Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
August 1, 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 IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon. And joining us now is Indy Pro Series driver Leilani Munter. Good afternoon, Leilani.
LEILANI MUNTER: Good afternoon.
TIM HARMS: Leilani and Sam Schmidt Motorsports announced yesterday she'll make her Indy Pro Series debut with the team at Kentucky Speedway on August 11, and she will also drive in the season finale at Chicagoland on September 9th.
Leilani passed her Indy Pro Series rookie test at Kentucky in May. She's previously raced stock cars, getting her start in 2001.
Leilani, I mentioned 2001, there's your start in racing stock cars. A lot of the race car drivers we talk to get their starts in go-karts at a really young age. Looks like you got into things a little bit later. What drew you into racing and how did you get your start?
LEILANI MUNTER: I got interested in racing when I was in college. I was attending the University of California in San Diego, and I just went to watch some races and I really enjoyed watching it.
I started at that point going to some racing schools and saving up my money and every time I had enough money I'd go to the track and turn some laps.
And come 2001, I landed a little bit of sponsorship money to race in what's called the Allison Legacy Series, which is sort of a scaled-down stock car series. And that's how I got my start.
TIM HARMS: Obviously you pursued that for the last several years. Why the change now to open wheel racing?
LEILANI MUNTER: You know, the last time I was in the stock car was at Daytona. I tested -- I did my rookie ARCA test there. And I had a sponsor lined up that was interested but hadn't yet committed to Daytona. So I went and did my test. And the opportunity came up shortly after I did that test, I got a call to get in the open wheel car and just sort of gauging my interest, would you be interested in getting in an open wheel car.
And as a driver and a driver that is really only in a race car when I'm sponsored, any opportunity that I have to get into a race car, I take it. And so I got to go test the car at Kentucky Speedway in May and I loved it. I really didn't know what I was going to think of it because I had no idea what to expect.
But I had a greatest and I really enjoyed it. And from that point forward I was hoping to get in a car. And it's taken a few months, but finally I'm going to get to race. So I'm really excited about it.
TIM HARMS: You touched on it briefly there, but maybe give us a little bit more of your initial impressions of the Indy Pro Series car from the test there at Kentucky.
LEILANI MUNTER: Definitely is very different from a stock car. Our stock cars are so heavy. The different divisions that I ran in, all of them were over 3,000-pound cars. So that's one big difference.
Two, the down force is obviously so much more, the Indy pro cars. You're so much more lighter. You're really close to the ground.
So it really felt different. I didn't know what to expect when I went out there. But it didn't take me long to get up to speed to where I was out around the track and felt comfortable. I definitely feel like they feel a little bit more stable than the stock cars. Like when you go into a corner at Daytona in an ARCA car and you hit the bumps that are in the corners there, the car kind of moves around on you.
Almost feels like you're floating on top of the track. And in the Indy pro car I really felt like I was glued to the ground, and I'm sure it was my first test so we had quite a bit of down force in the car.
But I'm going to get a chance to test here with Sam Schmidt Motor Sports before my race at Kentucky. So we'll work on -- we'll do probably a more extensive test than I got to do in May with Speedworks.
TIM HARMS: I believe that one is set up for tomorrow. You'll be driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, as we mentioned, one of the most successful teams in the series.
And I think you're at their shop right now today. Tell us about the opportunity to drive for Sam and his team and the process now of getting to know them.
LEILANI MUNTER: I just met everybody for the first time this morning. And they all seem like a great group of people. Obviously they know what they're doing. They've won championships and they've won a lot of races this year. And I feel that I'm going into the series with the best possible opportunity and the best possible team I could be with.
So I'm thrilled, really, that Sam is giving me a chance to drive for him. It's really kind of -- it's a dream come true to be able to get into a series for the first time and be driving for the championship team. And I've spent all morning in meetings with the guys and trying to get myself fitted into the car.
I'm a little bit short, so we're having to make some adjustments to the pedals so I can actually run flat out. Because when I got in the car this morning, putting my foot down as far as I could I wasn't even half throttle. So we're fixing that and will be ready to rock tomorrow.
TIM HARMS: With two races only this year coming at the end of the season, what type of goals do you have for those two races and what do you hope that leads to for next season?
LEILANI MUNTER: Seeing my first two races my goal is to learn as much as possible. Being with such a great team, I'm expecting to run towards the front of the pack. I need to learn, obviously, how these cars are in traffic, and we're going to get to work a little bit on that tomorrow.
But I've only tested the car by myself at Kentucky in May. So we're going to work on some of that tomorrow. Being with such a great team and a team that runs up front, I'm expecting myself to run up front. If I'm not up front I'm going to be very disappointed. But that's really my goal.
I would like to walk away with two good finishes and we're really hoping to come back for a full season next year. I don't have much road course experience. I really don't have any. So should we come back for the full season next year, we'll be doing a pretty extensive testing program over the wintertime. And Sam and I have already talked about that and how we would work it into the schedule so I would have plenty of road course experience before I ever had to run a race, an Indy Pro.
TIM HARMS: The Kentucky race for the Indy Pro Series is the first time that we'll race at night. Have you in your other racing experience raced at night before? What do you think about making your debut under the lights?
LEILANI MUNTER: Actually, most of the time that I've raced, I've been racing in the late models. And a lot of that is Saturday night short track racing. I have run speedways and those have been during the day. When I raced in Texas actually in the ROMCO Series, and last year in the late model series, we would run before the Indy racing cars would go out. I think we were taking the green flag around 4:00 or 5:00.
I haven't run on a speedway under the lights, but I think it will be great. I'm used to running under the lights on a short track. So I don't think it will be a problem.
TIM HARMS: Let's open it up for questions for Leilani.
Q. It seems that the learning curves that most drivers go through, you've gone through quite a few here in the last few years. Can you explain it? Do you think you have something that most other drivers have that most other people don't have?
LEILANI MUNTER: Do I have something that I think other people don't have?
Q. Yes, as far as learning curve, adapting.
LEILANI MUNTER: Beings that it was my first time in an open wheel car, I was told I adapted well. My times were good that I had done a great job. I was really encouraged from the reaction I got from the team and from the IRL.
But I guess for me, you know, I've been trying to race for the last six years. And it's been on and off because I didn't have full-time sponsorship that whole time. I've had a full-time sponsorship last year.
For me, because I'm a racer that's not in the car unless I have a sponsor, when I am there I am very focused on learning as much as I can and doing as well as I can, because I know that this sponsorship could end at any time and I have to take full advantage of the opportunity to be in the car. So I'm thankful and appreciative for every lap I get to be in any race car and take advantage of that as much as possible.
Q. You mentioned focus, did you bring that focus with you, do you think, or did you learn that at all the tracks?
LEILANI MUNTER: The funny thing about racing is sometimes you're showing up at a racetrack that you've never seen before. And sometimes, last year, we'd get like a 15-minute practice session maybe twice and then we'd have to qualify. And you'd have to figure out that racetrack that quickly.
And you're racing against guys that race there every weekend. So it's tough. And you have to learn to be able to, as a race car driver, you're supposed to be able to drive any kind of car with four wheels and you're supposed to be able to adapt to any kind of racetrack.
Now, I feel like I've gotten a lot of experience on the oval so I feel comfortable and confident in them. I've also worked for many years at racing schools. So I've given ride-alongs on a lot of the mile and a half tracks for Fast Track Racing School. I feel comfortable on those tracks and I feel I have a lot of seat time on them.
For the road courses, we're choosing to not fit it in specifically because I don't have enough road course experience. Should I run road courses next year I'll definitely want to feel prepared for that. So we'll test quite a bit over the wintertime. Hopefully we'll be in that situation and we'll be testing quite a bit and I'll be ready to turn not only left but right as well next year.
Q. Do you believe that the successful drivers, they're exposed to a lot of stress and pressure, do you believe that professional drivers like yourself and other successful drivers, do you think they handle pressure better than the average person?
LEILANI MUNTER: I think you have to learn how to handle the pressure, because every time you go to the track there's a lot of pressure. It doesn't matter what track you're at or how many people are watching. There's always pressure to perform. And I think just over time, as you keep racing, you get a little bit less rattled every time you go to the track.
You're a little bit able to, more able to focus and tune out the other things and just concentrate on doing your job in the race car.
And I've always been really good at being able to focus and kind of tune out what's not important and be able to focus on whatever I set my mind to. So I think that definitely helps. And I've been in and out of race cars for the last six years. So even though they haven't been open wheel cars, I still feel like I've learned a lot about aerodynamics and how cars handle in the air and I'm going to work on that tomorrow in the open wheel car.
But more laps I think with racing, it's the more laps you get the more comfortable you get and the better you are.
Q. This is kind of a cliche, I know, but kind of like asking Peyton Manning what's it like after you win the Super Bowl, but what where are your emotions running this week with this new opportunity?
LEILANI MUNTER: It's been a whirlwind and I've been so busy, like getting the helmet designed and the racing suit and working everything out between the sponsor and the team and myself and coordinating everything. But I think I was so focused on that, getting things done, that I couldn't really sort of bask in like how happy I was going to be in a car because I was so busy trying to get everything done to make sure we had everything ready for the race.
But now we've gotten all that stuff done and now it's time for me to be able to really just focus on driving the car tomorrow. And then I'll have between tomorrow I'll have a week to relax and sort of I've been exercising like crazy. Working out with those little grip things you can buy where you can exercise your forearms, because I know the open wheel cars take a lot more forearm strength than the stock cars do.
So I've been preparing for it physically and mentally as much as possible that nothing beats being in the car. The seat time I'll get tomorrow I'm really happy we're going to get to test prior to the race.
Q. That's really a positive to be able to be able to go back down there and test at Kentucky some this week with the team. Now that you've met some of the other members of the team, this question will probably mean a little bit more to you. But have you been following the races on the Internet and on TV and what have you seen so far this year that interests you or intrigues you maybe about the Indy Pro Series?
LEILANI MUNTER: I think it's a very competitive series. And obviously Alex Lloyd having done so well this year, I'm really looking forward to being able to -- I haven't met any of my teammates yet. I've just met some of the engineers and the crew here.
But I definitely am looking forward to sort of picking his brain and obviously it's all the people that work here have so much experience, that just by talking to them I feel like I haven't even gotten in their car yet.
But I feel like I've learned so much about how they want me to run and what they want me to do. And I've got some tapes that they just gave me from in-car camera from some of the tracks and I'm going to watch coverage of all the races from Kentucky and from Chicagoland. So I'm going to prepare as much as you possibly can by not being in the race car.
But it all comes down to how it goes on race day. So I'm just going to do my best to prepare for it.
TIM HARMS: Leilani, thanks again for joining us.
We're joined now by IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon. Good afternoon, Scott.
Scott's in his fifth season in the IndyCar Series, drives the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi racing entry. He won the IndyCar Series championship in 2003 on the strength of three victories in five seconds. This year he has three victories and four seconds and a second in points, 24 points behind Dario Franchitti, with five races remaining.
Scott, three victories this year obviously came in the last three races, tying the Series record for consecutive wins. As we're getting ready to go to Michigan and there's talk about winning a fourth one in a row, is there anything special going on, any extra nerves or is it really just kind of business as usual as you prepare for the race at Michigan?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it has been business as usual. It's been nice to have a week off. The five-on-the-road definitely took a toll. But it was nice to win three of those five races and get a bit of a roll going and try to close the points gap to Dario. Definitely healthy lead, 65 points. We managed to get it down to 24. It's unfortunate we've won and he's still on the podium. So he's made it tough.
It's been very similar, you know, guys have been doing the same thing. We had the test this weekend in Kentucky trying to prepare for the last few races. Business as usual for myself and for the team.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned the week off. Does that play a role in it at all? Had we had another week in succession, would that have changed anything from your standpoint on how more talk maybe about the potential to go for a fourth win in a row, or was it just -- was it nice to have that week off and has it changed anything for you?
SCOTT DIXON: I think for us and what we had going, it was nice to have that week off and have time to think about it. Maybe apply a little more pressure. But I think everybody goes through the same sort of getting ready for races. And I think you take a week-to-week sort of stance at it. And to be honest it was a good set of regrouping week off, not only for our team. It's been solid for so long, even though we still had tests, at least the guys got I think four days off.
So it's probably harder for them. At least for the drivers, we get our days off during the week and we just have to train and do things like that. It's not so after a race win on Sunday, tough to be back to work on a Monday morning. Definitely tough on them.
I think it would have been the same both ways if we went straight into Michigan. If we didn't have a week off, I don't think it would change anything too much.
TIM HARMS: Taking a business-as-usual approach. But one of the other two drivers with three straight wins in the IndyCar Series is your teammate Dan Wheldon. Have you talked about the streak at all and potential going for the fourth straight win. Has he shared anything in that respect?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't think so. For me, I look at it as a race win. And you know that season and maybe back season was a little different. It was a series of different engine manufacturers. And definitely in '04 and '05 Homburg had a faster engine. And you see a lot of guys string races together. I think it's definitely tougher.
I'm not praising myself or anything, but I'm saying it's a little tougher to get there with the amount of competition in the IndyCar Series at the moment with having the same chassis and the same engine. It's a little more difficult, you know.
I guess I spoke to Dan a little bit about it, but it's one of those things that you just take the momentum of it, try to carry it. Obviously we're going to try to go for four in a row. Going into Michigan, it's probably the worst place to try to do that because it's a tough race and definitely a lot of people have a good shot at that race because it is tack racing and you never really know until the last lap.
So going into that I think it's going to be hard. But to be honest I haven't spoken too much to him about that.
TIM HARMS: You touched there about Michigan. It's like you said a place where you've not had your best results. You've had a fifth and a seventh there but the last two years you've been out of the top 10. Similar results for Dario, not a place where he's excelled either. How does the race there at Michigan kind of play into the championship battle between you guys?
SCOTT DIXON: Last year we were quick. I think we were second or third. I think we were even leading and we ran out of fuel on the yellow which threw us out of that race. I had to help out my teammate there and he ended up finishing third. So it was a good result for him. I think we had a car that was probably quicker than him. But he established a third. But I don't think we had a car to win.
'04, '05 back to the engine thing, it was a total wipe. There was no chance of us doing it. You had other 10 Hondas out there, no shot.
So it's going to be a little different this year. The thing we have to focus on is just trying to make sure we can have the car that runs to the end and we don't get too aggressive on fuel again and run out and take it a little cautious I think at this race because it's one that can definitely hurt you a lot in points if you try and string it out.
TIM HARMS: Take us a little bit through the remainder of the season. After Michigan, there's two ovals, two road courses. You've been winning, but Dario has basically been finishing second. You've been narrowing the gap just piece by piece. What has to happen in the final ovals and road course races for you to close the gap and win another championship?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think I've said a few times I'd definitely be racing someone else for the championship with these road courses going. Maybe Hornish or someone. It's been tough with Dario, definitely stepped up the series. Come off a great season, especially winning the 500. I've got to try and stop the streak of the last two years of people winning the 500 then winning the championship.
It's going to be tough in many ways. I think it was good that we got to test at Kentucky. I think Kentucky's going to be a pretty tough race. Last year we were decent there and ended up second I think behind Hornish.
I'm looking forward to Detroit and Sonoma. Sonoma last year we had the pole, it was quick. Ended up having the failure in the pits. And Detroit I've been through before.
But it's the same thing with Dario. He's been through these circuits. He loves these circuits. He's done extremely well with them. There wouldn't be a far harder competitor to compete against in the championship with the lineup of races to go.
TIM HARMS: Questions for Scott.
Q. You're a triathlete, if this was a triathalon, where would you be in regard to Dario? Would you be off his wheel or back a little bit or just where?
SCOTT DIXON: Good point. I don't know. I guess I'd hopefully be sitting back a lot saving a lot of energy to pounce and definitely throw the gauntlet down at the end. But it's hard to say. I think the triathalon is definitely what you've got in reserve and as of yet we don't know what we've got until we get to these racetracks. I'd like to say we're saving energy and we're going to use it up at the end.
Q. Given your success Juan Pablo's finish at Indy, Reid's pole, I would expect that there was a lot of light steps and smiles at both of the Ganassi shops. Can you talk about the mood within the teams? Naturally you don't see the Cup guys, but just overall I would think there's a lot of happy people in that organization.
SCOTT DIXON: There definitely is. And the main person you hope is happy is Chip, because he can put a damper on a few things. But I spoke to him a little bit after, good run and Reid's poll, definitely over the moon.
Nascar started the (indiscernible). That's what we do. We know we come from the same team owners and same team. And maybe some of the things were similar on the way the teams think. But for me it's good the Montroy doing well in his rookie season. And Nascar it's definitely something tough to break into. And as a friend, it's good to see.
And the same thing with Reid. We get to hang out a lot with him with the Target stuff. And I think it's good to see good people and friends in the same business start to get on a roll. It's good for our team. Obviously the morale is different from side to side and ours is pretty good for the moment with those three victories.
Q. Is there a different mind set when you're leader in the points as compared to the chaser in the points?
SCOTT DIXON: For us, we know what we've got to do. We've basically got to go as fast as we can, apply as much pressure as possible and try and win every race, and that's what we've been doing for the last few races of the season. I think we've had the ball roll our way a few instances, especially when the AGR guys kind of took care of themselves and enabled us to sort of bump up and saving fuel and stuff like that.
I'm sure that Dario now is kind of looking over his shoulder. We've definitely taken a big step on his points. And it's gotta be sort of getting to them a little bit. But that's what we can hope. Everybody's been in the situation before. Kind of similar between AGR and Ganassi and the '99 season when Montoya came out with the win. So hopefully it rolls out that way for us.
Q. You have great momentum going. Is there any secret to carry momentum race to race?
SCOTT DIXON: No, I think the biggest thing that's happened, that's helped is winning races. It definitely helps from everybody on the team from the spotters to the mechanics to -- everybody just gets on a lot better. I think decisions are made a little easier. People just like hanging out with each other.
When you're on a bad run, people get sick of each other and don't get on as much. And I think going into Watkins, we knew we'd be successful there for the past two years. And that was a big confidence boost. And then coming away with another victory that just carried with Nashville, we had a victory the year before, so it just kind of snowballed. Hopefully we can keep it going. I know I haven't had a huge run at Michigan before, but definitely would like to change that record.
Q. You mentioned focus. Did you bring that with you to the track, do you think? Do you learn it at the track and do you carry that season to season? Is that something that just goes with you?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, focus is a hard thing. It depends on weekend to weekend. Seasons to seasons. And I think it's always different. I think a good way to look at it '03 it was a new challenge, it was a new team for me for a full season. And our eye is definitely on being as competitive as possible. And I think that went above and beyond anybody's expectations of winning the championship.
And '04 was one of those years where it started off with good focus and then you're kind of just sort of sitting there like a deer in the headlights because you weren't sure what was going on. And that was the same going into the five -- you had the same equipment that wasn't going to be as good. So it takes a lot. I think focus is definitely on how the team is competing, how people are around you. I think there's a lot of factors. You can only do so much yourself.
Q. Scott, with Dan Wheldon now 100 odd points behind you in the championship and five races to go, is he prepared to work with you in order to get you in the best possible position to try and win this championship?
SCOTT DIXON: I'd definitely like to think so. We've had a strange relationship, sort of up and down. Last year it was different because we were so close on the points. The Chicago race last year definitely opened my eyes to teammates that I've had previously and how I've been treated.
So I think we're both very competitive. Dan doesn't want to go out of the season not winning another race. He's going to try to be as competitive as possible and try and win the last four, five races that are left. And I do hope -- now I know if I was in the same situation he was, I'd definitely help. You have to look after your team.
But you'll have to figure it out once it comes down to it. I know Chip, in previous years that I've been involved with this team, you've had to help your partners and I believe it's the right thing to do for the team. But we'll just have to see what he thinks of it in these races.
Q. What sort of support have you been getting from New Zealand in the last few weeks with this three in a row? Has it just been flooding in? Have you been hearing a lot?
SCOTT DIXON: It's been fantastic, hearing from friends and family back home, a lot of supporters that did get me back here. It's reminiscent of the 2003 season.
I think we always have great support from New Zealand, but it definitely steps up. It's nice to get phone calls and text messages from people down there that are watching races. And all the coverage we have been getting down there is definitely something we need. It's good for myself. I'm definitely proud of New Zealand and where I come from, and it's good to sort of put them on the map as such, even though I know they've been doing so well with sports and rugby and net ball and all kinds of stuff.
Q. I just wanted to know, what would it mean to you to be the first Indy driver to win four in a row?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think what I'm going back to is probably the factor it's one of a few times where I've had one engine manufacturer and one team. And the competition is so much stronger. You've got a car that's been around for I think five years now. They haven't changed too much. So everybody is pretty zoned in. So I think it's much more difficult to do four in a row now. And to be the first to do it would be fantastic. Not just to be the first person to do it, but for our situation and the championship would definitely put a great stamp on that and fit the mood for the remainder of the races, I think.
Q. Dario is going to be tough. But how confident are you that you can be grand champion again?
SCOTT DIXON: We're confident. I know what our team's made up of. I know the development work that we've been doing. I know from the recent test, our car has been extremely fast. They're still there. And kind of depends on sometimes the race weekend and maybe what engine you get out of the pool. Hopefully that doesn't play into it as much.
All I hope is that our sort of streak or our confidence level or the momentum we've got going doesn't sort of blow out any time soon. That's what we've got to keep going and just keep our focus on. But I think we're in a pretty good situation at the moment.
Q. To go back to the teammates, there's been a whole lot written and said about the issues in Nascar with Stewart and Hamlin and Gordon and Kyle Bush and all that. Is the concept of teammates within racing where you guys are so competitive and you really are racing for yourself, is it meant to work or not?
SCOTT DIXON: It is. I think what team owners look for are two highly competitive people that are very talented and that just drives -- there's only one thing you want to do and that's to beat your teammate. You're racing the guy with the same equipment most of the time. Sometimes that's out of your hands.
But it depends a lot of times on the situation. I think every situation's different. Maybe people abuse your teammate. Or I know with the Tony thing and the Hamlin thing, maybe that was a bit of frustration, and a lot of times I think it is.
So it's unique to the situation of who's driving. And I know I've had a pretty good track record of getting on very well with my teammates and helping them and working with them. I'd say this is the first time where we've had some friction as such. And it is frustrating sometimes. But I think that's the competitive nature of the business.
And Dan's very talented. He's a fantastic driver. And what we want to do is beat each other. Sometimes you're going to have problems.
Q. I'm going to take you away from IndyCar, from the championship points race for a second, and shift gears and ask you about the Indy Pro Series. And what is your impression with Chip Ganassi being involved in Pro Series this year? Has that been something that's been beneficial and helpful to you or perhaps to Dan in getting a leg up and pursuing your goals this year?
SCOTT DIXON: It's a massive gain for us. I think it's a good series for our team to be involved in. I think the Indy Pro Series has definitely taken off this year. The competition level has gone through the roof, even though Alex Lloyd has seemed to have cleaned up on most of them.
But I think the guys racing at the top are very talented. It kind of brings you back to the days of the Indy Light Series and how that's bred a lot of top racers. It hasn't taken its role yet and moving people up. It's frustrating.
But from my side it's very beneficial because if you're going to be an IndyCar Series team, you basically get more testing. And I think that's helped us. It's helped AGR. It's helped Vision. It's one of those things, because we have a ban on testing. You're looking at any opportunity of trying to do that. And I think it's been a great experience for Chris Vista. It's very unfortunate with how it turned out with Pablo and the incident at Homestead and taking him out. I know he's recovering very well and wanting to get back into it very soon.
But for us it plainly comes down to, for Dan and myself, it comes down to we get more testing and it helps us make your team faster.
TIM HARMS: Scott, thanks again for taking the time to join us.
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