IRL Media Teleconference September 7, 2004 James Chesson and Dan Wheldon MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We would like to welcome two Indy Racing League drivers to today's call. We're joined by IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon, coming off...
IRL Media Teleconference
September 7, 2004
James Chesson and Dan Wheldon
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We would like to welcome two Indy Racing League drivers to today's call. We're joined by IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon, coming off his third victory of the year at Nazareth. Are you with us?
DAN WHELDON: Yes.
MODERATOR: Dan also had wins at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan and Richmond International Speedway this year. Wheldon is currently second in the points championship, trailing teammate Tony Kanaan by 72 points. Thanks for joining us today.
DAN WHELDON: Pleasure to be here again.
Q: You entered this weekend with three race wins out of the first 13 races. You still trail your teammate by a sizable margin. I know you're happy for Tony, but it's got to be frustrating with the size of the gap with three races to go?
DAN WHELDON: Sure, I would like to be on top. I'm very happy that certainly, if it's not me on top, one of my teammates is on top. But I think a lot of the stuff that's happened to me this year has been a little bit out of my control with the finishes that we've had that have been off of the podium. So that makes it a little easier, certainly But nonetheless, I still do think I have a chance of winning the championship, and I'm going to take every risk possible in order to try and achieve one of my dreams in winning the championship. It's not going to be easy. I mean, obviously Tony has been very, very consistent throughout the season, and it doesn't look like he's going to stop any time soon.
The amount of points that I'll pick up on him is minimal. Like I say, I'm just going to do the best I can and try and increase my win tally before the season's out.
I have to say with the IRL the way it is, it's never easy to do that. It certainly sounds much easier talking about it than putting it into practice.
Q: Do you guys ever talk about it, you and Tony? Or is it like a Major League Baseball pitcher, where you don't talk to him during a no-hitter? Do you kid around with him and say, "I'm coming after you these last three, I know I'm 72 back, but"?
DAN WHELDON: I certainly kid around with him, but he doesn't call me. He's leading the championship by such a sizable margin (laughter). I certainly mess around with him and say, "Now you're leading the points by certainly over 50, you don't have to call your rookie teammate any more?"
We joke around, but I think the one thing that -- I think I talk for the rest of the Andretti Green Racing, it's by no means over. Rahal Letterman has been doing an incredibly good job. Penske has been very fast lately. The Ganassi cars you can never discount.
It looks like we're very comfortable where we're at, but we're certainly not. There's so many good people out there that can knock you off the top spot very, very quickly, that you really don't get too excited. I think the main thing is we just keep doing our own thing and maximize what we have as a team in terms of equipment and trying to get the best results possible.
If you do that, then we'll be OK. But we really haven't talked about the championship, or finishing positions, or anything as such as a team, apart from the fact that we just do need to keep doing a good job.
Like I say, there's so many good guys out there, it's very, very difficult right now.
Q: You finished last year so strong, you had top-five finishes in the final three races, top 10 in the final six. You must have felt fairly confident coming into this season that your first win was right around the corner?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I mean, I think I was a little bit disappointed at the end of last season not to score a win. I really wanted that to try and propel me into this season. But I think certainly coming into this season I was very determined to do very well. I underestimated the IndyCar (Series) in general, and the amount of experience you need to compete at the highest level with the guys that you race against.
So because of last year, although I didn't compete a full season, I think -- well, I didn't compete in the full season, I obviously missed the first two races, I think I knew what to expect. I was going back to tracks that I'd been to. I felt more importantly what the car was like over a race distance. I mean it almost is easier to drive the car fast. To drive the car fast over a distance, the way this track is, it's certainly physical. It makes the car enjoyable to drive but very, very challenging. So knowing what to expect I think made it easier.
And did I expect to get three wins? You never expect to win every race in the season, but I certainly, certainly knew I would be able to compete for them. I was hoping weekend in, weekend out, which has been the case.
I mean, nothing to get excited about, I still have three races to go. I'm happy with my win tally. But was I surprised? No, I wasn't surprised because I do expect as a driver that I'm with a very good team, and have very good support from Honda, so I've got the ingredients to win. It's down to me to win. If I didn't, I'd probably be out of a job. I don't like doing anything else, so I've got to make sure I do win.
Q: What was your goal coming in this year, to win a championship, maybe win Indianapolis? I don't want to say were there expectations, but did you have goals coming into this year?
DAN WHELDON: The biggest goal for me is the Indianapolis 500. I love the race and I'm desperate to win it. You know, I'm so desperate to win the 500, it's probably a bad thing. But that was certainly my primary goal.
I wasn't able to achieve that. That was very disappointing. But aside from that, and by no means when I say that do I take away from the championship, because I think it's obviously a very difficult championship to win. I just wanted to score as many wins as possible.
I'm going to be around for a long time. In the future, we can win championships. But the main thing for me was to win as many races as possible, and not feel as I left the track having lost the race. I mean, it sounds silly, but you can sometimes put yourself in a position to win races and let them slip away. I didn't want to do that, particularly at this stage in my career.
So far I think I've been able to do that.
Another thing I wanted to do was really improve on the short ovals. I thought that was a weakness or certainly a weak area for me last year. I think both myself and (race engineer) Eddie Jones really focused on that over the winter testing, and certainly improved.
Q: Last year you led 32 laps at Chicago. Does a racetrack like Chicagoland, does that suit you more? I know you touched on the smaller tracks. You've done well at Nazareth and Richmond this year. Which is to your liking?
DAN WHELDON: I really do like them. It's not like one of those boring answers, I'm not trying to be politically correct, but they're just different. Like obviously it's much more difficult to overtake on the short ovals. If you've got a very good car and you're leading, you have a very good shot of winning. I sound Scottish there. Dario will be proud of me that I used the word "shot."
I think on the bigger ovals, it's much harder to predict the outcome of the race. You need to position yourself. You can't position yourself 50 laps from the end. It's way too close to do that. You've just got to get yourself roundabouts in the right position and then capitalize on your car's oval speed, people losing air in front of you. By that I mean people understeering up in the traffic or perhaps even getting loose and making the move on the car that way.
You're running at 215 miles an hour-plus, side by side with groups of cars in front of you and behind you normally. They're two completely different disciplines. But I have to say I enjoy them both.
This is a big weekend for me because it's my sponsor's home race, both of them, Jim Beam and Klein Tools.
Q: Jim Beam, obviously they are in Chicago as well as Klein Tools, is that correct?
DAN WHELDON: Yes, both companies are. They'll have a lot of people out supporting me for the race. No, I think obviously we've had a very strong season up until this point, so it's got them very, very excited for this race. I think it's a track that I like. Obviously, it's a track that I started my IRL career in and at, so I'm looking forward to it. Last year we did lead some laps, as you said, and we performed strongly
Chicago is difficult to predict. Last year I finished fourth and I was inches behind the three in front of me who crossed the line three abreast.
It's definitely a difficult one to predict and it's all about positioning yourself.
Q: Talk to us about St. Petersburg, your thoughts about going racing in the streets of St. Petersburg and road courses in general.
DAN WHELDON: Well, obviously I'm European, so I'm looking forward to turning right. From an IndyCar (Series) standpoint, I still have a lot to learn. I haven't driven on many of the street courses in an IndyCar, so I've got a lot to learn from Dario, Tony and Bryan from that standpoint. It's awesome for me.
I'm not sure that I know how to do it anymore. I've been doing the ovals for so long. And I certainly enjoy the ovals. I think it will complete the championship. St. Petersburg will be special for me, I used to live there. When I drove with Primus Racing (in U.S. F2000), I actually lived there. It's actually going to be nice to be there. I actually got back from there recently. I actually drove on the track. You can see where it was marked out from before. So I followed the track.
No, I'm very, very excited. I think it really does complete the championship by adding not just the St. Petersburg race, but the other road course races that we've got. Looking forward to it.
Q: Your helmet, give me the background on the painting on your helmet. It's one of the cooler helmets in the IRL.
DAN WHELDON: I try and have my paint job to reflect my personality, so it's got that kind of feisty look to it. It does have a mural of Richard the Lionheart on the back. When I was driving go-karts in 1995, the guys that ran me said I drove with a lot of heart. That's the way Richard the Lionheart fought in battle. Hence, that has been on there since 1995, and it will never come off until the day I retire.
Obviously it sports the England flag. It's kind of a mixture of everything. It's got like a little feisty look to it, but it's go the a cool, hip, young look to it as well with the right stuff, the England flag and the Richard the Lionheart on it.
I think it's cool.
MODERATOR: It is very cool. We look forward to seeing it again this weekend. Dan, thanks for joining us.
DAN WHELDON: Pleasure. Thank you very much.