IRL: Indy 500: Andretti Green Racing press conference, part 2

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Wednesday, May 26, 2004 Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon Part 2 of 2 Q: Dan, in America we have an expression put on your game face, which means getting serious at a point when...

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon

Part 2 of 2

Q: Dan, in America we have an expression put on your game face, which means getting serious at a point when the action starts. When will you put on your game face and all this joviality will go away? And also talk about going out in the middle of that front row.

WHELDON: Well, I think as much as everybody thinks we joke around a lot, there is a lot of the time when we are very serious. I don't think you will find any more serious people in the engineering meetings than we are. I think we're obviously very focused on winning. I think the engineers are pushing us very hard. So from that standpoint we are very, very serious. As far as -- I mean, well, when there's down time, we often have fun. But, for example, on Race Day, we'll know -- I mean, we'll crack jokes at one another, but we'll know obviously it's a very big race for us, it's a very big race for the sponsors. I've got some added pressure because I've got Jim Beam willing to give somebody a million dollars if I win.

KANAAN: I'll give a million dollars.

WHELDON: I think we have a good balance. I certainly am having the time of my life with these guys. As much as I hate to admit it in front of them, I love being around them. They're great for me on the track as well as off the track. I think they can keep me in shape very well. But certainly when I'm rolling off at the start, I think everybody is kind of trying to hype up the first lap, but nothing special is going to happen, certainly from my standpoint. I'm just going to make sure that I'm around until the last pit stop and then see what happens from there. But I think that's the key, trying to position yourself for the end of the race rather than worrying about the start of the race.

Q: Tony, when you came over here and joined CART, you were kind of like in the middle of what was then a Brazilian wave, there were a lot of Brazilians that had come into this sport. Now it seems like it's a British wave, there's more Brits in the race than there are Brazilians. Just talk a little bit about why that seems to have shifted a little bit in that direction. Dario and Dan could comment on that, too.

KANAAN: Well, I would say we had a big Brazilian wave and good drivers and good teams, then Gil retired, so that was a loss for us. All the good Brazilian drivers are gone so we just -- no, I would say there's a cycle all the time as you see year after year. How many years you saw six, seven, eight Brazilians racing CART, then they came over to IRL. I always thought myself it was really, it was too much. But they kept hiring Brazilians, so we must be good, and we must have something that they like. So I think with like Foyt, you know, Dario had his accident and then Felipe lost his job, Gil retired, there was like three or four guys -- Vitor lost his job, too. So it was like five guys right away that went away. I would say you still have a good quality of drivers. And then all of a sudden you see this bunch of people from England, Britain, UK, and I mean they can explain that better than I do. But I think it's a timing, it's just a recycling thing.

Q: Dan, could you speak on behalf of why there are so many British drivers coming in now?

WHELDON: English or British? Actually, I think we all just came to follow him, he looked like he was having a good time and doing well so we were going to try to do the same.

FRANCHITTI: Basically they thought, 'Oh, yeah, this guy is doing OK over there making some money, so we'll show up and see what we can do.' (Laughter)

WHELDON: But I think with certainly from my perspective, I don't know whether Dario agrees, I think Formula One is becoming a little monotonous. It's very difficult to break into. It seems that half the grid now have to take money to go and do it, and perhaps you're not seeing the talent there -- I mean, there is obviously a very high level of talent but not perhaps toward the latter half of the grid. And certainly the league here seems very, very competitive, there are some great teams, with the engine manufacturers as well pushing very hard, it makes it very good to be in. So I think that's what is attracting the Brits.

FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think it's just a case of opportunities at the right time. Dan made the move very early to come over here. Darren (Manning) has been quite recent, as has Mark Taylor. But I think it was just opportunities and you've got to take them when you can get them because in any motorsport right now there's not that many chances, and whenever they might be you have to take them. I'm pretty happy certainly with the moves I've made and where I ended up.

Q: Dan, talking about this Indianapolis 500, go back a year, did you understand at this point last year what this race was all about? How did you feel afterward, and how is it different this year?

WHELDON: No, I knew what this race is all about; it's probably the biggest race in the world and certainly one of the most enjoyable to be part of. I think maybe I'm just coming back more mature. I was still very new to the IRL when I was competing in the race last year.

FRANCHITTI: You were?

WHELDON: Well, I'm more mature than I was, let's say that.

FRANCHITTI: OK.

WHELDON: I think you just get used to it, and you know what to expect and when to expect it. Then I think the biggest thing for me is the fact that you've got to make sure you have a good car in the race because 500 miles around this place is a long, long way. You're in traffic a lot, the track seems to change. Sometimes the conditions can be different from any other time that they've been like a certain way in the month. So that's I think maybe just a slightly more experienced or slightly more mature approach to it than anything else.

Q: I'd like to ask Dan one question. I was looking at the stats from the combined results, and I notice that you have about 360 or 70 laps is all you have run in practice this month, fewer than anybody. Is it because you're comfortable with your car or --

KANAAN: Good teammates. Look how many laps I have done.

WHELDON: No, I think just the way situations have arose. I haven't necessarily needed to do many, and I haven't been able to do many. Obviously, when you're in a team like we're in and you share information and work together so closely, it's not so critical. Either that, or the team has decided to pay me by the lap and --

Q: Dan, to look at another team's youngest driver who came in with you as a rookie last year and gets picked on all the time by his team, when Anthony Foyt, A.J. the IV gets picked on, he's getting chewed out by his grandfather every day or Bobby Unser saying he doesn't belong here; A, do you think that he would have benefited a lot by being a member of this team, would it have made a marked difference in his confidence? B, what kind of confidence change, or do you see an improvement in him this year, and do you sympathize with the way he gets picked on as opposed to your?

WHELDON: Yeah, I definitely -- well, actually you know what, considering what they did to my room in Japan, I'm not sure I do sympathize at all. I definitely think he would have benefited from having these three, and in particular these three because of the way they are. Yeah, they certainly perhaps -- I don't think they pick on me, they just have a lot of fun at my expense. (Laughter) But, I'm a big beneficiary of their experience. If me being the butt of their jokes is the fact that that involves or if that's what it comes with, then I'll take it. Yeah, I guess he obviously has somebody that's very tough on him and perhaps not inspiring him with confidence, which I would not only say these guys do for me but everybody on the team. So yeah, I think he would benefit a lot. He seems to be doing better this year. From my standpoint, I think when you've done a year, it's amazing how much you kind of relax because you know what to expect and you know perhaps what you need -- you know more what you need from the car. I would still say I'm learning a ton. But I think that's a big help for everybody if they have just completed one full year.

SAVAGE: Anything else for these guys?

Q: Just one for Tony, any of you guys. How does all this friendship thing manifest itself when a couple of you are running close together out there in a difficult situation? Is it a confidence factor, or what plays into the race as far as the friendships go?

KANAAN: I would say we've been in difficult situations this year already. Me and Dan in Phoenix first and second, then in Japan. So I would say there is a lot of respect. We all trust in each other very much. So it's a lot more comfortable putting side by side, wheel side by side with Dario or any of my other teammates than it is with somebody else that I don't know. So obviously we're teammates, we need to take each other, that's pure, that's in the team. It's not just even if we don't want to do that, we have to. We race for a big organization that puts a lot of trust on us. I would say the big factor on that is I don't think any one of us are insecure about our position in the team or our driver skills. And that's what actually makes drivers to don't like each other or hate each other or have the big competition because they always feel that the teammate is threatening him for his position. And we don't have that at all on the team, that's pretty well set. The team is supporting the four drivers. And whoever gets that win, it's because he deserves it, he got it on a better day, it was his day, whatever it was. It's not because of a lack of confidence or any hard work from any other drivers or the guys that are on the team. So the confidence is there, the respect is there, and if we find each other one, two, three, four on the last lap here, it's going to be awesome for the team. And whoever wins is the guy that deserves to be in the front. That's the way racing is, it's a selfish sport, and unfortunately we can't win the four of us, so let's try to make the best out of it, keep the respect up and just race clean and fair?

SAVAGE: Anything else?

FRANCHITTI: I think what Tony is saying there is when it comes to race time, we're all there to beat each other as well as everybody else, you know what I mean? We'll handle the joking and stuff, we still want to get out there, and we know that. We're quite happy with that. I know when I go out there, these boys like nothing better than to go out there -- that's why we're out there, we're there to win. If that means we have to beat each other -- but if we can get these guys one, two, three, four, that's what it's all about.

Q: Back in the days of the front-engine cars, the drivers agreed that all four turns were the same, the blueprint of the track shows they're the same. But now we hear they're not the same. What's the truth and why and which is the most difficult and which is the easiest turn?

HERTA: Well, back when I was doing the front engine cars. (Laughter) No, they are certainly different.

KANAAN: Is Turn 1 different than the other turns, Bryan?

HERTA: Yeah, it's about the same as 3. No, they are different, they feel different and they look different. It seems like the biggest factor, though, is the cars are so -- I think the biggest change is the cars depend on aerodynamics so much and that any change in wind direction changes the way the car feels. And one day your car might be really good in 1, and you're struggling in Turn 3. The next day the wind changes and you're struggling in Turn 2. That seems like the biggest factor to me is just the temperature conditions and the wind direction are what change the track more than the physical layout of the track itself. Turn 1 seems to have the least grip of the four, though.

SAVAGE: Last question. Gentlemen, thank you. Good luck Sunday.

-ims-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Bobby Unser , Jim Beam