Indy Racing League
May 13, 2003
K. Johnson: We certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, May 13th. Today we will take a look toward the inaugural Infiniti Pro Series Freedom 100 with Pro Series Mark Taylor, as well as the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 with IndyCara Series driver A.J. Foyt IV. A native of London, England, but currently living in Indianapolis, Mark Taylor drives the No. 4 Fulmar Panther Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. He currently leads the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series Drivers Point standings, having won both of the series two events this season. Mark, good morning and welcome and thanks for joining us today.
M. Taylor: Thank you for having me.
K. Johnson: To start with, you take to the track for the first Infiniti Pro Series practice session this Thursday. It has been awhile since you guys have been on the track and have not competed in a race since Phoenix. Of course, you had the open test late in April. What can you tell us about the downtime, whether that has been a worry or whether you have been able to carry through?
M. Taylor: We had the test on the 17th. It was a good test for us just to be able to get use to the track. It has been a good time just to stay away from racing and be able to see what goes on in the month of May. There is a lot of good things going on and to be able to be involved in that this month it does great for the experience. Just being able to be here and just see what the cars are going through during the month of May.
K. Johnson: Now you mentioned testing during April. What were you able to learn about the track or about the cars and the track during that test?
M. Taylor: It is difficult to say. The track is obviously going to be very different on Thursday and Friday when we start testing again. It was good to make sure that the car is going to be able to go around there at a decent speed, feel what the track likes, see what everyone goes on about before they get there, just to have an opportunity to get a bit of experience before the month of May, trim out the cars as much as possible, make sure the car feels good and just gain a little bit of confidence before coming into the race.
K. Johnson: Obviously, the opportunity to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is something above and beyond for a lot of drivers. But in your mindset, is this the third race of the Pro Series season as it goes toward the championship or is it a big event to get to race at the Speedway?
M. Taylor: It is both. It is very difficult for me to really explain anything. I am not thinking about it in either of those. I am trying not to think about it in either of those conditions. It is going to be another race for me. Of course, it is going to be very important to do well. I am going to be trying to win the race, as I am sure everybody else is trying to do. But I do that every weekend when I go out to race. As far as that is concerned, it is not going to be a different race for me. Of course, there is going to be a lot more pressure on us. We are not going to be the big race as we have not been for the last two. But it is a special place. We are going to have the opportunity that not many other people have had, and that is to be able to race in May and we cannot forget that. It is important to put on a good show, as it were, for the people who are going to be able to come out and watch us and show that the Infiniti Pro Series has really come alive this year, and there are some very good drivers hopefully fishing their way into the IRL.
K. Johnson: Well, Mark, at this time let's go ahead and open our forum to the media. Just a reminder, we do a complete transcript of the call. And it will be sent via e-mail or fax machine. We also have a digital replay. Now let's open the forum for questions.
Q: Mark, a number of years ago I got an opportunity to just take a ride in a Pace Car around Indy, and I felt a sense of history. What was it like for you to drive a race car on the track at Indy?
M. Taylor: It is very difficult to explain. As you say, you can feel the history as you go into the place. In the morning of the test day I was able to just stand in the pit lane and have a look about for about half an hour before testing began, and it really took me by surprise, the emotions that I felt just standing there. It is something that you cannot get to grips with on television or radio, you just have to be there live just to be able to get the feeling of it. And as you say, just to be able to drive around there in a race car or any type of car is a real experience. It is something that you really do get to feel while you are going around.
Q: How do these cars handle on the racetrack?
M. Taylor: They are very stable cars. We get to reach speeds of around 200 miles an hour. It is a little bit slower than the IndyCar Series cars, but at the same time it is a very quick car, so you have to be able to control the car very well. And, of course, with the changing conditions, weather conditions and everything that they are in the month of May, it makes it a very tough track to drive. You have to be very aware of what you are doing and seeing the times that we were doing, the testing, I can see it is going to be very close race.
Q: And finally, you are two-and-oh on the season, two wins, it's as though now you have a bit of a target on your back. I know you wouldn't trade the two wins, but how does it feel to be the only guy to win so far, and do you feel that target?
M. Taylor: Well, as long as people are aiming for that target and they are still behind me then I will be happy. The fact that maybe the people will see it as I am the favorite going into the race, it does not really bother me. This is a different type of track than we have been on before. It is more of an open track so the racing is going to be a lot closer. No one is going to be able to put a large gap in the lead as I was able to do in the first two races. The cars are going to be extremely equal, and it is going to be a case of getting close to that finish line on the last lap. I mean, it does not really matter what happens before that. So it is going to be full of new experiences for me. I aim to be there on the last lap, get as good a finish as possible and mainly learn from the experience.
Q: Racing at Indy, the whole world in a sense watches every little breath, every little wheel that turns at Indy. Do you see this race, even though it is in the Infiniti Pro Series and it is not the Indy 500, but do you see this almost as a way to showcase your talents to the world? And is it just a huge audition for you?
M. Taylor: Absolutely. I never really understand what was meant by that. But you would feel under the microscope, as it were. I can suddenly feel that in the month of May the world is looking at Indianapolis. It is a great place to be in the month of May. You can feel the interest in it and to be able to put the cars out on the track on the race day, and as you say, showcase the talent in the series and the cars and show how they have grown over the last year since they have been born, as it were. It is a great opportunity for every driver in the series to hopefully push their way into the '500' for next year.
Q: Hi, Mark. Everybody is talking about how Helio (Castroneves) is going for three in a row. You are going for three in a row yourself, number one. And number two, you could become the first driver to win any kind of a race other than the '500' in May at Indy. How do you feel about those two things?
M. Taylor: Well, I do not think you can compare me winning my third race this year to Helio winning three in a row on the '500.' I think that what he has achieved over the past two years and also by winning the pole this year, I think that is an outstanding achievement for any team and any driver to do that. So I would not want to even try to compare myself to that. Hopefully, in the future I will be able to compare it by winning two myself, but that is a long way off. As far as the race in May, as I said before, it is a great opportunity for us. Of course, there is all the history here, and you can see that and to be able to say that you are a winner in May at Indianapolis is going to be a huge thing for the person who is able to do that. It is by no way going to be me. It is very difficult to say who is going to be able to win this race. It has been very competitive so far, and the test shows that it is going to be the same.
Q: Dan Wheldon has received a lot of attention the past week. Have you driven against him? Have you known him? Is he a friend?
M. Taylor: I raced against him in cadet karts when I think he was 8 years old, and I think I was 9 or 10. And he has had a different route than me through the racing career so I have not really gotten to know him through racing. But it is great to see him doing well. I think he obviously has a very good car. He has qualified well for the '500'. He was able to race for Panther, as I am at the moment. I wish him all the success. He is obviously doing very well at that.
Q: In the way you have won, have you kind of helped keep the spirits up in the Panther Racing team?
M. Taylor: It is very tough for the moment. They have had two years of success. And, of course, it is a nice feeling when that happens. They have had the feeling what it is like not to win every race that you go out and do. And, of course, it is very difficult for them, but they understand that all they can do is put 110 percent into the race car, and that is what they are doing, especially this month, the amount of work that they have had to go through. And if I can raise their spirits in any way, that is what I am trying to do.
K. Johnson: Mark, earlier this year the Test in the West was really the first time you ran the Infiniti Pro Series in what you might call a big track when you ran out at Fontana. Obviously, Indianapolis has flatter banking, flatter turns. Is there any comparison between the way the cars handle and ran in Fontana with what you are experiencing here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
M. Taylor: Yes, I think the tracks are very different. You have to use the whole track here at Indy. We tended to just run around the inside at Fontana. It is almost too big a place for the cars. But here, every corner is a challenge. Everybody will be able to run flat, however, but maybe not in a race situation. So it is going to show the drivers and just make sure they get the experience of how the cars will actually feel at those high speeds. I would not say there is that much similarity except for the case that we will be run flat out.
K. Johnson: Do we have any more questions for Mark Taylor? Well, Mark, that looks to be all our questions from the media today. Again, we appreciate you joining us this morning, and we certainly wish you the best of luck this week in the upcoming Freedom 100.
M. Taylor: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
K. Johnson: Thanks again, Mark.