An interview with Andretti, Angstadt and Barnhart
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today.
Starting the call with us is IndyCar Series driver John Andretti and Richmond International Raceway President Doug Fritz. And in a few minutes we'll be joined by Indy Racing League presidents Terry Angstadt and Brian Barnhart.
John's in his first season in the IndyCar Series, driving the No. 24 entry for Roth Racing. He's competed in the last four races for the team, qualifying seventh at Texas and recording an 11th-place finish last weekend at Iowa.
John competed in CART in the late '80s and early 1990s before competing in NASCAR's Sprint Cup beginning in 1993.
This weekend will mark his first IndyCar Series start at Richmond. However, he's made more than 20 NASCAR starts at the track and has had several top-10 finishes there. This will be the IndyCar Series eighth visit to Richmond International Raceway.
Doug first question for you, and I believe you've got a question for John. There's some changes coming to Richmond this year from the previous seven years. 50 additional laps for the race. We have fourâ€‘lap qualifying. Give us your perspective on the weekend's SunTrust Indy Challenge.
DOUG FRITZ : Tell you what, from the fan perspective, it feels like the energy and excitement level has never been this great going into a SunTrust Indy Challenge.
I think it really starts from what the league did early in the year with the unification with the Champ Car Series. Can't underestimate the value of that to the fans, because now we're going to have all the best openâ€‘wheel drivers in America on the same track at the same time.
So it really started, the excitement started with that happening earlier in the year. And I think that's carrying on to what's coming up here at Richmond International Raceway. The fans like it so much here that they've asked us, in the past, about adding additional laps to the event.
During the off season we had a chance to sit down with Terry (Angstadt) and his team and asked if we could add 50 more laps to the race at Richmond International Raceway. They agreed to it. So the fans are really excited about the more laps here. And, of course, with the unification comes more teams. In the past we've had 18, 19, 20 cars on the racetrack at one time.
This year it looks like 26 cars will be starting the race. So it's going to add a lot more traffic. I know John can talk about what that might mean out here, but it's going to be very, very exciting for the fans.
Qualifying Friday night, we're going to carry the theme that the Indy Racing League has done with the other events in that the fourâ€‘lap qualifying which will be pretty exciting for the fans. And the last thing we'll start at 8:00. Long summer days here at Richmond gives an opportunity to start the race a little bit later, a little bit more laps under the darkness here during the course of the night. So all those things add up to, like I said when I started off, this is probably more excitement, more energy from our race fans this year than almost since we started this series eight years ago.
So our fans are really looking forward to it, the media here in Richmond are excited about it, it's going to be a fun weekend for everybody. I guess that could lead me into the question. John's been on here several times with the stock car and NASCAR racing.
I guess the first thing, he's got some great experience, knows how to run well here. The question now is how will that translate into running the SunTrust Indy Challenge come Saturday night. I imagine there's a little bit of difference.
JOHN ANDRETTI : Well, yeah, there's going to be a lot of difference. I didn't know they added 50 laps. I'm thinking oh good.
The NASCAR races there are all 400 laps. For us, it's a fight for every corner. And, Richmond, if it's not my favorite NASCAR track, it's certainly way up there, because â€‘â€‘ and I think it is everybody's. It's just a really fun racetrack to race on. It ends up with multiple grooves for the stock car, as you get sliding up against the cushion, which is â€‘â€‘ it almost is like the cushion of Richmond. It's not like you get up right against that wall, but there's some grip up there.
I've watched the IndyCar race in the past, especially last year, and you see them and even these other races, the groove is spread out.
But 300 laps around Richmond I think is going to be tough, because you run 15â€‘second laps around there. A lot of G loading. You sort of lay up against the side of the car and hope the car is going to do the work, because there's no power steering in these Indy cars. So the steering gets real heavy.
And physically it's a big challenge. You know, obviously, I understand it's going to be warm. So the temperature at night's going to be probably beautiful for the fans. And fortunately for Indy cars that's the one benefit of having an open cockpit, there's not so much darn heat inside the thing.
So I'm really looking forward to it. Last week was my first short-track race in an IndyCar ever, because the mile oval used to be the short tracks for us. Now, to get below the mile â€‘â€‘ and I had a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to having more fun at Richmond, like I said, one of my favorite tracks.
MODERATOR: Let's talk about the season so far. You joined Roth Racing at Indy for what looked like might just be a oneâ€‘off race and now it's been four and heading into your fifth. Can you tell us a little bit about how that relationship came about in May and how it's progressed so far?
JOHN ANDRETTI : Well, I showed up in Indianapolis basically like a driver does, with a helmet bag in hand. And, unfortunately, a couple of the deals that had been put together weren't together when the month of May opened.
So I went up there and walked around and talked to different people. And the opportunity came to hop in a car at Roth Racing, and the opportunity only came because the weather was so bad. There was so limited track time.
And they said, OK, we need to put somebody experienced in the car. And it worked out really well for me. My expectation was I'm going to, great, I get to run Indy and we'll do some more racing after Indy. But who knows where. But I really didn't expect in the IRL and they started talking to me about doing more races.
Because it took me a little bit of time to kind of get my arms around and say do I think this is something that I think I could do and enjoy. And it's a big challenge. These guys are â€‘â€‘ it's not like you're racing against people that are learning. There are teams that are extremely experienced, have winning traditions, especially the IRL teams and the Champ Car teams that joined on.
The drivers the same thing. And then there's some really outstanding young drivers that have joined the series as well. I think that it's so difficult. So I wanted to be up for the challenge. But I also like a challenge as well.
I like almost sometimes stacking the cards against myself and seeing if I can pull it off. And fortunately we've had some good races. Unfortunately, we've had some bad pits. I made some mistakes on pit road, and we've had some things happen to us on pit road.
But from the standpoint of really racing, on the part that goes fast, we've been pretty good at. The part where it slows down a lot, if we can get that better. But that's just going to help me next year, the mistakes I've made earlier this year I'm not making again, and that will just help me in a bid to run the Indy 500 again next year.
MODERATOR: When you have a deal that's basically kind of race-to-race, how does that impact things when you go to the track, as far as pressure on yourself or things like that, is it easier to race when it's race-to-race? Is it more difficult?
JOHN ANDRETTI : I don't think pressure ever gets any harder than what it always is. I think you always want to be successful. And you know this didn't start off to be a raceâ€‘byâ€‘race deal and then it moved and then it didn't. So I don't even think about it.
If I say I'm going to do something, I go and I do it. And then I do the best I can do. And hopefully we have another good weekend and keep progressing forward.
But in the series you've seen some of the best drivers in the series, too, already had problems and just a few short races I've been around there's been some problems already.
That's how competitive it is. You race wheel-to-wheel. Sometimes bad things happen. And we're just hoping some more good things happen.
Q: John, did you meet with the Roths and did you resolve anything for the future or was it just this race?
JOHN ANDRETTI : We actually didn't meet. We spoke on the phone and as far as anything past Richmond, no we didn't. It hasn't really been discussed. So I think Marty (Roth) and Margaret (Roth) are obviously have a lot of things on their plate, things that they're thinking about.
One is obviously the lack of sponsorship and because it's something that is all on them at this point. So I don't know exactly what the future holds. But we'll go to Richmond this weekend. Hopefully have a good time, have a good run and if we go to anymore races this year, I can't answer that right now because I don't know.
Q: Including Watson's Glen the following week?
JOHN ANDRETTI: Yeah, including anything past Richmond.
Q: Doug, could you explain why IndyCar racing has been able to gather such a good fan following at Richmond? In the early years of IRL they tried races in the south and Atlanta and in Charlotte and other venues, but for whatever reason it didn't work out. But you've seemed to be able to capitalize and continue to draw in a fairly decent sized crowd for an IndyCar race?
DOUG FRITZ : Yeah, we've been real pleased with it. This will be the eighth time we've run the SunTrust Indy Challenge. Seems like it's gotten bigger. The event's gotten better each and every year. It obviously starts with the product on the racetrack. The racing is very, very exciting for the fans. And it's unique.
It stands out in the NASCAR circuit because we're the only threeâ€‘quarter mile track on the circuit. They have shorter ones. And with the IndyCar Series it's actually the shortest track that they run.
So it stands out as being unique and the drivers really test their skills. And I think it shows that they enjoy running here and racing here and that's where it starts with a great product on the racetrack.
This market is good for racing in general. I think the fan base we built here at Richmond just like to see good racing. And that's why it's taken off. If the product wasn't good on the racetrack it wouldn't have done well. And it has been very, very good for the fans. They've enjoyed the races each year.
Like I said, they've asked for additional laps and the IRL was kind enough to grant those additional laps. Great opportunity for the sponsors of the teams and the Indy Racing League to reach the Midâ€‘Atlantic market that they don't have prior to Richmond. I think it seemed like a great fit. SunTrust has been with us from day one. So we've got a committed sponsor that really plugs into this community, into the Midâ€‘Atlantic area that works well for them.
So you have a lot of things working for you. And it's a very, very entertaining product. And it starts with that and ends with that. And I think the fans look forward to it. It only comes once a year. And this is, like I said, this year seems to be even more exciting than it has been in the past.
I think with the additional benefits of additional teams, the unification series, additional laps, the qualifying, just right now, again, back to the unification that's a huge thing for the industry and for open wheel racing.
And, again, our fans are paying close attention to it. We're excited about this being our biggest and best race ever here at Richmond International Raceway.
And adding names like John Andretti is a tremendous opportunity. He's got a great following here. He's done very well with several top-10 races and just all those things add up to an excitement level that here it hasn't been before. And that's what makes us successful in my eyes.
Q: And also if you could maybe project percentageâ€‘wise what the level of interest has been in ticket sales upward and also if you get an awful lot of support from ticket buyers looking toward going more toward the north to the cities like Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore and even Philadelphia?
DOUG FRITZ : We do well from those markets. We do well from the Virginia Beach, Norfolk area, but north does very well for us. The crowds, with the economy as we're finding at our NASCAR events as well, people seem to be buying tickets later than they have in the past. So we rely on a lot of walkâ€‘up ticket sales.
Our expectation is it's going to be ahead of last year, which would make it our largest crowd ever for the Indy Racing League event here for the SunTrust Indy Challenge. So we're excited the crowd is going to be very solid. The weather looks really good. It is going to be warm.
But summer at Richmond, I think people expect that. I know the drivers have been here before and it does get warm. But again with an 8:00 start time, it's going to cool down pretty quickly for the fans. So our expectation is this is going to be the biggest and best race that we've ever had here at Richmond International Raceway for the SunTrust Indy Challenge.
Q: John, can you talk, having been a CART driver, can you talk about what the unification has meant and how you see, has this improved the circuit? What was CART racing like 15 years ago as opposed to now? And open wheel racing? And my second question is, can you talk a little bit about Danica Patrick and what she does for the circuit?
JOHN ANDRETTI : Sure, first unification, I think the real thing is it really takes out the lack or the confusion element in openâ€‘wheel racing, who is bigger, who is better.
It certainly was a matter of opinion. Now, there is no opinion involved. It is the IRL, because everybody is there. All the best openâ€‘wheel teams, all the best openâ€‘wheel drivers are there.
And you see it on the onâ€‘track product. It's always been exciting. Now it's exciting and it's deeper. You see new faces popping up. You see the old guys having to stand up, I don't mean the old guys, I mean the IRL, the ones that have the most experience in the IRL, you see them really getting challenged harder from the new group of people.
And it's the rookies that are coming along. Of course, Marco (Andretti) and Graham Rahal and what a great rivalry their fathers had and that's there.
So there's so many, I think, great stories with it that it's not just one story or one thing or even just riding along and saying OK, Danica is here and talking about her. I think that there's so many more things to it.
When you get on the racetrack, I mean you're fighting for every position. And, you know, I really expected â€‘â€‘ and I've seen it before â€‘â€‘ the IRL, when it was first getting started, I think it was a little bit scary because guys were taking chances that I didn't think were necessary.
When I came I was a little bit concerned about that, thinking last thing I want to do is hang one of these on a fence because somebody just lost their mind. And that's not the case at all.
They're really fun to race with. I mean people race side-by-side. They give you room. It's been a lot of fun. And that's why â€‘â€‘ I agreed to two races and then I agreed to the next one. And now I've agreed to this one.
And I just see the series just becoming so much fun to not only follow but to be a part of. And there's no, well, you didn't beat this guy because this guy is there now. And I think that's great.
As far as Danica, what can you say? She's accomplished a lot of things in a sport that a lot of other people haven't. And even if you take out the fact that they want to dwell on the fact that she's a female, take that out, she's still accomplished a lot.
A lot is expected of her, too, because she's such a popular driver. She has a huge following. And she's in competitive equipment, and she's extremely talented.
So the pressure is always going to be on her. But, again, when we talked about pressure, I don't think the pressure ever gets any harder than what you put on yourself. And obviously she puts a lot of pressure on herself because she wants to do well.
She's a great competitor. She's fun to be around. And I've got to know her a little bit better because I got to talk to her before the start of the Texas race and she's just like the rest of us. She wants to go out there and do well and she's going to fight hard to do it when she puts on the helmet. (Audio difficulties).
Q: Are you still there? That broke up.
MODERATOR: John, we've lost just the last sentence there of what you commented on, maybe you can just repeat that last sentence for us.
JOHN ANDRETTI: I'm going through the hills of North Carolina here. Sorry about that. Mainly is that when she knows that she's going to compete just like the rest of us. Whether you're 100 pounds or 200 pounds or male or female, when you get in the car you're going to have to fight for everything you get. And she's willing to do that and she does it well.
Q: Is there any sense that the IRL needs her to bring fans to the races, or is the IRL strong enough on its own without her and all the glamour, for lack of a better word, that she brings in?
JOHN ANDRETTI : I guess the same question would be does Formula One need Michael Schumacher; does NASCAR need Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? These people have huge fan bases and certainly they bring a lot to the sport.
But I think that all of those sports, Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, there's such a strong base underneath there, too, of quality drivers that have maybe not a single as large a following as Danica, but if Danica wasn't there, their alliance might switch to somebody else.
So I think that it's good for the series. I think it's certainly at one point probably gave notoriety and people would certainly talk about her in that vein be talking about the IRL. But I think all these series are capable of standing on their own without any one particular individual. But those are the powerhouses. And Formula One seems to be doing fine without Michael Schumacher. But it's always better to have him. Would it be better to have Dale Jr. in the IRL for the IRL? Probably so.
So there are certain people that carry a big crowd, and Danica is certainly one of them.
Q: John, I know you've been asked about Danica all day. But I was wondering, she fell under some scrutiny at Iowa, Scott Dixon had harsh words about her driving after the race. Did you have any problems with her at Iowa?
JOHN ANDRETTI : Actually, I didn't have any at all with her. I had a few issues with especially with one driver at Texas. I thought that he drove a little bit out of bounds in the way he was driving. No, at Iowa I ran side-by-side with Danica and never once did I feel like she was squeezing me or not giving me room.
There were a couple of other people that did it to me. And I did it unintentionally to Dan Wheldon. I didn't know he was on the outside of me and inadvertently I ran up and squeezed him up against â€‘â€‘ I don't know how he fit as much as I squeezed him. But I didn't know he was there. All of a sudden I got a glimpse of red and I moved down.
And so sometimes things happen, too, and I don't know the situation between them. But I know I had no problems with her at all.
Q: Have you had any hiccups with her driving in the past?
JOHN ANDRETTI: No I've only raced with her a few times, raced with her side-by-side at Texas, didn't have any problems. And I raced with her side-by-side at Iowa. As far as at Indianapolis â€‘â€‘ I raced with her there and didn't have any problem.
So I don't know. I mean I haven't â€‘â€‘ I guess if we go racing for the lead, then I probably will have a problem. But you know what, I probably should have a problem because everybody wants to win. You do what you gotta do to win. But I haven't had any problems at all.
Q: John, going back to the whole unification thing. Talked a little bit about fans, excitement, yada yada, but I'm curious, from just a purely driver's perspective, from someone who is in the cockpit, how is this going to change racing on such a small track with so many more cars out there this year, how does this affect what you're actually doing when the flag is raised?
JOHN ANDRETTI : Obviously, last week at Iowa it was a similar short track and qualifying got rained out and had to start in the last row. And I was really disappointed because I thought it's so hard, and yet we got racing up through and I think we had a really strong race. Passed a lot of people.
I think the talent and the drivers and the quality and the depth of the teams has increased and not only from the people that came, but from the people that are there, you know, realized that they already have their game stepped up as far as they can step it up. But they also realize we have more coming and you get even more aggressive at it.
So I think that the quality at the front has just come a long way. The cars, the tires, the engines, the fuel, it's all the same. So it's up to the people to get each one working differently and the driver to do the same. And sounds like, OK, that's not a huge challenge but it is. Because when you're talking about it, you're only talking about just a very, very small amount. When you look at the lap times at Iowa and they have to go to â€‘â€‘ they've got four numbers behind the decimal point and the last one is the only one that's different, that's quality racing. And it's deep.
It goes from the beginning to the back. I mean, we're in practice and we're a tenth-and-a-half (of a second) off the fast time and we're 15th. And I'm like if I could have just got a tow I could have been quickest. Because it's just a small amount. And you're looking for those small amounts. When you're looking for those small amounts, that means you're in a tough series with some great competitors. And that small amount has grown over a larger amount of cars.
So you just gotta qualify really well and then you've got to keep that track position.
When NASCAR guys talk about aero push, they have no idea what aero push is. Going 180 miles an hour around Iowa and getting behind somebody and you pick up a push and you're heading for that wall at 180, that's an aero push that will take your breath.
And it just doesn't cost you the position sometimes, but it scares the heck out of you, too. So there's different challenges, but in a way it's all the same kind of racing. I see it the same as in stock cars and I see it the same as here. It's very quality, very deep and it's all about doing all the right things. And you have to do a perfect day now to win that race. You can't just luck into it at all.
MODERATOR: All right, John, Doug, thanks so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Terry Angstadt, the president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League and also Brian Barnhart, the president of the competition and operations division.
Thanks for joining us. As you folks know, Terry and Brian, yesterday, hosted an automotive manufacturer's roundtable at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Brian, can you give us an overview of yesterday's roundtable?
BRIAN BARNHART : Yeah, it was actually a really good day and probably exceeded our expectations from what we thought we might get into. The process began a little over a year ago in thinking about how to approach our future specifications. And yesterday's meeting was kind of the first of its kind in a very unique presentation format. We were very happy to begin with the quantity and quality of the people that attended the meeting.
We were very well represented with 14 or 15 engine manufacturers and race shop engine builders in the room. And it was a very positive meeting from all aspects of it. And as I said earlier, probably exceeded our expectations.
MODERATOR: Terry, from your perspective, what did you take out of yesterday's round table from the business and commercial side?
TERRY ANGSTADT : Well, certainly to echo Brian's positive feelings about the meeting overall, it was just outstanding. And I think what was encouraging, really kind of two parts to my answer. One is from a commercial benefit standpoint, if we are able to attract additional engine participation in our series, that brings with it plenty of marketing dollars.
So that's kind of first and foremost. And the people attending the meeting also echoed very much of an interest in the benefits of connecting their technical and actual engine participation to the marketing benefits.
It raises the challenge to us to make sure we raise the value of the series, deliver that marketing value to each company considering participation. So, again, everyone understands what large companies can bring to a business like ours. And to me that was really reinforced at the meeting.
Q: Terry and Brian, I understand that the reaction of returning for a future meeting was pretty much unanimous on that. What is the next steps in the process with this and when does it come down to maybe some actual negotiations to have some of these join on board as an engine supplier?
BRIAN BARNHART : The reaction was very positive. As I said earlier, everybody was enthusiastic about the discussions that took place, and the next steps are to digest the information that we received yesterday. Yesterday was a great opportunity for us to listen to what the manufacturers had to say about the future direction of automobiles that they manufacture and what their thought processes were on what the specifications should be for race engines as well and talk about technology transfer from racing into passenger cars.
It was a positive meeting. The next step is, with us racing each of next five weeks, is to continue to digest the information we received yesterday. We'll respond and react by contacting each of the manufacturers individually again and set up another roundtable discussion and get them back and follow up and try and get into more specifics than what we did yesterday.
Q: Was there any discussion of sticking with the normally aspirated engine or going back to turbo chargers? Was that part of the dialogue?
BRIAN BARNHART : Absolutely we talked about whether it should be turbo charged or normally aspirated. We talked about the number of cylinders and configuration. There was a lot of discussion. But, again, all of that was from them to us, as our guests at the roundtable, it was our role to sit and listen to the manufacturers and their opinions.
We didn't tell them a whole lot about what our positioning was with regards to specifications. Terry could probably address this. We spent more time telling them what our business plan is, making sure they were educated about what the IndyCar Series is, where we're going, where we're racing, what our market is, what our audience is, that kind of stuff.
But with regards to â€‘â€‘ and we talked a lot about our schedule, the diversity of tracks that we run and versatility required by our equipment, the challenges faced by that. And then we listened to them talk about specifications, whether it's turbo charged or normally aspirated or Vâ€‘6 or a Vâ€‘8 or Vâ€‘12 or whatever. We talked about alternative fuels and all that type of stuff.
Q: Terry can you address the next steps, just, basically, the time line, how the next steps, what you hope to accomplish in the next roundtable and when the roundtable actually goes into the negotiations of potential auto makers joining the IndyCar Series?
TERRY ANGSTADT : Yeah and that really is, certainly to at least to touch on negotiations, that's premature at this point. But one of the benefits of hiring RWB to help us through this process, which is what we did, is as Brian said we're a little busy for the next five weeks.
And they are charged with really kind of assembling the information, making some sense out of it and communicating back and scheduling those next kind of oneâ€‘onâ€‘ones to really gauge the interest level. We'd be thrilled if we're able to take a couple more interested parties the distance.
So that's really going to be the next steps. And we know that we need to make a decision in the fall of this year to really execute with our stated goal of 2011. And that does not mean that that's an absolute requirement. That certainly is a stated goal and we would like to stick to that.
Q: Brian, I don't know if this question had been asked of you earlier at some earlier point a thousand times or something. If you're going to have to repeat yourself, I'm sorry. Having said that all that, I'm curious your take how the unification has melded here and what obviously to expect when coming to a small track as Richmond and how that, what that does for the sport and fan interest and the product, I suppose?
BRIAN BARNHART : I'll start with the product part of it. And it's going to really add and enhance to every venue we run. But especially a place like Richmond. I mean when you go to a threeâ€‘quarter mile track, and we're going to put 26 cars out there, the key of the day will be traffic and the best car and driver handling through traffic. It will put a strategy on pit stops and fuel mileage, track position.
It's going to really enhance the entire experience for the fans and it's going to truly challenge the drivers to be in traffic. On 300 laps around a 15â€‘second racetrack, they're going to have their hands full. They'll be worn out by the time they get out.
In terms of overall unification, we couldn't be more pleased with the progress of what it's done. The energy and momentum it's created for the sport, the stuff we've had happen off the racetrack, whether it's been 'Dancing With the Stars' with Helio (Castroneves) or Danica (Patrick) in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, on the cover of Sports Illustrated the week before the 500.
We've had some great things off the racetrack happening as well as Danica winning a race. Graham Rahal winning a race. Marco and Graham on the front row at Milwaukee. We've just got great story lines. The energy and momentum has been very positive all year long.
Q: Also to follow that up, you sort of hit on this a little bit, from a very more nuance position, I suppose. You said the traffic, obviously, and little things like making sure that the pit times are quick. And you're getting all those little, the details, I suppose. Can you talk about how that increases and how â€‘â€‘ what other nuances are sort of really going to be more important to just making sure you're out in front?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think I was listening a little bit before my segment started on the teleconference, and John Andretti was addressing the same way. As he talked about it, the overall depth of the field. When we've got 15 or 20 cars separated by twoâ€‘tenths of a second, then your strategy becomes vitally important. And (Dan) Wheldon chose to stay out and not pit with 60 laps to go at the last race. It got him good track position. He was able to hold on and take the lead and the win.
Just as John Andretti said, you've got to have a perfect day. You can't make any mistakes whether it's on pit lane, on strategy, your setup, what you do in handling traffic. It really puts a premium on having a perfect day to be successful and win the race.
Q: Did you get the sense yesterday that there was a lot of guys just curious, and maybe by the end of the meeting they were maybe more interested? Did you get the sense, I know you probably won't tell us who was there but we heard maybe Audi, BMW, some old manufacturers were there as well as new ones and that maybe they're ready to try it again under the right circumstances. How do you gauge how the interest was when everybody left town?
BRIAN BARNHART : I honestly think the participation level was higher than anyone could have imagined or I would have anticipated. And I would say it was clearly higher than it would have been had it not been for unification. It was so clear that the unification and positive direction of openâ€‘wheel racing is what triggered the high level of interest of everybody that was in the room.
What was most encouraging is that through the discussions there was clearly more agreement than there was disagreement. And a lot of energy for followâ€‘up and next meeting and a lot of common ground, like I say.
Q: As a followâ€‘up, do you get the sense that when the IRL started there was individual engine manufacturers and then it became leased engines? Is it too early to think about where that might be in 2011? Could it be both?
BRIAN BARNHART : I think it could be both. And that was touched on a little bit in some of the participants that have been both ways in the past certainly seemed more open or at least willing to discuss the different philosophy that they had before. So I mean like I said it was just a very positive and open discussion that was frankly a little surprising is now granted we didn't get into a ton of details, and the devil will be in those details. But certainly from a first meeting and conversation standpoint, a little more commonality than there was disagreement.
Q: Brian, you touched on the commonality. You said you're not going to reveal to them which direction you're going. Sounds like they gave you a pretty good path of where they'd like to go. And by commonality, if I'm connecting the dots properly, they were pretty clear that on all of these subjects it was pretty unanimous or at least some common ground about where they'd like to go on these various topics you hit. So is it pretty safe to assume that you'd want to follow their recommendation?
BRIAN BARNHART : Well, I think it is. I think it's smart and a direction the IndyCar Series wants to go. I think we definitely want to align ourselves as closely as possible with their thinking and their direction and what their future is going to be with regards to technology. And the whole purpose of that discussion was to listen to their input with an open, fresh mind and collectively determine the direction and future for Indy car specifications and it was successful from that standpoint for sure.
Q: I take it, since this was predominantly an engine discussion, that you feel like one tire manufacturer and one chassis is probably the way to stick for the future?
BRIAN BARNHART : Well, you're right on both counts. It was an engine roundtable discussion. And with regards to chassis and tire, we've got two of the finest manufacturers in the world in Dallara and Firestone.
And I've told a lot of people that I think Firestone makes the best race tire in the world. It's the safest, most reliable, most consistent tire going. And I could never envision another brand being on an Indy car. And I think Dallara is recognized as one of the most respected chassis builder worldwide.
And when you stop and look at the versatility of our schedule and the diverseness from street to permanent roads, to short ovals, when you run threeâ€‘quarters of a mile at Richmond and sevenâ€‘eighths of a mile at Iowa, the flat track at Milwaukee, and high banks at Texas, and super speedway like Indianapolis as well at 225 miles an hour, it's the only car in the world capable of doing what our car does, and it does it very well. I mean we have good quality races on all types of venues with the same car.
It's also the best way for us to control speeds, to control costs, to control the pace of development, to control specifications, we think, to stay with single supply in the chassis and the tire departments, and it's our ultimate goal to attract new manufacturers participation on the engine side.
Q: Brian, could you, first off, a question about Danica. Did you see anything different or suspect about her driving at Iowa? I'm sure you heard some of the complaints after the race.
BRIAN BARNHART : I did. And it's no different than any other race that we run and whether it's her or anyone else. Generally what happens is if a driver's car is not as good as they would like it to be, and they're not able to progress as they would like to and pass and move up into the field, they get a little defensive and try and protect positions as best they can.
And the role of the officials and sanctioning body, and me in particular, is to make sure they don't do that, that they don't advantage themselves or disadvantage their competition in an unsportsmanlike fashion.
And it's also not one of those things where you just pull over and let the next guy go. What I think is probably happening a little bit is I think guys are getting a little frustrated and she needs to be a little careful that she has earned her respect from her peers through the first two or three years of participation in this series.
And if things aren't going so well, she needs to continue to treat her fellow competitors with respect. If she doesn't, that will probably come back to cost her in terms of losing respect amongst her competitors.
Q: On the roundtable, I was wondering, I know some of the Champ Car drivers were lobbying a return to the turbo charged engines and I know you said that was something that was discussed. What are the pros and cons from your viewpoint on that?
BRIAN BARNHART : The only con associated with the turbo charger is going to be additional costs, from something that we're currently not running. You're going to have to get turbo chargers, you'll have to get waste gates and associated hardware with them. We need to be careful not to allow a lot of turbo charger development, because that would also increase costs from something we don't have.
It's about the only negative associated with it. The best positives associated with it are twoâ€‘fold. One being with the diversity of the schedule that we run, it is a great power control and helps us adjust power levels. If we need a little more power on the street and road courses, we can certainly adjust the boost up. And if we need less power, we can turn it down and control the boost level down from that standpoint.
And also you can't underestimate the second positive that is also just playing the sound. It's the natural muffler. With more road and street courses, city streets, that type of deal, it's nice to turn our adjustables down a little bit, and it's got a great sound to it.
Q: Terry, maybe you could touch on something with the turbo. I know there was some apprehension in the original switch. I know one of the reasons was actually the decreased length between IndyCar and production cars. Is that something that might be prohibiting this in the future?
TERRY ANGSTADT : You know, I certainly don't think so. And when we heard the enthusiasm and understanding around the room as to what, to Brian's points, what turbo charging the engines can bring to the series, I don't think that will be a barrier at all. In fact, I think when OEMs go to smaller displacements and increased efficiency and power, that you'll probably see that in some passenger cars.
Q: Brian, I understand if you can't disclose which manufacturers were at the roundtable, but can you tell us, I know you said 15 different engine representatives. But can you tell us how many auto makers?
BRIAN BARNHART : You know, I don't even remember the split off the top of my head. I think I would say maybe eight and six or something like that. Sounds about right, or nine and seven. Nine and six. I'm not good at math.
Q: The engine manufacturers that are looking to go into the series, obviously are going to have a big learning curve to catch up to Honda. Have they voiced any apprehension to you about that? And is there any plans by the series if they make the move to help their development?
BRIAN BARNHART : Well, we didn't discuss much about that. And I think the reason for that is I think we're talking about a pretty significant change in architecture. So I think even Honda will have a pretty steep learning curve. And I think what's going to be coming will be significantly different enough if we gain new and additional participants. I think it will be a pretty good learning curve for everybody including Honda.
Q: You both mentioned that the unification had made it easier to get the manufacturers in the room. Are you finding that unification is making it any easier to get sponsors interested in coming to your series?
TERRY ANGSTADT : Unquestionably, it's made a huge difference. We had some very good momentum prior to unification and it's just increased dramatically. So we just see a lot of interest and enthusiasm and willingness to take a very hard look at what we're doing.
Q: Brian, we're about 24 hours away here in Richmond from rookie practice. I guess you had a dry run with this in Milwaukee. But with more cars here on pit road, 26 up from a high of 22, have you had a chance yet to look at the pit sizes; and, two, is there a concern with having 26 cars here on pit road here?
BRIAN BARNHART : There's definitely a concern in every pit road. Not just at Richmond. It's a function of the car count and it's a good problem to find ourselves. We're going to run 39â€‘foot pit boxes this weekend at Richmond, which is pretty close to average. I think our usual average is right at 40.
So we'll be down just a whisker. But we've run them as short as 36 in the past. So should be all right. It's just a matter of guys making sure they take care of each other in pit road.
Q: What were the dimensions here last year?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think we ran them as either 40s or 42s last year. So they're going to be a little shorter and a little tighter. And I think the biggest difference will be we'll go a little further around the corner and start them a little sooner.
Q: Can I get thoughts from you about the qualifying format coming to Richmond?
BRIAN BARNHART : One of the changes we've made has been to, again, try to directly link our old track heritage to the Indianapolis 500.
And we run fourâ€‘lap qualifying runs at Indianapolis, whereas traditionally we were doing best of two laps in the other ovals. So everywhere we run, we're going to take the green flag second time by. And we average four lap speeds. It's accumulative time over those fourâ€‘lap runs that set our pole. What's been really exciting about that was, at Milwaukee, after three laps, Helio (Castroneves) was P1 and about to bump his way onto the pole. But his fourth lap was slow enough, he fell back and started, I think on one of them he went off the front row and the other went back to second. It really makes it a situation where a guy can't just put in one good flyer lap and get there. The car's got to be consistent enough over four laps to get it done.
Q: Have you been surprised with how well the racing has been and maybe the lack of cautions at Milwaukee and Iowa, especially with the transition teams and so many cars on the track?
BRIAN BARNHART : Maybe a little bit. But to be honest with you, I think it is a true reflection of the quality of teams and drivers that are in the series. Not just the transitioning teams that came over. We know we've got basically the best of what was in Champ Car at the time.
Obviously we probably would have loved to have had Forsythe and Paul Tracy participating. But we've got the cream of the crop from what they're doing. When you blend that in with the quality of drivers that were participating in the IndyCar Series beforehand, it's added, as John Andretti was saying earlier, it's just really added to the depth of the field and the competition is incredibly close.
Q: Is there any update as to any solutions to trying to finish on the green, any plans or proposals that you're looking at?
BRIAN BARNHART : Yeah, we've been looking at that for several years. And, unfortunately, some of the same challenges that existed when we first looked at it about five years ago still exist.
And, I don't know, I think operationally and procedurally I think we can overcome a lot of it. I think we can work well with our TV partner in terms of TV windows and that kind of stuff. To be honest with you, one of the biggest challenges I think we still face from it is I'm a little concerned how team tactics could come into play with it at certain events.
Q: Is there an optimal number or a number range you have in mind as to the number of engine manufacturers down below?
BRIAN BARNHART : I think from a competition side, I think that will take care of itself. I mean we're running right now with 26 or 27 cars full time. And if we happen to get into a multiple manufacturer situation, I think it will kind of sort itself out simply based on the number of cars that are in and the number required to be healthy and sustain a good business model.
So I think you're probably looking at going to three, maybe four, would be the ultimate situation we could find ourselves in. I don't think a 26â€‘car field, it would be a challenge for a 26â€‘car field to support five manufacturers. But I don't think we'll limit it.
MODERATOR: Terry and Brian, thank you.
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