Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
August 22, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for joining us. We have two guests joining us today. In a few minutes we'll hear from IndyCar Series driver Darren Manning, and joining us now is Alex Lloyd.
Alex is in his second season in the Indy Pro Series after recording two wins with AFS Racing last year. He started this season with a recordâsetting five consecutive victories in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, and since then he added two victories and he holds a 98âpoint lead in the standings with three races remaining.
Congratulations on a great season, Alex. At the start of the season did you think it would go this well for you?
ALEX LLOYD: I definitely didn't think it would go as well as it did. I expected to be strong, and I expected it to be challenging for getting race win victories, but I don't think you can predict that you're going to win the first five out of five races.
From the season starting end of March, you know, we didn't lose a race until beginning of Julyâ ââ or end of May, which was something really pretty special, and I don't think anybody goes into the season expecting that. Everybody hopes for that, but you can't expect that. For me it was a great thing. We've been very strong since then, and unfortunately we don't have quite as many victories as I would have hoped. Since having that great start, we had a couple of problems.
I thought we would get the win at Nashville, and we didn't quite get that, and we've had a few bumps along the way, and I'm looking forward to getting the championship. I want to come away with a couple more victories from the last three races, which would top off an incredible season for me.
THE MODERATOR: Looking back it has been a couple of rough races, but is there one highlight that stands out for you so far in the season?
ALEX LLOYD: Yeah, I think winning on the oval at Indy was a huge thing for me, and the reason is since I signed up with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, our main goal has been to win this race. They missed out last year as a team by a 10th of a second, and for me it's something that I wanted to accomplish as a driver, winning on the oval at Indy.
It's obviously not the 500, but that's our equivalent of the 500 for the Indy Pro Series. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and the team put pressure on me, not willingly, but I knew what their hopes were for the weekend. We came into that weekend with a lot of pressure and needed to get the job done.
Second place finish would have been good points for the championship, it just wasn't going to cut it; it was all or nothing. And, fortunately, we got the win there, and I think crossing the line for me, it was something that I haven't experienced in my time of racing, feeling like that, crossing the line to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was special for me and for the team. So that was by far the highlight of the year.
THE MODERATOR: You get that special feeling that you just mentioned, and it's kind of hard to look forward necessarily and know exactly what you're going to feel like if and when you clinch the championship. Do you think you'll have the same type of feeling or a greater feeling when you get the championship? How do you see that?
ALEX LLOYD: Well, I think it all depends on whether it goes down to the wire. I think the championship is a different type of situation. You know, when you're racing in a oneârace thing at Indy, you know there is nothing that canâ ââ you have faulty laps in the race, if something goes wrong, you aren't going to get it.
In the championship you can have many great races, but if something goes wrong like it did at Nashville or MidâOhio when we had a mechanical problem, it's not the end of the world. A championship is really the big picture. So I think you take time and think about it, and if it's like last year, where it came down to who literally won and which position, and obviously Jay Howard got the championship, that will be a lot more emotional.
If we can clinch it with the points lead we have now and without having to complete the whole season, coming down to the final lap of the last race of the season, then I don't think it will be quite the same type of feeling of accomplishing something where you know you can have nothing go wrong like it was at Indy. I'm sure it's a different type of feeling, and hopefully one that I'll be able to find out about and tell you guys the difference in feeling in the next couple of weeks.
THE MODERATOR: As we head into Infineon, it's possible you could clinch the Cup after race one, if you pick up some points, or after race two if you maintain the lead you have now. Is your approach more conservative than you might take on a different type of weekend?
ALEX LLOYD: Not really. We've been fortunate that we've had a big lead from the start of the championship, and we've not had any pressure on us, really. Like I said, we had two bad races where we had some problems, but nobody grabbed the bull by the horns and took the fight to us, so we've still got a pretty big lead, and it's one of those things where we know if we have two tenth place finishes, that may be enough to come away with the championship.
So we're going in with the aim and ambition of winning both races and certainly coming away with at least one win. That's the way I've been all year is trying to win the race, and if we keep winning races and win more than everybody else out there, then the championship is likely to follow, and that's the same mentality I've got here.
We'll go there, do our job, put ourselves in a position to win races, and hopefully we will pick up a win this weekend; if we do that, the championship will be ours. We're still taking it race by race and trying to get as many wins as we can.
THE MODERATOR: Ultimately the role of the Pro Series is to give guys the opportunity to move up to the next level. Last weekend you had an opportunity to test an IndyCar. Tell us about that.
ALEX LLOYD: It's been an amazing couple of weeks for me. I got my first IndyCar test at Sebring, and that was very special for me, especially racing with Chip Ganassi Racing. They're one of the biggest teams in the IndyCar Series, and one I've always dreamt of driving for.
To get a call from them saying, "We want to put you in our car alongside Scott Dickson," and you go out there, and I've got an opportunity to show the best team out there, one of the best teams out there what I can do, and I have an opportunity to learn as much as I can off these guys, that was a great experience. The car is a fantastic car to drive.
I think one of the things I learned from this is that these cars, the Indy Pro Series, prepares you well for the IndyCar Series. I felt completely at home when I got in the car. Obviously there's more horsepower, more grip, but it only took me a handful of laps before I was right there and feeling competitive, and then I spent the rest of my time learning and working on the car to suit my driving style.
So that's, again, one of the greatest things the Pro Series is there for is to train drivers, and for me it's done a great job. Great to have done that test now, and I'm looking forward to more tests. Chip Ganassi has offered me a chance to drive in the Grand Am race as well, so I'll be doing double duty with them in the Grand Am race racing with Michael and then in the race this weekend at Sonoma.
Q. Alex, got anything planned for next year to move up into the IRL series?
ALEX LLOYD: There is a lot of interest at the moment. We're reallyâ ââ you know, I'm not rushing into anything too much at the moment. I'm just waiting to see what's around the corner. But like I say, the great thing is I've had a lot of people call me up, asking me what my plans are, and I'm just going to wait and see how things unfold and try and pick the best ride that's available for me.
I've got a lot of confidence that I'll be in the IndyCar Series next year, where is still a little bit unknown but for me. It's important to try and get myself in a raceâwinning car so I can compete and try and get some race wins. We'll see where we end up, but so far things are looking promising.
Q. You mentioned that Scott Dickson is probably the best road course racer on the circuit. Do you consider him a favorite this weekend?
ALEX LLOYD: I probably would, yeah. I know they didn't test there, and Dario tested when we were at Sebring, so maybe that will be an advantage for them, but I think it's going to be a close run for the championship, really. I think it's all going to depend on who makes the least mistakes on ââ the team and driver combination that's made the least mistakes is probably going to come away with the championship. I think it will come down to the wire at Chicago.
Q. There seems to be a little more acrimony this year than past years. At Michigan there were a lot of incidents. Have you noticed that as well, and what do you think of that?
ALEX LLOYD: Well, there has been. Obviously there has been a lot of incidents of various different types, from accidents like we saw at Michigan to the smaller things that have got people heated, like Danica and others at Milwaukee. And obviously we don't want to see big accidents, but I think the great thing to look at is how everybody walked away fine, and I think that's a great testimony to how safe the IndyCars are at the moment and how great the safety developments are behind the scenes.
I think the arguments this year have been great, and I think that's what the series needs. It generates publicity, it gets the crowd into it more, they get to know the drivers personalities a little better, and ultimately that's only going to help the IndyCar Series. So for me so far watching every race, even if I've been racing I Tivoed it, and I think it's going to be a great year.
I think the IndyCar Series year after year is making steps forward, and it's really ââ in my eyes there is no question it's the number one openâwheel racing series in America, and I think it's going to just get better and better as every year goes on.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the physical and mental demands of driving on a road course like Sonoma?
ALEX LLOYD: Sonoma is a tough track; you have a lot of alterations, a lot of corners, a lot going on, very few straight, long distances that you can catch your breath. You're always working and changing things, and it's tough, and you've got to work hard on your fitness.
Even in our races, maybe an hour in length, it's not just physically, it's concentration as well, and that all boils down to being physically fit. The IndyCar races are double the length of time, and that's something that those guys have to do is step up is their training. It's very physical. And I'm sure at the end of certainly an IndyCar Series race, you'll see guys getting fatigued and making mistakes, and it's all another aspect of racing that you get on road courses that you don't get quite so much ââ certainly not the physical side ââ on the ovals.
But it's another aspect of racing you have to be physically fit and fresh as a daisy, so if it comes down to the wire, you're ready to go.
THE MODERATOR: Alex, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Appreciate that. Good luck with the double duty this weekend.
We're joined by Darren Manning. He is in his third season in the IndyCar Series and his first with A.J. Foyt Racing. He had a 5th at Iowa and top tens at the last two road courses.
Darren, at the start of the season we heard you joke about the backgrounds that you and A.J. have. Now that you've worked almost a full season with him and the team, tell us how it's been to drive for A. J. Foyt.
DARREN MANNING: It's been great. One of the reasons he chose me to drive is the relationship that we had built up in my two previous years in IndyCar Series with him and obviously Anthonyâ ââ his grandson. I kind of helped him out a little bit when I was with Ganassi, and when he did the Indy 500 I tried to help him out with as much experience as I kind of had.
So I think from then the relationship has grown, and even though we're from two totally opposite ends of the world and upbringingsâ ââ not upbringings, really, but we're both pretty much the same at heart.
In that respect we have come from nothing and been determined enough to have a career in motor racing, and obviously he's had quite a lot more success ââ of course he's had a lot more years than me, but I think he sees a little bit of himself in me, the determination and the fact that I did pretty much everything I had to do to get to where I am now.
He sees a little bit of what he had to do in what I've done to get to IndyCars, and I think he respects that, and you can really feel that when we're talking and debriefing and going racing. It's been a goodâ ââ it's been an enjoyable year, to say the least. The results obviously haven't been what we wanted, even though we're better than what the team has had in the past few years.
Pretty much every race weekend we wish we could start the weekend over with what we've learned from that weekend, so we're looking forward to cracking on to next year and coming back to a lot of these race tracks for the second time, and that's going to help. It's a slow process, being a oneâcar team and maybe not having the mega resources like the big guys, but the IndyCar Series gives us the opportunity to compete, and that's what we're doing.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously the biggest strides for you guys seem to be on the road courses. You qualified fifth and were running in the top five at Petersburg, ninth at Watkins Glen, 6th at MidâOhio. Tell us about the success that you've had on the road courses this year.
DARREN MANNING: It's a lot easier to tell whether you've made a good change to your car or not. On a road course it's very easy to tell, you know, you've gotâ ââ you've got a stopwatch going on ââ obviously the same stopwatch on an oval, but you pretty much, you know, are driving flat out on an oval, 100% throttle all the way around. There is very little you can too as a driver to make that car faster.
Whereas on a road course, if youâ ââ you've got a lot of braking, steering, putting the gas down. If you can relay what you want to your engineer and A.J. and things like that, make changes, you can see a difference in the stopwatch, where a lot of times on an oval you can make thousands of pounds ââ spring changes and things and go from full stiff to full soft on your set and not find very much speed.
It's very difficult to quantify the miniscule differences, whereas on a road course it's a lot broader. And road course is where I had the majority of my upbringing, so I pretty much know what I want set up; whereas, on an oval I know what I want, but how we achieve that is difficult on an oval.
So it's been good, and every race I've been running in the top three at some point in the race; we've just got to translate that to results toward the end of the race what with, you know, being caught out with maybe some unlucky yellow flags, and me having to spin out a third place at St. Pete with ten laps to go probably wasn't a great place to get started, but we feel confident we can get deep inside the top ten on the road courses compared to the ovals.
THE MODERATOR: With the next two races at Infineon and Belle Isle, those are two new courses to you, and what do you think about those circuits, and how do you go in against the other guys that have raced there before and have that experience and compete for another topâfive finish?
DARREN MANNING: It makes me try just a little bit harder. I've tested at Sonoma, at Infineon, and I've got plenty of laps around there, so I know the track pretty well, but to be honest, learning a track is maybe a walk around it, and examine the track and things, but it's basically only a few laps that you take to warm up. You should know the track pretty much straightaway then.
The biggest thing on new tracks is if it's the team's first time there, the gear ratios and some setâup and slight new answers to the individual circuit. Run the right higher or softer or stiffer, but learning it as a driverâ ââ it should beâ ââ well, I'm hoping it's pretty straightforward when I get to Belle Isle, but it was whenever I've been to Watkins Glen and Sonoma and St. Pete's in the past.
All the drivers are straightaway, so it's getting the basics right on the car. And we know we've got some good starting setâup points from what we've done previously this year, and that will be a higher starting point than St. Pete and MidâOhio and Watkins Glen. We should have done better at St. Pete; we had a gear linkage failure, or we would probably have done even better there. So I'm looking to finishing the season strong.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the race in Michigan. It seemed like there was a lot of banging going on, and Tony said after the race that maybe the drivers didn't respect each other as much as they should have. Have you seen that this year as a trendâ ââ more so than last year or previous years?
DARREN MANNING: To be honest, I think it's a symptom of all the teams getting ââ especially over this last winter, have gotten a lot closer. It was a bit disappointing for us because how far we're off pole position, if we would have beenâ ââ let's say, for example, Michigan, we qualified last place, but the time difference to pole position last year would have put us probably inside the top ten, if that makes sense.
So the field has gotten a hell of a lot closer, and as the teams have gotten closer, so has everybody else, and that translates on these speedways to everybody getting closer, and it's just very, very difficult to overtake.
When you've got championships and championship positions on the line and good results, you can see a better result coming, if you just try it a little harder and try and get better draft, you know, you're talking millimeters, not inches now. These cars, they're actually pretty dam tough to hold in a straight line, let alone get around the corner!
So when you get these big packs and close racing, tires going off, good cars going forward, bad cars coming back, unfortunately, bad things happen and you can really seeâ ââ like at Iowa, for example, everybody was so close there, there was just no overtaking. Everybody was within a tenth or two on an oval, and that was unheard of. On restarts it was big opportunities for everybody to try and get that one spot instead of being stuck behind a car for 50 laps.
So everybody taking a little bit of time to try and get that one spot; whereas, they didn't have to do that in the past, and it's just a symptom of everybody getting better and everybody wanting it just as bad.
Q. You talked about your relationship with A.J., and I don't know if you guys talked about his 50th anniversary of being in an IndyCar this year. Did you guys talk about that?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, he's always talking aboutâ ââ if you know A.J., he's still got as much passion, if not more now, about racing as he always has had, and hopefully I've brought a little bit more back out in him this year, and my passion for racing hopefully has ignited him again, and we're always talking about, you know, his past races and anything I can learn from that.
He doesn't like to mention the amount of years he's been racing because he thinks he's still 23 years old. He still thinks he can get in an IndyCar and compete with us, which I'm sure he could but which we don't want. It's been great to learn from him, and he hasn't stopped learning and been in it for fifty years, so I've got a long ways to go for learning if he's still learning.
Q. I guess he had a scary incident a few weeks agoâ ââ
DARREN MANNING: Always something with A.J.
Q. How did you hear about that?
DARREN MANNING: We were driving up in the motor home, to be honest, and the mechanics called, the guys that were driving my bus, and said A.J. had a spill on his bulldozer, and we said, "That's not unusual," and then we figured out it was a bit more serious, but we all knew he was all right. There is only one thing that's going to get rid of A.J., and that's A.J.
When he decides to go, whether it's killer bees, a bulldozer falling on top of him or crashing at 200 miles an hour and losing your legs at Hellcat Lake, there's one thing for sure, it's going to be him that makes the decision to go. He's a fighter, that's for sure.
Q. You mentioned the results this year, you've aren't quite what you were hoping for, but do you feel you're laying the groundwork for next year?
DARREN MANNING: Absolutely. It literally has been. It's been, "I wish we could start the weekend over again right now!" It's been very difficult to carry anything over. Some of the big changes at the beginning of the year from Homestead to Motegi to Indy was a big learning curve for us; those things carry forward. But we got to a stage after Indy trying to get the fine tuning settled on the car, and that last little bit of speed, which is nearly impossible to do.
We always would finish the weekend saying, at least we know we're going to be all right next year when we come back to these tracks, and it's not very good to be saying that but, you know, we've got to look at where they're coming from over the last few years of parking the car nearly every other weekend because of setâups and speed and crashes.
If you look at it on paper, from where they're coming from, we're right to be looking at it as a building year, and that's pretty much what we're doing, and when we get our chances, we are racing right up front with them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Darren. Appreciate you taking some time to join us this afternoon, and best of luck next couple weekends as we close out the season.
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