THE 27-YEAR OLD SAM SCHMIDT MOTORSPORTS' DRIVER HAS ANSWERED A FEW QUESTIONS BEFORE THE FINAL STRING OF FIRESTONE INDYLIGHTS RACES KICKS OFF. Monday, August 4, 2008 - SAN DIEGO, CA. -- Richard Antinucci heads to Kentucky the next weekend (8/9...
THE 27-YEAR OLD SAM SCHMIDT MOTORSPORTS' DRIVER HAS ANSWERED A FEW QUESTIONS BEFORE THE FINAL STRING OF FIRESTONE INDYLIGHTS RACES KICKS OFF.
Monday, August 4, 2008 - SAN DIEGO, CA. -- Richard Antinucci heads to Kentucky the next weekend (8/9 August) aiming to add to his two previous Firestone Indy Lights victories at St. Pete and Watkins Glen -- and to extend the lead in the Drivers' Championship he has held for most of the season. The driving talents of the feeder series to IndyCar will be tested in the coming weeks during three of the series' most challenging circuits. Two 1-5 mile tri-ovals and a road-course double header will take care of championship bids. San Diego's Antinucci approaches the series' crunch time having stacked up 376 points in 12 starts. Raphael Matos is second at 375, Brazilian rookie sensation Ana Beatriz third 332 and Sausalito, California's J.R. Hildebrand fourth not far behind at 325.
The championship is now very close at the top, you're leading by a lone point. What do you expect from the second part of the season?
"Having a lead, even a 1-point lead, does help your confidence, but there's a long way to go so we have to take it one weekend at a time, looking race-by-race. I've won Cup races before, big titles like a F3 FIA world championship, one-off event or two events. So far I've never won a long-distance championship -- but I've watched people do it before, and they take it race-by-race and be as humble as they can. I have no choice but to be humble because I'm not exactly running away with a 200-point lead."
What is the key to win the crown, in your mind?
"It might well be resiliency. Things can turn on you pretty quickly, and being a fan of surfing I'll just say that you have to try to ride the wave for as long as you can and never give up when you get headwind. I've been leading or tied atop after 8 of 12 rounds, and 5 of those times I had an edge of less than 5 points, and I'm still there on top. Even people who're not a fan of mine will concede that I am a driver who can handle pressure. I'd better do, as it's a safe bet that the 2008 season will go down to the wire."
Do you like the Kentucky oval?
"It's a track I know, last Thursday's Open Test for us was a good preparation for the upcoming race. My Plan A for this season is to claim the championship, my Plan A-II is to get a win on an oval as well, to prove to the IndyCar Series people I am effective there. I nearly pulled off that at Homestead and Indy, but being the bridesmaid is not enough, you want to be the bride. The bride thing is just an example, mate, don't forget I have Italian roots... "
Back to Mid-Ohio. After Raphael Matos was sidelined due to coming together with Bobby Wilson you were geared up to extend your lead and take Jonny Reid on, weren't you?
"Yeah, I was determined to reap as many points as possible because the opportunity was there, and I knew I had to take some chances but, as those who have watched the race either on site or on ESPN2 will have noticed, one thing is to be able to pull off a clean move on a bright day, and a whole different story is to pass someone on a skiddy, treacherous surface where you have to keep fingers crossed any time you move off the usual line. At Mid-Ohio I was able to do more than a few successful moves, but I got caught off base a couple of times, at Turn 5 in particular. The mishaps with [Pablo] Donoso and [Logan] Gomez are quite another story."
Matos was very quick lately, and he briefly managed to grab the points lead at Mid-Ohio. It looks as though the title chase will end in a duel. Are you worried about his performance ahead of the next race weekend ?
"We have tough competition, Matos is considered one of the best up-and-coming open-wheel racers in the whole continent. He's also one of the best I've ever raced against. I have a lot of respect for him. He's very fast. We've gone head-to-head throughout the season. We may seem to be a bit stronger than the others now, but that can change every weekend. I think Franck Perera and Jonny Reid are also an excellent benchmark on road courses to gauge a young driver's talent, Panther Racing drivers will be back up front on ovals and my team mates can be fast. Furthermore, I will not forget how consistent and fast Bia [Ana Beatriz] has been so far: points-wise I guess she'll be in contention till the Chicagoland round."
You've been quite succesful in this series at the end of the 2007 season. With this experience as an asset and moving to the series reigning team were you surprised that things did not go quickly downhill for you this year ?
"Success breeds success and I am not winning enough, that's what you mean? I did not expect this to be asked on my own web site... Well, I would have loved to run away with the title the way it happened to Alex Lloyd last year, and for sure Sam would agree with me but, you know, one of the things you have to understand about Firestone Indy Lights is that we're talking about a feeder series here. That is, it's not a place to stay, it's built to be a revolving door with guys coming in and going out, some going up, some just gone. You'll not be able to find two seasons that you can actually compare, because the field is different, the winners usually are somewhere else, the 2-year drivers improve, rookies have an impact, and furthermore some of the rookies are rookie by default but experience-wise are race winners from the word go. In short, no I'm not surprised that we have to fight tooth and nail to keep the title at Sam's shop because the level this season is quite high. Only time will tell, but down the road people might well find out that this Indy Lights season was for motorsports talent what the 1983 NFL draft was for quarterbacks: you know, the year they picked John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly all bunched up..."
Your team mates James Davison and Bia Figueiredo have had outstanding races lately but, looking from the oustside, you seemed to be left a bit alone in your title quest at the begininning of the season. Did you do a better job than the team, at least in the first half of the season ?
"No, definitely not. We always win and we lose as a team. As you said, all three Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers have won races, which confirms that we have equal support and everybody works hard because the team is committed to winning. Sometimes with my engineer [Tim Neff] we made the wrong decision and the #7 Lucas Oil Lifelock Dallara was not the quickest car on track, period. Pointing fingers will not take you anywhere. Having taken part to five road course rounds in 2007 I can easily provide my help in making the car better there, I've paid my dues on road courses. But having started the season lacking oval experience, I could not help at some oval venue and we struggled there. It's frustrating to be driving feeling like a sitting duck, but sometimes you cannot get it right. Specially after Iowa we talked at length. From those conversations, it was apparent to me that a fresh start was the best thing for me and for Tim [Neff]. When you have a bad break you have to explain that and lay out a response and move on. The essence of racing is competition, not fretting over hurt feelings and bruised egos."
How do you explain all the ups and downs we've seen this year across the whole field ?
"You just can't give one rationale which explains it all. Someone was shining at ovals and awfully slow at road courses. Some had a difficult transition on ovals, for others it was how to figure out how to adjust the 2008 car compared to the 2007 Dallara, whose chassis has been reinforced. It would take time and plenty of different scripts."
Is there strong pressure on you to be not just the best American driver but the one who's winning it all after an endless streak of "Limeys" on top?
"Well, possibly you did not know that at the outset of my career I cut my teeth in the British feeder series, therefore I've learned something there, it seems. Anyway, if I'm not wrong A.J. Foyt IV was the last American who was able to pull off a championship run and that was back in 2002. Therefore yes, it's time for a driver who has an American flag on the cockpit to win this thing, right? Mid-Ohio is the venue where I've posted my maiden win in the U.S., and the place has a meaning for me, that also explains why I was craving for a win there on the wet."