Penske, Ganassi teams start 2004 Indy preparations with testing. Hornish makes Penske debut; Castroneves, Dixon also turn laps at Speedway INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 -- Two-time IRL IndyCarTM Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. made his...
Penske, Ganassi teams start 2004 Indy preparations with testing.
Hornish makes Penske debut; Castroneves, Dixon also turn laps at Speedway
INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 -- Two-time IRL IndyCarTM Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. made his on-track debut in the legendary red-and-white colors of Marlboro Team Penske on Oct. 21 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, joining two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and newly crowned IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon champion in Firestone tire testing.
Hornish turned his first laps for the legendary team that has won the last three Indianapolis 500s, with Castroneves in 2001-02 and Gil de Ferran in 2003, and holds the record for the most Indianapolis 500 victories with 13.
2001 and 2002 series champion Hornish drove the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, while Castroneves was in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Dixon drove both the No. 9 and 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone cars at various times. Speeds and total laps completed for each driver were not released. All drivers were preparing for the 2004 Indianapolis 500 on May 30.
The transition to Penske from Panther Racing, for which Hornish drove for three seasons for 2001-03, went smoothly, Hornish said. Hornish replaced de Ferran, who retired after the season-ending Chevy 500 on Oct. 12.
"Some of the things they had done last year were a little different than what we had run, just basically based on driver preference," Hornish said. "We're just getting to know each other right now, and the car felt great.
"Pretty much everything's different. It's new, kind of refreshing. You get to learn something else, see how something else works a little bit different than what we've had. Sometimes you get in a comfort zone, and you don't know when things are different, and it's kind of neat to get outside that and learn new things."
Although Hornish admitted to a certain degree of anxiety about his first day of testing with the most successful team in Indy-style racing history, he said the focus of the first day was simply to get to better acquainted with the team.
"I just want them to feel like they've made the right decision," Hornish said. "There is a certain amount that I feel that I do have to prove myself, but the big thing is to not overdo it, either. You don't want to go out there and try to show them you're a hero and knock the wall down."
Castroneves and Hornish enjoyed an intense on-track rivalry while driving in the IndyCar Series for Penske and Panther, respectively, the last two years. The rivalry will not diminish in any way when the 2004 season starts Feb. 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, both drivers said.
"I don't see it being any different," Hornish said. "I wanted to beat him bad before, and I guess this makes me want to beat him even more because you're put in the same equipment, so basically whoever wins is the better driver that day."
While Castroneves is equally confident that he can beat Hornish in 2004, he also sees the benefits their rivalry will bring to the team.
"We're both competitors," Castroneves said. "I think it's going to be awesome for the entire Team Penske. It's going to bring a lot to us, good information I'm sure he has. And again, now he's my teammate. Not because he's my teammate do I need to lighten up. It didn't happen with Gil, either, even though we were best buddies.
"So it's going to be a good battle, hopefully the two of us all the time, and I'm looking forward to 2004. I'm going to tease him a little bit, once in a while. Not now, because it's his first day at school."
Despite the exhausting intensity of the 2003 IndyCar Series championship chase, which saw five drivers eligible for the crown at the season finale at Texas, Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing allowed themselves very little time to celebrate the championship.
The team put in a full day of testing at IMS with Dixon, and Dixon's new teammate, Tony Renna, will replace Dixon in the car for testing Oct. 22. Dixon will head to Orlando, Fla., for festivities surrounding the Indy Racing League Championship Celebration on Oct. 25 at EPCOT at Walt Disney World Resorts, where he will receive a $1-million bonus as series champion.
Renna has a total of seven IndyCar Series starts, all for Kelley Racing. His best finish was fourth at Michigan in 2002, and he qualified an impressive eighth and finished seventh at the 2003 Indianapolis 500.
Dixon said the focus for 2004 remains unchanged from this time a year ago.
"It starts again," he said. "This is the start of our testing campaign for the championship next year, and I think the '500' definitely stands out. It's not so much that we accomplished the championship. We want to do that every year."
FIRESTONE TIRE TEST QUOTES, INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone):
"It's different, definitely, but (I'm) pretty happy that things have gone well so far. Pretty excited about the progress that we've made. Just feeling everything out right now."
How did the first couple laps feel, being in a different car, different team, different uniform?:
"Some of the things they had done last year were a little different than what we had run, just basically based on driver preference. We're just getting to know each other right now, and the car felt great. Pretty much everything's different. It's new, kind of refreshing. You get to learn something else, see how something else works a little bit different than what we've had. Sometimes you get in a comfort zone, and you don't know when things are different, and it's kind of neat to get outside that and learn new things. Pretty excited about all the things that have happened so far. Kind of outside my expectations, I guess."
How long did it take you to jell with Panther? Will it be a similar situation here?:
"Seems like everywhere I've been, everything has jelled, so hopefully this won't be anything different than what we've experienced so far. Our first race with Panther, we won, so hopefully we'll do the same thing this year."
Is there a noticeable difference in the Toyota compared to the Chevy?:
"It's kind of hard because you can't sit in one and go drive the other one back to back. You can't tell the difference between 10 or 20 horsepower, but the engines feel to have a little more torque."
When did you shave? Were there orders to do so?:
"Thursday or Friday. No orders. It's a new day. I went back and looked at the pictures of the previous championships, and both times we won the championship I was shaved, so I figured maybe I screwed myself up at Texas this year."
Do you nervous at all today?:
"I just want them to feel like they've made the right decision. There is a certain amount that I feel that I do have to prove myself, but the big thing is to not overdo it, either. You don't want to go out there and try to show them you're a hero and knock the wall down."
How important are the offseason tire tests?:
"The more time you can get on the track, especially at Indianapolis, the better it is for you. Although there's times you don't want to go test at other tracks, Indy's never a hard one to get somebody to go test at because it's the biggest race of the year. The more laps you get around here, you learn something new every time you come here."
Your teammate now is a guy you fought for two years:
"I don't see it being any different. I wanted to beat him bad before, and I guess this makes me want to beat him even more because you're put in the same equipment, so basically whoever wins is the better driver that day."
How do you keep from getting a little overwhelmed with this opportunity?:
"I try not to get too overwhelmed, I guess. This is what I always wanted to do and where I wanted to be, so I'm happy about that, excited, and try to do a good job."
Is this fire suit the auto racing version of the New York Yankees' pinstripes?:
"I think it's probably even more than that, but it's my opinion."
Working with Roger (Penske), he's a guy who's all business, and you seem to have that attitude yourself): "Yeah, not generally too showy or anything like that. I'm about what can we do on the racetrack and how can we win the race. That's my concern, and hopefully it will be a good thing. Everything has meshed well so far. There are so many variables you can throw out there on race day, and I expect nothing more than to win races. I probably put more pressure on myself than any two people could, so when I look at it that way, it's no different than driving last year except you have a different team, different colors, all that stuff. But I expect the same thing out of myself, to go out there and win races and be a championship contender."
You're a young guy, but if everything goes as expected, is this where you'd want to end up for the remainder of your career?:
"I know with how hard things were this past season, dealing with the media, trying to make the right decision, trying to not hurt anybody's feelings but in the same regard do what's best for me, I told these guys I hope I never have to do that again. I hope I do a good job so I don't have to do that again."
There have been a lot of comparisons with your talent and demeanor and that of Rick Mears. How does it feel to work with him?:
"Sometimes it's weird. He calls your cell phone, and you still don't believe it sometimes. Same as Roger calling. It's a weird situation. It's a good situation. I never thought I'd have Rick Mears calling me."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone):
"Hopefully he's (Sam Hornish Jr.) getting comfortable with the No. 6 (car), and he needs to know the team, the team needs to know him, as well. It's like the first day of school -- people sometimes feel a little bit shy. We're trying to make it as comfortable as possible. He's here to do his job, no doubt about that, that's he been doing a good job. We just need to lighten him up a little bit, and I'm sure we can do that during next year."
You've battled him for two years, and now he's your teammate. Are you still going to battle him?:
"You see, just to prove this world is very small and always comes around. That's why you have to respect people, no matter who. We're both competitors. I think it's going to be awesome for the entire Team Penske. It's going to bring a lot to us, good information I'm sure he has. And again, now he's my teammate. Not because he's my teammate do I need to lighten up. It didn't happen with Gil, either, even though we were best buddies. So it's going to be a good battle, hopefully the two of us all the time, and I'm looking forward to 2004. I'm going to tease him a little bit, once in a while. Not now, because it's his first day at school."
Do you feel more of a rivalry than you did with Gil?:
"No, I see another strong competitor, same as Gil. When we're on the racetrack, I don't see who's my friend and who's not. It's business, you just have to go and beat everybody. Obviously, outside the racetrack we have to know each other through the whole season."
TIM CINDRIC (President, Penske Racing:
"He's everything we expected him to be. Quick out of the box. Hopefully we give him a setting he's familiar with, and it should be kind of business as usual, just different colors for him. I think it's going to be very similar with what we had (with Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves). We had two guys that, when they came to the team, they didn't really know each other. They're always wanting -- with the same equipment -- the confidence that you can go as fast as the other guy. As long as we can control that competition, it will be good for us, for sure."
ROGER PENSKE (Owner, Penske Racing):
What have you learned of Sam Hornish Jr. thus far?:
"His approach is cautious but direct. I think he's very knowledgeable about the car. I think the way he communicates what the car is doing -- each driver has a little bit different way they communicate -- but I think that he's a pro, and he's very calm. (He's) very anxious to see suggestions from the engineers; he's willing to try it. A lot of drivers don't want to try new things. Sam's open to learn something, and we certainly are going to learn a lot from him."
You had a veteran in de Ferran, and now you've got two younger guys. Will they compete in a different way?:
"These are two young guns, and in today's racing, that's what you need. Gil was really the engineer of the team. He was the one that helped bring it together four years ago. He brought Helio along; Helio pushed him. It's obvious to see how Gil ran at the last race, that he was as good at the finish as he was when he jumped in the car. I think these two drivers are going to complement each another. It's going to be a real race between the two of them. I think the competition with Ganassi, Andretti and the other teams -- certainly Panther's not going to sit back -- we don't have any confidence here that we can go into next season assured of anything. I think we've got to work hard and execute. It's going to be reliability, no engine failures, keep the car off the wall and just good, smart driving and a lot of good strategy."
Can you compare Sam to another driver?:
"I think someone said to me that maybe there's a comparison between he and Rick Mears. Rick was quiet, direct, knew what he wanted, and when it was time to go, there was nobody stood on the gas harder than he did here at Indianapolis or around the circuit. To his credit, when he said, 'Look, I don't feel like I have the fire in my belly to go,' he decided to hang up his helmet. That's one thing I think I can say about the drivers: They're team players. Gil gave us the opportunity to get Sam at a real critical time. I never pick the best driver. We don't have anybody driving we don't think is the greatest driver, so at the end of the day, in that time, the drivers we have, we think are the best available."
There are a lot of young, talented drivers in this series:
"To me, that's going to be good for the series. We've got to keep building it by getting good performance, and we do that by consistency and playing as a team. We're one team; we don't have number-one driver and number-two driver. What I want is for both drivers to feel there is 200 percent support for each one. That's one of the reasons I wanted to here today, to let Sam know that this is a big deal for us, him joining the team. It was a big decision for him, and we have to make sure that we live up to his expectations."
RICK MEARS (Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Penske Racing advisor):
With these two superstar drivers, how do you see things shaping up for Team Penske in 2004?:
"Very good. They're both eager, aggressive and talented, and they've both proven themselves. They have both accomplished a lot already. I think they're going to be a very strong team (and) work well together. I think they'll help raise each other's level."
There have been a lot of comparisons between Sam and you in terms of focus and demeanor. What do you see in him?:
"I've never been good at comparing anybody to myself, but I'm fortunate to be compared to him and what he's accomplished already. I appreciate that very much. He's going to bring the focus, the dedication. I think he's in this business for all the right reasons, and that's to win races. That's what he's all about. I guess, looking back, that's what I was all about. I wasn't in it for anything else; I was here because I loved driving race cars. To me, the fun was being competitive, which is why I retired when I did, because I felt the competitiveness was going to go away. I think he's (Sam) a lot like that. He wants to win races, which is one of the reasons he wants to be with the Penske organization."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone):
Is your focus is now more on winning the 2004 Indianapolis 500 now that you've won the IRL IndyCar^Ù Series championship?:
"No, not really. It starts again. This is the start of our testing campaign for the championship next year, and I think the '500' definitely stands out. It's not so much that we accomplished the championship. We want to do that every year. I think last year (at the '500') we had a great car, but we had that silly little fuel problem that plagued us. Our focus, especially testing at Indy, will be to work on the car for next year. Any running you can get in the car is going to be beneficial. We try to help Firestone out with selecting tires. But it helps out the team in the way if we pick a tire and it might get picked to race here, then it's suited to us, as well. So there's a lot of positives to tire testing."
You've got a whole season under your belt in the IRL, so how will that help when you return to Indy in 2004?:
"I think it definitely helps, just prepares you a lot better to know what to expect for the whole month. Obviously, we've developed a lot with the car throughout the year, and we'll be a lot better when we understand things. You know, and Race Day, I think the nerves will be a lot less. You've been here and done it."
2004 tickets: Tickets are available for the 2004 Indianapolis 500. For information, log on to www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, or call the IMS ticket office at (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700.