IRL: Scott Sharp post-season press conference, part I

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Nov. 18, 2003 Scott Sharp Part 1 of 2 KENT JOHNSON: We again welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Nov. 18. Today we will visit with IRL IndyCar...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Nov. 18, 2003

Scott Sharp

Part 1 of 2

KENT JOHNSON: We again welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Nov. 18. Today we will visit with IRL IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp. Sharp, of course, was the 1996 IRL IndyCar Series co-champion, and he will return to Kelley Racing to drive the Delphi Dallara/Toyota/ Firestone in the 2004 IndyCar Series season. This past week, he became the first IndyCar Series driver to test at the reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway. Scott, good afternoon, thanks for joining us today.

SCOTT SHARP: Thanks for having me. How is everybody doing today?

K. JOHNSON: We're doing well in Indianapolis. Let's begin with your impressions of the newly configured track at PIR. Previously, that was a very unique layout with the sharp turn in (Turn) 2, then the dogleg on the backstretch. What can you tell us about what the configuration is now and what, from a driver standpoint, it's like to drive?

S. SHARP: I think, you know, the track really has kept its character. And a lot of the situations the teams and drivers have dealt with in the past are going to remain the same. The big thing, of course, is just what everyone's talked about, you know, the wall that used to be, you know, very tight at the exit of turn two has been moved out just about a car width, maybe a tick more than a car width. And they've also had that wall now be symmetrical all along the back straightaway. Used to be that wall would come an end, then there was an opening where you cross the track, and another wall would start, which was curved toward the outside. It always seemed a bit dangerous. I think continuing the wall all the way along the back straightaway, basically all the way around the track now, is much safer, and, certainly, I think will afford us the opportunity -- you always get side by side at Phoenix, whether it's sometimes a couple guys battling, I know Helio and Tony last year were up front side by side a little bit, as well as certainly when you're dealing with traffic. No doubt it gets tight in Turn 2. Obviously, there's been crashes because everyone's going for the same pavement down there. And, I think pulling that wall out is going to really help us be able to get through there easier and faster side by side.

K. JOHNSON: But, we still have the dogleg, and we still really have two distinct corners in (Turns) 1, 2, then Turns 3 and 4, correct?

S. SHARP: You're right, yeah. I think everyone is going to be pleased. They built a really nice tunnel right off of Turn 4 there. At least at this stage, the repaving job is almost unnoticeable, it's so smooth, over Turn 4. It's a small section. I think that's welcomed by everybody. Doesn't really change the track at all. One of the most interesting things, it feels like turn three and four are so much wider because the bridge, the old bridge, is now gone. So it gives the perception that, you know, they've maybe widened the track down there, but, in reality, nothing has been changed other than the slight paving job where the tunnel went. So, that end of the track is the same. John Dick, who is the engineer for the (Super Aguri) Fernandez (Racing) team, he was there. They were running a young Japanese driver (Kousuke Matsuura) who did quite well. We (John) talked a little bit. I don't really know -- we both didn't necessarily really think the track was going to be much faster. You know, you're real close to flat out in qualifying. Maybe the first couple cars last year were flat out. So in that vicinity, if you're now a little bit easier flat out, it's probably not going to be much faster for the guys that already were. Maybe you don't have to pinch the car quite as much at the exit of Turn 2, yet you're still driving into Turn 1 and through the middle of Turn 1 the same way. And that's always been, I think, the real toss-up at Phoenix, is having a car that can have the grip it needs, have the rotation in a comfortable manner that it needs down in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2, and yet still be, you know, comfortable wide open through the easier and gentler Turn 3 and 4, which on a more consistent basis is flat out. I think you're still going to be dealing with those two factors. It's going to make the racing a little bit better.

K. JOHNSON: I understand that your test at Phoenix was also your first opportunity to work with the new engineer on your Delphi crew.

S. SHARP: Yes. I'm real excited about the changes that (Kelley Racing owner) Tom (Kelley) made. He went out and I think really felt like he needed to try to get somebody that was very experienced, had had a fair amount of success in the past, and a lot of people said a lot of very good things about Andy Borme. It was the first time I'd ever had the chance to work with him. First time I ever met him was when he showed up at the racetrack last week in Phoenix. And we got on really well. For those who don't know, he's had a long IndyCar career. He's only 38. The most notoriety I think he's gotten certainly has been winning Indy two years in a row with Helio (Castroneves), a tremendous accomplishment, 2001, 2002. So, to get someone like that is a real coup for our team, certainly something we needed. And it was great for us just to get the chance to get out there. I think that's what Tom's original purpose of the test was for us, to get down there, have a chance to work with each other. Sort of different group of people that are sort of together right now on my car. Just give everybody the chance to sort of be in a comfortable, relaxed setting, get to know each other a little bit.

K. JOHNSON: Let's look back on your recently completed 2003 season. You won the IndyCar Series inaugural race at Motegi, Japan, and, in doing so, ran your string to seven consecutive seasons with at least one win. And by the end of the year you completed the most laps of any competitor over the course of the season. You completed all but 76 out of a possible of 3,251. All told, how do you rate your 2003 season?

S. SHARP: You know, I'm a tremendously competitive and driven person. I guess we all knew going into the season it was going to be easily the most competitive year we'd ever seen in the IRL. We knew the presence of the big teams, certainly the big four teams of, you know, Penske, Ganassi, Green, even Mo Nunn's team, even a few others that were really strong, were really going to raise the bar, and indeed it did for us. You can go into that questioning, really, where we were going to sit. But to have a real promising, I'd say, start to the season, first four or five races, winning Motegi, running strong at Homestead, running strong at Texas before getting knocked out, we led the points there for a little while, maybe gave us a little more optimism than we should have had. Yet to be at that sort of pinnacle and end up eighth in points is, you know, it's pretty depressing really. Maybe got teased a little bit, but certainly felt we should have been higher than that. And, you know, it's sort of surprising. When I heard we were -- Bill LaFontaine, the director of marketing from Delphi, he was the first one that told me that we completed the most laps. I was pretty astonished with that. I figured some of the guys that had vied for the championship up front there would have taken that honor. But that says a lot about our guys. You know, even at some times, I mentioned this in the awards banquet speech, there's some times it's pretty tough. At the end of Saturday when you've qualified, especially on some of the big tracks, you're wide open all the way around, really doesn't seem to be anything you can do to get any more speed out of the car, you're sitting on the ninth or 10th row, but the guys never gave up. They really gave great preparation, and we were able to take the Delphi car that qualified back there somewhere and bring it into the top 10, sometimes the top five. So, that was a great effort, great pit stops by everybody. We tried to do the best we could with what we had. At this stage, I'm really pleased that Tom says we have to do whatever it takes to move ourselves up that grid. Knowing as competitive as it is, and knowing how hard those teams work, we've got a lot of work ahead of us over the winter to not only remain where we were, but take some big strides forward.

K. JOHNSON: At this time I'd like to go ahead and open the forum to the media

Q: I was sitting here listening to you talk about last season. It's a lot like finding out the high school football queen wants to take you to the prom only to meet your brother.

S. SHARP: A little bit, yeah. You know, I mean, it was tough for everybody, I think. We're all competitively driven people or else you wouldn't be in motor racing. And certainly to have a taste -- we really came out of the of the box strong, you know, late stages of Homestead had ourselves in a position to take a shot at winning the race, I think we were running second or third, came in for a last stop, didn't have a great stop, ended up putting on a set of tires that tightened the car up for the end, finished fifth. It was a good finish. Certainly finished seventh at Phoenix. Went to Motegi had had a strong weekend all weekend, won the race. While the race at Indy, I guess when the results mattered at Indy last year, it didn't pan out well for us. Yet we showed a lot of speed, were very competitive all month. And, of course, in Texas, our cars were running first and third, felt I was in a good position before I got knocked out. So really we had a lot of, you know, good, strong runs, a lot of reason to believe we'd have more optimism for the rest of the season. You know, for varieties of reasons on the team, I think some budgetary, at about that time, we really curtailed almost all the testing for the rest of the season, and I think that was a time surprising to our team, the big front-running teams really stepped it up. You know, it was pretty impressive, to be honest, to sit there and see our car, relatively remain the same from then on through the rest of the season, and to just see those guys dig deeper and find more speed and be more committed by the week. Quite frankly, almost see the spread between our car and theirs continue to grow. It was pretty sad for a while. Like I said, you got to take the cards you're dealt, and you got to make the best out of it. I think the guys on the team did that. No one ever gave up. When you start 18th, 19th, 20th, you end upcoming through for a fifth- or sixth-place finish, that's a pretty -- I've never been one to get too excited about those kind of finishes, but after what you've gone through, they're fairly rewarding.

Q: Is it frustrating to be in that kind of a situation, knowing that you've got a good team, knowing that the car has run strong, but all of a sudden you see teams with bigger budgeting being able to do more because they're able to do more?

S. SHARP: Absolutely, no doubt. It's like that I'm sure in any form of our sport. You know, I think I've proven what I can do on the track. As a team, we've won at all kinds of different tracks before, so we've proven when we've got it all right what we can do as a team. Switching over to Toyota has been wonderful. Maybe our early season optimism was because of that move to them, and it was rightfully so for the first part of the season. To be quite frank about it, when everyone was on fairly equal equipment at the beginning of the season, since it was the first year of the chassis, you know, no one really had, especially the bigger teams, the chance to unroll all of the development programs and really have extra testing pay dividends. We were right there week in and week out. To see that slowly fade certainly is frustrating for everybody, not just for me. I mean, like I said, we're all graded on one thing typically, and that's the result column. It feels that way for everybody, but it's the nature of our sport, the nature of sports in general. Everyone's always trying to find ways to get advantages and step forward. I'm sure there's football teams in the NFL that feel the same way.

Q: Some of the tracks you race on, you talked about different corners at Phoenix where you were going flat out, there are a number of tracks where basically you're flat out all the way around the racetrack. Considering some of the accidents that we've had here of late, do you think there needs to be either an aerodynamic change or something with the engine to where it is more in driver control to throttle-out and throttle-in in the turns instead of going flat out everywhere? Would that make things safer?

S. SHARP: Well, I don't know. You know, and I say this not to like toe the line at all, but I really do feel that, you know, I've been here since the beginning, and to see the state of where our cars were from a safety perspective back in '96, '97, and where they are now, I don't think there's any organization in racing that's worked harder to make our cars safer. So I really do feel comfortable with the decisions that the IRL and Brian (Barnhart) and Dr. (Henry) Bock, the whole group makes. You know, you really got to leave it to them to decide those factors, because there's a lot that goes into it. It's not just, "Hey, let's slow these things down and make them safer." I think when you go through the bigger accidents of this season, they were contact, most of them, contact crashes. I think when you have open-wheel cars, I think as a whole, I believe we all do to some degree hold more respect for each other because you don't have that fender there to bang on. You know that wheel-to-wheel contacts are going to be a higher likelihood of something significant. You knock 20 mph off the cars, certainly there's probably inherently something safer about that, yet two tires, you know, open-wheel tires at 200 mph versus 220, are still probably going to have some pretty good implications about them.

Q: Could I get your opinion on this? (Scott) Dixon and Gil (de Ferran) and (Sam) Hornish (Jr.) all had three wins this year. Of course, Scott won the title, had a lot of poles. Sam ran really well in the Chevy when so many didn't. Which of those three drivers impressed you more this year?

S. SHARP: I really probably have to say, for different reasons, I guess you got to look at it for the entire year. Week in and week out, I look at it as a package, certainly the driver and the team, because that's what you're competing against. No one is out there in 100 percent equal cars. You have to look at them as a unit together. I think, you know, we all felt, and even though it got so close it probably could have gone easily differently as far as who the champion was going to be. I know a lot of us were saying when it was four races to go, three races to go, two races to go, we really felt the odds had to go towards Scott and the team that Ganassi had put together. I mean, they consistently found speed. They consistently were the fastest, especially on the big tracks. You know, Penske really seemed to pick it up as the season went on, getting towards the end of the year. Helio (Castroneves) was on the pole at Fontana, which I think was possibly one of their first big track, high-bank poles, and certainly a big win for them for Gil to win down in Texas there at the end. But typically more than not, that would be the kind of track that they've struggled a little bit on, whereas Ganassi seemed pretty strong on those big tracks. Certainly, obviously, it goes without saying that Panther and Sam in that combination, once the Chevy came out, was pretty unstoppable. But you have to think as a whole from start to finish, Chip (Ganassi) and Scott were really impressive.

Part II

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Mo Nunn