An Interview with Barnhart, Briscoe and Carpenter
Welcome to today's call. We are joined by three guests today from the Kentucky Speedway Race that was just concluded. We have race winner Ryan Briscoe, runner‑up Ed Carpenter, and the President of Competition and Operations for the Indy Racing League, Brian Barnhart.
Ryan nipped Ed at the finish line for the win Saturday night with a margin of victory of .0162 of a second. It was the 11th closest finish in IndyCar Series history. It was also the second fastest race in IndyCar Series history with a speed of 200.893 miles an hour.
Now the race at Kentucky also marks the first which teams were given three options to enhance the aero package by providing more down force and also marks the debut of the Honda overtake assist button.
Ryan and Ed, we saw the two of you battling side by side for the final 10 laps of the race with the closest margin between you eight thousandths of a second. Ryan, take us through the closing laps first.
RYAN BRISCOE: It was definitely an exciting one. It was just so exciting, the whole race, really, but especially the last final laps with Ed.
You know, he has done a great job to get out there in front, and I'd fallen back to about eighth position, I think. And I was really working hard. I lost track of how many laps were left.
And then at one point Roger (Penske) came on the radio, told me there were 19 to go. And Ed was still pretty far in front of me. I was like, "We gotta go here."
So I knew I had enough push‑to‑pass to make up the gap a bit and chose the outside line. I'd been watching where Ed was running. It didn't look like he was going to be very good on the bottom through (Turns) 1 and 2. So I went to the high side. He surprised me. He was able to hold it down there. And from there it was just about who could hang on the longest. And the tires were really consistent.
I think we were both on the button the whole time. And it was just really exciting to nip him at the end.
MODERATOR: Ed, the last 10 laps from your perspective.
ED CARPENTER: Same thing. I saw I had built up a little bit of a gap. We got into some lap traffic, and I managed to pull out at least five car lengths over TK (Tony Kanaan) at the time. And I was kind of happy to see TK running second because I had raced with him earlier in the race and I knew I had a car that I felt I could beat him. And then I saw Ryan get up into second. Then I knew I was going to have a much bigger challenge on my hand because he had run out front more than I had on the night.
And as we got closer to the end he got close and I knew that we were going to have a battle. And like Ryan said, I was running a little bit off the white line. I was a little loose on the bottom. But I made a couple of changes once he got out there to be a little more comfortable so I didn't have to rest down there and I was able to hold the line.
Actually, the first lap he got on the outside of me I pushed up a little bit on (Turns) 3 and 4 and had to crack the throttle and thought for a second he was going to be able to close the door on me. But I kept being able to keep a nose up there to stay two wide there at the end and trying everything I could to figure out a way to beat him to the line because he was nipping me at the line every lap. He knew it. I knew it.
We were both on the overtake button as much as we had left. And I was running him up the track as much as I could without really doing anything that I knew he wouldn't do to me if it was the other way around. So I felt like I raced him as hard as I could without being dirty. And it was close. Just wasn't quite enough.
MODERATOR: Brian, as I mentioned earlier, this marked the debut of three aero options for the remaining 1.5 mile ovals we'll compete at this season. Give us your thought on the first race with the new package.
BRIAN BARNHART: Overall I think I was very pleased with it. It's good to give the team some tools to use and to give them some choices to make. And based on the results from Saturday night, I think you have got to take a little bit into consideration because of the uniqueness of the event. It ended up being a one‑day show with one 75‑minute session of practice beforehand. No qualifying.
That adds an additional challenge to the teams, obviously. And when we dropped the green, it was pretty evident, because we started without qualifying, we started with the points determining the order.
And it was really evident quickly how good Ed's car was in coming to the front and making the passes. The No. 5 car, KV Racing, Mario Moraes, had a very good car and was heading to the front. Unfortunately he got collected in a pit road incident. But it certainly seemed to enhance the product on the racetrack Saturday night in giving them choices to make and trying to add even more to that with the Honda press‑to‑pass overtake button, which is not a new concept.
It clearly was ‑‑ in Champ Car with the turbo charged engines, it certainly had the ability of having more effect than it does with our normally aspirated engines, but I do have to commend Honda for their work and their desire to help give options and tools to the drivers and the race car as well, because it's not a simple thing to do with a normally aspirated engine.
And I think it's something that can be continued to be developed and be an important part of our racing, whether it's on an oval or a road course. So I think combined with the aero and the push‑to‑pass button, I think it's pretty good. I think when we get on a road course, the red tire/black tire issue from the Firestone, primary and alternates combined with press‑to‑pass can make for an improved product on the road courses as well.
MODERATOR: You brought it up. But looking ahead this week at Mid‑Ohio, what do you think the overtake assist button on a natural touring road course will do? Where do you think teams will use it more? On straights?
BRIAN BARNHART: Again, I think it's just another tool that the driver can be thinking about in the car. Another challenge for the team from a gearing standpoint to make sure you've got it to maximize its benefit for you. So the team's got to be smart about their gearing and their planning for it. And the driver's got to have some strategy as to when to be pushing the button and how many pushes to leave with it, where to use it on the race track so they do it. And of course its effect is dictated by what fuel setting you're in, because it's somewhere between five and 20 horsepower depending on your fuel mapping.
So I think it can be an interesting aspect. As I said, combining with the Firestone reds and blacks, it should help on a road course as well.
MODERATOR: All right. For both drivers, obviously with the rule changes from the other night, do you think there was one change to the rules more than the other options that made a difference in the racing? And then can you explain what your teams did Saturday night with the options?
RYAN BRISCOE: I think from one race, it's hard to tell exactly. I think we're going to have to sort of wait and see over the course of a couple more ovals.
But to me it felt like with the changes, maybe the vertical wickers, that might have been the biggest change. I'm not sure felt like I could be more aggressive if the car crossed my nose, it didn't affect my balance as much as it felt like it had in the past. And it enabled all of us, I think, to drive a little bit more aggressively, stick our nose underneath other cars, knowing that the group was still going to be there.
But it's always going to be a package deal. I think the Firestones at Kentucky were a great tire. Very consistent and good grip.
The push‑to‑pass was great. As Brian touched on I think it's something that Honda will be able to develop even more in the future. Maybe if we get to a point where it's even more than five horsepower, I think they'll put on an even bigger show.
At the moment I think most of it is for saving them really for the final 20 laps of the race. And when we're all using it at the same time, it's hard to make a difference and really see how much of a gain it is.
But early in the race I used it in the first to try to pass (Scott) Dixon. And it gave a little bit of a boost, enough where I was able to get side by side with him. But after 12 seconds it would run out.
And if I wasn't on the inside of him, it was difficult to complete the pass. But it certainly enabled me to put the pressure on him a bit. So all in all I think it was positive, and hopefully we can put on some more races like we saw this weekend.
MODERATOR: If you can, can you comment on which options your team used Saturday night?
RYAN BRISCOE: I can't exactly. I think we ran a similar downforce level to last year. But the biggest thing was the wickers.
MODERATOR: Ed, what about you? Do you have an opinion as to which of the rule changes made any difference?
ED CARPENTER: I agree with a lot of what Ryan said. Speaking to vertical wickers that we took off, to me I felt that was the biggest difference. The car was definitely more stable in dirty air, following people. I felt it was a little less turbulent. And you didn't feel as much of the wash off the cars in front.
It made the car more consistent and did give you more confidence to get your nose a lot closer to a guy in front of you.
I felt like we were able to use the draft through the corner to time a pass on the straightaway a little bit better than we could with those wickers on there.
But really it's hard to really single one of the changes out. They were all done together, and I think they have an effect as a group of changes, not just one change.
But I do like the fact that we have options. I mean, not every car ran all the options that we had. There were a couple of different strategies going on out there with the options people chose. And that's probably the thing I like the most. And Brian touched on giving us more tools to have in our arsenal. It's never been spec racing, but we're getting more closer to spec racing. And I think this shows a good argument not to a site car because we do need the differences to enhance the competition.
Q Ryan, with this push‑to‑pass button on the road course this weekend at Mid‑Ohio, with that combined with the option tire, alternate, whatever they're calling it, the reds, the blacks, all that, how confusing is it going to get strategy‑wise, and will the push‑to‑pass button really be as helpful at Mid‑Ohio as it was on an oval?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, it might get a little confusing, but I'm sure we'll be able to handle it. You know, I'm curious to see how effective the push‑to‑pass button will be. I don't think we'll feel the horsepower at all. But we will feel the 200 RPMs which is kind of maybe the opposite to what we were getting in Kentucky, because it was so difficult to time the push‑to‑pass right where you would be able to pull the engines 10.5. I would be curious to see Honda's data and see how many people actually ran it up to 10.5. I think it was going to be pretty tough.
But at the road course, going up through the gears, you know, coming off the second gate corner and going straight up sixth gear and when we're pulling 10.5 on every gear change, I think that's definitely going to show a boost, a bit of extra speed.
The alternate, the standard tire, that's always a tough one. We don't always know how that's going to be until really after warm‑up and even after the race, because we really don't get an opportunity to test the red tire before qualifying.
And then until after warm‑up, we don't have a chance to do any long runs. So, again, I think it's all adding some extra excitement and I think in Edmonton I was the only car at the front running on the option tire at the end of the race.
Unfortunately, I had a slightly bent rear suspension, wasn't able to take full advantage of it. But it looks like at a couple of races, Watkins Glen, probably Edmonton, the red tire clearly has been faster, more consistent. Some other tracks, like Toronto, the red tire fell off very quick.
And so it really had to be a challenge to the whole team and driving style and everything as to what we do in the race.
Q As far as natural terrain road courses go, how does Mid‑Ohio compare in terms of ability to pass? Is it more difficult to pass there than at Watkins Glen or at Infineon? Is it challenging? And where are the places that are conducive to passing?
RYAN BRISCOE: Mid‑Ohio is fairly challenging to pass at. But you've got the long back straight down the hill. Long enough straight where you can get a flip stream and duck inside going there into Turn 4 I think it is.
But it's a pretty fast corner. It's a very late‑breaking corner as well. So you really need to be committed to make a safe pass down there. I'm sure with this push‑to‑pass button, if you can trick someone and use it without them defending with it, I think that's going to help a lot.
Q If I could ask Ed a question real quick. Talk about your progress on street and road courses. I'm sure there's a lot there that you want to improve upon. How well do you feel prepared for Mid‑Ohio?
ED CARPENTER: Definitely going to Mid‑Ohio, it's a place I have more experience at. It's been challenging going to some new circuits that I've never seen before.
But all in all I feel like I'm getting better. Probably not getting better at the, quick enough races, maybe what I would like. But it's been a challenge being back to a one‑car team, but when you look at where I was in 2005 on these tracks to now I've closed the gap quite a bit. There's still work to be done.
We showed the other night on the oval we can run up front. Not to that point on the road courses, but I think if we do execute and I run a mistake‑free race, I think we're capable of finishing in the top 10 on the road and street courses. We just haven't put it together yet this year. The other night we put ourselves in a better position to have a chance to get back into the top 10 in points. But to do that I'm going to need to get some better results on these next two road courses. And I think we're capable of doing it. We're definitely putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform better and just have to answer the bell.
Q Ryan, you're going into this thing in the points lead now. Last year you were just looking for a big finish at Mid‑Ohio. Now you're leading the points in one of the great points races ever. Number one, how does that change maybe your approach to the weekend? I know you're going to say it probably doesn't. You're going to go for the win. But does it make a difference when you're leading the points? And number two, like Bruce was asking, with all these new factors being thrown in, do you have to step back a little bit and really figure out this weekend what you want to use, what you don't want to use, you know what I mean, in terms of new tricks?
RYAN BRISCOE: For me, firstly, it's very exciting to be in this title hunt and going for a championship. It has been an exciting one. It seems like all of us at the front there have trouble hanging on to the points lead. So that's going to be the first goal and really the guys are watching Dixon and (Dario) Franchitti. I want to be in front of those guys and that's the number one goal.
Obviously wins are huge. You get big points bonus for getting a win. But we really need to try to finish on the podium every race here until the end of the year. And that's going to be the big goal and trying to be in front of those guys.
I mean, with all these options we've got, it's not that much when you think about it. On the ovals, it's really ‑‑ we practice and we make a decision on what down force level we want.
On the road course, we've got the option tire, which is a big challenge. It's pretty complicated. And then the push‑to‑pass. That's just going to be a tool for us drivers and try not to be too greedy early on. But there are times in the race where it's important to try to make a pass.
And with 20 times we can hit the button, I think we just need to be smart about it. And try to time it right to either defend or to attack, and hopefully it's going to help put on a very good show. If it's going to come down to who can use it best.
Q If you had to use one word to summarize this points race up to now, what word would you use? I mean, with you and Scott and Dario and Helio (Castroneves) sneaking in there, what word would you use?
RYAN BRISCOE: Very tough. You're the journalist. I think you could probably come up with a better word for it than I can. I'm just trying to do my best to stay in front here.
Q I was thinking intense.
RYAN BRISCOE: It's intense, all right. It's a good word to describe it. It's definitely intense and can get frustrating at times. And you look back on races and for me ones like Richmond where I only got 12 points there, I mean you think if I could have gotten top-5 or something, what the difference could be. But that's where you just need to keep looking ahead, keep your head down and you've got to finish these races and finish at the front and just stay focused.
Q Brian, will there be a difference in the push‑to‑pass from the standpoint of its duration for this week? I think it was 12 seconds worth of a burst last week. It's hard to figure on Mid‑Ohio where you need 12 seconds without getting on and off the throttle. I'm wondering, will there be a difference in its application this week?
BRIAN BARNHART: Not at this time. We'll leave it the same, 20 pushes for 12 seconds in duration. I think that's something we'll try and evaluate as we move forward with Honda. Do we adjust it the duration of it, track‑dependent? Twelve seconds at a place like Kentucky is right at half a lap. Twelve seconds around Mid‑Ohio is about a quarter of a lap or less.
So it's just something that we're going to try. And again, as Ryan mentioned, try and continue to develop and improve because it certainly is a good aspect to add to the event on the racetrack and give the drivers another aspect of the race to be thinking about and how to use it from a strategy point.
Q I was going to ask Ryan about the progress and the development into a championship contender. But let me ask that of Brian, what you've seen in Ryan that's ‑‑ I know he's with a good team, that we know he's talented, as he showed even before but just the progress that he's made.
BRIAN BARNHART: It's been good with the diversity in the schedule we have to be able to contend for the championship, you've got to be able to compete on the largest variety of racetracks of any race circuit going.
And as you say, he's certainly got great resources behind him and a great team behind him. But his ability to compete on, I think as Milwaukee last year was his first short oval win with us in the series, and his ability to run short ovals and super speedways and roads and streets consistently and to be competitive on all those is what's developed him into that championship contender. He's done a great job.
It's interesting. He mentioned Richmond only getting 12 points. You go back Saturday night, and it's only a matter of inches of how close he was Saturday night to getting 12 points or less.
He went up into the gray in (Turn) 4 and did a pretty significant white wall up there that he's very fortunate. He mentioned again at Edmonton he had bent suspension there, probably from a pretty heavy white wall or going over one of the curbs.
It's one thing to do that at a place like Edmonton on an airport course. But it's another thing to go up and have a pretty significant white wall on the oval at Turn 4 at Kentucky. He's only a matter of inches of being out of the show that night and comes back to get a win and a photo finish with Ed. So it really ‑‑ it shows how fine the line is of competition. And it's going to be a fun championship to watch. We've got three drivers within 11 points. And 4th and 5th are still within I think 75 and 107. So I think it should be an exciting five races.
Q Ryan, is there a place maybe or a type of track where you've made the biggest progress or at least you feel you've made the biggest progress in maybe the last year?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, for me the biggest thing has been the oval racing, just gaining experience, doing laps. Understanding what it takes. And I still hadn't won a super Speedway race until last night. So it was a huge relief and a big moment for me.
But a lot of things. I think with experience overall, even on the street courses and road courses, being with Team Penske, it's been a great school for me. Aside from the resources, you look at Toronto, and I mean there were plenty of teams and drivers that had the speed there to go out and win that race, but at the end of the day, you saw Franchitti, myself, all on the podium and Dixon was right there in fourth.
It's a big package thing. Pit stops are important. On the team, having Rick Mears, having Roger in my ear, having Helio as a teammate, those are the sort of things that over the last two years I've just been really listening and learning and trying to get better every single weekend. So still lots to learn.
As Brian brought up, I almost went to the wall in Kentucky on Saturday night. And that was probably me just pushing it a little bit hard on cold pressures there on the restart.
And that's the kind of stuff I need to keep working on as I gain experience.
Q Brian, I wanted to ask you a question about Barber, one of the new tracks being added to the schedule next year. One complaint the drivers had during the test session here was regarding ability to pass. Do you think that the red tire/black tires and the press‑to‑pass button will have an effect to correct that situation?
BRIAN BARNHART: I would certainly hope so. Because I think it is a challenge that isn't unique to any type of track, necessarily.
A lot of road courses and temporary circuits can fall into that track position is important at those. But I think it's more an aspect of how equal and how close and how deep our competition is within the field. Difficulty to pass, a lot comes to the fact that we've got such depth of field and such a quality in our teams. And when you get to a place like Barber or some of the other temporary circuits you get to, track position is vital to be in front of somebody.
So the one thing to keep in mind when they did the open test in March, no one had the red alternate tire, and we didn't have the push‑to‑pass overtake button from Honda. So those are tools that would be available when we go back to race that weren't there when we tested in March.
And I certainly hope, depending on the difference in terms of just sheer grip level and how much faster the reds are than the primary black, combined with how quickly they deteriorate and fall off can play a huge role in the strategy of the race and that combined with the overtake button hopefully will provide opportunities for a better show when we get back down there next year.
Q Ryan, what do you think about the ability to pass at Barber?
RYAN BRISCOE: It's a challenging track. It's got to be one of the most beautiful tracks to drive around. It's very smooth, high speed corners and elevation changes. It's just an absolutely first‑class racing track and a lot of fun to drive around. It probably lacks the long straight with a heavy braking zone.
But barring saying that, there's a corner in the middle of the track, the left hand, the hairpin. The corner that leads on to the straight prior to that is a very long right‑hander. As tires go off, tires will be performing differently. And especially prime tire/option tire. That's a corner where if there's a difference in the tires, you'll see in that turn which will set up a passing move down into that hairpin. So I think we'll just have to wait and see.
It's going to be a track where track position is important. But if different teams at the front are playing different strategies on tires and stuff, it will certainly open it up to different passing zones and so on.
But it's a beautiful track. I know when we're there I heard talk that they're open to suggestions about modifying the track, but I think it's good we go there with the existing circuit. It's a beautiful circuit. Hopefully we put on a good show and we don't have to make changes.
But I think if anyone looks at building tracks in the future, you've got to look at long straights with heavy braking zones.
Q Why do you think on that track the press‑to‑pass button might be best utilized?
RYAN BRISCOE: At Barber, exit at Turn 2 will be the best place. You want to use it where, going towards where you think the best passing will be. Whether it's to defend or attack.
You know, that's where you want to hit the button. And that's when you're in traffic. If you're not in traffic, I think ‑‑ unless you're going to use them ‑‑ you come to the final stage of the race, you want to hang on to them.
But that's going to be, I think, the one passing zone on that track and where we need to be using the button.
Q Ryan, even though the changes that were made to the cars were to enhance competition, were sort of eagerly anticipated and got good reviews this weekend, from a selfish point of view, where you are at points and with the strong team you're on that's been producing very good results for you, is there any selfish part of you that just wishes that everyone could have stood with the status quo for just a couple more months?
RYAN BRISCOE: No. Look at the results. I thought it was great. And I think it might have gotten the Ganassi guys into a little bit of trouble Saturday night. I don't think they ran enough down force in the cars. When they got into traffic they started having trouble. And I think exactly what we're looking for from a package, between being able to run the right amount of down force or maybe getting a bit greedy and not running enough.
I think that's exactly what we were looking for. I've got to really thank Brian for taking the initiative halfway through a racing season to try to improve the series. I think it was a great move. And, you know, we saw Ed out there as well I think also prior to the changes and enabled him to come from mid‑pack on the start, come through the field and be aggressive and make lots of passes.
So all in all I'm really happy about it. And anything that makes our racing more exciting is better for me.
Q Seems like an odd perspective from someone whose job is to go out there and win and put everyone else behind them. You actually are concerned about the quality of the racing and not just if you're the guy on top of the podium?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, I think it's helped me get to the top of the podium on top of everything else. So I'm not complaining.
Q Brian, will these changes and tweaks that go well and everyone likes, do we assume they sort of go into the blueprint for the new car, or are these just sort of fixes and tweaks on the current car to get you to the new car, until you debut the new car?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think it's important to keep the philosophy of what worked and what improved us from Kansas and Texas not being what we had been accustomed to, to make these little tweaks. A couple aspects to that.
The one thing I'd like to point out is I wish people fully understood how fine a line it is between running earlier in the season like we did and what these changes are with those tools available and the choices to make it's only 300 pounds of downforce, efficient downforce as options to them through the combinations of the rear tire ramps, the side pot extensions and the wheel backing plates. The mandatory remover of the wickers was the only one that was required.
The other ones were their choices. And in the big picture that's really a small level and a small amount of adjustments that were given back to the teams, but as evidenced in the product on Saturday night, it made a huge difference. So it is very much a fine line and a balancing act in between them.
I think you'll see even more when we get to Chicagoland. I think it will be even tighter than we were at Kentucky, as hard as that might be to believe, I think it will be deeper through the field. Chicago has a little more banking on the racetrack, a little smoother racetrack. And just the nature of that track in itself, I think it will be another repeat and probably even more so from what we saw Saturday night.
So it is such a fine line in terms of the competition and the balance. And I agree with Ed's comment: It is very nice to give the teams choices to get a little bit, move a little bit further away from the spec aspect of it.
That to me is important to remember. And then for us, when we're designing the new car, to answer your question, we know what worked. And what worked was giving the teams tools and choices. And that concept or that philosophy needs to carry over in the new car.
Q This is for Ed. Ed you were talking a while ago with Bruce Martin about the way you've changed, the way you've gotten better on road courses. I'm wondering, as you sit there, what do you still see other guys doing better? You understand what I'm saying? I would think you're out there always studying. I know you've had some help I think from Bryan Herta and some folks. But what do you still see places where you can so‑called make up ground?
ED CARPENTER: Pretty much already make up ground, I've gotten better ‑‑ my race pace is much better to where it needs to be. The biggest part of where I'm lacking is the first part of the weekend, getting my car set up quicker so that I can just worry about improving my lap time from a driving standpoint. But it's really just the biggest place I'm still lacking just comes down to experience.
And we're in a situation with our team where the league's added resources and more time to go testing and we don't always have the ability to take advantage of that just from a budget point. So it really just comes down to track time. Especially when we're going to venues that I've never been to it makes it that much more challenging. So the biggest thing for me is the experience aspect and needing more track time.
Q One last thing, you're sitting there Saturday night and your whole team's fired up. And you're pretty happy. But I would think on the other side you were so close to a victory. Has that haunted you a little bit over the last couple days how close you got? And can you get there again? I think you said after the race you feel like now you can win a race. Is that the biggest thing you got out of this more than anything else?
ED CARPENTER: I thought for a long time I could win a race. Having the result we did the other night just reaffirms that. When you look at the photos, people asked me if I was pumping my fist. I wasn't so much pumping my fist, I was kind of putting my hand on my face, saying: Man, we were so close.
So I wasn't just happy to finish second. I was definitely disappointed that we got so close and couldn't pull the win out of there. But I can't wait to get to Chicago and Miami, because I think we'll have a chance to repeat that performance.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we are out of time today. I appreciate everybody taking the time to join us for today's call.
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