Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
August 23, 2006
TIM HARMS: Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll have three guests joining us this afternoon as we prepare for a race weekend at Infineon Raceway. Indy Pro Series driver Bobby Wilson is with us to start the call, and IndyCar Series driver Vitor Meira and Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes will join us in a few minutes.
BOBBY WILSON: How you doing, Tim?
Q. Great. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate that. Bobby drives the No. 24 Kenn Hardley Racing entry in the Indy Pro Series. He's currently third in points as we head into the double-header weekend at Infineon, 30 points behind leader Jay Howard. Bobby had three top five finishes in 2006, including a win on the road course at Watkins Glen in June. Bobby, you made your Indy Pro Series debut at Infineon last year, qualifying on the front row. This is the first track that we're racing at in 2006 that you've raced at before in an Indy Pro Series car. How much of an advantage will that be for you?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, I think I'm going to have the upper hand on a lot of these guys. I'm pretty excited to get back to Infineon, one of my favorite tracks, definitely feel very comfortable there. We don't have a lot of practice time going straight into qualifying. I think it's definitely going to be to my advantage having been there.
TIM HARMS: Tell me a little bit about the season so far. When you go to other tracks, every other track we've been to, it's kind of been your first time there. What is the learning process like when you get to a place for the first time?
BOBBY WILSON: They definitely have their different characteristics. You just have to learn and be patient, you know, work yourself up to speed. You know, I have a road racing background. I really feel comfortable doing the road courses, feeding off their new (indiscernible), like the USGP, I was able to learn the course on the test days and stuff. Just have to make every lap count, work with the engineers, try to get it right.
TIM HARMS: This isn't your first doubleheader at Infineon. I looked back. In 2004, the year you won the Cooper Tires Formula Ford V-Tech championship, that series had a doubleheader at Infineon. Kind of ironically, you won the first race that weekend and Jay Howard came back and won the second race. What do you remember from that race weekend?
BOBBY WILSON: I remember the opening laps of the second race were pretty hairy, a lot of cars on the track. I ended up catching a rock through my radiator which ended any chance of doing a back-to-back win.
I really love the course. I think it has a lot of characteristics about it that make it really unique. I'm able to really kind of tune into those, like blind corners, stuff like that that I really enjoy driving on. I think for the most part I enjoy it, so that makes it all that much better and I'm able to capitalize on that.
TIM HARMS: Of course, the doubleheader weekends in the Indy Pro Series are a bit different than some other series run them. The winner of Saturday's race will start sixth on Sunday. How tough does that make it? How tough will it be for someone to dominate the weekend and win both races? Secondly, how does that affect the battle for the championship?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, I think it's going to be pretty hard to pass there, just from my experience last year. I remember it was one of those courses where you kind of had to wait for a mistake to get ahead of somebody. You know, it's one of those things where hopefully everything pans out. You kind of need to be in the right spot at the right time to capitalize on certain situations. I think it's going to be a great race to watch. There's going to be a few guys that are going to be out front more so than others. I plan on being one of those guys.
TIM HARMS: What will it take for you to win the championship? You're 39 points behind Jay. Obviously someone is going to win race one. Maybe if it is tough to pass, like you say, they might finish fifth or sixth in race two. What is it going to take for you really the last couple races to make up those 39 points and get it done?
BOBBY WILSON: Well, I think seeing as how it's a road course, my will and determination in the past has made up for whatever situation I was in, you know, coming up and getting the best possible finish. I've been really focusing the last few weeks on just kind of going through the track in my head. I've been working out (indiscernible). He's behind me and he wants to help me out. I think those kind of things, I'm going in prepared for this 100% because I have to win. I'm very determined to do it. I'm going to stop at nothing and just come out swinging. We'll see what happens.
TIM HARMS: Let's open it up for some questions for Bobby.
Q. You mentioned you're preparing as much as you can for Sonoma. It's a hard track to prepare for with the blind curves and all this other stuff. What sort of preparation do you do and are you using any video games or anything like that to warm up?
BOBBY WILSON: Yeah, actually it's funny you say that. I've been like going through every corner on the track. It gets your timing down. You know how long you're on a certain straightaway, how long you need to be in the corner, where to get on the gas. These video games nowadays are pretty realistic in the way they have certain characters like bumps in the track, everything like that. I think it's a great training tool.
But nothing beats seat time in the car. I know some people have been out there testing to prepare themselves for this weekend. That's why I think my past experience at the course will be to my advantage. I'm going to try to capitalize on that. Other than that, a lot of athletic training. I try to prepare myself that way.
Q. Are you from California?
BOBBY WILSON: No. I'm actually from Wisconsin.
Q. Was your race last year your first race at Infineon or had you raced there before?
BOBBY WILSON: I actually raced there in 2004 in the Coopers V-Tech Series.
TIM HARMS: Bobby, that looks like all the questions we have for you today. I know you're at the airport getting ready to head out. Have a good flight. Good luck this weekend.
BOBBY WILSON: Thank you very much, Tim.
TIM HARMS: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Panther Racing driver Vitor Meira and team co-owner John Barnes. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
VITOR MEIRA: Good afternoon.
JOHN BARNES: Hello, guys.
TIM HARMS: Vitor drives the No. 4 Lincoln Tech Panther Racing Dallara, ranks fifth in points heading to Infineon. He has six top five finishes this season, including three seconds. One of those second place finishes came on the road course at Watkins Glen. He finished ninth last year at Infineon.
Vitor, Watkins Glen seems like a long time ago back in June. It is our most recent road course event. Can you carry any momentum from that second place finish back in June over to Infineon?
VITOR MEIRA: Yes, we can. We've been doing it. I know that Watkins was the last road course we had, but that was actually the beginning of our -- of Panther Racing's kind of rise in the championship. Since there, we've been carrying the momentum, whether it was short tracks or even Michigan track, long tracks. We've been carrying the momentum since then.
I'm sure we going to have a good car in Sonoma. Again, I'm sure we going to be able to carry the momentum we've been carrying since Watkins, not only from Watkins to Sonoma, but since Watkins we've been pretty competitive.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned Watkins Glen there, the rise of the team, really the push into the championship hunt here, moving into the top five. What caused that back there at Watkins Glen? What was the reason that suddenly at Watkins Glen things turned around and you guys started putting in some really strong results?
VITOR MEIRA: I think if we start to rationalize it, it was the time we spent in Indianapolis together because all we needed realistically was time. I mean, the car, the information that Panther has was already existed. We just had to actually learn about each other. I had to learn about the car because I was driving the G Force for two years. I had to learn about the engineer, the engineer had to learn about the car and myself. John had to kind of put it all together. It was just a lot to do, a lot to learn.
The month of May really helped us kind of understanding everything about each other, about the car. I think this translated to Watkins Glen and so on and so forth. That's why we always been improving in becoming better and better every race. It's just the time to learn about each other.
TIM HARMS: You're fifth in points right now, 70 points down. Obviously there's a lot of ground to make up in two races. However, last year at Infineon Sam finished 17th, Helio was 21st, Dan was 18th. Do you think we could see something like that again where the real strong guys have a rough day out there?
VITOR MEIRA: I think it's been the story of road courses. There are really fast guys. I think we've been kind of among them, but they've been having problems. I mean, it's not only last year. You'll see, for example, Dario, Sam, all those guys, on St. Pete, they had problems a lot. I mean, Dario was dominating everything, and he didn't finish the race. In Watkins happen the same thing. I think we can see it.
If I can see ourselves catching up 50 points or so. To be honest, I couldn't see us on the beginning of the year with the amount of work, the amount of stuff we had to do, I couldn't really see us being in fifth right now hunting for a championship. But anything can happen, yeah.
TIM HARMS: What are your personal goals for the last two races? The championship is there. Maybe a little bit out of reach. Do you have the goal to win the championship or is it something else?
VITOR MEIRA: I think deep everybody has this goal to win the championship. I mean, again, the primary goal that everybody approaches the weekend, doesn't matter which strategy they have, it's doing a hundred percent of we can do. By the end of the day, it's all we can do.
I'm sure that if I'm a hundred percent, if I give my best on Sunday, if the engineers give their best on Sunday, if we can take a hundred percent out of the car, it's going to be a good day.
The bottom line is, the goal is to reach that, to take a hundred percent of every situation and everything we have.
TIM HARMS: John, Panther Racing seems to play the underdog role really well. I know it was a really trying off-season for you guys. Here you are fifth in points. You signed some sponsors like Revive, Lincoln Tech recently. Tell us about how the year has progressed.
JOHN BARNES: Well, I think you summed it all up. It went from everybody in the media telling us that we weren't going to compete at the first race, and secondly we were only going to make it to the second race. Here we are with two races to go. You know, as you say, we've had a lot of great success. We've had a lot of great people. We've been able to put together really good mechanics, I think a great engineering staff. As Vitor said, we've had a lot of support through the years that we've been able to rely on.
I think one of the key things here this season that people aren't really talking about is the parity of the engine program. With what Honda's done to keep everything on a level playing field from the motor standpoint, it really makes it a lot easier for people to do what we've done.
TIM HARMS: And now it seems like the team is obviously in a position of strength with the IndyCar program doing well. You have committed to running in the Indy Pro Series next year with a partnership with IUPUI. How do things look for '07?
JOHN BARNES: I think good. You never know till it's done. We've got a lot of exciting things happening in the background. We have a new partner this year with Ignition out of Atlanta. They do just a tremendous job on our marketing side. That's the one piece that we've missed since we've been in business. I think Ignition has really come through and put together a good marketing program for us. It's attracting now people that want to come on board for the remainder of this season and next year.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for both Vitor and John.
Q. Have you guys made a deal for '07?
VITOR MEIRA: Go ahead, boss.
JOHN BARNES: We're in the process of doing the negotiations right now for '07. I think we definitely -- Panther can't see anybody driving the 4 car but Vitor Meira. I can tell you, it would cost me my house and home and everything else, my wife would divorce me if he wasn't driving our car. We all love him. We definitely think he'll be in the car for us next year.
The thing that we're so excited about is that we see where we're at. We knew it was going to take us six months to get the program together, get Vitor and our engineering staff to understand the Dallara, the things we've done in the past. We got to that point now. We think next year, if the IRL doesn't do anything stupid and change the rules for our cars, you know, we'll have the package.
VITOR MEIRA: Myself, the same, likewise. That's where I want to be. I found a lot of not only friends here, but as John said, it's more like a family. I want to be here for a long time.
Q. Vitor, with that said, you have had for the last few years to go through winters looking for rides. Knowing that there's a great possibility that you'll be in the same seat for '07, that stability has got to do nothing but help you.
VITOR MEIRA: That's one thing I never had for a number of situations I've been in. This is one thing in IndyCars I never his continuability (sic), which is a big part of winning races and winning championships. You have to have continuability (sic), you have to learn about each other. And now with how competitive the championship is, any edge you can find, it's always welcome.
For example, you'll see Penske with Castroneves, they've been on the program for a number of years. With Dixon and Kanaan. I mean, you can name tons of drivers and teams been together for a long time, and that's a reason behind it. It's not just because they like each other, but because also you can do a better work with a little more time and learn about each other and take a hundred percent about everything.
Q. John, for a number of years you were called the top dog of IRL IndyCar racing. Now everyone calls you the underdog. Do you want to get back to that first label that they gave you?
JOHN BARNES: I can tell you you're talking to somebody that hates to lose. We know where we've been both long-term and short-term. We have a good idea of what we've got to do to get back to victory circle on a regular basis. We think with Vitor and our group of people now that that's attainable week in and week out.
We definitely have had to hustle and fight and everything else to stay in business this year from a financial standpoint. But now, you know, it appears that through the hard work of everybody there, we've gained enough attention from the corporate world that they're willing to support us.
Q. Vitor, what makes Sonoma so tough?
VITOR MEIRA: On my point of view is, one, the elevation change. It's not only the elevation that makes it hard, but with the elevation change, it happens always through the corners. When it happens, the steering gets really, really heavy. We already have a lot of downforce, a lot of grip. If you're going, for example, even turning uphill, the steering gets really, really heavy.
And the second thing is the lack -- I don't want to say the lack, but a characteristic of the course, there's not many straightaways. There's a lot of high-speed corners, but not much straightaways that you can relax and catch your breath. Physically, it's the most demanding place I've ever been, even letting alone the technical side, which is again one of the hardest ones.
Q. John, a lot of talk this season about the IRL and Champ Car getting back together. Are the team owners involved with any of this? Are you kept up to speed with what's going on? Do you hear things secondhand and try to figure things out?
JOHN BARNES: Yes (laughter).
Q. Do you think they should get back together?
JOHN BARNES: There's obviously a lot of people, mainly the media, that think we need to have a marriage to get back together. At this point in time, I don't see a lot that they bring to the table. I've been one of the people that's been very voicterous (sic) about that. They've got four or five cars that are funded by sponsors, the rest of them are funded by their league. Are they going to continue to do that when they come to the IRL?
I think we have a great series. We've got a great engine manufacturer with Honda. The teams stand on their own. With that said, I think, would it be nice if all those guys came back and ran over here? Sure. Am I willing to give up anything, I mean anything, to get them to come back here? Absolutely not.
Q. You mentioned with the sponsors. That's something that both sides have a lot of trouble with. Would getting more sponsors be easier in a united league or would it still be tooth and nail?
JOHN BARNES: I tell you, someone asked me this same question about a week ago. There would be a window of opportunity of about six months if the thing got back together, the way I see it. I think there would be a window of about six months that we would have to really gain momentum. If that fails, I think it would be hard to sustain any open-wheel racing.
Q. John, you possibly more than any owner can get the most bang out of a dollar (indiscernible). Can you explain some of the misunderstood (indiscernible)?
JOHN BARNES: I try to stay as far away from that as much as I can. I'm in the spending division of Panther Racing, not the making division. As I mentioned before, we've had a lot of tremendous partners in the past. They have spent countless, countless millions of dollars on us to get us where we're at. We've been able to this year here live off of what we owned and what we kept out of the auction that we had. Guys have just done a tremendous job. Ron Kent, our team manager, between him and Amber Simpson, our parts people, two of the most stingy people I ever met in my life and I love 'em. They really bust their butt to make sure that every dime that we spent, not every dollar, but every dime we spent goes to the racetrack. That's been our history since day one. Nobody gets rich at Panther off of what we've got. We always try to do one thing, and that's to try to get as much results as we possibly can.
I think, you know, with that being said, I mean, we've been entirely blessed by people who work for us who have the same, you know, upbringing and focus that we do.
Q. If you were one of the teams that were seriously underrated, didn't make any money, maybe you crashed a couple of cars and so forth, do you suppose at the end of a season like that you could keep ahead financially?
JOHN BARNES: No, I mean, I can tell you, it's taken every cent that we can put together to get where we're at. We've had a lot of help from our partners, being able to pay them over time, to do things to get where we're at here. Everyone helped us because everybody sees the need for us to continue in the IRL. We made a little bit of money on our auction. We've had some support from Harrah's, from some other sponsors we've had through the years. We had a guy who bought into the company. I mean, it's been a tough fight.
It's not over, but we do see, we've had a lot of interest from people who have been in the sport and who are in the sport as far as corporately. It's getting better every day.
Again, I have to lay a lot of that stuff on to Ignition and our sales force for being able to get that. We've always concentrated on winning races and being a good partner to our sponsors. When it comes down to it, we have to be out in the corporate world and sell ourselves that way, too.
Q. How many cars do you have or could you assemble?
JOHN BARNES: We have five. We had nine. We sold the four. We kept five.
Q. I take it the Infineon car is strictly a road machine, is that correct?
JOHN BARNES: Actually, it's a car we took to Indy that we were going to run at Indianapolis. Ended up that we ran another one. It's a great race car.
TIM HARMS: Gentlemen, thanks again for joining us. Glad to see the strong results this season and good luck this weekend.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you very much. See you in Sonoma, boss.
JOHN BARNES: I already am here, got a box of wine, I'm having fun.
VITOR MEIRA: After the race.
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