Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: Welcome to Homestead Miami Speedway. These are our "Young Guns", if you will, led by the 2003 Rookie of the Year, Dan Wheldon, who returns for his second season with Andretti Green Racing, and it's kind of interesting, the fact that it will be his first full season with Andretti Green Racing. Dan managed to win the 2003 Rookie of the Year award despite the fact that he did not race here for Phoenix. You missed the first two, right?
DAN WHELDON: That's correct. I think.
MIKE KING: We also have with us today Thomas Scheckter, and Thomas has made the move from Target Chip/Ganassi Racing to Pennzoil Panther Racing. We'll talk to him about that. Buddy Rice who joins us with Team Rahal and will be in a substitute role for Kenny Brack until such time that Kenny is able to return from his injuries. And Bobby Rahal a couple of weeks ago said, "No pressure, Buddy." But if Buddy is in the hunt championship-wise, he will have a second entry for the team. And last but not least, our young gun, Bryan Herta, who is our most veteran young gun here today. So our most veteran young gun would be Bryan Herta who returns for his second season with Andretti Green Racing. He did an incredible job last year in a substitute role for Dario Franchitti, won a race and if I'm not mistaken, Bryan, you had five Top-6s, five Top-10s? He had the win at Kansas where he was able to get some incredible mileage and post a win at Kansas Speedway last year at the Kansas Indy 3 100. First, our defending Rookie of the Year, you come back, no longer a rookie you're a veteran now, how much are you looking forward to 2004?
DAN WHELDON: It's going to be good from the fact that this is the first time I've been with the same team consecutive years. So I think that's going to play into my hands a little bit and certainly help. I think it's going to be a tough season. There's going to be a ton of people that can compete strongly week-in and week-out. As I said earlier, you'll see as many as ten people that could possibly win any one of the particular races. I don't think I'm exaggerating saying that. No, I'm very much looking forward to it. I know it's going to, like I said, be tough. But with the team, with the three teammates that I've got, I think we are going to feature very strongly.
MIKE KING: Thomas, for the third season, you're making the transition to a new team. Tell us, if you would, is it difficult to make a transition from a new team? You've spent a lot of time with the Panther guys, you have done some testing already, is it just a normal progression.
THOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I'm getting quite used to jumping from team to team. I don't think it's a good thing. But hopefully this year, I'll settle down properly, and so far so good. The Pennzoil car has been going great and I've been getting along with the team very well. Hopefully I can have a successful season this season and some more seasons after that.
MIKE KING: You and Thomas have a little bit in common in terms of your lineage getting here, but the bottom line is in 2004 you started season with Team Rahal and that is a opportunity that was afford you /TPAU /AOEBGs ago. I know you talked about your excitement over the opportunity. Just talk about preparations for the season.
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think right now, the main objective is to make sure we keep the No. 15 car up front. Also, part of this is, I am adding as a fill-in. This is to save the seat right now for Kenny Brack. So whenever he is ready and feel that he's properly prepared to come back, and he can. This is his seat and he deserves a seat. But for us, we've just got to make sure that we get the car with our new package with the Honda and the g-force that we can get everything sorted out, get the new car rolling and get me comfortable with the team and stuff. I've been with Rahal before. I was a test driver in 2001 and we've obviously had a lot of conversations in the past few years. Obviously, with what happened to Kenny, we were talking a lot. So, this is an excellent opportunity. I'm glad to be with Honda and the whole package. This is an excellent opportunity for myself and it's a properly run team and this is what I've been looking for. Hopefully we can go out there and prove something.
MIKE KING: Confirming what we were talking about, you ran 11 races for Andretti Green Racing last year, and you had six Top-5s including the win we talked about at Kansas when they announced the fourth car, and I know it had to mean good things for you. But four-car teams, that's quite an undertaking for Andretti Green Racing.
BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, time will tell. I think right now, we are all very enthusiastic and we have a lot of optimism for the advantages we see in a four-car team, especially with the testing restrictions from the IRL. We should be able to gather a lot of data. It will be interesting to see how we manage that and all of the logistics that go with running four cars. I do think that if anybody can handle it, the experience last year, they ran three and a half cars last year. It wasn't too much of a stretch for them to do this.
Q. Bryan, as a team, how do you treat Dan Wheldon?
BRYAN HERTA: Danny is the rook. He's the rookie. He does take his share of jokes and stuff and he takes it all in stride. I think that's part of being on this team is we all joke a lot amongst ourselves. He's got to be able to put up with that and take that, and also get back a little bit, or you're just going to get eaten alive. That's one of the things.
DAN WHELDON: He hasn't seen his rental car yet.
BRYAN HERTA: You just wait. We have a lot of fun. We have a lot of fun on the team. More often than not, Dan is a part of that unwitting part of it.
DAN WHELDON: Like I said, he doesn't know what's happened to his rental car right now. And actually I must tell this little story because he can't change it now. The Honda that he just ordered is now coming with 15- or 16-inch wheels instead of the 18 or 19. Michael approved that, as well. (Laughter).
MIKE KING: We look forward to seeing it.
BRYAN HERTA: So do I. (Laughter).
Q. Do any of you have a take on what could happen tomorrow in Indianapolis? Do you want to see a single series and a return to some road and street course venues?
BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, full stop. I'd love to go road racing. I think most of the guys here in the IRL teams and drivers, are ready and willing to do that. =I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. But if the result is we get to do some road racing and add to the schedule, I think that's awesome. Certainly one series moving forward would be better for the sport, but it's kind of out of our control right now. We are sitting just like you are wondering what's going to happen.
THOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I think exactly like Bryan Herta said, I would will have to do some road courses. I've done it my whole life. Only these last two years that I've done ovals. To go back to road courses would be great. And again, I think it would be great for the sport, it would be great for single-seater racing and I think that you will see maybe a massive incline in the crowds and the fans because there's a variety and they don't get confused between two series. But again, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I think we all hope for one result, and that's that it will come to the IRL.
BUDDY RICE: Everyone is on the same page. We know that if you unite the two different parties together some way, somehow it's going to make it stronger for all of the open-wheel series. It's going to be up to the IRL's front office and what happens tomorrow in the courts but we all know that if we unite, it's going to be better, it's going to be stronger and most everybody within the series has been a road racer at some point in time basically, and they would like to all go back and do that. So we can go back to just the big venues that will support this, I think, yeah, it could be strong if it happened. It's something that everybody wants.
DAN WHELDON: I agree with what the other three guys have said. I think for me, I would love to go road course racing, and I would love to stick with the oval, as well. It would be a good mix. I'm very happy with where I'm at.
MIKE KING: Thomas, you have come to Homestead Miami Speedway the last couple of years and had some pretty good success relatively speaking. The fact that this track configuration-wise is different now, is that a plus, is that a minus for you? What do you think?
THOMAS SCHECKTER: Well, I don't think it's a plus or minus for me. It's just a different track all around and it means, you know we have to run different setups; and I think you will see it's a different race the last year, there's less banking and obviously the way it is now, you'll see a lot closer racing, and I think a lot more side-by-side than you did last year. So, I can't really say, will it suit me more. I do like this sort type of rise race, Texas, Fontana, those are the sort of tracks that I've done well in the past. So maybe it will be a little bit of advantage to me.
MIKE KING: You didn't run here last year, but if I'm not mistaken, you had run on this track previous. What about you? Are you anxious to get out here and see how the changes have really affected your setup here?
BRYAN HERTA: I actually tested with Thomas doing a Firestone test two weeks ago. I think for me, our cars, the track as it was, was a great Indy car track, but obviously it wasn't maybe ideally suited to NASCAR, too. So this is going to be different and it will be interesting with all of the cars here to see how it stacks up.
Q. Does this track at all compare configuration to the Kansas track in?
BRYAN HERTA: I don't think it's too much like anything. The corner radius's are actually tighter even than Chicago. It's different still. I think the variable banking is going to be interesting, too, because I don't think anybody has really spent a lot of time running up in the higher bank grooves yet, and to see if that makes it easier or harder to pass, I don't know.
Q. Thomas, does this configuration now compare to any other track that's on the series calendar?
THOMAS SCHECKTER: Exactly like Bryan said, there's nothing similar and even some of these tracks, they say they got built at the same time and they are meant to be identical and they still are not. Even with the new configuration where the banking goes up, I do think it is going to be better racing. There might be -- I'm not sure if there's going to be a problem. I'd like to see in the lower lane and you try to go to a higher lane with the transition. So far I've done up-and-down and it has not been a problem. So I don't think there should be any problems when it comes to racing here.
Q. You said you're an open-wheeler at heart, but how different is the experience in this place in something that weighs twice what your car will weigh that you're going to take out tomorrow?
BUDDY RICE: Two opposite ends of the spectrum basically. With the weight ratio versus the two vehicles, it is extremely and dramatically different. The one thing we notice even when we came here in the truck and tested, the pole speed was up almost 30 miles an hour, 25 miles an hour from what it was a year previously when the track was a lot flatter. So that obviously means that we come here, we are going to be a lot faster, and it's going to be similar to some of the other tracks we run on. Like I said, I have not driven in an IRL car yet. I'm not sure what the transitions will be like. You could notice it in the truck, but you're dealing with a lot heavier mass and a lot smaller tires. So the car is wrapping a little bit differently and the car has sidewall to it, so there's more flex that way. I think it's obviously the two guys that just talked previously have tested on it, and they know what it's like. So they have the best feel overall because it's so much different and so much weight; it's just different.
Q. Have you tested on the newly-configured track?
THOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I tested here at the end of the year, and I think it's going to be a Super Speedway type race. I think it's going to be -- it's going to be the cluster of cars that run up the front, side-by-side and behind one another. It will be interesting for the fans. I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Bryan, as an American driver, what does the Indianapolis 500 mean for you?
BRYAN HERTA: Well, I still view it, and I think being American is not necessarily that different from everybody. I still think it's the single biggest motor race in the world and probably the one that's most prestigious to win. It's entirely unique in all of motor sports with the qualifying practice procedures and the amount of time that you spend at the track and all of the history with some of the corny things you do. But there's so much history to it, that it's almost like it's an honor to do some of those things. I really enjoyed my experience with it as a rookie when I really was a young gun. And I just loved every minute of it and I look back fondly, not just the race but all of the y stuff, the parade and all of the hoopla, the public drivers meeting and the stuff that Indy is, and having at least experienced it before, I think I'm even more excited knowing what to expect going back.
Q. And Mr. Foyd (ph)?
BRYAN HERTA: And Mr. Ganassi. It was my first Indy car race in '94. The longest race I had done prior to that was 75 miles. That was a big eye-opener, sort of like Dan was this past year. (Laughter).
Q. Dan, for you, if someone had said to you five, six, maybe eight years ago, that four drivers from the U.K. would be competing against each other in the United States and an all-oval series, would that have been far-fetched?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, it seems like the Brits are taking over. It says a lot about British Motor Sport and American in general. I think each Brit team is capable of winning, not only races, but the championships. They are top teams. It says a lot that the American Motor Sports community are giving them opportunities over here, and I think you're just going to see more and more. I love racing over here. I think when I went back to the auto sport show in January, people could actually feel that. They will be intrigued to watch the races on Sky Sports. Even saying that, a lot of them are going to be coming over. I think you'll see more and more fans try and get to the big races like Chicago and the Indianapolis 500, the races that are in the big cities.
Q. There really isn't any animosity with the drivers in the two open-wheel series; would you all like to be under one banner, I guess would be the proper way to phrase it? Thomas?
THOMAS SCHECKTER: Well, I think we would just like to be under the same banner so we can race against each other and beat each other. I think that's the only thing. I think to be honest, I'm not very friendly with any of the drivers, friendships, not phoning them every day and asking them how they are doing. I don't know a lot of them, but I wouldn't mind racing against them and beating them. I think that's the main part.
BRYAN HERTA: Absolutely there's no animosity amongst the drivers. There's no reason for it to be. I've driven on both sides and that's true amongst the CART drivers and the IRL drivers. I think as a driver, you kind of go where the opportunity is and sometimes it goes one way and sometimes it goes the other.
BUDDY RICE: It's the same thing. I mean, everyone wants to run against each other and basically if all of open-wheel is under the same umbrella, that means all of the top place are going to be together. So it doesn't keep everybody all split up. It would be better, it's the only way to do it, but there's definitely no animosity or no problems between people within the groups.
DAN WHELDON: Well, I think just to get all of the drivers and all of the teams together in one series would make for some very interesting racing for the open-wheel racing community in general. Then we could rival that other series, NASCAR, pretty well, I think.
MIKE KING: Gentlemen, we appreciate it and we look forward to watching you guys turn laps tomorrow.
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