Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
June 20, 2007
TIM HARMS: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League's teleconference. We have two guests joining us this afternoon. In a few minutes we'll hear from Indy Car Series driver Scott Sharp.
And joining us right now is Indy Pro Series driver Joey Scarallo. Joey is a rookie in the Indy Pro Series, driving the No. 15 RLR Anderson racing car.
He started all seven races this season recording top 10 finishes in St. Petersburg, Milwaukee. Last year Joey won five of the six starts in the American GT Challenge. Three years before that he competed in the Trans Am Series.
Joey, you've got a bit of background in Formula car racing. That dates back really to the mid-'90s. And some Atlantic starts that you did in 2000.
But obviously that's been a while ago and your more recent background is really completely different.
Tell us about the transition to the Indy Pro Series from what you've been used to the last couple of years.
JOEY SCARALLO: Yeah, it's been about as big a transition as you can possibly imagine. I mean obviously doing some open wheel stuff, I wasn't too worried about having such a huge transition getting back into an open wheel car this year, but it's certainly been a bit larger, bigger step than what I thought.
I think certainly coupled with the fact that the team is a new team running in the Indy Pro Series is new for Rahal Letterman. So there's certainly a big curve there for the guys to learn how to set up the car for each track.
There's no data to fall back on from last year. And then there's also the curve for me and then working with new engineers. I mean you constantly hear people talk about that, just the driver getting along with the engineer and how to maximize what that given driver needs for the car.
So I mean the car is a completely, completely different -- I mean I really enjoyed my stint in Trans Am. Right now the Trans Am series isn't around anymore.
But to be honest, I always wanted to get back into an open wheel car anyway. So it's certainly a welcome change. And I'm enjoying it. I mean the results so far up until this point haven't been exactly what we wanted yet, which is a bit difficult at times.
We almost won the championship the last year I ran in Trans Am. And certainly this first part of the year it's a common struggle. It's been a bit tough. But I think we're going to have a good second half to the year. I'm looking forward to it. I think things are starting to come together for us.
TIM HARMS: Yes, that's where my next question was going to head. You've got seven races under your belt. You've done a little bit of private testing outside of that.
What are the goals for the rest of the season; we're about halfway there?
JOEY SCARALLO: I think when we're done we could finish somewhere in the top 7 in points, I mean you'd have to consider that a real, real success, especially given the way that things got started.
I mean we didn't have much help in the beginning there. Unfortunately, we got caught up in some debris in that big wreck at Homestead. And had an issue at Indy as well. We're getting better every weekend out. We have, the team has a test at Watkins Glen the week before the race, and I think we're starting to make some headway, like I said earlier, what I need and what the cars need.
And if we could start to string together now some solid top 10, top 5 results now throughout the rest of the year, you know that will make the season a success for us. I think that's what we're looking for and that's what we're expecting.
TIM HARMS: You touched on Watkins Glen. That for you is probably, at least in the Indy Pro Series, about the closest to a home track that you have. Have you raced there in series before and is that a track, since it's somewhat close to your home, that you'll have some friends and family at that event?
JOEY SCARALLO: Actually, it's kind of funny. It's still in New York, but it's still about a six or seven-hour drive from where I live. So it's my home state track. It's not my backyard home track.
I've driven there before. Actually the last time I drove there was when I was doing open wheel last, which was running Formula 2000. But actually when we did that track that was the short course. So this new -- this long course is new for me. So in some ways it will be like going to a new track.
But I'm looking forward to it. At least I'll know half the track.
TIM HARMS: And let's look a little bit ahead just at this weekend. You had a top 10, one of your top 10 finishes came on the one-mile track at Milwaukee. We're going to a seven-eighths mile at oval. I don't believe you tested there with some of the other teams a couple weeks ago. What have you heard about that track and what do you expect this weekend?
JOEY SCARALLO: I would expect it to be fairly similar to Milwaukee just a little more tighter, a little more fast paced again because it's a touch smaller.
We missed the test there. We planned on testing with some of the other guys as well, but my teammate's car was caught up in an accident at Milwaukee, so that cancelled it out for us. So we might be a little bit behind the eight ball compared to some of the other guys. That's really not too much different than the situation we've been in all year.
So it's one of those deals where we'll get through it, we'll take it in stride and hopefully we can score another top 10 there.
TIM HARMS: One final question: Before the season, Anderson Racing announced a partnership with Rahal Letterman, and coming up in a few minutes we'll talk to Scott Sharp.
Interestingly enough, Scott Sharp came from the Trans Am background. Have you guys had a chance to compare notes really much through the season so far?
JOEY SCARALLO: I mean we have a little bit. I think this past stretch certainly has gotten a little bit hectic. We haven't been able to get together too much this latest stretch. But when everything got started we did. Yeah. I've known Scott. He was one of the guys I looked up to when I wanted to get into Trans Am originally.
And, yes, he's been able to help me out with some things, just doing the transition there. I raced with Scott's father-in-law as well who has become an icon in Trans Am as well, Greg Pickett. And Scott's been helpful as of late. It's just been so hectic. The month of May goes pretty nuts.
But the whole partnership there with Rahal Letterman has certainly been a great plus for our team. Again, it's still new for everybody; but just to have a team of that magnitude to lean on or to bounce ideas off of, I think it's helped the transition for everybody.
TIM HARMS: Well, let's go ahead and open it up for a couple of questions for Joey.
Q. I was just curious what Iowa race fans can expect this weekend when the Indy Pro Series comes into town? Just kind of your thoughts on the series in general. How competitive it's been. I mean you talked about a learning curve obviously before, but just kind of talk about the series in general. Is it kind of everything you've expected?
JOEY SCARALLO: It has been. And the pool of talent is actually quite deep. I mean there's a lot of drivers that are very, very good and they've got really good teams behind them. It's not just you have two or three guys that are running away from the whole field.
So I think it will put on a great show for everybody. I mean Iowa is a bit of what they call the bull ring type tracks, especially for cars like ours that could keep up such good momentum.
But I think it will be neat. I think it might be very similar to, if you remember back in the day, they had those Hooter's Cup Races. I think they will put on a good show, pretty neat for everybody to watch.
Q. Your family has a long history associated with racers, with racing. Would you talk a little bit about how that influenced you as far as getting started in racing and maybe shapes how you race today?
JOEY SCARALLO: My actual family members were never really behind the wheel of a car. I know my father's business is automotive background and high performance wheel and tire end of things.
I mean I grew up around that type of stuff, those type of people who were motor heads. I mean through the line of business just like anything today, different athletes have lines named after them.
I remember Emerson Fittipaldi had a wheel line named after him. I became a huge Emerson fan. And, honestly, that's probably one of the things that got me started to want to drive and want to race. I got to meet him. I grew up around all this stuff since I was a kid, five, six years old. That's kind of the thing that I guess for all kids, those types of experiences that you have as a child, they shape your future or shape your dreams, shape your goals and kind of make you the person that you are when you get older.
Q. You have a younger brother that races also. Do you guys compare notes, or do you take time to mentor him to give him tips on his racing?
JOEY SCARALLO: Yeah. It's funny, because he's grown up just like I grew up around this stuff. I mean it's even been worse for him, because by the time he came around I was already racing. I remember he was at go-kart tracks in a little stroller. He's seen all this stuff firsthand. That's certainly got into the blood for him.
And, yeah, I mean he's constantly asking me stuff. Actually, he's a bit of a wise guy, stays home all day, plays the video games. When I come home at night he likes to play me, see if he can beat me. I have to tell him it doesn't translate into reality yet. But it's neat to have him wanting to drive, though. It's kind of fun.
Q. I know you're a student of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500. What was it like for you last week being there with the very different environment that surrounds U.S. Grand Prix?
JOEY SCARALLO: It's funny, completely different track, different environment. On one hand it was almost like a totally different facility, yet something about that aura of Indy. I don't care if it's a Formula One race that's going on or Nascar race at the Brickyard 400. Those guys say too the Brickyard 400 has become on the level of a Daytona 500. That whole mystique that Indy cars has created since 1911 there, I think it's rolled over to any event that happens on those premises. So it's awesome to be there doing anything.
Q. Since you didn't test here, you must be having a scouting report. The drivers talk about the multi-groove racing here with the banking, the course that Rusty designed. How does what you're hearing about the track fit your driving style, do you think?
JOEY SCARALLO: I think once we get the car suited for what I need there, I'll look forward to it. Sounds like there's going to be a lot of two-by-two racing. Honestly, you might even see it from the start of the green flag all the way to the checker. I don't know that you'll see much single file driving in there.
And I mean that will be good. That's the kind of thing that I really like. I hope that the two-by-two racing doesn't lead to a lot of crashes and a lot of yellows. But I think it will be neat. I'm looking forward to it, to this type of a track.
TIM HARMS: Thank you again for joining us.
And we're joined now by Scott Sharp. Scott is the Indy Car Series Ironman, having made 136 career starts, including the last 128 consecutively. He's in his first season with Rahal Letterman Racing, has recorded four top 10 finishes in the last five races, including a sixth in the Indianapolis 500.
And, Scott, one quick question before we kind of get into how your season has been going and things with Rahal Letterman. But obviously you were there for part of the interview or the conversation we had there with Joey Scarallo, who is driving for RLR's Indy Pro Series entry.
And his background really was coming from the Trans Ams the last three years before coming into the Indy Pro Series. When you think back on your own career, what do you remember most about the transition from that series to top level open wheel cars, and what kind of advice have you been able to pass along to Joey and guys like him who try to do that?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, really haven't had much of a chance -- I met Joey for the first time, I heard about him because my father-in-law, Greg Pickett, he raced for a number of years in the Trans Am Series after I got out and part of those years was with Joey. I never got the chance -- they always spoke very highly of Joey but I never got the chance to meet him until earlier this year.
I haven't had much of a chance to talk to him about the conversion. But for me it was big. Trans Am cars, it's a great series. A lot of fun. They were I think a great training ground for lots of very talented drivers. In fact, they were under-tired and you had to learn to be smooth with the power and a lot of different raceability type items you learn.
But as far as going Indy car racing, there's not a lot of similarities. They obviously have no down force, and because of that you drive a lot differently. And they're all road course. So obviously you had no oval training. But particularly as they pertain to road courses, the biggest thing is that everything an Indy car does so well is brake, corner, put the power down, those things for the most part a Trans Am car doesn't do well.
You're always compensating finding ways to get it to do that. You really have to alter your style quite a lot to go from one car to the other.
TIM HARMS: Now let's take a look at your season. Obviously brand new team, Rahal Letterman. I know before the season you were excited. I know you also anticipated that it might take a little bit of time as the team made the chassis change last year.
So they were going to some of these tracks early in the season with not a lot of data and not a lot of time with the new chassis. But obviously now by the looks of the last few race results with four top 10s in the last five starts, looks like things are really coming together for both you and Rahal Letterman.
SCOTT SHARP: I think they are. A lot of -- I'm excited. I'm still all the same excitement that I showed up with last fall to Rahal with. Just great people. Great leadership. Very professional organization. Very professional employees.
There's no doubt -- in a lot of ways it is when you say it's a new deal, in a lot of ways it is, if you think about it. I mean people probably underestimate just how much of a switch it is when you're such an engrained Panos team to going to Dallara, especially when it's not like the whole field switched to a new chassis. You're going up against guys who have been with those cars for two, three, four years, especially some great teams with those cars that obviously have fully developed those cars and they've got setups on all the tracks you go to that basically they're tweaking on.
Like you just mentioned, we went to many of the early races this year, never been to that track before with a Dallara and the old Panos setup will not work. And you go there saying, geez, I wonder what the car wants. You're trying huge changes to find exactly what the car likes on the different ovals, especially,
And as well as the road course. First year we rode the Dallara road course also.
So certainly I think it's nice to -- I think just the chance to go back to Kansas. I ended up blowing a tire and stuff and we didn't get the kind of result we wanted. We ran competitively all weekend. That was the first race we had gone back to where the team had run the Dallara, the last half of the year they basically ran the Dallara. That proved to be -- certainly eased the path a little bit. You find yourself going there like other teams that have that experience and you're fine tuning instead of looking for big items.
So it's going to be nice going this weekend to Iowa for sure, being that it's a new circuit and being the fact that we were able to test there for one day last fall. Sort of my first -- I think the ink was hardly dry on the contract and I was in the car. So that was good for us.
I know a couple teams have gone back. But for the most part not a lot of people have experience on the track yet. So it should level things out a little bit.
TIM HARMS: And my next question was heading to Iowa Speedway, you mentioned you have tested there. Give us a little more detail on what the track is like and what type of racing we should expect to see this weekend.
SCOTT SHARP: I'm excited. I really am. I like the short tracks to begin with, and Richmond is one of my favorite tracks. I always enjoy going to Phoenix.
Iowa is different. It's short track in distance, but it's not going to race like a short track. I really think it's going to race like one of our big tracks. Like one of the mile-and-a-half tracks. It just seems like the banking, there's a lot of grip there, whether it's the banking, the new pavement, whatever it might be.
I think you're going to see a track. Drafting is going to be huge which for the most part on the short oval it isn't. You're looking at grip and trying to keep consistency in the car. I think going to Iowa, we're going to have a big freight train type race. I don't think it's going to be hard for our cars to be flat out. Maybe in turbulence it will. But certainly not leading up to the qualifying.
I think it's just going to -- as a difference it's going to turn into -- it's going to be the fastest probably short oval that we're on. And I think with the way the banking that grows the higher you run I think that's going to be very interesting to see just how quick that makes the outside groove and how raceable that groove becomes.
And I'm excited. I think it's going to be quite a show for all the fans that are going to come out.
TIM HARMS: You're coming off a pole at Texas, and I would kind of venture to say that a lot of people were surprised by the pole, winning the pole at Texas. Obviously it's been a couple of years, several years since you've been on the pole.
Were you surprised when you won the pole?
SCOTT SHARP: I was especially surprised when I saw what other guys had run. And Dario had gone out and put a great time up and held the top position for quite a while. And Sam knocked him off just by a tick. And those are two guys you'd expect to be up there.
So we've been strong throughout practice. But they started running some sometimes that were a good tenth, tenth and a half faster than anyone had run in practice. I just didn't think we had the speed to do that.
As it turned out, the guys obviously did a great job with the car, and the gear was perfect and balance was perfect. You have to do that. Everything has to be perfect to win the pole. But we also just hit the track conditions right.
The sun was going down, and I think the ambient was still up. So we were worried, we were the last car going out, we were worried that the car would naturally, in the darker conditions, have a little bit more down force. But as it turned out I think the track was perfect for us.
It all combined for a pretty awesome lap.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and take some questions for Scott.
Q. Scott, you tested here, and of course Elio Antonio ran some very fast speeds while testing for Firestone in May. Could you speak a little bit on what you anticipate in terms of tire wear at this track and how much down force you think you'll have to dial into your cars?
SCOTT SHARP: That's a good question, both of those. You've gone to the point quickly. I did a tire test last fall and it was a bit cool. (Indiscernible) did the tire test. And they brought out some different tires right at the end of the day which I think is a little more in line with what we're going to be running.
They were pretty pleased with the sort of little bit of what was found right at the end of the day there. So I believe some iterations of that are pretty much what Tony and Elio tested. So I'm not positive -- I don't think that anybody other than those two have been on the exact combination that we're going to be running.
Firestone does such a great job that I'm sure there's no tire issues. Everywhere we've gone the tires have been really strong. So I think we're all going to be able to run real hard every lap. That's the way the series has gotten. These are serious sprint races no matter what the distance is. Even if it's Indianapolis at three and a half hours it's a sprint race. You just go, go. We have such comfort with Firestone I don't think that becomes a question anymore.
Down force is going to be a big question. This is a place that I think you're going to see guys really shed, drag and shed some down force for qualifying to get to try to be a top three or four car. You're probably going to be in the very minimal amount of down force, but I think it's going to be real interesting when you get into the race.
I think it's going to prove to be a track that everybody wants to be on the bottom. There's obviously going to be a lot of turbulence when you're running down at the bottom behind a lot of cars. You'll need a certain amount of down force and the question is going to be until you're probably 20 laps into the race you're not going to know whether you picked the right amount of down force or not. You'll need a lot more than what you qualify with to be able to race well.
Q. You've been in the IRL since the series started. So my first question is: Can you talk a little bit about the change that you've seen from the start of IRL and with the continuing dialogue there's been over the years of need to have one series, what's your take on it from what you've seen since '96?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, obviously I think everyone pretty much underestimated the challenges I mean outside of the IRL. Media, other competitors from other series. I think it's just a major undertaking, obviously, to create a series. If you tried to go create Nascar right now, what would that be like for the first ten years?
So when we first started, there was just so many obstacles put up. Everyone was doubting we'll have tracks, doubting we'd have enough cars, doubting we'd have sponsors. So I just think the IRL has obviously hurdled all those, to see how they've systematically added tracks in very good markets, the level of competition is probably the biggest change.
I mean it's pretty outstanding right now. I mean something that dates back to us and what's going on at Rahal and how hard we're working, I think obviously that's just so compounded by the fact that could there be any tougher competition? I don't think so.
I'm a big advocate of getting the two series together. Being in the sport as long as I have I think that's what needs to happen to have any kind of big growth, big long-term growth, I think it's got to happen.
But unfortunately that's not in my control. But if it did happen, I mean who is going to come over from (indiscernible) and be any tougher than what we already have for competitors? I don't think anybody. That's probably the biggest single factor, is every year the stakes have been raised. So it's been exciting to be a part of.
Q. Speaking of the stakes being raised, when you're in a series when it first started, you had a lot of the smaller teams that were not in Kart. And over the past few years we have seen the championship winning Kart teams like Ganassi and Penske now come over.
And it means a guy like you, if you come to Iowa Speedway, say the track had been built ten years ago, you would be one of the top guys to be beat. Whereas now you're trying to knock off some of the top guys. How hard is it to adjust from being a top guy in a series to being trying to knock off top guys?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, anyone who is intensely competitive, I think anybody who is in our series or motor sport series is striving to win races is going to be. It's not easy to accept the fact that it's very, very hard to win races.
But also you look around, and whether it's Nascar, whether it's Formula One, whatever series it is, this kind of situation develops. And you've got incredible deep teams that have everything in line. Deep resources. Great drivers. Deep talent. A lot committed to just maximizing the speed of their cars and you do that long enough and spend enough money, they're going to carve themselves out an advantage.
So I think you see that whether it's Hendrick in Nascar, whether it's Ferrari and Formula One. You're always going to have that. So it's a challenge. And I think I'm excited about the challenge. I think it's part of what led me towards Rahal was I saw the commitment there and they've got a great engineering group and they have the commitment to get themselves up there.
And I guess the journey's fun as long as you get there. So it's fun to work with the team and see us get more competitive right now and know all the stuff that's going on behind the scenes back at the shop and see those things translate into little faster cars each weekend.
But at some point we're going to need to get to where we all want to go.
Q. Scott, a lot of the drivers have been talking about how it's going to be a physically demanding course, Iowa. And tell me a bit about that and how it might compare to someplace like maybe the place you just were in Texas. I know that's going to be a physically demanding track, too. Can you speak to that?
SCOTT SHARP: I heard that a lot of people were going to be fearful that it was going to be a tough track to drive on. I think it's going to be hot and it's going to be a long day. But I don't expect it to be that much more difficult than some of other our tracks. Texas has very broad radius corners. And with the high banking there, the car's pretty well settled.
And it's not physically -- it's more mentally challenging than it is physically challenging. I expect the size and tightness of the track certainly creates, you feel the G forces more. We're going to carry some pretty good speed around for being a short oval type track.
But I don't see it being that much really technically physically strenuous, more strenuous than some of the other tracks we run on.
Q. My question was going to be pretty much the same to the one that you were just asked, but I did kind of want to touch on the weather forecast, supposed to be quite warm, supposed to be up in the 90s and a lot hotter down on the track. How does that change things? Does that change your preparation at all?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, typically certainly hotter conditions like that take away the natural level of down force you have. So it certainly makes everyone concerned about running more down force. One, just to counteract the heat. And, number two, obviously makes the track slicker, cars slide around more. You need -- setup becomes that much more important and down force becomes that much more important.
So probably certainly you're going to see different kind of setup on the car than if it was 60 degrees, no doubt. But I just think it's something we'll have to deal with. A lot of hot races we run at.
In the past you go to Kansas it's 102 degrees, whatever it is, you're make making adjustments for that. I think it's something that we'll deal with. And it's pretty fortunate the IRL gives us a good chunk of time Friday afternoon. Sort of a smart way of getting a test without having to make everybody come and do a (indiscernible) event for that. We have four hours Friday afternoon. Quite a lot of time to get a feel for what the car is like on race trim and on long runs, how much down force you need to run.
A lot of tracks we go to, we don't have a lot of track time. It's funny, you're there two, three days and get probably have two, three hours track time total. The fact we have four hours Friday afternoon is going to prepare us pretty well.
Q. I'm curious, when the fuel cells went from I believe it was in the 30s now to 22 gallons, what has that changed from the driver's perspective, or is this something that just kind of tightens up your pit stop a little bit, maybe a second, second and a half and this is something that your crew has to adjust to more than you?
SCOTT SHARP: I'd say you're probably accurate. It's something that the teams tighten up the pit stops a little bit. It's certainly made the tire -- the tires were easily done before you're waiting on the fuel. Now they're done probably together. So pit makes any minor mistake in the tire change that much more significant.
But I think it's opened up the strategy a little bit. Certainly with the fact that we're only putting, let's say, a third less miles on the tires from fuel run to fuel run, sometimes that gives you more options. If let's say you've got a yellow and you might think about stretching not doing a tire change now, I've seen some guys do that at a couple of the races.
So it's opened up maybe some strategy situations a little bit. I think the series just did it because we've been getting pretty incredible mileage with the ethanol 3.5 liter engines and felt we would be really stretching the tires if they didn't do that.
So I think it's good. Any time there's more pit stops, it creates the opportunity for teams to try to do something. Whether that's maybe you stay out or like you short fill or you don't change tires or whatever. Creates opportunities for strategy which ultimately can change the factor of a race. I think it's exciting.
Q. Your performance has been improving over the last five races, four out of five in the top 10, which impressive when you consider the guys that are in the top 5 all the time.
How will the progressive banking affect the race cars, especially with two-wide racing? It was like you could race two-wide, but when you started to feel washout you had to back out a little bit. Progressive banking, you want to keep feeding throttle to it, see whether it catches. How is that going to affect double-wide racing?
SCOTT SHARP: Obviously in principle -- for one, we don't know until we get there. Probably won't know until we get into the race. Everywhere we pretty much go, the short way around typically is the hot ticket. Certainly you've seen some guys win some last lap, win the race on the outside by being able to keep the inside car pinned down.
You'd expect that to be more of a situation with a stronger banking on the outside here at Iowa. And it will be real interesting if it does get two-by-two-by-two. When you start to see that and the whole inside row is stuck down there, might really start to become an option where the outer groove is the quicker way around.
So I think if nothing else, it ought to make side-by-side racing easier. And it ought to make the outside groove more competitive. Certainly, you go to Texas, for example, the bottom was the way. And you could sit up there and try to make the outside last as long as you wanted. But if you were on a (indiscernible) speed car and he was on the bottom, he was probably going to beat you. So maybe the added banking should equal those out a bit.
TIM HARMS: Thank you for joining us today. Good luck at the first-time ever race at Iowa.
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