IRL Weekly Teleconference Feb. 17, 2004 with Darren Manning and Greg Ray MODERATOR: Indy Racing League veteran Greg Ray joins us now. Greg did not participate in the Open Test at Homestead-Miami. At Phoenix, he was able to get out late in the...
IRL Weekly Teleconference
Feb. 17, 2004
with Darren Manning and Greg Ray
MODERATOR: Indy Racing League veteran Greg Ray joins us now. Greg did not participate in the Open Test at Homestead-Miami. At Phoenix, he was able to get out late in the day on Wednesday and turn 25 laps. However, he got his Honda-powered Panoz G Force up to speed in a hurry on the final day of testing and ended the test ninth fastest with an average speed of 175.867 miles an hour. Tell us how you were able to get that car up to speed in Phoenix with virtually zero testing.
GREG RAY: It's new for everybody. The engines have changed so much, the air box, certainly all the chassis manufacturers. We run the Panoz G Force, and they've made lots of changes with the rules and for safety reasons. We had very limited time. Really, it's just the continuity of the team from last year with Jamie (Nanny), the crew chief, and Jeff (Britton), the engineer. We work well together. The guys did work really hard, very late, getting the car prepared to get to Phoenix. We just hit the ground running. The car felt very nice. I was very pleased with the Panoz G Force chassis. I think Honda has done a great amount of work over the winter. We're very excited. I don't think we even scratched the surface. We never really tried to go fast. We worked just really on the feel and exploring some of the directions that the car could go in for race setup. I think that during the Thursday afternoon session, there were a lot of teams out there running around with full fuel, doing some race simulation. I think we stacked up as good or better than anybody out there. I'm very pleased.
Q: You have to be encouraged thinking you weren't really thinking about getting it up to speed, and here you put the No. 9 spot up there.
GREG RAY: The day before, we really shook the car down. I was very uncomfortable starting so late in the day. The shadow over in Turn 2 is pretty dramatic. I had a dark shield on. You couldn't really even see the racetrack. You'd go in and try to spot the apex in the corner, and really all it was was a black wall. You couldn't see anything as far as the racetrack and the wall behind it until you got through the shadow. I told them straight away that the car was at least a second better than what I was giving it. The next morning, three or four laps into it, that's exactly where the car showed up at. So we haven't taxed the bar. We don't really know how fast it is. But we clearly believe that at Phoenix, we'll be a pacesetter come qualifying time.
Q: Is there a reason behind the No. 13 on the car? There is a history of that number being superstitious in racing. Is there a reason behind that number?
GREG RAY: Last year when we started the team, we were looking to have identity for ourselves and to have a number that would be our identity. As we went through the mix to find out what was available and what wasn't available, I noticed between the numbers available and the numbers taken, the only number that wasn't present was 13. And I just asked a question, I said, "How come they don't offer the number 13?" They said, "Are you kidding? Are you crazy? Why would you even ask that?"
I said, "I really want that number." And it was the first number really available. And I think it's a good signature for us. It's something that everybody identifies us with. I think it's gained a lot of momentum last year. And like I told everybody, I'm not really a superstitious person. I think how you live your life day in and day out, how you believe, what you put into it is what you get out of it. I think it's just a good identity for us.
Q: What are the challenges of being a driver/owner in such a competitive sport and competitive marketplace?
GREG RAY: They're a lot more challenges than I ever thought there would be. Obviously, the business world takes a certain amount of dedication and focus to be successful. Then being a racing car driver takes really an entirely different, you know, set of tools. With us starting a team, in this day and age, at this level, it's a lot more taxing than I originally thought it would be. We definitely struggled last year getting the business up to where it was going to be, where we needed to be competitive. I think we've done a good job over the winter months building a bigger financial base. There's a lot of teams capable, a lot of very intelligent people, but not a lot of teams capable of putting the resources together with the people and the dedication and the passion. I think that's what we stand for at Access Motorsports. But there's still a lot of hard work to do. We're trying to quietly go about getting ourselves up to par to be at the same bar level as an Andretti Green team, or a Bobby Rahal team, Penske and Ganassi. Those are definitely the marks. We're very happy to be here competing with them. We're tired of having excuses and we're tired of having some of the issues that we have, and that's why we've really been working 24/7 around the off-season to grow into that position.
Q: You've qualified so well at Indianapolis over the years, sitting on the front row four different times and even held the pole position in 2000. Your highest finish here at 16th and Georgetown is eighth place. Is your goal going forward to win at Indianapolis or perhaps another IndyCar Series championship like you did in '99?
GREG RAY: I think we definitely had a car that could win the race last year. We had a very good game plan. Unfortunately, we were just on the edge of maybe not having enough downforce. But the last 50 laps we had a car that was capable of being faster than any car on the racetrack. So it's definitely my goal to win the Indianapolis 500. That was my goal really from the day that I decided I wanted to see if I had the ability to actually drive a race car. That's definitely what it's all about. I think in the past maybe my philosophy at Indy has been a little bit over the top. It was really all about winning, not just about, you know, finishing second or fifth or even being in a position to try to win the race at the end. For some reason, my mindset was to go out there and try to run away from the beginning and to dominate the race. That philosophy really did not prove to be very effective. So I think my driving has definitely matured. I think we had a great season last year on all accounts, including the Indianapolis 500. We definitely want to take from the good things that we established last year, we want to build some momentum on that. We want to build the business and the financial base to allow me to be a little bit more aggressive, which will definitely show up in race pace, but have the same philosophy of making sure we get to the end. And I think if we do that, I honestly believe we are a threat to win races. With the consistent model of running up front, we're a threat to win a championship.
Q. You were talking about Indy there. It's kind of come a long way from '97 when you were trying to find sponsors and everything to the point now where you've changed your philosophy. You had that stretch where you were on the front row for four consecutive years. What is it you said you learned about how to win Indy?
GREG RAY: Really I think it's just that focusing more on being completely prepared from A to Z, not just focusing on the big things, the issues that make a car go fast. The league has changed. I mean, the parameters of the racing and the parameters I believe have changed. You know, I road raced from 1992 through 1996. When I first was brought into the Indy Racing League in '97, it was competitive, but it was nowhere near competitive to the level it is today. The culture and the climate, the participation of global manufacturers like Honda has really changed just the whole view of it. The overall racing has changed a lot. I feel like I've had to change my mindset. A lot of that probably is just really maturity in driving. I didn't start driving until I was 25. So while I might seem a mature man or a mature business person, I think I still have a lot to learn behind the wheel. I think last year was a great exercise for myself wearing an owner's hat and wearing a driver's hat. I think that really helped me in a lot of ways. Like I said, our test at Phoenix, the way we went about our business, went about our testing and the interaction of the people we have, I just felt like the bar has moved. I'm definitely re-energized and very focused.
Q. For Indy, they're lowering the engine capacity to 3.0 liters. How quickly will teams adapt to that and also the driver driving it with less power?
GREG RAY: Yeah, it is going to change. It's going to change for everybody. It's something that we all kind of have to go out there and test and find out. It's hard to really know as a driver, you know, what the car's going to be like in that configuration.
You know, I believe the IRL will probably have additional rule changes past Motegi going into the Indianapolis 500 where there will be some sort of wing change, as well. So I know they're looking at that from a safety perspective. I don't know that it's going to happen, but I believe it is. But if you look in the past where we've gone from four-and-a-half liters to four liters, then from 10,800 to 10,300 on the rpms, now down from three-and-a-half liters to three liters, the manufacturers keep doing a great job of making the cars better and making great horsepower. It will slow the cars down. The race itself will be just as competitive, but the pace will just be a little bit slower as opposed to where it would be if we kept the same engine configuration. I mean, we're going to lose, depending on who you ask, anywhere from 50 to 100 horsepower. That's going to significantly change the overall speed. So I think Brian Barnhart and the Indy Racing League have done a great job of addressing these things and moving the bar for safety and make sure we have a very, very competitive series. We've built a reputation of being the most competitive series out there. That's one element that we don't want to change as we address the safety rules. I'm just looking very forward to seeing what it has. All the teams are going to react to it and deal with it the best they can.
Q. Mentally, how important is it to do well the first three races and be in position early to fight for the championship?
GREG RAY: I think from a camaraderie standpoint on the team, the guys are working so hard, it certainly allows you a breath of fresh air, some more energy to know you have very consistent finishes, a good, solid start. The thing about motorsports is each weekend is a different event and a whole different world. So one weekend you could have just a really bad weekend from a performance standpoint and then come back and do your homework and get the setup and get everything right for the next weekend. You know, we have many, many opportunities to have good weekends and bad weekends, but it's the consistency of the good weekends that can lead to a championship. So just having that momentum at the beginning of the year definitely builds a lot of strength, it builds a lot of confidence, allows you to make better decisions based on the outcome you're trying to get as opposed to being behind the eight-ball right from the very beginning, then having to push very hard to catch up. I think having three solid races before the month of May adds a lot of mental momentum for the team and the drivers and the manufacturers going into the Indy 500. While we have so many great events, even the event directly before it at Motegi, the Texas Motor Speedway, those are both fabulous events. But most people have a special focus for the Indianapolis 500.
Q: Talk about racing in Texas and going back home. Do you really feel like it's a hometown track? What is your reception when you go back to Texas?
GREG RAY: It's always very nice. First of all, it's a world class facility. I think if you ask all the drivers, you know, where they want to win. Ninety-nine percent of them will tell you if they could have any win, they'd want to win at the Indianapolis 500. But if you took that element out of the question, "Where would you like to race?" They will all tell you the Texas Motor Speedway. It produces great races and a fun race to work. They do a good job with the staff promoting the race. They're very, very friendly. It makes all the teams, the drivers, the sponsors, just feel like it's a big family environment. That's the race where we always have the most people, both the June race and the fall race. Other than the Indianapolis 500, it's the two biggest races of the year. So it is nice. It's nice to be treated by family and friends and people that I've known my entire life here in Texas. And I get to sleep in my own bed, so that's a big plus.
Q: Do people know you? Are you received around the track?
GREG RAY: While we race at so many different places, I definitely do have an intimate feel of being here in front of other Texans, and again, so many people I have known and known for so long. I think that does build a lot of positive momentum. Yeah, I very much enjoy it.
Q. You were pretty late getting your car on the racetrack (in Phoenix). Watching you gain momentum was really neat. You said the focus is obviously to get some momentum up there for the first three races. How important is Motegi to a Honda driver?
GREG RAY: I tell you, in IndyCar racing, Honda has not won at Motegi. Obviously, Honda is a global leader in everything they do, and certainly in the car market. They own that facility and they really support that event. The big reason why we race there, it is quite frankly for a driver's career, and certainly mine from where we're at in the mix of things, winning at Motegi or even having a top five would be just a huge, huge occasion. I know they want to win. That is clearly the focus. That would just be a monumental card in the deck of things to allow us to build a better, stronger relationship with Honda.
Q. You're driving with the Panoz G Force chassis. You were the first of the Honda drivers to use that tub. Some of the other guys are having problems getting up to speed with the 2004 car. Do you see any problems with the vehicle? Is it that much different from last year?
GREG RAY: The car is definitely different. I definitely feel we were very instrumental in our efforts last year to help some other teams consider running the Panoz G Force chassis, including Bobby Rahal and Fernandez Racing. I think Honda has definitely shown interest in looking at the package we had because, again, knowing what we had last year as financial resources, our amount of time testing, other technical resources available to us, we had very little of that. I thought we performed well above our financial means. I think the other teams took up and noticed that, as well. I'm very pleased with the car, with how I ran at Phoenix. Not so much speed, taking a stopwatch completely out of the equation, but just what I felt from the race car. Panoz G Force I think has developed a great car. I don't think the testing speed necessarily at Homestead reflected what some of the teams were capable of doing with the Panoz G Force car. I know G Force was trying lots of other options. It was the first time Fernandez and Bobby Rahal's team ran the car. I think everybody wasn't showing their cards (at the tests). The rules are still only going to be locked into place come the first race. The way the package has come about is G Force has kind of gone one way with the rules interpretation and has focused on some issues, and Dallara has really gone down another. I think they're dead on pace to have great race cars. I think as the rules change and the three-liter engine comes into fact, and we have the wing changes going into the Indy 500 for the rest of the year, I think we'll be competitive right out of the box. But I think G Force will really show its strength as the year goes on. So, again, I'm very pleased to have them as a chassis manufacturer and a technical partner. I think they've done a great job and I think that will show throughout the year.
Q: Can you talk about qualifying? You have 13 career poles in the IRL. Even last year, your fifth race into the season, you started inside of the third row. You qualify very well. Is it a mental thing that you prepare for on that Saturday?
GREG RAY: No, not really. I mean, qualifying is just a different game. I mean, last year we didn't get to be very aggressive. We couldn't risk the car setup. That was too aggressive. I always operated last year well within the boundaries. We didn't have any on-track incidents really of any kind. I don't include the Chicago event, and practice, because we had a mechanical failure. We had a very conservative game plan last year. But qualifying is totally a different event from racing. It's a speed event. It's all about getting the car set up in an entirely different way, and it's about a different approach as far as driving, what you can do in, you know, one 30-second or 20-second span of time. It's something that you can't do necessarily for two hours on end. I mean, each and every one listening in today can hold their breath for 20 seconds, but they may not be able to do it for two hours. There's a big difference in the overall mental approach, what you can do for a short amount of time. I've always enjoyed qualifying. Like I said, it's just a different event. It's a speed event. You know, but the racing is ultimately what it's all about. Whether you qualified dead last or second or on the pole doesn't really matter. It does allow you to be a little bit more conservative maintaining that position as opposed to having to work your way up through the pack. But winning races is what it's all about. It's about a really good race car setup, not really qualifying as far as winning championships.
Q. Can you talk about the difference this year and last year in getting sponsorship dollars?
GREG RAY: Last year we started our program very late in the season. You know, I think our team built a lot of momentum. I can't really speak for all of them, but I think we've built a lot of momentum of people getting to know our philosophies, getting to know what this team stands for. I think we've also developed a lot of opportunities that will grow in time. As applications that we have set forth, you know, come to fruition, I think we're going to grow. I think we have a great opportunity to really reap the benefits of what we built on last year. There's no doubt it's still very difficult. We're fighting not just all the other racing that's out there, but we're also, you know, fighting against the NBA and the NFL, hockey, golf, tennis and everything there is out there. Americans are very busy people. They have lots of options to spend their time and their free resources. That's who we're competing against. We know we have a great product. We know we have great racing. You could take a novice, someone going to the race for the first time, and it is a spectator sport. You have to go once to see it in person before you really get it. I think we're building a lot of momentum. I think having manufacturers like Honda and the others involved, helping us promote the sport, it's going to be very, very instrumental. I do look at it as getting better. Certainly as our national and global economies do mend themselves and get stronger, that will certainly help our case, you know, growing the business that grows our team to be one of the leading teams here in the IRL.