Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Joining us to open the call is the winner of the Milwaukee 100 last weekend at the Milwaukee Mile, Paul Dana. IndyCar Series driver Alex Barron, who is the defending champion of the Michigan Indy 400 will join us later in the call. Let's start with Paul. Paul, actually you're coming off your first Menards Infiniti Pro Series victory. Thank you for joining us today.
PAUL DANA: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us and overall give us your accounts of what happened over the weekend in Milwaukee.
PAUL DANA: Well, it was a bizarre race, as anyone who saw it saw. It seemed like nobody else wanted to finish and we did. So it kind of fell to us. You know, Thiago was a little bit quicker than everybody all weekend, and we qualified third, and early in the race we were running in second. We were happy to be in second, just trying to see if we could run them down. Over the early run, it was apparent we weren't going to. After about 20 laps, our lap times actually stabilized, and we were doing the same lap time. He had built up such a big gap early, we were cruising along in second. He eventually fell out with mechanical failure, so I inherited the lead, and everybody else crashed behind me, so we kind of cruised home for the win. It wasn't quite an epic last-lap battle like the IRL has.
THE MODERATOR: After the race, you talked about how you had some tough luck earlier in the year at Homestead. Roles reversed a little bit and you'll take them however you can. Did you ever feel like you were going to catch the guy after he won four straight, you pulled alongside of him in Kansas City, I believe?
PAUL DANA: Kansas and Nashville.
Q. Did you ever feel like "I'm going to catch this guy eventually"?
PAUL DANA: Yeah, I know we are. We got six more races and we look forward to having some good square fights. You know, we had some side-by-side stuff in both the last two races and came up short both times, but were right there in second. We led easily at Homestead, really thought that that race was taken away from us. As I said, the points gap that he's built up isn't quite as big as the performance gap, I don't believe. You know, we qualified front row at Indy and had a real quick race car all during the weekend at Indy. We ended up having a shock absorber issue during the race and we fell backwards in a hurry because of an mechanical issue. We've had our run of bad luck. But we've been right there with him more often than not. I think you're going to see that throughout the rest of the year.
THE MODERATOR: Qualifying is so important, especially in this series. He's been on the pole, just been tough to catch. How important is it to start up front in your guys' races?
PAUL DANA: It's hugely important, especially like you saw a big wreck in the first corner at Milwaukee that took out some of the mid pack guys. It's good to be ahead of that. You know, I kind of thought it at Homestead and Nashville, we'd be able to race with him a little bit more. I'm sorry, at Kansas. I was surprised at the aero push we behind him because there was some good side-by-side racing all through the race at Kansas last year. I'm not sure if it was the grip level of the track or the fact we have a little more horsepower from the Infiniti motors this year, so everybody is going quicker. The Kansas race strung out a little bit more and we weren't able to get a good solid run at him. We've had our, you know, one pole and two or three front-row starts, so we're doing what we need to do. I think if we keep doing it, we'll get our share of poles here eventually.
THE MODERATOR: Did you see what happened to Thiago? Before the call started we talked about how we're going to watch it at 2:00 central on ESPN 2. Did you see it happen in front of you? When did you know you inherited the lead in Milwaukee?
PAUL DANA: My brother told me, he's my spotter, he saw him pit. I don't think he knew what was going on. He said, "Thiago is in the pits, you're P1." I think that was lap 70 something, we still had quite a ways to go. I did not see it. He was around the corner. He was far enough ahead on that tight little place that I was somewhere on the back straight as he exited four and was into pit lane. I didn't see him pit. You know, I found out later it was a wheel bearing failure or whatever, he spun in pit lane. It's good nobody got hurt. Made the highlight reel, but whatever, it's good for us.
THE MODERATOR: Any chance you could tell us what went on inside your helmet when you heard your brother say, "You're P1"?
PAUL DANA: Well, I was shocked actually. But at that point you're like, "Okay, don't change a thing." You're running a good pace, we knew what the gap was back to second place, we knew it was pretty comfortable, we knew it was steady. Honestly, like especially turns three, four were so unbelievably slick, I was just, I think like everybody, sort of surviving, trying to keep the car underneath me. I was just trying to be real smooth, real patient, not pitch the thing into the fence. No sudden movements, no loud noises, just keep doing what you're doing. At that point, you know, the 20 or 30 laps left, it seems like a long time. You're going, "Come on, throw the checkered."
THE MODERATOR: You turn your attention to a different racetrack, Michigan International Speedway. Can you talk about Michigan, what you're expecting this weekend?
PAUL DANA: The Hemelgarn Johnson guys have given me a great car for the big tracks all year, so we expect to be up front. That track is weird. It's one of the biggest tracks we go to it. Seems like it would be easy flat out for our cars. But last year at least after the Craftsman Trucks ran, we had kind of hot and windy conditions during the race, it was real slick during the race, it ends up a driver's track and handling track. It will be interesting to see what the track does this year. It's not as easy as it seems given how big a place it is. You got to have everything working to do well.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for Milwaukee 100 winner Paul Dana.
Q. You have been racing against Thiago this entire year. Phenomenal drives that he's put on. What are they doing different? It's supposed to be basically a spec series. Does it come down to driver or is it just getting the cars set up properly?
PAUL DANA: Well, it's both. Certainly in an all-oval series, the engineering and technical package on the car is maybe perhaps a little bit more important than if it were a road course series. The old saying: Racing is doing well means testing early. The Sam Schmidt guys signed Thiago early and they went ahead and tested a lot in December and January ahead of the testing. Our testing limit, I think you get seven days. It actually starts on February 1st. The secret is to do a lot of testing before that. And they did. They found a lot of stuff particularly on the short ovals. Our program came together a little bit later and we just weren't able to do quite as much of that as we wanted. Secondly, you know, they hired a lot of the people from the Panther organization. The crew chief Chris Griffith was the guy that helped Mark Taylor win the championship last year, so there's a lot of knowledge that with him from the Panther program over to the Schmidt guys. The Schmidt guys ran real well last year, too, so they had a good starting point. You put all that together, get started early, there's a lot of chemistry there and it makes it a hard program to crack. Having said all that, you know, we're right there and we're starting to show we can crack it. We've got a lot of energy and a lot of talent on our team on the Ethanol side, with the Hemelgarn Johnson guys. I'm real proud to be driving for my race team and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the paddock. We're going to keep taking the fight to them.
Q. With the upcoming next season, '05, we're looking at road courses for the IndyCar Series. Would you like to see that as part of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series or would you rather stick on just the ovals?
PAUL DANA: Oh, no, absolutely I came up through the road racing ranks. So last year when I came into the Infiniti series was my first year doing all ovals. Prior to last year, I had only done one. I miss turning right. I still try to get over to pits where my old F 2000 team is based and run with them once every couple months to knock the rust off, stay sharp. I'm really looking forward to that. I'm hoping the league is able to add several events.
Q. Do you think it would take much change in the cars?
PAUL DANA: Oh, yeah. It's a comprehensive switch-over. You need certainly different cooling on the oil side, which currently on our cars is sealed off. You need a different differential because we run a spool. You need an open disc. The suspension needs to square up. Probably some brake cooling issues, you know, some downforce packages. It ends up being a pretty big switch-over.
THE MODERATOR: Your Ethanol sponsorship, you should be commended on being one of those guys hustling a sponsorship and getting it done virtually on your own. Can you talk about your partnership with Ethanol?
PAUL DANA: I'm the luckiest guy in North America to hook up with a growing industry that's resourceful and hungry and eager to get out on a national stage. You know, there's a lot of family money in this sport. A lot of drivers are able to run on family money through most of their career. I just don't come from that back ground. Every step of the way I've had to, you know, beg, borrow or steal a ride, find a way to get myself in a seat or, you know, more recently convince other people to pay for it. I've kind of always had to do that. Just a few years ago, I was sitting out after my F 2000 program, I didn't have an opportunity. I was sitting out. Still real hungry to drive. I just sort of met some people in the Ethanol industry and just kind of was thinking about the issue of energy security, trying to grow our own fuel, the environmental aspects and whatnot. It just seemed like here we have a great American home-grown fuel. Isn't it time for that to start promoting itself through motorsports in the traditional way that the engine manufacturers, tire manufacturers, all the technology people in the auto industry have always used racing. We just hit it. It's the right program at the right time. We have over 25 individual companies from the Ethanol industry that contribute funding to the program, so it's very, very broad based. All my sponsors are extremely dedicated and extremely committed, are thinking long-term. It's a phenomenal program to be able to represent.
Q. I'm wondering how the size of the field affects the safety factor. Obviously you'd like to have more cars. With the speed involved, there's no margin of error when people start touching wheels. Does that kind of factor into making it a bit safer, perhaps?
PAUL DANA: I'm not sure the size of the field matters from the safety standpoint. It's the quality of the field. I'd rather have 10 solid programs with 10 solid drivers than 20 cars out there and the back 10 shouldn't be there. We have a lot of competitive teams and drivers in our series and they know what they're doing. Usually, you know, even if you're in a 30-car field, usually you're only racing the one or two cars around you. Usually the top two or three drivers and teams rise to the top anyway. Yeah, you know, it's still a new series and all forms of motorsports are down a bit with sponsorships and stuff. It's not the grid sizes that everybody would like to see. I kind of think that you'd still see the same four or five cars running at the front if you do regardless of who all is in the back like we were last year. That's just part of it. You just keep looking for that No. 1 spot and worry about what's ahead of you and not what's behind you.
Q. With the history that the Milwaukee Mile has, the Packers used to play NFL championship games, there chariot races, all the things that have gone on, you how special is it that your name is on the winner's list?
PAUL DANA: It's unbelievable. Not just because it's one of the oldest tracks; it's also the flattest track we go to. It's the hardest track from a driver's standpoint. Our cars don't nearly have the downforce the IndyCars do. I think the top IndyCars this weekend were flat out in qualifying, and we were sliding around and out of the throttle at both ends. We're really working there. To get it at a place like that is huge. I grew up in St. Louis. I started going to IndyCar races at Elkhart Lake and Milwaukee when I was a kid and in high school and stuff. Both the Wisconsin tracks were my first taste of IndyCar racing. For me to get it there, it's just awesome.
Q. As an open-wheel devotee, what did it mean to you to see Buddy and his car at the south portico of the White House, the Indy 500 champion? It's been a while since a President hosted a champ. What do you think that meant for the sport as a whole?
PAUL DANA: Oh, it's great. It's great to have an American driver that came up through F 2000 and some of the same types of racing I did win it. I think that hopefully blazes a path for a lot of us. You know, the IRL has a phenomenal product. Anyone who goes to the race is blown away by what they see. They hardly ever sit down for the whole two hours. It's just a question of getting the word out to a wider and wider audience. Certainly having the car at the White House, that's about as wide an audience as you can get, so that's great.
THE MODERATOR: What are your aspirations even for next year? Do you have an IndyCar Series lined up? Are you working on the 500?
PAUL DANA: It's no accident that Ron Hemelgarn and I sought each other out at the beginning of the this year and put the program together. With Ron's experience winning the 500 and the championship, it's a real natural step to move up hopefully within the same team, same mechanics, people I'm working with this year. That's our first priority. We've been talking about it. We're trying real hard to make it happen, not just for the 500 but for the whole season. The win certainly helps and the consistent finishes up front. Hopefully if we keep doing all that, we'll get a shot at it.
THE MODERATOR: I don't think you have been in an IndyCar Series car, have you?
PAUL DANA: No. I drove a CART car around an airport tarmac parking lot a few years ago as part of a promotional event I mooched onto.
THE MODERATOR: It's interesting talking to Mark and Ed. Have you talked to those guys about the added horsepower, even though they're similar, how much different they really are?
PAUL DANA: Not Mark so much. Ed and I bump into each other around the go-kart tracks around town. He and I compare notes. It depends on who you talk to. A lot of people have said, "If you can do well in the Pro Series, can you do well in the IndyCars." They have more power, but they have a tremendous amount more downforce. The grip-to-power ratio isn't all that different. But Ed was actually talking this year, with the aero changes, the undertray modifications and stuff, how the cars are a little bit more unstable than they were in years past. I guess it's gotten a little more difficult. We've certainly seen some of the Pro Series guys struggle in the early part of their runs in the bigger series. I'm going to hopefully be talking to them a lot and try to learn as much as I can and avoid some of the same mistakes.
THE MODERATOR: Paul, thank you very much for joining us today. We will see you this weekend at Michigan.
PAUL DANA: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: IndyCar Series Alex Barron joins us now from the Red Bull Cheever Racing garage, actually in Indianapolis. Alex, thanks for call in today.
ALEX BARRON: Thank you. Yeah, glad to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Alex finished seventh over the weekend in Milwaukee after starting 15th. He's also the defending champion of the Michigan Indy 400 and will defend his title this weekend when both the Pro Series and IndyCar Series series race at Michigan International Speedway. First, Alex, tell us about a long day at Milwaukee, what kind of a day challenge it is to put in 225 laps at Milwaukee.
ALEX BARRON: I think it was definitely a bit different race than most of the IRL races, the track being so flat. We were constantly trying to search for grip with the car, just as every other team was. I think racing there in the past in the other series played a part in just trying to be changing your lines around the track. I think you do that more there than you do anywhere else. We just made some adjustments for the car after warm-up. We had a solid car all day. We didn't quite have enough to run with the top three guys, but I think at the end of the day, we're pretty happy with our result.
THE MODERATOR: Did you feel it change a lot, even from the Friday practice session, did the lines and such change all weekend?
ALEX BARRON: Yeah, it changed considerably. That track is very temperamental as far as heat goes. Turns especially three and four, there's a black patch of asphalt that they cut out and put in there. It changes a lot with the temperature outside. If the sun comes out, you seem to lose quite a bit of grip. We were chasing that all weekend. The cars that seemed to find the most grip, front and rear, seemed to run up in the front pretty much all day.
THE MODERATOR: The Pro Series guys talked about how slick it was in four. Is that where you felt it more than anywhere else?
ALEX BARRON: Yeah. It seemed like halfway through three and four, all the way to the exit of four, the balance of the car, if you had a little bit too much front grip and the rear wasn't able to accomplish what the front was doing, a lot of people were getting into trouble.
THE MODERATOR: Can you talk about your thoughts heading into Michigan as you attempt to defend that title.
ALEX BARRON: Well, I'm very excited to go there. We're going to try some new things with Chevrolet. I know at Red Bull Cheever Racing, we're doing everything we can here at the shop to prep ourselves to go there with a good car. We tested there. You know, things went really well. We're very excited. Winning there last year, I think to go there and try to run in the front pretty much all weekend is our goal for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Michigan is really such an important race to Chevrolet because of the General Motors headquarters there in Detroit. Do you feel as a Chevrolet driver maybe a little extra pressure heading into that racetrack this weekend?
ALEX BARRON: No, not at all. I think we just got to go about it like the other races. I think having had tests there, we know somewhat of an idea of what we need to do to make the car mechanically get around the track. We got a good baseline. I'm sure, depending on the weather, you'll have to adjust accordingly, but that track, you're going to be flat out pretty much the whole race. Whoever can make the car the most efficient is going to run in the front.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up to questions from the media.
Q. When you go to a racetrack like Michigan where you know you can run flat out, where normally you have two or three racing grooves that you can deal with, as a driver, is that something you look forward to?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I do. I think the format's a little bit different this year than it was last year with the power being dropped and going from three and a half to three liter. The power band is quite different. But, yeah, I mean, on the tracks that you're wide open and you have the speed in order to run in front, I think strategically that's a fun game to play. Especially if you're running around the guys that are quick week in and week out, there's a lot of trust going on there. You swap places pretty often, usually every lap or every other lap.
Q. Given the fact that Honda has shown so much power this season, do you feel in the Chevrolet that you guys got a lot of work to do for Michigan?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think, you know, we're struggling a little bit right now. But I know that they're working very hard, and we're going to try some things this weekend. Obviously, Honda is stretched out a little bit. We're playing a little bit of catch-up. It changes quite a bit. I'm not sure, you know, where we're going to be at when they he we show up there. We're definitely going to have some things to try and hopefully we can close the gap up. Going to Michigan and testing, going back there with a good car, if we get some more power, I think we'll be pretty competitive.
Q. Confidence-wise, having won on that racetrack, does that make -- what is the emotion there?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think there's a little more publicity for the team, myself as a driver, going in there, which helps everything. But at the end of the day, you got to do, you know, what you did the year previous, and that is just keep your head down and keep your focus on making the race car go fast. A lot of what went on for us there last year, we had a lot of good stops at the end of the race. Things like that you got to focus on within the team.
THE MODERATOR: Are you more of a fan of those big sweeping bigger superspeedways or a place like Milwaukee where you're really fighting it all day?
ALEX BARRON: Well, I think it just depends on where you're at with the speed of the car. If you're struggling to find speed, usually you're going to want to run the shorter circuits. Any time you have to lift off the throttle, you can make up some of it. It kind of brings everybody closer together. But somewhere where you go just flat out all day, at least a majority of the day, the speed of the car plays a big part in that. Again, it just depends on where you're at. I'm sure that the teams that have been running in the front here lately are looking forward to Michigan because of where they're at speed-wise. But we're supposed to try some things and we'll see where we're at. Obviously we'll know first thing on Friday.
THE MODERATOR: You're in Indianapolis now for a while, you haven't been home for a bit.
ALEX BARRON: I've been here in Indy, secondary residence, since pretty much March, April. Come to the shop every day and work with the guys. Engineering staff and myself, we're working really hard on trying to further the development of the car. It's very strategic on how it's done. I think a lot of the teams that are running in front right now, they have a lot of outside development programs that have furthered that as far as being efficient with aero and mechanical things on the car. Today in IRL the amount of testing that you can do, I think that plays a big part in how you actually show speed on the track.
Q. As far as the year has gone, you spending a lot of time at the shop, how has Eddie been to be around?
ALEX BARRON: Fantastic. Actually I was just at lunch. He showed up with some friends of his, colleagues that he had lunch with. Atmosphere is very good. I know he wanted very badly to win races. That's my goal, obviously, too. I think the relationship's very strong. Not going to find anybody that's going to push their team harder than Eddie. I mean, he's always on top of it. He has a big understanding. He's been in this business for a long time.
Q. Do you see Chevrolet going back towards Ford and Cosworth again for help?
ALEX BARRON: I mean, as a team and a driver, I'm part of that development. Obviously, our stuff, a lot of it comes from the UK here at Speedway, and some in Torrance. It's hard to say where they're going to go in the future. I know what they're doing now. I know there's some bright things coming. I think Chevrolet is going to make a step in the right direction this weekend. You never know exactly where you're at until you go out in the first session on Friday.
Q. As far as being on a big track like Michigan where basically you're cruising at one speed and stuff, do you ever kind of get lulled into la-la land going around and around or is it as exciting as it is racing on a short track like Phoenix or Nazareth or Milwaukee?
ALEX BARRON: I think the mindset is definitely different. But at the end of the race, you want to just put yourself in a position, if you can, to try to win. You're always trying to move yourself around to be in the draft or when to overtake in a place like Michigan because you're usually flat out all around the circuit if you have a good car. I think that's what makes it so exciting, because there's so many lead changes.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us today and we will see you this weekend in Michigan.
PAUL DANA: Thanks. Guys.
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