Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Transcript Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Chip Ganassi, Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser May 18, 2000 Moderator: This press conference is live on indyracing.com and also it's a live teleconference, as well as...
Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Transcript Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Chip Ganassi, Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser May 18, 2000
Moderator: This press conference is live on indyracing.com and also it's a live teleconference, as well as live here from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Joining us this evening is Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, including driver Jimmy Vasser, Chip Ganassi and Juan Montoya. We're going to start off with Chip this evening. Chip, this is your first time to address the media this week. Tell us how the week's going so far.
Ganassi: Well, I think so far, the week's gone, you know, good for us. I mean, we, anytime you show up, really, at what I would consider, while some of us seems like it was just yesterday you were here, these cars are a lot different than cars we're used to and certainly the track's the same, but you know, each of these cars have little different nuances and it's always a challenge to a lot of times just define those, you know, particular nuances of a car and then once you define them, to properly address them and I think that's really what we've been trying to do for the bulk of the week and I want to say that I've been . . . Certainly, it's nice to come back here in the respect that I think our team has had a very good reception here, I think, from the fans and the officials alike and from certainly the media. Everyone's treated us, you know, seems to be, you know, very well. I mean, I couldn't be happier with how we've been treated all week, really.
Q: For the past two days, one of your cars and drivers have ended up on top of the speed chart. Did you have any kind of mid-week expectations?
Ganassi: You know, again, I think . . . For people outside of racing, to see yourself at the top of the speed chart at the end of the day is a big, you know, it's certainly an exciting thing, but I think for those of us within the sport, realize that, you know, you get a tow here or a tow there or a draft here and a draft there and the next thing you know, all the cameras suddenly come shooting down to your pit and, you know, the media's all over you, "Gee, how'd you do it?" and "What are you running?" and what have you and it's not that at all. I mean, I wish you could listen to our radio, I mean, I'd like to think we have a very methodical approach to how we've laid things out during the week, how you've, you know . . . I'll tell you quite honestly, one of the biggest challenges, one of the biggest differences, is you don't have the time here that you once had. In other words, I mean you have to have your act together here quickly and if you don't, you basically have two days to get going and you know, with engines, you used to be able to come and have your, work on your race engine and see if it works, take it apart and then come back with your race engine two, three weeks later and take your time putting it together. You don't have that kind of time anymore. That luxury of time is gone and so you have to adjust . . . from my point of view and Jimmy's, it's probably a mental adjustment. I'm sure for Juan, it's just being at another race, because he's never experienced it the other way, but I think, I'm very pleased with how Jimmy and Juan are interacting this week with everything that's being thrown at them. I mean, let's face it, we stuck around an extra day in Japan, which we didn't need to do and especially after our performance there, we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, to tell you the truth and so, I mean, what I want to say is, I want everybody to know that we've asked a lot of a lot of people on our team, including these two guys on my left and right and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for, you know, the hard, hard work that they've been putting in and (expletive) it, we need some results here and not just here, but our whole season. We've been working very, very hard and this is no exception. We're approaching this with probably more effort than a lot of teams, but an equal amount of effort as to the rest of our season and I just want to take this opportunity to thank these two guys on each side of me too, because I've been asking a lot of them and, you know, this isn't an easy place a lot of times. I guess it's the on-track activities, coupled with off-track activities can take quite a toll on a guy that's just flown across 17 time zones and so I want to thank these guys and thank everybody on my team. (Inaudible) that's why they get paid the big bucks. But anyway, thanks everybody. I'm glad to be here and it's been nice to see a lot of you and I hope I see more of you.
Q: Jimmy, Juan addressed this same group yesterday. This is your first time in front of the group. Talk about your return back to Indianapolis. How has the week gone for you, not only your on-track performance, but also, just how you've been received and what it feels like to be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Vasser: Well, first of all, the reception's been fantastic from the fans and the officials. I've worked with Phil Casey before, he was my team manager in 1994 with the Hayhoe team and you know, he's just a great guy. He's been real kind and everybody's been real nice. Coming back to Indy, you know, I've always wanted to, especially the past couple of years it's been a bit of an absence in my life and in my racing life. I certainly want to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and you want to win it and you can't win it if you're not in it, but I haven't been overwhelmed with anything, because it's been like, as Chip was saying, you know, our work ethic has been, we came here and tested a month ago and it was cool to run around the track again, but it wasn't Indy or May, so it was kind of desolate, so it was just testing. When we go to work, it's just about a racecar and trying to get the most out of it and really, since arriving from Japan, it's been that same process. We just got here and we had to get to work and it's just a racecar and we've got to get the most out of it and so it really hasn't sunk in yet. I'm sure qualifying day and race day, it'll be, the excitement level will come up for me. The one's that I remember, you know, some of my most exciting life memories were my rookie year qualifying. That was a really gnarly situation, getting bumped out and coming back in and the race days here are fantastic and Juan, that's something you have to look forward to. You're really going to dig that and so, in that respect, this still is the biggest motor race in the world and you know, we're, from the top of the team all the way down to everybody involved, we are really, really focused and excited to be here, but we're . . . you don't really get to sit back and say, "Wow, this is so cool" because we're working very hard and we have a lot of work to do and work continues back at the shop. Some guys came out today to help us out because we're short on time and we got things to do with the rain and they were back in the shop working on our Nazareth cars and so we've got . . . there's a real interesting organizational project going on here and to me, that is where the real story is behind us being here is the organization of our team making this happen, and there's a lot of guys behind the scenes that are doing some amazing things.
Moderator: Okay, we have two groups here that will want to ask questions of you. We have the media on the teleconference and the group here live at the Speedway. We're going to start with some questions from here at the Speedway, we'll go to the teleconference and then back here. We'll start here with Mike.
Q: Chip, Jimmy eluded to the organizational project that you have ongoing right now. What are the contingencies with rain maybe at Nazareth again, or what have you. I know that first it rained out, that must have kicked in a contingency in itself. Could you just explain what you have in store?
Ganassi: Well, I think, you know, obviously there are contingencies in place for a lot of what-ifs. I think it's probably impossible to cover every what-if, but, you know, we . . . the fact that we're going to go back to Nazareth just for one day, I mean, kind of go in there, I think we get like a half hour practice, a one hour practice and then go race. You know, I think, kind of in a way, it's a bit of an advantage because when I drove here -- this was years ago, but when I drove here, I was always . . . you know, I felt on race morning a little bit, you know, for all the excitement you had, you were probably just as nervous because it had been so long since you'd been in the car. You know, you're in Thursday, but Thursday's really to make sure nothing's wrong your car kind of day. You get to go about a half hour out there and so, I'm kind of thinking, hopefully, it's a bit of an advantage that the guys will have some miles the day before. Hopefully, they'll have about 250 miles or something from the day before and you know, I think that's going to make them a little, you know, I'm kind of thinking it's going to make them a little more prepared for Sunday, really. So, but, it's just a matter of logistically getting the guys over there and then getting them back here, just really physical kind of things.
Q: When it rained in Nazareth that first time out . . .
Ganassi: Snowed, you mean. I mean, everybody's got their agenda and you know, CART has theirs and they tried to work . . . They tried to do everything they could for us to accommodate what our team was doing and it really was the lesser of evils, you know, and it's not the worst plan, but it's certainly, the best would be just to have it on another weekend, but obviously, it's not possible. So, we, again, it's nice to have the three of us up here, but it's really about a whole group of people back at the race shop that are putting in a lot of hours and a lot of thinking time and a lot of organization time and a lot of, you know, a lot of racecar time.
Moderator: Okay, we're going to go to Gary, then Mike and then over to Elton.
Q: Jimmy, I don't know whether it seems like light years ago, or yesterday, but the last time you were here, you looked very much a winner with 30 laps to go. Could you just recreate that scene and just how much of a high that was and then how much of a low it became?
Vasser: Well, you know, I consider that period, you know . . . I had just come to Chip's team and Indy was one of the early races on the schedule and I was just kind of finding my feet with the team and I had qualified on the front row at Nazareth and we started running well and then came to Indy and ran well and had a string of podiums after Indianapolis and some front row starts and so I consider leading the Indianapolis 500 in '95 the springboard of what was to come in my career up 'til now. Winning the championship in '96, you know, we gained momentum from that point on, so I remember it quite clearly and unfortunately, I guess I made a mistake or it was one of those racing things, but we ended up in the fence and that's not the way you want to end it, but certainly, you know, fantastic feeling to lead the race and to be in a position to possibly win and you just want to get out and finish it this time for sure.
Q: Chip, there have been a lot of theories about why you and Derrick are the only CART owners who are here after CART opened part of the schedule up. What's your feeling about it?
Ganassi: You know, Mike, I don't know. I certainly can't speak for the other owners and what have you and I can tell you this, it took the entire ownership to vote to open this weekend up. So, I obviously couldn't have done it without . . . certainly couldn't have done that myself, or Derrick and I couldn't have done that ourselves, so, I don't mean to be short, but I don't know the answer to that. You know, you'll have to ask them. I can only speculate like you could.
Q: Chip, I'm going to come at it another way. Now that you're in the midst of it financially and team-wise and looking around at your peers with CART, is this doable for most CART teams, half of them, a third of them, just one or two?
Ganassi: Again, Elton, I don't know. I certainly think some of them could have, I mean, I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. You know, on Monday morning no one ever asks me about the other teams, they only ask me about my team. So, I mean, I don't know. I think, again, I can't answer that.
Q: How are you finding it?
Ganassi: I'm finding it enjoyable. I'm glad I'm here. I'm glad we're here.
Q: I'm talking about money wise, the whole package. I mean . . .
Ganassi: Elton, didn't your mother ever tell you, don't ask about money?
Q: Jimmy, a couple of times when you tested here about a month ago, you said the short chutes look a lot longer than they used to be. Do you feel the difference in speed, because I believe the last time you raced here, you probably qualified at about 230 that year. Do you notice the difference in speed with the last time you were here to the way it is now.
Vasser: It's hard to say. You know, I remember the short chutes in Turn 1 and 2 and 3 to 4 used to kind of turn into one big arc when you got over 230. We practiced over 230, 232, stuff like that. I think we qualified in the wind and the heat and didn't go over 228, but that's what I remember and the nuances of the speed and all that, you really get adapted, you adapt to those things after a few laps and like I said earlier, then you're just trying to get the most out of the race car, trying to trim it out and these cars are not planted by no means. To make them go fast, you have to loosen them up, you've got to take all the things that make downforce and drag off that you can. Not to give the other guys any hints, but, you know, just from my seat, it is an edgy car when you want to go fast. In that way, it's similar to before, because you have to put it on that ragged edge.
Q: So, you still feel fast?
Vasser: Oh, yeah, I think if I started to spin or something doing 220 or whatever I'm doing, I think I would feel like I'm moving pretty good.
Moderator: We'll take one more question from here at the Speedway and then go to the phone lines.
Q: This is for Chip, but I've got a video for Juan so he can see Chip's driving career. Talk about, seriously, talk about when you were a driver and how you assessed your career and about what your father did maybe to get you started in this business.
Ganassi: Well, I mean, you know, certainly when I was driving Formula Fords and Super Vee in those days, you have aspirations to drive at the Indianapolis 500 and I never, I don't think I ever took my career . . . I never thought of driving as a career really. I just never gave it a second thought. It was always something that sort of came . . . I think I have more natural than I'd like to spend time at it, in terms of driving and you know, I had some of my fondest memories of racing are at this place and certainly, I had an opportunity in 1982 with Jack Rhodes out of Columbus, Indiana and, in fact my team manager in those days was a guy named Max Luther. He's walking around here today. I saw him earlier and we were reminiscing about those days and Mark Bridges was my chief mechanic. I think he's in the IRL now, so, you know, I don't know, I never got to drive for as good a team as these guys get to drive for now. So, you know, if I did, you never know what could have happened. But, I certainly, I mean, I enjoyed my driving career. I think it was a different time in open-wheel racing in the United States in those days and I don't mean politically, I just mean in terms of safety and in terms of you know, I don't have to remind anybody in this room about in 1982 there were some, obviously some tragedies here and what have you and you know, I was a young kid, 22 years old, just out of college and you know, that can have quite an affect on you.
Q: After crashing at Michigan, did your father . . . Just talk about what he (inaudible).
Ganassi: Well, I mean, I think it was just a question of, you know, I kind of made a five-year commitment, I think, to racing and the question was I think, you have to keep making those commitments to your career, whatever that commitment is and then you know, it was time for me to make another three to five-year commitment. There was a big push and you know, I just had other things I wanted to do at that time in my life and this was . . . I didn't know actually at time if team ownership was going to be one of those or not. I mean, obviously, like I said earlier, I mean, I never looked at driving as a career and obviously it can be. You have to remember, in those days there weren't five or six guys that did it as a long-term, certainly guys were trying to do it for a career for a year or two, but, I mean, nobody had really, I mean, outside of Mario and Al and A.J. and there were six, eight guys maybe that could consider, could legitimately call it a career.
Moderator: Okay, let's go to the phone lines. Joseph, do we have any calls from the teleconference line?
Q: Hi guys. Chip, can you talk a little bit about bringing Andy Graves aboard and the job he's done?
Ganassi: Yeah, you know, I've known Andy for two or three years and he was available. Obviously, Andy has aspirations and wanted to stay in the Winston Cup and he was in a difficult situation where he was and he said "I'd like to get out of here," and I said, "Andy, I'd love to have you come and do something for me someday." We always talked about doing something together and he said "What do got for me?" and I said, "Hey, I need some help up at Indy if you want to come up there," and he worked around this area with Jeff Gordon, in fact, not too many years ago and he knew his way around Indiana here and he said, "Yeah, I'll come up and give it a try for awhile," and I said, "Well, come on up," and that's basically how it happened.
Q: For Juan and Jimmy, anything you guys will try to do physically to prepare yourself for the Nazareth race, the flight and getting back into the cars on Sunday?
Montoya: Well, it's not the same as when you test you do, I think, a lot more miles than that and being an oval race is not that, if you had to do 500 miles on a road course would be really hard, but an oval, as long as you're drinking through the race and everything, we should be fine. There's nothing different about it. You know, sometimes you go test from 9 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock and you just run, run, run, run, so it shouldn't be a problem.
Q: Jimmy, do you have anything to add to that?
Vasser: We pretty much stay fit all season long, so I think we're physically fit for the race. It's just the travel and all. We heard today that we had a charter flight leaving at 3 a.m. on Saturday morning and I want to talk to Chip about that a little bit. He's got one charter plane . . . he's got a personal plane that I guess he's not planning on taking, so we wanted to maybe talk to him about making that a driver plane and make it a little more comfortable for us.
Q: Thanks guys. Good luck.
Q: Thank you. Chip, Jimmy, Juan, how are you doing? A question, I guess, to Jimmy and Juan, kind of two different takes on the same question. Jimmy, Chip touched on this a while ago in talking about the different pace with only having a week to prepare rather than two weeks, and I wondered if I could get your take on it.
Vasser: Well, like Chip said, you know, especially with the position that we were in, missing a few days at the onset of the race weeks here and then a little bit of rain, all of the sudden you're staring at two days to go and you got four boxes of things you're trying to get on the car, or at least analyze, so, from a time standpoint, it's much more intense. So, you don't have the relaxed attitude that you can have to get the car up to speed and then get your race setup on it or at least do some full tanks. In that regard, it seems a bit more hurried, but other than that David, you know, it's like I said before, it's just taking the car and getting it on the track and then trying to work with it and get the most out of it.
Q: Juan, obviously you don't have the experience of having been there during the old format of the two weeks of practice and qualifying, but nevertheless this is, in some ways, obviously longer to practice and qualify for a race than you're used to. Do you almost, kind of in a sense, have the same mindset that you do during a test where you're running day after day at extended periods of time rather than a more traditional race weekend?
Montoya: No, you know, it's not that much time because you start at 11 and you do one, two runs or maybe three runs and then you stop for lunch and then in like, two hours. At these ovals, it takes a lot of time changing the cars because every change you do, most times you've got to take it back to the (inaudible) and it takes forever, so at the end of the day you don't do that many laps, surprisingly.
Q: This is for Jimmy. I think after the '96 race at Michigan you said some quote about "Who needs milk?" or whatever, and I'm just wondering how much milk would you like two weeks from now? And number two, how tough has it been the last several years not being here, knowing this is the jewel even though there's all this stuff going on around? How tough is it as a driver purely not to have a shot at this race?
Vasser: Well, I mean, you get over it. Certainly I want to be in it and I'm happy to be here but as you can see, I'm here and I've lived. I guess the first year wasn't as bad 'cause who needs milk, right? Maybe I was taken out of context a little bit there, but, you know, it's so much more than, with all the politics involved, you know, I'm not stupid and I understand that, you know, all the ramifications and how it all came down, so I can't pout and I was in a situation with a great race team and was very busy doing what I was doing. But having said all that, I think every driver that isn't here that's on the CART circuit would like to be here. This is the biggest motor race and it's a fantastic facility and it's got great history and it's the Indianapolis 500, so I have yearned to be here all along, but, you know, if you can't be here, then you move on and you do your other things and that's the position I was in, but I'm very, very happy to be here and hopefully we can make the race and then I can have a chance to win it.
Q: Jimmy, later this afternoon when you turned your fastest laps, there was a lot of gusting wind out there, headwinds going down the front straightaway. Was it difficult to run those speeds? Was the car pretty edgy?
Vasser: Well, we were making adjustments. We were out there the whole time in the wind today, because we had some things to do. We'd rather not run in the wind and try to not analyze things, but that's all we had. It could be windy on race day. That's the approach that we have when we go testing with our Champ Cars as well when it gets real windy. You know, you never know what conditions might be thrown at you, so you just work with it, you adjust, we worked with the car, we made it better. It took us a while, but we found something that we were doing wrong and we got it sorted out at the end and while the car moves around a bit in the gusts, you know, usually it's just a little bit more front grip when you go into the wind and a little less front grip when it's pushing you up the back. This wind was blowing up and down the straightaways which makes it a little more bearable. It's a little tougher when it blows straight across the track, blowing in the short chutes and we didn't have it like that so bad today.
Q: Chip, kind of like the days of probably '94, before '94 because Penske had a special car in '94, he dominated here. You come in having been the only car owner to dominate in open-wheel racing for the last four years. I was wondering, you know, does coming back here put any of this in perspective for you, any thoughts about having a dominate team for so long?
Ganassi: You know, Lewis, I just think in terms of, you just think of terms in taking one race at a time. I mean, we've obviously had, one of the reasons that we've enjoyed the success we have over the years is 'cause we've had great drivers and we have great people screwing the cars together and great people engineering those cars, so I think, you know, to . . . again, it's just, our team's been blessed with a certain amount of luck over the past years and certainly don't want to see any of that go away or start a trend like we've seen the beginning of this season, but, again, you know, I like Roger, he's a friend of mine, but quite frankly, I haven't thought about him at all this week.
Moderator: We'll take two more questions here and then check back with the teleconference.
Q: This is for Jimmy and Chip. The last time you guys ran here, it was officiated by USAC and I know there was always little battles going on between the USAC officials and whatever, what about the crew that's in charge now? It's pretty much a different set of guys who are calling the shots with Brian Barnhart and Phil Casey and Les Mactaggart and people like that. How much different is it to work with this officiating group than it was back in the days when USAC was here?
Vasser: Well, honestly, I think they're doing a fantastic job and I think a lot of what the IRL is doing would be good in CART as well. I think that they know exactly what they're doing. They're doing a fantastic job. Other than that, you know, it's been difficult, we haven't run a race yet, so I can't speak from that standpoint. I think the guys said they haven't really had any problems in tech, so I think that they've been treated fairly and things are working smoothly on that end. So, maybe after race day I'll have something else to say, but, so far, so good, but I still see an awful lot of yellow shirts. I guess they didn't go away with the USAC.
Ganassi: I would echo Jimmy's thoughts, Bruce. I mean, it certainly has been a simple week for me. I think probably the biggest challenge I've faced was nothing new, everybody's been looking for more parking passes and things like that, but . . . no, I found Brian and his staff straightforward, no problems, you know, great. Brian is the kind of official that we need more of, where the guys who have a lot, a lot of experience in current equipment and then Brian's just that. He was around this formula for many years, you know, as a mechanic and what have you and that's just what this sport needs are those people going into those type of jobs.
Q: Would any of you guys view a win here as a victory for CART, I mean do you feel like you're representing CART in that way. And did you even hear the question?
Vasser: Yeah. I would love to view a victory, but as far as flying any CART flags or any other things, personally for me, it's not like that. You know, I don't feel like I'm representing, people say, "Oh, you've got a lot of pressure on you, you know, for the CART guys." I don't feel that way at all. We just come in here to race, simple as that. As far as I can tell, Chip hasn't told me otherwise. There's no political statements or anything like that. You know, they opened up a window and he said, "Hey guys, should we run Indy?" and we said "Yeah." We had the resources to do it and we're doing it and we're going racing. It's as simple as that. If we don't make the CART guys proud, we're going to make them cry when we show up at Nazareth or Milwaukee, like we've been doing to them for four years, so we're racing for ourselves and unless Chip tells me different, I'm doing it for my race team.
Q: Could you respond Juan, as CART champion?
Montoya: We come here. Chip gave me a car. He decided he wanted to be here and you know, I just drive the car as fast as I can. Simple.
Q: Question to Chip. Obviously there's been a certain amount of speculation and talk about the theoretical deal you have with Felix Sabates in Winston Cup in NASCAR and I wondered if you can make any comment about that right now?
Ganassi: Thanks Dave for the question. That's a great question and the answer is I can't make a comment about that today.
Q: Chip, Jimmy, Juan, if one of you guys win this race, do you think it will put pressure on some of the sponsors that may have put the nix on, or cut the plans to some of the other CART drivers, CART teams to come out to the race? Do you think if you guys win it, it'll put pressure on those guys to say, "Hey, if you guys want to go, go."
Ganassi: I don't know the answer to that. I think certainly racing is a sponsor-driven sport and you know, if that's what they say to their teams, that's what they say. I mean, again, I can't, it's so difficult to speak for other teams. You know, people on the other side look at race teams and they think they look at, they see an owner and some drivers and some mechanics and they think that all race teams are out of the same cookie cutter, if you will. I can tell you every team out there is different in their views and how they feel and who their sponsors are and what their viewpoints are on things. If we win this race, you know, it'd be the greatest thing in the world and at the same time, the only pressure it's going to put on us is do it again, or something like that. You can't speak for other teams. I really have no idea what other teams are all about. It's a very difficult thing to do.
Q: Jim, yesterday we talked to Juan down here and I asked him to talk a little bit about the difference between the CART cars and these cars, could you comment on that a little bit?
Vasser: Well, the horsepower is the biggest thing, for starters. The horsepower, you definitely can feel in the acceleration and getting up to speed and if you get out of the power, getting back on the power, response. I think there's like nearly 250 horsepower less and it's heavier in the back, so the car feels to me like it has a kind of a pendulum motion after turning that kind of swings around through the corner, but other than that, those are nuances like Chip was talking about. Other than that, for me behind the wheel, you know, there's a lot more similarities than there are differences and when you're driving around the Speedway here, you're just trying to get the car balanced and get it trimmed out and get it freed up in the corner and keeping it smooth and you know, whatever you're driving, once your brain starts working like that and you're trying to go around the corner, you know, that's what you're working with. So, to sum it all up, there's probably more similarities, definitely more similarities than there are differences.
Moderator: Okay, Jimmy, Chip and Juan, thank you very much for