Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Conference
Topics: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
April 4, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Well, this is obviously -- I was just thinking about the last several years that we have had a media day press conference with Target Chip Ganassi, at least some that I've been involved with. A few years ago they were coming off a character building year to say the least. Last year we entered the season with the great anticipation, and in so many ways this team delivered on that promise with Dan taking the title chase right down to the very end and Scott also having great success, and this year obviously the success speaks for itself.
The opening race at Homestead Miami Speedway we had to get the widest possible blimp shot to see where Dan was. He was way out front. And Scott, of course, comes into the next race in Japan as the current point leader, comes off another great second place finish.
I know that this is a period of great anticipation for this team. Chip Ganassi knows how to get around this place also as a driver, as a Top 10 finisher in Indianapolis, was the fastest rookie here at this place. They have been here 13 times. Chip has been able to experience the thrill of victory here, and there's probably nothing quite like it. That's all part of this place.
We're delighted to have you with us, and Chip, we will start with you. Obviously you come in, really into the next race in Japan and really with some great momentum heading into the month of May and you have to be excited about that.
CHIP GANASSI: Yes. Obviously with the start we've had to the season and with the anticipation of that, obviously Miami, St. Petersburg, now coming here 1, 2 in the points, we looked at Japan and Kansas City, but we're kind of beginning to look -- we're beginning to look out over the horizon, if you will, to the month of May here.
You know, these next two races are really important in that they can set the tone. Yeah, okay, we've got the season started off in Miami, we had a decent weekend in St. Petersburg. We didn't win but we came damn close. We're focused right now on Japan. But like I said, we're really mentally preparing ourselves for Indianapolis already.
THE MODERATOR: I'm going to call the managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Mike, you've been through these trying times and good times, and you now have a full year under your belt with this particular set of drivers, so I suspect that provides a great baseline heading into 2007.
MIKE HULL: I think we have a lot of continuity. Maybe that's the answer to the question. The short answer is continuity.
Not only that, but we have a whole season with the Dallara car. A lot of people have already forgotten that St. Petersburg was the first road track race that we did with the Dallara.
CHIP GANASSI: I think those are the two things we have going for us. The Indy 500 is a race that you want the continuity that you have to create the rhythm that you need to have an opportunity to win the race. We think we have all those ingredients and we have two great drivers here to get it done.
THE MODERATOR: Scott Dixon is former series champion. Scott, you're going off a run of runner-up finishes that really stretches back to 2006, but again, like this team, there were trying times for you personally as a driver, but you fought your way back into Victory Lane, and I have to think that you feel that this is going to be another great year for you.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it started great. Obviously the second place finishes are getting pretty old, but it shows the team definitely has a lot of speed across the board, not just on the ovals and mile-and-a-half configuration but also on the road courses for the first attempt with the new car.
I'm just looking forward to it. I think these two years for both of us are definitely years that we need to emphasize on getting good results because it's year that you can claim another championship and maybe a 500 for myself and maybe a second for Dan, and I think maybe we have to really make our points on trying to do that because how it goes around, sometimes you just don't have the equipment. But at the moment we definitely have the equipment. Team Target is very strong, and just looking forward to a good month, to be honest.
THE MODERATOR: Dan Wheldon had a glorious year a couple seasons back, winning not only the championship but the Indianapolis 500. He obviously has had a taste of the milk. In case it's forgotten with the dramatic finish last year at this race, Dan had a pretty solid race car and looked in position to maybe double up. After your dominating win at Homestead, you made no bones about it on national television, you said the focus is winning the Indianapolis 500. You didn't waiver on that one bit.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, for me this is the be all and end all. It's a fantastic race, and I've said it time and time again, it's the world's biggest race to compete in. I think it certainly gives you the most satisfaction to win.
At Target Chip Ganassi racing we've been working very hard, even before Homestead, on what we've got to do when we come to Indianapolis, and we had a meeting at St. Pete regarding that.
But I think certainly both the No. 9 car and the No. 10 car seem very competitive this season. I think Scott alluded to the fact that when you have the capability to win -- not just the Indianapolis 500 but to win races, you want to do that because it's not always going to be the case.
Hopefully it is. I've certainly been in a very fortunate position in my career to be contending for wins, and hopefully those lean seasons don't come.
We're still very, very excited. In a short time we've got Japan to focus on, and that's an extremely important race with the close relationship that I have with Honda. Certainly I'd like to deliver another victory for them.
But I'm really keen to get the month of May started. I can't wait.
Q. How about you, Chip? When you head into the month of May I guess there's a lot of excitement, but it's also a very long month and it can have its ups and downs and peaks and valleys and that sort of thing. It's obviously something you circle on the calendar as the big one?
CHIP GANASSI: No question. When you come back here year after year -- this is what racing is all about. Certainly we're involved in a lot of racing throughout the country, but nothing does it to me like showing up here for the month of May. You can call this the capital -- the world capital of racing, you can call it mecca, call it whatever you want, but it really is -- you know, they say it all the time and we hear it but it's so true, is when you come through the tunnel over there between one and two and you come in, there's just something that comes over you. I don't know what it is.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take some questions.
Q. I have a question regarding the Indy Pro Series. Do you guys plan to contest the Liberty 100 with two cars, and if you can, can you give us an update on the medical condition of Pablo Perez?
MIKE HULL: We look forward to having two cars in the championship. And I saw Pablo last night. He's going to be -- he's got one more operation coming up on Saturday. They hope to have him out of the hospital in two to three weeks, and the only thing waiting on his rehab will be then just waiting for the flesh wounds to recover and he's on his way to rehab.
It's been a miraculous recovery. Like I said, they've got one little more thing to do here Saturday, but I saw him last night and he's up talking, around, he's fine. He's looking forward to being back in the car one of these days. I hope it's with us.
Q. Dan, talking to a lot of the guys here who have won or who haven't won, this race stands out far and above everything else. What does this race really mean to you and what was it that you learned of how big this was when you won it?
DAN WHELDON: You know, it's a strange answer to the question, but I'll tell you what it means to me after answering the latter part of your question. It's losing the race when you have such a good package that makes you realize the extent of this event and what it means to you.
I mean, I've seen the great side of Indianapolis with winning in 2005. You know, it's one of those races that just very much captures you. There's a lot of intensity about the event, and one of the most simplistic things that makes me enjoy the race so much is that you get to spend so much time in the car. A lot of the pre-season testing has been banned now, a lot of the in-season testing has been banned, and to be quite frank, that's all I care about is being in the race car, and you get the opportunity to do that and fortunately at the track that you like the best.
There's a lot of pressure coming into this race, and I like to drive with that. There's a lot of history and tradition involved. There's been a lot of great people that have won this race. There's also been great people that haven't won this race. So to have that opportunity and to be able to say that I've won it once I think makes me very hungry to do it again.
But I've also seen that side where -- like last year it just wrenched my heart from my body because both Scott and I had a very good car. We were running I think one, two with about 30 to go, and neither one of us won it. That was incredibly disappointing, but it makes me very motivated to come back and try and win again.
Q. Chip, the drivers you have, how do you pick -- you've been very successful. What are the criteria that you see or look for in a driver that wants you to have them on your team?
CHIP GANASSI: That's a good question. You know, I can tell you that it's -- obviously you want drivers that are fast and drivers that can win races and drivers that have the talent, and at this level a lot of them do.
I think what these two guys have up here that makes them special is they have a little something -- a little more something here that makes them winners. Obviously I've had a lot of experience with different drivers, different types of drivers from all parts of the world, and I would say that these two guys on each side of me, their strong point is not only do they have talent to drive, the ability, but they have the heart, and I think that's important.
You know, you have to -- there are drivers that drive to live and there are drivers that live to drive. These guys live to drive, and that's what makes them special. They're about the cars. They're focused on what -- they don't have to be on an everyday basis with their engineers, but they're close to what makes the cars go fast. They're a student of the curriculum of racing, and I think that's important.
Q. Chip, how welcome did you see these road course races coming into the series this year? And then also a follow-up from both of the drivers on how much they welcomed the addition of more road courses.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I mean, I don't know. I think it's important that that we go to events, not just races, and we've done a good job at St. Petersburg turning that into an event. With bringing back Detroit and mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen, Sonoma, as long as we make those -- as long as we make races events, I don't care if they're ovals, road races, street races or balloon festivals. It doesn't matter. If they're an event, that's where we want to be.
DAN WHELDON: Like Chip says, when you're trying to grow the series, and it certainly seems to be growing, at the rate we'd perhaps like probably not, but I don't think anything happens overnight, but certainly I think St. Petersburg is always an event. There always seem to be a lot of people around there. They seem to be very knowledgeable and excited about the race, and if we can keep going to more of them, I think it's a good thing.
For me being a European, the road courses are good. Unfortunately I haven't performed quite as well on them as I would have liked. But that also makes it a bit more of a challenge and motivates me a lot, too. Scott certainly has shown very strong on them, and he's been a great benefit to me in terms of helping me grow with experience on that.
But they're certainly good fun, and it's a different discipline to be good at.
SCOTT DIXON: I agree, too, just on them being events. But I think for me it's more of a mix. You don't have ovals week in and week out. They mix it up a bit.
It was like when I first came to America in Indy Lights, it was nice you had short ovals, super speedways, mile and a halfs, you had street courses, you had road courses, and for myself that's pretty much what I enjoy about it.
So I think I welcome it for sure. I enjoy the races. We're doing well on them, so at the moment I'd like more of them.
MIKE HULL: If I could just follow up on one last thing on that, I think looking at the schedule this year as opposed to last year, you could argue that the road courses are going to make a difference in the championship. I think that's going to be an important point that I hope doesn't fall by people.
Q. Scott, Dan said that winning once here made him hungry to win again. You haven't won. Would this make you even hungrier than him?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, Dan has been lucky to witness it and to be part of the whole tradition here and winning the 500. I know from winning championships, it does make you want to win it more.
But having fast cars here in the past, which has made it tough not to come through. I think my first year, we had a tremendous car, it just wasn't out there with the fuel load, it just kept running out of gas and things like that. But there's a list of reasons why we haven't done well here.
It is another race for me and something that I do want to accomplish, but just being part of this event is like no other. I'm hungry as hell, but I know what it's like to come from the other side of winning it.
Q. Chip, this year we had another chance to run the new qualifying format with the 11-car qualifying per day. How do you think that's going to affect the way you folks operate out in the qualifying?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, it's probably -- I'll say what I have to say about it but then I'll probably let Mike probably answer that rather than me.
You know, I guess if you're about 10th or 11th fastest it's probably more interesting than if you're -- we'd better not be 10th or 11th fastest (laughter), so I don't look at it as changing anything we do. I mean, if you're 11th or 22nd or 33rd, I would say it's pretty -- it's probably a nail-biter.
But quite frankly I'm not interested in being in those spots.
Q. Scott, talking about being on the other side of it, you're probably the driver furthest away from home in this series but yet you've got your family up here with you. How much has that always been kind of a great support system, to have mom and dad and I know your sisters come over from time to time, but they're like regular fixtures in the paddock.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, that can be a good and bad thing, I guess (laughter). No, it is great to have support from your family, and for what they went through to get me to where I am, it's more rewarding for them to be able to come to those races and watch what they helped me achieve. So on that fact, I love it. When mom is yelling in my ear from time to time and my dad is breaking rental cars or things like that, it's not so good.
But no, I do love having my family over here. I think everybody in their right mind would love having the support here, and it is a race that I do get a lot of support from New Zealand, a lot of friends and family come over. It is good to see that for a little bit.
Q. Chip, I think it's kind of interesting that you were a driver, you had a career, you were quick here as a rookie but never a champion, and a lot of times some of the ball players, football, baseball, some of the utility players have turned out to be great managers, and that seems to be your forte, that whatever you learned around the racetrack and on the track, you've been able to take and put together a team that is a champion team in every aspect. How does something like that happen? How do you get the feel of what you need to be to get the people around you to make it happen?
CHIP GANASSI: It's really simple. You run into guys like Mike Hull. I've just been lucky over the years to run into guys around me that are motivated like I am about the sport. You do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it somebody told me a long time ago. I don't know. I mean, you couldn't do these kind of things without guys like Mike, so I don't make any bones about that.
Q. Scott and Dan, kind of trace back to your first year coming here. How has your approach to this month and your preparation this month and the race changed from that first year to having been through it again and again and again?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know. This month here is different every year. That's the problem. You learn lots of things. The first year here you learn what has to go into try and qualify for this race, try and practice, try and get the right things out of the car and then try to have the best car on race day. From day-to-day with the weather or the car or engines or anything, it's a change.
So I think my biggest thing that I've had to learn from coming to this place for about four years now is learning to adapt to things changing. That's been the biggest thing for me.
But every year you learn enormously, especially last year from Dan and from a past champion, I think was a big year for me just learning on what goes into trying to accomplish something like that. Every year is like a new year for me.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I think the same as Scott. Yeah, as you build your knowledge up, you're just able to handle certain situations better. You know, when I came here with Kanaan, I think both our minds were going a million miles an hour. And when I think of the first few laps in your rookie year, I think you just -- the more you do it, and kind of like Chip says, you've got to have good people around you in this race, they've got to be disciplined in their approach, it just kind of slows down everything. And when everything happens slower, you can just do a better job.
I think add the more time you spend here, the more confident you get, and when you have that confidence and you know what you need from the race car, it just doesn't make your job necessarily any easier, but you just have a better understanding of how to achieve what you need to achieve.
Q. Mike, you mentioned the notion of utility baseball players and what goes into managing a team. I'm just kind of curious, you've got a couple of champion drivers and a couple of distinct personalities as drivers. You know, Scott is known as the Ice Man, although I must confess I've seen his eyes when he's not happy and there's not ice in them. And Dan is certainly willing to let you know exactly what he feels at any particular moment at any particular time, and I don't mean that in a negative way. You know what he's feeling, you can see it. Do you have to manage them and deal with them differently as people?
MIKE HULL: Along with the other 100 people that work in the building, absolutely (laughter). Yeah, I think what we concentrate on together is what we have in common, and we remind each other -- it's two-way. It's from Scott and Dan to us, as well as us to them.
We remind each other why we come to Indianapolis. That's why we're here today. We're talking about Indianapolis. It's important to us, obviously. We've been thinking about Indianapolis since last year, since the Sunday of last year right after the race was over when we thought, We should have won this race today.
It's all about working with each other, and some drivers require a hammer and some drivers require a different approach. But we all remind ourselves each day of why we want to win at Indianapolis.
Q. Chip, you've had the same sponsor for a number of years now. How tough is it to get a sponsor and then retain it like you've been able to do?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, I mean, I've been very fortunate to -- we entertained somebody from Target here in 1989, and we won the race that year with Emerson Fittipaldi, and we entertained a woman from Target at the time, and I met her and talked to her, and there was someone that introduced me to her, and he said, "How do it go?" And I said, "I don't know, I don't think they'll ever get involved in racing."
The thing is they've taught me a lot about racing. They've taught me a lot about a lot of things in life. And when you've had somebody that long as a partnership, and we have a partnership with Target, it's on a different level.
I wouldn't use the word sponsorship there. I mean, they're involved in everything from our -- helping us with our IT functions or our human resources. They helped us build a new building down in Charlotte for our NASCAR team. So it's much more than a sponsorship.
I'm not sure I can put into words what my association with that company has meant for all these years or what it will mean for the rest of my life. But I can tell you that it would be hard to do it without them.
Q. Scott and Dan, both of you guys made the transition from road courses to ovals seemingly very smoothly, yet everybody talks about how difficult Indianapolis is. It just seems like it's a bigger oval. What is so difficult from you guys' perspective, what makes Indianapolis as a track so very difficult?
DAN WHELDON: There really isn't any margin of error. Certainly on some of the ovals I get real brave and try and run the car real loose. But there's certainly a fine balance at this racetrack because it does change so quickly. People talk about change at this track in particular, and the smallest of changes with weather, with cars being in front of you, can make a big difference.
I don't think that any time have I driven around this track and not respected the place for what it can do for you because it can bite you. But you just have to be very aware of everything that there is going on, not just with you, with the surroundings, and bear that in mind.
But I think that's what also makes it the most rewarding, because it is such a challenge. Again, that's where the people around you can really guide you in such a way to get the best out of everything because you want that reward at the end of it.
SCOTT DIXON: Same on a lot of those points. I think that it's great in general because it's two or three weeks long. It is a lot different than any other place we go to. You can trim the cars up so they're on the edge 100 percent, which is different than anywhere else we go.
And then you have two or three cars on race day, which is totally different to any race we do.
There's so many different aspects to this place. The weather is a big deal through the month. It's trying to work on your strategy through the month and know what to concentrate on, qualifying, or concentrate on race setup. There's just so many things that make this place a lot more harder to get your head around, I believe.
Q. This question is for Dan. With the new larger cubic inch engine and more torque, do you anticipate higher speeds this year at Indy, and if so, what kind of speeds would you guesstimate?
DAN WHELDON: I don't know exactly which ones to estimate, but hopefully the Target cars are at the top of the time charts. That would be the best ones to have.
Yeah, I think they will improve, but I think -- Honda certainly worked stringently on trying to improve the performance of the engine in a competitive manner. But I think what goes on behind the scenes with the teams, you know, they're constantly working on making us faster, and I think that's a big part of it.
I think certainly what happened over the winter at Target Chip Ganassi Racing was not just the boys that come on the road but the shop-based people worked very hard in collaboration with each different department to give us race cars that were considerably quicker.
When I say considerably quicker, I mean that in comparison to the competition. And that's going to improve speeds here, too. But I'm not exactly sure if Brian Barnhart is going to implement any aerodynamic devices to perhaps slow down the cars.
I think Sam qualified at a 2:30 last year, so I'd expect to be a little bit quicker than that.
Q. Mike, when you have two drivers on a team, obviously they both don't like the same car. They want to accomplish the same thing and be fast, but they're not always the same kind of cars. What dictates the change between drivers? Is it driving style?
MIKE HULL: That's a fair question, and if anybody in this room could answer it, I'd welcome the answer (laughing). I think what they have in common is the racetrack, and maybe that's an obvious answer.
But when we compare information, both written form, the data stream as well as what the drivers have to say, they're very clear in how they find the racetrack each day. So the setup may not be the same because one guy may find more security at the front of the car, the other guy may find more security at the rear of the car, but we actually know what's going on with the grip level on the racetrack and how each car responds. And by working with these guys, as we have for a season, we know how to tune the other person's car based on what goes on.
So at Indianapolis, as Dan said, you have a lot of time on the racetrack, or maybe it was Scott. You are able to fine-tune your product much more closely by using alternate drive styles.
In a way it's an advantage. If two guys were the same, you're only going -- you only have the capability of going the same speed. So in our case, I think we have an advantage here.
Q. Mike, given the smaller fuel tanks and the shorter time it will take to fill them, are there any new concerns during the pit stops?
MIKE HULL: Yes.
Q. Thank you (laughter).
MIKE HULL: No, I think it puts a lot of pressure on everybody, not just the fueler, not just the air jack person, not just the people changing the tires. It puts pressure on your neighbor in the pit box. It puts pressure on the driver. It puts pressure on the strategy. It does a lot of things because now you're waiting equally for both things to be done, whereas it used to be that the car would be on the ground and we were waiting for fuel.
We haven't seen any problems with that, and I think you probably won't see major problems, but you'll see somebody that pulls the trigger just a little bit early, which we've seen at places like Indianapolis when the pressure really gets up toward the end of the race.
But at Homestead and also at St. Petersburg everything was fine, and I think you'll see the same thing here in Indianapolis. We certainly wouldn't vote to change anything at this point because we've worked really hard to be in this position along with everybody else. The pit boxes are big at Indianapolis so there's plenty of room there, and I think we'll be fine. But it does change the dimension of what we do.
Q. Chip, it was 25 years ago that you graduated from Duquesne University and was the fastest rookie qualifier all in the same week. What is it that still stands out after all these years about that day when you qualified here?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, obviously that was a day of high emotion and -- high and low emotion all in the same day.
You know, I think what stands out in my mind was the fact that it was a miserably hot day, and with the delay caused by the accident that day, temperatures cooled down in the afternoon by the time I got to run my lap, and I think that was more important than it first may have appeared.
So just that, and I remember -- these two guys on each side of me might not think much of this, but back in those days, it was -- it was quite a nice thing to have a guy like Mario Andretti helping you out. I was driving his car from the year before and he was sticking his head in my cockpit and helping me out from time to time.
You know, he was probably doing -- he was probably helping himself as he was as much as me because he was making sure I was okay to run side-by-side with or something. But he was probably checking me out.
But that was really something special in those days to come here as a 22-year-old, or 23, whatever, and have someone like that to help you through. It was certainly a day I'll never forget.
Q. I want to do a follow-up on that one. The technology between when you were driving 25 years ago compared to what these guys are involved with today, what you understood how they got your car ready.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, it was obviously -- we didn't have any engineers in those days. We had chief mechanics or whatever, and you were telling the chief mechanic what you thought the car would do, and whether he knew what the hell to do or not was a really good question.
I think at the end of the day in 1982, you were trying to accomplish the same thing you're trying to accomplish today, and that is the track -- I've said this before, the track doesn't know the difference between a 1982 Wildcat or a 2007 Dallara. The track doesn't know the difference, and there's probably not much difference in the tires for that matter, you know.
I'm being facetious when I say that, I hope you all know (laughter).
In actual fact, the track only knows there are four patches of rubber touching it, and you're trying to do the same thing today that you were then, and that's manage those four patches of rubber. That's what you're trying to do.
You know, you could go through all these gyrations and shenanigans to do that, but at the end of the day that's all you're doing. You're trying to get the most grip you can in the corners and the least amount of drag on the straightaways, and you're trying to find that balance all the time.
THE MODERATOR: Well, I would assume all you're trying to do at the end of the day is do 200 laps and have one of your drivers' faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy and go one-two. And that's always the goal for Target Chip Ganassi. Folks, thanks a lot for coming in. We really appreciate it.
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