FONTANA, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002 - The transcript of the videoconference Feb. 5 featuring drivers Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Buddy Lazier and Scott Sharp, who will represent the Indy Racing League in the True Value IROC series this...
FONTANA, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002 - The transcript of the videoconference Feb. 5 featuring drivers Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Buddy Lazier and Scott Sharp, who will represent the Indy Racing League in the True Value IROC series this year. The four drivers were speaking from Daytona International Speedway, where they were testing IROC cars:
RON GREEN (Host, Indy Racing League Director of Media Relations): Ladies and gentlemen, it is great to welcome these four to the media here at California Speedway. Looks like you have a beautiful day there. Lets start with Buddy Lazier, Indy Racing League champion. He is the all-time career winner in the series and, of course, is from Vail, Colorado. Next to him is Sam Hornish Jr. Sam is the pride of Defiance, Ohio, and is the 2001 and defending Indy Racing League champion. Next to Sam is Helio Castroneves, one of the hottest, sexiest drivers in the world according to - what is that, Helio, did you pay them for that honor or is that something they told you about?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, my goodness.
SCOTT SHARP: He lobbied for that.
CASTRONEVES: Working all my life for that. I think the guys need to use eyeglasses. What can I say? You know, Ron.
GREEN: Winning the Indy 500 is big, but not as big as being voted one of the sexiest, at least, right?
CASTRONEVES: Every time I get out of the car I put my hair in order, and they mess it up.
GREEN: Scott Sharp sitting next to Helio, and Scott was the co-champion of the Indy Racing League in 1996. Scott, you have won a race in each of the last four seasons, and one of the winningest drivers on the circuit. Of course, the reason we're here to talk to them, all four of these drivers have received invitations to participate in the True Value International Race of Champions this year. Al Unser Jr. is the fifth driver to participate in the series but is not available for this uplink. Guys, we got a lot of folks gathered here in the media room at California Speedway. This is being transcribed. We're going to turn over the wireless mikes for questions so they will identify themselves, and there will be a slight lag because of the satellite time, but let's go ahead and open it up for questions. We have a good 40 minutes right here up front.
MEDIA MEMBER: This is for Sam. Have you gotten any special advice from any of the NASCAR drivers in working in the IROC so you would be able to do more drafting and that kind of stuff?
HORNISH: I haven't got anything other than what the drivers, the test driver of IROC cars test drive so far, so I haven't talked to the NASCAR drivers, nobody too much.
GREEN: Follow up?
LAZIER: I would add that lot of the Winston Cup teams and drivers are just moving in right now. It is the first day of practice. I am guessing Sam will probably get - I know last year as a rookie I got a lot of advice from those guys. They are really helpful and just not here yet. It is too early in Speed Weeks to be here.
GREEN: Questions? Raise your hand.
MEDIA MEMBER: Stand by, guys. Buddy, there is strength in numbers, but as the five IRL drivers in the field, you plan to work together as a team with the NASCAR drivers that have always dominated there?
LAZIER: They have a lot of miles here, and we're competing in a race car that they are familiar with. Driving a stock car, closed-race car, they have much more narrow tires, they are heavier, less downforce, less grip. So there is a lot of differences. So we really do need to work together. The Cup guys work together with one another, and for us to have success we need to all work together.
MEDIA MEMBER: What does it actually mean to you guys both personally and career-wise to be invited into IROC?
CASTRONEVES: For me, for example, my experience is kind of nothing over here, and so, to be honest, it is an honor. Especially with all these champions and great athletes, I would say. I am very happy to be the chosed one actually to be selected after winning Indy last year, so I am sure I am going to have a lot of fun. I am sure it is going to be great to all of us here, and it is something always to learn in our career.
GREEN: All four of the drivers to respond to that question. Guys, let's go to Scott Sharp next. Scott, how about you being back in IROC, what is it like?
SHARP: It is a great experience. It is a chance, like Helio said, competing against top-notch drivers all the way across the board. I think it is a chance for all of us to come down here and catch up all week and the next week, week and a half, gain as much experience as we can. Obviously, those guys are so experienced in their cars in Daytona. We're trying to learn every bit as much we can and hopefully once race time rolls around give a really good show.
GREEN: Sam, what about you?
HORNISH: Pretty much excited to get out there and get time on the track. As far as being invited to the IROC series, it is something that I always wanted to do and really can't wait until the first race. We go also to California, Chicago and Indianapolis. So those are all races that I would like to compete at and get a little more time on those tracks, because we run all those tracks on the Indy Racing Series.
GREEN: Buddy, great for you being back at the series a second straight year.
LAZIER: Huge honor, International Race of Champions. It is a lot of fun, it really is. It is about fun as much as it is competitive. Everybody wants, I don't know about braking lights, but everybody wants to be up front, but the cars are so equal. The Signores does such a great job preparing the cars equal. It is a lot of fun and tremendous, tremendous honor to be invited to this IROC and really looking forward to it.
MEDIA MEMBER: To all four drivers, tell us about the upcoming IRL season and what kind of season it figures to be. It should be a very exciting season, I would imagine.
SHARP: Starting from the beginning, I mean, first-year race, and I think every year the series takes one sep forward, another step forward, sometimes two steps forward, and I think -- as we go into the 2002 season. So it is the best year we have, 15 races and some great markets. Obviously very competitive new teams. It is the front group, you know. The group that maybe was 10 or 12 strong just grew to 14 or 15 strong. That is going to provide some fabulous races, especially on the high drag, big tracks. The series gets more and more competitive and poised for a very exciting year.
CASTRONEVES: Be new for me. Basically, we are starting a new challenge in my career and in our future ahead, hopefully. We race Indianapolis and finish last year, and we had a little bit of taste. I basically raced with these guys a long time ago. I am sure we're going to have to adapt to different tracks that especially team has never been and even the tracks that we have been with the CART series. The cars and equipment is a little bit different. So basically have a little adaptation and little time to make sure we get comfortable. And when we get there, we try to do our best, but so far it is a very competitive field as I had experienced last year. Definitely I am very optimistic. Hopefully, I am going to learn a lot, and I am really looking forward to start right away.
HORNISH: I am looking forward to hopefully another good year at Pennzoil, and they are racing, pretty much, go out with the same deals we had last year, finish the first couple of races high in the order and establish a good points race for Indianapolis 500. Basically do everything we did last year, go out and try to win as many races. IRL is going to be lot stronger, tougher for us, but if we have any kind of year like we did last year, we'll be pretty well off.
GREEN: Since you did better in last year's performance, winning four or five races in one stretch, I know that you are excited for a lot of reasons. You got the new primary sponsor and coming off a strong 2001.
LAZIER: Yeah, really proud to have Coors Light grow to a primary sponsor, and being a Colorado native and being sponsored by a Colorado corporation is wonderful. It is so fun with the Indy Racing League because each year there is a growth. And every time we've gone into an offseason, we're looking forward to the next season with such anticipation because there is so much to always look forward to. It has been a wonderful ride. I think everybody that is involved with the Indy Racing League is very excited for the future. And from a competitor's point of view, you can't help but be excited because you know that the playing field is equal and going into racing is a fresh sheet of paper. All the race cars are very competitive. All the race teams are going to be competitive, so anybody who enters a car and any race driver has a chance to win any of the races, and that is motivating and pretty exciting.
GREEN: Yes, ma'am, down front.
MEDIA MEMBER: First question is for Buddy Lazier. Buddy, as a driver who has been through IROC first, open-wheel racing, what has been the toughest bar in learning to drive draft with a full-body car in the races? I have a question for Helio, also.
LAZIER: I think the more difficult thing is getting used to the level of contact. There is definitely rubbing, and you know we can't do that with open-wheel cars. If you just slightly touch, that is about all you can get away with in an open-wheel car, but you know, honestly, it is really lots of fun. And the thing we keep reminding ourselves is we are doing this for fun, and it is an honor to be in the series. They take care of us, we take care of them, taking care of one another, because we're out here for a good show and to have fun. But we are all making a living doing our racing away from IROC, so nobody wants to get hurt. But it is good competition and getting used to the rubbing takes some time.
MEDIA MEMBER: Helio. What different steps are you going to find bringing an IRL car to the (California ) speedway from the car that you have driven in the past?
CASTRONEVES: Obviously, the car is different than we're used to. Last year, running 230 or 220 something, and this year I believe IRL was rated 219, 220. I guess it is a little bit different that we expect. Again, my teammates have already test over there and try to make a good job and the setup to me. And later on, I go there and kick his butt. But I am sure it is going to be interesting. I haven't raced yesterday, to be honest, with the IRL car, tomorrow is going to be my first time. I am just going to take it easy and hopefully I will feel different.
MEDIA MEMBER: This question initially to Sam, but also like to talk to anyone with comment. Sam, the arrival of Penske raises the buck in terms of finances and resources. What are you and your team going to do to sort of ward off the Penske powerhouse?
HORNISH: I don't think there is a whole lot more that we can do than just go out there and do the best job that we can. We know that last year that we had a lot of good teams to race against, and now we have more. As long as we keep our goals focused wherever they are supposed to be and going out there and trying to not do anything spectacular, but to be up front as long as we can at as many races we can. I think it is just, you know, a matter of planning. As long as we keep all of our goals focused and not try to do anything more than what we planned on doing at the beginning of the year. We have Chevrolet engines of this year and also Firestone tires, Dallara chassis, same thing we ran last year, so we're very familiar with the package and that could be our strong suit this year.
GREEN: Scott, what is the schedule for you? You are on the track today, and all four of you get on a plane and come here today?
SHARP: We are waiting for them to pick us up and fly us out there to Fontana and test tomorrow. And most of us are going to Phoenix, find our way down to Phoenix. I know myself, get back here as early as I can, keep getting more experience. Next Monday, back on the track, actually a day that has a couple more practice sessions and the rest of the week. Try to get back here Monday and grab seat time whenever we can throughout the week.
CASTRONEVES: We asked Scott to be our flight attendant today.
SHARP: Helio is going to be co-pilot.
GREEN: Have you been back on the track today?
SHARP: We just finished a session, about an hour session. Buddy just got here, but the three of us were able to hook up along with Danny Lasoski and working together and feeling the draft out and starting the whole process.
GREEN: What kind of speeds did you run, do you know?
SHARP: They gave us stopwatch speeds; 52 seconds.
MEDIA MEMBER: Sam, since this is going to be a new experience for you. How much time have you spent practicing getting in and out of those cars? That is a different deal, isn't it?
HORNISH: It is a little bit different. Basically, the hardest thing about it is fitting through the window with the HANS device and a big closed-face helmet that we run in Indy cars. I haven't had any problem with that yet. The biggest thing we have to do as far as the team of open-wheel drivers is go out there and learn to work together, because that is the only way that you are going to have any kind of friend on the racetrack is somebody else that has the same purpose. We all want to come here and do things that haven't been done before, and a lot of time you have seen in the past guys haven't tried to work together too much, and we're working on that already so we can figure out who will be at the Winston Cup.
GREEN: This is the only time you have driven something with a roof over your head, right?
HORNISH: Second time I have driven the IROC cars; first time in Daytona, second time about 40 laps with Dave Marcis and Jim Sauter. They get out there and tell us how to use the draft and how to use the air to our advantage and slow the air down with the air coming off our cars. There is a lot of things to learn yet, and it is going to take some time, but hopefully by the last couple of races of the year we'll be up front all the time.
MEDIA MEMBER: Scott and Buddy, can you address the questions I asked earlier about what you and your teams are going to be doing to be competitive with Penske?
LAZIER: You know, we know Penske has deep resources, huge history in open-wheel Indy-car Racing. You can tell by the equipment purchases and the way that they are approaching it very seriously. So knowing that they are going to be very tough competition, we don't want to do a whole lot different. We want to be the best that we can do. The series is so good. Having an even playing field, it really comes down to who gets it right on race day, who gets it right on race weekend. We think that, of course, they are going to be really tough, but there is a lot of tough teams that have been in the Indy Racing League and continue to grow and improve in their resources area. It is going to be a competitive season. It is great having Penske back full time and two very talented race drivers, a lot of talented engineers. I just think it is a great to have them on board with us. But at the same time I think it is going to be tough racing all around.
GREEN: Scott, what about Kelley Racing?
SHARP: I am very excited for the Delphi-Kelley team. We had our best year last year, won the race, of course, had five second-place finishes, almost won a couple other races in those second-place finishes. Had that brief pole position. As a team, took a big step up, and I think if you look back on it, you know, Buddy and Sam were extremely consistent last year. You have to take your hat off to them and their team. There is a few races where we weren't able to get to the finish line whether it was for cut tires, bobble in Indianapolis, whatever it was, it took us out of the championship. We still finished third, and our goals last year were to get more consistently competitive. Every race will be running toward the front. Being a factor, I think we did that. In the meantime, since last year we worked hard and are going to come out stronger. We are a cohesive group, been with the guys that have been there three, four, five years getting the chemistry we need. The whole Delphi team is poised for the best year we have had and have a shot just about everywhere we go.
GREEN: Twelve or 15 minutes left with these guys. Other questions?
MEDIA MEMBER: Helio, you didn't volunteer for this. So what is your take on the IRL?
CASTRONEVES: Are you talking to me?
MEDIA MEMBER: Yes, you. You are the only one called "Helio" there.
CASTRONEVES: A different accent, you know. Well, basically I decided to stay with the Team Penske as everybody here. Everyone is talking about how the resources and whole way they present Penske definitely is a captain of this boat. And we say sometimes everything he touch turn to gold, but basically that is what my decision, stay with a competitive team and everybody know - race car driver knows that basically 50 percent of car or 60 percent of the car demands on the performance of the driver most of the time, and if you on the right team at the right time, obviously you are going to proceed and show up with a good performance. So in my mind, when I notice that Roger decided to make the change, I stood behind 100 percent. I had two great years. My first year is good, and last year, and obviously everybody, even the team, stayed together does say about this team. Basically that is what is happening in our team, the same - everybody stays together, engineers, mechanics. It is very important to have this good atmosphere, because normally we spend most of this season together, and that is what took my decision to go ahead and stay with Team Penske.
MEDIA MEMBER: Is the team this year under even more pressure to perform because the expectation of them coming to this series would be much higher?
CASTRONEVES: To be honest, we're looking with the same way we saw when my teammate and I started here, and I started on Team Penske in 2001. The only big difference is that we know the team, and the team know us, so basically we are going to start with new equipment, new place, new tracks. This is going to take a little bit of time. Obviously, we are testing a lot to make sure when start a championship we try to have a good performance, but it is like racing, you can never count without the checkered flag. Some race we might win a lot, some race we probably are going to suck. So hopefully we will do well.
GREEN: Thank you for your candidness, Helio.
GREEN: That is fine.
MEDIA MEMBER: Still for Helio. Last year, your teammate won the championship. Does that make it your turn?
CASTRONEVES: That is a good point. Two in a row, 2000 and 2001. Hopefully, I will not trade my Indianapolis victory for his championship. If I have to do it again, I will prefer still with Indianapolis, because that is such a great track and such a great tradition, but obviously going to fight as hard as I can. I do have a very fast teammate, and I guess that is why turns to being a great team, because one push each other obviously, and we talk a lot to set up the car, and I believe that is why we had a great success on the two previous years.
GREEN: Let's go to Buddy for a second. Buddy, Sam noted - or Scott noted - that you just arrived there a few minutes ago. You are about to become a father here again pretty soon. Did that play in your late arrival there because (son) Flinn is going to have a brother or sister, or do you know?
LAZIER: Ninety-five percent sure it is a sister.
GREEN: When are you due?
LAZIER: We're due any minute. Any minute. So we're kind of on standby. We thought we had it timed, we just missed a little bit. Any minute, I will be blessed to have two children. Wonderful month for us.
GREEN: How does Flinn feel about becoming a big brother?
LAZIER: He is happy about it right now. A month or so from now, he is probably not going to be too happy about it.
GREEN: Questions? I want to mention that the four drivers assembled there at Daytona, two of them were Olympic Torch bearers. In fact, kind of interesting, four Indy League Racing drivers were involved in the torch run to Salt Lake City. Sam and Helio, on one of the coldest mornings that I can remember at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, actually drove the torch around the snow-covered track in the darkness of morning. Helio, what was it like to be a part of it - it was history, it was the first time the torch had ever been around the Speedway.
CASTRONEVES: Not only history, but freezing. Oh, my goodness. I was freezing my butt off over there, but thank God we have all the suit and - I tried to use the flame, you know, to warm my hands over there. But it was amazing an experience that is offered in a lifetime. I would never imagine driving in Indianapolis with everything covered in white. The guys inside the car, they were, like, come on, man, you have to go faster. Sixty miles an hour I was going with the truck. Imagine if I crashed - the car and flame gone? I would have been dead. But thank God, what a wonderful experience, and I really had a good time.
GREEN: Sam, you were actually the driver that made history as the first driver to carry the torch around the Speedway. It is going to be an asterisk beside your name in terms of career accomplishments?
HORNISH: It was very neat we got to do that on one of the coldest mornings I was at the Indianapolis Speedway. Every time you smiled for a picture, your teeth started to freeze. They kept saying, "Go faster." Originally they said, 'You need to do this in five minutes." What is about 40 miles an hour and halfway through Turn 1, they said, "You need to go faster than this because we're not going to make it in time." They ended up making us go about 75. I said, "How fast can I go before the torch blows out?" They said, "About 80." I said, "How fast do you want me to go?" "Oh, about 80." I said, "I will keep it a little lower than that so it doesn't blow out." It was a lot of fun and an honor to be asked to do that, and especially because it was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
GREEN: The four drivers of the part of the torch run at the Speedway, actually three, Helio, Sam, Eddie Cheever. Cheever actually ran, and in Colorado, Buzz Calkins was part of the torch relay, as well. Let's see, another question here?
LAZIER: The torch went by my house. I waved.
MEDIA MEMBER: Helio, I know you are a shy and retiring sort of guy, so obviously it is a bit of embarrassment to you to be named a sports hunk?
CASTRONEVES: What can I say, you know? What can I say? I believe it has something to do with the appearance or the way that I look, but I believe it is more the way that I celebrate the race after victory. And obviously I didn't plan on that, it was something with pure emotion when I did the first time, obviously, and I guess that is why. I mean, the way that I talk, the way that I probably celebrate and show my excitement, my emotion, it turns to be called attention to everyone. But obviously I am an emotional guy, and I believe everyone is. Some people show their emotion in different ways. Some might kick the helmets, throw the steering wheel. I prefer to show my emotion when I am happy. I believe that was the way. I have to also thank my parents, you know. Guys, I am just a kid, just having fun, everyone.
GREEN: Helio, they are scribbling this down furiously, so you are going to see these quotes everywhere tomorrow. I want to make a quick mention. I said four Indy drivers in the torch run, and I omitted that both Sarah Fisher and Davey Hamilton were involved in bringing the torch into Indianapolis the night before they toured the Speedway. So there were actually six drivers that were involved in the torch run. Scott, you just finished racing. Tell us about the last 24 hours at Daytona.
SHARP: It was fun. Two days ago, I left here, and I came back in the morning. It was a good race for the Riley & Scott and Jim Matthews team. We came so close. When you have a strong run and you finish the full 24 hours, you hope you are going to win the race. And we came about six laps short. But you come into these races, those kind of 24-hour long distance races, and you expect the bigger items to happen, lose an engine, gearbox, something drastic. Instead, tiny issues that four laps to fix here, five laps to fix here, and at one point with 22 laps down at 2 or 3 in the morning, Billy said, "No matter if it breaks, it breaks, go for it." In next 16 hours, caught up 16 laps, but it wasn't quite enough to catch the winners.
GREEN: Sam, I guess while Scott was down there racing, you and Eddie Cheever were on the USS George Washington, watched them launch F-18s. What was that experience like?
HORNISH: Pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as getting launched off there myself. They asked me to come down and visit the George Washington aircraft carrier, and I said, "What, are we going to take a helicopter out there?" And they said, "No, tail hooked and launched off the other side." It was definitely an experience. We toured from the time we got there until we left. And we were on the ship 26 hours and slept for about six, so that was about 20 hours of touring, and we saw only about 20 percent of it. It is amazing how big those things are and to see them come in and land at night and hooks sparking, and it is just a cool experience. You know, it is amazing all the neat things you get to do when you get to be a race car driver.
GREEN: What kind of aircraft did you fly in and out in?
HORNISH: Called it a COD. There is some long terminology for it, but basically a twin-prop plane. And you sit backward, so when you land, it is almost like backing into a wall lightly. And when you take off it is almost like running into the wall lightly. Neither one of them are very pleasant experiences after you have done them in an Indy car.
MEDIA MEMBER: Helio, you have not had a chance to test the new equipment. How many times have you actually - other than Indy and Phoenix, how many times have you been in an IRL car?
CASTRONEVES: The end of last year, especially beginning of December, I test quite a lot. I went to Nashville, I went to St Louis, Phoenix, Homestead, and that is so far what I did that I have in my mind right now. But I was supposed to go to Texas, and, unfortunately, I got a little accident. I cut my finger. But so far now it is much better, so they put Gil now to replace me in terms of testing, and now it is his turn to do the job, which, in fact, I did this last year when he crashed in Homestead. So basically we're kind of even right now. But obviously I am so anxious to go back. I did one test in Homestead a couple of weeks ago, and I was very, very good. I am ready to go back. I am really optimistic. Again, it is going to be a new challenge, and I am sure these guys here is going to give a lot of hard time, and hopefully I am going to be with them and know the race, as well.
MIKE KING (Co-host): Three minutes left on the uplink, so we got time for one more question of anyone else here in the media center who has a question. I don't see any hands. OK, guys, before we let you go, the tough question. Eight months from now who's going to be wearing the crown? Sam, can you repeat?
CASTRONEVES: I guess it is going to be very competitive. It is a tough question, you are right. Everyone here is going to try to do the best. Obviously I speak for myself, I am going to try to make sure to be consistent, be fast, but again it is going to be a new season for me. I am going to meet new competitors and new tracks, so again I am very positive and optimistic hopefully we go for No. 1.
KING: Sam, what about you? Can you repeat?
HORNISH: I already told Helio I will trade him next year.
KING: Scott, what about you? You obviously were disappointed with the 500 last year, but all in all, Team Kelley Racing is going to have a pretty bright light shining on them this season.
SHARP: Yeah, we sure do, Mike. We luckily put Indianapolis behind us and had a strong season and won the next race and went on from there. I am anxious to get back to Indy and redeem myself. But as far as championship goes, what is so great about IRL, like Buddy and everyone has talked about, you can start anywhere on the field and have a serious shot of winning any race, and at the same time that goes for the championship. There is probably four or five guys that have very legitimate shots at the championship, and I am one of them. And we aren't able to put quite the consistent year together, and I think the last few years in the championship, consistency has played a major factor. We go to 15 races, add two years, can that still keep going? We will all try. Maybe everyone drops out of one or two races, but still with the range of our whole package and how reliable it is, it is going to be big, and I think our team is pretty poised to deal with that.
KING: Buddy, last to you. You won in 2000, really strong last year. What does Hemelgarn have for '02?
LAZIER: We have a lot. We're coming packing, and we're loaded heavy and ready to go. With this race series, it is anybody's championship. Everything is recalibrated to zero now. It is 2002, and we are all starting from scratch. I think we're going to be tough, but at this point, it is anybody's championship. It is anybody's race.
KING: Buddy, Sam, Helio, Scott, be careful down there. See you tomorrow. Thanks a lot.