Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
July 8, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to today's IZOD IndyCar Series conference call. We're joined today by the co-owners of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl, who have a quick announcement to make about their No. 24 entry. I'll just turn it over to Dennis and Robbie for this announcement.
DENNIS REINBOLD: We're really excited to announce today that we are going to have JR Hildebrand join our team for the Mid-Ohio and Infineon races. As last year's Firestone Indy Lights champion, we're excited to have him in the car and work with him.
We've been talking to him off and on for the last couple of months. Finally got to the point where we were ready to put this together go out and run.
We're also going to do some testing with JR, so it should be a very good program. We're excited to have him join our team.
THE MODERATOR: Robbie?
ROBBIE BUHL: Dennis mentioned JR. Welcome. With myself being a driver that came out of the Firestone Indy Lights Series, it's always a great opportunity to give a driver that's won that championship an opportunity in IndyCar. Glad that all came about.
Just with touching on that, we are still hopeful, both Dennis and myself. Dennis, you said you had talked to Mike this morning. If Mike Conway is far enough along in his rehab, which he is aggressively taking with his leg, he's shooting to be back in a racecar for Infineon. If that is the case, we will have a car available for him, as well.
I just wanted people to know that we're not looking past that with regards to Mike. We're hopeful that he can be back for that event. I think it's still an uphill battle for him, but just wanted to make that clear.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined on the call by JR Hildebrand who did win the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights championship. Welcome to the call, JR.
JR HILDEBRAND: Thanks very much. Glad to be on.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on today's announcement. You have to be super stoked for making your IndyCar debut.
JR HILDEBRAND: That would be quite accurate, Arni. Well put. I'm really excited to be making my debut. I'm excited to be here with Dreyer & Reinbold. They've shown a lot of pace all year. Jason has had a good year. A few tough breaks. But I'm hopeful to take advantage of that myself.
For me, I just see it as being all around a really good opportunity. Being able to work with Justin I think will be great. I'm looking forward to having him as a teammate. Hopefully over the two race weekends that I'll be in the car, the test days, being able to get to know him a little bit better and get to the point that we can work together a little bit.
Obviously, it's going to be a learning experience for me in a lot of ways, too, whether it be pit stops or strategy or whatever, those are all going to be new things to me. I'm really excited for the opportunity these guys are giving me.
THE MODERATOR: For Dennis or Robbie, I know nobody likes to see anybody get hurt to open up a seat. You've been pretty fortunate to have drivers of the quality of Tomas Scheckter, Graham Rahal, Paul Tracy, and now JR to fill that seat. How difficult has it been finding quality drivers?
DENNIS REINBOLD: It hasn't been overly difficult. We know all those guys. This has been I don't want to say an opportunity but we've used it as an opportunity to try to get to know some of those drivers a little bit better and see where it may affect our plans in the future, if there's an opportunity for us down the road to try to work with a JR or one of the other guys we've had in our car.
So there's been a little bit of a method to the madness. We're just really enjoying the idea of getting to know some really good-quality race drivers. We want to pair someone up with Justin that we feel like can go out and fill the seat in Mike's absence very strong and go out and compete for wins.
THE MODERATOR: JR, from a driver's perspective, I know you had some testing early in the year in IZOD IndyCar Series cars with some different teams. How difficult has it been to sit on the sidelines waiting for this chance?
JR HILDEBRAND: It's been rough, man. But I guess I'd say I accept it as being par for the course in some sense at this level of racing. One of those things that if the seats don't open up or the budget isn't there, then you kind of don't go racing at this stage.
But this has popped up as being a great opportunity. I've been working hard to be prepared for this kind of thing to come up. Having said that, I think I'm as ready as I can be. As these guys mentioned, I've got some testing on the schedule so I have some time to kind of get back in the swing of things, hopefully just make the most of it.
I think there's a lot to be said for being able to jump into this kind of opportunity and turn it into something bigger down the road. That's obviously why I'm here today.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for any of our guests today.
Q. JR, congratulations on the opportunity. Have you worked with any of the members of the team in the past?
JR HILDEBRAND: No, I haven't. It's actually going to be a lot of fun I think to work with kind of an entirely new group of guys. From that perspective, I'm really looking forward to it. I don't see that as being too much of a downside. They've obviously got a lot of really good people on the team over here, so I think it should be good.
Q. My question has to do with how you feel the ladder system is working in IndyCar. You're a very accomplished racer. Obviously a lot of talent. Talk to me, if you will, you mentioned how difficult it was to sit on the sidelines, but how do you feel the Road to Indy is serving you and other drivers in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, maybe how that might improve going forward?
JR HILDEBRAND: Well, that's quite a good question, I think probably one nobody has a real specific answer to.
But I'd say for my part, the Road to Indy has served me quite well. It wasn't established, even when I was coming up the ranks, as it is now. I happen to have raced Formula Ford 2000, which is now part of the Road to Indy, Atlantics, Indy Lights, now getting a chance at IndyCar. I think it's an inherently difficult step to make from any kind of AAA junior formula series to the big leagues in some sense, as I think it is across the board in any sports.
In racing, in car racing, obviously the financial side of it is an additional hurdle to get over that becomes a much bigger hurdle to get over once you get at this level.
But I think the Road to Indy, especially the new Road to Indy gets established, it will be quite a good proving ground for guys that want to be driving IndyCars and giving them a chance to do that.
Q. Robbie and Dennis, if you would like to address the Road to Indy, how your team has kind of opened the door a little bit here with giving JR this opportunity. Can you discuss a little bit about the financial challenges of breaking through that glass ceiling and how that might change in the future as team owners.
ROBBIE BUHL: Well, you know, you talk about an interesting challenge. Historically it's always been there for drivers working their way up through the ranks of wanting to get to IndyCars. It is a challenge just with the cost jump from Indy Lights to IndyCars.
You know, nowadays I look at an even tougher factor in there. It all comes back to trying to control costs, make it competitive for drivers and teams.
But for the drivers now, with the limited amount of testing that they can get in an IndyCar prior to their first race, really makes it a challenge. I always use the example of Juan Pablo Montoya. Before he even showed up for an IndyCar race, I think he had done something like 38 days of testing in an IndyCar prior to his first race. Those 38 days was expensive, but there were teams that could do that.
That's not even an option. In this scenario for JR, hey, it's a great opportunity for him to get in an IndyCar. As he says, it's with a test at both of those tracks. Hopefully we can put forth a good effort and JR, as the reigning champion for the Firestone Indy Lights, he's the guy carrying and waving that flag. We're looking at him doing what Rafa is doing. Rafa had a great run at Watkins Glen.
No extra pressure there, JR, but you're carrying the flag for all those guys coming up that ladder from the Mazdas, to the 2000s, to the Lights.
Again, for me as a driver, they kind of went through that feeder system before it's gotten that current structure where it is. I'm a big supporter in trying to provide those opportunities. It's nice that this kind of fell together as it did for what we can do for JR.
DENNIS REINBOLD: Just to add to that, I know that in talking about Randy Bernard, his interest is to try to get some of the expense out of our series, out of the IndyCar Series. Should that be accomplished, then that gap gets shrunk a little bit.
The question was originally, What does the future look like? I think if we can continue to contain some of the costs in our series, that's going to narrow that gap and make it more likely or possible for the Lights drivers or Atlantics drivers to be able to make that next step.
Q. Dennis, since you talked to Conway this morning, which is the issue as far as when he returns, which is the bigger issue, the back or the leg?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Definitely the leg. He's been out of the back brace for some time. Right now he gets his cast off next week, so that's the next big step. But in the meantime he's done some swimming. He's been careful to try to keep the cast dry. He's putting some weight on his foot.
He seemed very upbeat when I spoke to him. He spoke about how it's coming along and there's not much pain in the foot anymore. So he sounds pretty optimistic.
ROBBIE BUHL: To follow up on that. When we had talked to Dr. Trammell. He definitely felt the biggest challenge was going to be that leg. But it's also the amount of pounds and pressure that needs to be applied to the brake pedal. When we go to a place like Infineon, with the elevation, the big brake zones, he said that's going to be the big challenge, not just for Mike to be walking on that leg but the amount much pressure he needs to put on.
He's a left-foot braker. The amount of load that needs to go through the brake pedal to stop these cars is huge.
Q. Right after Infineon is the last stretch of four ovals. Are you planning that he's in the car for those four?
DENNIS REINBOLD: If he comes back to Infineon, then we would finish the season out with Mike, for sure.
Q. Robbie, you brought up the testing issue. I have heard that guys like Star Mazda drivers who may be qualified to move up to the Firestone Indy Lights, they've changed the rules to let them test, get some seat time, to see if they can handle it. Do you think that is something somebody like JR, who has not got a lot of seat time in an IndyCar, they should let you open up and test them so when he gets to a racetrack, they have a pretty good idea what he's doing, what to expect?
ROBBIE BUHL: That's kind of a yes and no answer to that. On one hand it makes it a big struggle for those drivers that are ready to make that jump once they've succeeded in the prior series and won the championship in Lights. Yes, you'd love to see them get as much time as the team can afford to put them out there in getting laps in an IndyCar. There's not everybody that's going to have the luxury of doing that. It's only the ones that are going to have the budget and backing to get that done. Does that then create an unfair balance of how somebody shows their ability?
You know, I think it is definitely something we have to gap or put a ceiling on in terms of how much is there in regards to testing. But we can't eliminate it. If we can get a guy that's in the Lights, give him a couple extra days here and there just to gain that experience, make it so he's all the more aware and competitive come a race weekend, I think that's better for everybody.
But, again, we can't have that unlimited back in the days where, Hey, if you got the budget, you can run 40 days. That inequity doesn't work. It's a tough call. There's a balance in there somewhere.
Q. JR, have you had any testing at all in the car or is it going to be one of those where you have to go up to the first weekend and go dry?
JR HILDEBRAND: Well, I've had some test days in the past, the majority of them with Andretti Autosport as I drove the Lights car for them last year. We do have test days schedules at each of the tracks. I'm planning on running at Mid-Ohio and Infineon Raceway prior to those respective events. So hopefully that will give me a chance to get used to working with the team, get used to some of the differences driving a Lights car or an IndyCar on a weekend. There's obviously a lot more to take in. I think given both of those opportunities, I'll be as prepared as I can be.
Q. With the economy the way it is today, trying to find sponsorship and all that kind of stuff, did you think this day would ever come?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, you have to as a driver. It's sort of what keeps you going, thinking this day is going to come. Opportunities that have come and gone all year for different races or different teams or whatever, all you can really do is just kind of keep your head down and keep plugging away at it. Sort of lo and behold, this ended up being a good opportunity. I'm sitting here being able to take advantage of it. I'm excited about how everything has worked out.
Q. JR, Mid-Ohio and Infineon are both very challenging road courses, very momentum-based, makes it difficult for passing. Can you address what your goals are going to be? Obviously you'd like to finish as high as possible. What are your goals as a driver going into two of the more challenging road courses on the circuit?
JR HILDEBRAND: Well, I think obviously you have to try to be sort of realistic about how things are going to shake out. To be honest with you, I'm not really sure, I guess I try not to go into these types of situations with too many expectations one way or the other about what it's going to be like or where we're going to be at the end of the first practice or how we're going to qualify or whatever.
You know, as you said, they are both very difficult tracks. They're tough tracks to pass on. A big part of the reason that I look to these two races, they're two tracks that I know very well. I won four Formula 2000 races at Mid-Ohio back in '06, had a good run there last year in the Lights car. I'd say if there's any track I know like the back of my hand, it's Infineon Raceway, having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area.
From that perspective, yeah, they're both quite difficult, but they're both tracks I know really well and am quite comfortable with. I really hope to be able to make the best of them because of that.
Q. Robbie and Dennis, I'm sure you could have made your lives a lot easier by locking in with one driver, say Graham Rahal. By going through this revolving door kind of thing, what's been the feedback that you've been getting and has it been beneficial to the team to get these different views on the way you're running your operation?
ROBBIE BUHL: Dennis kind of said earlier, it's really been a unique opportunity for us to kind of get to know the different personalities of a driver, how they relate with Justin, how they fit in with our team. You know, having a different driver style approach, having, again, good, capable drivers in there, that allows us to kind of self-evaluate ourselves as a team and get better. It also hopefully makes us stronger in the decisions that we look to grow and how we pick and choose drivers going forward.
Now, having said all that, it absolutely is a little bit more work and sometimes a little more stress with changing over and getting different drivers in for different events. But, you know, to this point, it's all guys that have been familiar with the cars, the guys that had seats.
With JR, we structured this where we can get a day of testing at both Mid-Ohio and Infineon prior, so that kind of really squashes any last-minute thrashing there. Up to point, it really has been a beneficial process, something that I think we've all learned from.
We've gotten great feedback from having Graham in the car and Paul and Tomas. JR, as the current Lights champion, he'll fall right in line with those guys.
THE MODERATOR: That appears to be all the time we have today for today's guests. Thank you again for being on today's call.
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