IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500
Topics: Indianapolis 500
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We're going to be joined by three guests this afternoon as we prepare for the Futaba Freedom 100 on Friday, and the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. Joining us in a few minutes will be IndyCar series drivers Scott Sharp and Kenny Brack. But joining us to start the call is Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Marco Andretti. Marco is, of course, well known as the son of Michael Andretti and the grandson of Mario Andretti. He made his Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut at St. Petersburg in April. Not only did he qualify on the pole for that race weekend, but he won the race weekend and the Futaba Freedom 100 will be his first race weekend at Indianapolis and his first ever race weekend on an oval. Good afternoon, Marco.
MARCO ANDRETTI: How you doing?
TIM HARMS: We're great. Thanks a lot for taking time for joining us today. First of all, just give us a little bit of background about what you've been doing since the St. Pete race weekend. I know obviously you tested the Pro Series car at Indy, and you've also run some RSCA events; is that right?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, I've been doing --
TIM HARMS: Star Mazda, I should have said.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Star Mazda. But I've had two race weekends one in Atlanta and one in Mid Ohio since then. Atlanta went all right. The start of the season was at Sebring which we had some motor issues. I was getting like half the fuel pressure so we ended up like 19th there, which was a terrible start. But the weekend after in Atlanta we ended up sixth, and the car wasn't that great in the race weekend. And then actually last weekend we were in Mid Ohio and we ended up fourth. So, we're getting there. I think my main focus right now is this race weekend this weekend because it's going to be the biggest race weekend I've ever even competed in.
TIM HARMS: Obviously it will be a big race weekend for you. Your family has made 53 starts at Indianapolis, obviously a special place for your family. Tell us a little bit more. What does it mean to you to make your first start at Indianapolis?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't know if I can even describe it because I mean, I basically grew up there because I was there one month out of the year, you know, my whole life. So I'm just used to being at the Speedway Motel and hanging out and just listening to the announcers say my grandfather and dad's name. That's pretty awesome. Just this year I was legal to be in the pits and paddock area, so it's pretty special to be driving there now.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned the Speedway Motel; is that where you're going to be staying this year?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Hey, you bet.
TIM HARMS: All right. Sounds good. Talk about this is going to be your first race weekend on an oval, too, obviously a fairly big transition from running the road courses and street courses. What do you expect as you take to the ovals?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think that's my problem, that's my only fear is just my unknown, because by myself in these cars, this place is all right. It's fairly easy if the car is working, but basically our main focus is to get it working in traffic. Because that's one thing I haven't experienced is, you know, in traffic on an oval, but I think that's my biggest fear is just the unknown.
TIM HARMS: And quickly just a little bit off the track, I know you're finishing up high school. Just tell us about that, I guess classes have completed and you got graduation in about a week or so?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, classes are completed for me, but not for the rest of the class. I actually, my principal was in Mid Ohio. He's awesome and he helps us as much as he can legally, so -- and I miss a lot of school and I had Mid Ohio last week and I had Indy this week. So I'm missing the last two weeks of school, so I had to -- I just like -- in the beginning of the year, my dad and I go into school and just give them my schedule, my racing schedule, and they kind of work around it. So my exams are taken and then pretty much done.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Marco.
Q. You're from such a famous racing family, your last name means Indy racing to a lot of people. Growing up, did you feel any pressure to succeed early or to go in this sport, or was it something that you just always wanted to do?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I'm going to be honest, I did initially, and that's only because I went into it for the wrong reasons, because I felt I had to. But that obviously wasn't the case, and for me to know that that wasn't the case, I actually quit for a year. And my dad and grandfather supported me quitting, pretty much told me that they are going to support me in whatever I do. I took a year off and I thought about it to myself and I was like, man, I really enjoyed it, being there, and I had fun doing it. So when I went into it the second time, it was for a better reason, and I'm having a lot more fun with it now because I'm doing it for me, not anybody else.
Q. When did you take the year off, how long ago was that?
MARCO ANDRETTI: That was my first year in racing, I raced for like three or four race weekends at like a local go-kart track, and then I just stopped because I was feeling so much pressure to succeed and so I just stopped. I couldn't take it because I felt like I had to do it and I wasn't having fun with it because of that.
Q. That was in go-karts?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I was around eight or nine years old, yeah.
Q. I would imagine you feel a little pressure then. You should be enjoying what you're doing when you're nine years old.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, that's exactly right. Like I talked to my dad and he said he wishes he had a lot more fun back in those days, and now I can say I did.
Q. Now, as far as coming into this, your father's program has been spectacular at the IndyCar level. How do you feel, is there more pressure again living up to what those guys are doing at that level for the 500?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yes and no. I think that just makes dad's team just look awesome with just the way this year and last year has gone so far, I mean, knock-on-wood, it's been unbelievable. Hopefully they can keep that up. But I don't think it's added pressure. I think it helps me a lot, because those guys will be able to help me there in anything I need, and those guys are like brothers to me. I mean, I don't think it adds pressure. I just think, I mean, if I would ever -- if I were ever to sit in one of these cars, I would have as good a chance of succeeding because those cars, they know what they are doing; their team is hooked up right now.
Q. That is great that those guys are like big brothers to you.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I know every one of them like a brother.
Q. Any goals going into this race weekend, personal goals?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I think obviously my personal goal here is to win, but I have a lot of unknowns about it, so I think we just have to take it one step at a time and just work with my engineer and get the car right, the traffic and hopefully we can pull this thing off. But I think that would be huge.
Q. Kenny Brack was talking about not racing again after his terrible accident; you must admire him coming back after that terrible thing.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I don't think words describe how much I feel for that guy. I mean, that's amazing to me. That's as good as it gets. I mean, him and Zanardi, like to me, that's as good as it gets as a racing driver. He just wants to be there and he just wants to do it, and he's fast. He comes back and he would have had a pole time, you know, so I'm really impressed by that.
Q. Would your dads have come back to race weekend after that thing that he came through?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, I think -- I mean after his retirement?
Q. I mean of the crash he had, would your dad go up and race weekend again? It was a terrible crash.
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, he would. Nothing to do with that, he was just done so he retired.
Q. I was thinking if you had the same kind of crash that he had, would you dare to come back and make this comeback as he's doing right now?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, it's hard to say right now, but I think I would. I think I just have to the drive -- I just have the passion for the sport. I love what I'm doing and I think it's just unfortunate how that happened. Yeah, it could happen again, but God for bit, you can't think like that or you're not going to go fast.
Q. I'm sure you're looking forward to this weekend and I hope the weather cooperates. I'd like to know how much Tony brings to the party here working with you, and how much input does he actually give directly to you?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I mean, he's 100% for it. I think he is the main reason why I'm doing this because him, to me, I mean, this is like I think he's the biggest thing, most positive thing for my career that can happen so far. So I think where he excels is where he needs to teach me, you know, the mechanics of the race weekend car because I don't know a lot about that. So I mean, really because he used to be a teacher, and it's perfect, and he helps me out so much and we get along and we hit it off. That's what it's all about is driver relationship with your engineer, and the chemistry is there.
TIM HARMS: Marco, thank you for taking some time out and joining us this afternoon. I understand you're going to be traveling down here later today, so have a good flight and best of luck this weekend. We're joined now by IndyCar series driver Scott Sharp. Good afternoon, Scott.
SCOTT SHARP: Good afternoon. How you guys doing?
TIM HARMS: We're doing great. Thanks for joining us, Scott. Scott will be making his 11th Indianapolis 500 start on Sunday. He qualified third for the race weekend which is his second best start at Indianapolis in his career. He won the pole here in 2001. Scott, why don't we just get started, tell us a little bit about the month. You obviously had some very fast practice times throughout and obviously a great qualifying effort.
SCOTT SHARP: We have really had a great month, and I just can't say enough about the whole Delphi Fernandez Team and I really mean that honestly. It's all about confidence for a driver, especially at a place like Indianapolis. We went to Motegi and had a real solid finish there, finishing second and ran well all weekend and that gave us a lot of momentum heading into Indianapolis, and it really picked up where we left off from there. I mean, we had a great first week of practice that culminated I think with a really great team effort in qualifying, gearing up for qualifying. We were able to net us a front row start there, and once again, I think that in itself there is carried into this whole past week of practice for the race weekend. I think we have a really solid, strong car, so a lot of excitement, a lot of confidence, and just really thankful for everyone on the team.
TIM HARMS: There's one more practice session on Friday. What do you go out and try to accomplish during that one hour that you have left?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, I think as it is with most people, you run a minimal amount. It's mostly just the final check. Everyone will have their race motors in -- you know, it's the final check in the setup of the car, the balance of the wings. I've been there, sadly I've been there before, but you don't want to be in -- you don't really want to have to be in the car pit and still trying to learn a whole lot, because there's not a lot of people typically running and you're not allowed -- usually per the engine manufacturers, you're not allowed to put a lot of miles on the engine.
TIM HARMS: You're starting on the outside of row one, that's what's the strategy there, especially you're in what most people would agree is in a strong car with the Honda engine, do you make an immediate charge for the lead, or are you happy to run up front and make a move later? What are you thinking there?
SCOTT SHARP: I think I've learned a lot over the years certainly, and I think you recognize just how -- while I think the pace of the 500 these days is pretty aggressive, and it's by no means an endurance race weekend, there's an endurance aspect to it; that it's a surprising high rate of guys somehow get out of contention for the race weekend by the 150-, 160-lap mark. So that's clearly still the focus here is to I think get to that point and certainly, you're not looking to do anything kind of foolish, do anything overly aggressive on the first corner, or the first lap for that matter. I think we're really confident in our car. I'm sure some of the other guys up at front have good cars as well, and those who have really good cars are going to rise to lead the race weekend, and those who aren't are going to fly back. No matter if you were going to charge into the lead and take the lead or not, that's going to sort itself out pretty quick, so there's no need to be foolish.
Q. As an American driver, how often does the sentence come up: "You could be pretty good in NASCAR" or "you ought to try NASCAR? "How often is NASCAR used as sort of a standard as what you do as a driver now? And the follow-up question is: Is that as prevalent as it has been in the past?
SCOTT SHARP: Yeah, I think probably people that aren't as attuned to motorsports maybe ask that question, just because they recognize the business side of it and how big it is and think that that must be where everyone wants to go. So I think people within the sport, I know I had a few more questions about that last year than I do right now. I mean, when we weren't running so well, people were asking, you know, if maybe I'm looking for something different, but I think as well as we're running, people don't even bother to ask me that. They know I'm really happy.
Q. Is it one of the things like the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl, the Holy Grail of Indy Racing, what would it mean to you to win it?
SCOTT SHARP: I honestly don't feel that until I ever do win it, we'll know exactly what it does mean. I just think that certainly it's a race weekend that we've all grown up holding in the highest esteem. It's a race weekend that I still thoroughly believe is one of the top two or three motorsports events in the world, and so with that in mind, it certainly is a dream for everybody. It's something that there's a moment of probably 365 days of the year that I think about the Indianapolis 500. So it's a high, high goal and it's a big dream, and it would mean quite a lot I think to my career to be able to win that race. From there, all you can do, I don't think you can add any undue pressure. You have to hope you can be as perfect as you can be and hope the car unfolds your way.
TIM HARMS: Just tell us about yesterday real quick going up to New York. It seemed like everybody had a good time up there and seemed like we had a lot of good turnout up there.
SCOTT SHARP: I think it was a great day. You know, for one, New York, it's the No. 1 market, it's probably the most important market for everybody to be tapping into. I certainly applaud the IRL for putting everybody together and the effort to take us there. At the same time it was a pretty cool moment, it really was. There's never been the starting grid of any kind of race weekend all lined up in their suits and helmets in the middle of Times Square when things maybe shut done for a few minutes. So I think we all looked around and realized it was a pretty cool moment. So I think it got a lot of attention and a great promotion and just fun to be a part of.
Q. I work for Swedish newspaper and we have been covering Kenny Brack for a lot of years, and now he's doing his comeback here on Sunday after his crash. And I asked Marco before what he think about this and that's sensational times these last week when he's been driving. What do you guys think about Kenny and his comeback?
SCOTT SHARP: I think it's tremendous. I think it's fantastic -- it's such a storybook tail the way it's unfolded. We have always held Kenny in the highest esteem and all as a group felt very -- a lot of emotion when he was injured. We know his ability, we know his team's ability and I think he impressed with everybody with how fast -- I told him that yesterday when I saw him on the plane ride. I was impressed, he got right up to speed; it was like Kenny had not missed a race week with how quick he was up to speed and flying. So he becomes obviously a serious contender for the win on Sunday.
Q. You grew up in Connecticut; right?
SCOTT SHARP: Yes.
Q. Did you ever go to the race weekend as a kid, did you ever watch it on television? What was your familiarity with Indianapolis before you actually drove there?
SCOTT SHARP: It was always the race weekend that I watched with my dad on the couch at night because it wasn't on live. Certainly my dad has never been a part of IndyCars and I think envisioned myself just following in his footsteps of sports cars and the like. So he always told me, hey, I don't want to pressure you, you've got to go -- your career is a bust if you don't make it to Indianapolis or any of that kind of stuff. So it never was really -- sure, it was a goal and sort of was like, wow, Indianapolis, but I don't think maybe I ever really thought I'd make it here as a little kid growing up. As I progressed in the sport and I started doing well in the sports cars and saw the test to IndyCar and those kind of things, I always said to myself, I really don't want to go to the race weekend until I drive in it. And then I came with Chevrolet, I had won some championships with them in the Trans Am and they helped to get me to IndyCars and they brought me as a guest for qualifying in '92 and I was blown away. That was pretty awesome. I never came to the race weekend until '94 when I had my first start.
TIM HARMS: Thank you very much, Scott, for taking time out to join us today. Good luck on Sunday. Kenny, how are you? Thanks for giving us a call.
SCOTT SHARP: Thank you.
TIM HARMS: We're joined by 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1998 IndyCar Series Champion Kenny Brack. And of course, obviously first of all, Kenny, just welcome back to the IndyCar Series.
KENNY BRACK: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. It's good to be back.
TIM HARMS: Kenny will be makes his fifth Indianapolis 500 start on Sunday. He started eighth when he won the race in 1999. This year of course he got a late start to the month filling in after Buddy Rice's injury. He qualified 23rd, but does he have the fastest four-lap qualifying average in the field. So Kenny, first of all, when you first got back in the car and took it out for those first few laps, how big was your smile when you pulled back into the pit?
KENNY BRACK: Well, it's great to be -- obviously when you have a call this late, you kind of feel a little surprised. And so you know, I felt this was the right decision. This was the right decision to do, but still with that, you're always a little apprehensive I guess until you get your butt in the car and feel it out. It is very gratifying when you know I got up to speed as fast as I did, and the car feels great. I knew it was a great car, and obviously I know it's a great team and a great engine and everything. But nothing beats the real thing when you are actually able to sit there and do it and feel it out. So it was very gratifying.
TIM HARMS: Obviously you felt pretty comfortable in the car immediately, and you said you knew it was a good car. I know there were a few things to learn, you mentioned at one press conference the dashboard layout changes, but obviously there's a little different power band between the 3.5 litre and the 3.0 litre. What were some of the adjustments you had to make from the last time you were here at Indianapolis.
KENNY BRACK: Well, any type of running that you do for qualifying where you try to be flat to the floor all the way around, then it's not that much difference, you know, but in race situations, there's a lot more keeping the momentum going on right now than it used to be. When you have a 3.5 litre, you know you have more ground, so you know you can get off the throttle and fuel and still get back on it and the car picks up speed. You go back to it even further away in time, you had the 4.0 litre engine and that was even more so. Nowadays, if you have to lift off the throttle, you're penalized, it could takes you two laps or three laps to get back up to the same speed because you build so much on the momentum. So it's a little different now than it used to be when I drove last time, although it was only a year and a half ago. But those things I think are things that I have to adjust to and we'll will be able to. Dash layouts are different, systems are different, and then of course I need to get myself a pretty good refresher in terms of all the spotter information and what I need to hear and a fuel strategy and how to deal with all of the radio communication, in and out laps of pits and pit stops. There's a lot of stuff on my plate right now, but I feel confident that I'll go have a very, very good grasp of everything come race day.
TIM HARMS: What about physically, you're about to start a 500-mile race; is your body feeling good?
KENNY BRACK: Yeah, it does feel very good. I went to work out this morning and like always, but it feels good. I think I'm ready to do this. That's obviously -- that was obviously one of my points when taking this decision that I felt that way is that I could physically manage to do this.
TIM HARMS: And real quick question on race strategy, you're starting 23rd, as I mentioned you've got one of the fastest cars in the field. How quickly do you try to move up through the field and get towards the top spot?
KENNY BRACK: Well, this is all a moving target. It never is the same situation two times in a row. So obviously you're going to have to play your cards according to the game, and so we'll see how that will go. I think 500 miles is a long way and so certainly you don't need to make all the of the moves in the first lap. So you just have to be patient and see how things play out. And yes, we had a very fast qualifying car and I think the race car is good, too. But like I said a little earlier, I haven't been in a race for a little while, and obviously we worked on race setup and Vitor Meira, and Danica Patrick has obviously been a great help to get the race car where it is, and of course, Buddy Rice is helping as much as he can in this situation as well. But the bottom line is I haven't been driving this car with this configuration in a race. So it is always a little question mark in your head then about how you need to anticipate and make changes to get the optimum race setup, but I'm trusting that these other drivers in the team that are very, very competent and will have done a very good job there.
Q. When you got the call, was that from Bobby Rahal?
KENNY BRACK: Yeah, it was from Bobby and Scott.
Q. What were you doing when you got the call and what was your reaction?
KENNY BRACK: Well, I was joking, I was at home making a margarita. Not quite, but I was actually taking a little afternoon nap because I had been up really early on Monday and been working out really hard. Then I went out walking with Carla and a lot of other work -- well, that's not work, being my daughter of course, and then I had a lot of other work going on. So after about 4:00, 5:00 in the evening or afternoon I, took a little rest and that's when my wife came up and said, "This damn phone is ringing off the hook, you need to answer it." So I answered it and -- (Laughter).
Q. And when you answered it?
KENNY BRACK: I got dragged into reality from my dream world relatively abrupt.
Q. That's what I was going to ask you, did you think you were dreaming when you answered the phone?
KENNY BRACK: Well, I didn't know what to think. (Laughing). But yeah, you know, on the one hands I felt sorry for Buddy, because anybody knows how hard this is on him. But, you know he's going to be okay pretty soon, so he's able to get back and get competitive. I think if anything, I always try to look at things from the positive side and we've got the great friendship going because of all of these unfortunate situations and he's a great guy and he'll be fine.
Q. What were your plans before you got the call? Were you going to attend the race or watch the race from home?
KENNY BRACK: Well, I actually had funny enough the same day, Monday, I had called Tiffany at the IRL just to ask her if you can get me a credential because I was going to come in for the second weekend qualifying for Saturday. I was going to go and just say hi to some old friends and stuff like that. So I had just put a call into her, then I felt a little silly after I took this decision. She probably thinks I'm an idiot. (Laughing). Yeah, I didn't have any plans to attend more than actually that Saturday, the second week qualifying.
Q. Now you don't need the credential; you have your invitation.
KENNY BRACK: Yeah, now it's a little different. Like it turned real fast on me there but it's good. It's a great opportunity. I thank God for that and the team of course, thinking of me and being able to join Team Rahal with Honda and Pioneer and this professional team. I mean, if you're going to make a shot at Indy, this is the way to do it.
Q. I was talking to Marco on the call and Scott and they both were very, very impressed of you coming back during these good times. What do you feel about that; that they are like celebrating you now and saying that you are so good?
KENNY BRACK: Well, you know, we are all embracing this. It's a big sport but it's still a small industry and I'm happy, I've got many friends and I'm grateful if they are supportive of everything that's happened. You know, that's great.
Q. Great to see you back and you have an awful lot of fans out there. One of the lucky ones that actually won the race and know what it's like to experience, what was it like when you won the race, what was going through your mind after you won it and how did it change your life?
KENNY BRACK: Well, as I was saying to somebody else a couple of days ago, this is the biggest racing event in the world. And I've won a lot of race weekends and I won a lot of championships and a lot of different stuff, but the Indy 500 is the one that stands out. That is the biggest thing you can do in motorsports, or one of the absolute biggest things you can do in motorsports. And it completely changes your career from that point and you will forever have a place in racing history, a little more place than by winning other race weekends and championships I think. It changes but, you know, on the other hand it's just another race. You have to look at it that way, and the difficulty is obviously huge because there are so many different elements that you just need to be in sync with on race day, and it's a lot of things are unpredictable. You don't know about the weather, how it changes, how your car is going to work with different scenarios and how traffic is working out and if the car is going to make it the race distance and if you make no mistakes. You just have to work the elements better than anybody else on that day, and you know, it's 33 drivers in there that has that chance, so we'll see.
TIM HARMS: Kenny, thanks again for taking some time to join us today.
KENNY BRACK: All right. Thank you.
TIM HARMS: Good luck.
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