An interview with Paul Tracy & Jay Penske
THE MODERATOR: Welcome everybody to today's IZOD IndyCar Series conference call. We are joined today by the driver of the No. 8 Dragon Racing Ralphs Grocery Honda-Powered Dallara, Paul Tracy, and his new team owner, the team owner Dragon Racing, Jay Penske. Gentlemen thank you for taking the time to join us today.
Paul makes his 2011 season debut this weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and he is one of most successful open-wheel drivers in history and is currently dried with Sebastien Bourdais for active leading wins with 31 victories. Paul's first win came with Penske Racing, which is owned by Jay's father, Roger Penske, in 1993 at Long Beach.
Q. Paul, how excited are you to get behind the wheel of a car finally.
PAUL TRACY: I'm really excited to get the opportunity to work with Jay and his crew; to come back to Long Beach, which is really the place where I started my IndyCar career. My first ever start was there with Dale Coyne, and then my first-ever win with Roger and Marlboro was there.
It's been a fantastic venue for me. It's one of the crown jewels of the series and I've been lucky enough to win it, win the race four times.
So you know, from that standpoint, it's been extremely difficult having to kind of sit and watch the last couple of years, and I've been there the last couple of years making press announcements for other races that I've been doing but having to walk the paddock has been extremely frustrating.
So I'm excited for the opportunity to work this weekend with Jay. And like I said, we've got a whole fleet of new sponsors on board with Ralph's and Pepsi and Frito-Lay and Rock Star and the list goes on and on of people that have come on to support us. It's going to be an exciting weekend that's for sure.
Q. You talked about your history at Long Beach, obviously winning there four times and getting around the place as well as you do. How confident with the other teams having two races under their belts are you that you can get up to speed this weekend?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't think it's going to be any problem I think for us. We have got Jay's group of guys and he can touch more on it, but he's got a core group of guys that have been in the Penske organization a long time. They are guys that I have all worked with in the past and know we are not just hiring on a bunch of guys that nobody has worked with before. I've worked with all of the guys on the team at one stage of my career. I've known some of the guys on the team for 20 years.
So you know, the engineer on the team, Eric Zeto, has been my race engineer when I was with Forsythe, we won the Long Beach race a couple of times together. I think he understands exactly what I need and I understand exactly how he works.
So really it's just getting back on track and getting back in the groove of practice sessions and qualifying sessions.
Q. Jay, can you talk a little about how the off-season was for you with having Tony Kanaan and having that partnership dissolve and then having your team kind of have to be reborn?
JAY PENSKE: Sure. I certainly think we have tried to rip the rear-view mirror off and just trying to look forward. But I think it was a very difficult off-season. We had a lot of -- I think we were very close in establishing a full-time ride with Tony and when fell apart instantly we were looking to put together for either a limited run or build something again for the entire season.
We were very close with Paul trying to get this whole thing wrapped up for a full season this year but unfortunately we got these five races which we are going to try to do our absolute best and try to add races as we go throughout the rest of the year.
Q. And just talk a little about having a team start late and having the driver the caliber of Paul available for you to build your team around.
JAY PENSKE: Sure. I think first of all, they have not only done the open tests, but they have had two races under their belt. I think that's one of the reasons we thought this was a great place to start with Paul. It's a place he's clearly had a ton of success in the past. He's one of the most tenacious guys and who can get the most out of every car he drives.
So I think this is the beginning of Dragon Racing and we have great expectations for the future.
We have reasonable expectations here. This is a place we want to build from. We have four other races that we are confirmed for this year, three others on road courses, street courses. So I think this is the beginning of Dragon Racing and we have great expectations for the future.
Q. Since the start of this year, they implemented the double-file restarts and the new way to start the races bunched a lot more together. Are you concerned at all that going into Long Beach, especially with that first turn so close there, that will add a dimension you are not used to?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously it's created quite a bit of buzz, the double-file restart. I don't really know what they are going to do this weekend. There was some talk of maybe they were not going to do it. Maybe they are going to do it. Maybe they are going to change it up a little bit. But it's really Brian Barnhart and Randy's decision what they want to do, and I will abide to whatever they want to do.
But it's definitely caused some carnage on the restarts, and you know, it's put some guys in quite a bad position in the championship. Guys like Ryan Briscoe and Justin Wilson have effectively been knocked out of two races on these restarts.
I think it's definitely -- you've really got to be careful who you're around at the time and really have your wits about you, because you've got to not only be looking forward but also looking in your rear-view mirror at the same time and that just makes it difficult.
Q. And just on the Toronto race, I notice in the original announcement, Toronto and Edmonton are both on the schedule for your deal with Dragon Racing but sponsorship was not announced. I just assume that Honda is going to be on the side pod, Honda Canada is going to be on the side pod of your car. Is there anything more to announce on that at this point?
PAUL TRACY: Our plan after Long Beach is at the beginning of May, I'm going to come to Toronto and come to Edmonton for a media tour and we'll be announcing it then with a proper cross-Canada at both venues, media tour. I'm sure I'll see you then.
Q. I have one for Jay and one are for Paul; Jay, if you could talk about what your Indy 500 plans are, because I know Paul already has a deal already committed for that race.
JAY PENSKE: Sure. Two things, I think we are still aggressively looking to put someone in the seat for the 500. We have got the cars available. We have got some sponsorship lined up I think at this point it's just trying to find the best person to take us 500 miles come May 29. We are in discussions but nothing has been finalized yet. We are hoping to do that probably right after Long Beach.
Q. And for Paul, the last couple of years you've run Indy with one team and run other races with others, how difficult is that to, once you kind of get to know one group of guys then you have to pack up and go to another team.
PAUL TRACY: It's not optimal by any means. Jay and I were working really, really hard on a full program like you said in the opening, and we were really, really close to having a sponsorship fall into place. It's gone on a bit of a hold. It's not completely out of the frame yet. But we just couldn't put it all together in the time frame that we needed to.
And frankly, the deal with Dennis just kind of came along and fell right in my lap, just overnight. He says, hey, here is a deal for you; if you want to do it, let's do it. And if not, I'm going to sign somebody else.
So I didn't have anything concrete. I was hopeful that we could put together a full-season program, but it was moving along a little bit slower than Jay and I wanted it to. We are not really in a position to force the sponsor's hand.
So I really had to take that opportunity and just regroup and figure out what direction we were going to go for the rest of the season with Jay. Now we have these five races on the board. And we kind of closed out all of the bigger market races that we wanted to hit and the sponsors wanted to be at, and then now we try to focus in on all of the other races.
We kind of closed out all of the bigger market races that we wanted to hit and the sponsors wanted to be at,
Q. With your experience at Long Beach, how do you think that really helps for a proven veteran like yourself to be able to jump in a car and do something, even though you haven't been able to do any testing this year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it's going to be a help. Obviously I've had great success at Long Beach, and I've had a lot of success at the track since they changed the configuration about tenure ago.
From that standpoint, like I said, I've worked with the crew before. I've worked with the engineer before. I know what to expect coming in, and really, it's just getting out there and getting familiar with the car again.
Q. Anybody who follows your Twitter feed knows that the first couple of Rays, you seemed to be taking delight in needling the guys at KB Racing. Wanted to know when you put the helmet on and you get behind the wheel, does that stuff go away, or are you looking forward to maybe making life difficult for some guys in Long Beach?
PAUL TRACY: We are definitely going there to try to get the best result we can for all of our sponsors that are going to be involved. This is a comeback race, really, for everybody; with myself coming back to Long Beach after a hiatus and Ralph's, they were involved in IndyCar almost ten years ago with Richie Hearn, and they are coming back to southern California, grocery chain store. And the sponsors we have on board with Motegi, one of their head offices is in California.
Really, this is a coming back to the beach kind of a weekend for us. Definitely thinking about obviously not getting in any trouble in the race and these double-file restarts has caught a lot of guys out. So hopefully we are not going to be near (EJ) Viso on some of those restarts.
Q. Your record at Long Beach, do you feel any realistic goals or expectations when you come in or do you look at trying to get a Top-10 or Top-5 your first time back?
PAUL TRACY: Honestly, I'm looking at, you know, just the best result that we can possibly get, and I think, you know, I always go into any race with the expectation of, I'm going to do everything I can possibly do to try to win. Is that realistic? Sometimes, no.
But I think in any sport, if you're going out there, noting a 110 percent and giving everything you have, it's time to get off the field or get out of the game. So.
From my standpoint, I'm going to go out there and from the time that the green flag drops till the checkered comes out, I'm going to give everything I have to try to get the best result. If that's a Top 3 or a Top-5 or a Top-10, we give 100% all the time and we'll focus on the next race as we go along.
Q. Sort of a carry-on about the theme of needling other drivers, you have to be looking forward to getting out there and facing your old nemesis in Sebastien Bourdais, and of the antics between you two, the Captain Canada episode in Montréal, etc. Talk about getting back there and facing off again.
PAUL TRACY: It's great, obviously he's back to the series and it's always great when I come back to it these races and run, whether it's in Toronto or Edmonton to, get out there and compete with the top guys. And you know, I've had some dices in the last couple of years with the top dogs, in Toronto with Dario and Helio and Briscoe.
I'm anticipating having a lot of fun when I get in the car. I still love driving the car as much as I did the first day I ever got into a car. So I'm just excited to have the opportunity to really have a quality team and a quality group of guys, and it's not just a bunch of guys that we have hired in to come and do the race weekend and throw the car together and put it on track.
So I'm excited that we have got, you know, the best possible equipment that we have had in the last -- that I have had in the last three years to get on track.
We have got top-shelf guys who have got a lot of experience. I think Jay can hit on this a little, but I think he feels this is the best car that Dragon Racing has ever prepared in their three years, talking to his crew, and they said this car is just, you know, it's ready to go.
So I'm excited that we have got, you know, the best possible equipment that we have had in the last -- that I have had in the last three years to get on track.
JAY PENSKE: Certainly we have got over 150 years of open-wheel experience in terms of the crew. Even though we had a tough off-season, we were able to retain almost 70 percent of our core team, our chief mechanic, our team manager; the core group stayed in place. It's great that Paul has been able to work with Eric Zeto, our race engineer before.
We are bringing the best people that we can bring this upcoming weekend and I think it's difficult without having any time to test. But we spent an awful lot of time in the off-season trying to get this car ready for the season and we hope the results will show on Sunday.
Q. With your last name being Penske, it would be easy for people to think, your dad has been such a legacy in open-wheel and the success he's had; I know that you want to strike out and this is going to be your team, it's called Dragon Racing. People say if his dad is good, his son is probably going to be good, as well. Just talk about striking out on your own and making sure that you get your stamp and your footprint on this team.
JAY PENSKE: Listen, there's a lot of different ways to go about these things. You see a lot of families and the legacies and traditions in racing whether it be Andrettis or Rahals and Foyts and people working together over time.
I think I started my own business when I was at the Wharton School and continued to venture out, and in the automotive business, per se, or trucking business like my father is. But built my own successful business on the publishing and media side, and I think the race team with Steve Luczo is something that I started at the beginning, trying to create a championship team; these things don't happen overnight.
But it's finding the right people and investing in the right kind of drivers and this is something we are building for the long term.
Q. Talk about the motivation, obviously it was difficult to find sponsors, what kept you motivated to go through all of this and deal with all of this? You are such an accomplished race car driver, why even bother? Why not say I'm happy being at home and relaxing.
PAUL TRACY: I'm not happy being at home and relaxing, that's the problem. I haven't been able to find anything in my life that gives me the satisfaction and fills my needs of what it is -- what is my being. Trust me, I've got plenty of toys. I have motorcycles and boats and sand rails and you name any go-fast thing, I've got it, and nothing fills my needs like driving a race car.
So I'm not at the point where I'm ready to stay home and watch the tell I vision. I get frustrated watching the television. I want to be on the track and I want to be competing. And I know that I can compete at a high level.
So you know, like I said, this is a great opportunity; of the last three years, to be with drag on is the best team and best level of equipment I've had to date. So I'm real fired up.
Q. And as a follow-up, talk about Indianapolis, obviously that's a big one.
In this game, it's all about sponsorship and we were not able to completely fund that part of the budget in the time frame that we needed to get that done.
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I'm excited, obviously to be teamed up with D&R like I said earlier. I don't know if you were on, but Jay and I were trying to put together a deal for the full season. In this game, it's all about sponsorship and we were not able to completely fund that part of the budget in the time frame that we needed to get that done.
You know, the deal with D&R came along, it landed in my lap with a quality sponsor and hopefully we can have a good race there and just try to build those relationships with the sponsors that are out there and supporting me.
Q. I'm wondering if Gil de Ferran and Steve Luczo were given the option to rejoin you this time or were they just burned out by the whole off-season?
JAY PENSKE: Well, it's a good question. I think two things. One, although Steve Luczo's name is not on the car in terms of being with Dragon Racing any longer, I think he and I will remain partners for many years to come. He's one of my closest friends in the world, and I'm the godfather to his kid and anything I do in racing will likely involve Steve Luczo in some way.
I think Gil and I still remain very close friends, and I think he's out pursuing other opportunities. You know, it was a tough off-season for everyone. We were all of close to putting together a tremendous deal. The market is tough, as you heard the other questions in regards to Paul, this is a difficult market to raise sponsorship in.
But I think the series in improving; the amount of cars on track is a great testament to that. I think the idea here is Dragon Racing, this is a kind of new beginning for us. And we are hoping that Paul ends his career with us next year, we can put together a full-time program and continue to build for the future.
Q. On your sponsorship deal, were these sponsors that you had like waiting in the wings? It seems to have come together pretty quick after the team announced they were not going to have Tony. Is this a whole new slate of sponsors, in other words?
JAY PENSKE: Yeah, Paul had been working hard. Brian Marks from top seed management had done a great job orbing with Paul to get these leads and activations happening. Paul had a few that he had brought in from last year.
So I think a combination of the two is going to get us, not through even this season, but into next season, as well. 3.
Q. It's going to be a novelty to see three Canadians at the Indy race in Toronto, but James Hinchcliffe is going to be joining the ranks. What are your impressions of James so far? He had a bit of a rough weekend. Do you have any impressions of how James is doing so far?
PAUL TRACY: Well, obviously he got off to a little bit of a rocky start but he is a rookie. It's his first race. So you know, you can't really judge somebody on their first time out. He obviously showed speed in qualifying. He qualified quite well. I've been around James for quite a long time. The whole time I was in the Forsythe organization, he was a junior driver on the team for a large part of that in the Formula Atlantics.
I've been a little bit of a mentor to him, giving him advice and know his family quite well, his father. So you know, he's made that big jump into the big pool with all of the big dogs.
So you know, it's a much different environment than formula Atlantic or Indy Lights. You know, now you're competing against guys that are not going to give you an inch. So he's definitely got a learning curve but I think he's a great young driver and I think he's still only about 22 or 23 years old, so he's got plenty of time.
Q. How important is it for you to see another Canadian driver just make it in, or is James just competition basically?
PAUL TRACY: It's great to see another Canadian driver make it in but I'm not ready -- it's competition, as well. I'm out there to beat him as much as the next guy. So I'm not ready to hand over the reins yet.
Q. You touched on this a little bit, the partnership with Steve Luczo, he's not named on the team, but still a significant part of the team?
JAY PENSKE: Yeah, when we started this thing, Steve, we did so much together in getting the initial cars together and building something from scratch in a really difficult environment. So we have many other investments together and he's someone that's a long-term partner of mine, across so many assets of my life.
Q. And Paul, we look forward to seeing you in the press room at Indy and with a smile on your face this time; how's that.
PAUL TRACY: Thank you. You got it.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as there's no more questions for our guests today we will wrap up today's IZOD IndyCar series teleconference.