Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
October 28, 2003
KENT JOHNSON: Welcome to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week of Tuesday, October 28. Today we'll visit with IRL IndyCar( Series driver Tomas Scheckter. Scheckter finished seventh in the 2003 IndyCar Series point standings as a member of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and was named as the driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for the upcoming 2004 campaign. Earlier this month, he had his first opportunity to test with the Panther Racing team during a private test at The Milwaukee Mile. Tomas, welcome, and thanks for joining us today.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Thank you.
KENT JOHNSON: Looking back over the first couple of weeks of October, you were first announced as the driver for the Pennzoil Panther car the day before the season finale at Texas, then three days later, you get to hop in the car and test up at Milwaukee. What can you tell us about how your opportunity to join the Panther Racing team came together?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: It was fairly simple. We had an option to settle down with Chip (Ganassi), again, and do something. Then, we started speaking to the people at Panther. Obviously, Sam (Hornish), I think, had a little bit earlier signed with Penske and there was an option for me to go down. We spoke to them, and we got into negotiations and I really had more of an understanding for the team and what it was about and, you know, that's how it sort of came about.
KENT JOHNSON: You are leaving a team at Team Target that won the most recent IndyCar Series Championship. But, you are going to a team which already has two IRL Championships in their trophy case. You have to have the feeling that the opportunity to win is right there.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I led a lot of laps this year with no wins, so I was very disappointed from one aspect. Hopefully, I can go next year and get a couple more or get some more wins.
KENT JOHNSON: You and the Panther Racing team had the opportunity to test at The Milwaukee Mile. As a driver, coming from one team into a new atmosphere, what kind of adjustments do you or the guys you are working with have to make going from one familiar group to another one?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I think it's quite a bit of adjustment to do in one aspect. They are used to Sam being there. Obviously, he's had an unbelievable run with the team. I am coming in and I have to build new relationships with people. People have to get used to me and I have to get used to them. We just have to find a good way to work together, which, I think, we had a very positive first test and we have to keep in that same direction. Hopefully, by Homestead, the first race, we have all gelled well together, and we have got the opportunity to be right up front.
KENT JOHNSON: Obviously, there is a lot of give-and-take between you and Andy Brown and the other members of the race team. Are you open to their suggestions? Do you have an idea of how you like the car to feel? What's the mindset as you step into a car?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Well, it's all about feeling and what feedback I give. I think the main thing is the feedback I give and the changes they do to the car and, you know, if I say 'well, it's loose,' only after awhile will they know when I say 'oh, it's loose,' how loose it is. I might say, 'it's loose,' and it's only one out of 10. Meanwhile, when Sam said it was loose, it was eight out of 10. So, in the beginning, they might correct the car too much and then we'll just get that feel for that. I will say, 'no, we have gone too much with that change, come a little bit back.' That's how it is. It's just a feel, and the more I get to run with the team, the more they will understand me and the more I will understand them.
Q. With the situations that have occurred here of late, and the first thing was your crash at Texas with Kenny Brack, as exciting as it is to watch the IRL IndyCar Series go wheel-to-wheel, are we just getting too close in your mind? Does something need to be done that would kind of separate the competition in a way?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I am not sure, I think -- that's a tough question, you know, because why people love IRL so much is that they can't see this racing anywhere else. And, obviously, sometimes racing, we all know as drivers, we're going to get into the car, it's going to be dangerous, we're not going fishing, you know. So, we understand what we're getting into. Whether they could separate it a little bit more, I am not sure. I think that's a tough question, because I think part of IRL is the whole thing that you can go side-by-side, you can go two abreast and I think if people are using their heads and they cast out a little bit of trouble, it should be really a safe shot.
Q. What about the fact that we have had cars take flight? Is there anything with the front downforce, anything with the car that can keep, you know, when NASCAR started having that trouble, I know you guys can't do roof flaps, but they did come up with a way to try to keep the cars from leaving the ground so much?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Sure, I think, yes. You have seen it a couple of times and maybe a little bit too many times, but I think there's also been some a little bit weird stuff and also, obviously, there's nothing you can do to keep a car down when it does touches wheels with someone else, because it's just like hitting a ramp, I suppose. The thing is going to go get airborne. I have got full confidence that the IRL are going to do something about it and make sure that this doesn't happen as frequently as it has been happening.
Q. The fact that one of the things that John and his crew have always been able to do and that is, being very personable with the driver and almost a one-on-one situation. Do you find yourself right now saying 'this is the perfect match for me?'
TOMAS SCHECKTER: There's going to be work to be done, you know? I am not, I don't think any -- you never walk into a place and say, 'okay, this is going to be a fairytale.' You go into a place you and say, 'I am going to work hard, I am going to do what I can do to make sure that me and the team succeed.' And, I think there's a lot of work to do. I have done one test with the team, you know? I am trying to spend as much possible time as I can with the team. And we just have to see. I really do think it's an unbelievable team with great people, and it's a great strong engineering side and a very solid, solid engineering side, as well. We just have to make it work. I think I will only be able to tell you that, you know, after I have won a couple races, how good it's going to be.
Q. Your latest engineer, you guys kind of clashed a few times. Andy Brown is kind of a laid-back guy. He kind of seems to take things in stride. Are you kind of looking forward to that a little bit more of a relaxed, calm environment?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, you know, I think it's just -- I think you just need to gel. Whoever you are working with, you need to almost not speak on the radios when you get to the track, because if I say this is how the car feels, we both know what we want to change together. I think those are the best scenarios and, obviously, after a little bit of time with the team, if that's the direction we are going to. But, certainly from an intelligence point of view, Andy Brown, you know, is very, very good to work with, really knows what is going on and, so far, the test I have done I have really enjoyed working with him.
Q. Is it fair to say though that, you know, I mean you led so many laps? Is there a point that the communication breakdown, maybe some things hurt your success this year in that respect?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, you know, a lot of times I tried to point at different reasons why, why, why; some of the stuff was just plain, I was plain unlucky. We were having failures on the car that we never had before, or just at the worst possible moment, we would have a pit stop that was just a little bit slower, or a yellow would come out, you know, I mean, I can just think of so many races that was just unlucky, you know. I was in the position -- there were so many races where I said halfway through the race I said, 'hey, this race is in the bag if we just don't do anything stupid or nothing stupid happens, this race is in the bag,' because I felt I could pass anybody. I was in the lead, and sure enough, something would happen. A lot of it was just not luck on my side.
Q. Did you know going in that John (Barnes) was going to have this merger with Team Menard, and how do you think that will affect you? Will it help you to merge with the operation? How do you think it's going to work?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I did not know going in. I knew Panther from what they have done before and that, but I think it's great. I think it's very, very good. I think it's good for the team and it's good for the budget. It gives us more possibility to do more development and, hopefully, you know, it's going to be done well. I am looking forward to it. It's great that I am going to have a teammate, as well. I don't know who it is, but I am looking forward to the whole situation. But, from my aspect I think it's going to be good.
Q. I was wondering if you have had much of a chance to or what your thoughts are on the new banking at Homestead for next year?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I am not sure. We're going to go test there on the 3rd and 4th (of Nov.). But, from what I have heard, it's progressively banked. So, I really can't tell. If it does work, I think it will be great, because it means the high line will be easier to ride on, which you will see, maybe, a little bit more overtaking opportunities. The only aspect is, does it get a little bit too much air underneath the car going in between the banking, but I will only be able to tell once I go down there.
Q. In terms of Tony's death, what were you thinking when you heard about that, obviously, in a ride that you had?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: It was, I mean, it's even hard for me to speak about it now. It was very, very, an extremely funny feeling. I was driving, I had to actually pull off on the side of the road because I had given Chip (Ganassi) a call just to speak to him to thank him about some stuff. He said, 'well, I just got a call in five minutes ago, Tony has been in a bit of a crash.' I said, 'sorry to hear that,' but I didn't know anything. I thought maybe he just had a little bit of a bump, or whatever. Then I gave Scott a call and I said, 'oh is everything okay?' Then he told me the news. It was a bit shocking to be honest. It still is a little bit shocking now.
Q. Panther Racing has always been able to come out of the box with a car that's got a great setup on it. How much input do you have into how you like the car set up?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Definitely a lot of input. But, I think they have got a very good system that they run on the car that gives extremely good feedback that really tells what the car was doing all the time, and I think Andy (Brown) and Seth (Fleming) are very good at analyzing the car without a massive amount of driver input to make sure when the car is going out to the race it is on rails, which is very important.
Q. Who is your spotter this year?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: It's Pancho. He already came down to Milwaukee, and I really enjoyed working with him. Although it was just a test, just having him going out there, looking at different lines, speaking to him, as much as I was on the radio with the engineers, I was also speaking to him. So, I am glad to have him on my side next year.
KENT JOHNSON: When you signed on with the Panther Racing team it was a single-car operation. We have heard various drivers go back and forth about the positives, or the disadvantages, of a single-car outfit, especially when it comes to testing. Now, with the alliance with the Menard team, does that give you even more of an advantage than what you thought you might have been coming into?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I think it's definitely a positive move for the team and for me, because I get more feedback. There's limited testing next year, so we can get some more information. So, from every angle I can look at, it is going to be positive and I am really looking forward to it. I think Panther is the right team to look after the Menard No. 2 car.
Q. I heard the word 'volatile' mentioned earlier in the conference call. Frankly, that is a way to describe your relationship this year. But this volatility in racing, what kind of impact has that had on you as an adult, not just a race car driver? TOMAS SCHECKTER: I think, maybe, we're gone a little bit too much into this. I think, you know, when there's a lot of pressure in situations and you come so close to doing good jobs and it doesn't happen, a relationship stresses, no matter what. But, I think people are going a little bit too much, in like we were arguing all the time. I have a very good relationship with Bill Pappas. I think he's a great engineer and I think he did a great job for me, a great job for me this year and, you know, for some reason it didn't come together. How it affects my adult life, I am not sure. I'd sort of just get on with things and that's the way it is.
Q. Do you take anything from these last few seasons into this season and say 'this is what I learned and this is how I can bring something to Panther Racing' that maybe advances the cause of Tomas Scheckter at Panther Racing a little bit?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: 100 percent. Every time I go out to the track, you know, I learn something and I make sure that, you know, it gets carried on. I think over the past two years, definitely, especially last -- I mean this year, I went in a certain type of driver and, I think, I really came out a much, much stronger driver. That, I think, because of the likes of Bill Pappas and the people at Target, they really helped me develop into a better driver and, hopefully, I can bring that on to Panther and make sure I do a good job next year.
Q. Have the conversations that you had with Pancho been away from the racetrack, just to sit and the two of you get to know each other a little bit?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: We spoke about everything. I have picked his brain on everything. From restarts to lines to, you know, how things are run, and it has been very, very good.
Q. Has he brought anything to the table for you that you said 'I never thought about that before, I will give that a try?'
TOMAS SCHECKTER: What is great about Pancho is that he was a driver before, so he understands from my perspective exactly what is going on. And, if I ask him about certain lines, even when we were at Milwaukee, 'what do you think about this,' or 'what did the car look like that over that line,' he will give his opinion on exactly what he thought. And what is great about him, he won't give his opinion just for the sake of giving his opinion. He will only give it if he sees something, which is honest and the best way to do it.
KENT JOHNSON: Tomas, looking back on your test at the Milwaukee, is there another track that the IndyCar Series has raced on that you can compare to Milwaukee, or is Milwaukee a unique track?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Milwaukee is a pretty individual track, to be honest. Obviously, it's got a lot of history, but to be honest, it's not going to be one of my favorite tracks. It's very low bank and pretty tight, but I know, again, with IRL going there we're going to see some good racing compared to some other series that go there.
KENT JOHNSON: Tomas, there don't appear to be any questions from our media. So with that, again, we appreciate you taking the time to join us today and we certainly wish you all the best in the 2004 season.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Thank you very much.
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