Q and A with A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt and Erik Berkman
With that, A.J., we'll turn the call over to you to make the announcement.
A.J. FOYT: Well, actually, we're very proud to announce that we're going to be with Honda in 2012. We're glad we're going to be on their team. They've been good to us the last few years we've been with them, and we're really looking forward to 2012.
MODERATOR: Couple questions for you before we turn it over to the media. And we have been joined by Erik Berkman, the president of Honda Performance Development.
Q. First question for Larry or A.J., how important for the team is it to keep the consistency of having Honda power for 2012?
LARRY FOYT: We think it's very important. That's what we've been trying to build within our team is consistency. And not only that, we're trying to get back to the winner's circle.
We really feel like Honda knows how to win, just like A.J. does. We all have a common goal, so that's why we're kind of excited to be part of the Honda family. We think together it's going to get us back where we need to be.
Q. Erik, I know you added Target Chip Ganassi Racing in May. Can you talk about what A.J. Foyt Racing brings to the table for 2012?
ERIK BERKMAN: Well, everybody knows that A.J. and his team are part of this IndyCar community and have been forever. We like to think that going forward together we're going to make a strong team.
As we continue to maybe add another team or two and build up the Honda ranks for the season starting next year, it's going to be a good opportunity for us to create a new energy. We see the Foyt team as being the team that has an awful lot of followers, a lot of fans. It represents the values of Indy car racing.
We've been talking about how we can work together to make each other better, and I see opportunities for Honda to be better through what the Foyt organization can bring to us. And similarly we're going to work together to help them become a race team that can get back into the winner's circle.
Q. Since you've got one of the good sponsors of the series with ABC, would this indicate you're going to be around for a while with this announcement, maybe a multi‑year deal and maybe a second car?
A.J. FOYT: Well, that's one thing we're working on real quick right now is a second car, which I think would help us. But ABC's been a great sponsor of ours. I'm very good friends with Diane Hendricks and also David Luck, and it's been a very good partnership. We look for them to be around for quite a few years yet.
Q. I just think it's heart warming that you've embraced a Japanese engine manufacturer that's built leased engines. I've now outlived everything I could ever have imagined?
A.J. FOYT: Well, every now and then you've got to make changes and we're trying to make the change for the best.
Q. No, but you used to build your own engines, and you weren't all that fired up about engine leases when it started, but it looks like it's been good for competition because there are so few failures anymore.
A.J. FOYT: Well, that's quite true. I think nowadays if you're going to have a race car, like I told Larry, you've got to run from the green flag to the checkered. Before you used to coast a little bit waiting for someone to blow up.
But with the Honda Powered the last few years we've been running them, you never see none of them blow up. So right now when the green goes down, you can't sit there and stroke. You've got to go with it.
Q. My question is will you stay with the same driver you have or are you going to try to get another one or what are your plans in that direction?
A.J. FOYT: Well, actually, Vitor Meira has been very good to us. Actually, this year was the first really full year we had, last year with our engineer and all of that. But he's done a great job. He's come a long ways. I think he realizes, and he runs hard. He's probably going to have to run a little harder because you've got a lot of young boys out there.
But I'm very happy with him. Now the second car, if we do get the opportunity to put one together, we really want a first class operation. But we've talked about three or four different drivers, so if we got a second car, it might make that first car run harder.
But he's still going to run hard all day, I'm quite sure. He ran a good race at Toronto. I think you see him every race, he runs a little bit harder, and we're real happy with him.
Q. How hard is it to beat the Penske and Ganassi Teams?
A.J. FOYT: Well, you know, they've got a lot of money behind them. They've got some great race drivers they've had for like five to ten years. They're a hard operation to beat.
If I was still a driver, I wouldn't worry about beating either one of them, but I'm not driving no more. Because when I was driving, I beat them as much as they beat me.
Q. With the predominance of road courses, is it imperative now that you have a road course driver or do you try to focus on Indy?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I'm always going to focus on Indy. To me, Indy's number one. If you win that race, you have a damn good year the rest of the year. And if you run crappy there, like we did last year, you have a miserable year regardless of what else you win.
I always focus on Indy more than anything. But you've got a bunch of great race drivers at road course races running good on ovals too. So I don't think you can just have an oval driver. You're going to have to have one that is a combination and can do both.
Q. How many teams do you expect to have, and how many cars? And I ask that because do you expect A.J. to have two cars?
ERIK BERKMAN: Well, I think A.J. answered the question on whether or not he'll have two or not. He says he's working on it, and let's hope that he can do good by that.
For me, we're obligated, like the other manufacturers to service up to 40 percent of the field. That's what we've agreed to. That doesn't say you can't go beyond 40 percent, but if you're less than 40 percent, there can be some pressure put on you by the series to supply more people that are waiting in the wings and willing to pay and that sort of thing.
But it's our intention to not go over that 40 percent. We don't want to try to go off and cherry pick all the good teams and stack the advantage by going and getting 50‑plus percent of the field. That's not our intention.
So that 40 percent of the 25 cars, you've got 10, and that's what we're planning right now. We're not going to go rush to go get those ten‑plus either. You can expect another announcement fairly soon.
But that will get us up into that, oh, let's say, seven category. Then, eight, nine, and 10, we're in no hurry to go rush off and fill those up. We have lots of team owners and drivers, for that matter, talking to us and wanting to figure out what's going to happen.
I've been telling them all just hang on there. There is time yet. And as it winds down and the season winds down, maybe we'll be complete or maybe we'll go a little longer into the off‑season.
But once we get to about ten, that's because we have some confidence that there are, in fact, five full season (entries) out there for next year, if there's more, then we'll have to bump up that.
We don't know what Lotus is going to do yet. They haven't announced the first team. And Chevy hasn't announced anybody but Penske. So we're waiting to see the chess match play itself out a little bit.
Q. So if you're looking at seven, then you're counting on four Ganassi and one at Foyt? Is that how your numbers are counting at the moment?
ERIK BERKMAN: That's not what I said, but ‑‑ (laughing) I want you to guess a little bit. You know, whether a next announcement is one and two or whether A.J.'s one or two. I guess you can kind of come up with all kinds of combination.
Q. A.J. and Larry, how do you think, the choice of different engines this year, how do you think that will play out for everybody?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think that's great. That way there you either make a good choice or you make a bad choice. I think it's great. Any time you have competition, I don't care what it's in, football, baseball, basketball, racing, it always makes it better. That's what makes racing good is when you've got competition.
Q. Kind of back the way it used to be, and that's not a bad idea. The aero packages, how does that play out? Do you have different choices on those?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think you will whenever (INDYCAR) decides what they want to do and lets the manufacturers know. I know Chevrolet's talking about air packages. I know Honda's talking air packages, and I know Lotus is talking. We'll have to wait to see how that plays out.
At the present time, they're all talking but nobody's done nothing at the present time.
Q. They'll have to do something pretty quick, won't they?
A.J. FOYT: That's quite true, and (INDYCAR) has to come up with their rules and what they want on the aero package too. Until they come up, none of the manufacturers can do anything.
Q. A.J., with the return of California Speedway to the schedule, bringing now two tracks that are two or more miles on the series schedule, many fans have already started talking that they'd like to see at least a third. Somewhat of a return to the triple crown of Super Speedways. And with recent renovations and improvements and interests in getting the Philadelphia and New York markets increased, A.J., you were the most successful IndyCar driver at Pocono Raceway. How important would it be to find a place like Pocono where they could showcase the power of these new engines and for that matter some good, American, oval track race?
A.J. FOYT: I think it would be great. I always liked the ovals and I was pretty good on road courses. I won my share of road courses.
But Pocono was kind of one of my favorite racetracks. I think I won it 13 times. One time I won it when they had to stop it because it started snowing.
I think it's good to have the Triple Crown like that where you have Pocono and California and Indianapolis. I think I won all three of them at one time or another.
Q. In your decision to go with Honda, was there ever any thought of Chevy or Lotus or were you guys pretty much on board with Honda from the get‑go?
A.J. FOYT: Well, actually, we talked about all of them. And the people at Honda have been very good to us and we've worked out a good relationship through the years. When I asked them questions, they answered me honest and truthful.
When somebody's been truthful with you, you kind of like to stick with them. I'm just glad they wanted to stick with us. That kind of made our decision. We never had nothing to do with Lotus. I've worked with Chevrolet; they've been very good to us.
But we had a good format going with Honda, and I just want to keep it going because we've got to get back into the victory circle. We've got to beat Penske and Target. They can be beat. Like I said, we used to beat them, so why can't we start again?
I think with Honda helping us, we can be right there. I'll say one thing, you don't stay on top forever, Believe me. I've been up‑and‑down like a yo‑yo.
Q. A.J. and Larry, great to hear this announcement from you guys. You know Penske, I guess you could say was down this year, A.J., just to go to your point. But with the way the motors have been with Honda the past few years, in effect, where they haven't been turning the wick up as tight on the motor as you could, which has given longevity. As you say, it's been more of a sprint race from start to finish. Going into 2013, will that change with the addition of the other two engine manufacturers?
A.J. FOYT: You talking about 2012 or 2013?
Q. 2012, sorry?
A.J. FOYT: Well, they're supposed to be pretty much all of them equal. Then with the air package and all of that. So I'm quite sure Honda's not going to take a back seat to Chevrolet or Chevrolet's not going to take a back seat to them or Lotus. It's going to be pretty interesting.
I think one thing you'll have to look at in 2012, and one thing Honda has had on its side is durability. So that's going to play a big factor, I think, in 2012 is the durability. That is one thing Honda through the years has built in is durability.
It's going to be interesting, but I think it's going to be a great series.
Q. To follow up on that, do you think we'd ever get back to the point where ‑‑ I mean, everything's more dependable today, for sure. But did you think we'd ever get back to the point where you'd see more engine failures because they're being stretched to the limits?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I hope not because it costs everybody a lot of money, and it's very dangerous when you have motor failures. I think all the manufacturers now through the years have gotten so smart that they know the weak points. They do so much running on the Dyno before they go to the racetrack.
Years back you went to the racetrack with your Dyno, where if it didn't live on the racetrack, it blew up. Nowadays you can blow them up on the Dyno so you know where the weak links are on the motor. So it makes it safer for the fans and the drivers.
Q. Strategically it is a really smart move to go with Honda because it's one less thing you have to worry about going into 2012, because the aero package, as you've mentioned is all undetermined right now. You're going to have your hands full with the teams working that out, don't you think?
A.J. FOYT: Well, it's quite true. (INDYCAR) has a lot of work to do themselves on how they want to police this stuff. So everybody's got their hands full for 2012. It's not going to be easy, believe me.
Q. Larry, when you look at the history of Honda, they came into cart the first year and struggled, and they pretty much took over and dominated ask won four championships in a row, same thing with (INDYCAR). Toyota was pretty good the first year, and then Honda ran them out and ran Chevrolet out. So just from the other side of the fence looking in, it just looks like if you've got a race team, it just seems like you're one step further ahead from having Honda on your side just because of their track record.
LARRY FOYT: For sure, no doubt. The other thing I really like is especially when we went out and toured their facility in California and saw everything they're doing and the way they run their business and the openness of their business and what we saw even still in North Carolina at the time, but when we had the Toyotas and I got to go run at Indy, and I had the Toyota and to get passed by those Hondas so fast.
But what was great is all the Honda teams worked together. Even though they were different teams, they were all part of the same family. I think that is something that Honda brings that I'm excited about. I feel like we're going to have a bunch of teammates now also. We're racing against them, but we're also racing with them, and that was one of the important selling points for me, and one of the reasons I was really interested in Honda.
Q. Since you have so much road racing and street experience, and this new race is coming here to Baltimore next month, could you talk a little bit about what makes a good street course?
A.J. FOYT: Well, what really makes any good street course, you know, if you can pass and that. The biggest thing on a street course I found out through the years is you have to really be set‑up and qualify good, because most of the street courses are awful hard to pass on.
Not knowing this new course and not being there, we'll just have to wait and see. It could be a good street course where you could pass in four or five different spots.
A lot of the street courses you can just pass at one or two spots. And that's what makes Long Beach a good street course because you can pass at about four or five different points.
In Toronto, you can pass, but you almost crash every time you try to pass. But there are a good couple spots that you can pass if you're working good.
Biggest thing on a street course is your driver and car and all of that have to be working together. If you've got that going for you, you can almost pass everywhere you go.
Q. Do you like coming to a place where nobody knows anything? Is that an advantage for you?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I'm not driving anymore, so ‑‑ I wish I was still driving, but time passes you by. I used to like to go to strange courses. I guess what I used to like more than I like now is you go to the racetrack that morning, unload, you practice, and you race. You'd see a lot more different cars running up front than you do today if they didn't have two or three days of practice.
I'd like to go back to the old days where you haul in, you practice, you qualify and you race, and you'd be seeing a lot different people, probably, up front.
Q. How do you feel about the cramped qualifying procedures at Indy? Would you like to see them open the engines up for faster speeds over 230 for qualifying, and then put them back to racing presence for the race?
A.J. FOYT: Well, if I was still driving, I think it would be great. But I don't know. Some of these guys are capable of staying out of trouble.
I think they're doing the right thing. Only thing I see if you've got 30 or 40 cars there, you ought to qualify all of them the first day, and then use the second day of qualifying as just a bump day. I'd like to see it go to that.
I think it would be more interesting than staying in the top 22 or top 24 car, and then you qualify it the second day. I'd rather see them just how many cars they can qualify the first day and then use the second day for bump day. I think it would be a lot more interesting to people. We've got a lot of cars, you know.
Q. The other question is what would it mean to you to win one more time there before you have to retire?
A.J. FOYT: What the hell do you mean retire? I'm not like you, Dick. I'm going to retire when they lower that casket (laughing).
Q. I know it.
A.J. FOYT: Oh, probably it would mean more to me for my sponsors that they win it. I've had such great thrills. Indianapolis is what made A.J. Foyt. I love Indianapolis. To me it's the greatest race in the world, even though I've been fortunate enough to win a lot of races all over the world.
But that's what made A.J. Sure it would be a big thrill, but it's like when Mr. Gilmore was sponsoring me, I gave him the rings and all of that, and him and his wife were both buried in A.J. Foyt 1977 rings. And that meant more to me to see how happy they were to sponsor me. And that's what made me so happy to do nothing more than for Diane Hendricks and David Luck to watch ABC car win the Indianapolis 500.
I mean, I'd be happy, but they'd be so much more happy. I like in racing trying to make other people happy.
MODERATOR: Thank you Erik Berkman, A.J. Foyt, and Larry Foyt for their time today.
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