Q and A with Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Will Phillips
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to today's IZOD IndyCar Series conference call. Our guests today are both former winners of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Will Power and Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske. Later on we'll be joined by IndyCar Vice President of Technology, Will Phillips. But first we'll start with Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.
Q. I mentioned you won this race in 2010. You've won the last two poles here. What is it with this street course here in St. Petersburg that suits your style?
WILL POWER: You know, I guess it's like your typical street course. The thing about this track is there's really no fast corners. The fast corners we do, you're flat out on so you don't really consider them as corners.
Yeah, it seems to suit me. I enjoy it a lot. So I guess I get speed out of it.
Q. You've finished second in the last two championships to Dario Franchitti. How important is it for you to get off to a good start as you chase your first IZOD IndyCar Series title?
WILL POWER: It's the same every year. You have to try to get off to a good start and get the most out of every race, whatever the race gives you. Don't try to take too much because maybe you won't have the car to win every weekend.
For me, I think we've just got to minimize our really bad weekends and obviously capitalize when we have a really good car.
Q. Something that is different this year is the new IZOD IndyCar Series car, which will roll out this weekend here in St. Petersburg. You've driven the car a fair amount in winter testing. What kind of race do you expect with the new car and with the engine competition here on the streets of St. Petersburg?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think it's going to be pretty interesting for everyone, just to see where the engine manufacturers actually stack up, where everyone stacks up. It was very difficult to tell during testing if anyone had a clear advantage.
So really, for me, I'm actually excited to see which engine manufacturer is the quickest, and I'm hoping it's us because I think Chevy has done a really good job of development and they continue to do so.
We'll see this weekend. Just try to maximize whatever happens, get the most out of the weekend.
Q. Ryan, you'll hit a milestone this weekend in St. Petersburg. You'll become the Australian driver with the most starts in IndyCar racing. Talk about that accomplishment and passing a guy like Geoff Brabham.
RYAN BRISCOE: It's really cool. Hopefully I still have a lot more races ahead of me. Really got to thank Team Penske so much for letting this happen. They sort of dug me out of a hole many years ago and gave me this ride in IndyCar. We've had a lot of success together. Hopefully we have much more success down the road.
But it's great. I feel like I've been learning a lot at Team Penske and IndyCar, representing my country well. We'll be going for our first championship this year, that's for sure.
Q.I mentioned that you are a former winner here at St. Pete. What does it take to be successful on this street circuit?
RYAN BRISCOE: You know, it's a pretty tricky track. It's interesting because the racing is usually quite good around here. You've got the front straight, which is long and wide. There's good passing down to turn one. You've got a couple sections of track where it's really open and it doesn't feel too straight.
The middle section of the track is really tight. You're sort of apexing from wall-to-wall. Small mistakes are very costly. You need to really keep it clean through there.
It's a track that's got a little bit of everything. As Will said, no real high-speed corners that are too challenging, but certainly technical. You need to be able to have proper turns in 90-degree corners.
Q. The same question I asked Will. You've done a fair amount of testing in the No. 2 car. What kind of race do you expect this weekend in St. Petersburg?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, I mean, I expect it to be a good race. I think there are a few unknowns still. We have more bodywork, much bigger front wings. We have fenders behind the rear tires. It will be interesting to see how strong all that bodywork is. If it is strong, you might start to see a little bit of bumping on these road courses which could make the racing interesting.
But I think right now the question mark is how much attrition there's going to be due to reliability. I feel like with Chevy, they've been doing a great job. We've had some hurdles to overcome. But I feel like they've had a pretty good handle on reasons for some of the issues that we had during testing, and solutions have been come up with.
Everything's brand-new. Everything is new. There's certainly some unknowns. As far as performance goes, I feel like we've done a great job in testing. We've been very fast at all the tests we've gone to. I don't think we've left a test not being on top of the time sheet, which has been promising. But we haven't tested on the same days as Ganassi. They've led their tests. We've led ours.
But, no, I think it will be interesting after qualifying in St. Pete to see how we stack up against Ganassi. I'm sure it's going to be a tight battle again all year long.
Q. Will, Ryan alluded maybe to the lack of strength in the cars for bumping purposes and light contact. Does that concern you going into this race?
WILL POWER: Well, actually I think the biggest thing is to be conscious of how wide your front wing is. Apart from that I think it's going to be better for racing because I think you'd actually be able to rub beside someone without getting lost in the air.
Like Ryan says, it's going to be interesting to see how strong all that stuff is. But I don't really want to be the one finding out. I'll watch other people do it and decide for myself if you can rub.
Q. Let's follow up on what happened at Vegas last year from the standpoint of wheel-to-wheel contact. Do you feel if not cured it's been at least corralled?
WILL POWER: See, the thing is, the bumper behind the rear wheels, it's never been tested. So I don't know. I'm sure at a certain speed difference between the car, it would stop a car launching. But I don't know what the difference between the cars has got to be, what speed that's going to work up to.
But I guess we're going to find out. I don't know how you could even possibly test that, so... There's no question I think these cars side-by-side, they won't launch as easily.
Q. Will, after 2010 you talked about how you wanted to get better on ovals. Last year in 2011 out of seven ovals you had five top-five races and your win in Texas. You improved across the board. Is there anything you see that specifically you want to improve on this year?
WILL POWER: Well, actually we've got quite a different package this year. I think things will be a little bit different anyway. I'm yet to drive this car on an oval, so I don't know. But I think just really the biggest improvement we can make, and what has lost us the championship the last couple years, is in the pits, just awareness in the pits, whether it's me or whoever is calling my race, other people around just being aware.
We had a couple incidents this year that really, really were basically like a DNF. It's not always the same thing. It's a combination of things. It's not really any one person to blame. It's just something we have to be very aware of and try not to have a bad day at the racetrack because of the pits.
I'm not talking about speed of pit stops because our guys are unbelievable when it comes to doing pit stops. I'm talking about mixing with other people in pit lane.
Q. Will, could you talk a little bit about who might have the advantage with the new car. Is it going to be the more experienced drivers who help their teams get more out of this or figure it out more quickly, or do you think it will be the younger ones who are more open-minded?
WILL POWER: Well, actually what I found with this new car is it's got a bigger window setup so you don't necessarily have to know the setup perfectly to do a good lap time. I think over the board it will make it tighter. I think the field will be tighter because I feel as though even if you're out of the window a bit, you can still get time out of this car. That really helps. I guess it helps everyone, but it helps maybe the lesser teams.
Q. Will and Ryan, I know how big popularity is in this series, in any series. I'm wondering what you think the addition of Rubens Barrichello does for strengthening the overall talent of the series as well as perhaps its popularity?
RYAN BRISCOE: You know, I think Rubens is such a well-known racecar driver all over the world, especially in the Formula One world, I'm sure there will be a lot of people within the former Formula One community that may not have followed IndyCar before following us. But also a lot of fans of Rubens from all over the world, especially in Brazil, that will take even closer notice to IndyCar.
I think it's huge. I mean, he's a huge name, a great driver with a massive amount of popularity. He's a great addition to the series, for sure.
WILL PHILLIPS: Yeah, I mean, I think people will be watching with interest from Europe to see how Rubens Barrichello does. It's good for our series to have a name like that. I think it lifts the profile of our series.
Yeah, I was very happy when I heard that he signed. I think there's no real negatives to it. It's great.
Q. Ryan, I want to know what the pluses and minuses are of the new car as opposed to last year's car.
RYAN BRISCOE: I mean, the car is a faster car. It's a bit lighter. We're going to be putting out more horsepower than on the old car. I think as far as everything I've experienced so far, they're all positives. A lot of emphasis has been put into the safety of the car from inside the cockpit to the way the bodywork is designed, as well.
As far as all that goes, it's all been really positive in testing. Being a new product, you know, there could be a bit more attrition, a bit more issues with reliability, which from a fan's perspective could be taken either way.
Obviously any failures are a negative. I mean, that could be something we see early on that's going to be a work in progress. Hopefully we've done all the prep we can to minimize that, but it could simply be a factor this year, you know, cars dropping out with problems that might be unforeseen because it's all so new.
As far as the racing product goes, I think it will be good. But we haven't really had the chance to simulate racing in packs of cars to this point. So, you know, St. Pete is going to be the first chance to go out and really see what the racing is like.
I think the racing will be at least as good. We've got some regulation changes which will mix things up a little bit. But I'm seeing it all as positive right now, apart from possibility reliability, which may or may not be the case.
WILL POWER: Much the same. The aim for the car is a little bit faster. It's lighter. There's more downforce, which means more grip. Ultimately I think it will have more horsepower.
So, yeah, we haven't really been put in a situation where we follow cars closely, so I don't know what the racing's going to be like. But, yeah, I think just having the wheels closed in, you know, you may be able to be a little bit more aggressive and rub alongside someone without any damage.
We'll see. I hope the racing's good or better. I hope there's more passing, because that's what we need. On these tight street courses, it's hard to get by people. Hopefully this car allows for that.
Q. Ryan and Will, I know we've been naming a few of the regulars like Ganassi as the main competition of the year. All the new factors of the season make some of these new teams and rookie drivers more competitive for the season, as well. Is there anyone in particular that you are looking out for this year that you think might make a run towards wins this season?
WILL POWER: Yeah, you know, I think definitely the KV guys are going to be pretty strong, Rubens Barrichello in particular. Yeah, I mean, I think Graham Rahal is going to be pretty strong just based on how fast he was last year, you know, coming back with Ganassi.
But it's going to be interesting really. I think time will tell where everyone stacks up.
Q. Ryan, any thoughts on that?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean, I'd add Pagenaud with the Schmidt team. They're a young team in IndyCar. Simon in testing has been very fast. We all know he's a phenomenal driver. I think they'll be strong, one of those smaller teams that could show up and steal some points.
Q. Do both of you understand the blocking or defending rule, the change in the defending rule? Are you comfortable with the answers that you've heard so far?
RYAN BRISCOE: I'm going to be looking for a bit more clarification when we get down to St. Petersburg in our first drivers meeting or talking to Beaux Barfield on the side.
I think we all sort of have the general idea, but it will be good to get a bit more clarification before we go racing on Sunday.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, I don't think it needs to be too restrictive. If they're going to bring in a defending rule, they need to leave it pretty open so you're not second-guessing how much can I block, how much can I go over, all those sort of things that muddy the water a little bit. I think we've had enough of that sort of stuff. So I think they're going to need to be very clear on what it means and what you can and can't do.
Q. I hate to ask this question, but people do talk about this. On the lighter side, who do you think, with Danica Patrick leaving the series, steps up in the sex appeal and star category?
RYAN BRISCOE: Will Power (laughter).
WILL POWER: That would be Briscoe (laughter).
RYAN BRISCOE: I saw a picture of Power during a Verizon shoot the other day wearing a dress.
WILL POWER: I'm surprised someone hasn't put that on Twitter. I'm glad.
RYAN BRISCOE: I have it in my library bank, so watch out (laughter).
WILL POWER: Who is sexy? Wow, Hinchcliffe.
RYAN BRISCOE: I think if Hinchcliffe would grow his hair long and straight, shaves that beard maybe, he could be (laughter).
WILL POWER: Honestly, I think it opens it up for the series to have a broader spread of, I guess, coverage from the media. There's no focus on one person. It's actually more focused on the competition side more than anything rather than a person who looks good.
Q. So you look forward to this?
WILL POWER: Well, yeah. I mean, I think Danica was great for the series. But I just don't think it's going to affect the series that much, her leaving. It wasn't like we all wanted her to leave. I think it would have been great if she stayed. But I don't think it's that big of a deal.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions for Will or Ryan, we'll thank them for their time and let them go.
RYAN BRISCOE: Thanks.
WILL POWER: Cheers. Thank you, everyone.
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by vice president of technology for IndyCar, Will Phillips. I appreciate you taking the time to join us today.
WILL PHILLIPS: Pleased I could be on.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously one of the big stories of the weekend is the new IZOD IndyCar Series car this debuts this weekend in St. Petersburg. Talk about the process of rolling out this next generation IZOD IndyCar Series car and how the process has been met by the folks at INDYCAR.
WILL PHILLIPS: Well, it's really been three phases of a process to get here:
First of all, the testing that was done by IndyCar with Dallara. As we're all aware, that was done with Dan Wheldon.
The second stage was manufacturer testing, which each of the manufacturers - Honda, Chevy and Lotus - all bought the chassis and went through the process of doing their engine development.
Then stage three, which began in January of this year and has run up to now, is the teams getting their cars and getting going with their own testing.
Q. From the INDYCAR perspective, you have to be pleased with the way everything has gone since the team testing process has begun.
WILL PHILLIPS: Yes, pleased especially since the last test a couple weeks ago in Sebring. We've had a few bumps in the road but found a way around them or a solution to them. Having 26 cars running at Sebring in the last two weeks without major drama was very pleasing to see.
Q. Can you talk about some of the new features of the car, some of the features people might notice.
WILL PHILLIPS: Visually the car is obviously very different. It's a different aerodynamic concept that Dallara has produced for this car. Safety-wise, the guys and people that watch the series won't necessarily be able to tell, but certainly from the chassis perspective a huge amount of effort has gone into improving the safety.
Some of the more visual aspects, there were the passive safety features, if you like, the rear wheel guards, the side pod wings, all to prevent wheel interlocking. That's something people will probably pick up on straightaway.
Q. What has the response from the drives been so far?
WILL PHILLIPS: They've been instrumental in making some of the improvements that we've had. Some of them have ranged from the visual aspects, their visibility in the car, their exposure to the wind, et cetera, turbulence, right through to the performance of the car, the handling characteristics, brake issues, differences that have come up.
They've all contributed and we've tried to keep an open dialogue with them to address any issues.
Q. Will, you talked about the interlocking. Can you give us a sense for how much you feel like you solved as much as you can? Surely you don't think you can ever control all of the possibility of wheels running over each other, but you feel like you've gone a long way?
WILL PHILLIPS: You're quite right, you can never eliminate all the potential scenarios. But in terms of the simple ones, if you like side-by-side, the fact that the underwing and bodywork comes out just half an inch wider than the wheels, in the simple side-by-side scenario running down to a brake zone, if they do touch, the less likely they are to have wheel-to-wheel contact. Front-to-rear contact with the rear wheel guards and front wing (indiscernible). That should help avoid the wheel-to-wheel contact. That's our intention with it, not having cars leave the ground.
Q. Briscoe and Power raised the issue that they don't have a sense yet for how much the contact the bodywork can take before it has damage to it, just overall contact. Do you think this car can take much of it? Is the bodywork strong enough for much contact?
WILL PHILLIPS: We haven't had any yet car-to-car contact. It should be able to withstand a reasonable amount, but it's not built to be a bumper, it's built to prevent contact from touching the wheels.
They're right, we don't know how heavy a contact they'll be able to sustain.
Q. Will, with the changes that we've talked about for the wheels interlocking, the changes that were made, were they already earmarked to be done before the Dan Wheldon accident or did some of this stuff come afterwards?
WILL PHILLIPS: The only additional safety wheel-to-wheel contact or launching of the car that was additional to the initial release of the car, which was obviously prior to Vegas, was the side pod wing, the small vertical stabilizer, if you like, that's about midpoint on the car off the leading edge of the underwing. All of the other features were there prior to Vegas.
It was, indeed, through some of the teams' input in the very early testing that led to that part being added.
Q. Will, I know that aero kits won't make their debut in 2012. It's something we're looking forward to in 2013. Talk a little bit about the process in getting the aero kits to manufacturers, having some of those manufacturers join the series in 2013.
WILL PHILLIPS: In fact, just last weekend, this one just gone, we released the draft aero kit regulations to those parties that are interested in providing an aero kit. Very shortly I'll be having a sit-down discussion with those parties that are interested in becoming a supplier to go over the regulations and answer any questions there might be prior to them having to declare themselves as an official aero kit supplier in 2013.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing we have no further questions for you, we thank you for your time and thank everyone for joining us on today's call.
WILL PHILLIPS: Thank you. My pleasure.
THE MODERATOR: That will wrap-up today's IndyCar conference call.
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