Indy 500: IMS press conference - Ganassi, Schmidt teams, part 1

2009 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE Wednesday, May 6, 2009 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chip Ganassi Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Alex Lloyd, Mike Hull, Sam Schmidt, Brett Jacobson PAT SULLIVAN: Well,...

2009 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Chip Ganassi Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Alex Lloyd, Mike Hull, Sam Schmidt, Brett Jacobson

PAT SULLIVAN: Well, what better way to kick off the gala celebration here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Economaki Press Conference Center to bring the championship team into the press room. What an interesting situation. First of all, success is bred by the fact there is continuity with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Mike Hull joins us, and I can't imagine a guy that would go into a month of May and not feel a bit of confidence when you come in as the defending race winner, you come in with two drivers, both who have won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the biggest race of all, and we have two drivers who have already won in the 2009 season. That's going to be just outstanding. First of all, Dario, I was just talking about this, the last time I saw either of you two gentlemen in this press room, you were two of the happiest human beings on the face of the earth. Now, you were a little more wet than when Scott came in that year, we've got a rainy day for you. First of all, Dario, welcome back to Indianapolis. It is great to see you here.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thank you. No, it feels good to be back. Actually the last time I was in here was about a year ago, I was collecting for the Dairy Association thing and I had a broken ankle, so I'm feeling a lot happier today. It really does feel good. I know I'm back in Indianapolis in May because it's raining. Literally it feels like I haven't been away. Got on the bus this morning, jumped in the golf cart, and it started to rain. Some things haven't changed.

SULLIVAN: How hard was it when you couldn't come back and defend? We know this win meant a lot to you when you got it. What was that like? Talk about your thought process.

FRANCHITTI: I made the decision in August or September of '07 not to come back because of all the reasons I've talked about before about looking for new challenges, so it was my decision not to do that. Didn't make it any easier, and I tried to kid myself I wasn't missing it. But I did find myself every day in May sitting in front of the computer watching the track feed, watching the lap times, watching -- you know, speaking to Scott (Dixon), speaking to Tony (Kanaan) on the phone what was going on and keeping abreast of what was happening. It was tough.

SULLIVAN: Scott, you have experienced the highs and lows of Indianapolis. I suspect a lot of people say the racetrack, we're starting to celebrate a hundred years of the racetrack, it doesn't look appreciably different from a driver's perspective. You've experienced it all. Last year you had one of the, at least from the outside, perfect months at Indianapolis. It seemed like everything went well. One of those rare times when the driver who appears to be the favorite all month actually is the one with the Borg-Warner Trophy at the end of the day. That had to be something.

SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, I think that's a special thing about Indy. I think everybody gets to experience great days and bad days. With how our month went, we had so many good days. Coming into the race expecting a terrible day, something to break or something to end up pretty quickly. It was a picture-perfect month for us with having a fast car every day in practice and coming through with the pole and obviously with the win. So it would be nice to come back and try and repeat that with one of the Ganassi drivers here would be fantastic. It is a special place and very demanding, and a place that requires a lot of respect and one that you really have to earn it.

SULLIVAN: Mike, I have to think that you have a little bit of a spell having two highly professional and talented race drivers in your stable, and both men have demonstrated the abilities to win the Indianapolis 500. Talk about what that brings to your table coming into the month of May. Or in your mind is the slate absolutely clean?

MIKE HULL: It's 2009, so we're starting anew, and I think that's the way you have to look at it. In this case it would be great if we had a two-seater so that both of them could cross the finish line at the same time. But I think what happens with Indianapolis is a couple of things. You pinch yourself when you come here because you need to remind yourself how important it is to race here. This is still the best place in the world to race. But then you forget about that if you have a bad day. And you know, you mope around, you frown, you're upside down, you're not happy with yourself. But the true reason is because of what it means to win this race. Everything else becomes secondary if you finish second. Whether you come here as Scott did last year and everything lines up perfectly and you achieve greatness like he did last year in the car, that's fantastic. If you have a so-so month and you qualify on the third or fourth row and you win the race, all that work pays off. So I think in either case what happens on Race Day here is why we come here. And the rest to me is absolutely secondary.

SULLIVAN: It's compelling because we never know what's going to happen obviously. Questions?

Q: This is for the managing director. You've had some great two-car, two-driver combinations in the past, notably Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and later Juan Pablo Montoya. I know in '03 you had hopes of great driver combination with Scott and Thomas Scheckter. Talk about how it is to get two guys of this caliber on a team at the same time.

HULL: Well, Chip isn't here today, but if Chip were here today, and I would say with Chip being here or not, that it's Chip first of all. A long time ago when Chip did everything he could do to try to get me to come to work for him and I was kind of young and dumb then, he said, "I will get you what you need to win. You work on the other part of it." And over the years it's been fantastic to be working for a race team where the very first thing that you need to have success are the guys that drive your racecars. You can't take a race driver that doesn't have the ability and put him or her in this case on the best race team and meet your expectation. You have to start with quality people driving your race cars. Over the years we've had combinations of drivers that represent that. The only difference in the two drivers have simply been the experience level that each of them respectively had or have when they joined us. In this case, it's unique for us because we have two drivers that have absolutely accomplished things that are very similar in their careers to this point. It goes without saying they've both won the biggest race in the world. They won the IndyCar championship, they've won races in open-wheel racing in another series. They've come up through junior formula ranks doing very similar things. The common denominator that they have to this day is they don't have outside interests. They're only interested in one thing, working together to win more races. And that's what has marked us over the years with the two-driver combinations that we have had here. For the most part over the years that's what we've had and that's what we have here in front of you people today, and that's what we'll have in front of the people that come here, over 300,000 people that come here on Race Day to witness two uniquely talented race drivers driving for a race team that in common wants to do exactly the same thing that they want to do.

Q: Either of you two address that?

FRANCHITTI: No, please. It's nice to have one, obviously, to have Scott and I having won the last two 500s, last two championships, to have won races this year; but as you kind of alluded to, it's a blank slate. You come back here with some -- you've done well in the past, it's not a guarantee of success this year. You've got to prove yourself again. And you have a good month, that's only half the battle of the Indy 500 is showing up on Race Day with a fast car. That puts you in a position to win the race, then you've got to do everything right over that whole day to get it done, and you've got to have some luck, as well. But not -- to be teamed with Scott on the Target team, I'm enjoying it a lot. It's made me raise my game already and it pushes me really hard. We're kind of -- we get out there and we try, especially like on a street course, one corner or another, how Scott is doing it, pushes me up a level, he looks at me in one corner, pushes him up another level. It's a good fight; it's good fun.

DIXON: I think for me it's been going back to more of the team side of things. It's been kind, I've been lucky on two parts. One is still being here I guess and not being on the firing line of Chip, and the other would be having the many great teammates I've had, which I've had I think eight or ten since I've been here. Those two points I'm pretty lucky and fortunate. Every time you have a new teammate, it's new fresh blood, and you learn things they've learned over their career. And especially in IndyCar racing, because you have people coming from many different countries. They've been brought up in different styles and things like that. And that was definitely a big transition for me when I teamed up with Dan initially on the mile-and-a-half ovals and even the Speedway here. And already with Dario on some of the street courses and things like that. So it's been interesting on many points. But as Dario touched on, this race is very unique. It comes around once a year, you've got to put in the most amount of effort as possible for three, three and a half hours, and like any motor race, it can be a five-cent washer or somebody messing up a little bit that takes you out of it, so yeah.

Q: Dario, looking back now, do you regret the decision to try NASCAR or do you still feel that was a challenge you could see if you could succeed at?

FRANCHITTI: Absolutely not. I don't regret the decision at all. I'd liked it to have turned out differently; I'd like to have been successful. But for all the reasons we know, losing the sponsorship and things, it didn't work out. So I'm pretty lucky that I went to go over there, had the chance to try that as sort of a experiment, and then get to come back here and jump straight into the best seat in the paddock. That wasn't lost on me the fact that I was able to do that. It was, and as I said before, it feels really good to be back driving the IndyCar, such a thrill of driving these things. And that was the one thing when I jumped back in the car for the first time, the smile it put on my face, the fun and the thrill I get from driving an IndyCar.

Q: This is mostly a question for Mike. We had such lousy weather at Kansas and abbreviated the practice time there, and it doesn't look like it's going to particularly be great this week. This may be the smallest amount of practice time we've ever had in going into Pole Day. Any special preparations because of that or challenges you guys have as it relates to --

HULL: We talked about that this morning because we have nothing else to do in the morning since it's raining except talk. And our opinion is that the IRL allowed us to start on Saturday, the vortex would be generated to the point where we wouldn't have rain today. And it seemed to be, seemed like when we used to start on Saturday, we always got a good week in the first week, and everybody qualified well. So that's probably a whole other subject, so it's probably not politically correct to discuss. Now, in terms of being ready to qualify or being ready to race, there's a clear separation point between the teams that will be ready on Saturday and those that won't, and that will be very apparent. But oval racing is all about patience. You have to be patient and then you have to be able to draw everybody together in a teamwork atmosphere immediately based on the conditions that you have. And I think you have to prioritize what you're doing and you have to be very objective and honest about where you stand. And that's probably the hardest part, and that's what we work hard within our team structure to do is just remind ourselves where we are when the track is available to us. And if you had a hundred days of testing or if you had one day of testing, you'd do exactly the same thing. It's just very frustrating for all of us to be in here and listen to the rain hit the roof on any given day, particularly in an oval. I think these conditions, once it dries out, will be fine for us. The greatest thing about the Speedway is what Kevin Forbes did here with the paving. I read a comment by a driver the other day which I'm sure some people in oval racing took great offense to, but the greatest thing in the world about what we've done here since this racetrack has been diamond-cut is the fact that it comes back quickly, and Firestone tires work. So we're really happy about that and we're happy to be here. If it doesn't dry out till Saturday, we'll be ready to go.

Q: This question is for Scott and Dario, kind of following up on what Mike and what Scott had already said. Only thing that matters is Race Day, only comes around once a year. Is it strange knowing that the one man standing in front of you may be your own teammate come Race Day?

FRANCHITTI: Not at all. It's a situation I've been in before. I've been lucky to have a lot of great teammates, and that's what happens when you get in good equipment and you end up driving with really great drivers on your team. You end up fighting for wins and championships with them, and it's like Scott and I have talked about, it's the way you do it. You go out there and it's kind of go back to when you're a kid, you go out and have a good race and afterward if you're beaten, you say, "Good job, man." If you're the guy that wins, you get the same from your teammate, and that's the way I've been lucky enough to do it in the past and now.

DIXON: I guess with that at least you know what your teammate's got, so that leads you into a little bit of inside on Race Day. At Indy, there's always many people that can be fast and many people that can win the race. Generally there's a few wildcats that come in at the end and trimmed out more, and you've been sitting up front thinking, 'That's going to be the speed,' which is what Meira did last year, which was surprising. I think the good thing about us is we'll definitely push each other to the max through practice all the way up to Race Day and hopefully obtain the best race car as possible.

Q: When you guys look at the 100-year history of this place, is there another era you think would have been cool to race here throughout the 100 years of the Speedway?

FRANCHITTI: It would have been nice to try them all, I think, from the start. I just read a book from Dr. Steve Olvey, used to be our head doctor when we give ourselves concussions. He wrote a book and it was talking about the 1920s; that was a pretty interesting era. Yeah, I think to try each one would have been cool. It certainly was more, there's still risk, a lot of risk driving at the Speedway, but there was a lot more back in the day, whether it was in the '60s -- I think going back to sort of the '60s, all of that innovation, that would have been a fun part. Whether you're driving in a rear-engine Lotus against a front-engine roadster and the next thing there's a turbine car, all of that kind of stuff. You go over to the Museum, and you see some of the weird and wonderful creations that people strapped themselves into here, it was pretty impressive. (Laughter)

DIXON: I totally agree, I think Dario touched on most of it. But I think that the stuff you have seen people race around here is pretty crazy. I guess the only sort of unfortunate part about today's racing is the cars are all very similar, so you don't have that maybe -- a lot of cars back then might have had mechanical failures but would have been super-fast and lapped the fields, but the guy that kind of maintained a solid speed got to the end first. As you said, when you go to the Museum, there's some amazing stuff there.

Q: A hundred years from now, you think people will look at this stuff that you drove and think, "I can't believe they strapped themselves into those machines?"

FRANCHITTI: I don't know, who knows what's going to happen for the next hundred years. I think it's impressive, the track has, is coming up for its hundred-year anniversary, all that history. It's pretty cool. You have to come back from things like at the end of the Second World War, and seen those pictures it was all covered with weeds and stuff when Tony Hulman bought it. What a difference to look at it today.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing