Indy Racing League Test in the West press conference. Feb. 3, 2003 Young Stars: Sarah Fisher, Felipe Giaffone, Sam Hornish Jr., Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice, Tomas Scheckter, Tora Takagi, Dan Wheldon, Roger Yasukawa Part 2 of 2 Moderator: I'd...
Indy Racing League Test in the West press conference.
Feb. 3, 2003
Young Stars: Sarah Fisher, Felipe Giaffone, Sam Hornish Jr., Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice, Tomas Scheckter, Tora Takagi, Dan Wheldon, Roger Yasukawa
Part 2 of 2
Moderator: I'd also like to mention that one of the youngest of all our young guns is A.J. Foyt IV, 18 years old, and they just announced before this press conference that he will be driving the #14 Conseco G Force Toyota. A.J. is not with us in this press conference because we assume you were able to get his comments in the previous press conference.
We'll open it up to questions from the audience.
Q: Vitor, you said they've kind of assigned you the #2. Has that been clarified, you will be the driver of the #2 car?
Meira: I'm going to drive some races. I don't know which ones, I don't know when. Who is going to start the championship, I don't know. But all I know is that for sure I'm going to drive some races. That's so far what I can say, as long as the package is going to be the same one, the Menard Chevrolet. From now that's all I can say, that I just going to drive some races. I don't know how many, and I don't know when.
Q: Tomas Scheckter, you go into this season with a different team. You won your race last year. You showed that you were pretty fast. Do you expect that this is a championship-contending team that you now have and that you have enough experience and maturity and patience to win a championship?
Scheckter: Well, I mean, for sure the team is a championship-winning team. They've proved it many times. I think the pressure is on me. I think I've got a lot to prove. I had a year last year with ups and downs. I need to take all the ups, learn what I can from them, take all the downs and learn from them.
I need to make sure that this year I put it all together. Hopefully with the team and the package that Chip has put together, I'll be able to do a good job, and so will the team.
Q: Sarah, coming up through the short-track racing, with the changing face of the IRL, do you see opportunities in the future for young American drivers much like yourself who have come up through the ranks, but as unfunded drivers?
Fisher: Well, just for clarity, I wasn't a funded driver, either. I'm not from a family that has money at all. My mom is a teacher; my dad is self-employed as a little engineer. I know how it comes to be from that route.
It's going to be a lot harder for drivers like myself to get into the IndyCar Series just because there's an addition of so many great drivers coming along. It's just going to be a lot harder to secure something, definitely.
Q: Dan, you've been doing a lot of the initial testing for Andretti Green Racing. I guess it's pretty much fallen to you to figure out the car, figure out the engine. How is it all working so far?
Wheldon: Well, the Honda, I think the first test they did with other cars, actually I didn't drive. I think Tony (Kanaan) and Michael (Andretti) took over. It was real competitive. Personally, I wouldn't expect anything less from Honda. They've always won in every championship that they've been in.
The work I did was with the 2002 car. This will actually be my first day tomorrow in the 2003 car. But from what Tony, Dario (Franchitti) and Michael say, the team has done a fantastic job. We're ready to go. We're looking forward to it. I guess we'll see tomorrow afternoon.
Q: A lot of stress for you?
Wheldon: I prefer the stress. I'd much rather be driving than actually being here trying to get a drive, so it's a great opportunity.
Q: Dan, how do you feel that you will be the one selected to step into the car and keep it running for the rest of the season when Michael resigns, retires?
Wheldon: He's certainly the most successful driver right now in America. Obviously, he's competed in all the different series around the world and won races. It's big shoes to fill. But obviously, he's going to be on hand for me that I can learn a lot from him. This is going to be -- actually, this is not going to be a full season for me, but pretty much. I've got a lot to learn.
I do think he's going to be on hand for me all the time. I think having a team owner that has also been a very successful driver is also going to help that transition. He's been very, very good to learn from. We're looking forward to it.
Q: Dan, after May, are you going to drive the #7 car with Michael's crew or continue with the #26?
Wheldon: I will have a different crew for the Indianapolis 500.
Q: The #7 after that?
Wheldon: To be honest, I don't know that situation right now. I'm sure they're currently taking care of that.
Q: Sam, do you think this is your championship to lose? So many more teams that now look like championship contenders. Are you even fazed by that or do you just worry about what you have at Panther?
Hornish: I guess we'll start to see tomorrow. That will be the first sign of what's to come. It will be a long year. There's a depth of teams, but I think I raced against the best drivers at one point or another last year. Almost everybody that's here I raced against.
Who is to say? Winning one championship is hard enough. Winning two is really hard. Can you make it three in a row with the same driver? It will be tough to tell. I think we have as good a shot as anybody.
Q: Sam, Felipe and Sarah, of all of you people, you have the most experience in the series. Do you think that's going to give you any kind of an advantage with all the difficult competition you have got, not only on the floor here but the other drivers who we're still going to talk to?
Hornish: It's tough to tell. I'd like to say it's an advantage. If this was going to be the third year of the car that we ran last year, I'd say we have an advantage. Since we're starting with a new car and new engine package, we don't have a major advantage. The one thing we do know is we know the tracks, we know most of the drivers. Somebody that joins us that hadn't raced with us last year, they have to learn, with Eddie Cheever, Scott Sharp out on the racetrack, how to deal with that driver.
GIAFFONE: I think we're not going to have any advantage on them. They're new drivers, but we're talking about Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Kenny Brack. They're not new, they're not rookies. I think it's just going to be way more competitive.
Again, just like Sam said, you're just trying to find out how it's going to be running with them in those big tracks, who you're going to have to be a little bit more concerned for or not. But it's going to be tough.
Fisher: Even though I'm going into my fourth year this season, I only really truly consider last year's half of the season as experience that's going to carry me forward because I was with a first?class team who had people who were capable of winning, and people who were capable of making myself and Robbie Buhl win races.
I'm carrying on with those people, so I really only consider half of a year of really good experience.
Q: Sarah, when you met (Michael) Schumacher and (Alain) Prost, did that give you any inkling that sometime down maybe years in your future you would like to go to Formula One?
Fisher: I think every driver carries it in their mind to run F1. But for myself, I'm extremely fortunate just to be where I'm at running in the Indy Racing League, in the IndyCar Series. It's a tremendous opportunity for me because I'm an American. I'm a U.S. citizen. I was born and raised here to run the Indianapolis 500 and to compete in open?wheel racing here in the States. That's my number-one priority.
After meeting Schumacher and Alain Prost, they're two very down-to-earth people. Schumacher is very thankful for his team. He's very thankful for Jean Todt, everybody they've given him. Alain Prost is the same.
What I took away from that is to never change, be the same person that I am now, which is humble and down-to-earth.