Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
April 1, 2009
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us this afternoon as we prepare to open the 2009 season this weekend in St. Petersburg. Joining us in a few minutes will be Ryan Hunter-Reay, Eric Bachelart and Alex Tagliani and also Darren Manning. Ryan signed with Vision Racing to drive the No. 21 car this season while Alex was announced earlier today as the driver of the No. 34 Conquest Racing car for the event in St. Petersburg, and Darren will be driving the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold car for the race at St. Petersburg.
First we'll start off with Bob Jenkins, Jeff Goldberg and Terry Angstadt to talk about the debut of the IndyCar Series on VERSUS. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Last fall VERSUS signed a multiyear agreement for the exclusive cable television home of the IndyCar Series. The partnership includes more than 130 hours of programming this season, including live coverage of 12 races, which includes the season opener at St. Petersburg and the championship race at Homestead Miami Speedway. VERSUS kicked off its coverage with a series of one-hour shows in March.
Bob Jenkins will call the play-by-play for the broadcasts with Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl providing analysis from the booth and Jack Arute, Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston reporting from pit lane. Jeff joins us at the vice president of programming for VERSUS, and Terry is the president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League.
Terry, let me start with you. There are obviously a lot of aspects to the partnership with VERSUS, and we've kind of gotten an introduction to their coverage and their enthusiasm toward the IndyCar Series with the series of preview shows that aired on Saturdays in March. What kind of response have we seen already from the airing of those shows?
TERRY ANGSTADT: Thanks, Tim. It's just been great, it really has been. We have received a number of communications from the fan base, as well as suppliers and sponsors and partners. They are just absolutely thrilled to see our content out on air prior to the season starting. So it really did start, I think, with a lot of creativity in the development of the shows as well as just getting the season started, a lot of the stuff that was shot at Homestead at our first test.
So again, we have just received a lot of good communication. People are excited about the start of the season, and we could not be more excited to start the season with VERSUS.
TIM HARMS: Jeff, obviously you guys at VERSUS are new to the IndyCar Series. You've had a few months in the off-season and the opportunity at a couple open tests to kind of get an introduction to what the IndyCar Series is all about. What have you guys taken away from those opportunities that might translate into new things we'll see in the broadcasts?
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think one of the things we've really been just pleased to see is first, the Indy team is just great partners. What we've learned is that they have a great brand, and you know, it's all about speed and technology. We're going to try to do our best to convey those important qualities of the league and the racers to the fans through our telecasts.
TIM HARMS: One of the things that's new, as well, at least new for the IndyCar Series, will be the preview shows the day before each race. Can you give us an idea a little bit about what the look and feel will be like for those shows?
JEFF GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean, VERSUS, one of the keys to our success, has been super serving our fans, and so we really want to do that, as well, and that's why we want to bring these qualifying shows the day before the race. We're going to try and go to bring real insight and get the viewers more inside the race and the racers, and that's what we're moping to do with those telecasts.
TIM HARMS: The on-air talent that I ran through there a few minutes ago have got a lot of experience in the booth and on pit lane. Tell us a little bit about the mix that you guys put together there and how you guys sorted through and put that team together.
JEFF GOLDBERG: Well, after we did the deal, we said, okay, we've got to get a great on-air announcing team together that's really going to convey the excitement that unfolds on the racetrack and really super serve the viewer and get them really in-depth analysis with the drivers and the team strategies and the course.
So when we kind of used that filter, and looking around to see who were the best and most knowledgeable folks we could get together, it was a pretty easy decision there with Bob and Jon and Robbie, and of course if you add Jack Arute and Robbie Flynn and Lindy trackside, it all kind of fell into place.
TIM HARMS: Bob, you've been around the IndyCar Series paddock for several years, and especially the Indianapolis 500. Tell us your perspective, your thoughts on coming back and taking the play-by-play role with the IndyCar Series and what fans can expect.
BOB JENKINS: Sure, Tim. First of all, I'm just really excited to be back in TV. It's been a while since I had a job in that area, having worked the last two and a half years in radio. But it's just great to be back on TV.
Really, I think the thing that I'm looking forward to most is providing race fans with what they have been asking for for several years now, and that is expanded coverage. The IndyCar Series, the Firestone Indy Lights Series, has great racing. They have great personalities involved in it, and we're going to try to expose that and show people exactly how good our sport is and how friendly and cool the drivers are. With the expanded coverage that we're going to have on day before telecasts wrapping up qualifying and setting the scene for the race the next day, and the expanded coverage of the race itself with a rather extensive pre-race show and then a post-race show, that's what race fans have been wanting and that's what we're going to give them on VERSUS.
TIM HARMS: You've had the opportunity obviously to work with Robbie Buhl in the past on the Firestone Indy Lights telecast and I know you've had a chance to meet the rest of the on-air folks, Jon and Robbie and Lindy, at the open test. How have the three of you gelled, and has there been enough time already to start developing some chemistry amongst yourselves?
BOB JENKINS: I don't think we'll actually start chemistry development until we actually go on the air. It's very difficult to do that even when you're rehearsing, even when you're auditioning as we did. It's going to take a race or two to get that rhythm going.
But I can tell you this from meeting everybody in Homestead, that everybody has an incredible passion for our sport. Everybody is very excited about what their roles are going to be, and that in itself, I think, is enough to set us on a good plane as we head into the season.
Jon is very, very good technically. Of course he's a former driver. Robbie is a former driver and a current car owner, so you bring those two perspectives to the booth. Jack Arute of course has an incredible history of doing pit reporting. He will be down there with two relative newcomers, but they're certainly not newcomers to auto racing, are Robbie and Lindy, and you put them all together and I really believe we have a top-notch group of people to show the world exactly how great this sport is.
TIM HARMS: There's obviously a lot of excitement around St. Petersburg. We tend to focus on the drivers and things like that, but for you guys and yourselves personally, any jitters kind of going into this opening weekend?
BOB JENKINS: No, I don't think so. I've done this a lot and so has everybody else. One of the other things that makes this such a comfortable situation is Terry Lingner, who has been hired as the producer of the races. Terry and I go back to 1980. We have been business partners, we have been friends, and he is just an incredible producer and is going to bring another element to the telecast that we haven't seen perhaps in the last few years. And Rich O'Connor, who has been working in the previous years on ESPN, he's going to be producing all of the pre-race shows, and so no, I really don't think we'll get into a nervous situation.
One of the things I want to stress to everybody, especially my people in the booth, is have fun. This isn't brain surgery, this isn't rocket science, just have fun, be yourselves, and do what you do best.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for Bob, Jeff and Terry.
Q. I guess my question would be for all the VERSUS guys or anybody that wants to comment on it, but could you comment on the innovation say in the past decade or so that has brought the race closer to the fans, and not only innovation that's in the past, but what are you looking at going forward, something coming down the road that might even enhance it even more than say the past decade or so?
JEFF GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean, what we want to do is bring the race as close to the fan as possible, so we're going to use all the bells and whistles available to us. And as far as in the future, we're going to look at all -- any new technology that's developed. I'm sure as we get through this initial season, that will probably start giving us ideas of where we can enhance technology-wise, once we start really getting our hands on the production of the races.
Q. Can you pinpoint any point in the past that's seemed to give racing a spark because of improved technology like HD or anything that --
JEFF GOLDBERG: I mean, I think HD really makes -- especially with the IndyCars, really just makes them pop off the screen. They're just so fast and just visually so unique to look at. I think the HD really gives you a much better sense of the speed of the race.
Q. The last question is I've been doing this for about ten years and I recently got to, at Disney, ride in a -- I do mostly NASCAR, and I finally got to ride in an IndyCar at 160 miles an hour, and "wow" is my comment. But that's what I'm wondering, how a fan can really understand just how fast and how low to the ground and how much you feel that. Is there anything there on the path that can bring that out without actually getting into it?
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think you'll see in our telecast, we're going to -- the fan is going to feel that wow. I'm positive of it. Again, Terry Lingner is the best race producer in the business, and he's got all the bells and whistles at his disposal. That wow factor is going to be there day one.
BOB JENKINS: If I could add to that, Terry is an innovator. He is a traditional producer, but he is also an innovator. Now, you'll see on NASCAR telecasts a thing called the Gopher Cam, and don't be fooled, that things goes back to the '80s, and Terry Lingner was the first to suggest that a camera be put in the racetrack at Indianapolis Raceway Park when we used to do Thursday Thunder. So Terry is an innovator. If there is something in the queue that might make the race fan enjoy the product more, he will be aware of it and try to implement it.
TERRY ANGSTADT: I'll add to that, as well. One, I'm thrilled you were able to jump in the Indy Racing Experience in Orlando. That's a fun thing to do and truly gets you as close to the sport as you can get. But I also think, which was another Indy Racing League first, the 360 panning in-car cameras are pretty special and I think comes as close to giving a pretty unique view, and as you know, you can dial that up on IndyCar.com and complement the broadcast with the race control product. So that I think also comes into play a bit.
Q. I have a question for Bob Jenkins. I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit being the play-by-play announcer. Can I have a prediction on who you see is going to win the championship this year, if you could take a second to talk about that.
BOB JENKINS: Well, I was afraid somebody would ask me that question. It certainly has no answer, because as I look down the entry list for this race, there are at least eight or ten drivers that are extremely capable and could very well win the championship.
But because of a number of factors, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Dario Franchitti is going to be the champion this year. I think Dario has maybe the attitude that he has something to prove. It didn't work out for him in NASCAR. I think he is back with a vengeance. Combine that with the fact that he is with one of, if not the, No. 1 team in the IndyCar Series with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and I think you have a very good candidate for the championship, but let's not count out a lot of other drivers.
Q. You don't think that a year off away from the sport will have any negative effect on him then?
BOB JENKINS: I don't think so. I think he's proved that the two tests that we've had that he's not going to -- hasn't lost a thing in his year at NASCAR. He is going to be competitive both on the street and road courses and on the ovals.
Q. This question is for Jeff. I just wanted to know if VERSUS is going to continue growing the cable reach that they have. I'm not sure what the exact number is. I think it was like 74 or 75 million, I may be wrong, but I just want to know if you guys are going to keep growing on that number heading into Indianapolis, and towards the end of the season how far do you guys want to grow that number?
JEFF GOLDBERG: The 75 million cable homes you're asking about? Right now we're in more than 75 million U.S. homes, and yeah, we're out there looking to keep that growth going. We've been on a huge tremendous growth the past few years with regards to our cable reach. NHL helped us a great deal, and we're looking for the Indy league to help us with that next growth spurt. We've grown more than 500,000 homes in March 2009, so we're still seeing some nice growth spurts, and some of that can be very attributable to our deal with IndyCar.
Q. Just to follow up, I'm also noticing a bit more promotion as far as on TV, not just on the Comcast-owned networks but also on a regional and national scale promoting the IndyCar Series and the channel itself. What is the best case scenario? What do you guys really want to see out of I guess this new marketing push you guys are having heading into 2009?
JEFF GOLDBERG: Are you talking about our Indy marketing or just our marketing push in general?
Q. I suppose both, because not only am I noticing Indy ads, I'm also noticing ads for the channel, as well, showcasing all the different sports you guys have. I just wonder what's the best case scenario you want to get out of it?
JEFF GOLDBERG: The strategy with the marketing is to get the word out about VERSUS and how we're the home of the NHL, the Tour de France, extreme cage fighting, and now the IndyCar Series. We want to make sure everyone is aware of it. We're only a little more than two years into our brand name change, so we want to make sure that we keep on reinforcing what VERSUS is all about and make sure viewers know the great sports properties like IndyCar that are on and when to catch their favorite sports.
Q. When most of us got involved with cable television back in the early '80s, ESPN had about the same viewership as a Top 10 city, and it's grown to what we see today. What are your projections for where VERSUS is going to be after this year?
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think after this year we're going to continue our really rapid growth spurt. I mean, we're the fastest growing cable sports network in the country. 2008 was the network's most-watched year ever. We were a top 5 network among all ad-supported networks and viewership growth among men 18 to 34. The average age dropped dramatically four years from 47 to 43, so that's the youngest median age ever for the network, and we just want to keep that momentum going. It's a great momentum, and we want to just keep on fueling that down the track, so to speak, and we're hoping that IndyCar helps us in that goal, and we're sure it will.
Q. Terry, I saw the report that the other day that TV sales are going great. With this economy being the way it is, do you see that continuing, or are we worrying about it fizzling out on us?
TERRY ANGSTADT: It's a tough economy, so far so good, and we'll just kind of see how it goes. But the ad market has responded well to the IndyCar Series on VERSUS, so we're sure that will continue.
TIM HARMS: Bob and Jeff, thank you for taking the time to join us today. Appreciate your insights into the coverage that we can expect and have already seen in the last month with VERSUS, and we'll let you guys go.
Terry, I do want to ask you one more question before we let you go, and that just relates to the series of announcements that we've seen these last couple days. Obviously we've seen Ryan Hunter-Reay signing with Vision, Alex Tagliani at Conquest and Darren with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Can you tell us a little bit about the league's role in working behind the scenes with the teams and the drivers to put these deals together?
TERRY ANGSTADT: Well, it really is -- as I've said before, I think the wonderfully challenging -- one of the many challenging aspects of our business is to really try to align kind of the goals and objectives of suppliers, sponsors, drivers, teams, venues, fans and viewers, so talk about a complex business model. But there is nothing more important to us right now at this stage of our development than having a strong car count. And I think in particular when you see a couple of -- we had a couple of real projects. When you see the talent and the marketability of a Ryan Hunter-Reay, believe me, we were just working hard trying to make sure Ryan got in a car. He's arguably one of our most talented drivers, clearly one of the most marketable and very important for our business to have on the track. And again, Ryan has worked hard. His camp has worked hard. We had a lot of people pulling in the same direction.
And yes, we certainly try to use as many league assets and as many sponsor relationships, business-to-business opportunities that we try to connect, and in this case I really do, and I've said before, compliment, not just because he's my boss, but I compliment Tony for really taking the opportunity that I think was right for our business. It was right for Ryan. It was right for his team, to really make that happen. And to see Alex's ride firm up, see Darren and Dreyer get the second car going, I mean, that's really exciting stuff.
We were hoping for 22 to start the season. I think we're there, and I think it's going to clearly go up in Long Beach. So again, I think a lot of good, hard efforts in the off-season are paying off in that very important car count.
TIM HARMS: Thank you, Terry. We appreciate that, and we appreciate your time, and we'll let you go, as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Good afternoon, Ryan.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Good afternoon.
TIM HARMS: Thank you for calling. As we mentioned a little earlier, Ryan signed with Vision Racing to drive the No. 21 car for the full season. He joins the team after a year and a half with Rahal-Letterman Racing. Ryan debuted midway through the 2007 season, recorded three Top-10 finishes and won Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors. Last year he finished eighth in points with a victory at Watkins Glen and also Rookie of the Year honors at the Indianapolis 500.
Ryan, we've been kind of saying that this deal has come together late, but I know in reality you've been working hard all off-season to put something together. Tell us a little bit about that entire process of what you've gone through over the off-season and how that finally came together now with Vision Racing.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, it goes without saying, it was certainly a long off-season. But this thing came from so many angles, yeah, I had to work hard, but I couldn't have done it without the help of the IndyCar commercial marketing department under Terry Angstadt. Terry really pushed hard and opened up quite a few doors that would have otherwise not been opened.
And you know, the cooperation from IZOD and the business-to-business deals and from Paul and Dine at William Rast. I mean, it's taken a long time to really get the ball rolling in the right direction, and then ultimately with Tony stepping up in the last week here and getting this deal done, I'm very grateful to him for doing that because I really do believe this thing is going to be well-funded and it's going to be a good program.
I'm just excited about what the future holds here with this partnership, and I'm definitely psyched to be a Vision Racing driver, that's for sure.
TIM HARMS: Coming in late like this, you don't really have the benefit of any of the preseason testing. How quickly will you guys be able to get up to speed and get where you want to be?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, we have high expectations right off the bat. I mean, I haven't been in the car at all, so the first session in St. Pete, depends on how much we need to change around. The braking, the steering rack, all these things are fitted to the driver and the driver's preferences, so we might have to climb through some of that. But there's no reason why we can't be very competitive this weekend. I certainly expect us to be.
I worked with the team this past week on what we need to see out of the car. We have a game plan set, and I was lucky enough to get in the car there at Sebring with HVM, and that was a very productive test. At least I've got 50 laps under my belt here prior to jumping in at St. Pete.
But yeah, we're way behind the other teams and the testing they've done. But it's a street circuit, and this is probably the best venue I could ask for to start out because I feel at home there.
And also, I'm used to jumping in cars at the last minute, with the pressure on with no practice. That's what I did with Rahal in '07 and that worked out well.
TIM HARMS: One of the things you mentioned to me the other day at the race shop is this will be the first time you really have a full-time teammate since 2004. Talk a little bit about working with Ed and what kind of advantages you expect to have with that relationship.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, you know, there's more than a few reasons why teams run two cars. It's definitely a beneficial -- it's very beneficial to the team for performance reasons to run two cars. You've got two drivers working for the same goal. Ed and I have been friends in the past seasons, and now to work with one another, lines of communication are certainly going to be open. That team has knocked on the door for a win at quite a few tracks last season and had a very strong showing in the Indy 500.
We're going to complement each other very well. Obviously it's a new relationship in working together, but I'm looking forward to seeing some races and stuff to just compare when we get on some of these tracks. I haven't had really anything to compare against or to -- there hasn't been a sounding board for a teammate, like I said, in quite a few years. I'm really looking forward to that and it's going to help my game for sure.
TIM HARMS: We'll open it up for questions for Ryan.
Q. With the long off-season you mentioned, as far as cobwebs growing, do they grow thick because of that long off-season, and what's the effect of the cobwebs producing butterflies for that first race in St. Pete?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: With the long off-season, yeah, naturally you get a little bit of cobwebs and rust in there just because you haven't been in the car. But I take -- I've taken a lot of karting. I have a shifter kart, and man, those things will wear you out in four laps if you're not used to them, and I run tanks of fuel through them at a time and keep sharp on the reflex side of it that way.
But like I said, luckily I got in the HVM car here for 50 laps, so that was the cobweb shakeout at the same time, and that's definitely going to help me when I go to St. Pete. But we've got a lot to sort out in the first couple sessions, that's for sure.
Q. Do you think every driver still gets butterflies before every race?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: For sure. Butterflies, you could put it towards an extreme amount of focus and not knowing what the first corner holds, especially at the first race of the season. Every driver wants to win the race in the first corner, I think, and it makes for -- yeah, definitely some butterflies, and you're real excited to get it going. But that excitement really builds, I think, before the first race of the season and before the Indy 500, those big races. Once we get into the stretch where we're like six weekends back-to-back, you kind of get used to, okay, let's get to the grid, get this thing going, and I don't think the butterflies are as high.
Q. I guess the official word of this came last night, and the success you had with Rahal last year, now that you have something in place on paper, can you kind of help yourself to look back and say, man, I had something really good going on there with Rahal and now it's almost starting over again?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I mean, there was certainly something good going there at Rahal. We had good chemistry, a one-car team, and we were definitely punching above our weight. We had some great performances last year; we got back into victory lane and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and capped the season off with a podium there at Australia. So we definitely had momentum there.
But times being what they are, the sponsor fell out from under us, and they couldn't really get anything going over the off-season, so it was tough for sure.
I have nothing but respect, appreciation and great memories of that team. Yeah, at the time it was kind of disappointing that here I am, I finally get somewhere in my career where results are building up and chemistry is building and things are all heading in the right direction, but such is life. Things like that happen.
I got over it pretty quick and onto the future and Vision Racing. I fought with those cars a lot last year, especially on the ovals. Very, very good oval package; very, very professional team. So hopefully this is just a quick step sideways and back on the path.
Q. Do you draw any parallels between the situation you're faced with now and back when you were kind of summoned to replace Jeff?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I think it's very similar, very similar. When I replaced Jeff there at Rahal, I was making a seat two and a half days before the first session on track, so that was actually a tighter time frame, and I hadn't driven an IndyCar/Champ Car in probably a year at that point, so that was a pretty tough situation just to jump into.
But the weekend came out great. We achieved the goals we wanted to. And we have goals set for this weekend, and I'm sure we can get those done. We have to get through these first couple sessions and get acclimated to the car.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, you mentioned how Vision had had some good runs over the past season, especially on the ovals. How close do you think Vision is to kind of breaking through to the next level and getting that first win? And also a second question, I don't know if this is the right question to ask you, but have final sponsorship details been decided yet? When will those come out, and are things still up in the air as far as that goes?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, to answer your first question, I think that, yes, this team has the capability of winning. Like last year at Texas, you know, I was running second there on the last lap until I had my issue with Marco Andretti. But we were -- I think the Rahal oval cars that we had were every bit as good, if not the Vision cars are maybe even a little better than that. So there's no reason we can't compete for wins. I have every expectation to do so this year.
And on the road courses, you know, I'm not sure how -- I have every expectation there to do well, also, especially starting this weekend. So we'll see how that goes.
But as for the sponsorship situation, that will take a clearer picture after St. Pete. With the weekend off into Long Beach, we'll be announcing kind of how that car is going to look. That's kind of in Vision's core at the moment, so I can't go into that too much right now.
Q. Are you going to be residing in Indy or where?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I'm residing out of my suitcase right now. I'm not really sure what's going on. I've lived in California for the past few years, and I've been down in Florida a bit with my mother being a little bit sick lately, and now the team is in Indy. My last team was in Columbus. So I'm bouncing around. I'm certainly going to spend a lot of time there. Whether I get an apartment, I'm not sure of. But I'll certainly be there a lot. Right now my suitcase is my residence.
Q. The ulterior motive for asking that question is Ed has come a long way in driving, particularly on the ovals, but he still needs to grow on the road courses, and I'm sure you can bring some help to him in that way. Have you got any plans at all to work with Ed as far as the road course work?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, for sure. I mean, we're teammates. He's going to help me out a lot on the ovals, and I hope I can help him out as much on the road courses. It'll be a two-way -- I'm sure some corners Ed will be a little quicker than I am, and we'll feed off that. That's how it works.
He's definitely a talented driver. He grew up racing in the ovals, so he's got some stuff to make up on the road courses, but he's working hard at it and there's no reason why he can't be up there and competitive. He's shown great, great improvement over the last year. So yeah, I think on both ovals and road courses we'll bring a lot to the table for each other.
TIM HARMS: Ryan, that's all the questions we've got for you today, so thank you again for taking the time to join us, and good luck getting things started this weekend.
We're joined now by Eric Bachelart and Alex Tagliani from Conquest Racing. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thanks for taking the time to join us. Earlier today obviously you guys announced that Alex would be driving the No. 34 car at St. Petersburg with sponsorship from Northlands in Edmonton. Eric, tell us a little bit about the deal.
ERIC BACHELART: Well, we just announced it a couple of hours ago that, as you said, we signed a sponsorship deal with Northlands. Northlands is the organization that presents the Edmonton IndyCar race. So we'll promote the race this weekend with the Rexall Edmonton Indy becoming a primary sponsorship for the first race of the season.
Obviously we're very happy and very pleased with the sponsorship. They've done a very good event in Edmonton for all these past few years, so it will be great to promote them this weekend with another great event in St. Pete.
Of course we're very, very happy to have Alex with us again, and we know him well, and Alex has done a really good job with us at the end of the season last year with a best finish of fourth in Australia, so we're going to try to keep in that path.
Obviously there's not that much chance to test together to do a good preparation for St. Pete, but I'll tell you, when we put Alex in the car in Detroit last year, we were very impressed with the way that he adapted to the car, and I know he's extremely motivated, and I feel confident that we'll do well this weekend.
TIM HARMS: Alex, as Eric mentioned there, you joined the team last year for the final three IndyCar Series events and had a fourth place finish in the race at Surfers Paradise. Give us your perspective on this opportunity to start the season with Conquest.
ALEX TAGLIANI: First of all, I just want to say hi to Eric. It's been a long time since we've seen each other.
It was definitely a fantastic opportunity for me last year to join the IndyCar Series for the first time and having the opportunity to do it with Conquest. Obviously the first scenario was not the best. I jumped mid-weekend on Saturday morning. You're not racing a little go-kart at the local race, you're racing with the best in the world. So it was a little bit difficult, but I was surprised that I adapted quite well to the cars. The Conquest team has a very good group of people, and they're capable of giving me a fantastic car.
We jell well. We went to Australia, and we had a great weekend, very competitive. So we're motivated. This event unfortunately happens really late, but we're working on something for the rest of the year, and it's really important that we join the IndyCar Series in St. Pete, and we feel that with everybody on board and with the group of people that Conquest has, we could have a good car and definitely do a good showing in St. Pete, even if it's difficult conditions.
TIM HARMS: Obviously you had the same experience last year coming into the team at Detroit with just a few hours' notice even maybe or a day or two notice. What are, I guess, some of the biggest challenges and what are things that maybe people would think would be challenges about that situation but maybe aren't as challenging about a situation like that?
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, it's been since '03 that I didn't drive on the St. Pete racetrack. That's a small challenge. The biggest challenge really is just to get back in the groove after a couple of months in the winter of not driving. It's always fun the first test of the winter. You know, you get back in the groove, and then you push harder and you develop certain things on the car that after some time of thinking and communicating with the engineer you can apply for the next test and for the next race, and it's a buildup, right? So we're going to have to build up in three days with jumping in the car cold.
So that's basically the biggest challenge. But in regards to, I think, how we could put together a good car and a competitive car over the next three days, over the weekend, I think we have the capabilities to do it because we showed it in Australia. I think it's just a lack of preparation and doing it last minute that drains a lot of energy and maybe lack of sleep. I guess that's the biggest challenge.
TIM HARMS: Thank you. Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Eric and Alex.
Q. Eric, in the IndyCar Series there tends to be a lot more international flavor to that type of racing. You know, it's produced in the United States a lot, but it attracts a lot of international fans. Do you think that international flavor gives a boost to the IndyCar racing series?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, personally myself, yeah, I like it. I think that it would be -- I'd like to see the series a bit more global. That's everybody's advice and opinion on it. But this is a bit what we did with Champ Car before, and I think we're getting there with IndyCar, and having these two races in Canada, I think it's great. There is a lot of fans in Canada, and I know that Alex is very popular over there. I mean, we're going to have two fantastic events over there with Edmonton and Toronto. They're very well-promoted, and it is very popular. So definitely I think it's a plus for the series.
I mean, we're going to Japan, as well, and I feel it's a bit of a shame that we're not going to Australia anymore, but I understand the reasons, and hopefully we might have a race in Europe in the future.
And then, I mean, same thing with drivers. That's the good thing about it. There is a very good last round of drivers from all over the world, and at the same time it's good to see that Ryan is back in a seat this year.
I think we'll have good competition. It was a long winter, but it's exciting to be in St. Pete now and have a good amount of cars on the grid.
Q. You mentioned that it was a long winter and of course the long off-season. I asked before about having cobwebs. Do you think that to knock that rust off, do you still have butterflies when you go into that first race of the year? Do you think every driver does?
ERIC BACHELART: Yeah, of course. I'll tell you, when you see what you have to do to be there, and now going to St. Pete and be there, that's really the reward, and that's why we've been working for months, to be there, and especially when you can go over there with the driver that you really wanted to work with.
And here working with Alex, it's really good. He's extremely committed, and we're just kind of a good group all together. You would see when I told the guys two days ago that we finalized with Alex, everyone was extremely happy. At the end of the day we're racers. We want to race and do well, and I believe that with Alex there's a very good chance to do that.
We're not a big team, but I think that we have obviously a good spirit and a lot of competitors in the group, and Alex has been a very good team player. It really unfolds, the spirit that I'm trying to keep in the team and that we keep.
Q. Eric, I heard Alex say that they're still looking for sponsorship for later in the year, so does this mean that this deal is just a one-race deal for right now? And if that's the case, what are the possibilities that the No. 34 becomes, I guess, a shared ride between a couple of drivers, like say Alex or Jamie Camara or any other driver?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, here, obviously yes. This deal is just for the first race in St. Pete. But the plan is to keep Alex in the car and not share this car with somebody else. I mean, we still have some work to do and some ways to go, so we're working on Long Beach, and then, I mean, keep going from there.
We believe that we have some good leads that could help us for the rest of the season that came up a few weeks ago, and in the meantime it's just to find some ways to keep going.
You know, if we keep in mind that we had two cars last year, so we have the possibility for a second car, as well, if another driver is interested to do something with us, and we had some discussion in that regard. You know, again, we have cars in the shop. We have all the equipment and everything just to run two cars if it's needed. So that's also a possibility.
I mean, you know, one thing at a time, as Alex said in French in the previous question. We have to work much harder now just to find some deals. It's definitely harder but possible.
And I think that once we create some good momentum with St. Pete we can work on that and develop and create a burst in Canada, as well. Alex is the only Canadian driver, and we have two big Canadian events, so we need Alex in the series. And I believe that there are a lot of Canadian companies that are looking to support us, and we're talking with a bunch of these companies.
Again, we're building, and hopefully after St. Pete things will get better and we'll be in Long Beach together.
Q. Just to follow up, from an owner's standpoint, how has it been just trying to hunt down those sponsors, trying to find receptive businesses during this current economic recession? How has that been for you?
ERIC BACHELART: Well, no doubt about it, it's been tough. Look, we're funded to do the first race now, so we're not set for the whole season yet. It's not easy, but as I said, I think it's feasible, and definitely we want to look at it in a positive way. For the whole winter we never doubted that we'd be there, and the good thing is we've managed to keep all the people together, and we're going to St. Pete with everything we need.
Of course we'll have a bit short preparation, especially with testing with Alex, and that's a shame, but I think we'll overcome that and just keep going, keep working at it and keep a positive attitude.
The good thing is to see, if I'm not mistaken, that we have 22 cars on the grid this weekend. So that's pretty good. All considered, it's very good. So it's very encouraging to see this.
TIM HARMS: Eric and Alex, thanks for joining us, and congratulations on getting the deal done for St. Petersburg. We wish you luck there and for the rest of 2009.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Darren Manning. Hi, Darren. I know you've been on the line a couple minutes already, so thanks for waiting and hanging in there with us.
Earlier today obviously Darren was announced as the driver of the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Darren has competed in the IndyCar Series for four seasons, earning seven top-5 finishes and 25 top 10s. He's competed at St. Petersburg three times in the IndyCar Series. He led three laps there in 2005, qualified fifth there in 2007.
Darren, congratulations on the announcement today, and really in all honesty we've heard several names rumored to be in the second car with not only Dreyer & Reinbold but with a couple other teams out there, and you kind of slipped in under the radar. Tell us a little bit about how your deal came together.
DARREN MANNING: Well, I guess I've been on the minds of Dennis and Robbie since the end of last year. You know, we were in talks about trying to get a deal together for Australia, which didn't come about. They wanted to try and get me in the car for that, and we had several conversations around that kind of time, and I guess I was just on their minds when the opportunity arose that they needed a guy at the last minute. And literally late evening last night I got the call, and fortunately I wasn't doing anything else.
I know obviously from what you just said, I know St. Pete very well and can offer the team and their primary driver, Mike, a good head of experience and hopefully some good speed and a good performance that I've always had -- good performances. Maybe not the results that I might have had, and we were running up in fifth place with only a few races to go when my gear box broke last year, and that would have been good, and similarly other times with Ganassi and Foyt, as well.
So it's a good track and a good little team. I know what they've been doing over the winter, and I'm pretty excited, especially seeing as I wasn't doing anything on Monday, and then yesterday afternoon I've got to get myself ready and shaped up for this coming weekend and leaving this afternoon to go down there.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned kind of getting the call and starting to get ready. I'm sure there's a million things you have to do to get ready. What do you put first? What's first on the list to get done, and how do you prepare on such a short notice?
DARREN MANNING: You know, it is; obviously I'm still working out very hard. I've been driving in the Grand-Am Series at Daytona, 24-Hour Race earlier this year, and I'll still be doing races with them later on this season. Obviously I'd like to do more IndyCar Series races, but this at the moment is only a one-race deal.
I'm kind of ready, but you know, the team needs a seat, and fortunately A.J. was kind enough to put that in the post this morning to give me a chance at St. Petersburg, one of my seats from A.J. last year that I used there, and getting your licenses, your credentials and tickets and race suits and signing the contracts not the least. So that was a good whirlwind -- well, still going on now with this and then getting on a flight in a couple of hours. So it hasn't stopped yet, and tomorrow we'll still be going on with getting the seat fit finished and getting me comfortable in the car. It's a last-minute deal but I'm used to it. Not having any money like most drivers out there, you're used to these kind of last-minute deals like Alex and everybody else. It's what we do.
TIM HARMS: You also alluded there a little bit to Mike Conway, your teammate, who's a rookie with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and also a fellow Englishman. Did you know Mike previously? Have you guys competed against each other? Or are you kind of just meeting each other for the first time?
DARREN MANNING: No, we kind of know each other just from around the paddock and things like that. We've never raced against each other. He's a little younger than me and came up through the ranks, not dissimilar to how I did with racing in Formula 3 and winning the Macau Grand Prix and Formula 1 test driver for Honda like I was a couple years later than me.
So we've taken a very similar path, and it's quite amusing that we've ended up at the same place at this junction. I know his speed and talent and successes, and I just got off the phone with him about a half an hour ago answering as teammates. We're both pretty excited, and we know how important it is to have quick teammates.
It was something I and the whole team felt over the last couple of years that we were lacking in at A.J. Foyt Racing, that I was just by myself, and it is difficult when you're just by yourself to get through everything that a race weekend demands and somebody to lean on, an extra set of setup information and data and speed and you're quicker here and I'm quicker there.
It's going to be good for me, but not only is it going to be good for Mike, but obviously having my experiences to lean on about pit stops and what the race is going to bring for him and what to expect of the race weekend and these cars and tires and racing against a lot of these other guys that I've banged wheels with for the last four or five years.
So it's going to be good for me, also, having a guy of Mike's talents to compare data with. And I think that's one of the big reasons why Dennis and the whole DNR team wanted to go this way with me, get two good guys in there that could work well together and help take the team forward, to try and challenge for wins, and I don't see of any reason why we can't do that even this weekend.
Q. Do you bring a sponsor to this deal? And second of all, how long are you committed for the ride?
DARREN MANNING: Well, firstly, at the moment it's just for St. Petersburg. The team has been working really hard on sponsorship and things, and there will be sponsors on the car from the team's point of view, not from my side. You know, they're trying to put something together for the whole season, but obviously everybody from the Conquest guys to Dreyer & Reinbold to everybody is struggling for sponsors, and this is only going to be a one-race deal, possibly Long Beach, because it's only a couple of weeks away and maybe some of the road courses. We'll just have to wait and see.
I certainly don't have any sponsors with me. I'd like to -- part of me would like to say I could bring some sponsorship, but the professional in me wants to get rides on merit, and I think that's why I got the call when they were in the position to put a pro in the car. I think I was one of the guys that's on their list. So I'm happy to do it.
Q. What particular challenges do you face now coming into St. Pete without having any prior experience with the team?
DARREN MANNING: Well, you know, it's going to be tough, obviously, but you know, I know St. Pete like the back of my hand, and I'm pretty happy. I know what's expected of an IndyCar around there, as well, and I think that, again, is one of the top reasons for DNR putting me in the car even at such short notice. I know what's needed of myself and the car to go fast round there.
It's just going to be very -- only a little bit tougher because I haven't driven that car before, but I'm sure after a few laps on Friday I'll soon know what direction is needed to go, if at all. By the sounds of it, they've been fast in testing with Mike, so I am actually quite excited to get in their car, really, to be honest. I'm sure it's going to be extremely close to the front, so hopefully it's easier than what I've had in the past.
Q. Darren, changes in rules and equipment and teams and personnel, it's common to motorsports, but do you think that the ability to adjust and adapt is a driver's strongest skill?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent nearly. There are obviously other big skills, but that is one that's on the top of my list anyway and one of the main reasons why I like to drive as many cars at my disposal as possible, to learn and adapt to different driving styles, each cars, whether it's a Grand-Am car, a GT car, an IndyCar, a Formula 1 car, a little form of Ford or a go-kart, they all demand something different from the driver. I think that's one of my biggest skills is adapting to different circumstances and getting up to speed quicker because of that.
You know, so yeah, I think it's a great skill of drivers, and this year with the option tires, you're going to go from one level of grip to another level of grip just solely by changing a set of tires, and a driver is going to need to adapt very quickly, within a couple of corners literally, because your out lap is going to be crucial to what ultimate speed you do. So the quicker you can adapt and get up to speed, the faster we're going to be, which is what is ultimately what we're all after.
Q. In all your experience what has humbled you the most about driving a competitive race car?
DARREN MANNING: The winning, I guess, really. I read an article from another driver, I can't remember who it was, but it was somebody from the Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark era. It was "Motor racing is 99 percent failure and 1 percent success." But obviously that little bit of success is all the more sweeter through the hardships and how humbled you are by different situations, gear box failures when you're in the lead or a flat tire or another failure or you crashing. There's lots of different things. I think the closer you get to the front, the more humble you have to be.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Formula One win with the Brawn GP team this past weekend?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, I know a lot of guys still at work there as I'm sure Mike Conway does. It's a great operation, and obviously it's one of the newer, big budget teams, if you like, of recent eras. BMW came on with Williams and then took over Sauber and things like that, but Reynard and British American Racing as it was back then started up from scratch, and this huge operation, and then it turned into Honda. And they had a lot of good things happening there.
But maybe the decision making wasn't quite how a successful Formula One team should be operated. If you look at Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, Briatore, all the successful teams have got one figurehead making the final decision. And I think now with it being Brawn GP, I'm sure Ross Brawn is making the final decisions.
We know from his Ferrari days that when he's given that power, he makes some very, very good decisions on what's needed from the car, and I don't think he had that when he was with Honda, and I think he's got that now, and it's no real surprise that now with the skills from Brackley and all the guys that are there are shining through and now that somebody is putting their head on the chopping block, if you like.
Q. Having spoken about Grand-Am and anything else, would you ever consider anything else about coming back towards Europe or anywhere else for that matter towards something like the Super League Formula considering you did sit in the Premier One Grand Prix car?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, well, I've been trying to forge my career as a professional racing driver, and there's not -- the drive for that type of driver is very limited, as you can imagine. I'm in a situation where I can get paid to drive and do a job that I'm paid to do, like this weekend, for example. They needed a guy that's got certain qualifications, and I'm on that list.
Things like the Super League, if there is an opportunity where somebody has the same criteria for needing a driver, then yeah, I'd do it for sure. I'm a driver. I'm a racer. I want to win races. I haven't had any calls like that just yet, but you never know. I'm never going to say never.
Q. You mentioned just the struggles that some teams have had trying to find sponsorship like Conquest and Dreyer & Reinbold. I was wondering from your personal perspective how has the search for sponsorship been and backing been from your point of view in this current economy?
DARREN MANNING: It's been a nightmare. I have a manager who works out of the UK and looks after a couple of the other drivers, and I know obviously a lot of teams around America and back in Europe, and a lot of guys have had to shut down, so it's a real testament to anybody who can keep going in this current climate. I know how hard it is to find sponsorship.
I'm not in a position that I have any sponsorship or been -- I've been kind of looking, but I've been more looking for drives than I have been for getting a sponsor and then taking that to a team, if you like.
It's kind of a little bit of different situation for me. I was racing in Europe at the end of last year and that was looking good until that team, the business that was propping that program up went under because of the current crisis, or the current crisis starting last year, and that drive went away, and I picked up a Grand-Am drive and now this.
So it's just scrappy. You've got to never give up, and people like Alex and Eric and Dennis and Robbie, they're fighters, and we all have a good product, and it's just getting it out there to the right people.
TIM HARMS: Darren, thanks again for joining us. We appreciate that, and congratulations again, too. We wish you the best of luck this weekend.
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