IRL: Dan Wheldon, Roger Yasukawa rookie press conference, part II

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Sept. 9, 2003 Yasukawa and Wheldon Part 2 of 3 Q: You have a great, great crew there with a lot of experience. Have they really made it easier for you to make this transition from ...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Sept. 9, 2003

Yasukawa and Wheldon

Part 2 of 3

Q: You have a great, great crew there with a lot of experience. Have they really made it easier for you to make this transition from Toyota Atlantic to the IndyCar Series?

R. Yasukawa: Yes, for sure. I mean, I think that is part of the deal for me to be able to learn so quickly. I mean, from Indy, I was assigned to work with John Martin. He is my spotter, and he certainly gave me a lot of tips on what I needed to work on. He is not driving the car, but he certainly is giving me a lot of information in order to make me comfortable in the car. So, that is a really important thing and, you know, just the whole team in general, they make everything go smooth. It has made it easy for me to just concentrate on my driving, and really, I think, I am lucky to be with them.

Q: Can you go through the litany of how your confidence develops as a rookie driver? You know, you come in and you are going up against the Penske teams and the Andretti teams and so forth for the first time. How is your confidence built through the season?

R. Yasukawa: I think the confidence is certainly building from the start of the season until now. I cannot even put it in words how much it is raised. I mean, at the start of the season, it really was something that I didn't know what to expect. I mean, going into it, we had some testing, and I was able to go quick by myself, but come race time, the situation is different, and there are a lot of good drivers and good teams out there. Obviously, being a first year for me, I had to learn a lot. After 14 races, I think I was able to put a lot of things in my mind, go through all kinds of situations that would happen in the race, and I am getting better. I think there is still room for improvement, and I need to keep working hard to be perfect, but you know, at the end of the day, I do not think anyone is perfect, and you need to be as close to perfect without making any mistakes. So, you know, I am working on it 100 percent all the time, and I feel other drivers are doing it, so you are playing catch up all the time. But I think we are getting close, and really, I am just so excited about the last two races. I know we are close to that point, and we really just need to prove that we can do it.

Q: Is there a chance at Fontana that you might put a little more concentration into the qualifying to see if you can get a better starting position and maybe be in a better position to win?

R. Yasukawa: Right, right, absolutely. From the driver's standpoint, you always want to qualify on pole and win the race, but, unfortunately, the racing in the IRL (IndyCar Series) does not go that way. Even if you qualify on the pole, that does not guarantee you a win that easy. So, even if you qualify dead last, if your car works well in the race and if you have some luck, then you will win the race. So, at this point, how we are structured as a team, I think, it will probably be a better strategy just to work on the race setup throughout the weekend. We may have to give up some qualifying positions, but we have proven many times this year that we can move up to the front. I do not think that will change, really, with the last two races. Maybe for next season, when I have more experience at the track and with the car, we may be able to focus more on qualifying stuff, but at this point, really, we just want to go out there and try to win the race.

Q: The top 13 finishers that completed the race Sunday all averaged over 184 miles an hour. How amazing is it to you that all of these 13 drivers are able to go that distance at that speed and really not have a single accident?

R. Yasukawa: Well, it was certainly an amazing race last weekend. I mean, thinking back to it, we were going, we were basically dicing with each other throughout the race. I know the guys up front were doing it and the guys in the middle and the back. So, it was not an easy one for anybody and, really, what mattered was the last 20 laps and, fortunately, I was able to pit at the right time, which put me second with 10 or 15 laps to go. Again, on the last 20 laps, you had to give your best. Really, we had probably better than an eighth-place finish, but I think that is part of the game. Again, you know, you certainly have to know what you are doing at the last 20 laps and give your best and take your finishing position, whatever the car gives you. I think I have learned a lot this weekend. It is probably my first time, first race, first-ever race that I have been with the pack throughout the race for two hours. That takes a lot of concentration, and that was a good experience for me. I think it is going to be the same way for the last two rounds, and hopefully, I can show that I have learned something from last weekend's race.

Q: Roger, I just wanted to follow up on what you had said before about the first time you went 200 miles per hour. Did you find yourself looking at the readout, the digital readout? I would suspect it sharpens your senses and reflexes to a razor point when you are going that fast, but what goes through your mind? Is it almost like a magical plateau, almost like the test pilot punching Mach 1 when you see you are moving at 200 miles an hour?

R. Yasukawa: Well, I think when I first went over 200 miles an hour, you really do not realize you are going that fast, but thinking back to it now, you know, it is just barely hanging on to the car and, really, just trying to take the line, whichever line that you can take. You know, at that speed, you have so many things that can go wrong, and to be able to race at that speed, you have to anticipate all kinds of different things. But it certainly was a great experience for me the first time. I still can remember everything that happened. I think I was very calm at my first test at Fontana, and Dario Franchitti was the only player out there. He made it easier for me. If I had a whole bunch of other cars going next to me, I think I would have really freaked out. So, in that sense, I think I got an easy start, but anyhow, it is a lot of fun, and I still enjoy it every time I go that fast.

Q: Just one other thing, Roger, because on Sunday, obviously, you did not freak out. You raced, probably, the best race you have in the IRL and going wheel to wheel at close to 200 miles an hour. It must be an incredible amount of trust, Roger, that you have for the other drivers and the equipment to be able to do that, because there is no other series in the world where they do this stuff.

R. Yasukawa: Yes, that is for sure. I mean, you certainly need to have a huge trust against drivers when you are going, really, side by side and wheels bumping each other at over 220 miles per hour. A lot of people asked me about it after the race, and everybody said I was crazy doing that. But, having said that, being in the middle, I really didn't have any choice. I mean, if I would have lifted in the middle of the corner, I think I would have crashed into someone, and the only thing that happened was because I had contact with Bryan (Herta), and if I hadn't had my foot on the floor, I would have probably spun and made the case even worse. So, that makes sense. I mean, I think I was stuck in the middle. But, you know, I think I ended up as a loser that weekend, and I am really disappointed with that. But, you know, the biggest thing is we came out of the race clean, and we fought very hard, and as you know, I just need to try to do the same thing again and try to win it next time.

Q: You have been racing the entire season and Dan Wheldon has not, and he is now breathing down your neck for Bombardier Rookie of the Year. Does that put extra pressure on you and on the team?

R. Yasukawa: Well, I think, certainly. He's been catching me up the last couple of rounds, and I know he has not raced the first two rounds. That kind of gave me some advantage in the early part of the season, but I think, at the same time, we had some races that we fell off with unfortunate luck, like a rear wing falling off and running out of fuel before we could, before the stop, and I know everybody has those problems. But, basically, what we need to do is try to finish ahead of Dan every race, and on the last two, we certainly need to do that. But Dan has a great team, and I know he is a very good driver. So again, just like racing any other driver, I have to give it my best, and it is not going to be easy. But, you know, we have been ahead of him throughout the season, and we just need to keep focusing on the race and finishing ahead of him.

K. Johnson: Roger, we appreciate you taking time to join us today and certainly wish you the best of luck over the remainder of the schedule, as well as in your pursuit of Rookie of the Year honors.

R. Yasukawa: Thank you, I appreciate it.

K. Johnson: Now we would like to welcome Indy Car Series driver Dan Wheldon. Wheldon drives the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing. He currently stands 12th, overall, in the driver point standings with 245 points over 12 events, and currently trails Yasukawa in the rookie standings by just 10 points. Dan has recorded seven top-10 finishes and three top-fives, including a fourth-place effort this past weekend at the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Dan, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

D. Wheldon: Thank you. It seems like every time I join you I am off somewhere, because I was at Nazareth last time, and I am actually just at the airport getting ready to leave for a test. But, a pleasure to be with you guys.

K. Johnson: I believe you are heading out to California Speedway to test out there this week?

D. Wheldon: Yes, that is right. We are doing a two-day test, Wednesday and Thursday, and then, actually, Tony (Kanaan) is going to join me on the first day.

K. Johnson: Well, let us start by talking about your season thus far. You really did not get started until the third race of the year at Motegi, yet you have pulled within 10 points of being the top rookie. Tell us how you feel your season has progressed thus far?

D. Wheldon: It has, obviously, I think, been a little bit more of a learning curve than I actually thought. I have raced in the U.S. F2000 Series over here, (Toyota) Atlantic, and (Indy) Lights, and always managed to win at least more than one race in my first season and actually every season I have raced in. It is disappointing not having accomplished that yet, but I have to say the competition in the Indy Racing League, when you are up against guys that are very, very good and have been in the series a long time, it makes it difficult. But, I think, certainly, these last few races, you can see that I have really started to gain a lot of experience, and I have been able to capitalize on some situations because of my experience and bring the car home with good, solid results.

K. Johnson: And, you mentioned wanting to win. To win, you have to lead, and this last weekend at Chicagoland you led your first laps of the season and, in fact, you led 32 laps.

D. Wheldon: Yes, it was certainly a fantastic race. I mean, my Klein Tools/Jim Beam crew did a great job in the pits, and last weekend was no exception that they did a fantastic job from that standpoint. But, we have been very strong at these last few races. I don't think there has been a race, recently, where we have not been on the pace. We have always been right there, and if you can put yourself in those situations then you are going to have the chance to lead and then you are going to have the chance to win at the end, and that is what we have been working on doing is putting ourselves in those situations to be around for a possible victory. We still have two races left and that is what we are trying to intend to do on one of these last ones. Both, if I can.

K. Johnson: Absolutely, I mean, you mentioned closing the season in a strong manner. You have recorded top-10 finishes in each of your past four outings and that has encompassed both superspeedways, as well as, the smaller tracks. How do you feel you have adapted to the various size ovals on which you have competed this year?

D. Wheldon: Well, like I said earlier, I am still a little bit behind on experience. When you put yourself up against Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, they have all been in a major racing series for, certainly, more than a year, which this is pretty much my first year. You learn so much each race, that they have an advantage. As the races go on, I feel I am getting more and more comfortable with knowing what I want from the race car in the race situation, because, obviously, it changes from what you ran in qualifying and what you ran in the race. Just from experience, that is really helping. I feel I've adapted to the various ovals well. But, I am certainly in a very fortunate situation to be with Andretti Green Racing and, particularly, having Michael (Andretti) as your boss. I mean, his experience is second to none. But, being with this team has really, really, I think, increased and sped up my learning curve to no end.

Q: You mentioned that you were used to winning multiple races in every series that you were in until you came into the IRL IndyCar Series. Has it been difficult for you, even though in your mind, realistically, you know you have to learn to win in this form of racing and the competition is up? But, given all of that, is it difficult going away from the racetrack not a winner?

D. Wheldon: Yes, it sucks, to be quite honest. But, you know, I have to be patient. I am in a very fortunate situation, and I believe I have what it takes to do it. So, as long as I leave each race having learned as much as I absolutely can, and then, having not made any mistakes or certainly making sure that I reduce that number to virtually zero every time I go out, then I'm happy. Like, I think, this weekend I certainly put myself in a position and it just didn't happen. But, still, I think, a fourth-place position is a good result.

Part III

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , John Martin , Jim Beam