FREEDOM 100 TOP-THREE FINISHERS PRESS CONFERENCE Jaime Camara, Chris Festa, Alex Lloyd, Sam Schmidt Friday, May 25, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: Alex, it's a historic day on a number of fronts. First of all, you have won four ...
FREEDOM 100 TOP-THREE FINISHERS PRESS CONFERENCE
Jaime Camara, Chris Festa, Alex Lloyd, Sam Schmidt
Friday, May 25, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
MODERATOR: Alex, it's a historic day on a number of fronts. First of all, you have won four consecutive Pro Series events from the start of the season; that's the first time that's happened. Tiago Medeiros won four in a row, and at this point in the season in you are already in position to break that record. I think the most significant thing what is accomplished today is you've become the first driver in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to win an event on the road course and the oval. That's something that will never be taken away from you. Congratulations.
ALEX LLOYD: Yeah, thank you. Since I found out about that after St. Petersburg, that this was a possibility, I tried to dumb it down a little bit to myself and not get carried away with it, and play it down a bit. But inside it meant a huge amount to me to try and get this. It's something that nobody else has done before. From all the greats, nobody has achieved this. So, you know, I've really worked very hard for this.
You know, it's been a stressful weekend because we started off struggling a little bit yesterday morning and we pulled it together for qualifying. But in the race, it's all credit to the Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Lucas Oil, just a fantastic team that put together a great car. I've been dreaming the last two months since we finished St. Petersburg about how this race could play out and if we were on pole or if we were on second and where the rest of the cars would be and what we would have to do. For the first time in my entire life, it all went to plan. I wanted to get around on the outside of Turn 1; we did that. I then wanted everybody else to have a few, you know, battling between themselves, and we could get a bit of a gap; we did that. We then managed to pull away, and we brought it home. It's just one of those days where everything has worked out. It has all season. It's just been a phenomenal start. And, you know, it's crossing the line. I won here in the road course last year with the F1 race (Liberty Challenge), but there's nothing to describe the feeling of crossing the line here on the oval at Carb Day of the Indy 500 and putting the car in Victory Lane, especially for this team that have worked so hard. They wanted this so much. The first thing we did when we signed the contract to race for them is we want to win Indy. This is the big one for us. They lost it on the last lap last year, and I'm so pleased to be able to give this victory to them.
MODERATOR: I chatted briefly with your spotter who said there was information to go nice and smooth, nice and smooth. Did you pull it back a little bit at the end or did you throttle it back a bit?
LLOYD: Yeah, when we got to about 2.8 seconds, I was getting radio calls to say look after the tires. I started to feel a little bit of understeer and the car being a little bit free through (Turns) 1 and 2. So I just backed off a little through there. We were fortunate enough that I probably had a couple tenths on everyone in the field, so I had that ability to be able to back it off and look after the tires knowing that the last few laps could be where it all counts. So, yeah, we backed it off a little bit. We were fortunate that we were still able to continue building that gap. It's just not very often that you have days like this that go so perfectly at Indianapolis. At least not many chances you have in your career of coming home in Victory Lane. So it's just a perfect, perfect race.
MODERATOR: Here is a man who knows what it means to come home in Victory Lane, and you have a car in Victory Lane in Indianapolis, Sam. That's always a great feeling, is it not?
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, it's so incredible. I wanted to do it as a driver and said as an owner it's second-best. But I tell you what, it's a hell of a lot easier driving because I was on pins and needles until the flag flew. I have to give it to Alex and the team. All the same guys that run his car were out there running the IndyCar from 11 to 12. So you can imagine what a Chinese fire drill that was to get back to pre-grid here, Chris, Tim, I can't run down the whole list, but the guys on the 38, the guys on the 23.
This weekend was not without problems. Alex had a severe problem in one of the sessions, and Ryan had a problem in qualifying, Logan had a problem. It just shows how good the team is and their ability to overcome that is fantastic.
MODERATOR: Sam, we've got to look at this last year, but this guy Alex Lloyd is a pretty special talent.
SCHMIDT: That's why he's here, isn't he? Seriously, this is a support series, and being able to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a day like today is phenomenal. There's got to be what, 70-, 80,000 people out there, and a lot of times they were standing and cheering. We were three- and four-wide at times in the middle of the pack. Outstanding deal, and the bottom line is Forrest Lucas has lots of options for sponsorship. If we don't win this race and keep winning, then he doesn't come back. So that's what it's all about. We're hoping to keep doing that.
MODERATOR: Good deal. You helped our city out, too, because we like to keep Forrest Lucas happy in Indianapolis, as well. Questions for Sam or Alex, both.
Q: Alex, I want to know about two laps. I want to know the very first turn and take us through that, and then did you feel any rain toward the end there?
LLOYD: Well, the first turn, like I said before, just went exactly to plan. You've got to be very careful in this series. We go across the line side by side. You can't be ahead, you can't try and get a jump, we just have to cross the line together. You know, I timed it just right that I was able to even light the brake a little bit and keep some throttle on, which gave me a good jump when we did cross the start/finish line. I was able to pull half a car length. I thought about this, like I said, all last night and for weeks before, is this a smart thing to do around the outside? I figured if I timed it right and got the jump, then it's going to work. We did that, we managed to get half a car length around the outside and just kept my foot flat and managed to get through it cleanly. It was a great feeling to get through to the lead straight away. It's a race where you've got to be patient; it's a long race, a lot can happen. So if I did drop back, it wasn't going to be the end of the world, I still felt we had a good enough car that we could come through to the front. But I knew it would be easier if I could get in the front and stay in front. If you can lead every lap, that's going to make life easier. So I was very fortunate that we were able to get there and through problems that other people were having behind, that helped us keep that break.
As far as the rain goes, yes, I heard there was sprinkling just as we were about to take the green. You've got to go flat out into (Turn) 1 when you do take the green because I had people behind me and there weren't many laps to go. When you're going 190 miles per hour or whatever we were at that point, a few drops of rain on your visor looks like a monsoon. So you're coming in there at that speed, and you're thinking, 'I just hope this thing sticks because if it doesn't, we're in trouble.' That's where the officials come in and deem it's unsafe to drive. It was fine for those first two corners. It was a little bit slippery and good credit to them, they put the yellows out and that was a safe thing to do because the rain moved from (Turns) 1 to 2 and then down the back straight until we finished. So it was certainly a smart thing to do because we had a relatively incident-free race in terms of no big accidents, which was great. I think it was very clean racing going on in the pack. So we had a good race, and I think that was a good way to finish it. It would have been great to have finished it at speed to the checkered but, you know, at this place you take -- you'll take it no matter how it comes. It's just a great feeling to cross that line. To be honest, even when I got the white flag at the end, I knew there's no way it's going to start again, I was still nervous as anything in my stomach thinking there could be something, they could say we're going to do a NASCAR thing and we're going to have a green/white checkered. But until you cross that line, it's a never done, and it was such a great feeling to do that.
Q: You said yesterday you didn't expect to disappear and leave everybody. Witty or clever, maybe your best expectations realized, were you kind of surprised that it turned out like that?
LLOYD: Yeah, I thought if we had a long run and a few things worked into our favor, I thought we could get away at points of the race. But it all depends, I think I said yesterday, where the yellows fall because that lead can mean nothing if you have a yellow flag and everyone is right back on your tail. We were lucky we got some good restarts and never let anybody get that chance on the restart at the end there. But for sure you don't always get as easy a run as that at Indianapolis. You don't always get to lead every lap and have a bit of a cushion where I can look after the car, look after the tires and have a car so quick that I'm able to do that. I can drop a tenth of a lap and not have any problems. It's just all credit to the team. Like Sam said, they've been so busy, so busy recently and they've worked so, so hard. I've never been with a team that worked so hard and we've got great sponsors in Lucas Oil. I met Forest for the first time as I was putting my helmet on. That was a great experience and he's a good luck charm because I met him and the race went to perfection. I'm happy to bring the car in Victory Lane for him and the whole team. You have to thank Sam a lot because we've had a dream start since the start of the year.
Q: This is for Sam. For some reason you have a knack for putting a team together and drivers. Alex came with the intention of wanting to drive for you. How have you managed to get such good drivers and put good teams together and been successful in this series?
SCHMIDT: Well, really, I mean it's a microcosm of the IndyCar Series. It's always been our goal and desire to find funding for the IPS team here so we can put the best guys in the car that are out there, not rely on them to bring a total funding package and we've been able to do that with Alex. We would love to be able to fully fund a second and third car next year and do the same thing and have an all-out driver search and do it right. That's what they do in the IndyCar Series. If you have the sponsors, you're going to put the best guy in the car you have.
You're right, obviously, I don't turn a wrench on the car and so last week we added up all the championship rings on the 12 guys that work for us full time, and it's over 20 championship rings from Champ Car, IRL, Indy Pro Series, and they pretty much do the whole deal. I've got to get the payroll every two weeks, which is the drama, and I can tell you what, I don't like that at all. I'd rather be sitting where he's sitting. It is a great feeling. Winning at this place makes it all worthwhile, that's the bottom line. And Alex is a true talent. I mean, we have had some good guys in the car. We've had over 20 guys in our car over the last four years in our different cars. By far he is the most committed, dedicated individual and, I mean, no doubt in my mind whatsoever he'll be in a big car next year. If he doesn't get it, we ought to stop the series because he's proven that he can take it.
MODERATOR: Other questions?
Q: If Sam had the opportunity to put the program together, he would be with Alex?
SCHMIDT: Obviously, what drivers will talk about is chemistry. Alex seems to be getting on pretty well with Tim. We would love to have an opportunity like that. At the same time, you want to do it right. We came to the Indy Pro Series in the first place because we could do it right and properly and have the results. I have no interest in going back to the IndyCar Series full time and run mid-pack. If we could get a sponsor that could give us the resources to put him in a car and allow us to run up front, no problem. Short of that, I would love to see him get in a Penske or Ganassi or even an Andretti car next year because I think he can do as well or better than anybody else that's out there right now.
Q: Alex, congratulations on a masterful drive today and performance on this season so far. You looked like you were in complete control. You mentioned passing on the outside on the first turn. You were very smooth and consistent. Did you feel a sense of control inside the cockpit that it felt on the sidelines watching you?
LLOYD: You know, Indianapolis is a place that is difficult to feel comfortable all the way through because you've got a lot of things going through your head. Not only the expectations in the place and the surroundings, but this place is difficult to drive in race conditions with full fuel. The car is sliding, you know, certainly for us we were flat out all the way around but it was just flat out. You're coming out very close to the walls. Something you can never relax or take for granted. So even with a bit of a lead, it makes it easier, it makes it easier than having to look in your mirrors and running with people close to you, but it's never, ever easy because you have to concentrate so much harder on this track than any other track I've raced on, be it road course or street course. This track is different from every other oval and different from every other track. It's a unique place. You have to keep your focus up at all times. As I said before, it helps to have a car that's well balanced. If you have a difficult car or loose car or car with understeer, then the day becomes a lot harder. For me in the car, I made very, very few adjustments to the bars or the weight jacker during the race. I didn't really need to touch anything, which shows again what a great job that the engineers and mechanics, everybody's done in putting together just the perfect setup for today. The conditions changed so much here that it's very difficult to hit it spot on. Again, it shows with the great talent and depth that we have within our team that we're able to put it together when others maybe struggle or not quite get it perfect. When it matters in the race and qualifying, we get it together. That's one of the reasons that I really wanted to be involved with this team last year because I saw very clearly from the first race I watched here at Homestead when I wasn't racing, and they qualified one- two-three, it showed straight away that is the place I want to be in. So far that's been a fantastic beginning.
Q: Obviously you're from England. You had heard of the Speedway, you've been here now, you've run on it. Is this place everything, the oval in particular, everything that you thought it would be, everything you've ever heard about it, how difficult it is, the history with it? Is it what you expected or was it more?
LLOYD: No, it's not at all what I expected. You know, you hear a lot about it from England. Obviously you follow the "500" as a motorsports fan, but you just don't get a true feeling for the place. When you're the other side of the world, you don't get that sort of emotion and the feeling that Indianapolis brings. When I came here for the first ever time, I was literally blown away, this time last year, this day last year I was blown away when I walked down Gasoline Alley. I remember nervously walking down, and I came through Gasoline Alley on Carb Day and obviously this isn't the 500, but we had a very good crowd and I just remember thinking, 'This is unbelievable." You know, since then it's really just exceeded all my expectations by such a long way.
You know, I seem to have been very lucky here, as well. I've had a lot of great things happen. I first ever moved over here with all my suitcases and everything this time last year. In fact, it was at the Open Test last year. I then got married a couple of days later here in Indianapolis, which at the time was a very -- if you've been born and bred here, maybe not so much. As a driver from England, it's a special thing and a special place to do that. I then won my first ever Indy Pro Series here at Indianapolis, and now we've won here on the oval. I bought my first house here in Indianapolis. A lot of big things that have happened in my life have happened here in Indy. I guess it's a lucky place for me. It's a place that as soon as I moved from Florida to here, I felt completely at home. It's a place I love. All month we've been driving through the tunnels to come watch the team with Buddy Lazier running. Every single time, racing, not racing, even if I'm just coming here to spectate, you get goosebumps driving through the tunnel. I've heard people say that and you think, 'Rubbish, they're lying.' Maybe on Race Day, everyone else is lying. But they're not. It's a very strange feeling and one that I couldn't put into words, especially crossing the finish line. I feel I couldn't stand out of the car at the end when I was coming through. I just felt completely overawed by the whole experience. For me, this is certainly the biggest thing in that's happened in my career. The next big thing is winning at the '500.' That's certainly going to be my aim for the next few years.
Q: Just a quick one for Sam. Does this auger well for you for Sunday's race? Is this going to keep the team up even more?
SCHMIDT: Yeah, fortunately I don't think they've had time to give it a lot of thought. They're probably back there having a major teardown on the tech, which is a good problem to have, but we still have a bit of work to do on the big car to make it ready for Sunday. I definitely would love to keep the momentum and have Buddy have a good finish. Realistically we're doing this as a one-off, and for us a top-10 finish would be a victory. As everyone knows, Buddy can do it. He's always a hard charger in the race, and I think it will be a good day for everybody.
To answer your question, I think everybody is physically and mentally exhausted right now. They're probably going to finish that car and take a break tomorrow or actually give everybody the day off and then come back hard on Sunday. I'm looking forward to Sunday. There's nothing like sitting in pit line and watching all 33 go down there in front of you. That's why I do it.
MODERATOR: Let's let these people celebrate. Congratulations, Alex, and Sam. Alex if you happened to see me out of the corner of your eye laughing, it's because I saw one of my students in the crowd up there which indicates what a fine job I've done as an educator. (Laughter)
LLOYD: Thanks very much, guys.
MODERATOR: Well, we've had a nice field of cars for the Freedom 100, but it's always nice to see familiar faces in the Economaki Press Room. The gentleman who won second and third, Jaime Camara, congratulation, and Chris Festa. Alex Lloyd had a lot for you, but nonetheless, you come through with a solid finish.
Chris, tell us about your run. You made a pretty nice charge.
CHRIS FESTA: We made a lot of changes to the car versus yesterday because yesterday in warm-up, it was definitely not where we wanted it to be. So we spent a lot of time last night coming up with a different game plan for today, and it really paid off. The car was much easier to drive today. So it wasn't quite where we wanted it but it was still pretty good, and it was fast enough to keep up with Alex. If I had started up a little further, I probably would have been able to draft with him for most of the race. We also wanted that one last lap, just that one last lap, we know we could have challenged him. But that's the way it goes, and congratulations to Alex.
MODERATOR: Is that how you felt before the yellow came out and finished under the yellow; did you really think you had a good shot at him?
FESTA: Oh, absolutely. When Alex was out running by himself and I was running by myself there in the middle of the race, he and I were turning almost identical lap times from what the crew was telling me. So it tells me that our cars were pretty evenly matched. And our car was pretty good in traffic today. So I really felt like I could have kept up with him, then gotten a run and passed him at the end of the straightaway.
MODERATOR: Jaime, you've been in victory lane in this series, and you know it's tough. I'm having a hard time reading whether you're happy with a third-place finish or this is a disappointing third-place run for you.
JAIME CAMARA: I'm happy with it, of course. I started 18th. It was a great run. I worked hard to be in third place today. I still think if we had two more laps, I think I could make a move on Chris or Alex. But it was going to be tough. It was not going to be easy because my car, by myself, my car was good but I think I had too much downforce. In traffic it was great. I could draft and I could try to pass everyone. It was just disappointing yesterday when we had the upright problem, and we found out at the end of the day that cost us qualifying. But I like racing like today, you know, passing a lot of cars and working hard to be at the front. I knew I had a great car. I mean, we spent a lot of time yesterday changing the setup for today because we knew we had a long way to go to the front. So it worked out.
MODERATOR: Chris, we've got a new high-def television setup at the media center. We got a high-def look at the early laps in this close race, and it caused us to gasp a little, it was wild and woolly out there. There were guys four-wide and a little contact there. Were you in the midst of any of that? Talk about those early laps.
FESTA: The early laps at any racetrack are always tough because everybody is bunched together. Yeah, I was a little bit since I started seventh today. The car was still pretty good and up there it wasn't too bad. I think we only got three wide once, but everybody gave each other plenty of run, and nothing dirty was done.
MODERATOR: Anything in particular eventful today in your run, Jaime, in terms of accidents, traffic, cars or from your perspective was it fairly smooth?
CAMARA: It's racing, you know, it happens. Back there on the back lap, it was crazy the first five laps. After the first yellow, people were driving like thinking that the race was ending the next lap. So I just wanted to pass everyone and go to the front because I knew at the front pack -- I know Chris, I race with him before, I know how he does. So I knew today there I would be safe until the end of the race. So that's what I wanted to do, you know.
MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q: Chris, I'd like to slightly correct my good friend Pat because I counted five- and six-wide at the start there. But do you get advice on your own racing from Scott and the other members of the team? Does Chip give you advice on racing when you're here at Indianapolis?
FESTA: Oh, yeah, everything in that building is all one team. Yes, they have a Grand Am team, they have an IPS team and IndyCars. But everybody in the building works together for the same goal and that's to win races. Scott and Dan and all the engineers, mechanics, management, Mike Hull, Chip, they all have advice and maybe some tweaks I can make here and there to get more out myself or the car. It's a great place for me to be a young driver learning things. I've learned more this season than I've learned in the past two seasons combined.
MODERATOR: Any other questions for our second- and third-place finishers? Gentlemen, congratulations. See you down the road.