HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, Feb. 21, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCar Series drivers about the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on Sunday, March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The event starts Feb. 28 with practice, followed by MBNA Pole ...
HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, Feb. 21, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCar Series drivers about the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on Sunday, March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The event starts Feb. 28 with practice, followed by MBNA Pole Qualifying on March 1 (quotes listed in alphabetical order):
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, two-time CART winner at Homestead-Miami): "After all the work that we have done over the past few months, I'm glad to see that the season opener is just around the corner. Everyone at Andretti Green Racing has worked so hard to get us to this point, and now we get the chance to see how well we've done our jobs. I'm really looking forward to this race. It's my first one as team owner, and I would really like to see one of our cars on the podium. As a driver, I'd like to be the one to put the Team 7-Eleven car at the top of the charts, but I'll be just as happy if it's Tony (Kanaan) or Dario (Franchitti) who finishes in the top three. We've had some good results in testing, but we're certainly not going to walk into this race expecting that we can duplicate anything we did here last week. Tracks change, and no one knows how the weather will affect the whole weekend. I don't want to give any predictions on how well Andretti Green Racing will do. The process of building a team from scratch is just that, a process. This race is the next step in our journey, and we're going to go out there and do our best and try to learn more about our cars and our team along the way."
KENNY BRACK (No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone, 1998 IndyCar Series champion, 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner): "This IRL series is much different from when I raced in 1999. Back in 1999, there were about six or seven cars that really could win a race. Now, in 2003, there are 17 or 18 cars and drivers that can race for the win on any weekend. The competition level has jumped dramatically. It will be a very tough series. But that is a good challenge for our team and myself. We had a very good run in CART. We came close to winning the championship in 2001 and we won a bunch of races. So when Bobby (Rahal) came to me about running in the IRL with Honda, I was very excited, and I think we can win races with Bobby's team again." (About track): "I like that Homestead track. It's fast and wide. It makes for good racing. It's a real test for the driver and the crew to get the car to handle properly. The car with the best handling will probably win the race." (About increased competition): "I knew that having Honda and Toyota join the IRL would really jump up the level of competition. Now the strong teams and manufacturers like Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet, you can have at least 15 drivers that have a good chance to win. There were strong teams in the IRL already, and now you have Penske, Andretti, Nunn, Rahal and others, and the level is better than ever. We are still learning about this new Dallara chassis and the Honda engine. I think our effort will get stronger as we learn more and more about this new combination."
ROBBIE BUHL (No. 24 Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Like everyone else, we're anxious to get going. We still have a lot of work to do. We want to go to Miami and be running at the end to start collecting points for the championship. It's important that we just keep gaining momentum, and we're ready to do that. The Homestead track can be as difficult at any on race day. To have a car that works flawlessly from start to finish is hard because the conditions can constantly keep changing. The wind is a factor, but it's the same for everybody. Tough conditions sometimes, especially for the first race. The track itself is a first-class facility, with the way the garages are laid out and everything, and we always look forward to racing there."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 2001 and 2002 Indianapolis 500 winner, Miami resident): "Based on our results at the IRL Open Test last week, Marlboro Team Penske should be strong during the Toyota Indy 300 weekend. I expect the times to be faster than last year, and I hope that we'll be one of the teams running up front at the end. Since I live in Miami, this is my 'hometown race,' so I really look forward to competing in front of all my friends and family."
GIL DE FERRAN (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.): "I'm looking forward to kicking off the 2003 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I like the circuit, and it is a 'hometown race' for me since I live in Fort Lauderdale. I think Marlboro Team Penske's preseason preparation has been going well, and we had a good test at Homestead this week, but I wouldn't classify us as favorites. Testing is one thing, and racing is another. We just try to do our job to ensure we are ready. You never really know what everybody else is doing or what is going to happen come race weekend. Some people might be doing this, some people might be doing that, someone might have an engine problem or something going on with the car. All I can say is that I think we've done our homework, so we'll see what happens at the Toyota Indy 300."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I'm excited about the season starting. The test days have flown by, but I know this Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola team has learned a lot. I'm looking forward to competing against the other drivers in the IndyCar Series. We're looking for good results, and I know the whole team is going to try its best to win every race. Driving an IndyCar Series car around Homestead-Miami Speedway is different than my previous experiences there. I was able to run some laps in testing, but that is different than during the race." (About racing against his new team owner Michael Andretti): "It is going to be interesting racing on the same track as my boss, but I know he wants to see me running at the front. It would be nice to give him his first win as an owner."
FELIPE GIAFFONE (No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year, resident of Orlando, Fla.): "It's time to go racing again, and being a driver, naturally I'm very excited for another new season. There seems to be something new every season. For me, last year, being with the Hollywood Mo Nunn team was a new thing, and we had a very good season for a team running in the IndyCar Series for the first time. This year, there is a lot more that is new. I have a teammate for the first time in a long time. We are now running then Toyota engine. And the (Panoz) G Force people have come out with a brand-new car that I think will be their best one yet. Having Tora (Takagi) for a teammate has been great in testing. That is why two-car teams have such an advantage. You can go off in different directions with your setup in testing and in practice on race weekends, and you can work through things twice as quickly. We had some good tests, overall. I think we still have some improvements to make to find some extra downforce, especially for the first weekend at Homestead. We're expecting some new pieces from G Force that hopefully will make us very competitive. But I know we'll be stronger everywhere else. Homestead is just such an unusual track for us. Another new thing for me is that I moved (to Orlando from Indianapolis) right after last season ended, so I'm in brand-new surroundings. And this race at Homestead is now my home race. That, and the fact they're inviting all the Brazilian people in South Florida to come out and celebrate Carnaval with us, is going to make all of us Brazilian drivers feel right at home."
SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, 2001-2002 IndyCar Series champion, two-time defending event champion): "The hard part about this season for us is that we've got a new car and a new chassis, along with a new engine. We know it's the same for everybody, but we're one of the only one-car teams, and that makes it really tough. We don't have double information. We are sharing some information with the other Chevrolet teams, but it's mostly about engine work and not necessarily about car setup. It's going to take us a bit to get where we want to be. It's a challenge and if it wasn't challenging, we'd probably go find something else to do. It will be a long season. Last season we got off to a great start. We had a 30-point lead at the end of the third race and started to take some chances we didn't need to and found ourselves 60 points behind. Then we spent the whole rest of the year trying to catch up and get back in the lead. So we learned that it's not necessarily the first part of the season that matters. You have to do good and you have to finish races, but we just want to make sure that our product is reliable and gets us to the end of the race. If we win some down the road, that will be great. If we don't, then we're going to try and finish every race on the lead lap, and if we do that we're going to be in the top-five in points anyway. If we get lucky here and there, we just might pull out another victory."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, Miami resident): "I'm definitely excited to be racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It's my second IRL race, and I'm very pleased to be able to go out there as a member of Andretti Green Racing. It's also my hometown race, and I really want to do well. Things at Team 7-Eleven have been coming together very nicely, we've had some good testing results, and we're all working very well together. I'm going into the race expecting the best, and I'm going to give it my best shot. I'm happy that it's time to get the season underway."
JAQUES LAZIER (No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Homestead is going to be a difficult race. I believe we have our work cut out for us. I am extremely happy with where we were at the end of the (Homestead-Miami) Open Test. The Johns Manville/Menards Chevrolet will be competitive for the race." (About first race since April 2002, due to back injuries suffered in a racing accident): "I am very enthusiastic about getting back into the driver's seat under race conditions. This will be the final step in my comeback, and I am confident that everything is going to be 100 percent for the race. I'm anxious to get back in the car and bring closure to what has been a painstaking and long rehabilitation process."
SCOTT MAYER (No. 18 PDM Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I can't wait. I've got well over 2,000 miles of testing in these cars. I'm anxious to get in a race condition and show what I can do when the green flag drops. I'm ready. I'm way ready. Good Lord willing, we're ready for it and are going to turn some heads and make some things happen."
BUDDY RICE (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "At Homestead, I believe we have a solid chance for a top five if we are there at the end. That is what we are shooting for. There is a lot of new competition this season. New teams, new drivers and new engine packages. The competition is going to be stiff."
SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion, resident of Jupiter, Fla.): "This race is going to be awesome, as will every race this year. The competition level is so close when you have guys in fast cars within hundredths of a second of each other. I think the power levels for the three engines are very close. The cars are very close, and everyone is all on the same tires. You're splitting hairs, and you have to just get everything together from a setup and a team perspective to really find any time advantage."
TORA TAKAGI (No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "I am very happy to be here in the IRL with Mo Nunn Racing, thanks to Toyota, Pioneer, Denso and Togo support. We started working together Jan. 9 and spent quite a few days in Indy getting used to the team before the Open Tests. As a result of this effort to get to know each other in January, the Open Tests were all productive. And we benefited from being a two-car team. This is something common to my teammate, Felipe (Giaffone), as he and I were only with one-car teams the last two years. If you are running alone, you don't know if you are doing the right things or not. But we now can see what is the right direction. We can try different settings and can acquire double the data at the same time, which is good. We did not experience any serious mechanical troubles in the tests with both chassis and engines, and these facts show how the Pioneer team and TRD USA prepare the cars well. We are now faced with the fact that we still need some more speed to match the Dallaras at Homestead, but I am confident that my engineering group will sort it out in time. This is the beginning of my third season in U.S., and I am ready for some good results. And I am confident that this team, in this league, is the right place."
AL UNSER JR. (No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "The way we ended up the (Open) test at Homestead makes me very excited about the season getting started. I logged a lot of miles testing engines for Toyota, and the engine performed flawlessly. My teammate, Scott Sharp, is running fast. Things look real good for us."
ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 55 Panasonic Autobacs Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I think the most important thing is to finish the race as high as we can. I don't want to be too greedy and set too high of a goal at first. We have been running quite well during testing, and if we don't make any mistakes, I think we can be in the top 10. If all goes well, we could be in the top five, but it is just a matter of doing what we did in testing and not making any mistakes." (Keys to success at Homestead-Miami): "From a driver's standpoint, the most important thing is to stay calm and be on top of the car because tire management is going to be a big key toward the end of a stint, and that will certainly affect your position by the end of the race." (About the new season): "To be honest, I want to thank the team for doing a lot of testing before the first race. I feel very comfortable going into the first race compared to other years, when I didn't get as much testing before the start of the season. Going into Homestead, I think I am well prepared, but having said that, the challenge is a lot bigger than what I have been through in my career. The main thing is to stay focused, not make any mistakes and do the job I can do, and I think the results will come naturally."