Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Jan. 20, 2004 Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon Part 3 of 3 MODERATOR: Sam, we have heard you say many times it's been a dream come true for you to be racing for Roger Penske. You...
Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Jan. 20, 2004
Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon
Part 3 of 3
MODERATOR: Sam, we have heard you say many times it's been a dream come true for you to be racing for Roger Penske. You haven't had a lot of time behind the wheel with the team yet. Talk about your goals for 2004 as you get set to drive for Team Penske.
SAM HORNISH JR: That's real hard to set some goals because we haven't started the new season yet, but I really think that I can't expect anything but the best. The performances that they have had so far, and put together with what I have been able to accomplish, I don't see anything but good things. But you never know. You always learn new things. You've got to mesh right. You have to have the right chemistry. I just hope that we'll be able to put it all together and be able to go out there and have a good season. Obviously, my goal is to win the Indianapolis 500 and I am sure it's every other team's goal. But we have such a great track record there; it's kind of hard going into that race because even if you finish second, it's a big letdown.
MODERATOR: You talked about Indianapolis before a lot in the past. Do you feel like going in this year this is your best shot at winning that race?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think you have all these things that can go against you, but I think that with the success that Team Penske has and just their love for winning that race, I think that this is definitely my best opportunity to do it. It may take a year or two. But hopefully not that long. Before I retire, that's the big thing. I just want to be able to say that I won that race; whether it happens this year or 10 years from now. It's going to happen when it's going to happen. I will keep doing my best until it does.
Q: I know you haven't been to the racetrack as far as being in a race yet with Team Penske, but is it different being a driver for Team Penske so far?
SAM HORNISH JR: Oh, yeah, totally different. I look at all the things that just how they were approached. We had a lot of success myself at Panther Racing, but I can't believe how much some things are different and some things are the same. But some things are really different. It just starts everywhere. Panther Racing was very professional. I look at all the stuff from doing photos for the cards and for the media guide. I think I have already had like eight suits and trying to get it just to fit right as far as the racing suit is concerned. And I don't know if I had that many in three years. It's unbelievable to me just to see how different things can be. That's really part of the reason I always had dreamed of running for Penske Racing ever since the beginning of my racing career. Then, when I had the opportunity to do it, you know, I was having a lot of fun and it was real hard to leave Panther Racing. But like I said, I wanted to try something new and definitely this has given me another side of the spectrum to look at and see different things and to be able to just really see what else is out there. That's why I did what I did.
Q: When the announcement was made and you and I talked about going to Team Penske, I did ask you about your facial hair. You said you didn't know and next thing I know I saw a photo and it's gone. Was that your decision?
SAM HORNISH JR: That was my decision. Sometimes you don't have to, you know, you don't have to be told certain things. I just figured that it was a new day, try something new. I just am so happy to be where I am at and to have the opportunity that I have had, you know, sometimes a new look doesn't hurt too much. I have been so impressed with the way this thing has happened, you know, just how things have gone so far, that even if I would have been told this is what you got to do, I would have still done it. That's just part of the deal but I figure sometimes it's better to do things on your own.
Q: Does it feel different? I mean, just being a part of an organization that has so much history and so much success, does it just feel different?
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, sure does. It's tough because you are meeting all new people, you know. When I was at Panther Racing, there wasn't anywhere near 67 employees there like there is at Penske. And with the number of people that have nicknames and second nicknames, you are trying to learn everybody's name. It's really neat to go to -- because of how much history there is with the team -- the shop. The team has been there like for 30 years in that shop, and it may not be what some of the other teams are, but it's super clean, the history is there, the wins from the Speedway all came from that shop, and that's a neat thing. And just also being a driver that had racing heroes like Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr. and to be able to just stand there and talk about things that are completely off the subject of racing with Rick Mears is pretty cool. I am pretty much into custom cars and motorcycles, so it gives us something to talk about. Sometimes it is kind of like really hard to believe, you know, like when Rick calls me on my cell phone and I have got his name programmed. It is kind of blows my mind sometimes, hey, Rick Mears is calling me or Roger Penske is calling me on my cell phone. It is kind of a neat feeling.
Q: Helio is such a serious guy; no jokes there, right?
SAM HORNISH JR: Yeah, it is kind of like the odd couple, but I heard Gil say one time when it starts out, you are trying not to like him, but it is kind of hard not to. I think that's probably how it's going to work. He has so much energy and, you know, so much exuberance I guess, so excited about things. I am kind of a little bit different. I am pretty low-key, but I think we both got pretty good sense of humors even if they are pretty much different. I have had a good time so far.
Q: I must tell you over the years the number of times you and I have talked it sounds as though just talking about it brings more excitement and makes you more excited than I have heard you in years.
SAM HORNISH JR: I have been so excited about being able to do this and we have talked and I talked with Roger last year about doing something and I just was, you know, it was kind of surreal, I guess. I didn't really know what to think about it. It was neat. I could talk to him about it. Maybe we'll do something, didn't really know if it was going to happen or not. Then when it all started happening, and even when we made the announcement it still wasn't like really set in. How things are going, I just wait to get out there and get racing because we're coming up real close to the open test start. Then, before you know it, we will be racing. It's great to put on that suit and to get in that car and go practice. I can't wait to get into it for the first race and see what happens and then be able to go to the Indy 500 in one of those cars.
Q: I am curious. I talked to Rick a couple of months ago and he said that certainly the intimidation factor is there when you become a member of Team Penske. But he also mentioned that your credentials upon joining the team were so much more impressive than his ever were. Has that intimidation gone away any?
SAM HORNISH JR: I guess I am not really intimidated looking at it, but it is just you haven't done the first race, you haven't done the first couple of races, the first 500, so it is almost kind of like you are still an outsider. Because even when you talk about things right at the beginning like even now it's like, ‛Well, when I drove the yellow car this is what it felt like.' You are kind of in between because you are not really talking to your old team, you are not really sure, you know, how everybody takes things because after three years you are pretty comfortable with the team. You know what guys like to joke around and what guys don't, and how those kind of things work. Then you had to learn everybody over again. I guess you could say it's a little bit unnerving once in awhile because you don't really know what to say. But I haven't been intimidated yet. I have just been so excited and, you know, like when I crashed the car, I didn't know what to think. I hate crashing a race car first of all. But you don't ever know kind of the little things, ‛Geez, I wish I would have asked him, what is your take on crashing race cars.' I know it is always bad, do you expect the drivers -- would you rather have the drivers sometimes push a little bit too hard than always leaving a lot on the table there to work with. That was the most nervous feeling so far. Hopefully, I won't look to that too many times.
Q: You talked about your relationship already with Rick. He said that the relationship that the two of you would have in the next few years would become very important. How much of a calming effect does Rick Mears have and how much do you learn from a guy like Rick?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think as long as you're willing to learn that having him there is invaluable. I always tried to learn a little bit more, and I guess some drivers get into the mode where when they had their accomplishments that they wouldn't want to listen. I do my best to always try and learn something every time I am at the racetrack. I think that's how you are judged is where you are at in your racing career. As long as you are still learning, that's the main thing. I think that I can learn a lot. I don't want to ever be looked at like this is the guy that won't shut up and quit asking me questions. But I think that if I get to a point where I am not quite comfortable with my line, or, you know, especially when you get to Indy, I know that there's a lot of things I can do. I hope that I am always smart enough to take his advice throughout the years.
Q: I know your focus has always been on the 500, to win it, but in watching you over the years you have been racing, you had the ability to focus on each race. How do you do that?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think that every race that I go to is kind of like, you know, no matter what happened last weekend, it's always about this is a new race, this is a new opportunity to win. Put some points on the board and be able to look at that end of season. A lot of people will ask me: ‛What is your favorite racetrack.' I love all the tracks. I think that because of the different challenges -- all the way from Richmond to Indianapolis and everywhere we go in between -- you have a little bit of different things that you can learn. Richmond had quite a few bumps coming off of Turn 2 and you had to be pretty calm going across those bumps because you can get the back end out. So there are so many things you can learn from each track. I think I am never opposed to learning new things. I think that that's probably why I think that I have had the success that I have had is because I just like all the tracks that we go to and never wish we would get this weekend over. You know, I go out there and think how do I make myself better and, if we're not quite there, how do we get there.
Q: You were talking about learning and how you try to learn things at every race. How much was the first half of last season a learning experience for you going in with an underpowered car and trying to compete with some of the other cars?
SAM HORNISH JR: It was a real learning experience. We hadn't been in that situation for a long time. We had two really good years at Panther Racing where, I think, we were competitive for top 3 at every race that we went to. So how do you go to the first couple of races and try to figure out: How are we going to get where we need to be? This is not where we have been in the past and how do you keep yourself from getting discouraged? But the team really pulled together. We knew what we had to do. We knew we had to have competitive race cars. Even though we couldn't get there with horsepower, we knew we had to have the car handling well. We had some pretty good races towards the beginning of the year. That really helped us out. We really focused on the set-up of the car. I think that that helped a lot toward the end of the year once we got the horsepower that we needed. We learned quite a few things with the other three cars that really helped us be able to win the races that we did towards the end of the year. I wish we would have gotten the new engine a little sooner, I mean, I just had to be really smooth. Sometimes, like at Indianapolis, I had to take some chances that I might not have normally, that I had to make sure that I was calculated. One of the biggest things that we have with the IndyCar is -- the way they are set up right now, especially with the 3.5 liter that we had -- you had to keep the momentum of the car up. You cannot ever let off. If you do, you can't hit the breaks. It is always about trying to make your move, setting things up. You know, five, six or more laps down the road, you are getting yourself into a position where, OK, this guy might get caught up in a little bit in traffic so how do I position myself far enough behind him so that if he gets caught up that I can get a run out of him and get by him and the traffic and not worry about it. And I think that that helped us out a lot toward the end of the year. It was really tough. We had our work cut out for us, and I was just really proud that none of the guys, you know, gave up. We just kept working hard at it. And to get a top 5. If you would have told us that after the first race that we would have been, yeah, great, we're glad with that. But to be able to go into that last race and have a chance to win, that was another thing. Then it is like we should have won it. On one end, I was real happy and on the other hand it wasn't quite good enough.
Q: Do you think that experience, though, will help you in the future? Did that make you a better driver for now and years to come?
SAM HORNISH JR: I think so. I think I learned a little bit more patience because sometimes you really have to work on it. Sometimes when you don't have quite enough horsepower you have to, like I said, make sure you make your moves at the right time. Because if you don't get it done, you are going to have to hit the breaks and you are going to lose position to the car behind you. So it's really one of those things where you got to keep that momentum up. I think when you add that more horsepower, that helps out. Whether or not it's going to help me or not this year, I don't know. But like I said, I got to keep trying to make myself better. And if I do that, then I can always be happy with what I am doing even if I am not having the results that I want.
Q: Rick Mears has always been good at qualifying. Do you think he can help you any, get that pole position?
SAM HORNISH JR: If there is anything that I have always not been very good at, that has been qualifying. The thing that I think Rick did the best was saving his car and saving everything to win the Indianapolis 500, because he always knew how to be there right there at the end. And I think that, but for a couple of problems, I think that he would have had five, six or seven Indy 500 wins. But he won, I guess, three out of his four from the pole, so that's pretty impressive in itself. I think that there is definitely a lot to be learned. I just want to be able to do that, but also on the other hand, not be annoying, keep asking questions that maybe I shouldn't be asking.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference.
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season opens with the Toyota Indy 300 on Feb. 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN.