Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
April 11, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today. Joining us in a couple minutes will be team owner Sam Schmidt and his driver for the 91st Indianapolis 500. To start the call we're very pleased to have IndyCar Series Jeff Simmons joining us.
Good afternoon, Jeff.
JEFF SIMMONS: Tim, how are you?
Q. Great. Thank you. Jeff is in his second season in the IndyCar Series, driving the No. 17 Team Ethanol car for Rahal Letterman Racing. His 2006 debut came at Motegi and his first career top-ten finish came at Kansas Speedway. This year he started the season with a 17th-place finish at Homestead and a 14th at St. Petersburg.
Jeff, obviously the next couple weeks are going to be pretty busy. Let's talk a little bit about Motegi first. Last year was a bit of a hurried situation getting you into the car for the race without any testing. I'm sure the result wasn't exactly what you hoped for. I imagine you're hoping to go there this year and put out some much better results.
JEFF SIMMONS: Absolutely. Obviously we're looking to turn around the start to our season this year, which hasn't gotten off the way we wanted to. Certainly in the time that we had last year at Motegi, a lot of our practice time was kind of rained out. But the time that we had, I enjoyed the track. I'm looking forward to getting back there and hopefully we'll of find a good setup and be able to be competitive.
THE MODERATOR: Then we come right out of Motegi and go to Kansas, which is really the first time we've done that, come back and had a back-to-back race. How do you think that transition will go with the time change, lengthy travel?
JEFF SIMMONS: That's going to be tough, I think. Not only for drivers and all that, but especially for the crews who are going to have to turn the cars around. They're really only going to have the car in their possession for maybe a day and a half in order to do that. We need to make sure we get out of Motegi with all four wheels on the car and in good shape so that that turnaround will be easier.
I mean, I have to be out there actually early for the Kansas race. I'm really only going to be home for one day, then back out on my way to Kansas. It's going to be tough. It will be tough trying to adjust to that time change I think as well.
THE MODERATOR: Is there anybody out there, obviously all of you drivers go through intense physical training programs, anybody that gives you any tips or really a program that will help you adjust with the jetlag or just do your own thing?
JEFF SIMMONS: It's pretty much do your own thing. Some guys certainly try to sleep on the plane so they end up more on a proper schedule, especially going over to Japan. For instance, I leave on Monday and get there on Tuesday. Kind of need to get your sleep on the plane while you're on your way. There's a lot of guys who kind of change their schedules while they're at home trying to prepare for that. They'll just be more in sync with that.
THE MODERATOR: Looking at Kansas, last year's race started a string of six top-10 finishes in the last seven races of the year for you. Obviously you'd like to get that stretch started at Motegi. Is there anything in particular about Kansas that really appeals to you and your driving style?
JEFF SIMMONS: Kansas certainly is similar to several other tracks we run on. Last year we had a decent setup and were able to get a solid finish out of it. Going back there, obviously it's also a very important race for Team Ethanol and for our sponsors. We'll be looking forward to hopefully coming off a good race in Japan and moving forward and continuing that in Kansas, which obviously leads into Indianapolis. You really want to have some good momentum for that. We need to make sure, like I said, that we help the guys out by not having any damage on the car because that just sets you back even further. With the way the schedule is, you just can't afford that.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned Team Ethanol. Obviously you've been a very outspoken representative for the team and cause of ethanol. Another event kind of between Motegi and Kansas is Earth Day on April 22nd. Are you involved personally with any special events in Japan or back here in the U.S. involving earth day and the time around there?
JEFF SIMMONS: Not really. I'm kind of booked up on other ethanol promotion things. I'm sure they have some programs going for that. I'm not really specifically assigned to doing anything that day. I have some other things I'm doing. When we're talking about ethanol, obviously it plays a big part in our efforts to control global warming. That's certainly one of the main issues right now in terms of protecting our environment and protecting the earth.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned the month of May. Obviously it gives teams and drivers more track time than at any other time during the season. What are your goals for the month as a team and personally as a driver? What would you like to carry out of May for the rest of the season?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, you never really want to go into a race not thinking that you have a chance to win. We're focused obviously on trying to improve our cars and also personally I'm focused on improving my performance on the track and in the races especially.
We want to go in there and make sure we have a solid race car. We'll probably focus on that much of that practice time. I'm not worried as much about the qualifying as some other guys might be. Hopefully that will give us a car that's able to adapt to what you often end up with at Indy, really a dynamic sort of scenario in terms of weather or changes of the track, that sort of thing. You really need to have a car that's solid, that you can run hard and strong all day long.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up and take some questions for Jeff.
Q. Rahal Letterman Racing as a whole was devastated at the beginning of last season. As the year went on, seemed they couldn't rebound from it. You being new to the team, give us a paradox of what went on of after you joined the team last year and this year. Is it a whole new ballgame? Do you have new outlooks? What's happening with you and the team as a whole?
JEFF SIMMONS: Certainly even when I joined the team and went to Motegi last year, they were contemplating a change to the Dallara chassis. I think the team had pretty well maximized the Panoz chassis and their performance with that. In making that change, I think that was another added thing that everybody had to cope with and try to develop the car really during the race season.
In the off-season now we've really focused on doing more work with it and trying to improve the performance. Obviously at the end of last year, we were getting consistent top tens. We were really looking to get into consistent top fives this year. So far that hasn't happened.
I think a lot of people don't realize that St. Petersburg, for instance, that's the first time we've ever had the Dallara chassis on a street course. There's been teams that have been running this chassis for a long time. I think we're still playing some catchup. We're learning more all the time. With the limited testing that you get and trying to perform as best as you can in the race, but also get as much information out of it at the same time is a difficult thing.
We do manage to do that. We're getting a lot of information. I think we're still a step behind right now.
Q. With Team Ethanol setting the pace with having a friendlier fuel, you make a lot of appearances for Team Ethanol. What are some of the questions people ask you most about it?
JEFF SIMMONS: I think the first question that we usually get is how it performs in our cars. That usually leads into talking about how it will work in their cars. A lot of people I think know about the environmental benefits, but really have heard some conflicting information in terms of how it would perform in their car. We're able to clear that up, which is great.
Obviously, our primary purpose is to show the performance aspects of ethanol. This year we're off to a great start. I think all of the drivers are extremely happy with the switch to ethanol this year. It's performed flawlessly. As we head into the month of May here pretty soon, I expect all of that attention to amplify. Those are the main questions we get, is how does it perform and how has the changed our cars. That's kind of a platform for talking more about the other benefits, environmental benefits, obviously reducing our dependence on foreign oil and securing our own energy future.
Q. What is it like around Rahal Letterman without Danica? Is it a lot quieter?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, from my standpoint, a lot of times with drivers, we're off doing our own separate things anyway in terms of whatever our responsibilities are. For the most part Danica had her own things she had to do. I had the ethanol stuff I had to do. Buddy had a lot of Argent things that he had to do last year.
From my standpoint, I'm still really busy. Certainly I guess when you walk out of the garage, last year there was a lot of people waiting around to see Danica. That's just a little bit further down the garage now. In that sense it's a little bit different. Really we're focused on what we're doing. We really don't pay much attention to it.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks again for taking the time to join us today. Good luck in the next stretch and throughout the rest of the season.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thanks.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Sam Schmidt and his driver for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Sam, without further ado, let me turn it over to you and let you make your announcement. We'll get some further comments and take some questions.
SAM SCHMIDT: Thanks, Tim.
Basically it's a pleasure to be here this early in April as opposed to early in May. As most people know, I've competed as an owner in the series since 2001 at the 500. I clearly think this is our best opportunity since we finished sixth in 2002 with Richie Hearn to be competitive and be at the front at the end. I'm very pleased to make this announcement today having Buddy Lazier signed up to a full-month program with all the resources and the cars, Honda engines to do it right. Our team is pretty pumped up. We have Tim Neff, who has been our lead engineer now for six years. Chris Griffiths, John Roof, just a great group of guys that are really looking forward to a competitive month.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the announcement. A couple notes about Buddy. Buddy has made 14 Indianapolis 500 starts, recording six top-10 finishes, including winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1996. Last year he competed with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, finishing 12th. Very strong announcement for Sam.
Buddy, congratulations to you as well. Tell us a little bit about returning for your 15th Indianapolis 500 and doing so for the first time with Sam Schmidt.
BUDDY LAZIER: Yeah, you know, I really respect Sam as a team owner, as a personality in the business, as a businessman in racing, as a past competitor. We've been friends for a couple of years. This is something that I think I really wanted to do with him for a couple of years, and the time just wasn't right. Now the time's right.
You know, I'm impressed by his team. He's amassed a really talented engineer, a really talented race team. You know, I have a lot of confidence given the nature of the way they put their race cars together. We're all impressed with the way his IPS season has begun, winning three races in a row. If we have anything to say about it, we would like him to, at the end of the month of May, have five victories in a row.
I'm excited the commitment he's made in terms of equipment and level of preparation. It gives me a lot of confidence. Obviously we're still working on some other programs. This is going to be a really strong opportunity for me.
THE MODERATOR: You've kind of been in this position a couple times in the last couple years where you've not participated in the first few races of the year and Indy has been the start to your season. Are there some unique challenges? Does that concern you at all? Do you feel like you can go in and with the amount of practice time Indy provides you can step into the car and really be competitive?
BUDDY LAZIER: I mean, it's definitely challenging. I feel very confident going in for this to be my first race of 2007, the grand-daddy of motorsport, the Indianapolis 500. The confidence comes from understanding and having a great level of -- I have a lot of confidence where I'm at as a racing driver. I have an equal amount of confidence in the crew that Sam has amassed. Sam is very race-savvy and very intelligent in racing. He's put some spectacular people on his race team.
Given the people that I am going to have the opportunity to work with, you always look back, and as a race driver I tried it all. I have had teams that have had very much an unlimited budget, not for want, and having a chance to win the championship. I also have been in environments where we've been trying to build the team, and it's been a pea shooter in a cannon fight.
With Sam, I would rather do what we're doing with Sam right now so that we're going to come to Indy and have a small cannon. There are times I've raced in the past where I haven't been real pleased with my ability with what we came with, race car, level of preparation. That's why I'm real excited. Even though it's Indianapolis where we're starting, we're doing it with some spectacular equipment and some really good guys. I think it's a great opportunity. I just really want to say a big thank you to Sam for the opportunity. I'm pretty excited about this.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for Sam and Buddy.
Q. Sam, who do you have lined up as your sponsors for this car?
SAM SCHMIDT: Actually, this is the first step in that process. I think I've got a couple people that will hopefully be able to announce within the next couple weeks. Part of that deal was they basically said, Go out, get Buddy, the equipment, show your level of commitment, we'll come on board. Making this announcement today is a big step forward in that. You can always spend as much as you can get. Obviously we're looking for more. I think we'll have a title within the next couple weeks.
Q. People always wonder how much does it cost to compete at Indy. Do you have a ballpark budget that you're aiming at?
SAM SCHMIDT: As much as you can get (laughter).
Q. Buddy, is this just for the 500 or is there something else in the wind there for you?
BUDDY LAZIER: To be honest, I've been asked this question a few times in the last couple days. As a race driver, I think one of the best things that you can be is a hundred percent focused on what you do. Right now we're not looking beyond the Indianapolis 500. This is a particularly strong effort. I really liked what I had as a race driver in 2005. We started at Indianapolis, but it was really well-organized with very talented people around me. I feel this is very much in the same light. There's a very good group of people around me. There's a reason why Sam is mopping up in the IPS. He's got some incredibly good people.
For me right now the focus -- as a weakness as a driver, I've never looked too far out in front, but that's also a strength. I feel like as a racing driver, I've never been in better physical or mental shape. I've spent a great deal of time in the gym and training. I'm in the best shape of my life. At this point I'm not looking for anything except the Indianapolis 500, absolutely maximizing this opportunity in May.
We'll just have to wait and see.
Q. It looks like you get the whole month this time, not just a week or two to prepare. Sam always does a good job of preparing the cars for the race.
BUDDY LAZIER: There's no doubt. Like I say, I have a lot of respect for this team. It's not that I don't think we have anything to prove. But, you know, we have high expectations. I mean, we've been discussing expectations. Obviously we're not the unlimited budget of a Ganassi or a Penske. I can also tell you we're not bringing a pea shooter to a cannon fight. We're bringing a small cannon.
I'm very pleased with what this opportunity is going to give us. It's up to us to make the best of the opportunity. When the time comes, at the end of the race, I'm very confident I'm going to have what I need as a driver to make a lot of noise.
Q. Buddy, if I can take you back to those pea shooter days, what was it about this effort that made you feel so confident that will you have a cannon underneath you, a rocket, come May? Can you tell me, reflecting on those days when you had to make the field like on the last weekend.
BUDDY LAZIER: I mean, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to me, it's really a special place. It's grueling. Obviously, anybody will tell you it breaks your heart. It's a rollercoaster of emotions. If you have a good team around you, a good race car, the month of May is the challenges that come. Even the very best, unlimited budgets are going to have challenges and struggle.
But the better people you have around you, be it the raw equipment, I mean, you can't go into the month of May and say, We have to buy a new race car in the middle of the month. Yes, early in my career as I was trying to forge opportunities, I drove some things that were really shoestring budgets. Because opportunities come and go, it's kind of a big cycle, you'll spend two or three years surviving and a year thriving.
I've been in it for the long haul. I'm really motivated for the passion I have in the sport. I really enjoy the raw level of competition. The violent level of driving a race car in the competition is really what drives me.
The reason that I feel this is a cannon is because I'm very familiar with the crew that Sam has amassed. Sam's made a lot of commitments in terms of equipment. As he makes his announcements, he's got very strong cars and equipment. It also comes back to you like to drive for people that you respect, and I respect Sam a lot. I want to do that much better. You want to do as well as you can for anybody you're driving for. If there's anything extra, I'd like to pull it out for him because I just think he does things right.
It's a very serious program. It's not a program, We're going to help build this for next year, come help me build my race team, tell me what I need to build my team for the future. I've done that knowing we weren't going to have a fast race car, all the stuff we needed.
This is what we have. They have a great crew. Sam has acquired what I believe are some great race cars. Because of all the people involved, you know, we're certain this is going to be a small cannon, to use an analogy.
Q. In retrospect, it's the people who are the key components of this effort that makes you feel it's a serious effort for Indy?
BUDDY LAZIER: People and also on a technical level equipment, the equipment that is being brought to the effort.
Q. Of those people who you feel are key components, who will be your engineer? Tim Neff?
BUDDY LAZIER: Yes. The engineer, the way the driver and the engineer work together, the level of communication, but also the level of seriousness. With him I'm very impressed. He's a serious guy. There are a lot of guys out there that are good engineers, that have different styles. Some of them are very laid back. Feels like Tim, the level of -- the way he approaches it is very similar to the guys that I've worked with where I've had the most success. He's a very serious individual.
I've never worked with him, but I've talked with a lot of people who have. My brother has. Sam has. I'm looking forward to it. Basically just the entire crew. Sam can tell you, he has together in his team -- there's a number of guys that have won the 500 on his team that have worked on IndyCars for a career. He's really put together a special group of guys.
You put all those guys together, obviously there's some challenges when you put a team that nobody's worked together. You have to try to gel very quickly over the period of time that you practice during the month. But everybody there is a professional at the highest level. I feel pretty confident that it's -- everybody is always challenged for the month of May. As we're being challenged, we'll be very motivated because I think we're going to perform quite well.
Q. When did you graduate from Curry College?
BUDDY LAZIER: I graduated in 1990. I qualified for the Indy 500 on graduation day. I believe I was bumped out. We made a commitment to get the car in the field because everybody told us it was going to rain. On Friday we rolled with the motor at that time that had 1100 miles on it. We had a brand-new qualifying motor to go in for Sunday to get in the field. Everybody we knew said it was going to rain out, put it in the field. We put it in the field. It was our only car. About 4:30 the next day the clouds parted, the sun came out and we got bumped at the very last minute. They opened the racetrack. I never had a chance to go back and bump back in because we didn't have any more cars.
There's a lot of lessons you learn with Indianapolis. I try to forget the experience but keep the lesson. That's another reason why I though this team and the guys that are with Sam have a lot of experience there. That can always pay dividends. I graduated in 1990.
I make my home in Vail, Colorado. I love the ski industry. But I have to say the only time I haven't lived in Colorado is when I live in Indianapolis. My three favorite places, Vail, Colorado, Indianapolis and Boston, Massachusetts because that was really fun going to school out there.
Q. Sam, are you going to be running a Dallara or Panoz this year?
SAM SCHMIDT: It will be a Dallara. We still own the Panoz that we bought off of Roger Penske a couple years ago. We believe the Dallara that we purchased from Fernandez Racing is going to be a spectacular car.
Q. You'll have two cars there? The Panoz will be a backup?
SAM SCHMIDT: I'm still letting Buddy and the team work that through. That's the most likely scenario for now.
Q. Chance of putting a second driver in?
SAM SCHMIDT: Nope. We're focused on this. That's going to be our deal.
Q. Not even if it's a couple million dollars?
SAM SCHMIDT: I guess anything's possible, but I don't think that's going to be the case.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations again on today's announcement. Appreciate you taking the time to join us. We wish you the best of luck next month.
BUDDY LAZIER: Thank you.
SAM SCHMIDT: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We will not have a teleconference next week due to the race in Japan. Our next Indy Racing League teleconference will be Wednesday, April 25th, at 2 p.m. eastern.
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