IRL: Robby Gordon/Thomas Knapp teleconference transcript, part 1

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript March 9, 2004 Present: Robby Gordon, Thomas Knapp and Gary Peterson Robby Gordon, 2004 Indy 500 owner/driver and Thomas Knapp, Team Manager Part 1 of 2 MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone.

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
March 9, 2004
Present: Robby Gordon, Thomas Knapp and Gary Peterson

Robby Gordon, 2004 Indy 500 owner/driver and Thomas Knapp, Team Manager

Part 1 of 2

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome two new names in 2004 to today's IndyCar teleconference. Menards Infiniti Pro Series owner/driver Gary Peterson, who last week announced his team would make its 2004 season debut in Phoenix next week, joins us on today's call. Later Indianapolis 500 veteran Robby Gordon will talk about his plans to run the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. Gary, let's start with you. Thank you very much for joining us today.

MODERATOR: Last night on the television show Wind Tunnel on the SPEED Channel, Indianapolis 500 veteran Robby Gordon announced his plans to run in this year's 88th running of the Indy 500 as an owner/driver, sponsored by Midwest retail chain Meijer. He will pilot a Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone in this 500, his 10th overall. Highly regarded engineer Thomas Knapp will lead the effort. Robby, thanks for joining us on today's call.

ROBBY GORDON: Thank you very much. I have Tom here, as well.

Q: You've been so close to winning the Indianapolis 500, leading in 1999 with just two laps to go before running out of fuel. Yesterday's announcement is obviously a sign of your commitment and desire to try to win this race.

ROBBY GORDON: Yeah. I've always enjoyed competing at Indianapolis. As a young child growing up, I always wanted to be able to compete there. I've been very fortunate the last nine times to compete. We've been competitive there many times. I thought if we were going to do a 2004 program, we need to try to align all the same stars we had back in '99 when we came so close to winning the Indianapolis 500.

Q: Obviously, the story this May for you will be to run the double with the running of NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later in the evening. Can you talk what it's like to race 1,100 miles in one day?

ROBBY GORDON: To do 1,100 miles is pretty tough. As a driver, Indianapolis, if you get your car right, I drive the car like a video game actually. Because if the car is set up right and you got it handling, that's what we work on for all month long. I think that's why Indy is a month long, it gives you time to get your car dialed in for qualifying and for racing. If you get your car set up right like we had in '99, like we had in 2002, the cars drive good, and you can do that race. It's almost more mental than physical. Even though you pull a lot of Gs in the middle of the corner, it's a very mental race. I've been able to do it, slide over to the Coca-Cola 600 and be very competitive there, as well, even though we have to start last.

Q: You've obviously qualified well at Indianapolis over the years, starting in the Top 10 on five separate occasions, including two starts on the front row. It's been said the four qualifying laps at Indianapolis are the most pressure filled in all of sports. Can you talk about that?

ROBBY GORDON: We've come close to being on the pole there. I'd say three times now. You know, you give it all you have, basically. It's probably the toughest part because we trim the cars out so much. There's no spec like there is at Texas or Atlanta. If you feel you can run maximum negative rear wing and hang on to the thing for four laps, so be it. And pretty much it's the driver and the team that gets the setup and balance right. Last year I think we definitely had the setup and balance right. We stuck our time out there at I think 11:30 a.m., 12:00 in the afternoon, stayed all day until the last 45 minutes of the day. So, you know, we know how Happy Hour is at Indianapolis. Track always picks up from 5 to 6 p.m. I think we'll be able to assemble a group of guys and a team that will be able to go for the pole. But the pole is obviously not the most important thing for us. For us, we've qualified well before, we haven't been on the pole. But the Indy 500 is the Indy 500. It's all about the race. I don't know if I would call it fortunate enough, but with the NASCAR schedule the way it is, I can spend a bunch of time down there during the month of May without losing focus on the NASCAR program, because there is a week off there, and we can go down and do a good effort for both programs.

MODERATOR. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions. Robby, did you say Tom is with you?

ROBBY GORDON: Tom Knapp is with me, as well as my general manager, John Story. I thought it would be important to have these guys here because I want everybody to know that it's not me trying to run the car and race the car and drive for Richard Childress Racing. We have quality people in every position at our organization.

Q: Robby, you've always been a guy who has been unafraid of jumping into something full tilt. I'm curious, wouldn't it have been a whole lot easier to just try to do this in somebody's second or third car instead of the owner/driver deal?

ROBBY GORDON: I have to be honest. I'm pretty high maintenance. For me to be a second or third driver, I don't look at myself at that level. I look at myself as a guy that can go to the Indianapolis 500 and have a shot at the pole, win the race. If we were going to do a program and just be someone's second or third driver, that wasn't really my interest. And I don't think it was Meijer's interest or Chevrolet's interest. I always wanted to get hooked back up with Thomas. He ran Team Menard. He knows how to do this game. He's very experienced in the IRL, has a great relationship with Dallara. I think we can do our own program and be just as competitive as doing someone's second or third program, and hopefully even be more competitive. But there's some good teams out there that do have cars available. Obviously, we had conversations with Panther. But our final decision came down to the guys like Thomas Knapp and my car chief. These guys have all done this game for a long time, and they've played in the IRL. They know that spec. I've been fortunate enough to drive for some great teams over the years, you know, from Derrick Walker to A.J. Foyt, Andretti Green last year, and even Team Menard. And that's how Thomas and I got hooked up. So I felt, provided the players that I wanted to put on our team could be available and come and play with us, I felt that we could orchestrate a team to be as competitive as any out there. @#Q: You spoke of the pressure of going for the pole at Indy. In your case, when you're going to do a double-duty thing, is it more a matter of playing it maybe slightly safe just to be sure you're in the show and get that one part of it out of the way?

ROBBY GORDON: I don't know. I mean we put a program together this year that gives us obviously all the tools we need to be competitive there. We will have two cars. We will have all the stuff. Is the pole the most important thing and is it worth getting hurt for the rest of the season? Absolutely not. Did I hang it out there last year? You bet. When there were 40 mph winds, the time was the quickest all the way until the wind started to die down late in the day. You guys know I'm going to hang it out there and do everything I can to go for it. But at the same time, I've got to look at the other sponsors we have involved with Cingular Wireless, Fruit of the Loom. We have Busch programs and (Nextel) Cup programs with them. And then not forget about Meijer, and know their goal is to be on the pole at the Indy 500. It's a fine line we've got to walk there.

Q: When you were a kid, what was the most memorable Indy that you ever watched? What made it so memorable?

ROBBY GORDON: I think, you know, I may be wrong when I say this, but I think it was '84 when Rick Mears won. I'm pretty sure. You know, he got a lap down early. He kept working on his car, kept working on his car. He finally got it where he was the fastest car at the end of the day. That's what Indianapolis is all about, because the track changes so much during the 500 miles. So do the tires and everything else. You know, that's something that Thomas (Knapp) and myself, we've had a good relationship on being able to work on the car and fine tune it, make it better the later the race went on.

Q: I know it's early to tell, but are the Penskes still the favorite team to beat out there, either Sam Hornish Jr. or Helio Castroneves?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, Roger's (Penske) built a reputation at Indianapolis. All you have to do is go to the scoreboard and look at all the wins he's established there. He's done it with different drivers, different managers, different engine packages. The guy is very buttoned up. I think every team desires to be at that level. If you look at how Roger has done it in the past, he's obviously brought in the best drivers he could hire, hired the best team managers, put the best packages together to win. That's what we've tried to do. I think that the Chevrolet engine is really strong right now. Obviously, the Hondas and Toyotas are good, as well. The Toyota won the last race with Penske. Hornish is extremely talented, and Castroneves knows his way around the 500, as well. We're going to have our work cut out for us, but they are definitely the team to beat. You know, he does it right. I've got a lot of respect for Roger Penske.

Q: Was it a long decision to make between the Dallara and the Panoz G Force?

ROBBY GORDON: I kind of have to leave that one up to Thomas. He's sitting here. We've been trying to watch winter testing, Homestead. I think it comes down to it was Thomas' decision. I'd like to let him comment on that real quick.

THOMAS KNAPP: Our working relationship at the 500 has always been based around Dallaras and running Dallaras. They continue to be a beyond-reproach firm to do business with, with excellent engineering support. For what we need to get done in the short-term, they deliver very high-quality cars to you in the first place. So we certainly spoke to the G Force people and respect the effort that they have in the IRL, but in the end, it was probably always going to be Dallaras just because it keeps our learning curve with the new car short.

Q: Robby, something different I think this year as opposed to past years when you have done the double, the Grand National car, are you planning on running that car in Charlotte for the 300 or are you going to forego that race this year?

ROBBY GORDON: The Busch Grand National car. Right now, it's not on our schedule.

Q: My follow-up to that is, this year seems like, in my opinion, as far as the schedules go, the Nextel Cup schedule seems lighter than normal in May, but that could only help you in getting prepared for the 500.

ROBBY GORDON: I believe it's a little more difficult just because of the Richmond race on pole weekend. It frees me up a little bit going into Richmond. We will run the Grand National car in Richmond on Friday night, and the Cup car on Sunday night. But, you know, it will be tough. But I think the biggest thing we have going for us is great supporter like Textron that have Bell Helicopters, Citation Jet, will help me get back and forth between the races.

Q: Robby, you said last night with Dave (Despain), are you serious about running Paris-Dakar?

ROBBY GORDON: I love off-road racing. You know, I've been fortunate enough to drive some pretty awesome cars over the years from, you know, CART cars when they were 1,000 horsepower racing machines to the IRL cars now, Cup cars, my trophy truck. Paris-Dakar is really the only thing I haven't done. If an opportunity opened up there, obviously the stars would have to align with the Cup effort. Everybody would have to be on the same page with it. You guys know I love to race. I think, you know, if it's not next year, in the near future, it's something I want to do.

Q: This question is for Thomas. With the new engine coming along, the new rules for the 500 this year, do you think that maybe helped you? You are going to have the same rules everybody else does.

THOMAS KNAPP: The IRL has instituted testing mandates that are fairly restrictive this year anyway. But, yes, certainly no matter who you are, the 3-liter introduction at Indianapolis is going to have everybody back on their heels a little bit. It certainly levels the playing field going into the event.

Q: Do you have any knowledge of the new engine? Are you (inaudible) with the chassis?

THOMAS KNAPP: We're letting GM -- Robby has excellent relationships with Chevrolet. We don't have any question that we'll have excellent power from them. I'm a tune-the-chassis, gain-100 horsepower guy. But we expect to have excellent V8s in our car when we begin practice at Indianapolis.

Q: Robby, there is an open test at Indianapolis at the end of April. Are you planning on attending that?

ROBBY GORDON: Yes, we will be there. It's the 27th or 28th, something close to that?

Q: Right.

ROBBY GORDON: We will be there for that.

Q: What is it about Indy and doing the double? Is it the challenge or is it the fact that the Speedway is just in your blood, and no matter what you're doing, you're going to try to race the 500?

ROBBY GORDON: You know, first things first. I do have the blessing of Richard Childress, so it doesn't matter. I wouldn't say no matter what I'm doing, because I wouldn't risk the opportunity I have there with RCR, Cingular Wireless. Indy is Indy. You know, for me growing up, like I said, as a young kid, always watching the Indianapolis 500, having a hero like Rick Mears to look up to, because we both came from similar backgrounds with off-road racing. I love that place. I have a saying: I say I wake up for Indianapolis. It's true. I mean, doesn't matter if it's the stock car there, we've been competitive the last two years, had a shot at winning both years there, or an Indy 500 car, we seem to get around that racetrack real well.

Q: How much does that second place, the year you got so close to winning the Indy 500, still stick in your craw?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think, you know, that year was new for us because we were a CART team, and we came over and played with Thomas' IRL team at Team Menard. That's where Tom and me got hooked up. You look back and learn from your mistakes, I guess. It was so easy to come down pit lane and just take fuel, I still would have been the first car out. I think this fuel strategy thing, the older you get, the more experience you get. That was a huge mistake on our part. The key to the whole thing is we are competitive when we show up there. We do have a shot at winning every time. So learn from your mistakes, go back and try to eliminate as many variables as possible.

Part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Helio Castroneves , Rick Mears , Gary Peterson , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Richard Childress Racing