January 27, 2004 Indy Racing League An Interview With: Scott Dixon Helio Castroneves Tony Kanaan Sam Hornish, Jr. Part 1 of 2 MIKE KING: Welcome to the first open test. The IndyCar Series will not be on the track until tomorrow. The...
January 27, 2004
Indy Racing League
An Interview With:
Sam Hornish, Jr.
Part 1 of 2
MIKE KING: Welcome to the first open test. The IndyCar Series will not be on the track until tomorrow. The Infiniti Pro Series will probably be on the track around noon today. It's taken a long time to dry the track with the humidity, but we're pleased to first welcome these four drivers who last year combined for nine wins during the 2003 season. So these are the heavy hitters. Led of course by the defending 2003 IndyCar Series Champion, Scott Dixon from New Zealand, who just returned from home where I understand he received quite a hero's welcome and deservedly so and came eye-to-eye with the race horse, the pacer, that bears his name, who is just as fast as Scott. Scott Dixon has won, what is it, four of his 10 first starts?
SCOTT DIXON: Four of seven.
MIKE KING: So the winning percentage is somewhere around 60 or 70 percent. He drives for Target Chip/Ganassi Racing, and it's a great pleasure to have him back as the defending series champion.
Our second place finisher in points last year unfortunately is not returning this year as an active driver, Gil de Ferran, who was Helio Castroneves' teammate at Marlboro Team Penske. Gil retired at the end of the 2003 season. However, Helio is here and ready to go. He finished third in points last year, with wins at Gateway and Nazareth. And let me mention that Scott won here at Homestead last year and he is the defending champion from the Toyota Indy 300. Helio, two-time Indy 500-mile race winner and third in points last year.
Tony Kanaan, last year, it was his first full year in the Indy car series, and he started out with a bang. He won the first two poles of the season, the first two MBNA Pole Awards and won the race in Phoenix. And until he and Helio touched at Texas Motor Speedway it looked like the championship was going to come down to the last lap of the season. Tony, who was in contention all season long with the Andretti Green 7-Eleven car, winds up fourth in points.
And Sam Hornish Jr., driving for Pennzoil Panther Racing, went on a tear there at the end of the season. He won races at Kentucky, California and Chicago to put himself back in it. He wound up fifth in points. He was the two-time defending series champion going into the last race of the season but he winds up fifth last year.
Once again, nine of the 16 races that were run last season were won by these drivers so without a doubt, this is the elite of the IndyCar Series class of 2004.
Q: Scott how was the trip back home and the reception?
SCOTT DIXON: The off-season was kind of short I think for most of us. I got two weeks right before Christmas and had to be back for another Firestone test on the 12th. So my trip was much shorter than normal. Fairly busy, too, because normally I'd go back in October on the way to Surfer's and do most of my media stuff there.
So this time, I was trying to catch up with family and get the media stuff out of the way in two weeks and have a few parties, too.
So it got tight, but it was good to be back home. It was very warm, hot, and it wasn't, you know, too kind to come back to the weather in Indy, anyway. I don't know, it's a good to be back.
MIKE KING: Helio spent the off-season playing tennis with presidents, among other things. Tell us about your off-season and preparations for 2004.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, now I have the connections, so watch out.
Well, I had a good time, actually. Went to see my friend (Tony Kanaan) right beside me; he got married. You got really drunk, I tell you, we've never seen you -- (Laughter) that's OK. I remember that time. Anyway, we had a great time. Obviously I also spent time with Gil and his family down in Brazil when I went back for testing as well. We ran here and in Homestead and also ran in Phoenix to know the new layout of the circuit, which is very nice. Again, back for Christmas and New Year's Eve, which was good. As you said, I played the Chris Evert event with Mr. President, Senior, which was very nice, in fact. We had a great time. Also, just last week, we were with J.O. (Jermaine O'Neal) at the Pacers game in Indy, which my buddy now was the man, so it was good. I've been having a great time. Now we are here, ready to start 2004 and hopefully it's going to be good to us.
MIKE KING: Tony, as Helio mentioned, you spent time during the off-season getting married. You get married on Friday you race on Saturday and you say that's not a very good combination.
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, don't do that, guys. Not good. Well, yeah, obviously, I'm very happy. It was a good time. I got to see my old friends that I haven't seen for awhile. And all of the guys from Europe, they came down for the wedding and then we did the race together, too. It was amazing again. They finished fourth with Jimmy (Vasser) and (Michel) Jourdain. I think we ran out of luck, I would say. After you guys see the pictures from the wedding, you see the way I was, we had no way we were going to win that race. By one o'clock in the morning on Saturday, which was the race start, I wasn't feeling very good. So it's not a good combination. But I had a good off-season. I didn't do any testing. I had plenty of teammates that did it for me. I did all of the honey dos: "Honey, do this." "Honey, do that." (Laughter.)
So I finished my vacation putting up two houses because we have a house now in Brazil and organizing everything.
I'm happy, back with 7-Eleven on board and let's see what's going to happen.
MIKE KING: Scott, Helio and Tony all returned with the same teams they competed with in 2003. That obviously is not the case for Sam Hornish Jr. And Sam, you left Panther Racing, you joined Marlboro Team Penske, it's been an off-season of transition, I have to assume.
SAM HORNISH JR.: It sure has, learning new people, learning names. We did a lot of testing. It just seemed like it wasn't much of an off-season at all. I'm really enjoying everything that's been going out on. Super excited to get the season underway. So many speculations on what may and what may not happen.
I'm ready for everything to get started. It's been a great year so far and really looking forward to the new season.
Q: Can you talk about the engine change from 3.5 to 3.0 three liters, which won't take place until May in Indianapolis. So at least for this week you will be running with a 3.5 engine. Can you talk about that rule change?
SCOTT DIXON: Even the difference it made with the hole on the air box seems to have taken a bit out of the car. We had been estimating it since last year, anyway.
The only thing that is going to come up is basically, hopefully, with losing all of this horsepower, we are not going to have too much grip. I think that's going to be a big challenge for the series. I am sure they are very capable of compromising with the downforce.
But it's kind of going to be a hard thing to work out, I think. You've got to also try to win the first three races, but plan for the other 13 throughout the year when you hit the changes for the month of May.
I don't know. Obviously, I think it's a good thing. It's going to slow the cars down. It's going to make it safer. I just hope it's not going to be too easy to drive the car.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I agree with Scott. No doubt about what the IRL has been doing, it's trying to make it safe, not only for us, but also for the mechanics, for the teams and for the public.
So definitely, as Scott said, we have a hole on the air box, on the engine cover to make sure we slow down a little bit. And again from Indy and that point, no doubt about it, we are going to slow down again. Racing is a dangerous sport. Still going to have some tough calls. But that's the way you progress. That's the way you are trying to learn. And obviously, the IRL is taking care of it and taking the right actions.
TONY KANAAN: I think it's a positive change. But I can give you a better answer after I try it. So I can't make any comments right now. But I think the people that made the calls are people that understand about racing, and they definitely know what they are doing. I support them 100 percent.
SAM HORNISH JR.: I think it's the same thing that we saw going from the 4.0 to 3.5 liters in 2000. It's just a matter of time that the engineers and everybody will get the speed back eventually. It's a means to be able to take some of the horsepower and also let us have a bit more variation with the wings to make the cars more raceable. Not necessarily in the fact that there's 22 cars running right close together, but that we still are able to pass, to spread the field out just a little bit.
We had a great race in California. We had five, six, eight guys that were fighting for the win, able to run real close together, but it wasn't the whole field like it was at Texas. You get that many cars running together for 300 miles or whatever it is, it's just kind of sometimes a recipe for disaster, because there's so many things that you have no idea what's going to change, what's going to affect somebody. You can have a tire go down or an engine problem and you take out four or five cars; it's just not very good for the series if we don't have cars finishing races.
MIKE KING: The race that Sam alluded to at California Speedway last year set a closed course speed record in motor sports history as he and Scott ran 1-2 with a race average over 207 miles an hour.
Q: Making the reductions that have been made, as far as the rule changes, how does that separate the field?
SCOTT DIXON: I think that's what I was talking about. A lot of the rules with the wings and things like that haven't really come out. There's been speculation of how much grip they are taking away, but I think that's going to be the only way to separate the field is making sure that they have taken enough grip away and the cars are difficult to drive. And then you know, you'll see the better teams, the better drivers work better with that equipment. And that's the only thing I think that's going to stretch it out.
But then you have to compromise that you still need to be able to pass. So it's not like the CART days where it was so light on downforce that you couldn't even pass.
Q: If we see the reduction of grip or downforce in the cars, we're going to see driving styles change dramatically, won't we, from driver to driver?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, yeah. As Scott says, good teams, good drivers will make a little difference. Again, tracks like Texas, for example, does give an average to everyone trying to be close to each other. Again, those changes, no doubt about it, will make our races close again. It's not something that everybody is going to take off.
Again it's going to be challenging. Everybody is still going to be looking for the 100,000th of a second to make sure that you can be on the finish line.