Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
March 4, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Joining us today are the 2006 Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year candidates and last year's winner Danica Patrick.
On my far right is PJ Chesson. We're waiting on a formal announcement for PJ to be in the IndyCar Series full-time. To his left is Marco Andretti. To his left, Paul Dana, who races for Rahal Letterman Racing. Paul ran three races last year in Homestead, Phoenix and Japan. He is still eligible for the Rookie-of-the-Year honors this year by racing only three races last year. To his left is Danica Patrick, like I said before, last year's Rookie-of-the-Year winner.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Hopefully the NYSE car can be up front come race time. Like Danica said, you can't expect to be running up front all the time when you're a rookie. It's tough for anybody to win a race in this series, let alone a rookie, to learn the whole new car, for me just to learn how to drive on ovals. Like I said, with the help of Andretti Green, the organization, my three teammates, hopefully we can put something together.
THE MODERATOR: PJ, there's really not been a formal announcement yet for you this year. Can you give us an idea what we can expect from you this year?
PJ CHESSON: Actually, I spoke with Ron last night. He was pretty excited that I was going to get up here. We weren't really going to say anything until the actual sponsor announcement came across. But between Ron Hemelgarn, Gene Simmons and Rich Abramson, I think we're going to have a really big announcement coming really soon. Everybody's really excited about this.
Ron is a pretty cool cat. He was telling me, he's like, "The reason we want to stick you in the car is we like that you're a racer, we know you're not a cruising collector. We know you're going to go out there and knock the wall down, try to do whatever you can to get to the front."
It will be exciting. I don't have any expectations for myself at this point. Simply to go out there. I really haven't done anything except for one test in IndyCars. I've worn out a bunch of sneakers last year walking around the pits. I've been a nag to a lot of people. But I think my persistence, being a pain in a lot of people's asses, finally they said, "We'll give you your shot."
It's a great opportunity. I'm really excited to be finally a dirt guy racing the premiere open-wheel ranks. I'm glad to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. PJ, tell us about the relationship between you and Gene Simmons.
PJ CHESSON: Gene is a good man. We met, and it was pretty cool, just the way the introduction came about. When we first met, we shook hands, started talking. Came to Indianapolis. We hit it off really well. Rich, as well, his partner.
Gene is a very intelligent man. He's a wild guy. He's achieved a lot in his lifetime so far. I like his style. I think he's really good with his words. He knows when to go for shock value, when not to. He knows how to have a good time. He does very well with the ladies, and I admire him for that, as well (laughter).
Yeah, I think it will be a good relationship. I'm excited about it.
Q. Marco, you're going to be the final part of a trilogy at the speedway. Talk a little bit about being the latest Andretti to run IndyCars and also to run in the Indy 500.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't know. I get asked that question a lot. To me, I just need to look at it like another race. I need to look at it, you know, like I'm going to go out there and have fun doing what I love to do: driving race cars. Not so much make sure I'm impressing everybody, this and that. But if I impress myself, other people will be impressed. I'm that hard on myself. I'm a rookie. I have to take things slow.
I think it's awesome that my dad is coming back. To be honest, I've never seen such a focused individual. He's back into eating right and working out. He's on it.
Q. When your dad started racing against your grandfather, there was a lot of excitement, a lot of attention. A lot of the races they were the guys running up front. How much would you relish the opportunity to be racing with your dad?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, no pressure (laughter). I got asked that a lot. What happens if it comes down to you two for a checkered flag? If that were to happen, it would be just like another race. I'd treat him like my teammate, but I wouldn't -- he wouldn't want to hand the race to me, I wouldn't want to hand the race to him.
We're just going to race. Obviously, that would be a (indiscernible).
Q. Danica, the last year, especially after Indy, the different tracks used you for promoting the series. Some people think it did do a lot to boost the series. There was a lot of excitement around you. You had the thing with the autograph sessions. You were like the No. 1 person. Probably going to be some Marco mania or whatever going on. What advice do you have for this young man for that aspect of it?
DANICA PATRICK: I would imagine that he's kind of dealt with it his whole life a little bit anyway. He's probably pretty conditioned for it. Surely, you know, the way that I came up, I was always something different, too. So I dealt with just a hint more than other people. That kind of just continued on. Yeah, it got very busy.
But my only advice -- I don't think that his focus is anything other than this, and that's to drive a race car. As long as he puts that first, everything else will be fine. He'll be fine. He's seen it enough, I'm sure.
Q. Danica, with your latest sponsorship endorsement, has anybody called you 'Twinkie' yet?
DANICA PATRICK: They're good, right (laughter)? They're sweet, they're fluffy.
No, but I think it's a great endorsement. They really -- I mean, one of the good things about endorsements and about doing them is that there's things that happen afterwards. That's all the publicity from it. I'm in every grocery store, wherever there's a hostess standup. It's good. Yeah, it's good for everybody. It's good for myself. It gets us out there. I'm in my race suit, so it's good for the sponsors. It kind of is in all those stores. I don't have to do anything out. I just did photo shoots. It worked out great. It's going to be attractive for the kids. They're going to see some race car drivers on the box, ask who it is.
I already got some phone calls from my husband's brother's kids. They were like, "We saw you in the grocery store, and you were on the box. Okay, bye." It was so adorable. It was so adorable. I think that's great. I think that's really good because definitely part of our audience is family.
Q. PJ, you mentioned a second ago, but can you talk about the transition you're making or that you've made from a winged sprint car to a Pro Series car now to an IndyCar.
PJ CHESSON: Yeah, pretty much people don't realize but a winged sprint car is very aero-dependent, as is an IndyCar. The transition for me wasn't so much the aero side of things. It was more when I sat the first time in an IndyCar, I felt like I was in a lawn chair at the beach and I was missing a beer in my hand because you're so reclined in the seat. That was the hardest thing. I was used to sitting upright like this, as you sit in a sprint car, and you feel the car more upright. When you're lying down, you're lying on your back much more, and your hands are stretched out more, your neck is kind of pushed forward.
I think the hardest part for me was getting comfortable and being used to actually sitting in the seat that way. But other than that, I think, you know, in a sprint car you can't enter the corners straight behind another sprint car because there's no air in your wings. That translates quite closely to an IndyCar, as well, because you have to share -- at least show a little bit of your wings so you have some downforce on the car, push up across the track, naturally like a sprint car as well.
The transition wasn't so bad. It taught me to race really hard. You have 25 laps to get her done, I believe the slogan is, IROC. It's been quite good. I'm excited to jump in an IndyCar, see how it translates.
Q. Marco has a bunch of laps already. Do you feel you're behind on the testing program or will you catch up?
PJ CHESSON: I'm a lot behind actually. He's been running quite a bit, getting some seat time. He's been around these cars much longer than I have.
I think we're definitely behind the eight ball starting out. But we're going to try and catch up as best we can. We can only do what we can do. We've got everybody at Hemelgarn pretty excited. They've got some experience behind them, some good data. I think we'll be able to get started quickly.
Q. Danica, just wondering in the sophomore season, is there one thing that you want to achieve in racing? On a personal level, is there one thing you want to achieve outside racing?
DANICA PATRICK: Outside racing, I got married. What else do you want, right? Happy wife, happy life.
On the racetrack, I think -- you know, I said it before, but there was some good accomplishments last year. Leading races, winning poles, running up front here and there, that's great. The next kind of thing in mind really is to win. I think that would be wonderful.
But I think we're actually still -- even if I don't win a race, I think that would still -- we'd still lead into the third season for the 33-race average for a rookie to win. That still takes us into the next year. I'm not trying to make up excuses, but it's just a fact.
I'm going to be pushing very hard. It's funny, Marco said it, it's the exact same thing I say: I have higher expectations on myself than anybody can put on me. I want to do better than anybody is ever probably going to hope for. If I can please myself, I think everybody else will be pleased, too. That's funny, I really say the same thing.
Q. Paul, this is probably the way it's going to be this year. There's only so much air in the room.
PAUL DANA: I'm here to pass the mic (laughter). I think we're all in the sport because we love to drive, we love to compete. We get up in the morning and train and focus and put in the grind because of what happens on the racetrack.
The media coverage is great when you get it. Some days you're going to get it, other days you're not. The sport has ups and downs for everybody. I think that's just part of it.
It's really weird to say. My sponsors would kill me for saying this. If there were nobody in the stands and somebody still gave me the keys to a 250-horsepower IndyCar, said go play around on the road course, I'm here. It's about the drive. Everybody, I think we all just focus on our own performance, focus on the process, focus on getting the best out of your car and the team. The results will take care of themselves. If that happens on that level, then we get coverage and that's great.
Q. Marco, when you were a kid playing around the house, go down to your grandpa's and play around the house, did all those trophies mean anything to you or did you picture that as a normal part of growing up?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I did. It actually was normal for me. I knew daddy and grandpa were winning races, but it wasn't until I actually was old enough to really experience that, "Man, these guys are pretty good." But, yeah, I mean, it was a normal way of life for me.
Q. Marco and PJ, you are the bachelors on this circuit. Do you anticipate the both of you will be out on the scene during downtime?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't know if you can run at the top in this series and really be out on the scene to an extent. It's always good fun, but it's not possible to do.
This sport is your life. You know, like you never want to do anything that will set you back. You wake up in the morning, you go work out. You don't even want to eat wrong because it just sets you back.
PJ CHESSON: This isn't a good question for me to be answering (laughter).
I don't know. I train pretty hard. I've wrestled at pretty high levels, done a lot of stuff, but I've always managed to get myself into trouble at nighttime.
It's a trade-off. I'd say starting out I'm not going to be messing around as much as I normally do. But I take this very seriously, this opportunity quite seriously. If there's an opportunity for me to go out and do whatever, I'm going to, I'll do it, but I'll make it up the next day. And I'm going to try and not get too crazy, Mr. Gibbler (ph). Thanks for putting me in the hot seat.
Q. Paul, do you feel better prepared this time, being a rookie?
PAUL DANA: Yeah, actually it's weird how a setback like breaking your back, as you're going through it, you're like this is the worst thing can that happen, but you can come out stronger from setbacks. I learned a lot watching from the sidelines, watching Jimmy Kite, our replacement driver, did a great job for us in the car, on the roof watching some of what I was going through, watching him go through it, learned a lot.
When the doctor cleared me, I started working with a trainer and really hitting the weights hard all through the winter. I'm actually in the best shape of my life by a wide margin. We had the opportunity to join an awesome team with teammates I can learn from. There's a lot more resources for me to learn on than I had available for me last year. So it's all good.
Q. Marco, you're replacing a driver who admitted he was the baby of the team, he was the butt of all the practical jokes. Do you feel you have a little immunity in that because your dad is the guy that runs the team?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No. Fair game, unfortunately.
Q. What have they done to you so far?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Nothing yet.
Q. You're always on guard?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Don't remind me.
Q. Danica, as a woman racer, you have a little bit different perspective. Your husband is going to have a little bit different perspective. Have you talked about the schedule? Whole different perspective from the media point of view.
DANICA PATRICK: Be a little more specific. Like how we're going to deal with things?
Q. How is he going to deal with the schedule? He's used to you being away.
DANICA PATRICK: I'm not sure if this exactly answers your question, but my husband has worked in professional sports for a long time. He used to work with the PGA TOUR, worked with baseball teams, did football for a little while. He's done a lot of stuff. He understands the scheduling. He understands the demands. He understands all that stuff. I think that's why we're such a perfect match, is because we understand each other.
Just like right now, there's spring training going on in Phoenix. He's gone all day every day. I understand. I get it. It happens. Just like I'm gone, for the whole month of May, I'm gone. One of the fortunate things, another reason we're so perfect for each other, (indiscernible) you all out up here, he's able to travel with me, he's able to take time away. He owns his own practice, so he's able to do that. He comes to all the races. He is a huge supporter. He hasn't missed one. I think that's really important.
Actually, there was a story a long time ago when I was racing Atlantics. I was up in Portland. I qualified on pole. He didn't want to miss me winning a race. He was up north in Arizona. He drove like 110 miles an hour or something. I'm like, "Watch the road, buddy." To the airport, jumped on a flight, flew up to Portland, just because he didn't want to miss it.
So he's very supportive. He's very helpful as far as everything from moral support to, you know, telling me what to eat right before the race, telling me how to work out. I mean, he has certifications in all those areas. Very helpful.
Q. Paul, Marco and PJ, you all have won races in the Pro Series. You're all with teams that have either won championships or won races in this series, in the IndyCar Series. Marco, Kyle has publicly said he would be disappointed at the end of the year if you haven't won a race. What kind of expectations do you place on yourself and what will you be happy with when you walk out of Chicagoland at the end of the season when you look back?
PAUL DANA: As you said, we've all won at low levels, we're with teams that have won. Winning is absolutely the goal. You don't strap yourself into one of these things if you're not serious about getting that done. If you focus on the process, the results will take care of themselves. I think if you just keep focused on what you're supposed to do, you'll be there in the end.
This series is so competitive. I think Danica can speak for it. You can be in a position to win a lot and still not quite get it. It's the last yellow, the last 30 laps when there's six or seven cars in the series all wheel-to-wheel ready to win. I think as rookies, we hope to be in that situation. If you're in that situation enough, the win will come. If you're always in the back, it's not going to happen. You just take it step by step.
I want to win races. If I can get one in the first year, great. Certainly by the second or third year, we better be winning.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think same as the sort of him. I need to wait after Homestead. I can test till I'm blue in the face, then go out and race and it's a totally different ballgame. I just need to learn race craft. I can't learn in one race, but it will give me more of a feel if I'm going to be able to do this or not.
I really have confidence in my team. I really think it can happen.
But, again, you have to be in the right place at the right time on these high-speed ovals. The main thing for me is I need to know what I need in a race car for the end of the race because on the ovals you can only drive to what the car's going to let you do. You can be the best driver in the world and not be able to have a good-handling race car. You need to know what you need in the car. That's what me and Eddie are going to have to work on.
PJ CHESSON: Honestly, at this point I have no idea what to expect. I haven't even gone to the shop yet to meet the guys. That's not even supposed to happen till the end of next week. I don't know. All I can tell you is the team is very committed to working extremely hard to put a good race car underneath me. I can promise you all that when I show up race weekend, I'll have my spurs in my bag, and they're usually on when I climb in the race car, which means I'm ready to go.
I'm going to do the best I can and the team's going to do the best they can. We're going to go out there and cause some trouble.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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