Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests today include Jay Drake, driver in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, and Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi racing entry in the Indy Car Series. Scott will be joining us in a couple of minutes, but on the phone right now with us is Jay Drake. Good afternoon, Jay.
JAY DRAKE: Hi, how you doing?
THE MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Appreciate you taking time to join us. Jay is a rookie in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, although hardly an unfamiliar name. He's been racing in USAC events for 15 years and last year was the USAC Valvoline National Sprint Car Champion, and I believe he capped that out at Manzanita Speedway in the Phoenix area last year. He is competing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series for Vision Racing, which is owned by Tony and Laura George, and the team manager is Larry Curry. Jay, the Vision Racing team and your deal to drive with them that was all put together just about six weeks ago. Give us an update on how things are coming together for the team and how things are looking over there.
JAY DRAKE: Well, things are looking good. As you said, it was really a last-minute, thrown-together operation, and everything happened real fast and you know, didn't give the guys a whole lot of time to prepare for the first race we went to at Homestead and it kind of showed there. We were, I don't know, if you call it new car blues or what, but we struggled a little bit more most of the weekends. As the weekend rolled along, it turned out actually quite well, and I think the end result was good and we're really happy with it. We're looking forward to pressing on to this next race and we're just excited to have the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: So with another two weeks elapsed since the first race, are there still some things that are in a state of flux in Vision Racing, or are things starting to get into a pattern and kind get settled in over there?
JAY DRAKE: Well, obviously it's coming along quite nicely with Larry Curry in charge of the whole operation, and he knows this business as well as anybody. But like with any new team where you put together a whole bunch of new guys, it's just a matter of finding the right place for each guy, you know, finding his position and where he needs to be; and obviously, it's about getting myself acclimated with this type of racing. You know, that could take a little bit of time, but everybody is working really hard there, and I think things are looking good. It's going to be a first-class operation.
THE MODERATOR: You kind of mentioned there, too, getting yourself acclimated to driving these types of cars. What's your short-term goal here for the next couple of races, and is there a more long-term goal for what you'd like to accomplish by the end of the season?
JAY DRAKE: Well, I'm a racer, first and foremost, and I want to win no matter what kind of car I get in. So I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to adapt fast enough and be able to get out there right away and compete for race victories. That's my short-term and long-term goal, I guess, is I want to be able to go out there and run competitively enough to be able to win these races. And that's my mind set any time I get in any kind of race car is I'm there to win, and if I don't think I can, then I shouldn't even bother showing up. But so that's my goal is definitely to be able to win in this series, and the sooner the better I think. But realistically, you know, I have a lot to learn in this kind of racing and just going to try to do it as quickly as possible. And I've got a great bunch of guys behind me. So I know I have the right equipment, it's just a matter of getting ourselves up to speed quick enough and I think we can do it.
THE MODERATOR: Talking about a good chance to win, Phoenix might be one of those places because you've got a lot of experience there. Earlier this year, the Copper World Classic, you finished second in the midget race there. That's where you tested the Pro Series car last month; do you think is there a sense of kind of that comfort or familiarity going back to Phoenix that might help your chances?
JAY DRAKE: I think it has to help to have -- as you said, I've run many laps there, but however not in this type of race car. But just being familiar with the racetrack, and I think it's got -- at least I'm hoping it''s going to help me somewhat. But, you know, we've just kind of take it as it comes, and I'll go out there and see what we've got with our race package. You know, hopefully with any luck, we'll be fast right out of the box, and that's our plan, but that's how we hope it comes down.
THE MODERATOR: And after Phoenix, the Pro Series will test the road course here in Indianapolis, and then we go and race on the streets of St. Petersburg. How have you been preparing for that part of the season, the road street courses?
JAY DRAKE: Well, that part I'm definitely going to be a rookie at. I don't have hardly any kind of road racing experience. I've played around with some go-karts here and there, but nothing so to speak of. That's going to be a huge learning curve for me. I did actually go out and do a Russell Racing School for three days and got a lot of laps on that road course. So that was a big help right off the bat, but still, it's going to take a lot of luck and a quick learning curve on my part to be able to compete with some of these guys that have run a lot of road course racing. But I'm confident that we'll pick up on it fairly quickly, and I'm really looking forward to it because I had a blast when I went out there and did that driving school. It's a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Now, the Pro Series, I guess my question here is, over the years with the USAC, the Midgets and the Silver Crowns and Sprint cars, that's a pretty heavy schedule every weekend, and several times a week getting out there and racing; Pro Series is only 14 races this year. Are you throughout the season planning to continue the Midget, Sprint cars, Silver Crowns and all that.
JAY DRAKE: Yeah, I'm kind of fortunate enough, I get to do it all this year. So I'm going to be running probably upwards of 85 races throughout the season. So I'm going to be extremely busy, and there's 14 Pro Series races, and then I've still got a good 70-plus other USAC, Sprint cars, midgets and Silver Crown car races that I'm going to run. So it's going to shape up to be a busy season for me, but I'm excited about it. That's what I've always wanted to do and to get the opportunity this year for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and take some questions for Jay.
Q. There are an awful lot of people who would love to see you in an IRL car; is there any prospect of that at all yet this season?
JAY DRAKE: Well, first, it's good to see that there are a lot of people who would love to see, me because I'm one of them that would love to see me do that. But so far, there's, you know, not much talk about it. We, as I said, the Infiniti Pro Series operation came together in kind of a last-minute deal and that was kind of unexpected in itself. So I plan to go out and do the best I can in that series, and hopefully, yeah, hopefully it will open some doors up to where I might get an opportunity to jump in a full-fledged Indy Car and run a race or two; that would be a dream come true in my eyes.
Q. Do you expect to be in Indianapolis in May, and are you living in the area, living in the Indiana area or where are you running out of now?
JAY DRAKE: Yeah, I actually live in Brownsburg now. I actually lived right across the street from the Speedway for the last few years, and I moved to Brownsburg early last year, so it's just right down the street. That's where I base myself out of now and that's where I'm at.
Q. Were there any surprises at Homestead? New race, different kind of cars, different kind of race, but the high banks and pretty much an all-drafting race, anything that surprised you about that?
JAY DRAKE: Quite a bit of surprises, actually. Probably the biggest one is when I spun up and hit the wall there in practice, but that was very surprising and something I obviously didn't want to do it my first event. But, yeah, the actual racing itself was a little different than what I had expected. The racing line around that particular racetrack is unique in itself where the fastest way around it is to stay right on the very bottom of the racetrack, even down the straightaways, and that's something that took me a little bit to catch on to and didn't quite understand, but that's what these kind of cars like to do there. But it was a neat experience and with the drafting, like you said, that was a big -- a big factor in that race there. I'm sure looking forward to the next mile-and-a-half track that we go to. I think I'm going to have a bigger head start than I had at Homestead for sure.
Q. Congratulations on your championship last year.
JAY DRAKE: Thank you.
Q. USAC is coming out with a new Silver Crown car for next season to run the bigger ovals and things like that. And being all of your experience in the midget, Sprints and Silver Crown cars, what could you see that could be done in USAC or any other series that would make it easier for drivers to transition from a front-engine, open-wheel car to the Menards Infiniti and the IRL rear-engine cars?
JAY DRAKE: Well, I think that the direction they are going with that new Silver Crown car is where they are going to put them on bigger racetracks. You know, they are talking the mile-and-a-half and even the two-mile ovals is going to help, you know, learn drivers the higher speed racing and some drafting and things like that. So I think that's a step in the right direction as far as moving guys along to bigger series and running on bigger racetracks. Other than that, it's hard to answer.
Q. Is there a big difference between a front-engine, as opposed to rear-engine, as far as driving?
JAY DRAKE: Well, what I'm finding is you know, whether it be the engine location or the aerodynamics of it, there is quite a bit of difference. It's a whole different mind set in the way you have to handle the race cars, but yeah, I'd say there's quite a bit of difference. It's another learning curve that I think that I'm definitely going to have to go through here pretty quickly.
Q. Would you think the rear-engine cars would be suitable like Winchester?
JAY DRAKE: Oh, boy, I don't know if the type of cars that we're running now, I don't know how they would go around Winchester. That's a different animal in itself. I don't even like to run the Sprint cars, midgets there. That would be tricky for sure. That place is plenty fast enough without having wings and stuff on it.
Q. Congratulations and good luck this season.
JAY DRAKE: Thank you.
Q. Is there a lot of interest from other Sprint car drivers, Crown car drivers, midget drivers, now that you've made the jump to Menards Infiniti Pro Series? Because there was a time when we always thought that the next great Indy Car driver was going to come from the USAC ranks. Do you think that a lot of your peers are looking to you as being the guy to open those doors?
JAY DRAKE: Well, I don't know if I could speak for them, I would just say that I hope that it gives guys a little bit of hope that they could also do the same thing. I'm sure every race car driver or everybody that wanted to be a race car driver from the time they are a little boy, the Indy 500 is the race that they look to. It always was for me. I know a lot of the USAC guys probably come up and raced the same way, and that's the ultimate goal is the Indy 500 and it is for me. But like I say, it's hard for me to answer for everybody else out there.
Q. Have you found any more interest within the ranks because you've made that step?
JAY DRAKE: Well, too soon to tell really, because ever since this whole package came together for me, we haven't even had another USAC race yet. So I haven't been around many of my peers in the meantime. But I know there's a lot of excitement. I get a lot of guys calling me and congratulating me on getting the opportunity and it seems like everybody is behind us on it.
Q. And you said you did a Russell School; was that at Infineon?
JAY DRAKE: Yeah.
Q. How did that go?
JAY DRAKE: It went really well. I was surprised, I went there expecting to be, you know, it to be a learning course like a school car, and my impression of a school car was going to be something that you would go out there safely drive around the racetrack at a low rate of speed. But these things are actual race cars that they put you in and they get you going fast enough to get you in serious trouble. A couple of guys there actually did over the weekend, just fortunate it wasn't me, but it was a great learning experience. Well worth the time and effort it took, and I probably even want to go back for a refresher before we go back down and race.
Q. Then you had a good time.
JAY DRAKE: Oh, for sure, it was a blast.
THE MODERATOR: Jay, thanks for taking the time out to join us and good luck this weekend.
JAY DRAKE: Thanks for having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now is Indy Car Series driver Scott Dixon. Hi there, Scott.
SCOTT DIXON: How you could go doing.
THE MODERATOR: Great. Thanks for giving us a call today. Scott won the Indy Car Series Championship in 2003 in his first season in the league with three wins and 11 Top 10 finishes, and last year he finished 10th in points with ten Top 10 finishes; his best finish was a second place at Phoenix. Scott, last year you kind of got off to a rough start at Homestead, came back with a strong performance at Phoenix. I'm guessing that you are probably hoping to do the same thing this year.
SCOTT DIXON: It would be nice, I guess. We had a bit of a rough start this year at Homestead. Yeah, I don't know, last year, that was probably the best part of the season, competitive the first three, four races and then not so well (ph) after that. But yeah, hopefully we can get at least some good sessions in with Phoenix and Motegi and even the road course at St. Pete.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us about the Phoenix track. All of the drivers seem to say it's a pretty tough track to race on.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it is very tough, and I think most of us, being one of the shorter ovals we first tested on, I know it was my first actually in an IRL car at the end of '02. So it used to be a little more difficult with the Turn 2 wall coming out a little more but they have opened that up and I think it's definitely a lot better for racing. This year being the first time we've actually raced there with the three-width is going to be a new learning curve as well. It seemed to me in test in the qualifying and things like that, you could actually run flat-out where in the past it's been kind of close but you've never really pulled it off for the race when it's close to the summer because of the heat it's a lot more difficult to go flat. But looking forward to it I think, I think the short track is going to be better for us just because you know I think our cars are a little better on those circuits at the moment.
THE MODERATOR: I was going to lean that way with my next question, I think most people would agree that since the middle of last season, the Honda has had a power advantage of over both Toyota and Chevy. Does a short track like Phoenix, does that take away some of that advantage for the other guy and help you guys catch up a little bit?
SCOTT DIXON: It helps you in some ways. You know, if you've got a better car it's going to work over a longer distance, which hopefully that's the case for us and that's what we sort of have to work on now is more for a long stint in the races and try to pass people like that. As far as acceleration, it sort of hurts you a little more because you have big wings on and it's hard to pull those around and you may not have the equal power that the Honda can accelerate to. It's all about momentum for us, trying to keep our cars at a speed which can be difficult on a short-circuit. So the main thing is having a comfortable car. But I think handling-wise and for duration of a race, it does help us a little because the tracks are shorter at the moment.
THE MODERATOR: You guys, Target Chip Ganassi Racing expanded to a three-car effort this year. Have you seen some dividends already from that expansion?
SCOTT DIXON: For sure. I think as far as testing goes, it's great to have Briscoe on, he's done a great job so far. He had a bit of a rough weekend at Homestead but to be expected I think when it's your first race. You know, I think adding more depth to the team, a lot more data and things like that, and, you know, someone else's point of view I think does help. You know, with the limited amount of testing and track time that we have, now, especially as the years go on, it seems that we have better testing now. So it has helped and I think as the team gets stronger and works together a lot more, it should help us out.
THE MODERATOR: Now obviously you're from New Zealand, Darren is from England, Ryan is from Australia, the three of you kind of being from outside the U.S. and all three of you live in Indianapolis, do you guys spend a lot of time together away from the track? Have you bonded pretty well?
SCOTT DIXON: For sure. I think Darren is probably the most different. Ryan and myself are fairly similar, we're sort of quiet, things like that, where Darren is pretty loud and sort of likes to get out there. Yeah, we all get on really well. I even had dinner with Ryan last night. It seems to be good. It's actually not many of us at Indy anymore. It's good to catch up with them, and we do spend a fair bit of time. I think Darren is in Vegas, he's going to NASCAR this weekend.
Q. The question that was asked a little earlier with perhaps the Toyota struggling a little over the last year, does that leave you with a sense of frustration or anything?
SCOTT DIXON: I think looking over it last year, you know, you probably did get frustrated. A new season you always try to look and make more the more positive side out of it and they have made some changes over the winter. I think the problem with us at the moment is that we are not going to see a lot until the 500. It seems to work out that way and I know it has in the years past. That's when they seem to bring out more stuff. You have the Japan race just before the Indy 500 where they -- because they are both Japanese engine manufacturers, they try to pull out all the stops, and that's where the power starts to crank up and you get more of a fair idea of how you're going to fair over the year. I know they have made some good gains it looks like for Phoenix. They definitely have got a fire underneath them at the moment. They are under a lot of pressure from a lot of us, our team, and Penske, as well as ours. It's a little frustrating, especially on ovals because the only way you can pick up speed is to work a lot harder and get a lot faster. You know, we have faith in Toyota and I'm sure they are going to get it together and hopefully produce some big horsepower.
Q. With that in mind, do you change your goals or aims during the season or races, perhaps because you have to look so far ahead?
SCOTT DIXON: It's hard to tell. Most of the time I think the goals in racing, which first you look at the Indianapolis 500 and secondly you look at the Championship. So it's good in that way that one comes quite early and you can structure it that kind of way, but you know, more so looking at specific races and going into Homestead that you just sort of hope you come away with some decent points from there. And unfortunately, you know, we got involved in that crash and stopped us from that and you look a little more forward to places like Phoenix, as I spoke about. Being a shorter track, I think we have a good opportunity to come away with some decent points and hopefully a win and things like that. So you do structure different around different tracks, but obviously more so the Indy 500 and definitely the championship.
Q. Could you just explain why you see perhaps more hope at Indianapolis?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, as I said with the manufacturers, I think because Motegi is such a big race for Toyota and Honda that that's when they pull out a lot of the horsepower which ideally is just before the 500. I know the 500 last year, there was two or three updates through the couple of weeks leading up to qualifying, leading up to the race and Honda has the same thing and you see that trend sort of each year. That's why, I don't know, you kind of hope to wait until then I think to hopefully get a big burst of power.
Q. I realize the season has just started, but who do you feel your stiffest competition will be this year?
SCOTT DIXON: I think the standout even from all of the testing and the first race has got to be Team Green. Dan Wheldon was one of the first ones, I think Kanaan and Franchitti and even Herta have dominated so far. They came off a very strong year last year and have got a lot of confidence and I think they have got a pretty good team.
Q. Do you feel that the road races or street races may chase away, that people may finish this year, or take away from some?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's going to take away from some. There's a lot of people -- well, not a lot of people, but there's some people that have not done that much road course racing or have not done that well with it. I think that's going to weed out some of it but there's only three races, it's not like it's a major part of the championship. I think you are going to find some people that will do a lot better on the road courses that would do a lot better on the ovals, but at the moment, I don't think it's going to define the championship. It may sort of split it up a little, but the good teams have got good drivers and I think you're going to see the same teams winning those races.
Q. When you first came into this whole deal, you seemed to really like the short ovals a whole lot. Does that mean that you're looking forward to coming to Phoenix this weekend because it is more of a handling short oval?
SCOTT DIXON: I used to like short ovals until Milwaukee last year. No, I do love the short ovals, basically because you know the car and the driver have a little more to do with it. And, you know, when you do well on them, you obviously like them and I think '03 I had a very strong year on the short ovals. Last year was kind of mixed at some of the places, even Pike's Peak last year I won the year before and I didn't finish the race there last year. So it has mixed feelings, but definitely looking forward to Phoenix. I've always liked that place, we had a good test there, even though we only ended up ninth overall or something. But always consistent on long distances and this is really what we've been working towards in general I suppose.
Q. Chip is known for winning, winning in all series, and your first year winning the championship at IRL. Any added pressure from him as far as getting the team in general back on track?
SCOTT DIXON: There's always pressure from Chip. If you look at the start of the year, he's had a pretty rough start of the year with the Indy, Grand Am and obviously the IRL. So that sort of adds a bit of fuel to the fire and he's definitely looking for results. You know, the team never stops trying. That's what sometimes you have to look back is that we didn't do anything different. It's just sometimes we don't have the tools that we need. But the great thing with this team, Chip always sorts it. Yeah, there's always pressure, and you just got to use it, but he definitely let's you know if you're not doing the job right .
Q. We look forward you to getting back to winning ways. Between you and me, I'd like to see a little more parity among all the engine manufacturers.
SCOTT DIXON: We all do. Yeah, I'd like to start winning soon again, hopefully Phoenix.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, thanks a lot for joining us and good luck.
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