2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Chip Ganassi Saturday, May 13, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: Dan Wheldon, right on time. Obviously, a gentleman who had just an incredible year in 2005 winning the...
2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Chip Ganassi
Saturday, May 13, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
MODERATOR: Dan Wheldon, right on time. Obviously, a gentleman who had just an incredible year in 2005 winning the Indy 500, the IndyCar Series championship. As many of you know, he began this year with a new team, teamed with Scott Dixon to win the 24 Hours of Daytona. The team has been very quick. We haven't had much practice time, but while Sam Hornish has been here as the fastest in practice a couple of times, this guy put up a pretty stout number himself in practice a couple days ago.
Dan, welcome back as the defending champion of the Indy 500. Looks like your team is pointing in a great direction right now.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I think it's been a strange month with a lot of the rain interrupting. I hope it doesn't dampen fans' spirits because I think it's certainly going to be a very competitive race.
I think we've seen that the Penskes this year have in practice and qualifying been extremely fast, but they certainly come back to us in the races. I was asked by Chip, actually, I think it was not yesterday but the day before, if he needed to panic at all because he thought the Penskes might be a chunk quicker than us, he wasn't sure how we were going to fare in qualifying. I told him not to panic.
I definitely think at Target Chip Ganassi Racing we have a good opportunity to contend for the pole. I don't think we've been as perhaps brave as the Penske people just yet. I do think there's a little bit more to come from our cars.
At the same time when you trim the cars for qualifying, you have to make sure you maintain a good mechanical balance in order to maximize the opportunity of getting that speed.
I do believe that we can contend. I think right now it's a Penske kind of Ganassi race for the pole. I think that's not going to be like that in the race. I think there's going to be a lot of people that will come very strong. I'm certainly looking forward to it.
MODERATOR: When I look at some of the strong teams here, we have many of them, all year it's looked like a Penske/Ganassi showdown. You had a great year with Andretti Green. I think about three of the key principals with Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi spending time behind the wheel.
Chip, welcome back to Indianapolis. As a driver and owner, you must have some insights what this kind of changing weather and rain does to a driver and a team's psyche.
CHIP GANASSI: I think it doesn't do much different to a driver or a team than it does for anybody else. I think anybody that's interested in racing or what goes on here is certainly left with something to desire on days like today. Certainly our team is and our drivers are.
I think the important thing is to have drivers and have an engineering staff that can keep your cars from day to day repeating and understand why they are repeating. There's nothing magic about the fact we all have the same engine now. What makes cars different from day to day or from change to change, it's important that you have knowledgeable people.
Obviously, when you get up in that front group of cars, certainly at the end of the day it's a lot of physics, they tell me. But being able to repeat that and understanding your car, understanding the differences that things like barometric pressure can make. We all understand, or at least we think we do, we understand what changes to cambers, casters, gears and shocks, wing angles, attitudes of the car. Those are all things we've been working on for years.
When you get up in that last 1 or 2 percent there, you're talking about things that maybe aren't so apparent to the average fan. That's what's great about having great people to work with, is they understand those minor nuances that are the difference between a 224.8 and a 225. While it may not look like much on a stopwatch, there is a reason for it at the end of the day.
MODERATOR: Chip, a great friend of mine once said, never forget how hard the guy that's running 15th or 16th at 400 miles at the Indy 500 is working. In the same vein, you can't underestimate the work your team has done in the last couple of years. That being said, you have to feel great coming into this race because you've started on a great platform to have success this month of May.
GANASSI: We have. This is as obviously as close to the front as we've been in a few years. It's for a variety of reasons, which not the least of which is the guy sitting next to me, and the guy that's supposed to be sitting on the other side of me here (remarking that Scott Dixon is late) (laughter).
It's about having good people and those people being able to rise to the occasion in all facets of the team. You know, in the past we've felt that we had a team that was capable of winning races from time to time; it's just that we didn't feel we had the opportunity to win that often. We had to really make the best of those opportunities that came along last season, like Watkins Glen. We were a little closer to the front at St. Petersburg there.
You know, it's difficult to put into words the amount of energy that Dan has brought to the team this season. I think I've said before, I guess I've known Dan for a long time, but never really got a chance to talk to him. We talked a little bit at an obscure hotel room at a race last August or September. We came to an agreement fairly quickly.
We certainly want to welcome Mario Andretti to the room now (laughter). (Referring to Scott Dixon's arrival.)
We came to an agreement fairly quickly. For whatever reason, we couldn't announce it for a while, couldn't actually do a deal for a while. That's not the story. The story is that obviously him interacting with the team over the winter brought a lot of energy, a lot of positive things. Came to our Christmas party. We were involved in a lot of testing, what have you.
I think none of that, any activity you have in all those steps I just mentioned there, for as many drivers as I've had the opportunity to work with, and as many great drivers as I've had the opportunity to work with, I don't think anything that I -- any interaction that I had with Dan up to that point prepared me for those last 15 laps at Miami. That was a pleasant surprise, I have to tell you.
MODERATOR: How about this guy next to you here? Let's bring in the 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. He won the season closer at Watkins Glen, has a new teammate. As we know, when you're Down Under, the clocks work a bit differently, but we're glad you're here nonetheless, Scott.
SCOTT DIXON: I was watching it on the trailer. I thought, maybe I'm meant to be somewhere (laughter).
Yeah, thanks for having me. Obviously it's going to be a big event for us and Team Target. I think it's probably my best opportunity at trying to win this race. Obviously, teamed up with Dan, having the experience of winning it last year I think has helped us all. The package with Honda and Dallara has been a great deal so far. I think the cars have been extremely competitive. I think we haven't really been out of the top five at any chance throughout the first few races.
I'm just excited, happy to be back, looking forward to a good race.
MODERATOR: Heading toward the Indy 500, Scott is fourth in the IndyCar Series championship. This is the fourth race of the 2006 season. It's the fourth time that Scott will be at the Indy 500 as a starter. He qualified fourth as a rookie in 2002. We get the point. There's a lot of four's that have run through Scott Dixon coming into the Indy 500. I don't think four is a number that Chip Ganassi or Scott are looking for. I suspect it's a position or two higher than that.
We have a talented group here. We'll open it up to questions.
Q</I>: A lot of people have talked in this room the last few days about the fact that you and Penske are so fast. Seems to be attributing it a lot to the fact that last year, while you were running with an underpowered engine, you worked so much harder on the cars, that now that you have an engine with the same kind of power, that's one of the reasons why you guys are leading the way. How do you feel about that?
GANASSI: I would say there's validity to that statement. I don't know that that's entirely the entire reason. But I would say that if I was to say -- I couldn't say that that's a false statement. That's probably true to some degree, yeah.
I can tell you, Roger and I stared a lot at each other the last couple years, as much as our own performance as the performance of other teams that we suddenly found ourselves competing with.
Q</I>: Scott, can you compare the difference in morale from last year to this year? You had a championship team in '03. There were struggles with mechanical issues. Your team didn't get worse; it was mechanical. Do you feel a difference with your crew guys?
DIXON: You could see it in the offseason. I think everybody knew what was coming, or had a fair idea of it first of all with the engine change, the chassis change, then Dan coming, it was a huge lift. You could tell walking into the workshop. Everybody's morale was a lot higher, everybody was a lot happier, looking forward to starting a new year, whereas at the end of the last couple years, you didn't really see any light at the end of the tunnel. It was one of those eerie moments when you're not sure what's going to happen. Hopefully something is going to get better, but you never really knew.
At the end of last year, we knew it was going to be a big competitive year for Target Chip Ganassi.
Q</I>: Chip, you mentioned there was some validity to some chassis work, but you also seemed to hint within that there was some other stuff going on, too. Can you talk about maybe what you did chassis-wise that helped you, then what other things might have got you in position to also be jumping up to the front?
GANASSI: I think part of it, too, was, in fact, switching chassis to the Dallara. Again, I think we have a pretty talented staff of people and group of engineers. As we kept massaging on the G Force/Panoz chassis, we massaged on that thing for a long time, and we thought we had it pretty good. I mean, I think we did to a certain degree. But each time, what we weren't taking into account was while we were making gains with that chassis, Dallara had effectively 16 or 18 test teams out there developing that car week in and week out.
It was a tall order. We never closed that gap. Each time we felt like we were closing the gap on a Dallara, they would just seem to pull something out that they pretty much had in their back pocket for a while. We were working awful hard to make those gains. I think that was a big step in the direction.
Quite frankly, Mike Hull and his group of people were certainly concerned. Changing chassis, giving all the Dallara teams, you know, a big spot in terms of how much testing they've done, what they know about the car, it's a tall order for a team to switch chassis, not so much after having the Panoz for three or four years, but not having a Dallara, understanding the nuances of that. This is a business of millifractions, if you will. You're down to, like I said earlier, some very, very tiny changes that affect the speeds of these cars at this level.
Yes, having spotted those Dallara teams, that many years of development, there was some question of how fast we could catch up.
Q</I>: Chip, before you got here, Wheldon made the reference of the Penskes have come back to you in some instances this year. In the 15 laps you're talking about at Homestead, I'm not so sure as they came back to you as you feel like Dan went and got them. Can you elaborate more on his performance in those last 15 laps?
GANASSI: I'll simply say this, I think I said it that day down there, you can talk about what great cars we have, great engines, great pit stops, great people, this and that. In that particular instance, I think it was just Dan's will to win that got him to the front there. Yes, we had all that, but without his will, that would have never happened.
Q</I>: Could you talk about what the psychological impact, if you will, is of being the defending champion. There must be a confidence factor there. Does it also make had you hungrier? Talk about attitude going in.
WHELDON: It's a good question because it's obviously a race I'm extremely passionate about, and I've been very vocal in making statements about the race. I was interested as to how I would be coming back as a defending champion from a motivational standpoint and stuff like that. But having been a winner in 2005, feeling and seeing what it's done for me, both personally and to everybody else around, it makes you more determined to win. I'm going to do everything in my possible power to make that happen.
Like I say, Hornish has been very quick these first three days, but I can guarantee I'm going to magic something from somewhere just on Pole Day. It's a fantastic race. I think that's what it does for you. It brings the best out of everybody. But for me personally, having won it, I think it's given me a lot more confidence, perhaps not just at the racetrack, but I think everywhere as a person, too.
I would like to just mention I think the guys don't get talked about. Both Scott and I have come here with brand-new chassis specifically for this race. Chip has been kind enough to let the guys back at the shop work many, many hours on. I think that goes to show you the commitment and dedication of the people back at the shop.
I know probably Mike Hull wanted them to do some other things sometimes, but they've been working on making us very fast for this race. We owe it to them to make sure we deliver. We've definitely got the capabilities of doing that.
Q</I>: Dan, as easy as it would have been for you to maintain continuity in your past situation.
WHELDON: I wouldn't be winning, though, if I did that.
Q</I>: How much was it in terms of shaking things up, going into that motivation, building on that motivation?
WHELDON: I've always been one to shake things up. I hate to be boring. You know, I certainly felt that I served my time at Andretti Green Racing. They gave me a great opportunity. We were able to win a lot of races together.
You've got to look at the big picture. Like Chip said, we haven't known one another very well, but I've certainly known of what he's done in the past, although he hadn't been doing it these last couple years. You know, I'm good friends with Juan Pablo Montoya. He says kind things about Chip. You know that?
GANASSI: Where did he get that (laughter)?
WHELDON: Montoya has always been a liar, too, right (laughter)?
No, he said Chip will do whatever he can do to get his cars in Victory Lane. I felt with the changes that they were making, that they would be.
Penske have been with the same drivers and the same combination for a long time. That's why I think at first Hornish had a big advantage, but we're closing that gap. We have to work through it in a methodical manner, otherwise we might miss something. It's good to be at the team. We just need to keep working hard and doing what we're doing to win.
Q</I>: Scott has joked around he knew there was light at the end of the tunnel for you guys when you were down. He wondered if he was going to be around to actually see it. Did he have anything to worry about?
GANASSI: You say Scott wondered if he was going to be around? Yeah, their jobs are on the line every day with me (laughter). They're only as good as they were yesterday.
No, that's not true. The guy's the 2003 champion. I don't think we were going to throw him out for any reasons of his, at least the last couple years. I think we all sort of had a focus on what our challenge was.
Q</I>: Dan, if we ever do get to qualify, how on the edge are we going to be out there? Three laps, hold on? Can you do four consistent laps?
WHELDON: You have to be on the pole to win. To win the pole at Indianapolis, you've got to be on the edge. We'll take it as far as we have to go because, you know, we definitely feel we're capable of that. The one thing that is it's kind of a shame they're going to add an extra warm-up lap. That kind of separates the men from the boys. Going into Turn 1 after one warm-up lap through Turn 1, it's difficult. So now that's going to be a little bit easier. But you're just going to have to be sensible on your warm-up lap so you don't overkill the tires.
We'll do whatever it takes.
Q</I>: Scott, coming from New Zealand, the first year here, what was kind of your anticipation of this place? Can you summarize what you've learned about this place since then?
DIXON: I think at that stage in '03, I think I'd come to the race with Ganassi actually in '02 to watch. Sort of witnessed -- lived in the area since 1999, really understood what changes throughout the month.
But I think as a driver coming for the first time, no matter where you're from, it's a hell of an experience. It's something that you can't really understand until you do it. I think the biggest thing is when you walk out on race days, down Gasoline Alley, over 400,000 people. It's one of those things that you have to do to really get the gist of it. You try to explain it to people, but you can't. It's just one of those things that sends chills over you. It's a hell of an experience.
Q</I>: Chip, you have a great reputation of finding young drivers, making champions out of them. The last champion you hired before Dan was probably Emerson Fittipaldi, who was already with Patrick-Ganassi. What is the difference when you bringing an existing champion as to developing one?
GANASSI: Well, I think everybody, whether it's in racing or sports, everybody wants to put a title on somebody or an MO. Sure, it may look like -- that's a by-product of what we've been trying to do. We've been trying to win races with the resources we have available to us. We're going to bring all those resources to bear each year at each race.
A by-product of that has been over the years bringing along some drivers that maybe people haven't heard of or are not that familiar with, but at the same time we're in business to win races and we're going to make the best opportunity and take most advantage of the resources that we have available to do that.
We're here to win all the time. We just happen to have had some drivers there that people never heard of. It doesn't mean we weren't looking for the best driver available at that time that's available to us. We do that, also. Dan was the best driver available to us, so we took him. It's that simple. It's not about comparing drivers or comparing philosophies; it's taking the best driver available to you with the resources you have out there each year.
Q</I>: Chip, for a time there, you were pretty synonymous with Honda power. You won a lot of championships. How comfortable are you with the format where it's only one engine for everybody? Do you like that?
GANASSI: Well, I think it has to do more with the way of the world today I think as opposed to here we are in the IRL.
I think we would all like the formula to have four or five engine manufacturers or four or five chassis manufacturers, two or three tire companies. There was a time in world motorsports when that was the model that worked. That model doesn't work for whatever reason, whether it's because of rules makers, situations where one group has an advantage over another group in any one of those scenarios.
Racing in the United States is fan-based. The fans want to see great races. I think in Europe it might be a little different. They're much more nationalistic, engineering based. The car companies are much more involved in racing over there than they are here.
I think having one engine, that puts a lot of -- that's the model now that puts a lot of emphasis on a team, on a driver. I think that's what American fans want to see right now. I've always said for many years, fans don't really care whether the rear wing is 30 inches long or 35 inches long, has an 8 or 7-inch chord. We used to argue ad nauseam about those types of rule changes. At the end of the day, the fan doesn't care about that; the fan wants to see a great race. I think they're going to see one this year.
Q</I>: Chip, when you came as a driver, Penske was a team to beat. Those guys were 5 years old. Here we are 20 some years later, Penske is still the team to beat. Is your goal to be a guy like Penske who goes on and on with drivers that can win?
GANASSI: Yeah, you know, certainly Roger set a standard in those days that a lot of us are still chasing. I certainly have a lot of respect for Roger, as I'm sure each and every one of you do.
He's been great for this formula of racing over the years. He's obviously been a solid, staunch supporter of open-wheel racing in the United States, and you could argue it wouldn't be what it is today without him.
I don't know that I want to be the next Roger Penske or anything. I'm perfectly happy being Chip Ganassi. Wherever that takes me, that's fine. But, yeah, I certainly have a lot of respect for Roger. If the weather keeps up like this today, we're probably headed together to Darlington this afternoon.
I mean, yeah, he was the guy to beat. I think it's nice that he's been here for this long and is still known as one of the guys to beat.
Q</I>: Chip, we all know Dan's passion for this place. He's talked about it since the first day I met him. You've won here a few times. What would winning here again mean to you at this point?
GANASSI: This is the Indy 500. I don't know that anybody's ever really put succinctly into words what it means to win here. It means so many things to so many people, it would mean to so many people in our team, in so many different ways.
Having experienced that a few times, you know, I'm not sure -- I could sit here and talk for days about it. It means so much personally to every person on our team as well as professionally.
I can tell you that each and every May there's a certain blossoming of everyone's attitudes here in Indianapolis at our facility looking forward to this event. When you don't do well in this race, or you do well, the emotions the day after on June 1st or whatever are very congruent to your performance here on Memorial Day.
What would it mean here to win? It would mean a hell of a lot, to put it simply. It would mean a hell of a lot of good for a lot of people. That's what we're here to do. That's why we come here.
MODERATOR: Means a lot to us that you took the time to come in on a rainy day and spend some time with us. Thanks a lot.