Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
March 21, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody, thanks for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guesses with us today. Joining us in a few minutes will be 2005 Champion, Dan Wheldon, but first today we will have Bobby Wilson. How are you today, Bobby?
BOBBY WILSON: I'm well.
THE MODERATOR: You are behind the wheel of the car that's won the last two series championships for Brian Stewart Racing. Bobby, how has it been acclimating yourself to the team again?
BOBBY WILSON: Hasn't been that hard, like putting an old pair of shoes. Get together with the same group of guys and go over the same things and it, you know, works together. I'm comfortable in my situation.
THE MODERATOR: You guys were quick in testing on the oval. What do you expect for the race on Saturday?
BOBBY WILSON: It's going to be a tight race. You have other drivers in the series that have been quick as well, but I think people have overlooked how -- the draft and how that plays a part in your testing time. So I think I'm going to have a really strong car, and I have all of the confidence in the world in the team that the car is going to be 100% ready to go.
THE MODERATOR: All right. And as I mentioned, Brian Stewart Racing has won the last two key championships. You're driving the No. 1 car. I expect your goal is to keep that No. 1 for Brian Stewart?
BOBBY WILSON: Yeah. He made it pretty clear when I was signing on, he's adamant about keeping that No. 1, so I know there are some high expectations out there, and I have no problems with that, because I have them as well. So I'm just going to do my best and, you know, trying to win every practice, you know, get pole every race and win every race, so that's how I have to look at the season.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions from the media.
Q. There is so much talk about racers such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish, Jr. going over into NASCAR, and here you are starting out in open-wheel racing and hopefully going into the IndyCars. For somebody that's on the way up, what do you think open-wheel racing needs to do to keep its talent in open-wheel racing?
BOBBY WILSON: Good question. I think they need to, you know, promote the drivers and promote the teams and bring a supporting audience to the fold. I know that a lot of drivers have dreams at a young age, and it's kind of -- you know, you pick that -- you kind of pick the path you want to go, and I knew at a young age that I wanted to go race IndyCars, so living the dream and hopefully keep it going in the same path. So my dream is to run in the Indy 500 some day, and it could be possible in the next few years.
Q. And you're somebody that has really signed on road courses, like the one we have out here in Infineon. What is it about road courses that you like?
BOBBY WILSON: I think it's my background. I started out in karting, where we only did road courses, and there is a lot more going on. You have brake and load transfer and acceleration, and there is a lot more going on, and I think I can pinpoint small, little things that happen with a car and break it down for the engineer more so than I can on an oval.
An oval is a little different. I had to learn last season quite a bit with drafting and how that all works, so, you know, I know my strong point is definitely road courses but I think I'm going to be quick on ovals this year as well.
Q. Can you identify the common hurdles you have overcome at the IndyCar level?
BOBBY WILSON: The common hurdles, I think, are stiff competition. They have that saying out there, "the cream always rises to the top," and that is true. We have folks from all over the world racing in our series, so you get the best of people from all over the world and, you know, you kind of take pride in beating them. So that makes competition level pretty high and, you know, I think that's the biggest hurdle right now is the competition.
Q. If you could compare your job to a normal 9 to 5 job, I know it might be difficult, but how would you compare it to another job?
BOBBY WILSON: I don't know if I can relate to that question; I do have a normal 9 to 5 job. I'm allowed to go racing. I work at Ocala Grand Prix, and I have a go-kart race team, so I deal with customer relations and stuff. Racing is a bonus in my life, and I'm trying to make it as a race car driver, so I don't -- I live in that world as well.
Q. Could you explain to a fan maybe what they might misunderstand about your job that they have no -- let's put it this way: They have no clue about the reality of what your job is really like?
BOBBY WILSON: It's not just racing on the weekends, it's everything, you know? Preparation before the race, your focus I think is a big part of being a race car driver. You have to be focused as well as very good on the personal relations end. I mean, marketing and everything is such a big part of this sport and, you know, in order to attract better sponsors and move up the ladder, that's what it takes.
You have to be kind of the person that can be good in all of those categories. You know, you have to be physically fit, you have to have the focus and you have to be personable.
Q. You touched a minute ago on competition in the Indy Pro Series, and I know this year we have a lot more competitors and quality competitors. Would you talk for a minute about, from your standpoint, how that is going to play into your strategy and your thinking this year?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, I mean, I have basically one goal, and that's to win, so I don't necessarily have a specific strategy, because I just intend to be fast all year. I think as the season progresses, we'll find strong points and weak points of drivers and kind of find out where everybody is going to fit in. I think racing craft is going to come into play quite a bit and just experience. This last season I learned a lot, and I think that might give me an upper hand over some of the newcomers, so with that being said, I expect to be strong all season.
Q. Who do you see as your main competition?
BOBBY WILSON: Alex Lloyd. It will be interesting to see how the Chip Ganassi team pans out. You just have the veterans, I know Wade is coming back. It's hard to say. We'll see how the first race goes in Homestead.
THE MODERATOR: Bobby, thank you for your time, and we should be joined by Dan Wheldon shortly, ladies and gentlemen.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are now joined by Dan Wheldon. Dan returns for his second season driving the Target Chip Ganassi Racing car after finishing second to Sam Hornish, Jr. in the series standings. Dan, talk about your season.
DAN WHELDON: I'm looking forward to getting the season started. It's been a long off-season. The pre-season testing has gone well for both myself and everybody at the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, and I think with the calendar that we have laid out this year, it certainly bodes for an exciting season. So I'm looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Dan, you've won the last two Indy car series events, and you're the fastest in preseason testing on the oval. What are your plans to get a finish in south Florida?
DAN WHELDON: It's hard to predict the races in Homestead, especially with everything being new and the lack of preseason testing. We've only had two days on the oval itself, and when I say "a lot has changed," the engine has gone from a three liter to the three-and-a-half liters, and I think that's changed the characteristics a little bit of what the car does and the way the engine performs, but it's just -- you know, everybody has been pushing the development envelope as much as they possibly can, and no one really knows where anybody fares yet.
When you're pushing fuel loads, you don't know how much downforce people are carrying, and there is an element of unknown, and if we get the best out of the package we have, I think we can certainly contend for the race win. But with the series as competitive as it is right now, I wouldn't want to predict the winner, but I feel like we have a strong chance, but we're just going to do pretty much exactly what we've been doing. You need to stay focused, work hard on all the areas that we can control, and if we do that and I do my job, then hopefully we can perhaps make it a third consecutive win at Homestead for me.
Q. With all the success you've had the last two years, obviously going as one of the favorites, if not the season favorite, how do you handle those expectations so well? We've talked in the off-season quite a bit, and you look cool, calm and collected whether you're testing the cars in Daytona, or running whenever.
DAN WHELDON: That's very nice of you to say. I think when you're in a fortunate position that I'm in, in the team that I'm involved with at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, you expect to perform very well. And my job as a racing driver for Chip is to get the best out of the equipment. I think, you know, what comes with perhaps being the favorite, or one of the favorites, is a little bit of added pressure, but I think the pressure that I put on myself to perform certainly outweighs that, so really it doesn't affect me too much.
I think the biggest thing for me personally is when you have the equipment and the opportunity to be able to win a championship, you need to make the most out of it, and that's something that I was very, very disappointed about last year. I definitely felt we had the opportunity to win the championship, and as a team we let it slip.
So I just don't want to do that again this year. I really do believe we have everything capable of being able to be champions and hopefully to win the Indianapolis 500 again, and we've got to make it happen. It's going to be highly competitive this year. I think it's probably going to be one of the best seasons open-wheel racing has seen in a long time.
Q. At any point in the off-season did you look back to see where you could have found that one extra point?
DAN WHELDON: Everybody could say there was opportunities where they lost a lot of points, but I think really if you look back at the top four, there was certainly a lot of opportunities where, you know, I just -- sometimes just through unfortunate circumstances lost a lot of points.
So what is frustrating is it's not just one thing; there's many. We definitely gave up a couple of wins when we really shouldn't have. There was a point at Kentucky where I drove through my pit at the end, we dropped a wheel, and at Indianapolis we picked up the puncture, and I think at Indianapolis that would be my most frustrating moment. We did have a great car and I think that hurt our chances of winning the race, so that would be the point where I would be most disappointed about, but I think there's certainly a lot of points during the season last year that we let slip.
Q. I was wondering if you could explain to people just the physical feel difference you felt driving 3.5 liters as opposed to three liters? Does it give you more grunt coming off the corner, or is there a big difference there?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, well, basically it's an improvement in bottom-end power. So when you're at play, your foot to the throttle, it seems there is a lot more horsepower, the torque is better. And to be quite frank, to make the change that we've had to to the three-and-a-half liter, and to change the fuel from methenyl to ethanol, Honda has done a very good job in making that a pretty seamless change. At the top end of the motor's performance, there really isn't that much difference, if any at all, but it's just that bottom-end, it seems, you know, pretty impressive.
There definitely is a lot more power there, so you perhaps -- certainly on the road courses you can't just, you know, stomp your foot down to the floor in the exit of the corners; you have to manage that power a little bit. And that adds another dimension or challenge to driving IndyCars.
Q. Obviously it seems like the Marlborough team had Penske's number a little bit at the beginning of last year and the end was up for grabs, so to speak, but in the testing you have done, have you been able to figure out whether you have their number now, or is Friday and Saturday purely a crapshoot as to who has what?
DAN WHELDON: I would not 100% agree with your answer. I thought definitely we -- I think we performed very well throughout the season, and it seemed to me that it just -- the Ganassi cars and the Penske cars were both very competitive. It was the team that made the least mistakes or the car that made the least mistakes that won the race that weekend. I think it's still difficult to judge, because we've only had two days on the road course and two days on the oval, and it seems very competitive. I wouldn't like to predict who right now is the quickest.
What I can say is I was happy with the way my car performed in testing and, you know, in particular I'm much happier on the road courses now that I'm in a DeLorean, and you can get involved in all kinds of things.
But all I know is what I'm in control of, and I think we made improvements, and I think it makes a big difference when you have a second year on a team, personally. Because of that, I think there will be an improvement from the No. 10 car's standpoint, but, you know, I have to say, I think both Penske cars will be strong, I think both Ganassi cars, and I think a couple of the Green cars are going to be strong, and one of the Panther cars.
So as you say in America, it's going to be a "barn burner" of a season.
Q. I was watching the behind the scenes show that they did with you guys at Chip Ganassi Racing, and there was a moment in Kentucky that the engineers were trying new things on the car and basically you all had to treat practice sessions at races as test sessions, and I'm just wondering, would you like to have more test sessions in the year? Would that make things easier to deal with as far as making changes on cars?
DAN WHELDON: Well, the reason that we don't go testing is because I think IndyCar Series mandates that rule to try and control costs. Now, in my opinion, if you give a team like Target Chip Ganassi Racing or like Mobil Team Penske $10 million, it doesn't matter if you can test or not, that team will spend that money to make that car go fast. There's other ways of improving the performance of the cars without being on track. What taking test away from the teams does is it just -- you know, it takes away from the on-track activity. And for me, personally, I would love to be on track a lot more. That's what I live for. It sounds kind of cliche, but, you know, I just want to drive the race cars.
So, unfortunately, we're not able to do that as much as we would like, but in answer to your question, I would certainly like to see some more testing, and I really don't think it would spiral the costs out of control. I think if it's done with the with the right intent, I think it's -- it will make it more fun for the drivers. The teams prefer to be more at the track, and I think it will make the teams more competitive.
Q. You kind of talked about this a little bit, but looking back on last year, do you feel like it was mainly circumstance that kind of prevented you from that next point or that next whatever? Do you look back at it and are mostly frustrated, or do you go into this season feeling even better? The two races you had your worst finishes, you led in both those races. It looked as if you were doing everything you possibly could.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I think as a team -- and look from the No. 10 car's standpoint, we certainly were very, very strong in a lot of the races. We definitely, you know, had a very strong car but unfortunately didn't capitalize on certain situations, and it cost us a lot of points. Now, that is frustrating in itself. What kind of gets you through points like that is the fact that we were so fast. It would be worse if we were giving away opportunities when we rarely got them, but, fortunately, for us as a team we had some good opportunities, we just didn't capitalize on them. I think you look at that season, you put that behind you.
What is difficult -- what is a difficult pill for me to swallow is the fact that championships are hard to come by, and to some degree -- and I'm not taking anything away from Sam, because I think he's an incredibly talented race car driver and on a very good team -- is, you know, I had that opportunity to win the championship, and I let it slip, and that's really what's driving me this year.
I'm very, very determined not to let that happen again. I'm going to be, you know, very, very committed on the track in making sure that I take advantage of every opportunity possible. I think because of the fact that we were fast, I think everybody is very, very excited about the season that's coming up.
Q. Could you update on any possible plans that you have to do NASCAR, Busch races this year?
DAN WHELDON: Right now I'm focused on the IndyCar Championship, and in particular the Indianapolis 500. That is my primary focus. I have completed my seat-fitting for the Busch car, and I would love to test that car soon; the sooner, the better. The opportunity hasn't arisen just yet. I don't know exactly when that will take place, but I really can't tell you exactly what I'm going to do until I've tested the NASCAR.
I really want to try it before, you know, committing to any further tests or anything like that. But it's very nice of Chip to give me that opportunity, to at least try it, and that's where I'm very fortunate to be in the team that I'm in.
Q. Still, the goal would be, if, as you say, the testing goes well, to be in a race this year, this season to try it out?
DAN WHELDON: For me the off-season is incredibly long, and if the right preparation could be done and the -- there was, you know, a sponsor willing to give us that opportunity, I would love to do a race or races at the end of the year, but we just have to wait and see if that's possibly going to work out.
Q. A lot of people have -- seem to agree that the IndyCar racing is the closest, most competitive racing in the world at the moment, and a lot of fun to watch. As a former champion and one who is constantly in the mix in these tight races, is it frustrating to you that the IRL doesn't have a bigger following because of the split? And I'm not trying to get you into that political mess, but as a driver I'm just wondering your thoughts on that?
DAN WHELDON: Well, I have to say I love driving IndyCars. They are fantastic to drive, there is no doubt about it, and, you know, the competition involved in the drivers that I race against and the teams involved, they're great. Because what is satisfying and gratifying to me as a driver is any fan I've met that's been to an IndyCar race absolutely loves what they see, and nine times out of ten, they come to another race because of that experience. You know, they've seen it, they've enjoyed it, and they want more, and that's gratifying.
I think the series as a whole, they've got rules mandated, which puts on fantastic shows for the fans. I think it's just a case of, you know, we've had the same drivers in the series for a while now, and I don't think we are being marketed as well as we should be, and I think the IndyCar Series has recognized that fact and are working towards trying to build us as personalities, because there is definitely great personalities out there.
Like you say, the on-track product I don't think anybody can dispute. I think it's fantastic. There's great sponsors involved. I mean, Target for all purposes is what I would consider a first-class company to have involved with the series, and, you know, the team's producing race cars that people love to drive and people love to watch.
It's just time. I think it's not going to happen quickly; it's going to take time, but I think we will become more well-known and perhaps household names, and when that happens, I think people will be more aware of the series. And I tell you what, when more people are aware of the series, it's going to steamroll because of the great show that we put on.
Q. Do you see a time when IndyCar racing could catch up with NASCAR's fan base and even surpass it?
DAN WHELDON: I think -- I think obviously NASCAR has been around a very long time, and you look at the IndyCar series and it's still relatively young, obviously, since the split. But, like I say, I'm a big advocate of the series, and I love driving the race cars, and I'm perhaps biased, but I do think we put on a fantastic show.
So, yes, I think in time we could be that big, but it's certainly going to take time, and it's going to take a lot of effort on everybody's part. As a driver and as a representative of a team and sponsor, I'm going to do everything in my power to try and help that.
Q. The efforts that have been made in the past couple of seasons with the new marketing approach and a theme song and more of a "hip" image, do you think those are working? Are you reaching a younger audience?
DAN WHELDON: I wouldn't say it's a younger audience, per se, but I think personally each year the series is definitely growing. Is it growing as quick as I would like? No, probably not, because like I say, I am a big advocate of the series, but I think it's definitely growing each year. That's a good sign. It would certainly be -- it would be a shame to see otherwise, but like you say, I really get the feeling that everybody is working hard towards making the series bigger and it is growing, perhaps just not as quick as we would all like. If everything happened as quick as we all liked the world would be a pretty boring place.
Q. With the switch to ethanol, which puts IndyCars in a class by itself with something that is more earth-friendly and all that other stuff, as a driver do you see much difference in the change from methenyl to ethanol?
DAN WHELDON: I think that's one of the things the series is making a big effort towards, and that's just an example of one of the -- you know, the things that they're doing.
You know, switching to ethanol is certainly a lot better for the environment, and I think, you know, with the help of Honda, it's really been a seamless change. They -- obviously, those two companies have worked together closely, because it does change the way the engine works to some degree, but as a driver I haven't seen much of that, because Honda has taken care of that a lot at HPD before we actually got on track. So really as a driver it's difficult to say I felt a big change because I really haven't.
Q. You guys, Chip Ganassi and Penske were so far ahead of the others last year. Why was that, and do you think the same thing is going to happen again this year?
DAN WHELDON: I don't think you're going to quite see the Penske, Ganassi domination that you saw last year. I think there's going to be other cars involved. When the series is as competitive as it is, and Ganassi and Penske are that little bit ahead, it's certainly easier for other teams to make strides toward us than it is for us to make strides away, so I do think it will be closer.
Although the numbers showed that Penske and Ganassi dominated, I would say it certainly looked that way more than it really was, because, certainly, I can remember racing with T.K. a lot. And I have to say, I give Tony a lot of credit, because he was doing things with that car that most people couldn't.
But I would expect to see the two Chip Ganassi cars up front, the two Penske cars, probably a couple of the Andretti Green cars and probably one of the Panther cars and then there will be surprises weekend in and weekend out, but those would be the cars I would expect to see up front and probably closer than what they were last year. Like I say, I can't wait for the season. I think it is going to be very, very tight this year.
Q. And with the new engine, what tracks do you think that will make the most difference on?
DAN WHELDON: You know, definitely the road and street courses. And then I think some of the shorter ovals. Anytime you're lifting out of the power and getting back into the power, when you have more -- when you have more torque there, it asks more from the rear tires. So I think Milwaukee, any of the shorter style ovals; Richmond. I think the change will definitely bode for real close racing, which is what the fans like to see.
THE MODERATOR: Dan, thank you for joining us, good luck Saturday night.
DAN WHELDON: Could I take the opportunity to thank a lot of the IndyCar fans that we have out there? We've grown our fan base as a series over the last couple of seasons, and I would just like to say thank you to all of them. And I know I don't just speak from a personal standpoint; I speak from a driver's standpoint and a representative of the team that we're excited about the upcoming season, and, you know, anything that we can do to make the fans have a better time at the racetrack, be sure to come by and approach us.
THE MODERATOR: Again, Dan, thanks for joining us and we'll see you Saturday night.
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