MOTEGI, Japan, Thursday, April 3, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCarTM Series drivers about the Indy Japan 300 on Sunday, April 13 at Twin Ring Motegi. The event starts April 11 with practice, followed by MBNA Pole Qualifying on April 12 ...
MOTEGI, Japan, Thursday, April 3, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCarTM Series drivers about the Indy Japan 300 on Sunday, April 13 at Twin Ring Motegi. The event starts April 11 with practice, followed by MBNA Pole Qualifying on April 12 (quotes listed in alphabetical order):
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, 2000 Motegi CART winner): "It would be great to be the driver to give Honda its first win on their home track. I'm looking forward to going back to Japan. Motegi is a great facility, and the Japanese are extremely knowledgeable about their racing. I think Andretti Green Racing and particularly Team 7-Eleven are carrying a lot of momentum into this race, coming off the win at Phoenix and all. It's been a great start to the season for us, and we're very proud of the work we've done so far. I think everyone should be commended for all that they've done to put us at the top of the standings. Now we've got to do the work to stay there."
ALEX BARRON (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "First, I want to thank the guys at Marlboro Team Penske for all of their hard work and extra hours to get everything ready for me to run the No. 6 car in Motegi. International events take a lot of preparation, and doing everything for a different driver just adds to the workload. I'm really looking forward to running a competitive car at Twin Ring Motegi. The track is challenging because of the elevation change from one end to the other. We go 'downhill' on the front straight and 'uphill' on the backstraight. The Japanese fans are very passionate about racing and should really enjoy watching the IndyCar Series cars. It is an honor to represent the team, run Gil's (de Ferran) car and drive for Roger (Penske) again, though these are certainly difficult circumstances. I wish Gil all the best for a speedy recovery."
KENNY BRACK (No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone, 1998 IndyCar Series champion, 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner, 2001 Motegi CART winner): "The Twin Ring Motegi track has a special place in my heart. It was the site of my first win with Team Rahal back in 2001. That race really got us on a roll that year. We went on to win the next race in Milwaukee, too. That place is fast, very fast. It's a great tribute to Honda as Motegi is one of the finest racing facilities in the world. It has a great oval, a super road course, a world-class karting track, a dirt oval, and the auto museum is spectacular. I can see why the Japanese racing fans are so proud of the complex. Motegi has two different corners. Turns 1 and 2 are really one big fast corner with banking. Turns 3 and 4 are less banked and a little tricky. Overall, the surface is so smooth and fast. I think the IndyCar Series cars will be great for the fans to see. We can run pretty close, and the racing should be tremendous. Needless to say, I would like to be the first Honda driver to win at Motegi but it won't be easy. With the IndyCar Series competition, the race should be pretty wild."
ROBBIE BUHL (No. 24 Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "The race organizers, as well as the people of Japan, have already been extremely hospitable to our colleagues who've visited the Motegi facility. As drivers, we're looking forward to a new venue, a new audience and a new opportunity to showcase our kind of racing. Bridgestone/Firestone has been extremely supportive of our series and consistently given us outstanding tires that let us push our cars to their limits. In Motegi, we have an international event with diverse participants from around the world proving that competition can bring us together despite other worldly activities. We're also going to try to get over to one of the U.S. military bases while we're there to offer our support to the troops."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 2001 and 2002 Indianapolis 500 winner): "I'm definitely looking forward to racing at Motegi again. I've had the opportunity to race there four times with the CART series and finished on the podium my last time there (second in 2001). However, this year will be a totally new experience for Marlboro Team Penske, as we will be racing with IndyCar Series equipment. We've got two top-three finishes in the first two races (third in Homestead and second in Phoenix) so hopefully we will continue the trend and bring home a strong finish in Japan. The Japanese fans there are so supportive and enthusiastic about racing, which is always very nice for the drivers. I always have a lot of fun in Japan, and I'm looking forward to doing a little sightseeing while I'm there."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "Twin Ring Motegi is a neat track to race on. I've been there for the last two races and had two top-10 finishes. It's very fast and allows for side-by-side racing. Our first two races have shown that we can be competitive for the championship this year. The hard work that Team Target has done in the offseason is paying off for us. We've had the fastest race car in the last two events, and that gives all of us a lot of confidence that we can win any race this year."
SARAH FISHER (No. 23 Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Drivers who have competed at Motegi before will have an advantage over the rest of us, at least during the first practice session, as we will still be learning the new track. Even though I traveled to Motegi last fall to drive the IRL two-seater car, that won't really help me out as the two-seater handles totally differently than our actual race cars. The Japanese fans were so enthusiastic when we were there in the fall; it will be interesting to see their reactions when they witness our exciting side-by-side racing. The Motegi track has put a lot of work into us coming here, especially with the resurfacing of the track, which should make for a very smooth surface for us to drive on."
A.J. FOYT IV (No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "I'm looking forward to racing over Japan. When I was in Dallas for the Winston Cup race last weekend, I talked to a couple of drivers who have raced there (P.J. Jones and Robby Gordon) about the track. They said that Turns 1 and 2 is a big sweeper that you can take flat but you have to downshift going through Turns 3 and 4 because they are so much tighter. They compared it to Gateway International Raceway. It should be pretty challenging."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I wouldn't say there is additional pressure on me at Motegi because it is Honda's home track. I want to win every race that I enter. Would I like to win this one for Honda? Of course I would. Honda has been a great partner to Andretti Green Racing and to me over the past number of years. I think that the Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola team is excited to go back to Japan. We've always enjoyed the track, the Honda museum. It's all very exciting and interesting at Motegi. I've been going to the Twin Ring facility since the first test there in 1997, and the Japanese fans are fantastic. I think everyone who is attending the race for the first time will be really amazed by the whole thing."
FELIPE GIAFFONE (No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year): "I'm very anxious to race in Japan. I've been looking forward to this race since I first saw that is was going to be on the schedule for 2003. The last time I was in Japan, I was 17 years old and was there for a kart race at Suzuka. I'm very excited to go back. Race-wise, I really don't know what to expect at Twin Ring Motegi. I'm pretty sure we'll be in good shape, though. I'm going to listen closely to my engineer (Iain Watt) and my teammate (Tora Takagi) because they both have a lot of experience on that track, even though it's a different car and engine package than they've ever run there before. The CART cars and the IRL cars are totally different. When I was in Japan 10 years ago, I had a lot of fun. It's a great place. I like Japanese food, so that won't be a shock to me. It will be good, as well, to be able to hang around with Tora because he's going to get a lot of attention. So I'll be like the road crew hanging out with the rock star, which will be exciting! Tora has raced on that track, so he's going to be a big help. The track seems to be a bigger version of what we race on at St. Louis but with a much different wing configuration. So I'm not sure how it's going to feel when I'm in the car. When I'm not in the car, though, I know it's going to feel great to be over there. The fans, from what I hear, are crazy about Indy-style racing."
SHIGEAKI HATTORI (No. 5 EPSON/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, Japanese native): "I am really looking forward to racing in Japan for a lot of reasons. The last time I raced there it was huge, there were so many fans and sponsors. It was really great. I don't think I will feel more pressure (racing in Japan) because I always try my best. I think I will be more relaxed because of the support of my family and friends, and it will be more fun for me. It will definitely be more exciting racing there for the first time in the EPSON IndyCar Series car."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, series points leader): "I'm still feeling very good about the win at Phoenix, and I hope that we can repeat it for Team 7-Eleven in Japan. I really like the Motegi facility; it's such an amazing place to race. I'm so happy with the way this season is starting, I know that it's much too early to start thinking about championships, but I feel like I am so well supported by everyone at Andretti Green Racing. It's been a great experience so far, and the best way I can think of to thank Michael (Andretti) and everyone at the team for the chance to race with them is to win more races. That's what I'm focused on right now."
JAQUES LAZIER (No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I have never been to Japan, but I am looking forward to the trip. I have heard tremendous things about Japan and its culture. I am just as excited to go racing. We are coming off a strong run for Team Menard at Phoenix with a sixth-place finish, and we need to continue to build on that momentum. The Johns Manville/Team Menard crew is working diligently to maximize our Dallara/Chevy/Firestone car, and we seem to have found some horsepower for Motegi. From what I have heard, the Motegi circuit is a first-class facility. It should be smooth and fast, and very competitive racing. There are some teams in the IRL IndyCar Series that have raced at Motegi before, and they may have a slight advantage. However, these teams are new to the IndyCar Series this year, so with all things said and done, it should equal out on race day."
GREG RAY (No. 13 Trim Spa Special Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "We very excited to begin racing. I'm disappointed to have missed the first two rounds, but we've overcome our fair share of issues. I'm very excited about the people on our team as well as the Panoz G Force/Honda package that we will be racing. It may take a race or two, or it may take 10, for everything to come together. The IndyCar Series is so competitive. When you look at the teams and the sponsors involved, it's true what Brian Barnhart has said in that the car count may be a little down, but the competitive waters are very deep. Every single person on Access Motorsports team has won either an Indianapolis 500 victory or an IndyCar Series championship team. Any one on the team could work for anyone else. We have no real neophytes on this team; we have all known each other and have great internal chemistry. When things aren't going your way, it's nice to know that everyone is focused on the same goal. We're small and young, but we have a very David vs. Goliath mindset. We want to come in, make no mistakes and take it one day at a time."
BUDDY RICE (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I am extremely excited about going to Japan. It's one part of the world that I haven't traveled to yet. It's definitely a place I want to check out. There is a lot of excitement for this race since it is the first time the IndyCar Series has raced there. The Japanese are huge racing fans, so I can only imagine how exciting it will be for them to see the same cars that race at the Indy 500 racing in their own country. It will be fun to be a part of that historic event. The race will be a good tune up for the Indianapolis 500. We made big gains from Homestead to Phoenix so I hope we can improve again at Motegi. We ran solidly in the top 10 at Phoenix, so I would like to see us shooting for the top five in Japan. It will be tough, but the Red Bull Cheever Racing team and the guys at Chevrolet are making progress every day."
SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion): "I'm very excited for the Indy Japan 300 in Motegi for a number of reasons. First, I've never been to Japan, and second, there are a number of very important corporations with a big presence in Japan that are heavily involved with our team. Delphi, our primary partner, has large operations in Japan, and Futaba is also a Japanese company with its headquarters in Japan. So we are going to have a very busy week visiting several facilities and meeting many new people who are partners in our race program. There will also be a very large presence at the track from both of these companies, so I think everyone on the Delphi team will feel some added pressure to do well at the Motegi race. Obviously, Toyota and Firestone are Japanese companies, so we are looking forward to meeting several of their executives and showing our appreciation for their support. Finally, I'm very excited to drive on the Motegi track. I've heard from other drivers that have raced in Japan that it is a fabulous facility. It looks like the type of track where our Dallara/Toyota/Firestone should run very well. It certainly doesn't hurt that I also like sushi."
TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "This will be my first trip to the track in Japan, and I'm excited about it. We tested last week in Las Vegas in preparation for Motegi, and it went quite well. It's going to be a fun trip, and hopefully we can get Toyota back into victory lane."
TORA TAKAGI (No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, Japanese native): "It is important for every race car driver to have a 'home' race. In my case, especially since I race abroad, I need a race in Japan for both my fans and my sponsors Toyota, Pioneer, Denso and Togo. I am lucky to have a race in Japan, thanks to the IRL. Because of the influence of Major League Baseball, where there are more and more Japanese guys playing, Japanese sports fans are getting more and more interested in the sports leagues in the U.S., which is good. It is a just a coincidence that Ichiro (Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners) and (Hideki) Matsui (of the New York Yankees) are the same age as me (29). I am not sure if Japanese athletes my age tend to challenge and try hard to make it in the U.S. or not, but it's a fun thing to think about. I know Major League Baseball is a big, big thing, but do not forget me! Even though I could not get great results in our first two races in March, I am confident that my team is really strong, and I am sure the guys will give me a good car again at Motegi. I just need some luck that I was probably lacking at Homestead and Phoenix. Hopefully, the atmosphere of this Japanese round of the IndyCar Series will be something that puts me over the top."
AL UNSER JR. (No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "I've enjoyed racing at Twin Ring Motegi. I have had a little bit of success over there in the CART series, and I think it will be a great race with the IndyCar Series because they are built to run that type of oval track. Twin Ring Motegi is a beautiful facility, and I think you will see the cars running two abreast, so it should be an exciting race for everybody involved. There's a little more banking at Motegi than a lot of the tracks we run, although it is a little bit like Phoenix International Raceway in the fact it's tight on one end and a little wider through the corners on the other end. I think there will be a couple of grooves through Turns 1 and 2, and then it will get much tighter through Turns 3 and 4. The competition in the IndyCar Series is so deep that I don't think that running at Motegi in the past will necessarily be a big advantage. I'm really looking forward to going back to Japan to race."
ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone, Japanese-American): (About recovery from crash in Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23 at Phoenix): "I am obviously feeling much better since the crash. I need to get a check-up before the race by Dr. (Henry) Bock (IRL director of medical services), but I am confident everything will be perfectly fine by then, and I have been preparing myself physically for the race. This will be my first time to race in Japan, and I am really excited. My entire family will be there. For the whole team, this will probably be one of the biggest races for us, apart from the Indy 500, and also for Honda. We all want to win this race, and we have been working hard in setting up our program so we can be competitive at Motegi. If I do my job to bring the car home, I think we can finish up front."