Q&A with Dixon, Franchitti, Lloyd, Hull & Schmidt
PAT SULLIVAN: Well, what better way to kick off the gala celebration here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Economaki Press Conference Center to bring the championship team into the press room. What an interesting situation. First of all, success is bred by the fact there is continuity with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Mike Hull joins us, and I can't imagine a guy that would go into a month of May and not feel a bit of confidence when you come in as the defending race winner, you come in with two drivers, both who have won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the biggest race of all, and we have two drivers who have already won in the 2009 season. That's going to be just outstanding.
First of all, Dario, I was just talking about this, the last time I saw either of you two gentlemen in this press room, you were two of the happiest human beings on the face of the earth. Now, you were a little more wet than when Scott came in that year, we've got a rainy day for you. Dario, welcome back to Indianapolis. It is great to see you here.
SULLIVAN: How hard was it when you couldn't come back and defend? We know this win meant a lot to you when you got it. What was that like? Talk about your thought process.
FRANCHITTI: I made the decision in August or September of '07 not to come back because of all the reasons I've talked about before about looking for new challenges, so it was my decision not to do that. Didn't make it any easier, and I tried to kid myself I wasn't missing it. But I did find myself every day in May sitting in front of the computer watching the track feed, watching the lap times, watching -- you know, speaking to Scott (Dixon), speaking to Tony (Kanaan) on the phone what was going on and keeping abreast of what was happening. It was tough.
SULLIVAN: Scott, you have experienced the highs and lows of Indianapolis. I suspect a lot of people say the racetrack, we're starting to celebrate a hundred years of the racetrack, it doesn't look appreciably different from a driver's perspective. You've experienced it all. Last year you had one of the, at least from the outside, perfect months at Indianapolis. It seemed like everything went well. One of those rare times when the driver who appears to be the favorite all month actually is the one with the Borg-Warner Trophy at the end of the day. That had to be something.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, I think that's a special thing about Indy. I think everybody gets to experience great days and bad days. With how our month went, we had so many good days. Coming into the race expecting a terrible day, something to break or something to end up pretty quickly. It was a picture-perfect month for us with having a fast car every day in practice and coming through with the pole and obviously with the win.
SULLIVAN: Mike, I have to think that you have a little bit of a spell having two highly professional and talented race drivers in your stable, and both men have demonstrated the abilities to win the Indianapolis 500. Talk about what that brings to your table coming into the month of May. Or in your mind is the slate absolutely clean?
MIKE HULL: It's 2009, so we're starting anew, and I think that's the way you have to look at it. In this case it would be great if we had a two-seater so that both of them could cross the finish line at the same time. But I think what happens with Indianapolis is a couple of things. You pinch yourself when you come here because you need to remind yourself how important it is to race here. This is still the best place in the world to race. But then you forget about that if you have a bad day. And you know, you mope around, you frown, you're upside down, you're not happy with yourself. But the true reason is because of what it means to win this race. Everything else becomes secondary if you finish second. Whether you come here as Scott did last year and everything lines up perfectly and you achieve greatness like he did last year in the car, that's fantastic. If you have a so-so month and you qualify on the third or fourth row and you win the race, all that work pays off. So I think in either case what happens on Race Day here is why we come here. And the rest to me is absolutely secondary.
SULLIVAN: It's compelling because we never know what's going to happen obviously.
Q: This is for the managing director. You've had some great two-car, two-driver combinations in the past, notably Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and later Juan Pablo Montoya. I know in '03 you had hopes of great driver combination with Scott and Thomas Scheckter. Talk about how it is to get two guys of this caliber on a team at the same time.
HULL: Well, Chip isn't here today, but if Chip were here today, and I would say with Chip being here or not, that it's Chip first of all. A long time ago when Chip did everything he could do to try to get me to come to work for him and I was kind of young and dumb then, he said, "I will get you what you need to win. You work on the other part of it."
Q: Either of you two address that?
FRANCHITTI: No, please. It's nice to have one, obviously, to have Scott and I having won the last two 500s, last two championships, to have won races this year; but as you kind of alluded to, it's a blank slate. You come back here with some -- you've done well in the past, it's not a guarantee of success this year. You've got to prove yourself again. And you have a good month, that's only half the battle of the Indy 500 is showing up on Race Day with a fast car. That puts you in a position to win the race, then you've got to do everything right over that whole day to get it done, and you've got to have some luck, as well.
DIXON: I think for me it's been going back to more of the team side of things. It's been kind, I've been lucky on two parts. One is still being here I guess and not being on the firing line of Chip, and the other would be having the many great teammates I've had, which I've had I think eight or ten since I've been here. Those two points I'm pretty lucky and fortunate. Every time you have a new teammate, it's new fresh blood, and you learn things they've learned over their career. And especially in IndyCar racing, because you have people coming from many different countries. They've been brought up in different styles and things like that. And that was definitely a big transition for me when I teamed up with Dan initially on the mile-and-a-half ovals and even the Speedway here. And already with Dario on some of the street courses and things like that.
Q: Dario, looking back now, do you regret the decision to try NASCAR or do you still feel that was a challenge you could see if you could succeed at?
FRANCHITTI: Absolutely not. I don't regret the decision at all. I'd liked it to have turned out differently; I'd like to have been successful. But for all the reasons we know, losing the sponsorship and things, it didn't work out. So I'm pretty lucky that I went to go over there, had the chance to try that as sort of a experiment, and then get to come back here and jump straight into the best seat in the paddock. That wasn't lost on me the fact that I was able to do that. It was, and as I said before, it feels really good to be back driving the IndyCar, such a thrill of driving these things. And that was the one thing when I jumped back in the car for the first time, the smile it put on my face, the fun and the thrill I get from driving an IndyCar.
Q: This is mostly a question for Mike. We had such lousy weather at Kansas and abbreviated the practice time there, and it doesn't look like it's going to particularly be great this week. This may be the smallest amount of practice time we've ever had in going into Pole Day. Any special preparations because of that or challenges you guys have as it relates to --
HULL: We talked about that this morning because we have nothing else to do in the morning since it's raining except talk. And our opinion is that the IRL allowed us to start on Saturday, the vortex would be generated to the point where we wouldn't have rain today. And it seemed to be, seemed like when we used to start on Saturday, we always got a good week in the first week, and everybody qualified well. So that's probably a whole other subject, so it's probably not politically correct to discuss. Now, in terms of being ready to qualify or being ready to race, there's a clear separation point between the teams that will be ready on Saturday and those that won't, and that will be very apparent. But oval racing is all about patience. You have to be patient and then you have to be able to draw everybody together in a teamwork atmosphere immediately based on the conditions that you have. And I think you have to prioritize what you're doing and you have to be very objective and honest about where you stand. And that's probably the hardest part, and that's what we work hard within our team structure to do is just remind ourselves where we are when the track is available to us. And if you had a hundred days of testing or if you had one day of testing, you'd do exactly the same thing. It's just very frustrating for all of us to be in here and listen to the rain hit the roof on any given day, particularly in an oval. I think these conditions, once it dries out, will be fine for us.
Q: This question is for Scott and Dario, kind of following up on what Mike and what Scott had already said. Only thing that matters is Race Day, only comes around once a year. Is it strange knowing that the one man standing in front of you may be your own teammate come Race Day?
FRANCHITTI: Not at all. It's a situation I've been in before. I've been lucky to have a lot of great teammates, and that's what happens when you get in good equipment and you end up driving with really great drivers on your team. You end up fighting for wins and championships with them, and it's like Scott and I have talked about, it's the way you do it. You go out there and it's kind of go back to when you're a kid, you go out and have a good race and afterward if you're beaten, you say, "Good job, man." If you're the guy that wins, you get the same from your teammate, and that's the way I've been lucky enough to do it in the past and now.
DIXON: I guess with that at least you know what your teammate's got, so that leads you into a little bit of inside on Race Day. At Indy, there's always many people that can be fast and many people that can win the race. Generally there's a few wildcats that come in at the end and trimmed out more, and you've been sitting up front thinking, 'That's going to be the speed,' which is what Meira did last year, which was surprising. I think the good thing about us is we'll definitely push each other to the max through practice all the way up to Race Day and hopefully obtain the best race car as possible.
Q: When you guys look at the 100-year history of this place, is there another era you think would have been cool to race here throughout the 100 years of the Speedway?
FRANCHITTI: It would have been nice to try them all, I think, from the start. I just read a book from Dr. Steve Olvey, used to be our head doctor when we give ourselves concussions. He wrote a book and it was talking about the 1920s; that was a pretty interesting era. Yeah, I think to try each one would have been cool. It certainly was more, there's still risk, a lot of risk driving at the Speedway, but there was a lot more back in the day, whether it was in the '60s -- I think going back to sort of the '60s, all of that innovation, that would have been a fun part. Whether you're driving in a rear-engine Lotus against a front-engine roadster and the next thing there's a turbine car, all of that kind of stuff. You go over to the Museum, and you see some of the weird and wonderful creations that people strapped themselves into here, it was pretty impressive. (Laughter)
DIXON: I totally agree, I think Dario touched on most of it. But I think that the stuff you have seen people race around here is pretty crazy. I guess the only sort of unfortunate part about today's racing is the cars are all very similar, so you don't have that maybe -- a lot of cars back then might have had mechanical failures but would have been super-fast and lapped the fields, but the guy that kind of maintained a solid speed got to the end first. As you said, when you go to the Museum, there's some amazing stuff there.
Q: A hundred years from now, you think people will look at this stuff that you drove and think, "I can't believe they strapped themselves into those machines?"
FRANCHITTI: I don't know, who knows what's going to happen for the next hundred years. I think it's impressive, the track has, is coming up for its hundred-year anniversary, all that history. It's pretty cool. You have to come back from things like at the end of the Second World War, and seen those pictures it was all covered with weeds and stuff when Tony Hulman bought it. What a difference to look at it today.
Q: Dario, with rain here today and let's say hypothetically, God willing, but we see rain again tomorrow, for you I would assume that you don't need a reacclimation here, but what is your mindset getting out there? You're familiar with this place, but how many laps would you need just to get kind of familiar again with the corners and et cetera?
FRANCHITTI: Well, I can probably answer that when it stops raining. (Laughter) I don't know, I really don't. I expect to be up to a certain speed fairly quickly, but it's always, as usual, finding that last little bit, trimming the car out and those things, and really especially Indy more than anywhere is getting that setup exactly as you need it. We haven't done a lot of oval testing with the rules now in the IndyCar Series; it's very, very limited. Not only am I coming back and getting used to running the car here which is a small part of it but getting used to my engineer, Chris Simmons, and getting the way we set the cars up here in the Target team and getting the car so it feels absolutely right for me. Because one thing Scott and I have learned, we like quite different things from a car. So something that works for Scott might not necessarily work for me and vice-versa. So I'm hopeful it is going to stop raining pretty soon and we can get some laps in.
Q: You had earlier touched on dark horses. Considering he's now been moved to part-time status, considering the equipment he's in, I mean do you make Will Power a dark horse or do you make him a contender? And also, same thing about a Paul Tracy out there. Is it even fair to call those two guys dark horses?
FRANCHITTI: Are you asking me? I was waiting for Dixie to answer that one.
HULL: Dixon will answer the Will Power question.
FRANCHITTI: Come on, Dixie. (Laughter) I don't think a dark horse at all. We've seen what PT can do here before. He got back up to speed in about three laps yesterday. You know, coming back here as a past winner, he's pretty stoked, I think. (Laughter)
SULLIVAN: Take one more.
FRANCHITTI: Scott was going to answer that.
SULLIVAN: I was trying to help you.
FRANCHITTI: Don't help him.
DIXON: You know, anybody can be a dark horse, but I think the biggest thing is everybody's got to remember it's a long race. It's not going to be all over in 20 laps.
SULLIVAN: Anyone else? Final question.
Q: Scott, you talked about all the teammates you've had and what you've learned as the years have gone on. Tell us a little bit of what you've learned since Dario has become your teammate.
DIXON: Quite a lot actually. On and off the track, but I've definitely got a bit of schooling on the first couple of road courses, so I need to pick up or pull my finger a little.
SULLIVAN: Thank you very much for coming in.
ALEX LLOYD: We've got a great team together this year. I'm certainly very excited. I think coming back here, it always gives you chills when you come to Indianapolis. It did before I ever raced here and only more so I think every year that you come. So, yeah, I mean from a driver's point of view, I'm really excited to be back in the car and to get another crack at this race. I think I learned a lot last year. I think hopefully that will be able to adapt that to this year as well.
SULLIVAN: Sam, when you won a championship, you knew the kind of talent this guy brought to the table. I know it's a thrill to team up with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Mike and all the folks to put Alex in this position to have success here at Indianapolis.
SAM SCHMIDT: Clearly it's difficult to come here as a one-off in the IndyCar Series. I mean, the mega teams and a lot of sponsorship, et cetera. I was really looking as a team owner to come back in a competitive environment or not come back at all. Mike and I actually began the process last December talking about them building my car, et cetera, and one thing moved on from another. This came together. So from our perspective it's really the best of all worlds. We did have a fantastic relationship with Alex and continue to. Winning eight races in 2007 was really a dream season. You know, we're hoping that all of these synergies that are coming together this month will equate to good results. This time in 2007, his wife was pregnant and now she's pregnant again, and on and on and on. There's so many similarities to 2007, and hopefully we can do real well this month.
SULLIVAN: Mike, we just had you up here on the podium. One of the things that stands up is you bring champions to your Target Chip Ganassi IndyCar Series team and now an opportunity to partner with a guy I think that you had this look from afar and saying, hey, this guy has some real skills and talents.
HULL: First of all, Alex Lloyd represents a very unique level of racing, racing driver. He's got what it takes to succeed in this sport. And racing itself is, to be successful over a long-term is defined by partnership. True partnership creates success. It doesn't just do that in racing, it does that in life, it does that in other business areas. You know, if you look at the partnerships that are developed over time in the business industry, true partnerships accelerate everybody to the next level.
SULLIVAN: You talk about teamwork and Brett Jacobson with HER Energy, I have to say this is going to be an eye-popping entire package during the month of May. Obviously, you looked at this avenue as an opportunity to highlight your product and what you do as a company. Talk to us about how you got involved with this team and with Alex Lloyd.
BRETT JACOBSON: It's been an ongoing partnership for a long time now. I think Mike and I originally met about a year ago and sat down with Chip, kind of set out exactly what we wanted to do, how to go about it and said if we want to do this, we want to do this properly and make sure that it was a relationship that was going to last. This is step one in an ongoing process for us and that's something that we wanted to build on.
SULLIVAN: Any questions?
Q: I just want to know if you're going to leave Alex hanging out to dry like this or, Sam, will you be outfitted in all pink on Race Day? (Laughter)
SCHMIDT: Obviously, we've been getting the crew uniform together, and so that's taken a priority. We were a little short yesterday, so I fell on my sword, I gave the crew shirts to some of my guys. But, no, I definitely got a pink crew shirt in my closet. As soon as Chip gets there, I'll get there. How's that? (Laughter)
JACOBSON: We'll get Chip in one. (Laughter)
Q: This is for Alex and Mike. If the two of you could kind of discuss the timetable that you have to want to be a full-time IndyCar driver. I know that was kind of what you hoped for after you won the Indy Lights title a couple years ago. The economy is kind of tough right now. But if the two of you could discuss the timetable for you to become a full-time IndyCar driver at some point.
LLOYD: I think the important thing for me after 2007, I've spent enough of my career now in teams of various levels up and down the grid. In 2007 was the first time in my career that I had ever gone to what was known as the No. 1 team, the drive that you want. We obviously were very successful with that. I really felt at that point, you know what, as a racing driver, the most important thing is to put yourself with the right people. I mean it's really tough for a young driver, you know, with sponsorship is so hard to come by, the economy is very bad. But I felt like the best thing for me was to get an opportunity to drive for Target Chip Ganassi Racing was the best place that a driver could be. And I felt like there's a future there long-term.
HULL: Thanks for the question, Bruce. You know, our brand has always been about not asking race drivers to bring sponsors. Because we feel that race drivers who are the best at what they do are hired on their merit, not on their -- on the balance in their checking account. We feel Alex Lloyd represents the kind of race driver that should be driving an IndyCar. We have tirelessly worked for three years to come up with a full-time budget for this guy to drive a car for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. It's probably not fair to give everybody in this room and then some people that would read the Internet or read the world press, a list of the people that we've discussed with budgets of trying to make this happen for us. Because for us it would be an additional entry, an equal entry to what we already have. That's what we've worked so hard to do.
SULLIVAN: Additional questions?
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