IRL: Indy 500 Media Day press conference, Part II

Indy 500 Media Day: "What to Expect This May" Wednesday, March 26, 2003 Brian Barnhart, Bob Jenkins, Scott Goodyear, Mike King and Davey Hamilton. Part 2 of 3 Goodyear: Then a good thing I heard a little trick they were going to do, Bob...

Indy 500 Media Day: "What to Expect This May"
Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Brian Barnhart, Bob Jenkins, Scott Goodyear, Mike King and Davey Hamilton.

Part 2 of 3

Goodyear: Then a good thing I heard a little trick they were going to do, Bob was actually going to do a re-recording of that and send it in my mailbox for Christmas. I had heard that and got hold of that information so he didn't bother doing that, it wouldn't have been that much of a joke. But that would have been quite good. But I can certainly remember coming here as a kid in the '70s, I was go-kart racing, and I just wanted to go see the Indianapolis 500 as a kid, as a spectator because I loved cars and didn't have any aspirations at that time of being here at the Indianapolis 500 because I was way too young. I remember we raced an event in Batavia, New York in a go-kart on a Saturday and then drove all night just to get here to be able to watch the first of my time coming here. And I can remember walking through the gate and just being awe struck basically. Then as I got through my career looking like I might have the possibility of coming here and racing at the 500, it just sent goose bumps through my body, just even thinking about it, and then coming here and doing rookie orientation, going through all those motions and still driving through the gates this morning, you know. You're driving to something that is so full of history and is so, so special to so many drivers that come here that go through rookie orientation and make the event, and even those that don't make the event. It lives with them forever if they don't have that opportunity to race here because there are different layers of coming to this racetrack. Either you're attending it or being part of it as part of the crew or driving it or as a team owner.

I felt that last year because as a driver you don't really participate in what's going in around you on Sunday morning. You certainly know that it's a huge event. You're so focused, you get in here so early, you don't pay attention to what's happening. I remember standing up in the booth and telling these two guys that, "Would you look at this? Oh, my God, look at that. I can't believe that." Stuff happening, people funneling in and all the atmosphere that's actually going on, as a driver sometimes you miss that because you are so focused on what's happening. I mean, I can't really remember the jets going over and Jim Nabors singing and all these things happening because you're in your own different world basically. So it was nice last year to be able to participate as part of the broadcast team and sort of take part with that and see what goes on and see the other side that I hadn't seen before. So it was pleasurable as far as that aspect was concerned. I sort of look forward to what's happening next month. There's going to be a lot of drivers coming here for the first time for the rookies, going through rookie orientation and getting prepared for May. Whether you've been here numerous times, a dozen times, it doesn't really matter.

I think Michael Andretti is going to be here for the 13th, 14th time possibly, 15th. I'm sure if you ask him, it's going to be the same thing, the excitement that's there, the electricity that's in the air is tremendous. For the rookies, I can recall when I came here the very first time going through rookie orientation and then being allowed to be able to try and qualify for the 500 was something very special. I'm sure these drivers will find the same thing again. The competition just keeps getting tougher. When I was here in '95 with Honda, there was a lot that goes on when you're participating with an engine manufacturer. And with the three engine manufacturers here this year, there's no doubt that each one of them want to be in Victory Circle, so there's a lot more pressure on the teams, on the drivers, on the crew, to perform, to make no mistakes. I think you're going to see that up and down pit lane. It always seems to build when you come up to Fast Friday for qualifying, for Pole Day, and I think that's going to be more prominent this year with the engine manufacturers taking part. Obviously, when you get yourself running through the next couple weeks, getting prepared for the race itself, the drivers are going to have to start doing long runs and longevity is going to be an issue and fuel mileage and all those things that take place at any other event just seems to grow in proportion to this event here. I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on all the teams, drivers and crews, as I mentioned, just to perform to say that they won the Indianapolis 500, probably more so this year than ever.

King: We're going to open it up. On a real quick personal note, allow me to say what a pleasure it is to be able to work with all these guys. With Davey and Scott, I've had the opportunity to share the broadcast booth and their precision on dissecting what happens on the racetrack and obviously their careers and Davey's tenacity in coming back from those unbelievable injuries at Texas. Bob's professionalism and his love for this place and what he knows about the Indy 500 and open-wheel racing in general. It's a pleasure to know Bob over the years. And, of course, the exceptional leadership that Brian Barnhart provides for this series. I think it's certainly one of the reasons that the IndyCar Series is where it is today in just eight short years.

Let me just add that that personal shot there at the beginning was just a little joke, except Brian being distinguished.

Let's open it up. Anyone have questions for any of our panelists about what to expect? Joe is on that side with a mike, I've got this one, just raise your hand, we'll get it to you.

Q: Brian, hopefully we've got three weeks until Japan. Given the world situation, what plans do you have for security and to make sure this event goes on without a hitch?

Barnhart: Well, as we move forward in our schedule, we at this point in time see no reason not to conduct the Japanese event on April 13th. We've got a little more time to continue to monitor the world situation. We've been in contact with the appropriate agencies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, with the Japanese government, with the security from Twin Ring Motegi. We've been in contact with Homeland Security, the FBI and the State Department here on the U.S. side as well. We're going to continue to monitor what develops overseas. At this point in time, as I say, there's no reason not to go. Should there be a situation arise in the next week or ten days that would change that, then we would react accordingly. At this point in time all we can do is stay educated on top of it and make the decisions in the best interest of everybody. We would not do anything that would endanger any of our teams, fans, drivers, any of our participants, sponsors. We are going to continue to stay in touch with the appropriate government agencies and monitor the situation and make the decision before departure date to continue to go or not. Like I say, something would have to change pretty dramatically in the next week to ten days to change the course of the event.

King: Questions? Bruce.

Q: Brian, how concerned are you over the prospect that during the month of May that there could actually be a tough time getting a full field of 33 cars just because of the equipment situation?

Barnhart: I don't think we have concerns of getting 33. I'm not sure we'll have the car count number that we've had in the past of being in the mid forties, but I think we'll probably be in the upper thirties to right at 40. So I don't think fielding 33 is going to be a problem. And I'm probably more excited than I've been in previous years. Even though the car count may be down, it's going to be a much higher and a much deeper field. You know, you look at the quality of the teams and drivers that have come into what we're looking at. Even if you only have seven more cars than the field can accommodate, you have to keep in mind somebody can look at that and say, well, you can only have a bump day where only seven cars can bump, and that's simply not the case. You have unlimited combinations, because the cars that get bumped have spare cars and they're going to come back. And each car has three attempts to go out. When you multiplif those seven cars bump seven cars, and those seven cars get their spare cars out and those seven cars all use three attempts, we don't have enough time in the day for all those cars to go through that. So Bump Day is still going to be, as historically is around here, unlike any other day in qualifying in the world. It is the most nerve racking.

One of the advantages I get in being able to give the drivers their instructions to qualify -- and it doesn't matter if it's Pole Day or Bump Day -- I tell you what, like Scott said, whether you're a rookie or a veteran like Michael Andretti coming through here, every one of those drivers will tell you there is no experience in motor racing like qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. That's simply because of the format involved, the three attempts per car, the three days to run, the fact that there are no provisionals, and the fact that it's not a simple run. Four laps, ten-mile qualification run is something, and you guys have seen it so often around here, a guy will go out and his first lap will be four to five miles an hour faster than his fourth lap. And when that guy is starting to fall off like that and that driver has his hands full, the team has a real difficult situation, averaging those laps out and is this going to be good enough and where it puts them on the grid. So when you look at all the pressure-packed situations that goes into it, we've still got a great and exciting Bump Day, and just the month of May, like I say, you always look forward to.

King: Scott, as many times as you qualified here, was there ever a time you rolled out there thinking this is routine?

Goodyear: No, not ever. To echo something Brian is saying, you just don't really know how that car is going to be over four laps. The pressure is on the driver more so there than I think the race from the simple fact that you've got the car as perfect as possible, you've had to sit down with the engineer and come up with something that you think is going to be just exactly what you want as far as wing settings and the temperature change as it always does from the last time you get on the track in the morning until the time you get to qualifying, especially if you're further back in the queue, tire pressures, wing angles, all those things that go with it. Then when you come down to the green, it's pressure. Everybody says it's only four laps but I'll tell you something, it doesn't matter if you're qualifying at LeMans, which is eight and a half miles around, it takes you just under four minutes to do that. Here you're going out there for four laps and it's the most pressure that you've ever had because you have to be perfect on every entry, on every midpoint, on every exit and you're trying to make the car as free as possible to a point where it doesn't come around on you to get the speed out of it. It's never been routine, and I've started on the front row and I've started on the back row, it doesn't matter. You feel good once you're in the event, that's for sure.

King: Davey, that two and a half, three minutes, does it go slowly or does it go quickly?

Hamilton: The first year it goes real slow actually. The first time I did this, it's like these guys say, once you make the race, you're relaxed. You get out there race time and if the car is not right, you can wait for a pit stop and you can pace yourself and you can do different things throughout the race. But with qualifying, you know, your ass is on the line. You're four laps, running as fast as you can go, hanging the car out more than you have done all month long knowing that you have to get in this race. There have been situations where my car hasn't been the best. There have been other situations where my car was great and it was easier but it's never easy. When the car is not right and you're hanging on to it, it's the most difficult four laps in motorsports.

King: Questions?

Q: Brian, you had the SAFER barriers put up last year, have new cars, new chassis this year, there has been talk about speed up and down, and adjustment, where do you think we're going to be at this year, what kind of speeds are we going to be looking at here at Indianapolis?

Barnhart: That's a little unknown for us since we haven't had a car test yet as you mentioned with new chassis, new engines, new gear boxes. We were a little faster at Homestead this year than we were last year. We were a little slower at Phoenix this year than we were last year. So we've done some things as well coming to the Speedway that have multi-benefits. One of the fundamental principles about the Indy Racing League, obviously, is controlling costs. One of the things that we've done this year is eliminate some of the suspension options that are available to teams that used to have the standard wide track suspension and then they'd have narrow kits. They'd have narrow, they'd have super narrow, they'd have ultra narrow, and those obviously make the car skinnier and get through the air better. Those were basically used in qualifying setups here at the Speedway, and then most everybody put the wide track back on to race with. We've eliminated those suspension options in the interest of cost, for one, but also that also slows the cars down because now everybody is going to have to run the wide track the whole month of May and you won't have an option to qualify on.

The wing package that we run right now, there won't be any minimum wing angles. There's kind of a self-imposed, at least from what we've seen in the wind tunnel. The wing profile we're now running, once you start getting very, very far in the nose-up negative position, if you go too far, that starts adding down force and drag to the car. That in itself will not allow a car to run as little a wing as they have run in the past. So we've got a couple of things in place from that aspect that I think and will naturally slow the cars from the speed that they ran last year. Also, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had reground the surface last year and there was a lot of grip in the racetrack last year. Some of that will naturally be gone just because the surface is a year older than it was a year ago. I wouldn't be surprised if we're a little quicker than we were last year, but that's still in a speed range that, you know, with the construction of the cars and the emphasis on safety that the Indy Racing League has, it's in a range that we're comfortable with. As you say, Tony George and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue to be the leaders in innovations in safety. The SAFER barriers were up last year, and we have continued to do development work on that over the course of the last year. They'll be in place again for the month of May as we move forward for next month's race.

Part III

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Goodyear , Michael Andretti , Tony George , Brian Barnhart