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Wheldon, Herta and Newey talk IndyCar testing

Test team for 2012 IndyCar
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon will be the 'crash dummy' for the 2012 IndyCar
THE MODERATOR
: Welcome to today's Izod IndyCar Series conference call. We’re joined today by three guests: Two‑time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, and Bryan Herta and Steve Newey, co‑owners of Bryan Herta Autosport, which fielded the car that Dan won the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 in last month.

Last week, INDYCAR announced that Bryan Herta Autosport has been selected as the testing organization for the 2012 Izod IndyCar Series project and that Dan Wheldon would be the lead test driver.

The team will undertake IndyCar's comprehensive chassis testing program beginning in August and September; and IndyCar Series teams are slated to receive their first new chassis by December 15th.

Bryan, for you, how important is the role that BHA will play in developing the next car?

BRYAN HERTA: I think it's super important. Well everybody's excited about the new car, what it's going to look like, how fast is it going to be, you know, there's going to be different engines going into it.

So it's important for us to make sure that the car is fast, reliable, safe, all those things, so that by the time it's out on track and the public is seeing it, that it's a finished product and something that everybody's going to want to come out and watch racing next year.

THE MODERATOR: Dan, I know you have some extensive time behind the wheel of an IndyCar as a test driver for Honda in the past. What kind of goals do you have for yourself going into an extensive testing program like this?

DAN WHELDON: I think with something as serious as this, it's not about achieving goals for yourself, it's about achieving goals for everybody involved.

It's, for me, a job that I'm going to take very, very seriously. I’m thankful to the IndyCar Series for giving me the opportunity. But there's a lot you have to undertake. We need to make sure that the product that the IndyCar Series puts out towards the end of this year, beginning of 2012, is something that primarily the fans get very excited about, but also the teams and drivers.

And obviously we want to make sure that the product we put out is incredibly safe. So it's not, I would say, about achieving goals for myself, it's more about achieving everything the manufacturers associated with the program want to achieve.

And I think that's why it's very good to have Bryan Herta Autosport involved. We saw the job they were able to do at the Indianapolis 500.It's great that Dallara are involved. They've put together a great car, and the car that we've been using for a long time now has produced incredibly great racing. It’s been very close but also from a safety standpoint it's been good.

And we've also got the involvement with Honda and Firestone. So everybody involved, I think, has goals to achieve and my job is about helping them achieve them.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Steve, I know you were involved with the setting up the Firestone test team back in the mid‑nineties when Firestone was talking about coming back to IndyCar racing, what kind of unique challenges do test teams have, especially since your team is not really involved in the competition side on the IndyCar level?

STEVE NEWEY: Well, some of the challenges, you know, are very similar to what a race team faces every race weekend or every test event. And that is conducting the testing in a very practical manner, first of all, and conducting it in such a way that all the various invested parties get what they're looking for in terms of results.

So it's a very tedious process. It can be at times it can be downright boring, frankly, because you're not out there competing and racing against other teams and other drivers. So it's about accumulating miles and confirming the structural integrity of all the components that are highly stressed and it's a very methodical approach, and we've got a great team put together.

And I think I'm looking forward to it and it reminds me a lot of the program we did put together for Firestone back in 1994, and I might add that was a very successful program. And we're taking this very serious, as Bryan said, and we're looking forward to the challenge in providing each constituent that's involved in the testing program with the conclusion that they're looking for.

THE MODERATOR: Steve or Bryan, it's been a month since your team won the Indianapolis 500.What has that win done for the morale of your team which fields full‑time Firestone Indy‑wide entries, and are there any prospects for racing later in this year or even next year based on that win?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah, it's been amazing for the team. You know, all of us have just thoroughly enjoyed everything we've been able to be a part of since the 500 and since that win.

And, you know, we're looking forward to what that means for the future of our organization. It’s no secret that we're very happy with Dan, that our goal is to race full season in 2012, that all things being equal we'd love to do that with Dan. So I think we're working in that direction.

I think being part of this test program and the continuity that we bring over from the Indy 500, it's the same group of guys, same driver, same people involved. We can transition seamlessly into the test program. Ideally out of the test program we'll be able to transition into a full season program for next year.

In terms of racing for this year, you know, theoretically right now on the schedule we'd be done in time to get to Vegas for the finale. And it's something we've talked about, but our focus is on make prognosis sure we do a good job for this test program and really trying to gear up for next season.

Dan, now that it's been a month since your win at the Indy 500, how much has it already or will it help you secure a seat for the 2012 season?

DAN WHELDON: You know, that's a ‑‑ I've been asked that question a lot just recently, actually, and my simple answer is I was very confident at the end of last year that I would actually get something full time for this year. And that didn't pan out. So I really don't like to speculate on that stuff anymore, because clearly I'm not very good at that.

But, you know, I will say: I think for me to come back for the Indianapolis 500 and have such a successful month and also a very enjoyable month with everybody from Bryan Herta Autosport, it's really made me desperate to get back on the grid, but it's got to be in the right situation.

For me, I would love to be able to continue with Bryan and that's what we're all working towards, but we'll just have to wait to see if that pans out in the future.

But I certainly don't think it's hurt my chances, but in terms of am I confident that I will secure something for 2012, I think we'll just to wait and see right now?

If you decide to go and grab a seat for the Las Vegas race, do you think you'd be eligible for this $5 million prize that Randy Bernard has instigated?


DAN WHELDON: That's probably a question for Randy. You know, it would ‑‑ the thing if they did make me eligible would be, you know, it would certainly make for a very exciting race. I think it would definitely attract a lot of fans because realistically I think there's a chance it could happen.

And when there's that kind of realistic chance, I think fans are going to kind of be on the edge of their seat. It’s a lot of money. And you know, with the fact that we did so well at Indy and there would be a little bit of test time we would get prior to Vegas, I think it would definitely make for a hell of a show.

So that would be one that you'd have to take up with Randy, but I'd certainly hope so.

Bryan, I'm wondering if you have a definite number of tests scheduled by IndyCar, and is there a list of tracks set up yet, more than one, I'm assuming?

BRYAN HERTA: Yes. It’s an extensive testing program. We’re going to be visiting tracks almost on a weekly basis throughout those months of August and September. All different types of circuits, short ovals, speedways, Indianapolis, short street course‑type circuits and road courses.

Specific details of the program are not going to be released, I think, in terms of where and when we're going to be testing, and any of those specific details, when they are released, will come directly from IndyCar.

As a follow‑up, I'm wondering, I'm assuming that the testing will be done with the current V‑8 engine; is that right, because I don't think anybody else has got anything set up yet?

BRYAN HERTA: The testing will be with the next generation engine. For the start of the test program it will be a Honda unit because they'll be the first one with an engine completed and ready to do the testing phase. But certainly I think as the test program moves on, other manufacturers will get involved once we get past that August deadline.


Dan, how much benefit do you expect to get out of testing this car for 2012?I mean, you didn't get a ride this year but everyone had been with the 2011 machine because it was eight years old, how do you feel like it will help you for '12?


DAN WHELDON: Well, I think it's going to give me, I think, extensive mileage in the car. You know, is that an advantage? Yes, probably. But for me, it's not about getting an advantage over everybody else to be in a car for 2012.I think, as you know, I've done this kind of thing before with Honda, and it's something that I took very seriously.

I think if you know my personality you know how serious I would take it. It’s about ‑‑ I want to come out of this test program with everybody saying: You know what, Dan was extremely disciplined and did a great job. And if ever we do something like this again ‑‑ and this goes for all the manufacturers involved, we'd love to have him do it.

That's the kind of job that I want to do. And, yeah, I think obviously with the amount of mileage people are expected to do, it's track time in a new car that no one else would have been in.

So for sure it's an advantage. But by the same token, from what I understand, it's going to be pretty much open testing until St. Pete. So that will get swallowed up pretty quickly.

It's about being in a car as well for me. I haven't been in one since Indianapolis, and I'm pretty desperate to get back in one.

On your broadcasting career, would you say that's gone better than expected?

DAN WHELDON: I don't know. You guys would have to answer that one. You know, in all honesty, again, everything I do I like to do ‑‑ I like to do the best job possible.

An like I told Terry Linger, before the grid walk that we did at the previous race in Iowa, I said: Guys, I'm a little bit nervous. Actually I was way more nervous than I was at any time during the Indianapolis 500, because you're on live TV and you don't want to make a mistake and bring the program down for everybody else.

The one thing that I've learned that the VERSUS TV guys put in a lot of effort. So I was concerned about that. But for me I very much enjoyed it, but by the same token you have to do a lot of preparation so when you are on air you can get your point across quickly and it be accurate.

So it's harder than I perhaps thought. But I've enjoyed it. Sure I definitely want to be in the race car and I think being at the racetrack makes you even more desperate to be in the race car. So I think I've made the most of my time, and I've got one race left with them. Hopefully they want me to be back if I don't have anything to be on the grid in the series itself?

Bryan, this question is for your 2012 plans. Do you know which engine manufacturer you plan to align with, and as a follow‑up, how is the sponsorship search coming along for your team?

BRYAN HERTA: As far as our 2012 plans go, I think we're moving along fairly well. We're pretty happy with where we're at right now. We haven't signed with any particular manufacturer or anything, and really I think we have to be little judicious about how and when we do that, because right now we've got to focus on the test program that's been put in front of us and make sure that we're doing a good job for everybody involved in that. And then really worry about 2012 as we wrap that program up.

Bryan or Steve, switching gears a little bit to talk about your Firestone Indy Lights driver Duarte Ferreira, how pleased are you with his development as a driver thus far?

STEVE NEWEY: Well, I mean, very pleased to answer your question. He’s done a great job for us. And he's progressed significantly from early this year when we started testing with him, and especially on the ovals. He's performed like he's been racing on ovals all his life.

And he's just taken to it like a duck in water, because he's very aggressive on the ovals when he needs to be, and he's smart when he's in traffic, and he's been able to generate his best finish of the year so far last race at Iowa he finished fifth.

And we're very pleased with his performance. He’s a very dedicated driver. His fitness regimen is more difficult and more stringent than many drivers I've been associated with in the past, and he's got a bright future ahead of him and we're real glad to have him, and we're expecting bigger and better things out of him as the season progresses.

Dan, the car you're going to be testing, as far as you know, is it pretty much the same one that we saw unveiled at Indy that was on display with all the added aerodynamic accoutrements or whatnot, and what are your thoughts about, what are your concerns about being, for lack of a better word, being a test dummy? With all due respect.

DAN WHELDON: Test dummy, that's a good one. I like that. That’s what I'm going to call myself: Test dummy. I think -- honestly, I'll answer the second question first. Like I said, I take it very seriously doing a job like this. Like I say, you're associating yourself with big manufacturers like Honda, Dallara and obviously Firestone ‑‑ I think with Firestone themselves, they're very, very stringent with safety concerns. That’s a priority for them. They do a phenomenal job with that.

And even though there's going to be multiple engine manufacturers involved, and it's going to be a one‑tire series, it's still a serious job.

So to be a test dummy for these manufacturers is important. Like I say, I'm going to be very disciplined in the role I play for them and achieve for them exactly what they want to achieve.

And, like I say, it's going to be track time in a new car, so I think that's going to be of benefit. And in terms of the look of the car, the car that you have seen at Indianapolis, both with the oval body kit and the road course body kit, their concepts, they're not going to be the final design so it will probably be a little different from that. But from what I understand the car is going to be very appealing to the eye, and I think from what I understand it's going to be designed with an eye to continuing very, very competitive close racing, which is what everybody loved about the IndyCar Series.

Bryan, is all the testing going to be at the Speedway, or is it going to be at different tracks? Can you give us any kind of clue?

BRYAN HERTA: I can tell you we're going to be here, there, and everywhere, crisscrossing tracks all around the country throughout the chassis test phase, which will run August and September.

I cannot divulge any specifics. I think some of it needs to be done in secrecy for a host of reasons. But I think at some point there may be opportunities for people to come see the car run, but I say initially you're not going to see that. You may hear rumors of a car being running here, there, but it's going to be comprehensive and we're going to run on various tracks all over the country.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

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