Sarah Fisher, John Lewis Part 1 of 2 K. Miller: Thank you very much, and thank you to all the journalists who have joined us today. I'd like to welcome John Lewis, the director of operations from the Indy Racing League, and Indy Racing ...
Sarah Fisher, John Lewis
Part 1 of 2
K. Miller: Thank you very much, and thank you to all the journalists who have joined us today. I'd like to welcome John Lewis, the director of operations from the Indy Racing League, and Indy Racing League driver Sarah Fisher. Thank you both for joining us today. They have just returned from a trip to Japan, a weeklong trip to Japan. I'm sure they're exhausted, but we appreciate them taking time to join us today to talk about the first test for the Indy Racing League at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, which is in Motegi, Japan, just outside of Tokyo. They were there last week, and actually Sam Hornish, Jr. tested the car, and Sarah went over for some media opportunities and to give rides in the Indy Racing Experience two-seater car. Sarah, we'll start with you. Obviously, it was not a test in an Indy Racing League car, but you did get a feel for the track in the two-seater, so tell us what your initial thoughts are on Twin Ring Motegi.
S. Fisher: My initial impression is that the facility overall in general is a very nice facility. It's one of the most beautiful tracks that we visit, and as far as the racing surfaces goes, and the racing environment, it's a very wide track. I think there's a lot of room in Turn 1 and 2 for side-by-side, maybe even three-wide racing. In (Turns) 3 and 4 it's a bit more difficult because it gets tight and has a fairly big bump going into Turn 3, so it would make it more difficult to run side by side there. But in general, it's going to be a facility that's going to provide the Indy Racing League to put on a show that we normally would.
K. Miller: Aside from the track and the racing conditions, what can you tell us about the area and the people and the reception that they gave you when you arrived?
S. Fisher: The people were incredible. They were very welcoming and very accepting to what we were doing and our racing and the enthusiasm that they have towards our participation in their racing facility, and everything that we're doing and they're doing, is great. I even pulled up to the hotel and there was a guy sitting there waiting there for an autograph when I first arrived in Twin Ring Motegi, and they just have a great deal of enthusiasm and are very excited to see us come back in April.
K. Miller: John, this is a big endeavor for the Indy Racing League. It's the sanctioning body's first time to race internationally, and it's going to take a lot in the way of logistics. What did you learn when you were over there this week? Was it really a good time for you to get a feel for what the league needs to take over, and not take over, and what it's going to take from a logistic standpoint?
J. Lewis: Yes, that was really the purpose of my trip. I spent the better part of three days meeting with representatives from each department with Twin Ring Motegi, and independent contractors such as Nippon Cargo Airways, that is who is going to carry our freight, and Mieko International, it's a company that is a forwarding company that will handle all of our goods. It's really just making sure we follow protocol with regard to shipping equipment and goods internationally. Racing is no different from any other exporter, and we have to meet the requirements with regard to customs and consumables and hazardous material, so on and so forth. So my trip was to put names with faces and really get the documentation, to learn how to do all correctly.
K. Miller: Can you give the journalists an idea of just one example of something that might surprise them? One thing I'm thinking of is I received a call yesterday saying that the Media Relations Department needs to have a complete manifest done by today, all the way down to the last paperclip of what we're taking. What does it take to build the cargo? Is that something that the league will do, build containers for all of the material that goes over?
J. Lewis: The league is responsible for the, I call them racks, for lack of a better word. That is the piece of equipment that will allow us to stack the cars one on top of another so we can take two cars in the same amount of floor space as taking one car, and it's our responsibility to have those built and provided to the teams. Then the league is in charge of building crates that meet all the requirements through the FAA, with regard to our equipment. The team responsibility is the same as any domestic event, or they will have to make sure that all of their goods are packaged properly and within a weight requirement for the shipping that's going to go over there. As far as the biggest difference that I learned in that meeting is that the Japanese government owns every frequency that is in the airwaves over there. So we'll have to program every single radio that goes over there to a new frequency that is within a bandwidth that they will let us use. That will take a lot of time. The IRL alone has probably 120 to 150 radios that we use from medical to track safety to race control to operations that will have to be dismantled, reprogrammed, reassembled and then set back to its regular frequency when it comes back to get ready for the Indy 500 as soon as we get home.
K. Miller: One more thing on the logistics, the track itself: did you feel like it was very compatible with what the Indy Racing League needs as far as pit space and paddock space? Is the facility equal to what we race at on a regular basis?
J. Lewis: Absolutely. I don't know where they got their data, but in a couple of the dinner meetings they said that their construction process was about three-and-a-half years. If you go over there, you can tell they have either gotten drawings or taken photographs of racetracks here in the states, because the pit lane is identical. The garages are very similar to what you would find at a place like probably Fontana, concrete floor, well lighted. They're connected together, very, very similar to what our requirements are here domestically.
K. Miller: Let's go back to Sarah for a minute. Sarah, as I mentioned earlier, you drove the Indy Racing Experience two-seater car, which I believe is a Dallara with a Chevrolet engine. Could you tell the media a bit about that car and how fast it goes, and maybe what the reaction of some of the riders were?
S. Fisher: Unfortunately for us it was pretty cold there when I got to drive the two-seater, so Brian was always chirping in my ear, 'Hey, keep it slowed down, keep it slowed down.' But we went an average of about 153 to 155 with each of the passengers, and then John told me we went 166 with the president of the Speedway. They were very excited to be in the car. It's more of a numb feeling for one of the IRL drivers, mainly because the rear tires are much further back than one of our racing cars. But it does have a good feeling in it, and it's very controllable, very smooth. It's a good car. They've done a really good job with handling and characteristics, and the passengers seemed to enjoy it more from a wilder side, because they can feel the rear tires more so than the front tires. So they feel the car skipping along rather than feeling it pushing along, and it gives them a bit more of a thrill. The people in Motegi, their reaction to the rides were very positive and very exciting, and I'm sure they'll want more when we come back.
K. Miller: The trip started with a press conference in Tokyo, where there were about 450 attendees. From what we've been told the reception was just amazing from all the people that showed up for the press conference. Then, I believe, on the first day of testing, there were approximately 130 journalists, which is a very large turnout for testing. The event is actually scheduled for April 13. It will be the final event before the Indianapolis 500. At this point, we'll go ahead and take questions from the journalists. Again, this portion is for the accredited media only.
Q: John, when you look at going overseas to race with the Indy Racing League, in a sense does this get away a bit from the original founding idea of the Indy Racing League, and that is racing in America and trying to bring up American drivers?
J. Lewis: I don't think so. The league is going into its seventh year, and the founding principles were definitely about opportunity and oval-track racing and American roots. But we've grown, obviously we've undergone a lot of change. Japan and Motegi came to us and said, 'We like your product. We think the Japanese people will like this product.' And we heard their story; the negotiations weren't overnight. This was a several-year venture, and I think to limit ourselves to just the boundaries of the U.S. would be constrictive to business growth, and the opportunity and the timing was right. We tracked media hits. We've tracked Web site hits, and everything has said that the Japanese public is very interested in the Indy 500 and the Indy Racing League, and the time is right for us to go over there and take our product abroad. It just happens to be that they're the first. Whether there will be more or we'll go someplace else, I don't know. But right now, with 15 domestic and one international, seems to be a good fit for us.
Q: It's almost as though you knew my next question was that Rockingham over in England and a couple of other ovals in Europe have been built. I was going to ask. Are you looking there as well?
J. Lewis: I would tell you that we're looking at every oval in the United States, and we're entertaining requests with regard to ovals overseas. But right now it's really important for us -- Sarah can probably speak on this better than I can -- but with regard to the team side, we've got to control our growth. It will be very easy for the league to say, '2004 we're going to run 22 races, because there are facilities out there where we could do it.' But if you're a sponsor or an owner or a driver that is contributing to research and the raising of the funding and money, it's not really fair with that respect to say 16 races are going to cost you X, and then all of a sudden we're adding six next year; 'Hey, Smart Blade, we need X number million more.' So there is a responsibility on the league side to help control that. To answer your question directly, yes. We're looking everywhere. We want to grow and be as big as we can be. However, it's not something we can just fly off and do at a moment's notice.
Q: And I will go to you, Sarah, and ask you as a driver who is looking for sponsorship, because every driver I know never has enough sponsorship, does going overseas, does going to Japan help your package?
S. Fisher: Overall it opens the doors because then that gives myself personal exposure to a different group of people who know a different group of people from there. Just from going over and visiting with the folks from Motegi, they have a lot of business contacts, and we know that once they get to see the personal side of some of our drivers then maybe some of those opportunities would open up, whereas they wouldn't have because they didn't know our people and didn't know what we were about. So definitely the more venues we go to the more opportunities that are out there. It's just the ability to secure those opportunities and keep going with it.
Q: Are you good for this year, Sarah?
S. Fisher: Not yet. We're not solid yet. We still have some things to work out before we can make any kind of announcement.
Fisher, Lewis press conference, part II