An interview with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon
Gentlemen, I guess one of the questions, Scott you were the quickest in limited time yesterday, you obviously have good cars. The rain is hampering the practice. One line of thought would be, We've got the best car, so what, let's let it rain till race day and fire off. Any sentiment like that?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know. You know, obviously we've got good cars. Target has done a fantastic job of preparing them. For us, we still need track time.
Yesterday, I think, it's pretty much who gets the biggest tow. I think myself, Dan and Marco (Andretti) were pretty lucky we got it early on. I think yesterday a lot of us didn't think they were going to be running. It was good to get out on track.
I think the limited time we have had on track has probably helped us in reference to the guys had to make the transition, some of the other guys are struggling. But we're still struggling in some areas, and we need to work on those. So any track time is going to help us, but it's going to help anybody.
THE MODERATOR: Dan, you've won the race. There's been other times when it looked like you might have been the man to beat. You know as well as anyone how many variables have to go your way to be the final one to cross the finish line, checkered flag.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, certainly seems to be a very competitive race this year. I think when you consider that the speed of the 11th-place person, after Pole Day, was still pretty impressive. They were a very good four laps. And so I think it's unfortunate with the rain. I think the biggest thing the rain affects is the fans. But it seems there's been a great turnout for a lot of days running that we've had, or even not had.
But for us personally, I think we need to -- we definitely had great cars in qualifying, and certainly the team deserve a lot of credit for that. To have two cars on the front row of the grid, two cars that happen to be first and second is a difficult feat to accomplish when you consider that everybody's using the same engine and everybody's using the same chassis. They've certainly done their homework and continue to work hard.
But I think as we all know, qualifying and racing around this place are two totally different things. And now our focus is very much switched to having good racecars and having consistent racecars and having race cars that work in traffic. It seems that you're going to be in traffic a lot, certainly this year.
Yeah, like you say, I've had great race cars where I thought I would dominate, like in 2006. I think we led over three-quarters of the race. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to win. You need just to have a mistake-free day. You need to have a car that's fast out front, but also very good in traffic.
We're working towards all those things. But it's just very difficult to accomplish at Indianapolis.
Q. Scott, your dad spots for a rival team. Do you ever send a message up to your spotter to have him get his driver out of the way when you're lapping him?
SCOTT DIXON: I will say he's the easiest car to pass on track. I don't know what he says to Jay (Howard). Obviously it's changed to John (Andretti). I don't think John will agree with that as much.
But, no, I don't know what dad says to them. I don't think -- he's just doing his job.
Q. Your first run was last Saturday, it was the most consistent four laps ever run here in qualifying. A lot of other guys had very consistent runs all day long. You talk about consistency for the race. Does that translate at all from qualifying to the race as far as running consistent laps?
SCOTT DIXON: I guess some of it does. As I said earlier, probably right after that, when I thought the timing or whatever we have in the car, on the steering wheel, was broken, because it did read the same number for three laps, and it changed on the last one. I said, Oh, maybe it's not broken.
For here I think because any kind of gust of wind or anything that changes throughout the corner, and obviously the tires get worse over the run, you burn a bit of fuel off, you'd think the laps would change, or they do change quite a bit. You saw that later on in the day.
I think at that point we were pretty conservative. When you've got a car that's got a lot of grip, it's easier to keep it doing the same thing. I think that's why we had that situation.
But four laps opposed to a run where you're going to be doing 30 to 35 laps on a tank in the race, you're not going to have anything close to that. I think if you can have that early open, it's nice. But that just showed how much grip we had in the car. I think that was similar to people who ran earlier in the day, had the same consistency. Once you start to trim out, the car is much harder to drive, it's much harder to keep more consistent, and it definitely falls off on the last few laps.
Q. Talk about the competition between you two in the team, week to week, each qualifying session, each race?
DAN WHELDON: You know, it's obviously intense. We're very competitive individuals. I think one of the important things to address in a matter like that is the fact that we've been given very competitive equipment and you want to make the most of that.
As drivers, you understand, particularly with the environment the way it is right now in IndyCar racing, that any on-track time that you have, you have to make the most of. I think over the years our relationship has definitely continued to improve to the point where I think we're able to drive the team forward. And I think that's what you're seeing right now. I mean, we've both been very close to winning championships in the last couple years, and unfortunately have come up short. This year we're very intent on trying to put that right. That goes for The Championships and the Indianapolis 500.
I think we definitely push each other very hard. I think when you look at qualifying, if I'd have run a certain degree of rear wing, Scott would have taken out a little bit more. If he'd have got the part, I would have done the same thing. But that's good. That's very healthy competition. There's a lot of respect I have for Scott. To be quite frank, on Pole Day, I gave it all I had, just came up short. So that's unfortunate. But at the same time it's great for the team. I expect we'll both be very strong for the race.
Q. Doesn't apply to either of you now, but if you were on the outside looking in, had not qualified, what number would you think it would take to make the field this year?
SCOTT DIXON: I'm useless at that. I have no idea. I think it should be over 220, right? I don't know. I haven't seen what the last sort of five, six cars' speed-wise are looking at.
DAN WHELDON: I think that might be kind of exciting, though. A lot of people don't know what they need to do. But I tell you what that is going to make for, it's going to make for a difficult race. Because a lot of those people are not sure. And then they're probably working on qualifying simulations. It's amazing around here. Like if you're not working in traffic, seeing how your car does perform, when that race comes around, if you're stuck in the middle or the back of the pack, it's not nice.
When I started 16th, I think of after the first three laps I radioed in and I said, Listen, I hate it back here, let me get to the front fast. It's too difficult. Like the car becomes very unpredictable. It's much nicer to run up front.
Q. Do you feel like you guys maybe have a little bit of a mental edge? Saturday you're the two fastest cars on the track. Four days without hardly any activity. Yesterday you're out there half an hour, you're still the two fastest. All the other teams going through the frustration and anxiety of wishing they had more track time, do you think it's defeating for them to see that you are still the fastest when you have that limited track time yesterday?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it helps your confidence level for sure. If you can go out there and consistently think you're going to be at the top, not necessarily the fastest, but in the first few, I think it helps you mentally for the race. That's for sure.
It's kind of a fine line, especially at Indy. You got to be aware of respecting the place, too. I think if you get too overconfident, start doing stupid shit, it will bite you pretty quick. That's my thought on it.
I think it helps. Each day you're quick, for sure it helps. But it can get away quick from you as well.
DAN WHELDON: I think personally, I don't want to sound old, but I've been to this place enough now where I've seen the quickest car year after year not win the race. It's very, very rare that the quickest car wins the race here. Kanaan was very quick last year. In fact, to be quite honest, I thought Kanaan had a very dominant month last year. He didn't win the race. You look at us in 2006, we won quick in pole day, in the race we had a dominant racecar, didn't win the race. I just doesn't work like this.
That's what makes the Indianapolis 500 the Indianapolis 500, because it's so unpredictable.
Q. Scott, talking with Dan and T.K., they both have been expounding this month a little bit on family life, how that's kind of changed them as people, not in the racecar but outside the racecar. How about you? Have you noticed a difference in yourself since you got married?
DAN WHELDON: His bank balance has gone down half (laughter).
SCOTT DIXON: I keep saying my bar bill's a lot cheaper, though (laughter).
You know, I think you change a little bit. But for me personally I think it's been definitely for the good. I think I've come out a little bit. Emma is not -- not out of the closet (laughter). But in my talkativeness, personality a little bit.
DAN WHELDON: I really hope you haven't. Changing in the same room.
SCOTT DIXON: But, no, I don't think you should change too much. I think you should definitely be the same. How I am at the racetrack and away from the racetrack is definitely different. But I think you change. I'm getting older. I know I'm a bit wiser, I hope. You know, I wouldn't say -- no, I'd just say everything's changed for the good. And it hasn't been a lot. I just keep getting back to the point that everybody says, When you get married, do you change a lot? I don't think you should. I think it's been pretty similar for myself. It's just I've got better in certain areas.
Q. This question is because of the lack of time you guys had on the racetrack. In order for you to prepare for the race, how long do you still have to work on the setup to work with the group? Which are the guys that you trust most to do the setup? Because this series, you depend on other teams to make the setup for the race. Who are the guys you look for when you go back to try to make the setup for the race?
DAN WHELDON: Well you obviously can't control the weather. I think certainly what the engineers do is they try and look and forecast the weather ahead so we know roughly how much track time we have, and that seems to be changing all the time.
But if I understood your question right, I think the main thing is being very disciplined and regimented when you're in the racecar and maximize that time that you have. And it's not about getting -- you have to get your car comfortable for you. And everybody requires something different. That's what you work towards.
In terms of the people that you work with and trust to do that, it's the relationship you have with your engineer and your assistant engineer, and then with the other car on the team, your guys all kind of pool your information and try and see what works and what doesn't. If that works for you, you use it. If not, you don't.
That's where you really have to come together strongly as a team in order to perform well for the race. Because theoretically from what we hear, this could be the last day on the track. Hopefully the weather, we'll get some tomorrow, too. The weather doesn't look good for the weekend. We definitely need to, around 3:00, be reasonable.
Q. When you win a championship early in your career here, much is projected of you that you could win more, you go through a period that you have, if you could talk about your mindset, how you kind of adjust your expectations, where things are for you now. Dan, if you can add to that.
SCOTT DIXON: For us, it was a bit unexpected in 2003. I just made the transition. I wasn't a lover of ovals. To come to a series where that's all you do, it probably was a tough transition. The only thing that made it easy for me was coming with a team that I did. Ganassi was an easy choice because you knew you were going to have a great car.
That season caught us a bit off guard. We had very dominant cars, especially on the short tracks. We won some races. It was a strange season in the fact that we had a lot of mechanicals, but we still came away with it.
Then '04, started off not too bad, then got really bad.
But I think those years you kind of learn a lot. You learn to appreciate the good days a lot more. With racing styles, some of the silly things we used to do for qualifying, trying to improve that, I think has helped us, helped myself, knowledge-wise.
It's motor racing. It's good one day, can be pretty bad the next. You just got to try and ride the waves when they're good and not dwell too much on the times when they're bad. I think for myself, and Dan I think I can speak for as well at the moment, we're pretty lucky with how the team's doing at the moment and the equipment that we have, you know, that you have to strive on it and hopefully make the best of it.
I think the last two years, we came up a little short. I think that makes you more determined. So, yeah, I'm happy at the moment.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I think Scott's basically touched on it. As a professional athlete, you're definitely going to have good times in your career and you're going to have, you know, bad times. I think I've been very fortunate to always be in very good cars, what I would call a dismal end to 2007 where we still ended up fourth in the championship. So you can take a little bit of solace from that. But at the end of the day it's still not good.
But, you know, you just have to, like Scott says, appreciate the good times. When they're bad, work real hard to try to get through them as quick as you possibly can, because you're gonna have bad times. Sometimes it's just working for you. Sometimes, no matter what, it doesn't.
I can remember the only time I really listened to the boss last year was in 2007 at Kentucky. He told me, Please don't lead this race. Make sure you save fuel. I'm sitting I think in fourth trying to save fuel. Sure enough, Hornish spins right in front of me when I'm right on his gearbox and I had nowhere to go. It's just one of those things where you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You can't control that, but you've just got to stay strong, believe in yourself and get through those bad times as quick as you can.
Q. Of the new guys, who has stood out and impressed you here? If you could think of any of the new drivers that may be a factor or surprise on race day.
DAN WHELDON: You know, with these guys, you can't discount any of them. The craziest by far is Ernesto Viso, I think his name is. Dude, he looks nuts. You can tell he hasn't hit the wall yet. When he hits the wall, you'll know, because he'll pull out slowly from the car in front, move back nicely. You can tell he hasn't hit yet. You can tell the guys that haven't hit hard. Scott (Goodyear), you can relate. In 2003, I came out the box swinging. Then you hit the wall and you just start to calm down a little bit, then you start to hit the wall a bit more, then you really start to calm down. You realize it's not a nice feeling.
He seems to be the most aggressive.
I personally think the one that seems very calculated and pretty quick is Will Power. From what I understand, I don't think he particularly likes the ovals. Just looking at him from a style standpoint, I got a feeling that he could potentially be the best. But obviously you got to get your head around liking these places.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I tend to agree. Viso is pretty crazy. You know, I think it's the guys that did well over there, if you look at it. Power, he's got good car control, definitely thinks about things a little more than maybe some of the others.
I think the other one is probably Justin Wilson. Seems very, very good, as well. You know, as Dan said, it's the 500, anything can pop out. You have to realize those guys have had a tough time in the transition. For them to do it, it's going to be a lot of hard work for them. But there's definitely a lot of capable guys that have made the move.
DAN WHELDON: It would be unfair to judge those guys' performance right now because certainly the weather has not helped them. You're talking about people that are incredibly talented. So judging them on their performance at this point is totally, totally unfair because I think give them some more races, more importantly, give their teams a few races. It's very hard to drive a car that people are still learning with. A lot of this oval stuff is mental, it's confidence. If you can see that your team is struggling to find their way a little bit, not even struggling, but just slow to find their way, that's gonna make the driver slow, too, in terms of confidence. So that will take time.
But there's some real good guys there. That's why I think the IndyCar Series is going to develop into something very interesting, not only for fans but for sponsors and people from the outside looking in, potentially that could come into this series.
THE MODERATOR: FYI, Will says he loves Indy and Milwaukee, and he doesn't like the mile-and-a-half ovals.
Scott, we know where Dan stands on the Indy 500, how much it means to him. Is this race a special race for you?
SCOTT DIXON: It's a special race for everybody. I think you'd be kidding yourself if it wasn't. I think it's the history. It's the tradition. You're doing the same thing that almost, what, a hundred years now they were doing the same. It's a month long. I think the best part for the drivers is you're in the car so often. The hardest part of the whole thing is you work so much for that one day and it comes down to that one day. If you come away with less than winning the race, you're pretty disappointed.
I think this place touches everybody. Especially when you walk out on race day, as a driver, it's very special.
Q. Dan, you were just talking about the transition to ovals. What really goes into adjusting from road to ovals? How do you discipline yourself? I'm asking that more as a cautionary tale for the Champ Car guys coming over here trying to adjust to Indy, some of the mile-and-a-half tracks.
DAN WHELDON: With the ovals, a lot of it's the package. I've been very lucky, like I say. I talk about it a lot, but I've always been in very competitive teams. When you can jump in good equipment, it certainly makes the driver's life easier. Even when you're struggling and you can still do a reasonable time, that confidence is big.
So I think a lot of it comes down to the teams just getting the cars up to speed. Then once that's the case, you know, then the driver has to fine tune that. But as a driver, you know, what's very important on these ovals is to make sure that you're not just -- like these one-and-a-half-mile tracks are very easy to ride around on. They are very easy flat out on your own. It's getting the car right for the race. As a driver, you have to be very disciplined. Even if there's not much on-track activity, there's not many cars on track, you have to give and relay feedback to the team for them to give you a car that is going to be in traffic. Even if there's not traffic, you have to make sure you can say, You know what, I don't think this is right. Put 12 cars in front of me, this is not going to work.
It's about not being lazy in situations that you can be and just trying to develop the car as much as I possibly can in those situations. Once it's reasonable and you're running up front, then it comes down to how prepared you are to hang it out on the line.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
DAN WHELDON: Because of the weather this year, I think all of you should push Brian Barnhart on opening the tracks on the day it's off, Monday and Tuesday. We vote you should keep the track open.
THE MODERATOR: We like cars on the track.
Feedback can be sent to email@example.com
Go to our forums to discuss this article