Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Tony George, Jr.
March 26, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone for joining us today, and welcome to our press conference. Joining us here in St. Pete are Tony George Jr., the manager of business development for Indy Lights, and the key figure of the development of the program, and Roger Bailey, executive director of Indy Lights, Gary Rodrigues, founder of Star Mazda, and Dan Andersen, co-owner of the U.S. F2000. Also joining us is Jeremy Shaw representing the Junior Team USA Scholarship, who will have an announcement later today.
Right now we'll turn it over to Tony George Jr.
TONY GEORGE JR. Hello, everyone. Just like Amy said, I announced the plans for the Road to Indy, and today we'll be on the track for the first time. This is the first of two events that all four series will be together. And the second one will be at Iowa, and we'll also be together at ORT the night before the 500.
We feel it's important for drivers to get this kind of experience on IndyCar weekends as well as their teams and sponsors the exposure that they deserve.
We also recently announced the Road to Indy Summit, which is an initiative to give the drivers the tools they need to go out and gain sponsorship off tracks. And elements of that include track tours at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Rick Mears and Al Unser Jr., and drivers meeting with president of competition, Brian Barnhart, a breakfast seminar presented by Mazda of the business and Motorsports, which is designed to help improve the off track performance of the drivers, with personnel marketing, and sponsor relations.
Another important step that we're here to announce today is the Road to Indy sponsor of the Teen USA Scholarship that Jeremy's a part of. This scholarship gives drivers the opportunity during our off-season to go and gain valuable experience outside the country. They learn how to handle adversity in a completely new environment. And I think Jeremy can touch a little bit more on that.
JEREMY SHAW: Thank you very much indeed. First of all, it's an honor for me to be here. I'm thrilled with what the IndyCar Series is doing with this system. It's absolutely perfect. I think Mazda has put a lot into this sport over the years, and this is another step on that ladder. And there are really so many opportunities for young drivers to move on up, and I think it's great that they have managed to get back on site.
As part of that matter officially, I think this is the right way to go for young drivers and through the series that we've started and the progression, relative progression, from there. At least in terms of driving a car into the sport that's a given in business these days, but it's not a fact of life. But I think it's a very good progression for drivers to take to go into U.S. F2000 and Star Mazda and into the Indy Lights.
As far as the Team USA Scholarship is concerned, it's a program that we've been putting together now for 20 years unbelievably. The last two years each of the drivers -- we pick two drivers every year, if we can. We take them overseas, and they learn the ropes of the auto racing. For the past two years -- these two drivers weren't even born in 1990. (No microphone).
For the first few years it's been kind of an experience for me to know that I really am that old. But I think it's a testament to the U.S. auto racing in general that they've come from a variety of people to make this scholarship happen every year. And it's certainly a great honor for me and all the other gentlemen here today that have contributed to that scholarship.
It is an opportunity for the drivers not only to race this year, but in the last few years before the festival. It's a very competitive race. It's the Walter Hayes Trophy, (indiscernible) which Connor Daly had the chance and he won that two years ago. And last year Connor De Phillippi won that same thing. And he is also in the Star Mazda Championship. So I think it shows the system is there. Also, there are over 120 drivers, so it's pretty much very competitive environment.
Besides the racing and the opportunity it gives and entails, it also makes sure it's a full experience for the driver. They have various jobs in cars, I think one of the highlights is a trip around which not many people get the opportunity to do this. And they really are fully immersed in the auto racing experience. So from my perspective, thank you very much for making it happen.
THE MODERATOR: Roger Bailey, your thoughts on the debut of the Indy Series this year?
ROGER BAILEY: Like everybody else, I'm extremely excited to be here for the very first event which I'm sure will be the beginning of a new generation of IndyCar drivers. I've had the pleasure of being around IndyCar racing for the large part of my life. And to see this in its infancy, we've created it for a long time but finally to see it happen.
I'm very excited with the talent and quality of the persons that are returning to the Firestone Indy Lights this year. And it's nice to see that we have a nucleus of solid teams that we've filled every year.
It's taken us a long time to get here. But I feel like now we've achieved that goal. And to have these two series it's only going to prove in the long-term to be extremely valuable addition, not just to the Indy Lights, but to open wheel racing throughout the country.
Just looking at the entry list for the IndyCar Racing, it's nice to see the five of our prior drivers now make up 20% much that field: Alex Lloyd, Hideki Mutoh, Raphael Matos, Marco Andretti, and Mario Romancini are 20% of the guys that are on the grid today.
I'm just excited to see so many young and up and coming drivers that have made the commitment to come to the U.S. F200 and Star Mazda series. I feel like this bodes well for the long-term future of open wheel racing.
And I think that Jeremy's announcement today I think just strengthens the position that we're in. It gives the guys that are wondering what to do in the off-season, to go and compete with people in Europe who feel they're the best road racers in the world.
As Jeremy said to come back here with a one and two in both of those events has been quite a significant achievement. I just feel like what we're doing today is a credit to that program.
It gives us credibility. People look at America, as well, and it's always nice when people go from America and beat the Europeans at their own game. So if Jeremy can do that and bring those guys back to bring them into our system it will be very, very beneficial for everybody.
GARY RODRIGUES: First of all, thank you for having us here. We're thrilled after 20 years of hard work to be an overnight success, and to be officially recognized by the IRL as part of the ladder program and figure into Indy Lights.
I love the sport and we started the series to try to help these young drivers progress, and had a pretty good string of good luck moving people up in the program.
Unfortunately, not as many as we'd like a lot of times. Try as hard as we might, we still have some very extremely talented people to get the job done. But I think this is a huge step in the right direction to have official recognition from the IRL and to be part of the road team.
Personally, I'm excited about the Indy Summit. I think we're going to deliver some serious value to the drivers that are in the program when we go to Indy Summit and have a chance to get to see and talk to people like Al Unser Jr.
And just, you know, to have Al Unser Jr. drive you around the speedway, I think it's something that most people would put in their diary. These kids are going to get a chance to do that.
So we're very pleased to be part of the Road to Indy program. And I need to at least give a tip of the hat to Jeremy because his drivers have not only gone to Europe. And it's now starting to be when they show up over there, some of the European drivers he's used assumed that American drivers were not as fast, they're now starting to go over, so I like that.
Over the last few years we've had drivers come right out of the Team USA program straight into Star Mazda. At one point, I guess last year we had three Walter Hayes Trophy winners represented in our field because Peter Dempsey, who is from ireland went over there, won it twice, and Conor Daly, and now Connor De Phillippi.
So we're very pleased to have Jeremy bringing kids up, and getting good publicity and then turning them over to us.
I should mention probably that we're off to a flying start. We had a race last week at Sebring. This is the first one where we've actually been at the same place at the same time with the other two main series in the Road to Indy program, and ultimate goal to the IRL.
We have ten countries represented in our series, so although the interest is certainly to see American drivers move up, we're not giving them any kind of a free pass. We've got drivers from all over the world coming to race against them.
We're very fortunate to have some young Americans and looking forward to seeing moreover the course of the year. Conor Daly is returning from last year. Finished third last year in the championship, and has every right to be considered the preseason favorite, I think. But we've also got Connor De Phillippi who is fresh out of the Team USA program. And young (indiscernible) Miller, Mitchell, Vernon, they're All American drivers in our program who are all front-running drivers.
So I think that the future of the sport is looking pretty good. If you're considering the level of talent in the program, the kids are certainly getting to try their talents out against some of the best that we can find from all over the world. So they're training each other, if you will.
And there is a very good representation, considering we have 23 cars running, same as what we had last week. Those drivers are all running against all comers, and the majority of the field is American drivers, so I think that's a good thing.
DAN ANDERSEN: First, before I do that, I want to just acknowledge with my respect and appreciation for what Jeremy does. I've had some involvement in past years and have watched for a lot of years the Team USA thing.
I think that's an excellent program, and hat's off to Jeremy for championing that for a lot of years and helping American drivers with their careers. I think a lot of respect goes to Jeremy for that. We're real proud to have an involvement with the Road to Indy.
As for U.S. F2000. Some of you may know in the '90s I ran the U.S. F 2000 Series for about a dozen years or ten years or so. When the IRL asked me if I'd be interested in resurrecting it, the Road to Indy is one of the main reasons I agreed to do that.
I think it's long overdo as has been said. I think it's an excellent clarification of the latter in the U.S., and for non-U.S. drivers as well. You come here, you want to race in the U.S. ultimately. You want to race in IndyCar ultimately. The Road to Indy is now a clearly defined ladder and we are extremely happy to see that first rung on that ladder.
I'd like to mention to Tony and Roger a little bit as an old movie about the mafia, just when you thought you were out, they drag you back in. And I guess that's what happened to me here.
But we are delighted. My daughter, Michelle, manages the U.S. F2000 series and has a lot of experience in past years. This is our debut event. We've started a little modestly, but there is a lot of enthusiasm.
We have some Star Mazda teams that have added U.S. F2000 teams. We have Andretti Autosports. The press conference that preceded this one, where they announced their second driver who will pick up after this weekend. It's always an honor to have a team like Andretti participating in the F 2000 series.
We think it's a good ladder the way it's designed because from the very beginning, the drivers get all the experience, the street course experience and road course experience. I think that's key because I also run teams with Star Mazda and Indy Lights, and it's very helpful to not have to put a rookie into an Indy Lights car going 200 miles an hour without ever having done an oval.
So I think the Road to Indy solves a lot of things. It provides training on all the different barriers, types of surfaces that we run on, drivers can graduate and move up the ladder as they gain the race prep experience. And as a result in the race budget, they can move up the ladder in a proper progression, all under the watchful eye of the IRL, and also hopefully under the media's watchful eye.
I'd like to ask the media to focus on these kids. Tell some stories about the Road to Indy. I think it would be good for the careers of these kids to get some kind of exposure and get open wheel racing back in the forefront.
America is so much a stock car racing country, that we need to work on the exposure of the kids in the farm system as they move on up. And I'd like to see that. And I think the Road to Indy will do that.
The last thing I want to say is I think the Road to Indy is also an excellent way to develop mechanics, engineers, even sponsors. I think with the clarified system, you will see that. You will see teams starting in F2000 and expanding and growing with Star Mazda and growing with Indy Lights.
Maybe we'll see some new teams moving from Indy Lights into IndyCar. That's the kind of progression I think is good for American racing and good for the whole health of open wheel racing in general.
So we're very happy to be part of the ladder, and hopefully we'll have a good doubleheader weekend.
ROGER BAILEY: I'd like to give a special thanks to Gary and Dan for their support. And a special thanks to Tony Jr.'s unwavering support and enthusiasm for this program.
It's been a very difficult road. We've had a lot of roads lost. And with Jason and Arni helping we're able to help them. But as Dan said, it hasn't been easy. There's been some resistance, but we are here today.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
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