Q and A with Dempsey, Andretti and Hunter-Reay
MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined today by three guests. Firestone Indy Lights driver, Peter Dempsey of Belardi Auto Racing, and a little later we'll be joined by Ryan Hunter‑Reay and Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport. But first we'll start with Peter. Welcome to the call.
PETER DEMPSEY: Thanks for having me.
MODERATOR: Peter drives the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing car in Firestone Indy Lights and is currently second in the point standings after recording his first Firestone Indy Lights win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month.
Peter, obviously, the last time we saw Firestone Indy Lights on the track, you were coming from fourth place off the final turn to pass three cars in front of you to win the Firestone Freedom 100. Been off for a couple weeks; how anxious are you to get back in the car this weekend at Milwaukee?
PETER DEMPSEY: Coming obviously away from the great win we had at the Freedom 100, there isn't a better place for us to get our first win as a team and as a driver, and to do it in the fashion we did, it was great. But it's been a busy few weeks. I actually headed home to Ireland to get my visa extended and had plenty of media to do over there and then actually just landed back in Chicago yesterday.
So it's been hectic, but I'll be heading to Milwaukee later, and really looking forward to getting back on track. The Milwaukee Mile is my home track. It’s actually the closest thing I have to a home track in the U.S. So I think Andretti Autosport has done a great job promoting the event over the past couple seasons and looking forward to getting on track tomorrow.
MODERATOR: You've tested at Milwaukee, and you practiced and qualified for a race a couple years ago, but this will be the first time you actually raced an Indy Lights car at Milwaukee. Can you take the past experience you've had at the track and apply them to this race weekend?
PETER DEMPSEY: Yes, certainly. Any time you get some track time, it's always good and valuable and you always take notes. So hopefully we'll be able to bring the bit of track time I’ve got at Milwaukee over the past few seasons, and we use it to my advantage this weekend. A couple of the teams tested here a few weeks ago, and unfortunately, we missed it. But we got plenty of track time tomorrow. We've got four hours, and then two practice sessions on Friday. I think we should be all right heading into the weekend.
But at the same time it’s going to be a tough weekend. We run in a very competitive series, and we've just got to see what we've got.
Q. As I mentioned, you're second in the point standings. Carlos Munoz had a pretty good first four races this season, winning a couple of races and winning three poles. Do you feel like your season starts this weekend with Milwaukee or is it too soon to be thinking about the championship?
PETER DEMPSEY: I think that's where I caught myself out, to be fair. The first few races I was thinking too much about the championship and not really driving 100 percent the way I like to drive. And I kind of changed that around at Long Beach, my attitude towards my driving and going and attacking 100 percent everything every lap and not thinking about the championship, and go ahead and race Carlos (Munoz) and the guys as hard as we can from here on out. And if the championship comes along with that, then it's meant to be; but if it's not, then it won't be because of a lack of trying, anyway.
Q. You mentioned you were home in Ireland, what was the reaction to your first win back home?
PETER DEMPSEY: It was unreal. I arrived home Monday, a week ago. I’ve been flat out doing so many TV appearances and radio interviews, and the reception I got after such an historic win was brilliant. I thought I would see my friends and have a beer or two, but really it was just flat out with media interviews and I got to see a lot of people, and the reception I got was great.
Q. Peter, if you can just take me through that final lap (at Indy). You're sitting there and saw those two guys side by side in front of you and what not, and you were really at the tail end of that and the fourth guy in line. Take me through that once you all hit the white flag, what you saw and whatnot?
PETER DEMPSEY: I was really hanging in there all right to be fair. We were a little bit too short on our sixth gear, and I was just trying to stay with the leaders heading into the last lap. Obviously, I was a little bit back and I was working really hard to get back up behind them and using the draft as best I could. But heading into that last lap, I said, “They're racing, I’m not going to lift until the start/finish line and hang on to it as best I could.”
Coming through (Turns) 1 and 2, we were getting a bit of a run, and as they went two wide down the back straight and then three‑wide, they really kind of hurt each other a lot because all of a sudden none of them were in a draft situation, and I was the only one that had the freedom to put my car wherever I wanted heading into Turns 3 and 4.
Then, when they were three‑wide, I could see how close they were, and no matter where you are in the world being three‑wide anywhere is very difficult, especially for the guy in the middle, I think. And Sage (Karam), to his credit, did a great job not making any contact with either car.
Just in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4, I went, right, I better see what I’ve got here and I should try to at least get a podium out of this race. I could see the run I was getting on them, and I just came out of the front straight and they didn't crash, thankfully, and I was in a position to get it three‑wide draft basically. And then they just left enough room for one more car to squeeze by between them and the wall. I even got a good side-draft off them. I just couldn't, you know, I had a little time with another three or four miles an hour over them towards the line. The start‑finish line is so far down the front strait, that I was able to just nick it at the end of the race.
Q. Yeah, it was a heck of a thing to see, for sure. Number one, have you had any chances to talk with any IndyCar teams about maybe the opportunities to have a ride at the next level? Also, the Circuit of the Americas track, whether it's Indy Lights or IndyCar, how would you feel as far as running a race down here?
PETER DEMPSEY: Yeah, to answer your first question, and to be honest, I had to head straight home after the race, So I didn't get much time to talk to any of the IndyCar teams. I've got a lot of good contacts there. But the main thing for me is to focus and try to get a job done this year for the Firestone Indy Lights championship, and don't take my eye off the ball too much. I've got to get the job done. That's what I'm here to do is to try to win a championship or at least win a few more races anyway. But, work hard and help my team as much as possible, but I've got to keep my eye on the prize.
Your second question, yeah, I attended a race down there earlier on this year in the Pro Mazda series, and it's a serious venue. The facility is probably the most spectacular facility we really have in the U.S. these days. To get an IndyCar race there or an Indy Lights race there would be brilliant for American Open Wheel racing to race at a track like that. I'd love to see the opportunity for us and the IZOD IndyCar series to get there.
And why not show us the restrictions there on with Bernie Ecclestone of course, and if the opportunity were there, I'm pretty sure all the teams and drivers would have the chance to get down there and have a good race. And I think it would make for a great race the way the track is designed with the long strait and the heavy brake zones, so I think it will be good with passing as well.
MODERATOR: We have been joined now by Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter‑Reay, the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Champion, and team owner, Michael Andretti, who not only owns Andretti Autosport, but will be the promoter of this weekend's event at the Milwaukee Mile, with his company, Andretti Sports Promotions. Gentlemen, welcome to the call.
Michael, first question for you, we are in year 2 of Andretti Sport Marketing's promotion of the Milwaukee event, why is this race so important to you and the sport of Indy car racing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, personally it's important to me because I've had such great times there with my career as a driver and team owner. So it's very special to me in that way. But I think it's very important to Indy car racing because it's second only to Indy with history. It's the oldest racetrack in the world. They've had a race back there in 1903 was the first race, so there is tons and tons of history at the track.
So I think it's quite important for the series to be there. So we're excited about it. Ticket sales seem to be a bit ahead of last year, and there are a lot of exciting things going on out there and we just can't wait for the weekend.
Q. Ryan, on the track, Milwaukee's a place where you began your charge for the championship last year, and you had a pretty dominating win there in Champ Car. What is it about the Milwaukee track that makes it one of your favorite places to race?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, there is no place like the Milwaukee Mile. It is a hard place to get right, and when you do, it's so rewarding. Like Michael said, it's been a place in my career that has meant a lot to me. I've had some pretty breakthrough performances in my career there, and I've also been on the other side of it where we just couldn't get it right and struggled. So I have a lot of respect for it for that reason.
And I think if you ask any other Indy car driver out there, they'll say it's probably one of the most fun ovals you'll go to, and at the same time, one of the toughest to get right.
Q. This season has been so wide open with seven winners and eight races, including your win at Barber earlier this year. Do you expect Milwaukee to be just as competitive?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Absolutely. I expect it to be just as competitive. I think you'll see the usual players at Milwaukee, the usual teams that are quick. Then you'll have ‑‑ we're sure to have some surprises as we have the whole season. So I think any one of 10 or 11 drivers could win at Milwaukee this weekend.
Q. As you mentioned any one of 10 or 11 drivers could win. One of those drivers could be Marco Andretti, your son who has been pretty strong in the past at Milwaukee. How special would it be for you to see Marco win this weekend, which is also Father's Day weekend at Milwaukee?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I couldn't ask for a better present, that's for sure, but it would be great. It would be great for him for his championship, and I think to get those points, but also it would be another special family moment at Milwaukee if that were to happen. You know what I mean? So many special things have happened there with me. It's the only all‑family podium that we had back in 1991 where myself, my dad, and my cousin on there. So we've had so many great memories, that would just totally add to it.
Q. I wanted to ask Ryan as a driver and Michael as a driver and track owner or track promoter, just in light of the track worker who died in Montreal over the weekend in the Formula 1 race, I wanted to ask you about the contribution these people make to racing and how important it is, and how big is it to you as a driver, Ryan, and you as a promoter, Michael, to make these events happen?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, without them, I can tell you, it doesn't happen, especially with the volunteers. We have two to 300 volunteers that come out and help, and if we didn't have them, there would be no event. So they are very, very important to these events. That was just such a tragedy and it was a horrible thing. But, unfortunately, that's life.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, absolutely. The track workers and especially the volunteers are the backbone of making an event like this happen. Anywhere from my first weekend at Skip Barber around Sebring all the way to this weekend at the Milwaukee Indy Fest, you couldn't make it happen without these folks. They love racing so much. They want to be involved. They're there looking after the driver's safety and the crew's safety. And that's part of it, so it's very sad news for Montreal.
Q. Does it kind of feel almost like a death in the family, so to speak?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well for sure. When anybody's getting what they do there to help our sport, and yeah, I mean, we're all one big family in the end in auto racing. It is a small world. So you definitely feel that when something like that happens.
Q. Question for Michael about James Hinchcliffe. Coming into this season, the next step for James was to get a win. He had some good results and was pretty consistent, but had yet been at the top of the podium. Now with him winning two races this year, I'm wondering what you see as the next step in James' development as a driver?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think he continues to learn and continues to get more experience. As he does that, he's just going to be stronger and stronger. James is a driver that can win on any given weekend, and that's what we liked about James when we brought him into the family, that he can perform on all different types of tracks.
He's come a long way, and he's doing a job for us. We expect more wins out of him at the end of the year.
Q. He's so well known for his social media stuff and his big personality. But I'm wondering if maybe people don't see where the business side and the devotion to the sport that will help him have more success?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, he commits himself to the driving and his trade as much as all the other guys. You know, if you don't do that, you're not going to be competitive in this series. So he does that. Yeah, he's a jokester and all that stuff, but when it comes to his job, he's very serious, and you know, he does a great job of it.
Q. If I could ask Ryan about James. Just speaking as a fellow driver, obviously, I think it was hanging over his head a little bit trying to get that first win, and every driver who hasn't gotten that win knows what it's like, and then to get it, I just wondered if you could talk about whether you see a different driver in James, whether he's more relaxed, maybe more confident now that he was able to check that box and get that first win?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, absolutely. Once you get the first win, for some reason the rest of them come just a little bit easier. There is not that huge perceived pressure of getting over the hill on getting your first win.
He's done a great job. He's great for our sport. He's a friend of mine. A great teammate, great team player, which fits in right with what we have going on with Andretti Autosport, and open line of communication, and good atmosphere. So he's a big part of that. Certainly he's well‑deserved on his two wins this year.
Q. Michael, first, any update with Carlos Munoz toward the end of the season? Do you have any deals working yet?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Nothing yet. We're still working on it. I think it's still a possibility, but we're just plugging away at it.
Q. As we looked at guys who could breakthrough and win their first race yet this season, E.J.'s had a pretty good stretch or had a couple shining moments. Talk about how much he's improved?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, yeah, I think E.J. is right there. I think he has some he had some bad breaks this year. He's putting himself in a good position to hopefully come up with a win. So, yeah, we feel that he's very capable of doing it.
Q. Ryan, talk about just maybe a disappointing race in Texas. Can you talk about maybe how things should be different? Do you have concerns that the racing will be similar? I mean, it's not going to be similar, but that we should see a better race this weekend than last?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, absolutely, we'll see a great race this weekend. Milwaukee makes for some of the best racing we have in the series. I think you'll see this is one of the most action‑packed races that we go to. Texas is a completely different configuration with the down force and running that we do there, trying to pin that perfect down force. It makes the cars light, but you put on a good show.
We were a bit off the mark at Texas, but we'll get it right. Week‑in and week‑out, I think the series has some of the best racing in the world, and you'll see it at Milwaukee for sure. We've got the down force on there, and once the Firestone tires, once they fall off just a little bit like they're engineered to do, cars will start sliding around and you'll see some two‑wide racing for sure.
Q. Have you felt like you had to do some apologizing, if will you, on behalf of the sport for what happened last weekend at Texas?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I don't know if you could say we had to do some apologizing. I know what the fans are used to at Texas, starting from ten years ago to what we did last year, which is a good show. But they're very different. Then this year we just got it a little bit too light. So it's so hard to make that and to pin it perfectly on everything. Just to get the tire degradation right, to get the down force right. To make it so the race is interesting, and the drivers are really having to pedal the car.
I think we know what to do in the future. We've got it right at the task. So it is unfortunate that people thought it was a boring show or I shouldn't say boring show, but if people thought it was less than what it could have been. I have no doubt that we'll be back to mega racing here this year.
Q. Michael, you mentioned earlier on this call how special it would be to get a Father's Day gift with a Marco win. When talking about Father's Day, can you talk in general in a nutshell the idea of the opportunity that your father gave you in racing, and now the opportunity that you're able to give Marco in racing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think we've been able to share something very special. The opportunity was there for me to go out and do the same thing my father did, and I was fortunate enough to be successful at it. Then to be able to pass that on to Marco, and for him to have a chance to do it, and he's shown to be successful at it. So it's a very unique situation, and we're very proud to be a part of all of that, very proud of all of our accomplishments and it's very, very special.
The sport has been very, very special to me personally just with love in the sport. Then you throw the family element in and it makes it even that much more special, the memories and all of those things that we've been able to have with the sport, we're very lucky and we count our bless blessings for sure.
Q. Yeah, like you said, there are not many father and sons like you and Marco and Bobby and Graham?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, for us to just do a father‑son thing, and to do a three‑generation thing is even that much tougher. So we realized that and we cherish that. We're lucky. We know we're lucky, so it's been great.
Q. Ryan, I know you're focused on Milwaukee this weekend, obviously. But next weekend you have a race coming up at Iowa Speedway, a place you've had a lot of success in the past, four top 10s in five years, including the win last year. What is it about Iowa Speedway that makes you feel comfortable racing there?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: It's such a unique oval. The race is a mile and a half, it's less than a mile. It's a pretty amazing feeling getting around there, almost never getting the wheel straight. And with the banking that you have on such a short track like that, the radius of the corners are so tight that it allows for some side‑by‑side racing, and on a track that's short, it's unheard of.
I don't know. It's a unique place, and one that you really have to wheel it because of the bumps in turn one and two. You've got to always stay on top of that. And the car changes a lot. So from the time you put all the fuel in to the time you're coming in for new tires and a full tank of fuel, it changes so much, more so than most racetracks we go to. So I love it. It keeps you on your toes as a driver, and it's very challenging.
Q. Also the qualifying for that race is worth points this year. Can you talk about how you feel about that change with the points race?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: To be honest with you, I'm not quite sure what I think about it. I haven't really looked at it close enough. Last year the problem with the heat races was the tires, and the heat races were so short that when the tires were new and they were at their best is when we're doing our racing, so everybody had full grip and the racing wasn't very exciting. Well, as you saw in the race, the racing can get really exciting about halfway through the tire run to the end. So that in my opinion needs to be tweaked, but we'll see. We'll give it a go this year. We're trying to get the right balance there and make it exciting on the day before the race.
Q. Knowing what you all did with Milwaukee, are there any plans to go back to Nazareth? Because that was a classic track back in the day, and I know that that one's near and dear to your heart.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, it is, but unfortunately, first off, I think ISC still own it's, and, secondly, if you were to go there now, it's basically all grown in, and it's really not there anymore. That would have been cool to be able to do something like that in my hometown, but, unfortunately, I think that's not going to happen.
Q. Had a chance to watch a Mazda Pro race down here, and watched y'all do pretty well down here. First of all, are there any plans ‑‑ if there was ever going to be an American team in F1 or any bit of it, would Andretti Autosport play any part in it potentially?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Always looking at expanding our racing, and, yeah, I would love to one day be in Formula 1 in some way. I think, you know, you have to look at the rules. The way they are right now, I don't think the opportunity would be there, but there's been a lot of talk about if they were to open it up to customer cars or things like that, that would make it more economical to make it happen for someone like us.
So, we're always watching it, and, yeah, there would be interest there if the right opportunity would come to us.
Q. Barring the rules and whatnot, because it would be awesome to see IndyCar run down here, but I'm going to put you on the spot real quick. Of all the drivers in your stable, which one do you think is probably best poised for Formula 1?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: For Formula 1? Geez, I don't know. I think all four would be capable of running up front in Formula 1. You know, if you're going to go by sheer experience and what we're showing in speed and everything for us as a team, Ryan, I think would be ‑‑ plus Ryan's on the call, so I have to pick him anyway (laughing). I think Ryan's got the best shot.
Q. I look at these guys that haven't yet won a race, can you talk about the progress we've seen from James Jakes in the last couple three weeks? Has it been surprising?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Honestly, I figured he was going to have a good year. We actually talked to James. If you look at what he's done when he had a teammate like Bourdais on his team when he was at Coyne a couple years ago, the last few races he was running right there with Sebastien (Bourdais), so that was impressive to me. I expected him to start to get results and he's doing it.
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