other teams have proven that multi-car teams are the way to go right now. We need the development. We need the experience and the ability to test during race weekend. So the more cars you have, the quicker and the faster you're able to adapt and make your car that much better. So I think it's very important for us on that. With the Panoz Honda right now, we're looking for big things. This year it's a little bit different coming into the start of the season. We have strong testing going on right now. But also we already have continuity. We know what we need to do. We'll be able to start off strong hopefully from the start, you know, try to make a push all the way through the whole season for the championship.
MIKE KING: Dan, you wound up second in points last year to TK. You're obviously going to be pointed at week in and week out as one of the favorites, one of the guys to beat, and a contender just like Tony, just like Bryan, just like Dario, just like Buddy. What do you expect of yourself in 2005? Is this your championship year?
DAN WHELDON: Well, I think I'm just going to approach it the same as I did last year. Certainly from the standpoint of the team, I think we're going to be very, very competitive. But I think with the league continuing in the direction that it is, I think there's going to be about 12 people that can win any individual race. It's going to be I think a lot more difficult. I know Honda have been working hard over the winter. I think everyone wants to catch them. Certainly the team, there's a target on our back, so to speak. We've just got to keep working hard, you know, keep enjoying it as much as we're doing. I think we're going to try to add a fifth car with a female teammate like Buddy.
TONY KANAAN: Dan is jealous about that, man.
MIKE KING: We move to the champion, seated front and center, as he should be. TK, you get ready to start the 2005 season after a busy three months of following the 2004 season of constant travel. You say it's cut into your physical training time to get ready for 2005. To return as champion, how is that different from your prior seasons as a professional race car driver?
TONY KANAAN: I don't think there is any difference really. Only sometimes when I wake up and I walk through my living room and I see the champion trophy, makes me smile. But different year. All starts from scratch again. So I would say that we got to build everything back because, you know, what's happened in the past belongs to the past. So now we need to move forward. I'm looking forward. I think we have -- we proved we have a strong team and we're going to work towards that and try to start to win eight races, try to win more, see what we can do.
MIKE KING: In 16 starts in 2004, Tony Kanaan's worst finish of the season, if you can call it that, came here at Homestead when he wound up eighth. In the 15 races that came after the Homestead race, Tony Kanaan did not finish out of the top five for the remainder of the season. Pretty incredible record. How do you follow up on something like that? Is it possible to string together two seasons where you complete every lap of every race?
TONY KANAAN: I guess I have to finish fifth at Homestead and then go from there (laughter). They add one more race, so I guess I have a challenge now. I have 200 more miles to do. It's going to be hard. I never had the expectation -- I never pretend to finish every lap really. I took it race by race. Actually, the media brought that up towards the end of the season because I wasn't paying any attention. I was just concentrating to keep my teammate and this guy here away from me as much as I could. The way we do it, we just, like I said, we can't do anything different. I even choose not to change the number of my car, just leave it exactly the same the way it was. We'll try, but we can't afford to go down a single lap, otherwise we're going to really start losing it. We'll see what's going to happen.
MIKE KING: Let's open it up for questions.
Q. How concerned are you that Panther Racing is the only one running the Chevy power?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I think, to be honest, some part of me is a little bit concerned. But it can also play to our advantage. If we get to the first race and all of a sudden we've got a big advantage, it's great for us. But in a lot of ways Chevrolet have got a lot of work to do. I know they're working very, very hard. They've said publicly that this was going to be their last year. So I'm hoping that they put a big push in and make sure that Chevy goes out with some good results this year. Really what I have to do is just concentrate on the car, make sure that that's as best as possible. Hopefully that makes everything look good, as well.
MIKE KING: Buddy, about the ceremony Wednesday night in Dearborn. I saw Dave Letterman showing off his Borg-Warner, his Baby Borg, last night on the air, I guess it was. What was that like?
BUDDY RICE: I think he took it home and slept with it. He was pretty excited. It was a huge thing for him. I mean, this is what he's always wanted to do. That's why he was a part of the team from the beginning. It just happened to be that last year we were able to do it for him. He was so excited. You know, he doesn't get excited about too many things. Obviously, he doesn't show up to too many races but the 500. So for that to happen, for him to be able to take that thing home and put it on his mantel or whatever, he was extremely excited about it.
MIKE KING: Quick comment from each of you on the road course testing. I posed this question to Dario a little while ago: If the last couple of days had been a race weekend, did any of you run laps at ten-tenths or did you leave a little bit on the table? Dario said, yes, he left a little bit on the table.
BUDDY RICE: None of these guys are going to say anything about what they did. That's why it's called testing.
MIKE KING: Alex, how hard did you run the car these last two days?
ALEX BARRON: I tried to run as hard as I could majority of the time, working our race setup, trying to set a lap time for qualifying. We were trying to simulate the way it's going to be on the road courses with one-lap qualifying. We had a lot of mechanical things that happened in the last two days that held us back quite a bit. Patrick got to run quite a bit, and we learned a lot from his car. But for me, the 51 car, we struggled a bit just because a lot of things out of our control held us back.
MIKE KING: Dan?
DAN WHELDON: All I can tell you is I didn't run as hard as Dario (laughter). No, we were obviously working through a set program with the four cars. We had some different bits on each car. I think some of us got the good bits at one part of the day and others got it at the end of the day. No, it was just getting familiar with everything. For me, it's my first time on a road course in an IndyCar. I was very, very impressed with the brakes. I thought the brakes were excellent. I think it's going to make for fun racing.
MIKE KING: TK?
TONY KANAAN: I can only say it was fun. I took it, you know, just trying to make it work for the team. We made big changes, just try to understand what the car did for us. That's it. I wasn't too worried about the lap time. Obviously, I was driving fast.
BUDDY RICE: He's lying.
TONY KANAAN: I was holding up. But I figured that out when me, Dan and Dario went out of the pits with a set of the tires. We both went off in the same corner all together. So I guess we were pushing. I mean, it's testing. Really, I mean, it doesn't mean anything. We're not going to race in Homestead road course. Just try to understand as much as we can about the car.
DAN WHELDON: Do you want me to translate that real quick? He was trying real hard, he couldn't get the car quite right, and he's pissed that he was fourth.
MIKE KING: Thank you for that, Dan. Buddy, you've become legendary for not showing your hand until you absolutely have to. How hard -- give us an indication for how hard you ran last couple of days?
BUDDY RICE: I think it's like everybody; not everybody had driven on the road course with these cars. That was a little bit of a learning experience for all of us. Both chassis manufacturers are testing bits on all the cars because all the rules aren't completely 100% set, exactly how everybody is going to run, in what trim, what their spec is. There's a lot of different things going on at any time. This is an open test. And also I know with Honda, we were trying stuff as well. So, I mean, there's just a lot of different variables to what was going on and who's testing what. I know no different than anybody else sitting up here, we all have multi-car teams, and each team is running something different. Had to get through the list in such a short time, with two days, to try to get everything sorted out, because outside of maybe one more day of testing at St. Pete, we need to get all the information we can to get everything sorted out. There's just a lot of development work going on I think throughout the paddocks. I don't think it's any indication where anybody's at.
MIKE KING: Tomas, how about you, the Panther team? How hard did you guys try to push during the first two days on the road course?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: For sure, I think we were all pushing. I think everybody was, otherwise you wouldn't have seen so many yellows as well. People are going off. That's because they're pushing the car. They want to find exactly how the limit is. We struggled with some problems with the power unit on the first day. We had to put something that wasn't exactly suited on the second day. But we gained as much information as we could for Chevrolet and for the chassis. Yes, I pushed, but I always think at the race really when you're focused or you're in qualifying, you really take it to another level. Although you see people going off, when it really comes down to it, you do take it to a level above.
MIKE KING: You have a new teammate, as does Alex. Everyone else pretty much, with the exception of Buddy, they've added Danica. What is it like, Tomas, working with a brand-new teammate? Give us some idea for how closely the two of you will work together?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: The problem is, we're both called Tomas. Every time they call Tomas, we both look. It gets a little bit confusing. But he's stated now he's Tomas and I'm Tomas. At least there's some difference. But, I mean, it's always new with a teammate. We just are understanding how we work with each other, understanding each other's driving styles, see what I can learn from him and he can learn from me so at least we can test different things and still I can take good things from him and vice versa.
TONY KANAAN: Dan is having a casting at South Beach to choose his female teammate.
MIKE KING: Thank you, guys.
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