IRL: Panther Racing IMS Media Tour transcript, part 1

2005 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT Tuesday, April 5, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Panther Racing: Tomas Scheckter, Tomas Enge, John Barnes, Mike Kitchel, Mike Griffin MIKE GRIFFIN: I'm Mike Griffin, one of the...

Tuesday, April 5, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Panther Racing: Tomas Scheckter, Tomas Enge, John Barnes, Mike Kitchel, Mike Griffin

MIKE GRIFFIN: I'm Mike Griffin, one of the partners of Panther, and we'll get a couple more of the people involved up here. We just wanted to say hello and welcome you to Panther. We're going to go ahead and get into our dinner hour and drinks and everything and relax for a few minutes here. A couple things I might point out along the way just as an introduction. We've been here for about three years now. We've got about 30,000 square feet. We've got another 10,000 next door in another building, we have a carbon fiber shop over there. Panther is the winningest team in IRL history. We have 14 wins -- and I have to cheat because I keep hoping the numbers keep getting bigger, they haven't lately -- but two championships, 13 IndyCar wins, seven poles, one Infiniti Pro Series championship, seven wins in the Infiniti Pro Series, and four poles in the Infiniti Pro Series. We put the banners up every time we score something, and that's kind of our decorating scheme around here. We're trying to get some more banners and fill up the rest of these poles. So welcome to Panther. Make yourself at home. We have Jonathan Byrd providing us the food for us this evening, and we thank them. We thought we would take 15, 20 minutes, half an hour or so and grab a bite to eat and then get into our program. Thanks for joining us. Make yourself at home. (Dinner recess)

I want to bring up one of our other people to kind of run down something. We came up with an idea called the Fan Tour. Mike Kitchel has been real instrumental in putting the thing together and making it happen and coordinating all the pieces of it. Mike does the public relations duties for the 2 car with Tomas Enge, and normally I take care of the 4 car with Tomas Scheckter. So the two of us are about 10 feet apart. We have another fellow here, Kaaveh Akbari someplace, and Kaaveh has been working with Downforce, the IRL's fan club and helping coordinate the whole thing at all the racetracks. Without further ado, Mike Kitchel.

MIKE KITCHEL: Thank you. I want to thank everybody else for coming out here today. There are tough acts to follow and then there's a tough voice to follow; and Griff is about the toughest voice to follow in the whole business. The Fan Tour came about last year during the offseason. Throughout the course of the season, we had different ideas of different promotions we wanted to do for the fans. At the same time, as we went to each racetrack or we talked about marketing strategies, we were saying, hey, wouldn't it be cool if the League did this, or wouldn't it be neat if a track did that? I think we kind of reached a point of saying, 'Hey, what are we doing?' And let's not suggest different things other people can do, why don't we do everything we can to help promote the IndyCar Series and help promote the fan base of the IndyCar Series. So we said let's come up with a fan tour, and we themed it after like a summer-long concert tour. We made T-shirts, we made backstage passes, which are right over here and available for anybody who needs them. We've got all the information you need about the tour, and you can pick up some passes to take with you. What we're going to do is, throughout the course of the season we're having people register on the Web site, right now 1,500 folks have already registered. At the end of the year we're going to give away a Chevrolet Cobalt, give away a Panther edition Chevrolet Cobalt and a Panther edition Segway and also give away a wakeboard that's designed by pro wakeboarder Zane Schwenk. So that's going to be really exciting. At the end of the year at the California Speedway, we're going to give those away to all the fans that are registered. At the same time, before each race we're going to pick two fans, and they're going to be fans of the race. We're going to put a decal on the dashboard of each race car and in essence they'll be riding with Tomas Scheckter or riding with Tomas Enge. They can win prizes based on how those guys finish. If Scheckter wins the race and you're Denise Fa rris, for example, and your name is on the race car, at the end of the year we'll fly you out to the last race of the year, give you hotel accommodations and pit passes. It should be fun. At the same time, we're going to do events throughout the year. A couple weeks ago we went out to Fast Times indoor karting and rented the facility out for the weekend, had all three of our drivers come out, race against the fans, did an autograph session and it was a really big success. That's the Fan Tour. Like I said, there are passes over here you guys can pick up, press releases out here you can grab and check out. It's going to be on the Web site all year. So come check it out and encourage people to sign up. It should be good. Right now I'm going to introduce Pat Sullivan, who's going to do Q and A with both of our drivers and team owner John Barnes. So thank you very much.

PAT SULLIVAN: We'll let the three principals share the big mike here on the chairs. We began the evening here at Panther Racing, what a great shop it is, talking about the great history of this team and number one in terms of victories, all-time Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, couple of championships, also in the Infiniti Pro Series. We have brought John Barnes up. And, John, as we approach the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500, you were a chief mechanic at the age of 22 with a driver for those of us who are kind of steeped in short-track racing is legendary and brave character in Jimmy Carruthers. Talk about the excitement that goes with heading towards the month of May and an opportunity to get a driver's image on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

JOHN BARNES: You look above over here and see the races we've won; we've won everything except Indianapolis. Indianapolis, I think, we've been a terrible failure. It's one of the things we're really pushing this year here. We had our meeting before the season started and talked about what was our goals and aspirations, and there's only one, that's win the 500. I think with these two guys here, we've got, I think that's achievable. Especially with Buddy as a third member of our team. Chevrolet has just done an incredible job this offseason and give us, I think, better power than the other two. Great reliability. Pennzoil has come up with some good products and stuff for us that's helped us, also, in internal engine drag. And if we all keep drinking in Rockstar, I don't think we're ever going to go to sleep.

SULLIVAN: Of course, you mentioned the third team, Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria coming on with '96 Indianapolis 500 winner, Buddy Lazier, former Indy Racing League Series champion. Another team that has great history, another sponsor that has great history with Rich Vogler, that's going to be exciting with Buddy. Let's talk about the Chevrolet team, you are the sole Chevrolet team, perhaps many thought that that was going to be the death knell for Panther Racing. But while the results may not have been what you have wanted thus far, there is clear indication that you have the speed to get to Victory Lanes and that's been in all the races so far.

BARNES: It's been kind of funny, all the racing experts in the world, the media, they've told us all through from about September how stupid we were for staying with Chevrolet. I can tell you there is no question in my mind, and I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this I don't think was one of them. To be the only Chevy team and to have the ability to have that great company behind us and all their concentrated efforts on us, we were smiling all the way. These two guys have driven the cars with the engines we've had this year will totally agree with you they are superior. They are incredible. We haven't had one engine problem. The stuff that we were going to run today is actually better. Every day we get better engines from them. Right now we're probably 50, 60 horsepower up over what we were last year at the Speedway.

SULLIVAN: One of the things that has produced all these banners we see in your shop has been good pit work and good pit strategy. We'll turn now to Tomas Scheckter and a perfect example of the great work in the Panther team is my understanding is Tomas we had to go out and fetch you on the highway because you had a mechanical failure in your car?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I'm sorry I'm late. You don't always have the Panther crew on the side of the highway to change your wheels. They said half an hour, I'm used to eight seconds. (Laughter) But yeah, that's another great side of me. You saw at this race, we were unbelievable in the pits, we really were. We passed five cars, I think, my stop. It's a great feeling to do that, and the guys told me before we made a bit of a change in the pits and we've really got it together. You know, like John said, we've got a good combination, it's just getting some finishes under our belt, and I think the results will come.

SULLIVAN: I'll tell you, we thought that result was going to come obviously at St. Petersburg, and there's been a variety of things we've been trying to do, Tomas, to exorcise the bad luck that you have encountered but once again you've been in position, once again I suspect when I talk to the members of your team still very confident you're going to get back into Victory Lane like you did in Michigan a couple years ago.

SCHECKTER: Yeah, it's a rolling ball and getting frustrating for me and I'm sure for everybody on the team. But we've got to keep our heads up. In the beginning of the season we thought everything was great, we had a pole and we had an unfortunate incident. As a driver you feel like you have to make up twice as much as what you've lost and that's not the right direction to do it. You've got to take a step backward to take a step forward. Sometimes I think I need to do that with my driving. We've certainly got the equipment, I've got the team and it's a case of putting it together.

SULLIVAN: The gentleman to my right here, of course, is a man we've grown to respect who came to us with great credentials, Formula 3000, sports car credentials, he's run in Formula One, the Czech Republic, Tomas Enge. Tomas, you had a couple races last year with Patrick Racing and got exposed to American-style Indy Racing League action, and you've shown some speed. Tell us about your team and the good work with Rockstar Energy drink. I talked with Mike and they're very excited about having you on this team. What's it like racing in the Indy Racing League?

TOMAS ENGE: First of all, I have to say I'm happy I got the opportunity last year to run the two races with Patrick Racing. Because I knew I wanted to come over to U.S. and drive here in this championship. That was really a great opportunity for me to get at least the feeling, first feeling, first experiences with these races because it's completely different than road course races I'm used to from Europe. So when I got the opportunity to drive for this team, for Panther Racing, with the Rockstar Chevy car, I was really, really happy. I knew that there is like a start of a new career for me. So for me, it's obviously difficult to get used to these tracks, to get used to this kind of racing, or it was difficult, especially in the beginning last year, these two races. But now I would say I am nearly there, nearly at the speed where we need to be. I still have a lot of things to learn, especially the tracks, which I don't know. I know only Texas and California. So it is nice to drive these cars. It is very big adrenaline you can feel in these high-speed tracks. But I think if I run a little bit more and, as Tomas said, we need to put everything together and we need to have also good luck so that we can be really, really competitive.

SULLIVAN: How about some questions for the three? Don't be shy.

Q: I wanted to ask, next year engine-wise, Chevy will not be with you next year is my understanding?

SULLIVAN: Question is what will happen engine-wise next year.

BARNES: You know, we're not sure yet. Kind of going to wait through Indianapolis and get that sorted out and, of course, both manufacturers have talked to us and we're just going to see what happens after Indy. Who knows, maybe Chevrolet will stick around.

SULLIVAN: Questions? What's it been like for you, Tomas, you mentioned getting used to the ovals, getting used to the -- you're racing awful close side by side, what was that like for you at first?

BARNES: I would like to answer that for him. (Laughter)

SULLIVAN: OK. Get used to this.

BARNES: I can tell you the first time he ran an Indy car was at California Speedway. It was when Sam decided he was going to go elsewhere. And I heard about him forever and had watched him race a lot and was very impressed. So anyway, I sent an e-mail to his Web site because I didn't know how to get ahold of him and asked him if he would like to come over and take a test. We took him to California Speedway. Sam drove for probably half a day and then we fit Tomas in and got him on the racetrack. Within two laps, he was running the same speed what Hornish was.

ENGE: Five laps.

BARNES: Five laps, OK. The next day, there were six other IRL teams there. The next day, as California Speedway gets, we had about 25, 30 mile an hour winds. California Speedway looks fairly easy, like somebody like myself could do it but in reality, it's tough. When it gets windy, it's really tough. I remember this, you went out and ran and ran the same speed you did without the wind. You were the only guy that did. Andy Brown who was the engineer at that point in time says, well, he comes in the pits and says how is it? Tomas says it's pretty difficult with the wind, but I can keep doing it if you want me to. So we called it a day at that point in time. He's impressed us from day one, and we think he has a great career ahead of him. He is shy to tell you his talents but we've been very happy with Tomas and feel he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Now you can tell him. (Laughter)

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Buddy Lazier , John Barnes
Teams Panther Racing