Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
March 7, 2006
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone, thank you for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll be joined by two guests this afternoon, Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development is with us to start the call, and Buddy Lazier, who late last week was announced as the driver of the #5 Dreyer & Reinbold entry racing and will join us in a few minutes.
Robert, thanks for joining us.
ROBERT CLARKE: Thank you for having me.
TIM HARMS: It's been about two and a half months ago that you were with us as part of the announcement that all of the teams in the IndyCar Series would use Honda engines this season. Tell us a little bit about the pace of activity at HPD over the past couple of weeks as you guys have prepared for supplying the entire field for the tests at Phoenix and Homestead.
ROBERT CLARKE: It's been quite a challenge, actually -- well, it's as we expected. Before we made that announcement, we put a lot of thought and study into our ability to support the entire field. We made the announcement with a calculated decision that, yes, we could, and so we've been following that plan. And I'm happy to say that we've been able to support the first two tests, the one January in Phoenix and the one last week at Homestead. Both have been in our mind, and I think the teams and the IRL would agree, that they have been an outstanding success.
We've had no significant engine problems that caused teams not to be able to run. We've ended up with a few minor problems as we fine-tune, particularly our electronics. But all in all, the engines are working very well. We're now at what we're calling or referring to as a 900-mile specification, and working our way towards a 1,200-mile spec which will be the final spec of the season.
TIM HARMS: That leads into my next question, the focus obviously has kind of changed from one where you competing against some other manufacturers, and really the performance aspect to one of reliability, consistency. You mentioned a couple of things, especially the electronics. What types of things have you learned during the preseason testing?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, in order to support the entire field, you touched on it, primarily the thing that needed to happen was we needed to to increase engine life. There was no way we could support the entire field if the engine was not getting the kind of mileage which we require, which is going to be two events per engine.
The electronics, the change there is mainly to reduce the workload of our on-site engineers to a point where they could support two cars between each engineer. So we have dropped some driver, what some would consider driver aids or features, such as traction control, launch control, downshift without lift. Those features have been eliminated from the electronics, and some of the others have also been reduced in scope so that we are fine-tuning those.
Those features that remain are still features that typically in the past required tuning for each individual driver's style. So now we are trying to come up with a generic specification that we can apply across the board that meets a level that everyone can be happy with and accept.
TIM HARMS: I know personally from talking to Helio during the tests with the traction control change, he seemed to think that that was a good thing, especially on a place like St. Petersburg where it's tough to pass. It could lead to some drivers having more of an opportunity to pass if someone makes a mistake.
ROBERT CLARKE: I agree. That has been the general response from our drivers is that they are okay with the changes. In fact, many think that it's going to improve the quality of racing.
TIM HARMS: Two weeks to go before the opening race at Homestead. Any concerns from your standpoint or things that need to be ironed out, or are we pretty much ready to go racing?
ROBERT CLARKE: We're ready to go racing. The final spec of the season will be introduced at the beginning of the month of May at Indy, and then we expect to uphold that engine specification through the rest of the year.
Q. There's this perception that Toyota and Honda have always followed each other from series to series, sort of hammering on each other, competing with each other. I guess my question is a two-parter. Now that Toyota is out of the series and you guys are by yourself, why does being the engine provider by yourself, why is that worthwhile? And the next natural question is with Toyota scoring the NASCAR platform, what are your future plans, if any, there?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, you're correct in that we're archrivals and we particularly enjoy fighting each other.
But why are we continuing to support the IRL? I think it's as we've clearly communicated, we believe strongly in open-wheel racing as a form of racing that Honda has historically competed in, and particularly in Formula 1 and CART and now the IRL. We very much enjoy that style of racing at the premiere level, and we are showing our commitment to the sport and to the IRL in particular, by making our commitment through 2009.
But will we follow Toyota to NASCAR? I never say never. I've learned that in this business. But we have no immediate or near-term plans to get into the IRL. We are quite occupied with our activity in the IRL and no plans for NASCAR.
Q. Your company, obviously technology is very important and learning new things from the racing, is NASCAR sort of the opposite of that, because you're dealing with carbureted engines, and I don't want to use the term dumbing-down technology, but sort of an old style of racing engine-wise?
ROBERT CLARKE: I would agree that Honda's racing historically has been focused on technology. Having not been directly involved with NASCAR, I think it's probably unfair for us to say that their technology is dumbed-down or at a lower level, but it's clearly a different kind of technology. I hear from those that are involved that even though it's maybe an older technology, it's still extremely challenging.
But as we've found, I think when we first looked at the IRL when we were still competing in CART, we might have looked at the IRL as being a dumbed-down technology. But I can tell you from the day we got involved with it, we found that's not the case. So things are perceived I think unfairly when you're in another camp.
Q. The inclusion of ten percent ethanol to the fuel mix, has that made any new challenges for Honda in preparing cars for a 1,200-mile jaunt?
ROBERT CLARKE: No. The change at this point is so insignificant percentage-wise that it really has not affected us. We've had to reoptimize the engine as far as the fuel injectors go and the spark and that type of thing. And in effect, we recovered a lot of the power that we initially lost by the change. But no, no significant problems.
Q. It sure looked that way with all of the cars got much quicker than they were last year with three different manufacturers.
ROBERT CLARKE: The engine performance-wise is at a level that's very similar to what our engine was at that time last year. And with the changes in tires, and of course the weather conditions I'd say were optimum last week. So I think we are all very pleased, drivers, teams and ourselves with how things are going.
Q. I'm wondering what the difference will be at Indianapolis and the performance of the engine there compared to pre-Indianapolis?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, what we've done is that even though we are not at the final spec of the engine, we have calculated -- basically the spec is running on the dyno, so it is calculated, we have a general understanding of what the engine performance will be at Indy. And the engines in their current spec, even as we ran last week at Homestead have been tuned to that same level of performance.
So the drivers teams should not see or feel any significant change in performance from what they experienced most recently to what they will run at Indy.
Q. So then the basic difference will be what then?
ROBERT CLARKE: Basically in getting the parts up to that 1,200-mile limit, which is what we need to run the rest of the season.
TIM HARMS: Robert, thanks again for taking the time to join us and we look forward to seeing you at the race in a couple of weeks.
And we're joined now by Buddy Lazier. Good afternoon, Buddy.
BUDDY LAZIER: Good afternoon.
TIM HARMS: Buddy won the Indianapolis 500 in 1996 and the IndyCar Series Champion in 2000. He made six starts for Panther Racing last year, finishing in the top ten in five of those, including the fifth-place finish at Indianapolis. And as I mentioned earlier, Buddy will drive the No. 5 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2006.
So Buddy, congratulations on getting that worked out. This is obviously the first time in a couple of years now that you've gone into the season with a full-time ride lined up. Can you tell us a little bit about how the deal came together, and just really how you feel about being back full-time?
BUDDY LAZIER: Well, I enjoyed what I did last year and definitely it was a goal to get back to full-time running. I know there's a lot still pending with Dreyer & Reinbold in terms of future announcements and other things.
As far as the way it came together, it was very last minute. But I had worked with Dennis, I always enjoyed Dennis and Robbie Buhl. I ran with him back in 2004 just for the Indianapolis 500 for the last two weeks and that was a positive experience. I know that as a team that is easier to grow and improve.
You know, it was nice to make this test, but there were so many people on the team that literally were hired the day before they left. So it was a bit of just getting out and starting to work with one another and we were not pleased with the optimum performance that we were able to achieve, but we have a lot of areas that we can work on now.
TIM HARMS: That was my next question, because the deal came together really right before the test. Was it a shakedown of the car and personnel, and did you accomplish those goals that you set, or were there some things lacking there?
BUDDY LAZIER: Well, I think there were certainly some things lacking, but you have to every time -- we wanted to go, of course, and be really wide open and comfortable and I wasn't able to achieve that. But we did really gain a lot in terms of working knowledge, how we are going to work with one another in the coming weeks.
So there were a lot of things that you took out of it that were very positive and some negatives, but the negatives were good because that gives us great direction in the areas we want to work on. Everybody on the team is very positive, but again you have to kind of step back. I think with a feeling of disappointment, you have to step back and realize that, you know, seven to ten days ago, this was not a race team that was going forward.
So really, to make the over 1,000-mile trip with two race cars, run the entire three-day test without any significant, and really, zero mechanical problems, the cars ran and ran, worked with the team. I think it was really, there's a lot of positive things that came out of it, given the fact that literally instead of a matter of weeks, it was a matter of days, and even hours, to take the race cars from where they were put to store for the winter to bring those cars to the racetrack and to at least gather a lot of information. The performance was not what we wanted it to be, but we have to, again, go back to realizing that probably over half the team started the day the team left for the racetrack.
TIM HARMS: Let's look a little bit ahead. Indianapolis is obviously a place that you've had a great deal of success. How badly do you want to win another Indianapolis 500?
BUDDY LAZIER: Oh, very badly. I have to really say great things about the program I had last year, because it was able to accomplish really my ultimate goal, which is to have a car at the end of the race that's capable of winning there. So that's really my ultimate goal.
I would love to win races and to challenge for championships, and that's the ultimate goal. But, you know, Indianapolis is a very special place. The victory that I had there, and the follow-up, I've had two second places there, and several top-five finishes.
So I do feel comfortable with the racetrack, as comfortable I think as anybody could ever be with Indianapolis in that it's an extremely challenging facility, racetrack in the month of May. There's huge challenges. But there's no feeling like when you are the best that day and you're able to win that race. It's such the ultimate achievement.
TIM HARMS: Dreyer & Reinbold, a long-time relationship with Racing For Kids and visiting children's hospitals on race weekends, how much are you looking forward to getting involved with that program this year?
BUDDY LAZIER: Well, very much. I love kids. I have not participated with one as a member of the team, yet, but, you know, I think it's a wonderful thing. Obviously it's really gut-wrenching and pulls hard at your heart strings, so that's the downside to that. But that is more than worth it to make some of these kids' days, and really, in a lot of ways, make their weeks or months by showing up and it certainly puts perspective on things.
So it's something that I'm looking forward to do and I know it's very -- it's a program that Robbie Buhl has done so much for.
TIM HARMS: Thank you for taking the time to join us this afternoon and best of luck in 2006.
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