IRL: Indy 500: Chitwood, Barnhart Media Tour, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q</I>: Brian, last year, this race drew a lot of attention from sort of non-traditional media, the Danica factor. What have you learned in the last year that maybe will help you carry that over, and also what have...

Continued from part 1

Q</I>: Brian, last year, this race drew a lot of attention from sort of non-traditional media, the Danica factor. What have you learned in the last year that maybe will help you carry that over, and also what have you learned that maybe try to keep the interest, you know, in the other 32 competitors?

BARNHART: Well, it was interesting, we've been criticized obviously with, from Indy on last year with us pushing Danica and pushing Danica. That's certainly not what the league did regardless of what anybody may think. We had to respond, and I think John Griffin, our vice president of public relations, can answer this even better than I can: We simply responded to the demand of the media and the fans and the promoters.

After Indy last year, Danica is the person everyone wanted. And we certainly were doing our best to push the other competitors in our series and make sure everybody understood that there's a heck of a lot more to the IndyCar Series than just Danica. She did a tremendous job of raising the awareness of what we feel is the most competitive racing environment in the world. And the best thing that I think she did was attract people to watch what we think our people do better than any other series out there. And I think that was borne out by a couple of races where she fell out at Milwaukee and Infineon and doing minute-to-minute surveys of the TV ratings, we didn't lose viewers when she fell out of the race, she attracted people to watch what we do. As Bob mentioned, watching the Homestead race, the good thing is I think once she attracted those people to what we do, they became fans because of the quality product all of our teams and drivers put on the racetrack.

Q</I>: Does that carry over to this year? Do you expect the same -- obviously the newness was there last year. Are you going to be able to continue to attract people that have never seen you before because of what she's done?

BARNHART: I think we will because she's still -- there's still going to be a lot of focus on her, and the pressure is going to keep mounting for her to win her first race, which is a difficult challenge in a rookie proposition, and I think there's numbers out there that say guy's average winning their first race in about their 32nd or 33rd start, so she's just getting there now. She's with an outstanding race team at Rahal Letterman. She finished sixth this past weekend at St. Petersburg. I think she's moving into a couple of races where she had her best finishes last year. She was fourth at both Indianapolis and the Twin Ring Motegi event. I think she's got a good history at both upcoming tracks. She'll be strong here again in May this year. They have a great setup. Rahal Letterman is a 2004 winner with Buddy Rice, came back last year with Danica being fast all month long and contending for the win, finishing second with Vitor Meira. She's going to be a really competitive driver.

The one thing that's in our favor with the league standpoint, with the quality of the engines now, we've just made the whole field more competitive. As you've seen by the first two races this year with the Target Chip Ganassi race team back in the mix and with Marlboro Team Penske back in the mix, it's going to be even more competitive than what we've seen in the past, which will make her challenge more difficult for winning races. But she's certainly capable of doing so, and I would expect her to contend for a win if not win a race sometime during this year.

JENKINS: Bobby Rahal, Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice are next on the agenda here at 12:30. In order to keep things going and stay on schedule, we'll have four more questions for Brian and Joie.

Yes, right here. Go ahead.

Q</I>: Brian, I understand Honda has reduced their cost of their engine lease for the month of May. What is that number and maybe you could give a ballpark figure of what it would cost, say, an independent team like PDM or Sam Schmidt to come in for the month of May with equipment from another team with the engine lease, that type of thing.

BARNHART: Honda has done a great job of making the accessibility of equipment, first of all, be the same technical specifications. But the reduction in price that you mention is nearly a 50-percent reduction from what we've seen the last two or three years when we had a competitive engine environment. For a team to start running on Opening Day and run the entire month of May, an engine lease from Honda is $250,000. And they can start the second week of practice and run Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday of the second week, qualify the second weekend, run Carb Day and Race Day for 115,000, 1-1-5. So those are significant reductions in price, which we think will go to Steve's earlier question, car count. That's what helps make that an easier hurdle to overcome. When you can get the prices down and guarantee the equal accessibility of performance of an engine, I think we're going to have definitely a lot of people come out and make it available. In terms of your overall budget because the cars are the same cars we have been running, there's no update kits this year, there's no additional cost to that, it plays into what you're talking about, you're looking at tires, engine, fuel, chassis and paying your crew to work on it plus the driver. So you're probably looking at a budget to run the month of May if you want to start on Opening Day, if you already have the race car, probably in the neighborhood of five- to $600,000, which is a considerable reduction we've seen the last couple of months. When you take into consideration your prize money for making the race is 200,000 at a minimum, it's definitely achievable.

Q</I>: Brian, since racing is such a fan-driven sport and NASCAR has, with their green-white-checkered finishes, the fans have really adopted to that. It was kind of a disappointment to see that race last week end under yellow. Have you guys thought about adopting no-yellow finish or at least attempting to finish under the green once before the race would end under caution?

BARNHART: We have thought about it. We've got a lot of different challenges than NASCAR does in terms of being able to do it. This will take me a while to answer that because of that, but first of all, our cars are a different performing engine and certainly different characteristics with regards to fuel mileage. We only get 1.8 miles to the gallon. We don't have on-board starters. So it's not like we can park them in Turn 4 and do a quick red flag and do that.

We also have some significant challenges in terms of television windows because, as an example, and I always look at any rule we make from an organizing body standpoint, to the Indianapolis 500. It is above and beyond anything else out there. So any rule you make at additional events, you better make sure it applies here and doesn't impugn the integrity of this event.

As an example, you can go back and say, you know, you've got a situation, say, OK, guys, we're going to give you one chance at a green-white checker finish, make sure you have enough fuel in the car to do that. How much fuel is that? Especially getting only 1.8 miles to the gallon, that's hard to do. Let's say we have a three- or four-car crash on Lap 198 at the Indianapolis 500, and it takes six or seven laps to clean that up. All of a sudden you're at Lap 205 and you do a green-white checker finish, you're at Lap 207 or Lap 208. You've now run eight extra laps around a two-and-a-half-mile track; you would have to tell that guy you have to have 11 or 12 extra gallons in your car. That's a third of a fuel tank. That's not practical to do. So those are just some of the challenges we face.

So if you do that, OK, let's open the pits and let them all come down pit road and top off fuel. Then the order they're running on the racetrack is not the same order they're running, that their pits would be in, so you would have guys shuffling around and put them back in the same order. If you stop them, like I say, we don't have starters, you'd have to stop them somewhere, push the cars together, make sure the order is good, bring starters out. You start getting into TV windows, especially outside of Indianapolis. There are a lot of significant hurdles that we have to overcome that are a lot different than what NASCAR does.

I would love to see every race finish with a green-flag finish from a fan standpoint. It's not practical due to the circumstances we face. It's a challenge; we'll continue to look at it. If we can improve it for the drivers and the fans and the competition, we certainly will. Those are just some of the hurdles we have to overcome.

I guess going back, I think Sunday, yes, Sunday was our 122nd or 123rd race for the IRL. We've had less than 10 percent of them finish under caution. So I'm not saying it's a non-issue, but when more than 90 percent do provide that green-flag finish, with those hurdles that we face, it is a difficult proposition. Sorry that took so long.

JENKINS: Two more. Who's next? No one? OK.

Q</I>: Brian, we've had confirmed discussion between Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven going on right now, I wonder about your feelings on that and if it's a distraction again to have it come up this time of year. Just kind of all of what this might entail.

BARNHART: Well, it's kind of an annual ritual at this time of year that it does come up. I don't think that's avoidable, and it's understandable from my standpoint. With regards to the discussions, those discussions, Tony acknowledged that they have been taking place and they have been taking place between Tony and Kevin. So I don't have a whole lot of comment on them. Tony has charged me with running the series, especially since our season has begun, I am focused a hundred percent on doing what's our business and what's in our best interest as we move forward with the 2006 IndyCar Series, as we approach Motegi and the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500, I don't think Tony or anybody would dispute, in fact I think Tony has said a single series is in everyone's best interest. It's the devil in the details of making that happen. If it can, we would love to be moving in that direction, the sooner the better. But at this point in time those are for discussions for Tony and Kevin to have.

JENKINS: And Kevin Lee has the final question.

Q</I>: Brian, what are the chances of having an IRL race in the States last weekend of April or something like that to help build momentum for May at Indy?

BARNHART: Again, we would like to do that. There's always a number of factors that are included in that, not the least of which our upcoming event is the Twin Ring Motegi event in Japan, which is very important to Honda, one of our biggest partners. The timing of that date and that event is something we've always had to work around. I would love to do something late April, first of May and try and build some more momentum leading into. You start looking at where we can do that, it's not easy in the States to find warm-weather spring markets that we can get into. You start looking at conflicts, your spring dates now are all occupied, all the race tracks are occupied with NASCAR events there, and it's difficult to come in a couple three weeks. They've now got a second date in Phoenix, which is in April. They run in Vegas, they run in Texas, they run in Fontana. It's difficult for us. I think we've got a good start with the Homestead and the St. Pete races, but it's difficult to find warm-weather markets that are available without overlapping or having other competition. But if it can be done, we would love to add more events to the spring part of our schedule. We've made a commitment to finish our season before the NFL gets going on television, which we think is better from a fan and continuity and story-telling standpoint. I think we really need to focus improving our events in February, March and April and adding more to the springtime kicking off the season.

JENKINS: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your questions. Brian and Joie will be available for one-on-ones when we get the next part of our media day, which is the Rahal Letterman team and its participants. That's coming up in about 15 minutes. Thank you.

-ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Sam Schmidt , Buddy Rice , Chip Ganassi , Kevin Kalkhoven , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams HART