IRL: Indy500: Pole winners press conference

Fred Nation: Here is our MBNA pole winner, Scott Sharp, and his owner, Tom Kelley, who's just talked for the last half hour to occupy your time here. Scott, what a day. Scott Sharp: Yeah, it really has been. Major emotions, obviously. You ...

Fred Nation: Here is our MBNA pole winner, Scott Sharp, and his owner, Tom Kelley, who's just talked for the last half hour to occupy your time here. Scott, what a day.

Scott Sharp: Yeah, it really has been. Major emotions, obviously. You know, it's tremendously exciting. I certainly would call it my greatest accomplishment so far in racing. You know, when you think about the emotions and anticipation, anxiety, nervousness, all that goes into today, from a race driver's standpoint, I think qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is probably the hardest single day you have all year. And so to be able to come out of it as we did feels like a tremendous accomplishment; obviously, a tremendous weight off our shoulders. But most importantly, I feel it's an accomplishment for the team, for Tom Kelley and for Delphi and all of their patience that we've had for the last four years while we've been growing as a team. I think it's a great accolade, but I still have my focus on May 27th.

A lot of people seem to think that Greg (Ray) was the heavy favorite to win the pole, but yet, you had the fastest lap of the week, even though a lot of times, you know, laps and Happy Hour can be artificially quicker than real. But did you almost kind of feel like people had already kind of ordained him as the pole winner before it ever happened?

Sharp: Most definitely, you know, I mean, but they've probably earned that respect in some regards. You know, they put a lot of emphasis on qualifying. They typically pull out a big mile an hour and surprise everybody in qualifying. They also spent a lot of time this week working on a real low downforce setup. And you'd walk out in pit lane, most of the time Greg had, you know, negative rear wing, very little downforce on the car. And that's what, obviously, they're working on, whereas we didn't spend a lot of time working on that, so - and the speed we did turn a few days ago was with a draft. So maybe it was easy for people to think that way. And to be honest with you, I got up this morning, and I didn't know where we were going to sit. I felt best we could finish would be the pole and worst we could finish was probably sixth or seventh, and it just was going to be how we could put our four laps together.

Scott, you had to wait almost the entire day to see if this would stand, and it did. And there were some challenges, and a few guys came reasonably close. What was that like for you to have to go to six hours or whatever it was, that long of a wait?

Sharp: It was pretty nerve wracking, I'll be honest. You know, when I was sitting up here with you guys before and I looked at my watch hoping it was about 3 p.m. and it was only about 1:30, I realized it was going to be a long afternoon. And basically, days at the Speedway usually move pretty quick for me and today didn't. Towards the end there, a couple guys, you know, obviously, Robby posted a tremendous first lap. Greg had a good early lap. Even Jeff Ward had a good early lap. And luckily, they weren't, from my standpoint, able to put four of them together.

Scott, (Gil) de Ferran was sitting up there when you did your run. We stopped the press conference. He watched, and he got through, and he says, "I'm not sitting on the pole anymore." Well, now he's sitting way back there, and the day went along, it still wound up between you and Greg. Was that the way you looked at it?

Sharp: Well, it's weird. I thought coming in here that a pole speed was going to be about a mile an hour over last year's pole, which would have made it a high 224, and that's sort of how it looked this morning a bit. There weren't a lot of guys that ran speeds this morning. We didn't participate in morning practice, but it did on their own that went faster than 224.8, 225.1. And when Gil went out there and put those four together, I sort of thought that might stick, but as the week had gone on, we had seen that maybe my forecast was wrong, and you see enough people get comfortable running at 223, maybe low 224s, enough different numbers like that were turned that you realized once qualifying came around, people were probably going to dig a bit deeper and you were going to have to run up into the 225s at least to be up there.

Scott, what kinds of things were you doing to occupy your time during the five hours you had to wait it out?

Sharp: I was fidgeting a lot. I wasn't able to relax a whole lot, you know, obviously watched each car that went out, went down and tried to support my teammate and offer any suggestions I could. Mark was able to do most of that on his own. He didn't really need my help, but you know, just tried to watch the - we watched minutes tick. You know, my engineer was like, "Okay, we have an hour and fifty left." Next thing was an hour and thirty-five left, and just the countdown.

Scott, a lot of people talk about the CART drivers and teams that are here, and a lot of people seem to forget that you were a CART driver at one time. You were with PacWest when they got off the ground, and for whatever reasons, things didn't work out there. And you were back in TransAm. Do you really ever kind of think what your career would have done if there had not ever been the creation of this series?

Sharp: Not really at all. You know, I look at it that there's a master plan upstairs that the man upstairs has for everybody, and obviously, that wasn't meant to develop that way for me, and you know, I wouldn't trade anything for what I've had the last three or four years. And I think the world of Indy Racing League and what it stands for, and I think it's just so exciting to see where even this month, you know, the league as a whole for this year and this month of Indianapolis where it's getting back to, I think, even greater than where it was before. I mean I've said this all month. I feel there's going to be 20 cars the morning of the 27th that have a chance to win this race, and I don't remember ever since I was a little kid the last time that was the case. And I think it's because of the rules and the availability of equipment and the fact that it's such a fair level of play here. So, you know, things work out for different reasons, and I'm happy where I am right now.

Well, if there's 20 cars that have a reason to win the race, then what advantage is there to be the pole winner?

Sharp: Well, today is the first race. And I guess you could say we won that. And now you've got to work on the next race. And you know, it's a completely different environment, takes a completely different setup. You know, you need a car the tires last for 35 to 40 laps, you can get through traffic well because, you know, it isn't very long that you're not in traffic here at Indianapolis - before you're in traffic constantly is what I'm trying to say. And, you know, six to eight pit stops, you know, there's so much more goes into it that the way I look at it is that - or going into this month the way I looked at it is there's 12 or 13, I felt, strong IRL cars that you knew were going to run, have the potential to run well race day, and I felt there's another seven or eight guys that have come in from the outside that you know are in good rides and ought to have that same opportunity. Together, boy, that's fantastic. It's just going to be who picks the right minute setups, who has a good day, who gets through traffic, who has good pit stops, and it could be anybody's day.

Scott, your engine is relatively new, and you qualified on the pole. You can't hardly do much better than that. I mean how do you feel about a race engine?

Sharp: I tell you, we need to take a big hat's off to Ilmor. As I've said, and I know Tom has said too, they've bridged a huge gap from never even having an IRL engine on the dyno until December to where they are now. I mean these other engine builders are very strong in the IRL. They've been working on these motors for a number of years, and they've obviously caught up very quickly. You know, they told us all along they thought they'd be here by Indy, and if you'd asked me a couple races ago, I probably would have raised an eyebrow, but they've really closed the gap amazingly, and obviously, I think everybody runs a slightly different engine than what you're trying to run in qualifying, but ours won't be that much different really. I think they feel that we all have engines, all four of the cars that are here, with their motors that are going to go run 500 miles and run them strong.

Scott, you kind of grew up when you were young around Paul Newman. I think he was there when they had the initial announcement in Long Beach. Will this bring him back to the Speedway to be in your pit?

Sharp: I don't know. I'll have to give him a call and talk to him. Maybe he'll give me a call, but he hasn't been around the Indy 500 for awhile. So I'm sure he's been anxious to come back and check it out.

Scott, there are a lot of drivers talking today about the problems they were having in Turn 1. What was going on in that corner? And for you, was it just an issue of getting in and out of that corner?

Sharp: Yeah, for me it's been a balance issue. You know, the wind changed direction on us all here this week going from the west to the east as of yesterday, and that really made Turn 1 and Turn 2 pretty tough. Yesterday was a rough day at the track as far as getting a real handle on the car. And today it was better because it was more pointed north to south, but still it made - you know, it made the car want to push down in there, and my car actually was fairly loose I'd say for the first couple laps, and then it was perfect after that. So I never had any of the understeer problems that everyone else had and was pretty much able to keep the hammer down all four laps.

Scott, you've said this past five to six hours was anxiety. You had to fidget to make the time pass. Now you have two weeks and you have to prepare. How are you going to do that? What's your state of mind on that?

Sharp: Well, it's different, you know. Obviously, today, like I had said, is a tough day for a driver. You have to step up, and then to have to wait it out for four hours was pretty tough. But now all the drivers, especially the ones that are already qualified, once everyone gets qualified, is pretty much in the same game. You have four days of practice next week. We've already done some long runs, feel pretty confident in our race car. We'll do some more of those, try to mix it up in traffic a little bit more. But basically, you all are trying to set yourselves up for the 27th of May. So with the amount of sponsor commitments and other commitments you have at this time of the month, it goes pretty quick. But I think you sort of look at it now, like I said, the first competition's over, and now everybody sort of focuses on the next race, the most important one.

Scott, you talked about going out when Mark was getting ready to run and trying to lend support. And can you go back to that moment when you guys were up one and two on the board and just what that means for both of you to have a really strong day today?

Sharp: Well, I think it means a lot of things. For one, Mark had had a rough day. You know, he'd run some speed earlier in the week, didn't - another guy who didn't have a real good day yesterday. I don't know what really happened to him, but you know, he went out and did a simulation qualifying run today, and then he really stepped it up for the qualifying run. You know, he ran some speeds that he hadn't run at all. So that's a big accolade for him, and it was great to see him do that. And I think the most important thing, I think it was great for Kelley Racing. You look out there about 3:30, 4 p.m., and there was a lot of yellow shirts out on that wall. And I think it was as much my guys wanting to help get that car up there and have it be two cars in the front row. And I think that says a lot about Kelley Racing because we've maybe had some guys in the past that wouldn't have looked to try to do that. We actually had a couple people come along who used to work for us and say, "What are you guys doing? Your car's already qualified." Well, we're out here helping these guys. And their response to that was, "Oh, we'd be long gone." Well, that's probably why they're not around anymore. So I think it just shows the kind of team that Tom set up. And you know, it's so easy these days, and you all know this, but to have two cars where each car becomes the number one competitor of each other instead of you two as one competing against everyone else. I think Tom's worked real hard to keep us all with that kind of a focus, and Mark and I have had a great relationship now going into our fourth year. So I thought that was pretty special. I mean we were all - I mean it was like the pit lane erupted when Mark ran his times and came in. It was neat to be a part of.

Scott, out in the pit lane as you watched Greg qualify, what were your emotions doing as you watched him and his speeds?

Sharp: He was certainly the guy I was most scared of. You know, obviously, up till now at least, the Menard Motor program's been the one everywhere we go that has at least the most power. And, you know, he clicked off a couple good ones, and I really was waiting for him to keep stretching. And luckily, you know, when the second lap wasn't quite fast enough, I knew it would be harder for him to have to over compensate and pick it up really big on the third, and I felt pretty good at that point. But when he first rolled out, I really knew he could - I was waiting for him to basically do it.

For lack of a better term, you've experienced the good, the bad, and the stupid at this place. I mean, you know, to win the pole here today is obviously one of your highest moments. Two years ago in the race, you know, before the race ever got started, your chance at victory was pretty well ended because of the deal with the engine blocks. So just talk about how high you are now, how low you were then.

Sharp: Well, this is my favorite racetrack. I mean I love this place. Every time I'm out here, I feel, when I come around, there's a special - everyone has their greatest corners and everything, but you know, my first time ever in rookie orientation, when I came around Turn 2 and looked at that long back straightaway, I fell in love with this place. And every time I do that, it's just a weird - every lap, there's a weird feeling that goes down your back about it. But at the same time, I've qualified well, practiced well, but really, we've never had a real good race here, and so I'm waiting for one of those. And I think I certainly, I obviously have my best chance ever, the team's best chance ever, this year. But you know, it's got to be your day, and that's a long 200 laps to get through. So hopefully, the 27th is our day, but we're just looking to get the best finish we can here.

You mentioned the Menard program. Everybody talks about them. At any point this week, did you feel or today did you feel that your program, Ilmor, was giving you more power in the corners or on the straights someplace that it was beating the Menards?

Sharp: Well, I think it truly is a package here. You know, it isn't just the motors, but I'd say Wednesday night, even though we had a draft early in that day, I'd run a twenty-four three I think on my own that morning, and that time where we were with our car and as little track time as we had, I was feeling pretty good, and not necessarily, I didn't know at the time even if - I expected Greg Ray to come out with some 227 or something, but I felt we were at least in the game to go for the first or second row. And a large part of that, obviously, is the gains that Ilmor has made. But at the same time, I don't want to take away too much from the job that Jeff Britton and the guys on my team have done because they've prepared a great car for me. I mean I carried some serious corner speed today.

Nation: Tom, I know you had a lot to say earlier. You had a lot of opportunity. Any final thoughts here?

Tom KellyY: No, I just, I'm really proud of the job Scott's done, and you know, Scott Sharp and I met in the parking lot of the Speedway Motel when I was trying to hire him. We went to lunch. In fact, he reminded me today, he said, "Remember when you said to me, 'What do you need a salary for? How about just prize money?' And you know, Scott had to buy out of his contract with A.J. Foyt to come race with us, and we didn't have a lot to offer other than our word and our commitment, and he did that. And I admire Scott for that. I mean he went out on a big limb, about as big a one as he did in the first turn today, but hopefully, it's paid off, Scotty.

Sharp: Oh, it certainly has.

Kelly: And that probably is more gratifying to me, that and giving Mark - him doing that and Mark Dismore having a chance to show what he's got are two of the proudest moments of my racing career.

Nation Congratulations. Thank you very much. Dreams realized


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Paul Newman , A.J. Foyt