Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
March 15, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody to today's IndyCar conference call. We're joined by two guests today, both IZOD IndyCar Series drivers who will make milestone events next weekend at the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg. We're pleased to be joined by Marco Andretti of Andretti Auto Sports who will make his 100th IZOD IndyCar Series start St. Pete. In 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Josef Newgarden, who will make his first IndyCar Series start with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
Guys, thank you for joining us today. Marco, does it seem like you're ready to race 100 times in IndyCar?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, well, that's right. My 101st race. Not really, not really. All I could say is I wish I had a little more to show for. It definitely doesn't feel like going into my seventh year already in IndyCar. But yeah, I mean, it's been fun and stuff like that. But now it's time to string together a few wins.
THE MODERATOR: I know you've been in the No. 26 Team RC Cola car for a couple tests so far. Sebring last week at the open test, and the last couple days at Barber. What are your impressions of the new IZOD Indy series car?
MARCO ANDRETTI: It's been great. It's been a lot of fun. It's actually not that different from the old car. I always say it still has four wheels. So a lot of the things that worked on the old car are working now. So it actually has more grit and more down force and stuff like that. So that's always fun for a driver. So it's been great working with Chevy and stuff like that. You can personally work with their engineers on boost maps and certain things to tend to their driving stuff. It's been fun.
You know, we've been progressing nicely as a team. I think me, myself, James and Ryan have been working great together. So, so far so good.
THE MODERATOR: You've been in a few of the Honda Grand Prix at St. Petersburg. With the new car and engine pack, what kind of race do you expect on March 25th?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Hopefully similar to last year, except hopefully I don't go upside down in turn one. Nothing too out of the ordinary. I think it's going to be great for the fans as usual. I'm a big fan of that place. Obviously, we're going to be driving with very heavy hearts because of Dan Wheldon. But he was proud to call that place home, so we're going to go there and try to enjoy ourselves and we're going to compete because Dan was a competitor.
THE MODERATOR: Talk a little about the helmet you're going to run at St. Pete? I guess it's a tribute to Dan?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, the first thing I thought I don't want to do too much because a lot of it is being thrown in Susie's face, his wife. But I called her and said I'd like to do something. And basically my painter worked with Dan's, and we came up with something. So excited to see what it looks like.
THE MODERATOR: Josef, I know you've been in your new IZOD IndyCar series car a few times. But what's it like to be called an IndyCar driver and drive an IndyCar?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's a little weird. I thought it was pretty cool though. It's been really fun learning the ropes, I think, but then again not so different. I think the Firestone Indy Lights championship is a really good series that prepares you for everything that's going to present itself for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
It doesn't feel too different. I think obviously being with a good group like Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. We have great chemistry between everyone on the team. So that makes the transition a lot easier too when you're working well with the people around you. It just makes everything flow a lot smoother.
So for me, it's been a great transition. Not difficult at all, so far, at least. I'm sure we'll have some bumps along the way, but we're working to try to minimize those.
THE MODERATOR: I know the engine program came together later than you'd hoped for. You've only had a couple test days in the car. Do you feel those tests were beneficial to the group at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Absolutely. It's great that we had four days under our belt. It gave us some data to look at, gave us some talking points now. We really have some information to grab hold of now before we go to St. Pete. It's all just happening so fast.
You wait all this time and then you think it's not going quick enough. Then when everything starts, it really starts and it goes very fast. It's kind of a snowball affect. Everyone in the shop and all the Sarah Fisher boys have been working really hard together. They've done a great job, I think, of putting everything together so late and had a lot of long hours at the shop.
I know they're excited, especially after the first couple tests we've done. They were pretty successful for us for just getting out late with everybody.
Everyone's fired up. I'm fired up. They're fired up, and we just want to have a good, clean run to start with in the beginning of the season.
Q. Obviously, the first race at St. Pete, no pressure on you, but you did go there for the first time last year at Indy Lights and win your debut race. I'm sure you're kind of managing your expectations. You don't expect to do that again the first time, do you?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I don't expect to, no. I don't think I expected it at Indy Lights even. It was a big weekend. There's no better way than to go out and start with a win right in the season. I think that really gives you such a great flow for the rest of the year to start off right like that.
I think the biggest thing for us, like I was saying, if we could have a clean weekend, we could get a Top 10, that would be amazing. That would set a good tone for us.
You know, we'd love to do more of that. We'd definitely love to be in the Top 5 on the podium. A win would be unbelievable, but we don't want to set our sights too high. Again, we have a really clean weekend with no incidents, then I think we'll be really happy guys.
Q. Marco, if you could talk just a little bit about the differences inside the car now with the new car compared to what you have had in the past and some of the adjustments that you're having to deal with here in the early going? Also, a comment about the importance of all of this testing preseason now?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I mean, it's obviously very important because right now it comes down to whoever can get a grasp for these things the quickest can win out of the box. Obviously, it's very important every time we hit the track with one of these cars because there is so much we learn each and every time out. It's super important the track time we have, which I believe is still limited.
I agree with Josef that it's been kind of rushed. We're already lining up at St. Pete next week, which is fun. We all want to go racing. But it's going to be whoever can get it together the quickest.
The difference is not much. I think driving the thing, at the end of the day, it's still a race car. It has more grip and more down force on the higher speed corners, but I guess the biggest thing you get used to is probably the brakes, the carbon brakes.
I've driven it in Formula 1 and the P2 car, but with these cars it's a little different. The tires are maybe can use a little more grip on the last part of the braking when you lose the down force we're dealing with some locking and stuff like that. So I guess that's the biggest thing to get used to and that you just drive it.
Q. Marco, what's the learning curve for Chevrolet this year in the series?
MARCO ANDRETTI: The thing is, I think there is a learning curve for everybody just because they're all new engines and stuff like that. They're all efficiency and rely ability and it's not just Chevy. I think Chevy is definitely up to the task.
Last time Chevy was in the series, they were the ones to beat. I mean, they really were. I definitely have been pleased with Honda and the reliability. We've had a great relationship with them. But definitely so far it's been a lot of fun working with them. You can tune a lot of different things with the engineers and stuff like that that we couldn't do before.
Yeah, I think they're definitely up to the task. Hopefully it doesn't come down to reliability the first couple of races and the fastest guy wins.
But, yeah, Chevy was the quick one and the one to beat last time they were in the sport. I think we made the right decision, and we have all the confidence in the world in those guys, so it's going to be fun.
Q. Marco, sort of a follow‑up to the previous question about the adaptation. To what extent will these cars have to be tweaked along the way or even made major changes? How do you anticipate that? Do you just get the car and that's it?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, we're always going to be making changes and stuff like that. I don't see major changes. The biggest change is the engine manufacturer in my opinion. Other than that, you've got to put a lot of little pieces together, and it all adds up at the end of the day. I don't think there are going to be any huge changes. Things are just going to be proving the car to that particular track on any given day. Whoever gets it right will probably prevail.
Q. Josef, you mentioned that Firestone Indy Lights prepared you for everything you need to know in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and I guess you won't really know for sure until you actually race a few races. But what specific things do you know will prove beneficial to you this year?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, with Firestone Indy Lights, you get to be surrounded by the entire paddock of IndyCar, so you're kind of immersed in that world. Again, like I was saying before, it's just that transition is so easy because you're around all the people and you see how everyone operates.
Aside from that, I think you learn what the race weekends are like, so you're going to be traveling to the same tracks. You're going to be right there in the same paddocks, and you're going to be working on the same things that the IZOD IndyCar Series guys will be doing.
You've got to learn all different types of circuits. So you're going to street circuits, road courses and ovals and all different types of ovals. So you're exposed to so many different elements that the IZOD IndyCar Series guys are that when you put everything together and you finally make it up that next step, you can really see that, I think, when you get in the big car. You can see that you've been trained really well, and you're actually a bit more relaxed, I think.
Q. Marco, the last couple of years there's always been that glamour issue around you, around your team, around Andretti Racing and there was always that side glamour issue. This year, no insult to James Ryan and you, but how do you expect your race weekend to go? Will it be any different? Or what will be different with Danica gone?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I can say we're three guys with the same goal in mind. We all share the same goal. We're all big‑picture thinkers. We're going to work together. We're all going to be truthful to each other and we're going to work together to the last lap because that's the only way we're going to be able to beat these bigger teams.
We all share the same goal. We all want to win races. It's all business with us, and the business is racing. You said it right. We're going to just focus on winning races, period.
Q. I was reading a comment on the IndyCar Series website in which it was talking about being in the Andretti again.
You said you get better with it as you get older, but the pressure gets heavier and heavier. What do you mean by that? How do you deal with the pressure of being an Andretti as you get older?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think it was misquoted. I think it's the opposite. At 9 years old in a go‑kart the pressure is immense because you're looking at the race‑‑ you can't even see the racetrack because there are so many cameras around you, and you don't know why at that age. You just want to be like, let me go, let's go drive.
Now I welcome that with open arms because I see the bigger picture. We need to get our sponsors and our brands out there and get people watching IndyCar Racing.
The pressure of the family, yeah. At the racetrack at a young age, I would win the race, and I would say that is what I had to do other than really enjoy myself and have fun. Now, I don't know. I think you just get in the chair and you get better dealing with it.
The way I look at it is I show up at the race weekend because I want to win, not because they won at that place. I show up because I want to win for me. That's it.
Q. What do you do on a week at home, and was your 25th birthday special?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I got a lot of love and stuff like that from the people on my cell phone, but it was all business. The last two days I've been just testing, actually. Josef was there as well. We were just at Barber, and it was a little bit hindered by rain. But it's all business now. My birthday falls right before the season.
So I definitely have a different mindset. I'm not in party mode by any means. But I'll be hanging with my friends this week. I'm about to do a workout with a bunch of my buddies right now. I don't know. We'll hang out, play tennis, lay low. It's kind of the calm before the storm right now.
Q. I understand you got this Honda engine kind of late and Bobby Rahal gave up one of his leases. Was your team ready to go at that point or did you guys have to scramble to get together once you got the engine?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: No, not whatsoever. I think the only scramble was getting the engine in the car and trying to work through all of the difficulties with that. We were good to go on the car side. We had been working on that for a couple of months before the engine showed up. We had been ready to go for quite some time. The only thing we were lacking was the engine, and even when you do get the engine there is a lot that you have to go through from the electronic and ECU side just to figure out, and all the wiring in the cars.
That's really what took some time for us once we did receive it. Other than that, the chassis was ready to go. The team was ready to go. We've been ready to lease the shop for quite some time. So working a couple of extra nights to get this thing ready for the official Sebring test wasn't too big of an issue for us.
Q. Who is your team manager or your crew chief?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: That would be Anton Julian, and our team manager is Mike O'Gara.
Q. Marco, could you refresh my memory as to what happened at the start of the race last year? I'm drawing a blank?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't know. We were all antsy and all just going for it. Maybe some drivers would disagree with me but I would add itwoe' d down and turned inside of, I believe, it was Dixon. I just got broadsided from behind and launched over, I believe, it was Dixon's car or maybe it was Briscoe. I've got to watch the replay.
But, yeah, we all came battling in there and some people couldn't get it stopped so they ended up launching me and a couple other cars.
Q. Marco, going back to 2005 and you dominated in the Indy Lights competition, can you draw any parallels at all to this weekend going in with a brand‑new car, all sorts of things this weekend and everything brand new? Is there anything you can draw for this weekend?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I agree with Josef where it's a great feeder series. I can't tell you a lot of difference from that race weekend to the following year at St. Pete in an IndyCar. As a driver you want more and more power all the time. So you take to that just fine.
It's just a different race car, but it's still a great event. It's going to be a lot of fun. But, yeah, from that weekend, the best thing going into 2006 is I've driven the track already. It's a great feeder series from that standpoint too. You can see the majority of the tracks that we race on.
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