Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, good afternoon everyone. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have a number of guests who will be joining us as the IRL prepares to go street course racing this weekend for the first time in the ten-year history. Joining us in a few minutes will be the Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Jeff Simmons, IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves, and IRL president Brian Barnhart. We're going to open the call with Sam Schmidt and Richie Hearn. Sam has been a owner in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series since 2002 and his team is the defending champion. Sam has also fielded a car in the Indianapolis 500 since 2001. Richie has 23 career starts in the IndyCar Series including five Indianapolis 500 mile races, and the two are here to announce their plans for the 2005 Indianapolis 500. Sam, we'll let you start. Why don't you go ahead and make your announcement.
SAM SCHMIDT: Thank you, Tim. Obviously everybody is aware of my situation over the last seven or eight years since I've been involved in the Indy Racing League, and it's quite obviously that my passion has always been the Indy 500 and wanting to get there as a driver and wanting to have an opportunity to win. I felt like I had my best opportunity in 1999 and unfortunately didn't close the deal. But this year, what can I say, we're obviously happy to be there because it is the Indy 500, but more importantly we're happy to be there with the support of Myer and Coca-Cola which is a totally different program than we have been able to have the last five years competing there. Richie, as everybody knows, has driven for us the last four years. To his credit he has always done exactly what we have told him to, which at times has not been the greatest for performance. We have only had one car or been underfunded or we haven't had the right amount of motors. But this year everybody is familiar with the Myer and Coca-Cola sponsorship. It's been around for the last four our five years with Arie Luyendyk and last year with Robbie Gordon. We feel extremely flattered at Sam Schmidt Motorsports to be sort of blessed with the sponsorship because everybody in this industry knows how difficult it is to get sponsorship, and I feel like it's a testament to the team and what we accomplished last year in the Infiniti Pro Series and what we have been able to build there to be able to, so to speak, be graced with this annual sponsorship and the ability to now go to the speedway opening day, you know, guns loaded so to speak and hit it hard. And I'm really proud of that fact and really looking forward to the month of May as opposed to just sort of looking forward to it.
Q. Absolutely. Richie, let's get your take. First of all, congratulations on the announcement. You have to be thrilled too to have plans for the Indianapolis 500 locked up so early.
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, it's pretty much a surprise. I'm so used to having to arrive in Indy in May and walk around until something happens. But I have to thank Myer and Coca-Cola for coming ahead this early and having the faith in Sam and I to run their program this year. For me this is the first time that I will actually be on the track on opening day since 1996. And you know that year we finished third. Hopefully I can do that maybe a couple better.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Let's go ahead and take some questions for Sam and Richie.
Q. This is for Sam and Richie. Why do you guys stay together? I mean, what's the rapport that you have working together, I mean, just love affair? What's the deal?
SAM SCHMIDT: It's not for the money - from either side (laughter). You know, as people that are involved in racing on a regular basis know, there's a whole lot to do with chemistry. I think over the last four years, even though it's not an ideal scenario, to not be out there competing all year long with the pesky Ganassis of the world, that places the emphasis even more on chemistry and being able to hit the ground running in this environment. And it's a fierce competitive deal out there. It's even more competitive than it ever was in 2002 when we last ran with what I thought was reasonable funding. And last two years Richie has proved he can get the job done in a hurry. To go out there like on Saturday before bubble day and immediately be flat the fifth or sixth time by, it takes a whole lot of confidence in the team, the engineer, the people putting the car on the track. Richie has that type of relationship with our guys and vice versa, and we know he can get the job done. Then when you're looking specifically at the Indianapolis 500, I think that's a track that drivers are either intimidated by or they like it. And Richie clearly is not intimidated by it and enjoys driving there. If you look at his track record, he doesn't tear up equipment. It's kind of a good fit. I think secondly for the sponsor, it's really good to have American. It's a 71-year-old company with 163 stores in the Midwest. They made it clear that they wanted an American driver in the car that can get the job done and that was pretty a short list obviously. So for all those reasons, we think it's important. And on the technical side of things, we have been able the last two years to do things with Roger Penske, as everybody knows. And we feel extremely pleased that he has given us the opportunity to use his two Panos GForces in this arena. We are literally going to have the only all-American setup in the deal with Panos, Chevrolet, Richie and ourselves. I think that's a very interesting combination. Go ahead, Richie
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, for me as a driver, it's very tough to go into a situation that you don't know anybody and perform. I think for us to do this year after year, it really makes it easy to both sides. We both kind of know whether to expect from each other and it allows me, when I get there, I can get on the ball right away instead of having to learn everybody and definitely makes the month go a little smoother.
Q. Sam, follow-up question. How important is it to your paralysis foundation to get this early jump on the Indy 500?
SAM SCHMIDT: It's really big. As you know with the passing of Christopher Reeve last fall, everybody that's involved in spinal cord research and medical research in general has had to kind of take up the slack. We've put a pretty big effort behind the foundation this year with a national P. R. campaign, and just trying to get the awareness out there, trying to change the politics in Washington. We have a pretty large agenda over there. So we're honestly hoping that we can, you know, we can continue to develop the momentum that the IPS team had with the championship last year. We obviously started off winning this year. If we can get a good month of May out from a performance standpoint hopefully we can get more guys like you to write about us and carry the flag, so to speak.
Q. Just want to double-check, Sam, that was 163 stores?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yes.
Q. Want to be sure.
SAM SCHMIDT: I hope so. My P. R. guy is going to kill me if I got it wrong. But I think that's right.
Q. Does all this success in the Infiniti Pro Series and doing Indy the last few years, does that make you hunger to get back into the IndyCar Series on an ownership side?
SAM SCHMIDT: I think yes and no. I think any driver will tell you, and that's what I still consider myself to be, I'm obviously not a very good team owner because I'm not making any money doing it (laughter). You want to race against the best and at the top level. So I think I would always love to do that, but now even more than, you know, three or four years ago, you got to have the proper resources to do it, and that's just really tough in this environment. I would say I'd like to take it on, but the numbers are just so huge right now that this is actually a really nice place for me to be with the Infiniti Pro Series and being more of a driver coach than what I would consider a team owner dealing with drivers that are coming up through ranks that I went through, managing their transition to hopefully IndyCars and helping them to not make the same mistakes that I made. And really if we accomplish our task, we have to kind of reinvent the wheel every year, but that's the fun part of it. That means we're doing our job. I'm enjoying it.
Q. One question for Richie, if I could. Do you see this as perhaps your best chance at Indy since '98, I guess?
RICHIE HEARN: Yeah, '96, by far, this is my best chance. I mean, everything I have driven since then has always been last minute or, you know, jumping in place of an injured driver. Like I said earlier, it's hard to get any momentum when you're doing it that way. Hopefully, you know, being on the track right from the beginning, especially with the shorter schedule, you know, I plan on qualifying pretty high up and have high hopes for the team and myself considering the equipment we're going to have and the guys working on the car. You know, hopefully this will carry on to future drives and maybe get me back into the mix.
Q. Obviously you have your hands full with the Star Mazda team. Is that something you would like to do, get back into the series full time?
RICHIE HEARN: I would like to race full time. I started the Star Mazda series as kind of a necessity because I wasn't doing anything else and it kind of keeps me out there. At the same time I enjoy helping younger drivers as well. But it doesn't mean I ever thought I was done driving. I mean, I'm only 34 years old and, you know, I just still want to race and still think I can do a good job and produce some results.
Q. Sam, you kind of touched on this earlier. These are Roger's Panos chassis. How did that part of the deal come together?
SAM SCHMIDT: I can't say enough about Roger and Tim Cindric and all those guys. The last couple years we've been able to work the deal. Like I said, the testament to Richie, I have literally called him the last two years, you know, like three days before he has gotten in the car and said, You know, get back here, we'll do a seat and get you in the car. I think last year we had 60 miles on the car before he started the Indy 500. That was only possible because of the fact that Tim was able to, you know, to have enough guys and stuff to just roll that thing out of the trailer, basically have the car totally prepared and ready and bring it over to us. We took it over and put it on the track. But this year it's a different environment. We have actually purchased the cars from them and we're obviously running a different engine combination. So we're getting, you know, everything they have, you know, Panos related and it's obviously top-of-the-line stuff, being that they won with the car in 2003. So we're very excited about the combination because the Chevy was so fast at Homestead and obviously the Panos was really nice at the Speedway last year with Buddy winning. So the cars are going to be incredible when we get them. And Tim and Roger have been very accommodating. I mean, I talked to Tim like 60 days ago and told him this thing was in the mix. And he basically put the cars on hold for me and said, Let me know when you need them. There have been other people beating his door down for them and he wouldn't sell them to them until he knew what we were doing, so I have to thank him for that opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thanks a lot for taking the time to join us and congratulations on the announcement. Good luck in the 500.
SAM SCHMIDT: Thank you
THE MODERATOR: All right. Great. We're joined now by Jeff Simmons. Good afternoon, Jeff.
JEFF SIMMONS: Good afternoon . How are you?
THE MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Jeff drives the No. 24 Team ISI entry in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, a series runnerup in 2003 and ran a partial schedule last season which included two IndyCar Series starts, including the Indianapolis 500. Last Thursday Jeff turned the quickest laps during an open test on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jeff, you had a couple opportunities to test the Pro Series car on a road course. I believe you guys were out at Firebird in Phoenix earlier this month and at Indianapolis last week. What are your impressions of the car on the road course?
JEFF SIMMONS: I think the car right off the bat was the sort of thing you could just get into and feel comfortable in and start to drive pretty aggressively. It's a fun car to drive and I think all the other drivers are kind of saying the same thing. I'm just glad to be back on the road courses. There's a lot more -- a lot of other things I guess that go into it that you think about that you would not normally think about on the ovals.
Q. Along with Chris Festa, you're one of two Pro Series drivers that have competed on the streets of St. Petersburg in a 2003 FranAm race. What is the course there like?
JEFF SIMMONS: For a street course it's actually pretty smooth compared to other ones that I've been on. Of course, it's relatively tight in quite a few of the areas. But it does fortunately offer at least three good passing zones at the end of some fairly sizeable straights. I think that all the fans that are down there and the ones that watch on television are going to be treated to a really good show.
THE MODERATOR: You had more than a second advantage on the time chart last Thursday at Indianapolis. Does that give you a greater feeling of confidence heading into this race?
JEFF SIMMONS: That's still not enough (laughter). But certainly we were pleased with the test that we had and we kind of had a testing program going into that and were able to work through it throughout the day and didn't run into too many problems, so we're able to get what we wanted to done. Obviously I guess some guys were testing at Sebring yesterday and we didn't have the opportunity to get down there. So we needed to try to get a lot done while we were there at Indy, needed to try to test for the Indy road course when we come back there and also for St. Petersburg. So I think we did a good job of that and hopefully when we get down there we'll still maintain a good advantage.
THE MODERATOR: This season obviously I think you guys had very high hopes, first couple races haven't gone quite at well as you would have liked but it is obviously a long season, a lot of time to make up some ground. What's the game plan from this point forward for you guys?
JEFF SIMMONS: Like you said, we didn't get off to the start we wanted to. We figured out some of the problems we had. I think we're going to be a lot more competitive from now on out. Fortunately this year is a 14-race season so we still got 12 races to make it up instead of what we would have had, ten in the last couple seasons. We have some time and I think you'll see us respond. Certainly we're looking to do well especially on these road courses, street courses, as well as the short ovals. And hopefully we'll get our program together also for the longer tracks. Obviously Indy is the next race after St. Pete and we have a fair layoff there so we're going to try to get some work done and get our long course -- I mean our long oval program together as well.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. Let's take some questions for Jeff.
Q. You mentioned that on road courses there are some things that you think about that you would not be thinking about on a oval. Other than turning right, what are some of those things?
JEFF SIMMONS: You know, the setup for the car is obviously completely different for the road course. And we need to just, from a driving standpoint, I have to -- there's many more corners, you have to think about the approach at the corners and the braking zones. A lot of the ovals, while you may slow down some going into the corners, quite often you're not braking all that hard. So we have actually tried four different sets of -- four different types of brake pads. We have had the downforce levels all over the place for the test here in Indy. From the engineering standpoint, there's a whole different range of things that the engineer looks at in terms of the way the car is working - not only, you know, in acceleration, deceleration, in the middle of the corner, whereas on a oval it's quite often a little bit more of a steady state for the car. You don't have these large changes in speed usually.
Q. Is it more difficult to drive on a street course?
JEFF SIMMONS: I don't know if it's more difficult. It's certainly different. I guess guys who don't have -- who don't have a big road course background certainly, you know, find it more difficult than the ovals. But I would say that in a technical way it's more technically challenging. Like the Indy road course here actually has quite a few sections that are very technical. You have to think about how to get through them rather than trying to force your way through with brute speed, you have to actually sacrifice some in some places to gain in other ones. When you get into the races, there's so much that goes on in an oval and the cars are so close together and it's such high speed that that's the whole different aspect than you would see on the road courses. So I think they are just different.
Q. Very good. Thank you. Best of luck.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thank you very much.
Q. Jeff, besides yours, obviously, who would you consider to be the next favorite down at St. Pete?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, hard to say. Obviously, Tim has mentioned Chris Festa had also run on the track before. The two of us should have a little bit of an advantage starting off for the first, you know, 15 minutes or so before the other guys get accustomed to the track. Hopefully I'll be able to get a bit of an advantage and maintain that throughout the weekend. Chris was also second quickest here at the Indianapolis test. I expect him to be quick. Obviously Marco Andretti was quick. Little guy, he's awfully skinny (laughter). Obviously weight means a big deal on the street curses for acceleration out of the corner as well as deceleration, slowing the car down. So I would say myself, Festa, you know, Unser and Andretti. We haven't had a lot of time running with the other guys, but just this one test that we had back here at Indy. So judging from that, those are guys to look out for.
Q. I'm just wondering what you think will be the optimum place for people to watch the race in St. Petersburg and do you think that they will enjoy the overtaking capabilities that you guys might have? And where on the track do you think it will be good for overtaking?
JEFF SIMMONS: Gee, obviously at the end of the three straightaways. You know, for the start of the race, that first corner I know they have a grandstand right in that first corner, and that should be very exciting. It's also one of the best passing places on the track. I'm not sure where a lot of the seating is available. But I know that there's also, once you get into the end of the back straightaway, there's -- or the second straightaway, I guess, about a 90-degree right-hand turn and the cars are kind of slowed down into a bit of a tight little complex there. That should give people a good viewing opportunity too. They should be able to see some cars making some passes and seeing whether or not they can make it stick there in that corner.
Q. Do you think you guys are going to have any brakes left at the end of your 100 miles around the circuit?
JEFF SIMMONS: I certainly hope so. You know, like I said in a earlier question, we tested -- I tested four different types of brake pads just to see which ones I liked most. Obviously we didn't -- we haven't been able to put in a run as long as the race is going to be. So, you know, but certainly judging by the wear that we have been seeing I think we will be okay. We're just going to try to see how much cooling we need in the practice sessions to keep them at the optimum temperature.
Q. Thank you. Good luck
THE MODERATOR: One more question from me before we go. Any 500 talk for you at this point for the upcoming 500?
JEFF SIMMONS: No, there isn't too much going on unfortunately. It's certainly frustrating after last year, you know, getting in the car at the last moment and having what was I felt a pretty solid run really. It's been tough this year to find anything. Obviously, there's quite a few other guys who have been able to pick up rides lately, Richie Hearn being one of the latest ones and Buddy Lazier and those guys. Hopefully something will come along here soon. I'd obviously like to try to do, if I'm going to do the 500, I'd like to try to get a full effort at it this year. I'll take anything I can get to get into the race.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeff, for taking some time out with us this afternoon. And good luck down in St. Petersburg.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thanks , Tim.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, good afternoon.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good afternoon.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for giving us a call this afternoon.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You're welcome..
THE MODERATOR: All right. You finished fifth at Homestead, second at Phoenix, you' re ranked third right now in the points standings heading into the race at St. Petersburg. I know earlier this year when we tested the road course package at Homestead you seemed very excited about how the car was performing and just being out there on the road course. Now that the first race is just days away, what's your mood like?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Still pretty much the same. I'm very excited about it. Like I said, I believe a lot of people have had minor problems with the cars but the package seems to suit pretty comfortable everyone. And I'm still super excited. Again, it's going to take a little time to get used to but it's like riding a bicycle: once you get going, after three, four, five laps, you're going to be right at your pace. I'm expecting good things, not only from Marlboro Team Penske but I guess seems promising a lot. I'm sure it's going to be good.
THE MODERATOR: As I understand it you have never raced at St. Petersburg but drivers who have raced there say it's a bit wider in some places than some other road courses and should allow for a lot of passing and some good racing with our cars. What do you expect in the race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: As you mention, I don't know the race track yet. Always road course is very difficult to have passing like ovals, you know. You are going to see, it's more action towards the drivers, you know, trying to pass, drivers going close to the walls, downshift, upshift, braking. That's going to be really incredible, you know. Normally that's what happens in the street course, which is you have to drive around 90 percent because if you go 100 percent you're going to end up hitting the wall very soon. So it's one of those things that you have to manage well. I'm sure at St. Pete, because it's wide in someplace but you still have some walls around you, so you have to be careful. But expecting good things about it.
THE MODERATOR: One of the most unique aspects of the race is going to be the new qualifying procedure. And in a couple minutes Brian Barnhart is going to join us to explain that in depth. Essentially after every car makes an attempt, the top six are going to go back out at the same time to fight for the pole. You have a strong history of qualifying performances, you started in the top six in seven of the last eight races including winning four pole positions. This new qualifying procedure could make things very interesting, don't you think?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, big time. When they came up with this idea, I thought it was very clever. The only thing might be missing and hopefully might add that in the future, it's once you get to qualify on the first session, like in the first group before the top six, I think the guy that makes the pole position on the first one should secure at least the front row, you know, and the top six fight for the pole position and the rest of the positions. But so far, I mean, it is going to be two race - actually three races. The first one for getting to the top six, the second one hopefully getting in the top six, you're going to be able to try to get a pole position and starting good. The third one is the actual race. It's going to be intense, awfully intense, drama and people really getting crazy. Definitely was the right chemistry, and I am sure it's going to be a lot of nerves going on.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and take some questions for Helio.
Q. You're going into a different environment with these drivers. I mean, you have been on street courses and road courses before, but not with some of these drivers. Will you use some of the practice sessions to find out who does what? I mean is this going to be a race of learning how people are going to react?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. Actually, you're touching a very interesting subject. You're absolutely right. A lot of drivers might not have enough experience or in the street course especially. But it's going to be interesting to a lot of learning curves with everyone. And I do believe might end up one group very fast and a second group like average . Probably during the race this group is going to miss each other after some few laps. But I will not do anything different to know my competitor or something like that. First of all, we have a limited time as well. You want to make sure your car is balanced enough. But you do have at least six, seven drivers that you used to race against. In the CART season or go-karts in the past or in any other season, you already have experience with those. And you know those guys will be very fast, and obviously they do have enough experience. So my procedure, my way is just focusing my team, focusing the best for my car, and hopefully get out of there with a very positive weekend.
Q. Have you been working out with your right arm and left leg?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Actually, I do, specifically working for St. Pete, working out, you know, doing a lot of shoulders, neck, because that's probably the area that's going to affect most. If you notice in ovals, we do have a headrest and basically it's kind of just sit down and turn. Now you are not going to have that. You are going to have to turn a lot. You're right, braking, which makes a lot of effort, believe it or not, when you're going 200 miles an hour down to one turn. So I have been doing some exercise specific for St. Pete and street course so hopefully it's going pay off.
Q. You have driven on road courses and part of the strategy is being up front. The way that most of those races shake out, you tend to stay there if you can start up front. Is that going to be the most important thing with this or do you feel like it's the kind of course where there can be a lot of passing, a lot of lead changes and pit strategy figures in?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's also another good question. You know, street course, because it's difficult to pass, even at St. Pete it's wide. But if you get off the corner very well it's going to be hard for the guy unless he makes a banzai move or crazy move, you want to avoid for an accident. That's the only way to pass. But if you start in front, unless your car goes bad or extremely bad, you might have a problem, but if everything goes in the right direction, you're going to have for sure a great finish. And obviously pit stops is always very important. But again, it's very important starting in the front in the road course. That's why they put those qualifyings because it gives a lot challenge for everyone. I tell you, the guy that really earns the pole position, he is going to be for sure a guy very fast in the race. That's the point to make a great competition. Again, street course is all about starting position. If you know how to handle yourself, for sure you're going to have a very good weekend. Hopefully we're going to prepare a very good car for qualifying. From there on we take the rest.
Q. You're such a veteran of street and road courses. Do you like the street and road courses better than the ovals or is it like another great flavor of ice cream, something that you just really want to dig into that you haven't had in a long time?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You are actually -- now I feel a little butterfly going on in the stomach because it's been such a long time. You're like, Oh, that's something, you know, remember I was enjoying so much. But when I decided to go to oval circuit, I knew it was a challenge for me and I was feeling the same butterfly going on. Man, I wish this was a road course. But now it's funny because you're so used to ovals, you're like, Ooh, another challenge again, so let's go back to the rhythm. You're right, it does look like a favorite ice cream, you just can't wait to taste it and hopefully you're not going to drool anything on your clothing. Hopefully everything goes great and you have a great happy ending (laughter).
Q. And what are some of the things that you as a driver bring to a road course and street course that might give you a advantage over your competitors?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly, I don't see an advantage. Like I said, we do have a group -- very good group of drivers, used to drive as well on road course, street course, and they used to do very well. I do believe might be in that scenario, we might be like top six, seven, eight drivers who might be so close because of this experience. So hopefully whatever I learned in the past I'm still going to learn. You have to remember it's a track that I never ran. Again, takes a little time after so many years only 20 laps. So you don't want to as well -- you just want to take everything step by step, you know. Hopefully everything is going to come nice and handy.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, thanks a lot for joining us today. All the best this weekend.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Final guest this afternoon is Indy Racing League president and chief operating officer, Brian Barnhart. Brian, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule to join us this afternoon.
BRIAN BARNHART: Thanks for having me, Tim.
THE MODERATOR: Seems like the St. Petersburg community has very enthusiastically embraced the Honda Grand Prix. Looks like it has the makings of a very successful weekend.
BRIAN BARNHART: We're very excited about it. The first non-oval event in the ten-year history of the Indy Racing League has generated an awful lot of excitement and buzz around the event weekend. There's going to be a great atmosphere through the streets and the one airport runway down there at St. Pete, the atmosphere of the marina with the yachts off to the side and the whole ambience of the weekend is going to be very exciting and we're very much looking forward to it
THE MODERATOR: The qualifying procedure developed for this race and the other road course races later this season at Infineon and Watkins Glen are very unique, the first time anything like this has ever been done. Can you walk us through you the details of how the IndyCar Series cars will qualify.
BRIAN BARNHART: We tried to come up with a scenario that places an emphasis on each session having meaning towards the next session, and each day having meaning towards the next day so that you're not just running around and practicing on Friday without any meaning or repercussions to your performance. So we're going to start with all cars, instead of group practices, we will do a two-hour session on Friday with all cars running on track at the same time. The performance based at the end of that two-hour practice session will determine the groups for split practice sessions Friday afternoon. So you divide it to the slow half of the field for 30 minutes and the fast half of the field for 30 minutes Friday afternoon. Combining your performance in the two-hour session with all cars and your performance in your split session for 30 minutes in the afternoon, we will combine the best laps of all 22 competitors at that time and come up with an order, first, fastest through slowest. The fastest person from Friday's on-track activities will determine the single-car qualifying order for Saturday. We will do, again, a Saturday morning split-group practice session, the same groups that we ran Friday afternoon. That's just an opportunity to get familiar with the track conditions for qualifying day. One hour before qualifying, the fastest driver from Friday will make a determination whether we will do an inverted slowest-to-fastest order or if we'll go in a straightup order fastest to slowest in single-car qualifying. So his reward for being fastest on Friday is he gets to choose whether he wants to be first or last. We'll then start single-car qualifying. Car will leave pit lane, take the green flag the first time by, and we'll have one timed lap. So first time by will be the green flag, second time by will be the checkered flag. We'll then have an order, again have an order fastest to slowest, with 1st through 22nd. The top six will move into a separate qualifying bracket. Position 7 through 22 will be locked in and that's where they will start. The fastest six will then move into a ten-minute European-style multicar, multilap format, where for ten minutes they can run as many laps as they can. Their times from the individual lap time will carry over but they will get ten minutes and multiple laps to try and improve their times and try and readjust the running order first through sixth.
THE MODERATOR: It's my understanding also that those top six cars, once they are identified, will have a few minutes in the pits to change tires, adjust the fuel level, use tire warmers. Is that correct?
BRIAN BARNHART: We'll do an impound area during the single-car qualifying, constantly holding the top six. We'll release those cars once the top six has been finalized and determined back to their pit road. They will get about ten minutes to get back to their pit road, to their boxes, to put the driver back in. They will obviously change tires. Our great partners at Firestone are providing an extra set of tires strictly for the fast six qualifying format. So they will get an extra set if you're in the fast six from Firestone. And those cars will then be able to put the drivers in, put new tires on, add fuel. They will have an opportunity to make adjustments in the car in that ten-minute session. That will be their choice, whether they want to make an effort to change gears or change springs or setups, ride heights, whatever. They will get about a ten-minute break from the time they are released from the holding area back to pit road and then start the ten-minute session to go into the European-style format.
THE MODERATOR: In that ten-minute session, are they released all at once or staggered out of pit lane?
BRIAN BARNHART: The advantage will be given to the guy who posted the fastest time. When we start the ten-minute clock, we'll release the first fastest car as the first car out on the track and then we'll release each individual car after that in order, in ten- to 15-second increments to spread them out around the track and give them an opportunity to have a good clean lap and get all six of them out there within about a minute to a minute 15. The clock will start running when the first car goes. So he will actually get about an extra minute than the sixth-place car, and that's his reward for being fastest.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for the explanation. Let's go ahead and take some questions for Brian.
Q. You answered a question I had about qualifying. The other question is earlier this month you talked about going to ethanol partly in 2006, full time in 2007. I wonder what the reaction was to that. Have you heard from any other series and do you anticipate any problems at all going with that?
BRIAN BARNHART: We have had some interest and some contact from other series in trying to find out exactly what our procedures are going to be in '06 when we run a blended fuel and of course in '07 when we go to 100 percent ethanol. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive from all our competitors, especially our engine manufacturers. Toyota, Honda, and Chevrolet are very supportive of the move and it's been very well-received. We're excited about it and we think it's going to be a big change for us in a positive direction.
Q. Historically what does this race mean to the IndyCar Series?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think it's going to rank up there as one of the bigger moments in our history. It's something that we have not had the right opportunity to do in our previous nine years of existence and it is obviously somewhat of a departure from what our direction has been for nine years. But it is such a positive move for us in that it exposes us to an altogether different fan base. It certainly raises the awareness of our series and puts us in front of more eyes. It's a very positive step for us and something that our teams want, something that our drivers want, something that our sponsors want. You know, it is consistent with the founding principles of Tony and the IRL in that we are going to expand opportunities for drivers, for sponsors, for owners, and for events. For the first nine years most of that or all of that has been focused on ovals. When we had a boon in the late '90s of oval track facilities being built, whether Kansas or Chicago or Texas Motor Speedways, you're looking at some state-of-the-art oval track facilities that have played very well as venues for the Indy Racing League, and we have grown to the point now where we've got a good opportunity to take our first right turn. That will take place on Friday morning. We're excited about what that brings to the series, the growth of the series, raising the awareness, like I say, and placing us in front of more eyeballs. The fans of road racing now get to watch us on both. We're excited about it and think it does nothing but enhance our schedule and raise the awareness of the series.
Q. Are you looking at this point at other road courses or street courts for the 2006 season?
BRIAN BARNHART: Yeah, we would. The key to the whole thing, we have to really be careful about -- whether it's an oval or a road course, we want to go where we have the best opportunities to be successful. Now that we have taken the time, and it's taken us about two years to alter an oval-optimized car to make it road racing capable, now that we have the car capable of road racing, we most definitely will look at expanding into more road race and street markets in the future. You know, I think our preference is to keep that North American based. We've got interest in Canada . We have a lot of markets here in the United States we could take a look at. That's the other good thing that the road racing move provides to the series, is it certainly gives us more flexibility and puts us capable of being in more markets, in front of more people. So it gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of schedule. As we look at trying to find dates, certainly the advantages of road racing are that you can run in the rain and you don't have to worry too much about rain dates and you can schedule more back-to back events. Again the flexibility of the road racing adds just more venues and the ability to run, regardless of weather for the most part, it strengthens your flexibility in making future schedules.
Q. Coming right after the Sebring race, I mean, I guess the market that goes to those kind of races, how much of a role did that play in starting at St. Petersburg and having a road course there as opposed to anywhere else? Is it because of the popularity of Sebring and other races that you have had in Florida in past years in March?
BRIAN BARNHART: Actually, it was more of a coincidence than anything else. The warm-weather market for a springtime date is a driving factor. Probably the primary driving factor for the timing of it is spring training, simply because of the availability of the streets and the spring training. If I'm not mistaken, I believe the Devil Rays play at Al Lang Field which is in the infield of what our racetrack is going to be, and they will be breaking spring training before we get down there. They either have to do it before spring training begins or after it's over. So we're doing it with the cooperation of the facilities down there and of the Devil Rays ballclub and the general logistics. Sebring is more of a coincidence as much as it is the warm-weather market and the baseball grapefruit league down in Florida.
Q. Do you take credit for this diabolical qualifying format?
BRIAN BARNHART: I'll let you know after how successful it is (laughter). It's more of a consistent process with what we do with a lot of our big decisions. We talk to our competitors, talk to the teams, talk to the drivers. We kind of balance all factors involved with it. We talk to the promoters. "Balance" is such a key word with every aspect of decisions that you try to make in our position, and you try and balance the entertainment aspect of what we're doing to make the promoter and the fans happy, you try and balance the challenges from a driver and team standpoint and keep them happy, then you also have to balance the cost factors involved. We felt if you had done 30-minute multicar, multilap, European-style qualifying on Friday and do the same thing on Saturday, that's going to cost a lot of money. Guys are going to be going through a lot of sets of brakes and brake pads and rotors and whatnot. We try and balance all aspects of it, from the team, the driver, the promoter, the fans, the cost aspect and come up with something that balances all that and excite everybody. I think it's going to be such a unique format and have some really incredible challenges to them. As Helio mentioned on his earlier comments, not so much with oval track racing, especially the way the Indy Racing League races on oval tracks, I think both of our previous two races we have run this year, the winners come from 11th and 9th. And starting position is very critical on temporary circuits, street circuits and road courses. We wanted to put some emphasis on qualifying and create some challenges to get some separation and let the cream come to the top and get it to the point where the pressure is on, the drama is exciting, you can't make a mistake. I think we have balanced all aspects of that and come up with a really intriguing and dramatic qualifying process that is not the result of me or one person; it's more consistent with what we do all the time: it's input from all of our partners.
Q. I'll amend that and say intriguing. Hope it works
BRIAN BARNHART: Thank you.
Q. Brian, what are the considerations for like say somebody having a wreck during that top six session or doing something to cause a red flag or anything like that?
BRIAN BARNHART: If you go out in the single-car qualifying and if you spin, stall or crash on your warm-up lap or your timed lap, you will be finished during that run and you will be added to the back of the field based on your practice speeds. In the ten-minute session, if you cause a red flag during the ten-minute session, your previous times from the single-car and the ten-minute session will be disallowed and you will start sixth. If you are the second person to cause a red flag in that ten-minute session, you will start fifth, and so forth. I really don't, and I'm hoping and anticipating that that isn't a regular occurrence. I know those guys are going to be going flat out and pressing 110 percent. But the other aspect to keep in mind is that that will be our six best cars and six best drivers for that event. We should not have, in spite of the fact I know they will be pressing hard for ultimate performance, you're talking the cream of the crop for that field for that weekend. They should behave pretty well. That is the format. If you do cause a red flag, you will be sixth. If you caused a second red flag, you would be fifth, so on and so forth.
Q. What about watching for guys that may be holding up somebody else, team-type games? Is that a consideration?
BRIAN BARNHART: That will be part of it. There's not going to be a whole lot of opportunity for that. St. Pete is our shortest non-oval event. Watkins Glen is going to be a 3.4 mile track. In ten minutes they are only going to get four or five laps there where they might be able to get eight or ten laps in at St. Pete.That is all part of it. You're right. We certainly will look for that. That is why we're going to stagger the field pulling out at ten- to 15-second intervals. We don't want blocking, don't want team tactics as far as holding guys up. That clearly will be a part of it. That's the same type of procedures that we'll be watching for during race weekends as well. So that will be consistent. Of course the other ultimate aspect of what you're talking about, to get into the team tactics, you're going to have teammates in the top six.
THE MODERATOR: That looks like our final question for Brian. Thanks a lot for taking the time to join us.
BRIAN BARNHART: Thanks, Tim. Thanks, guys. We look forward to the St. Pete weekend. It's going to be very exciting for everybody and should be a very good weekend for the Indy Racing League.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you everybody for joining us on our call today.
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