Q&A with Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold teams
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to today's IndyCar conference call. Later in today's call we'll be joined by the owner driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter. First we're joined by Panther Racing CEO and co‑owner John Barnes. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing co‑owners Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl. And IZOD IndyCar Series driver Oriol Servia. We hope JR Hildebrand will be able to join us in a few minutes. Thanks, everybody for taking the time to join us today.
Yesterday it was announced that Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing have formed a strategic alliance which will see the No. 22 car of Oriol Servia join team Chevy as a Chevrolet powered driver beginning with the Indianapolis 500.
Q. Robbie or Dennis, the first question for you guys. Can either of you talk about how the partnership with Panther Racing came about?
DENNIS REINBOLD: I can answer that. We started talking with Panther shortly after the Indy 500 last year. We did a little more of a casual partnership last year. We started sharing some information toward the end of the season. That went very well. We got along really well. So John and Robbie and myself started talking about this year, and then we went a different direction with the Lotus program.
And once the things happened with that program as they played out, we reconfirmed that we would like to work again with Panther. And so this has really come about over a series of many months. It's not ‑‑ it's not just this happened in the last week or two. We've been discussing this and kind of posturing how it would fit together for probably eight months or more than that.
Q. Robbie, just to clarify, this is not Panther acquiring Dreyer & Reinbold, you guys are both separate entities and are just working together as, I guess, a joint venture?
ROBBIE BUHL: Yeah, this is a partnership between our teams. We've now formed Panther‑DRR. I couldn't be more excited, as an ex‑driver, to now have two very good single efforts and single ‑‑ and good drivers in both JR and Oriol. And for those guys now to be working together and exchanging that information, you know, I can't wait to get things rolling here for the month of May.
Q. JB, I know that Panther's been talking and you've run a second car to JR in the past, but now you add the resources of the Dreyer & Reinbold team and Oriol Servia to your team that's being built pretty well around JR, one of the budding stars of our sport.
JOHN BARNES: As both gentlemen said, we're always excited about this program. I think Oriol is one of the top six drivers in IndyCar. He does a great job. He and JR will get along famously. The other teams and stuff will have to deal with both those drivers on a week in and week out basis.
This friendship goes back many years. We've talked about how to put something together that could benefit both programs. I think that we've done that. Took a little longer to get done than both of us hoped. Our teams are here preparing for the Indianapolis 500.
As Dennis said, we've kind of been through this last year. So both groups know each other really, really well. They know the strategies that each other play. They know the roles that each other play. It's not ‑‑ we're so happy and so excited to be partnered with a group that are basically our cousins anyway.
Q. Oriol, you've had some great young drivers as teammates ‑‑ Will Power, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe last year. How much are you looking forward to working with Panther Racing, JR Hildebrand, and Chevrolet?
ORIOL SERVIA: I am on many levels. I think what you announced yesterday, it is actually a big ‑‑ it's a huge deal. I see it more like sometimes you put one and one together, and it adds up to three, not two. I think that's what we're doing. I think it shows a lot the commitment from both Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold. We are here to win, to try to beat the Penskes, the Ganassis.
And when you look at them, they have three cars each, four cars each, and I think we both have realized in a single car operation, it's just an uphill when you try to beat these guys.
In a way, I think it couldn't be done in a better way because I know that both Dreyer and Panther in the off‑season were each preparing to be two‑car teams, both of them. So we do have a lot of manpower. We do have a lot of resources, and now we're putting them all together, and that's only going to help.
Then working with JR, I know he's a super talented guy. He was Indy Lights champion, and he's shown many times his speed. Not only speed, I know he's a good guy. He's one of those people that you can trust, that you can work with, and I think we all ‑‑ you know, in this deal, I think we all see how it's going to be beneficial for all of us to work together well and hopefully go for a one‑two finish in the big race. I'm really excited and looking forward to it.
Q. JR, you haven't run with a teammate much. I know you had a couple races with Buddy Rice as a teammate. Those were some of your stronger races last year. How much does having a teammate help in a young driver's development?
JR HILDEBRAND: I think the big thing for us is just get through the weekends a little more easily. I mean, as kind of the one‑car operation, we showed last year that we could run up front with just one car, but it was hard to do week in and week out. It was hard to have that consistency. And when you weren't running well, to be able to dig yourself out of that hole quickly. As we all know, if you start out behind or you get behind at some point during the race weekend, kind of as Oriol alluded to, with the Penske guys having three cars out there, Andretti same deal, Ganassi with sort of a four‑car army, you just really don't have the information to turn things around quickly.
I'm really looking forward to it. I think, for me, it will help a lot as well. Obviously, having worked with Dreyer & Reinbold in the past, they gave me my debut in the IndyCar Series two years ago now, and being around Oriol for the last year, I think we can all just get down to business in a hurry and get started on the right foot.
Q. Hi, my question is for Oriol. Oriol, last season was so strong for you, and I know you probably have very high hopes for this season. I'm wondering if you can talk about personally what it's been like to, I guess, go to the track and know, because of the Lotus situation, what you were up against, and now knowing that you're getting into this new relationship with Panther, you will have a more even engine, what the rest of the season could hold for you.
ORIOL SERVIA: Yeah, I mean, it's been an interesting start of the season. Obviously, any driver, you just want to improve what you did from the season before, and I finished fourth in the points. I started in the front row in the 500, finished sixth, and you want to improve that.
We saw that it was going to be really difficult this year the way it started. I think the benefit of that is sometimes, when you go through tough times, it either breaks a team or makes it stronger. And I think it's made us a lot stronger. We had to grow together through the first four races and go through pain together. It's not what you want to have, but I think it's putting us in a great position coming into the 500, where we're very hungry, and now we know we're going to have the right tools to be fighting for the win and not just be dreaming about it.
I couldn't be honestly more excited. I think we have a great opportunity at hand. As I said, our three owners showed huge commitment to go and win, and that's what you want as a driver, to be at a place that they give you the tools. And that is up to us to do the right educated guesses through the weekend with set‑ups and stuff and get it together in the race.
I am very excited, and, again, we are a little behind in the points, but, man, we have everything we need for the 500, which is the race I really ‑‑ obviously, me and everybody else ‑‑ you really want to win. You really want to do well. And we're arriving here with everything we need. I couldn't be more excited and looking forward to the chance I have at hand.
Q. Hi there. This is a question about transitioning, engine manufacturers, and it's going to sound like an oxymoron, but it's about the mechanics of changing the electronics. I don't know if Robbie or Dennis or Oriol can answer this. But when you have to change the engine mapping, will you get that from Panther, or do you get that from Chevrolet? Where do you get this information?
DENNIS REINBOLD: From Chevrolet. Our guys, we've basically moved into the Panther shop right now. That's where I am, in JB's office. He and I are on this call. Then we're going to go out and talk to the different guys on the team and just get our arms around things.
They're back there and have been for the last day and a half just starting to work putting the car together and building it up into a different motor configuration getting ready to accept the Chevrolet.
Q. Thanks. That was one of the difficulties, I understood, with the Lotus was starting late, amongst other things, was getting the engine mapping was separate for each engine.
DENNIS REINBOLD: It was separate. They tried to do some things on the pit stand throughout the race weekend. So we saw some progress with that, but it's a tough thing to start a program behind and catch up in that manner.
Q. This question can be answered for any one of the owners. I know JR kind of alluded to this in his opening comments, but from an ownership perspective, how much impact is having that second car go as far as data, driver feedback, and just having more to use in terms of finding a particular strategy on race weekend, especially this particular race weekend coming up where everyone's going to have to come to grips with Indianapolis and the new car.
JOHN BARNES: I'll be glad to answer that. It's very important. We ran a second car last year to accomplish that feat and had pretty good success with it. To have two drivers, two "A" drivers in a team is just incredible and to have two "A" teams like we do, again, is incredible. It's great mojo going on here right now. I think it will show really well starting this coming Saturday.
Q. Yes, this is for JR. I got on here late. I don't know if you talked about this or not, JR. What are your thoughts as you head back to Indy and the way things ended back there and stuff? How many times have you thought about it, et cetera? Can you fill me in on your mind frame as you head toward Indy?
JR HILDEBRAND: I think as a note to all we've got going on, after all that happened last year, everything is new this time around. New cars, new engines, all kinds of new challenges to be up against. So I think for me there's ‑‑ I don't ‑‑ I don't sit around and dwell on what happened last year. We worry about out on the track.
Since last year, we tested about a month ago now, and even that being the first time back, we just got down to business because there's so many things we got to start figuring out with the new car. That's really where my head is with the whole thing.
Definitely some things that after last year, being my rookie year, coming back now that I want to work on and I know I need to continue working on. None of that really has anything to do with what happened at the end of the race. It's just things to try to start off on a sort of more improved footing.
I think the biggest thing for us is just, despite kind of how it all ended, we were really competitive all month long. I think we took it a little bit conservative last year. I think we were kind of one of the top five or six quickest cars from rookie orientation all the way down through the month. So I think we, as a team, just come back with a lot of confidence and kind of momentum from that.
Now, obviously, with the addition of Oriol, who sat on the front row, and Dreyer & Reinbold with their experience the last bunch of years, we're just kind of adding bullets to the gun. I think for me it's just about getting back and getting ‑‑ and working away at making sure we're back up there with a chance to get the "W" this time around.
Q. But is there any way that you could anticipate what happened last year with a guy all of a sudden going about 100 miles an hour slower than you? It wasn't that slow, but you know what I mean. In front of you. I know it's a live and learn moment, but is there anything that can really give you experience of going through that except going through it? You understand what I'm saying. What you had to deal with at that very split second.
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I guess that's why for me it's not super difficult to kind of compartmentalize the whole situation because it's not something I deal with in practice. When you play baseball, you hit ground balls a million times a day. If you flub one in the game, it's like, well, you know, you screwed up. You screwed up doing something that you should know how to do. With this, it's kind of like you don't have that kind of situation come up in practice. You don't have that kind of thing happen besides when it maybe ends up happening during the race.
So there's certainly things that I ‑‑ there are takeaways from it for sure. It's not like I just blow it off, but at the same time, I don't beat myself up because it's just not something that you really deal with. Like I said, it hasn't really become something that I sit around and think about too much.
Q. Let me ask one last quickie. What do you anticipate speed‑wise with these new cars? Do you just see them being a lot slower? What do you anticipate as you guys get ready to start over there?
JR HILDEBRAND: I don't know. It's kind of hard to tell. It's been a gradual progression with the car since it was first introduced last year. It's been obviously well‑documented that the speeds are down thus far. I think there are some little tweaks and things like that that you'll probably see coming into qualifying weekend that will bring the speeds up a little bit. But that's just kind of ‑‑ I don't foresee the speeds being super high this year. That's just kind of what we're up against in terms of having a new formula and having a different kind of outlook on the safety side of the car and all this kind of stuff.
I think this year will probably ‑‑ could end up being a little bit of an outlier from that perspective. It's all just a work in progress, you know.
Q. For you and Oriol both, I'd like to get both your input. Do you anticipate that taking away from the show a little bit with the lower speeds? What's your take on that?
JR HILDEBRAND: I guess I'll take it first. For me ‑‑ and I've said this a bunch over the last kind of six months ‑‑ for me, when I was growing up, the reason I wanted to race IndyCar was because it was fast. Like that was just always as a fan, as a little kid, that's what really attracted me to it. So for me personally, yeah, there's definitely an aspect of it that it was about the speed for me from the beginning.
So I think for qualifying and stuff like that, I know I'll certainly notice if the numbers are different. Does that take away from the racing on race day? Probably not. That's hard to say. In the end, that's not ‑‑ to me, I guess that's not the principle. We're out here. We'll be in the fastest cars in the world, and that's certainly, as kind of things develop, that's certainly where I'd like to be.
ORIOL SERVIA: This is Oriol. I totally agree with JR. I think, as a driver, you just want to drive fast. That's what we ‑‑ why we started doing this. And open wheel is a rocketship on wheels. This is what we like to drive and what the fans like to watch.
The truth is, if we're going to be lapping at 220 or 230, that's more for us drivers, I definitely have more fun at 230 than 220, but I don't think the fans can really see that difference. So as JR was saying, I think it's going to be as good.
I think like every racing series, every time there is a lot of new rules coming into play, like new engines, new cars, every racing series always tries every five, ten years to slow down the cars, either horse power or speed to try to keep us within safety margins. I think we're just in one of those chapters where obviously there were lots of changes, and we're resetting our speeds back a little. I promise you, they're going to be growing race to race, year after year, and we're going to be hitting again the 230s in a couple of years probably.
As I said, I think it's more us driving. We have more fun at 230 than 220. I don't think you're going to see a big difference from your TV.
Q. Hello, Oriol. You've proven time after time that you quickly adapt to new teams. I was wondering what your secret is, and as a follow-up, what do you do with all your Nomexes?
ORIOL SERVIA: It has a very simple answer. It's called survival. You just learn that no matter what the situation, you'd better make the best out of it. So you end up making it work. The truth is there's no ‑‑ it's no secret that you need continuity to really get the best out of any team in any sport.
So eventually I always hope, okay, I hope this is a home for me for the next three to five years, but it doesn't happen or it hasn't happened until now, and I just have to keep making it work. Luckily for me, I always end up in a situation where it's a new team. Everybody is hungry as I am and we all make it work. That's what happened this year also. That's basically it.
With the Nomex, yeah, I have a lot of different colors in my closet. So makes it for a pretty colorful Halloween party.
MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no more questions for our guests, we will thank them for their time, wish them the best of luck for the month of May, and we should be joined by Ed Carpenter here in the next few minutes.
MODERATOR: We have been joined by the driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Ed, thank you for taking the time to join us.
Ed will be making his ninth Indianapolis 500 start but his first as a car owner. Ed is a native of Indianapolis and finished fifth in the 500 in 2008 and won the inaugural Freedom 100 Firestone Lights race in 2003. I know how special that Freedom 100 win was to you, but being able to race and win the Indy 500 in a car you own has to be something you probably didn't dream of doing when you were a kid.
ED CARPENTER: No, definitely spent a lot of time thinking about racing in the Indy 500, but being an owner/driver isn't something you think about back then. But as you get older and meet more people, opportunities present themselves. Having a lot of fun this year driving for my own team.
Q. You won the last time the IZOD IndyCar Series raced in Kentucky through four races. I know you haven't had an oval race yet, but do you think you have built a team that can keep you as one of the top contenders at every oval?
ED CARPENTER: I do. We just finished testing yesterday at Texas. I thought for the first day out we showed good pace and good speed for the first time out with a new car. I'm really looking forward to the month of May and don't see any reason why we won't be at the front of the field.
Q. You mentioned running yesterday at Texas. I know you ran at least a couple of laps around Indianapolis in the new arrow configuration. What kind of month of May do you expect?
ED CARPENTER: It's going to be exciting. I think the fact we all don't have much experience there, I think there will be a little more track activity each day, guys using the most amount of the day they can just because there is still a lot to learn about this car and especially the package at Indianapolis.
Q. I shall state my question now. Hey, Ed, I was just wondering, how do these cars ‑‑ after yesterday, how do these cars feel different on a speedway? I know Indy will feel a little different than yesterday. What's different about them from the cockpit sitting in them? What feels different?
ED CARPENTER: Just sitting in it, it's similar, a little bit different view, but it's definitely a more challenging car to drive. Just with the overall design of it and the weight distribution. It's been talked about a lot, and it's been improved, but it's still reworking, and that makes it more challenging. And we have less downforce in the package that we're running at Texas. Indy, it will be similar.
Really, it's a harder car to drive. I think it's going to be harder to run a full stint and keep the pace as consistent as we have in the past. So I think you're going to see a little bit more cars going off worse than what we've seen in the past at the speedways and super speedways. I think it's going to be more similar to what we've seen on some of the shorter ovals with the setting the season pace late in the stint.
Q. You as a veteran driver, do you like that in a race car? Do you like the fact that, I think, for want of another term, you have to drive it more than maybe the cars of the recent past as things change with it?
ED CARPENTER: The previous cars weren't easy to drive either, especially at Indy in race mode. The cars definitely seem to be harder to run on the uneven, high bank tracks. We all welcome a challenge. Where it gets a little bit difficult, as this car's evolved, there's been some things that's beyond challenging at times just because of the way that the design issues that we've been working through.
The challenge itself is exciting, and the ‑‑ I think being an experienced guy like you mentioned and having more experience to fall back on helps versus a rookie just because you've been through more and seen more. I think we'll be able to adapt and help the team develop the car a little quicker than guys that are just getting started.
Q. Ed, I know you've been touching on this a little bit already, but you were obviously one of the drivers that was here at Indianapolis a few weeks ago and now also in Texas getting the feel for the car there. If you could expand a little bit about how ‑‑ did you feel teams were pushing it more at Texas than they were at Indy, those ones that were there, and your overall impression of how testing has been going.
ED CARPENTER: I think definitely the Texas test was more of an open test, a team test. We were doing some stuff for IndyCar, just verifying the package. The test at Indy is really a manufacturing test. We were doing a lot of engine stuff. My team, we were working through a couple of issues and didn't get really many quality laps to work on the car or challenge of the track and go for speed.
I still have a lot of ‑‑ I really don't feel like we've had a real test at Indy yet just because our day was so short the first time we were out at Indy. I can't wait for Saturday to take it out there and actually get to work.
Q. Ed, if you don't mind a follow‑up question on a completely unrelated note. There's a lot of other drivers preparing for their time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that's our Firestone Indy Lights drivers, and you got a chance to speak with them at the Mazda Indy Oval Clinic the other day. What was that experience like for you?
ED CARPENTER: It was fun. When I was at that level, we didn't have anything like that. I think it's a great thing that the IndyCar and Mazda and the whole Indy program is doing just to help accelerate the learning curve for these young guys, not only in Indy Lights but in the Formula 2000 series and Formula Mazda. It's a good program, and it was a great turnout. There were a lot of kids there.
I was on the panel with Bob Rahal and Beaux Barfield, Johnny Unser, and Steve Knapp, and there was a lot of experience in all of racing and especially at Indy. It was something that I wish I could have gone through at that age, and hopefully the series will continue being a part of and in the future.
Q. Hey, Ed. This is maybe a pretty simple question, but the last month there's been a lot of maybe, I guess, hand wringing over the speeds, what they will or won't be, will the field be 33 cars. You as a local guy who grew up with this race, how important are those things in the grand scheme of things? Speeds and the size of ‑‑ I guess the size of the field in terms of is it a full field and how many cars are there on bump day. Why is this race such an important big race?
ED CARPENTER: Well, the Indy 500 is the largest race in the world. I think that's more than just my opinion. The size of the field is really a thing of tradition, and you don't want to see the field not be full. With that being said, the quality of the field is just as important, and I think the quality of the field and the competition we're going to have this month is going to be topnotch.
When you're looking at right at a full field and not having the bump day drama, that affects bump day and the excitement of qualifying, but when it comes to race day, I think the field is as strong as it's been in a long, long time. We're going to be able to go out and put a good show on and an exciting race and a competitive race. That's the most important thing.
But definitely it does make for a more exciting qualifying drama when you have a bump day like we've had the past few years, especially last year was a great ‑‑ we'll get back to that point, I think. We all knew coming into a year with new equipment that it was going to take some time to get the infrastructure and the amount of equipment out there to make it easier for teams to field one off. Indy 500 only efforts, it's a challenge right now with the amount of new equipment we have in the series.
Q. In that same vein, can you recall a time ‑‑ I guess because of the combination of the cars and the engines and everything that's new, can you recall a time that you've gone into an Indianapolis 500 and it's as wide open and maybe as unpredictable and unknown as it is right now?
ED CARPENTER: Definitely not in the time that I've been driving. When I was younger, I was more of a fan and watching and admiring everyone, but I think I was too young to know everything that was going on and all the behind the scenes type of stuff. In a lot of ways, all of this is new to me just because the majority of my time has been a single manufacturer where we've all had the same package for the most part.
My first couple 500s, there was competition with Honda, Chevy, and Toyota, but it wasn't as close as the competition that we have right now between Honda and Chevrolet. I'm definitely proud to be a part of team Chevy, and I think we're going to have a great month of May.
Q. I know a lot of people in Indiana and the Midwest used to seeing guys grow up on the tracks, you followed that path from midgets and sprint cars and silver crowns to the IndyCar Series. Now another young driver Bryan Clauson is doing that. What kind of advice would you give a guy like Bryan?
ED CARPENTER: I don't know he's going to need a ton of advice. He's new with IndyCar and has some experience with Indy Lights last year. The races I watched last year, I thought he did a great job, especially on a limited schedule. He's driving for a really, really great team that's got a lot of good people on it. I know firsthand we won a race last year together.
He's experienced enough, and he's a smart guy. He understands how to run a race. I think he'll probably surprise a lot of people, he and the combination of Josef Newgarden. I think Bryan will be surprisingly competitive.
MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions from the media, we will thank Ed for his time today and wish him the best of luck in the month of May and the Indianapolis 500.
ED CARPENTER: Thanks, Arni. Thanks everyone else calling in and listening.
MODERATOR: That will wrap up today's IndyCar conference call.
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