IRL: Indy 500: Opening Day pre-event quotes

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 2, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCarÔ Series drivers about the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Practice starts Sunday, May 4 and continues daily until MBNA Pole Qualifying...

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 2, 2003 -- Quotes from selected IRL IndyCarÔ Series drivers about the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Practice starts Sunday, May 4 and continues daily until MBNA Pole Qualifying on Saturday, May 10. The second day of qualifying is Sunday, May 11. Practice resumes daily on Wednesday, May 14, with Bump Day on Sunday, May 18. Carb Day is Thursday, May 22, and the race is on Sunday, May 25.

ABC Sports will broadcast the race live at noon (EDT) May 25. (quotes listed in alphabetical order):

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, making final start of driving career at this event): "So much has happened in the last couple of weeks that I haven't been thinking about my retirement. First Dario's (Franchitti) injury before Japan, then Tony (Kanaan) getting hurt at Japan and then Dad's (Mario Andretti) accident last week. I know this month is going to go by fast. I'm not having any second thoughts about my retirement; I'm just excited to be racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Team 7-Eleven has a lot of work to do in the next few weeks. As for me, I'm just hoping to lead one lap, the last one."

KENNY BRACK (No. 15 Rahal/Letterman/Miller Lite/Pioneer Dallara/Honda/Firestone, 1998 IndyCara Series champion, 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner): "The next race will also be very special. We will have plenty of time to test during May, but we wanted to get some data to look at before we come back. So we ran a few testing days last week. Last Wednesday, the Speedway extended the testing time to 6 p.m. I was running on the track with Mario (Andretti), who testing Tony Kanaan's car. I was on my last lap of the day when I felt something going wrong with the car. I couldn't tell what was wrong but I knew I had to slow down. I got off the throttle as I was in Turn 1. But the rear of the car just spun around and I hit the wall. I don't know if something broke or we might have lost a motor. Maybe some fluid got on the rear tires because I slowed down but I still couldn't control the car. I felt bad because I knew Mario was in my draft as he was trying to post a really fast time for the end of the day. There was debris on the track, and Mario never had a chance to react. He hit some of the debris and got airborne. The best sight was seeing Mario jump out of the car. Mario and I were able to laugh about it in the garage afterward, but it is something that I don't want to see happen again with these cars. They are going so fast, and things can happen quickly. Unfortunately for our team, we had a lot of work to do to prepare the car again. It's a good thing it happened in testing and not during the month of May. It's exciting coming to Indianapolis with Team Rahal. We were a good combination back in the CART days (2000-01), and I think we have continued to learn more about these Indy cars. It's not as easy to pick up the proper settings as people think. There is a very fine line for these cars to be fast. We are learning more and more, but we aren't there yet. It's always exciting to come back to Indy. Being a former winner is a good feeling, too, since I know how hard it is to win the biggest race in the world. I just want to do it again."

ROBBIE BUHL (No. 24 Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Everybody at Dreyer and Reinbold is excited to be here the month of May. It's what we all work hard for. You never take anything for granted at this track. Because of the changing conditions, it's important to just run every day and get the most out of the car. Then hopefully you get it all sorted out by Race Day. As always, we've got to concentrate on improving our cars and not worry about what everyone else is doing. It's a long month, and even with that, 500 miles is a long race. But as a driver, it's the one you live for, and for many of us, the motivation that got us started racing in the first place."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 2001 and 2002 Indianapolis 500 winner): "Obviously, Indy is a very special place to me. This year will be even more amazing as I try to go for a record third win. I'm trying not to think about the three-peat and just enjoy every minute of the month. Records are made to be broken, and if it's meant to be, it will be. The team has been working very hard in preparing the cars for the month. We'll start off running both the Dallara and the Panoz G Force and hopefully make a decision early in the week so that we can get to work on our qualifying and race setups. I've enjoyed tremendous success at the Speedway, and I only hope it continues this year."

GIL de FERRAN (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "For me, Indianapolis will be like a second start to my season. It will be the first time I get back in a car since Phoenix, and I'm quite anxious to get going. Although it wasn't the type of time off I would've preferred, it was nice to have a little break, and now it's time to go back to work. From a physical standpoint, I'm nearly at the same level of fitness I was prior to the start of the season. Indy will be unique to us this year because we will start the month with a choice of two chassis. This, however, can be both a benefit and a challenge. I still haven't had the opportunity to test the G Force so I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. From a competitive standpoint, I feel we have a realistic possibility to be in contention to win, but a lot of things come into play at Indy, and you never know how the cards will fall on Race Day."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "I've finally been cleared to drive, and it was great news, to say the least. I need to thank Dr. Scheid and Dr. Fisher for doing such a great job in healing my hand and wrist. I have full motion now. I'll just have to wear a small splint while I'm in the car. I'm hoping to get in the car during the first week of practice to get some laps and see how it feels. I've only been around the track once before. I paid my dollar and hopped into the Speedway tour bus. It's going to be a totally different experience going over 200 miles per hour versus 55 mph in the bus."

SARAH FISHER (No. 23 Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I am excited to be approaching this year's '500' more confident that I will be driving the Dreyer and Reinbold No. 23 car. It has been a long road to securing sponsorship, and that remains the battle most days that I am not in the car. But, we have had some pretty good leads in the past month, and I am hoping that with those leads 110 percent of my focus will be on qualifying and racing in the Indianapolis 500 and not just on trying to get to the Speedway in May."

A.J. FOYT IV (No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, turns 19 on Race Day, can become youngest starter in history of race): (Advice from his grandfather, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt): "He keeps telling me to make sure I am ahead of the car, that I should be driving the car and not have the car driving me. He tells me to make sure that the car is doing what I want it to do, make sure it feels good every moment, and if it doesn't, to come into the pits right away. At these speeds, too much can happen too quickly to take chances. After I turned a 228 mile-per-hour lap in testing, though, he told me over the radio, 'Congratulations, you finally went faster than I did at Indy'." (On qualifying for the Indianapolis 500): "It would mean a lot to me and my whole family because the Indianapolis 500 has meant so much and done so much for my grandfather and our family. To be able to qualify well for that race, our biggest race of the year, would also mean a lot to our sponsor Conseco because they are based in Indy. I am thrilled to be here, and I want to make the most of it."

FELIPE GIAFFONE (No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone, 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year): "I'm just looking forward to the Indy 500 like you wouldn't believe. Last year, we had a very good month. My teammates Tora (Takagi) and Arie (Luyendyk) had a chance to test at the Speedway last week, and it looks like our cars should be pretty good. Just like last year, we should have good setup. We were good in the race and good in qualifying and in practice. We just need to improve a couple of spots (from third at last year's '500'). I had a good teammate last year here in Tony Kanaan. This year, I have two good ones, so it should be that much better for us. When you have a teammate, you have a lot more things you can try. This year, we'll be able to triple our track time. The team is well prepared to have a three-car effort. We can try that much more stuff. I drove with Arie (Luyendyk) a couple of years ago at Treadway. He's a really nice guy. He talks a lot, and we should be able to try a lot of stuff and learn a lot from him. Even though he's a little older now and only runs this race each year, I'm counting on taking advantage of his experience at the Speedway. I know how much I learned since my first year. You'll always be learning, forever. Now, Tora is a 'rookie' at Indy, but so was Tony last year. But, like Tony, Tora is far from being a rookie. He has experience in the big cars, and it shouldn't be a problem. He tested, and after a few laps Tora was already quite comfortable on the track. For sure, he showed he can be quick. Pretty much everywhere we've gone this year, he's been quick. I think we have a very solid team."

ROBBY GORDON (No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, will attempt to race at Indy and in NASCAR race at Charlotte, N.C. on same day): "I'm really excited. I know the Archipelago/Motorola team will give me a great chance in the '500'. Andretti Green Racing has won a race this season with (Tony) Kanaan, so they know how to run well. I think it's going to be a lot of fun, especially if you look back and think of the rivalry that Michael (Andretti) and me have had over the years in open-wheel racing. I think I can give both sides (IndyCar Series and NASCAR) a good effort. We finished eighth at Indy last year, and we were really strong at Charlotte. Before the first pit stop, we were into the top five. So I feel confident going into both races that we can give a good effort."

SHIGEAKI HATTORI (No. 5 EPSON/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "Indy is one of my favorite tracks because it is so different from all of the other tracks we race on. It has speed and style. I love the speed, and it has all that history, which is what makes it so very special. This year I am working with A.J. (Foyt), who knows that place so well that he is a big help to me. This year I am also driving with the Toyota engine, and the engine feels very, very strong. Those are the two biggest differences from last year. Last year we had lots of mechanical problems so I wasn't able to qualify on the first day. Then it rained the next day, and qualifying was canceled, so I had to wait until Bump Day to get in the field. We ran 228 miles per hour, but if that was on Pole Day, we would have started much better than 27th. But I am very confident about this year because we had such a good test, the car is good, and the engine is so strong. The key is to be consistent, get the car consistent, have good pit stops and if we can do that, we'll have a good race."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, 2001 and 2002 IndyCar Series champion): "I'm excited about the month ahead. I'm sure it will be an exciting race, as usual. To this point I haven't had the year I'd hoped for, but a good run at Indy would certainly turn the season around. I've been fighting the past several years without a teammate. Now I have Billy Boat in the Pedigo Chevrolet as a teammate, so that gives us twice the opportunity to acquire data. We can each go a certain direction with our setup and learn from each other. That will definitely help. The key is to keep our cool, focus on where we need to be, and we'll be all right.

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "My wrist is getting stronger every day. I still haven't been cleared to drive, but I hope Dr. Bock will clear me by the end of next week. I can't wait to get back in the car. I've been in Indianapolis since I returned from Japan, and I've been helping my Team 7-Eleven guys at the shop. It has been really busy for them. I think we'll be in good shape for qualifying. I have three great teammates who'll start running when the track opens on Sunday, plus how many people can say that Mario Andretti tested their car to get it ready for the '500?'"

BUDDY LAZIER (No. 91 Hemelgarn/Life Fitness/Delta Faucet Dallara/Chevrolet/ Firestone, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner, 2000 IndyCar Series champion): "The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most magnificent racing facility on the planet. The month of May is always a challenge, and we're looking to make the most of our time at the track. The team and I are very focused on the job we need to do. We're looking forward to going out and doing it."

JAQUES LAZIER (No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I remember when I first tried to qualify in 1999. My father and I put together a program. We were extremely underfunded, but we made the field, got bumped and then put a backup car in line, and we actually had the speed to get back into the field when it started to rain. When you miss the '500,' when you miss the greatest race in the entire world, it just makes you that much more passionate about getting back there and trying to make it happen the next year. I feel that we missed a huge opportunity last year at Team Menard when I missed the race after getting hurt at Nazareth. We did some testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the Nazareth race, before the crash, and we were quite quick. So I'm very much looking forward to trying to give the Menards/Johns Manville team another pole at the Speedway and a win. Missing the race last year just built the passion, and it has kindled the fire just that much more to where I am really excited about the opportunity this year."

ARIE LUYENDYK (No. 20 Meijer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, 1990 and 1997 Indianapolis 500 winner): "I'm really excited about the prospect of working with a professional team like Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing. I believe we've assembled a very good crew. Basically, it looks like they're going to do a good job. We had a good private test at the Speedway. The one thing that really stood out in my mind after that test was the Toyota engine. I'm really excited about our prospects because I think it's going to be quite exciting. I think we have an ideal package. The cars, overall, are quite comparable. If there's going to be a difference at all, it's going to be in race setup. But we don't know that yet. I think that with Mo (team owner Morris Nunn) just being there, being able to look over all the data that all of the engineers are working with, is only going to be an added benefit. I think all of the engineers have a lot of knowledge. In some instances, they can teach Mo a few things, and Mo can teach them a few things. As far as I'm concerned, the relationship we've had, considering that we worked together in the past and had success together, is only going to be a plus. We know how each other thinks, how the other one works. He can, in his own way, be inspiring to the guys and to myself. If we get into a situation where it might not be going so well, he always comes up with a way to keep us moving forward. Felipe (Giaffone) and Tora (Takagi) really took to the Speedway easily from what I've seen. Tora got on with the job and put down a good speed at our private test. I think he'll have a good month. Tora looks to be not just a good driver but quite a good racer. Felipe, he's been rock solid. He's got a great record of getting through situations and always finishing and always finishing well. He's a guy they all should reckon with for not only the Indy 500 win but for the championship. For me, let's see if we can make it three wins."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 22 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Indy will start for me with the running of the mini-marathon (May 3). I am really looking forward to that. It's what I do every day - run or bike or train with weights. I'm not going to win it or anything, but it's going to be fun. I've never done a marathon before, so it's exciting. I train in order to keep the concentration and keep my mind fresh to the speed. If you don't drive, you miss the mental part of it. You lose the speed, which is the main thing for a driver. It's very important to be driving and training. Some people don't have fun when they run, but I do. I really love the triathlon, that's my second sport, my hobby. After racing, I love to compete in triathlons. It doesn't interfere much with my training for racing, so it's become part of my routine. A healthy body is a healthy mind. And a healthy mind has a positive outlook."

TONY RENNA (No. 33 Cure AutismNow/HomeMed Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "Obviously, I am extremely excited about the upcoming month. The Indy 500 has played a huge role in directing my career path. My first real racing memory was watching Indy, and I have been incredibly intrigued by the race ever since. Now to be a part of it all is such a tremendous honor, and it is also very satisfying to be here after so many years of hard work. On top of it all, I am here with Kelley Racing, so I am have tremendous confidence that I can be in a position to win in my first attempt. So far, I have completed two days of testing at the Speedway, including Rookie Orientation. I felt very comfortable right off the bat in the CureAutismNow/HomeMed car. I would say that is completely attributed to the fact that Kelley Racing has put a great car under me. The team clearly has a strong grasp on what it takes to be quick around this track. Many of the people involved in my program are new to me and to each other, so we are all getting to know one another a little better each day. In the short time we have been together, I get the feeling that there is good chemistry there. Running the entire month will be great for all of us, and I know by Race Day we will be a well-oiled machine."

BUDDY RICE (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I have been trying to spend as much time as possible relaxing at home in Phoenix because I am sure its going to be a hectic month. I have never been to Indy before for the month of May. I will just take each day one day at a time. We'll see what happens when I get there."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone): "It's finally here. This is just an awesome race, and I'm with a great team with a great car. The Indy 500 is a huge event, and we have one goal this year, to win the biggest race in the world. Team Target has won this race before, and they have all of the tools to get it done again. We have a great package with the Panoz G Force/Toyota, and I'm very excited about the upcoming month of May."

SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion, series points leader): "Things are going great for the '500'. The Delphi team had a strong test there last week, and we were able to get ourselves completely set for the beginning of the month. The Delphi team is coming into the Speedway with a lot of confidence, and we know that we need to just keep operating the way we have the last three races. It is nice to come into Indy in the points lead, but it is still way too early for that to be a concern. I think the Delphi team just needs to continue to be consistent and to run well."

TORA TAKAGI (No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "I have to say I have come to realize, first-hand, how challenging this track is after my first run ever at the Speedway on April 22. It is something different from other tracks in many ways, and I really enjoyed my one day driving it, so far. My 225 mile-per-hour lap was really fast, especially since I thought I was carrying too much downforce. And still it's not fast enough if you look at the speeds from last year. So we have some work to do, and I am really looking forward to it. Once you are on the track for practice, you can easily make a good speed if you are fortunate to get a 'tow' from somebody, but usually that speed is more than your car is really capable of making. I think the balance in your car will be a key. I noticed the top finishers from last year didn't start right at the front, so this means you need to be patient for a long time on Race Day. Apart from that, I am really looking forward to start my first Indy 500 challenge. I began to live in Indy for a couple of months right after the Motegi race, to be in position for the '500' and for the rest of the season, and I am enjoying nice spring weather, too. As our performance is up and up since Motegi, and our private test here was something promising, I think the guys at Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing are doing a really good job. And I appreciate that. It will be a long and hard month of May, and I hope I can do something productive with my guys."

AL UNSER JR. (No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, 1992 and 1994 Indianapolis 500 winner): "I feel that the Corteco team is right there, that we're competitive and should have a good month at the Speedway. Our testing last month at IMS went very well, and both Scott and I are happy with where we are on our cars. The crew guys have been really working hard, and I think we're prepared for a great start to the month of May. It's always good to be back at the Speedway, and I'm looking forward to Opening Day and a great month."

DAN WHELDON (No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I'm really looking forward to the Indianapolis 500. The Rookie Orientation Program was my first chance to drive the Klein Tools/Jim Beam car around the Speedway, and I now have a whole new respect for the guys who have won there. This was going to be my first race for Andretti Green Racing, but I had the chance to sub for Dario (Franchitti) in Japan. I think that is a positive for me. Every lap I'm out on the track increases my knowledge. We have a full week of practice before Pole Day, and I'm really excited to get back out there and make a run for the front row."

ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "Racing in the '500' has always been my dream. It would be a great honor to hopefully be part of the race this year. This event is totally different from any other race because basically we have the whole month to prepare. The first week you have to concentrate on your qualifying setup in order to make the field. Once you are in, you need to work hard on your race setup. One of the hardest things at the Speedway is going to be the track conditions, which can change day to day. It will be a challenge to keep your focus and not get lost when you are trying to set up the car for Race Day. Going in for the first time, I think it will be a 'tense' race. You are there for the whole month, and the entire team is working together to finish that 500-mile race. I think it is a lot more difficult than what it appears. My dream is to win the Indy 500, and ultimately I would love to do that. Being in the series for the first year this season, this will be my first ever 500-mile race, and it is definitely a long race so first I need to finish. However, I think the team is doing a really great job, and we have a great car. So as long as we keep working on what we can do, then I feel we will be able to finish up front."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Billy Boat , Tony Kanaan , Mario Andretti , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt , Jim Beam , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing