Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
May 28, 2008
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests joining us today. Starting the call with us is Firestone Indy Lights driver Dillon Battistini. In a few minutes we'll be joined by IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan.
Good afternoon, Dillon.
DILLON BATTISTINI: Hi there.
TIM HARMS: Dillon is a rookie in Firestone Indy Lights driving for Panther Racing. He won his series debut at Homestead Miami in March, and last weekend he won the Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis. He also has two fourth-place finishes and ranks second in points as the series gets ready to race at Milwaukee this weekend.
Dillon, congratulations on a great start to the season. Let's look back for a minute at last weekend. You led 38 of 40 laps at Indy, but it certainly wasn't as easy as it sounds. Can you talk a little bit about the race.
DILLON BATTISTINI: Well, it was a dream come true really for me. Obviously my first season in Indy Lights, it was the first time I've raced at Indy. The car was fantastic from beginning to the end of the race. I was able to capitalize and lead most of the laps. It made it look quite exciting as well with a few overtaking maneuvers.
TIM HARMS: Did you feel comfortable out there in the lead the whole time? Seemed like you were challenged pretty much non-stop.
DILLON BATTISTINI: Yeah, it was a pretty close race, but I'm used to that kind of thing. I quite like the pressure. I respond well to it. I'm really enjoying this oval racing, I'd have to say. I've done three now, I'm 1-2. If I can keep that kind of record going, hopefully I can progress to IndyCar fairly quickly.
TIM HARMS: Prior to the season, did you think you'd be able to get off to such a quick start, winning a couple races right off the bat, especially races on ovals?
DILLON BATTISTINI: I wasn't really expecting that, no. My deal came together quite late and I didn't really do any pre-season testing at all. So I've been quite lucky that my team, Panther Racing, have provided me with such a great car and great backup and support from my team boss, John Barnes, my spotter Pancho. They've given me fantastic advice. They've been able to guide me really well.
TIM HARMS: What have been some of the things you have learned on the ovals?
DILLON BATTISTINI: Well, I would say with oval racing, you have to be quite patient and pick your moment to attack. The car setup is really important, even more so than on a conventional circuit. So the relationship with the engineer is critical and the technical feedback is really important. So everything has to be right: the car has to be right, the team support has to be right, and the driver has to be good. So it's a great challenge and I'm really enjoying it.
TIM HARMS: You won a championship in Asia last year. What was the process that led you to come over to the United States and then specifically to Firestone Indy Lights?
DILLON BATTISTINI: That's right, I won the Asian Formula 3 championship last year. Earlier in my career, I was focusing on trying to get to Formula One, but then I gradually realized that to make any kind of impact in Europe, you just have to bring a ridiculous amount of money. That's mainly why I went to Asia.
Then when I won the championship, it enabled me to raise enough money to come and race over here, which I think is a great career path. IndyCar Series is very high profile, obviously. The speeds are there. It's great racing. You haven't got the politics of Formula One to contend with either. It just seems like more fun in general.
I've realized that I really love oval racing, as well.
TIM HARMS: Was that kind of a decision that you came to just based on circumstances or has there been any -- I guess from the history that we've seen, guys like Dan Wheldon enjoying success over here, has that type of success started to have an influence on yourself and other drivers in Europe to seriously consider the U.S.?
DILLON BATTISTINI: Yeah, a bit, I think so. I knew Dan from karting along with a couple of other drivers that are in IndyCar now. I watched their progress. Obviously they're having a great time out here. That's influenced my decision, for sure.
TIM HARMS: Obviously we have quite a bit of racing left ahead of us this summer. What are some of the keys for you the rest of the way as you attempt to win a championship?
DILLON BATTISTINI: Well, as you said, I'm attempting to win the championship, so I need to be consistent and bring the car home every time out. That's my goal. I'll take the wins when I'm able to do that. But I've had one bad race so far. I had a stone go through the oil cooler at St. Pete, which led to the engine blowing up. Other than that, I've been in the top four every race. My goal is to just keep going with that kind of record and hopefully I'll be champion at the end of the year.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and take some questions for Dillon.
Q. Your owner John Barnes probably savors winning at Indy more than any other place he can imagine. What did he say to you after you won the Freedom 100?
DILLON BATTISTINI: He said a lot of nice things, actually. I could tell he was very impressed. One of the things he said is that I'm going to be a champion, so I think I can take that as a good sign.
Q. What has surprised you most about the Indy Lights Series this year?
DILLON BATTISTINI: What's surprised me most? Well, I'm not surprised by the level of competition actually, but it is very high. There were some very good drivers in Asian Formula 3, but the depth of competition is more here. There are several drivers capable of winning, as you've seen, from four different winners in the first five races. That's a really good thing because it gives the championship more credibility and makes it a bigger achievement if I do win. Nothing else has surprised me overly actually. I'm really enjoying it out here.
TIM HARMS: Those are the questions we have for you, Dillon. Thanks again for joining us and best of luck.
DILLON BATTISTINI: It was a pleasure.
TIM HARMS: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Tony Kanaan. Good afternoon, T.K. Thanks for taking time and joining us today.
Tony is in his sixth season in the IndyCar Series. He won the championship in 2004. He's never finished worse than sixth in the season standings. This year he started the season with three top five finishes in the first five races and ranks fourth in points as we head to Milwaukee, where he has won the last two races.
Tony, Milwaukee obviously is a very special place for you. Two years ago you led 127 laps, last year you led 25, and won both those races. What are some of the keys to going there and winning number three?
TONY KANAAN: I think it's a very particular oval, so for sure for me it suits my style really well. I mean, the key that is not a secret I think to win Milwaukee, I believe the last two years I've been very fortunate, and actually probably just trying to turn a situation around that happened to me in Indy, which I think is going to be the same this year.
Really excited to go to a place that I know I can do well, especially after last weekend. Can't wait to go there.
TIM HARMS: Each of the last two seasons, if I remember correctly, somebody from the AGR team had been able to test at Milwaukee before the race. That may have contributed a little bit to the team's performance. Have you been able to get up there this year and find anything else that might help you this year?
TONY KANAAN: No, unfortunately not. We had a plan to go with Hideki there during the month of May. But we had such a struggle trying to find a setup, we decided not to. But I heard he's going to have an hour on Friday just as a rookie. I think some of the rookies, they all are going to have an hour. Hopefully we can learn something from that, too. But, no, we did not this year.
TIM HARMS: Earlier I hinted at the possibility of winning three races in a row at Milwaukee. Only a couple drivers, Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon, have been able to win three in a row at one track. What would that mean to you, to be able to win a third time at Milwaukee?
TONY KANAAN: That would mean a lot, especially to put myself in a category of those guys. I'm definitely going for it.
TIM HARMS: Something on everybody's mind this weekend is the fact we're going to have 27 cars on a short oval like Milwaukee. Fortunately I would say most of those guys have raced there before. What kind of challenges do you expect with the extra traffic?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, it's going to be, like you said, traffic that is going to be the challenge. Whoever is going to be able to manage the traffic better is going to probably come out of the race in a good shape. I feel it's going to be a lot of lead changes because of that. So it's going to be an exciting race for the fans and a very difficult one for us, for sure.
TIM HARMS: Let's just take an early look at the championship. Obviously a long way to go. Today we announced Edmonton. We definitely know we have 17 races on the schedule. We've only done five. But Scott Dixon seems to be the guy to beat almost everywhere so far this year. How do you see things playing out over the next couple of months?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I see Scott really strong, but I also see Helio very consistent. If you look at it, Helio is sitting second in the championship. Hasn't won a race yet. He was leading the championship without winning a race. It's going to be tight. I think between the four of us up there in the front, it's going to be a very tight championship.
TIM HARMS: Thank you, T.K. We'll open it up for questions for Tony.
Q. Have you met with Marco, sat down and talked with him, after what happened at Indy? What came out of that?
TONY KANAAN: No, we haven't sat down yet. I think I haven't had a chance to see him. I left right after the race. We'll be fine. I mean, I think we share different opinions about what happened. But we had a little fun in the banquet on my speech and he had it on his speech. But we haven't sat down and talked about it.
But, like I said before, it's not a big deal. It's done. It's past. We both lost the race. We got to move on. We have a championship to win for AGR. So I don't see a problem. We don't need to sit down and talk about it to make everything square, for us to be in good terms. I mean, I don't think we have a choice here. We are going to be in good terms, no matter what, even if we agree or disagree. I think we represent a big team. We have big sponsors to report to and we have a championship to win as a team. We'll sort it out for sure.
But, no, I haven't talked to him yet.
Q. Last year there were maybe a few instances of incidents between AGR teammates. Does this happen maybe because you're the biggest team in the series with four cars? Is AGR maybe more susceptible to having these sorts of incidents happen or is it more tied to driving styles?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I think, yeah, we do have a big team. Four cars, it's a lot. The probability for that to happen, especially with such competitive drivers like we are, we're always in the front, all of us. So the probability is definitely higher.
I don't know. I mean, in my opinion I think that's the answer for you. We are very competitive. We have young guys trying to prove themselves and we have an old guy here that's probably been in their shoes before. So probably that helps, as well.
I would say, you know, the majority of the time, just because we have four cars racing for the lead all the time.
Q. Just to clarify, I take it you've seen the replay again and your opinion hasn't changed? I know Marco after the race maybe had a difference of opinion. In your opinion, the accident hasn't changed?
TONY KANAAN: No, my opinion has not changed. Like I said, I do think different about what happened. I had two choices there: either I could have taken two AGR cars out of the race or one car. I think you guys saw what I decided to do.
Q. It seemed to me in the days leading up to the Indianapolis 500 this year there was so much more buzz. Now that it's behind you, as you go away from it, was this year as different as it looked in terms of excitement, exposure, interest? How would you rate this year against past years you've raced in it?
TONY KANAAN: I'd have to say since I've been here, this was the best year for sure, as far as the people watching the race, people supporting the race, the buzz, the city. Obviously we carry a huge momentum from the unification, from Danica's win, from Graham Rahal's win. I understand what the Indianapolis 500 was all about when I came here since '02. But this year now I know what they talk about the old times, the way it was.
Every day on the track it's full. Bump Day is crazy. Race days, for sure it's definitely the best year I've been.
Q. I saw some of the TV ratings. Some of the other races like Kansas were up significantly from past years. Has that been kind of common this year? Do you notice maybe not just Indy but some of the other races, has there been more buzz than past years?
TONY KANAAN: Oh, for sure. I have no doubt about it. With the unification, we not just put both fans together, but we're getting new fans because we're out in the press more, we're out on TV more. So people are starting to watch.
I felt the first five races the attendance on the public and on TV, it's been much higher.
Q. Ganassi has been so dominant on ovals this year in qualifying and running. Does the fact that now three of the next four races are on short one mile or less ovals, does that diminish their dominance any more?
TONY KANAAN: I don't know. We got to see. I'll answer you that on Sunday.
I think they've been very consistent, so I don't see why not, they not going to run well on the short ovals. I'm not expecting them to lack any type of performance. So I think they still going to be strong. They had a whole winter to prepare themselves. I think they did their homework.
If you look at even last year, they were pretty strong everywhere. Although we do believe we have a very good mile oval car, like we have proven in the past few years, we'll see. It's going to be a good fight.
Q. With three of next four on short ovals, it seems like the drivers were pretty good minding their Ps and Qs at Indy. Does that become even more important now because of the traffic and any little thing can happen, especially on these short ovals?
TONY KANAAN: For sure. You're going to have to be switched on. I think a lot of people are going to get their eyes opened once you get to Milwaukee and you have 27 cars running there.
Q. I don't mean to call you Dr. Tony, but you had the situation with Danica when you gave her some guidance after the incident in the pits with Chuck Buckman, then also you rode in the ambulance with Sarah back from y'all's unfortunate situation in the middle of the race. Is it different dealing with female drivers in situations? Is that something you're learning about, the emotion side of things?
TONY KANAAN: I don't know. I mean, with Danica, obviously she was in the team. I hugged her and tried to help. If it was Marco, Hideki, somebody else that I was close to, I would do the same. I have to say with Sarah, it was a bit weird. I don't think I've seen any racecar driver cry so much after a crash. And for sure I know her reasons for it. She's been having a tough time building the team, putting probably her own money there. I think that was the reason of that crying, the sadness, what that was all about.
I mean, I was bummed to get out of the race. I was so disappointed. But when I got in the safety truck, she was just crying so hard, it broke my heart. At that point, I don't know. I can't say just because they're females, because I think anybody probably in Sarah's position would have been desperate because it was probably the end right there.
But, I mean, I don't know. I can't blame on the girl thing, because when we're in the track, I don't see them as girls, I see them as another racecar driver.
Q. You've probably watched when Danica and Ryan had their run-in in the pits, Danica is marching down the pits toward Ryan Briscoe's pit. What is your take on that situation? Is there someone on y'all's team who later pulls drivers aside when maybe they've stepped out of bounds, pulls them back in? Has that happened, from the best of your knowledge?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I'm not the best guy to say. If you go back last year with my incident with Sam Hornish, I shouldn't be saying anything.
First of all, to answer your first question, Danica, she was hot. I mean, when we're driving the racecars, the adrenaline is so high. I don't necessarily agree with her attitude, but I don't want to get involved because every driver have their own opinions, and it's never going to be the same. I'll have mine. She'll have hers. Ryan with had his. Marco will have his. There's no point. The point is point-blank, they both lost the race as well.
At that time, I don't know. I think people saw the way I react on my incident, which I learned from the past what I should not do. So I took a deep breath and I act the way I did because I felt it was the right way to do it. So probably Danica should have done the same.
But I can't really say what she should or she could. If she ask my opinion, I will give it to her.
Secondly, to answer your second question, yes, we do have people to call us, people that call us and give us a hard time. I'm pretty sure Michael had a talk with her. You can just make the situations to try to improve. And my whole point to her was, I understand you're frustrated, I understand you wanted to probably chat with him or whatever, but you're bigger than that, you're a lot bigger than that. You represent this sport so well. I mean, every single person in that grandstand cheers up for you for what you've done, so maybe sometimes you need to try to cool down and take a five minutes before we do something because it can cost us later on. So that was my advice to her. She probably listened. I gave her my opinion because she asked.
Q. After that month, you're leading, you get knocked out the way you did, does it take you a little while to get readjusted? What is your attitude from here on the rest of this season? How did Indy help and hurt that?
TONY KANAAN: I think you guys have been following my career for a while. I've been pretty good coming out of difficult positions. I said on my interview after the race, Guys, it's just another race, life goes on. That's the way I got to take it.
It's behind me right now. I'll keep dreaming. I'll definitely keep dreaming till one day I will win this thing. That's all I can do. I cannot let Indianapolis ruin my year or ruin the rest of my life. Now right now I'm concentrating on Milwaukee. I'm concentrating on winning the championship. I have probably right now 363 days to go now for the next Indy 500. I'll be back there with the same spirits and try to win again.
TIM HARMS: Tony, before we let you go, in Sarah's comments she made reference to the side intrusion panels that have been installed on all the cars this year. Can I get your reaction on what you think of the side intrusion panels?
TONY KANAAN: For sure I actually thanked Brian Barnhart and Mr. Dallara for that because it was a hard hit on my side. I was present when Zanardi had his incident. I was his teammate. It was a very similar accident. We hit at probably 180 miles an hour. She hit my side pod. I got out of the car. I wasn't even limping. I got to thank the league. I got to thank Dallara for making such safe cars. That incident could have been a lot worse than it was.
We do as drivers complain about it. We gained 40 pound on the racecars. You know what, 40 pounds saved my life, probably both of my legs, so I'm extremely pleased with the way my car handled such an impact. For sure, as usual, the Indy Racing League is setting the standards of safety. Hats off for them. I'm extremely happy to be able to go to Milwaukee with no pain.
TIM HARMS: Thanks, Tony, for joining us this afternoon. We appreciate that. We'll cheer you on as you go for win number three at Milwaukee this Sunday.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you.
TIM HARMS: Our next teleconference will be next Wednesday, June 4th, at 2:00 eastern. We hope you can join us then.
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