Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Gil de Ferran
December 20, 2010
PAUL KELLY: Welcome and happy holidays, everyone, to this IndyCar teleconference in which de Ferran Dragon Racing president Gil de Ferran has a significant announcement to make.
Without further ado, I'll hand the floor to you, Gil.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much, Paul.
It's a great pleasure for me to be speaking here with you today and announcing a driver for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series. The driver will be Tony Kanaan. I know there's been a lot of speculation out there. But I'm here to confirm that we have reached an agreement and he'll be our driver for 2011.
From my standpoint, Tony brings many things to the team. We are a very young and developing operation I would say with big ambitions. I think Tony brings us a wealth of experience and I think we can benefit a tremendous amount from that. He's also a champion. He's a race winner. He's driven all sorts of cars under many situations.
I have no doubt that not only he'll bring his speed and determination, but his experience will help us shortcut a lot of the development process and hopefully bring us a little closer to our dream of becoming a major force in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
PAUL KELLY: That's great. Congratulations.
Tony is the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion. He has finished in the top six of the championship standings in each of his eight full seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series. In that 2004 season Tony set an unrivaled record by becoming the first driver in major auto racing history to complete every lap of every race for an entire season en route to winning the series title.
Tony, congratulations and thanks for joining us.
TONY KANAAN: Christmas came early for me this year. I want to call Gil Santa because he has that much white hair and that big belly (laughter).
For sure, I couldn't come in a better time. Being a father, trying to explain to my kids, I was going to ask Santa for a gift, as well. I was trying to be mentally prepared to spend Christmas and New Year's thinking about what kind of car I was going to drive next year. Gil made that easier for me. Now I'm happy to explain to my son that Gil is not Santa Claus but somebody that gave me what I wanted anyway.
PAUL KELLY: Tony, how did this come together with Gil? You've obviously known each other for a long time. When did everything start getting serious about this deal, putting together a package for 2011?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I think because our friendship, we've been really close friends, our families spend weekends together, we travel many ways on vacation together. I don't even know when it started. I think when Gil knew I was available, he looked at me one day, I looked at him, said, Should we be talking? Said, Yes. With our friendship, it was much easier to be open about it.
Obviously, as you guys knew, I was negotiating with a few other teams at the time. But I was honest with Gil, he was honest with me, and we started to talk. I was on vacation doing my tryouts. I did the test and it went really well. I really liked the people I saw what I wanted for me as far as a race team. From that point on, it made it much easier for me to make my decision.
Since then we've been working on the details. Finally last week we reached an agreement. We can move forward.
PAUL KELLY: Fantastic. We'll open it up to the media for questions.
Q. Tony, you've driven for quite some time now for the largest team in the IndyCar Series. Does going back to a one-car operation remind you of your early days of IndyCar racing with Tasman and Mo Nunn?
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, and I'm going to have all the attention for myself. It's really good. It feels good. Obviously, it took me a little bit. I remember we went to Sebring on the test. I got there on the test. I asked Gil, Where are the guys? He said, This is it (laughter). I was like, Oh, okay.
Obviously it has been eight, almost nine years with a big team. So it took me a little bit to get used to it. But in a funny way, I think it's great. It's a big challenge for both of us.
I'm enjoying every moment of it. Everything downsized three times for me right now. I'm just having to get used to it.
Q. Gil, talk about how the addition of Tony as a champion, as one of the most experienced guys in this series, really propels your team to another level. Does it increase the expectations also?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I mean, it increases the expectations undoubtedly. But I guess that's what we're here for. I was asked the very same question when I joined Team Penske. How do you feel? Do you feel more pressure that you joined Team Penske? For sure, the expectation is higher.
My thought on that is that, you know, you work all your life to put yourself in that position, to be working with the best people and the best team. There's no point choking once you get it, you know.
This is, frankly, a little bit similar. Having Tony around, I think we were able to secure one of the best talents in the series. I was really excited, frankly, when I felt there was an opportunity to sign him up. I think it really makes it clear to everyone what we're trying to do with the team and the type of results we would like to get in the future. Otherwise we wouldn't have tried as we can to secure Tony's service.
Q. Big picture question. In the last week or so we've had some solid drivers signing with some very good teams. If you'll speak to the competition level this year, it really looks as good as ever for the Indy Racing League.
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, I mean. Let me put it this way, it certainly doesn't get any easier, does it (laughter)? But, you know what, I think that's great because I think for a competition to be meaningful, you need to respect your competitors. Frankly, even admire them.
As I see the new combinations that are being announced, the Ganassi, the Moore cars, everything that's going on with Team Penske that we got to find out over the last few weeks, I think that's great.
I certainly have a great deal of respect but also a lot of admiration for our competitors. That's what it's all about. It just means that you if you do well, it means that much more. I welcome it. I certainly think, like I said, it's not getting any easier.
Q. Tony, considering going from a big team to a smaller team, what are your goals for this season? What do you think is reasonable to achieve?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, I would say it's a tough question because I don't think I would be sitting here and Gil wouldn't hire me if we didn't believe we could win. We just touched base on the competition next year. It's going to be tougher. I think every year I say, This cannot be any tougher. But it's getting tougher and tougher.
The goal is to build the team and the attitude of the team that we're capable of winning. We're going to be realistic. We have a big challenge ahead of us. But we have the attitude of winners. We have Gil, who doesn't need any introduction, and myself with all the results that we had. The goal is to go win races. The more races you win, you put yourself in a position to go win championships.
Where are we right now? It's tough to say because so many changes happened with some of the teams adding drivers, some people moving around. All I can say is that I've been competitive since day one in this series. Gil has a team that eventually needed to step it up a bit in many ways, and they did.
It's open. It's open right now. But if I didn't believe I could win races, I was probably going to do my tryouts as home instead of going out there and race and participating in the field.
Q. We lost one of the great characters of motor racing last week in John Anderson. You both worked with him. Could you share a memory of him and what a great character he was.
TONY KANAAN: I'll ask my boss' permission to go first (laughter).
Man, Ando. I think the best way to describe the guy, I've never seen the guy mad. It was always a smile. When he walked into the shop, he was always in great spirits. I had the opportunity to work with Ando more closely actually last year. He was calling my races for me in a couple of them. The guy was great.
Obviously, everybody has nice things to say when people are gone. But that was a true, true friend. A big loss. He was a guy that I admired so much for his happiness every morning when he walked into the racetrack. He really, really wanted to be there.
All I can say is wherever he is, we'll be remembering him. It's a big loss for all of us.
GIL de FERRAN: It's hard to talk about, you know. It's a loss that hit me personally quite hard. John and I worked together for the better part of two years. Not only was he an absolutely key part of our operation, but frankly I would say that we became friends, you know. As unlikely as it is for a 65-year-old Australian to become friends with a 40-year-old Brazilian, but there you go.
John, he's somebody that I think not only me but I think a lot of people, a lot of not only work lessons, but life lessons. You know, the guy always had a very positive attitude, boundless energy. Really, a 25-year-old guy in the body of a 65-year-old guy. I think he wrote that line. It was quite descriptive.
Some people in his position, in a position of leadership, they rule by fear. They rule by fear because they are in that position that they can exert power over others. Sometimes these people can be effective, but I don't believe they're great leaders, and certainly not in the same vein of John Anderson.
Anderson ruled through respect. People respected him, liked him, knew that he knew what he was talking about. He knew that he respected them as human beings. He had a lot of followers. People would gladly take his leadership and follow his leadership. That was a great example for me to see that.
Of course, you heard the term 'a people person.' I think 'a people person' was a term that was crafted for John. He was very much a people person.
As I've read what came out since his passing, he'll definitely be sorely missed.
Q. Did you talk about how the deal came together? When I talked to Gil back at the Chevrolet announcement, he seemed pretty optimistic that a sponsorship would come together. How did the sponsorship come together?
GIL de FERRAN: We're not announcing our sponsorship package yet. That will be announced in the new year. I mean, this is certainly a deal that came together I would say fairly fast, you know. When I found out that Tony became available, you know, I tried very hard to get him. That's really the bottom line. I'm very happy, very happy, that I did.
I think it's a very important part of our plans going forward.
Q. Are you going to run a second car with Hamilton three races next year? Is that the plan?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think the rest of our plans will become known in due course. Hopefully we'll be making more announcements here going forward.
But all I can say to you on that front is it was a great thing we did with Davey. I certainly very much enjoyed working with him this year. If we can do that again next year, I would do so.
If you think about it, here's a guy that is 47 years old, and he was as competitive as anyone out there. It was really a fun program I think for us. Hopefully we'll be able to continue that. But an announcement will come on that in due course.
Q. Gil, where do you think the process will be of choosing a manufacturer to partner with for 2012? What kind of schedule would you expect that to be for your team?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think the sooner the better, frankly. Sounds very cliché. As they say, you know, there is no secret in our sport. It's all about preparation. The success comes from preparation. The earlier and the more intensely you start your preparations, the better off you're going to be.
As far as I'm concerned, I just take the driver box for 2011. Hopefully if we continue to find more sponsorship, we still have the possibility of running a second car full-time. The next box is already 2012. Frankly, even in our engineering efforts, we're kind of looking at it with two eyes: one eye on 2011 and one eye on 2012.
As we choose how to spend our R&D money, we think, Okay, how will this benefit us in '11 and how is it going to benefit us going forward with completely different equipment?
There's a lot going on. These conversations have, frankly, already started.
PAUL KELLY: We will conclude today's IndyCar teleconference. Gil, Tony, thanks a lot for joining us. Congratulations on the big news. We wish each of you a happy and healthy holiday season.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you very much. You bet I will.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much. Exciting news, very happy. Certainly enjoying my Christmas I think a little more than I would have otherwise. Happy holidays to everyone. If I don't speak to you before 2011, also a happy and prosperous new year.
PAUL KELLY: That concludes our teleconference. The season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is 97 days away. Less than a hundred days until the season opening. Happy holidays, everyone. Thanks for joining us today.
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