Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
September 3, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We went from the young stars to two of the premier car owners in all of motorsports, and we're proud to have them here. Obviously the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix is a unique event this weekend. They've run in a lot of inaugural events over many years, but two of the most successful team owners in motorsports, Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi.
Between the two gentlemen the list of accomplishments is rather spectacular: 20 IndyCar championships, 246 IndyCar wins, including 18 Indy 500 victories, 274 poles. Once again, the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship fight is heating up, and the Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi drivers are in the thick of the battle. Currently Dario Franchitti leads the standings for Chip Ganassi's team at 26 points ahead of Roger Penske's driver Will Power, and trailing by 75 points is Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon.
The IZOD IndyCar Series champion will be crowned on October 16th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IndyCar World Championship. Since 2006 a Ganassi or Penske driver has been in the championship battle that has come down to the final race of the season. This is the fourth year in a row that a Penske or Ganassi driver battle is head-to-head leading into the championship.
Roger and Chip, you've been fiercely competitive on the track with great admiration for each other. Talk about your on-track rivalry between the two organizations.
CHIP GANASSI: Well, first of all, before you can talk about any on-track rivalries between the two of us, I think you need to understand that from somebody in my perspective, I have -- to have a team that sets the bar like Roger's team does makes it possible for people like me to come along and challenge him. He's the guy that's set the bar, and he's the guy that I wanted to model my team after.
So it's been a great rivalry for however long our wonderful announcer has told us. But I think it's important to have leadership, and that's what this guy next to me has been for so many years around IndyCar racing is he's shown the leadership and the foresight to see these speed bumps along the way that we've had over many years in IndyCar racing, but yet he always keeps the bar at a high level and doesn't get caught up in the minutiae of things and is really -- I can safely tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that we have IndyCar racing today because of this guy sitting next to me, Roger Penske. The longer I'm in this, the longer I realize that.
Having said that, I do want to kick his ass every week on the track (laughter), but I think the feeling is mutual. He's a great friend of mine, a great competitor, and a great mentor to many people in this sport, not just myself. And I look forward to seeing him here week in and week out at the racetrack.
ROGER PENSKE: I don't know what to say after that. I didn't know you felt that way about me.
On the serious side, I think that Chip and I have raced each other side by side for a long time. In fact, I remember when he had his accident in that car at the Michigan Speedway. We've been friends really ever since then, and obviously he's put together a terrific race team and one that has demonstrated they can win at any level.
There's no question as we began CART, Chip was side by side with us. Once we decided to do something, we'd do it, and then we've pretty much been on the same page. There's little things we're not in some cases, but when it comes down to the big decisions we've been side by side standing strong even if it hurt us in some cases.
But at the end of the day, I know Scott Dixon and Franchitti, they're friends of mine; I talk to them, he knows my guys. We have a very open dialogue, mechanics on the team. But when it comes down to race day, I'll tell you, the friendship goes out the window, and there's one guy we're trying to beat and that's the 9 and the 10 car, and they're tough.
I wanted to tell him, it looks like over the last three years he's won 21 races, I've won 20, so tomorrow is my turn. I want to say that in Baltimore just to be sure you know that's true.
We've had a real seesaw battle here the last few years, but he knows how to close the deal. We've not been able to do that for the last couple years, and we've really had a good chance. But I think Franchitti is such a calculating and good race driver, he knows when to go, and his experience on the ovals, and certainly on the road courses just shows he's a well-balanced driver, and with Scott right there, also, it's pretty tough team.
But I think most important thing is the guys who race -- you're in this business, there's not a lot of people that you have in a group like this. We sit down as a group of car owners, there might be a dozen or 13 people, and we're all in the same situation; we want to win. For me to try to have consistency and have the rules be consistent, I think we've gone through a couple of ups and downs, but I think the support that we've had has kept the series strong, and more important is a team like Chip's has been able to attract a sponsor like Target, which helps us as we go out to try to get sponsors. To have a company like that in the sport for as long as it has makes a huge difference. I think the continuity of the sponsor, you can commit to your drivers, your crew chiefs, your engineers, all that is important. He's done the best job of that.
Obviously for many years we had our friends at Phillip Morris, but because of EFT and other things we lost them, and I can tell you we scrambled. I said some days, we look like a drugstore out there we have so many different sponsors. But to me, continuity is key. I think the series has got a lot of momentum. When is the last time we've been to two or three racetracks in a row and had 28 cars start? We were trying to get 28 at Indy one year, I think, so this is a huge jump.
The interest here in Baltimore, I'm amazed at the people. I think it's a sport that we can take to a city like this, and with Chip's team, our team and Andretti and the other guys that we're racing against make a big difference, and to me we want to build this as a great North American sport. It's different than NASCAR, different cars. These are the fastest cars in the world, and I think the fact that we run on ovals one day and on road courses the next day and obviously the anchor is the Indianapolis 500 is a pretty good package. And he and I are locked in this to make it a lot better.
I appreciate the competition, but I think more importantly the partnership that he and I have to drive the sport where it's going, because at the end of the day, if we don't have guys to race, we won't have a series, and if we don't have sponsors and we don't have the media, the sport is going to fall down. But I think we're on a nice lift now, and to me new drivers got diversity in the field, which is great. The women are running, doing a great job, and sorry to see Danica go, but on the other hand she's got an opportunity in NASCAR, and we understand that.
THE MODERATOR: Let's talk about your drivers. For the second straight year you've got Dario, Will and Scott battling for a championship. Can you talk about their accomplishments as well as their talents going into this championship?
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I think the nice thing is you can take any of these three or four or five guys between our two teams and you can cover them with a blanket when they come by in terms of their speed and their talent and certainly the teams that are behind them. I mean, like I said, you can cover them with a blanket. It really comes down to -- at the end of the year you look back, and we look back and say, geez, if we just didn't make that little mistake. As much as we're racing against other teams, we're racing against ourselves not to make mistakes.
Both Roger's team and our team have the speed, the capability, the people, and those people have the talent that it takes to win the championship, and it's going to come down the next four races to who doesn't make mistakes, who has a little bit of Lady Luck on their side. But you can cover any of those five or six guys with a blanket.
ROGER PENSKE: I said earlier that the consistency that Franchitti brings to the party, I think Will has obviously showed his expertise on the road courses. There's no question about that. I think he just doesn't have the feel that he wants yet or the confidence. I think the accident he had in Iowa put him back a little bit. I'll tell you, he got to New Hampshire and he was not a comfortable guy. But once he got in the race and things got going, I think he felt a lot better. So he's going to have to really perform on the ovals, and also obviously these next couple of road courses are going to be key.
Look, we were ahead in the championship the last couple years and didn't win it, so maybe you've got to come from behind. If that's the case, we're right in the right spot.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I don't know what it was a year ago with four races to go, but the point is it's close. It's great that it's close, it's great that there's the competition, and there's a lot of interest from a lot of people on our side of the team. I know if you take the people that we have involved just -- and the partners that we have putting our team on the track, and you take the people on Roger's cars that are involved, you've got some -- there's a hell of a lot of people interested in the outcome of this championship. I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, and whether it's Roger's -- the Verizon people or the Penske Corporation employees around the world and the Target family of people around the world, there's a lot of people that have a lot riding on this championship. He and I are going to do the best to give them a good show until the end, I can tell you.
THE MODERATOR: Basically you guys talk about the great ownership, the great drivers, but the great infrastructure within your teams, can you talk about your team leaders first for Roger with Tim Cindric and then Mike Hull for Chip.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, obviously you can't do it by yourself, and the complexity of the logistics, just dealing with the personnel on a day-to-day basis is critical. And I think Tim has done a great job. He's been with me now for a dozen years or more, and to me he's brought a great balance. Bud Denker, who handles our sponsorship, Merrill Cain, who many of you know, we've got some good, experienced people, and they know what to do.
My job is to try to be out there to support them when we're down and try to take some good news when we have some success. But Tim has done a terrific job. He understands the car technically. He's a great strategist, on the pit wall probably one of the best, and there's no question that he's a great leader. We're fortunate to have those type of people, and I can tell you that the sport is so intense, you've got to have leadership with that quality.
And of course, I'll make a comment on Mike Hull. I watched Mike back many, many years ago, and he's been a real asset for Chip, I know.
CHIP GANASSI: And I want to tell you one little Roger story that happened here the last couple weeks. Our hospitality trailer obviously on its way from New Hampshire to Sonoma broke down in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and who did we call but we called Penske Truck Leasing to see if they had a truck, and they didn't exactly have one sitting in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but towed one up from Denver in a view hours and had one there for us. That's what it's like to have a good guy like this on your team when you're down and the chips are down. You need something to dig you out. He was right there for us, and that says a lot.
ROGER PENSKE: I was going to try to borrow a car yesterday when ours got in the wall. You owe me one now.
CHIP GANASSI: We've got one any time you need it. You know that.
But getting to Mike Hull, I think we met at Lime Rock, Connecticut, in about 1979 or 1980. We were facing Formula Fords. I was driving a Formula Ford, and he was taking care of a guy's car. He came all the way from California to race in Lime Rock, Connecticut, in a Formula Ford race.
Mike and I, I think our careers sort of paralleled each other. As we came up through the ranks of smaller formula cars from Formula Fords into Atlanta and Super-V, and in those cars they called it mini-Indy, and then of course coming up to IndyCars about the same time, Mike and I have quite a history together. He understands -- certainly understands the technical side, and really where I think Mike's strongest point is, he understands where racing -- he has a nice blend of being a people person and combining it with technical ability and sort of understanding where the key things that make these cars go around the track. And it's not just the mechanics, it's somebody that needs to have an understanding of sponsorship and of resources and how to employ those resources, and Mike does a great job of that.
Again, he and Tim get along great, he and Tim Cindric, and I know Tim back from years ago. He was from Indianapolis, I think, and was with Bobby Rahal's group, and I met him on the pit wall at Indianapolis, I think, and he does a great job for Roger, too.
Q. Talk a little bit about the venue and the backdrop adding to the championship in Las Vegas. It's going to bring a lot more attention to the series. Can you talk a little bit about that?
ROGER PENSKE: I'd like to have it settled before then if I could. No, I think having the final race in Las Vegas is terrific. From what I understand from Randy, they're going to have the strip opened up for the cars to be running down the road there on Thursday night. That's the stuff we need to get visibility. That's going to be terrific.
Look, if we're down to the last race and we both have a chance, I guess I'd vote for it for sure. I think it's a great venue, and I think Vegas is the right place to have the final race and have the banquet.
CHIP GANASSI: Speaking of venues, I met the owner of the Baltimore Grand Prix here today, Phil Rushton. He seemed like a great guy. He's done a great job of getting a lot of people out here, speaking of venues, so hat's off to him. But yeah, going down to Vegas, I think it makes a lot of sense for any sport. That town is just -- it's our kind of town, and everything that goes on there sort of parallels what goes on in auto racing, I think. So I'd like to -- I'm looking forward to it. It's a great venue, and they understand promotion in that town. They understand the visual aspect of sports and the impact that it can have. And I think it says a lot about the team that put that program together out there for us to be -- like I said, it's going to be an impactful event, the final there in Vegas.
Q. And also the fact that this championship means so much to the two of you that you decided to focus on that rather than maybe (indiscernible).
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think that right now we've got to focus on the drivers that we have, and to bring a driver from the outside, you'd want him to run in a race beforehand or something. I just think it's a long shot. And to me it's great if they get someone, but at the end of the day, we've decided as a team we're going to focus on the cars that -- the three cars that we have that we're running.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I kind of -- I guess I would echo those comments, as well. I mean, yeah, we have a great partner in Target in our team, and you know, it's not about -- at the end of the day, it's not about -- it's about the championship and the Ferrari team. It's about winning races and it's about championships. I hope they get somebody to try to do that, but that's not what the focus of our race team is about right now. It's about our cars.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROGER PENSKE: You know, I bid for a moment, and then I went and laid down until that consideration went away. (Laughter.)
Q. (No microphone.)
ROGER PENSKE: What, in the series? I thought we were talking about Las Vegas. Well, our goal is to run two or three just like we have this year. It all depends on the sponsorship.
Q. Not leaning one way or the other?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I'm leaning to running three, obviously.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROGER PENSKE: I think when you get a new car obviously, the people who understand it will maybe have an advantage, but I think with the different engines it's going to make a difference, and based on the engine manufacturers they're trying to pull together the technology across the teams, and I think that it's going to be the same. Today, tomorrow, there's 11 or 12 cars that can win this race. It looks in qualifying a little bit different, but at the end of the day you've seen, depending on the strategy and where you are, I think there's a lot of competition. With the new car, I think -- had we had the cars longer we might have been able to refine them and maybe had a little bit of edge from time to time, but you can see out here, there's young Rahal right there today, he hasn't had the experience and he's got a new team and he gets the benefit of working with Chip and you can see the results.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROGER PENSKE: I'll tell you one thing. I'm watching everything he does. His car is on during the race, and if I see him run over a hose I'm going to be the first guy to call him, and I'm sure it's the same way. I've heard he's talking to the officials, something going on. That's okay. Once the green flag stops, hey, he's the first guy to send me an email after we win a race and vice versa.
But during the race, you know, bar the door.
Q. For Roger and Chip, is the most difficult part of the job running a team trying to get the dollars to get to go fast?
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, you know, the most difficult part of the job I think is -- I would say for Roger and I it's probably more than that. It's that plus the fact that -- it's all that, but it's that feeling of, you know, I think probably Monday through Friday it's a multimillion dollar chess game, you know, and come Friday, Saturday, Sunday it's just a little bit out of our control.
You know, when these guys go out in the first session yesterday and I look up and -- I look up at his car and it bounces off the wall and two minutes later my car bounces off the wall, I think, man -- the difficult part is when you get to that part of the weekend, Friday morning, when it's out of your control. We're so used to -- in any business, in any entrepreneurial business you're making calls all day long, you're making decisions all day long. You make good ones, you make bad ones. You make decisions about people, about futures, and you hope you make the right call a lot of times. It's that time -- the most difficult time is when it's out of your control, and that's when the guys are out there on the track. There's very little you can do then.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, my biggest problem is managing expectations. I think the expectations of people of how we're going to perform day in and day out are difficult for us to manage because there are so many variables, and we have our own personal expectations of our people and our teams, and we expect to be -- want to be at the top of the charts, and when we're not, then we've got to manage there. So that would be my biggest concern.
I think the people, the sponsors, the engineering, that's all part of it. But managing expectations of the media, of your sponsors, of your drivers, having the right pit crew, all of these things, I think if you really said that word, that probably sums it up the best.
Q. Chip, talk about your feeling about the double-file restart.
CHIP GANASSI: For me, I was in favor of it because I think it brings more excitement to the series. You know, I think the series -- I think the series should be about the product, and we should do everything we can with the product. It's not about the sideshows, it's not about circus wheels, it's not about a merry-go-round; it's about racing with me, and it should be about racing, and anything we can do on track to make a more exciting package, I'm in favor of it. Sure, have I banged up a car or two on a double-file restart? Certainly, we all have. But I think that's what the fans want to see.
ROGER PENSKE: I think it's been terrific. We've obviously taken some home with a problem, but we don't start the race in single file, and there's no reason not to. I think the fact that now even the last couple races -- in Sonoma they put the leaders together, we don't quite have a full NASCAR format, but I think that's good. So if you're fifth, you're racing the fourth place guy, you're not sitting back in 10th or 11th, so I think all of that makes it better.
I was a big advocate and I think Chip was, too. That was one place where we were on the same page because we had a few accidents. These guys got to learn how to take care of each other, and I think that smart guys know how to do that.
Q. Roger, with guys being so competitive, just as far as (indiscernible).
ROGER PENSKE: I haven't told him what turnpike mine at. I said, that's pretty good when you buy the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He helped me on that one for sure. But he did tell me if I wanted to use it, I could use it.
CHIP GANASSI: And he told me his was available to me, too.
Q. One for Chip, one for Roger. When you showed up at Indy in '82 as a rookie, just how much were you nervous?
CHIP GANASSI: Just about as much as those four guys that came off the stage right before us when I saw them come down. They looked a little nervous.
Q. You knew you were going to wage a battle with Roger Penske --
CHIP GANASSI: I was nervous as hell, yeah.
Q. And Roger, for you, can you talk about the relationship with IZOD from your standpoint?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think having a series sponsor and a name like IZOD, it was not competitive to many of the other sponsors we had in the series from a team perspective. I think they've done a great job in promotion. I think the lifestyle of an IZOD customer, it looks like it's an IndyCar; it's fast, it's exciting. And I think it's been terrific. I think it's one of the things we've needed, and with that promotion, what they've been able to do, Mike Kelly has done a terrific job, Allen Sirkin, who takes the leadership at the top to want to support, and I think Sirkin has done a great job getting his folks out there to make it happen. So I think it's been a home run for us.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROGER PENSKE: I'm not for more races. I'm for quality rather than quantity because every race that's run, it costs money, and I think we need to be a North American series, NAFTA maybe, running in Mexico if we could. The fact that we go offshore doesn't do anything for many of our sponsors in the series, and I'd like to see a balance of ovals and road courses.
It's more difficult now to get the ovals, and quite honestly if Baltimore is a formula for success and we look at St. Petersburg, we look at Long Beach, we look at Toronto, if we have seven or eight big cities where we can activate inside these cities, I think we are going to get a lot of interest and I think you'll start to see this thing take off. I know that what they've done here in these other cities is good. I'd like to see a balanced series, maybe eight ovals with Indy being the odd one, and then we run in eight road courses.
CHIP GANASSI: We probably differ on this subject. This is one place we probably differ. I think that -- I don't think we need to worry about the number of races as much as we need to worry about -- we can expand further into the spring and later into the fall. I don't see why we can't do 20 races maybe. But I don't think -- we can have some rules in place where they're not week to week or you're not criss-crossing the country where you have to put your race drivers in the transporters just to get them across the country in time.
I think racing for me, with my experience, it seems it works. As long as we stay in the U.S. time zones, I think racing works. When we get outside of those time zones, we get off of -- again, my sponsors don't have any interest in going too far east. I mean, we're 12 hours off of the time zone, by the time that race has aired on television, the people are going to know the outcome of it already. In today's world, racing is something to me that's must-see television, and if you miss it, you're not going to watch -- you're going to look it up on your computer later and find out the results of it and that's the end of it. You might look up one little YouTube passage of a pass or something that happened in the pits, but you're not going to watch a two- or three-hour race on tape delay. It's just not going to happen.
I think we can have more races, whether it's U.S., Canada, Mexico and maybe one or two offshore for some cache, but that's about it. But we have plenty of good venues here in the United States, whether those are ovals or road courses. Look at the people that are here this weekend. This is a great event and a great town and a great market, and if we can go to good events, I don't care if they're ovals, I don't care if they're road courses, I don't care if they're loop-to-loops, whatever it is. If it's a great event, we want to be there.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I have all the same concerns everyone else does about network television, sure.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think that there had been a contract signed up with Versus. Hopefully now with Comcast and NBC getting together we'll be able to get more network exposure. We absolutely need that.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHIP GANASSI: You're sitting in the middle of one of the things that's working. You're sitting in the middle of it right here in Baltimore.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think having access -- this is a sports area. The stadium is here and people are used to coming down here and they've got these promenades and things like that which I see are filled with people, and I've never seen as many people except maybe at Long Beach sometimes when you're down around the garage area. But I think it's terrific. I think the way they've set the course up, a couple little tweaks they'll probably do next year, but I think they've done a good job, and it's right -- as Chip said, we can all stay in a hotel, you can walk to the track, and to me, the quality of the barriers, the quality of the safety, the track, just bumpy in a couple of places, but overall I haven't heard the drivers other than a couple places where it's hard on their braking, but it's hard for everybody, not just our cars. I think it's pretty good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, gentlemen, and good luck this weekend. Good luck on the championship.
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