IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500
Topics: Indianapolis 500
Sam Hornish, Jr.
May 23, 2006
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll have four guests joining us today, the front row starters for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 will be joining us in a few minutes. Right now we're pleased to welcome the defending winner of the Freedom 100, Jaime Camara, to the call.
Jaime is back for his second season in the Infiniti Pro Series. Last year he drove for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and finished fifth overall in points. His first career victory came at Indianapolis where he led 33 of 40 laps in the Freedom 100. He's the first Freedom 100 winner to come back and defend his title.
Jaime also went on to win at Nashville last year. This year he is driving the No. 11 car for Andretti Green Racing.
Jaime, tell us how it feels to come back to Indianapolis as a defending race winner.
JAIME CAMARA: For me it's a big race. It was my first victory. I want to repeat it. It's a big deal, this race, for me. It's not just one race of the whole season, it's a special race for me.
TIM HARMS: Last year was a very competitive race. You led 33 of 40 laps. There were seven lead changes. A very competitive field again. What kind of race do you expect for fans to see this year?
JAIME CAMARA: I think it's going to be even more competitive with the changes that we have on our cars this season, with the shock system and the tires, the series is now really more competitive. We have more drivers that are really capable of winning.
I think it's not going to be like last year, I could dominate the week. I was quickest on practice, I did the pole, I led almost all the race. I think this is going to be a little more difficult than that.
I think we have a good chance. We made a lot of changes on the car since we tested a month ago. I think we're going to be all right.
TIM HARMS: This year has gotten off to a bit of a rough start for you. You qualified well in Homestead, had a penalty issue, rough weekend in St. Petersburg. What kind of things do you need to happen to turn things around?
JAIME CAMARA: I think if I win again here, it's going to be amazing. I hope the weekend I had in St. Pete was the first and the last one of the season like that. I'm really looking forward for things to get better. I think if I can do a great job here, which I think I'll be able to, because the team is supporting me a lot, we're doing everything we can to develop our cars, so I think defending the victory here, winning again, it's going to be amazing.
TIM HARMS: One of the bonuses of Andretti Green Racing running a team in the Infiniti Pro Series is they earn bonus test days for the IndyCar Series program. Part of that bonus test day program would put you behind the wheel for half of that day. How important is that type of opportunity to your development and is there a date set for that first test?
JAIME CAMARA: It's going to be really important because it's the step forward. When I do this test, every team will be watching. I think every team, everyone who is interested, will be watching to see how the Pro Series driver is doing on the IndyCar test. It's going to be a big deal for me. I never drove an IndyCar before. I'm really looking forward to it.
We don't have a date right now, but it's going to happen in June or July, the first one. We're trying to just working with the engineers of Andretti Green to put a date on the test.
TIM HARMS: Last year, your first year over here in the States, the Infiniti Pro Series, you developed a good relationship with Tony Kanaan. Now you're teammates. Tell us about how you and Tony get together and hang out.
JAIME CAMARA: Tony has been a great friend. Last year when I was having problems, he came and he helped me a lot. Since that I asked him to take care of my things for me because he's already there, he knows what I need to do to get there. For me was I think the best thing that could happen. He's always explaining me things, trying to show me some things that I don't see even on the daily basis of the team and stuff like that.
It's been great. I mean, I can't complain about these two seasons that we are working together. It's been really good.
TIM HARMS: You run the No. 11, the same number that Tony runs. Did you choose that number?
JAIME CAMARA: Sam already ran that number with Thiago. He ran the championship in '04. I was No. 1 last year, and Wade Cunningham won the championship, came back to the championship. He wanted the No. 1. I didn't have a choice.
It was good because Tony has the same number in IndyCar Series. I hope this brings me luck somehow.
TIM HARMS: We'll take some questions for Jaime.
Q. Can you describe what it's like to go into that first turn in Indianapolis?
JAIME CAMARA: The first time I came to Indy, it was the first time I was driving here, it was really special because it's a feeling that you can only have if you are driving. It's amazing when you pass by the front straight, do one flat, really quick. Man, this is so nice. I mean, this track is amazing.
It has some unique characteristics. All four corners, they are not the same, they are all different. It's those things you can only see when you're driving. If you go around the track, if you're not in a race car, you think they're the same, but they're not. One for me is the toughest corner on the track, one and two, but one more than two for sure.
Q. The level of interest back home in Brazil about the Indy Racing League, Tony, Helio, has the interest level back home picked up more so in the last few years?
JAIME CAMARA: It's always been -- Brazilian people, they love racing, so they are always watching things, everything. Tony and Helio are really big there. Everybody knows them. Wherever they go, they have fans. It's amazing there. It's a little bit different than here in the United States.
TIM HARMS: Jaime, appreciate you taking the time for us today. Good luck this week as you defend your title.
JAIME CAMARA: Thank you. See you at the track.
TIM HARMS: We're joined now by Dan Wheldon. Dan, of course, the defending Indianapolis 500 winner, will be starting on the outside of row one this Sunday after qualifying at 227.338 miles an hour. This year of course he's made the switch to run the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi car in his fourth Indianapolis 500.
It's been an interesting battle all month between Sam and Helio and you, your teammate Scott Dixon, with most days the Penske boys being a little bit faster than everyone else. Of course, it's a 500-mile race, which isn't just about speed. Tell us about your strategy as we head into Sunday.
DAN WHELDON: I think the main thing is we're very open-minded. I mean, you always have to be like that for such a long event. I'm very, very happy to be starting my fourth Indianapolis 500. It's different. This is my first one at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. We've been working very, very hard all month to, like you say, compete with the Penskes. I do feel we have been a couple of steps behind in terms of setup. That's cost us a little bit of speed. But I do believe there's the time in the car we can be able to match them in qualifying pace.
As far as race pace goes, I think we're very, very competitive. I don't just think it's the Ganassi cars and the Penske cars that are going to be quick. The Andretti Green Racing cars are going to be quick. I'm sure Fernandez, his team will be fast. There's a lot of different people that you expect to be quick at a race like this.
TIM HARMS: While we're waiting for Sam and Helio to join us, we'll open it up to some questions for Dan.
Q. What are your thoughts about the race being back in the consciousness of people, excitement about last year's race, a great deal of buzz? Do you kind of get the sense it's really back on people's radar screens perhaps to the level of a decade ago or so?
DAN WHELDON: Well, obviously I wasn't around to experience those times. Certainly in all the Indianapolis 500s that I've competed in, this year there definitely is a big buzz to who is going to win the race, how exciting the race is going to be. There's a lot of talk, a lot of different story lines. People want to see Danica. People want to see the rivalry between Penske and Ganassi. Other people want Andretti Green to win. There really does seem to be a lot of momentum created even before the month started.
I think what you're seeing with the series right now is a great influx of new fans. Just the product that we have on track is fantastic. The Indianapolis 500 has always been the biggest sporting event in the world, so people are always going to attend that.
It's just the first three races have really been very competitive. They've been close. They've been exciting. I think when you look at those and then you take all those people to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500, you've got 450,000 people in the grandstand, it's exciting. I think the media have captured that.
Q. Are you pleased there appears to be a lot of excitement not just about Danica, but some of the other story lines, Al, Jr. being back, Marco and Michael Andretti? There's more for us to write about than just Danica and whoever might be the repeat champion.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I mean, exactly. That is the thing that we definitely have going for us this year. There is so many story lines. I think, you know, it's fantastic that Michael is coming back, and Al, to do the race. I think that's what really makes the Indianapolis 500. With Marco, as well, being a rookie, but he's a great name and somebody that I think will do very well.
There's probably too much to talk about actually because you're going to be watching how Michael and Al do, how Danica does, how I'm going to do because obviously I was the champion of the race last year, how the Penskes go. There's a lot of spark I would say to the race. That creates interest.
It's going to be exciting for many, many reasons - probably too many to talk about right now because we'd be on for a couple more hours. It's truly going to be a great race.
Q. Next to winning the race, one of the hardest things of any race is coming back and repeating the next year, especially with a new team. Does that give you extra motivation, let's do it again with this new car?
DAN WHELDON: Well, exactly. I think, you know, for me, Indianapolis is a race I'm very, very passionate about. I'm just very honored, to tell you the truth, to have won it once. No one can take that win away from me. My face is going to be on the Borg-Warner trophy for life.
With what that race has done for me in terms of personally, from a racing driver standpoint, all aspects, the only way you can remain or have those things continue is by winning the race. I think that's made me more and more motivated than I've ever been to actually try and do it.
It's something that is very, very difficult to achieve, especially this year I think to win this race, it's going to take an extremely good performance because the field is so competitive. But I think we have a good chance. With the motivation I have going in and having won it once, I'm desperate to do it again. We'll just have to wait and see if I can do it.
Q. Talk about when you arrived at Indy, we got closer to qualifying day, was there a different feeling this year than last year?
DAN WHELDON: Well, I went into last year putting a ton of pressure on myself. It is such a big event. You know, not always do you have the opportunity or the equipment to be able to win it. I really felt I needed to capitalize on the equipment that I had in 2005 because you just don't know what's going to happen in the future. The Honda engines that we had last year were fantastic. The car was working well. We had great momentum. I wanted to capitalize on that. So I felt a lot of pressure last year.
Then with the outcome of the race, the way it turned out, I wasn't sure what to expect for this year. I think it's such a great event to win, and it does so much for you, it motivates you to want to do it.
I think when I pulled in the track this year, I think the biggest difference was I was a bit more relaxed about my approach to the event. I think when I say I was relaxed, I think I'm more desperate to win it than I was last year.
It's a great place to race, I must say. It's one I'm very excited just to drive into the place because it is so special, there's so much history there. Relaxed would be the difference, I think, from driving in opening day last year to this year.
Q. With the way the competition is this year, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much more difficult is it this year?
DAN WHELDON: Difficult? I think the Indianapolis 500 is always -- I'm going to put it on a 10. You look at Sam. Sam is an incredibly talented race car driver. He's been at Marlboro Team Penske for a couple of years. He hasn't perhaps had the engine power that he's got this year, but still he hasn't been able to do it. Michael Andretti is a perfect example. It's very, very difficult to win every year.
I think this year with Honda being the sole engine manufacturer, it's got even tighter. It's difficult to predict the winner I think from the media standpoint because it is so close. But I got to say I would put every year at a 10 because it is so difficult to win.
Q. What is the reaction, if any, of the AGR people to your recent comments about why you left the team?
DAN WHELDON: You'll have to remind me of the comments.
Q. The interview I saw, you made reference to the fact that they were being detracted, that some of the money was not going to be -- they were not going to have as much money coming in, they were getting away from being able to prepare a good car for you, so on.
DAN WHELDON: I definitely didn't say they wouldn't be able to prepare a good car for me because that was a team that I think always gave not just one driver a good car, I think all four of us, every time that I was with them, we had cars that were definitely capable of winning races. It's a team that I still have immense respect for and many happy memories.
For me, I felt I needed to make the move to Target Chip Ganassi Racing. It's a very tough business. You need to do what's right for you. I did that by (indiscernible) my relationship with all those guys. Actually, I just had dinner with Tony, Dario and Bryan last night. I don't think they were too upset.
Q. You made some reference to some money problems or something with the team.
DAN WHELDON: Obviously things change with time. I've seen Chip's operation before driving for them. It's a team that's immensely successful. They're always able to deliver you a winning package, although for the last couple years they've struggled.
Just times change. You've got to do what's right for you.
TIM HARMS: Dan, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. We certainly appreciate that. We wish you good luck there on Sunday in the 500-mile race.
DAN WHELDON: Thank you very much.
TIM HARMS: We're joined by Sam Hornish, Jr., pole winner for the Indianapolis 500. Sam, of course, earned the pole for the race with a four-lap qualifying average of 228.985 miles an hour in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske car. Sam will be making his seventh Indianapolis 500 start on Sunday. His best finish came in 2001 with a 14th.
Sam, you've been the fastest guy every day except for one this month. Tell us your thoughts as we approach Sunday and how you plan to translate that into a trip into Victory Lane.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: We're really excited about our chances. We've had a great month of May. We only have had one little hiccup. Hopefully got all of our bad luck out of the way for the month of May, got that out of our system.
It's just been unbelievable, to be able to go out there, unload the car, be fast from the first day. Especially to be on the pole is a tremendous honor for me. Really looking forward to the start of the race. Still is a little bit hard to think about the fact that you're starting on the pole for the Indianapolis 500.
TIM HARMS: It should be an exciting day for everybody. We'll open it up for some questions for you.
Q. How did it feel to set such a big time so early?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, we knew pretty much the way things had been working throughout the month, we should be up there and able to run close, hopefully be on the front row for sure. Morning practice came out, we felt like we had a really good shot for the pole.
The big thing for us was to go out there, put four consistent laps together. After seeing Scott Dixon run, we knew what the mark was. Obviously, when we went out there and were quicker than that, there was a great feeling of relief that we got the run in, almost 229 miles an hour average. We didn't see anybody that was quite that quick at the time. You know, still always knowing that it doesn't take somebody to be quick at that time, it just takes somebody to be quick that day. Being able to see Helio go out and practice as well as the Ganassi guys go out and practice, it always makes you a little bit nervous. Even if you think you put a big number up there, you still know there's a possibility that could be taken away from you.
I really just -- we didn't count our chickens before they were hatched, kind of waited a little bit. Turned out to be a real good day.
Q. This is going to be your seventh Indy 500. You've had just about everything happen to you in these races. What have you learned from the prior experiences and what do you think will be the key to winning on Sunday?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Definitely the biggest thing I've learned is it's not always the fastest car that wins but the one that makes the least amount of mistakes. In the past, it seems likes at other tracks you can get away with things that you can't get away with at Indianapolis. That's got a lot to do with the fact that you're going faster than you go at any other tracks, and it's one of the most difficult tracks that we race on as far as getting the car consistent throughout the runs as well.
So the big thing for me is just to continue to go into this race, knowing that we need to make it to the end. It's about making it all 500 miles. If you feel you have a car to win when it comes down to the last 50 miles or whatever it is, you can go for it. You need to make sure you make it through the first 450 first.
Q. You're in the great position being on the pole. Are there any little things you're telling yourself not to get too excited, keep yourself at an even keel, stay focused?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think the biggest thing is just, you know, through all the rain and everything that we've had this month, everybody's -- a lot of people have asked is it tough to sit there, is it tough to have all those things going on. I'd have to say not really because we were very comfortable with where we were at, we felt like we were a contender for the pole, hopefully for the win, right off the bat this month.
The big thing for us was to be able to be calm through all those things that were going on and just make sure that, you know, we gave ourselves an opportunity when it presented itself. The big thing is just stay focused, make sure you don't give yourself any problems, and you got to make it to the end of the race.
Q. Your mom was carrying you and they attended the 500, was that '79 or '80?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It was 1979. I was born July 2nd. Just a month and a couple days ahead of me. Rick Mears won his first won there. That was Roger's second. It was a pretty neat deal that they actually attended that. I'd say even at this point in time, my parents are still bigger racing fans than even I am, and I consider myself a pretty big race fan.
Q. Your mom said she got some sense you were excited by what was going on outside there?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'm sure it was pretty loud and all that other stuff. I don't know. Might have been just something she had to eat, though, too.
Q. The switch to the Hondas, you seemed to have taken off with that. How big a part is the new engine program?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think it's been a big part of the success. But I think the old engine program has a lot to do with it, too. We were not far off with the Toyota, but we could never get close enough to where at every track we felt like we were competitive. It tended to be the handling tracks where we seemed to do a lot better at. I think we worked on the handling of the car, down force, drag, trying to minimize the drag on the car, try to make the cars better. I think everybody worked together real hard to be able to make them better. I think that is what has allowed us to be as competitive as we are now, the fact of how hard we've worked over the past couple years.
It's Team Penske. They tend to know how to get things done as far as the team is concerned. I think that's a big part of it, as well.
Q. What does it mean to be involved with a guy like Roger Penske?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think that's one of the most amazing things about Roger, all the things he has done, he doesn't have to prove himself to anybody. There's nothing he needs to do, yet he continues to sit there, he probably works harder than anybody that I know. It's kind of 24/7. I can't keep up with him. I've gone on trips with him for a day where they open the Penske Ferrari, Maserati dealership in Las Vegas, we flew back from Japan to do that. This year we flew back from Japan for the race. He didn't get out there till Friday, Saturday. We raced. Saturday after the race, we took a helicopter to the airport, flew to Phoenix, went to the NASCAR race. He was up in the spotter's stand, him and I were. I ended up having to go to LA for some media. He flew home and I'm sure was going again at 6:00 in the morning.
Q. Driving for Penske at Indy is kind of like playing for the Yankees, you have as many people rooting for you as against you. How caught up are you in the history of Penske at Indy?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I know quite a bit about Penske Racing, what they've been able to accomplish at Indy. If you look at Roger's record there, it's pretty unbelievable what he's been able to do as far as a team owner. Basically every record that you could ask for, I think he's got.
To go in there with all the experience, Roger often says we're going to come into each of these races with over 300 years of experience between the team. I think he's pretty close to that. You're looking at probably, as far as Indy 500 wins, quite a few as far as that's concerned because there's guys that have been there longer than I've been alive. I know they've been there for at least 12 of 'em.
It's a pretty neat feeling to be able to go there and to know that Roger is going to give you pretty much everything you need to win. You may not have it, like last year, he said that we got a great shot at this and we don't even have the engine we need right now. This year, I know going into that without him telling me that that we've got the right engine. When Roger gives you what you need to win, pretty much goes without saying you're expected to go out there and win.
Q. Do you feel comfortable as pretty much the favorite? Media has chosen you as the winner.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: You know, I sure hope they're right. The big thing for me to look at it, I've got a great shot at it. We've been quick all month. But it is a long race. Like I said, it's not always the fastest guy that wins. How do we get ourselves past that point and figure out how to make the least amount of mistakes. Pit stops have to be right. We have to make good decisions in the car. I have to make good decisions. You need to have a little bit of luck on your side as well.
We led the first 145 out of the first 155 laps at Miami and didn't win the race because we pitted and the yellow came out with 20 laps to go we were eighth in line. Ended up getting up to third, but not what we thought we should have had that day. I know things can happen at Indianapolis as anywhere else. It's even harder to pass there than at Miami. You do need to have a little bit of luck on your side. Hopefully I'll get that racing luck.
TIM HARMS: Sam, thanks a lot for taking the time to join us this afternoon and really all month. You've done quite a lot of interviews. We appreciate that. Best of luck.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you.
TIM HARMS: Helio Castroneves has encountered some travel problems that will keep him from being on the call today. Please be reminded that next week we will have our call Tuesday at 2:00 eastern after the Indianapolis 500.
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