Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
January 24, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests are Panther Racing driver Vitor Meira and Target Chip Ganassi team racing manager Mike Hull.
Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thanks for joining us. Vitor and Mike are both preparing for next week's first event of the 2007 season, an open test on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. Vitor returns to the cockpit of the No. 4 Panther Racing entry, while Mike will be directing the efforts for the No. 9 and 1 cars of Target Chip Ganassi.
Vitor, it's been a longer off-season than what we've been accustomed to for the last few years. Tell us a little bit about the excitement level about getting back into the car.
VITOR MEIRA: It's always good to get back in the car. And most of all, it is it's been a long off-season but I'll be honest with you, we've been working quite a lot, which is quite different than my previous off-season which was pretty quiet. Having said that, it's really exciting to not only spend the off-season working on the car and working on 2007 season, but getting back in the car for real with everybody together in Daytona. It's also going to be real exciting.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of Daytona, last fall you were there when the league went for compatibility tests. Tell us a little bit about the course and from a drivers perspective how it helped you prepare for the road course races that we've got on tap in 2007.
VITOR MEIRA: I think road course, no matter where you're at, you can always take advantage of it. Some you get more information than the others. And I would say that Daytona is a little bit on the simple side of the road course itself. But it has two very hard braking areas with real fast chicanes and you can really get a lot of information from that.
And again, it's the bottom line is, it's Daytona so it's real exciting, really, really cool to be at that track just knowing all the history that that place has.
THE MODERATOR: And Mike, the Target team also was represented down there at the compatibility test last fall. From a team's perspective, we don't end up racing at Daytona so some of the changes that you make to a car, I assume at a regular track where every bit of speed counts, doesn't necessarily translate into a race win at Daytona International Speedway. So what is the main focus of next week's test for you?
MIKE HULL: Twofold I'd say. First of all, you know, we test every year on surface, as an example last year we had an open test at Homestead and although we don't race there, we learned an awful lot.
Basically in testing, what we do is you've got to understand the tuning changes and the parameters that affect the car the greatest, and we can learn all of those things at Daytona.
So testing is very important for us and as Vitor said, everybody works hard during the winter to try to improve their individual product. And it's the first opportunity that you really have to come out and test with everybody that's represented in the IndyCar field.
So that is probably the second reason why you want to be at Daytona, or any other racetrack, is to find out how much improvement teams have made. And even bigger than that, and Vitor touched on it, we race at Indianapolis with IndyCars. Running at Daytona with Indy cars is a big statement. We're very excited to be at Daytona for that reason.
The MODERATOR: You kind of touched on my second question a little bit. Maybe you can elaborate a little more. The off-season was kind of a long time, but obviously I know you guys weren't just sitting around waiting for 2007 to begin. Obviously working hard in the shop to win the championship in 2007. Tell us a little bit about the off-season and then what you guys have been working on to find that little extra bit that will put you on top.
VITOR MEIRA: From my part, from my side, we've been working a lot on putting together what we lacked last year, which was some wind tunnel, some -- last year we had a difficult year, so we had to cut back on a lot of our, not resources but on a lot of our studies and a lot of our improvements that we could have done. So basically we were just trying to put all that back in place so we can have a stronger 2007. That's basically how the off-season was, putting everything back in place.
MODERATOR: And Mike, from your perspective?
MIKE HULL: , well, first of all, I guess we have to get everybody on this call -- inaudible. I guess the short version and probably the best answer for everyone that's listening, is that although we were very competitive in 2006 with both Scott and Dan driving the car on road tracks, we felt like we needed to try to improve our race day performance more so, and that might be -- people might look at it sideways.
Let me just say that for us is the most important thing we can do because it's all about Sunday for us. And so we worked hard over the winter to try to work on our race craft, our guys worked really hard on physical conditioning and I'm not just talking about the drivers, I'm talking about the guys that go over the wall. It's not the first time they have done that but they really worked hard on that aspect of what we do. And being that we intend to run a Dalara in 2007 on the road tracks for the first time, we've had a lot of work to do there, just trying to understand what the Dalara is all about.
So our learning curve and what we've done this winter have been around those things.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for both Vitor and Mike.
Q. Mike, here's a question for you. This year you're going to a 3.5 litre engine and a 22-gallon fuel tank since you're running 100% ethanol. Do you anticipate any chassis changes to compensate for the lower fuel pound and higher engine weight?
MIKE HULL: Well, that was a little bit of a question to be honest and we'll find out next week how it affects everybody in the field.
I know last week, I guess it's been two weeks now, we did an enjoin test along with Vitor's team and Team Green at Fontana, one day on the oval and one day on the track, and it was dedicated exclusively to understanding the engine product which we subscribe to very seriously there.
And I would have to say that, no, it has not affected the performance of the car. If anything, Honda has done a really great job of enhancing the engine to be very honest about it without trying to embellish that situation. And the CG with the car and the fuel tank and all of that, would I have to say no, no, everything is fine there. We couldn't really tell any difference with that at all.
Q. Oh, that's cool.
VITOR MEIRA: We're very, very impressed with the product to be honest with you. It was our first opportunity to run the new engine and it was really, really good.
Q. Vitor, what do you do to stay on top in the off-season?
VITOR MEIRA: What do I do to stay in shape?
Q. What do you do to stay on top of it?
VITOR MEIRA: Everything, racing, and I guess you don't stop doing what you are doing during the season. It is a little bit of downtime for the driving part of it.
But I try to stay as close as possible with the team. I try to push things just as if the season carried on. I went to Brazil for 15 days, and normal work out, it was normal workout procedures, normal -- like the season hasn't finished because the day you don't work is the day somebody else is going to catch up to you. I know that Mike Hull and the whole Chip Ganassi Team was working and Penske and everybody else was at the shop working.
Again, the day I don't work is the day that people catch up, so you can't stop.
Q. Did you do any racing?
VITOR MEIRA: I did a lot of go-kart racing. I did three races in Brazil. I did almost 1,000 miles testing in Formula 3 in Brazil. I tried to stay in the car as much as I can.
Q. That sounds great, we all wish you well this season.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you very much.
Q. Mr. Hull, you guys have spent -- you guys being Chip Ganassi Racing, when you consider all of your various components from the Rolex Series sports cars which you're defending champion in the Rolex 24 this weekend to next week's test, and then of course the following few weeks worth of stock car activity. Are you guys going to build a home nearby the Speedway or what?
MIKE HULL: Yeah, we should probably invest in a time share at least. Actually that's where I am today. I am in Daytona because our two Target drivers, Scott and Dan, during the off-season had spent some time driving our Rolex sports car that is co-sponsored by Target and Tomex for this event.
No, we've been here quite a bit. It's great to be here. Really looking forward to it to be honest with you.
Q. You're a team that takes people and tries to round them out by plugging them in to different environments. It improves I guess the lot. When you have guys that are down here, do you try to use one, say, the guys who will be here for the 24, do you keep them around for another couple of days and then use them with the IRL test comes along or something like that?
MIKE HULL: To be very -- to tell you where we are on that, the 02 car in the series, that group of guys is comprised of Indy Racing mechanics. And each year we've done this program where we've run our IndyCar drivers in the car. We've actually asked for volunteers to work on this program because it means extra work, longer hours for those guys, and we always have more takers than we have spots.
And then some of the IndyCar extra guys will fall over on to the 01 car, which runs the full season, and then we normally have several selected guys that come to help us besides with all of the things that you have to do in a 24-hour race.
Yes, we'll stay down here and support the rest of the IndyCar team that turns up here when we test on Wednesday and Thursday.
Q. Vitor, you raced in a couple of car events down in Brazil, along with Christian Fittipaldi and others, along with Tony Kanaan, what is it you gain from go-kart racing that you take to IRL racing?
VITOR MEIRA: I would say that, you know, it doesn't matter where you're at. If it's IRL, if it's Formula 1, if it's go-kart, if it's sprint cars or it doesn't matter where you're at. Speed is always the same and that's what the bottom line is.
Being in the gym is good, running and doing all the physical work is good. But it doesn't -- it doesn't train concentration and whatever you have to have for in order to drive the car. You can only -- you can only change from one car to the other, speed is always the same and you're only going to train and become better in it by spending more time doing it. And sometimes it's not possible to test every day on IRL or on a high-level car.
So go-kart is something easy, and besides that, it's a lot of fun when you see all of your old friends and also your companions.
Q. Do you ever get tired of driving?
VITOR MEIRA: No, that's a big no. Sometimes people ask me, what's my work and I actually feel weird talking about it because it's so good. And then Mike knows about it, we've paid a lot to do our work before we get here. Coming up the categories, you actually pay a lot in order to do your work because it's so good. I mean, it's a pleasure to be driving. It's definitely not an obligation.
Q. Mike, when you and the team look back over the season last year when you guys brainstormed about how 2006 went, did you decide whether there were any mistakes or changes that need to be made this year, or did you decide that you were simply outraced and you'll take this year as you had planned to?
MIKE HULL: It's funny, thanks for the question. Scott Lonard (ph) who does all of the hiring for the race team had an interview with a guy other day and he came in. Scott asked him why he wanted to work at Chip Ganassi Racing. And the guy said, "Well, I want to help you gain that one point that you needed in 2006 to win the championship." And I thought that was a pretty good answer for a spur-of-the-moment answer.
Really, looking back, we do look back. We look back and try to understand how to improve ourselves. I guess we internally work really hard to admit to each other how to be better through the success we've had and through the mistakes we make.
And I guess to really answer your question in a positive way, we're going to work really hard to race hard against all of the teams in the Indy series here, which would include the people that beat us last year for the championship. That's what we're going to work hard to do.
Q. Gentlemen, could you comment on the ethanol factor as regards power and mileage?
VITOR MEIRA: I can definitely talk about power. It's not horsepower. It not like total horsepower. It's a lot of torque. We definitely gain a lot of torque, which was a very good surprise. I think races are going to be mostly on short ovals and road courses, it's definitely gained some torque there, there's no doubt.
And mileage, there is a reason that the IndyCar Series came from 25 gallons to 22 because it does take a little more work on the engine, it takes less to run the engine. But they are doing the right things. It's still supposed to be pretty much the same as last year, that's what the goal is, that's what IRL is trying to accomplish.
Q. Do you have anything to say about that, Mike?
MIKE HULL: I think Vitor covered it. But I think the reason the motor is better, the primary reason is because we have gone back to the 3.5 litre engine. The 3.5 litre engine is a great engine. Vitor can explain it as a race driver. I'll explain it from our side.
There's so much more torque available to the driver from the center of the corner off than what we've had in the past. What that does is that allows the driver to have much better control of the race car and allows the car to come off the corner tons better.
In oval racing, although you people say, oh, well, you're flat, you're flat, the guy is on the throttle, whatever. It will make the races better. It's going to make the oval races better than what we already are, and because we are going to more road track races, it will make that racing more exciting.
So I think it's a big improvement what they have done. They did that because of the power reduction or what they thought was the power reduction with ethenol, 100% ethanol, but I think they have done the right thing. I think everybody next week at Daytona is going to be really excited about what they find with this engine.
Q. At Indianapolis, if you run the race as contemplated, and I realize that probably will never happen, do you think you would make more or fewer stops for fuel?
MIKE HULL: I think we'll make about the same number of stops to answer your question. What they have done is the equivalency of going to 22 gallons of fuel is simply to try to get us to the same place we have been sequentially with the stops.
And that helps us in a lot of areas. It helps the race broadcast -- the racing itself, keeps people on the same lap. It's because we have a lot of history there and it also helps us with tire durability. Those are some of the reasons why they have done it.
And I think people can say what they want to say about the Indy Racing League and the way that they sanction and administer races. But the one thing that they do really, really well, is that they study what they need to do to make positive and effective change in advance of announcing the changes. And in this case with the 100% ethanol, they have done their homework here, and they have done a really good job of working hard to keep the racing for the fans as good as it has been.
Q. It just occurred to me, and this is kind of a flippant question, but it has some basis to it. Are you going to give any special handling instructions to Dixon, Wheldon and Mr. Montoya when it comes to passing or overtaking the head of the IRL?
MIKE HULL: Oh, boy. (Laughing) Well, I hope we're lucky enough to be able to pass him on the racetrack, as well as lots of other race cars besides his. You know, the whole thing with the 24 hour race is being able to keep track of who is actually in that car when you're coming up in that car. I know in their case they have four drivers and we have three, so it's either three or four for most teams for Daytona.
You know, Mr. George wants to drive in this race. Had a conversation with him about it not too long ago, and he's excited about driving here. So I think Scott and Dan and Juan and everybody else on the track will be excited about racing with him.
Q. A little bit more on the serious side, for a guy that has to come up fairly quickly up to speed on the whole IRL thing now, coming down to Daytona, and now getting thankfully to include it in his regular repertoire of coverage, what is it that you see the IRL as doing with it's engine program? It seems to have made some changes over the last few years, the initial growth or initial phase notwithstanding of the introduction back in the late 90s, where is it that from your perspective that they are going with this engine program?
MIKE HULL: Well, I'm not going to try to avoid the answer but I'm not sure I can answer the question.
What we do from our side as a race team is what we have always done at Chip Ganassi Racing is we have always worked really, really hard to be a partner with an engine company. In each kind of racing that we do, we feel like we are a fair and equal partner, so in this case, with Honda, we try to give them value and they try to give us value.
And our way of doing business has worked for us. We would want the Indy Racing League with IndyCar Racing to do the same with Honda. Now, where they are going together, hopefully in partnership, and with the kind of racing they are starting to put on the calendar for IndyCar Racing, hopefully it enhances the brand that we are all trying to represent.
So I can't speak for them but that's what we hope happens.
Q. I've got a question, has there been any talk of simulating the race during the Daytona test, and if not, would both of you guys like to see a simulated race?
VITOR MEIRA: Go ahead, Mike.
MIKE HULL: Well, okay. Thanks for tossing that one over here. (Laughing) I think what we have worked on all winter is to get ready for racing. At Daytona we're lucky enough to have people that would watch us race, hopefully on their television during the year. And if the IRL proposed that we did a Sprint race or something toward the second day, and people watched it, it would be fine for us.
VITOR MEIRA: Same here. They are working really hard on most of all, seeing if the track allows the car to race in the future. Otherwise I don't think we would be going there. That's again my opinion. I mean, that would be a great tryout. As long as everybody knows that it's not part of the championship and that everybody would take care of each other.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, that's the questions that we have for you this afternoon. Appreciate you again taking your time out this afternoon to join us and share your insights with us and best of luck next week and all season long.
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