Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
June 13, 2012
PAUL KELLY: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the IndyCar teleconference. Our guests today are Firestone Indy Lights driver Bryan Clauson and IZOD IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe. Before I introduce Bryan, just want to take a quick look at the upcoming events this weekend at the historic Milwaukee Mile. The Firestone Indy Lights race is the Firestone Indy Lights 100. It starts at 5:45 local time on Friday at the one‑mile oval, and the IZOD IndyCar Series race, the Milwaukee Indy Fest Presented by XYQ, and that starts at 12:30 local time Saturday. It's a 225‑lap race.
Now for an introduction to Bryan Clauson. Bryan lives in Noblesville, Indiana, and is a two‑time USAC National Drivers Champion. He returns to Firestone Indy Lights after making his Indianapolis 500 debut last month. Bryan had four top‑5 finishes in six Firestone Indy Lights starts in 2011, and he will drive the No.24 Fan Force United car at the Firestone Indy Lights oval races at Milwaukee and Iowa.
And as a side note, Bryan turns 23 on race day this week at Milwaukee. So happy birthday, old man.
BRYAN CLAUSON: Thank you.
PAUL KELLY: Bryan, thank you for joining us. First, talk about your anticipation to return to the Firestone Indy Lights series at a track that you know well. You've raced in a lot of different kinds of cars at Milwaukee. How does that help you, if at all?
BRYAN CLAUSON: I'm excited. It's a great opportunity that I have with Fan Force United, and to get to go back to a place that you've ran once before in the Lights cars, especially going back in the same type of cars, is huge. You know what to expect and you know it kind of quickens the learning curve throughout the weekend for you, and you can step right in and get back to business.
Milwaukee is a great racetrack. It's a lot of fun. It's very tricky. It's hard to get a hold of, hard to get a good balanced car because both ends are so different, and it's a driver's track for sure. I'm excited. It's going to be a lot of fun, especially since I hadn't been really counting down the days to the race. I got the call late last week and just kind of sprung upon me, so I'm excited to be in Milwaukee this weekend.
Q. Before you raced Firestone Indy Lights car in Milwaukee last year, what kind of cars had you driven? Had you raced in Milwaukee before?
BRYAN CLAUSON: I'd been in a Midget and Silver Crown car. I'd been in everything around Milwaukee. And having that kind of familiarity with the place, even though the Lights car was so different around there than anything I'd ever driven, just knowing the little ins and outs and where what kind of the track layout and knowing that both ends are so different and knowing where there are some bumps and things like that that affect the cars, even though it's different in each former car.
But knowing those places on the racetrack is huge, especially when you're going somewhere for the first time like I was last year, and now going back for the second time at least to have a little bit better grasp on what it's going to take to have a good day on Friday.
Q. Are you committed to trying to stay in the IndyCar series or are you more committed to your USAC program at this point in time?
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think this weekend or the next two weekends there is some commitment to trying to make it in the IndyCar side of things with missing some big weekends in USAC Racing. But at the same time, without a full‑time gig in Indy Lights or IndyCar, I have commitments with some folks here in USAC that I'm trying to live up to, like running most of this week even though we have the race in Milwaukee. I'm racing tonight and Thursday in the Midget before I head up to Milwaukee for Friday.
It's kind of a balance. It's a tough driver's market out there right now in the IndyCar Series. There's not a lot of folks out there actively searching for drivers. So when you get opportunities like I got this week with Fan Force United, you've got to jump on them and try to make the best of them.
We're excited about it, and obviously IndyCar is where I want to be long‑term. It's just having the right opportunities and making the best of those when they come about.
Q. Do you think being more committed to the USAC thing, the USAC side of things right now, do you think that puts you at a disadvantage on looking for an IndyCar Series ride?
BRYAN CLAUSON: Well, I don't think so because I don't have any money to go road course racing anyway. So if somebody was to call me up and say, hey, would you like to drive my Star Mazda car at these road courses or my Indy Lights car, I would definitely do it.
But to do this stuff and to learn, it takes money. Unfortunately my USAC stuff, I've made a name well enough for myself. I make a living. I get paid to drive them. I don't pay to drive them. That is the opportunity here with Fan Force. They had a sponsor, they needed a driver, and that's why I'll be in Milwaukee and Iowa next week.
Q. That being said, would you prefer to start out on a Star Mazda level?
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think to be honest, the Star Mazda level would probably be best. I don't have as much road course experience, and I think if I was to jump in the Lights car and run with the likes of Gary and those guys, they'd whoop my butt up‑and‑down. I'd like to get in and learn the basics and do some of that stuff. I've been working towards it with doing some road course schools and things like that as much as I can.
At the same time, I've got to make a living driving race cars, and that's what the USAC stuff allows me to do.
Q. Many drivers say that the Lights car is really good preparation, really solid preparation for the jump to IndyCar. What about returning to a Lights car? Is there anything that you learned last month at the speedway in an IZOD IndyCar Series car that translates backwards that will help you to drive better in the Lights car?
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think it will slow it down a little bit. Last year me and Joseph got to go through last year together, and then through our rookie process at Indy together. We jokingly said as you watch the Lights car around the speedway, they're doing 190 miles an hour average which isn't slow by any means. But it's a little bit different feel than what we felt in the big cars.
I think it will slow it down a little bit, which is always‑‑ which always helps you as a driver. Along with that, I think going through a month long deal like we did at Indianapolis where you're methodically going through changes and you get to feel‑‑ you're not throwing multiple things at the car at one time. You get to feel what each change makes.
I think that helps you as a driver, especially as a young guy because you getting to into Milwaukee. You have a better understanding of what each change does to the car individually rather than guessing, well, maybe the springs did this or the aero side did this, so it kind of takes away some of the guessing. You have a better understanding of what the car likes and what the car needs.
THE MODERATOR: Let's introduce Ryan Briscoe. He originally hails from Australia, now lives in NorthCarolina. He is the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi, Team Penske Chevrolet. He's tied with Justin Wilson for the lead and the A.J. Foyt trophy given to the IZOD IndyCar Series oval champion as the series heads to Milwaukee. He is 8th overall in the series point standings after scoring a 3rd place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
Ryan won the pole for the Indy 500 in May, last May, and he also won his first IZOD IndyCar Series race at the Milwaukee Mile in 2008. Ryan, thanks for joining us today.
RYAN BRISCOE: Thank you.
Q. We seem to be having a series of firsts here with the new car on ovals. Indy was the first oval. Texas was the first high‑banked oval, a lot of unknowns. Milwaukee now is the first flat, short oval. What are you expecting from this race in terms of the car with the aero package that you have?
RYAN BRISCOE: We're looking forward to it. I think it was good. Most of us got to run it in Milwaukee a couple weeks ago after Indianapolis and get a feel for what it's going to be like.
It's going to be tough. It always is at Milwaukee. But it felt like the tires were definitely going off a lot. That's going to be a big player in the race, much like we saw in Texas. You're going to need a good handling car from about mid‑stint on. If you get a long green stint, you're going to see someone with a good car turning laps around the field, and that's going to have to be the focus, you know, being good over the distance.
Q. Is there any other characteristic of the new car when you tested there that really caught you by surprise compared to the old car? That was kind of like, whoa, didn't expect this?
RYAN BRISCOE: Not really, actually. Within ten laps I actually turned a couple of laps flat out around the circuit and felt pretty comfortable. I think the down force numbers and stuff are very similar to the old car. My team did a great job preparing a set‑up that would work well at Milwaukee, but on the test day, the wind really picked up a lot in the afternoon.
Maybe this car was a bit more sensitive to the wind. It was really blowing a lot out there. It made being consistent really difficult, and the speed dropped off a little bit in the afternoon. It wasn't so easy anymore.
I think the biggest thing with this new car that's a bit different than the old one is it seems to wear the rear tires more. In the old car, you'd normally have a drop off in the front tires, and with the new car, I think it's got a little more weight on the rear axle and that puts a bit more stress through the rear tire.
So a stint at Milwaukee is probably somewhere up around the 60‑lap range. After about 40 laps, it was really tough to hang on. So if we're going to have to stay up there and not pit, those last 20 laps of the stint are going to be really challenging, probably more so than the old car.
Q. Your old teammates started off hot. Do you have any pressure due to their early season success?
RYAN BRISCOE: For sure. I want to join them with the wins. There's no doubt. I've been pushing hard and I feel like I've been running strong. We just haven't had the race wins so far. For sure we drive each other a lot, and you see your teammates success and it makes you push even harder. It's all good.
Certainly, I feel like after several front‑row starts this year and not having capitalized on those starts in the races, that part of Long Beach where I had the pole and had to start 11th, we got caught up in some bad strategy, it's been a little disappointing not to really make the most of our races so far this year. I think we've had a bit of bad luck on the strategy side mostly. Yeah, it's been tough.
I think the most important thing is that we've been fast all the time, and that's usually the hardest thing to fix. So if we move forward and keep qualifying right up there in the top six and top three, keep working hard, I feel like the wins are going to come. Yeah, just got to keep pushing.
Q. You always seem to excel at ovals. Seeing that we have two more this weekend and one more left on the schedule, I was wondering what your goals are for the second half of the season?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, we're in a really intense stretch right now. We're in the middle of it. A five race back‑to‑back stretch here, and a couple of short ovals coming up which are crucial, I believe, to the championship. Anything can happen on these tracks.
I think we really need to be focused on running solid like we did at Texas. I feel like it was disappointing not to win Texas, but certainly bringing home the third place was a good point. I think that's the kind of mentality I need to carry here in Milwaukee and Iowa.
Certainly the rest of the season is to get more podiums and try to snatch some wins here. I think that is going to be the most important thing is to get some race wins because they make the biggest difference.
Q. Also going back to engine manufacturing battles this season, the Chevy obviously started at the season very dominant, but the Honda seems to have caught up. I was wondering what your opinion on the Chevrolet and the Honda battle this season so far is?
RYAN BRISCOE: It's exciting. I think both manufacturers are keeping the heat on each other. I think it's really fun being in this war. The wins are sort of going back and forth a little bit. I don't think we've seen any sort of clear‑cut favorite at this point.
I think it's a very strong battle, and I can tell you Ilmor is along with Chevrolet are pushing hard to keep the improvements coming and keep the pressure on Honda.
We haven't won the last couple, and certainly look forward to taking Chevy back on top of the podium.
Q. I'm going to ask you the same question I asked Simon Padgett earlier this year, because he and you share a distinction and that is you're two drivers that have had the opportunity to drive both the ALMS car, and the DW12. I was I was wondering your comparison of the two cars because I've heard they're very similar?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean, the rear bumper makes them look kind of similar. Yeah, I don't know. Honestly, the new car is probably closer to last year's IndyCar than it is to an ALMS car. But they were close anyway.
I think when I was racing the Spyder we were able to look at some overlays at times between the Penske IndyCars, and there was usually only about a one second difference in qualifying at the same tracks, and that was usually just horsepower from the IndyCar having a bit more.
They've always been very similar. I think the way they drive, the biggest difference has always been and still is the fact that IndyCars don't have power steering and ALMS cars do. Still I find that the biggest difference between them. As far as performance goes, they're very close.
Q. I guess the big news today is that IndyCar announced the cancellation of the China race. I don't know how excited you were to go to China, but I'd like your reaction and how you think this might affect the championship losing a race if they don't replace it at this point?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, it's disappointing. We never like to lose a race, but it was a new event. All I can hope is we replace it with something good and maybe here in America. I don't know. I didn't know much about the circuit, and it was going to be a brand‑new street circuit, potentially a good market for some sponsors, but that's the way it is.
I'm not sure of all the reasons behind it, but impacting the championship, I've had a bit of a slow start, so I'd like as many races on the calendar to go as we can get. I'm really hoping that we can replace China with another race.
Q. Do you have any ideas of where might be a good venue to go as a replacement? Watkins Glen, any particular track that you think would fit in well?
RYAN BRISCOE: Purely from a driving standpoint, there are some great tracks over here. I mean, Watkins Glen has always been one of my favorites, Elkhart Lake and Laguna Seca are all awesome permanent road courses, which is probably my favorite type of racing track. So we've got some tracks to choose from.
I think Randy Bernard just needs to see what could be the best fit, if it's any of those or none of those or something else. I'm not sure. But there are certainly some great tracks to choose from, and I'm looking forward to hopefully it being one of those.
Q. You want to come back to Texas for another race this year?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I would. I had a good time there. Yeah, it's one of those races, Texas, where it's one of the hardest tracks, especially the way we run in the low down force. You're sort of excited that we went there, excited that the race was a success, and excited that you put it behind you for a year. I'd probably rather give it 12 months and hopefully come back next year.
Q. IndyCar announced a couple weeks ago the new qualifying format for the short ovals and running the heat races and stuff. Give your opinion of that.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I think it's just for Iowa, so it's certainly going to be something different for us to all adapt to. Yeah, I've always been a big Sprint Car fan, so why not.
Yeah, it will be interesting. We were testing there yesterday, and sort of talking about the format I think they're going to choose the heat races. Certainly the fast‑‑ the top eight from practice going into the heat race is the only one that goes for the pole position in the race, and it's certainly going to make practice interesting, pretty crazy, probably. Guys trying to get drafts and in fully trimmed‑out cars, just trying to post lap times to get in that heat race.
If I was going to change anything, I'd probably rather have a normal qualifying session that would determine who goes in what heat race, just so that practice doesn't just turn into a complete shambles, and possible crashfest. So we'll see what happens.
I think it will be exciting for the fans. Certainly it will be a different way of approaching a race weekend for us all. I think we're going to have to use our heads a little bit too.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate you taking the time to join us today on the call, and we wish you the best of luck this weekend in Milwaukee.
RYAN BRISCOE: Thanks for having me.
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