Indy Racing League Feb. 25, 2003 Brian Barnhart, Sam Hornish Jr., Kenny Brack Part 1 of 3 Kent Johnson (IRL): We thank and appreciate all the journalists who have joined us today for our Indy Racing League teleconference. Today we will be...
Indy Racing League Feb. 25, 2003
Brian Barnhart, Sam Hornish Jr., Kenny Brack
Part 1 of 3
Kent Johnson (IRL): We thank and appreciate all the journalists who have joined us today for our Indy Racing League teleconference. Today we will be previewing the upcoming 2003 IndyCarTM Series season. Joining us today are Brian Barnhart, senior vice president for racing operations, as well IndyCar Series drivers Sam Hornish Jr., who pilots the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, as well Kenny Brack, who will drive the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone.
Before we begin, I would like to remind everyone that Homestead-Miami Speedway opens for IndyCar Series and Infiniti Pro Series practice on Friday, February 28th. Saturday, March 1st will be Pro Series qualifying, as well as MBNA Pole qualifying for the IndyCar Series. And Sunday, March 2nd will be the season-opening Miami 100 Infiniti Pro Series race, which begins at 10:10 a.m. Eastern time, as well as the Toyota Indy 300 IndyCar Series race beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
Now at this time we would like to welcome Brian Barnhart. First off, thank you, Brian, for joining us today and welcome.
Barnhart: Well, thanks, Kent. It is a pleasure to be here.
Johnson: For starters, looking back on the IndyCar Series Open Tests that were conducted out in Fontana, Phoenix, as well as Homestead. What can you tell us about the entries and the competition which you have seen thus far?
Barnhart: Well, we have been very fortunate to have three very successful Open Tests at Fontana, Phoenix and Homestead where we have seen a continuation of very good reliability with the chassis, the engines and the gearboxes, and that is something we were excited about and looking forward to because it is a new version of a chassis-engine-gearbox combination, and we were certain that we were not making any radical changes that were going to affect our on-track product in a negative fashion. And we were kind of anxious to make sure that was the case once we got them on the track. That really has born itself out to be a true statement in the cars. We had very high reliability. There are no mechanical issues from the cars, and their performance on track is just outstanding. I mean, Panoz G Force and Dallara have created very equal yet visually different types of designs. And their competition on the track from a chassis standpoint is extremely close. Engine-wise, obviously we were excited with Toyota and Honda joining Chevrolet this year, and we have extreme competition on the engine front, as well. And again, it looks like some outstanding competition that is also extremely close.
Johnson: Along the same lines, Brian, what does it say about the teams in the IndyCar Series that everybody is starting basically from scratch, new chassis, new engine combinations, yet when they hit the track the competition is so close?
Barnhart: It is a good reflection on the quality and the strength of the teams, as well. Obviously, that means the manufacturers have done their homework on the engine and the gearbox and the chassis side of it. But then we have really increased the quality of our field as we continue to have the growth and the momentum experience by the Indy Racing League. When you have had Andretti Green Racing bring three teams of their quality and caliber over, and you have Mo Nunn expanding his operation, and Target Chip Ganassi expanding his, and Adrian Fernandez is now running a car over here. You are not just bringing cars that are field-fillers. You are bringing in cars that are competitive cars that will contend for the race win week in and week out. And that is shown by the competition on the racetrack. As you mentioned, as tight as our fields have been even through the test sessions, we literally have probably 18 to 20 cars capable of winning every race and coming out of the chute at Homestead next weekend to kick off both the IndyCar Series and the Infiniti Pro Series this weekend. We are obviously very excited about that.
Johnson: At this time I would like to go ahead and move to the question-and-answer portion of our session. Just a reminder to the media listening in, we do a complete a transcript of the call and it will be sent to you tomorrow to your e-mail or fax machine. Now let's open the forum for questions.
Q: Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Barnhart: Hi, Mark. How are you?
Q: Busy, busy. Sorry, I tuned in a bit late yet. Sam is there, yes?
Hornish Jr.: Yes.
Q: Hi, Sam. How are you doing?
Hornish Jr.: Good.
Q: Sam, how concerned are you about the obvious lack of pace of the Chevy up against the Toyotas and the Hondas, and is that going to be such a factor at Homestead?
Hornish Jr.: Well, in my honest opinion, every time we have gone out on the track, we have gotten a little better each time. It has not really shown but we have been mostly working on long runs and getting our car working good for the overalls, the race portion of everything and basically making sure that we are going to be able to go out there and be able to compete as far as the race goes. If we qualify eighth or ninth, that is not the biggest thing. We know that qualifying only pays $10,000 and zero points, so it is good to win the 50 points and the race instead of having to worry about being the fastest all the time. The people that we are really worried about are the people that can go out there and run 40 laps at a high speed and not just run two or three.
Q: But you would rather have more wouldn't you?
Hornish Jr.: Well, you never can have too much of it. I can sit here and say that we are completely comfortable with it right now, but Chevrolet is doing everything in their power to get us a little bit more each time we go out. We see the progress. Every time we go out on the track, we go up a little bit higher in the standings, and we know a little bit more about it, and we have just been kind of put behind the 8-ball because Toyota and Honda weren't afraid to go ahead with their projects in the middle of the season last year while Chevrolet was still focusing on winning the championship with the IRL.
Q: And my last question Sam. Two in a row is a big effort. Three up against such deep competition, how tough is that going to be?
Hornish Jr.: Well, winning one championship is tough, and you said two is really tough, so we imagine three is going to be really hard. But we know that if we go out there and do the same things that we have done over the past two years, and we go out be consistent, try to make sure that we finish the laps, and then if we have a car that is capable of winning go out there and pushing for the win that we are going to be OK. You do not have to win every race. Last year, we averaged a sixth-place finish, and this year I think if anybody can average a sixth place, they have an awesome shot for the championship.
Johnson: If we could at this point, let's keep the questions related strictly to Mr. Barnhart and then we will bring in Sam Hornish and Kenny Brack following that as Mr. Barnhart has a meeting to get to in a few minutes. Any more questions for Brian Barnhart?
Q: Brian, this is for you I guess. Does the number of cars that you have this year is it going to present some special problems for you at some of the races or how are you going to handle that?
Barnhart: Actually, I think we are going to be just fine with the numbers. We had some indications last fall that we were going to have more cars than what we are going to have. But due to a number of factors, I think our car count is actually going to be almost identical what we had all of last season, so I do not see that we are going to have any logistical garage area or pit lane problems from that standpoint of it. At Phoenix we will probably have an increase in the number of cars from what we started the season with at Homestead. I think at Phoenix we will probably have between 25 or 26 cars there, and that is pretty much where we will most of the year. So I do not think that is going to be an issue.
Q: How is this new season with the new equipment compare with when you made the first move to the cars and chassis and engines several years ago?
Barnhart: Well it is actually considerably different. When we made the big change from 1996 to 1997 and went from the turbocharged cars to the normally aspirated cars, that was the biggest year of change. When we did the next version of car between '99 and 2000 is probably closer to what this change is in going from '02 to '03. The majority of the changes are safetywise, on the chassis, and the engine is a continuation of the development of the normally aspirated engine that we have been running for the last six years. Probably the biggest change is the gearbox area by going to a gears-forward transverse design gearbox. We greatly improved the attenuator and the crushability stroke of the rear end of the car. And that is probably the most significant design change. Like I say, engines are kind of a continuation, chassis are safety-related changes, and the gearbox is probably most the radical design change. But that is a proven design that has run in other series before. And like I said earlier, it is shown on the racetrack. Our guys are going out and just running laps and learning what they can about their car without any mechanical or reliability issues.
Q: There was a question earlier about the number of cars that you have in the field and that you feel it is at a comfortable level. You have 16 events this year on the schedule; what number of events would you see as comfortable for the IRL to run? Is there a limit that you guys are looking at eventually?
Barnhart: Well, I do not know if we have ever defined that limit. We definitely have room to continue to grow the IndyCar Series schedule. But I do not think we are going to grow just for the sake of expanding. We are going to be very careful about our growth. We will have control growth. If you wanted to increase your schedule from 16 to 20 or 21, your team owners are going to have to go back to their sponsors and ask for about 25-percent increase in sponsorship dollars. And especially in the economic market that is out there right now, that is a difficult thing to do. So I think we will be very careful about our expansion. We have room to expand and grow, but it is going to be moderated growth over the next couple of years. I do not see any reason why we could not run 18, 19 or 20 events, just depending on how and when, the logistics, the schedule, when we are in warm climate areas and what is available to us. We have room to grow. We are going to be pretty wise about how and when we do it.
Q: Also, there have been any more discussions about adding road-course racing? Wasn't last year you guys thought about that you may add one or two road courses?
Barnhart: Actually our version of car that we have put out right now has some considerations built into it since this is a three-year car -- 2003, 4 and 5. It has road course capabilities built into the designs of the car. Obviously our '03 schedule is out, and we are not going to road race. We are going to maintain our oval track schedule in 2003. Road racing will be something that we will obviously take a look at as the business opportunities present themselves in the future. And if that is something that we do, then we have the capabilities built into the cars.
Q: That is something I was getting at, whether or not these cars now and the new chassis were capable being adjusted that way. Thank you.
Barnhart: You're welcome.
Johnson: Does anyone have any more questions from Mr. Barnhart? And if that is the case, Brian, we appreciate your time and now we would like to welcome the 2001 and 2002 IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. Good morning, Sam.
Hornish Jr.: Good morning.
Johnson: To start with, Sam, you entered this season having won the past two IndyCar Series point championships. What can you tell us about you and the Pennzoil Panther Racing team's preparations to defend your title in 2003?
Hornish Jr.: We are doing everything we can do, basically. It is going to definitely be a tough season. We have a lot of competition as we did last year and the year before. The depth of the field keeps getting better and better, and the Indy Racing League continues to grow. On one hand, that is a very good thing by putting more fans in the stands and more exciting races, but, yes, it does make my job tougher. Just really excited about the upcoming season, seeing what we will be capable of, what we can do. And there are so many different variables that are going to be thrown into the equation this year by new engine packages, new chassis, that we are really not sure what to expect yet. We know that we have struggled a little bit in some of the preseason testing, but we continue to get a little bit closer up to the top, and we have a little struggle. We are seventh or we are fourth for the day or eighth or -- I guess a lot people would be happy to be there, but the results that we have had over the past two years, I guess we have spoiled ourselves a little bit and kind of looking for a little bit better results.