Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
April 29, 2009
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us this afternoon as we prepare to open practice for the Indianapolis 500. Joining us in a few minutes will be appeal Tracy and Scott Sharp. With us to start the call is Stanton Barrett. Good afternoon, Stanton.
STANTON BARRETT: Good afternoon.
TIM HARMS: Stanton is a rookie in the IndyCar Series and will be making his Indianapolis 500 debut. However, he's a veteran of almost 200 starts in NASCAR between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
Stanton, let's talk about the transition to the IndyCar Series so far. Tell us about how things have been going and what are some of the biggest adjustments you've had to make?
STANTON BARRETT: Things are a little bit trying. We're just having to work extremely hard, get to the track each week. The economy hasn't been that great. Some of our sponsors that we had signed up last year and potentials kind of fell by the wayside. Supporters we have have been very supportive, but it's been difficult to get to the track. We haven't got to test this year, except for Homestead. You know, all things considered, I'm pretty happy with what we're doing. It would be nice to have a second car to help us with data and just get more information a little bit more quickly so we can get closer to the curve.
I'm pleased with everybody's performance. We're a new team with regards to running full-time, some of these tracks, this new style of cars is new to both Owen and Greg, people on the race team as far as a lot of information. We're growing and building together. We have long-term goals and we're keeping that in perspective. I'm a flat-out rookie when it comes to open-wheel racing. I'm learning a lot, also being cautious about how we approach it so we can maintain a positive learning experience and growth and achieving our goals to get through the year.
TIM HARMS: Last weekend at Kansas was the first oval race of the season. You stayed out there 181 of the 200 laps. Did you come away feeling pretty good about the experience at Kansas?
STANTON BARRETT: For the most part. You know, there's a lot of things we just need a little bit more depth and information. I think we could have got our car really strong. We had a little bit of problem with the telemetry in qualifying. It affected the ability to back up our time in practice or improve it, which is not a big deal. We had a little bit better car than that. We made our way through passed some cars in the beginning, till the first caution. We made a tire change. I don't know what happened, but it went to junk. We had to come in and change it again. From that point we ran okay. I wasn't real happy with it completely, but at times there were moments where we had some promise. Like I said, it's a learning experience. A lot of these tracks we haven't been to as far as from a team standpoint. It's difficult. We made maybe not some mistakes but not the right corrections from a gearing standpoint with how windy it was. I think it affected some of our speed and our gearing.
You know, all in all, we made progress. It's something that we can take and learn from going into Indy and other ovals. I was really enjoying the road courses. At Long Beach we got up to pace in the race. Looking forward to coming back to there to run the road courses and street courses more than the ovals, to be honest with you.
TIM HARMS: You've had the chance to come to Indianapolis as a spectator several times. What does it mean to you now to get the opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500?
STANTON BARRETT: It would be unbelievable. It's something I always wanted to do, to be able to be in the Indy 500. Right now we have a lot to do. Like I said, we're a small team, limited funding. We're working on some really good sponsors to help make that endeavor a little more possible and easy in the month of May. So looking forward to see if that comes to fruition.
For the meantime, we have to make the race first to be able to have the pleasure and opportunity to be able to race the race. That's going to be kind of back in the days, I feel like the days of NASCAR for me, where each race was all or nothing. There's a lot on the line. I have no experience there in an open-wheel car. There's a lot of differences from what I've tried to learn and gather from people. I got to go out and do my job and the team has to do their job and we need to work as hard as possible, and hopefully we'll be able to live that dream and be in the Indy 500.
TIM HARMS: Between some of your fellow drivers, team owner Greg Beck, who has been at Indy many times, what are people telling you about Indianapolis, whether it be the track itself, how you manage the track time in the whole month of May? What are those folks telling you about Indy?
STANTON BARRETT: Well, everybody says Indy's a whole different animal. I can see how that could be. I've watched it a long time. I've been on there in a stock car. I have a little bit of understanding probably what they're talking about.
Again, you can't have a complete understanding. I don't know if you sympathize with it or what you want to call it until you've sat in the car and gone around the track at speed and understand all the variables, the needs, everything you need to do and do properly. It's probably going to be a little bit overwhelming, but hopefully I can use the 20 years of racing experience to my advantage in some form to be able to pick that up more quickly. I know the team will be better off at Indy than we have at the last three races because they do have a lot of experience at Indy, and Greg has been there several times with the new car. They can make a driver's job so much easier. I'm looking forward to hopefully their experience there will make my job easier and we can have an enjoyable month of May.
TIM HARMS: Any goals in particular set at this point before practice even starts?
STANTON BARRETT: You know, for myself, it's just going in with the right attitude and learning as much as I can, absorbing line a sponge from the other drivers as much as I can comprehend until I get on the track. When I get on the track, do the same. Hopefully our goal is to stay out of trouble and not make any mistakes and also have the speed we need to make the race. Our goal is to be in the Indy 500. We can't gain experience with these cars, nor myself as a rookie, to get better in these cars, unless I'm on the racetrack running every lap. We didn't do that at Kansas. We actually ended up getting pretty tight with the wind conditions and pushed up into the wall and kind of bent a rear suspension piece. All in all, we almost competed all the laps of all the first three races, and we need to do that for the 500 and build on that for the rest of the season.
So, you know, we have a lot to deal with both from a team aspect and from a driving standpoint.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Stanton.
Q. You talked about being in a stock car. Is there anything you can take from that to rookie orientation next week?
STANTON BARRETT: Probably not, other than understanding the surface and the banking and the turns and how long the straightaways are. Other than that, probably not.
Q. From the standpoint of running 181 laps at Kansas, obviously you got a feel for an oval. There's a distinct difference in that type of an oval and what you're going to be looking at in rookie orientation. Have you had a chance to talk with some of the driving coaches in the IRL, Mears, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, people like that, that can offer you a wealth of information?
STANTON BARRETT: I've gone to different drivers. Roberto Moreno has been around. He's been helping at St. Pete. We went to the test, Barber, really watched and studied everybody. Al Unser has been there every race. He's been very helpful both in understanding from a driving standpoint, because he's been in a stock car, he's been in IndyCars, to understand how to communicate that properly, and also every detail of the track, kind of even from a setup standpoint. Both those guys I mentioned have been helpful to both our crew and to me to communicate to them maybe what I'm feeling and probably things that we need to change. I'm really savvy with changes and setup stuff with NASCAR. I have no idea, and I'm learning, some things apply and are applicable, but it's a bit of a different animal. Like I say, some of that experience can transfer over. I'm getting to be a little bit more useful to my team to give them the information they need from the setup standpoint.
I go to everybody I can. I've talked to Dan Wheldon, AJ, EJ Viso has been helping, riding around the track with me. Dario, different guys have been very open. There's only been a few that don't seem very personable. I've really enjoyed other drivers and really respect what the heck they do over there.
Q. You talked about working with some sponsorships for your Indy program. Anything you can talk about specifically at this point? Do you think you'll be ready to get out there and practice right after rookie orientation?
STANTON BARRETT: We're definitely going to go. We're set. We're going to get through it however we can. We have some great potential sponsors that probably are going to jump onboard, and hopefully by the next day or two, if not, maybe there's some news today we'll be able to announce something. They're really great companies. Looking forward to having them on the car. I'm actually in Sweden right now meeting with another company and looking forward to bringing them over to the United States and launching part of their marketing program at Indianapolis. So all that will be probably announced in the next few days.
There's a lot of potential. Even though the economy is down, people need to market in the States, and they see IRL as a great venue to do that, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the month of May, there's so much going on. It's a real positive thing for us. And companies still want to be in the sport and utilize it for growth and sales.
We got some great players that are probably going to jump onboard. Like every team, we're always looking for more so we can grow and expand it as much as possible and give you the best opportunity to be competitive. That comes down to financing and how smart you are with running that in your organization. So hopefully I'll have some news by the end of the week.
Q. We've seen a lot of drivers go the other way in the past few seasons from open-wheel to stock cars. The question obviously is the big difference between the two cars. Coming the other way, other than the downforce, can you talk about the difference you found in the two cars?
STANTON BARRETT: There's quite a few differences. I'm actually still learning a lot about these cars. It's like any car, I think both from a driver standpoint I need to learn what it takes to make these cars work. It took the first two road courses on a road course or a street course to figure out some of the tricks. We got fairly decent in the race. I think when we go back, we're going to be somewhat competitive with probably the mid part of the field I hope.
But I think from a driver, every driver knows there's things you got to do to different cars to get them to work for you, and especially when they're not working, how to maximize that. I'm slowly learning that.
I knew it would be really difficult regardless of any professional sport, I've competed in a lot of them. I'll not say you underestimate it, but you know you're not sure what to expect. It's always everything and more, what it takes to be good at it or competitive. It's as much of a team as it is a driver it seems in every sport, motorsports.
For me, I mean, everything has been a challenge really. I think we've adapted to things quickly in some regards, but it's all new and it's all learning. It's jumping in head first every time you go somewhere new. Every track has been different new from the street courses to the ovals.
Q. Talking about the street and road courses, Toronto is back on the IRL schedule this season. Do you know if your sponsorship plans will allow you to be at that race?
STANTON BARRETT: Yeah, I think we've worked out everything to where we should be able to get to all the races. We need more sponsorship, but things are coming together. What we need is just more support. We have limited sponsors now, which get us through. We just need more support so we can grow the team. We'd like to add a second team, which would help us tremendously. We want to grow the depth of our team and be around for a while. That's all. Support by our sponsors. We definitely plan on being at every race this year no matter what. Figure out how to do it. We have to this point. We've had some great people come onboard every weekend and people have committed since last year. So those people are still onboard. We're just working as hard as we can and it looks good.
I look forward to going to Toronto. Everybody says it's a great event, the fans are great. I'm really excited to get back to the street racing.
Q. I've been watching your progress the first three races. From the beginning of the weekend till the race, you seem to steadily improve, sometimes by leaps and bounds, might be measured by seconds. If you could address how comfortable you're getting. I think you're taking on a tremendous task to make this changeover. What are your personal goals that you've set? Have you kind of met those or exceeded those to date so far?
STANTON BARRETT: Not really. Every racer wants to win races or run up front and be a contender. We have to keep things in perspective. First race we didn't get to test. We got to shake down the car. My first time on a road course in an IndyCar was at the actual race. Not to make mistakes there, not significant mistakes, I made mistakes, but not to tear the car up, finish the race, improve upon your position. We had actually some significant problems on the first day. So the whole first day was kind of out the window from a learning standpoint or even being able to drive the car. From there, we really made impacts in our time. I did what I needed to do. I learned. I wasn't as competitive as I'd like to be, but also we couldn't afford to crash that car. We have one car. We have to keep things in perspective. We came out with a good finish.
At Long Beach, we were even more competitive from the get-go. Then during the race we had some pretty decent times during the race, even with some mistakes with our shifting. We had some problems there. We ran fairly competitive. We needed to stay out of trouble, and erred on the side of caution. We had an okay finish. We had a better finish going until I ran off of turn nine. I'm still learning how to make the most of the braking with these cars.
The next race I think will be where we wanted to be and hoped we would be. All in all we're happy with the outcome of the first two races there. Personally our race in Kansas was going pretty well until our first pit stop and then after that it was kind of up and down and definitely wasn't happy with our performance at Kansas. Just something that both myself and the team need to learn from and we're going to get better, so it's not the end of the world. We've come back from three races without major damage to the car and can use that to build going into Indy. That was really what we needed to do, is get seat time and learn, everybody as a whole. Of course, you'd like to go out of the box and run in the top 10. But with our experience with these cars, me being a flat rookie in open-wheel, I think that's probably unreasonable. You set unreasonable expectations, too big ones, you're going to get bit. We're looking to learn and build momentum to get through Indy and then start going from there to where we can be more and more competitive. Granted every team out there has been out there for quite a while. We have a lot to make up on both from a team aspect and from my experience as a driver.
TIM HARMS: Thank you, Stanton. Appreciate you taking the time for us today. Looking forward to seeing you in the month of May.
STANTON BARRETT: Thank you, guys, for your question. Have a great afternoon.
TIM HARMS: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Paul Tracy. Thanks for joining us, Paul.
PAUL TRACY: Sure.
TIM HARMS: Paul will be making his 2009 IndyCar Series debut in the Indianapolis 500, driving the No. 15 GEICO KV Racing Technology car. Paul has made five starts in the Indianapolis 500 with a best finish of second in his last start, which came in 2002.
Paul, you got into an IndyCar Series car last summer at Edmonton. Obviously you were quick right off the bat, finishing fourth in the race. Do you have any concerns now about getting back into the rhythm and being quick at Indy?
PAUL TRACY: No, not really. You know, obviously I've got a little bit more lead time to get ready for Indianapolis. There's a whole week of practice before the first week of qualifying. When we went to Edmonton last summer, it was really just kind of a last-minute deal. I was actually on vacation with my wife and kids at the beach in San Diego and got a phone call from Tony asking if I'd like to do the race in Edmonton. That was about three days before I had to leave. Really didn't get any time to prepare for that. Hadn't driven a car in four or five months.
You know, from that standpoint I've kind of known for the last three, four weeks that this deal was going to come together. I've had time to get ready for it mentally and physically. The team obviously has fast cars this year. They were looking for a veteran driver to make their assault, KV at the 500. We all share the same goal, and that's to go there and try to win the race.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned the team there. Guys you're familiar with, like Jimmy Vasser, Kevin Kalkhoven. You've known those guys on and off the track for years. Tell us about the chance to work with those guys for the month.
PAUL TRACY: I think it's great. I've known Kevin since he got into the car. Then Jimmy got involved with him. We've been competitors. But Kevin has always been very friendly with me, has said to me on a couple of different occasions that at some point he would like me to drive for him. So we've finally got that opportunity to do that. I couldn't be happier. Obviously the team is doing a good job this year. I think Mario is just lacking a little bit of experience. That only comes with time.
But the team, I feel they've got competitive cars. A lot of the guys on the team, the mechanics and engineers, I've worked with in the past. Quite a few of them are from Forsythe. My championship year at Forsythe, the guys on the team were on my crew, you know, three, so it should make the transition to getting there and getting up to speed fairly easy 'cause it's pretty comfortable surroundings really.
TIM HARMS: Let's talk about the month of May and the race. What type of goals and expectations have you set for yourself heading into the month?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, for me the only reason I want to go there is to try to win. It's not to go there to qualify and make the field and have a good day. I said at the press conference in Long Beach, you know, the reason I'm going there is to win. If we can do that and generate a lot of media for our sponsor with GEICO, hopefully we can grow this into something bigger and better. Right now the focus is just on Indianapolis. If that goes well enough, then maybe we can get into the races in Canada or maybe more.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Paul.
Q. Like you said in Long Beach, this is the one trophy missing from your mantel and you'd like to have it. As you talked about earlier, can this be the springboard to get you back in full-time?
PAUL TRACY: Well, you know, I would hope so. Obviously with either a win or a great result in Indy I would hope that it would open the door to racing on a full-time basis. You know, last year coming back at Edmonton, you know, to come right out of the box and be in the top five or six in every practice session with Tony's team, then finish fourth, you know, I thought the expectations of that, I think everybody exceeded what we had planned to do. The excitement level after the race for that three, four, five days post race was very good. I thought, Okay, I'm going to be in a car here.
As time passed by, it just kind of fizzled. You know, nothing's a guarantee. Obviously this is a good opportunity. It didn't come out of the blue. I've had to generate the sponsorship to do this and find the money to do it. Nobody has handed me a ride. It takes money to run these cars. It's going to take finding a full-time sponsor to get me on the track.
Q. Toronto is back on the schedule this summer. Your old pals/enemies at Andretti Green are running the show. How much would it mean to you personally to be back on the grid with a car that's competitive to win?
PAUL TRACY: Well, obviously I would like to do that. Again, it's gonna take finding sponsorship to do that. Now that we've got a program for Indy, and I was at Long Beach, generated a lot of talk, generated a lot of media, a lot of exposure. You know, some people are starting to talk. What is it going to take to get you in the Canadian races or more races? So we've got the doors open now talking to more sponsors, people getting interested.
But it's tough. It's a tough market out there. I was just listening to Stanton. It's no different. I'm no different than him. We're out there talking to sponsors, but it's hard to get a commitment from them, you know.
Q. I remember in 2002 before the race when the team was struggling to make it into the show, you kind of called it Groundhog Day, that every day was the same. Rather than getting better, it was just getting worse. Then you were there at the very end of the race with it in your hands. Do you feel much better prepared going into Indy this year than you did back in '02 with Team Green?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, we went there again in '02 on just a one-race deal to run Indy. Our focus was the CART title with Dario and myself. You know, I think as the month was ramping up towards qualifying, we just weren't progressing and getting the setup right on the car. We struggled and struggled and struggled with it. We were just off a little bit in terms of setup. It doesn't take very much to be two, three or four miles an hour slow.
We basically on the day of qualifying, I think on the first weekend, we made a big drastic change in the final practice to try to get some speed in the car. I had lost the car in turn two and backed into the wall, banged myself up pretty good. I was almost right then, I said to Barry Green, I'm ready to throw in the towel on this deal. I think I should go home for a couple days and just clear my head and think about this. If you don't want to run, or if we want to go test at Mid-Ohio with the Champ Car, then maybe that's what we should do. Barry said to go home for a couple days. I went home, got my head clear, 'cause Indy is the kind of place where you run so much there, and once you get kind of sideways, get going the wrong direction, it's hard to get going back the right way again. You know, sometimes the best thing to do is just go and clear your head.
I did that. I came back. We had gotten some information and some help from some different teams and some ideas. You know, really just changed the setup and changed a few things that we had on the car that weren't right. Then both Dario and myself and Michael, we were all quick. Second weekend, I think I qualified at like 228 on the second weekend. Then the car was good. But I was starting on the last row.
It doesn't take very much to be wrong, you know. That's how sensitive the cars are.
Q. To go in there this year, even though Jimmy's team has a year of IndyCar experience now, it seems the teams that came over last year have picked up the pace dramatically. How much better suited do you feel you are going into this year's race to what you were back then?
PAUL TRACY: Well, Jimmy's guaranteed me a fast car, so... I'm taking his word on it. He said they worked and worked and worked all winter on a lot of the fundamentals of the car, little tiny things that make big differences in terms of speed. It's not just changing a spring, changing a roll bar that makes the car fast. There's a hundred little things that make these cars fast on the superspeedways. A lot of it is body fit and aerodynamics, wheel bearings, oil. It's all the little tiny tricks that make the difference, like in a stock car. When they go to qualify at Daytona, Talladega, there's like 50 little things that make the difference. When you don't have those, it really shows.
You know, from that standpoint, they qualified sixth at Kansas, which is a big, fast speedway, flat out, with all that preparation is where it shows. I don't think they had the race that they wanted, but the speed is in the car. With that, you know, they've told me they've got a good car that they feel can win at Indianapolis.
Q. I noticed you were quoted recently about that 2002 race saying, I feel I kind of got swindled. Are you haunted by what happened in 2002?
PAUL TRACY: I'm not haunted by it. It's one of those things where I've seen the data and I've seen the television footage and I've seen where our cars were positioned on the track. They can measure these cars. I said to somebody at Long Beach, I watched a show on Versus a couple weeks ago, the closest finish in IndyCar history, they can measure these things by millimeters, the differences of thousandths of a second. The video of my car 16 feet ahead of Helio with the green light on.
From that standpoint I'm not haunted by it. I guess I don't have the material things that show that I won the race. I don't have the trophy. I didn't get the money that comes along with it. But from the other side of it, you know, I have that feeling that you long for when you're a kid in your driveway playing hockey and you're counting down five seconds left and you score the winning goal, when you're a kid. We were coming down to the closing stages of the race and I made an outside pass for the win. That's what every kid dreams about, whether you're shooting baskets and there's one second left on the clock and you make the basket when you're a kid dreaming about stuff like that. That's in my soul now. So I have that feeling of winning there, which I think is more important than having a piece of -- you know, a trophy on your shelf. After a while, you never look at it anymore and it just gets tarnished.
Q. You have the feeling. Maybe you'll get the actual hardware shortly.
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, we'll see. I'm excited about it. Get an opportunity to go back and try to do it.
Q. Probably the one great irony of the reunification last year was the fact that you lost your job. How have you been able to deal with that, watching everybody else move on to the new series where you're left on the sideline and your time clock is clicking away on your career?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously it's been frustrating. But as the merger -- the only way I can really say where I'm at today is because while the merger wheels were in process, I was being told a different story by Forsythe, that there wasn't going to be a merger, that I was going to continue to drive for them. That all didn't go the way it was told to me. So I was under contract to Forsythe. It took me a long time legally to be in a position where I was comfortable from a legal standpoint to go and drive for another team. So by the time I was able to do that, the season was already going and there was really no opportunity to get in another car.
Like I said before, with the result in Edmonton, you know, I thought the door would be open. Nothing really happened. Nothing happened over this winter until the last three weeks. So, you know, it has been a little bit frustrating. But I guess it's a lot of different factors that happen, whether it be economy, sponsorship and things like that.
Q. Has it basically in your mind been the economy? Is that the biggest stumbling block right now?
PAUL TRACY: It doesn't help. I think the economy, sponsorship dictates whether the wheels turn on the car. I haven't had a sponsor. I've gone out and found this deal with GEICO, a friend of mine, Doug Barnett, who does a lot of work with them, their NASCAR program. Without that I wouldn't be on the track. It's really a case of if you have money, you'll get a ride, and if you don't, then you sit.
Q. Has the 2002 race been a haunting thing since then? How did you get over it?
PAUL TRACY: I mean, I got over it the next week. I went to Milwaukee in the CART race and won there. I kind of let things go pretty easily. Obviously, I've won a lot of races since then, won a championship since then. Like I said, I've got that feeling that's burned inside of me of what it takes to win that race, but I don't have the material things that go along with it, which that's just the way it is.
Q. It's been a couple years since you've been on an oval and seven years since you've been on this one. Anything about that that concerns you or do you feel like once you get out there and get going everything will come back pretty quick?
PAUL TRACY: No, I think it will come back pretty quick. Obviously, I've been doing this for so long, have a lot of experience at it. I don't think it will take me very long to get back up to speed. It's not like I'm going there as a rookie, never seen the place, never been on a track like that. I've raced there a bunch of times, done lots of miles. So I don't think it will be too difficult for me.
Q. I know you joked at Long Beach, you were asked about whether you'd be interested in getting some extra track time, going out with the rookies. You said, Former winners aren't invited to do that. If the extra track time was available, is that something you'd want to take advantage of or are you content to start with everybody else next week?
PAUL TRACY: I know they're talking to the league, I guess they have, apart from the rookie session, they have a refresher session, which is the extra miles that don't really cost anything in terms of the engine program. So if we can do that, we're talking to the league now about getting a handful of laps on the track before official practice starts on Wednesday. So we're trying to plan on that.
TIM HARMS: Paul, thank you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Appreciate that. We're looking forward to seeing you back here in Indianapolis next week.
PAUL TRACY: Thanks, guys.
TIM HARMS: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Scott Sharp. Good to have you back with us. Appreciate you taking the time.
SCOTT SHARP: No problem. Good to be on.
TIM HARMS: Scott is returning to the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 16 Tequila Patron Panther Racing entry. This will be Scott's 14th Indianapolis 500. He has five top-10 finishes in the race, including his last three in a row from 2005 through 2007 with a career best sixth-place finish in 2007. He also won the pole in 2001. Scott is the IndyCar Series career leader with 146 starts from 1996 through 2007.
Scott, welcome back to the IndyCar Series. Tell us about the decision to come back and compete in the Indy 500, joining a team like Panther Racing that's had success there as well.
SCOTT SHARP: Yeah, obviously very excited to be able to get back for the race. Certainly to be having all the support of Tequila Patron, and Muscle Milk is another one of our sponsors, and to be able to come do it with Panther. We talked a few different times in the past. They had a great run last May obviously, had a really good Indy month. So I'm super excited. I think it's probably the best opportunity I've had coming to May. I can't wait to get on track next week.
TIM HARMS: Obviously you haven't been in the IndyCar Series for a little over a year, racing in the ALMS. Do you think there's going to be an adjustment to get back in the car or is it kind of like riding a bicycle, you just get back on and go?
SCOTT SHARP: I hope there's not much. I don't think so. You know, I've been around there a lot, fortunately. Had the opportunity to do the race as many times as I have. Simply love and cherish I think every lap around that track.
I've dreamt about it so much over the years, I think I could do it in my sleep. So I'm pretty hopeful once I get out there, it's all going to come back pretty quick. I was listening a little bit there with Paul's interview. We're going to try to run a little bit of ROP as a refresher sort of as a casual way to get back up to speed. I'm expecting that to all come pretty quickly, so...
TIM HARMS: I'm sure you've been watching the series from afar. It's obviously very competitive, maybe more competitive than it was your last couple years. How tough do you think it's going to be to qualify in the top 11 on pole day?
SCOTT SHARP: I think it's going to be pretty tough, for sure. No doubt the series is really competitive. It looks like a lot of the teams have closed up on the top couple teams. Maybe some of the advantages they've had in the past are a little more widely available now. And I think certainly I imagine that 5 through 15 type spots are going to be really, really tough. It's going to be a 10th of a mile an hour over four laps that's going to be the difference. I'm expecting it to be competitive. There's nothing like qualifying at the Indy 500. Something I've always gotten really pumped up for. I think it's going did to be great to be part of it.
TIM HARMS: You come as a one-off. You join a team in Panther Racing that has Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 champion. In a situation like that, how closely do you work with Dan when it's a teammate really for just one race like this? Have you talked already or what's kind of the plan there?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, I think the way Panther plans to do it, certainly everything is open, everybody is working together, one big team. Dan and I have always gotten along really well, so no issues there. I have a lot of respect for him. He knows his way around that place really well. It's just a matter of I think, you know, adjusting our cars every little bit we can to get the most out of them. I imagine we're going to work pretty well together. With us both having a lot of experience, I'm pretty hopeful it's not going to take me long to get up to speed and I can be contributing pretty quickly. I think it's going to work really well.
TIM HARMS: I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves down the road, but how much do you think about the future years? Do you see this as an opportunity to come back for several more starts in the 500 or have you given that any thought?
SCOTT SHARP: You know, racing's all about opportunity. I've always said that. We've had a good run with Tequila Patron in ALMS the last couple years. You never know. You never know what's going to come along. I'm excited to be back this year. If the right things can all come together and we can look at doing more races, certainly look at running another 500 or two, that would be fantastic.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and take some questions for Scott.
Q. Paul was talking earlier about the difference, he's not coming back here just to be in the Indianapolis 500, he's coming back with the idea of winning it. I assume that's your mindset as well, that there's no other reason to be doing this other than coming into it with the idea that you got a realistic chance to be a factor in the race.
SCOTT SHARP: Frankly, absolutely. All across the board I think for everyone involved. Panther doesn't need to run another car just to run one. Patron is probably only going to get a really great return on investment and solid exposure if we're running well and having a chance. For me, I feel so fortunate. When someone said this is going to be my 14th Indy 500, it's like there's no way. To think I've been able to do it so many times. With that being said, I've had enough going on, just had a baby last week, got an ALMS race in the middle of this month, there's enough happening, I don't need to come do the race just to run around 12th. So certainly, like I said earlier, it's my favorite race, my favorite track. I think I've always felt like I've gotten where I wanted to be at some point in the month, whether that was in practice, whether that was in qualifying, certain stages of the race, but never was able to, for varieties of reasons, get it all together when I needed to for maybe the last couple stops and be able to really go challenge for the win.
Certainly coming back to try to put that all together and do just that.
Q. One-offs haven't had a great deal of success here. Do you think the IRL, as it's constituted now, a lot of turnover, do you think the environment is such now that somebody in your situation can come in and maybe have a better chance now than you might have been able to have in years past?
SCOTT SHARP: Certainly hopeful. I remember Michael did it a couple years ago I think and finished third. I certainly think it's very situational. Even then, it depends a lot on how the race goes. Certainly I'm excited to be in Panther and think that they want to see us equally do well. I think obviously when you're not running regularly, you really got to dot your Is, cross your Ts. There's less room for error from a competitive perspective. You can't be letting down in any area.
But I think they've assembled a really great group of guys for me. I think they're going to give me a really great car. Like I said, Dan and I are going to work well. Based on all the work they've done, how they ran there last year, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape. I've always felt the 500, it's a race from the moment you wake up it's got to be your day and things have just got to fall into place. There's enough elements going on during that race that things are out of your control, things have to flow your way. I think if we have a good month, qualify strongly, get a good racecar, we wake up, it's one of those days, no doubt we can go win the race.
Q. How does all this racing fit in with your other commitments on your other racing? Do you have the time to do it?
SCOTT SHARP: You know, it's a little bit of a handful. But everyone's extremely supportive. Obviously Patron is over the top supportive in their backing of me, the fact that they're the sponsor of our Patron Highcroft racing entry in ALMS, certainly helps they're the sponsor at Indy. But Duncan Dayton, all the guys have been fantastic. Hopefully a couple of them are going to come help us out a little bit with the Panther team. They certainly have very capable people as it is, but just to keep some continuity there.
Overall, you know, the answer to that, straight up, everyone has been super supportive in recognizing we're going to have to bend in certain spots if needed. But the only part that makes that at all difficult is we have a race in Utah during the second weekend of qualifying. We very much want to qualify the first couple days. There's some scenarios out there where if that didn't happen I could still probably get back to qualify on that third day on Saturday. You know, that throws a little bit of a wrench into things. Overall, I think we've known that from the beginning, we've been able to plan accordingly, and don't really expect that to be much of a problem.
Q. What does it mean to you to win the 500?
SCOTT SHARP: Wow, you know, it's something I've dreamt about since I was a little kid watching it with my dad on the couch. I never even knew if I'd have the opportunity to run at Indy. To be able to have done it as many times as I have, felt like I've had some success there, but certainly not the win. You know, it's something I think about every day. It would be truly, truly incredible.
But, you know, I also look at it that there's going to be one winner and 32 guys that aren't so happy. It doesn't make or break your life, but it sure would be an incredible experience for all involved.
Q. Paul Tracy mentioned earlier about while he didn't mind doing it, he wasn't thrilled about having to go out and pursue sponsorship. He's been fortunate enough to hook up with GEICO. You over the years have had really good sponsor relations. How important is it for drivers today to realize the responsibility they have with their sponsors going beyond the hospitality part of it at the track?
SCOTT SHARP: I think I just came from a different upbringing. My father had Paul Newman as a driver and part owner. When my dad came home from work at night, not only was I asking him tons of questions about driving, but learning a lot about the business on the sponsorship side of things. He had different sponsors, Pioneer Electronics, Diet Coke, all these different companies, finding ways to create value for them, finding ways to get exposure for them, value for them. I guess I always grew up with that mentality that he instilled in me that you have to overdeliver for a sponsor. It doesn't take anybody in this business very long, especially in this economic condition, to quickly realize that they are the key to driving the vehicle. If they're not happy and they're not getting the kind of rate of return that they expect, they're not going to want to keep doing it for very long. I grew up with a business background. I went to business school. Always very entrepreneurial. I feel that's an exciting challenge of it for me. I take pride I was with Delphi for eight years. I've been with Patron ever since. You know, I like the long-term relationships. I like feeling that companies are building on their investment, they're getting a value for their investments. That whole end of thing is a huge part of our business.
I enjoy it and I think you have to be pretty cognizant of it.
Q. Talk about the next driver in the Sharp stable, Jackson is eight or nine.
SCOTT SHARP: He's 10 now. Yeah, you know, my dad, I go-karted, that's all I did when I was a kid. That's all I ate, dreamt, thought about. Did it for nine years before I got into cars. Jackson is mellow, likes karting. Has other interests, plays lacrosse, soccer, some other stuff. If it's something he really wants to pursue, I'll help him with everything I have to do it. I think he's got a pretty good lineage, bloodline, between myself, my father-in-law, my father. But that has to be something he really wants to tackle. It's a tough business. I've been extremely fortunate. Just the stuff we're talking about right now, being fortunate to hook up with companies like Delphi or like Patron Tequila, that's just been great relationships for me. I've been lucky to be with some great team owners. A lot of times things have worked for me. You see a lot of guys that are probably every bit as talented and it just hasn't worked. So it's a tough business. If he really wants to pursue it, I'll do everything I can to help him. If it's something he's lukewarm about, it's not something I'm going to shove him into. He's having fun doing go-karting at this stage, but hasn't become a hundred percent of his commitment time-wise.
Q. If you could compare a little bit like what it's like to come from a sports car and jump back into an open-wheel car. I understand a great driver can adapt really quickly anyway to anything. I'm sure there's some changes that you have to go through for the transition.
SCOTT SHARP: Well, I probably could give you a lot better answer like next Wednesday (laughter). Haven't exactly made that part of transition.
But the transition went very well for me the opposite way, jumping into the sports car. The Acura is such a high-tech car, it's a dream to drive on the road courses. As I go into Indy, the way I'm looking at it, I think they're so different. If you said, Okay, let's go run the IndyCar at Long Beach and run the ALMS Acura at Long Beach, that you'd be really compensating, comparing the two, having to think differently, brake at different points. A lot goes into that.
The fact that Indy is so different and it's an oval, a high-speed oval, when the car is working well, you're turning the car very minimally. Obviously not much braking is associated at all around the track. You're getting in a whole different mindset, a whole different groove, obviously way different speeds. I think you go there with such a different expectation and perception of what you need to do that it's going to be so different that I don't think there will be any confusion or any overlap.
Q. You were in the first IRL race as it was known back then in 1996. You've seen the evolution of the league to where it is today. Talk about the hard times, the good times, and how the league has progressed.
SCOTT SHARP: That could be a long answer.
I guess I'd say obviously creating a brand-new league out of nowhere would be like starting a brand-new NFL football league. It was a lot of doubters early on. It gave a lot of - whether it was drivers or owners or certainly crew members - a lot of opportunities otherwise wouldn't have been there. You think of a lot of guys that qualified the first year at the 500 or the second year at the 500 that ended up really being their only chance probably as the league accelerated along. They got a chance to come run at Indy that otherwise they wouldn't have had.
But certainly I think, as you saw, the big teams start to come into the IRL from Champ Car. You saw the manufacturers come. You just saw the whole level of the game and the intensity continue to rise. So I think it's been fantastic in a lot of ways. Obviously it's an incredible championship right now. It's super intense competitively. But you also are seeing a big change from the drivers that just sort of came along and were thrown into a car and given a chance. I think you've seen a little less of that now because it is just so intense and owners aren't willing to take those chances on some of the younger guys unless they really have awesome credentials and probably have a little bit of sponsorship that comes with them.
Q. Also in that '97 Indy 500, you didn't get to participate because of two crashes you had had. Going out there with the new engine formula at that time, a lot of oil leaks, did you almost kind of feel like you were a test pilot in the early part of the '97 season?
SCOTT SHARP: Yeah, think we all did. That's when they had to institute the diapers and everything so the oil wasn't all over your rear tires. That was developed after a lot of guys hit the wall. I think for a while there certainly you were running around, please don't blow up on me. I think a lot of drivers got really sensitive to the vibrations that would sort of occur right before the engines blew up so they could maybe catch it. Certainly changed much from there. Honda has done an incredible job. Look at the reliability and performance record they have.
There's just a natural escalation in team preparation, in car builds, and in the engines and components.
Q. I know how much you love the Indy 500. You were always a great ambassador for the series when you were full-time. The fact you went sports car racing, was that something at that point in your career was almost a good thing to try something different and maybe build up your confidence if that was on the ebb at that time?
SCOTT SHARP: Yeah. Like I said a few minutes ago, racing is all about opportunity. I guess I felt my confidence has always been there on the IndyCar, especially on the ovals. I think it's gotten back to where it needs to be on the road courses. Really I guess I figured at some point I would go to sports cars. I didn't think it was going to be that early. But the right opportunity came along to be with a factory-backed team. It was something Patron really wanted to go do, feeling like the demographics of the ALMS would work well for them. And the whole opportunity just seemed like one of those you couldn't say no to. I think at the time we did it, we hoped to come back and run the 500 last year, and for a variety of reasons that just didn't pan out. I'm glad to be able to come do that now. We'll take it from there and see where it leads to.
TIM HARMS: All right, Scott, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it. Best of luck this month.
SCOTT SHARP: Thanks, guys. Look forward to being there next week.
TIM HARMS: One quick announcement. We will have a teleconference next Tuesday, May 5th, at 2:30 p.m. Our guest will be Danica Patrick.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|