Indy Racing League - Infiniti Pro Series press conference: Feb. 18, 2003 Rick Mears, Arie Luyendyk, Arie Luyendyk Jr., Ed Carpenter Part 1 of 3 Ashleigh Higgins (IRL): We are joined today by three guests from the IRL Infiniti Pro Series....
Indy Racing League - Infiniti Pro Series press conference:
Feb. 18, 2003
Rick Mears, Arie Luyendyk, Arie Luyendyk Jr., Ed Carpenter
Part 1 of 3
Ashleigh Higgins (IRL): We are joined today by three guests from the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. First off, we have four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and recently named Infiniti Pro Series driver coach and consultant, Rick Mears. We are also joined by two drivers who have to be considered front-runners for the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series title: Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Ed Carpenter. Arie finished second in last year's Pro Series point standings with four second-place finishes and one pole, while Ed finished third overall and was arguably the most consistent driver in the series completing the most laps and finishing in the top five in six of seven of the races.
Now Rick, let us begin with you. You had an opportunity to work with some of the Pro Series drivers at the Open Test at California Speedway and at Phoenix International Raceway just a couple of weeks ago. Can you talk to us a bit about what it is like working with these young drivers and your outlook on the 2003 season?
Rick Mears: Yes. Thank you. I really enjoy working with them and it was a lot of fun at the test. I am just starting out and getting my feet wet, so to speak, and getting to know the guys. Obviously, I watched them some last year but paying a little closer attention this year. I appreciated the help that I got when I started, and I have always enjoyed helping somebody else along if I can. So this is really a good opportunity for me to work with these guys in Infiniti Pro Series. It is fun for me, and I enjoy just trying to help, be there for whatever. Doors are always open to any questions -- or if I see something that I can be of help with I want to do that. So we are really looking forward to the season, and I think it is going to be exciting.
Higgins: Thanks, Rick. Now for both Arie and Ed, obviously you have had insight from Al Unser Sr. and also Johnny Rutherford in the past, since they are also driver coaches and consultants for the IndyCar Series as well as the Infiniti Pro Series. What is like having someone like Rick as a dedicated coach for the Infiniti Pro Series? How is that for you to draw on his experience? Let's start with Arie.
Arie Luyendyk Jr.: Obviously, it is great help for us because we are just starting out. As for me, I just started out oval racing last year, so having Al and people like Rick -- really coming to them and asking them just little advice here and there really helps us develop our skills as drivers. It is a huge help for us, and I really appreciate them being around to help us.
Higgins: Ed, your thoughts?
Ed Carpenter: Last year I really enjoyed working with Al and Johnny, but they were more devoted to IRL drivers and the rookies in IRL, so I am really looking forward to being able to work with Rick because I think he is going to be able to devote more time to just the Pro Series drivers. I picked those guys brains last year a lot just on racing and the draft and what I can do to make my car do things I want to do. So I am sure I will be able to get a lot of the same from Rick this season. I am looking forward to it.
Q: First question is for Rick. When you are looking at young drivers what are some things that, some of the early things that as a coach you would look at and try to correct?
Mears: Well I think as far as trying to correct -- What I like to not see is erratic movement. That is kind of the first thing. For several reasons: Erratic movement can sneak up on other drivers, catch people out much easier, and it just sneaks up on people. And also, smoothness is quick. The smoother you are, the freer you can run a car because you can run closer to the limit without stepping over it as easily. So any erratic behavior, odd patterns, that kind of thing -- that is kind of the first thing. You just look for smoothness and consistency. That is some of the things I try to look for most, first off.
Q: This is for both drivers. What will be the agenda for you in addition to the Infiniti Pro Series for either of you guys this season?
Carpenter: I will also be racing some USAC Silver Crown races just on the pavement tracks that do not conflict with the Infiniti Pro Series. I will be running the No. 69 Hoffman Kroger-sponsored entry. That only ends up being five extra races, so I am just mainly focusing on the Pro Series with a couple of USAC races.
Luyendyk Jr.: Well, my main focus is obviously Infiniti Pro Series, but we are trying to put together a deal right now to where my first IRL race will come in Michigan. So I will do my IndyCar (Series) debut in Michigan if all goes well this season.
Q: Rick, when you broke into the scene in the late '70s in Indy, did you come there basically -- Were the veteran drivers there helpful to you to learn Indy in the races in that series back then, or did you just wing it, basically?
Mears: No, I had quite a bit of help. I kind of took a different route getting there through off-road racing and that kind of thing. But I met Parnelli Jones in the earlier years through off-road, so I had known him for a while, and I met Bobby Unser when I ran Pikes Peak, the hill climb there. So I bumped into the guys a little bit from time to time and got to know them a little bit before I got there. So I did have quite a bit of help from different drivers and it was, like I said earlier, very much appreciated. It was a big plus. Any time you can steepen your learning curve and somebody can help point out the things not to do, mainly more so than the things to do, even. But it was a very big help. Like I said, if you can steepen the learning curve, there is no substitute for seat time, but every little bit helps. I did get quite a bit of help.
Q: Is it your opinion, Rick, that the guys coming in now are so much farther ahead of where your generation of drivers were? @!Mears: I do not know. Everything is kind of relative, the basics. As far as my help, it is mostly on the basics and then it is the actual seat time to do the fine-tuning. Everybody is different. It depends on what experience they have had beforehand, what types of cars they run, how much running they have done. Some guys may come into the series that have had five or six years of other forms of racing and then some that may only have a year. So it really depends on the individual and what route they took to get there as to how advanced they are. So it is really kind of hard to put a line on it.
Q: Arie, you have changed from Treadway to Sinden, and there is Ed gone from Sinden to A.J. Arie, do you feel a lot of pressure to take the series this year? And Ed, do you feel a lot of pressure working for A.J. in the car that won the series last year?
Luyendyk Jr.: I will start, I guess. I do not really feel that much pressure. We had a really great season last year. It was actually Luyendyk-Schmidt Racing, and we did not win any races, so I think the pressure is on me this year to win some races, because we definitely did not capitalize on that last year. As far as moving to Sinden, the transition has been very easy because I have my same chief mechanic and my same engineer. So it is basically we just moved shop, and we have all the same people working for me. So I think that it will just keep the ball rolling, and hopefully we can turn our speed that we have had lately into some wins. As far as pressure, I really have not felt any yet.
Carpenter: As far as I go up, I think there is a little more pressure there just because as you said, the car I am in now won the championship last year and won quite a few races in poles, and that is one thing I did not do last year was win races and poles. But with the pressure I also gained a lot of confidence going with A.J. because of all the wins and everything they did accomplish last year. So what pressure is added, I think I gained in confidence, so I am just looking forward to the opportunity to working with the new team and working with A.J. and gaining all that I can from him.
Q: You know you are going to be teaching young guys, you were out on the racing tour when your sons were, particularly one of them was trying. How different is this going to be working with young guys who you are related to and how much would you have liked to spend more time with your sons?
Mears: It is hard to say. As far as difference, obviously being family and your sons, son and nephew, your heart is in your throat a little bit more from time to time. As far as working with them, it will be very similar. Because I tried to keep it, working with our boys, I tried to keep as much as a father-son relationship out of it as I could because you have to be careful. It is very easy with your son to crack down or be a little harder or maybe a little harsh at times when you should not, and when you should actually give a little more support. And so there is a line there that you have to learn to walk. That equation will not be there with working with the drivers in the Pro Series this year, so that will be kind of the major difference. But still, as far as the enthusiasm, the level of help or the type of help that I will try to do and try to help with will be pretty much the same. What it boils down to is just trying to help the guys as much as possible to learn as quickly as possible whether it be going quicker or whether it be safety related or race related, consistency, whatever the case may be.