IRL: Panther Racing Indy 500 Media Tour transcript, part 1

2004 Indianapolis 500 Media Tour Transcript Thursday, March 25, 2004 Panther Racing: John Barnes, Andy Brown, Tomas Scheckter, Mark Taylor Part 1 of 2 MIKE KING: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Panther Racing, two-time IndyCarÃ’ Series ...

2004 Indianapolis 500 Media Tour Transcript
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Panther Racing: John Barnes, Andy Brown, Tomas Scheckter, Mark Taylor

Part 1 of 2

MIKE KING: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Panther Racing, two-time IndyCarÒ Series champion. As you can see, obviously we're in a work environment here, so there's an awful lot going on with the team preparing cars. I will introduce to you the gentlemen that we'll have at our disposal for questions and answers in just a couple of minutes. First, though, I'd like to introduce part of the ownership group of Panther Racing for an official welcome, and here, let's say hello to Doug Boles. Doug.

DOUG BOLES: Thanks, Mike. A lot of you know, or some of you know, anyway, that I spent a bulk of my time in politics. So I get to do the official welcome like having the mayor or governor come in. Welcome to Panther Racing. We've been in here for a couple years now and really just starting to fill it up, as you can see. And actually the building next to us, as you're leaving, if you take a look at that building, we've got another 10,000 square feet over there where we house our Silver Crown car, the carbon shop. A lot of the work that goes into these cars is actually done next door. So, as you can, see we're full. We've got 54 employees, and we'll let these guys talk. On the agenda for this morning, John Barnes, who this is really John Barnes' dream that you're sitting in here today. John is up front here, both of our drivers, Mark Taylor and Tomas Scheckter. We're going to give you a chance to talk to Andy Brown, who's been with us since December of 1998, which is the first year we competed. If there's time permitting, Tim Drudge is over here. Tim is with St. Vincent's Sports Medicine, is actually assigned to Panther Racing full time. We're the first team in the Indy Racing League who has brought in a full-time professional trainer to work with our guys. As you're leaving the bus, you get out on 67, right across the street there is Decatur Central High School. They have what's called the Armstrong Pavilion. Tim can tell you more about that later but some of the guys -- in fact, some of the guys may be leaving off and on today while we're here -- have a specific training regimen that they go through every day, which I think most of the guys actually enjoy. It's a great opportunity to bond outside of the racetrack, outside of the shop but also gives them an opportunity to get in shape and perform better in pit stops. If any of you have seen some of our pit stops, you know that that's actually the case. With that, I'll turn it back over to Mike. But we appreciate you guys being here. It's an exciting year for us wit h not only the Pennzoil car that everybody is so familiar with in Panther colors but also with the new Johns Manville Menards car. So with that, we'll let you take it back over, Mike. Thanks for coming.

KING: Thank you, Doug. As Doug mentioned, John Barnes was the spearhead for the Panther Racing team. It all started coming together in 1997, came to life for real in 1998. John is here with us today to answer some questions. John, if I'm not mistaken now, the ownership group includes six with John Menard; is that correct?

JOHN BARNES: Yes, that's true.

KING: So there are six members of the ownership group which John Barnes heads up. His two drivers this year: Tomas Scheckter, certainly no stranger to any of us. Very talented young man from South Africa who joined the team, has run two events with Panther Racing driving the Pennzoil car and, unfortunately, was running very strong at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday when he experienced some very unfortunate luck. But Tomas is here with us. For the first year Mark Taylor, who is from Kent, England, has joined the team in the IndyCar Series, but this is actually Mark's second year with Panther Racing. For those of you who cover the series on a regular basis, you know Mark Taylor was the 2003 Menards Infiniti Pro SeriesÔ champion. Had a very dominating year, won seven races in the other yellow car, the No. 4 Fulmar car, which is not running in the Infiniti Pro Series this year. Instead, much of that staff and many of the crew members that were part of Mark's effort in the Infiniti Pro Series last year, now part of his IndyCar Series effort. So he is one of three drivers in the running for the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award. So Mark Taylor, Tomas Scheckter and John Barnes. I guess, John, let's just get an opening comment from you. In terms of last time we were here, the team has grown, your trophy case has grown. It's a two-car IndyCar Series effort now. What's it now like getting set for the Indianapolis 500 in 2004?

BARNES: Like a friend of mine told me a long time ago, you're either racing at Indianapolis or getting ready to race at Indianapolis. We've been working on our program for the Speedway since we left there last year. We feel very good about the people that we have here. We expanded to two cars; we were very, very lucky to be able to acquire the people that we had. We had a meeting that was right before Christmas. We had everybody stand up individually and talk about why they wanted to be a Panther, what their racing expertise was, and what they want out of their life. I'll tell you what, (co-owners) Doug (Boles) and Gary (Pedigo) and Griff (Mike Griffin) and I were standing up front and looked at each other when it was over with and said, 'Holy crap, where did these people come from?' We have world champions, chief mechanics who have been chief mechanics of Formula One world champion. We've got mechanics and stuff who were chief mechanics or lead mechanics on world champions of Group C cars. Just incredible depth. And of course our engineering staff, run by Andy Brown, I think is second to none. So, when we were able to get Tomas and Mark to be our drivers, we knew that we had the angel on top of the Christmas tree. These guys really, we think, carry us to a lot more banners that we have up here on top.

KING: Tomas, for you this will be your third Indianapolis 500. You almost won your first start. How does preparation in a third year differ from maybe a rookie year or your second year at the Speedway?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: I think I've got maybe a little more understanding of what to expect and how the 500 is run and how to race. Obviously, being here with Panther, they've taught me a lot in the two races I've done. I think I've got maybe the best opportunity for me yet to hopefully try and drink milk at the end of May.

KING: Mark, you're going to be driving the Menards Johns Manville, and it will be your second appearance at the Speedway. You ran second last year at the Infiniti Pro Series race. How much do you look forward to your first 500?

MARK TAYLOR: I'm sure it's going to be exciting to get the opportunity. We had the race there last year in the Infiniti Pro Series, and it gives you a lot of experience, of course, but there's nothing like the month of May in an Indy car, to be able to drive that around. It's great to be with Panther and drive one of their cars, and Menards and Johns Manville, as well. Just the whole buildup, it's been from the beginning of the year looking forward to Indianapolis.

KING: OK, let's open it up for questions. Just remember I need to get you the mike. We are transcribing this question-and-answer session. So just raise your hand, and I'll get it to you. Don't be bashful. These guys will not bite.

Q: John, going to Indianapolis, you talked about preparing for the race. You are going to have a new aero package, new engine situation and also a new driver in the No. 4 car. Is all that a smooth transition, especially with communicating with Tomas and maybe preparing the car to his liking after, you know, very successful years with Sam (Hornish Jr.)?

BARNES: Well, first off, we did have a lot of success with the other driver of our car before this year, but the thing that we found with Tomas is he's really brought us to another level. His feedback is so incredible. With our other driver in the past, you had to beat him out of trying to figure out what the car was doing. But Tomas has really added a lot. I think he's helped the engine program a lot, worked on the traction control and the launch and the different things that he's been accustomed to in the past. So we just are excited as hell, I'll tell you. The guy just, when we heard the news that our driver was going to leave us, I'll tell you we all sit around, we knew there was one guy that we wanted because he's the guy when we were leading, we were always trying to figure out where he was because he was our biggest threat. So to have him here and have him in our cars is just -- it's been awesome.

Q: About six or seven years ago when Valvoline decided to get out of open-wheel racing and concentrate on NASCAR, there was a lot made of that. But I kind of think the reality of Pennzoil not being in NASCAR and being here full time is probably fairly significant. Talk a little bit about how important that is that they're concentrating on the IRL effort.

BARNES: First of all, I'll tell you that the ownership group of Panther Racing, it is for a reason. When we first started looking at owning a team or having a team, I realized that there was a lot of things that I wasn't very good at. One of them was sponsor relations. We brought Doug in, and he's used to dealing with city and state government, and there's nothing worse than that, at least that's what he's told me. So we brought him in, and he's done a tremendous job, I mean, absolutely fabulous job of coordinating our sponsors with us. I think Pennzoil sees the benefit, you know, especially for the dollars spent to what you get in return. They've been very happy with us. And also Doug works diligently making sure we have a lot of business-to-business programs. We right now are working diligently to get Pennzoil in with General Motors to be an official supplier of oil with them and for their dealerships. We try to make it make sense not only on the racetrack but also on Monday morning when business starts.

Q: John, this is the first year you've had a two-car team. What did you have to do to -- how many employees did you have to add to ramp up for a two-car effort?

BARNES: Well, first off, that's not true. We've had two cars here before. We ran Michael (Andretti) in 2001, I think, and we run the Infiniti Pro Series. We took basically the IPS people with Brent Harvey, the engineer, and Mark (Taylor) and the mechanics and moved them right over to the IRL program. They had a lot of continuity, they were very good together, worked together, and, of course, their record is better, I think, than any win/loss record in any auto racing series in history.

KING: Mark, you had a tough outing in your first IndyCar Series start but got a lot of laps under your belt at Phoenix. How are you getting acclimated to the series and how big of a change is it going from the Infiniti Pro Series to these cars?

TAYLOR: Well, there's a big change. There's probably something like 40, 50 miles per hour difference in the cars, and the cars react differently. So from a driving point of view, you spend a lot of time trying to work on that. They have cut down a lot of the testing time that you can do before the start of a season now. I think that maybe has made it harder as a rookie this year as it has any other time. Of course, the two races we've had so far haven't worked out as well as I had hoped for. But every time you get in the car you have to try to work to improve on it. I feel that I'm gradually getting to grips with the car. The car has been great to work with, and as far as the weekend is concerned, we've had good weekends, I feel. It's just the point of getting that race result that we need.

KING: Tomas, you, on the other hand, it looked like you were in line to finish the first two races with top-fives. How difficult to have a car that was good enough to maybe even contend for the win at Phoenix and leave there with the finish that obviously you were left with?

SCHECKTER: Obviously it's a little disappointing because of these guys, the hard work they put into the cars. And to have a car that was strong and easy a top-three car, if not a winning car, if we could have gotten in some clean air. But racing goes like that sometimes. The difference between good teams and bad teams is how to pick up the pieces and make sure next time they go out there we can perform the same way if not better.

Q: Tomas, in your time with Cheever as a 21-year-old, it looked like you wanted to lead every lap. Now are you kind of less -- do you feel less of an urgency now to lead every lap?

SCHECKTER: I don't think I get myself into situations where I risk, while leading, will cause me a problem. And I think it's also an environment I'm in now. I'm a lot calmer in the car. The people around me don't necessarily care about leading every lap. They care about leading the last lap, and that's sort of taken the pressure off me that I have to prove something or that I have to be in the front. Everybody around me seems so calm and confident, and I think that helps me, as well.

Q: John, will there be any chance that you would add additional cars at Indianapolis by any chance?

BARNES: Well, I'd like to add the Pace Car after the race to be one here. (Laughter)

Q: John, how much involvement does John Menard have with the two cars?

BARNES: He sends the checks.

Q: John, you showed the success that Infiniti Pro Series has had for your drivers. What do you see as the future of that, and how important do you think that is to the development of the IRL?

BARNES: I think it struggled obviously this year here with having lower car count, but I think they're working hard to get more cars and more people involved with it. It's a great series, it really is. It needs, the cars need more power than what they have to help the transition from one series to another. I think they know that, but they're also concerned about the fragility of the chassis itself in going faster. But, you know, I think that the thing -- it's got a bright future. It's just like the IRL, you know. I remember the first races we went to, we turned around, there were very few people in the paddock, and now you look at it and it's just like, God, the hospitality area has grown, the sponsors are growing, you know, the price tag has grown. So, you know, it takes awhile to grow. And if you look at the other organizations, open-wheel organizations, when they had Indy Lights, that thing was actually dwindling at that point in time, also. I think at the end of the year there were only like eight or nine cars that were actually actively competing. So it just takes time for it to build. I don't think of anybody in the world that would be better to run that than Roger Bailey. I think he does a great job. I know every time I walk into the paddock, he's like a magnet over to me. You need another IPS car. You need another IPS car, and it will grow and it will succeed.

Part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , John Barnes
Teams Panther Racing