2004 Indianapolis 500 Media Tour Transcript Thursday, March 25, 2004 Access Motorsports: Ted Bitting, Mike Colliver, Jamie Nanny, Greg Ray Part 1 of 2 MIKE KING: Welcome to Access Motorsports. This is my first visit here. It's a nice shop,...
2004 Indianapolis 500 Media Tour Transcript
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Access Motorsports: Ted Bitting, Mike Colliver, Jamie Nanny, Greg Ray
Part 1 of 2
MIKE KING: Welcome to Access Motorsports. This is my first visit here. It's a nice shop, really is. I'm very impressed. We're going to be joined up front by the ownership group, which includes the driver, Greg Ray, the 1999 IndyCar( Series champion. Greg has won more poles than any other driver in IndyCar Series competition. He's credited officially in terms of pole victories, pole wins, with 13. If I'm not mistaken, he started on pole at least two other times. So I guess unofficially, it would be 15, and officially, at least in the record book, it's 13. Also Ted Bitting is here, Jamie Nanny and Mike Colliver. The team's new engineer. Gentlemen, come up, and we'll start our Q&A session with the team principals of Access Motorsports. This is Greg's race car, Renovac, new sponsor, part of the team this year, a company based in Texas. Of course, Greg is a native Texan, along with Cap Gemini, Ernst & Young, University Loft, several other sponsors. Before we start, we want to say thanks to the folks at Checkers and Rally's for providing us lunch. I love your fries. We appreciate your participation. Checkers and Rally's, the official burger of the Indianapolis 500, and I think the Brickyard 400, as well, if I'm not mistaken. You'll be able to sit in the stands and watch the Checkers and Rally's Pit Stop Competition again. We appreciate you being with us today. Once again, Greg Ray is here, Jamie Nanny, Mike Colliver, Ted Bitting. Gentlemen, thanks for having us. Greg, let's start with you. This team in its first year last year scored six top 10s, after missing the first couple of races, you debuted, if I remember correctly, at Motegi. Is that correct?
GREG RAY: Yes. At this time last year we didn't have a car. We didn't have a motor lease program signed yet. We didn't own a truck and trailer, didn't have equipment, didn't have the shop. I mean, everything that we've done we have now down - this is basically right on top of our first-year anniversary. Indy-car racing is very, very competitive; it takes a lot of resources to do. I feel like we've accomplished a lot in the first year, maybe not what we would want to do, but in realistic terms, we've done an incredible amount in one year's time.
KING: A lot has happened in 12 months' time. Do we have a second microphone? You want to make sure. Once again, this question-and-answer session is being transcribed. I'll get the microphone to you out there in the crowd. I guess if we can, let's get a comment from each of you in terms of the start of the season up to this point. I know there have been some disappointments, but at the same time anticipation towards Motegi and the 500. Greg, let's start with you.
RAY: Well, it's easy to still quantify because this year the separation of hats for me is getting broader. The driver in me has now had a year of getting this program up and running, and the driver is now chomping at the bit to go racing and race hard. The owner in me is still wanting to be conservative, make smart decisions, to make sure that this venture is going from A to Z, and we have to always complete the task of getting to Z. When you drive the race car, you know, the driver wants to go, the owner wants to make sure we don't have any big mistakes that we can't afford to take. Indy-car racing is very, very competitive. Conservative and racing really don't go in the same vernacular. They don't go together. That's a difficult thing. If you look at our race at Homestead, we didn't have the car handling the way we wanted to. But we didn't have the advantage of testing down there at the Open Test like all the other teams did. We showed up there on the seventh lap off the trailer. We hit the pace that we did all weekend along. Jamie and the guys have done a great job with the car. We haven't had a single mechanical issue really all last year or this year. I don't know of any Indy-car team that can say that. That's a very impressive feat all on its own. Then going into Phoenix, we definitely finished better. We finished in 10th place. We had a very good race car. I think we're still learning about some of the electronic gadgets that all the other teams have been using, and we're still getting up to speed with some of those things. Being conservative, but I think we can all taste the competitive edge coming.
KING: When you mentioned the lack of mechanical problems, Ted is knocking on his chair right here, knocking on wood.
RAY: I'm telling you, this guy is one of the biggest superstars I've ever met. He works 24/7, very passionate, and he is definitely the leader of this team when it comes to these things. I've never been more impressed by anybody on the mechanical side than Jamie Nanny.
KING: The ownership group at access is now Greg Ray, Ted Bitting and Jamie Nanny, correct, three-man ownership reduced from four last year, correct?
RAY: Yeah. It's hard to describe, but that's basically correct.
KING: Just wanted to make sure. Let's go to Jamie next. This is a classic, at least in some sense, David versus Goliath type of story. Given the IndyCar Series rules package, I'm assuming you guys don't really feel that way, do you? Is the playing field level from where you sit and what kind of chance does this team have in the remaining 14 races this season?
JAMIE NANNY: Well, big teams are big teams. You know, they're very resourceful. I'm fortunate enough, we don't have a large quantity of people, but the people we have are very quality. Between Pat and Russ, I can rely on those two guys to do about anything on the car. We've got Bernie, who makes anything and everything that we need. We have Grant that takes care of all the logistics. With the testing and stuff being limited, that helps, but the big teams are still very resourceful, between wind tunnel testing, simulation programs. You know, we're getting into that. You know, risk-taking, yeah. We have to be conservative. We're staying in our realm, staying focused. We're not that far off. There's things to be found, things to be developed, refined, and we're getting there.
KING: You look at your crew as a whole. Just about everybody that works as part of this team has been a champion at some point during their career, have they not?
NANNY: Absolutely. People on this team have won Indy 500s, have won championships, won races. You know, it just comes down to quality of people. We want to grow, we want to add to the group we have here. Everyone jells; the chemistry is great. For Mike and Greg to be thrown into race weekend, they performed very well together, and they work well together. Looking forward to that relationship building.
KING: Let's move to Ted. Greg talking about the fact that so much has happened in such a short amount of time, how much different is this team this coming April as opposed to last April at this time?
TED BITTING: Well, I think we've got past a pretty steep learning curve as far as getting a new car, working with Honda, building that relationship, building relationships with the different sponsors that we have on the car. We're a lot further down that road. As far as the personnel on the team, we've changed a little bit of that. But the chemistry of the team is what really is the heartbeat of the team, and we still have that. That's very good. The addition of Mike versus Jeff, Mike and Jeff are very good friends, and we all came from Treadway Racing together. Their philosophies are similar, though they are different a bit, so that wasn't a big change. So I think all in all, we're probably 30 percent further down the road at this point than we were last year or at the end of last year. As far as the driver, I mean, when we first started this deal, we didn't want to go through the mechanics of having a driver bring $3 million but couldn't drive the car. We wanted to go through the mechanics of having a guy that could drive the car, win the races, and we would work through the rest of that. Greg was probably the most qualified guy that didn't have a ride, and probably one of the top five guys in the series, and still didn't have a ride. So it was a big, big plus for us to get him. Plus his talents as an owner. He's as talented in that area as he is in the driving area. So I think we're a long way down that road.
KING: Let's move to Mike Colliver now. Mike is the newest addition to the Access Motorsports team. As Ted and Jamie mentioned, he joined at the race at Phoenix, actually just a week before that was when your hiring was announced, after the team announced that Jeff Britton was leaving the team. How difficult is it to get up to speed? You literally had no time at all to move your stuff into a locker. You were asked to get ready to set up a race car for Greg in a matter of days.
MIKE COLLIVER: Trial by fire would probably be a pretty good description on that. Not only getting to know Greg, but I had spent the last two previous years working with Dallara chassis with Al Unser Jr., just learning the G Force chassis, going from a Toyota to a Honda power, those sort of things. Obviously, there was a lot thrown at us. Then, obviously, the track conditions were not very ideal at Phoenix. The first session was a little bit hairy. Greg and I started establishing common terminology, that sort of stuff. So as the weekend progressed, obviously we made gains in that territory. By the end of the weekend, I think we were starting to get on the same page. We've got a test coming up on April 3rd at the Speedway with a 3-liter motor, which will be a slower pace day. I think that's the day we can sit down and make big inroads to getting on the same page in terms of the terminology, and really get ready to go to Motegi. I think we're going to be a real force to be reckoned with there. The fact that I came to the team knowing Ted, knowing Jamie, knowing Russ, Bernie, basically everybody on the team I've worked with before, so in terms of that, very comfortable. As Greg alluded to, I don't think there's a better guy out there in terms after chief mechanic than Jamie. We are very much on the same page. I've got the utmost confidence in the way he prepares the car. If I bring a change out to the car, I know it's going to get done the way I would like it done. So a lot of confidence in that area, which definitely made the first weekend easier than it otherwise would have been, had it been with a brand-new team, period, in which I absolutely knew no one. Overall, the weekend went really well.
KING: We were lucky to have Greg with us last week, and he announced Mike joining the team. I remember a comment that Greg made is the fact, there had already been an initial discussion with you about joining the team if, in fact, Access ran a second car. It's interesting how quickly this thing developed. Next thing you know, you're engineering Greg's car.
COLLIVER: It pretty much developed from I would say right after the race on Sunday at Homestead to within the following four or five days. They had kind of had discussion with Jeff and knew that he may be leaving the team. The program we had in place at Kelley Racing for a second car had not really come to fruition. There was talk of running Sarah Fisher for the entire season. That now looked like a one-race only at the Speedway. So when this opportunity presented itself, it was something that I was very excited about. Really didn't need to think a long time about the decision. It was more just taking a couple of conversations with Greg and sitting down and working through a few details regarding money and those sort of fun things. We came to a pretty quick agreement. The following Monday I was here, getting to work. It all happened pretty quick. But, like I say, very exciting. I think one of the things that I really enjoyed coming back, so to speak, to a small team like this, is just the passion that everybody has for motorsports. You know, if we need to be here 10, 11 at night, it's not a big deal. You get to some of the larger teams, it's an 8 to 5. 5:00, you can look at the clock, guys are walking out the door, regardless of where things are at in terms of car preparation. I think everybody on this team understands that that is not really the way you're going to get ahead. Working the extra hours, elbow grease, the whole deal, is what's going to separate us in the long run. You need to do those things as a smaller team. But I don't think as we grow we're going to lose that sight. You get a little bit ahead, then maybe you take three or four days off. That's the mentality I think we all share. I think as a result of that, there's a real camaraderie that grows amongst the guys, also.
KING: We'll open it up for questions in a minute. Greg, before we do, you sat on pole at the Speedway. You have gone to that track as the driver that many have listed as the favorite to win. On a given day, I know at least a couple of years, where you've been listed as the guy to beat. Can this team win the Indy 500 this year?
RAY: Yes, it's quite amazing because last year, we only ran Motegi, then went straight to Indy. We ended up finishing eighth at Indy last year. But clearly the last hundred laps of the race, certainly the last 75, we were the fastest car out there, by far. We were just on the edge of setup between downforce and drag, but we were clearly the class of the field out there. We weren't in a position to fight as hard as we wanted to. We weren't quite as good in traffic as we needed to be, but we were clearly the fastest car. You know, my ideology has changed a lot over the years, I think from '98 to 2001, qualified on the front row four years in a row, led the race every year. I felt like I had a bona fide chance of winning that race, and felt like I should have won the race at least two or three times, easily. You know, whether it's Murphy's Law, Bermuda Triangle, my mistake, wrong place, wrong time, stars don't line up, it is what it is. I've learned a lot from it. But absolutely this team can win. Again, the last year we have grown very close. We've learned a lot about a lot of the obstacles that a team like us have to overcome. We're certainly still trying to develop the sponsorship and the partnerships and the business to help grow our team to where we don't have to be so conservative. Again, I keep on coming back to that, because it's difficult to go out there and compete against - I mean, look at the top 15 guys, look at their resumes, look at what they've done, talk to them, look at the personality, look the testosterone flowing through their face, look at the financial resources and the ability for these teams to go out there and get on the edge and stay on the edge. That's where we have to take our program. We absolutely, positively, you know, have a chance to sit on pole this year, to lead races, to win races, to win the Indy 500, but we have to get it right, we have to get it dead square. We have to be able to take some risks. Last year was hard on us in so many ways, I can't even begin to tell you of the things that we had to endure to get through this year. That was a year of testing, a test that I think made Jamie and I and Ted and everybody on this team grow much, much closer. That type of chemistry, that type of confidence, those type of experiences can make you better, like even Mike was talking about, just the camaraderie, passion, dedication. I mean, there's just not other people at this level - they're performing better and have more resources, but nobody has more passion, nobody has more dedication. Nobody on those other teams have had to make as many family sacrifices, financial, professional sacrifices. We've all done that because we believe. Can we win? Absolutely, positively.