Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
February 22, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good morning. Welcome back to Homestead-Miami Speedway as we get set to close out the final pre-season tests of the season before we come back and race here, getting set for the opener on Saturday, March the 24th, the XM IndyCar 300.
Joining us today is Danica Patrick. Danica is getting set to begin her third season in the IndyCar Series. Also joining us, Darren Manning, who is getting set to begin his second stint in the IndyCar Series, third season in the IndyCar Series. Of course, Scott Sharp, who I believe coming into this event, the 1996 IndyCar Series champion, 121 consecutive starts, I believe, if I saw correctly, heading into this race. What is interesting about all three of these drivers is they are stalwarts in the series but all changing teams this year.
We'll start with Darren. Darren moves to AJ Foyt Racing. The last time we saw him, he was wearing Target Chip Ganassi Racing red. Danica Patrick, after two seasons with Rahal Letterman Racing, moves to Andretti Green Racing. Scott Sharp is going to be the most difficult for all of us in the broadcast business because the Delphi colors are no longer on his car after nine years. Instead it is Patron Tequila and will be a part of Rahal Letterman Racing.
SCOTT SHARP: Patron. We'll get you a sample.
THE MODERATOR: That sounds good. Danica was telling me about drinking wine at 10:00 in the Napa Valley.
DANICA PATRICK: Dedicated athletes.
THE MODERATOR: As I told Scott yesterday, he shows up looking every year younger than the year before. Scott, you've been here, this is your 12th year in the IndyCar Series, you've been here since the beginning. Your expectations, your excitement for a new team and what you hope '07 holds?
SCOTT SHARP: I'm very excited. I think every now and then you need some change. '05 was a great year when I first moved over to Fernandez Racing. I think we surprised a lot of people, finished top five in the points, won a race, surprised a lot of people. You would hope the cohesiveness of a group moving forward would have propelled us to be even more competitive in '06. Unfortunately for a variety of factors, that wasn't the case.
Certainly left '06 very hungry and very unsatisfied. Fortunate in the midst of all that last year ignited a large interest from Patron. They came on as a small sponsor and said, This is our market, we really want to join in a bigger way. I think it came at a time when I think I'm very hungry and I think the Rahal team is very hungry after their '06 campaign.
A lot of good stuff is going on within the team, some new faces, new programs they've initiated. I think everyone is pushing pretty hard. I'm very excited.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, by the way, will retain his number that we are familiar with. It will be the No. 8 Patron Tequila car.
Danica Patrick is changing teams and numbers. We've been used to seeing her in the No. 16 Argent Mortgage car for her first two seasons in the series with Rahal Letterman Racing. This year she moves to the Motorola Andretti Green Racing machine.
Danica, I know that the team is excited about having you come on board. Talk, if you would, about making the move and getting set for your third season in the series.
DANICA PATRICK: It's 7 in '07 now, right?
THE MODERATOR: Got you.
DANICA PATRICK: Should be a tag line (laughter). It's a lot of thinking, but my car number is 7 in '07.
I'm excited about my move. Unfortunately we had a really hard year last year at Rahal. As Scott said, for various factors, some people struggled. Really, everyone that wasn't a red car struggled. It had a lot to do with, you know, Honda being the sole manufacturer. Midway through the year we decided to move to a Dallara chassis from a Panoz. We just really had a trying year. So it's frustrating.
I decided to -- it was contract year for me, you know, it was time to look at all the options and see who else wanted me out there. Andretti Green was interested from very early on, wanted me as a driver. Number one, they don't need me to do anything. They have a ton of sponsors. They do well. They only look for drivers who can go out there and give them success.
It's a flattering compliment they would want me because they are one of the best teams. Nobody else has won more than them. That's a simple fact. They were the only team last year to beat the red cars at two races. It was a tough year for them, I know, but they were -- just the attitude they had over the winter of how frustrated and mad and determined they were to fix that situation and not let that be '07 was good to see.
But they're a top-rate organization, first class in every aspect. Whether it's sponsors or drivers or just the team mechanics, anything, anything, it's all very good. So I'm excited about this year. We have a lot of resources. I'm excited about that.
I'm really excited about my teammates, just how much they can help me. I've never really been in a situation before where I've had people that I can lean on, that can help me. That's going to be a really nice thing for me, to just not only have helpers but friends.
THE MODERATOR: Darren Manning, I guess you're used to toughing it out. From Northern England, he calls the guys from down south Southern Softies. I guess he was hardened enough to go through what he went through in 2006. For those of you who don't know, it was perhaps the oddest of situations that I've ever seen in racing. Of the three drivers on the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team in 2005, he was the leader in terms of performance going into the Milwaukee race, yet after a disastrous weekend there for the team, the announcement came that Darren had been released from his contract with the team. We didn't understand it.
I don't know if you want to shed any light on that or is that simply a chapter gone by. The bottom line was we missed Darren Manning in 2006, but he's back for 2007, driving for Larry Foyt.
Darren, what do you have in store for us in '07 with Foyt Racing?
DARREN MANNING: Well, hopefully something more than they've had in the past. They've really upped their game on the engineering side, on the management side. A.J., he's a racer at heart. He's very determined - more than ever. The last few years for him and the team have not been what he's been used to, I think, especially as a driver. He's used to succeeding. Obviously with Green, Ganassi and Penske, such like, he's kind of fallen behind the times a little bit the past couple of years. He's trying to put that right. Hopefully bringing myself along is part of that process.
We're trying hard. We had a bit of a tough day yesterday. We didn't really turn too many laps. We had a bit of a clutch problem, which curtailed the running towards the end of the day. You know the team is improving. We've got a lot of resources at hand. Obviously, I don't have a teammate or anything. But hopefully I've got a bit of experience to help improve the team. That's all we're trying to do. Trying to get up there with some of these big guys.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Darren, Danica or Scott.
Q. Darren, what would be the goal? What improvement level do you need to see to think the team is moving forward? Top tens consistently? Do you really shoot for top fives?
DARREN MANNING: Well, I think it's different per racetrack. For me the road courses are a big goal. I don't think there's going to be much limitation on performance on the road courses, or short tracks for that matter. Anywhere where there's going to be handling and hopefully a bit of driving, coming into the lap times and speed of the car, hopefully we're not going to be at too much of a disadvantage there. Maybe on some of the superspeedways, we might be behind the eight ball effectively or whatever.
You know, yeah, like I say, I think top tens is pretty realistic. Even on the superspeedways, once you're in the top ten, you can see how close it is. Already yesterday with the package we were running here, the lap times are so close, probably closer than ever, not even the Ganassi cars or the Penske cars are going to be able to do what they did last year with the improvements of every team out there, the different packages that we're running this year on the aero spec. It's just going to be closer than ever.
Like I say, if you're running in the top 10 with 30 laps to go, you're going to stand a chance of even winning. You see at the 500 last week what happens on the last few laps. I think that's what's going to happen this year. We should be all right.
Q. Has the team been able to spend time in the wind tunnel, do the research they need?
DARREN MANNING: Yes, absolutely. They've been in a full-size wind tunnel and things. It's something new for the team to be doing all that kind of thing. We've got a new engineer full-time on the car, new high-level mechanics. Obviously Larry taking over a bit of the management of the team, as well, that's allowed A.J. to focus his resources and his way of doing things a little bit more on more important areas effectively instead of doing the menial jobs which he also had to do the past few years.
Yeah, everything's been upped. You haven't seen any performance gains just yet, about you we haven't done any running yet. Hopefully today we'll get plenty of laps under our belt and hopefully move up the time sheets.
Q. This year there is a big difference with the fuel, ethanol. How do you feel about driving on the track?
SCOTT SHARP: Ethanol is one of the sponsors on our cars. I think, first of all, the series deserves a lot of credit to be the first to jump on full-time in ethanol. The first taste we all got of it was, of course, up at Daytona. It was fantastic. The engines were very smooth, more powerful. Really the transition has been seamless. I think it's been a real credit to everybody.
DANICA PATRICK: I think it's a great thing. As Scott said, it's a cool thing for us to be able to say that we're the first ones to go all green. With only 10% last year, that obviously showed no problems. To be a hundred percent is a cool thing to be able to bring to the table in the world of sports, racing, where we're polluting the environment, at least we can go green, right? I know that doesn't sound good (laughter).
DARREN MANNING: We're not polluting any more (laughter).
DANICA PATRICK: Honda, coming with a three-and-a-half liter engine, whether it's the fuel or the engine, I don't know, but we have more power, it's faster, it's a bigger power band now. The engine doesn't feel as peaky as it did last year so you can kind of pull the next gear. I think that's going to provide for some really close racing 'cause mistakes aren't going to result in losing a few positions. You're going to be able to get back on the throttle and keep up pretty well. I think the racing will be closer, too.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, I think Danica hit the nail on the head there when she said about the racing, maybe not the pollution side of things (laughter).
With the racing, you know, when you're running in such tight packs, underneath the rear wing of a car in front, you're getting in and out of the gas pedal, the torque and power curve like Danica said is so smooth, so wide. In the past, there's been such a narrow band, if you got out the throttle, you were going backwards into more cars. That was very dangerous. That meant they had to get out. The chain effect meant it was pretty dangerous.
Now, if you do lift a little bit when you're behind somebody, you hardly lose any time at all. It's easier to drive. Yeah, it's definitely going to be closer and more safer racing all round.
THE MODERATOR: Danica, yesterday when Marco was in here, let me say first that we all, since we have never been part of a racing team as drivers, you would just assume that teammates are teammates. If you have teammates, they're teammates. Marco made it a point yesterday of saying that the atmosphere at Andretti Green is a little bit different, and he has said you lean on him or you guys can lean on each other. Is it more like a family there? What is the difference between AGR and other teams?
DANICA PATRICK: First and foremost, even when I was in conversations with Andretti Green, they said, Look, not only are you a good driver and you bring a lot of things to the table, but you would fit in well, and that's really important, because they talk a lot, they share a lot, they help each other a lot. That's a very important dynamic within their team. I knew that from the get-go.
But you also have to -- I've gotten along with them very well from the beginning. Whether they're a teammate or not, you have to get along with them, too. That's why they thought I fit the mold well. I just can't say I've ever been in a situation where I've gotten along with teammates this well. It's different. It's kind of refreshing. It makes it a lot more fun, I think every aspect. Whether you're walking to a drivers meeting or going to an appearance or sitting down in a debriefing, it's nice to be able to enjoy the company of your teammates and get along with them well and in turn you want to help each other more. We all lean on each other.
I think the important thing that we have to learn now within the team, with me coming in, is that in the debriefing, working together, they have to understand what I like in a race car, how I drive. Then when we talk about the car, we can compare it better and they can put it in perspective within their own driving and see what makes sense for them as far as the setups that I've tried. Now it's a bit of a learning process of me and them and them and me. Once it comes together, it's going to be what you always see with AGR: they run together and they climb the charts.
Q. Scott, you are driving for Danica's old team. How well are you starting to fit in? How is the gelling going over there?
SCOTT SHARP: It's great. For one, my engineer is Jeff Britton, who I had pretty good success with at Kelley Racing. We actually tested at Iowa right as we were sort of concluding our deal. First time I had been with Jeff in about three years. First or second time I got on the radio, it was like I hadn't been gone but a month, right back in sync with each other. That makes it real easy.
Yeah, I knew Jeff, but not well prior to this, Jeff Simmons. Right away we get on great. I think we both understand what's important is in any kind of team, maybe if you can handle it with more than two teammates, that can become an advantage, but you both equally have to be able to be learning and giving. If you have one side of the team that's constantly carrying the other side, it doesn't help propel the team up. Everyone understands that right now and everyone is sort of hungry to move the whole team forward, not be competing with each other. I think it's going to be real productive.
THE MODERATOR: I had a brief conversation with Scott Roembke yesterday. He said he fully expects you to contend for a championship. He believes you're capable and the team is capable. Is that your expectation going into the final race of the season?
SCOTT SHARP: That's certainly the goal for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Is it realistic, though?
SCOTT SHARP: I mean, we'll see. That's what we're all working very hard towards. A lot of work went on in the winter. I think a lot of the projects maybe that the team wasn't pushing as hard on in the last year, so they've really ramped up. Jay O'Connell was brought in as our technical director, a great guy, that brings a lot of knowledge, access to programs. Certainly all those have to come together in a mold that you see perennially Penske and Ganassi able to resource with.
We're all competitive. That's what we're here for. You look at how the last race of the year ended at Chicago, from their dominance of it, and I think you really have to say, first and foremost, we got to be competitive every race. We got to get to the point where we're qualifying well and contending. You do that and you're running in the top five enough, the wins are going to come. Then it's a matter of the consistency, reliability, all that, that is going to determine whether you're part of the championship with a handful of racers left. That's certainly the goal.
THE MODERATOR: Danica, realistic expectations for you with a new team? Should we assume that Danica Patrick is going to be a championship contender in 2007 or will it take a while to get acclimated to a new team?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't think there's a reason to rule that out as far as a possibility for this year. I'm driving for an amazing team. And you never quite know until the season really gets going where everybody really stands. I think we've made some great improvements over the winter. That shows with all of us being in the top 10 after yesterday and the Penske and Ganassi cars not being way out there with nobody even close. We're all kind of intermixed. I think that's a really good sign.
Then another strength of Andretti Green being that they race really well. I think that's what I always found. You know, sometimes they seem like they might have struggled in qualifying a little bit or just weren't quite as fast, but when the race came, they were always there. That is the only thing that matters. I mean, I proved whether I was on pole my first year a bunch of times or starting mid pack my second year, it doesn't really matter. I mean, you can go forward and backward pretty quick. Having a good race car is important.
But, no, there's no reason to rule it out. I think for me personally what will end up happening is that once that first win comes, I've always kind of said it's almost like you learn how to win. I don't know if you go into the races with a different attitude or what, but once that happens, I know that I'm a consistent driver. I think that once the top level is achieved, that will be much more consistent.
Like I said, I mean, knock on wood, I didn't have any accidents last year. I was very consistent. Take what the car can give you.
THE MODERATOR: For a team that has been down for a few years, does a fifth-place, sixth-place finish in points get celebrated at Foyt Racing in 2007 like a championship?
DARREN MANNING: I don't think like a championship. A.J., he still wants to win, and so do I. I think that's what's going to make us improve all the way through the year and hopefully beyond.
We're just going to go out at it race by race. Like Danica said, really just take what it gives us. We're just trying to improve in every aspect: in my driving, in the setup of the car, in the parts that we put on the car, the setup, the aero spec, absolutely everything. We're just trying to improve.
You don't know what's going to come out of it. Like Danica said, sometimes the guy that sits on pole doesn't win the race. We don't have to be the fastest car out there. We have to finish every race. You never know. We might improve up to a stage we can be challenging for the championship. I'm not expecting that too soon. I'm expecting that sometime.
Q. Darren, I believe you're the only full-time single-car team. How much of a disadvantage is that?
DARREN MANNING: That's a good question. I don't think it can be quantified from a one-car team to a four-car team or a two-car team. I had two cars with myself and Scott, then three cars with Ryan, as well. You do your own little program. Also you kind of feed off your teammates and things.
I think, you know, historically it has been a little bit of a disadvantage. We're fully focused. Sometimes it can be an advantage on how focused a team can be. Especially with what the team -- how the team's performed in the past few years, I think it's probably a good thing that we're not draining resources on other cars and things. We can really super focus. As the sponsors are coming more on board, we're getting more engineering, more engineering and mechanics, that's all we can do. If we had other cars and things, I think it might kind of unfocus the team a little bit.
I think we're pretty happy with where we are.
THE MODERATOR: Last night from the broadcast booth, this place looked spectacular under the lights. Was it as good from the car as it looked from where I sat?
DANICA PATRICK: My car looks good under the lights as I got in and out of the car.
THE MODERATOR: Of the tracks we race on that are lit, what does it compare to? Is it as good or better than the others?
DARREN MANNING: I think it is. I always like running at nighttime. The track's so well-lit, it really doesn't affect us as drivers too much. Apart from it's blue behind the lights, it's black. You have to change your visor a little bit, you get a little bit of glare off your shield a little bit. With driving, I didn't really find it too much different to the daylight, the lights are so good.
I think the sparks tend to make it a bit more exciting.
DANICA PATRICK: We don't have headlights, so it better be lit out there. It is like it is pretty much during the day when a cloud comes over. Pit lane's a little bit dark on pit-in, I thought. Other than that, it's night racing, isn't it?
SCOTT SHARP: We were a little late getting out with some changes we made, all of a sudden came out of the trailer, it was getting dark. I thought the place was electrified. Wow. Getting out there, it was really well-lit, I thought probably honestly better than any other track we run on. It was bright. As good as the daylight.
Q. Scott, I did hear a comment or two about the transition being hard to see. Is that something they could take care of, paint or something?
SCOTT SHARP: I heard someone had some issues with trying to find the white line. I never had any problems finding the white line. I saw it. Maybe with the brightness of the lights, you look for it a little bit more. It was just getting in that groove, used to it.
DANICA PATRICK: Like Darren said, there's a bit of glare on the visor or something. Maybe your tear-offs don't show up well with the glare. Tear them all off.
DARREN MANNING: Was it Wheldon that struggled with it (laughter)?
THE MODERATOR: Last night with the moon and the breeze and the palm trees in the back lit up by the lights, it was pretty perfect. Thank you very much, guys.
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