Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
March 7, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests with us this afternoon. Joining us in a few minutes will be IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick. To start the call, we're pleased to have Indy Pro Series driver Alex Lloyd.
Alex is a 22-year-old Englishman who has relocated to Indianapolis. He debuted in the United States in the Indy Pro Series last year at St. Pete and went on to record two victories at the Liberty challenge at Indianapolis and also at Infineon Raceway. This season he's moving over to Sam Schmidt Motorsports and will drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil car.
Alex, you had a successful debut last season. Tell us about the decision to come back to the Indy Pro Series and to move over to Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
ALEX LLOYD: Firstly, the decision to stick with the Indy Pro Series was a pretty easy one from my side. I felt that the series was very strong last year, but all the elements are in place to make it an even stronger series. Certainly, in my opinion, the strongest feeder series in the United States right now in open-wheel racing.
To be honest, I mean, that's where I wanted to be. It's shown I think in the early parts of this year that that's going to be the case with the increased number of drivers, all the talented drivers, not just from the U.S. but from Europe, Japan, and a lot of new big teams coming involved, the IndyCar teams.
Really, it's looking like it's going to be a very strong year for the series.
In terms of switching to Sam Schmidt Motorsports, I really finished last year having a pretty successful year. I was happy away coming away with a couple of wins. We obviously didn't compete for the championship having missed a few rounds of the series. I looked at my options at the end of the year and said to myself, you know, to get myself up into IndyCar, I really need to try to win the championship in 2007. To do that I've got to put myself in the best team and the best car available at that particular time.
Looking at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, who have won three of the last four championship titles in the Indy Pro Series, the seat was available there, and that made it very easy for me to put that as my main priority to try and get in that seat, which fortunately I was able to do. Hopefully we're going to have a great year.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned Sam's success as one of the really leading Indy Pro Series teams. Talk maybe more specifically about some of the expectations for 2007. Is the expectation there to win a handful of races, or is there a real run at the championship here?
ALEX LLOYD: We probably have two expectations. Firstly, and probably the most important, is probably to go out there and win the championship. For myself, I have won races in the Indy Pro Series now and know that that's not sort of a boundary for me to cross. I know that I can do that.
What I want to do is to now put a championship year together. I mean, the team have obviously done that before. They've got the experience. That's what we all want to do: We want to come away with a championship.
On a second note, one of our expectations is not just to win the championship in a close-fought battle. It can be a close-fought battle, but we want to win it by winning a lot of races, trying to do it in a dominant fashion. Our real aim is to try and win five, six, seven, eight races of the year.
Of course, if there's another guy that's able to do the same thing, it's a close race, that's fine. But we really just want to win as many races as we possibly can. That's a real goal of ours, and probably the most important thing. The way we're looking at it, is we're going to take each race as it comes one by one and try to win each race we enter. Hopefully, by the end of the year, if we can win plenty of races, that will put us in a position to be fighting for the championship.
So really looked at starting the year by winning as many as we can and see where we're at midway through the year.
THE MODERATOR: One of the strengths in the Indy Pro Series is the fact that we race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're racing three times on both circuits there. Coming over from England, how big was the Indianapolis 500? What was it like for you last year to be right in the middle of the month of May, racing on the famed 2.5 mile oval?
ALEX LLOYD: In England obviously we all know about the 500. Especially everybody in motorsports knows about the 500, no matter where you're from. We get coverage of the race in England. It's good coverage. But you don't really get to see the whole sort of buildup, feel it as you do when you're in America, on the news all the time. Pretty much every program you go on there's the hype building up to it, which I never experienced before.
Of course, being a part of it, racing on the speedway, it's something special to me. To me, it's a very special place. I can really see why you hear about it so much, all the mechanics and everybody in the team that have grown up in Indy, it's such a big thing to them. It takes you all of about five minutes being around guys like this, being in this country and racing at Indianapolis, to have that same sort of feeling yourself, where this is the biggest race on our calendar, and it's the one that you want to win the most.
I know for myself it's probably the race I want to win the most this year is the race at the Speedway, on carb day at the 500. I know the team is feeling exactly the same because it is really such an honor for a series to be able to support the Indy 500. It is such a big race. The fact that we're there on the carb day, I mean, I was so surprised, having never been there on a carb day before, how much crowd we get there. The atmosphere and everything like that, it's a really special event. For me, I think that's the No. 1 race.
We race there with the Formula Ones, the European, always growing up around Formula One, being a main focus, that's always a really great thing to be racing on that weekend with those guys here. We have two races, doubleheader on that weekend. That's really an invaluable thing.
But I think, yeah, for sure, the 500 weekend for me is the most special, and hopefully we can have a good race there this year.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it for questions for Alex.
Q. You won a race here at Infineon last year. What were the things you liked about the track, and I assume you're looking to coming back again?
ALEX LLOYD: Absolutely. The first thing, that was my first trip to California. I have family that live in Walnut Creek, quite close to the racetrack. That was a big thing. My first impression of the place is it's just beautiful. It's one of the most gorgeous places I've been to. Not only that, but the track is fantastic. With the undulations, quick corners, slow corners, it's really got everything you want as a driver.
I think as far as from a driving perspective, it's the most fun track we race on all year. I had a good race there, which was also great. So really, I mean, it's a fantastic place. It's a place that I really can't wait to come back to. I'm already looking forward to hopefully seeing a little bit more of California and hopefully having another good race weekend at the race there.
Q. One of the things about racing now in the U.S. it seems with every young driver a that comes up, the question is: When are you going to try NASCAR? Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo, Helio, they're trying the stock cars. In England, what is the attitude towards NASCAR? Is open-wheel racing still the goal for young racers?
ALEX LLOYD: I think in England NASCAR is absolutely unheard of. It sounds crazy when you're living in America or from America because it's such a big thing, but really nobody knows anything about it. I think the interest certainly in reading some of the UK magazines like Auto Sport Magazine, which is a big magazine over in Europe, because of Juan Pablo's entrance into NASCAR this season, that's really made it a lot bigger. Suddenly now people are starting to take interest. That had never happened before.
I think that's probably going to grow. The more big names come from open-wheel, people in Europe, the names they'll recognize, go into NASCAR, the bigger and bigger NASCAR is going to get over there.
I think from a driver's point of view, the European driver, it's pretty much everybody wants to go open-wheel racing. It depends on what it is. Most guys probably say Formula One, because when they're growing up that's what they're watching on the TV, that's the most known thing. Of course, down the line, as people live in different places, watch different races, maybe that changes. But I think it always stays in the open-wheel.
In Europe, I certainly think that's probably going to stay that way for quite a long time to come. Like you say, in America, it seems to be a changing fashion where people are starting to want to go into the stock cars. Me personally, it would be great to have a go, but I'm very focused on the open-wheel route at the moment, which is something I've grown up for and hope I can make a career out of motorsports in that category.
Q. You said you found out that the seat was available with this team. How did you go about getting it? Was there competition for the seat? I assume you audition.
ALEX LLOYD: A good thing for me is I've been racing in the Indy Pro Series alongside, competing against the team I'm now racing for. I spoke towards the end of the year, realized there's probably a seat available there, spoke to the team owner in general if there's a possibility of me getting in the seat and what would be required for that.
Of course, the fact that I was racing in front of them all year gave me the opportunity to short of showcase what I can do in front of them. It kind of made, you know, almost as if I was auditioning during the year and my results during the year were impacting the likelihood of me getting the drive.
I mean, that really helped. I think if I come from another championship, speaking to the top team, saying, Can I get into championship-winning seat, and they haven't seen you race personally, they don't know you personally, it makes it a lot harder. So that really made opening the door a lot easier.
Then, I just got on very well with Sam Schmidt, the team owner. I think we both have the same sort of goals. We didn't just want to go in there and try and win the championship, we wanted to do it in a convincing way. So I think that was the common ground between us there that helped. Yeah, got the drive.
Yeah, it's a great thing for me. It's what I'd been aiming for since pretty much the middle of the season when I established myself with which teams out there seemed like the ones you want to be with.
Q. I assume with a good season this year, you will use that as a steppingstone to the IndyCars. Is that your next goal?
ALEX LLOYD: Yeah, that's the prime focus right now. Of course, it's difficult. That last step is always the most difficult. But I think this year with the increase in IndyCar teams, again, like I said, you're now performing in front of those guys. They're watching. They have the ability to take on drivers if they deem one fit to be doing it.
I think the new competition involved, the more good drivers we get involved from the various different categories really brings the whole caliber of the series up. I think now it's for sure got the best standard of driving grids in open-wheel racing in the U.S. of a feeder championship up to a big championship. Hopefully we're going to see a few guys get promoted up into the big cars next season. I hope I can be one of them to make that jump.
THE MODERATOR: Alex, thanks so much for taking some time to join us today.
ALEX LLOYD: No problem at all.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick. Danica, of course, returning for her third season of IndyCar Series competition in 2007. In 30 career starts, she's finished in the top 10 in exactly half of those. This year, of course, she's moving over to Andretti Green Racing where she'll drive the No. 7 Motorola car.
Danica, it seems surprising to me you've already got 30 races under your belt. Does it seem that way to you, too, that those first 30 have gone by so quickly?
DANICA PATRICK: Time flies when you're having a good time, you know (laughter).
You know, the second season, it flew by because the season was a little shorter. It kind of went by quickly. But, yeah, 30 starts. Takes a while to come along. You know, now I'm excited in the place that I'm at. I don't know, what can I say? I lived every 30 of those races, so to me it doesn't seem as little a time as it does from the outside.
THE MODERATOR: Over a 30-race span, any race span, you're learning as you progress through. For you, what are the biggest things left to learn to master here as an IndyCar Series driver, and what role are your new teammates playing in that?
DANICA PATRICK: I think there's going to be something I learn until the last year I race, and beyond if I kept going. It's a continued learning process. I think that just getting more aggressive with the car, just sort of manhandling it more and more, getting comfortable with the car is going to be the biggest thing.
We had a lot of changes over the last couple of years, whether it be cars or just getting more road course events going, and now with teams, just having a different approach to the driving style. I think the road courses are a place I have some progress to make. Then on the ovals, just believing in the car on cold tires and getting on it is going to be the most beneficial thing for me.
But I do have some pretty good teachers. One, of course, is Mr. Kanaan, who is like unbeatable on race starts and out of the pits. I'm sure he'll be able to teach me some things as well as Dario and Rocco.
Q. Once you win, what do you think the next question everybody is going to ask you all the time?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is: How soon do you think it is till your next one? You know, I have to imagine it's going to be like, How do you feel? Are you excited? Are you relieved? How do you feel now?
Then again, everyone is going to answer that question for me by giving their own question. Hopefully everybody comes up with different ones. That's always fun.
Q. Could you reflect on your decision to leave Rahal, some of the reasons behind it.
DANICA PATRICK: It was a decision that kind of came along through the year. It really just came from a standpoint of wanting to have a team around that wanted to win as badly as I did, that was going to put the effort in, leave nothing to the imagination for how to go faster, really do the research and development over the winter, then come into the season with a really first-class operation, and on top of that have a lot of people that are willing to help as far as engineers, crew and drivers.
The decision in the end came fairly -- the decision to do it overall is difficult because you hope you make the right choice. But the decision in the end wasn't really all that difficult, I guess. The answer was sort of clear to me in the last -- in the final hours.
Q. What, if any, differences have you noticed so far at Andretti Green?
DANICA PATRICK: Big organization, that's for sure. I think their eagerness to keep learning, keep developing, keep doing research, and also the help that the teammates are willing to give is two of the really big differences I've seen so far.
Q. What happened at the Sebring test with the Acura? I know they say you didn't get to drive it because you didn't fit too well with the taller drivers on the team. How come they didn't put a shorter driver like Mario in there with you?
DANICA PATRICK: It's pivotal around Mr. Herta, as he is the primary driver for the car. Dario, as far as a driver that would come in as much as possible from our side, from IndyCar, it would be Dario. Those are the two tallest drivers on the team.
I think there was talk about maybe later in the season we'll put a car together that has me and maybe Marco or something in it. We're a bit shorter. We'll have to see what happens.
Ultimately, yeah, of course it was about safety and it was about making sure I could give the series and the team and of course my sponsors what they're here for, and that's IndyCar.
Q. How did you feel about that test, driving Sebring in that car?
DANICA PATRICK: I thought it was a lot of fun. I thought the car was cool. Paddle shifting was fun, and having all the bells and whistles of traction control and the launch and everything back again was fun. But, you know, if I had a choice to drive anything I'd drive the IndyCar, because that's what I'm doing and that's why where I want to focus all my energy anyway. The sports car was really just a way to get some more time in a car, some more time on a road course, and have a bit of fun at the same time.
Q. It seems like a short time, but at the same time it's been a long time. 30 races is quite a while. How do you feel that you've changed in the car and as an individual in those two seasons you've gone through so far?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think as a driver I've become more confident. I've learned, to be honest, at the times when I've had a good car, I've learned what a car is supposed to feel like. It's so difficult to go out there and say, I want a car to do something else and not have been there before, not have felt that feeling before, because you sort of just accept that a car is supposed to feel a certain way because that's how it was when you jumped into it and you don't know anything yet.
But over the years, I've learned what a good car felt like. It's given me the ability to demand certain things out of myself and the engineers as far as the way the car handles. I definitely got more confident and learned what I need out of a race car.
Q. Personally do you feel, outside of the track, that you're more mature and confident, more relaxed?
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, yeah. I'm not even a newlywed any more. Been more than a year. I'm definitely more mature and relaxed (laughter). I much rather enjoy going home and making dinner and watching TV with my husband than doing anything else. Of course, as the years go on, it's more business, it's more Danica racing, what's happening not only inside the car and with the teams and everything, but it's also what's happening with my company and how is that growing and how are we ensuring a good future beyond the days of racing.
So, yeah, it's definitely a more mature environment. I said the funniest thing the other day to my mom. I said, I never thought I'd say this. She thought I was going to be serious. I never thought I'd say, I wonder where the Dow ended up today. So my life have definitely evolved, but it's okay. It's just different. It's not better or worse; it's just different.
Q. Making the transition to a new team, having a new mindset, how much of a role does something like that play in helping you to make strides as a driver, maybe propelling you towards a first win? How much does that help?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, it gives you a whole new group of information, more people, different people, different information. I think that's really what helps your base of knowledge grow, is just being around some different surroundings. It also pushes you to, you know, challenge yourself, push harder, raise your game to the next level.
I definitely am amongst a group of drivers that push you to reach the next level because they're so good. I think all of those things are what's going to really take it all up a notch and hopefully get that first win.
Q. Do you think the same kind of scenario might be possible for your former teammate Buddy Rice as he has a change of scenery as well?
DANICA PATRICK: There's a lot of things that come into a situation like that. Again, as I was mentioning, I have great teammates that I can learn from. I don't know his situation. There's always that chance that when you're with some new people you can learn. I can't speak for him, but that's definitely a possibility.
Q. How pivotal is this season for you? How different does this season feel compared to the first two?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I will say honestly that I feel, as the races go on, and of course the seasons go on, I feel more pressure to do well, to perform, but I know there's also circumstances that come into it, as well.
If it was as simple as one more season should give you better results, then that should have happened from season one to season two. But the circumstances were that we had an engine advantage the first year. We had a chassis advantage in certain places the first year. The team was in much better condition than it was the second year.
You know, all those things play into your results. While I drove better and more flawless and more aggressively and with more knowledge, it didn't translate as much because of all of those circumstances.
So when everything is right, when the season comes together with a good car, a good engine, a good team, good everything, good me, then the success will come. But there's just so many moving parts in racing.
Q. Obviously joining a team with Andretti Green's reputation is going to lift people's expectations for you. How do you deal with that?
DANICA PATRICK: I've, of course, thought about it a lot, and I do believe that's true. But there's also pressure on the team, as well, to perform. I'm going to a better team. As a result, we both should be better and we both have pressure to do well. We have to always be on our game because as the races go on, you know, everybody, you know, they're waiting that much more and looking forward to the success.
There's pressure on both of us, but, yes, it has escalated.
Q. How much input have you gotten, advice, not only with Michael but with Mario as well?
DANICA PATRICK: I can't say that I've talked to Mario at all. Michael has been around at every test we've done. He has been really helpful as far as giving advice, outside of when I talk to my engineer, teammates, just giving his past experience. You can't argue with experience, and he has more than anybody as far as driving.
I think -- well, he is very valuable. The more opinions and the more ideas you can have, the more you can sort of funnel through them and choose what's best for you. That's also where the multiple teammates play a big part, too.
Q. The team you're with, it's a very interesting group of drivers personality-wise and things like that. How are you fitting in? How is chemistry? How are they treating you?
DANICA PATRICK: It's very good. It's so fun to be around these guys, have guys that call and want to hang out with you outside of just being at the track. We'll go out to dinner together. You'll just call and send text messages to each other. You have more of a friendship than I've experienced before. Of course, not only are they fantastic drivers, but they're also friends, so that's something new for me.
Q. Given the fact you've been around them, tested with your team, all the people you're working with, is there a sense on your part that this is the year?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, everything in my stomach wants to tell me that, but I'm not going to say that because if it doesn't materialize, then all of a sudden I'm wrong. I would rather play the other side of it and say that I believe -- you know, I really do believe that everybody is working so hard. The right situation is coming together.
But keeping in mind, it's also a new team. It's a new relationship. Getting into the groove is going to take a little bit. I have no doubt that it will take a little bit into the season before it comes -- I have no doubt it will come together, but we've only had two tests before the first race. That's not exactly an immense amount of time to work through everything as far as getting comfortable, getting comfortable with the car, getting comfortable with everybody new on the radio with me. I mean, everything on my dash is different.
All the information that I'm getting as a driver is coming from different spots. It takes a little bit to get comfortable. Two tests is by far a limited amount.
It will come together. I'm in the right spot for it to come together. It's just a matter of time.
Q. Do you feel what you were lacking in previous years, can you already see the difference that you're getting what you need with the new team?
DANICA PATRICK: Yes, yes. You know, they are willing to put in the effort to make sure that you have everything you need as a driver, that your concerns, your needs are listened to. They take the time to do everything and do it right. Most importantly, everybody's excited here. Everybody's excited to do well. Everybody's interested and loves racing. Nothing seems like a problem for them. They're all just eager to help and make it all work.
I'm sure the season will show me another dynamic. But that's what I've experienced so far. It's refreshing. It's fun. It's nice. It's good to laugh with the guys.
Q. You said you need a little bit of help on the road courses. Are you going to get any practice in?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I have no doubt that it'll probably come along here and there throughout the year. But it's not going to be a tremendous amount, but I'm sure I will get some. We'll see what happens. But, yeah, I'm sure.
Q. You've raced on Infineon a couple of years. Have you learned anything in those first couple years coming into this year for that race?
DANICA PATRICK: The first year was a bit of tragic event. I wasn't necessarily very fast. The first year I ended up getting crashed out. The second year I came along and finally made the decision going into that event that I was not going to try and drive like anyone else. I was going to drive like myself, change the car for my style. It seemed to be pretty effective because, again, we were struggling throughout the year, and that was towards the end.
I mean, I qualified my teammates and finished eighth. It was a better year for me. Of course, I was running for a while with Tony and Dario, which are now my teammates. They're pretty darn good at those road courses. It was a better year for me.
I hopefully will come back and do even better.
Q. Iowa Speedway is going to host an event for the first time. What have you heard about that? A number of drivers have tested there. What do you expect? A race not too far from your home base.
DANICA PATRICK: I have not been there. I haven't tested. Of course, I've heard it's a short oval. I think what I've found with the short ovals is that they have produced some pretty darn good racing. Strategy is very important, being a short track, not going a lap down.
But the car has also changed so much more because the tires are getting so much more -- getting so much more of a workout out there. You're constantly turning. So as the car, again, changes so much from the beginning to the end of a fuel stint, it really makes for some overtaking. Fast cars are fast, a lot of fun. Slow cars are definitely making for a long day.
But that's what makes racing exciting, when there's some difference in speed.
Q. Do drivers look forward to a new track, different situation, new challenge, or one more of a litany of adjustments have to make that makes things more stressful?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it's always good to try new events. I think the important part is getting the message out that it's there, getting the fans there. As drivers, we're constantly forced to adapt to all the different situations that come up, whether it's a cold day, warm day, a different setup on the car. We're adapting in small and large amounts all the time.
I don't think going to a new track is so much a problem. The problem is if the message doesn't get out and people don't come to the track, then it just becomes another event. It's the responsibility of so many parties to get the fans there. But that's when it becomes really fun.
Q. I thought about what I would have asked. The question that I would have asked you is: Now that you've won, was it fair that everybody kept asking you when you were going to win?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, in that situation I would have to say, yes, it's completely fair. I know I'm answering this question a little early obviously. But I had such good results so early on, I mean, I had a chance to win in my third, fourth race or so. That causes for a bit of a stir, especially in my situation. I'd say that it was fair, but I'm glad it's over.
Q. You were actually sixth last year at St. Pete. You're with a team now that two years ago swept the top four spots. What are some of the subtleties you can pick up from your two teammates that might allow you to be a factor there?
DANICA PATRICK: I think they have really good street racing cars. They always tend to go really well on 'em. I'm sure not only will the car be good, but I think my teammates will be able to help me along, teach me new tricks inside the car, and give me a new advantage inside the cockpit.
Q. How do you like that course relative to the two permanent courses?
DANICA PATRICK: I love street courses. Number one, it brings out the fans; it's more exciting. You're always in such a beautiful atmosphere. That makes it really fun. It's also a track that you can pass on, which is something that doesn't always come along when you're racing at a street course. There's a lot of reasons why it's a good track.
Q. You sound comfortable and confident with your new situation. Which of your teammates has been the most help to you?
DANICA PATRICK: That's hard to decide. I think probably Tony has been the most helpful. It's a toss-up, Tony or Dario. I think the progress I've made with each of them is different. Tony's definitely been one that's come up to the cockpit during the test sessions and talked to me and explained things to me and been supportive. I guess if I had to pick one, I'd say him.
I think they've all been helpful in their own way. Tony and Dario probably the most.
Q. How long is your contract with Andretti Green, and what are your plans, if any, beyond IndyCar racing?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know. I actually don't even know if I can say how long it is. I'm just not gonna because it's easier that way (laughter).
I don't know what's going to come next. I don't think I could have ever imagined where I was going to be if you were asking me five years ago. I really don't have an answer for you. Time changes so much. So many new things come up. I don't know what the future holds. It seems like it's moving at a fast pace for me. I just would hope it would bring me to a successful team or keep me at a successful team, whenever that was.
Q. Any interest in NASCAR?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know. Have to see.
THE MODERATOR: Danica, thank you so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon. We appreciate that. Best of luck.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Our next Indy Racing League teleconference will be next Wednesday, March 14th, 2:00 eastern time. Our guesting will be 2006 IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish, Jr., and racing legend AJ Foyt, who celebrates his 50th year in racing this season.
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