Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
September 13, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone to the IndyCar teleconference, and before I introduce our guests today I would like to make a statement. And it's with heavy hearts that we want to take a minute to reflect on a great loss within the IndyCar community that we became aware of this morning. Chris Griffis, the team manager of Sam Schmidt Motorsports's Indy Lights program passed away unexpectedly last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with Chris's family and the entire Sam Schmidt Motorsports team during this difficult time.
Again, welcome to the IndyCar teleconference today. The news was unveiled about an hour ago that a victory by Dan Wheldon in the IZOD IndyCar World Championships presented by Honda will be pretty prosperous for both Dan, who is the reigning Indy 500 Champion, and one fortunate fan. Go Daddy.com, the world's largest provider of web hosting domain name registrations and net new SSL certificates will sponsor the Go Daddy IndyCar Challenge as part of the October IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Las Vegas motor speedway, during which Wheldon will attempt to earn a cool $2.5 million for himself and $2.5 million for a fan.
Dan will have to start the 200-lap race from the rear of the star-studded field in a car jointly entered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosports with sponsors Curb-Agajanian, Bowers & Wilkins, William Rast, and Curb and Big Machine Records. Beginning tomorrow, fans can enter through the Verizon IndyCar mobile app or through www. IndyCarWorldChampionships.com for a chance to be the lucky fan who was eligible to win $2.5 million if Dan wins the race.
Our guests are IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, two-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, and Bryan Herta Auto Sports owner, Bryan Herta. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.
Randy, talk about your excitement for this program and how it adds value to the IndyCar World Championships presented by Honda in Las Vegas, which already is shaping up to be a great show.
RANDY BERNARD: I think the one thing that when we started this idea of creating the challenge, the focus of it was -- and the objective was to reach mainstream and other forms of motorsports and that's why we reached out and offered the opportunity for any race car driver in the world if they want to come and beat our race car drivers in Las Vegas they could win 5 million.
I think it also shows how hard it is to beat our drivers. I think a lot of times, people don't give these guys enough credit for how good they really are, and you know, unfortunately no one took us up on the offer that we felt that could really move the dial and take our sport in a -- move our fan base up, and at that time, we had to decide another direction to go. And this idea was presented and we felt it had a lot of legs.
I think the fact that first and foremost, Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500, and he has the most stories written about him this year than any other driver on the IZOD IndyCar Series, and the fact that he's got a great personality and we think that he's going to be a great, huge asset our sport, and we can build him into a superstar.
And that's what my job is, is to make sure we are reaching out, doing everything we can to build stars and build our fan base. So we are very excited about this $5 million challenge.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Randy. Dan, I guess a two-part question. One, what are your plans for that cool $2.5 million and how do you rate your chances on October 16 in Las Vegas?
DAN WHELDON: Well, that's -- first of all, for me, it's very, very exciting to be part of this Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge. You know, it's certainly going to raise the needle. I think Randy talks about that a lot and has done a phenomenal job not just with this Las Vegas race but when you consider the IndyCar races this year, they have been a phenomenal spectacle.
Just look at what happened at Baltimore. I think that race and event itself was fantastic. For me, this is a great opportunity. I was desperate to get back into the car, but to be back in the car under these circumstances, you know, is going to make for a great weekend.
You know, teamed with Bryan's team, Bryan Herta Autosport, Sam Schmidt, we saw that collaboration work very, very well at the Indianapolis 500. We rocked the boat a little bit by beating Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi's team, and there's no reason we can't do that again.
That's not to undermine the talent within the field, because I think quite honestly, when you consider the talent in the series right now, it's perhaps stronger than any other series out there, there's no doubt about it. But it will be difficult starting from the back. But I think the reason this has created so much attention is because I think people think we have a genuine chance.
As to say what I'm going to do with the $2.5 million, first of all, if we can pull this off, it's going to be phenomenal to win $2.5 million for a fan. Anybody that's close to the IndyCar series, we have great, great fans that come to lots of different races throughout the year. They are very supportive of their favorite drivers and to the other drivers out there.
So this is a beautiful opportunity for myself, for the fans, and you know, in particular, one special fan.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Dan. Bryan, what are the challenges, the team did a great job obviously in May with that long week of preparation and then going into race day did a fantastic job of winning the race. Does the challenge differ in Las Vegas because it's only one weekend as opposed to an entire month of preparation or do you just kind of take the same approach that you did in May here in Las Vegas next month?
DAN WHELDON: First of all I want to touch on, this is my job, because I'm the 2011 Indianapolis 500 champion. And it takes -- it takes a lot of people to be able to win that race. It's definitely a collaborative effort.
You know, we have the same people involved. Obviously we do have to some degree an advantage in the fact that it's a new track for everybody involved. You know, I would like to think that on the 1.5-mile-ovals that's something that I seem to -- a track type that I seem to do very well at; but by the same token you have to have the right package.
We have that same package. We will have to start from the back, and like I say, when you consider that we are racing people like Will Power, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia, these are phenomenal talents and talents like Randy talked about that are, quite frankly, superstars.
We do feel that we have a shot, and I don't think we are going to change our approach at all. I would say typical Dan Wheldon: Try to get to the front as quick as possible and control the race from there.
Things are not always as easy as they seem so we will have to rely on great pit stops and good strategy but there's no reason why we can't do this.
THE MODERATOR: Bryan, your thoughts on the challenge?
BRYAN HERTA: In a nutshell, happy to be here. Hope I can help the team, which is good, because for us as a team, we registered entrants with ran even before the Indianapolis 500 to run Dan, and Randy never said yes, but he never said no; and we kind of kept the communication going.
And now to have this opportunity to come back and kind of follow-up the Indy 500 with this, bring back our great partners. You can't underestimate what it took to put this challenge together, with Go Daddy coming on board and the promotion they are doing and Verizon and IndyCar.com, everybody that's pulled together to make this thing happen. And for us we are happy and lucky that we get to go do there and I would love more than to see the look on some fan's face because he just won $2.5 million, because that would be priceless.
THE MODERATOR: Dan, I know you've been testing the 2012 car, and you've been getting some mileage in this summer, but how long does it take you, or will it take you, do you think, to get into the car and feel comfortable at Vegas? You've had so many oval miles of experience in this equipment. But it is a new track as you said. How long do you think it will take to you get comfortable?
DAN WHELDON: Probably the out lap. (Laughing).
No, in all seriousness, I've been doing this a long time now, and I feel very come confident on the ovals. I don't think -- I don't think it will take too long at all.
I think Randy has helped me out a little bit by starting me from the back, because that means I can focus on just the race setup for the race. But it shouldn't take long, and like I say, the team have all prepared a very fast race car which is most important in these races.
But I've got to tell you, I've been really, really enjoying the 2012 testing. The new car is fantastic. For me, you know, to not be racing full-time but then to have this opportunity to test the new car, has gone really, really well, and we have done a lot of miles and I think everybody is really happy with the job that's been done so far.
And you know, I think Will Phillips and Tony Cotman that have led the charge on this program have been extremely diligent with their approach to it. They have a strict agenda that they want to adhere by, and you know, they have done that.
So it's been a lot of fun and it's great when you're involved in a program like that to see how it involves. So I've been blessed to do that.
THE MODERATOR: You won the 500 and the season championship in 2005. How would this stack up if you were able to win the 500 and the world championships in the $2.5 million bonus here in 2011?
DAN WHELDON: Oh, baby, this would be a lot more money than I've won in 2005; I can promise you that.
You know, to incorporate the excitement of a fan into it, as well, as race car drivers, we are blessed to do what we love to do, or to do what we love. You know, this would be -- this would be extremely special. I think -- I don't think this has ever been done before.
So it would -- you know, it would definitely make for some mainstream media, and I think that's exactly what Randy wants to do. So, fingers crossed.
Q. I know you tested in Mid-Ohio, did the Texas test ever come off or what's been the tracks you've tested the new car?
DAN WHELDON: We started off at Mid-Ohio but that was more of say a shakedown. That wasn't necessarily a test per se. And then we have been to Alabama. We did the Indianapolis road course, and we just completed a three-day test at Sebring.
And you know, like I say, the test program, led by Will Phillips and Tony Cotman, there's been very strict guidelines and goals that they want to achieve, and we have been able to achieve all of them, each given test. You know, the car has ran extremely well, and it continues to evolve.
You know, for me, I was part of Honda's program in 2002 doing a similar kind of thing, and you know, it's been a lot of fun. It's obviously hard work, but it's very rewarding, as you see the car develop.
Q. And one for Randy. There's been some back and forth between Danica Patrick and Takuma Sato about going through Motegi, radiation, concern about food, earthquake aftershocks. Are you concerned that this event is going to come off okay? Do you have any assurances or reason to believe that there are any problems there?
RANDY BERNARD: If I did, I wouldn't be sending everyone. This is a responsibility that I had to take as CEO of IndyCar and I think that we did a significant amount of research and evaluation. We started with the state department and made sure that they cleared it. We had Dr. Trammell do a thorough investigation on it, and we have also listened to a lot of the response from Motegi and what they have been able to learn. And everything that we have learned has comeback the same way, that it's, that, Motegi is very good.
Q. Shifting the focus back to the Go Daddy IndyCar Challenge, this is obviously something that IndyCar has never done before, offering this challenge. How honored are you to be selected, not only to race in Vegas but also to be kind of a pioneer in this challenge offer that IndyCar has put together?
DAN WHELDON: It's an unbelievable honor. I think when Randy and some of the staff from IndyCar offered me this opportunity, I thought it was a bit of a prank call. Because when you consider the people that were considered, you know, I'm the actual one that's getting to do this, it's quite a responsibility to tell you the truth. I certainly want to do well for myself and for the team, but you know, when you are driving for a fan, too, it adds that extra little bit of pressure.
I think this really goes to show the extent of what Randy and the IndyCar Series are trying to do with the racing. I don't think anybody can dispute the on-track product. I think when you watch races like Toronto, Baltimore, the Indianapolis 500, St. Pete, these races are phenomenal to watch, and we are just continuing to build momentum and to create story lines, which is going to be able to put us in the mainstream media.
To have this opportunity and I think Bryan Herta and Sam Schmidt would agree, is really quite an honor. You can't underestimate the talent within the field when you get to do something like this, but you know, certainly we feel we can contend and we are looking forward to the chance.
Q. And you mentioned the partnership with Bryan Herta and Sam Schmidt, how similar is your approach going to be into Vegas as it was at the 500?
DAN WHELDON: Well, it's going to be exactly the same. I think Bryan knows me as a driver, and I have typically one strategy. I feel much more comfortable at the front so I'm going to have to work my little butt off to start with to get to the front. As competitive as this field is, it's difficult just to stay there.
But that's exactly what we tried to do at Indianapolis was to get to the front as quick as we could, and then stay there. And you know, it's going to be exactly the same approach. You're going to have less time to do it. So from that standpoint, I think it's going to be harder than the Indianapolis 500. There will be less practice time and obviously the race will be shorter.
So we'll have to do our job and we'll have to do it very, very well to be able to win. And that's like any other race for these IndyCar Series drivers. If you want to win in this series, you've got to do everything right. You can't make one mistake, because it's that competitive. And so we are going to have to do exactly the same and a little bit more because we are starting from the back.
Q. What was your reaction, if you can elaborate a little bit more, that you were going to have to start all the way at the back of the field?
DAN WHELDON: To tell you the truth, I've been excited to get in the race car and race for the time I finished Indianapolis.
So I really didn't mind or dispute that one thing at all. I think it's going to add to the excitement. I've been able to win a race from the back before, and you know, typically on a one-and-a-half-mile racetrack, it's not such a hindrance. You always want to start at the front but by the same token if you have a quick race car, and you choose your moves wisely, you'll be able to get to the front.
And so I don't think this will be any different. But like I say, it's definitely going to add to the excitement. But I wasn't really disputing that one, I've got to tell you.
Q. How many credible inquiries did you have from drivers looking to do the challenge initially? Did you have teams ready to step up and provide cars?
RANDY BERNARD: We had over 24 entries on the first indication as well as some managers that called just to ask some questions.
Yeah, we had some cars that were available, that wanted to compete in this. But at one point we had to finally just pull the trigger and say, which way do we want to go. The one problem I had problem with was the drivers, was this wasn't going to be made into a circus, is that we would promise them that if they were not great, great drivers, if it wasn't going to move the dial of our sport, we weren't going to do it.
So that is really why we chose to go this way. There were three drivers that we thought had tremendous -- could have a tremendous impact on increasing awareness of our sport and that was Alex Zanardi, Travis Pastrana and Kasey Kahne and unfortunately they had decided not to.
Q. Question for you, it's no secret that IndyCar and the IZOD IndyCar Series has become more attracted to the corporate world over the last year, year and a half. If you could, talk about the involvement of Go Daddy and Verizon in the Go Daddy IndyCar Challenge and what kind of signal it sends to the rest of the business community about their increased involvement in the series and in this event.
RANDY BERNARD: Well, it's very important to have some big sponsors that can help promote this. The great thing about Verizon is they have 105 million users. I think the fact that they can have us as one of their ten-poles (ph) as well as the NFL, they want to make sure that they can push this in a significant way.
And Go Daddy is the same way. Go Daddy has a significant amounts of unique visitors that are attracted to their website and they have a fantastic way of marketing their promotion, and they are going to help us on focus driving people to watch the IZOD IndyCar World Championships and hopefully see Dan and a fan win $5 million.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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