GEORGE, BARNHART, ANGSTADT DISCUSS STATE OF THE SERIES
IndyCar Series leadership excited about 2008 season
Indy Racing League Press Conference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: Tony, we'll start with you. If you would, just reflect on the past 30 days. I know you were working hard at this for a lot more than 30 days, but in particular, what you've been through the last 30 days.
TONY GEORGE: Yeah, it has been about 30 days. Thank you all for being here. It's been about 30 days since we were here to announce, officially announce, unification. Since that time, it's been, you know, going pretty well, I think. I don't know what more we could possibly do. I know everybody involved with the league has worked very hard to try and help manage the traffic and the logistics involved in trying to get the equipment to the Champ Car teams coming on board. I know the Champ Car teams have had a really big challenge in trying to organize themselves to be here this weekend.
It's been, you know, tough on everybody. But it's going pretty well. I think that by May, things will start to really find the right level, and I think everyone's anxieties will start to leave them and we'll be able to get on with a great Indianapolis 500.
It's going to be challenging and interesting, though, I think in the next few weeks, going from this superspeedway to the streets of St. Petersburg. Then we try to pull off the Motegi, Long Beach weekend, then we'll be pulling it all back together and focusing on the rest of the season.
I'm really appreciative of the effort that everybody's put in, all the teams, both on the IndyCar side, who have pitched in to help ensure that we had some equipment available, to the Champ Car teams, who have been by and large very appreciative of the efforts. And certainly, as I said, the league, who has played traffic cop trying to pull it all together. Couldn't be more proud of the job everyone's done.
THE MODERATOR: Brian, your group has been through quite a bit of testing, a lot more than originally scheduled. If you would, talk a little bit about that. Also we started the week with two Rookie-of-the-Year candidates, now we have nine Rookie-of-the-Year candidates. Touch on that and, if you would, the car count, the numbers we're looking at at some of our venues this year.
BRIAN BARNHART: I echo a lot of what Tony said. We have to give a lot of thanks and appreciation to the IndyCar teams that have helped facilitate the equipment transition, and just the Champ Car teams have really been working their tails off at the amount of time. The delivery schedule of the chassis, the preparation work required on them, then to come down and make the additional test. We did two days for the teams that missed the earlier Sebring test. We went back down there last week.
I think we had six new teams join us for that. We're actually going to be able to give the Newman/Haas team a couple more hours next Tuesday after the Homestead race this weekend. So everyone will have gotten an opportunity. The HVM team will join them as well. All nine transitioning teams will have an opportunity to be on -- see brick before we head to St. Pete next weekend.
Of course, we came over here on Monday and Tuesday, we had all nine of the teams that are transitioning get an opportunity to run from 4 to 10 p.m., two days, Monday and Tuesday. They ran 1669 laps, very successful test for the most part. And, again, it was a great opportunity for those teams to get familiar with a huge change and a huge transition for them.
How it arrives at where we're at from a rookie standpoint, we simply looked at what we are. We're still very much an oval-based racing series that centers around the Indianapolis 500. We looked at the backgrounds of the drivers that are joining us. With the exception of Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia, who have started somewhere between 20 and 27 oval track races themselves, none of the other seven had started more than five. I believe Justin Wilson had five ovals and I think Will Power and Graham Rahal had one or two. Everything else was a zero. So based on sheer numbers of oval experience, we decided it makes sense, based on what our series is, that we would classify them as rookies.
I think consistent with what they experienced Monday and Tuesday, and what they experienced for an hour and 45 minutes this afternoon, I don't think any of them would dispute their classification. It's not done in any way to demean their performances or their experiences or where they're at; it's simply a fact of what we are and what we're going to do for the 2008 season.
That being said, it was a very good and productive test for two days there and a good session for this morning. We would have liked to be at 26 cars, that's what we're going to be, I think, full-time for the season. Unfortunately, Graham Rahal had an incident on Tuesday evening, I believe it was, which is going to prevent him from participating this weekend. That's disappointing.
It's a bit of reflection of the challenges. We're really challenged from an equipment standpoint. There aren't many spares. But in this case, I think we would have been able to come up with enough spares to get the thing together, but the timing in doing it, we wouldn't have had all the parts. It was a pretty big crash and needed quite a bit of repair work to it. By the time we would have located all the parts, it would have given him about 20 hours to repair the car. The team didn't feel comfortable doing that. They've opted to focus their attention on getting it repaired to run Tuesday evening in Sebring in preparation for St. Pete next weekend.
26 cars. Again, I echo Tony's comments. Everybody has worked really hard to help with it. Everybody has a great attitude. The teams and drivers are working well together. Hopefully we'll get off to a good, clean show tomorrow evening after qualifying this evening for the Homestead opener.
THE MODERATOR: Terry, from your standpoint, the commercial division, I know you've been busy. In particular we've enhanced our 'I am Indy' logo. Talk about that and some of the other activities you've been working on.
TERRY ANGSTADT: It has been pretty busy. Just lots of good energy and developments within kind of the commercial activities of what we do. I think everyone in this room recognizes and would agree that sponsorship is pretty critically important at every level, amongst all constituencies. That has been a lot of the focus.
In terms of the branding, we really felt like there was a lot of equity in the 'I am Indy' tag line. It is not our series name. At the same time we like that message. And especially when we're in markets outside of Indianapolis, it's a good connection.
We looked at a lot of different options and alternatives and thought that being very literal and clear and pretty simple and straightforward makes sense in a broad consumer message and thought that one series, all the stars, says a lot. So that's where we are, and like that for now.
In terms of the other mark you see in front of us, we could not be more proud with continuing to grow and evolve the Firestone relationship. When you start to list our key partners, they're always right at the top. They could not be a better partner. And when we approached Firestone and said, 'How can we grow this year, and especially post unification?' This really came to the top of the list.
They enjoy investing in the future development of teams and drivers. And we, again, like the look of the mark. We like expanding Firestone's role. And they just could not be a better partner. We're continuing to look at other ways they can help. And they've offered additional assistance, as you see, and I lost track of the numbers, but call it 40 pages in Sports Illustrated, national promotions, a licensed tire with the Indy 500 brand on it. They're just very far-reaching into our business and we think this is a great extension, and you'll see more directly related to this season.
Again, a lot of other good developments within the commercial division. As you probably saw, the eBay promotion, we've added over 100,000 names to our database. These are people that have opted in and said they would like additional information. For those of you in this business, you know what that can mean in terms of race updates and other ways of connecting in more fans to what we do.
Coca-Cola has been announced. They will be activating in markets regionally, in fact, a couple of activities here. And, again, a couple of other things that we're working hard on that might get announced this weekend or maybe next.
But it's been busy and all very positive.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. We'll open it up to questions.
Q: Brian and Tony, back in February when all this came together with the car allocations and everything, you said this may have an impact on the Indy-only teams that generally get their cars from some of the existing teams. Where does that stand right now? Could it even possibly prevent some of the Indy-only teams from being able to compete this year?
BRIAN BARNHART: I'll tell you what, I couldn't be more proud of the effort that Dallara has made to increase their production and the cooperation of the existing IndyCar teams. The answer to your question is, as it sits right now, I don't see anyone being unable to participate because of a lack of equipment from the chassis side. We have done a fantastic job of allocating. We have -- the Newman/Haas team has two chassis in their possession, will take possession of their third car in between Homestead and St. Pete. Conquest has two in their possession, get their car in between Homestead and St. Pete. Dale Coyne has three in his possession, and KV Racing has three in their possession. HV Racing has one and will get their second car this weekend, as well.
All of the two-car teams mentioned will get their fourth chassis the last week of April, so around Kansas. So all of the nine transitioning teams will have 18 cars delivered to them by the end of April, and that will be the equipment allocation from them. And, at the same time, Luczo Dragon has been able to acquire a new chassis as they're preparing for a Kansas run with Tomas Scheckter, moving onto Indianapolis, Infineon. They've got equipment, as well. Rubicon Racing with Jim Freudenberg and Sam Schmidt has also acquired a car and is moving forward.
We've been able to accommodate everyone thanks to a lot of incredible hard work and cooperation.
Q: Brian, what you saw today in the hour and 45 minutes, we were just talking to Tony Kanaan, he was saying everybody was being extra careful, giving each other a lot of room. But realistically, how difficult is this transition going to be for these guys from Champ Car, especially the ones who haven't run on ovals before?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think it's a significant challenge. I think it's a very daunting task for them. You know, I think there was a lot of a misnomer out there about overdownforced, underpowered, easy to drive flat on an oval. I think the two days earlier this week, and what you've seen this morning, I don't think any of them would stand by that or say that's the case.
It is a challenge in a lot of ways out there, and especially with 25 or 26 cars on track. It's going to be a new experience in learning the tendencies of other drivers. The people that have historically been in the IndyCar Series had a comfort level knowing what the driver next to them was going to do because they were very comfortable with that. Now a third of our field is going to -- is completely new at this.
So the regulars are going to be learning a lot about what they're doing and there's going to be a big question about that because they don't know fully what to expect in terms of the experience as well as what their tendencies are going to be. That was part of my message in the drivers' meeting this morning, was you've got to give extra room.
We tend to preach you can't move the cars around, you got to hold the line, and I think the guys that have been with us for a long time can run each other pretty tight because they know those expectations. But now I've asked everybody to give a little extra room because you should expect for some moving around out of sheer inexperience.
I think it's going to be a challenging task in terms of making the car go fast enough to get competitive with the guys that have been doing this with this equipment and have the experience with it as well as just the driver getting more comfortable and doing it as well. I think it will come. They're very good teams. They're well-engineered. They're good drivers. To see the increase and improvement from Monday evening through this afternoon shows that they're going to adapt to it very well.
Kansas is going to help. I really think the amount of time on track at Indianapolis will do wonders to let them get more competitive for the second half of the season.
Q: Brian, does Graham Rahal get any points for this event?
BRIAN BARNHART: No. Graham would not get points. We have a provision if you practice and qualify but aren't able to start the race, you get half points of last place. Obviously, he hadn't participated. He would have to do it at the race event weekend.
Q: You set car limits for participation at other events.
BRIAN BARNHART: I think we're okay at most races, I think every track on the schedule. You have 33 at Indy, we're at 28 at all the other tracks with the exception of Milwaukee, Iowa and Richmond, I think we're 26. So even at that point, I think if we're 26 full-time, we should be good most everywhere we run. Theoretically we could, yes.
Q: Chassis, Brian. Getting spare parts is not like turning on a tap. How do they ramp up getting the spare parts between now and the end of April?
BRIAN BARNHART: That's clearly one of the challenges. That's where our existing teams have helped immensely. You can't say enough about virtually every team in the paddock had given up at least one car and made them available. And that included all the kits to run the variety of tracks we run - short ovals, superspeedways, road course, street course kits. And, of course, again, I think it's a great reflection on what Dallara has been able to do as our chassis supplier.
We couldn't have picked a more difficult season. Dallara has four major projects going this winter. I won't be able to name them off the top of my head. They're doing an F-3 project. They're doing a Grand-Am project debuting this weekend as well. A couple other series as well. They were flat out. When they got a call in mid February to ramp up and start production, they demonstrated what a great partner they are. They have done a nice job delivering both chassis as well as spare parts.
We're just going to do the best we can with it. It's going to be a challenge, as Tony said, for the next month or two.
Q: Brian, would you explain the weight compensation rule, address Danica's argument against it, and also explain why you didn't go all the way and take on the Champ Car formula?
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, I think it's kind of a touchy subject, to be honest with you. I don't know if I could address Danica's argument. I don't know specifically what hers is, other than probably she doesn't like it because she's one of the lightest drivers out there.
It's been a challenging position, and one that we have felt has not had much of an impact in terms of competition, when we've been an all-oval series. Once the mass is up and moving, it really doesn't make much difference. That's what we're doing when we were oval racing. We have always said once we road race more, it is more critical because of braking and acceleration. Clearly we have done that with the schedule changing from 2005 to where we're at in '07, with the possible addition of a couple other races that have been talked about. We felt it was time to take it into consideration.
But I'll be honest with you. I mean, I'm still not fully convinced it's something that should be done to the extent and extreme that others do them. I still wrestle with, where do you draw the line on it? That's a smaller athlete than others. Does that mean a driver that is smaller can apply the same brake pedal pressure as another driver? So do you try to equal that out? Do they have equal steering effort because they're not as strong in their upper body? Where do you start drawing the line on that? I think it becomes a really touchy situation.
I've used a lot of examples, some of them I don't know all the information on. I know they weigh the jockeys and equalize them in horse racing, but do they weigh the horses? I don't know if they make up for all that weight or not.
Everybody has equal access to all the equipment in golf, but they don't make Tiger tee off from a different set of tees because he hits it different than anybody else. They throw the ball into Shaq, the goal doesn't go up two feet because he's bigger than everybody else.
I think it's a very touchy situation. So that addresses why I didn't go all the way with it. All I really tried to do is reduce the difference between the lightest and the heaviest and try and get it to a point where it is virtually an insignificant difference. Where we're sitting right now, the whole field, driver in car, is within 1%.
Q: How will it work?
BRIAN BARNHART: We've divided the drivers into, I think it's four categories, or five. It's five categories, but three of them add weight to their cars. Category A adds the most weight, Category B the next most, Category C the next amount. Category D does not add any. Category E is able to take weight off of their chassis.
So it's hard to give all the numbers on it. Like I said, when it's all said and done, all we've done is reduce the difference between the lightest and the heaviest, reduced the percentage difference between the lightest and heaviest combination out there.
Continued in part 2