Continued from part 1 SULLIVAN: Looks like we've got Bruce. Q: Scott, how tough was it the last two years being the former champion but because of the circumstances with the engine situation knowing that your shot at a title was going to...
Continued from part 1
SULLIVAN: Looks like we've got Bruce.
Q: Scott, how tough was it the last two years being the former champion but because of the circumstances with the engine situation knowing that your shot at a title was going to be very difficult? Now you're pretty much on equal footing, and you've proven it the first two races what you can do. Talk a little bit about that mindset, if you could.
DIXON: I think when you're in that situation, obviously it hit pretty hard. Like the first year we were not doing too bad until the 3-liter engine came. The first three races, I think, we were still competitive. But coming off such a high or such a low, all you keep thinking is the next race ahead, just hoping that it's going to change. Being in a team like Chip Ganassi Racing, I think you have faith that it's going to change at some stage. Hopefully you stick around long enough to see the change, but you know it's going to come. So I think it's just been the whole time waiting for it to come. And the feeling, I think, in this offseason for a lot of people in this team was, you know, there was a lot of smiles. Even at the Christmas party and things like that, you could see a lot of people's attitudes changing. I think we just finally knew that it was going to be another good year. But yeah, there's no doubt that those years were pretty hard, but I think you learn a lot out of such down times like that.
Q: This is for Dan. Dan, coming from a mega-team, multiple drivers last year and the camaraderie that you all seem to have coming to a two-car team this year; number one, how is that different? Number two, do you look forward to racing your old boss in the Indy 500.
WHELDON: I look forward to proving a point to him. (Laughter)
You know, it was definitely unusual. There was four very competitive guys in the same team. What was even more unusual is throughout the three years, I think there was never a big dispute. So I think that was certainly orchestrated right and, you know, I think everything that we did, we knew having four guys, and four people that trusted one another with a team that we had, we could benefit over everybody else with the testing restrictions. So we knew that if we got on and worked hard, we could really make the job easier for ourselves. And at the same time, I mean it does have its pros and cons, because as people that just want the best. Unfortunately, there were some things that we wanted but we had to wait because four lots of suspension had to be built, for example.
But, I think, certainly in a team in a situation like this, and knowing how hungry Chip and Mike are to put this team back into Victory Circle consistently, I think two is the perfect number right now. I think, perhaps, when you start to build momentum you can add to that, that's my personal opinion.
I think right now we need to focus on the job at hand and make sure that we're producing two quick cars. And for Scott and I, I have known Scott for a while, and we get on well. But I think there's a lot of respect between the two of us but we both -- you know, we both want to win. I have no doubt that we'll race each other very hard. Last year Kanaan and I, we raced -- we touched occasionally. But that's the job. At the same time you've got to remember on these superspeedways that you need to work together to benefit not just yourselves but the team. I think there was a great example of that at Homestead with Sam Hornish and Castroneves. It was difficult to attack them to start with because they were running so close.
But there's one definite thing we have in common, and that's we both want to win desperately. I think when you have that, I mean, it's nothing but good for the team.
SULLIVAN: Other questions?
Q: Both drivers. This year with everybody having the same engine, will that make it more imperative to qualify well on the first day, on Pole Day this year?
WHELDON: The Indianapolis 500, I think, everybody wants to qualify on the front for that one, but at the same time it's not the be all and end all. You've got to keep the big picture in mind. Well, I think, you know, I think you're going to see four or five cars at the front pretty much like last year that you can count as genuine contenders. I think the thing that most impresses me about this team is they work on every little detail. Even if you have everybody on the same engine, if everybody's not doing that, things aren't going to be equal. I think that's one reason why I came to Target Chip Ganassi Racing because they are so dedicated to doing those little things that make even a bigger difference when everybody's using the same power.
But I will say, I mean, I've been part of Honda for a long time and enjoy my relationship with them, but the engines definitely aren't the same as what we had last year, that's for sure. It does make it harder to pass in certain circumstances.
DIXON: I think you covered most of it there. You know, as Dan said about the qualifying, I think everybody wants to be on the front row. The pole means so much, and there's a lot of history behind it and things like that. But as he also said, it doesn't mean you're not going to win or do well. I think as many people have proved in years previous that you can win from just about anywhere. So I don't know, I think our team is going to be extremely strong there, and we've been working pretty hard on Indy stuff already, so it's going to be a good year, I think.
Q: Mike, Tim Cindric brought up an interesting thing how their team used to have all the qualifying engines and everything, they would be working on them and they would be flying them in from Reading and everything, and that's all going to change now. What part of the cars and what part of the strategy can the team really work on leading into pole qualifying that can be of benefit?
HULL: That will be in the book, Bruce. (Laughter) Next question?
Q: You're limited.
HULL: I think the drivers have pointed out, Dan eloquently said it. We work just like Penske is going to work. You know what? I don't care what Tim says, there's a locality of smoke there. Those guys are going to work really, really hard to do what they've always done. Remember what happened last year in qualifying? Who would have ever thought somebody would have withdrawn a car on the front row? Qualifying does mean a lot, and the race means even more. But what qualifying means -- in fact, I don't want to belabor this. This morning I challenged some people in the building to think about what we were doing for Indianapolis, and some of them kind of took me to task after the meeting by saying, "Mike, you're thinking about the wrong thing; you're thinking about being fast at Indy the first week instead of being able to race on Memorial Day." And I said, "No, it's important to go every day to the racetrack with the mindset that you're going to understand on that given day how to be the fastest car." That's what Tim Cindric is working with his guys on and that's, Bruce, how we work in this building. It's the same mindset. We're working hard with the resource we have to be equal to anybody out there and then see what happens with these two guys on Race Day.
Q: Two-part question. First part for Scott and the second part for Dan. Scott, obviously now with everyone having the Honda engine and all being equal, how much will you rely on Dan's expertise with having that he's already been indoctrinated into the Honda speed and power compared to what you had last year?
Then, Champ, if you could, please, you said that in recent interviews you've been saying you felt like it was very important to go to another team and maintain a level of performance and that would be the proof in the pudding that you were an absolute excellent driver no matter what ride you were given. If you could, please, kind of tell us what your goals to try to repeat at Indy, what you'll see as stepped goals or stages of performance improvement.
DIXON: I think so far for myself, I've worked pretty close with Dan and his engineer because of the package that he's been running for the last three years is definitely different from what I've been used to. As far as the engine goes, it's pretty straightforward. It's just got more power and a lot nicer to drive. With the car, that's still a lot more stuff to work with. I think Dan sort of, you know, touched on that with the G Force at road courses, it does take a little bit of time to get used to the car, and with limited testing it makes it more harder. But it's been pretty interesting learning different things about the Dallara, and I think for myself it's a benefit to work close with them, and they've got pretty good insight on stuff and obviously they know what works at these tracks.
WHELDON: I think for me, personally, the thing that always helps everybody at Indianapolis is experience. You can learn, you know, a lot from that. I think certainly the last couple of years I've gone there with a genuine chance of being able to win, and for me personally, you don't always get that. So having put so much pressure on myself, because you don't know what happens in motor racing, to be able to say that I've made the most of the package that I've got, I think takes a little bit of pressure or a different kind of pressure off me. But there's the added pressure of, like you say, coming to a new team and wanting to prove that you can win for them and win one of the biggest races. I think that would be very, very sweet to do that.
But, you know, Indianapolis is so hard. I mean everything has to go right. You've got to be -- it's very easy as a driver to get sucked into qualifying and just focus solely on that in that first week. But just from experience, you know that you've got to work on the race car because, I mean, I qualified 16th, and I've never worked harder on a race car, but I had to. I think that experience of knowing -- perhaps I wouldn't have done that if I had qualified on the front row. That experience really, really does benefit you. But, you know, it's good to be at this team. I'm certainly enjoying myself here a lot. You know, there's still hard work to be done.
You know what's funny, I'll just tell you a quick story. To my right you've got the ice man, and anybody that knows Mike Hull, he's very, very even-keeled and level; you've got me renowned for being feisty and Chip on the stand together, it makes for a great combination and certainly some exciting times.
I think not just speaking from Target Chip Ganassi Racing but for everybody that's going to go to the Indianapolis 500 this year, you're going to be in for a fantastic race. The Hondas obviously leveled the playing field for engine performance and, you know, it's down to the drivers and the engineers and the teams to get the best out of everything they have. I mean, there really isn't any excuses. You've got to work real hard. And I think that's what I'm looking forward to.
SULLIVAN: Last question.
Q: Have the two of you at this point pretty much put Formula One out of your mind? Both of you were interested in it. Are you reaching the grand old age now?
GANASSI: I hope they don't put Formula One out of their mind, as far as I'm concerned. I don't want -- I want people always to want to -- I want people to realize their dreams. If those are their dreams, I want them to realize them.
Q: So you just want to keep losing drivers to Williams? (Laughter)
GANASSI: It's seemed to have worked so far, hasn't it? (Laughter)
DIXON: I personally, you know, I think it's always been a dream or, you know, growing up in New Zealand, that's mainly what I watched, and it's probably similar for Dan growing up in Europe. I don't know; it's still a dream. It's very difficult, as many people know. At this stage it's not something I'm pushing toward because I'm happy doing what I'm doing and concentrating on what I'm doing. Down the road, I don't know. We'll see.
WHELDON: You know, I think right now all I'm interested in is being able to continue winning races and, like I say, proving a point. And then I think you never know what lies ahead of you in the future. So we just have to wait and see.
SULLIVAN: Gentlemen, thank you very much. You have, indeed, proved a point thus far in the 2006 season. I know you all feel there's a great deal of work to do. I know the boss is thinking about having a couple of these little trophies sitting around, and I think the team is there to do it.
Again, here is the situation: We'll have one-on-ones with the drivers, three tour groups with Grant, Matt and Scott. So there's plenty of time to take the tour, come back and have some one-on-one time with the drivers.
Chip, thank you for all your hospitality, and good luck. (Applause)