FONTANA, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002 - Indy Racing League drivers Alex Barron, Anthony Lazzaro, Laurent Redon and George Mack were the featured guests at the Indy Racing League Welcome Feb. 5 during the Test in the West media day at California...
FONTANA, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002 - Indy Racing League drivers Alex Barron, Anthony Lazzaro, Laurent Redon and George Mack were the featured guests at the Indy Racing League Welcome Feb. 5 during the Test in the West media day at California Speedway. The four drivers will be competing in their first year of Indy Racing competition in 2002:
MR. KING: Thanks, Ron. Appreciate that. And, as Ron mentioned, we do have a lot of things going on today. This first media session will involve three drivers that will be joining us for the first time on a full-time basis during the 2002 season. We would like to talk to them this morning and like to welcome them as full-time participants in 2002. We start with Frenchman, Laurent Redon. We saw him for the first time last year. Laurent came and he was driving for Eric Bachelart. The Conquest team announced last year they were coming on and later solidified their plans for the 2002 season. But Laurent started at Chicago where in his very first Indy Racing League event he wound up seventh. Impressive run at Chicagoland Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. This team just announced a couple weeks ago they will be powered by Infiniti power in 2002. Alex Barron is certainly not a stranger to anyone here on the West coast or any of you who follow the open wheel racing scene. Alex was the '97 Atlantic champion, but has been seen in many series over the last couple of years. I met Alex and had an opportunity to talk to him at Kentucky Speedway when he was testing for Panther Racing. Alex this year will be running full time for Blair Racing and we do want to let you know Larry Blair, the team owner, is here with us today. Larry, great to see you. Larry will be available to talk to members of the media after the conclusion of this press conference. Alex is local to the West coast here. He is a native of San Diego. Great to see him today and they will run a Dallara with Chevrolet power and all of our teams will be on Firestone tires. Also, joining us today, he had two starts during the 2001 season, running both at Gateway and Texas, for Sam Schmidt. Anthony is a native of South Carolina and lives in Georgia now. He was the '99 Atlantic champion. I guess before we open it up for questions we will get short comments from each. Laurent, start with you as far as what you hope for 2002, and I guess objectives and goals for this seaso
MR. REDON: We're working to do a great season. I think we have a pretty good package, and I believe Dallara is a good chassis. And the Infiniti engine, we believe it is a good engine too.
MR. KING: Your team just announced full sponsorship from Mi-Jack. That comes as a nice relief and surprise just about a month before the season starts and that takes a little pressure off.
MR. REDON: Exactly. During the wintertime it is always difficult for a driver. We are all waiting to find something good. Hopefully everything becomes reality. Mi-Jack was a good help for the team and we all thank this company and we hope we can give them good exposure.
MR. KING: Alex, move to you. And we welcome George Mack who has joined us from 310 Racing. We'll get to him in a few moments. Alex, Blair Racing is new to the Indy Racing League, but certainly not on the racing scene. You guys competed last year in a couple of events in the CART championship. Talk a little bit, if you would, about Blair Racing and what you guys expect for '02.
MR. BARRON: It is a great opportunity. I worked with Larry last year and I think our main goal we're going to try to do is make progression throughout the year. I think we have all the tools to do it. With a Dallara chassis and McLaren building our Chevrolet engines we're going to be developing. And I think the most important thing is that we have an opportunity to build and run the whole series, whole season, and make sure every time we go out there we keep making gains to achieve to actually win races and be competitive for the championship.
MR. KING: How much of an opportunity have you guys had to work with the new combination? Have you gotten any laps at all in the car yet or will this be your maiden voyage this week?
MR. BARRON: We haven't been on the track at all. The car is brand new and they just fired it up the other day. So we still have got a few things to do, but we'll be ready for tomorrow and we just want to have an open mind and make sure that we tackle everything we need to do before the first race.
MR. KING: Alex, thanks. Anthony Lazarro, let's move to you. Anthony, I think everyone anticipated that you and Sam were going to be working together this season. The announcement was finally officially made, but talk, if you would, a little bit about Sam Schmidt Motorsports and hopes and aspirations for both you as a driver and Sam as a team owner this year.
MR. LAZZARO: I didn't like him announcing it so late, because it kind of made me nervous. We had anticipated this deal for quite some time. The debut we made at Gateway last year was trying to get a test run in to see if Sam and I were going to run together and what I thought of the IRL and so forth. But the guys that ran me at St. Louis last year were Treadway Racing, and that is who Sam (Schmidt) chose to run (the car). Sam did commit this year and (we have) Dallara chassis and are running the Chevrolet engine. Part of the package was Tim Neff running the car. Really (Sam) provided all the pieces that we need to run this championship.
MR. KING: Let's move to George. George, I want to be honest with you, I have read a couple of releases about you. I know that you have a karting background where you have excelled. Now you are a West coast guy, but we do not know a lot about George Mack.
First off, introduce yourself to everybody here. Tell us about 310 Racing and tell us about you and how you got to this point.
MR. MACK: Wow. Just being in the right place at the right time, I guess, and surrounding myself with a lot of smart people from Market 310 and the Indy Racing League and the Trifecta group. Basically this is something that I wanted to do my entire life.
MR. KING: You have been racing for how long and how did you get started in karts?
MR. MACK: My dad started me in go-karts when I was about nine or ten. He came from a racing background. He was kind of interested in maybe bringing me up in karting and that type of thing and I showed an interest.
MR. KING: You recently -- I say recently, in the last, I guess, three months or so - completed your rookie test. From all indications you made the transition fairly easily. Talk, if you would, about being in an Indy Racing car for the first time.
MR. MACK: Wow. You know what, actually, I talked to Alex about it before I did it.
MR. KING: He gave you a few pointers?
MR. MACK: Yeah, I just called him and asked him if there is anything he might want to tell me since he had already been there. I knew Alex from karts also. He made it a lot easier for me and told me what to expect. The team really made it easy, like sitting back on a couch watching TV.
MR. KING: Where did you do your testing?
MR. MACK: Miami.
MR. KING: Was it with your team that you did the test or with another team?
MR. MACK: Same team I am using this week.
MR. KING: This team is new to the IRL, what kind of components are you looking at in assembling a brand new racing operation? It is always difficult to assemble the right components and hit the ground running with your team.
MR. MACK: Lots of work, lots of elbow grease, but I am really lucky and excited to be here. Everything is going really well. We still have a lot of work to do, but a lot has already been accomplished in a short period of time. We will do fine.
MR. KING: Let's open it up to questions. Questions for these four drivers?
Q: When you guys were starting out, was the IRL your goal or are you in the IRL because that is where the breaks fell; in other words, is this the league of your choice?
MR. MACK: For me? We can go down the line I guess. For me, absolutely. From the time that I could remember I always wanted to drive an Indy car, yeah.
MR. LAZZARO: Actually, I wanted to race and coming out of karting and growing up watching the Indy 500, being the biggest race in the world, I think every kid aspires to be at that racing event. And certainly '86 was the first time I went there and watched it in person. And that is the pinnacle basically if you are an American driver. I am fortunate I finally wound up here. Like I said before, I just enjoy all disciplines of racing. I enjoy open-wheel cars, stock cars, practically anything I can be competitive in, but certainly with what has happened in the last couple of years I am very fortunate to wind up back in racing and in the Indy Racing League the series that has the Indy 500.
Actually, the series has been growing by leaps and bounds. Over the years the competition in the series has done nothing but increase. I am lucky that I am not a year too late, because next year it would be extremely difficult to get in here. I wish I was here a little bit sooner, but I'm fortunate to be here right now.
MR. BARRON: For me it is obvious that this series is going to be very competitive this year and it makes it that much better if you achieve your goals, which are winning races, finishing at the front and getting points for the championship. Indianapolis for me is one of the biggest races in the world. I spent the last two years there trying to get a ride. It is going to be nice knowing I am going there with a competitive car. Working with Larry, you know, he is a great team owner and we've got a lot of good people. I think that the most important thing to me is we're competitive. It is all about opportunity.
MR. REDON: As a European driver I was mostly around Formula One. I did two years as a test driver, and I really liked this job, but I really wanted to try the Indy 500 thing. Since I was a kid I was following the 500 and then I had this opportunity, and I really wanted to try. I raced last year and it was a really fun race, completely different than Europe, and because I like it I am coming back.
MR. KING: Questions?
Q: Anthony, because of your experiences in NASCAR, shall we say your reputation kind of took a beating, you know, not necessarily your own doing or anything like that - do you have to kind of regroup and kind of do a whole different mindset? How do you deal with taking those setbacks?
MR. LAZZARO: Setbacks are part of racing. My career in karting was never very well financed. My family was never involved in my racing, it is something that I did on my own. One thing I learned, if you want something bad enough you have to work hard for it. I have been willing to pay my dues, so to speak, in that respect, and I put in a lot of hard work. Certainly at the end of '99 we won the Atlantic championship. My name was one of the top names in the sport at that time as an up-and-coming driver. When I went to NASCAR for the Busch series, I basically fell off the face of the earth a little bit. My name certainly at the end of 2000 fell down back at the bottom and you look at ways of picking it back up. In 2001 I did a sports car deal. At the end of the day I want to race and I got to earn a living racing to support myself and my family. So I took a deal in the American Le Mans series, went to two races and the team went out of business. I substituted for a number of drivers last year and not having anything from May until the end of the summer I wound up in different series as one-off deals with no testing and got my name back up there a little bit to where people would recognize it again. I had a few different offers in at the end of the year. One was American LeMans series, one was the Winston Cup, one was IRL and one was Grand Am. Certainly the IRL is a place where recognition is going to be paramount. I think this is the series that is going to get my name back out there. Also, as a note, I am doing the Grand Am season this year on a couple of these race weekends. Actually here I will be doing double duty and Homestead as well. I have two good programs this year.
Q: This is for Laurent. Could you please speak about the difficulties of adjusting from road racing to oval racing and just talk about your approach and what you find easy or difficult in oval racing.
MR. REDON: As I said, I think it is really different. When I arrived, I thought I could use something that was from the road course, but the first time I really...nothing was the same. So I really have to learn everything, start from zero. On road course you have to be pushing every time. The oval track is quite different. You have to anticipate much more. You really have to be progressive with the car and you can't fight with the car. Right now I am still learning a lot.
To be honest there is so much that is different and I am more like a new driver. I have to forget my ten years of experience because I have to learn from zero. It is really different and right now I don't think I am the right driver for ovals, but I am learning and I am trying to be ready for the season. But I am really waiting for Phoenix because it is different oval and I really want to see where I stand at Phoenix. So we see after Phoenix.
MR. KING: Laurent, were you surprised after you got out of your car in the first start of the series and wound up in the top ten, seventh place? Impressive finish. You guys were strong all day.
MR. REDON: Yeah, the team did a very good job. As I said, when I came for the first race I was ready to learn everything and coming to say, okay, I have ten years of experience, I did Formula One. I will do very well. We could be I think better than Chicago, but, as I said, we're learning.
MR. KING: Once again, Laurent mentioned a couple of times his past Formula One experience. He was a former test driver for both Minardi and Bennetton; is that correct?
MR. REDON: Yes.
MR. KING: He brings obviously a wealth of knowledge from both sides of the fence in terms of experience.
We want to make sure we introduce Roger Bailey who has joined us. Roger is the executive director of the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series and will be here throughout the weekend. Roger, great to see you. If you did not receive the release of the full schedule, the '02 season has been announced. We have recently seen that. It is a seven-race schedule. Roger would be willing to talk to any of you about the series if you would like to speak to him.
Q: Could you compare the physical difference between driving a Formula One car and an IRL car, especially at the end of the race at Chicago? Can you put things in perspective for us?
MR. REDON: It is a good question. Driving a Formula One car is really physical, and I promise you it is really physical to drive a Formula One car. You really have to be ready and fit for that, but it is different in the IRL. You don't need as much stronger arms or to be an athlete like you can run a mile or something like this. I believe for Formula One you have to, but IRL after the race what is difficult is to concentrate during all the race, because after all this lap with the speed, at least you need -- I don't know what it is exactly, but it is physical. After the race I couldn't walk. When I jumped out of the car, I couldn't walk. I had to stay at least 15 minutes, sit and wait and try to recover a little bit. So that is something different. I think that is what is difficult in the IRL, during all the race to not go down and to stay ready for the race and to concentrate. That is the difference, I think.