Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
November 25, 2003
Part 2 of 2
Q: What about tires? NASCAR guys had some wicked problems with tires at Homestead. Do you think we're going to be going that much quicker, tire problems could come into play?
D. WHELDON: No. We didn't really have any problems. I think Firestone do a good job. Obviously, it was a new kind of layout for those guys, too. They tried some different tires. I think they've got data now they can go back and look at before the race. I think they have a very good idea what they're going to use. There were no issues whatsoever. You watch the history of Firestone being involved with the IRL, they've had nothing but good experiences.
Q: How much quicker do you think you'll be going at Homestead this year?
D. WHELDON: I think the pole was by Tony last year, and it was at 203.9. I think you're going to see us perhaps see us doing between 216 and 218, 219. Please don't quote me on that because I can't be definite. I think it will be pretty close to that.
Q: Did you have any goals at the beginning of the year? Rookie of the Year or just to finish the season as high as you could?
D. WHELDON: I really didn't set myself any goals. I just wanted to do the best job I possibly could at every single race. By saying that, I meant I just wanted to make the least mistakes possible. I knew it was going to be my rookie season. I knew it was going to be tough. I tested a lot at the end of the season prior to going into this season. I didn't actually do many of the official tests leading into the start of the 2003 season. I was kind of thrust in at Japan, so I just really wanted to make as few mistakes as possible. You know, I think at the beginning, I obviously made a couple. But towards the end, it was to the point where I actually extracted the most from what I had. I would say, yeah, I always did have my eye on Rookie of the Year. I was very determined to win a race before going into next season. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. But, like I said, I'll focus on that for next year.
Q: Speeds are an underlying issue in Indy cars this off-season. Do you think the cars should be slowed down?
D. WHELDON: You know, with my experience level, it's tough to comment, but I'm sure the IRL will make sure that they have the cars as safe as possible, and I think they do an excellent job. I'll kind of leave it in their hands. I love the racing in the IRL. I think if you ask every one of the drivers, they'd say the same thing. They're very confident. I think that doesn't just go for me. Everybody's confident in Brian Barnhart. We'll kind of leave it to him. When he asks us a question, we'll certainly give our opinions and feel on what we think.
Q: When did you become comfortable with the precision of oval-track racing or have you yet?
D. WHELDON: You know, I started in '99 in the US F-2000 series. Fortunately, I've always been in very good teams that have given me very good cars on ovals. I think certainly the more I do, the more experience I learn from. That goes for a lot. I mean, you really do race against great drivers in the (IndyCar) Series. Obviously, there was Helio (Castroneves), Gil (de Ferran), Tony (Kanaan), Scott Dixon, (Sam) Hornish. You're racing against good guys. They have certainly a couple years more experience than me. I've got to learn from those guys. That's what I'm doing. Like I say, as the season went on, I think you could see that happening. I think that's going to keep happening. I don't think you ever stop learning on these things. But, you know, I really enjoy it. I definitely think it's a great style of racing. It's very competitive. It's difficult. I mean, to get your car right during the whole weekend, in qualifying, making sure that it's good right through the race, it's not easy. No, it's certainly very enjoyable.
Q: Do your off-season plans involve motorsport? Are you just going to get away from it altogether and enjoy life for a while?
D. WHELDON: Actually, the team probably gets really mad at me because I get bored. I'm in the shop winding the guys up constantly. But, no, we have two more test days left before Christmas. We're going to do them at Phoenix. That will be on the 3rd and 4th of December. I look forward to that. That track's obviously changed. It will be interesting to get a feel for what that is like before we go back there next year. Actually, I'm going to go back to England, just relax a little bit. I haven't seen my family all year. I'll go and see them. Then in January, we'll be back to start testing. It's going to get pretty serious from then on out for the rest of the season. Looking forward to it. It will certainly be nice to get that Klein Tools/Jim Beam car back in the circle and get on that winning list for Andretti Green Racing in the campaign.
Q: You and I had quite a long talk back in 2002 at Kentucky before you had gotten in a car. You were to test the next day for Panther. There was quite a bit of talking about your history. From that point to today, is the IRL, IndyCar Series racing what you thought it would be or more?
D. WHELDON: It's more, and it's certainly more difficult. I can't stress how much I enjoy it. I think that is because of the competitiveness. I think that is because of the teams and manufacturers involved. But, yeah, I mean, if you'd have asked me a few years ago would I have been racing on all ovals, I mean, I wouldn't have been able to say, ^ÑWell, yeah, I think I'll be doing that.^Ò That wasn't the way -- I'm obviously European, and typically, from a road racing background. I certainly have been in very good teams, like I say, on ovals. That has made my transition easier than perhaps some. But I've also had good people around me, and that makes a difference in how you react to them. But, yeah, I certainly enjoy them. The racing is definitely tough. It's a slightly different style that takes time to get used to. I think the more I do, the better I get at it. But, yeah, it's certainly more than what I thought.
Q: Who is your biggest mentor this 2003 season, helped you along, found your way to the car, restrooms, whatever?
D. WHELDON: I wouldn't say there's one specific. I think Michael (Andretti) obviously is a big help. He had so much media attention at Indy, and he just kind of breezed through it. Nothing fazed him. Because you're around somebody like that that doesn't get fazed, you're like that yourself. So he's been a big help. I think Tony Kanaan has been excellent. He is a great teammate because he's a great benchmark. I would say there's nobody that can go quicker in the car that he's driving. I mean, if you're matching him and going quicker, you're doing a very good job. He's been a very, very big help. I think certainly Kim Green and Kevin (Savoree), they've been very kind of influential. I think they've matured me a lot as a person, in general. I think the whole organization I'm in makes you feel very relaxed, very at home. When you're in a situation like that where you enjoy it so much, everything kind of just comes more natural. I wouldn't say there's one specific person, but I would say the whole entire group surrounding me have done a very, very good job.
Q: Last May when you were introduced to the media, you joked what your mother might do to you if she knew what you were doing. How has your family accepted you've become an oval track driver? What is Christmas like in England with your family?
D. WHELDON: It's cold. We're all a very close family. I have three brothers and a sister. It's one time that we're able to be at home together as a complete family during the year. It's traditional, a traditional English Christmas, I should say. It's very nice. But, you know, their reaction to me doing the IRL is excellent. It gets superb TV coverage in England. It's on at great times. Normally the races are just being shown at around 7 o^Òclock Sunday evening. They haven't been able to make it to many. My father has been very busy with his company, but I certainly know they're watching every race. Actually, if I check my messages at the end of each day, my dad is always there saying, ^ÑHey, how have you done? How is the car for the race?^Ò You know, they're very, very supportive of what I do. But I've just kind of been living away from home for a long time, and we kind of treasure your Christmases together. I'm used to them just being on the other end of the phone rather than perhaps being with me at the races. But it's certainly very special when they come to the races. They loved Indy. They had a bit of a scare there. But they'll certainly be back for a few next year if dad can fit it in with his schedule.
Q: What would it be like to be another British driver to win the Indy 500?
D. WHELDON: I think England would go crazy, especially with the amount of English drivers they have in the series next year. But I don't care which country you're in, the Indy 500 is absolutely massive. Like I said, when you go and watch the race, when you read about the race in magazines, when you're young, when you watch it on TV, it's certainly big. It's certainly like a cool race to watch. But when you race in it, it is unbelievable, just the whole month. I mean, this whole month there was a grin on my face ear to ear. It would be very special for the country in general, and certainly, to be on the same list as Graham Hill as a winner would be excellent. But for me, that's the one that I care about most. It would just be such a feeling of completion, of just making that whole month go right and be able to win the race. I'd never forget that feeling, that's for sure, ever. You could never take that away from history. I would be on there as a winner. That's what I would -- that's what I'm intending to do certainly before my career ends.
Q: How much of your team is going to remain intact in terms of the engineering group?
D. WHELDON: That wouldn't be something that I know, but I'm assuming pretty much all of them. I don't think there's any changes. I think they all work very well together. I think everybody has a very good relationship, open relationship, hard-working work ethic. I'm assuming everybody will stay.
Q: You're assuming, but you're not exactly certain?
D. WHELDON: Yes.
Q: How much of a comfort factor did you get working with Eddie (Jones, race engineer) and the balance of the crew toward the end of the season? Did that help you with your results?
D. WHELDON: I think for a while it took Eddie and I time to gel. He's obviously used to Michael (Andretti). Michael has such kind of an experience bank that he knows exactly what he wants from the car. I really didn't. He's obviously worked with Michael, had a very good relationship with Michael prior to myself for a few years. We had to build up that together, as well. Like I say, it took a little bit of time. But I think really the last five races, we were working very well together. He's very open and honest. We're both English, so we both kind of react to everything the same. The Homestead test, we were working as if it was an official test for next year, really making sure we were improving on everything we possibly could. I was making sure I was getting into the pits as hard as I could every time and leaving the pits. Yeah, I certainly think it took us a little bit of time, but I think we're a very good combination right now.
K. JOHNSON: The upcoming 2004 IndyCar Series will have a British look to it with yourself and Dario (Franchitti) at Andretti Green Racing. Mark Taylor moves up to take a full-time seat at Panther Racing. Now we have Darren Manning joining the Ganassi team. The IndyCar Series has become popular with the drivers. From your perspective, how is it catching on with the motorsports fan over in Great Britain?
D. WHELDON: Like I say, the television coverage that it has over there is excellent. I think not only with like the younger drivers now, but the fan, they just take to it. It's what they want to see. They want to see it. Formula One and perhaps Formula 3 series are going to get mad at me. When you watch a Formula One race, there's rarely overtaking. If you qualify on pole, you have a good car, you don't make mistakes, you're going to win. The difference with the IRL is that you see a lot of overtaking, you see close racing. It's really taken off. Now with more English drivers, it's going to get bigger and bigger. You have to remember we class Dario, too. He's from England, he's just from a different part, like Scotland. There's him as well you can add to that list. He's very popular in England and Scotland.
K. JOHNSON: Sorry, I didn't make that clear. I thought I mentioned him along with you. That will do it for today. I appreciate you taking time to join us. Have a great weekend. The best of luck in the 2004 season.
D. WHELDON: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me on today.