PANTHER RACING PRESS CONFERENCE Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, Homestead-Miami Speedway Mike Griffin, Sgt. 1st Class John Metzler, Bill LaFontaine, Vitor Meira MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the media room here at Homestead-Miami ...
PANTHER RACING PRESS CONFERENCE
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, Homestead-Miami Speedway
Mike Griffin, Sgt. 1st Class John Metzler, Bill LaFontaine, Vitor Meira
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the media room here at Homestead-Miami Speedway. My name is Mike King. Looking forward to starting my 10th year as the radio voice of the IndyCar Series. Want to welcome you to what is a very exciting announcement for the Delphi Panther team from here out, Mr. Griffin, known as the?
MIKE GRIFFIN: Delphi National Guard team. We're very excited about today, very excited about joining forces with the members of the Army National Guard and representing them to the best of our ability.
MODERATOR: Griff, of course, is no stranger to any of us. He is one of the co-owners of Panther Racing. It's great to have him here today.
Also joining us here today is Sergeant First Class John Metzler from the U.S. Army National Guard. Great to have you with us.
Bill LaFontaine, the Delphi corporate director for integrated marketing services.
And Vitor Meira, the driver of the No. 4 Delphi National Guard Honda.
I guess, Vitor, let's get reaction from you because this obviously gives you a fabulous opportunity to compete with every team that will line up in 2008 on the IndyCar Series grid. I know how much you like this team. I know how good this team seems to work with you. You've meshed so well. I guess your thoughts on this announcement today.
VITOR MEIRA: It's fantastic. I mean, we've been working on this for the whole offseason. It really paid off. It's really, really good to have National Guard on board with us. It's just so big of a deal. I mean, National Guard has 371 years, so it's the oldest of the Armed Forces. It's unbelievable how much not only the know-how but respect and everything that comes with what they have.
To be representing that, it's going to be awesome. We have a lot to learn with each other. It's a new season for us. It's a new adventure for the National Guard.
JOHN METZLER: We think joining forces with Delphi Panther Racing is a great fit for us.
GRIFFIN: He has some different ideas and approaches to how you attack the problems we encounter in racing.
That's caused us to kind of look at our entire engineering setup and say, 'Are we missing anything?' Are we doing things right? Reinforce the things we've been doing well, maybe add to those and update some of the ideas we've had.
We've also been able to, as a result of our new partners, our new situation, spend some time in the wind tunnel, which we haven't done for a couple of years. We've also been run on our seven-post shaker rig, which we haven't been able to do for a while. It all costs money. So this is has enabled us to take on those opportunities, as well.
We're very excited about it. Like Bill said, I'd like to echo, we see no reason why we can't win the championship again.
MODERATOR: Sergeant Major, talk about timing. It's a situation where I'm sure these negotiations have been going on for quite some time in terms of partnering with Panther Racing. Now this deal becomes official on the day that unification of open-wheel racing has been announced, since 1979. This is going to provide you with a fantastic boost entering your first year with open-wheel Indy-type racing.
METZLER: You're right. It's definitely going to bring a lot more vision to the IRL program, with Champ Car and IRL merging. So that's going to give us the fan base for our recruiting, to bring visibility to the National Guard, show us as a premier choice of service for any young man or woman.
I think the timing, coming on board with the big merger, couldn't have been better. I think '08 is going to be a great year for us in our recruiting, and also merging with Panther Racing and Delphi with this overall merger with Champ Car and IRL is just going to be huge all the way across the board for the whole series and the sponsors.
MODERATOR: Let me get a quick reaction from the other three regarding the unification announcement. Vitor, let's start with you. Suddenly now instead of 16, 17, 18 drivers on the grid to beat, you have 24 or 25 that you're going to have to finish in front of you. Your opinion on what was said here just a few minutes ago.
MEIRA: Again, it's a great thing. That's what we all wanted. Since '96 when the split happened, everybody has been talking about getting back together. That's what we all want. That's why there are top categories and upcoming categories. You want to be where the challenge is at. The more challenge we have, the better everybody gets. It works not only in racing but everything else. You want the challenge. You want to challenge yourself and to be challenged.
If I was a fan, looking at the overall picture, if I was a fan, I would be dying to watch the first race because it's going to be very, very cool to see all the Champ Car guys. On the beginning, I think until halfway through the season, we're going to, I think, still have a little separation, the Champ Car guys, the guys that came from Champ Car, how they going to do here or there. It's still going to be a little in ourselves, not only for competition, but for different categories. I think that's just going to be cooler.
Again, once more, if I was a fan, the bottom line, that's what we have to do is please the fans, make it better for them. If we make better for them, we are making better for ourselves, too. If I was a fan, I would be dying to watch the first race. That's why it counts the most.
MODERATOR: Bill, how about your reaction?
BILL LAFONTAINE: I think it's tremendous. I think Tony, Kevin, everybody who was involved in the negotiations I really think put a lot of things aside, really decided what was the best thing to do for open-wheel racing. I really applaud them.
There is no doubt for the fans who have been loyal and have seen these cars in action at 220 miles an hour, there is no motorsport in the world that's quite like it. I think when you add the caliber of drivers from Champ Car that are coming over to do battle with Vitor and the rest of the IRL regulars, I think it's going to be amazing.
I can't even imagine what it's going to be when we see the numbers of cars in the mid-20s, approaching 30, all battling it out. That's why he's going to have a little more pressure to qualify up front because I don't want him dealing in the back.
I think it's great. Just from an exposure standpoint, I think it's awesome for Delphi. I think our association with the league and with the Delphi Safety Team, I mean, we've been kind of at a plateau. This really is an exponential leap for open-wheel racing in the U.S.
Q: Griff, what about the IndyCar Series owner perspective on this?
GRIFFIN: Well, I don't know. I think I agree with everything that's been said already, obviously. I think the biggest impact really is going to be on the fan base, like Vitor mentioned, primarily because I think for a lot of people who are not hardcore fans, don't follow it on a daily basis or weekly basis, it's like: 'When is that race on? Which one?' If they don't know which series, they don't -- for a long time it's been really confusing for everybody. I think we've now clarified that picture.
There's one open-wheel race on the weekend, and it's everybody. We're all in it together. It isn't a matter of, 'Which one do you race in? We race in Indianapolis; we're in Indy racing. Do you race there? No.' So now there's only one series, one TV show, one organization and one championship. That's what we're here for.
MODERATOR: And one radio network.
GRIFFIN: That's a given, yes.
MODERATOR: Questions for members of Panther Racing, Delphi and the U.S. Army National Guard.
Q: Griff, you were pretty much down on the mat a few years ago, auctioning off equipment to get through the next season. What is it like to make the comeback, to be fully funded being able to go to the wind tunnel?
GRIFFIN: I think life is about opportunities, and it's about dealing with what you're given. It's very hard to have a major sponsor go away after nine years and say, 'Hey, it's been great, thank you very much, we're not going to play any more.' We had a team meeting, and at that team meeting we announced the fact that the primary sponsor was leaving. We told everybody on the team, if you have a family, a wife, kids, whatever, find a job. Winter is going to be a long time. We don't know if we're going to be here.
We managed to put it together and persevere and keep going. A lot of people came on board and helped us with that project, for which we're very grateful. As the new season started, every one of those guys that had left the team called and said, 'I'd like to come back.' That was the biggest vote of confidence for me.
In many ways we're like the National Guard, we're a family. There's a chemistry that goes on that it's pretty hard to describe. I'm sure all you fellows that wear the uniform, you know what it's all about. It's the same kind of situation where all for one and one for all. To have that vote of confidence from those people, then be able to work our way back up, obviously Delphi believed in us when nobody else did for a while, and they came on board and enabled us to continue to compete.
Considering what we had to work with, we did quite well. Now I'm excited to have full horsepower and be back up to speed again and say, 'OK, let's go, we're on an equal playing field, bring them on, let's go.' For that reason, I welcome the guys from Champ Car, as well. Let's see what you got. We're ready to go.
MODERATOR: Because of the length of the unification press conference, we're up against time constraints because of another press conference set to start in a few minutes. We want to thank you all for being here. Welcome aboard to the National Guard. Great to have you. We're looking forward to a great season for the National Guard Delphi team. Griff, congratulations to the entire ownership group. Vitor, looking forward to seeing you out front.