Q&A with Bryan Clauson & Sarah Fisher
Thanks for joining us today, Sarah, Bryan.
As I mentioned, Bryan will drive the No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing RW Honda at the Indianapolis 500 after competing in Firestone Indy Lights in 2011, alongside his USAC short-track racing. Bryan is a two-time defending USAC National Drivers Champion which earned him a scholarship to compete in last year's Firestone Indy Lights and this year's Indianapolis 500.
Q. Bryan, I know how you felt last year just getting to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Firestone Indy Lights. Now it's the Indianapolis 500. What kind of emotions will you be going through next Thursday when you get into your car for rookie orientation?
BRYAN CLAUSON: A whole lot of them. I'm really excited. When the scholarship program was kind of laid out in front of us on the USAC side a couple years ago, Randy and everybody involved with the Road to Indy program had kind of envisioned this. For it to parlay into an actual opportunity to run in the 500 is something that I'm really excited about and something that is going to be a special month for myself and my family and everybody in short-track racing.
It's going to be an exciting time. Not only that, I'm really excited about the program we got put together with Sarah, Wink, everybody over there at SSHR. It's going to be a lot of fun. I feel like we have a strong program running into the month of May.
THE MODERATOR: Sarah had a career as an IZOD IndyCar Series driver. You were one of the most popular drivers in the series, made nine Indianapolis 500 starts on your own before you stepped out of the car to concentrate on your team ownership and becoming a mom last year.
Q. I know you've run Josef Newgarden for the full season. You have to be happy with Josef's performance so far this season, and if you can talk about adding a second rookie driver at Indy.
SARAH FISHER: Absolutely, Josef, he's definitely fast. We've got that going for us. He's done a whole lot on the team side, too. He works very hard, as does Bryan. It's great to marry those two programs together for the month of May.
We've learned a lot in the first four events leading up to the 500. I really wish there would have been an oval to give these two rookies a little bit of time before we hit Indy. But it is what it is and we've learned quite a bit already. We're really, really happy with that. We've just got to continue to focus on finishing races, achieving that next step.
Q. I mentioned you raced at Indy nine times in your career. What does Indy mean to you? Now as a car owner, watching Josef and Bryan, what kind of advice do you give them?
SARAH FISHER: Well, I'm lucky to have a whole group of intelligent people that will help with advice. But Indianapolis means the world to me. I give everything to continue to go there year after year in whatever capacity it might be.
I've been honored to be there five years in a row as a car owner. That's a very special thing. And then to bring Wink Hartman onboard to join me on the car ownership side, his first experience this year, that will be a lot to share.
It's very meaningful, sharing that experience with two rookies who are very talented in their own right and have a slew of credentials that give them the backbone to be there, that's going to be a very special experience, as well.
Q. Bryan, Sarah mentioned she wished one of the first four races had been an oval. You've done a bit of testing on an oval. What kind of experience did you get from the new IZOD IndyCar Series car at Texas?
BRYAN CLAUSON: It was great to finally get in one. We've been working really hard on this program over all the winter and the last few months. To finally get to strap in at Texas and not hear from others what it drives like but to get in there and feel what it was like for myself, kind of run through the gamut of things that are different on a big car than a Lights car, work with the engineers, kind of get my feet wet with what the month of May is going to be like, was a lot of fun.
I felt like we had a really good test. As excited as I was going into Texas, I left there probably 10, 20 times more excited. We just had a great time. Really just kind of solidified where I wanted to be and that I found the right group to do this with.
Q. I know May is usually a very busy month for you racing. You told me earlier you're concentrating more on the 500. I hear you do have an additional race towards the end of May at the Hoosier 100. You might be riding a bus with some fans from the Speedway to the fairgrounds that night?
BRYAN CLAUSON: Yeah. We put together last year BC's Bandwagon and had a lot of success when I ran the Lights race on Friday and then the Hoosier 100 on Saturday. RW, Steve Weirich and Rotondo Weirich and those guys are involved in the IndyCar program. I'm driving their Silver Crown car again this year on the dirt races.
I'll be at the Indy Mile Friday night and excited about it. And IndyCar and USAC and IMS have put together another great ticket package with the Bandwagon deal. It's a great offer. We had a lot of fun on the bus trip last year. I'm excited that everybody enjoyed it enough to bring it back again.
Q. Bryan, first of all, I think you're the first USAC guy that's been hired to drive a car at Indy since Tony Stewart. Talk about what that means to everybody else out there right now watching. Secondly, the other tough thing seems to be a lot of people have trouble dealing with horsepower. You've been running a Sprint car forever with almost 900 horsepower, 250 more than you're going to have at Indy. Talk about how that was at Texas.
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think everybody's really excited about the opportunity that Sarah and Wink and everybody at SFHR has given me this year with the 500. There's a lot of fan support and people on the short-track rinks that are excited about this opportunity. I think it's a giant step in the right direction as far as they're concerned and kind of reopening that door. Hopefully we can go out there and have a good month of May and keep that door propped open.
As far as the horsepower, the big cars, the horsepower wasn't as much of a change as learning to drive an aero car, kind of focus in on what you're doing inside the car, how it affects the aerodynamics, the aero platform, the adjustments you make from inside the car, what's that doing aerodynamically, where you're placing your car behind other cars.
That's been the biggest adjustment, changing your mindset a little bit on the horsepower side of things. You're not really in and out of the gas a lot, you shouldn't be anyway, so you don't feel the raw horsepower as much as you do the aero effects of the car.
Q. Any similarity at all with the Indy Lights car or completely different feeling?
BRYAN CLAUSON: I think it was more similar to the Lights car than I probably expected. Granted, it was a mile-and-a-half with a lot of banking. I'm sure when we get to Indianapolis and we're going 30 miles an hour faster than we did last year, it will probably feel like a different ballgame.
It drove about like I expected it to, after talking to a lot of folks, some people that had driven the car. I'm excited, real excited, to see what it does at Indy.
Q. Bryan, we know that last year the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship allowed you to race the ovals in Firestone Indy Lights. Talk about that after you won the National Drivers Championship and how it shifted to the opportunity of the 500.
BRYAN CLAUSON: Really, I kind of took that to Randy (Bernard) as kind of number one on my wish list. The tough part about scholarship programs, especially as you're trying to blend into a completely different form of racing, a form of racing that will be full-time, I'll need to do some road course racing, things like that. It's one year, and you have that year to kind of solidify yourself, you know, plant your feet in the ground there.
We felt like Indy kind of provided that best opportunity. We worked hard. If we can go have a good month of May and have a good showing like I think we can, you know, I think that will open up opportunities in the future.
I felt like if I went road course racing with the scholarship or even Lights racing, if I won every race that I entered, you know, without the scholarship next year I wouldn't have the opportunity back to progress.
That was kind of the thinking behind it. I'm really excited about how it turned out and really confident in the program that we've got put together here. Just can't wait to get out on the track here in I think eight days now.
Q. Sarah, can you talk about, is there a chance Bryan has put a package together that he can run Texas, Iowa, Milwaukee, based on how things go at Indy?
SARAH FISHER: Well, it's kind of I guess a big picture thing, how you do at Indy, what kind of programs we can put in place, sponsorships we can put in place. We're still a small team, but yet we believe in great people.
Bryan fits that family culture that we have, greatness in achieving things together. He fits that perfectly. My husband Andy has done a whole lot to put this program together. We're very proud of it. We believe in Bryan. So we'll work really, really hard to put something together as the year unfolds.
We have to see how things go at Indy. If we come out of there with some cars, some extras, it makes it a lot easier, quite frankly, to put another race in place here and as we go down the line.
Certainly we believe in the program a hundred percent and we believe in his abilities. We're going to continue to work hard to grow both programs.
Q. Sarah, I know your team has gotten some sponsorship for Dollar General for Josef's car for the 500. I know you've been working hard to attract some sponsorship. What is the status of the program in terms of sponsorships?
SARAH FISHER: I'll tell you what, I'm so thankful for our partner Wink Hartman. Racing is the only business I'm in. Luckily he's in a lot more.
It's not as great a year as we've had in the past. We've been pursuing a lot of different opportunities. Dollar General has been a partner of ours in the past and took me to several Indy 500s myself as a driver.
We always maintain great relationships with our partners, even when the time has passed. We're very fortunate that they jumped in to help us for the month. But it's for the Indy 500 only.
There's still quite a bit of pressure on the sales force here to make (indiscernible) eat and make the ship go round. There's a lot on our plate. Hopefully we can cross some T's and dot some I's as soon as we put some results on the board.
Q. Sarah, you touched upon moving from a one-car team to a two-car team, obviously it involves a lot more manpower, strategizing on who can go where. Can you take me through that process, what all that entails?
SARAH FISHER: Well, we're very fortunate, like I said before, we have a very talented, very genius group of people. They're all very specialized in one area, but they are all very well-rounded.
That being said, we also have a group of people that we've had onboard for several years that come in just for the month of May to help on programs like Bryan's. We've been working on Bryan's program since October of last year. In preparing for that opportunity, we've had that much time to select and pick and put the proper people in place to make sure that that second car program is just as strong as the A program.
Coming from a team environment before where it could be different from car A to car B, there is no car B at SSHR, they're all car A's.
Q. Sarah, are you confident that Honda is going to be able to supply all its teams with engines for the month of May?
SARAH FISHER: Well, that's a loaded one (laughter).
You know, I certainly am a hundred percent confident that they're doing everything that they have promised. I don't know what they've promised to individual teams and drivers and suppliers and the like, but I do know that as a company everything they say they're going to do, whether it's on paper or not, they've done for us.
They're a great partner. We're extremely pleased and very happy to have been selected to be a part of their family group of teams. I'm a hundred percent confident that they're going to be a really strong to reckon with
Q. Sarah, who will Bryan's engineer be?
SARAH FISHER: Jeremy Millness.
Q. Did he come from Ganassi?
SARAH FISHER: Panther. He was at Penske, then at Panther.
Q. A lot of car owners would say, Hell, no, he's not going to race Friday night in the Hoosier 100. With your background and roots, it's no sweat?
SARAH FISHER: It's kind of cool how the whole program is shaking out. Jeremy was my data engineer for my rookie test. When I was racing the types of car Bryan is in back in the day, however old I am now, it would kind of be like, you know, I guess, pulling one over.
He's very talented in what he does. For me to prohibit him from running in the cars that got him to where he's at with the credentials he has, that would be wrong for me morally in my own light to say that.
If something happened, we'd figure it out then.
Q. Sarah, you mentioned earlier that you kind of wish that Bryan may have had some more opportunity to get oval experience here early in the season prior to heading to Indianapolis. Made me think about the old debate about whether there ought to be more oval racing in IndyCar. I wonder just your perspective about how you perceive that and maybe your take on whether one form of racing is more fan-friendly than the other.
SARAH FISHER: Again, the business side of the sport always has input, unfortunately, because our sport is so expensive. But certainly coming from a USAC and World of Outlaws background, I love ovals. I love Indy. I'm all about Indy, having the American dream win Indy.
I would love to see more ovals, whether or not that makes sense. When we won Kentucky last year, there weren't a whole lot of fans in the seat. Does it make sense for the series from a business perspective? I don't know, I'm not the one to say yes or no to that. Certainly as a team owner, I would contribute to working as hard as I can to seeing more ovals on there. But unfortunately I don't have all the fans in my back pocket to fill their seats with.
Hopefully we'll see a little bit more ovals in the future, and maybe going to some of those that we've been to in the past.
Bryan, you can probably say a couple things about this one, but going to Phoenix would be a lot of fun for sure.
BRYAN CLAUSON: No doubt. That's actually where I first strapped into a Lights car was Phoenix. Spent a lot of time there in the midget and Silver Crown car. Always a great place. I know watching some video from IndyCar Series that tested there in the off-season, looks like it would be quite a bit of fun with the new pavement.
I think Sarah touched on a lot of the reasons why the league has gone in the direction they have on the ovals. Personally, I'd like to have run an oval before Indianapolis to work the bugs out, but go through some of the things that are going to be new on 500 race day, live pit stops, things like that.
We'll have the half month of May anyway to get it sorted. Sarah has put some great people around me. I have them to lean on. It's going to be huge as we work through all the new bugs.
Q. Bryan, are you able to test or practice at all on an oval environment, get up to speed on the change?
BRYAN CLAUSON: We went to Texas a couple weeks ago now and did the rookie test out there. But that's the only testing I've done personally on the IndyCar side. I think we're going to rely heavily on that test. Having some Lights experience at the Speedway is going to be big. I always kid about just knowing the lay of the land and things such as where the pit road access roads are, how to get in and out of the pits, garage, things like that, that really helps calm you down as you're out on the track and you're not flustered when you get out there.
I'm excited. I think in a perfect world we would have gotten to spend a little bit more time testing and racing and things like that before Indy, but that's why we get paid the big bucks, is to get out there and do our job and do it well in the month of May on the biggest stage.
Q. Bryan, how many laps did you get at Texas? Were most of those at speed or was this a feeling-out process?
BRYAN CLAUSON: We ran just about a hundred laps, right around 99. Really got up to speed pretty quick. Josef spent most of the first day, we used the same car, the drivers swapped at lunchtime, got up to speed pretty fast. I'd say all 99 of them were at speed. There may have been one or two where we weren't at a hundred percent speed, but it didn't take long to get flat and get comfortable around there, start the learning process. We started tuning on the car right away and working with the engineers.
That's the biggest thing I took from Texas, was just going through some of the testing processes and communicating back and forth with the engineers on what the car not only did mechanically but aero-wise, things like that, to kind of get us in the mindset for the month of May.
Q. Was this around 215? Would that be the top speed?
BRYAN CLAUSON: To be honest, I don't even know what the speed would have been. I was in the car. We ran. They were pretty happy with our lap times.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no more questions from the media, we will wrap-up today's IndyCar conference call and thank Sarah Fisher and Bryan Clauson for their time and wish you the best of luck for the month of May.
SARAH FISHER: Thank you.
BRYAN CLAUSON: Thank you.
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