An interview with Bernoldi, Perera and Guthrie
(Note: Numbers in parentheses are the approximate time codes on the audio MP3)
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today. Starting the call with us are IndyCar Series drivers Enrique Bernoldi and Franck Perera. In a few minutes we'll be joined by Firestone Indy Lights driver Sean Guthrie.
Enrique and Franck are both rookies in the IndyCar Series, driving for Conquest Racing. Enrique comes to the IndyCar Series following a successful career in Europe that includes two seasons in Formula One. His transition to the IndyCar Series has included an 18th-place finish on the oval at Homestead-Miami and a fifth on the streets of St. Petersburg where he led three laps. After two races, he is 10th in the IndyCar Series points standings.
Franck comes to the IndyCar Series following six seasons of formula car racing in Europe and one in the United States. He qualified 13th and finished 14th at Homestead, and qualified 10th at St. Petersburg.
First of all, why don't each of you just kind of talk a little bit about how you've adjusted to the IndyCar Series. Enrique, you're coming from a background that included Formula One. How have you found the adjustment so far?
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (1:30): Yes, so far has been a lot of learning for me, especially at the ovals because I had no experience driving an IndyCar on the oval. Actually my first time I saw an oval was when I drove it. So it has been very nice. The team is nice and the car is nice, so the whole race, the whole championship, is looking really good for me.
I think that it's been a nice time so far. Of course, like in a road course and street course, I have more experience so we can perform better. But at the moment I think the way things went, I think we are in a learning curve and it's getting better and better. So I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season.
THE MODERATOR: And, Franck, the IndyCar Series obviously is a step up for you from some of the other formulas that you competed in. You would have even been a rookie in Champ Car. How has the adjustment gone for you?
FRANCK PERERA (2:30): It's pretty similar to Enrique. Like me, I'm completely a rookie also for Champ Car. It has been tough in both races. But ovals are not what we learn in Europe. It's completely something new for me. I never watched any races, just the 500, because it's the biggest event in the world. It has been good.
I was (indiscernible) of the Champ Car drivers in the oval. That was good for my team and myself with no experience to compare with Justin Wilson and Will Power. We had a good race. We finished really close to (Oriol) Servia and guys like (Darren) Manning, so it was good for us. Even St. Pete was, again, a good race. We were in the top 10 in qualifying. In the race, I was second on the rain, and I was fighting with (Tony) Kanaan on dry. I just made a mistake in the end. We had some bad luck with a pit stop, so I was behind. I made a mistake with (Vitor) Meira. I'm kind of sorry for what I did, but I think I need to learn, I need to gain experience.
For sure the team is going better and better. I think both drivers will be very soon competitive in any track.
THE MODERATOR: This weekend both of you are out at Long Beach. Enrique, talk about two things, if you would. First of all, do you think there's any kind of advantage for the guys who have a couple races behind them already this season over those guys who might be going out there for the first time? Second, talk a little bit about the opportunity that this represents that you'll also be earning points in the IndyCar Series championship.
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (4:30): I think that the fact that we've raced already two races, it is a good point. I wouldn't say it is an advantage because we are rookies also in Champ Cars. I drove the Champ Car for two days and a half at Sebring at the beginning of February. So it is also a car that actually I don't know very well. Also I don't know the track. It's my first time at Long Beach. I have to learn the track, as well. I think that should not be the biggest problem.
But I think the fact that I raced two races, and my previous race was a good race in St. Petersburg, which is also a street course that I haven't done it since 2002 when I last raced Monaco with Formula One, I think that it's good for us to keep the momentum and try to score some big points here because for us, we have a little bit of disadvantage from the experience overall compared to the (IndyCar Series) teams and the (IndyCar Series) drivers in the oval, so is good for us to get some points here. For sure it is a good opportunity to make some big points.
So the race will not be easy because a lot of good drivers are coming for this race. It is the last race of Champ Car. It will be my first and last. So I hope to do a good race. But, anyway, will be a tough race.
THE MODERATOR: Franck, you raced Long Beach last year in Atlantics. I don't know if it gives you any sort of advantage because you're new to the DP01. Talk a little bit about having that experience on the circuit and what that might help as you prepare for this weekend.
FRANCK PERERA (6:30): Yeah, I mean, I drove last year. It was a good race again. Like Enrique, I did just a couple of days in this car. I'm looking for sure forward to this race. It's nice to have a last race on that kind of track for Long Beach. There are a lot of drivers coming, like (Franck) Montagny from F1. They will be for sure very competitive.
Last test we had in Sebring, it was very good. It was amazing what we did with Conquest for the first time together. All people were new. We had the best time in the end in front of guys like (Graham) Rahal and (Justin) Wilson. So for sure we are looking for a lot this race. Even if guys like (Will) Power and Wilson were here last year with Champ Car and the year before, there is so much advantage, but I think we can do a very good job. We have the chance to score a lot of points, like Enrique said, because guys are in Japan.
Yeah, we are looking forward a lot. I think we have the package and everything to fight in the top this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: After Long Beach, we go back to the oval at Kansas. Can both of you talk a little bit about some of the things you learned at Homestead and maybe do you have a little bit more confidence now heading into Kansas than maybe you did going into Homestead. Enrique?
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (7:30): Yes, I think Kansas should be a better race anyway than Homestead was for us. Now after like two, three weeks that we drove there, I almost did the full race distance. So the team got a lot of data that they can improve the car. I also saw a different way to drive the car in the race, because during practice I was just going around the bottom trying to be fast, and in the race that didn't work.
So now I know I have more experience, so for sure I'm going to be more confident. And I'm not saying we're going to be competitive straightaway, but I think we should be in a better pace than what I was at Homestead.
FRANCK PERERA (8:30): Yeah, I have a different point of view of ovals now. I was really taking it slowly before Homestead. But everything came so good for no experience for both the drivers and the team, too. We had a perfect qualifying and a good race. I was keeping good lap times and everything. I was doing things good. I could finish in a good position for the first race.
So, yeah, I'm looking for more confidence, especially for next time. But for sure it will be, again, very difficult because we are still in the back compared to IndyCar drivers. I think now we can come close to the top 10 even in ovals, so that will be the target for us.
THE MODERATOR: The big challenge lying ahead for everyone is the Indianapolis 500 coming up. Franck, what were your first impressions of the Speedway when you saw it for the first time?
FRANCK PERERA (9:30): The first time was when I did the (indiscernible) visit, I don't remember the month. But, yeah, I was impressed because it's a track, but it's a different track than I'm used to seeing. It is just so huge. In the middle of the track you have so many things like golf and a lake. It's like a huge oval. And I can't imagine how many people will be there for the race.
That's so exciting when you will race in the middle of, I don't know, half million people. I don't know how many people are coming. But, yeah, for sure, I want to be that race really soon. But we still have so much to learn, especially in Conquest to be ready for that race.
Then the long month, like people tell me, rookie test, media stuff. Yeah, I don't realize that it is a big event, but I think in May I will realize what I'm doing in my age, a race in that kind of event.
THE MODERATOR: Enrique, your team owner, Eric Bachelart, he made two Indianapolis 500 starts as a driver. Has he started talking about the month of May and passed along any advice or is that too far down the road still?
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (11:00): We spoke a bit about Indy. I know that it's also an experience that will be very new for me. I heard I'm going to be testing there for almost the whole month. I have the rookie orientation. It's a different format of qualifying. We qualify maybe some weeks before the race.
I think we are going step by step at the moment. At the moment we are focused on doing a good race here at Long Beach. Then to get really experienced at Kansas, that will help us at Indianapolis. I know Indianapolis is a different way of oval where we don't have limitations for downforce. And it is faster, it is bigger.
I hope to race this race. Even when I was racing in Formula One, I wanted to do the Indy 500. It has been always in my mind. And now I have the chance to race a second time at Indianapolis. First I raced 2001 with Formula One there. Now I'm going to go the opposite direction, so I'm looking forward to that.
Q. Is it any distraction to you to hop back into the DP01 at this point in the season as you're trying to learn the Dallara?
FRANCK PERERA (13:00): Yeah, it's not easy because we start working on the Champ Car and we had a good test, and then we move to the IndyCar Series. We had like a couple of laps and then jumped to the race. You go somewhere, then you go back, you go somewhere. For sure, it's not easy.
But at the same time it's nice to have a final race with that car. There will be drivers like (Jimmy) Vasser and (Roberto) Moreno. It will be like a huge race. You just have to do the maximum with the car and try to get the best result. But I trust the team. The team have experience on that car. My engineer, too. We did a good job in Sebring in February.
I don't think we have problem then again to move to the IndyCar. I think it will be all right.
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (14:00): Yeah, I think for me it will be the first time driving a Champ Car with Conquest. At the test in Sebring at the beginning of the year, I was with another team, I was with Rocket Sports. So now I'm going to drive the car the first time Conquest. For sure it's not easy. I have to do a new seating as well, and the position is different on the car. Takes a while to get used to it.
But I think that will be such a nice race that for sure after a couple of laps we going to be familiar with the car. Conquest has a good car in Champ Car. They have a good setup. Franck was also first in the test we did in February in Sebring. I think this thing will be positive and I think this race will be a good race.
Then when we go back to the IndyCar, we'll be in an oval. So, anyway, is a different way of driving. So I think shouldn't be a big problem to jump from one car to the other.
Q. As transition teams, you are both matched up with another existing IndyCar team. How much help has that been to you? Have you gotten a lot of assistance from the drivers of the other team or how much help has having another team that's been in IndyCar for a while to guide you along, how much help has that been?
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (15:30): I got some help from my friends, especially the Brazilians like Tony (Kanaan). I had good friends there. We raced go-karts together. They helped me a bit like on how should I drive in the oval because it was a completely different experience for me and everything was new. I speak a lot still with my friends. They all help a lot.
I think on the team side, we didn't get much help from our supposed team that should help us. I think we just got the car and that's it. So try our best.
FRANCK PERERA (16:00): Yeah, I don't know so many drivers, except Ryan Briscoe in IndyCar because we were in the Toyota program in Europe, and in go-kart also we were teammates. Yeah, I had some help from him. He was nice to help me about taking time, step by step, that it's something completely different than what I did in Europe. And I also had the chance to meet Tony Kanaan. He's really a nice person. He gave me some help. And then, you know, I try to make my own experience. I think it was pretty good.
Q. Have you found the IRL driver coaches to be helpful as well?
FRANCK PERERA (17:00): Yeah, yeah. That's well. I did a lot of laps in normal car with the drivers. That was a huge help. They have a huge experience. It was amazing to have help from people.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys. Thanks for taking some time with us. We appreciate that. Good luck this weekend and the rest of the season. We're joined by Firestone Indy Lights driver Sean Guthrie. Thanks for giving us a call today.
SEAN GUTHRIE: Thanks for having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Sean is a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is in his third season in Firestone Indy Lights. He made five starts in 2006 and competed for the full season last year, driving primarily for the team owned by his father, 1997 IndyCar Series rookie-of-the-year Jim Guthrie. Sean is coming off a fifth-place finish in the second St. Petersburg race and also tested recently at Indianapolis. To top it all off, he will celebrate his 20th birthday on Friday.
Sean, first of all, congratulations on the upcoming birthday on Friday. It's not your 21st, but any big plans?
SEAN GUTHRIE (19:00): No. Actually one of my buddies called me the other day and asked me what I was doing on Friday. I said, 'I don't know, I think I got something going on.' Later on that night, I went, 'Oh, it's my birthday.' I honestly haven't given it much thought.
It's just another day back at the office. I missed three weeks in racing. I've just been flat out since I got home. I don't think that will change come Friday.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us a little bit about the season so far. Obviously seems like a little bit of bad luck to start out with, but nice solid result coming out of St. Petersburg.
SEAN GUTHRIE (19:30): Well, you know, it's definitely better than last year. Last year we tore up a car first race, then just kind of tumbled downhill until we got to Milwaukee. So far this year we definitely have a lot better result. I think we're eighth or ninth in points. Should have won at Homestead. Biggest driver error of my life. I think it will haunt me forever. I think I should call Roberto Guerrero to see how he dealt with it. That's not the way to start the weekend off. Then unlapped myself and finished 11th. Wasn't bad, but wasn't great. Then 15th and fifth at St. Petersburg were definitely fair results. Again, not quite what we hoped for, but not anything we're going to complain about.
THE MODERATOR: Your teammate Logan had a good run at St. Petersburg, too. Talk about the two of you guys. Obviously you were both in the series last year. Did you get to know each other at all being on different teams last year, and how has the meshing now gone as you have become teammates?
SEAN GUTHRIE (20:30): Well, actually Logan and I got to work together a little bit back in '06. He ran for us at the Indy F1 weekend when he was still not yet 18. He just did that one race with us. Unfortunately, I didn't get to race with him. But we did communicate, have a little bit of time together. Then we didn't really deal with each other much last year.
He's definitely a pleasure to have on the team. He and I get along great. We did a karting deal with the Indy Racing League when they had their promotional thing. We had a great time together. So, so far we work really well. Seems like our setups are usually pretty close. I think it's definitely giving Guthrie Racing a little bit of an extra edge this year over what we've had in the past.
THE MODERATOR: Does it help at all that you guys are so close in age? I think Logan now is 19, as well, compared to other teammates you may have had in the past that maybe the age difference was bigger. Is it a help that you are almost the same age?
SEAN GUTHRIE (21:30): I'm sure that is a little bit of a benefit. I think the biggest difference is that just our overall racing experience is very similar. You know, he's in his second year in the Pro Series and he did the Mazdas before that, just as I did, a lot of go-karting before that. So really the way we've been brought up in racing is very similar. That kind of gives us an idea of where each other is coming from, kind of be able to help each other.
I think he has a little bit more road course experience and I have a little bit more oval experience. Just kind of a little bit bouncing ideas off of each other and helping each other out. So definitely a big help.
THE MODERATOR: Let's talk a little bit about Kansas, the next stop for the Firestone Indy Lights Series. The series hasn't been there since 2004 so it's a new track for you. Obviously it is a one-and-a-half-mile track with some similarities to some of the other places, especially maybe places like Chicagoland and Kentucky. You've proven that you can run in the elite pack at those one-and-a-half-mile ovals. What are your thoughts as we head into the race at Kansas?
SEAN GUTHRIE (22:30): Well, my expectations are high. I really want to make up for what happened at Homestead. I think I can. The team is really focused its efforts on our ovals. Road courses are kind of a hard deal to a lot more of the drivers. So far we've worked our way through those. But mile-and-a-half, you really got to have a good car. I think we showed we had a great car at Homestead. Like you said, we've had top 10 results at mile-and-a-half's in the past.
So my dad and I have been talking and will continue to talk about where we're going to go as far as what we should take to Kansas. I've never raced there. Neither has he. We're kind of looking at some different photos, talking to some different people who have raced there and trying to come up with the best setup. I think Guthrie Racing will be able to do that, especially when we have Logan Gomez and myself working for that same goal.
THE MODERATOR: Finally let's talk about Indianapolis. You had the open test there last week. Tell us a little bit about how the test went and just looking ahead to the end of May.
SEAN GUTHRIE (23:30): Boy, I tell you what, that test was a trial in and of itself. I don't know if anyone else was out there. But the weather was on the cool side and the wind was just gusty and blowing all day long. It really made driving the track a trick. We weren't able to try as much on the setup as we of would have liked.
Overall I think it was a good test for myself. We had a really consistent car. Logan and Tommy Wieringa also drove there. They seemed to struggle a little bit. They were trying some different things. Hopefully by the time we get back there for May, we should have a pretty solid setup and be able to run for that top spot yet again.
Q. How do you go about preparing for a track that you've never raced at before?
SEAN GUTHRIE (24:30): Well, you know, it will be very similar to all the other tracks we race at. I'll be working hard up until I leave. Once I leave, it will just be time to get the race face on, I guess you might say. Really by the time we get there, hopefully I will be able to kind of see what the track is going to be laid out like. From what I've heard, it's very similar to Chicago, with banking like Kentucky. So it's just a standard mile-and-a-half.
Once we get out on the track, the first five to 10 laps will just kind of be a reconnaissance lap, take it out there and be very smooth on the throttle, 50% throttle, 60% throttle, keep working your way up. By the 10th to 15th lap we should be flat. From there on out, you're just trying to adjust your line of finding the optimal line to make the most out of your car.
Q. Do you ever use video games or simulators to help you?
SEAN GUTHRIE (25:30): You know, I have in the past. People might think that's a little bit funny. When you're doing a lot of the road course races, like in the Star Mazda series, my first year at the Indy Lights Series, I hadn't seen any of these road courses. Video games are something like that. Even just watching videotapes helps you kind of get a good idea so when you go out there, you don't have to drive around at 30 miles an hour. You can accelerate up, and go, 'OK, I know coming next is a left-hander.' You don't necessarily know what the track is going to do exactly, but at least you know which direction the track is going to go, how fast the corner is. And from there, you can really start to work on what the car wants, what real life takes.
THE MODERATOR: Sean, thanks again for taking some time to join us today. Best of luck as we move forward in 2008.
SEAN GUTHRIE: Appreciate it, Tim.
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