IRL: Phoenix preview quotes

PHOENIX, Friday, March 9, 2001 - Quotes from selected Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers and team officials about the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 March 16-18 at Phoenix International Raceway: BUZZ CALKINS ( ...

PHOENIX, Friday, March 9, 2001 - Quotes from selected Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers and team officials about the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 March 16-18 at Phoenix International Raceway:

BUZZ CALKINS (#12 Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1996 Indy Racing co-champion) (About preseason testing at Phoenix): "Phoenix is definitely unique to the other places we go. You use to be able to use it (testing information) at Walt Disney World, but now what you are testing here is for this race. It doesn't really translate to anywhere else ... possibly Richmond, but I haven't been there yet." (About starting strong at Phoenix): "I think that each individual race isn't as important as last year because there are more to make up for one bad race. But I feel like this one race is very important. This race gets all your momentum going for the year. If you had a bad first race, you used to be able to regroup after Disney but not anymore. You have to start off strong." (About team's history at Phoenix): "We've had very good races and very bad races here. We've made a lot of changes this offseason, including moving the shop to Indy. A lot of times you come into the first race and don 't really know where you are with the team. You feel a little uneasy. We feel like we've had adequate testing this year with the Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat #12, and we are firing on all cylinders. We feel really good going into this Indy Racing Northern Light Series season." (About being part of the Copper World weekend): "This is going to be a great weekend of racing. With all these races -- the supermodifieds, midgets, Silver Crown cars-- I don't think people are going to want to leave the track at night. This gives fans an opportunity to see some great racing and may introduce them to different forms of racing that they haven't been exposed to before. It is exciting to have the Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat car as part of such a historic event."

EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (#51 Excite@ Home Indy Racing Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner, Phoenix native) (About Phoenix International Raceway): "Phoenix is a great, great track, and I really enjoy racing there. It is one hot, fast, hard, short oval: a real bullring. All three corners demand a unique compromise in your setup. At Phoenix, you have to decide just how loose you want to run the car in Turns 3 and 4 in order to make it through Turns 1 and 2. The long radius corners at Phoenix force you to really lean on your right rear, and making the tires last through each stint is extremely difficult. It will be another tight, tight race for both the teams and the equipment. I've sniffed around a victory at Phoenix quite a few times, and I would love to finally get that win. We're due for a good result there." (About racing at Phoenix): "The fans sitting in the grandstands are not going to see a procession of cars - it's going to be mayhem from the very first lap. The cars are running such high speeds and it's so competitive that it's very difficult to break away from the group. Phoenix is probably one of the most difficult events we run because at the beginning of the season you don't know who has what. We've all been testing and reading the reports of who's quick, who's slow, who's consistent, and who's not, but when the green flag drops, the real tale will be told." (About his history at Phoenix): "Phoenix has always been a place of new beginnings for me. It was the first oval race I competed in (in 1990), and I did very well. It was the first race that I almost won when I finished second to (Bobby) Rahal in 1992, and I finished third in the last Formula One USGP that I raced in at Phoenix." (About preparation for 2001 season): "Phoenix is the first race after a long winter break, and everybody has been sharpening their tools. Over the winter, we changed all of our data management systems and the whole way that we analyze data from the car. We' ve taken advantage of the offseason to improve our ability to understand what the numbers mean. We're more efficient, and hopefully our pit stops will be quicker and our race strategy has improved." (About 2001 Indy Racing schedule): "I think the expanded schedule is good. I think the good teams will come out ahead in the middle of the season when it gets very tight. Management of human resources and hard assets will be essential. I think after Indy, we're really going to see who is well organized and who is isn' t." (About initial testing of new Infiniti 35A engine March 8 at Phoenix): "On our first day of testing with the new Infiniti engine, we were only 1/10th off our fastest time at Phoenix after running just under 200 miles. It is a totally different engine; it's like having a brand new everything. We are starting over from scratch and have to perfect our recipe. Phoenix will be the toughest race of the season for us. But, we are now on the same playing field as our competition."

AIRTON DARE (#88 1-800-BAR-NONE TeamXtreme G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series Rookie of the Year): "My goal as a driver is to win championships. The Indy 500 is very important. First, however, we must concentrate on Phoenix." (About preparation): "In the offseason, I lift weights and run five days a week. I also race go-karts at a track near my home (in Brazil). Anything to keep my driving skills sharp and keep four wheels underneath me." (About expanded Indy Racing Northern Light Series schedule): "The new schedule is better, and I am used to such a full schedule because that is how it was in Indy Lights. It is more challenging for the teams to be faced with an expanded schedule. It is harder to get everything done in time. As the season goes on, the good teams will become separated from the others, and those teams that have prepared properly for such a grueling schedule will prevail." (About chances for victory in Phoenix): "We have a very good race car and a strong team. I think we can finish in the top 15. With a little luck, we can win Phoenix."

MARK DISMORE (#28 Delphi Automotive Systems/Bryant Heating & Cooling Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "My primary goal is to try to qualify in the top five at all the races and try to win all the races. Short of that, if you have a third-place car you finish third, and if you have a first-place car capable of winning, then you win the race. I want to win a lot of races, and I'd like to be on a lot of poles. But really my main goal is winning some races. Now that we've teamed up with Ilmor this year, I think we've got a progressive situation that's only going to get better as the season goes along with the engines. Coming back with four or five of the same crew guys that I had last year, and the same engineer (Eric Bretzman) and crew chief (Glenn Scott), I think we're in a position more so than ever to win a lot of races. I feel really good about this year and being able to set our standards and goals really high. Winning the championship is more than a real possibility, and winning Indianapolis is absolutely a possibility. I think we've got an opportunity this year to do both." (About expanded series schedule): "I like the tightened schedule. It'd be all right with me if we had even more races. I think it's a good start, and I'm looking forward to it. It's nice to have three races before Indy." (About Phoenix International Raceway): "There's going to be a lot of rubber on the track since we're there with three other series. The track is going to change hour-to-hour and practice-to-practice. And since Silver Crowns have a 100-lap race on Sunday before ours, the track is going to change right up to our race. The tracks going to be really slick and it's going to be hard to keep the car handling good all day. I just hope that we're not too greedy in trying to go for a lot of speed and that we just try to come up with a good solid race car that can run a good pace all day. I don't know that this is one of those races you've got to set the world on fire to win. I think it's one that you've got to have a car that's really consistent and solid as far as handling."

BRANDON ERWIN (#30 WorldBestBuy.com/McCormack Motorsports G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "My goal for the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 next weekend, which will be my first Indy-car race ever, is to stay out of trouble and finish the race. I need to learn how to run a 200-mile race first. We have to be there at the finish. After I learn how to finish an Indy-car race, then I'll concentrate on how to go faster and win one. But first I have to finish; that's my goal." (About preparation for Indy Racing debut): "Al Unser Sr. has been very helpful. (Team owner) Dennis McCormack asked him to come to our test, and he took me out on the track in a rental car first and he's been giving me a lot of tips. I've never been to this track (Phoenix) before. My first laps here were in a rental car, and then my first laps here in a race car were (March 8) in the Indy car. Al described the line you should drive and where you shouldn't run, too. He emphasized that I should take my time and don't try to get in a hurry; that's what he told me. I need to just get comfortable doing laps here, get some experience and finish this race. That's what I'm going to do my best to do. I was a lot more comfortable yesterday than I was when I ran at Texas. I've been lifting weights and running two to three miles a day, and that has really helped. I' m not as good as a long-distance runner as I am a sprinter, but the weightlifting and running is really helping. I feel a ton better in the car because I'm more physically fit. When you're more physically fit, you can concentrate better."

SARAH FISHER (#15 Walker Racing Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "This is the year for me to produce the results. I think with the right people in line, we will have a team very capable of doing that. Consistency and patience are my two virtues for this season, which hopefully will allow me to come away with a win and to end up in the top 10 in points." (About preseason testing at Phoenix): "The Phoenix test allowed me to get back into the rhythm that was lost during this long offseason. It also provided me with a chance to see how much I have grown compared to the last time I had been in Phoenix. Believe me, what a difference!" (Personal anecdotes about Phoenix): "Phoenix was my first race last year, and also my first with Walker Racing. I had put a lot of pressure on myself that race, and it affected the way I handled things. This year is completely different. I have confidence in my team and they in me. We have jelled into a 'family' over the last year, and we are ready, as a team, to take on the season."

FELIPE GIAFFONE (#21 Hollywood G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "I'm really excited about my first Indy Racing League race. My goal is to finish the race so I can gain that valuable experience of running with the guys and doing pit stops. The race is much longer than the Indy Lights races so I have to get used to that, as well. We tested well in Phoenix so I know the Treadway-Hubbard team is ready to go. I'm interested to see how the track will change running with all the other types of cars on race weekend. It's going to be a great race and a lot of fun. The team has won this race before and always had good cars in Phoenix. It will be great having Arie (Luyendyk) helping race weekend as well. If I can make it to the end, I know I'll have a good finish."

STEPHAN GREGOIRE (#7 Tokheim/Jack K. Elrod Co./Nada Guides Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "I feel like it's time for me to win, basically. Experience on ovals is very important, and I feel better than ever as far as driving my racecar. I think I'm more confident. Experience brings me a lot of confidence and probably more ability to bring more information to my engineers because I can really understand what my car is doing much more than before. Hopefully that will help me to win, and that's what I need in this stage in my career." (About switch to Dallara chassis): "To me they are two good chassis. I'm just excited to be driving a Dallara because I've been very loyal to G Force as a driver since 1997, and I just wanted to give myself a new challenge. I think they are both good cars. Both manufacturers make good equipment, but just for me as a driver, I'm excited to drive a Dallara this year just for a change." (About chances for victory at Phoenix): "I think if we do a good job like we did last year, we could have won the race, of course. But we just didn't get lucky on one pit stop. So we won't need to do much, I think, in order to win this race. But we won' t be the only one to be able to win, but we are definitely one of those teams able to win. I think what we need to do is to be precise, to communicate well with the team, myself, of course as a driver I need to do very well and not make any mistakes, and I think we have a very strong chance to win. So I'm very confident."

RON HEMELGARN (Owner, Hemelgarn Racing, #91 Buddy Lazier, #92 Stan Wattles): "Our preseason testing with Buddy & Stan was very successful (at Phoenix), recording practice times below 21 seconds. The entire Hemelgarn team feels confident with our race setups." (Goals for Phoenix, 2001): "Our goals for the Phoenix race and the entire season are simple. We must qualify well, run all day, stay out of trouble and finish up front." (About being defending race champions): "We know all eyes are on our performance. Last year, Buddy's last-to-first finish was a very exciting performance for race attendees and TV viewers alike. Hopefully, we can start closer to the front and gain the same results."

SAM HORNISH JR. (#4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "I'm really excited. I can't wait to get there. It's seemed like a long winter, waiting for the first race to come." (About skills of Pennzoil Panther Racing): "The organizational skills and how well the car is put together are impressive. The updates on the Dallara were pretty extensive this year, and there are a lot of differences. To have the car all taken apart over the winter and then put all the new bodywork together and run 360 laps in our first test without any problems says a lot about the team." (About his expectations for 2001 season): "It's not high expectations for us to want to go out and try to finish in the top three and win races right from the start, considering the kind of team I drive for. I expect only good things. I want to go out there and win. I think we're capable of winning from the start." (What is unique about Phoenix International Raceway?): "I have a 25-percent finishing rate at Phoenix, so I'm still trying to figure that out. I've raced four times on the oval and finished once. I'm trying to have a positive attitude there. I love Phoenix. I tell myself that every night before I go to bed." (About increased off-track responsibilities since joining Pennzoil Panther Racing for this season): "There are more things going on this year, but I respect that. That's how it's going to be with a higher-level team and a big sponsor, and you're going to have more things to do and more people wanting to talk to you. As long as they still want to talk to me, that's a good thing. When they don't want to talk to me, that's bad." (Do you like the expanded series schedule?): "Yeah, I do. Last year you had so much time between some of the races. It was like starting a new season almost every time you got in the car. I think I have a better opportunity to shine this year. I'd be really disappointed if I didn't."

BUDDY LAZIER (#91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion, 2000 Phoenix race winner) (Confident for success after your offseason testing?): "Yes. We feel like it's been a really productive offseason. We've learned a lot. The program, the racecar, everything has progressed. And we've gained speed. We know the entire field has gained speed and progressed and we feel like we've kept pace." (About expanded Northern Light Series schedule): "The long offseason has been very busy for me and the race team. We believe we are prepared for our schedule. With the new schedule, organization is more crucial than it's ever been. We feel confident at the stage." (You've had a very busy offseason. Worried at all about burnout in 2001?): "I enjoy what I do. It's our passion. My wife and I very much enjoy what we do now, and that makes a difference. My 2000 season hasn't ended yet. I'm coming up on the end of the 2000 season, finally, with the start of the 2001 season. It has been a long but very wonderful offseason. Being champion is a wonderful thing. I really enjoyed winning the championship. For me, the passion is winning the championship. With the championship comes many responsibilities and opportunities. We've tried to take advantage of all the opportunities. If we didn't have so much passion for what we do, burnout could become a factor. You always want to be able to have some time to step back and reflect. I'm going to have to make time to do that. We're taking certain steps to keep that (burnout) from happening." (Is there any other track where you've experienced the highs and lows you have at Phoenix?): "Indianapolis. As a rookie there, I have not qualified. I 've finished last, and I've finished first. I can't imagine on a yearly basis, a place that can take you from such emotional highs and lows and just rip your guts out. But Phoenix, to me, other than Indianapolis, it's such a mixed bag for me. We've always run well there and been fast. But it's where I broke my back, so I always feel more stress and anxiety when I go there, it's human nature. To me, maybe (winning) last year is where I made the turning point from not being able to get the results we wanted there to getting the results we wanted."

JOHN LOPES (General manager, TeamXtreme Racing, #88 Airton Dare): "Without question, our primary goal in 2001 is to win races. The team and crew have worked diligently to take our game to another level. Now it's time to put it all together. We also are focused on competing for the championship. We are constantly working to develop our corporate sponsor relationships." (About connections to Phoenix): "Phoenix is home to one of TeamXtreme's two offices. Our race shop is located in Rockwall, Texas, but our finance office is located in Chandler, Arizona. That makes Phoenix a hometown race in our eyes. We told Airton that there are a lot of rattlesnakes on the track. He said he is thinking about carrying a shotgun in the car just in case a snake jumps in with him."

GREG RAY (#2 Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1999 Indy Racing champion, pole winner at Phoenix in 1999, 2000) (About racing for victories as opposed to compiling championship points): "It's a fine line of balancing cold, hard desire and passion with calculated risks and keeping the championship in mind. Sometimes your desire to make a car do something when the car isn't handling right is big. But you can't make two and two be five very many times. It's about capitalizing on race weekends when the car is right and making compromises when the car isn't just right. The Indy Racing League is so competitive that you're not going to hit the bull's eye every weekend." (About changes in team personnel this offseason): "It seems like from 98 to 99, 99 to 2000, 2000 to 2001, there's been a lot of change in personnel around me. But the only change that's been paramount to me as a driver is not working with Tom Knapp. He and I worked a long time together, and we had a great working relationship. That's still going to take time to getting used with another engineer. I think (Team Menard engineer) Darrell (Soppe) is going to do a great job, but it's no different than being married for 10 years and dating someone new. It's just a totally different experience. That's the biggest change this year as opposed to other years." (About any changes in approach to qualifying now that no points are awarded): "We've never had qualifying engines. Even if you look at my qualifying pre-Menard, Tom (Knapp) and I did a damn good job with nothing. We've raced a lot of engines that we've qualified. (Team Menard engine builder) Butch Meyer builds great engines, but we've never had qualifying engines. As a race team, you try to qualify up front. You try to do your best job going fast and do your best job in the race. Starting up front means less traffic, it means less chance of accident, it means more of a control position. Running up front, qualifying up front is a lot of exposure for (team owner) John Menard and our sponsors." (About importance of getting a strong start at Phoenix, as Ray has endured slow starts last two years): "We've said that every year. You can't erase a trend because that stuff was racing incidents. A lot of what happens, it's just a racing deal, as they say. Certainly having 13 races versus nine, just about everybody is going to have a bad weekend or two. Between being so competitive and having so many new tracks, and the equipment being stressed to the max, you're going to have some problems. With the new schedule, the mechanics and drivers are going to be in so much more of a rhythmic cadence." (About Phoenix International Raceway): "I think every track we go to is unique. It's not like a stick-and-ball sport. Every hockey rink and every basketball court is the same. Each racetrack, from a setup perspective to a driver style, is different. Phoenix is extremely fast, but it's a very racy racetrack. It's a compromise. The biggest thing is Phoenix plays on is getting the setup right for the conditions. It is one of those tracks where the racetrack changes a lot for the weather. You might be running a 22.5-second lap in race conditions, you might be running low 21s if the weather changes. The biggest thing is getting the setup right, the downforce right, the gearing right, throwing the dice." (About this season): "We have a great group of mechanics and engineers. My desire is as big as ever, certainly, having the year we had last year. I drive race cars to win, and we didn't do enough of that last year. You have to focus on what you're doing and come race day, show what you've got. This isn't a media statement, on any given weekend, one of 15 guys could win and win in dominant fashion."

JERET SCHROEDER (#9 Summit Packaging Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "My goal for the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix is to get acquainted with my new team (PDM Racing) and build our rapport. We are also looking for more sponsorship. My goal for the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series is to win races." (About expanded series schedule): "I like it. I want to have the opportunity to race more, and with the four extra races this year I'll definitely have that opportunity. We're on track approximately twice a month, which will keep us all more in tune than we were last year. Extra seat time is always beneficial." (About Phoenix International Raceway): "I know I want to stay off the wall in Turn 1 at Phoenix. In 1997, Scott Goodyear blew an engine right in front of me, and I spun in the oil and hit the Turn 1 wall. That wasn't fun, and I don't want to repeat that. Phoenix is a very fast track, and ironically it's a great facility for setting up your car for Indy. With the configuration and the size of it you wouldn't think it would be, but there really are a lot of similarities in the setup you need for both tracks. Every race is very important, but Phoenix's similarities to Indy make it particularly important." (About big event March 10): "This Saturday, which is one week before Phoenix, I'm going to be the best man at my cousin's wedding. The groom is my mom's twin sister's son, Mark Brandt, who is getting married in Minnesota. I've never been a best man before, and I'm looking forward to it."

SCOTT SHARP (#8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, 1996 Indy Racing co-champion, 1998 Phoenix race winner): "I'm really excited. As a team we try to grow every year, and I think we've really gotten ourselves into a wonderful spot. We've got all the right guys in all the right positions, and I'm real enthusiastic about everyone's attitude. They all have the same goals that I do, and their desire to be successful is as intense as mine. We want to make a serious run at the championship. We want to get on a streak this year and be extremely competitive in a lot of races, and that entails winning some races. This is the first time since I' ve been at Kelley Racing that the core group stayed, which is important when it comes to chemistry. Having my crew chief Robert (Perez) and my two lead mechanics return has provided a nucleus that really makes things happen in the shop as far as turning cars around and making bulletproof cars. That nucleus, along with having Jeff Britton who came on board at the end of last season, is going to pay big dividends for us. Jeff and I spent a race together and talked all winter about likes, dislikes and strategies. I think that's really big." (About new series schedule): "I think it's great. The tighter schedule is going to be something that can really benefit us. Robert (Perez) and Jeff (Britton) are really organized, and once the train gets rolling, it never stops. Not having the lulls in the schedule will be really big for everybody, especially the fans." (About Phoenix International Raceway): "Phoenix is a great place to start winning races. It's one of my favorite tracks. I've led the last four out of five races at some point, but only won one of them. That's not a great ratio. Certainly we go there looking to run extremely competitively. We can always use more testing, and unfortunately our test at Phoenix got shortened with a suspension crash. Being there with three other series this year will provide a challenge to everyone. There's going to be a lot of different kind of rubber out there this time, but it's something all the teams have to adjust to at the same time so I don't think it favors anyone. If anything, I think Jeff (Britton) has got his head screwed on properly about that kind of stuff. We're eye to eye on the way we want the car to be and how we want to progress through a weekend. I'm just really excited. I feel the train is firmly on the tracks and headed in the right direction."

STAN WATTLES (#92 Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone): "Like everyone else, I'd like to walk away with a win, but if we finish in the top 10, I'd consider it a successful weekend. The first race always seems to be the toughest. We have some new team members this year, and we need a little time to get things sorted out. We need to find our comfort zone and regroup after the race to make any necessary changes." (About preseason testing): "I 'm very pleased with the progress we made during preseason testing. We spent a few days in Phoenix and in Miami preparing for the season and had some great results. We consistently ran toward the front and were very competitive. The crew seems to be working well together, and things are moving along as planned." (About expanded series schedule): "I think the expanded season will be good for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series and its drivers. When you have too much time between races, it's harder to keep your focus. The Indy Racing League has really taken the teams into consideration when they devised the schedule. A super-compact season seems to burn people out, and the Indy Racing Northern Light Series' new schedule starts in March and ends in September with 13 races in between, leaving room for expansion. Perfect!"

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Al Unser Sr.
Teams Panther Racing