Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League, Luczo Dragon Racing/de Ferran Motorsports
Gil de Ferran
February 16, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the IZOD IndyCar Series conference call. We have three guests today, Luczo Dragon Racing co-owners Steve Luczo and Jay Penske, who earlier today announced they have merged their team with de Ferran Motorsports, forming Luczo Dragon Racing de Ferran Motorsports. We're also joined by Gil de Ferran. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.
First question is for you, Steve. Some very exciting news for you, Jay, and the rest of your team today. Talk about today's announcement and the process of merging your race team with Gil de Ferran's team.
STEVE LUCZO: It's great news and it's really something that the three of us have been formulating and talking about for at least a year, maybe even going back a little further. Really as you know, Jay and I started the team a few years ago just running the Indy 500 and then we stepped it up to six races and then we stepped it up to a full season, and our goal really all along has been to incrementally build the team, make it stronger, make it more competitive. And we just are at the point now that we felt that given last season's success with Rafa that the right next step was to bring in a partner that could really fill out the team and have a racer's focus on the business, and fortunately through Jay's relationship with Gil we were able to start those conversations a while ago and successfully complete them.
So it's a really great day for our team obviously but I think racing in general. I think it's going to be great to have another competitive team in the league this year.
THE MODERATOR: And the press release that was put out earlier today said that the team is going to emphasize technology and science. I know that's kind of the background all three of you have. How do you leverage that background to accomplish the emphasis on technology and science in the IZOD IndyCar Series?
STEVE LUCZO: Well, I think as you say there's multiple dimensions to that. Clearly Jay's focus on the new media side, my focus is more on the high tech computer side, and then again Gil is really from the how you implement that into a racing platform.
As far as me specifically, one of the things that's happened over the last couple of years as more and more people have -- it's interesting how excited people are still about racing, in particular Indy racing, and so one of the things we've been playing around with is just how do we access a broader set of technical resources, whether or not they're at the university level or even at the corporate level where people really want to get involved and use their skills away from what their normal day jobs are.
So we're going to take advantage of some of those opportunities and then just deploy technology where we can obviously in areas like CFD simulation, things like that.
THE MODERATOR: Jay, I know you have a longtime friendship with Gil. In fact, I think I read you've been talking about partnering with him since you guys decided to form a team. How excited are you to actually be working with Gil?
JAY PENSKE: Well, Gil and I have known each other for really over ten years when he started originally racing for my dad. It's been fun to watch him, one, as a fan when he was driving for my dad's team succeed as a driver, as a champion driver, and then also as a team owner recently.
But this has been a huge step forward for Luczo Dragon Racing, getting to partner with not only someone who's a great friend but has a similar drive to win and having the economics to make it possible. I think we're all really, really fortunate.
THE MODERATOR: I know you mentioned last year with Rafael Matos. Does this affect the team's relationship with Rafa?
JAY PENSKE: I think in a big way. I think adding someone who's actually been in a race car before and has raced at so many of the venues to provide that tutelage and leadership will be great for us. It'll be a huge -- clearly coming from the same country, someone he respects so much, I think this is really a match made in heaven.
THE MODERATOR: You've probably shared the news with Rafa. What was his reaction to hearing that Gil was coming on board?
JAY PENSKE: I think he picked up the phone and called Gil within five seconds of hanging up the phone, and he was so excited he could barely stand it. He's been so excited and just welcomes the opportunity to race with Gil this year.
STEVE LUCZO: Plus Gil can say "stay calm" in Portuguese much better than Jay or I can.
THE MODERATOR: Gil, welcome back to the IZOD IndyCar Series. You must be pretty excited about joining forces with Steve and Jay.
GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. I mean, this feels very much like a homecoming in many ways. I mean, first of all, I think as Jay mentioned, we've known each other for many years, and we've been talking about this for quite a while. And frankly, I think that the more we spoke about it, the more we thought it made a lot of sense. Our skills are very complementary, and I think together we'll form a much stronger group than we would have done perhaps separately.
And certainly from a personal standpoint, returning to IndyCar racing feels good. You know, most of my career, most of my success, shall I say, as a professional driver happened in IndyCar racing. Certainly some of the biggest headlines I was able to accomplish happened there, and I feel very good to be able to go back to IndyCar racing not as a driver but certainly as a team owner.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously you oversee the day-to-day operations for the team. What areas of the team do you think will see the immediate benefits of the merger?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, look, we're just landing here on the ground. I mean, as you probably saw in the release, we have a very strong focus on technology and the science of how to make racing cars go fast. We're just starting. I mean, it's a young team. Both teams are young, in fact, and I think by pooling all our resources together, we'll have a better chance of doing well here in the short-term. But certainly we're going to face some stiff competition and have a lot of work to do here.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for Q & A from the media, please.
Q. Obviously with today's economy we're going to have to see more combined efforts like this for teams to maybe be successful in auto racing. We've kind of seen a great deal of mergers in other forms of racing. Do you guys -- just talk about the economic impact. I know Gil was trying to get a team together and found it was getting to be a little bit difficult but now here's a solution.
JAY PENSKE: I think, one, this wasn't driven by economics, it was driven by the will for all of us to compete and win at this level of the Series. I think to bring in experience where you can have someone who's raced and won in this Series, have that visibility for the team, coupled with the relationships that Steve and I have in the technology marketplace I think were helpful. But I think this was building on a strong core base just making it stronger. I think that's been the focus of this merger, and I think that's the result we hope to succeed.
GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. I would just echo exactly what Jay said and what I mentioned earlier. You know, I think we slowly came to the realization that we would be able to run a better operation by being together than being apart, especially because we're all different guys from different backgrounds, and we fit together very well. You know, and like I said, we're facing formidable opponents here. Ganassi and Team Penske have been dominating the championship for the last several seasons, and the goal is to be as good as them or if not better. To be able to do that, we need to dig very deep and pool as many resources as we can together.
Q. And also with the preseason test coming up next week, can you give us a little bit of an idea of what all you guys need to do between now and then and what your goals and objectives are when you get there next week?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, we have a lot to do. You know, there's certain practical aspects of the operation that I guess will remain intact here certainly for the short-term because we have a race to run and have to prepare, and we'll slowly try to improve and add things to that.
Here's my little whinge. Unfortunately we don't have that much opportunity to test. I would love to be able to hit the racetrack for more than a couple of days before the race in Brazil.
Q. The plan right now is one car full season for Rafa? Is that the plan right now? And will you look beyond that if additional funding becomes available?
JAY PENSKE: I think that's right now that's the plan, to run Rafa at all the events this year, with the possibility of adding other cars in the future. I think it's certainly a goal of ours, but right now we're focused very much on every race, incrementally doing a better job at all the tracks Rafa raced last year and some of the new tracks that have been added this year.
GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, I think it's important to understand that the bigger we are, the more resources we'll be able to have, and certainly it would be nice to add to our program, and we're looking into that to make sure it's properly funded. But right now the focus is on Rafa.
Q. First of all, you guys have to shorten this name. I don't think you can get LDRDFM in a sentence, but we'll come up with something. What about the shop? Are you going to use Brownsburg or are you using Indy?
JAY PENSKE: We're going to use the Gasoline Alley shop this year.
Q. Gil, what's the status of your facility? Did I hear it went to Bryan Herta? Is that who's using that facility?
GIL de FERRAN: No, right now we have two facilities.
Q. Gil, what do you teach Rafael? He's obviously a very good driver. What could make the difference in what you can say and what you can teach him?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, you know, it's important, I think, for us to remind ourselves of his credentials here. Here's a guy that really kind of struggled to a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where he is. The only reason that he got to where he is is because he has actually been successful at every level that he's raced on so far, you know, so -- we are dealing with a -- I guess he's not a rookie anymore, but still, when you compare him to people like Helio and Dixon and Tony, he's a relative rookie, but nevertheless, a rookie with impeccable credentials. First of all, I would say the raw material I believe is of very high quality.
Frankly I'm only getting to know Rafa now, and I think for you to be able to transmit some of your experience and your knowledge to somebody, first you have to understand what makes them tick, because my belief on this is horses for courses; everybody has a few different buttons, and I have to learn how Rafa operates because clearly already he does a decent job. I think his success has proven that.
Q. Just one quick follow-up, Gil. I know by the time May comes around you'll be chafing at the bit to get in a second car and go racing. But seriously, would you ever consider driving at Indianapolis as a one-off?
GIL de FERRAN: I'll give you the very short answer: No.
JAY PENSKE: I tried to talk him into that last year.
STEVE LUCZO: One other thing on Rafa. One of the things we did in the off-season really was, as Gil said, just from a pure driver's skill level, obviously Rafa is a pretty unique individual, and that was what attracted us to him originally, plus just his mentality of the team's mission and working as a teammate, but then this off-season we pushed Rafa into a fitness program that was both physical and mental, so he's been doing a lot of training with Ed Downs down in Miami so really pushing things in terms of mental discipline, physical discipline, so we think just from that perspective, Rafa has probably stepped it up at least another notch, and then with Gil's guidance, I think the kid is going to be performing quite well this year.
Q. Gil, question for you: What do you expect the impact to be most this year, Gil de Ferran's impact on the partnership with Luczo Dragon or de Ferran Motorsports' impact? I ask that because with Ando going to US F1, Will Phillips now with Highcroft, I guess I'm unclear on how fully staffed or how much staff you have left to kind of bring that de Ferran imprint to your new partnership.
GIL de FERRAN: You know, teams are made of people and processes, and certainly at the end of last year, we have lost a few of the people and some key guys, as you mentioned two of them being John Anderson and Will Phillips, and the reason that we lost them is because there was so much uncertainty as to what we were going to do.
The culture of de Ferran Motorsports remains. A lot of the processes that we created over the past couple of seasons are going to be integrated with what was going on with Luczo Dragon, and some of our personnel will probably come back and be a part of the team.
Q. Quick follow-up, last year when we spoke you mentioned that you had played somewhat of an advisory role to Rafa as he moved into IndyCar and definitely lent him an ear whenever he needed it. Do you see any issues being able to transition from friend and mentor into more of a boss role, or is that something your existing relationship should make fall into place easily?
GIL de FERRAN: Let me make you the following parallel: I started my relationship with Simon Pagenaud as a boss, and today I would say he's my good friend and a mentor. I really don't see any issues there. I mean, with Rafa, I met him while driving go-karts trying to get myself up to speed back in 2008. I mean, he's a great guy, and we struck up a good personal relationship, and I was happy for him that he had a great break with Steve and Jay last year, and I look forward to working with him. I really don't see any issues here.
STEVE LUCZO: I would say just as an owner and having spent a lot of time with professional athletes in a wide variety of sports, Rafa is as good as it gets in terms of taking advice and other forms of information during the race, after the race. I mean, he's definitely a team player, so I don't think that there's a difference because Gil is an owner now versus an advisor. I mean, Rafa respects the advice that Jay gives him, I give him, and he's quite a talent and he knows when to listen.
Q. My question is in terms of knocking off the two big guys, how do you see the landscape? What indicators do you kind of see that could allow maybe another team to really challenge them, and how much of that, the competition, really drove this deal?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, if I could maybe speak first about this, first, it's important to recognize how strong your competitors are, and certainly both in the case of Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, they don't come much better than those. Certainly Team Penske I know from a personal experience is one of the best racing operations I think in the world, full stop, and I think once you understand how high the bar is, I think that in turn leads or pushes you to put a plan together to try to surpass, shall I say, that high bar.
You know, the bottom line here is that we think that investment in technology, investment in, shall I say, the science of performance is really what is going to give us an edge. We have plans to start making investment in this regard.
Steve has already mentioned some CFD. We're going to -- we already have some simulation capabilities. I think given the lack of testing, that's a very important area for us to develop, and I think generally speaking overall we have to build our technical capabilities beyond those of our rivals.
That's a process, though. It doesn't happen over time. Building a team with that kind of strength can frankly take several years, but at least we know what we have to get to.
Q. I know you spoke earlier about the commitment to the one car for now, but are you working on anything with Graham Rahal, knowing he's sort of a foundation piece that's out there and maybe can be had right now? Are you working on anything with him?
JAY PENSKE: I have respect for Graham Rahal and everything he's done in this Series. At this point, as we said, we're very much focused on Rafa. If there was an opportunity that came up in the future that we could work with Graham, I think we'd be very interested. But at this point our goal is to, as we said, incrementally improve on last year's performance, if not drastically improve, and I think by doing that we have to focus on Rafa and continue to build him inside Luczo Dragon Racing.
Q. For Gil, knowing how interested and compelled you are with the technological aspect of racing, how interesting a period is the Series getting into now with various new chassis designs and all sort of interesting new things to look at and think about as far as applying to the racing?
GIL de FERRAN: I think very excited. Certainly I think it gives everyone an opportunity to kind of reset the button in a way. We've been using the same equipment now for several years. Certainly there's a lot of teams that have amassed a huge amount of data and experience with that equipment, and it's a good way to gain a competitive advantage.
I think our job over the next couple of years is to try to make up that difference, but also at the same time create those tools and processes that would hopefully get us out of the blocks very quickly here with the new car.
Q. Which of the chassis design proposals do you like?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, to be honest, I mean, I've been keeping kind of a -- somewhat of a distance. I think certainly the delta wing proves to be a radical concept, shall I say, a great departure from what we're used to seeing, and there's certainly very interesting aspects to it. But I think there's some interesting aspects to all the other proposals. I look forward to seeing what the final decision is.
I think it's important for us that whatever decision is made that IndyCar retain its -- what I believe is its true nature. The cars have always been the fastest cars on the planet. In many ways I think IndyCar was the original extreme sport. The cars were known as the fastest cars, and I think hopefully that has to be part in my mind of the future of IndyCar. They have to retain that value.
Q. For Jay and Steve, with one car can you guys be as competitive as you guys want to be running just a one-car operation in a sport that seems to be dominated by multi-car operations?
JAY PENSKE: I think it's a very good point. Clearly the amount of data that you have by running two cars and more importantly the investment of R & D split across two cars makes a lot of sense. I think as we look to build a team, I think it's a direction we're trying to grow into.
At the same time we proved last year winning the Rookie of the Year with a single-car effort, it's possible to have success, and we look to build upon it.
At the same time there's a lot of other things that go into this in terms of having someone like Gil here to provide additional communication and understanding what's happening with the car I think will be a huge benefit to Rafa, so we hope to have a few of those gains even from the partnership here with Gil. But it is a challenge, and I think it's something that we look forward to this year.
Q. And Gil, how much of the way you do things is modeled after what you learned over a Penske? How much of your plan comes from the way they planned, your methods and things like that? I guess I'm asking how much of Penske has rubbed off on you?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, it's that old debate of nature or nurture, isn't it? Look, I'm a professional within motorsports, you know, and what I know, I suppose, is a collection of all of my experiences ever since I was racing go-karts in Brazil and working with my dad, who is by the way also an engineer.
I think throughout my career I have been extremely fortunate to have driven and worked with some incredible people, you know, and to name a few, Jackie Stewart and Jim Hall and Roger Penske. And those experiences, they tend to form you and mature you. Certainly the experience I had at Team Penske will stay with me forever.
Like I said, I have a ton of respect for Team Penske. I have been in Europe, I've driven in Europe, I have worked at teams in Europe, and I can tell you that they have one of the best operations that I have ever seen. It's an experience that was a big part of my formation, shall I say, and I'm sure in one way or another you probably see some cracks of it showing up here and there. I guess we have another Penske in the team, too, so he's likely to influence the direction in that way, also.
Q. Gil, welcome back. Can you maybe pin it down to the one biggest difference between the IndyCar Series now compared to what it was like when you were driving in it? Is there a way to do that?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think I will start with the similarities rather than the differences. I mean, certainly the Series has been going back to a mixed format, which I welcome; having races in short ovals, superspeedways, street courses and road courses I think is a great mix. I can tell you from experience it's very difficult to master all those different disciplines to a very high degree, and I think it makes the champion a more worthy champion by having the mix of tracks.
We're still going at 230-odd miles an hour around speedways, and that's, I guess, another similarity.
The biggest difference between then and now in my mind is that back then there was a lot of manufacturer competition, both on the chassis side, on the engine side, and in the tire side. And the Series now has moved more towards a single make format. I think that's by force mostly of the current economic circumstances, and it's likely to continue to move in that direction.
But I would like to see hopefully a move to greater framework so that manufacturer competition in every front can hopefully be part of the Series again.
Q. I know you enjoyed racing with the ALMS Series in Canada, but you've got to be looking forward to doing the IndyCar thing both in Toronto and in Edmonton, as well?
GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely, really looking forward to it, and I wish they could add Vancouver back, as well. That was great.
Q. I have a two-part question kind of related to a previous question. How much of your current team staff is literally being merged into this effort, and I mean, that's going to be a lot of guys under the tent there, the transporter.
GIL de FERRAN: Can you say that again?
Q. How much of your team is going to actually be merged into this? Will you be reducing the personnel from your team? In terms of actual people, I think someone asked how much of your team was left, but more specifically, if you're merging two teams and you're running one car, there's a lot of guys to pay and there's a lot of chefs in the soup.
GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. I think the biggest investment we can make is in people, and the head count certainly will be increasing from what Luczo Dragon had from last year. So we'll be adding people from what we had last year. I mean, it's important that everybody fits within the structure and they have clear roles and responsibilities. Certainly I think in general you don't want too much overlap, and that's really been my work here over the last few weeks is to try to figure out a good structure for us to move forward.
Right now we have moved three people that were with de Ferran Motorsports to be part of the new operation, and the head count may increase further.
Q. My second question goes to rumors. It was a pretty heavy rumor, when you were looking to run de Ferran Motorsports independently, there was rumors about Takuma Sato, and I was curious what came of that, or do you have anything to say about Sato or what he's doing or where that went?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think Sato is the best person to say what Sato is going to do. I think the source of those rumors are the fact that both Sato and I worked together back in Honda in Formula 1, and we had a good professional and may I say good personal relationship, and when he showed an interest in IndyCars, we spoke a lot about it, but beyond I would say a team owner and driver sort of conversation. It was a conversation about the sport in America and what direction he wanted to take with his life and his career.
I think beyond that, you really should talk to him about what he wants to do with his future. But if he came to IndyCar, I'm sure he would be a great asset. He's a very good driver, and he's, shall I say, a very popular driver in Japan, and he'll bring a lot of fans to the Series from around the world, which I think is a positive.
Q. So you guys aren't talking to him about anything relative to this merged effort then?
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I mean, a lot of these conversations that we have are confidential, so I'm sure you appreciate that many of those --
GIL de FERRAN: As Jay said, for now we're concentrating on Rafa. We would like to expand the team because simply that just gives us more resources. But the point is it's expanding in the right way with the right amount of funding so that we can make the right investment and make it worthwhile for everyone involved.
Q. My last question is more on a humorous note. When you have conversations with Sato, does he speak Portuguese or do you speak Japanese?
GIL de FERRAN: It's in English.
Q. My question is for Gil. Gil, you talked very adamantly earlier in the call about not being interested in one-offing the Indianapolis 500. With your world-class driving credentials, you are someone obviously who would appeal to a sponsor. Might you reconsider that if indeed the financial package from a prospective sponsor also wanted you to be part of the effort?
GIL de FERRAN: Do you want the short or the long version?
Q. Let's go with the long version.
GIL de FERRAN: Well, I'll start with the short version. The short version is no.
The long version is the following: I think, you know, IndyCar racing is highly competitive, and I've found it hard enough to be competitive when I was doing a full-time and it was the sole focus of my life. All I thought about was how could I make myself a better driver, and believe me, it takes a lot, a lot of focus.
As I was finding already just by running de Ferran Motorsports at the America LeMans Series and trying to improve the team and grow the team and so on and so forth, I was finding it increasingly difficult to perform both functions certainly to my standards, and so it's -- I found it impossible to compete at the level that it would take for me to attempt, shall I say, a win in a race such as the Indy 500 and attempt to run our new team, Luczo Dragon Racing de Ferran Motorsports as a world-class organization. The two tasks are frankly simply too much for one person at the same time, at one time.
Q. You talked earlier about how difficult it was to master all the formats, all four formats that are currently being utilized in the IZOD Indy Racing League. You were as good as anyone has ever been at it, and trying to remain objective here as a member of the media, as a racing fan I hope you might reconsider that comeback bit, and I wish you all the best.
GIL de FERRAN: Thank you. I really appreciate that.
Q. Jay, I'm going to ask you a little bit of a different type of question. I think growing up every kid remembers when they were finally able to beat their dad on the basketball court or the golf course. What's it going to be like for you when you finally beat him on the racetrack?
JAY PENSKE: I've got to beat him on the basketball court first. Well, you know, listen, there's not a bigger fan I think in the world of my dad's racing team and what he's done than I am. He's one of my true idols in my life and someone I respect and look up to so much.
First of all, it's been fun just being able to show up every week and compete against him, and when we've had the opportunities to run ahead of him in practice or finish ahead of him in a few races, it's been really rewarding. But this is -- we're out here to win, and we want to compete every day against Penske Racing and hopefully finish ahead of him a lot more in 2010 than we did in 2009.
Q. My question deals with a bit of the future of Luczo Dragon de Ferran Motorsports. In terms of the development of your team's future, are you planning on establishing a Firestone Indy Lights team or a partnership with an existing Indy Lights team going forward for prospect drivers?
GIL de FERRAN: Jay and Steve, do you want me to answer that or do you guys want to comment on it?
JAY PENSKE: I think we've been looking for a while to try to do more with the Lights Series. I think there's been so many great drivers that have come out of the Series. Clearly we've seen many champions leave there and enter the Indy Series, so I think it's something we're always looking at. I think it's a part of building this team. Where there's economics and opportunities to do so, I think we'll be one of the first teams there trying to put something like that together.
At the same time we have a budget to run one car effectively this year. That's our goal and that's the plan.
THE MODERATOR: I think that's all the questions we have for you today. Thank you for your time.
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