IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500
Topics: Indianapolis 500
May 12, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome on a gorgeous day here at Indianapolis. Hopefully it will get a little bit better. It's our annual meeting with Rahal Letterman Racing. We're delighted to have them with us. Ray Leto, the acting GM, has joined our driver lineup which you know very well. Jeff Simmons, two-time Barber Dodge Pro champion, also a gentleman who has been a standout in the Infiniti Pro Series. Buddy Rice, of course, a 2004 Indy 500 winner. Danica Patrick, last year's Rookie-of-the-Year. Always great to have them with us.
Ray, you have a good driver lineup here. Talk about how things have gone thus far. Kind of a soggy first week here at Indy.
RAY LETO: Yeah, we've hit the weather every day. Little bit different strategy coming in this year with everybody on the same engine and limited mileage, trying to budget our miles to make sure we split the testing up between preparing for qualifying and preparing for the race.
We had a good open test here before we went off to Japan. It's been kind of a strange week for us. Haven't gotten everything done we wanted every day because of the weather or other stuff that's going on. I think we're going to go full bore for qualifying here starting today. Hopefully if we get out today or tomorrow, find out where we stack up.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, I was thinking about the fact that a couple years ago we had a press conference here after a good run in the Infiniti series, you got the word you had a chance to run the Indy 500. You'd never made a green flag pit stop in competition, yet did a really remarkable job race day. You're coming in with a whole different base to start out with. Obviously, you've had experience in this series. You have to feel very good about your chances.
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah. I mean, certainly just to be with a first-class team like Rahal Letterman Racing and to have the whole month to prepare, I think I've already done -- we haven't done that many laps and I've already done more laps than I did before qualifying in 2004. It's a whole different program here. With good teammates like Buddy and Danica, we're able to at least get a lot more information in the limited time that we're going to have here. Obviously, they give good reads on the car. I don't really have a lot of experience in these cars and haven't had a whole lot of testing or anything.
We're just trying to build up to it, and hopefully we get a little more time today on the track.
THE MODERATOR: I was reflecting, Danica, on the fact a couple years ago we had a little conference upstairs. You had indicated that your hopes were to come to Indianapolis. You not only came to Indianapolis, but had you a fabulous month of May. First of all, welcome become. Talk about how things have gone thus far for you.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I wish I could say it's good to be back, but it's been a little lit of a struggle this year. Last year was I guess comparatively easy.
We're struggling, for sure. We're doing the best we can to make our cars work. We just can't seem to get the car to grip up. We can't really trim out and go fast right now. That's kind of the problem. We're trying to work around it. I think that other people have found out how to make their car go fast in a trim-out condition. I think that's why Target and Penske are so fast, is because they learned how to do that last year without the horsepower. That's another one of those things that isn't working to our advantage now that we are amongst all Hondas. By all means, obviously they made it possible to have a series, so that's also really a good thing.
That's about all I had to say. If I had any answers, I would put it towards the car and we wouldn't be talking about this.
THE MODERATOR: Buddy, I have to tell you, for all of us who are fans of the race, last year you were in this press conference, we all felt miserable for you. As race fans yesterday, we all groaned for a moment and thought, "Oh, no." But you're here this morning. Tell us how you're doing physically and your thoughts coming to the 90th running of the Indy 500.
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I mean, I feel good. Obviously we had a bit of an issue yesterday. You know, after they inspected it, they figured out what had happened. We'll fix that and carry on.
I think we got obviously a little bit of work to do. I think we'll have very strong cars come race time. I think between the Ethanol car and the two Argent cars, we're going to be very good come race time. That's what we really need to make our strengths are and we need to focus on that.
We may not have the outright speed right now, but there's still going -- could possibly rain for the next three days and we'll have another week or so to work on that as well as full tanks, make sure we have solid race cars.
So far what we've learned, I think we'll be okay when it comes race time. We need to make sure we need to get a little bit more out of our cars for qualifying. It's definitely possible. It doesn't take much to find a lot of speed around this place. I think you spend so much time, it's very easy to get -- just miss by a little bit and it looks like a tremendous amount. Kind of like a road course. If you just make up a little bit in one spot, it snowballs, it just spools the car up all the way around. I think with the three drivers we have up here and our engineering staff, I think we'll be okay come qualifying, though.
THE MODERATOR: You're okay physically?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I'm okay. Bock I don't think is here yet, so I'll just go over and see him, do the standard procedure. Shouldn't be an issue at all.
THE MODERATOR: Good news.
Questions for the drivers.
Q. Buddy, how concerned are you about making sure even though you don't have the speed right now that you're up in the front in that first group maybe of 11 to stay out of all the Ray called it muck yesterday in the back of the field at the start?
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think obviously, I mean, we ideally want all three cars to qualify on the first day in the top 11 and we'd go from there. That's going to be somewhat dependent on weather right now. If tomorrow gets rained out, obviously they do the next 22. We'll have to see what happens.
I think I started in the back my first year here, towards the back. I know what that's like. I know kind of the hurdles you have to go over through that. But then obviously the following year we started up at front.
I think this race is so long, so many pit stops, the one thing you need to make sure you have is a lot of patience here. A lot of us as drivers are very impatient. We're all very aggressive and all want to get right to the front as fast as you can. But still you need to have some patience at this place. I think we'll be fine when it comes to that.
I think if we have a couple more days here, depending on the weather, obviously the Penske cars are very strong, so is Target, there's still the possibility of making everything come together. It's just going to take a little bit of work right now.
Q. Danica, could you talk a little bit about the differences for you this year. Last year you got such a splash for being a woman in the situation you were in. Do you feel like you need to take it to another level in order to sort of validate that? What are your thoughts about what you need to do to sort of put the stamp on things?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that last year people knew about me because I was fast. That's it. I mean, you know, I had the fastest speed of the month. I almost got pole. I almost won the race. I mean, those are things that I think are remarkable for a rookie. I think that's what caused it, not because -- I mean, it helps that I'm a girl, no doubt. That makes the story that much more interesting. But I think they're great for a rookie.
It doesn't seem so great now because we're just working at to go fast right now. It's just not quite as easy. It happens to the best of 'em, you know. I mean, one year Penske didn't qualify, and now look at them.
I think at some point in time, you know, teams work through this. We've been, you know, on top of the world the last couple of years. The engineers made the cars very fast. The drivers drove them. Now we just need to figure out how to make the car work so that the drivers can do a lot with them.
It's tough right now. But, again, I don't think anybody thinks I'm a bad driver. It's just we're struggling right now. I don't think there's anything in particular that I have to do to validate. See, I have a problem with people thinking that 'cause there's exposure, that I have to do something. I don't feel like I have to do anything. I feel like I have to get the most out of myself, but that's it. I promise you, there's not a single time I go out on the track without giving everything I've got. So I'm living up to myself, and that's all I can do.
Q. When you climb in the cockpit Saturday to go qualifying, then on race day, will you take anything with you, a lucky charm, Bible verse, photo of your significant other? No?
DANICA PATRICK: Take my brain with me. Try and take some calm thoughts with me. But I don't think there's anything I take take. Nothing in particular. So, no.
JEFF SIMMONS: There's nothing that I bring. Over in Japan, a woman gave me what she said was a lucky cat. I was sure as hell not going to bring a cat in the car with me. That wouldn't end up so well (laughter).
Q. Buddy made the comment about the inspection of the car that crashed yesterday, you found out what was wrong. What was it?
RAY LETO: After a crash like that, we're always looking at pieces on the car, trying to make sure that something didn't fail. Right now we're not a hundred percent, but it looks like maybe a part on the car gave up and turned the car around on Buddy.
Picking back through the data, it's a pretty tough thing to pinpoint anything like that. But we've got a part that doesn't look like it broke on impact or we're not a hundred percent sure whether it did. We've taken care of that. That's kind of why we were down with all three cars after that yesterday, just making sure that we went through and inspected all the cars.
That's our supposition right now. I don't know that it will ever be a hundred percent, like I said. I'm not sure. But looking at the data, I mean, up to that point, everything was going fine, then the car just came around on him. There wasn't a lot of video evidence to help us figure it out.
We're being conservative and going through all the parts on all the cars.
Q. It was in the rear-end?
RAY LETO: Yeah.
Q. Danica brought up that Penske once didn't qualify. There's a long relationship of Penske, Rahal, Tim Cindric. Is there a little extra edge when you get on the track, especially here at Indy?
RAY LETO: We regard that team, especially coming to this place, as the team to beat. They always have been, whether it was three years ago or 10 years ago or last year. We're always racing those guys as a team.
There's people that work there that we've worked with before. Obviously, Tim and myself, Scott, we all work together, went through a year of not qualifying here ourselves. Then the year that Penske didn't, we tried to help them out like they helped us out a year. We've got a good relationship with them.
It's certainly a rivalry, just like with any of the other teams. You got to have a lot of respect for what those guys have achieved over their time coming here with as many wins as they have and as competitive as they are. To us they're always the ones to beat every year.
Q. How has the team rebounded since Paul Dana's death?
DANICA PATRICK: I've answered this one a lot. It's your turn.
BUDDY RICE: I think everybody's handled the situation quite well for the team. I think it's difficult not only for the team but for the sponsors and all of motorsports. I think nobody likes to see that at any time no matter where it's at, whether it's within your own series or somebody else's series.
I think everybody has handled it as best they can and everybody has done it kind of in their own way. I think we've done quite a good job at that. Jeff had to come in on pretty difficult circumstances to fill that role as well. I think everybody's done a good job.
Q. With regard to Unser and Michael Andretti being back in the field, Cheever, do you look at them as another car, another number? How do you feel about having them in the field next to you?
JEFF SIMMONS: I know two years ago when I ran, Gil de Ferran gave me some advice coming all the way from 29th. He said don't think about Rookie-of-the-Year or anything like that, just go out there, feel the car out. If a car is in front of you, try to pass that one. Don't think about the one in front of that.
I was stuck behind Al in that race pretty well. I know he makes his car pretty wide around this place. Yeah, I mean, it's another guy you want to get by.
BUDDY RICE: I think you have to take that into every race. I think everybody does that, whether it's a past champion for the 500 or anywhere else. I think everybody just comes in there and you have to take it as just someone else that you're competing against.
I think, like I said earlier, everybody is so competitive, all they want to do is win. It's not really going to matter who is in what car at that time. All you're going to try to do is be as aggressive to some degree as you can, try to get by them and get to the next spot.
DANICA PATRICK: These are names that I've remembered since I was growing up in go-karts. I've never raced against them. I think it's kind of interesting and unique to be able to race with them. I've seen them. I think it will a be nice honor to beat them. They've accomplished a lot in their careers. But on the day of the race, on the day I'm on the track with them, regardless of the race, you're always trying to go faster. That's your job.
Q. Danica, your opening lap of qualifying last year, a bit of a bobble in turn one. What was the lesson learned there about this place and qualifying? How will that help you Saturday?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, you know, it was a cold day. It's been sort of similar to what the weather has been like now. It's been a little bit difficult to get the car going quick right away. That's something that we're working on. I don't want to say I'm going to go into qualifying cautious, but I'm not going to want to throw it in the wall. I'll take it for what it's worth from last year, but this is a new year.
If I can do some qualifying simulations, be able to keep my foot down in turn one, I'll do it again in qualifying. You just have to take each event and each qualifying for what they're worth and what you know of your car on that day.
Q. Danica, looking back at last year, was the month of May last year for you a blur? What are your memories of it other than the fact that you obviously did very well here and got a lot of attention? How do you look back at last May?
DANICA PATRICK: I look back and think, "That was nice and easy." But that's not always the case, you know. I came into a fortunate situation where, you know, the team had worked really hard the years before and done very well with Buddy. The engineers had worked out the car to make it very good. I benefited from that, for sure.
So the month was good. The month was nice. It was busy. But also I remember it being a nice month in the sense that like for us we're all over the country. I finally have a routine for a month while I'm here, which is really nice. Seems bizarre with all the things there are to do. I'm able to work out, eat breakfast, do media, change to get ready to go out on the track, go out on the track all day, do some more media maybe at the end of the day, chill out, cook dinner, go to bed. It's kind of nice for me. I enjoy this month actually. It's hard for me to ever get too attached to home because I'm never really there. Never been in one home for long enough.
I like it and I'm lucky that I have my parents and my husband and now my sister who is graduating today, in like two hours coming. It will be really nice. It will be nice to have the whole family here. But I remember the month as being -- I probably don't know what it quite did for me yet, but I think great things.
Q. Danica, you're probably the best to answer this 'cause you ran the most laps last year between the three of you. Has the track changed much?
DANICA PATRICK: No. It's the same as it was before. It feels a little bit different because we were using some different Firestone compounds right now. That does make it feel a little bit different. Outside of that, the actual track surface is just the same.
Q. How comfortable are you with these new tires?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I'm not real fast right now, so... We're figuring out how to make it work. Tires are very important to the car. We're just trying to figure out how we can get the most grip out of them.
At times it's uncomfortable 'cause the car is not perfect. That's the thing, the car does have to be pretty perfect around here to be fast. We are learning them as we go.
Q. In terms of the qualifying arrangements, do you anticipate things will be as eventful as they can potentially be with the new rules? We didn't see it last year. Could this be as crazy as it could potentially be?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I mean, for sure. If you look at the entry sheet, there's 15 to 18 cars right now that could qualify on the first day and get into the field in the top 11 at any time. I think, yeah, if you were to have tomorrow's qualifying session, there's only 11 spots open, there's going to be a lot of cars trying to make sure they get into that top 11.
I think if it goes -- you have the first 11, then you come back on Sunday and have the next 11, I don't think there will be nearly as much because there's only about 23 cars I think practicing right now for first weekend of qualifying, then there will be more cars starting next week again.
It definitely could be exciting if we get the first day of qualifying in.
Q. Danica, are you aware there's a lot of new young female racers out there, and are you aware of the influence you have on them? What do you think of that?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, this is an interesting role that I fell into last year. It came quick. I didn't think I'd be so much of a role model as I was or as I am. But I think that, as I've said before, the best part about all that is I've never changed who I am. I've never tried to be a role model. I guess I've never tried to act a part and say the right things or do the right things. I just think that I was brought up with good values and have good parents that were good role models for me when I was growing up.
I think it's -- I feel good about the situation. It's never a good thing, but I don't have to try to be a role model. I feel honored to be in that position. I still have so much career left, it's hard to think about what exactly -- I'll do everything I can to, you know, help them out. On the same note, I think the best thing for them to do is to make it their way and prove themselves.
I guess it's part of the reason why I wrote a book, was to be slightly inspirational. I'm not trying to tell anybody what to do; I'm just trying to show people what I did. Maybe read the book, I don't know. I don't know. Maybe they can take something from it, pull from it, and maybe it will help them. I think that's a really neat thing.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much for coming in.
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