Indianapolis 500 Press Conference April 10, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Brian Barnhart Sam Hornish Jr. Scott Sharp Part 1 of 2 - The month of May Mike King: We'd like to say welcome to some special guests that are with us today. I am...
Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
April 10, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Sam Hornish Jr.
Part 1 of 2 - The month of May
Mike King: We'd like to say welcome to some special guests that are with us today. I am in my fourth year as the radio voice of the Indianapolis 500. My name is Mike King, and I anchor the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, but the real voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, no one will ever mistake me with him, because of the fact that this man is a legend and I simply hope to be one day, Mr. Tom Carnegie who is with us here today. Tom, it's great to see you. (Applause) Tom, is this No. 55 or 56?
Tom Carnegie: 57.
King: 57, I missed one along the way. So this is Tom's 57th Indianapolis 500 as the Voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, truly a remarkable record. John Barnes is also here and John is one of the owners of what is perhaps the hottest racing team in all of the land. John is sitting right back here and I know a lot of people are -- John, just raise your hand for a second. There he is. An incredible accomplishment after Sam Hornish, Jr. won the Yamaha Indy 400 at California Speedway. This team, Panther Racing, Pennzoil Panther Racing has now completed 22 consecutive raises without a mechanical failure. They have completed since, I believe it's June of 2000, in those 22 races, 99.7, I believe it is, 99.7 percent of all of the laps that have been run in Indy Racing League competition. It is absolutely incredible. Scott Goodyear was responsible for six of those consecutive starts without a failure. Sam has been responsible for the next 16. Scott, I believe, is also here. Scott, where are you? There he is. Scott Goodyear, who is no longer an active participant as far as driving goes, but is now a member of the ABC and ESPN broadcast team. Scott, also great to have you here today. Without further ado, let's tell you about what's going on here today. Hope you enjoyed breakfast obviously. What to expect this May: these three guys are going to fill us in on that. In the middle, pretty much the heart and soul of the operations of the Indy Racing League, Brian Barnhart is the vice president of operations and oversees just about every aspect of the league, including competition, and has a great staff. He and his staff do a super job with orchestrating the Indy Racing League competitors and what goes on at the track. Brian Barnhart is here. Next to him is Scott Sharp. Scott, obviously, the 1996 Indy Racing League co-champion, last year started on pole here and we'll talk a little bit about the year since coming up in just a minute. It was an incredible run he had going during the month of May last year until Turn 1.
Scott Sharp: Which year are you talking about?
King: That would be last year when he won the pole. I'm sorry about that. So 2001. But Scott, one of the winningest drivers in Indy Racing League competition with the Kelley Racing Team and we're looking forward to hearing from him. Sam Hornish, Jr. Sam took over the lead in the Indy Racing League as far as the point standings goes in his first race with the Pennzoil Panther team in March of 2001. He has been the only driver to lead the Indy Racing League points for 16 consecutive races. In that span he has won five times, he has won two of the first three races this year. He has accomplished himself in very short order as the preeminent oval racer in open-wheel competition today. It is absolutely amazing when you look at what he has done in his short tenure with Pennzoil Panther Racing, the stats that he has been able to pile up. Sam continues to lead the points and will go into the Indianapolis 500, obviously, as one of the favorites. Let's get opening comments. First start with Brian and, Brian, the question is what should we expect the month of May?
Brian Barnhart: Thanks, Mike. Welcome to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, everybody. It's a pleasure to be joining you here this morning. I'm pleased to see such an outstanding turnout for our media tour this week. I anticipate May of 2002 being one of the most exciting in Speedway history. I mean, I am honored to be sitting between these two gentlemen here that I'm sure are eagerly anticipating May's activities. I think probably both of them, speaking for both of them before they get a chance to, I think they both feel they have some unfinished business here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You alluded to Scott's situation last year sitting on the pole, having an outstanding month of May going until race day. I'm sure he's looking forward to coming back to 2002. One thing that I think a lot of people forget, and I think it says a lot about Scott's character and professionalism, didn't take Scott too long to bounce back. He won the next race at Texas. So that's a forgotten achievement but I think it says a lot about the character of the man and his abilities as a driver to come off a crushing day at Indianapolis to bounce back two weeks later and win one of the most exciting events of the season at Texas. Says a lot about Scott. Sam, obviously, had an outstanding season, continues to do so again in 2002, but also I'm sure he feels he has something left on the table here at Indianapolis. Having completed all but about seven laps, I think, in the entire season last year, I think four of them were here. So I think both of these guys are excited about 2002, and will join an outstanding field of competitors. I was scanning down the entry list. We have six former winners, we have four Indy Racing League champions in the series that are competing in Indianapolis next month. We have three CART champions entered in the event. So we have probably the deepest and highest quality field that we've had in Indianapolis probably since the days of the roadsters in the '60s. So it should be, if I'm not mistaken, I believe we ha history last year and especially with the formula cars that we have and the quality of the teams that are entered, I would anticipate an even closer field based on our three days of qualifying to start the 2002 Indianapolis 500. Will probably be the closest field in history. We're excited about it, looking forward to it and good Lord willing, we'll have some good weather all month long and put on a good show for you guys.
King: Scott, let's go to you next. I know you have anxiously waited to get back here and to wipe away last year's memory. What do you expect this month of May?
Sharp: Echo a lot of what Brian said. The buzz, I think all winter, has been that we're going to see a type of race that's something that hasn't been seen since the '50s or '60s. I think just in my recent memory past of the last 10 years, think about the kind of finishes this race has had which typically has gotten down to two, three cars going for it. I think that's probably gone now. I think you're going to see there's just so many competitive cars. I think what's exciting is no one is going to really know who has a chance in this race until the green flag drops. It could be a guy who's been quiet all month but working on race setup, it could be somebody who just happens to hit on the right setup that morning. There's legitimately 20, 25 guys that could probably win this race and you won't know who that is until the green flag drops. So I'm excited and, like you said, I've been thinking about it every moment since I stepped out of the car almost 11 months ago.
King: Sam, you, like Scott, have some unfinished business here even though this will just be your third 500 start. Every conversation that we've had practically, somehow or another has come back around to that spin and the four laps you lost here last year. Despite every great thing that happened last year, I know this is the one thing that you have desperately been wanting to right.
Sam Hornish Jr: This is why I started racing. Obviously when I have a problem at the biggest race of the year, I want to go back and rectify it some way. But it only takes half a second to screw it up and then you have to wait another 365 days before you get to try to do it again. I'm just really excited coming back into the year. The Pennzoil Panther team has done such an awesome job so far this year. We're really excited about it. Looking at some of the speeds from yesterday, it's going to be tough this year. Like Scott said, there's 20 guys that have an opportunity to go out there and win and you have to qualify up towards the front here. With the depth of the field, you're really going to have to pull off four really fast laps. I'm just excited to get the month of May started. I wish it started tomorrow. So I'm really excited about everything.
King: Sam, obviously the defending Indy Racing League champion. One interesting note: In the last four Indy Racing League events, Sam has won three of them and two of them by a combined margin of 46 thousandths of a second. So he knows how to suck it in at the right time and suck it up, that's for sure. Let's open the floor for questions for thee three gentlemen. Just raise your hand.
Q: Sam, I read somewhere that really that spin here last year was the only mistake you've made in the car since you got to this team. Is that accurate or are there some other ones that were maybe just a little less obvious?
Hornish: I've made some other ones but they weren't nearly as big as that or noticeable on the camera. Last year at the first Texas race I was trying to get around the outside of Mark Dismore and the front of the car pushed up and I thought, boy, that was really close to the wall. Pancho said, "How hard did you hit the wall?" I told him, "I didn't hit the wall." He said, "Well, there's black marks dotted over there, you must have." (Laughter) A lot of those little mistakes go unnoticed by some people and even by me sometimes. When you have a car that's reliable and doesn't fall apart, it's very easy to go out there and have good races, even when the driver makes mistakes.
Q: Sam, maybe kind of a silly question, but what did you learn from last year and how much better a driver are you this year because of what you learned last year?
Hornish: I've got over 10 more races now under my belt and that's about the same amount that I had last year going into this race. So I've almost doubled my experience in Indy cars since then. I learned to stay off the white line, that's not a good place to be, especially on cold tires. And patience. You know, everything that I talked about last year and what I needed to do to be able to win the championship, I forgot in the first 18 laps of this race. I wanted to get towards the front of the pack instead of just sit there and try to pick up some positions through going through traffic and also pit stops. Forgot about those things. Hopefully I won't this year.
Q: Scott, this question's for you. It seems like Kelley Racing has had pretty good mechanical cars and everything in the past but it seems like you're having a lot of trouble this season.
Sharp: Certainly we haven't gotten off to the kind of start we'd hoped. We've had pretty good cars. At Homestead, unfortunately, I had an engine problem. At Phoenix we were the fastest car on the track and got involved in someone else's crash right in front of us. And then didn't have a great race in Fontana but came home in the points. So we just came off a really good test at Nazareth. We haven't been as competitive, I think, as we'd like to be on the shorter tracks and been working really hard in that direction. We were pleased to come out of Nazareth more competitive than we've been pretty excited going into that race. We're thankful there's 15 races this year. It's tough when you're up against the kind of consistency that Sam and the Panther team have had. Everyone in the past -- look at last year -- had a race or two that they dropped out of and would like to forget about, and Sam didn't. There's just no way with the consistency of the points package that you can make those up. Hopefully with the 15 races, I hate to say it, Sam, but we're waiting for you to drop out of a couple. (Laughter)
Q: Another one for Scott. Is there any discussion or have you guys pursued possibly introducing the plans to run the Gen 2 engine at Nazareth or just wait until Indianapolis or even after Indy?
Sharp: I'm not sure if I should -- Gen 2, what's --
Q: The second generation. You guys are still running the first generation of the Chevy, right?
Sharp: I'm not sure if I should be the one to make that announcement or not. I'll let Nancy. She's somewhere in here. I'll let her make that decision later.
Q: Obviously, Scott, talk about last year is going to be around you for the next six weeks. But can you kind of take us through the progression of going through all that hype and then having the accident and then how you sort of recover from it mentally in terms of getting yourself back together? I mean, do you even think about it now or just when we bother you about it?
Sharp: Just when you bother me about it really. First of all, like Brian and so many people have said, we just had an awesome month. The team was tremendous, the whole Delphi team, to be quick when we wanted to be almost every day if we chose to be, otherwise we were working on race setup. Obviously, to win the pole was the four most perfect laps I've ever driven. The car was right where we needed it to be. Carb Day we were quick, won the pitstop contest and it was just such a roll we were on, it was pretty awesome. I had gone out and practiced several starts just because you want to -- being on the pole, we felt we had a car that we could go lead the race with. We weren't going to try to go supposedly win the race in the first hundred laps but if we wanted to lead, we were going to. So I realize on cold tires that I had to lift a bit, obviously getting down into Turn 1, and practiced several starts where I felt I got through there comfortably but with enough speed to maintain the lead. Obviously, that was on track temperatures of 95 upwards and race day morning we all know it got a lot cooler and it was 72, I believe. So going down into Turn 1 I lifted more, obviously. But the combination of the temperature and getting down to the bottom, not really knowing where the other guys were or what kind of start they had, I hugged the inside and made the mistake of staying on the white line too long. Between the temperature and that, I think the line was freshly painted, all those things, boy, it just snapped on me and I got as busy as I could trying to catch that. If you guys have seen the in-car camera, it was busy. But ran out of real estate in a hurry. I think from that moment, you know, I felt -- you know, do I have something to prove to myself, to the team, to everybody this month? Yes. Did I throw away a chance probably, a good chance of winning the race? Yes. But it's over. What are you going to do? You can't get back in. I would have loved for those guys to stop the race and pull out the backup car, but that wa are you going to do about it? You've got to put your head on and go forward and learn from it and push out everything else. It's tough at times. That first week it was pretty tough to do that. If I'm not with a smile on my face, if I'm not leading the charge for the team, we were never going to turn our year around. We had a great year really. I mean, we finished third at one race, three poles, three second-place finishes. Unfortunately there towards the end we cut a couple tires and hit the wall, which took us out of the points championship. We had a really strong year. I don't think if the whole team hadn't rallied around and said whatever happened in May is over with and moved forward, that that would have happened. I'm excited. This is my favorite track, I can't wait to get on the track here. We're testing Monday and Tuesday. As a driver, you've got to put that behind you and go for it. I'm an aggressive driver and sometimes that's going to happen and you've just got to learn from your mistakes. I don't think I want to lift off that right pedal anymore because of it.
Part II - Track surface and 2001 Indy 500: Part II