Scott Sharp, Al Unser Jr. Part 1 of 2. Kimberly Miller (IRL): Joining us today we have Al Unser Jr. and Scott Sharp, the teammates from Kelley Racing. This will be their second year together, and we have asked them to join us today to talk about...
Scott Sharp, Al Unser Jr.
Part 1 of 2.
Kimberly Miller (IRL): Joining us today we have Al Unser Jr. and Scott Sharp, the teammates from Kelley Racing. This will be their second year together, and we have asked them to join us today to talk about the 2003 season and specifically the Test in the West, which starts next week, Feb. 3. It begins at California Speedway with a Media Day on Feb. 3 and Infiniti Pro Series practice. On Tuesday, Feb. 4 at Fontana, it will be the first day of IndyCar Series testing. Then they will have a travel day on Feb. 6 to go down to Phoenix International Raceway, where on Thursday there will be the Infiniti Pro Series testing and Friday and Saturday, IndyCar Series testing. Al, let us start out with you. Tell us about the Test in the West. This is the eighth year for the test. I know you have participated in the last couple of years. Tell us what that means to the team to get ready for the season.
b>Al Unser Jr.: Well, it just actually gets us all a chance to test on the same day with our competitors. Most of the teams come out and do the Test in the West. And really it just gives us a chance to kind of line each other up and see where we are competitively on the rest of the field. And so everybody participates in it, and so it gives us a chance, like I said, just to get out there with everybody on the same day, same conditions and see where we are.
K. Miller : Scott, this is, I do not know how many years you have participated, but I assume several years. Tell us what is important about going to a small track like Phoenix and a large superspeedway like Fontana at the same time and being able to see the different types of setups and the different types of tracks all in one week.
Scott Sharp: Well, I think everyone is on a pretty steep learning curve at the moment. I know certainly our team is. We are excited about the new Dallara. It is pretty radical in the steps they have taken from last year's car. Obviously, we are with Toyota. We moved to Toyota, and we are excited about that and also we have a lot of faces, new faces on the team. We are learning a lot, and I think the Test in the West to me signals it is getting closer to that countdown time, and it is getting closer to when we are actually going to drop the green flag and start the season off. So I think it starts to maybe take -- basically most of the teams will be doing some leisurely testing, and maybe it starts to take that next step up in pressure and the intensity. I think it is great to be able to combine the two. Obviously, they are completely different setups. We do not return to Fontana, of course, until the fall, but it gives us a great chance to get a little bit of high-speed, superspeedway running, which certainly we will get our fair share of this year, get a good feel for how the car stacks up there, as Al said, with a lot of our competitors presence. And, of course, then we go down to Phoenix for the site of our second race, so obviously I think it's a real important test, and teams will roll out of Phoenix knowing where they fit on short tracks, where they fit for Phoenix, do they need to go back and do some more, really just where you stack up.
K. Miller : You touched a little bit on new equipment. It is no secret that for 2003 the Indy Racing League has new chassis and engine specs and, as you mentioned, you guys are with Toyota for the first time. Talk to us first Scott and then Al, we will get your thoughts on this too; but how does the 2003 equipment compare to what you used in 2002?
S. Sharp: We are excited. A number of us had a pretty big test right after the New Year down in Homestead, ten or twelve pretty strong cars, and we were all running the speeds of the front row and the pole of last year right out of the box. So obviously we are really enthused about Toyota. We are excited to have a three-year deal with them. And just all the expertise and the technical experience that they have, I think it was pretty evident right out of the box. And the new Dallara car, and I think it has sort of been an exciting rivalry over the years that maybe has not gotten all the attention it should have, which is the (Panoz) G Force to Dallara rivalry. Those guys take that very seriously, and I think they have gone back and forth in years, too, maybe a slight advantage over the other, and I think Dallara started to roll with the dice a little bit more and go for a big, aggressive jump in the way they designed the car and some of the changes they have implemented to it. I love the new car and pretty excited to get going with it.
K. Miller : Al, what are your thoughts? It is pretty early to tell as far as the new Dallara chassis and the Toyota engine, but have you felt anything specific that you can talk about yet?
A. Unser: Well, definitely. I really like the Toyota's performance versus what we had last year. I feel that really the IRL, they have made an attempt to slow us down, and they have a little bit. We have not touched the superspeedway yet, but when we get out to Fontana, we will learn more about we need to do. But the new Dallara, like Scott said, is radically different, and we are still working with it. The biggest difference between last year and this year is the engine and the Toyota is just -- love the power, love the performance, everything about it, the drivability is great, and so we are looking forward to a great season.
K. Miller : With that we will go ahead and move into questions from the media.
Q: Yes, Al, I believe at this time last year you were, well, when you got to Phoenix for the test, you were, I think, still searching for a job at that point or maybe you already had something, and it just had not been released yet. Can you compare the difference between last year and this year?
A. Unser: Actually, no I cannot. This year is way different. You are correct, last year at this time I did not have a job and did not have a ride and so there is just no comparison between last year and this year. I am with a great team. The Kelley Racing team -- it was already a great team and now this year, like Scott mentioned a little bit, we have added Steve Newey as the vice president of racing (operations) and (team manager) (Paul) "Ziggy" Harcus. There is just a lot of people that have joined the team that I feel has brought the team to a higher level of competitiveness, which is needed because with the addition of Penske Racing last year. They raised the level of the IRL, and then of course now this year with the Andretti team. (Chip) Ganassi is running a full season. (Bobby) Rahal is coming with his race team. There is just a whole different playing field between last year and this year in the IRL, and I am just very, very proud to be with Kelley Racing because they had made the commitment to match that playing field. Scott and I so far have really been working well with each other. The team is just really working well together and so I am excited about this entire season coming up.
Q: Al, how does it feel to know that you are going to be racing against Michael Andretti again?
A. Unser: (Laughter) It feels great. Michael and I have had a lot of races in the past, and he is my direct contemporary with his, and we are real close to the same age. We have had some great races in the past, and with the IRL I really see the two of us having some great races in the future. I am very, very happy that Michael has seen the light.
Q: That is an interesting way to put it. Scott, you have been in the series from the inception, haven't you?
S. Sharp: Yes.
Q: I was talking to Michael Andretti a couple of weeks ago, and he was talking about this year's car. And you guys mentioned the drivability a few minutes ago, but he called it like a car that went back to the old CART series in the mid '90s that this year it is truly a real race car. Do you agree with that statement?
S. Sharp: Well, I mean, I do not think Michael drove our car a whole lot last year. He only drove it in one trim and that was speedway trim, which is probably the least downforce. So I think it is maybe hard for him to really make that judgment when you have not driven in a short oval trim, the 6-degree kind of downforce we have on the big, high-banked track trim. But no, I do not think it is all that much different than last year's car from an overall feel. I mean, certainly we are all taking technological steps forward, especially from the Toyota involvement, and obviously Dallara has gotten pushed harder from their end. But they are all evolutions, and so I think we have taken one more step forward, but I do not think it is radically -- I do not think you can compare one race car to being more of thoroughbred or something than last year's car, necessarily.
Q: Is this the best evolution?
S. Sharp: I guess we will find out. It is a little too early. We have only had a couple days in the car. From the look of it, it sure is. And I think having the kind of technical partners that the IRL has now, especially in Toyota and Honda and certainly for us with Toyota, I think it is going to be, for me, an experience that I have not had before with any type of manufacturer. So I think from an engine perspective, it is certainly a serious step forward, and it appears that way from the chassis manufacturers, as well.
Q: This question is for probably both of you to answer. I will talk with Al first. Al, you've driven the car this year; is there anything you may have to change in your driving, I guess, maybe habits or learn handling different or have to drive any different?
A. Unser: No. No, not really. I mean, the cars are radically different. The teams are figuring out what we need to do mechanically, but as far as the driver is concerned with, no, we will get out there and we will run the same driving style to really go at it with the same technique that we have in the past.
Q: Scott, your feelings on it?
S. Sharp: I do not think you adjust your style so much. I think as a driver, I certainly do, you are always trying to learn -- every lap you are taking, every test session you have there is something you pick up that you learn, situations you get put in maybe you learn from and you handle differently down the road. But I think we all sort of have a style that we have molded ourselves to over time. And it is a matter of getting the car to work within that style. Luckily, I think Al and I are pretty close styles. These days were able to get in and out of each other's car and without much change seem to be pretty happy and have the same comments. So I think that is real good for our two-car team to have it like that. No, I do not think that we are going to change how we drive the car a whole lot. It is just a matter of the different tracks you go to getting it to perform the way you want it to.
Q: I know you have not driven it in the traffic yet. Do you think that will be a problem with these cars?
S. Sharp: I do not personally, no. I mean, I think for that standpoint I am sure it is something Dallara spent a lot of time with in the wind tunnel and in the back of their minds, and I do not think aerodynamically it is necessarily that big of an alteration from last year's car that you are not going to be able to find ways to make it good in traffic. And furthermore, it is all about how you do versus everyone else. Theoretically, it could be that last year's car maybe was better or was worse in traffic. It does not really matter because everyone has this year's car. And there are so many Dallaras out there that a lot of people have Dallaras that it is up to us as a team to find a way to get our Dallara to work a little bit better.
K. Miller : While we are waiting for more questions to come in from the media, Scott, you currently have seven career IndyCar Series victories. You are second on the all-time list. Is that a record that you even have in the back of your mind of -- "Hey, I really want to break that record. I really want to be the leading all-time winner in Indy Car Series?"
S. Sharp: Well, I think the competition level is so high, and it just keeps getting higher. Maybe it is something you could think about at the end of your career. Certainly, when the IRL's had even a longer run than it has already had, and you start to have guys establishing levels of wins that are going to be hard to challenge. At this stage, and you have to think with a lot of the young guys around, obviously people, I think, the records are still in the single digits. So anybody who is in the series for a few years could certainly, on a good run, could break that. So no, we do not even worry about that. You just want to go out and have the best year you can. You want to put it together. I think as the driver's perspective, if you and the team are operating well, you have a pretty competitive car, and you just go do your job week in and week out, the wins are going to come.
K. Miller : And lets take a different way and ask you and Al both; is there a particular race that you want to win? Everybody says, "Yes I want to win them all." And everybody says, "I want to win Indy." But I mean is there anything from last season that you are thinking, "You know, I was so close last year; I really want to go back to this track, and I cannot wait 'til we get there." We will start with Scott and then we will ask Al.
S. Sharp: I tell you, there are so many of them that l love. I tell you what I am excited for how wild some of the high banks are going to be this year. I mean wild in a good way. It is going to be seriously aggressive. It is going to be a lot of players all in the same group together. It is going to be quite a show for the fans. So to come out of a couple of those races on top will be pretty thrilling. But other than that I think you name the race I want to win it, and obviously Indy is always at that top. And I think once again, you just have to hope that you and the team are competitive, running in the top five every race and being up there, and you are going to surprise yourself, I think, if that is the case with the races you end up do winning.
Sharp, Unser, part II