Q&A with Mike Hull and Tim Cindric
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everyone today's IndyCar Series conference call with our guests Mike Hull, the managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing.
Under Tim Cindric's leadership, Team Penske has scored three open‑wheel titles, including the 2006 IndyCar series title with Sam Hornish Jr., and five Indianapolis 500 race wins including this year with Helio Castroneves. Cindric also serves as the race strategist for the three‑time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
Mike Hull is the managing director Target Chip Ganassi Racing which fields entries for two‑time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and 2007 IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti. Since he became the team manager in 1996, Hull has over seen six open‑wheel titles, four in CART and two in the IndyCar Series with Scott Dixon, and he serves as the race strategist for Dixon.
Thanks for joining us today.
The IndyCar Series heads into its final race of the season, the Firestone Indy 300 on October 10 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Scott Dixon leads the championship by five points over his teammate, Dario Franchitti. Ryan Briscoe is third, eight points behind Dixon. It is the second‑closest three‑man battle in series championship history. The points lead has changed a record 14 times over the 16 races this season.
Gentlemen, first question is for both of you, whoever wants to start, just what are your comments on the season? Did you expect the season to be another championship that goes down to the final race?
TIM CINDRIC: Go ahead, Mike, you're leading it.
MIKE HULL: This week. I hope we are still next week. You know what it would be great to be in a position to go to the last race and just know that by completing the first lap you would win the championship. But based on the way we have raced all year, that wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't do it the positive service that it needs.
I think racing to win, and racing to win against all three guys, Ryan, Dario and Scott, that's the way you should race for a title. So we are excited about it.
TIM CINDRIC: From our end, without a doubt. I'm a little different than Mike. Certainly we can come in there after Japan, with the lead we had in there, and walk into this thing and be ready to start and say that, you know, the next step is how to celebrate, but certainly things change.
You look at it all year long; you look at Indianapolis, that was another example where it looked like the Target guys had that race under control, and things changed. You know, it looked until Japan, as if we finally had somewhat of a leg up on this championship and fate changed dramatically there.
So without a doubt, coming into this last race, if you look at the three guys there, it's all going to come down to the three of those guys trying to win this race, which is what it should be for the fans.
Q. When you brought Ryan Briscoe back into the IndyCar Series last year, he had some big shoes to fill; what is it that you saw with Ryan when you hired him from the American LeMans Series team that made you think he could be a contender for IndyCar Series titles?
TIM CINDRIC: We watched Ryan initially from afar in Chip's organization, and he and Mike had brought Ryan on. I can remember the test they did at Sebring before Ryan started the season, back in, what was that, Mike, '05?
MIKE HULL: That's correct, yeah.
TIM CINDRIC: Ryan was right on pace with our guys right out of the box, and certainly somebody that had speed. And as you watched the season go ‑‑ both Mike's organization and ours that year didn't really have a competitive engine package. It was a difficult season for Ryan because he was trying to push the envelope too far maybe without the experience to do that and found himself in a couple of tough spots.
You know, as we were looking really for 2007, for our ALMS program, because we knew Lucas Luhr was going to move over to Audi, we were looking for someone, especially on street tracks, who was fast at road racing and his name came to the forefront. He had done pretty well there, and I think it was Dreyer & Reinbold's car that he ran in Watkins Glen that year and he finished on the podium that year. And we thought, maybe it was a good opportunity to give him a test, and we also knew at that point that Sam, we had made an agreement with him that we were going to focus on winning the Indy 500 with Sam; and after that we would talk about whether or not something stock cars was something that really made sense.
We sat down with Sam after Indy in '06 and he said maybe I want to take a stock car route, but I'm not in a huge hurry to go do it. So we decided to transition that thing through '07 and put Ryan in a position to where we knew he had the speed but he had to learn the patience. That's really what '07 was, to see if he had the patience to do it in terms of the IndyCar program.
Q. Mike you're a different situation, you have two cars for the championship, how do you approach Homestead knowing that either car could come away with a championship?
MIKE HULL: First, could I say something about Ryan Briscoe?
THE MODERATOR: Sure.
MIKE HULL: Because I'm sitting here thinking about when Tim was talking about Ryan.
You know we tested Ryan at Phoenix prior to when he signed with us, and was sort of in the public's eye in that private test at Sebring.
And I'm a big Ryan Briscoe fan. From the very first day he was with us, you could see there was something very special about him. He has enormous ability to drive race cars. And we had a tough, tough season in 2005 and Ryan did what guys do when they have enormous natural talent and can go extremely fast in a difficult situation.
And we had to make a hard and fast decision toward the end of that season to make ourselves better, and part of that was to go back to running two cars instead of three, and it kind of left Ryan out. Had we been able to continue with three cars, I think that he would still be driving here. He has enormous ability, and I'm a great fan of Ryan Briscoe's and I hope I'm not so much of a fan to lead into the question you really asked. I hope we end up in front of him at Homestead on Saturday night, but he has the ability to get there.
In terms of having our two guys run for a championship, it's a great position to be in to have two chances. And I don't know how you separate the two people we have as teammates because they drive as one. We have been around some special people in our racing lives here at Chip Ganassi Racing over the years of two‑driver teams. These two in terms of being unselfish are probably the best two we have ever had. And they share everything equally, and so to answer your question very directly, I think that creates the opportunity for us at Homestead.
Q. You guys are normally set up close to each other on pit road, how much of a professional rivalry is there between the two teams? And when I say "professional rivalry," I mean that in a positive way.
TIM CINDRIC: Although Mike yells at me once in awhile, I think the key to that really is watching not what Mike and I talk about, or what the drivers look at each other and talk about. It's more I think you can see it through the body language of the teams. I think that over the years of racing each other and being in that close proximity, especially in those pit boxes, you watch the Rickys (Davis) and the (Rick) Rinamans and those kind of guys that are leading their peers there, those are the ones that have a pretty huge mutual respect for one another. And I think that at the end of the day, they know what it takes to compete at this level.
MIKE HULL: I think you aspire to race with the best people, and with the way that our pits are chosen for us presently, we are racing against a race team in Penske Racing that in my estimation is the best team in racing to be racing against. And as Tim said, you get to see everybody firsthand. You see what happens. And our guys practice and practice and practice and practice to be the best, and I think if we knew how many hours the Penske guys logged, I bet it would be pretty close to the same.
So it's enjoyable to race with them, and in terms of being next to them, that's where we want to be.
Q. In some respects, you kind of see a little bit similar situation with Will Power this year, to say, what Ryan Briscoe went in his early years, Will is this young talent that everybody wants to have on their team. It's just a matter of finding their place for him. Ryan was a little bit that way in '05. He had to leave the sport a little bit before reemerging. But do you see any parallels, especially Tim, the fact that you want to keep him on the team, you want to try to find a way to have three cars but economically that's not always the most feasible thing to do.
TIM CINDRIC: Aside from on‑track where both of them have shown potential and Ryan is to the point where he is realizing his potential, off the track the two of them are as similar as you can be.
Obviously they are from the same country, but beyond that, the unselfishness that Mike talked about is something that I think you need in this series among teammates to be successful. Because if not, the cars are so close together these days that getting an advantage, one vs. another, you know, sometimes is almost a moot point in some ways.
But if you can work together and one day it's your day and another day it's somebody else's day but you have an open book in terms of how you try and make the team better, I think the people that work for you are going to actually put in more effort for you in a unified way than one from a separate agenda.
I think you can see where Helio is a big catalyst to that in our organization and always has been, but when you see the way that both Will and Ryan work with not only Helio but work with each other, I think that you could throw a blanket over either one of them, and I think you would get the same cooperation level, which is a big part of the success that we have had this year in the series.
Q. Where do you stand on having Will on the team next year?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, we are not letting him go yet. We haven't put together, I guess the final answer to that. But I'm reasonably confident that we'll be able to offer him something for next year, whether that's a full‑time effort or one in which we can continue to try and build on; I guess time will tell. But hopefully we are trying to get an answer to that sooner rather than later.
Q. I guess someone did the math and found like 250‑some‑odd different scenarios of the way this thing could shape outnumbers‑wise next Saturday. Is the way both of you are going into this thing saying that your guy can win the race; is that the best way to go into it, we have to win the race if we are going to win the championship and not worry about bonus points this and if this guy finishes second and this happens; is that the simplest way and the best way to go about it?
TIM CINDRIC: I think Mike's situation is a little bit more complicated than ours.
MIKE HULL: Maybe, Tim, you could let us hire that guy that has 250 combinations, because that's only way we'll be able to figure it out from the timing stand, short of having somebody with an abacus up there.
But Chip will be a big help there. I think we just need to race like we have always raced. Quite frankly, at Chip Ganassi Racing, we are pretty simple guys and we just race races and the results come to us. And that's how we are going to race at Homestead. And I know we are going to be nervous and I know it's going to be bother us and I know there's going to be butterflies and I know that we have to remind ourselves or pinch ourselves to breathe a little bit. But we are just going to race the race.
And that's how we have gotten ourselves where we are now, and we are just going to do it again.
TIM CINDRIC: From our perspective, you have to be there at the end to win the championship, so you have to be smart about what you do as well. And yeah, I think when you look at the points and so forth, at the end of the day, Ryan has got to beat both of those guys to have a chance to win the championship, if either guy beats Ryan, then he doesn't win the championship. It's really as simple as that.
So you know, like I said, our situation is a lot clearer in terms of how we have to approach it. But you can't get desperate, especially early on in that race, because I think that you almost have to always expect the unexpected, because I think there's a lot of people that are just expecting the four red and white cars to be the ones sitting there mixing it up. As we saw at Texas, was that Texas with Ed Carpenter?
MIKE HULL: Kentucky.
TIM CINDRIC: Where he was in the mix. And there's going to be some other guys. There's quite a few guys that have tested there this week, and there's quite a few of them that are still looking for their first victory of the year. But yeah, it might be a little more complicated than maybe what everybody anticipates.
Q. Homestead is a championship venue now, not just with NASCAR's three title decided there, but IndyCar Series and the other two series deciding their championship. Overall, I can't imagine that anybody would think that's a bad thing for racing, the fact that one venue is associated with so many championships. Do either of you disagree with that and is this a good thing for IndyCar in general?
MIKE HULL: I think the good thing for IndyCar Racing is the fact that it's come down like it has to the last race. And to be racing in a place like Homestead that represents oval‑car racing, oval racing and IndyCar as a brand has represented oval car racing since its inception, those two things together make it a winner.
TIM CINDRIC: From our perspective, we are certainly hoping that by changing the race to the end of the year, it might change the results, because those guys have won the last three races down there. So we are sitting on the outside hoping we get a chance.
Q. What was Ryan's mind‑set after Japan, and everything that happened, and do you have to work with him to bring his mood back up, just stay focused on the big picture? And I guess for both of you, the kind of racing that you expect at Homestead now with it being later in the year, and with so much at stake and the intensity.
TIM CINDRIC: In terms of Ryan and Japan, without a doubt, he's certainly one of those guys, and Roger is not in those situations the one that's going to stand up and yell at you about what has already obviously occurred. So kind of silence tells you everything in our camp.
But Ryan, No. 1, he's a class act to actually go do some of the interviews that he did after the race and try and at least give the people what they wanted to know in his own words. But his comments to me were all I can do is promise you that I'm going to give everything I have to finish this thing off, and I'm focused on Homestead and what happened here today happened here today, and that's all you can do.
I think when we went there to test, and his preparation is all about looking forward, what's done is done is kind of our approach.
Q. The quality of racing, the type of racing that you might expect, and Tim, if you can answer that, as well.
MIKE HULL: You know, Homestead, we tested there last week on Friday and I know there were people that tested this week there during the week. I'm not sure which days this week. And they found out what the racetrack is going to be like on the race tire. Quite frankly, you don't want it to be a typical IRL gladiator race, because you want to have, when you're racing for a championship, obviously you want to be able to first of all race with the people you're racing with, and secondly, with a little bit of separation, you want to be able to race with track position.
But I'm not so sure that's going to be the case. I think it's going to be a close, tight race, and as Tim said a few minutes ago, we are not just racing against ourselves. We are racing against some of the best people in the world in IndyCar Racing.
We have seen the ebb and flow of IndyCar racing with some of these teams this year and there's teams now that are running at the front that didn't at the beginning of the year in oval racing and I think that's good for the series and I think we are going to be racing against some people that deserve to be racing at the front. And so I think it's going to be a fun, exciting race.
TIM CINDRIC: Without a doubt, everybody has their ‑‑ I guess their own thing that they are trying to accomplish in the last race, which is very different than what you're trying to accomplish in the first race. A lot of times in the first race, that approach might be a little different than it is now, especially when you look across to all the teams. Obviously our two teams are fighting for a championship.
But the rest of the players there are certainly sitting there with their last opportunity and in some cases, there's more on the line for some than there is for others. So it might be a different race than it would be if it were the first race of the season for sure.
It's going to be different in some ways. You know, going there testing was certainly different than going there this past week and testing. There's a lot that's evolved from at that point in time to now. When you look at what we did there in the spring months or whenever it was, our open test there, to how the people have closed the gap and have learned a lot more about these cars, it's going to provide certainly a different race than it would have had it been the first race of the year.
Q. If after the Long Beach race I had told that you Scott was going into the final race with a championship lead, would you have believed me?
MIKE HULL: I would have liked to have seen your crystal ball for sure. I don't know, I think in motor racing, you continually prove to yourself that you have to work hard to get the most out of today. And if you do that enough, you get the results that get you to have the opportunity to win championships.
You know, I was listening to Tim's bio at the beginning, the introduction part of it when you introduced him; you know, it would be great to trade, like in Monopoly with Tim on a couple of things that he's gotten to do that I haven't gotten to do.
But what you try to do is you try to get the most out of the day, and that's what we have proved. Dario won at Long Beach, Scott has won this year since then, and guess what, we have got a chance to win a championship. And so that's really the most important thing.
Q. Tim, what is your perspective going into Homestead for a guy like Helio who is looking to win in his hometown?
TIM CINDRIC: Without a doubt, last year, the shoe was on the other foot, where Helio was sitting there trying to challenge for a championship in the last race, and Ryan, he couldn't move from fifth regardless of what he did that day. So it was a little different in terms of which pit is I guess what motive that day.
But for me, as Mike said, got to run race like we have always run it. And Helio, he's a little different than Ryan was last year in the fact that he's trying to secure fourth place in the championship, and at the same time, he certainly has always been a team player but he's also been one that respects the fact that the race that's to run fairly.
So I don't think you'll see anything crazy on those fronts. But we certainly know that at the end of the day, the most important thing is to support Ryan in any way that we can but look out to make sure that he secures a fourth‑place finish and he still wants the opportunity to win another race, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen, for your time.
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