IRL: Test in the West veteran stars press conference, Part II

Indy Racing League Test in the West press conference Feb. 3, 2003 Veteran Stars: Michael Andretti, Robbie Buhl, Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti, Jaques Lazier, Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp Part 2 of 2 Moderator: Dario Franchitti, also with the...

Indy Racing League Test in the West press conference
Feb. 3, 2003

Veteran Stars: Michael Andretti, Robbie Buhl, Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti, Jaques Lazier, Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp

Part 2 of 2

Moderator: Dario Franchitti, also with the Andretti Green Racing group. This is your first year in the IndyCar Series. Talk to us, like Tony did, about the competition level, what you're expecting from your teammates and the other drivers this year.

Dario Franchitti: First of all, I'm devastated to be included with the veterans here. Nothing against you guys (laughter). Doesn't seem a long time ago we were talking about rookies. The gray hair club -- we're looking pretty good (laughter).

Speaker : Where is your suit?

Franchitti: Ask my boss. I don't know.

Speaker : The budget has gone into his driving contract, not his suit.

Franchitti: Yeah, as far as competition goes, I think the series was incredibly competitive last year. As Tony said, we watched a couple races at tracks on Saturday nights. Yeah, they were incredibly close. No one person went away and dominated the series.

I think this season's going to be more of the same. I think with the inclusion of Honda and Toyota, the new teams that have come on board, as well, I think everything's just going to tighten up even more. I think to find any kind of advantage here is going to be very, very difficult.

We're out there to win. That's what every one of us on the team is all about. We'll see what happens.

Moderator: At this time we'll turn it over to the journalists for questions.

Q: I hate to do this to you, Gil, but earlier today Helio was here.

de Ferran: I hope he was entertaining.

Q: He was asked about the fact that you are technical in your testing, how much you enjoy this. He said, "I just put my foot down and drive." Do you have any kind of response to him? Do you think it's better to be technical or it's better to be just intuitive or what?

de Ferran: I think everybody has got a different approach. All I can tell you about Helio is that he's a very serious professional. Even though he's got his happy-go-lucky demeanor, in a way he is happy-go-lucky, but he's a very serious professional, he's very dedicated, he's very studious. He thinks hard about what he does with his driving and with the car. Don't be fooled, that's what I'm saying (Laughter).

I mean, Helio is certainly one of the best professionals I ever came across. But everybody's got a little different approach. In the end of the day, you got to come up with the results. I don't care which road you take to get to Rome, you still got to get to Rome somehow, which is eventually you got to stick your foot to the floor and you got to do the time and hopefully win the races.

Was that enlightening or what (Laughter)?

Q: Jaques, give us your thoughts on coming back into a full season of racing after being off for quite a while.

Lazier: I'm actually very excited about being back for the full season. I had a lot of anticipation of what we're going to do this year. Obviously, everything was cut short last year. We were running fourth in the points when the accident happened. We had a real good test going into Indy before the accident. I feel like I'm really stronger than I was last year, more focused than I was last year, and I'm really excited to try to put together the 16 best races that I can and try to compete for a championship.

Q: What did you do to keep your support up when you were in rehab?

Lazier: Unfortunately, for the last month and a half, it was just sitting in bed. Lots of Nickelodeon. I did have a little 3-month-old at the time. We watched about everything we could. From there, it was a lot of swimming, dedicated about four hours to swimming every day for the first month, and then from there it was back on to trying to retrain my body for endurance, lots of running, lots of weight training.

Q: How much support did Buddy (Lazier) give you?

Lazier: He went through a very similar accident. Obviously, his was a little lower down in the sacrum. But Buddy has always been extremely helpful with me through every stage of my career, able to help me with any kind of problems I had. The one thing about my brother, I have to go out of my way to ask for his help, and when I do he's always there 100 percent always willing to help.

Q: Jaques, you mentioned now a full season. Has that been confirmed with your team owner?

Lazier: It has not been officially confirmed. In my heart, I feel that I will be Team Menard's driver for this year.

Q: Scott Sharp, can you talk about, elaborate on this competition? It seems to me like you've added about 30 to 40 percent more cars to the front mix, where last year you knew that the Panther car and the two Penske cars were going to be there, you added maybe one or two or three, maybe more in the race. Now you have about 10 cars in the final lap at most races being close. Can you talk about how much extra competition you feel like there is?

Sharp: At least 10, I think. Probably the number is quite a bit higher than that.

Obviously, we've gotten some great drivers, some great teams, people that you know are going to run at the front. In the same context, if you look at the last few years, anyone who's joined the series has come in and had to compete certainly among the top few drivers really hard to win. Obviously, what Panther Racing has done is a great testament to that.

I think you combine that with how well the series drivers ran last year at Indy versus other people that came in the event. I think really just the base has grown. I think our high-bank tracks are just going to be incredible races this year, where you could have 15 to 17 cars all a couple tenths apart. I think that's the type of racing you're going to have at a lot of places.

Q: Dario, what do you expect from some of these high-banked venues? You've been a part of some great racing, no question, but this mile-and-a half experience has been something different in open-wheel racing.

Franchitti: I'll have to get behind the wheel, then I can tell you a lot more about it.

Q: Did you change the channel like Tony did?

Franchitti: No, no, I managed to keep viewing there. For sure, the races have been exciting. Like I say, I think for us up here, the only view that really matters for us is the one from the cockpit. Once I've done some laps in that position, I'll give you a better idea of what it feels like for me. There's no doubt it's going to be exciting.

Q: Robbie, because of your experience in the IndyCar Series, what are your thoughts on the race in Motegi, going to Japan? How important is that for IndyCar Series to go international?

Buhl: You have to look at who has been a long time series sponsor and supporter, Bridgestone, Firestone, now over there with having Honda and Toyota in the series. I've never been to Japan. I'm looking forward to it.

When you look at the track, it looks like a challenging track. To talk to some of these guys that have run there, they say it is a challenging track from that standpoint.

The facility is first class. I think it just falls in line with the type of tracks we've been running in the IRL. We're running at all these new venues being built in this country. To go to a first-class one in Japan, I think will be exciting.

Q: Michael, if you're winning the points battle after Indy, will you still retire?

Andretti: First person that asked me that was Dario. I said, "I hope to God I am," because that's the best way to go out, on top.

Q: Can you explain to us the situation, Dan Wheldon is with your team. Will he move into your car with 7-Eleven? Will he stay with his?

Andretti: What's going to happen is Dan is going to run Indianapolis. We're going to run four cars there. He's going to be driving the Klein Tools Jim Beam car. Then when I retire, he's going to take over my spot, but not in a 7-Eleven car, he's going to continue in the same car that he was driving with the Klein Tools and Jim Beam. 711 will be his number (Laughter).

Q: Dario, we talked about you guys being veterans already. The Infiniti Pro Series obviously is a support series for the IndyCar Series. Do you guys ever get questions from the Infiniti Pro Series or even the IndyCar Series drivers that are rookies or the younger generation? Can anybody speak on that, maybe somebody you mentor?

Kanaan: I ask Michael all the time what to do.

Andretti: I have Dan Wheldon. I'm going to be definitely trying to help him in any way that I can. You're an old veteran. You don't need help. A guy like Dan is a rookie. He's going to need all the help he can get.

First thing I'm going to do is keep these two away from him. I'll try to put him under a wing, try to help him out, try to speed up his learning curve a little bit with my experience, hopefully.

Part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam , Jaques Lazier
Teams Panther Racing