IRL: Dan Wheldon, Roger Yasukawa rookie press conference, part I

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Sept. 9, 2003 Yasukawa and Wheldon Part 1 of 3 K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Sept. 9. Today we are going to focus on...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Sept. 9, 2003

Yasukawa and Wheldon

Part 1 of 3

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Sept. 9. Today we are going to focus on the IndyCara Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year points chase with its two leading contenders, drivers Roger Yasukawa and Dan Wheldon. Our first guest is Roger Yasukawa. He is the driver of the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing. He currently stands 11th overall in the driver standings with 255 points over 14 events and leads the rookie points chase by 10 points over Dan Wheldon. Thus far in 2003, Roger has registered six top-10 finishes over his 14 events, including an eighth-place finish this past Sunday at the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Roger, good morning and thanks for joining us today.

R. Yasukawa: Good morning, Kent. It is my pleasure to be here with you.

K. Johnson: For starters, you are currently leading the rookie driver standings with two races remaining on the 2003 schedule. Heading into this season, was being the top rookie one of your goals, and what were your goals overall heading into this year?

R. Yasukawa: Well, first of all, I would say trying to win the rookie of the year was definitely my main goal. Obviously, that is one thing that you can do only in your rookie year, and coming into the season, well, really, when I signed the contract with the team last year, that was my main goal. So, we have been working hard to reach that, and we are getting close to it, although Dan Wheldon is catching me up in a hurry at the last couple of races. So, I think we need to regroup and refocus on finishing the races, really, ideally ahead of Dan Wheldon. But I think both of us have improved towards the end of the season, and we are racing up front all the time, so it is really hard to keep that focus when you are fighting for the race position up front.

K. Johnson: When you talk about racing up front, this past weekend up at Chicagoland Speedway you had positioned yourself as one of the contenders for the lead over the final 10 laps. I mean, that was just incredible racing. What were your impressions of going side by side for the lead over the last 10 laps to the checkered flag?

R. Yasukawa: Well, I mean, to be honest, when I went two-wide with Bryan (Herta) with six laps to go, I thought 'I am going to have the win,' and unfortunately, it was not my day. When Dan came three-wide with me, and Bryan got a little bit higher and we touched, I had to eventually back off. So to that extent, I was not very happy with the result, but that is the way things go, and at this point, I was really excited with that racing, and I think I have a lot more confidence now, racing up front, and we have two more races that probably are going to be in similar situations at the end. So, hopefully, I will be up there again, and next time I hope I can prove that I can win one of these races.

K. Johnson: Looking at your performances this season, you have actually recorded your best finishes on the bigger tracks. Five of your six top-10s have come on tracks of 1.5 miles or longer. You mentioned the last two races, they are both taking place on larger tracks and that looks to bode well for you.

R. Yasukawa: Yes, for sure. Initially, I thought we were doing better at short ovals because I did have some short-oval racing experience from my past career, but as we started to race on bigger tracks, it takes different skills, but I think that through experience, and once I learned what I needed to do with those races, I think I was picking up my results, and it is still getting better and better. We are actually trying to work more on qualifying performance. I think we are starting a little bit too behind, and we just really need to focus on the end of the race, but I think everything is going well. We are still working hard to improve our good position, but that is the beauty of an IRL (IndyCar Series) race. I mean, the last 20 laps everybody is focused on that, and maybe you need to position yourself to be there for the win. It does not go as planned all the time. You know you have to some of the luck, and you have to have a good car, you have to have the confidence. So, you know, I think we are getting close to it, but I think the last two races it should be better.

K. Johnson: How difficult is it to pinpoint the qualifying setup? You mentioned you get in the race, you have so many variables that you can put together to make things happen. You have your teamwork in the pits, you have the opportunity to fine-tune the car over the length of the race, but you mentioned not striking gold, so to speak, in qualifying. What is it about trying to find a qualifying setup that makes it so difficult?

R. Yasukawa: Well, especially for us being a one-car team, we really do not have as much time trying to figure out what would be the best for qualifying setup because we would rather focus on the race setup. That is more important with the minimal amount of track time you have during the weekend. So, I think that has probably been the biggest factor of our qualifying performance. However, like last weekend, we really just focused on the right setup, and it paid off at the end of the race. So, you know, I think it is a little bit hard to focus. I mean, from a driver's standpoint, you always want to be up front on the time chart, so when you see yourself like in 18th place in a qualifying position, well, that does not give you a lot of confidence. But if you know your car is going to work during the race, I mean, that is the most important thing. Again, it is hard to pinpoint your car for qualifying. It is also hard to make your car go quick in the draft. They are two different courses, and I think that is the hardest part of the Indy Racing League: to make your car work good in both situations.

K. Johnson: Well, Roger, before we open our forum for questions from the media, you are actually calling in from Japan this morning. I guess it is about 1 a.m. over there right now. Give us an idea, if you can, of the excitement or the viewpoint that the Japanese have taken towards the IndyCar Series this year. I know we raced at Motegi and just had a fabulous event over there, a lot of enthusiasm, but as the season has progressed, tell us how the people and the media have embraced our style of racing.

R. Yasukawa: Well, I think this year it has been a big improvement in Japan for the IndyCar Series in general. I think having the race in Motegi was a big thing. A lot of fans were able to come to the race and see the excitement. At the same time, between myself and Tora Takagi, Tora had a podium finish and I am leading the rookie group through the year to this point, and I think that builds up a lot of media attention, and a lot of people are excited to see the race next year. I think this year's race in Motegi was a good race to watch, but a lot of people are asking me for the tickets next season, and I am sure, since it is going to be the second year, all of the teams are going to have all the information and data from the race this year. I think it is going to be more competitive next year, and I am actually looking forward to go back there.

Q: I am just wondering if, coming back to Fontana, if this is a track you have had any history at, whether testing or whatever, and is this kind of home, because I think I saw that you listed your residence as Los Angeles?

R. Yasukawa: Yes, that is correct, I still live in Los Angeles. I was born in Los Angeles, and I would consider Fontana being my home race. Actually, Fontana was the first track for me to be on the superspeedway. Actually, my rookie test was at Phoenix, but Fontana was my first experience going 200 miles per hour or over that. So, we have some experience at the track, as well as at the Open Test or Test In The West earlier, as part of the season. So we are pretty confident going into it, especially after the race at Michigan. I know the track is fairly similar to Michigan, and we had a decent race there. It should be an exciting one, but for me, it is going to be a special one because I am going to have a lot of family and friends there, and I would certainly like to perform well.

Q: Roger, people talk about (Southern California) as a NASCAR market. I have always felt, Roger, that this track is much better for open-wheel racing. You guys had a barn-burner up there last March, where Sam Hornish beat Jaques Lazier off the final turn by a wheel-well, or something like that. Do people ask you about why you chose open-wheel as opposed to maybe going into what they might be more familiar with, like stock cars?

R. Yasukawa: Well, not many people actually have asked me about that because most of my friends around me have always been open-wheel fans. However, NASCAR is also good for spectators. I think it provides a lot of excitement, but from my point of view, I think IndyCar (Series) racing is always the most exciting race, as everybody saw last week at Chicagoland. I mean, we were going three-wide at that track. I think that almost shows that we may be able to go four-wide. There is a corner at Fontana that is going to be hard, but I think the race at Fontana is probably going to be just as exciting. And with all of the competition, with great teams and great manufacturers with Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet, I mean, that makes the racing a great sport between the drivers, and it is going to be a fun race.

Q: Roger, the last thing, in terms of the home-track advantage, I know this is kind of like a home track for others in Mexico. For Adrian Fernandez, he has a tremendous following at CART races in Fontana. So, having him as your boss, there might be a lot of good karma here.

R. Yasukawa: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think that is part of our team being great. I mean, it is an international team with myself from California and Aguri Suzuki from Japan and Adrian from Mexico. I think that fits into how California is.

Q: Looking in the eyes of those of you who were running two- and three-wide in those last 10 laps, after the (Chicagoland) race was over with, it almost seemed as though you guys were just mentally spent. After doing that for the first time, when you went to the co-down lap, what was going through your head when you realized what you had done?

R. Yasukawa: Well, I think I was definitely excited after the race, and actually, to be honest, I was so gutted not being able to finish in the top three that going two-wide and three-wide was pretty much out of my mind. If I still remember it, I think I had done something crazy, and everybody kept saying I was crazy after the race. So, really, at this point, my focus is doing the same thing and trying to win one of these races, and that is the most important thing for me right now.

Q: Do you have a leg up now in your career or has the learning curve been steepened a bit because now you can say, 'OK, I have done it, and I can do it?'

R. Yasukawa: Absolutely. I think that is something we kept building this season. Finally, we got to that point, and we still need to prove that we can win races, but it certainly does not come easy when you have guys like Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves and Bryan Herta and Tony Kanaan and all of those guys. It is a tough series, and you have to give your 100 percent, if not 120 percent, to win the race, and that is what everybody else was doing. There was a slight contact, but obviously, you have to anticipate that and try to come out the best. So we did not end up winning (at Chicagoland), but I think one of those days should come.

@#Q: And is it one of those situations where you get so close you almost want to say, 'Hey, let's do this tomorrow, I need to get back in the race car?'

R. Yasukawa: I mean, I certainly thought, 'Let's do it for another 20 laps,' you know, but if the race is 400 laps, you have to make the best out of it, and whoever wins it in any certain way, he wins the race. So, you know, you really have to plan everything, and the timing has got to be right, and I think that is the beauty of racing. I mean, it is not easy, but if you give it all of your best, then you will be able to win the race.

Q: Are you traveling a lot to Japan these days?

R. Yasukawa: Good question. Actually, I would say yes, because after Motegi I have only been back twice, but looking at the schedule, we really did not have much of a weekend off after that, after the Motegi weekend. So, almost every week that I have off, I do travel back to Japan. There are two things. I try to work on my sponsorship deal for next season, and at the same time, I get together with my trainer, who is actually based here in Japan, to train together. Those are the things that I mainly focus on. Really, the jetlag thing does not bother me at all, so flying does not bother me. I just leave L.A. and come back to Japan and do what I need to do.

@#Q: Are you set for next season?

R. Yasukawa: I don't know yet. I mean, it is looking good at this point, but I always say until the deal is signed, I am not 100 percent sure. But, hopefully, for the next two races, if I perform well, I am sure that I will be able to stay with the team, and I would love to stay with them. My team, Super Aguri Fernandez, did a great job, and we have fantastic people like Tom Anderson, John Dick and the rest of the group, so I will be looking forward to being with them next year again.

Part II


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Jaques Lazier  , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Tom Anderson , Aguri Suzuki , Sam Hornish Jr.