BERNARD DUDOT: "After the winning time at Renault, it was time for me to have a winning challenge. And I chose, with Steve (Kight, director of marketing and motorsports for Infiniti) and (Eddie) Cheever, to continue my career in this way. And I ...
BERNARD DUDOT: "After the winning time at Renault, it was time for me to have a winning challenge. And I chose, with Steve (Kight, director of marketing and motorsports for Infiniti) and (Eddie) Cheever, to continue my career in this way. And I believe we have a big challenge to do very quickly to get to victory with the Infiniti engine."
EDDIE CHEEVER JR.
On the addition of Bernard Dudot to the Infiniti Motorsports as Indy Racing Program Manager
"My most successful racing season I had in Formula One where I finished sixth at Renault was under Bernard's (Dudot) guidance. The biggest gain that year was learning how to speak French. Speaking French in France always comes in handily, especially when you're 20 years old. He is an incredibly talented man with an enormous wealth of experience. The IRL is growing at such a rapid pace, if Infiniti is to break through with the new 35A they are going to have to continue making the big changes they have done in their program. As many of you know we changed the technical approach from having it based in America with Ed Pink. A lot of the work is being done internationally with the assets they have, and we needed somebody with Bernard's experience and ability to look into the future. Just doing equal to what everyone else is doing is not going to put you to the front of the line so he is, when you think of the pneumatic valve in Formula One and a variety of other technical achievements, it was done under his guidance. Although there is a lot of difference between Formula One and the IRL, to have someone of his capacity is an enormous step forward."
About the month of May, chasing gremlins
"We got, I'm sure you're tired of me saying this, we got the 35A very late because a lot of due diligence hadn't gone through in time and by the time we got our first engine 10 days before the first race, so we've really only had it three months now. We've packaged into three months all the work you would normally do in eight months, so we're behind the ball, and we're trying to catch up. So that has put us under a lot of stress in the race team, and there is no more public place than testing an engine or a car at the Indianapolis 500. We've had a lot of electrical problems that have not occurred in testing, yesterday for Carburetion Day, and I'm not sure why they call it Carburetion Day since we haven't had a carburetor here in 40 years but, on our last day of running we had brake problems which I really cannot attribute to the Infiniti engine. We're very happy that the race is coming. We have a lot of really interesting things we're going to put through our program. Oldsmobile has made some very large gains with Ilmor, and I think our goal has got to be to reach the level of efficiency that Ilmor has achieved in the last half a year they've been working on this. They've done an incredible good job. They've been successful in every form of racing they have raced in, in Formula One and the other open wheel racing series and the IRL. So we have some very lofty goals we're going to have to achieve."
About Infiniti's and Cheever Indy Racing's involvement in the Indy Racing League
"The Indy Racing League is different than the other forms of racing you have in the states in as much as the teams make an investment in engines. You are the owner of the engines you have, so you really are motivated to change constructor or engine when that engine is a step ahead of everyone else. The biggest problem I think the Infiniti program has had was that not enough effort was put into it in the beginning when everybody was buying new engines. I think the only way we can change that is by winning races, and that's why I've pushed as hard as I have to make sure we have all the resources necessary to cut the gap between ourselves and Oldsmobile."
Talk about where your career stands today and what the Indy Racing League has meant to that career
"It's been a long, exciting strange trip and I've always aimed my efforts at the best series I wanted to compete in. As a child I raced go-karts in Europe and my heroes were Formula One drivers. Imagine a pyramid where it's very wide on the bottom and very narrow on the top to think that you'd have a Formula One car one day was almost next to impossible. I had a great time in Formula One racing with a variety of teams, then I came to the states. I raced a lot for Jaguar at Le Mans and that was a lot of fun. Then I came here and my goal was to win the Indianapolis 500. Now, your question, which I think you're aiming it toward is where do I think the IRL is going? The IRL is the most tightly fought open-wheel racing series in the world. And its principles are of having equal access to technology, and my doing that you're pitting drivers against drivers instead of drivers against enormous quantities of money and engineers that make it really difficult to compete against. I'm very glad that in this final chapter of my career I have joined on board with Tony George and his racing series. I think it's great. I think this Sunday is going to be an extraordinary race, just like last year's race was an extraordinary race. I love the fact that a driver like Sarah Fisher, who competed in midgets, and Tony Stewart and Sam Hornish have found a way not just to compete in the Indianapolis 500 but be able to compete against like Penske, teams like ours. It's fantastic. Any racing series that does not focus on a turnaround in new talent is going to fail. I'm enjoying myself immensely. I'm glad you didn't ask how long I'll be driving because I don't know. I wake up every morning thinking, 'What am I going to do to go quicker?' I have tied our company and myself to Infiniti. I have mortgaged the farm on this one. The responsibility that we have taken on board to bring Infiniti into the winner's circle is a very serious one. It takes all my energy and the team's energy to make sure that we move the ball forward. I can very easily see my last race being with an Infiniti engine. I would nothing more to a part of the team of people that won the first Indianapolis 500 for a Japanese constructor."
Given the short amount of time you've had the 35A, if you complete 500 miles and win this race, will it be a miracle of sorts, or do you fully anticipate the engine can do this?
"Let me tell you that state of the equipment I had when we won in 1998. We had a suspension failure that was probably going to break within 10 more laps. When we took the engine apart, we had cracks up the rods, we had a bearing that was failing, and yet we managed to win the "500." I believe there is not in motor racing anywhere, in any form of racing a grueling 500 miles for equipment, team and drivers than the Indianapolis 500. That's why you have half a million people turn up to watch, because it's as if you have 33 lottery tickets, and somebody is going to walk home with, I think it's $1.7 million, and you're name is going to be on that Borg-Warner Trophy. I think it's a miracle that any engine finishes that. Do I believe we can finish? I believe that only can we finish, but we can win the race. We've had a horrendous two weeks. The day before practice I couldn't do three laps without the engine turning off. We did not due to engine justice due to the electrical problems we had. I was very glad that
Robbie) Buhl had a great qualifying run and showed what the Infiniti engine is capable of doing. Are we as well prepared as we'd like to be? Hell no, we're not. I need at least three more months of very hard, aggressive testing, and I'm going to be negotiating with Scott Goodyear to have him stay on board so we can cut the gap and do a lot more running."
Are you glad to attention for this year's race is focused on who's here, not who's not here?
"Absolutely. I am not embarrassed to admit that I am very biased towards the IRL. I believe Tony George's vision was the correct one. Tony George is a very quiet man, and we had a hard time for five years because the assumption was, and it was done by all the other drivers in the other open wheel racing series, that if you don't race with us you're incompetent or you can't find a good enough drive to go race somewhere else. In that category they were putting the NASCAR drivers, the IRL drivers, anybody that was not competing in their series. I think that was very short-termed and it was wrong. Even amongst thieves there is a little bit of honor, so for one racing driver to say another was not competent was really silly. So yes, I'm glad the focus is on the drivers, and it's going to be an exciting "500." The entries from the other open-wheel series are going to be formidable and are going to be very hard to beat, as you have drivers here. I've raced against a lot of people in my life, to Senna to Prost, to Foyt to Mears, and I can categorically tell you one of the hardest, most aggressive racing drivers I've raced against in Buddy Lazier. And Sam Hornish looks like he can't make a mistake right now. We all know how good Michael Andretti is and the Penske team is. There's a lot of different stories out there. And the fans will gain the most from it. But I will go back by saying I believe that our principles are correct. I believe the principles that guide the other open wheel series are wrong. What they did in CART, what they did in Texas was irresponsible. Our guiding light is equal access to technology, put the driver's safety first, and make sure the fans have a race that they don't know who's going to win."