IRL: Indy 500: Barnhart, Hornish Jr, Sharp press conference, Part II

Indianapolis 500 Press Conference April 10, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Brian Barnhart Sam Hornish Jr. Scott Sharp Part 2 of 2 - Track surface and 2001 Indy 500 King: Questions? Wow, you guys are slow starters this morning.

Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
April 10, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Brian Barnhart
Sam Hornish Jr.
Scott Sharp

Part 2 of 2 - Track surface and 2001 Indy 500

King: Questions? Wow, you guys are slow starters this morning. Everybody must have had the decaffeinated coffee. Right back there.

Q: Brian, Scott just mentioned that white line being slippery newly painted. Should such a hazard exist potentially on the track? Isn't there a non-stick white line you can put down? Actually a non-slippery white line I should say.

Barnhart: Actually, you guys are chuckling at the question. There is a non-stick paint and that has been implemented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. I think part of the problem was for an appearance standpoint, the Speedway shuts down private testing 10 days before the month of May begins, all the walls are painted, the stripes are put down in pit lane and on the racetrack. The grass is neatly manicured and you make the place a show palace for opening day. You run through the first two weeks of practice and qualifying and then the week between bump day and race day, the same procedure takes place again so that it looks nice and neat again on race day. One thing that is a little bit different that we're going to do this year -- and this is probably something I should let the Indianapolis Motor Speedway staff address -- after what has happened, and that's not the first time that somebody has made a comment about white line, they did an exhaustive search and came up with a paint that has almost -- it's almost like the wing walk that you put on an airplane. It has grit inside the paint. The white line that will be down at the Speedway has grit into the paint. It will be painted to begin the month of May, it will not be painted again after that. So that's just some of the procedural changes that we have made, that the Speedway has made and doing so. The white line being slick on cold days has been an issue around the Speedway, or any other racetrack for that matter, for a long time. Based especially on last year having the colder temperatures reminiscent of 1992, the Speedway went out, found a paint that suits the job and has put down a different stripe. So there is a different white line in place.

King: Brian, could you also talk about the changes in the track with the grading that has gone on, the areas that have been smoothed out?

Barnhart: Again, just another positive great reflection on the job the Indianapolis Motor Speedway does. This place is absolutely the Mecca of speed and racing. It's so fantastic. I still get chills when I walk through the gate of this place. Having been here for so long as a fan, as a competitor and now as an employee here, there is no other facility in the world like it. When you take into consideration a combination of the modernization, the addition of the F1 track through the infield, the new Pagoda, the Gasoline Alley suites, all the new innovations that you couple with the history and heritage -- and keep in mind, guys, when you walk around here, she's 90 years old; and she's the best looking 90-year-old out there. Because I'll tell you what, there isn't anything like it. When you take all that into consideration, one of the other great things that they've done in maintaining this racetrack being better than any other out there, Kevin Forbes and Mel Harder and the Speedway staff has ground the racetrack. The construction of the F1 track with the dump trucks and all the heavy equipment that ran around on the pavement and the track getting old, you get -- from the last paved job, which I believe was '95 or '96, you know, the winter, you get water underneath it, it freezes and thaws and the heaving and the contraction will create bumps. I think these guys will probably tell you that it was starting to get some bumps around the racetrack, and at 225, 230 miles an hour, bumps are not a good thing. Kevin and his staff brought in a diamond grinder and they have ground the racetrack similar to what we did at Nashville last year before our event there, to get rid of some of the bumps on the Nashville racetrack. But they have made this place, and based on the guys that tested yesterday, we had seven cars on track yesterday and Team Green tested earlier in the week with Paul Tracy and Dario Franchiti, and just everyone to a man has just raved how smooth the racetrack is. A lot of you have been here before and you've when the front axle and the rear axle line hits the yard of bricks and you can hear the real rapid pow-pow of the car hitting the yard of bricks, you can't even hear that now. You can't feel the yard of bricks in the car. Everybody is talking about, that has tested here, how smooth the racetrack is. One thing that will do and one thing you can expect in the month of May when we come back next month, it will be quicker because of that. The test speeds have indicated now. Both the days that we've had testing here have been ideal days, it's been in the upper 50s to right at 60 degrees. There's been no sunshine. So you have got maximum downforce in the air and working on the car. You can take wing out of the car. It creates a lot of horsepower. But we've had a lot of test speeds already in the 225 and 226 mile-an-hour range, which indicates by the time the month of May rolls down and these guys start going at it for real, we're probably going to approach laps in the 230, 229 range and probably I think Scott's pole speed last year of 226, I would say you might be looking at a pole speed, if a guy can put four laps together, in the 228 or 229 range for pole around here. Obviously, as you guys are so well aware, Indianapolis's qualifying is so unique with four laps, being a 10-mile run, the weather conditions on pole day are going to dictate that. We could be that quick or if it's a really hot and miserable day, you might be slower than what Scott ran last year. So a lot of variables go into play, but it will be an exciting month.

Q: Is 230, if it gets to be consistent, is that too quick? You spent a lot of effort recently in trying to contain speeds. If it gets up to 230 or maybe slightly over at some stage, will you think about trying to do something to pull them back?

Barnhart: We've already been thinking about that and this is the third year of our existing chassis regulations. The new rules coming out for 2003, with the new car that comes on board and implementing the new designed engine coming on board, a purpose-built three-and-a-half-liter engine, we're taking all of that into consideration. You're not going to see us cut them back a huge amount, but I would say our goal to come back in 2003 will probably be in the 224, 225 range. Because we like -- I think we're very comfortable and happy with the speeds between 225 and 230 miles an hour around here. I think the guys would be better addressed at this, but I think they'd tell you it doesn't add much to the show to be racing in the 235 to 240 mile-an-hour range from a comfort zone, from a safety zone. And a better entertainment value of the product for the fans, I think the guys are more comfortable racing in the low to mid 220s. If we get a race -- I think last year's fastest lap of the race was 219 and Scott was on the pole at 227. If we qualify at 228 or 229 and we have a race pace at 221, I think the guys would tell you they're comfortable with that for a race pace.

King: If I'm not mistaken, Sam turned that fastest lap of the race I believe in the late stages of the race To both Scott and Sam, you both came here last year with cars, obviously, and teams good enough to win this race. You both have success at other Indy Racing League events I mean, Scott, as Brian alluded to, you won Texas after we left here last year and, Sam, you won the championship. But the fact that you came away from here with nothing so to speak, does it cast a pall over the entire season when you leave empty handed? Scott, take it first.

Sharp: I think for myself and I know a lot of other competitors, you're just constantly thinking points, points, points. As I talked about earlier, the consistency, obviously it's amazing just finishing among the top five, what that does for you points-wise as opposed to if you drop down halfway on a couple races, you really lose out on points that are hard to get back. I think when you come to May, you put all that aside. It's such an important race, it's something you think about all year, the whole team concentrates and puts such energy into that you forget about points for one race and say, OK, we'll worry about that in Texas. But at the same time, you know, with last year there's only 13 races, luckily, like I said, this year there's 15. It pays the same points as all the other 15, but obviously it's something maybe the whole series combined, the challenge is this one race. So I think to walk away from it for me, I would have traded -- you know, the pole was awesome. It was probably at this stage in my career, my greatest achievement. But I think I still would have traded a really solid top, you know, one or two finish here -- (Laughter) -- top two or three, I'll go to top three finish, you know, for that. To walk away from here with those kind of points, that kind of momentum, that kind of 500 miles of experience for the team and for everybody and achievement over the pole. So I think in your championship quest -- Sam maybe could say differently because he didn't have the kind of race he wanted and still went on to win it, I think you can make up a lot of ground and gain a lot of momentum within the team based on a solid performance here.

King: Sam, what about you? Your year last year was remarkable but every time we talk to you about it, the 500 is the focal point and the fact that you had such a good car and you don't know if you'll ever have a car that good again, how tough is it?

Hornish: Well, it's kind of tough because at that point in time we had added -- I could sit there and I could add up all the races that we had completed so far at the beginning of the year and take our finishing position and I think like the first six races without Indy were the same as 14 points or whatever. So two wins and a fourth, a couple seconds, you know, you finish worse there than what you did in your other -- it was the worst finish of the year for us. Couldn't blame it on anybody but myself. That's hard to do sometimes. So you have to come back this year and have an open mind about, yeah, that happened last year, but I also went back out there, got back in the car, made up two laps on the field, stayed out of trouble for the rest of that. Got another 180 laps of experience in the car that I hadn't had and especially around here and in traffic. I'm excited about this year. I know that they're going to put me out there in a good car for the race. It might not be perfect but that's what I'm in there for. That's why any driver is in the car, because if the car was perfect any time, anybody could go out there and drive it. All you've got to do is get it close and hopefully the driver can make up for it. We'll see what we do this year. We're really excited about it.

Q: Brian, prior to the 1980s when CART went to the points scheme where every race had the same number of points, USAC used to run the series where points for races were determined by the length of the race. Have you guys ever thought of going to a format where at least Indy would be pulled out and might have something like double points because it seems rather silly that winning Phoenix gets you the same number of points that you get for winning Indy.

Barnhart: Well, we're actually pretty pleased with our points the way we have it right now. We've kind of modified a lot of existing points championships from other series to create the one that we have. Ours has an emphasis on winning. What Scott was alluding to on that -- and that's what we're here for. These guys don't get in the car, Scott is talking about running for points but I guarantee you when he puts the helmet on and they drop the green flag, all he's concerned about is winning; and our points system rewards winning. You get 50 points for winning, you get two points for leading the most laps. You get zero points for qualifying. You get 50 for winning and then you fall all the way down to 40 points for second, 35 for third. Then it starts going down in two-point increments to 30 and then it's one point after that. So our whole emphasis on winning, and I think what Scott would tell you is he wants to win as many races as he can. Because just like Sam did last year, consistency is one thing, but if you win, the championship is going to come. I think that's the important thing. I don't think the guys, when they talk about running for points, I think what they're alluding to is that the cars and the teams have become so good that we have incredible reliability out of everybody. You can't have, like what Scott was talking about, you can't even have the one race where you fall out. Sam ran all but seven laps last year in the races that he won, and his finishing record, he ended up right where he deserved to be based on points. He was the champion. That's what Scott is talking about. You run all day long, you've got to have solid runs, you've got to win a handful of races to contend for the championship.

Q: Brian, 10 years ago you were here with Little Al, I think it was, and they were going 230 miles an hour. How do you look at things differently from the time when you were in the pits as a chief mechanic or whatever and how you look at it today as the guy that runs everything?

Barnhart: A lot differently, Dick, in so many different ways. I think the formula has changed dramatically, the cars have changed so much, the competition I think is better now. As these guys were talking about, you can rattle off probably 22 or 23 guys right now that are entered into this race that can win this race on May 26th and it won't surprise anybody. And the depth of the field is probably greater now than it has been in the history of the Indianapolis 500. I think that's one of the biggest changes that you've had, the equal availability of equipment from engines to chassis has definitely increased the number of contenders that you have to perform well. I think that's one of the best things about it, is when you sit here and talk about 66 percent of your field can win to the surprise of no one, that's an unbelievable stat when you stop and think about that. We've got a lot of cars that are going to be sent home, we're going to send home 33 percent of our entries. You sit out here right now and to put it in perspective, one of the things I'll tell the guys in the driver meeting, ballpark, just guessing on the number of car/driver combinations, you've got to beat 18 guys to be dead last year in the field on qualifying day. You think about it from that standpoint, you look around the room, I've got to beat 17 or 18 guys just to be dead last. That's an outstanding achievement. That puts it in perspective when you're sending home, when you've got close to 50 car/driver combinations and you're sending home 17 of them -- that's the biggest change I see, Dick, is the depth of the field and the quality of the competition. It's an unbelievable achievement. It works so hard to get into this race and that's what builds the frustration that Scott's been feeling for 11 months. You work so hard to get into this race, let alone to sit on the pole, and you lose it on the first lap; and it doesn't matter if it's the first lap or the 20th lap or anything. The Indy 500, what these guys are feeling, the best and most successf record. A.J. Foyt has won it four times, as much as anybody. He lost it 31. You know, it is so unique, it's such a unique event. I think what the guys, from a mechanic standpoint, from a driver standpoint, fear is that when you get a car as good as Scott had last year, a car as good as Sam had last year and you don't win. In the back of their mind what their only fear is was that my only shot in my lifetime, was that my best shot to win the Indy 500 and did I just throw it away? And that is just based on history because it is such a unique event and you're just hoping that 12 months from then when you come back, that you're going to have as good a shot again. I think that's just been the way the Indianapolis 500 has been forever. I think people want to win this race. It's the most important race in the world. Even the most successful guys have lost it more than they've won it. When you get a good shot to win it, you certainly don't want to waste it.

Q: Really for both drivers, Brian talked about the track being ground down. Is it noticeably different, noticeably smoother when you're in the race car? And then with the speeds escalating over 230 miles an hour, are you still comfortable in the race car?

Sharp: I've not driven on it since they've shaved it down. So we'll find out Monday. But certainly when you go that speed, the car is pretty -- if you've got the car working pretty good, you don't feel the bumps that much. It's always been an amazingly smooth track here for the kind of winters we get here. There's a lot of other tracks that are in a little bit warmer climate that seem to suffer a lot more than Indianapolis does. Other than a few bumps -- I imagine if Brian thought it was bumpy before, it will be billiard smooth. So I'm anxious to get out there.

Hornish: I haven't driven on the track either since they've ground it down. I'm really excited to see what the changes are. There's some ripples going into Turn 1, which unstabled the car a little bit. If they've got those smoothed out, it should be, you know, a lot more fun. Last year you get in behind somebody during the race and the car starts moving around because of all the air that's going around, then you hit those ripples, too, and you're trying to also turn into the corner and it's hard to hit your mark. It might make for some closer competition this year if the track is a little bit smoother and you don't have to worry about any of the ripples, you can get up and run closer behind somebody else. The smoother the track is and the closer you can run together is going to make closer finishes.

King: This will be our last one.

Q: Brian, last year much was made of the IRL drivers not finishing in the top five or six. In light of everything that's happened, say, in the last 10 or 11 months, is that even an issue anymore or does that show that the vision that Tony and you had for the IRL has come to fruition?

Barnhart: I think a lot of what was made last year as a result of the Indy 500 was created by the media. It was never an issue for us. I was confident you could run that race a hundred times and get a hundred different results. I think the team that deserved to win the Indy 500 last year did. That shouldn't come as a surprise and a shock to anybody since it was their 11th Indy 500 win. That team is the yardstick by which all other teams are measured. Having won the Indy 500 10 previous times, I don't know why the 11th would be a surprise to them. Again, if you go back and look at what the competition was throughout the day, there was a lot of guys -- I mean, if you look at that speed chart, who ran the fastest laps of the race, the cars that ran one-two at the end of the race weren't very high up on that chart. But that's the thing about Indianapolis. It's not the Indy 200 or the Indy 300 or the Indy 400, it's the Indy 500. Mark Dismore had an outstanding car last year and had a fairly large lead when he had a gearbox problem. Jeff Ward had problems. Robbie Buhl was tracking down, had gone around Gil and was tracking down Castroneves and spins coming off of Turn 2. There's a lot of what-ifs that go into that and there's always what-ifs at the Indy 500. The bottom line is it's not, you know, a 180-lap race, it's a 200-lap race. The guys that had the car dialed in and were the quickest for 500 miles and there at the end of the day were the ones who deserved to get the victory, and they did. I think if anything, I think it really showed the IRL teams -- and one thing that I think the Yamaha 400 at California Speedway helped our guys with, is reliability. Running a 400-mile race before the Indy 500, we have never done before. So I think a lot of our teams were anxious to get out to the California Speedway and we had a very good day. We finished 22 of 27 cars. So I think from an engine reliability standpoint, a chassis reliability standpoint and a clean event, I think the full-time IRL teams are going to be better pre results just showed that's the way you have to be.

King: Thanks very much. Scott, to you, Sam to you, good luck next weekend at Nazareth and obviously here during the month of May. Brian you're going to be back with us I guess at 10:30. So we do have about 10 minutes for one-on-ones and then we reconvene here at 9:30 when Arie Luyendyk, Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever, all former winners, talk about the month of May. Guys, thanks an awful lot.

-irl/ims-

Part I - The month of May: Part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Paul Tracy , A.J. Foyt , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr.