IRL: Robby Gordon/Thomas Knapp teleconference transcript, part 2

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 2 of 2 Q: You'll have to do some stuff at...

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 2 of 2

Q: You'll have to do some stuff at Lowe's Motor Speedway and Richmond. Do you have someone who will be standing in for you and maybe doing some extra setup work for you at the Speedway?

ROBBY GORDON: At the Speedway right now, our sole focus is the No. 70 Meijer Chevrolet. We don't have plans on running a second car. We don't have plans on bringing a second driver as of right now.

Q: You will be doing all of your own setup and everything else; you don't have somebody in there to maybe help you out if you need it?

ROBBY GORDON: I'm pretty confident, looking back at how we did last year with Andretti Green, I did most of the qualifying setups there and race setups. You know, I worked with those guys real close. I'm pretty confident that we'll get it right. Thomas' experience in qualifying has been very good. His race setups have been very good in the past. The relationship that we've established with Dallara, Tom is going to go there and do a wind tunnel test just to understand the car better, spend some time in Italy with their engineers. We feel we'll be able to hit it. Just shocks, springs, front downforce, rear downforce, roll centers. It's the same stuff we play with every weekend, even though it's a Cup car or IndyCar Series car. You have to find the sweet spot in the chassis and get it around the racetrack.

Q: Other than Tony Stewart and John Andretti, do a lot of the other drivers think you're kind of nuts doing this?

ROBBY GORDON: I don't know about "nuts". I think a lot -- the ones that may think I'm nuts haven't been fortunate enough to drive one of these cool cars and understand why Tony and myself and John still like to do it. I'm just a racer. Like I say, it doesn't matter if it's the car parked outside our shop. I'll race you around the building twice, if you want. Don't get me wrong, it's Indianapolis. It's a great opportunity. We're going to have a lot of fun with it. We've just got our fingers crossed that we get it right and make the right decisions. Now with only one tire manufacturer, there's not much decision there. Dallara and Panoz G Force both really build good cars. But we've had good experience with Dallara in the past. Chevrolet, we've seen how hard they've worked on their IRL program, so we look at it more as a picking-your-package program. We feel our package is competitive enough to go there and be competitive.

Q: This will be your 10th Indy. You've driven in the Daytona 500 seven times. You have done the Baja. Also you won two road races last year. Do you feel you're probably the most versatile driver in the world right now?

ROBBY GORDON: I don't know. There's a lot of really good race car drivers out there. I was watching last night before I went on Wind Tunnel and they were talking about Jeff Gordon driving the Formula One car. There's a group of us drivers, IRL drivers, Cup drivers, obviously Michael Schumacher is probably the man of the men right now, the men of the men, however you want to say it. I'm sure he could drive a Cup car or off-road, anything else. I've been able to adapt very quick from one car to the next in the past, get up to speed right away, hopefully not making too many mistakes. The Cup car has probably been my most difficult car that I've ever had to adapt to just because they don't make a lot of downforce, they make a lot of power. Small tires, they are heavy, everything you hear on Days of Thunder. It's amazing what you can learn on ESPN. Isn't that how they say it? But the Cup car has been the most difficult car to adapt to just because the balance changes so much as it goes through its fuel load. Obviously, I'm with a very established team there, and it's still not easy. The Indy cars, I have a lot more experience with. Aero balance that I like is 39% front. If the car is much more than that or much less than that, I'm complaining about it. You just learn what that balance is and you get it right. I just like to race. Doesn't matter if it's the golf cart or the trophy truck. Heck, I even raced a Class I buggy, which I haven't done in years, about half a month ago at Laughlin. We won day one in that. I don't know. I'm just fortunate enough that I grew up racing off-road cars and it taught you a lot of car control.

Q: When you speak about running all these different types of cars, is it a personal challenge to you not just to run them, but to be very competitive in them? Is that like a pride thing for you, the fact that you can say, "I haven't just participated; I've managed to shine in each one of them"?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, it gives you a good feeling. I race to win. You know, sometimes my attitude maybe in the past has shown a little more. It's all because I want to win, and I have so much desire to wi I think as you get older, you learn how to cope with the not winning a little better. But it drives me absolutely crazy when we're not competitive at the racetrack. You know, this year we told our sponsors, Fruit of the Loom, we'd be competitive in the Busch car. We've been competitive right out of the box. We came close to sitting on the pole and winning Daytona with our first Busch team. As a group, we work really hard, try to dot all our I's and cross all our T's with the building process and the management process. As a race car driver, I try to surround myself with the best people I can in the business and then just drive the car from there. That's why we've gone off and hired guys like Thomas, John Story, Bob Temple who runs the Busch car, and just have a lot of fun.

Q: When you do have success in each division, as they come and go, is it something where you kind of cross it off in your mind with a little bit of pride and say, "Did that"?

ROBBY GORDON: You know, I got to be honest, last year at Indianapolis, we didn't test or I didn't test at all. To go there and not drive a car in a year and sit on the front row at Indianapolis was -- that really made me feel good, especially because we sat on the pole most of the day. If it wouldn't have rained, we would have been on the pole for the Indy 500. I only drove the car five days before qualifying for the first time in a year. Yeah, it's fun that I can go and be competitive, but it's not all me, it's obviously the people you surround yourself with. When I was driving for Andretti Green, they gave me good cars, good engineering, all the stuff. In this sport, the race team is so important. The cars and the setup and the engines and the transmissions, the drag, everything that goes along with it can make a great race car driver look bad or can make a bad race car driver look pretty good. You look at how the setups and the balance can make someone look good and bad, it's amazing. I think downright driving I wouldn't say is not as important as it used to be, it's still important, but it takes a whole group of engineers, mechanics, team members to have good setups and have good race cars.

Q: If I give you a choice right now, and I've missed part of the teleconference, if you get a choice right now to win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, what does Robby Gordon choose?

ROBBY GORDON: In 2004? We already missed the Daytona 500.

Q: I mean, in your career. One more shot in your career to take one of them.

ROBBY GORDON: Come on, you guys a long time ago said it was my last chance back in 1998. I saw the magazine the other day. I don't know. That's such a difficult question to answer because obviously Richard Childress wants me to say the Daytona 500, and Cingular Wireless wants me to say that. I have Chevrolet and Meijer here at the Indy 500 saying, "You better say the Indy 500." I just want to win. If I could ever be fortunate enough to win both of them, it would put me into a category that only Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt are in. We're going to try to do the best job we can every time we get behind the wheel of any race car.

Q: 10 years now of Tony George's announcement for the IRL. Do you think over this 10-year period that open-wheel drivers as a whole have been helped or hurt by having two divisions?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I'm a little confused on the 10 years, because I could have --

Q: His announcement was 10 years ago this week. (The racing) started in '96.

ROBBY GORDON: It's 2004, that's eight years.

Q: Whatever. Let me do the math, you drive the race car. Have the two divisions helped or hurt drivers as a whole?

ROBBY GORDON: Man, if you look at Indy cars as a whole, obviously there's more teams because you have the WORC (OWRS) or CART or whatever, you have the IRL. I don't know. I think -- not do I think, but I know Tony's (George) package and mindset from the beginning was to reduce costs and put on better races. He's done both of those. You know, my hat's off to Tony there. Myself, I love racing Indy cars on road courses, as well. I think we've hurt Indy car road racing. Is that something that Tony can pick up in the future? For sure. When he does, I think these cars will be just as exciting as anything we've had in the past, except for the 1,000 horsepower and the 3,000 pounds of downforce, whatever they made back in 1995 But I think he has a good spec. I think it's hard to judge all of it based on the making of. the IRL because the economy has obviously taken a turn. TV coverage for open-wheel racing probably has taken a bit of a turn. There's so many variables. I'm just glad I get to do both of them. I still get to drive the Cup car and the IRL car.

Q: The cost of putting a team together for one race is massive. To cars, engines, it's not only personnel. Is there a chance that the team would stay together with another driver for the rest of the IRL season?

ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think we could all dream of those types of things. I can honestly say right now we don't have anything. But if we do a good enough job with our sponsors we have now and the team, go there and be very competitive, you never know what happens. We came really close, John Story and myself, doing a deal with John Menard to run his IRL effort for 2004. We ended up losing that to John Barnes at Panther. But that program, we were real close to having that in-house, which would have helped our Indy 500 program as well because we would have had a team established and cars would have been running. But we lost out on that. It was something that we wanted to do, but we would only do it if we could have guys like Thomas Knapp run the program for us. With my Cup effort, Busch programs, stuff we have going, I would need someone at his level to manage that. Thomas and me, we haven't really talked about that. After Indianapolis, I'm sure if we established a good, strong team, you know, the guys worked good together, we would entertain the opportunities, but at the same time right now we are a well-funded Indy 500 effort where we can go there and be competitive.

Q: I know in talking to you both times when you've been at the track for the Brickyard and for Indy, one of the things I've always liked about you is I think you have a true appreciation for the Speedway and the history there. How much does that weigh into your desire to run open-wheel at Indianapolis, just the overall symbolism of what it means to racing?

ROBBY GORDON: You know, I love that place. It's Indianapolis, and you have to respect the racetrack, because it will bite you if you don't respect it. You know, racing heritage, from the beginning, started around Indianapolis. We're just fortunate enough that we get to go back there with good sponsors and good people and have an opportunity to race there again.

Q: Every August, all of us ask, is the Brickyard closing in as being as big as the Daytona 500? That argument will always probably go on. Is the Indianapolis 500, some people nationally have said it's lost luster in the few years, is it still bigger than the Daytona 500?

ROBBY GORDON: I think maybe in the beginning of IRL when they didn't have the Penskes, Ganassis, the big teams, big drivers showing up at Indianapolis, maybe philosophy-wise people thought they may have lost it. But Indianapolis is still huge internationally as far as TV coverage. They still get great ratings here in this country. They still sell the place out.

Q: Is it (Indianapolis 500) still the most desirable race in the world for a race car driver to win?

ROBBY GORDON: Man, you put me in a real tough situation when I have to answer that one. For me, it is. You know, I look at Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon. No, they're not Mario Andretti, Arie Luyendyk. The names and faces change as the years go on, just like back when Granatelli used to run a team there. Granatelli is no longer around the speedway. The game changes as years go on. The names change. It's still the Indy 500, though. It's still a very, very difficult race to win. You have to be a fast driver, but a smart driver, and have a good team behind you.

Q: This question is more in tune with NASCAR. There has been a lot of talk about field fillers. Relate that to the Indy 500. What is your opinion on field fillers on a whole? Do you think everyone who is fast enough is deserving of a right to be there in the race or are they just creating hazards?

ROBBY GORDON: In our sport, in NASCAR, there's so many things that happen. I mean, last weekend you could have called Robby Gordon, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. field fillers because we were junk at Phoenix -- Las Vegas, sorry. We missed the setup. We were all over the place. "Field fillers" is probably not the right term. You know, I think last night on Wind Tunnel, Robin (Miller) said, hey, he would love to have 18 cars that could go there and be competitive. Formula 1 puts on a good race with 20 cars. Does it take 43 cars? Probably not. In NASCAR, though, 30 of those teams could win the race. It sounds crazy when you say those numbers, but it's true. Look at Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray. There's 30 guys that can win a Cup race on any given weekend I think it's more because their spec is so similar, same tire. NASCAR does a good job at managing the manufacturers, so nobody has a big advantage, and they keep it competitive. I think that the IRL has done a really good job at that. I just think with the economy that we're in right now, I know it's starting to back off, but at the same time the IndyCar Series is very expensive. To run the Indianapolis is a $ 1 million-plus program to go there and be competitive.

Q: You said earlier right now as it stands you are not planning on bringing in a second car for the 500 attempt, correct, it's just going to be you?

ROBBY GORDON: Right now we are entering two cars under the No. 70 Meijer Chevrolet Dallara.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We threw a lot of questions at you. We appreciate you joining us today. We will see you next month at the open test in Indianapolis.

ROBBY GORDON: Thank you very much. Thanks for tuning in today, guys.

Part 1

See also:
Gary Peterson

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Michael Schumacher , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Jamie McMurray , Mario Andretti , Gary Peterson , Tony George , Bob Temple , John Barnes , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.