Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests today are from Panther Racing and include co-owner John Barnes, driver Tomas Scheckter, and we're also joined today by driver Tomas Enge who today is being announced as the driver of the No. 2 car for the 2005 season. The three of them us join us today from Homestead, Florida, where they're preparing for the first three days of testing for the 2005 season. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today. John, let's start with a couple questions for you about the team. First of all, just tell us a little bit about the off-season search for a second driver and how you came to choose Tomas Enge.
JOHN BARNES: Well, I have a very good friend by the name of Derek Maurer, who owned an F-3000 team who won quite a few races in Europe. He called me about three years ago and told me about Tomas, and we tested him I think in 2003 at Fontana. Just the stars and moons didn't align quite properly until now. We're very excited about having him on board.
THE MODERATOR: Now, Panther this year of course is going to be the only team in the IRL that's going to run with the Chevy engine. Did the fact that Tomas drove for two races last year for Patrick Racing with the Chevy power, did that play a role in your decision at all?
JOHN BARNES: Yeah, sure it did. As you know, in 2000 when we made a change in driver at Panther from Scott Goodyear to Sam Hornish, one of the things that allowed us to make the proper decision on hiring Sam ways being able to watch him in an IRL environment. Thanks to Patrick racing for let us watch Tomas and get an idea what he's capable of in action and it made the decision quite easy for us.
THE MODERATOR: One question about the team. Obviously last year had to be a bit frustrating for you guys. You have a strong history with championships in 2001 and 2002, three race wins in 2003. How do you put last year behind you and rebound to the top?
JOHN BARNES: Well, I think you have to take your problems and turn them into opportunities. And we at Panther believe that last year was just a little bit of a humility break for us to get us back where we need to be. We're very focused now in 2005 on the future. We think Chevrolet is, as well. Last year was tough. But all our guys stuck with it and Tomas Scheckter showed great maturity and drive through the year and stuck with us also. We just feel like we're coming out of the thing a lot stronger.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. I'll ask a couple questions of you, Tomas Enge. We'll have to differentiate between our two Tomases today. First of all, welcome back to the IRL. You got a brief introduction to the series last year. Tell us your thoughts on coming back to the IRL and then your thoughts on joining Panther Racing.
TOMAS ENGE: Well, thank you very much for the introduction. I was thinking that you might like call me Tomas, because my right name in Czech language is Tomas, so you can have the differences between Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge, if people want to. It's up to you. But, anyway, last year was my first introduction into the series, into the oval racing, which is a really different kind of racing what I used to drive before. It was an easy start, obviously. I was really happy that I could feel what is it like and have a think over the winter before next season, you know, what I have to do better, what I really would like to change on my style and so on. Obviously, when the opportunity came with Panther Racing, that was something you would never say no. So I'm really happy for that. And, obviously, with Tomas on board like a teammate, but a fast teammate, I hope we going to succeed even better than everybody thinks.
THE MODERATOR: You're from the Czech Republic. When you came over to the IRL last year, it seemed like there was quite a bit of excitement over there. What is the atmosphere like there back home for you and can we expect a lot of interest from the fans and media in the Czech Republic this year?
TOMAS ENGE: I hope so. I mean, one thing is that we are a very small country, and I was the first one in driving Formula 1. So, as you can image, everybody or most of the people knows me back in Czech. But, obviously, this is different kind of racing. It's more American style racing than European. But I think there will be big support back at home and also for me from spectators, as well. I'm really looking forward to bring this kind of racing to Europe and especially to Czech Republic.
THE MODERATOR: Do the people there follow the Indianapolis 500 and are they aware of the magnitude of that event? Is that something that's special to you, competing in that event?
TOMAS ENGE: The first thing is we have to have broadcasting from all the races, that people will start to understand what is it all about to drive on an oval. And the other thing is that, obviously, most of the people know the Indy 500 race is something like, you know, for European people Formula 1 championships. So me personally, I'm really looking forward to this race. It's something I couldn't imagine that I'm going to participate in.
THE MODERATOR: Now let me ask just a couple questions of Tomas before we open it up to the media. Have you gotten a chance here since the team formed this partnership with Tomas to get to know him very well yet? Are you looking forward to working with him as a teammate?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: You know, funny enough, I've worked with Tomas before. I made sure I got his name right, otherwise I'll be in trouble. I had a chance to work with him in Formula 3000. I drove for McLaren junior team, so 2000. He was the current driver. You know, we got to work a little bit then. You know, then obviously this opportunity's come up. We both tend to spend some time at the workshop. You know, I think in the beginning it's just communicating and trying to help each other. It's great that we're doing road courses again. Tomas has a lot of experience and is very quick on road courses. I haven't been on them for like three years. I think the combination that this team has got now should be very good and I'm looking forward to the start.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take a look at your own upcoming season. Last year was your third different team in three seasons, so it's got to be really nice coming back to the same team for 2005.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Sure. I tell you one thing, it's given me a massive amount of confidence going into this test, going into the first race. I don't have to prove anything. Always when you start off with a new team, there's a lot of unknown area, what they expect out of you and what you want to show them. I think that time's really over with Panther. Now we've sort of settled in and we're just concentrating on performing and doing a good job. I can tell you as soon as the green flag drops in that first race, I'm going to be 150%, and, you know, making sure that Panther's old ways of winning many races, that we bring that back to them.
THE MODERATOR: Last year it started off with a lot of promise for you with a fifth-place finish in Homestead. Then it seemed like an unending string of bad luck kept knocking you out of races. You seemed to keep a positive attitude throughout the season. Have you been able to get past that in the off-season and keep a positive approach looking ahead to the 2005 season?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I think, yeah, you know, for sure. Like John always tells us, there's a 48-hour rule: Whether it's good or bad, we forget about it and we move on. I think everybody on the team has adapted that line of thought. That's what you have to do. If you want to be successful, you can't carry on lingering on what happened, you know, what should have happened or what could have happened. We make sure that we rectify mistakes and we try to go to each race learning something new and performing better.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions from the media.
Q. My question is for everybody. I want to know as the sole carriers of the Chevrolet banner, knowing that Chevy is going to pull out at the end of the season probably, how do you guys feel your engine is going to match up against the Honda- and Toyota-powered teams? Are you confident you're going to be able to run up front?
JOHN BARNES: You know, we feel it's an opportunity for us. GM has done a tremendous amount of work in the last really seven months on this program, getting us to where we're at. We'll all have a better idea come Saturday when we run on the oval. But so far we've done two tests down here at Homestead. One was a Firestone test. We were very quick there, and everything looked very good. And then we ran a couple driver tests after that. I mean, we're looking forward to it. I think GM has done just a tremendous job, and continue to. They're working around the clock. The power train skunk works division is really thrashing this thing. They've come up with tremendous improvements since Indianapolis last year.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I think we're looking forward to that. I think also one thing that we're proud of, we're racing in an American series and we've got a great company like Chevrolet behind us. I think it will mean more success we can get when we're fighting other engine companies. You know, hopefully the hard work they've put in in the off-season can pay off and we can give them what they want.
TOMAS ENGE: If you want some calls from me, I would be very short. I think for me, represent American brand and American company against these Japanese engine companies is big honor. I will do everything for representing them as best as possible.
Q. Tomas Scheckter, when you look back at last year, in some respects was that a maturing season for you?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, for sure. I think I mature after every race and I learn stuff. You know, yes, I have to admit a lot of it was frustrating. I think in the beginning we showed some promise. In the beginning to the middle, I struggled just to find my place and to find something where I could settle. And I think from there on where we started to run up front consistently, always in the Top 3, that's when I felt very, very comfortable, but then just struggled. For sure, I think I've matured a lot. More also understanding oval racing I think will help me this season as well
Q. Did that 48-hour rule of John Barnes, was that little motto there something that helped you take that extra step?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: For sure. I mean, I've also learned in Europe and some of the stuff that John tells me my dad used to repeat to me. My dad was even more, "You win, you win. You should work the same way and forget about it as quickly as when you do bad." It's a really good rule. It's great that John has got this knowledge. It helps me and it keeps reminding me on where to focus on to make sure I get the best performance out of myself.
Q. John, kind of picking up on the other question regarding being the sole Chevy out there. How do you work that to your advantage and keep it from being a disadvantage?
JOHN BARNES: How you work it to your advantage, you don't have to wait for them to build additional parts for the other teams. When they get a new camshaft or new piston or new intake system or whatever, it immediately goes on our cars so we don't have to allocate it to five or six other cars. So it's a tremendous advantage. It gives them the ability to react very quickly to new parts and pieces.
Q. To the other Tomas, when you look back at the races that you raced last year and you worked during the off-season, what do you think are the one or two things that you have to work on this season, especially on the ovals?
TOMAS ENGE: Well, it's everything. It's firstly concentration the whole race, which is very important. Secondly, tactic. Then you have obviously the thing to drive behind other cars in the draft or saving the fuel, saving the tires and so on and so on. So there is a lot of things which are really different compare to driving on a road course track when you usually only go flat out from the beginning of the race. Normally that's what happens. You have to drive more with the head than with probably the skills. But we have to see how it goes on. I'm really looking forward especially to a road course track, as you can imagine.
Q. I was wondering why you chose to come to the United States to race instead of remaining in Europe, because you were doing pretty well?
TOMAS ENGE: Well, I think the main reason is obviously that I was in Formula 3000 more than four years. Formula 3000, it's not on the calendar any more. There's a new series, GP2, which is mainly for younger drivers. I don't think I have to prove my speed. I choose this series because I get a great offer from John Barnes from Panther Racing, from Chevy, and I would like to succeed in different type of racing in a new series where I have actually really never been.
Q. Tomas, who will be your primary sponsor? What will your car number be? Will you be a sister car as in color and similar numbers?
TOMAS ENGE: Right. The main -- the sponsorship, the sponsors will be announced in three weeks. I will have on my car No. 2. I don't have the other answer at this moment, sorry.
Q. Is there any indication on your part that the Chevy engine might be better suited, might be more competitive on the road course than on the ovals? Any clue at all?
JOHN BARNES: In our tests we did down here on the road course, the motor performed very, very well. And on the oval, when we tested here with Firestone, it was exceptionally good. So we plan on just winning them all.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Well, obviously I'd like to agree with John, and I think that's the attitude with everybody on the team. Again, we're doing the series. Road courses are important. But, again, as John reminds me, there's one race, and that's the 500. As long as we have a good engine for that race, we have an opportunity to win that, I think everybody at Chevrolet will be happy.
Q. Has GM, Chevrolet, indicated how long they're going to keep developing the engine? Is there a cutoff point halfway through the season where all development stops?
JOHN BARNES: I'll tell you, we had an interesting meeting. We were having a meeting with another engine supplier for (Inaudible) 6. They asked us what we thought, the same question basically you asked me here. All I told them was is that GM this year has two cars. Both of them are at Panther. And their budget for 2005 is exactly what they had in '06. They did not cut anything. They did not look to cut anything. All they want to do is go to win every race in the series.
Q. In other words, they're still going to be bringing the same support personnel, the trailer and everything?
JOHN BARNES: Everything. Every bell and whistle they've got there is going to be there.
Q. Who are you talking to for next year, John?
JOHN BARNES: You'll read that in the press later.
THE MODERATOR: Yes, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate you taking the time out and good luck down there in Homestead, good luck throughout the season.
JOHN BARNES: Thank you.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Thank you.
TOMAS ENGE: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us on the IRL teleconference.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|