An interview with Dillon Battistini, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Raphael Matos Firestone Indy Lights Press Conference Transcript THE MODERATOR: Preparing for the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two very talented race drivers. Arie ...
An interview with Dillon Battistini, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Raphael Matos
Firestone Indy Lights Press Conference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: Preparing for the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two very talented race drivers. Arie Luyendyk, Jr., tremendous beginning of the 2008 season with some quality runs. A little heartbreak at St. Petersburg, but great runs at Homestead and Kansas. Raphael Matos, whose first experience in this series was to win both ends of a doubleheader at St. Petersburg. He came in with great racing credentials, Star Mazda champion, comes off a championship in the Atlantics, as well. Thank you very much for joining us.
Arie, perhaps the place for a breakthrough win would be Indianapolis. Great place to get it. Not only is that a possibility, but a new sponsor for you.
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Yeah, we have Targus Flying Feather as our new major sponsor. So they're on for this race and the rest of the year. It's very exciting for me. Although I'm not a fisherman, I'm definitely willing to learn. It's quite interesting because it comes at a perfect moment for this race. Our momentum is moving forward. Hopefully we can get a win for their first win with us.
THE MODERATOR: Heard you chatting with the media about your other experiences that have taken into to you some far flung places.
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I competed in the rookie sessions for the Dutch team in A1GP. That was definitely a good experience, I think that's helped on the road courses. St. Pete was definitely a disappointment. The first race was a solid sixth place. It was a good result. I was definitely looking to improve in the second race and didn't really get that opportunity with a first-lap accident. It was a shame.
But I think everyone in our championship has struggled one race. That's what's kept us in the points. So right now we're fifth in points, Raphael is fourth. We're looking to improve this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Raphael, you come off a tremendous 2007 with a championship. Congratulations on that. It's no surprise to us that you found your way into Victory Lane again in the Indy Lights Series. Talk about your team, your chance at the Freedom 100, your aspirations as you continue to progress the racing ladder.
RAPHAEL MATOS: Well, first of all, we have a great team. I think AGR, AFS, they did an amazing job putting this effort together. We've been quick everywhere we went. I think we perform really well everywhere, every race. We missed a little bit in Homestead. We certainly had a very fast car in St. Pete. We won a race. Could have won the second race as well. Kansas, again, we missed a little bit. It was exactly the opposite problem we had in Homestead.
You know, we had a really good test here in Indianapolis a month ago. We certainly think that we have a very fast car for qualifying, and hopefully we'll nail the setup for the race this time. It's very important to have a balanced car for the race, because it's such a high-speed track.
We have a lot of momentum going. I think we have everything we need in the team to perform well. I think the performance is there. We just need to put everything together and go for the victory, I think.
Q: Arie, how tough is it to be a son of a legend here? A lot of expectations. And, Raphael, do you think it's important to run a series like the Indy Lights before you step up? A lot of guys come in and get a ride in the 500 or try to qualify. How important is the series to you?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I'll give you the first part of the answer. You know, like you hear from Marco (Andretti) and you hear from Al (Unser III), for us it's no different, the pressure, than any other driver, it's just something that you grow up with. It's pretty normal.
Being at the Speedway, it's obviously a place where my father's had great success. It's somewhere where I would like to have the same success. So obviously I'd like to do well here.
I finished third here in 2004 with (Sam) Schmidt (Motorsports). I think the AFS Andretti guys have a better car. Hopefully, you know, we can stick it up front and lead all day on Friday. That would definitely take off a lot of pressure. Looking just to do my best.
RAPHAEL MATOS: I think it's really important, a series like Indy Lights. I think it's the best way to prepare yourself for IndyCars. Obviously you're learning all the tracks. You're learning how to develop the car on an oval, on a road course, working with the engineers. It's just a very similar environment. I think it's the ideal situation to prepare yourself.
Q: Raphael, can you talk to the connections you have to the Brazilians in the 500 field, guys you worked with, (Tony) Kanaan, Helio (Castroneves)?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Yeah, I'm pretty close with Tony because he races for Andretti Green, as well. He's always giving me a lot of advice. Yeah, as a matter of fact I was on the radio trying to listen to all the AGR drivers last week. I spend a lot of time on the radio learning as much as I can. I think that's going to help me in the future.
Q: Arie, I was talking to James Davison last night. He said these cars are tough to drive here. Do you find the Indy Light car tough here as opposed to the full-blown IndyCar?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I think so because, just like the IndyCar Series, we're trying to trim out as much as we can just to be quickest. These cars seem to move around a lot more here than the big car does. The big car seems to be more affected by wind, where this car doesn't seem to have that problem.
But as far as the balance of the car, you need to be really aggressive here to be fast, especially in qualifying. So it is difficult. This car, everyone has the perception that this car is easy to drive, but I think if you look at the Kansas race and you look at the Homestead race, these cars this year seem to be more difficult to drive. I don't know why. They added some intrusion panels to the front of the car. That might have affected the balance.
But it seems like the cars are pretty difficult to drive this year. I think that's making it better for Rafa and I because it's really putting it in the drivers' hands. I think this race, more than ever, it's going to be really important to have a good balance.
Q: Rafa, have you had a chance to test in an IndyCar yet?
RAPHAEL MATOS: No, not yet.
Q: Arie, you had a longer experience in the Indy Lights Series. Many of the drivers that have come in this year are 18, 19 years old. Do you find they come to you for older brother advice about situations maybe not on the track but off the track, how to handle media?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: No, I don't think so. Drivers, I don't know, we all have pretty big egos. I don't think there's much asking of advice going around. James Davison, he's come up to me a few times, asked me a few things. That's funny you say that. That's about it really. And this guy right here. But that's because we like to work together. Other than that, not really friends on or off the track really.
Q: Raphael, considering you've only done the couple ovals this year, how do you consider the challenge of Indianapolis in comparison to the road and street courses that you're more familiar with and have a lot of experience on?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Well, for me, I'm still learning quite a bit. I mean, to be honest with you, my first oval race was Kansas because Homestead, my car was so bad that I couldn't race with anybody. So Kansas I was able to race against Arie, against a lot of guys, you know, drive behind traffic and really feel the car, what the car does in traffic.
You know, I'm still learning quite a bit. I think for qualifying pace, I feel a hundred percent. I feel I can get everything out of the car. I think I can learn a lot from Arie. He kind of knows what he needs from the car for the race. I'm trying to understand a little bit better the dynamics of the car so I can make the proper change for the race and perform better in the race.
But I think I did one thing in Homestead, and Kansas I did the opposite. So I'm kind of finding the balance now. I hope I can find the right balance here for Indy.
Q: How encouraged are you that Hideki (Mutoh) and Alex Lloyd have moved up into the 500 field this year?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Well, from my perspective, Alex (Lloyd) is super talented. All the guys who have come through are really talented. It's nice to see them do well. We always root for them, or I always root for them, because it just shows the depths of the Indy Lights field. Hideki (Mutoh) has done an excellent job this month. Alex is doing great, as well. I know they'll be strong in the race.
It's nice to see them do well. Hopefully the champion of this year will move up, as well.
RAPHAEL MATOS: Yeah, same thing. You know, I have a fairly close relationship with Hideki because I'm always there listening to him. I'm always talking to him about the car. As a matter of fact, Hideki's engineer from last year, he's my engineer this year. So there's a lot of information we had from last year from Hideki.
Hideki, for sure he's doing a great job. He's the best rookie out there right now. I think Alex is doing a great job as well. I raced against Alex in 2006 in St. Pete. He's a very tough guy. I think both guys are doing a great job.
Q: The opening laps have been pretty interesting here the last few years. A lot of guys really going for it. Do you expect the same type of start? Any advice to some of the newcomers?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: I won't give too much advice (laughter). I know I'm going to be going for it. The first few laps here are really important because I think around this place, depending on what kind of aero you're running, it's hard to pass. You need to take advantage of the starts and restarts. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of moving around. Hopefully we qualify first and second and we won't have to deal with that.
Q: Curious, because I don't know about your background, has it always been about IndyCars or do you have aspirations beyond? Some people talk F1. Helio was talking about NASCAR.
RAPHAEL MATOS: To be honest with you, I never really had a chance to choose what I was going to do. I had to take the opportunity I had in front of me, to be honest with you. I did go-kart in Brazil. I did some Formula Ford racing in Brazil. I had to choose if I had to come to the United States or Europe. I didn't have the sponsors to go to Europe, so I chose here in the United States. I saw that there was better opportunity here. It certainly was.
I came here. I did Formula Dodge National. I came through the ladder system, what they called the Mazda ladder system. I did Atlantics for two years trying to win the championship. I finally won the championship. I was supposed to go to Champ Car, then the Champ Cars, they finished.
Before that I had an offer from AGR. I thought that was a very, very nice offer for the long-term future. That's why I took the offer. I think it was the best option for me. In the end of the day, it played out really well because Champ Car folded. It was the best option for me, for sure.
Formula One for me, obviously I think if I had the opportunity to go to Formula One, it would be great. For me, I think I want to win the title this year and I want to win the IndyCar title. That's what I want to do.
Q: Rafa, I talked to a driver yesterday who likes a loose car, play in the car. Arie likes a balanced car. What is your preference in setup? How do you think that gives you an advantage on the track?
RAPHAEL MATOS: I like a balanced car, of course. I don't like a loose car. On an oval definitely not (laughter). In Homestead I think I had a car that had too much understeer. In Kansas I had a car that was a bit too loose. It was finally a balanced car towards the end of the race when I crashed with Simmons.
So I think the best is a balanced car. I think maybe in Indianapolis if you have a little bit of understeer it's better than a loose car. You don't want to be worried about the back of the car. If you have a bit of understeer, it's no big deal, I think.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming in.
Dillon, we're glad you made it. What a way to start off your Indy Lights season, with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, some quality runs since then. Welcome to Indianapolis. Obviously a big challenge.
DILLON BATTISTINI: Yeah, thanks very much. I'm really looking forward to it. The team and the car has been really strong on every oval circuit that we've been so far. Hopefully it's going to be a good race for me.
THE MODERATOR: Anxious to get on the racetrack at Indianapolis. You've had a look at it. You've watched some of the practice I'm sure here. It's a challenge.
DILLON BATTISTINI: Yeah, it is. It feels really quick when you're going round. It's definitely a challenge. Each corner is different slightly in profile and the banking. It's definitely the trickiest of the ovals that I've been to so far.
Q: I don't know anything about you, so I have to ask a question. Are you following in the footsteps of other Englishmen that have found this circuit or the American way of getting to IndyCar a pretty good way to go?
DILLON BATTISTINI: Yeah, you could say that. Some of the guys that are in IndyCar now I used to race in karts, like Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson. Darren Manning I raced in karts, as well. I'm kind of following them. We all started at the same time, but I had a bit of a hollow period where I struggled to find money earlier in my career, so now I'm playing catch-up a bit. But I'm nearly there now.
Q: When you came to the Indy Lights Series you had immediate success, winning the race at Homestead, led the Indy Lights Series for a while, dropped back a bit. How has your performance and that of your team met or not met your expectations as we go into the fifth race of the season now?
DILLON BATTISTINI: I was expecting to be quite competitive straightaway, but I didn't really expect to go out and win the first race. That was a pleasant surprise. The ovals are very challenging, for sure. But I've realized that it's down to the car a lot, as well. It's perhaps more important to have the car right on an oval than it is on a street track. A lot of the credit has to go to the team and the car, definitely.
I'm really pleased overall. St. Pete was a bit disappointing because a stone went through the oil cooler in the first race and the engine blew up, which meant I had to start right from the back in the second race as well, which cost me the lead in the championship I think. There's a long way to go. If it wasn't for that blown engine, I'd have been in the top four every race so far. I'm really pleased.
Q: Is it about IndyCars for you or are you thinking F1? If you had a perfect world rising up through the ranks, where would you like to be?
DILLON BATTISTINI: I definitely want to go to IndyCar. Earlier in my career I was focused on Formula One. For one thing, this is a more fun career path. It's a bit more of a sport than a business. All the cars are the same, so it comes down to the team, the driver and the relationship with the engineer rather than who has the best equipment. So I really like that.
Q: How have you worked with your teammate, given his experience is more in NASCAR and stock cars, and you come from more of an open-wheel background in Europe?
DILLON BATTISTINI: Well, we get on great and we don't hide anything from each other. It's a good relationship that we have. I have the experience with single seaters in open-wheel and he has the experience with ovals. So we try to help each other out. I think that's helped the team to come up with a really good car for us in the races so far.
Q: You're not the first Indy Lights driver to tell us there's a difference in atmosphere, more relaxed, perhaps more fun on this side of the Atlantic. Can you talk more about that, why that's so.
DILLON BATTISTINI: I'm not sure really how to answer that one. I haven't actually done that much racing in Europe. I did a lot in karts. Then when I went into cars, I raced in Formula 600, which is like a cheap alternative to Formula Ford. Then I did Caterham racing in 2003, then I went to Asia and did two years in Asian Formula 3, which is a lot cheaper than doing it in the UK or anywhere in Europe.
I don't have that much experience of car racing in Europe actually. But you can just see from all the politics that are going on, the stress factor for the drivers and everyone, it just seems to be a lot more fun and laid back over here. Even though it's obviously very serious as well, it just seems like a great career path.
Q: (No microphone.)
DILLON BATTISTINI: Probably. Especially with the Brazilian drivers, you see them all partying all the time. I don't know that many drivers in IndyCar yet. I know some of them, perhaps five or six. But the Indy Lights field, they're great. I don't have any problems with anyone.
THE MODERATOR: You won a championship, did you not?
DILLON BATTISTINI: I did two years of Asian Formula 3. The first year I came fourth and the second year I won it.
THE MODERATOR: Dillon, thank you for coming in. Good luck.
DILLON BATTISTINI: Thank you.