Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Joie Chitwood, III
May 16, 2007
TIM HARMS: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests joining us this afternoon. In a few minutes we'll hear from Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and CEO Joie Chitwood. And joining us now is Indy Pro Series driver Wade Cunningham.
Wade is in his third season in the Indy Pro Series. After two seasons with Brian Stewart Racing, he's moved over to AFS Racing, Andretti Green Racing for 2007. Wade won the Indy Pro Series Championship in 2005 on the strength of 13 top 5 finishes and one victory. And last year he finished third in points, despite missing two races. He led the series with three victories, four poles, 310 laps led. And this year he has two top 10finishes, including a second place in the first three races.
Wade, it's been more than a month since the last race at St. Petersburg. Tell us a little bit what you've been up to and how you stay sharp for next week's Freedom 100.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Luckily, we had the open test in Indianapolis, which was good. We got pretty unlucky with the weather on the first day. It was good, they allowed us to come back on the Saturday and run a half day.
So a few days after that race we got a chance to do some short oval testing at Milwaukee, which was the first time I had driven the high down force package on an oval.
So that was good to get some balance issues out of the way. And then now when we go for Milwaukee, it's only a one-day test. So it's not much time to make any major changes.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned the high down force package that changed. And obviously we use that aero package at St. Petersburg. It wasn't necessarily designed to affect the car as much as on a road course as it would at a place like Milwaukee.
What were your impressions of the changes that have been made?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, it gave the car a lot more overall down force. But it also allows you to move the balance forward, which we were kind of maxed out with the last package.
Just going by what happened at the private test there a couple of weeks ago, I think it's leveled the field out a lot and it's made the scope of the corners smaller.
So I think the difference between the teams this year will be a lot less than it was last year, especially in qualifying.
TIM HARMS: Let's focus a little bit more on Indianapolis. With the down time that we've had and stuff, how much time have you been able to spend at the track?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I've spent a minimal amount, I'd say. I have things to do myself. I'd rather focus on what I'm doing rather than what Indy cars are.
I train a lot, so most of my day is spent either driving to and from actual training, eating or just showering afterwards. So a good two-thirds of my day is doing that. I only have an hour or two here or there to come down and watch the Indy cars practice or test or qualify.
But it's always nice being at the Speedway. It's such a big event and there's always a reasonable crowd on hand, even just on the regular testing. So it's nice that it's here and I'm looking forward to the race, really.
TIM HARMS: Let's take a look back at last year's race. You led all 40 laps, but it certainly wasn't easy. Jay Howard was side by side with you quite a bit. I believe, if I remember correctly, you battled some issues with your car towards the end. What sticks out most to you about that race last year?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, that was really just a (inaudible). We were focused at the open test. We came back quickest both practices beforehand, we powered and we led every lap. Saying we led every lap isn't really fair because we did lose that, I think, maybe two or three four times throughout the race. It might be I might be leading at the start/finish line. It wasn't a really easy race.
First 30 laps went really smooth. Then we developed a problem, vibration in the fifth gear. I had to run six for the last bit of the race and that was just a little bit overgeared and it allowed Jay to catch up.
And just that loss of torque, because of the change in gearing, it also changed the balance of the car a little bit and I got caught out on the last lap in turn 1 and nearly skid into the wall. Luckily I got a good run back on Jay.
It was a pretty close moment, running side by side through 3 and 4. But we did have the faster car. And I think I would have been very, very disappointed if we hadn't come out with a win.
I think with the car I had last year anything but winning would have been a bit of a disaster.
TIM HARMS: Looking ahead at this year's race, we've never had someone repeat as a Freedom 100 winner. We've got a bigger field this year and arguably a bigger group of guys who are really talented young drivers. How much tougher will it be to come back and do it again?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Indianapolis is just the way it is. It doesn't really lend itself to pack racing. So I don't think there's going to be a large group of people battling for the lead.
I really think it's going to be the usual suspects. You have to -- you can't discount Sam Schmidt and his team. When haven't they been quick on a big track?
So you know one or maybe two of their cars are going to be right at the front. And I think AFS, Andretti Green Racing, has made quite a few improvements lately. And you saw that with myself leading the opening round and Jamie coming from last to fourth, an incident race.
So I think there's going to be the regulars up there and then I can't really see too many surprises popping up.
TIM HARMS: One more question about Indianapolis. A lot of drivers, and especially the Americans, obviously, but some from other parts of the world. They come to Indianapolis, and really a lot of respect, a lot of awe for the facility and its history.
But then there are also a group of drivers who really try to treat it like any other race.
And if I'm correct, I kind of got the impression from you -- especially your first year here a couple years ago -- that you may have fallen into that latter category, really focusing on it's just another race. But now that you've raced here a few times, you live in Indy. You are exposed to the Indy 500 all the time. You won the Freedom last year. How has that affected your overall perspective of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I think it more depends on where you start your career and that sort of thing. Obviously coming from Europe, you know world championships and things like that are more what you focus on. But then I got here. In that first year we were really just struggling along. We were just trying to finish every race, just trying to be consistent and finish well and then come back in 2006 as part of a two-year deal.
But just the way the year went, and we ran consistently and other people didn't, you know we found ourselves in the points lead. And from myself at that time, it was just a matter of doing laps and going around in circles and slowly learning by experience.
So I didn't come to Indianapolis in 2005 to win Indianapolis. I just came as another race on the schedule.
Last year, it was a big different situation for myself. I missed two races in St. Pete. I had already run the championship, and I don't think I had to prove my consistency anymore. So very early on my goal is just to go out, lead every lap I could, be at the front no matter what, win races. There's no bigger race to win in this series than racing at Indianapolis. So that was definitely my goal last year, was to come out guns blazing and be at the front which we achieved.
This year I think it's very much the same. I'm more about being at the front leading laps and proving that I belong than trying to go for the big points finish or the consistency.
So I'm just looking to lead laps and be at the front and that's my goal really for the year and seeing that we're here at Indianapolis, it's a great place to do that.
TIM HARMS: One more question from me here. Looking beyond Indianapolis, the Indy Pro Series has a very balanced schedule, really with the exception of the Indy and Milwaukee being back to back. We alternate oval courses throughout the rest of the season. What does it mean to you as a driver to compete on a schedule like that?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I think it really shows the true talent of a driver if you're racing on the schedule we have. You've got six speedways, pack racing, drafting, a lot more strategy may be involved. And then you've got your short ovals and road courses and street courses. So you really have to be good at everything to be at the front at the end of the year.
And I think in the past there have been drivers that have been good at one or the other and it showed now that the Pro Series and the Indy Car Series have diversified the schedule a little bit; the true all-arounders really do come to the front. And coming from a road racing background, I obviously like road racing but found that I really do enjoy oval racing and I really love it as well. So I'm glad I'm in a series where it allows me to do everything.
TIM HARMS: Thank you for joining us and we appreciate it. Best of luck at the Freedom 100.
We're now joined by Joie Chitwood, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Joie, we had to wait a couple of years, but we finally got to see the new qualifying format play out on Saturday and Sunday. Tell us a little bit about that format and really how successful it was from your point of view.
JOIE CHITWOOD: Obviously weather always has something to do with outdoor events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So the fact the weather cooperated after three years was a good thing. One of the things we put together when came up with this plan is an opportunity to have activity on all the days of qualifying and create more of that bumping, if you will, something that fans were very interested in.
So by divvying up the field into thirds, 11 the first, 11 the second of the first weekend of qualifying, we're able to accomplish that. And also provide some drama and some excitement.
It's always interesting to see the gamesmanship of the participants, whether it's Roger Penske, who seems to always be in the fray when it comes to running for pole. Or to see Danny Weldon and Scott Dixon throw their hat in the ring. Of course Tony Kanaan, who would have thought if he kept his speed for that last lap that he would have captured the pole, but that last lap brought him back down.
For us it worked on all levels in terms of participant, drama, gamesmanship and fans being excited by a new activity and actually working the way we thought it would work.
There's a little bit of that apprehension, that when you plan for something that it doesn't work out quite right. And of course with weather the last two years we're unable to see it. But I was very pleased. And I think it's something that will grow. I think now that we got it done the first time, people will continue to talk about it. And I think it will be another exciting opportunity that we can continue to enhance as we move forward.
TIM HARMS: Absolutely. Now we have 11 more positions to fill this weekend. Among those still looking to get in obviously are Al Unser, Jr., Milka Duno; two new drivers announced today, Roger Yasukawa and John Andretti.
What should fans expect this weekend?
JOIE CHITWOOD: There's going to still be that drama. The tension of making the race. Now you have the second weekend deals come together, which we have had in years past. Look at some of these names.
If Milka can be competitive and be put in the field, we'll have an opportunity to set history with three women starting the Indy 500. Of course, when you talk about Al, Jr. and his championship background in terms of winning here, goodness, it's great to see him be competitive and get in the field.
I'm excited about John Andretti. Having been a participant and I believe the first one ever to attempt the double way back in the day to see him throw his hat in the ring. It's exciting to see those are great names, great opportunities for people to be engaged.
I expect that Saturday will be as tense as this first weekend was with people trying to get in the field. And I'm sure Saturday night there will be some folks who look at those speeds and decide to roll out that back-up car or third car, fourth car or whatever they have in their garage on Sunday to maybe make some special runs at it.
I think fans are going to enjoy another qualifying/bumping experience. With the weather forecast good right now, I think it will be another great weekend to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
TIM HARMS: We mentioned Milka there briefly. How significant would it be to have three women start the Indianapolis 500 for the first time?
JOIE CHITWOOD: One of the things I like always to think here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway we're known for doing things special and creating history. Whether it's having Janet Guthrie start that way back in the day when she qualified to race here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or, continuing on, whether we make advancements in safety technology or the speeds we've been running.
I think it's special. Any time you can do something that's never happened before, people take notice. And I'll tell you what, I think Sarah and Danica are outstanding racing talents and do a good job.
I thought Milka did a very good job at her first race at Kansas. And in the practice speed she showed she was very good here early. Obviously she experienced something that most drivers here at Indy do at one point, and that's experience the wall.
Luckily, after a big hit, she was able to walk away. Hopefully she's going to be practicing this week getting up to speed and comfortable and she'll make a good run at it this Saturday.
TIM HARMS: One final question from me here. The Freedom 100 and Carb Day, everything that goes into that. But really the Freedom 100 the last couple of years has been outstanding racing with guys side by side going into turn 1 and even into the late laps. And this year, of course, looking at a bigger field going from 18, 19 cars up to 25, 26 cars.
Just tell us a little bit about the Freedom and everything that goes on on Carb Day.
JOIE CHITWOOD: I couldn't be more thrilled with Miller Lite Carb Day. We took steps a couple of years to move that to Friday. We're pleased with the decision because of the energy of the weekend and really starting it off on Friday the way it should. And you look at that day in total and, golly, do we offer some great entertainment choices.
Whether you come out to see the last Indy car practice, to see Sam Hornish and Dan Weldon and those drivers get their cars ready for the race, or the Freedom 100 in which we'll have a quality race. We know that. There's so many competitors. They'll put on a great show.
Of course, our Rally's Checkers Pit Stop Competition. Great the last couple of years. Fans really get into. It's exciting the way we put on that show.
Now, of course, Kid Rock. Talk about a gentleman who knows how to throw a party. I would suspect Kid Rock knows how to do it. I think the folks coming out to the Speedway that day or in for some great entertainment.
But whatever you're interested in, I think we've got a little bit of that for you that day. It's a little bit of something for everyone. And of course we've got all of our displays, the museum, all those other choices. It's a great Friday to come to the Speedway and experience a lot of everything.
TIM HARMS: Absolutely. Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for Joie.
Joie, we've got a quiet group on our line today. Doesn't look like we're getting anybody with any questions. But we appreciate you taking some time out from a busy month and joining us. And we wish you the best of luck.
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