MIAMI, Friday, March 30, 2001 - Quotes from selected Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers and team officials about the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami presented by 123.com Americatel April 6-8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway: BUZZ...
MIAMI, Friday, March 30, 2001 - Quotes from selected Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers and team officials about the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami presented by 123.com Americatel April 6-8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway:
BUZZ CALKINS (No. 12 Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1996 Indy Racing co-champion):
"We went down there (Homestead-Miami Speedway) testing twice over the winter. It is a larger-scale Loudon, which we used to run on. It is flatter and smoother than a lot of the tracks we run on, so there is nothing to go off of. After a couple of days (testing) down there, we feel we have a pretty good handle on what's going on. I feel good about where we are at with the Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat Dallara."
About the hardest challenge of Homestead-Miami Speedway):
"The lack of grip and the way the track changes will be the biggest challenges. The wind affects the car more than any other track we run because there is nothing to block it. It comes straight across the track and upsets the car. Also, without banking, you have to get the setup right. Banking can hide a poor-handling car, but there is nothing to mask a bad setup at Homestead."
About the challenge of the unique design of the Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"You have to get your car balance right. The way you are on and off the throttle on the long straights and tight turns, it really upsets the car. You have to have the setup right to overcome what is really pretty rough driving."
About his approach to Homestead-Miami Speedway's Turn 4, where he crashed in winter testing:
"I think it is something extra to keep in mind. I was aware of it before, and it didn't do much good. It is going to be the key corner to set up the car in. The IRL is making some aerodynamic changes that will help the problem, but you are just always going to have to be aware of it."
EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (#51 Excite@ Home Indy Racing Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner, Orlando resident)
About Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"It's going to be a very challenging track for everybody because there's not much banking in it. There's even less banking than there is in Las Vegas, which was probably the most difficult 1.5-mile oval that we'd raced on. Homestead is a very unique track. It has very, very long corners, very little banking, and there's always the wind element to factor in. I think that qualifying speeds and race speeds are going to be very different, unlike at Texas and Atlanta, for example. It's another great ISC track, and we're looking forward to breaking into a new market."
About prior testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"We've had three tests at Homestead, one with the old Infiniti engine with Scott (Goodyear), one with the old engine with me, and one with the new 35A. We're very happy with the car with the new engine in it, and we're looking forward to going back there with the new modified version of the 35A, which should be an improvement on what we raced with at Phoenix."
About this event being his 'home race':
"I live in Florida, but I'm a bit fickle - I think of three places as my home race: Phoenix (birthplace), Indy and Homestead. I'm glad that we're racing in Florida. It would be nice if we had two races in Florida, though. I'd like to see Orlando back on the schedule. But Homestead is a great place, right by Miami, which is a very happening city, as I can attest to since I spent two evenings there recently."
About development of the new Infiniti Indy 35A engine):
"The 35A arrived very, very late. One week before the Indy Racing season opener, we received our first two new engines and tested them in Phoenix. Scott Goodyear did the bulk of the testing, and I ran one day. We expected Phoenix to be our most difficult race of the season, and hopefully it was. We've done some testing, but not enough. We're close to Oldsmobile on horsepower, but the engine is not completely raceable yet. I guess we'll have to improve on our win record over last year in order to compete for the Indy Racing title."
AIRTON DARE (No. 88 1-800-BAR-NONE G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series Rookie of the Year, Miami resident):
"I am happy to race in Miami because I have a lot of family here and many friends, as well. The flight from Brazil is about seven hours, so a lot of my friends and family from home will come also. This will make the race easier for me. But I am not worried about it."
About activities since Phoenix opener:
"I know many racers cannot sleep well before important races, but I have been training six days a week and getting some much needed rest since Phoenix. I have also been attending many race promotion events (driver appearances) over the last two weeks or so. I have raced here twice already. I am comfortable with the track itself. When I jet ski, I place myself in a very dangerous situation. My experience in jet skiing eases the pressures of car racing."
Goals for this race:
"I will be happy to qualify in the top 10. I wasn't happy with my 18th (position) qualification at PIR, but you must remember that my qualifying car is different in many ways from my race car. The race car is what matters most to me."
MARK DISMORE (No. 28 Delphi Automotive Systems/Bryant Heating & Cooling Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"I'm really looking forward to Homestead. They have a beautiful facility, and with the downforce we'll be running, the fans are going to see some great racing. We tested in Miami this winter with the old bodywork and were able to get up to speed right away. Unfortunately, we really didn't get to test with the new bodywork, but (teammate) Scott (Sharp) did, and we can use some of their information and go down there and have a good car. Our weekend in Phoenix didn't turn out as planned, but we' re extremely optimistic about Homestead. This season is just beginning, and with 13 races, everyone's still in contention for the championship."
BRANDON ERWIN (No. 30 WorldBestBuy.com/McCormack Motorsports G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"I've never even been to Homestead before. All of the Indy Racing tracks are new to me this year except for Texas, which is where I did my rookie test. I've been to Atlanta and Indy, but I haven't been on those tracks before. They tell me that Homestead is a lot like Atlanta except it's very flat. I'm going to depend on the McCormack Motorsports team's expertise when we get to Homestead. Dennis McCormack and all the others at McCormack Motorsports have a lot of experience at many different tracks, and they keep good records. So I hope we'll be able to come up with a good setup fairly quickly."
Goals for this race:
"My primary goal for the race is the same one I had at Phoenix: to finish. I want to finish another race, get all the laps and experience I can, and to qualify better and have a better finishing position than we had at Phoenix. I'm very anxious to get back into the car, and take what I learned at Phoenix and improve on that. I want to continue to show patience and try to be smart. We need to come out of Homestead in one piece because the Indy (500) Rookie Orientation Program is the following weekend. I think we're trying to get a T (backup) car for Indy, too, but I'm not sure about those details."
SARAH FISHER (No. 15 Walker Racing/Kroger Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"Our main emphasis at Homestead will be to have a good, stable race car. If the winds are the same as they were when we tested there, we are going to want a car that feels stuck the entire race. I think our main goal is to have a good finish next weekend. Phoenix was not a good start to the season, so hopefully luck will be on our side to have a strong car the entire race. Our new staff is definitely jelling. My new engineer, Mike (Wright), and I have been working on developing a relationship which includes even playing soccer together. We are both extremely dedicated to getting the job done, which will eventually pay off for us."
FELIPE GIAFFONE (No. 21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"This should be a very good race. The track is quite difficult, as many have noted in testing. Just like Phoenix, I expect the track will have changed since we tested here last. But we tested in both January and February, and I know I' ll have a good car for the race. Our goals are similar to Phoenix, although once the race starts everyone wants to win. I want to qualify in the top 10 and be running at the end. If I do that, I'll have a good finish."
Will your Indy Lights experience at Homestead-Miami provide an advantage?:
"Although I have raced Homestead in Indy Lights, I do not think that will be of any advantage. Many teams have had plenty of test laps, and the racing in the Indy Racing League is incredibly competitive. I really enjoy the larger tracks, so I'm really excited for a great race."
STEPHAN GREGOIRE (No. 7 Tokheim/Jack K. Elrod Co./NADA Guides Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"We were very unlucky at Phoenix. I really had the car to win the race. We proved the potential of our team and now need to demonstrate at Homestead that we can react and be competitive throughout the weekend again. We have not tested at Homestead before this race, and that might be a small disadvantage because all the top teams have several times. For us, it is inconvenient to test at Homestead because our team is based in Southern California, and if you want to test there you need to spend six to seven days minimum (5,800 miles) driving the truck back and forth. I don't know the Miami track, but I'm convinced that we will have a good car there like we had in Phoenix two weeks ago. Our team did a very good job in Phoenix, but the accident created a lot of work for the crew and expenses for our budget. We had to replace many broken parts on the racecar, including the gearbox that suffered in the crash. This is unfortunate because we have a limited budget right now, but we are going to Homestead with a winning spirit and with one goal - to finish on the podium. There is a large French community in Miami, and I understand that the Hispanic one is larger, but I know there will be a lot of French supporting me there."
DAVEY HAMILTON (No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"I feel comfortable because I have had some laps around the track. It will still be difficult going with a new team and a new car, but I know the characteristics of this new track. It is always a challenge without testing, but we are farther ahead of the game then we were in Phoenix."
SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, current Indy Racing Northern Light Series points leader)
Will Homestead-Miami be the toughest track of the season, due to the changing conditions?:
"I think it's definitely going to be, based on the heat and the wind. That's going to play a big part in the race. You're going to have to watch out and make sure you're on top of the conditions all the time."
Has your approach to racing changed now that you lead the points?:
"I race the same way whether I'm first or 21st. I want to go out there and be in the top three in every race. I want to bring the car home. I feel a little bit more confident. But I'm trying to get that out of my mind. I'm trying to get back to the same mindset I had at Phoenix. It worked well there."
About changes in his life since winning the season opener at Phoenix:
"I guess it's kind of nice that people want to talk to me. I've been pretty busy, so that keeps the nervousness away. You don't have a lot of time to think about things. I've got more things to do now. I' m enjoying it."
Will your strategy be different in a 300-mile race than a 200-miler like Phoenix?:
"When you go to 1.5-mile tracks, the races don't seem that longer. We run 200 laps at all of them. You don't have that much more time to wait around. A lot of people think our races are endurance races. But you've got to be on it and trying to go as fast as you can all the time. You pretty much have to run hard all day long, keep your nose clean, stay out of trouble and watch for the wrecks."
Are you surprised at how quickly your career has progressed in the last 15 months?:
"This is where I wanted to be. I figured it would be another year or two before I arrived like I have. I can't believe how fast it's happened. It kind of blows my mind a bit. I'm really excited. But I want to make sure that we stay focused and don't look at the things that don't matter. That's our goal this year, We want to win the championship and win the (Indianapolis) 500."
CASEY MEARS (No. 31 Galles Racing SportsLine.com G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"If testing is any indication of how we'll do for the race, I'm hoping for a much better weekend at Homestead than we had at Phoenix, as our last test there (Homestead) went really well. Actually I' m really looking forward to race weekend. We've made some really positive changes to the team, which are all for the better; and now I feel like we're really getting started. I'm also looking forward to working with my new engineer, Gordon Coppuck, who I got to know pretty well when he was with Cal Wells. Since then, Gordon and I have had several talks, as we would frequently bump into each other in the paddock; and I always knew I would enjoy the opportunity to work with him. He's got a tremendous reputation, and I am pleased Rick Galles has brought him on board. He will begin working with the team after this upcoming event in Miami."
GREG RAY (No. 2 Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1999 Indy Racing champion)
About Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"It's more Sybil than anything I've ever been to. Indy changes, so does Pikes Peak, so does Phoenix, so does Milwaukee. This track changes quicker because of ambient temperature, because of sunshine, because of wind, very rapidly. The thing that I like about the track is that it's very fast, very smooth and very flat. The corners go on forever. It's a huge challenge. If you hop in the grandstands, each end of the track looks the same. In a race car, they're vastly different. You have to change some of your natural instincts as a driver. Two hundred laps there, 300 miles, in the hot Florida sun, it's going to be a hell of a race. It's going to be very difficult."
About whether more experienced teams have an advantage at Homestead-Miami due to changing conditions:
"I think on any given weekend there's 15 guys that can win because they have good teams, good engineers, good drivers and good teams. They're going to get the job done. In any racing, you're throwing darts. But in oval racing, we have the same package. Instead of covering the whole dartboard, everyone is aiming at the bull's eye. It's a matter of who gets it closest to the bull's eye. You're really shaving paper here. Even a new driver with a new team, If they get it right, over the course of a long race, they can win. The equalizer is the cars and getting it just right. A good driver in a good car can strap it on anybody on any given weekend."
About problems during season opener in Phoenix:
"We had a fuel tank problem that made the car go lean. Over the course of 45 to 50 laps, the car couldn't handle it. The car was so wonderful. I was disappointed in the day, but I was really happy with the group of guys at Team Menard."
About Team Menard in 2001:
"I think you should keep in mind that we have a new engineer, a new team manager, and no mechanics from last year are still there. We have all new people. People work in different ways. I always hear people talk about how Menard does it. The thing is, John Menard has owned the team this whole time. But he's had different people with different philosophies, so it's always changing. In the last four races, I've had three different engineers, but I've been on pole three times in the last four races with three different engineers."
JERET SCHROEDER (No. 9 Purity Products Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"My goal for the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami is the same as it is for every race: First it's to finish, and second it's to qualify and finish as high as possible. Considering that our program with PDM Racing came together so late, I think we had a respectable performance at Phoenix. We were in the top 10 in practice, and if we hadn't had that gearbox problem we would have qualified a lot higher. The Indy Racing Northern Light Series is so competitive that when you look at the time sheets, a good portion of the field is always very close in their qualifying times. Where you start doesn' t necessarily show exactly how well you're running. The PDM Racing team is made up of good people. They worked hard, and they had the gearbox problem solved by Race Day."
About new primary sponsor for this race:
"Purity Products is going to have a lot of people at Homestead. They brought about 90 people to our endurance sports-car race at Homestead last month. They supply food and cleaning products to large distributors, restaurant chains, theme parks and retain chains in the United States, the Caribbean and Central and South America."
About personal connection to Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"I live in New Jersey, but my parents, Bill and Nadine Schroeder, live in North Palm Beach. So I spend a lot of time in Florida, and I consider Homestead one of my home tracks."
About prior experience at this track:
"I've raced 2-liter cars, Toyota Atlantic cars and endurance sports cars on the road course at Homestead, but I've never been in a race that just uses Homestead's oval. The road course just uses portions of the oval."
SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1996 Indy Racing co-champion):
"I think when we reflect on our race at Phoenix, we've become even more optimistic on the weekend. Obviously, testing didn't go well there, and our practice sessions didn't go very well, so we never really had time to catch up. I think that the league has gotten so competitive you've got to roll in and get everything right, and really have the practice sessions go smoothly and productively to be able to excel. And when you don't have that, you try to catch those who have had that kind of a weekend. I think it just shows how prepared you really need to be these days as the series has become more and more competitive. I'm pretty pleased that we were able to salvage a good top-five finish out of that, and I look excitingly toward Homestead. We had two great tests there. Our first time out of the box, we were on track-record pace, so I took an immediate liking to that place. (Engineer) Jeff (Britton) also seems to have a really great setup for that track, and so the combination of those two things cause me to be really pumped for the race. When we tested there, we worked on not only trying to go fast but also on race setup. We ran all kinds of wing angles and, although they (Indy Racing League) changed the minimum rule, I think we 're ready for whatever they bring us. We definitely feel prepared for Homestead. It will be a great race. The people who have gotten into trouble there were all on really low downforce settings. It can be a little windy there, but that's one of the main reasons that the Indy Racing League decided to go to a higher downforce setting. I think it's only been when people try to go really low on the downforce, going for really quick time, that they found themselves getting into trouble. But with the cars and the amount of downforce we're going to run, they're going to be pretty well stuck."
AL UNSER JR. (No. 3 Galles Racing Starz SuperPak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1992 and 1994 Indianapolis 500 winner):
"I am excited to get back and race at Homestead. My last race there was in 1999, and I was knocked out of the race and broke my ankle on the first lap. So, it felt good to get through that first turn when we were testing there in February. It is a beautiful facility, and I think that the Indy Racing Northern Light Series will put on one heck of a show there. As far as the team goes, we have made some adjustments in our engineering department in regards to hiring more data people and more engineers, and I am pleased with the changes. Our test at Homestead was positive, so I am looking forward to running with everyone else and seeing what happens."
JEFF WARD (No. 35 Heritage Motorsports/Firestone/Menards G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone):
"I'm excited to get down to Homestead, because the track is so different than all the other ovals we race. It's very fast and flat, which makes the handling of the car really important. It all makes for a competitive race, which is more fun for the fans. We had a great test there earlier this year. It was our first practice as a new team, and we were just trying to put things together - the car and the people. We ended up running very fast, competitive speeds, which we weren't even trying for. Everything came together perfectly for us. Now, we've had more time with the car, adjusting the setups, so I'm really confident about our weekend in Homestead."
STAN WATTLES (No. 92 Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, Sewall's Point resident):
"I'm thrilled to have the chance to race in Florida in front of all my family and friends. Having my wife, children and brother at the race will really make it a family event. I have about 30 friends coming who have been great supporters over the years, and I know we'll put on a spectacular show."
About Homestead-Miami Speedway:
"The Homestead facility is a great place to race. I competed in the very first event held at the track, an SCCA Regional race on the road course - I came away with a victory in the class I was competing in. I also raced there in the Pro Atlantic race in the mid-90s."
About prospects for this race:
"Running as well as I did in Phoenix really got me excited for the Miami race. I have the team and the equipment I need to be successful; the rest is up to me. I got a good feel for the Homestead track during preseason testing. Turn 4 is a bit tricky because it falls off camber and can pull the car into the wall. The windy conditions, which are quite normal for the area, can also upset the car especially in Turn 4. I guess that could be an interesting corner come Race Day."