IRL: California: Winning team press conference

Moderator: We're joined by the race winner, Sam Hornish. He scores his fifth Indy Racing League victory. Of course, he's the defending series champion, having won three races last year, including the season-closing race at Texas. He won the opener...

Moderator: We're joined by the race winner, Sam Hornish. He scores his fifth Indy Racing League victory. Of course, he's the defending series champion, having won three races last year, including the season-closing race at Texas. He won the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, had a great run also at Phoenix International Raceway, running third. We have a variety of principals with us, as well. Sam, we have come into a very important market for the Indy Racing League. We had hoped to demonstrate what our product is, and I can't think of a race that would illustrate more the competition and the strength of the competition that comes to bear. Tell us about the last few laps. We've heard from Jaques. How were you able to close out, how were you able to make the pass?

Sam Hornish Jr.: You know, it's really important for us when we come to a new market, to go out and have a good show, which I'm always glad when we do. I think no matter where we were, what racetrack we're on, we always put on a good show as far as the IRL as a whole. Today, it was just one of those things where we weren't sure if we had enough to get him there at the end. I knew the only way I could, you know, get a run on him was go on the outside because he was hugging that white line all the way around. So I just started playing with my line a little bit the last 15 laps after Eddie (Cheever Jr.) dropped out. It was just us two there. I tried to figure out a way to get through Turn 1 a little bit faster. I think next-to-last lap, I got through there the right way, the way I wanted to. Gained some on him down the back straight, got up beside him, and then I got ahead of him actually going into Turn 1 the last lap. I turned in a little too early and the car pushed up. He got back by me. I was like, 'Oh, you know, it's over with now, he just got right around me.' It was a good thing that I just kept my foot in it, tried to go as fast as I could to the checkered flag. Came out that way. Pennzoil Panther guys, they did an awesome job in the pits today really, which is what kept us up toward the front all day long. When we had the green-flag pit stops, I think it was five or six seconds we gained on everybody almost every time we stopped. It's a testimony to how much work they do and how many times they practice their pit stops. Just kind of one of those days where today was kind of a way to try to get back up to the top. I kind of let myself down at the Phoenix race last weekend. I got a little overanxious leaving the pits, stripped off first gear. That pretty much cost us the race.

Q Introduce the two principals that are so important to the Pennzoil Panther team.

Sam Hornish Jr.: To my left is John Barnes, which he pretty much runs the day-to-day operation. As I've heard John say quite a few times, on my right, Gary Pedigo is the guy that does the business end of it. You know, that's the great thing about Panther, that there's a lot of people that have ownership in Panther Racing. They all know why the other one is involved and what their strong points are. They don't step on each other. It's great.

Q About 15 to go, Jaques and Eddie were up there battling pretty hard for the lead. You kind of laid back a little bit. Were you conserving your tires a little bit? Did that help pay off at the end?

Sam Hornish Jr.: It was helping me conserve my tires. It wasn't really planned by me. But I pushed into the corner a couple times and lost the draft a little bit, was trying to figure out a way to get back up there. Plus they were running pretty close. Jaques was down on the white line, Eddie was trying to find a way to go around him that was lower than the white line. I knew that wasn't going to work. I just kind of tried to stay back, stay in the draft far enough that, you know, if something happened, I could keep up with them.

Moderator: The 39 lead changes is an Indy Racing League record. And the average speed, the old record was 175.276. It was in the family, held by Scott Goodyear, running with Panther at Texas 2000. Record speed today 179.345.

Q Sam, could you talk about bumping wheels with Jaques, what's it like to bump wheels at 217 miles an hour?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I didn't really know we bumped wheels. I don't know what it feels like to bump wheels, but I'm glad it wasn't any more exciting than what it was (laughter). That was a real close race. You know, I think the first race I ever lead in Indy Racing League competition, I was battling side by side with Jaques for about 40 laps at Kentucky. It's always good to be able to run next to him. I know he's not going to do anything crazy, and I try not to, either.

Q About 10 laps to go, Eddie blew his engine. What went through your mind at that point?

Sam Hornish Jr.: Well.... (Laughter) . Last week I said when you have two guys in front of you in the closing laps of the race, you know you got to get by both of them, it's really tough to. All I saw was two blue cars in front of me. Doesn't matter what color they are, there was two of them. That was one less car I had to pass at the end, so helped out.

Q What was the deal with your radio and how did you get it fixed?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I don't know what the deal was. I could talk to them, but all I could hear is about the first two words of anything they could say. Pretty much things one of things where Pancho (Carter) would say, 'Clear,' and I would move in. That was the last thing I could hear. They would try to give me the rundown or something. 'Whatever you need to tell me, tell me in the pit because I can only hear the first half of your sentence.'

Q To get a couple other people into the mix. Both Gary and John, we have gone through this before, but I was privy to the audition, if you will, for Sam Hornish Jr. that took place at the Kentucky Speedway. Gary, what was it, did you have to be sold on this young guy? You had a successful team, and Sam had some impressive runs with PDM notably, and somebody probably came to you, referred to you as one of the guys that writes the checks, says, 'We want to hire Sam Hornish Jr.'

Gary Pedigo: It was the entire team. If we hadn't hired Sam, they would all have quit, I think. They all fell in love with him. They liked him. They thought he had great talent. They like him as a person. We told this story before, John and I. We've never been lobbied so hard in our lives to be influenced to hire somebody. The team really wanted Sam. We liked Sam, too. Bingo.

Q John, an individual who has been a great observer of this sport for many years cornered me not long ago and said, 'I really haven't been able to watch this guy in person, but he's a really special talent.' Talk about your eye for Sam early on. And given his penchant for the outside moves, does that ever make you clutch your stomach just a little bit and hold your breath? When he makes the move, it's bold and decisive.

John Barnes: That's one thing, I think God has given us the ability to close our eyes (laughter). And we do that quite frequently. No, we know his talents, we know he doesn't put the car in danger. He's a specially talented human being. We also feel we have a team, Andy (Brown, engineer), Kevin (Blanch, team manager), all the guys, I mean, they're really dedicated to our operation, and it's a family thing. They love him, he loves them, and they work really well together. It's the chemistry. That's the way it's always been. I don't care if your in the Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers, New York Yankees, it's all about chemistry, and right now we have that.

Q Where would you rank this race in IRL history, maybe even motorsports history, as one of the all-time greats?

John Barnes: It was pretty exciting. Gary and I, we kept looking at each other every time the car would go into (Turn) 1. Unfortunately, you can't see much. Just a little bit in front of you from pit road. But we could watch some of the telemetry. Actually what happened, Bruce asked about the radio, it was not a typical day at the office for Panther Racing. We had the speed sensor go out, which ended up costing us. We had no pit speed limiter. Sam did not know any idea what speed he was running at any time. Andy did calculations in the pits and we knew we had to run 4,200 rpm in second gear would give us at proper speed for pit lane. Pancho Carter did a great day job all day because we couldn't talk to him from the pits. We had to talk to Pancho, and Pancho was high enough, his antenna would work. We ran a radio up to Pancho after about the third lap. He was able to speak to Sam and on occasions, like Sam said, it was only good for a couple words, but it was good enough to make it happen. We couldn't see anything in pit lane as to what the telemetry was doing because the wheel speed sensor going out. Had to calculate the fuel all day. It was very tense down there in our little bungalow.

Sam Hornish Jr.: Andy told me six more laps. I knew I had less than five gallons. I tried to tell him on the radio it didn't look like it was going to make it to me, but it did.

Q John, Gary, talk about the race. You've been through a couple of these. The last Texas race was pretty darn similar.

John Barnes: I think all our races are great. If you go back, it ranks with the top two or three, for sure. But come next, on the 21st of April, I think you'll see another one just like it. That's what the IRL is all about.

Q Common wisdom in most forms of racing is two cars are better than one. You seemed to have flipped that equation already.

John Barnes: We can't afford a second one.

Gary Pedigo: Amen. We've had lots of opportunities. We had people come to us and want to run a second car, offer us X amount of dollars. Realistically, if you don't have enough, it's silly to do it. You just make yourself look bad, you make the sponsor look bad, you make the driver look bad. We have really stuck to our guns with a second car. We'll run a second car if we had a fully funded deal. We haven't had that yet. I'm glad we've done that. We've put all our efforts into the yellow monster.

Sam Hornish Jr.: Is that me or the car (laughter)?

Gary Pedigo: Both. Ask Cheever (laughter).

Q How much fun was it to be able to race against some different guys other than the two red-and-white cars that you had the first two races?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I don't know. We were out front by ourselves for quite a long time. We were just kind of racing against ourselves, trying to stay out of trouble, conserve some fuel. Then we had three blue cars in front of us, so that was kind of exciting. You know, I trust everybody I go out and race with. It's one of those things, sometimes you're a little bit more cautious, and you have to know when somebody is having a good day and when somebody is having a bad day. It was exciting for me. I had a lot of fun today. I didn't take any water the whole race. I was just too in tune to try to go out. Sometimes when I'm getting frustrated, I want a drink of water, I'm thirsty. Today I was too busy thinking about how I wanted to win this race because I knew if I was behind on the second lap, second-to-the-last lap, it was going to be real hard to get around anybody because they were going to hug that white line.

Q Couple people that have been successful in this sport. John and Gary, you have been supporters of Indy Racing League from the beginning. Talk about the significance of moving into this market and your feelings about today, how we can move forward with that.

Gary Pedigo: This is a great market. I don't know how many people are in California, but you can drive around and see the size of this place. It's incredible. So it's a good market. I've said this before. The so-called contest between CART and IRL, I believe it's a matter of the IRL having the far better product. This is a great racing product. I think more and more people will catch on to that. I love being out here. This is great.

Q John, your thoughts about it?

John Barnes: I think there's a lot of people that obviously did the wrong thing today. If they had been here, they would have had a hell of a time.

Q Sam, some of the drivers have said this is a precursor to Indy, they were testing equipment for Indy here even though the tracks aren't identical. Was the that case for your team?

Sam Hornish Jr.: As far as that goes, it's a totally different track. As far as keeping the driver patient throughout the whole race, that's part of it. It's a good start to getting ready for Indy. As far as reliability of the car goes, it's a good start to getting ready for Indy. We're just pretty happy with how everything went today, knowing how reliable the car has been over the past, you know, 17 races or however many that we ran since I've been running for Panther Racing, 16 races, we haven't gone out of the race because of car problems or mechanical problems or anything like that. I know when I go to Indy, all I got to do is keep it going straight coming out of turn four this year, should have a pretty good day.

John Barnes: Our crew and stuff has just done an incredible job as far as keeping the car underneath our drivers. I mean, it's a testament also to Chevrolet and General Motors, Speedway Engines. They've just done -- I can't tell you what they've done for us. They always have the best product for us, always the most reliable, and the same with Firestone tires. They do a great job for us. We didn't have a problem with those all day. We could have probably ran them two stops and been beautiful when we took them home.

Q With the rubber laid down, this was a green track, track, then you had several racing series run before you, but was the rubber laid down by those series any problem for the cars here?

Sam Hornish Jr.: The biggest problem we had today was when we started the race, it was completely cloud cover. About halfway into the race, the sun came out, the clouds went away for a while, it made the track a lot hotter. We didn't have enough downforce in the front of the car to be able to grip that, plus we didn't really want to carry that drag around. It changed. It made the track a little bit greasy. Toward the end of the race, I think we got a little bit better handle on our car, made an adjustment in the steering in the pit stops. I don't think it was any of the rubber or the fact that the track was green. This track, everybody thought it would be a flat-out race, and did you have to lift going through Turn 1, as soon as the track tires are up, the track's heated up, a little greasy, you start to push. The car was great in (turns) 3 and 4 all day long. It was how we were able to make our run.

Q Congratulations for a tremendous race.

Sam Hornish Jr.: Thank you.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Goodyear , Pancho Carter , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr. , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing