Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
MIKE KING: We are now joined by Brian Barnhart and Ken Ungar. Brian, I was talking to John Lewis in the previous press conference about the fact the two of you were there watching the road course proceedings for two days and it looked to be a series that has been doing this type of racing for a long time. Give me your impressions of what you saw over Tuesday and Wednesday and how the teams quickly adapted to road and street course venues or racing.
BRIAN BARNHART: Overall, we were very pleased with the performance of the chassis, the engines, the gearboxes on the road course here at Homestead yesterday and the day before. I think we ran a little over 2500 laps, so we've got a little over 5,000 miles in the last couple of days. We had a few minor teething issues and situations which is why we're here doing the test, but overall the performance was outstanding. Again, reliability was extremely high. The positive comments and feedbacks that we've gotten from the drivers and the teams has been very encouraging, as well. We've kind of gone into a situation that is a little more difficult to do at the direction we did it as opposed to going the other way. To make an oval-optimized car road racing compatible is a more difficult direction than going the other way. To take an all road course car and make it oval compatible would have been an easier direction for us to go. But that's not what we had to do. We had an oval-optimized car and we had to make it compatible on road racing. And it took us a couple years to get all of the components implemented. The result was very pleasing on the racetrack yesterday, the comments from the drivers talking about how drivable the car is, its ability to respond to setup changes, both aerodynamic and mechanical changes, are encouraging to hear. The car just doesn't have -- it doesn't get into one mode. It just doesn't push through every corner no matter what you do to it. It is responsive to setup, which is what the teams want to hear, it's what the drivers want to have. There's going to be an emphasis on setting the car up and making the car perform to its optimum level. The fact that it is -- I heard a couple drivers talking about it's a car that's very drivable, they can kind of throw it around, they're happy with the gearbox, it upshifts and downshifts well, it changes direction well, the brakes are good on it. The fact that it responds very well to the setup changes, both mechanically, as I said, and aerodynamically, overall we're very pleased with that. We got to work on a couple of teething issues here and there, which is why we ran the 5,000 miles the last couple of days. When we come to St. Petersburg for our first non-oval event in history, I'm sure we'll have a good product to put on the racetrack for everybody.
MIKE KING: There are 20 car/driver combinations on the list for this test. I believe we expect to see the Foyt team on track tomorrow for the oval portion. If you could, talk a little bit about the car count going into the 2005 season and the stability of the series and what you feel about the IndyCar Series as we start our 10th season of competition.
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, as you mentioned, we ran 19 cars on the road course portion yesterday and the day before. Foyt will join us for the oval portion tomorrow. Just a little late getting his kit and program together. Didn't have the road course components able to run for the test yesterday and the day before. As you mentioned, we have 20. We started 19 cars at the Homestead race last year, moved up to 22 I think by the time we got to the Motegi event. So we're pretty much in the same ballpark. We've got 20 firm teams right now. There are a handful of potentials out there. I know Ron Hemelgarn is working on a program, and the 20 that are here do not include Mo Nunn, Adrian Fernandez. Like I say, there's other potentials out there that are still working very hard to put their programs together. I would look for a similar number to run on the full season we ran last year, which was 22, beginning from the Motegi event on. And I think that's probably in the ballpark of where we'll end up for the 2005 season as well. Sure, we'd like to see that higher. We're happy with the competition level we put on the racetrack. We definitely would like more quantity as well. We want both. We want a very good race field and a competitive race field, but we want as many cars on the field as we can. Our ultimate goal is the increase in the number of participants. Like I say, right now we're probably running about the same number we ran in 2004.
MIKE KING: We did hear from Paul Dana in the first press conference of the day. He did say he expects to be on track for the Phoenix test. He and Ron hope to have a program together for the entire season. We were handed a press release when we came in, Brian, and there are going to be some rules that will be different for the road and street course events in terms of qualifying versus the oval venues. Can you talk a little about those rules and other rules changes enacted for the 2005 season.
BRIAN BARNHART: We're really excited about the road course aspect being added to the 2005 schedule. I think from a venue standpoint we've got great racetracks selected to add to the 14 ovals we have, and going to Watkins Glen, going to Infineon and going to St. Petersburg, I think we have a great mix. The atmosphere at St. Pete is going to be outstanding. The history and heritage at Watkins Glen is going to be great, former host of the United States Grand Prix. So I'm real happy with the venues we've chosen, and our competitors are happy as well. In talking about how the cars performed in the test, so the next aspect of that is we needed to format the weekend to be exciting as well. So we wanted to do something a little different. We tried to stage something where each aspect of the weekend builds on and feeds on the next. So each session that you do will really have a meaning and count towards the next one. What we're going to start with is a Friday morning practice session with all cars. There won't be a group session. It will be most likely a two-hour session with all 22 cars, whatever the field is, participating at the same time. The purpose of that session will be to determine the groups for the afternoon. We'll come back with the field split into two groups based on the performance from the all-car session Friday morning. We'll come back with two groups in a much shorter session Friday afternoon. The longer session with all cars allows for the racetrack to change. You know how sometimes street courses will come in as rubber gets put down and allow the guys to go back and change gears, get accustomed to what the racetrack is. There won't be any mad panic during that session. They'll have plenty of time to make changes and adjust to the track. When they come back in the afternoon session, which is split into groups determined by the results of that first session, it will be a short session. It will have a slow group for the back half of the field, and a fast group for the first half of the field, and most likely will be a 30-minute session. You won't have a lot of time to go back to the garage, make gear changes, make adjustments. We will combine the results of both of those all session on Friday, the afternoon group session and the morning all session, and have an order 1 through 22, or whatever the field count is. At that point in time, that will determine the qualifying order for single-car qualifying Saturday afternoon, with the emphasis being on whoever sets quick time Friday afternoon. We will do a group session Saturday morning with the same groups that ran Friday afternoon, but that group's performance Saturday morning will not affect the qualifying order. It will be just a time to get accustomed to the racetrack for Saturday's conditions. An hour before qualifying begins, whoever set quick time Friday evening, combining those sessions, will then make a determination for the whole field whether we run single-car qualifying in a straight-up order, fastest-to-slowest, or if we invert and go slowest-to-fastest. Obviously that person is going to be looking at the weather forecast as well as what they think the racetrack conditions are going to be. Is it going to get better? Is it going to get worse as it goes on? Because what we're going to come out with is going to be single-car qualifying, one lap, green flag, first time by, which we will be instituting the tire warmers at all of our road course events. They'll be used through all sessions. The burden is really going to be on the race team then to come out. That driver, he doesn't get a lot of chance to make mistakes. He's going to get one lap out. If the driver that set quick time on Friday decides to invert the field, he will go last. But everybody will go out, take the green flag first time by and the checkered flag the second time by. We'll then have an order posted, fastest-to-slowest, based on however many cars ran. We will lock in at that time, based on that performance, position 7 through 22. Positions 1 through 6 will then have a 10-minute European-style multi-car, multi-lap session where they're do a shootout for the top six qualifying positions. So the single-car effort will lock in position 7 through 22. Again, what you're shooting for, what this is going to escalate, that first session with all cars, I'm working hard to get in the fast session for Friday afternoon. Friday all over, I'm looking hard to be that guy who makes that decision, whether I go first out or last out, based on what the conditions are. Then Saturday, when you go into single-car qualifying, you're trying to not only determine your starting position, but you're also shooting to get into that top six because you want to make the shootout field to get out into the European-style 10-minute session. We're trying to build on every session in the qualifying and practice session format for the road courses. The top six cars will then be allocated a 10-minute session, multi-car, multi-lap. Our great partners at Firestone will provide an additional set of tires to those six that participate in that session only, that are only usable in that session only. So those six will get the ability to participate on one extra set of tires for however many laps they run. Depending on the length of the track, you're looking anywhere from five, seven, eight laps of qualifying in a multi-car, European-format type of deal. The times from the single-lap qualifying posted will carry over, so whoever set fast time will still have that time, but if anybody beats it, you'll combine your 10 minutes plus the single lap that you ran in single-car qualifying to determine positions 1 through 6. We're excited about that. I think it's a neat format in that it balances the entertainment aspect and it's great for the fans. They like to see the multi-car, multi-lap qualifying format, yet at the same time if you do that too much, you got to be careful about the cost involved in racing. By just doing single-car qualifying, locking in everybody but six, then doing multi-car for only 10 minutes, we're not going to be going through three sets of brakes a weekend, we're not going to be having an added cost involved with multiple laps under qualifying. Again, like I say, only five, six, seven laps run in a 10-minute session. It's not going to make a huge difference on the cost aspect, but it does balance the entertainment aspect that I think will be exciting for the fans. They're very interested to watch the multi-car format. Their focus is obviously at the front of the field, so we're going to put the burden on the top six to go out and do it. The way we'll release the car is we'll start that 10-minute session and release the first-place qualifier from the single-car qualifying first, 10 seconds later we'll send the second car, 10 seconds later... We'll spread them out, put them out on the racetrack, let them have at it for 10 minutes.
MIKE KING: I'm looking forward to seeing this. Ken, let's turn to the business and marketing side of the league, the IndyCar Series in particular. We have seen throughout the weekend some of the advanced materials that I guess will be seen in terms of the marketing side. Can you talk a bit about the marketing plan for 2005 for the league as a whole.
KEN UNGAR: Sure. You know, they say that your season's made in the off-season. If that's true, we're going to have our most successful season ever. We couldn't have been more busy in the off-season, doing everything from meeting with all of our major sponsors and partners during the fall, convening a meeting of all our promotors. All of our promoters met in Chicago to talk about the challenges and opportunities of how to grow the sport of IndyCar racing. You see in the room around you kind of a snippet some of the things we've been doing, whether it's how to better present our brand in the marketplace with new energy, a brand that's about excitement, a brand that's about leading-edge technology and innovation, a brand that is about accessibility and opportunity, and a brand that's really at its core for the last 90 years about original American spirit. It's taking that and how to do the best job we can do of presenting that to the marketplace, with all our partners working collaboratively? It's really been great, a great experience for all of us. And you see here the collateral new television advertisement, new radio advertisement, that will really help us connect better with fans, existing and new fans as well.
MIKE KING: Coming into this event, the Toyota Indy 300 over the last couple of years has seen a nice uptick in terms of attendance. This was a great race to repave the corners here, just created a great race last year. Comment on coming back into Miami, the Miami area, for the season opener and what we can expect here come the first weekend in March.
KEN UNGAR: We've really been fortunate. We have a great partner in the track here at Miami. We have a lot of great promoter partners. As a result, in 2004, attendance via media estimates increased 4% over the year before. So we expect this year to be even better. We've got a lot of things planned leading up to Miami that we're working with the track here on. For example, we have a Green Flag Tour where we're going to take the league and its assets, including Chevy safety cars, our street-worthy two-seater, drivers, taking them coast to coast in a 14-day tour of major race markets, major media markets, and end here in Miami with the green flag to start the season. We have great expectations for this race, both in attendance and ratings-wise.
MIKE KING: Television-wise, I obviously know what's happening with the radio network, but what about television? I'm hearing there could be some new things we could see some twists that we have not seen before.
KEN UNGAR: Yeah. We've also had great response from our partners at ABC and ESPN networks about how to take the television product to the next level. Ratings presents a challenge for us. With that comes an opportunity. So between now and the start of the season, there will be several ground-breaking announcements in terms of both the production and the promotion of the television product.
MIKE KING: Brian, if we could go back to you very quickly, where the rules are concerned. There had been several of the teams that had mentioned that there was possibly a new rule that was going to go into effect for the over-the-wall crew that had been considered, but upon further consideration, it looks like things will remain the same.
BRIAN BARNHART: For for the most part I think they are going to stay the same. I think the most disappointing aspect of our season last year on the racetrack was the rash of pit road incidents we had. I think what was as disappointing as anything out of that was there wasn't a whole lot of consistent issue that presented itself. We ran into issues in race day conditions, issues in practice conditions. We had guys run into each other, we had guys have problems on braking coming into their pit box, guys pulling out of their pit box, running into people, or guys with fuel hoses still attached. We were kind of all over the board. They all seemed to be a rash of mistakes in pit road that were the results of bad decisions and poor judgment. In looking back at it, at the end of the every year you always take a look at what you can change to improve the racing environment for everyone involved and make it as safe as possible. We tried to explore a couple of different options. The hard part is you can't just legislate against bad decisions and poor judgment. That's basically what we had. So we've actually made the decision that if the guys just use better choices and decision-making process in pit lane, we don't really need to change what we're doing. At this point in time we're going to leave the rules as they are. The only thing we might consider doing a little different, because we are going to a single-point refueler with the addition of road courses, we now have the vent and fuel hose in one unit with a nozzle. We've eliminated the vent and airjack man now does not have to do the vent. We are considering a potential change in the location of the airjack man. We may give him the option of staying in the side between the wheels of the car or moving to the rear wing. We haven't decided that. We're having some dialogue with our constructors and our teams with their thoughts on that. That right now will be the only potential change in our pit stop procedures and rules, aside from going to the single-point refueler, we may move the airjack man location or give then an option.
MIKE KING: But the number of over-the-wall crewmen will remain at six?
BRIAN BARNHART: Correct. We're going to leave everything the else the same pit road-wise.
MIKE KING: Why don't we release Brian and Ken for one-on-ones.
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