THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today. To start the call we're very pleased to have IndyCar Series driver Jeff Simmons joining us. Good afternoon, Jeff.
JEFF SIMMONS: Tim, how are you?
THE MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Jeff is in his second season in the IndyCar Series, driving the No. 17 Team Ethanol car for Rahal Letterman Racing. His 2006 debut came at Motegi and his first career top-10 finish came at Kansas Speedway. This year he started the season with a 17th-place finish at Homestead and a 14th at St. Petersburg.
Q: Jeff, obviously the next couple weeks are going to be pretty busy. Let's talk a little bit about Motegi first. Last year was a bit of a hurried situation getting you into the car for the race without any testing. I'm sure the result wasn't exactly what you hoped for. I imagine you're hoping to go there this year and put out some much better results.
JEFF SIMMONS: Absolutely. Obviously we're looking to turn around the start to our season this year, which hasn't gotten off the way we wanted to. Certainly in the time that we had last year at Motegi, a lot of our practice time was rained out. But the time that we had, I enjoyed the track. I'm looking forward to getting back there, and hopefully, we'll of find a good setup and be able to be competitive.
Q: Then we come right out of Motegi and go to Kansas, which is really the first time we've done that, come back and had a back-to-back race. How do you think that transition will go with the time change, lengthy travel?
JEFF SIMMONS: That's going to be tough, I think. Not only for drivers and all that, but especially for the crews who are going to have to turn the cars around. They're really only going to have the car in their possession for maybe a day and a half in order to do that. We need to make sure we get out of Motegi with all four wheels on the car and in good shape so that that turnaround will be easier.
I mean, I have to be out there actually early for the Kansas race. I'm really only going to be home for one day, then back out on my way to Kansas. It's going to be tough. It will be tough trying to adjust to that time change I think as well.
THE MODERATOR: Is there anybody out there, obviously all of you drivers go through intense physical training programs, anybody that gives you any tips or really a program that will help you adjust with the jetlag or just do your own thing?
JEFF SIMMONS: It's pretty much do your own thing. Some guys certainly try to sleep on the plane so they end up more on a proper schedule, especially going over to Japan. For instance, I leave on Monday and get there on Tuesday. Kind of need to get your sleep on the plane while you're on your way. There's a lot of guys who kind of change their schedules while they're at home trying to prepare for that. They'll just be more in sync with that.
Q: Looking at Kansas, last year's race started a string of six top-10 finishes in the last seven races of the year for you. Obviously you'd like to get that stretch started at Motegi. Is there anything in particular about Kansas that really appeals to you and your driving style?
JEFF SIMMONS: Kansas certainly is similar to several other tracks we run on. Last year we had a decent setup and were able to get a solid finish out of it. Going back there, obviously it's also a very important race for Team Ethanol and for our sponsors. We'll be looking forward to hopefully coming off a good race in Japan and moving forward and continuing that in Kansas, which obviously leads into Indianapolis. You really want to have some good momentum for that. We need to make sure, like I said, that we help the guys out by not having any damage on the car because that just sets you back even further. With the way the schedule is, you just can't afford that.
Q: You mentioned Team Ethanol. Obviously you've been a very outspoken representative for the team and cause of ethanol. Another event kind of between Motegi and Kansas is Earth Day on April 22. Are you involved personally with any special events in Japan or back here in the U.S. involving earth day and the time around there?
JEFF SIMMONS: Not really. I'm kind of booked up on other ethanol promotion things. I'm sure they have some programs going for that. I'm not really specifically assigned to doing anything that day. I have some other things I'm doing. When we're talking about ethanol, obviously it plays a big part in our efforts to control global warming. That's certainly one of the main issues right now in terms of protecting our environment and protecting the earth.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned the month of May. Obviously, it gives teams and drivers more track time than at any other time during the season. What are your goals for the month as a team and personally as a driver? What would you like to carry out of May for the rest of the season?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, you never really want to go into a race not thinking that you don't have a chance to win. We're focused obviously on trying to improve our cars, and also personally, I'm focused on improving my performance on the track and in the races especially.
We want to go in there and make sure we have a solid race car. We'll probably focus on that much of that practice time. I'm not worried as much about the qualifying as some other guys might be. Hopefully, that will give us a car that's able to adapt to what you often end up with at Indy, really a dynamic sort of scenario in terms of weather or changes of the track, that sort of thing. You really need to have a car that's solid, that you can run hard and strong all day long.
Q: Rahal Letterman Racing as a whole was devastated at the beginning of last season. As the year went on, seemed they couldn't rebound from it. You being new to the team, give us a paradox of what went on of after you joined the team last year and this year. Is it a whole new ballgame? Do you have new outlooks? What's happening with you and the team as a whole?
JEFF SIMMONS: Certainly, even when I joined the team and went to Motegi last year, they were contemplating a change to the Dallara chassis. I think the team had pretty well maximized the Panoz chassis and their performance with that. In making that change, I think that was another added thing that everybody had to cope with and try to develop the car really during the race season.
In the offseason now, we've really focused on doing more work with it and trying to improve the performance. Obviously at the end of last year, we were getting consistent top 10s. We were really looking to get into consistent top fives this year. So far that hasn't happened.
I think a lot of people don't realize that St. Petersburg, for instance, that's the first time we've ever had the Dallara chassis on a street course. There's been teams that have been running this chassis for a long time. I think we're still playing some catch-up. We're learning more all the time. With the limited testing that you get and trying to perform as best as you can in the race, but also get as much information out of it at the same time is a difficult thing.
We do manage to do that. We're getting a lot of information. I think we're still a step behind right now.
Q: With Team Ethanol setting the pace with having a friendlier fuel, you make a lot of appearances for Team Ethanol. What are some of the questions people ask you most about it?
JEFF SIMMONS: I think the first question that we usually get is how it performs in our cars. That usually leads into talking about how it will work in their cars. A lot of people I think know about the environmental benefits, but really have heard some conflicting information in terms of how it would perform in their car. We're able to clear that up, which is great.
Obviously, our primary purpose is to show the performance aspects of ethanol. This year we're off to a great start. I think all of the drivers are extremely happy with the switch to ethanol this year. It's performed flawlessly. As we head into the month of May here pretty soon, I expect all of that attention to amplify. Those are the main questions we get, is how does it perform and how has the changed our cars. That's kind of a platform for talking more about the other benefits, environmental benefits, obviously reducing our dependence on foreign oil and securing our own energy future.
Q: What is it like around Rahal Letterman without Danica? Is it a lot quieter?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, from my standpoint, a lot of times with drivers, we're off doing our own separate things anyway in terms of whatever our responsibilities are. For the most part Danica had her own things she had to do. I had the ethanol stuff I had to do. Buddy had a lot of Argent things that he had to do last year.
From my standpoint, I'm still really busy. Certainly I guess when you walk out of the garage, last year there was a lot of people waiting around to see Danica. That's just a little bit further down the garage now. In that sense it's a little bit different. Really we're focused on what we're doing. We really don't pay much attention to it.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks again for taking the time to join us today. Good luck in the next stretch and throughout the rest of the season.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thanks.