Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
April 2, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Starting the call with us is Firestone Indy Lights driver Bobby Wilson.
Good of afternoon, Bobby. Thanks for joining us. Bobby is returning for his third full season in Firestone Indy Lights. In 2006 he finished fourth in the standings driving for Kenn Hardley Racing and last year he also finished fourth while driving for Brian Stewart Racing. He has victories on road courses at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis, and this year he helped form Team E with Florida businessman Neil Enerson. With the talk of the new team forming, can you take us through the process of how things started to develop, and from there, from the idea how things had actually came together and to where you are today.
BOBBY WILSON: Well, I met Neil through karting and just formed a good relationship with him. And he came to a few races and just saw how more compatible the series was and how strong it was compared to other feeder series. And we just kind of kept -- he said, "This is something I want to do, and can you put something together."
Basically the personnel, I kind of headed up that operation and getting all the right people, that's what makes a team -- everybody has their strong points, and he's got all the best equipment for us, and winning is definitely in our future. So really excited for the season.
THE MODERATOR: You come from a karting background, obviously very successful karting background, and I would say probably most karters, it's a family operation and they are involved in running their own team. Having that kind of a background, was it fairly easy for you to kind of take over some of the process of putting together a team like this?
BOBBY WILSON: Yeah, when you have a start-up team, there's so many logistical nightmares that happen so to speak. It's just everything from clothing and hotel rooms, and I'm involved with the team every day. I spend my day with the guys, and there's just a lot of work that goes into it. We have all brand-new equipment and brand-new race car and just takes a while to setup and get everything working.
Right now I think the guys did a great job, and we have just top-notch equipment and everything came together. So we're hitting on all cylinders right now, and it's running very smooth for a start-up operation.
I'm happy for the guys. I mean, want to bring them some wins
THE MODERATOR: You have two victories in the series, both on road courses, and you're coming off of a test this week at Sebring. How do things look for doubleheader this weekend at St. Petersburg where you have four Top-10 finishes in the past?
BOBBY WILSON: I love street racing. It's my favorite type of racing; it's a shootout and nobody gets pit time. We went to Sebring and tested the car there, but we don't race there, so we just kept our head down and not overly concerned about lap times there.
So we're just focusing on our program and full steam ahead. Just chomping at the bit to get on the track right now. To answer your question, I think we are very well prepared and ready to race.
THE MODERATOR: What are some of the keys that you have been there the last couple of years at St. Pete, what are some of the keys to both qualify well and race well there?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, last year, my engine didn't start on the grid and the green flag dropped, and I was still in the left corner and I was dead last and it's just a dogfight.
I had to make the best of every opportunity that came my way. You have to be opportunistic sometimes to make things happen and that's why I love street racing. You can catch people off-guard and make a good show for the fans, I guess. That was kind of -- I was kind of given a warning last year, but you have to keep going at it and not get discouraged. I did have some luck go my way, starting the race on Sunday. I can't wait.
THE MODERATOR: One final question from me. You touched on it a little bit saying the team is ready to win and wants to win this year; but maybe elaborate about goals and expectations for the season overall.
BOBBY WILSON: Well, you have to look at it from my perspective. We are a new team, yes, but there's really only one new factor and that's the team owner, Neil Enerson. Every guy on this team has experience and experience with winning, so to have my goal for the year, obviously it's a championship and it's a realistic expectation.
We are not at a disadvantage by any means, so I look at it -- right now I'm looking at the guys working on the car and how nice our stuff looks. All we need is a little luck to go our way and we're going to be up front.
Q. Momentum and finishing, you touched on that a bit and not all drivers believe in momentum. Do you think that finishing well helps you with the next race, or is it just the next race is the next race you're going to do?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, I mean, came off an important finish. I was at Homestead, just A driving infraction, but I don't -- as soon as I stepped out of the race car, the guys were pretty upset about the call and what happened.
I just said, on to St. Pete. Let's focus on that. We can't change the past, and we just have to look forward and not dwell on things that happened, just, you know, it's wasted energy.
And as far as momentum, I think we just have to look at each race as a separate race and not say, all right, here is what happened the last weekend. Just don't dwell on it, just have to keep going forward.
Q. And you come from a small town; do you think that a small town atmosphere; do you think that contributes something to your success, gives you a little different view of the world?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, actually I grew up in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and I've lived in Ocala for a few years just because of my sponsor from the previous season, where I work.
But yeah, the small town atmosphere I think is really good. I don't like big cities, anyway. I kind of like the rural atmosphere where I can go out and ride wherever I want in the country. It's nice, I can go biking and I don't like the hustle and bustle of big city life.
Yeah, it's more relaxing and I can stay more focused and I really have a handle on what's going on.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us and good luck this weekend and the rest of the season.
We are joined now by Ryan Briscoe, thanks for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Give you a quick introduction here. Of course, you are in your second full season in the IndyCar Series, first since 2005. Ryan won the pole in 2005 at Infineon and led 15 laps in that race, and he also led 43 laps that season at St. Petersburg, and last season Ryan earned a two-class win in the ALMS race at St. Petersburg and finished fifth in his only IndyCar Series race, the Indianapolis 500.
Welcome back to the IndyCar Series, and we're glad to have you obviously. Let's talk about St. Pete. You led laps in the IndyCar Series, and you had the class win last year at ALMS. Is this a weekend that you get your first IndyCar Series win?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, hopefully. You know, it's definitely a track that I've always loved racing on and you know, I hope so. That's what we're going there to do, but there's going to be a lot of competition and it's going to be a tough one. I think we've got a shot at it, so we'll see.
THE MODERATOR: I also want to mention that we have Tim Ramsberger on the line, as well, the vice president and the general manager of Honda Grand Prix at St. Petersburg. Thanks for joining us.
Obviously this is the fourth year that we go to St. Pete. Can you tell us maybe a little bit, give us an update on preparations for the weekend, and is there anything new that fans and competitors should expect from what we've seen in years past?
TIM RAMSBERGER: Well, things are going really well. We are definitely set to host, once again, the world's fastest spring break party here, and we've got, again, great racing lined up for the weekend with both series, American LeMans and IndyCar, as well as the Indy Lights, and we are excited about the on-track racing.
As far as the entertainment around the venue, we are having air shows and military jumpers and concerts and plenty of things for all of the family members to do. We have the ferris wheel back and it will be quite the weekend full of activity here
THE MODERATOR: One of the things that's new on the IndyCar side, something we announced today, new qualification procedures for road and street courses, taking out the single-lap portion of that, and going to three-group segments that narrow the field down until we have the pole winner, and set up a starting grid.
Ryan, that's something new for us, what are your thoughts on the new qualification process?
RYAN BRISCOE: It seems to be going pretty well. I think for us, having Champ Car guys joining us in the Indy Racing League with pretty little experience, it's good for that reason, because it's just not a one-lap, one-shot, get it right or go home kind of deal. You get several laps to get a fast lap in. I think it's pretty fair, I think more on-track activity for the fans to watch, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Overall for the season, Ryan, obviously you're with a strong team, Team Penske, feel good I'm sure for the prospects for the season. Last weekend, not entirely I'm sure what you hoped for with the contact ending your race early, but you qualified up front and ran strong through the race. Do you feel like that you will also have a successful season on the ovals, as well as the road street courses?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I certainly believe so. Going to St. Petersburg, a little bit nervous and didn't really -- it had been 2005 since I raced and won on a half-mile oval. So I wasn't really sure, you know, how I was going to go and I have a lot to learn on ovals and so on.
So from my experience at Homestead last week, you know, I was really happy. I was racing with the leaders and keeping in touch, and that's just the first race. We certainly took it pretty conservatively. We didn't go into the race putting downforce level or whatever was going to give us the quickest car out there that would lead laps and so on, but we just wanted to come away with a good, solid result and that's exactly what we were doing.
We were probably looking at finishing anywhere between, you know, I reckon second and fourth or, you know, keeping in touch, you never know what happens with a win but I wasn't really expecting to win at Homestead, and at the worst, very worst was going to look like fifth which would have been great for starting off a championship
I expect as I get more experience to get better on the ovals as the season goes on. The big goal of mine this year is to get the race win on an oval. That will be huge
THE MODERATOR: You're new to the IndyCar side of the Team Penske operation, but were with the team last year on the ALMS side. How are things developing as far as the IndyCar side guys and communication with the team members and even with Helio, your teammate?
RYAN BRISCOE: It's going great. As you mentioned last year, racing at Penske for the ALMS program, I've got to know everyone, and I actually got to know a lot of the IndyCar guys, and especially my mechanic, Tom German. We got to know each other really well last year already spending time away from the circuit.
I was coming into a group of people where I'm already feeling pretty comfortable and our working relationship has been spot eye on. I'm really happy and we're understanding each other really well, and it's just perfect.
And Helio, he's just been great. For a guy that's been at Penske for so long and had so much success, he's really made me feel so welcomed and a part of the team, and that's perfect for me being new. So really good feeling here at Penske.
Q. For Tim, what is the status of the new ballpark downtown, and what effect is this going to have on the race, if any?
TIM RAMSBERGER: I'm not exactly sure where we are on the status quite candidly; I've been so focused on getting prepared for this weekend.
We have not seen -- the plans have not been presented to us, so I'm not sure what in particular the impact might be. Obviously having a ballpark constructed up there will have some impact, but too early to tell right now in the process for us.
Q. Do you think the ability to adapt to changes, do you think that's a special skill of a race car driver, because you have to do that race-to-race, car-to-car?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, I've always been open-minded and I'm always open to learning new things and probably a great year for me in that term was 2006. I raced in five different championships around the world in cars that all handled differently and different things, different people, different categories where obviously there are different rules, qualifying formats, races, pit stops, all of that.
Certainly over the past five years I've gotten to learn variations of rules and cars and so on and within a category, when there's a minor change, it's really not that difficult to adapt to it.
Q. Good time of the year to have the race there, but the waterfront, the drivers don't see it that much but the fans do; do you have a comment on that?
TIM RAMSBERGER: Yeah, I've said this before that being on the waterfront is both a blessing and a curse in some respects in that it does not provide us for any opportunity for breath (ph) in that direction, which is about a quarter to a third of the track area. But I think that's outweighed by the blessing that it is such a picturesque venue.
Racing on the airport straightaway provides a certain dynamic for the racers going into the urban setting along First Street with the high-rises in the area and chicaning all through downtown and opening up on Bayshore by the sailboats and waterfront: I think it just provides such a diverse venue.
And, of course, Ryan can comment on that, but the fans' perspective, it couldn't be a better picturesque venue. I think that we probably are quickly becoming known worldwide as being a first-class venue.
Q. As far as St. Pete when you come into the second race of the year and you come into that area, does the charm of St. Petersburg, does that boost your morale a little bit, or is it just another race?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, I certainly agree with Tim. The variation from airport straight to the city streets and running on the bay is absolutely beautiful, even for us drivers. It's great going along the shore with all of the big yachts and beautiful people out there watching. Makes you feel like you're in Monaco almost.
It certainly is a blessing. It's just a beautiful place to be and sometimes spend an extra couple of days. The weather in the past few years has always been beautiful, and at least it's always worm, and I love it down there. You know, street courses, it's a fun track, and the racing is always fantastic, so I'm excited.
Q. I just wanted to talk to you about your drive at Watkins Glen 2006, stellar run from you in fairly nasty conditions. How much did that drive -- do you feel like it put your name back on the market after getting fired from Chip Ganassi Racing? How much did that put your name back out there as far as the IRL is concerned?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, it didn't hurt, did it? I guess we'll never know how much difference it's made, and if it made a difference or not.
You know, it was just a great experience. It was so exciting to get that results for Reinbold. They had been a struggling team not getting results, and to come away from that with a first place it was great to see their faces; and Dennis Reinbold himself was so happy and so was everyone there. It was a lot of fun, and for me, being my first race back in the Indy Racing League since my departure from Ganassi, couldn't have been better.
So it was my best ever IndyCar result, and you know, I think certainly in terms of opening possibilities in the IRL, it did help a lot.
Q. Obviously you're stepping in for someone that meant a lot to the IndyCar Series in Sam Hornish, Junior, now in NASCAR, is there a bit of psychological pressure as far as replacing someone like that, or have you been able to really go about your business, because you said the relationships that you've had so far with Team Penske on the IndyCar side has been pretty good. Any psychological pressure from replacing Sam Hornish?
RYAN BRISCOE: You know, there's always pressure, but it's a great feeling to get this ride. And it's a huge, huge opportunity for me. You know, I don't think that anyone expects me to go into the first race and be the superstar, but I certainly hope that during this year to get to a point where people see me as being the perfect replacement for Sam Hornish.
You know, Sam was an amazing driver in the Indy Racing League, and he was the guy that I used to watch every race when I would come out to the track and always trying to learn things. I would watch him and how he raced, and so it's kind of a special feeling to be taking his seat at this point.
And working with his engineer, his mechanic, I'm really just taking it all in right now and trying to learn as much as possible; trying to learn what setups he ran and what his strategy was and all of that. You know, I'm just working really hard to be the right guy to fill his shoes.
Q. Of course you have a lot of experience at St. Pete, is there anything besides track knowledge that you can transfer over from ALMS to St. Pete, can you transfer that to the IndyCar?
RYAN BRISCOE: First, I raced IndyCars in St. Pete in 2005, and the track has not changed since then other than a little bit of smoothing which I experienced in the Porsche last year.
But any track time is valuable because you can't test there, and you just get a better eye for where the bumps are where and the apexes of the corners are and so on. I certainly take anything and everything I can for no matter what car it is and try to put its benefit from ALMS last year, trying to put whatever I learned there to use this year in the IndyCar, and I think they are not really things you can pinpoint but certainly the track experience is valuable.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us this afternoon, we certainly appreciate it.
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