Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Eddie Cheever, Jr.
February 14, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests with us today. Joining us in a few minutes will be IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon.
To start the call, we're very pleased to have representatives from Cheever Racing with us. We're joined by team owner Eddie Cheever and driver Richard Antinucci. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Earlier today the team announced that it would return to the Indy Pro Series with Richard behind the wheel. The team competed in the Indy Pro Series for the first time last year recording seven top-five finishes with drivers Nick Bussell and Chris Festa. Of course, team owner Eddie Cheever is well-known. He competed for 12 years in Formula One before a career in America, which included winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1998.
Richard is Eddie's nephew. He has competed in several European Formula 3 Series, winning the World Cup in 2003, and last year he recorded five podium finishes, including two victories.
Gentlemen, congratulations on today's announcement. Eddie, why don't you tell us about the opportunity to not only put a very talented driver into your car, but one who also happens to be your nephew.
EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: We had an interesting experience last year with the IPS. It was our first year. We were interested in the fact that you get to work with so many young drivers. It was a very positive experience for us. We didn't do as well as we would like to, but we ended on a very strong note at the end of the season.
When the opportunity came up to have Richard in the team, obviously it was something that we sat back and thought long and hard about, because there's always more responsibility I think inside of a family, when you bring a family member into a business.
But he has all the credentials to do very well. If you look at all the people that have succeeded in IndyCars over the past 10 years, there's a large majority of them coming from a European single-seater background. Look at somebody like Montoya, comes from Europe, does well in IndyCars, goes to Formula One, comes back and does NASCAR. I think it's a very good training ground for anybody that wants to be successful in racing.
I'm excited to have him here. A lot of pressure now that I have my nephew. I have a feeling I'll go through the same apprehensions that my good friend Foyt did when his grandson was racing. But that's all good.
THE MODERATOR: You talked a little bit there about the Pro Series. You've been in the position as an IndyCar Series owner that you've seen the Pro Series from a distance for a couple years as the Pro Series got started and got itself established, then came into the series yourself as a team owner last year and now coming back. Give us a little bit more of your perspective about the series and what it's all about.
EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: I think it's a very good training ground for drivers that want to learn and prepare themselves properly for really the basis of what have you in IndyCar racing, which is oval racing in an open-wheel car. They're very safe. They're quick. They run in tight groups like you do in an IndyCar on an oval. I think it's a really good steppingstone for a driver to prepare himself to race at the Indy 500.
If you now add the road course element to it, a lot of doubleheaders at these road courses, it's a really good place to see what talents they have, how to develop it. From a driver's perspective, I think it is a really good place to learn.
I really like the business package they put together. It makes a lot of sense. The prize money is growing and is very strong. When you look at the whole slew of new teams coming and drivers that are going to be in there, I think it's going to be probably the best open-wheel schooled drivers in the States.
From a businessman's perspective, I think it's great. From a driver's perspective, I think it's a good place to measure yourself up against others. You actually get to run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That's a big deal. That's good for a driver to get miles in a race car on that track.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of Indianapolis, I think probably a lot of our media members would maybe want an update on your IndyCar Series program, if there's any plans for Indianapolis this year?
EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: If we were to participate in an IndyCar program, I think our main focus would be the Indianapolis 500. A lot of it depends on how Richard does. If he takes to it as well as we think he will, I could see him making a run at trying to qualify for the Indy 500. It's very possible that we will have an alliance with an IndyCar team which will really help us get there. I'm not embarrassed to say, I'm actually proud to say, that there's a strong possibility that we might do something with Vision Racing. We did something with them with Grand-Am at the Daytona 24 Hours. I have a long-standing friendship and relationship with Tony. I would be proud to see if Richard could maybe get involved in their program since there is this trade-off with IRL teams that are working with IPS teams. The whole structure there is in place for Richard to do something.
If your question was if I'm going to drive the Indy 500 next year, I don't think so at this moment but it's still an open possibility.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Richard, you're obviously in a great position to come into the race with Eddie as a team owner. Tell us about the partnership from your perspective, coming to the team, driving for your uncle.
RICHARD ANTINUCCI: Well, I'm very thankful to be part of my uncle's team. I see it as a family partnership that's great. But I don't think Eddie or any other professional team owner would have chosen me if I was just family related. So I think it's also a pat on the shoulder. I've done a good last year. I'm on the upswing. We want to join forces for all the right reasons and achieve success humbly together.
THE MODERATOR: You spent most of your driving career over in Europe. Tell us about the decision to move over to America.
RICHARD ANTINUCCI: Well, simply, I think as I uncle Eddie just said, a lot of drivers, whether they started here or there, can move overseas, go back and forth. You've seen my uncle himself race in Europe, groom himself, then race Formula One, come back to America. For me it's just a great opportunity. I think the Indy 500 is the biggest single race in the world. My dream would be to be the second person in the family to win that. We're far from that at the moment. That's just the start of a very hopefully prosperous project.
THE MODERATOR: If I'm correct, you have not had a chance to drive the Indy Pro Series car yet, have you?
RICHARD ANTINUCCI: That's right. That's correct.
THE MODERATOR: What have you heard about the car? What are your expectations as we go into the open test next week at Homestead-Miami?
RICHARD ANTINUCCI: I want to learn. I want to learn as much as I can. I have no oval experience. I want to be able to learn that. But the first thing we need to do is really work thoroughly, I have to get the grips of the car. The team and I have -- the team being the staff, the engineering, everyone involved in this project, to gel well, to go from there.
I don't have any targets as position and placement in the first test. I think it has a very good power-to-weight ratio. Sounds fun to drive. I also know the Dallara chassis from Formula 3. It's quite a similar car. It's a very good, high-detailed car. I agree it's probably the best single-seater junior series in America.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for Eddie and Richard.
Q. Eddie, can you give me a feel for the cost of running an IPS team? With the contraction of all the series, I'm trying to see how viable the series is.
EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: The IRL IndyCars really have a good website now. There's a lot of data that's on there that you can go and look.
I would say that it's highly probable that a good percentage of the teams that are competing in the IPS with the current business package they have will run at a profit at the end of the year. It's difficult to give a budget. It depends on how your drivers do, if they're crashing a lot. I have quite a lot of experience on the young drivers crashing a lot. Anybody wants any news on that, call me, I'll give you the rundown on a whole variety.
I think it makes a lot of sense. The cost of capital, the equity put into it, is not that high. I really like their common engine lease basis. It's at a very good value. They're giving all of these young drivers an opportunity on a lot of these road courses to do two races in one weekend. It's good.
The amount of money you spend per weekend, what you spend on tires, brakes, everything, it's regulated, so the focus becomes the drivers and not the amount, how much money you spend on your wind tunnel program, how much you spend on your shock absorber program, which I think is really good.
I am really not comfortable giving you a number because I don't want to give you a false reading. There is a lot of good information on the website that you can glean your answer from it. The magical word here is that there is profit in it if you do a good job and your driver is competitive because there's a very good prize money fund.
Q. Are we going to see you at the race weekends? How much will we see you at the track?
EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: If I'm not at the track, my sister will disown me. It's her son. So I'll be there.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, that looks like all the questions we've got for you today. Appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to join us. We wish you the best of luck here in 2007.
EDDIE CHEEVER, JR.: Thank you.
RICHARD ANTINUCCI: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by IndyCar Series standout Scott Dixon. Scott returns to the IndyCar Series with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, a team he's been with since 2002. Scott won the 2003 IndyCar Series title and last year finished fourth in the standings in a very tight battle that came down to the season's final race. He had victories last year at Watkins Glen and Nashville, and nine top-five finishes.
Scott, it was obviously a very intense points battle last season with you and Dan falling just short at the end. What was the attitude like at the shop over the winter as you prepare to come back and make another run at it?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's been very good. I think everybody's really excited to get another season started, especially kind of a six-month off-season. A bit long for most of us. I know everybody's really hyped. It's good to have some of the testing we've been doing in Daytona.
I don't know, I think everybody's looking forward just to get the season started just so we're back on the road and getting to some more races, more so I think because we were so close last year, even with a lot of changes with Dan, the car and engine for myself.
I think this year we've redefined the car a lot more, I think we've done a lot of development. We're hopefully looking for a solid fight at the championship. I think last year we had many opportunities that sort of we let it slip away in many ways. This year I think we need to knuckle down and try to recapture another victory for Team Target.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned the test at Daytona a week or two ago on the road course. We're about a week away from hitting the oval at Homestead. How much do the pre-season tests let you measure yourself against the competition for the upcoming season?
SCOTT DIXON: It's very tough. Maybe a little more road courses for us because we had the new car, we had a lot of teething problems. You're also testing a lot of different things. You're trying to -- for us, we had to test a lot more race sort of downforce and try and do more laps just so we can see what's going to break on the car.
As far as my tests went, I think it was the worst test I've ever had. The car broke I think about every five laps. That wasn't a good test for us. But Dan seemed to pick up a bit of speed, which was good to see. I think both cars are going to be competitive on the road courses, which we need to make sure this year because we do have five of them.
It's just tough. With this series only sort of getting two open tests before the season starts, if you mess up at one of them, you lose a lot of time, a lot of valuable time, I think. I'd like to see them add a lot more testing even through the season because teams will figure out a way to spend the money anyway. That's the only downside to that.
Yeah, no, excited for Homestead. It's going to be good to see how our cars are going to do on the ovals.
THE MODERATOR: The overall schedule in 2007 is very diverse. We have short ovals, the speedways, road and street courses. Looking at your history on all those types of courses, I would guess that really plays to your strength in the battle for the championship.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I hope so. Our short tracks have been struggling a little bit. There doesn't seem to be that many of those. Mile-and-a-half's to two miles last year were extremely good for our cars. Also the more road courses they add, the better for me. I think they've got a good mix at the moment. Definitely if they do add a few more in the next coming years, I think it will be good, get to maybe some of these downtown street races, capture a different kind of audience.
The IndyCar Series has done a great job of putting a fantastic calendar together I think for '07.
THE MODERATOR: A lighthearted question. You recently became engaged. Congratulations. Any special plans for Valentine's Day today?
SCOTT DIXON: Just the normal, flowers and dinner, that kind of stuff. I think we've got our one-year anniversary coming up. We're probably going to focus a little more on that. Yeah, no, it was great to get engaged over the off-season, 1st of December I think. Emma and myself are doing fantastic.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to some questions for Scott.
Q. You talked a moment ago about the downtime in the schedule. As a driver, do you think it would be best to shorten that and not have such a long downtime?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think if you're going to have a -- I think they've done the right thing in trying to compress the season with getting as many races in as possible, a lot of back-to-backs that keeps the audience definitely up to speed with how people -- how the competition is doing, keeps them watching.
But you do have a long downtime which maybe people will lose a little bit of interest with it, which is frustrating, too. But for a driver, you're out of car now for six months. With no testing, it's very tough.
For me all I want to do is race. All I want to do is drive. It's very hard. Especially when you're under big contracts with a lot of these successful teams, they don't want you racing anything else.
For me, it's tough. It's nice to see the 24 Hours and races like that. There's still four or five other months that you can't do anything. It would be nice for them to open up maybe some testing a little more or let the season go on for another month.
Q. When you have two tests, and you have one that went as bad as you talked about, mentally does that affect you going into the next test to make sure you get everything? Does that put you on a downside to start the season?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it definitely hurts, you know, with the road courses, we have five of them, which is becoming a bigger percentage that we need to focus on to try and gain points. When you only have a two-day test before the season starts, that's pretty rough. You lose half of that, which I think our second day we went out, blew a clutch, broke the gearbox, broke the throttle cable, then it rained. I think we did about 30 laps in total, and about five laps consecutively at any time. The whole test for me was pretty pointless. And that is frustrating because you do know you didn't really accomplish much.
For myself with going to a new car, going to the Dallara on road courses made it even harder. We're a good team. I'm sure we'll work out what the problems are and we should be able to find the speed we need. It is very difficult when you have such limited amount of testing time.
Q. Last year you went with the Panoz on the road courses and the Dallara on the ovals. Are you switching over to Dallara all the way around?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's going to be Dallara full-time. There was some issue with maybe the Panoz cooling I think on the road courses, so they've taken that out of the equation. I'm not sure if that's what happened. I don't think anybody's running a Panoz. Yeah, we definitely have moved to Dallara for every race in the '07 calendar.
Q. Can you describe the difference? Is it just in finding the setup between the two?
SCOTT DIXON: I think the oval thing was definitely a big difference. The Dallara seems to be a much kinder car, much more forgiving, a lot nicer to drive in traffic. I think it was difficult for us to keep running two different kinds of cars for three or five road courses. It's better to switch. You can cut down your inventory on a lot of things. That was probably the main reason.
The Dallara so far since I've driven it doesn't seem to be too much different from the G Force. Getting that little extra speed out of it is always the tough part and something I think we really worked on for. The G Force had rewarded us in a lot of ways last year because we were extremely quick at just about any road course we went to. Hopefully that's going to be the same case for the Dallara. We'll just have to see and time will tell.
Q. I think you've got a good season coming up because you now have a year's worth of experience with the Dallara. Changeover takes a lot out of the time in trying to find the setups.
SCOTT DIXON: I think it's going to be a big year for both of us. Going to be tough to beat. I hope so.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, looks like that's all we have for you this afternoon. Thanks for taking some time to join us.
SCOTT DIXON: Thank you very much. Always a pleasure.
THE MODERATOR: Because the IndyCars will be on track next Wednesday, our next Indy Racing League teleconference will be two weeks from today, on Wednesday, February 28th, 2 p.m. Eastern time. Our guest will be 2006 Bombardier Rookie-of-the-Year Marco Andretti.
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