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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Mike Kitchel
Vitor Meira
February 10, 2006


TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. We appreciate you joining us this afternoon for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We have a special announcement coming today from Panther Racing. At this time I'd like to introduce team spokesman Mike Kitchel to give us the details.

MIKE KITCHEL: Thanks a lot, Tim. First of all, I'd like to thank everybody that's joined us today for this very, very special announcement. I apologize. Team owner John Barnes was scheduled to join us today. At the last minute he had a very important meeting to attend and he won't be with us for this teleconference. Our apologies for that.

This off-season, there's been a lot of speculation, especially for the last four months, about the future of Panther Racing. That's why today we're especially proud to announce that we are moving forward on the 2006 IndyCar Series season. Our team will be lined up at the grid at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26th.

Pennzoil Lubricants is going to continue its partnership with Panther. For us that's an extension of a relationship that has lasted the past nine years. As many of you know, Pennzoil's association with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the longest standing partnerships for the speedway.

This is also a beginning for us for a new partnership with Honda, which we are tremendously excited about, getting those powerplants in our race cars.

We're also thrilled today to announce the fourth driver in our history to take over the reins of the No. 4 Pennzoil car, talented IndyCar Series veteran Vitor Meira. For us, this is a fresh start. It's a fresh start for Panther, a fresh start for Vitor. We feel like we've got some really big things lined up for our future.

We've also retained a lot of the key leadership in our organization. Engineer Seth Fleming, crew chief Steve Ragan, and we've got a great team manager in Ron Catt. Our feeling right now is with a driver like Vitor, and with the leadership we have in place, we've got all our ducks in a row for a championship run this season in 2006.

We especially feel like Vitor is a guy that fits the personality of our team. He's a humble guy, down-to-earth, fan-friendly driver. But most importantly, he's a pretty damn good race car driver and a guy that's going to stand on the gas and get the No. 4 car up front like everyone who has driven that car previously has done.

We've been discussing around the office the last couple days that Vitor has been a guy that has literally been two and three inches away from his first IndyCar Series victory. We feel like Panther Racing is the team to get him that two or three inches he needs to get his first career win.

That's all I've got. I'm going to kick it back over to Tim, then we'll open it up for questions for Vitor. Like I said, I apologize John Barnes couldn't make it today. Once again, thanks, everybody, for calling.

TIM HARMS: Vitor, congratulations to you on getting everything finalized for 2006.

VITOR MEIRA: Thank you.

TIM HARMS: Tell us a little bit about your thoughts about getting everything finalized and joining a team with a history like Panther Racing.

VITOR MEIRA: It was a long and anxious and cold off-season, but I'm happy it ended up the way it did. As Mike said already, it's a fresh start. I guess for me it's a restart with Panther because in 2001, John Barnes and the Panther team, they were the ones that gave me the first actual laps on the IndyCar in Texas in 2001. I guess everything comes full circle. I'm back here and thrilled to be a part of the team.

Since I've been watching and since I've been involved with Indy Racing, Panther has always been one of the top teams and top cars with top equipment and top personnel. I'm really thrilled to be part of Panther Racing.

Also I'd like to thank John Barnes and all the Panther owners to give me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

TIM HARMS: Talking about your numerous second-place finishes, coming close to wins. One of those, of course, was at Indianapolis last year where you were runner-up. Of course, that was part of a three-car effort which meant the opportunity to share data. At this point you're moving into more of a one-car team. How do you think that affects your chances at being competitive on the track this year?

VITOR MEIRA: A two-car team is good. A three-car team is good. But you have to know how to do it. It can help a lot, but it can also put too much things in the minds of everybody. I don't think it's going to affect at all. I mean, just this team, the best results they've ever had, Panther Racing, was with a one-car team. For example, in 2002, they won the championship against two Penske cars. They were a one-car deal.

I mean, (indiscernible) maybe two, three cars is better. But I guess to make it better is not so simple. I think we can for sure make work with one car. Certain teams can't, but Panther Racing has proved that they can. Everybody's excited about that, too.

TIM HARMS: Thank you, Vitor. Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions.

Q. Will the car carry the familiar Pennzoil yellow or are you going to be using different color combinations this year?

MIKE KITCHEL: You know, we're actually getting that finalized as we speak. That's one of the reasons JB couldn't be available today. Pennzoil has committed to participate with the team this year, but we're trying to determine at what level. It is entirely possible they could be a primary sponsor. We're also very close with some other sponsorships that we expect to announce in the upcoming weeks.

Can't completely answer your question because at this point in time we don't know. But I'm willing to bet that that traditional Pennzoil yellow is going to be on that car somewhere.

Q. Vitor, you've gone through so many off-seasons like this. What does it do for you to know that you're with a team that can win and that should win with you aboard?

VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, it's actually really, really excited. Sometimes people say that without really being, but I am really.

I mean, people also call me a veteran, which is good and everything, but that's honestly my second full season. I did many races in IRL, but that's only my second season. Being also with Panther, I mean, it's a thrill. They won two championships. They win races every year. As Mike was talking about earlier, I've been a couple of inches from winning many times. If there's a team that can give me this edge, that's for sure Panther Racing.

Q. Mike, could you give us a little background on Seth Fleming.

MIKE KITCHEL: Seth is going to be our chief engineer this year. He's a guy that's been with the team for quite some time. He worked directly with Andy Brown, our former chief engineer, who is now with Ganassi Racing. He's a very good simulation engineer. He had a lot to do, as Andy Brown did, with the two championships that Sam Hornish won. Obviously, the success that Tomas Scheckter, Tomas Enge, Mark Taylor and Townsend Bell have had the last two years. We're really excited to have him on board.

Q. Vitor, congratulations.

VITOR MEIRA: Definitely going to be good with all the people we have here. Again, Panther is the team to beat.

Q. I know you have one car entry for this season, but what are the chances you may have another car for the Indy 500 this year?

VITOR MEIRA: Well, that's kind of a question that John Barnes and the other Panther owners are going to be able to answer much more precisely than me. I hope they do more than one car in Indianapolis. But, again, we just finalized this deal with the No. 4 car. I guess there are little more steps to be taken and I'm sure whatever is right and whatever is more competitive, the team are going to be doing. That would be better answered question -- this question can be better answered by John Barnes for sure.

Q. Add anything to that, Mike?

MIKE KITCHEL: Just to follow up on what Vitor said. It's certainly something that I believe we will consider. But also, like Vitor said, right now our primary focus is getting that No. 4 car on the track for the first race at Homestead, especially for the Homestead open test that's coming up on us pretty quick in a couple weeks. That's something that we'll probably have in the back of our minds. But right now the primary focus and the only focus is making sure Vitor gets comfortable in his race car and we get that No. 4 car up front as soon as possible.

Q. How long has been this deal taken to put together?

VITOR MEIRA: We've been talking, actually myself and Panther Racing, back to 2001. As I said previously, my very first test, my very first laps in an IndyCar were with John Barnes and Panther Racing. Since then we've been talking and we've been trying to work something out. The timing wasn't always the best one. Finally this year, has happened. That's why I guess everybody here and me, everybody's pretty excited about the whole opportunity we have now.

Q. How many of the Panther crew from last year will be working with you?

VITOR MEIRA: That's a better question to Mike to answer. I honestly don't know. Of course, we have to hire some people. But he can tell you more about it.

MIKE KITCHEL: Like I said a little earlier, we have the core group in place. We do need to make some hires. Like I said, the leadership's in place. For us right now, that's the most important part.

TIM HARMS: Thanks, Mike and Vitor, for joining us this afternoon. Congratulations again on this exciting announcement for you guys for 2006. We wish you the best of luck.

MIKE KITCHEL: Thank you, Tim.

VITOR MEIRA: Thank you.



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