Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Sam Hornish, Jr.
March 14, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll very pleased to have two guests with us today. Joining us in a few minutes will be IndyCar Series team owner A.J. Foyt, and to start the call we have 2006 IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish, Jr. Thanks for joining us. Sam is the only three-time champion in IndyCar Series history, winning the title with Panther Racing in 2001 and 2002, and with Team Penske last year. 2007 will mark his eighth season in the IndyCar Series and his fourth with Team Penske.
Sam, you won back-to-back titles earlier in your career. Is there anything you learned from that experience that you can apply to your attempt to repeat as champion in 2007?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, it's really hard to compare, but in 2002, we had basically the first year of Team Penske being in the Indy Racing League, and in 2001, you know, that was basically mostly the teams that had originally started in IndyCar Series.
2001 everything seemed to really go smoothly, no problems, finished off with seven laps that year, basically just had a tremendous season where it seemed like nothing to go wrong.
As opposed to 2002 where we had a series of up and downs and led the points in the championship at a couple different times throughout the season, similar to the 2006 season. So hopefully we've just got basically a flip-flop of the two years, and we'll start off the season and hopefully have some good things happen, but we just have to wait and see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: The season opener at Homestead will be your 100th career IndyCar Series start. Does that milestone have any significance to you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know for sure. It must mean I'm getting older, I guess. But at 27, really it's kind of hard to look at myself as a seasoned veteran. But I think with the exception of Scott Sharp I'm the only one of the drivers to reach 100 races in the IndyCar Series. It's a pretty neat milestone. Hopefully we'll be able to cap it off with a win. But to sit back and to think that it's been 100 races, it's pretty hard to believe, especially my first year when I only ran eight races.
It seems like I've been here forever in my opinion, but I know that's really not that long in the grand scheme of things.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions for Sam.
Q. Thank you very much for coming on today. They say the hardest thing to do is repeat, and you've done it once, and now you look to do it again. Are there any goals that you've set for yourself this season like some races that you're going to be targeting in particular?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I feel that all the road course races are pretty critical for me. Over the past two seasons we really haven't had the success that we feel that we should have on those races. We feel like there's a lot of room for improvement and a lot of room for just a little bit of luck going in a different direction, we could be in the top three in all of them. I think being able to stand out on those tracks will be very fundamental for us to be able to come back and to repeat as champions.
I think that's just taking out all the little problems that we possibly can. Last year we had a water pump fail at Michigan when we were leading the race, which we took a 38-point hit on that race, but if we had even just finished in the top five, we would have been pretty comfortable going into the last race of the season. I feel the more that we can take the little things out, the better off we're going to be.
Obviously Nashville was the only race we didn't finish because of an accident, and that was me being a little bit impatient, going to a track that I had finished second the previous two years at, thought that we should be able to win that one. So I've got a little different outset on some of those places I feel we need to win at, to maybe just kick back and try to wait a little longer in the races before making that move.
Q. You must be pretty excited about the Indy 500 coming up, especially since your face is on the trophy now.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I definitely am. The big thing about Indy, that's always the No. 1 goal, to be able to go in there and win, just to run strong. I think if you can do that, it just gives you so much positive feeling throughout the rest of the season that it's (indiscernible) once you're on top like that. I know it's going to be difficult to come back and to win and even more difficult to come back and to win in the fashion that we did. But hopefully it's a little bit of a speed trap at the end and we can put it in the bag a little bit sooner than 100 feet from the finish line.
Q. You've been kind of outside your comfort zone for four races doing stock cars. What's it going to be like to get back into Homestead, back into a racing environment in IndyCar, and how happy are you to be back?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'm really excited about getting going in the IndyCar Series, for the kickoff this year, mostly because it's in fact something that I've felt comfortable in. But on the other hand, it's been five months. Basically from the time that I ran the IndyCar until the next time that I did was five months.
So the first time back in at the Homestead open test, getting used to the Gs again, the way that the car throws you around, the feeling that it gives you, the sense of speed was something that was a little bit different for me to get back used to. For the first day I was a little uncomfortable with it. Actually felt a little bit claustrophobic in the car because there's actually not a whole loot of room in there. Then I got back out there the second day and everything felt back to normal where it should be and we were second quickest for the day.
I feel like we've definitely got some work to do. We're not quite where we want to be as far as speed right now, but as far as getting the comfort level back, it came back pretty quickly, and definitely looking forward to getting out there and seeing if we can't repeat as champions again.
Q. Looking at other teams, slashers races between you, Helio and the two Ganassi cars, do you see possibly at AGR maybe another chance to step it up or do you think maybe next season -- or this season coming up it'll be a little more competitive?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think definitely the 2006 season, even though it didn't look that way as far as the amount of cars that won, it was probably one of the most competitive seasons of the IndyCar Series I've ever seen. But I do think that AGR definitely thought last year that they were definitely in a good position having the Honda engine throughout 2003, '04 and '05, definitely looked at that and felt we had to kind of step it up.
And I felt through the first open test that they did do that. Whether or not that's something that really applied to Miami because Dario was, in fact, pretty good there last year at the beginning of the season, or if it's going to be all the ovals or all the mile and a halfs, I think it looks pretty good there, and hopefully there will be some more competition out there. I think that there's definitely room for it.
I'm looking forward to the '07 season because I think you add a couple of Andretti Green cars in there, whoever else it might be, and things are definitely going to be shaken up.
Q. Just wanted to ask you about you newer tracks coming on the schedule this year like Iowa and I guess one that's near and dear, near to your hometown in Mid-Ohio on the road course.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, Iowa I'm really looking forward to because it's kind of a combination of Texas and Richmond, very wide, shorter track like Richmond but very wide, longer pass just like Texas. Should be pretty quick, should see a lot of two-, maybe three-wide racing there. I think it's going to be an exciting track for us to go to.
As far as Mid-Ohio goes, obviously I always look forward to going there. That was the first track that I had ever ran on that was over a mile in length. I ran a Go-Kart as a kid in the pouring rain in an hour-long event, and there was nothing more I wanted to do after getting to turn one than get out of the Go-Kart.
It's a fun track. I ran there from the Ford, ran there Toyota Atlantic, also had a little bit of time there in the Champ Car, so really looking forward to going there and seeing how we can do.
Helio won the last two races there that he ran there in Champ Car, so I feel we should have a pretty good idea of what the cars need to feel like when we go back there. And it's close to home, as well. So I think it should be pretty good.
Of course Detroit, with how close I am to that, actually closer than the Mid-Ohio and the street courses generally tend to be my favorite, not all of them, but all the road course races, so I think I'm very excited to go there, as well.
Q. Have you decided to come back to defend your crown at Kentucky?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Definitely Kentucky has been a track that's always been very good to me, and I've just continued to grow kind of an appreciation for it. We retook the points lead there last year. I got two wins there, and a second and a third, and just always feel like we're going to have a good day when we go there, so of course I'm looking forward to going there.
Q. You talked about this a little bit earlier about how you've been experimenting in different cars, and you haven't experienced as much success as you obviously have in the IndyCars. Do you as a driver feel any loss of momentum at all as you start the season back up again, or do you still feel like a champion heading into the season?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, it was good to get going and actually get back in the car. That's one of the tough things about the off-season is just not being able to race. Testing is fine, but it's not nearly as much fun as racing. With the experimenting in the other cars, we've went in there and we're pretty much on schedule for where we thought we were going to be.
Obviously I've only had four races over there and only maybe about four tests, as well, so I really don't have anywhere near the time that a lot of those guys have in those cars. They had more time than that before their 20th birthday than I've had my entire life. I just try to continue to work hard at it and try to learn as much as I can.
I feel that we've had a lot of good things happen for us so far this year. We're learning a lot, and we're going to continue to move forward.
Q. If you had your choice between winning the IRL Championship or the 500, which would you take?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It would definitely be the 500. You kind of look at that as something that you've always wanted to do, a race that I've been going to since I can remember. It's very nice to win a Championship and very special, but I don't think that anything can compare to winning the Indianapolis 500.
Q. Who do you feel will be your closest competition this year?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I feel, again, you're going to look at the Target cars, you're going to look at the AGR cars, and there's going to be guys that surprise you from week to week. Those are the guys that I would say as far as the Championship running, as far as saying right now a possible Indy 500 winner, I think it would come out of those guys.
Then I've always got my teammate, which is probably the stiffest competition I've ever going to face, and then Mr. Castroneves, and he's worked really hard in the off-season and continues to work hard. He's looking for a Championship, looking to come back to win at Indy again, and he's very tough. He races very hard but fair, as well. We've got a great relationship as far as that goes, and hopefully we'll make each other better in order to keep trying to beat the competition.
Q. This might be a biased question coming from an Ohio guy myself and having watched a couple races as a fan at Mid-Ohio, but how important do you think it is to get back to Mid-Ohio with the history it has in that track?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think there's a lot of IndyCar history there and there's a great amount of IndyCar fans in Mid-Ohio and just the Ohio area. Obviously I'm looking forward to going back there. I've always had a fondness for it. Hopefully we'll get a great turnout and we'll continue to move forward.
I always look forward to going to any tracks that are close to home that the majority of the home base fans can make it out for.
Q. With Montoya going over to NASCAR from Formula 1, how important and what do you think open-wheel racing needs to do to keep up with NASCAR who's recently setting the bar for success in auto racing?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think that everything comes in transition. There was a time not too long ago when IndyCars were the pinnacle of auto racing, not only in the United States but we were competing at a point to be close to Formula 1, and I think that for whatever reason that kind of ended up flip-flopping with NASCAR because they've done a great job marketing and they've had a tremendous amount of home-grown stars.
But I think that the IndyCars are continuing to weed out the things that aren't making them move forward and to keep relying on their strengths, and eventually I think we'll get to the point where we need to be. It's not going to be something that happens overnight obviously because it takes a while for them to grow that fan base.
Q. With your NASCAR doings so far this season, might we see you run the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, see if you can get two different trophies from the Speedway?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I'm going to start trying to work on Roger a little bit as far as that goes. But we haven't had quite the success that we think we need to have yet, but we know we've got quite a few more races before we get to that point. That will require a little bit of testing.
But the toughest thing would probably be to have the resources to go and be able to do that. Obviously we wouldn't want to take anything away from what Kurt and Ryan are going to be able to do there. It would just have to be something that was well thought out. If they asked me to do it, I'd be on board for it, that's for sure.
Q. You mentioned AGR as a team that you saw as a competitor this year and a team that might make some noise. Do you think that Danica Patrick will be more of a factor this year running with AGR than she's been in the past?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think as opposed to last year, yes, she'll be more of a factor. I think that they had a pretty good program over there at Rahal in 2005, and I think that maybe slipped a little bit in 2006, so I think as opposed to last year, probably more of a threat.
But a lot of people ask me whether or not I think she'll be able to win. I don't know if she's to that point yet; the consistency of finishing up there hasn't really came quite yet. But as far as would it surprise me if she won, no.
She continues to be a good driver, generally tends to stay out of trouble and be smart. Hopefully for her sake anyhow that will continue to stay that way and she'll at some point get to the point where they have the right things happen in order for her to be able to win.
That's not anything about her, I'm just saying, even myself, you get to a point where some days it's not your day and some days everything can go wrong and you still end up winning. It's one of those things. It's few and far between when you get those days, but I think that the right day will come for her if everything continues to move forward.
Q. If I could get a quick Homestead follow-up question in, what's going to be the difference racing at night as opposed to when you've raced there in the past?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think that the track pretty much changes a lot during the day because of the wind and also the sun that that track tends to get on it. So starting as a night race, things generally seem to calm down there as far as the winds. You don't have to worry about the sun eating the track up. I think it'll make things more competitive, plus it'll be cooler for the fans to sit up there in the grandstands.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, thank you so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon, and best of luck in your attempt to repeat both an IndyCar Series Championship and an Indianapolis 500 this coming season.
We're joined now by IndyCar Series owner A.J. Foyt, A.J. of course celebrating his 50th season of IndyCar racing and among the many highlights of his career are four Indianapolis 500 titles and seven National Championships.
A.J., there have been a lot of milestones in your career, a lot of celebrations. What's it mean to you to celebrate 50 years in IndyCar racing?
A.J. FOYT: It means I'm getting awful damn old (laughing). That's about it.
THE MODERATOR: Let's talk a little bit about 2007. Your team, of course, made some changes in the off-season, bringing in Larry full-time, looking stronger than ever. What kind of expectations do you have for the racetrack this year?
A.J. FOYT: Well, so far everything is looking pretty good. Until the first race you never know, and we've made a lot of changes. I think we're going to be a lot better than we have been the last couple years, at least we better or I'm about ready to quit. I haven't hardly been able to stomach the last couple years. That's not the way we race. We've just got ourselves in a slump and just got to work out of it. It happens to everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for A.J.
Q. I was wondering if you'd give me a brief recap of what it was like working with Anthony the last couple years, you know, what was your relationship and how you feel about the way it turned out.
A.J. FOYT: Well, you know, naturally he won the CART Championship, he won the Pro Championship, and it was real good, and IndyCars, I just could never get him settled down. He was just a little bit too brave for himself. He's my grandson, and a lot of times your own kids and grandsons, they don't want to listen to you like they'll listen to some stranger. It's been great working with him and I still look forward to maybe someday working with him again.
Q. You've seen so many changes in racing over those 50 years, and more changes probably coming down the road here, too. What do you think are some of the biggest changes in open-wheel racing that you've experienced?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think one of the biggest things I've seen in open-wheel racing today, they're probably 100 percent safer than they were 20 years ago. Indianapolis was the first place to have the crash barrier walls. It's just so much things has happened, and I think the safety deal has been the biggest thing.
Q. Do you hold out any hope for Champ Car and IndyCar getting back together, or do you think that's even a good idea?
A.J. FOYT: Well, naturally it's always better to just have one league instead of two leagues, but there's so much different cars and the motors and supercharged engines where we're normal aspirated. I can't see that ever happening in the near future. It's a shame that they split. They'd be just like NASCAR if they split and some of their drivers went one way and some went the other.
But the thing about IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500, you do have -- I don't want to say top drivers, but you have all the top owners back over in the IndyCar league.
So I think within a year or two things are going to work out pretty good. But I never see the two of them getting together because, you know, they want to do their deal and I think IRL wants to do theirs. It's just two different racing operations, not even compatible.
Q. Sam mentioned that open-wheel racing and IndyCar in particular used to be bigger than NASCAR, and something happened and NASCAR seemed to get all the momentum and all the press and stuff like that. Do you ever foresee a day when open-wheel racing will surpass NASCAR again?
A.J. FOYT: Well, it's got a long road ahead. You know what happened, you can't have two leagues start fighting each other and split up. That's one thing, I think, that hurt the open-wheel racing.
But still, I don't care what people say. The greatest racing in the world is the Indianapolis 500. You don't know me from winning Daytona like three times, twice, the 400 and 500, the 24-hour races down there or LeMans or California or Pocono. You know me from one race. To me I live every year to go to the Indy 500. It's like the Kentucky Derby. You've got a lot of great horse racetracks in California, but you only have one Kentucky Derby. You just only have one Indianapolis 500. Regardless of what people say, it's still the greatest race in the world.
Q. You were able to go back and forth between NASCAR and open-wheel and NASCAR and IndyCar. Not many other drivers have. Has it changed over the past 20 years? Or just talk about how hard that is just to change disciplines week in and week out like Sam is trying to do and A.J. Allmendinger over there in NASCAR now.
A.J. FOYT: You know, really, when I started racing, I ran midgets and stock cars in Scranton, dirt and all that. So it wasn't that hard to go back and forth. I think it would be a lot harder coming from stock cars to IndyCar racing because to me, I guess I was just one of the lucky ones who could go back and forth. Just like Tony Stewart, he's one that can do it. A lot of people just can't do it, and don't ask me why.
To me I guess it was just a natural. It was just easy. But I guess a lot of people can't adapt to it. Really, I can't put it in words. It's just I loved to race and I loved to race anything I could at any time, and I worked hard at it.
But the biggest thing I noticed was the stock cars were so much slower on reactions and things like that from the IndyCars. You just had to anticipate. Regardless of what it's doing, it's going to act slower. I think that might be one of the problems that a lot of the drivers have trouble adapting to. They're already in trouble before they know it.
Q. You mentioned in the opening that if you had another year like you've had the past two or three, you might be done. How close have you been in recent years with your struggles and your team to saying, enough is enough, just go back to Texas and shut it all down?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I've never been a quitter. I mean, I've been down, I've been hurt, I've been broken up, and I've always fought to come back. I think you need to get knocked off the top quite a bit, and then that just makes you that much stronger. That's one thing we're looking back is coming back pretty strong. I think we'll be there.
Q. I wonder who among the current racers most reminds you of yourself and why.
A.J. FOYT: Well, you know, that's hard to pick any one racer. I guess if I had to, the person that has actually done a lot of things that I've done through my career, you'd have to go right to Tony Stewart because he races dirt, he races pavement, he races road races. He's good at everything he does. I would have to say he's more like I was when I was coming up.
Q. You mentioned earlier your love for the Indy 500. I'd love to know what was going through your mind last year when Sam and Marco Andretti came around turn four and set up that fabulous finish.
A.J. FOYT: To be truthful with you, I was so damned disgusted, bad as we ran, I wasn't even paying no attention. I guess that's one race that I live, and if you have a good day the rest of the season is easy; if you have a bad day, it's miserable all year.
So with the day that we had, I didn't even pay no attention to nobody else. I mean, I just worried about our own cars, and we were in trouble from the day we got there, and I just couldn't wait to get back there this year to try to correct the mistakes that we made.
Q. This year you're changing -- I guess my question is what's your capacity going to be this year?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I'm still with Larry -- Larry is doing a lot of the day work. You have to have an operation, and I just asked him to do this and do that. I'll still be the main boss (laughing). He's right up there with me, and he's made some good recommendations. We were looking at a lot of race drivers. He really liked Darren Manning.
In other words, he's just somebody if we want to look it up, he goes and does all the legwork, and that's making it a lot easier for me, and then we all sit down and discuss who we'd like to work with, and that's how we picked Darren Manning.
Q. I'm going to do a couple -- looking back, which was tougher to win in at Indy, the rear engine or the front engine?
A.J. FOYT: Well, the old roadsters, they didn't allow many mistakes. When you made a mistake, you lost control of it. So I would say the rear engine cars were a lot more forgiving than the roadsters by far.
Q. The other one, everybody knows about your four wins, but 1965, one of the greatest days I've ever experienced out there watching you was the battle with Jimmy Clark for the pole, and there were 200,000 people in the stands on qualifying day. What are your thoughts about memories of that day?
A.J. FOYT: Well, it was great because that was my first race back since I got hurt real bad in stock car racing out in California, broke my back and leg and all that stuff, and was just healing back up, and actually the doctors did not really want me to go to Indy, and I kept saying, my back is healed up good enough, and he said, well, you're taking a big chance, and I said, well, you take a chance every day in life anyway.
If you'll recall, right before qualifying about two or three days, we broke upright and I spun coming off of two and backed into the fence, and lucky enough I wasn't hurt, tore the car up a little bit. Then Jimmy Clark come over here and Colin Chapman and them, and they set the track record. I guess when I went out to qualify, it was such a great day, like I said, to bring the track record back to the United States.
Q. Really great to talk with you. Congratulations on your 50th anniversary. You brought Larry on to run, more or less help you with the running of the team. Is he going to run a car at Indy like he has the last few years?
A.J. FOYT: No. The last few years, it hasn't been fair to him. He did a good job of driving a car, but we didn't have the car handling, and if I was going to run him, I'd want to do a lot more testing, and we just don't have time to do that. I need somebody here in the operation kind of to replace me, and he's working good, and he is going to run some more Truck races this year, which I told him whenever he wanted to do that, that was fine. He's going to stick to that.
He'd love to, don't get me wrong. But it's just not fair to him to do that, and I'm not going to do that.
Q. Also, I don't call you a four-time winner of the Indy 500. Anybody I talk to, I refer to you as a five-time winner of the 500 because one of them with Kenny Brack where you were the owner, I think you're the only five-time myself.
A.J. FOYT: Well, I appreciate that. I just wish I would have been in the car that day instead of Kenny, but Kenny did a great job for us. He's won the Championship for us plus the 500, and we're still great friends.
THE MODERATOR: A.J., thanks again for taking the time to join us this afternoon. We really appreciate it, and best of luck to you and the team.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|