Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TIM HARMS: We will feature three guests, P.J. Chesson a two-time winner in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series; Adrian Fernandez owner/driver in the IRL Indy Car Series; and Robert Clarke, vice president and general manager of Honda Performance Development. We'll start the call with P.J. Welcome, good afternoon, P.J.
P.J. CHESSON: Thank you.
TIM HARMS: P.J. joined the Menards Infiniti at Kansas where he turned his first laps, ever, really, on pavement. His background is in the World of Outlaws, and prior to Kansas his experience was completely in winged Sprint cars on small dirt ovals. Had a second place finish in just his third race with the Pro Series, and drove into victory circle at each of the last two races in Michigan and Kentucky. That has to be more than you ever really expected.
P.J. CHESSON: Absolutely. Well, Kathryn Nunn, my owner, when we first signed this thing, I believe it was two months ago was when we decided we would go ahead and give this a shot. There were no expectations. Just go out, get our feet wet, see how we like it, see how everyone adapts to it, get some top fives, you know, it would be nice if we could do that. We've exceeded everyone's expectations, including my own, by miles. I mean, I don't know what else to say. I mean, to win two races in a row in only your fifth start is pretty impressive with a brand new team and a rookie driver. So we are just really fortunate right now to have this kind of luck coming our way.
TIM HARMS: That's very impressive. With two victories you've already moved up into fifth place in the points standings. Does that give you any reason to start thinking about making a run at the championship, does that kind of thought even enter your mind at this point?
P.J. CHESSON: Not really. I don't need that kind of pressure this year. Still a rookie, still only my fifth race, and when you start applying pressures like that, I think that it becomes more of a distraction than it does any kind of motivating strategy for us. I think that it's just going to be good to stay on track doing what we're doing and see if we can just stay consistent for the rest of the year. If we don't win another race for the rest of the year, we still have had an extremely great run at the last eight races that we raced.
TIM HARMS: In each of your two wins at Michigan and Kentucky, you've run a very high line around the track, and obviously that's working for you up there, but it seems to be a different line than the rest of the field is taking. Is that where you're really more comfortable, up there?
P.J. CHESSON: I think so. I don't know why. It just seems like I can see who is it sitting in the front row of the stands better when I'm up closer to them than when I run down on the track. That's very important to me.
TIM HARMS: All of the good looking girls sit in the front row; right?
P.J. CHESSON: That's all I'm looking for, man.
TIM HARMS: After winning Saturday, you joked about celebrating by going to the library. How did you spend your Saturday night, or is that something you can even tell us?
P.J. CHESSON: My Saturday night was -- what did I do Saturday night? We had a good time Saturday night. I don't know if I can go -- I don't know if I should be talking about that right now, Tim. I shouldn't say that. I was tired. You know after a race like that, you want to go home and just think about it. We went to dinner with Kathryn and Morris, did the autograph thing. I gambled. I lost some money. Ended up going home and going to bed. So it wasn't very eventful.
TIM HARMS: Plenty of time to celebrate after the season.
P.J. CHESSON: Yeah.
TIM HARMS: You came into the Pro Series from the dirt track and the short track background as we mentioned earlier, obviously your performance should serve as an incentive to others in those forums, but there's a good future for them in the IRL. Would you agree with that?.
P.J. CHESSON: Well, I definitely think that it should serve as some kind of a confidence boost to a lot of these guys, or at least a motivator because I have -- I don't have really any pavement experience. I never really raced on pavement and I know there's a lot of extremely talented, young drivers in the short track dirt world that given the opportunity, could do just as good as the next guy in this series, I believe, given the opportunity. I think notoriously, it's cost too much money for them to be able to make the jump to the premiere series or premiere level of open-wheel racing, and I think as this series becomes more and more established and the fan base grows and the sponsors come, I think it's going to going to open a lot of doors for a lot of short-track racers and they know that -- I want to say we, dirt track guys are, are capable of getting in a car given the right opportunity and making good things happen. So, yeah, I definitely think it's a good motivator.
TIM HARMS: One of the next drivers who is going to make that transition from some of dirt tracks and short tracks type of things is your brother, James. Mo Nunn Racing and Menards Infiniti Pro Series happy to announce today that he is going to be in a second Mo Nunn car coming up at the Chicagoland race in September. He tested for the first time in the Pro Series car yesterday at Kentucky Speedway. Tell us a little bit about how his day went and then how his deal has come together with Kathryn and the Mo Nunn team.
P.J. CHESSON: Well, I guess the way his deal came together was James being the great brother that he is, as well as my mother, has been coming to all of my races and supporting me and really talking me through the weekend, helping me with my line, just because he's raced a little bit of pavement stuff where I never have, and so it was really good to be able to have him there to help me with the pavement side of it. He's been showing more and more of an interest, and I kept asking him, what do you think, what do you think, do you want to do this, do you want to give it a shot. He kept saying, well, I don't know. And then finally, he said, "Yeah, man, you know what I'd love to give it a shot." So we got to talking with Kathryn and I said, you know, this guy is a really extremely capable guy and he's young and he's eager to do it and he can win races; let's give him shots and see what he thinks. So the least I can do is put in a contract and get them talking in that direction; Kathryn Nunn, obviously, and my brother. And they came to an agreement, let's test him at Kentucky. So we tested him yesterday in Kentucky and the test went absolutely in awesome. He's really comfortable with the car. He looked very smooth. Kathryn was really excited about it. Everybody was. I think it your turned out to be good.
TIM HARMS: What about him, was he running the high line, too?
P.J. CHESSON: He was fishing around. I think he's just trying to get comfortable with the rear engine car and lying down in the seat. Yeah, he seems to be really good at it. Seemed very comfortable. Staying away from the high line. I don't think he was searching for the cushion like I was.
TIM HARMS: A little bit lighter here for you, but I've heard that in the World of Outlaws competition, you and James had some very intense moments on the track. Should we expect any of the same thing from each you two guys on the ovals of the Pro Series?
P.J. CHESSON: I don't know. I think any time there's a little brotherly love, you're going to have some probably pretty good battles. We're not looking to battle with each other as much as we're looking to be teammates and help one another. He and I have a really good relationship where I'm very supportive of him and he's extremely supportive of me. I think it's going to be beneficial for us to work together, rather than try and race one another. I don't have a teammate, so when you have a teammate there's no point -- I'm just as happy for him as he would -- as he would be for me to win a race. Now, obviously, we were talking, it's funny you asked that because we were talking about it yesterday in the car and said, "What the hell were we going to do when it comes down to the white flag and I have a better car than you, do you think I'm just going to want to let you win?" He said, "Well, I don't know what we're going to do; we're going to have to play that one by ear." It could get interesting but definitely for the whole race we are going to work together and share a lot of information and see if we can help one another get better and ultimately put on a better show, you know.
Q. How did it all come about, you and your brother, James, and Mo Nunn, Kathryn Nunn, that's a big transition in the World of Outlaws into rear-engine open-wheel cars. How were you discovered or was it the type of thing where you were working at it?
P.J. CHESSON: How it came about is you take the World of Outlaw Sprint car and you look at the next level over or up, whichever one you feel more comfortable using, NASCAR, IRL, where do you want to go, and the one that's the most similar that would be probably the easiest transition I thought for me would be IRL. I love open-wheel race and I like wings and the whole aero side of iit, the technical side of it. I have just naturally been around stock car racing, because it's in your face, it seemed to be the direction where a lot of the open-wheel guys, the dirt guys when they get the opportunity, it's always like in a stock car or Silver Crown car or something like that. You just kind of naturally hear about that. I decided I would go and learn a little bit about the open-wheel racing and IRL and see what it's all about. I went out for the month of May and got hanging around the Speedway talking with people, and the more I was around, the more I thought, hey, these things are pretty cool, this could be fun. I got to talking Roger Bailey, and I said, what do you think, man? What's this all about. We got talking and he said, well, let me put you in contact with an owner that's looking to get into it and see how you guys hit it off. He introduced me to Kathryn Nunn, and Kathryn and I sat down in her hospitality bus and just started talking and next thing I know, we're negotiating a deal.
Q. Next year the Indy Car Series is going to start running some road courses. What would you be your feeling of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series running on the dirt?
P.J. CHESSON: Running on the dirt?
Q. Thought that would get you.
P.J. CHESSON: Who's running on the dirt?
Q. No, it's just a joke.
P.J. CHESSON: I was going to say, we're going to -- put the Pro Series cars on a dirt track. (Laughing).
Q. Menards Infiniti Pro Series may be going to the dirt and your dirt background what would you think about running one of those on dirt?
P.J. CHESSON: Not much. I drove one through the grass when I was doing donuts in Kentucky, and I didn't like it.
Q. Now that you've got your brother involved, of course, the Nunn name is magic in open-wheel racing in America. Are you guys going to explore family dynamics over the next few months?
P.J. CHESSON: We sure are. We've been hanging out. It seems like a very family-oriented situation because my dad is there, my brother is there, Kathryn and Morris are there. We sit down and it's pretty cool to be able to talk. They are such incredible people, both Kathryn and Morris, and Morris obviously is a wealth of information and experience and knowledge. Kathryn is an extremely savvy business woman with a strong desire to win and be successful. I think if you put that combination together, there's a very strong camp over there. We have great guys working for us, and now to have my brother on board and have an awesome teammate, you put those ingredients together, it means we are laying groundwork for a great success story. We'll have to see how it all pans out.
Q. Did you get a sense that Ms. Nunn precocious start here is a source of family pride or maybe put a little more pressure on the other garage?
P.J. CHESSON: I don't think it's putting any pressure on Torro. The Indy car team right now, everyone has their turn at the barrel. I think that they are a steadfast group over there and Morris is a great engineer and has got good people working there. I think that Torro is going to be just fine, they will have that stuff sorted out here in the next few weeks and he'll be back racing again right where they would like to be. As far as our program goes, we are just sticking with it and having a good time wherever it takes us, it takes us.
Q. When you look over at the other garage and see a Mark Taylor or the other past veterans in the series, is that kind of an incentive, an inspiration to the guys at Infiniti Pro Series garage about what might be out there?
P.J. CHESSON: Yeah, I think there's definitely a lot of opportunity there. The guys, it was pretty cool, you know, after the race, the Kentucky race, I went to the autograph session and a lot of the drivers, big-car guys were there, Darren Manning in particular, a few others. They walked by and were congratulating me saying it was a great race and stuff. People are definitely watching. Engineers for other teams and bigger cars, everyone has kind of got their eye on the series and they are seeing what it's doing, how they are racing, what's becoming of it. I think they are even looking at the lines the guys are racing and what the track is doing and which way it's going. I think they are slowly starting to pay a little more attention to it. I think that's great. I think it's awesome that A.J. and Mark Taylor are in that series as long as -- Ed Carpenter, as well. I think that it's a great incentive. I think that Thiago has got some really good opportunity maybe coming up, and we'll just have to see.
TIM HARMS: Thank you so much for joining us. I'm sure if we do add those road courses next year, you will keep it on the pavement. Good luck at Pike's Peak. We welcome now to the call Robert Clarke from Honda and Adrian Fernandez, owner and driver in the Indy Car Series. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
ROBERT CLARKE: Thank you.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you for having us.
TIM HARMS: Robert, let me start with couple questions for you. This has been a banner year for Honda. You have won 10 of the first 12 races, including Twin Ring Motegi and the Indianapolis 500. You captured the Manufacturer's Championship with the win by Adrian on Sunday. Congratulations on a great season.
ROBERT CLARKE: Thank you. It's been a dream season is what it's been. It's well beyond our expectations. Just a tribute to all of the hard work and effort that's gone into the program by our team and drivers, we have a technical partner and everybody involved.
TIM HARMS: I mentioned Twin Ring Motegi and the 500 and the manufacturer's title, three really landmark events. Talk a little about the significance of each of those and does any one of those carry more weight an the others? What ranks as the biggest thing that's happened to Honda this year?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, you know, most people would think that the Indy 500 is the big carrot and the most important event, but Motegi is, I would say, equally important to us. Somebody asked me after the Motegi race, you know, what it felt like and how it compared to something else. I equated it to our very first win when we started racing in the Indy Car Series; it was a huge event. To struggle to try to win that event for seven years and then finally achieve it in such grand style was really, really satisfying. Honda built that track to bring American-style oval racing to Japan, and we always felt a void there in not being able to -- all of our enthusiasts that follow Honda racing for the win and to finally do that was very special.
Q. Now, there's still five races remaining and obviously a handful of Honda drivers at the top of the points standings battling for the title. What are the goals that drive the Honda team at this point?
ROBERT CLARKE: Definitely, now that we have met one of our key objectives in winning the manufacturer's title. I've reassured our teams and drivers that we have no intention of backing off. It's our plan to try to win all of the remaining races if we can. So the answers to development will continue to the end of season. I know we have spec changes in the engine that will actually be implemented in the last race, so it's an ongoing battle. We know that our competition is not sitting still. If we did just kind of back off and rest on our accomplishments so far this season, for sure the competition would match us and blindly pass us. So we're keeping the nose to the grindstone and we're working as hard as we can. We're fortunate to have a number of our teams, of course, within the Top-10 of the championship and we know that they will all be fighting furiously to win that title. That company, knowing that they are going to be working as hard as they possibly can to give themselves the best results which, in fact, will give us the best results.
TIM HARMS: Adrian, congratulations to you on earning the first victory of your Indy Car Series career.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much. We're very, very excited.
TIM HARMS: What kind of emotions do you still have now that it's two days later from the race?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, I tell you what, it's been a nice surprise for all of us. Mexico has been taking this win tremendously well and we have been getting a lot of calls from media, from friends. It's almost like when it was my first win at Honda, everybody has been extremely happy for our first win and in our country. And now with the Olympics, they felt this win has made the ambiance in Mexico very, very high and very proud and they make me feel very proud of that. This weekend, with a lot of hard work from the team from the team in the last few weeks, working very hard, I put a lot of pressure on the engineers to try to make the car faster. I was not happy finishing where we were finishing and we made some good changes that really put us back, put us in a position to be able to fight for the win. That makes me very, very proud, very, very proud to have a partner like Honda, and helping them achieve the Manufacturer's Championship, winning, working with them for many years and they have always been the first ones to believe in the team. I am very happy to not disappoint them on that and I'm sure that the next races are going to be very strong. I'm very excited about the results that we had with Kosuke Matsuura. He drove a tremendous race. It's his rookie year, but putting the whole team together helped us do what we wanted to do and we are very excited about it.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned Kosuke there a little bit. Talk just a little bit more about how he's progressing this year with you.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: He has done a tremendous job. Obviously he just didn't know what to expect, when you come from Europe and the type of racing that he is doing, going flat-out from the beginning, and here, you have to run strong. But there is a lot of other things. You have to think about the setup, you have to be smart on the races, and sometimes you have a car in the middle of the race which will not be good. Like, for example, it happened to me in Kentucky in the middle of the race when we got a bad pit stop one of our guns broke and we went to 10th or 12th place and I was not able to stay on the front my car was not working well. So the main thing there is not to lose patience or to lose focus. I didn't on the day we run the race. I think this is the thing Kosuke is learning. This was his best result in the series this year and I think he has learned a lot about how to get to the front. I think with this result, he will be able to get enough information and be ready to win a race.
TIM HARMS: I think the last time that we talked with you, it wasn't too long ago, I think it was before Nashville and you had come off four straight top seven finishes, really charging hard for your first win and maybe it was us that jinxed you, but you kind of fell back a few positions in the next three races. What happened in those three races and then how do you manage to turn it around and end up on victory circle?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, those three races we actually were running very strong. Milwaukee we qualified fifth and I was running strong. We were just having problems on restarts. We were having problems in different areas that we needed to -- we needed to make sure that we were focusing on those things to correct them. We were not gearing directly for restarts. I was losing position. I didn't feel good on restarts because the rear tires, the car back like in Milwaukee, the car would try to spin around me and just little things like that. Michigan, we were having a great race until unfortunately I had that incident on the pits and that really delayed everybody. I was very worried about one of my guys for him not to get injured. So, the thing was that we needed to make sure that all of those thing were corrected so we can get to the next level. And that's what we did. We corrected all of that and we had this test for the first time. We did a lot of those tests and we fixed them, and I'm so glad that everything worked to almost how we planned it and it was fantastic.
TIM HARMS: Now as we move ahead to Pike's Peak, what do you hope to do to keep the momentum going for you.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think Pike's Peak, it's a place I don't know, I've never been there, but I also didn't know Kentucky or most of these tracks. Everything has been new to me. Also it's not that hard to learn because you just have to focus on two corners. The main thing to see is how is the pavement, how is the banking and, you know, take a few laps to sort of find your way, it's going to be marbles, it's not going to be marbles, how high can you go and all of those type of things. I believe we have found enough information to be competitive for the rest of the year, and I would not be surprised is we are as strong at Pike's Peak as we were for Kentucky.
Q. Couldn't help thinking about seeing the jubilation in a victory lane with the trepidation you felt at the Champ Car pre near in Long Beach, can you talk about where you are now as to when you had to make a very agonizing decision back in March?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To tell you the truth, this year has been very hard in all aspect of business decisions, everything. It's just been difficult. When you face a situation that we had to face in Long Beach and all that, and you have to make tough decisions for the future of your team and those decisions are tough but they are necessary to make. Unfortunately, I'm the one that has to make them. You know, you may be wrong but you have to accept them and you have to go on. We have to make the decisions. I knew it was going to be difficult because I didn't know anything about the cars; I had never driven them. When I sat down for the first time in Phoenix, it was just like, okay, I didn't feel comfortable. I had never tested the car. I didn't feel comfortable inside the car with my feet. There were just so many things. Obviously, the pressure from sponsors and from Mexico, confusion from where I was, where I was not, slowly and through the year with the results and the consistency of having good races, the month of May was fantastic where we were very strong all month and slowly getting the things that we wanted. Things started to turn around a little bit and this win really turns everything around to us, why we did things and we wanted to unify the team and why we made the addition to change to IRL and why we are believing in what Tommy Anderson is doing and this hard work and just basically not listening to what all of the people were saying. Just focusing on what we believed and just work hard, just proving that that was the right thing. And to win just proves absolutely everything.
Q. I know they have a tremendous Latino population in Denver and they were out in force, do you get a sense that those guys are going to make their way out to Pike's Peak and congratulate you this weekend?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think so. We have a lot of fan that is have followed us tremendously through the years and specifically in Denver. We have too many fans and I have always gone there to promote. I'm sure they will follow us there to watch us on the race.
Q. You seem like you had a fast car and a good team since you came in the IRL. You seemed to be fast at Indy, you gave an explanation there; just because of a good team. It seemed like you had a faster car than I expected you to have for the first year.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, you know, the team is not completely new on the series. We run last year and we have the team working there with tomorrow Anderson so we have some experience. We just didn't have a driver that was more experienced to be able to help the team get to the next level. But we have the basis on the team and we have the right people. We just needed a little bit of time to put all of the things together and to find the little things. You know, it took us a little bit longer, but like I say, we just -- it's hard when you have a team with a rookie driver where they normally -- they don't know what to expect and you have to trust their feel, and sometimes it's not the right trust or the right feel and sometimes you go the wrong way and all of that. So, I knew we have the basics on the team to be able to get where we are. It was just a matter of time.
Q. This has not been a long time coming since you joined the IRL, Toyota or Chevrolet have been around for quite a while; what would you say is the main factor in being able to take this championship this year? Obviously you've got some good teams, but it takes more than that.
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, I think this season, I think for all of the manufacturers, it was particularly difficult having both 3.5 and a 3.0 liter formulas to deal with. Yes, we came into the series late and we spent a good portion of last season trying to catch up. But on the other hand, we with our technical partners in Ilmor brought a resource that had been involved in the IRL two seasons prior to that. So at some level, they actually had more experience than our counterparts at Toyota who were just coming in last year. One part, it's kind contradictory in what I'm saying in that we didn't come in as strong as we had hoped to last year and we spent a lot of effort trying to catch up, but actually we had more experience than might be expected. It was had a experience I think that helped us during the off-season and making some dramatic changes to the product and getting more performance out of it. And luckily, the changes, the improvements that we found during that off-season period luckily apply themselves equally on the 3.0 liters as it did on the 3.5 liter. Really, I would say that a good advantage that our program has over our counterparts is the fact that we basically are a double resource; that we have Honda Performance Development and Ilmor Engineering working nearly equally at this point on the program. And so we have a huge resource in manpower and facilities and equipment that I think is well beyond what our counterparts have. TRD, I believe, is basically all being done at TRD in the U.S. as a single entity and the Chevy program is from our point of view being done by Cosworth. So I think that's a true advantage for us.
Q. Is most of the work being done at HPD these days for development or are you working together with Paul Reyes and his people in Michigan?
ROBERT CLARKE: Actually, it's very -- at this point a equal responsibility between ourselves, Paul Reyes' operation in Detroit which we call Ilmor, Inc., is operating a good portion of the engine rebuilding responsibilities. And Ilmor Limited in the U.K. is heavily involved in the development of the engine as HPD is. HPD Unlimited are the ones that are focusing primarily on the development of the engine and Inc. is handling the lion's share of the rebuild.
Q. Sounds like the best of all worlds.
ROBERT CLARKE: I think it's working very well as evidenced by our results. But as you said, we are blessed to have some very strong teams and they have also equally stepped up their programs from last year to this year. Just as they were speaking to Adrian about a shift from CART to the IRL, we saw dramatic changes to both the Rahal team and the Fernandez team when they focused on just the one IRL racing program.
TIM HARMS: Thank you very much, Adrian and Robert, for joining us this afternoon.
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