IRL Weekly Teleconference Feb. 17, 2004 with Darren Manning and Greg Ray MODERATOR: Darren, you've been in the car for four full days of Open Testing with the IRL now. You've gotten quicker each day. Obviously you're getting more and more ...
IRL Weekly Teleconference
Feb. 17, 2004
with Darren Manning and Greg Ray
MODERATOR: Darren, you've been in the car for four full days of Open Testing with the IRL now. You've gotten quicker each day. Obviously you're getting more and more comfortable in the car.
DARREN MANNING: It's going really, really well. We had a few tests before Christmas, which was great for me. I signed up so early, compared to normal, so it's been nice to be able to kind of feel myself into the car and the team, get to know everybody, get to know the car with plenty of miles under my belt and get ready for the first race.
Q: Do you feel like that, the four test days we've had, four Open Test days, Q: Darren, the majority of your racing experience really has been on road and street courses. What is your comfort level with the big ovals this year?
DARREN MANNING: The team undoubtedly is one of the best, if not the best, on the American circuit. And, you know, I've settled in very well with those guys. The ovals for me, they're just two corners instead of 12 corners or 20 corners. It's just turns that I've got to try and drive faster than everybody else on. I don't want to be too cocky or anything, but I felt pretty comfortable from the get-go in my first experience a couple years ago in that one-off race over in Rockingham (England).
Q: That was your first race in the Champ Car in Rockingham on an oval?
DARREN MANNING: Yes, that's right. Over in Rockingham, England, the only kind of oval in the UK. The circuit put on a one-off kind of drive, Team St. George, a pretty good concept, I think. They decided to put me in the car. That's really what kind of got my U.S. career started, really.
Q: Give us your thoughts on coming into the IRL with such a great team, a championship team.
DARREN MANNING: It's perfect for me. The only other opportunity I had like this was when I raced over in Japan for the TOMS Toyota Formula 3 team. They were kind of the Chip Ganassi of Formula 3. They were champions from the previous year. They had a strong engine package in Toyota, similar to what I've got now. They had good setups, like I say, coming off a championship-winning season for them. That was the only season that I ever had that, and I won a championship with them. Normally, I'm scrimping and saving, no spare cars, no spare wings, just really, really on a tight budget. I know what I can do with limited resources, so I really can't wait to get my hands on what these guys have got.
Q: Can you speak of some of your previous experience in racing? Tell us what you've done before you got here.
DARREN MANNING: Wow, well, where do I start? I started when I was 10 years old in gokarts over in the UK. I raced in British championships, European and World championship-level karting with pretty good success. Then when I was 17, I moved into single-seater racing, Formula Vauxhall Junior, which is sort of a Formula Ford equivalent championship. I did a season in that and came in second in that championship. Moved up into Formula Vauxhall, which is kind of a Barber Dodge equivalent for a couple of years. I raced in British and Euro series races. I think I was fourth or fifth in those championships. Then I moved up into Formula 3 for a few years. I raced in Japan in Formula 3, like I was saying, in '99, and won the championship there. At the end of the season, there are World Championship Formula 3 races in Macau and Korea. I finished in second place in both races. That really kind of pushed me into the limelight over in Europe in the Formula 1 scene. I got a test contract with BAR, British American Racing. Also a crack, you know, at fully-funded Formula 3000 effort. Unfortunately, it was a pretty new team and had limited success, a few podiums and a few poles, but no wins in my two years there. Then I had to kind of take a bit of a sidestep, as funds were running short in Formula 3000. I raced for a partial season in 2002 in the ASCAR Series, which is a stock-car series over in the UK. That basically was a Rockingham circuit kind of deal. Because I was kind of one of their drivers, they put me in their Champ Car for the Rockingham race. The last couple years, I'm sure you're familiar with.
Q: What do you hope to achieve this year in oval racing?
DARREN MANNING: I've got a chance. I'm going to go into every race with a chance of winning. They've shown they can lead laps, win races and win a championship. I've got every opportunity. I've got all the resources at hand to really realize what I can do.
I'm going to Homestead really thinking I stand a great chance of winning. If I go into every race thinking that, and hopefully, doing that at the odd time, the championship could hopefully follow. I'm sure Scott (Dixon) has probably got something to say about that. He did it in his first year, so there's no reason why I can't. I'm really looking forward to it.
Q: Did you say anything yet about what Dixon said to you at Phoenix with regard to how the Panoz G Force was?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, absolutely. That's one of the great things about the Ganassi outfit. They get us working so closely together. Hopefully, that's one of the reasons why they chose me, being a team player. Scott and I get along well. We discuss the setups on our car, how our days are going, how we can go better all the time. We're working hard with the engineers together. We were both saying exactly the same things. I think with the amount of downforce that the IRL has taken away from the cars to try to slow them down, it maybe brought the cars a little bit out of their sweet spot. It just took a little bit of time to get them back into that. It's just a little bit of a smaller operating window, putting a bit more of the onus back onto the drivers and teams. The drivers don't normally like it to be hard work. They normally like to jump in and be fast straightaway. We just have a bit of work to do. Obviously, Scott being fastest, I think I was sixth fastest in the second day afternoon, just a tenth or so behind Scott. You know, we were looking all right at the end of the day.
Q: What is your experience with other drivers in this series? I was trying to remember who you've raced with, if anyone.
DARREN MANNING: Well, yeah, nobody, really. I know Dario (Franchitti) and Dan Wheldon pretty well. Dario is obviously a bit older than me and was a few categories ahead of me. Dan was a little bit younger, and so was Mark (Taylor). So the Brits I haven't raced against very much, really. I guess Scott (Dixon) probably in the race at Rockingham in '02 in the Champ Car race. I think that's probably about it.
Q: What do you sense about the depth of this IRL field? Certainly, it looks to me like seven or eight, maybe nine guys could be championship contenders. Do you think it's that deep?
DARREN MANNING: Oh, yeah, without a doubt, if not even more so. You've got the three top teams in Ganassi, Penske and the Andretti Green outfit there, all massively strong. It is going to be close. I think with the new rules, a bit more of the onus is back into the hands of the drivers and teams. A few of the smaller outfits are probably hoping, rubbing their hands together, thinking, 'We stand maybe more of a chance now.'
I think it's going to be close. I'll probably tell you after the first race what it's more like.
Q: At Walker Racing, you were kind of situated just north of the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway. What are your thoughts now about coming to the 500? Last year, did you see the track, have you gone through the track? What is your experience with it?
DARREN MANNING: I was actually watching in Turn 3 in the grandstands last year. I went with a few of the mechanics from Walker Racing. I wanted to see what it was like. It's been on my list of events that I wanted to race and win. I had the opportunity to go and watch it as a spectator last year. It's great. I mean, 400,000, 500,000 people in one arena in one day. It's like nothing else. I can't wait. It's going to be great. The whole Month of May. Normally a race is just on a weekend, and you don't get much build-up. But to have a whole month...To live here in Indy, as well, it's going to be the highlight of my career so far.
Q: You and Mark Taylor are both the rookies here. One of the high honors at the Speedway the first year is Rookie-of-the-Year. Two British guys competing for it. Will that be kind of interesting?
DARREN MANNING: Unfortunately, I'm going to be a rookie at the Indianapolis 500. So, yeah, it's going to be good going up against him in the 500. But they're not putting me in as a rookie for the full season, just for the 500. I guess with my CART experience and oval experience, it's a bit unfair to be calling me a rookie. I'm going to be going for all-out honors at the 500, trust me. Rookie honors, that will be an added bonus.
Q: You had those contracts to test in Formula One. Is it just too tough to break into Formula One? Do you have to bring money? What is the situation that you couldn't quite get over the hump and get a full-time ride?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, I mean, it's a number of things. All of those: money, having the right manager, knowing the right people, just being in the right place at the right time, the right team. It's so massively political. I really appreciated the response that I got from the American teams, both in IRL and CART, after I'd done the race at Rockingham. They seemed to appreciate the job that I did a lot more in the equipment that I had and the experience level that I had. You know, they really looked at every last detail and said, 'Wow, this guy actually did a bloody good job.' If that was a Formula One, even if I led a few laps out of pit strategy, finished on a lead lap in top-10 position, they would have said, 'So what, he finished ninth.' But it got me big recognition over here and a lot of meetings with all the team bosses, which is impossible in Formula One today.
MODERATOR: Just a side note on that previous question. Darren Manning will be considered a rookie at the Indianapolis 500, but he will not be eligible for season-long Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award.
Q: Had you driven an IRL car before the downforce change?
DARREN MANNING: Yes, yes. I drove an '03 car at the end of last year. I got a good comparison between the two. It's made the operating window a lot smaller and taken the car out of the sweet spot. That's why I guess you saw a lot of guys struggling at Phoenix, where downforce is an issue. Homestead, it's a drag-reduction exercise. Obviously, with the banking helping you there, you don't really need the downforce. It didn't really affect it too much there, which is why the speeds were pretty similar to the '03 cars. But when we got to Phoenix, we're trying to get as much downforce on the car as possible. Because of the reduction there, it was a little bit more hard work for the drivers and teams.
Q: Would you consider it a major change?
DARREN MANNING: I think so. I mean, these cars are operating with a huge amount of downforce. I think at certain circuits, you're wanting to utilize all that and more. The more downforce you get on the cars, the better. At places like Phoenix, these short ovals, anything that's been taken away is a hindrance for speed. Obviously, everybody's got the same thing, so it's not too much of an issue in other respects. It just makes it a little bit tougher, that's all.
Q: You've only had one oval race, I believe, is that correct?
DARREN MANNING: No, no. I raced -- I did three -- I've done Milwaukee, Germany and Rockingham. Two last year and one the year before.
Q: How would you compare the IRL car to the CART cars that you drove?
DARREN MANNING: Well, they're quite a bit different. They've got a bit more downforce than the Champ Cars. Obviously, they're specifically designed to only turn left. The Champ Cars are very much a compromised car for driving street circuits, road circuits and ovals, so you're always compromising what you do on an oval. It's nice to be in a car that's specifically designed in every respect, every nut and bolt, to go fast on an oval. It's been a different kind of mindset for me. You know, it's actually quite nice.
Q: What's the IRL car going to be like on a road course?
DARREN MANNING: I think it will be fine. Obviously, quite a few parts on the car need to be changed, like the left-hand side upright, maybe a little bit of suspension, because obviously, we're going to be turning left and right. But it should be minor changes. I'll tell you after we have a go.
Q: The last time a British driver won the Indy 500 was in 1966 when Graham Hill did it. The year before that was Jim Clark. How would you feel in Victory Lane there if you were joining that kind of a crowd?
DARREN MANNING: It would be such an emotional time. Everybody over in England obviously recognizes the Indy 500 as the biggest motor-racing event in the world. To not have had a British winner since then, don't worry, it's been well documented. If I'm the guy to follow in his footsteps, I'll be massively pleased. It does mean a lot. I love the history of motorsports and things. The museum there down at the track, I love going down there and seeing all the old cars and things. If I can put my name and car in there, I'll be very pleased.
Q: You mentioned the Indy 500 is something you definitely want to put on your resume. Is this a hiatus? Is your goal still Formula One?
DARREN MANNING: I've pretty much taken a new tack, especially now. Maybe until last year, when I got this drive, which is obviously one of the best drives in the U.S., I was possibly thinking still more Formula One, wondering whether I have got a career in the U.S. Hopefully, it's pretty obvious that I do now, now that I got chosen for this drive. I'm looking to really put my roots down here in the States. I love this kind of racing. You know, the American fans are really taking to me. I love it a lot. It's a lot different to racing in Europe. Obviously, if one of the top-three teams, let's say for example, McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, if one of those guys called me up and said, 'We have a drive, we want to pay you X amount of millions,' I'd talk to them. I want to win races. There's lots of teams in the U.S. that are capable of doing that in U.S. racing. We're one of the best. That's going to give me a chance every time I go out. If you go over to Formula 1 for one of the midfield, back-end teams, if you're not in one of the top-three teams, you're not going to stand a chance of winning, no matter what I can generate.
I'm happy to be here. I wouldn't reject a top-running Formula One team.