Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
May 14, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody. We are just wrapping up a day of practice here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Scott Dixon is here with us. So we wanted to take a little time, accommodate those of you in New Zealand, your part of the world, so we'll get right into it and open it up for questions.
Q. Scott, having been successful last year, your approach this year, can you feel more relaxed? How do you go into it this year?
SCOTT DIXON: I think, you know, this year has been somewhat a little more relaxed in the fact you've already got one under the belt. Having tried to win the race I think for a good six or seven years, it's a very tough one to win. And not just on a driver's side you have to be prepared but the team side strategy, sort of every different element out there.
So I think to know that you've won it once definitely helps coming into the speedway. You know what and when you've done things right through the last few years. But in general the approach is definitely the same. You know, we've got to try to be quick. Unfortunately we didn't qualify as well as we would have hoped, but that doesn't take anything away from the race.
You know, I think we're definitely trying to prepare as much as possible, make the car as consistent as possible over the long distance. But so far, especially the last few test days, race setup, it's been going very well.
Q. You didn't start this year particularly well. That last outing on the first oval of the season turned things around. Is that good news for you?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, it was good news for not just myself but definitely the team as well. You know, I think the season, you know, the first couple for sure were very bad. We didn't expect that, you know, going into the season with two road courses up first. We expected to do very well. You know, I like ovals, but obviously my background has been from road racing, growing up in New Zealand. We expected to do well on those. But we slipped up in a few areas with qualifying. That kind of just, you know, tumbled us down in the race. Unfortunately we came away with pretty much zeroes points in the first two races.
It was definitely refreshing to get back to an oval, something different, and obviously come out on top, which is definitely what we needed to get back into the points chase and a good bit of momentum going into the speedway this month.
Q. Just wondering on qualifying day, how were things different from a year ago when you dominated?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's definitely a good question. But, you know, as always, I think that the league has kind of thrown curve balls. This year we definitely -- the car has changed as far as, you know, the rear exhausts on the engine are placed in a lot different places and affect the rear, you know, air as it flows across the rear wing. So that's one big change.
But the next major one is the wheel base of the car is now about four inches longer, so that's made it very different for weight distribution. All kinds of spring packages and geometries and everything you run. So you're kind of starting from scratch.
We thought we were kind of smart doing the tire test here on a short wheel based car, and unfortunately they changed it last minute when threw all that data out the back. The car actually on qualifying day was very consistent, actually quite nice to drive. We trimmed out a little more than what we had done the year before and I think we're definitely trimmed out a little more than my teammate. But we just didn't have the speed.
With the short amount of test days we have now, it's kind of compressed. You have to commit to a basic setup, and it's very hard to veer off it to try something totally different, especially coming up on such a big day.
It was unfortunate, but, you know, many people have won this race from 15th or even 20th back and I think we're in a great starting position and hopefully we can pick up the speed in race setup.
Q. How much did the wind have an impact on not just you but other people on the day?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it was very tough. You know, I think the wind was coming probably from the worst point. And, you know, a tailwind through one into two, the car gets very loose as you're exiting one, then you have a big wind pushing you through two which makes it very hard to make the corner. That was very hard to try to moderate the amount of downforce you needed to get a clean run.
This year it seems like the front tires go off a little quicker balance-wise, so it makes the last two laps of the run very hard. Definitely on my first attempt we struggled through turn two and actually had to lift, which brought our average down by quite a bit. The wind was definitely very tough. But it's the same for everybody.
Q. Can you explain what exactly would it mean to you to get back-to-back Indy 500 wins.
SCOTT DIXON: It would mean a lot. You know, I think to get your first one is definitely, you know, something that you strive to do and push as hard as possible. But I think, you know, the second one definitely -- it's hard to repeat at anything. That's why a lot of people, and all through my career, when I won a championship in a category, you move on to the next one. The worst possible thing is that you can only get beat.
I think to have the determination, not just from myself, but everybody throughout the team, to try to go for that second one, is always very difficult, especially in the competition at the moment.
But it would mean a lot. It would mean a huge amount of gratification in the fact that, you know, to do anything twice. It is very difficult. So it would definitely mean a lot. And you can't beat the check that you get at the end of it, too.
Q. Does it rankle with you that you may not have gotten the recognition you deserve back home?
SCOTT DIXON: Oh, I'd like to say different. I think, you know, the support that we have from back home, and it's unfortunate I only get back, you know, probably I think last year I did two four-day trips, so a total of eight days last year. So I think the amount of following or PR stuff that we had done down there was amazing, considering that I'm not really back there too often.
You know, it is very hard to keep up with that side of it. But, no, I thought it was the opposite, to be honest. But, you know, it just shows that I don't get down there too often and don't see a lot of it.
Q. The two weeks between qualifying and race day, how difficult is it to pass the time? You have practice and testing and the like. Is it a nervous two weeks?
SCOTT DIXON: It's actually more relaxed. The week leading up to Pole Day is very difficult. You know, you're constantly in a car that never feels nice because it's trimmed out, you're on low downforce, low fuel, you're trying to go for maximum speed. This week is more the relaxing time, the fact that you've got a car that handles quite well. You can run in terrific. That's probably the only not dangerous side of it, but I guess it is at some point if you can get taken out and ruin a car. To have a car that's confident under you, things seem to happen a little slower than when you are trimmed out for qualifying, things like that.
The middle week is a lot of fun. The week leading up to the race is always very difficult because you're really only in the car for about an hour on the Friday before the race. You know, you're doing a lot of media, a lot of dinners, a lot of sponsor appearances, and you're constantly thinking about the race, and you just want it to come around rather quickly, but it seems to stretch out a lot.
I'd say that the third and final week before the race is definitely the toughest one to deal with.
Q. Have you found the commitments have increased because you're defending Indy 500 champ?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think the commitment from the team is always strong. We always try and raise the game and do the best that we can. It's definitely always hard to gauge that. You'd say that Penske has definitely stepped it up a notch this year, and maybe qualifying I think we were chasing them a little bit. So far in race, you know, setup and consistency over a stint, we seem to be pretty decent. At least on power maybe we are a little better than Penske at the moment.
I think it is always hard to go back-to-back on a championship, and even a 500, you know, sometimes you maybe don't push as hard as you should. But I think after the start of the season, it was definitely a quick reminder, you know, none of this stuff is easy, we need to step it up. And the momentum from Kansas can hopefully carry through.
Q. (Question regarding the qualifying approach of the Penske team compared to the Ganassi team.)
SCOTT DIXON: That's another good question. You know, I think the approaches from the two teams are probably, you know, quite different. I think the way they maybe do their development or testing and things like that is definitely a little different from us, as well. Their approach to, you know, qualifying, I guess, you know, you kind of have to be fairly similar, you got to try to trim the car out as quick as possible.
The unfortunate thing about Indy is sometimes when you roll off for your first run, you know, you kind of know what you've got because everybody has been running this car for so long and it's very hard to try and play catch-up.
But, you know, I think, you know, and it can be different between the drivers on the same team. You know, it is a tough, tough question to answer actually. But I think the teams are separate in the way that they do the work before they get to the track.
Q. What has been the difference between you and your teammate this year? Has that made a difference in the team or your approach?
SCOTT DIXON: It's actually been a really smooth transition, you know. I've known Dario for many years now I think, you know, fairly well since 2001 when I first went into Champ Car. You know, we've been great friends. Definitely the transition in 2006 when I had Dan as a teammate was very different. We didn't get off on the right foot. We struggled a little bit for the first year. You know, it's the opposite with Dario and myself. We've been getting on great. We have some similarities. You know, it's still early in the season to try to get through that. But as far as working together and, you know, going for the same thing, you know, he's definitely been pretty fierce on the road courses, and I've learnt a lot so far. I've actually been learning a lot throughout the year and hopefully I can pick some of those things up to use later.
Q. This question is slightly removed from the actual race. I wonder if I could get your thoughts on the cutbacks that Formula One is going through at the moment and perhaps how in a year or two that will compare to the IndyCar Series.
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think the cutbacks in Formula One that they're talking about, you know, to make that feasible, you know, it's going to be very tough. I'm kind of not really in the loop of what it is, but I've heard a cap of like 60 or 70 million pounds. You've probably got double of that already in wages. So I'm not really sure how they're going to be able to make that feasible for the cutbacks in Formula One, and whether that is the right way of doing it.
I think the two formulas are vastly different. You've seen a big shakeup over there already this year with a lot of the big money teams maybe not doing as well as they thought. It just shows, sometimes that money maybe isn't the fix for everything. For them to go through that transition is going to be very tough.
You know, you're looking at, I don't know, 200 or 300, 400, 500 million dollar budgets that they have over there. We're talking maybe a 30 million dollar budget for a two-car IndyCar team. The two formulas are very different. Everybody is kind of running the same thing over here. Theirs are all very different cars, teams, engines, et cetera.
So I think we're already on that pullback and maybe that's why the funding for the racing over here still seems to be, you know, fairly different because you're not chasing for those massive amounts of, you know, budgets that you need to run over there.
So, you know, at the moment I can see that changing here, as well, and probably cutting back on a few different things, as they're already trying to do with testing, you know, the miles you can run the engines and things like that, tires, you know, et cetera. Even a lot of our events now are being cut down from a three-day event to a two-day event, which they're finding is saving a lot of money over a season, as well.
Q. So the IndyCar really is going through some sort of minor cutbacks with this recession?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, I think it's tough. You know, the big teams are still funded really well. I think when you got big sponsors such as Target, they feel the economy as well, but maybe not as much as some of the smaller ones that struggle to bring the kind of budgets that they're already doing.
But, you know, I think the IndyCar Series, to be honest, over the last four or five years, you know, that I've been involved with the series have always been very conscious of, you know, where they spend their money and things like that. I know when I was in Champ Car, the budgets were probably double. So to bring it back the amount they have already and to still be concentrating and knowing that they need to bring it down a little bit, you know, is definitely very good.
Q. With tomorrow being the final full day of practice, how important is it tomorrow to get the setup and everything right?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's just been -- every day has been, you know, critical this year. I think with the compressed, you know, amount of running that we have on the track, and then the weather, the month of May here in Indianapolis is always very tough. You know, that's been frustrating. And then the two combined has been, you know, really frustrating.
So I think anytime you get on the track, you've got to make sure you're making real good use of it. You're still limited quite a bit on tires and the amount of engine miles that you can do. So I think the next -- I think we got three days left, so we got a full day tomorrow and then qualifying Saturday, Sunday for the remaining 11 cars. So I think we'll still get a lot of testing. At the moment, I think we're in a pretty good shape, you know, with the race setup. And hopefully we can go into carb day Friday before the race confident to spend an hour on the car and hopefully get all the speed that we can out of it.
Q. Although you are the defending champ, do you feel bit of an underdog, given how fast Team Penske has been in qualifying, and Dario is straight back in the pace after coming back from NASCAR?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think, you know, all three of those guys are extremely motivated. Helio has had a bit of a brush with the law, skipped out of that. I think he's real motivated. Briscoe I think is stellar into last year and is trying to come out strong. And they definitely have. Dario definitely has not missed a beat.
I would like to think at the moment we're a bit of a sleeper. You know, we're only on the second row there, so I think we're definitely confident for the race. And, you know, when we look at it on qualifying day, it's probably a 10th and a half of a mile an hour out of second place. So it's extremely close. But we need to make sure we dot the Is and cross the Ts and get all we can out of it because I think it's definitely going to come down to that.
Q. How is Emma's pregnancy going and has impending fatherhood altered your attitude at all this year?
SCOTT DIXON: Thanks for that. Emma has been doing fantastic. She's been healthy all the way through. I think she had about a week period early on where she was kind of feeling a bit sick. But absolutely she's been doing great. You know, everything is going along as planned. There's been no sort of major mishaps yet, touch wood. We're planning at the end of July, hopefully if everything lines up, to be the Monday after the Edmonton race that Emma should be due. We'll see how it goes.
But, no, she's doing fantastic. And I can't wait. I'm definitely very excited. It's a big change in anybody's life. But I definitely can't wait for it. Something that I've been looking forward to for definitely the last seven months.
But, you know, just can't wait. I don't know how to say it's going to change. People say you change when you get married, too. They have stigmas about racing and things like that. I definitely always say you got to look after more people so you got to win more races and earn more money.
Q. Starting in the second row, what is your race-day strategy?
SCOTT DIXON: I think second row, you know, with the current testing, it's been a little harder to pass this year, which, you know, I guess is a little bit different when it comes to the race because, you know, you can't come in and make a change and everybody seems to be a little bit better when they're practicing by themselves.
You know, for me I definitely want to gain a good two or three spots on the first couple laps. Definitely going to go out fairly aggressive. It seems to be Indy sometimes I've even been in the same situation where you sort of let your guard down a little bit on the first couple laps, and people slip by. I think that's definitely going to count at the end of the race this year. I definitely want to be aggressive early and try to make up some of the spots we missed in qualifying and go after the lead.
Q. Is the key to winning speed or strategy pit stops or a combination?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, Indy is a combination. You know, I've been in many years, namely 2003, we had a super fast car, but strategy-wise and actually things let us down where, you know, you might be a mile an hour quicker than everybody, but you need everything to fall into line. You know, you could definitely see that with the Andrettis over the many 20, 30, 40 years that they've been running here and only winning one 500 but they've led the most laps by a landslide. It's a combination of speed, strategy, and obviously a bit of luck at the end. So we're definitely going to be trying to get all that.
THE MODERATOR: If there's nothing else, I think we are all set.
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