IRL: Dan Wheldon teleconference transcript, part 1

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript November 25, 2003 Dan Wheldon Part 1 of 2 KENT JOHNSON: Welcome to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Nov. 25. Today we visit with IRL IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon.

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
November 25, 2003

Dan Wheldon

Part 1 of 2

KENT JOHNSON: Welcome to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Nov. 25. Today we visit with IRL IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon. Wheldon was the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year and will again drive the Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing during the 2004 IndyCar Series season. Most recently Dan participated in a test session this past week at the reconfigured Homestead-Miami Speedway. Thanks for joining us today.

DAN WHELDON: I'm just glad I'm not in an airport this time.

K. JOHNSON: Dan, let's start by looking back at your inaugural season in the IndyCar Series, very solid season. You recorded five Top 5 finishes, including each of your final three events, and capped it off with a third place finish at Texas to earn Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors. Heading into the year, was this what you envisioned your season being?

D. WHELDON: To tell you the truth, with the team that I was going into the championship with, I was expecting strong results from the get-go. I think I've explained earlier on in the year that I kind of underestimated how important experience was in this series, especially when you're up against such good quality drivers. But as far as the season went, I think we were very quick from the get-go. I think the Indianapolis 500, the lead into the race, really showed that. But, I also think you could see some of my inexperience. Once it all kind of came together at the end, we were able to put together some really strong results. I'm looking forward to next year. It's going to be my first season where I've stayed on with a team for a second year, so I'm really excited about that. But, you know, I had a very, very enjoyable time. I learned an amazing amount. Actually, we were at Homestead just last week. I was with Kim Green at dinner. I said to him, "I'm not sure you understand how much I took in this year." We kind of had a chuckle about that. It was a fantastic season. I can't wait till we start for next year.

K. JOHNSON: Looking ahead to next year, it was just a matter of weeks after our most recent season ended that Andretti Green Racing extended your contract, then your sponsors Klein Tools and Jim Beam both re-upped for next season as well. Looks like the pieces are in place for you to have another solid year.

D. WHELDON: It's great to have Klein Tools and Jim Beam on board for next year. They're both fabulous companies. They really do treat me ^Ö it's kind of like one big family. I think that the team does an excellent job in giving the sponsors what they want out of motorsport. It's a good relationship all round. I think the car looks really good on the track, too. So everything works very, very well. Yeah, it's probably the earliest I've been signed for a season leading into 2004. Excited about that. You know, it's going to be very, very competitive next year. It's good to be signed early. But the work has already started for 2004. That's what I certainly want to focus on.

K. JOHNSON: Having things in place this early lets you enjoy the holidays coming up.

D. WHELDON: I get bored. We seem to have been having a little bit more time off this winter than last winter. I'm always itching to get back in the car. It's going to get harder, so I've got to make sure that I'm doing everything I possibly can do to make sure I can start next season how I ended this season.

K. JOHNSON: Last week you participated in the IndyCar Series test down at Homestead-Miami Speedway. What can you tell us about the revisions they've made to that circuit?

D. WHELDON: I think it's certainly a big change. The corners they've got between 18 -- the low line range is 18 degrees of banking. The middle is 19. The high line is 20 degrees. So it changes the way the -- it changes the strategy for the race. It was comfortably flat out when we were there. I wouldn't say it's quite as easy as a superspeedway in terms of how easy it is to be flat out. I certainly think when we race there that the car definitely has to be very, very good in traffic. I think that window is going to be slightly smaller than, say, a Chicago, than a Michigan, than a Fontana. But, you know, I think they've done well. They have soft walls up right the way through (Turns) 1 and 2, 3 and 4, so that's excellent. I think Brian Barnhart has done a good job of working with the track to make sure that it's safe for us.

K. JOHNSON: At this time I'd like to open it up for the media for questions.

Q: The track at Homestead, how does it compare to any other tracks on the schedule?

D. WHELDON: Well, as far as Homestead is concerned, I would say it's actually different. It's not similar. I mean, I would say Chicago and Kansas are pretty similar, as far as a Superspeedway type track, how we would classify a Superspeedway type track. This is basically just a little bit tighter. The corners do feel tighter. Normally where you can kind of open up the wheel towards the exit of, say, a Chicago, Kansas, Michigan or Fontana, you actually still have some turning to do. I think just the corners are that little bit tighter. That's why I talked about the setup window being that much narrower as far as the race is concerned. But, you know, I think certainly the Andretti Green Racing cars work really well on the high-bank tracks. The test went well for us. It's going to be competitive. The times at the test were very, very close. Certainly when we go back there and test again, we've got to keep working on perfecting the setup.

Q: Stock cars didn't seem to have much trouble getting the setup right. Indy cars are much lighter. Will they have a problem dealing with the variable banking?

D. WHELDON: No, I don't think so. I think the track has done a very good job as far as that is concerned. I think you're certainly going to see much closer racing. But, no, these are very good teams in the IRL. I just can't stress how competitive they all are and how close it's going to be. But, no, I don't think there will be any kind of problem as far as setting up to be competitive, but you've got to get it right if you want to be the first one across the line

Q: I'm always fascinated with drivers when they say that something happened, halfway through the season things got better or improved for them or they learned a lot. Is it like a football quarterback who says that after a year or two, things start to slow down? Did that happen to you? If so, what was the trigger?

D. WHELDON: I think at the beginning of the season, I just got caught out in a few situations. I went to Indy, and the whole month had gone very, very strongly. I had that little incident in the race. I mean, it's never good when you're just starting off your campaign to have that. Then, unfortunately, we had a very, very loose car at Pikes Peak. You know, it just kind of kept happening to me. It just didn't pan out for us. Then as everything, like I say, things started to come together, when things started to go our way, that's when you results started to come. I was no different driver. I was certainly learning every time I went in the car. Things didn't fall our way. As soon as they did, I think that's when you started to see me like, for example, third at Texas, then we were in the top five a lot of races prior to that. I would say I was kind of in some unlucky situations. At the end, things started to go my way. I think I made the most of what we had.

Q: Going back to Indy, which was your first really big race in America, the rookie group there, three of them are in the top 11, including yourself, you could have been very close to seventh or something. What were the little things you learned? You talked about inexperience early. What were the things that developed that you learned that you were able to turn it around?

D. WHELDON: I think for me, obviously I did the Indy Lights Series, the Toyota Atlantic series and US F-2000 series. They're much shorter races. The key to it is to get in the lead as quick as you possibly can. You don't have to save fuel. You don't have to look after the tires. The car really doesn't change that much over the duration of a race in comparison to an IndyCar. But I think once I realized that you kind of -- if your car is good, which I think certainly Andretti Green Racing have a very good engineering staff to help you have a good car, and if you have that, you can just take your time. The races are very long. You can let them come to yourself. You just have to make sure that you position yourself for the last 20 laps. I think as the season went on, it was actually probably the last five or ten. But positioning yourself, and by doing that you'd have to save fuel. You'd have to make sure after your last pit stop the car was at its best. Things like that. I mean, it just takes a little bit of time. It was interesting, at the start of the season, they would say, "What do you need for the car to feel good for you in the race?" It was very hard for me to answer because I hadn't done a long race before at that particular track. I did two the prior seasons. Once I started to get a feel for that, was able to relate to the engineer, that is what I needed, then that's when things started to be turned around. That can't be learned straightaway. That definitely takes time.

Q: At Indy last May, there as a rookie with Michael Andretti, your boss, his last race, there was so much attention directed toward that team, did that have any effect on you, how you performed? Looking ahead to next year, it will be a different situation.

D. WHELDON: Well, I think certainly the team orchestrated the four cars very well during that month. I hadn't done the Indy 500 before, and I know it had been tough for the team the year before, certainly leading into the race. During the race they performed excellently. No, it really didn't, because Michael, Tony (Kanaan), Kim Green and, Barry Green, who was on my car, really kind of kept me out of the limelight, so to speak, really just made me feel very relaxed. We were obviously performing very well, which makes it easier for the whole team in general. But with those guys around you explaining situations that they'd been in before, how they handled them, that this wasn't a big deal, that wasn't a big deal, just perhaps do this in a certain situation, everything just went well. Because of that, like I say, it was relaxed. The people around me had seen it all before. It was no big deal to them. When that's no big deal to them, it doesn't feel like a big deal to you. I think certainly that race is an awesome experience. I can't wait to go back. I've been there before and watched, but it's not like driving it. I just can't wait. It's difficult to explain to somebody, the feelings that you have during that whole month. I certainly loved it.

Q: Is there anything you'll do differently this next May with the year's experience behind you?

D. WHELDON: Yeah. I probably will try and keep it on all four wheels about 15 laps to go. I think that's what I'll do different. No, I mean, I think everything went very well up until I crashed obviously. It's just experience. That was a mistake. People are going to make mistakes. As long as I've learned from that and I don't do it again, I'll be fine. I'll perhaps do everything the same except come off about 15 to go

Q: You alluded to things that Brian Barnhart was looking at in Homestead. Can you be a little bit more explicit about that?

D. WHELDON: I think Brian just does an excellent job. Obviously the track has changed. He just wants to make sure that it's exactly how he wants it. He asks all the drivers' opinions on what they feel about the track. He just makes it right. It's not just Homestead, he does it at every single track that we race at. When you've got that guy in charge of the day-to-day operations, I mean, he's just a professional. Very nice guy to relate to on a personal level, with experiences. Yeah, like I say, just does a very good job. But, you know, he just has to -- when things have changed so much, he just has to make sure that everything is up to scratch. That's what he did.

Part 2

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