Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript Rick Mears and Jeff Simmons May 11, 2004 Jeff Simmons MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is well underway as today marks the third day of ...
Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
Rick Mears and Jeff Simmons
May 11, 2004
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is well underway as today marks the third day of practice before the 88th running of the 500 on May 30th. We have two guests on today's call, one trying to do all he can to get into his first 500, the other a four-time champion of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Joining us to start the call is Menards Infiniti Pro Series veteran Jeff Simmons. Later in the call we'll be joined by Rick Mears, whose first of four Indianapolis 500 victories came 25 years ago this month.
Let's begin with Jeff Simmons, who two weeks ago climbed in the seat of an A.J. Foyt IndyCar Series ride and immediately got the car up to speed, turning in laps at 212 miles an hour in just 19 laps at Rookie Orientation Program. He's passed three of the four stages of the Rookie Orientation Program at the Speedway and can complete the final stage before the month is out. Jeff, thanks very much for joining us today.
JEFF SIMMONS: My pleasure.
Q: It must be quite an emotional month of May for you knowing you're so close to having the chance to participate in the 500, but nothing solidified yet.
JEFF SIMMONS: Yes, it's difficult coming to the track every day, just trying to talk to people and see if there's any possibility. It seems like there isn't going to be too much more that I'll know than I do right now until after some of the teams get their cars in this weekend and a few spots might open up.
Q: You always hear about people in the past saying you see drivers walking around with helmet in hand. Is that actually the case, are you here every day ready to jump into one if something becomes available?
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah. Actually the way the ROP happened is the same way. It took a lot of people, a lot of things to come together to get me in the car that day. I have one team that allowed me to take one of their cars that they weren't using and make a seat, figure out all of the pedal measurements and belt measurements and all that sort of stuff. Then Brian Barnhart was working real hard to try and help me get a team that would allow me to do the ROP. It finally came together with A.J. Foyt, who allowed me to do it in the afternoon after he had gotten his son Larry through. It took a lot of things to get that together. It was great once I finally got out there. It was probably the best day of my life.
Q: I think a lot of people were surprised. You got the thing up to speed three laps into it, at 212. Were you surprised at how quickly you got it up to speed
JEFF SIMMONS: I was quite surprised when I saw that speed that quickly. I knew I had to get it up to speed quick as well because A.J. had spoken to Toyota. That engine was actually over-mileage. Toyota was nice enough to allow us to run about 20 more laps on it. So A.J. told me before I went out that the car was going to react in this sort of way because that's how it was set up. I asked him what the wind was going to do, because it was pretty breezy that day. You know, I just went out there and tried to get up to speed as quick as possible because we have limited laps. When I came across the line on the third lap, I wouldn't have been able to tell you it was 211 or so. I was still comfortable. I was still building up speed. Once I went that quick, that's as quick as you have to go. They just kind of told me to hold it there for a while.
Q: Before those 19 laps at Indy a couple weeks ago, had you been in an IndyCar Series car before
JEFF SIMMONS: No, I'd never driven an IndyCar Series car, and I hadn't been in a car actually -- I drove about 30 laps in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series car a few days before because we had the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Open Test about three days before that. Before that, though, I hadn't been in the car since the season-ending race in Texas last year.
Q: Did you sense a big difference in those two cars? You were a couple days apart between a Pro Series and IndyCar Series car.
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah, there's certainly a difference. You feel more power, but you also feel more grip. It just takes more effort. You have to get your mind moving at that quicker speed and trying to judge what the car is doing a little quicker than you would have to in the car that's going a little slower.
Q: You obviously have had a lot of success in the Pro Series. You won twice last year, finished fourth in the Freedom 100, 12 Pro Series starts overall. Do you feel this experience in the Pro Series has helped you get ready for the IndyCar Series?
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was pretty clear to everybody actually after I got into the IndyCar Series car and was able to go that quick in such a short time. You make me sound old when you call me a veteran. I only did one season.
Q: The league is young.
JEFF SIMMONS: Exactly (laughter). But it's certainly a great series to learn in. In a way a lot of the tracks are actually kind of similar, even though the speeds are quite different. At a place like Pikes Peak, for instance, last year we were flat out around the track in qualifying, but when the race came, we weren't able to do the track flat. I had talked to some of the IndyCar Series guys and they said it was exactly the same for them. It's a very similar sort of thing. You just have to deal with the quicker speeds. When you lose grip in the IndyCar Series car, obviously since you have more grip, when you lose it, it's going to be a bigger loss.
Q: Many new things to you, is it going to be a problem to get a ride in the 500?
JEFF SIMMONS: I don't have much money, if any, that I can really bring to a ride. So it's going to depend on one of the teams wanting to put another car into the race and choosing me out of the available drivers around here. When I was here during the Open Test, that week, there were really only a couple drivers around. Now as the days go on, you see more and more guys around that. For instance, I saw Memo Gidley today and yesterday, as well, Oriol Servia. There's several guys around that are qualified drivers. It's going to be difficult. I think the test the week before last certainly opened some eyes. Being in the Pro Series last year, a lot of the owners have seen me drive before and know that I can take care of the car, that sort of thing. I'm just kind of keeping my fingers crossed right now. If something does happen, it's going to be -- it's certainly going to be a quick learning curve, not having done pit stops before and that sort of thing.
Q: How many cars do you think might be available?
JEFF SIMMONS: It's hard to say. I mean, that's why it will depend on what happens this weekend during qualifying. If there aren't a whole lot of guys that crash the car this week or anything, there should be a few more available than if some of the guys do.
Q: How hands-on is A.J. Foyt as an owner?
JEFF SIMMONS: A.J. is really hands-on. In fact, when we did our test in the Pro Series car, we basically didn't really make any changes. We just kind of shook it down because the car hadn't run since Texas. A.J. couldn't be here on the day of the test. We didn't do much to it because, you know, he certainly likes to be here. He's been around so long that when I relate something to him - when we did the ROP, we had rain after the first four laps - I related to him what the car was doing in those first four laps, and he started making changes right away. I mean, if you watch the television or anything like that, you'll see him working on the car constantly. He's always there.
Q: Is that a little bit intimidating for a newcomer?
JEFF SIMMONS: Actually, I really like it. I've been getting along great with A.J. I've learned a lot from him already. You know, we haven't even really had any time where I've been driving and relating too much to him except for those 19 laps we did on the ROP day. But he has such a vast wealth of knowledge that I wish that I had a mentor like this earlier in my years of racing because I think that it really could have helped me progress even quicker.
Q: Only three guys can say they've won the greatest race in the world four times, and one of them is the guy you're hooked up with for this thing.
JEFF SIMMONS: Absolutely. And Rick Mears, as well. I talk to them every day about the track and about wind conditions and the different light and how the shadows will affect you. There's just so many things, such a dynamic place being two and a half miles and four corners that are theoretically pretty much the same but are in reality quite different. I've gone around the track. Also talking to Al Unser, Sr. and Johnny Rutherford, all those guys have been extremely helpful. I couldn't ask for more.
Q: Jeff, when we saw you in Miami earlier this year, I know you were close to getting a deal done in a Pro Series car. Obviously, that didn't happen. How frustrated are you not being able to get in the car yet this year? Especially this month, you must be going crazy.
JEFF SIMMONS: It's really frustrating, especially after last year coming into the Pro Series, I hadn't been in a car for over two years. We came with a team that had very little oval experience. It was their first year with the Pro Series cars, as well. We finished second in the championship, and had two wins. We had more points than anybody in the second half of the season. I think we're pretty much one of the most consistent teams out there, for sure. It was really disappointing that I wasn't able to at least be back in that car or have a full-time ride in the Pro Series. I really thought after last year that I would have that. It's been difficult.
Q: Going back to the 500 real quick, Jeff. I know you certainly would like to parlay a 500 start into a full-time ride for the remainder of the season and beyond, but just the 500 alone, how much would it mean to start that race, one of the few people who can say they raced in the Indianapolis 500?
JEFF SIMMONS: It would be huge. Obviously I always go out there trying to win a race. But I'm well aware of what it takes to be competitive here. You have to run the 500 miles. I would love to just get in and get that experience and be able to move forward, maybe open a few eyes with a solid and professional drive. If that doesn't happen, then I'll try to get into an IndyCar Series car a little bit later in the season and just try to be ready to get a full-time ride for next year.
Q: I know we talked about it a little bit, but we'll have Rick Mears on later in the call. You talked about Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, A.J., as well, but how has Rick helped not only you but, do you think, the series, the Pro Series in general, helping to develop young drivers getting ready for the IndyCar Series?
JEFF SIMMONS: I can tell you in Phoenix in particular this year, I was spotting for Leonardo Maia, who drove a great race. I think it was his second oval race ever. He spoke to Rick quite a bit. I was standing there quite often, you know, conversing with both of them as well. Rick, as you would expect, pretty much never says anything that you can disagree with when it comes to driving a race car. He's just got all of that experience. He can relate to what you're saying. Even not having been in a car for quite a while, he can still relate to what a car's going to do. Four wheels, still got a steering wheel in the driver's hand. I think if you talk to Leonardo Maia, he would say the same thing, that Rick is a great asset to have.
Q: As a newcomer coming to the track, are you aware of the fact there's an 18-hole golf course on the backstretch? People talking about driving into Turn 1, almost like a Holland Tunnel. What is that like for a young driver? Take us around a lap.
JEFF SIMMONS: When I first came here last year, that was the first thing that struck me. You have those grandstands just all around you. You're immediately aware of exactly where you are. You know you're at Indy at all times. The golf course, I never really notice it when I'm driving out there. Certainly I've gone around the track to watch some of the other guys driving around. I'll be up in the grandstands over in Turn 3 or something when the cars aren't out there, I'll turn around and watch some guys play golf for a while But absolutely, going into Turn 1, especially if the wind is behind you, giving you even a larger straightaway speed going in there, it's a pretty intimidating corner. It always seems to tighten up on you. It seems like it's the longest corner on the track to me. Seems like you just keep turning, turning and turning Then Turn 2, you try to get in there a little bit late so you can let the car release and get a good run down that back straightaway. Turn 3, you would think it would be quite a bit like (Turn) 1, but it actually seems quite different just because the grandstands and everything aren't really surrounding you as much there. You have a little bit more open feel. You have a little bit better line of sight, I think, into the corner. But it's still a difficult corner. Also if the wind happens to be coming down the opposite way, pushing you down that straightaway, it will make three a very difficult corner. (Turn) Four is obviously quite a bit like (Turn) 2. You try to get in there a little bit late and release the car coming out, shoot down that front straightaway.
Q: If a ride does present itself, are you ready for this? How are the nerves getting ready for a race like this?
JEFF SIMMONS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think that I'm ready for it. I think I've been ready for it actually Certainly nerves play a part. You get a little bit nervous before getting in the car. I was like that doing ROP. I knew I only had 20 laps, if I didn't pass that I didn't have a chance at all of competing in May. There's no more pressure than that. I think once you get in the car, you're so focused. I'm able to tune those sort of things out, the emotions and all that stuff, be able to concentrate and not even think about it.
MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks very much. Appreciate you joining us today. Hopefully we'll see you in a couple weeks here on the starting grid.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thanks very much.