An interview with Mike Hull, Townsend Bell and Marc Williams
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests today to join us. Starting the call today will be Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull. Later in the call we'll be joined by Marc Williams from Integra Motorsports, and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Townsend Bell.
We'll start with Mike Hull. Mike is the managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which has formed a partnership with Integra Motorsports to field an Indy Lights entry for New Zealand's Marc Williams. Tell us a little bit about the partnership. I know you ran your own program last year.
MIKE HULL: Yeah, we did. To be very candid about it, this thing for us started very late, right prior to Homestead the discussion began. It all came about because of a mutual person that we have in our lives at Chip Ganassi Racing, and his name is Ron Dixon. Ron came to us with Marc and wanted us to be involved in running his program. We had already released most or all of our equipment. We were not in a position to be able to do it. So we looked around and spoke to David Hunt at Integra, and he has a great record in the Formula BMW series and thought, you know, it's a good way to do it. So we integrated our programs together.
We're going to add resources to his program in terms of our internal resources, which includes engineering support, and work with Marc on the driver development side with some of the things we've done with drivers in the past.
It just seemed like a good fit, so we've decided to go ahead and do it.
Q. You mentioned the driver development program. What do you consider the most important attributes of a young driver to join that program? Ganassi does such a great job with so many drivers, how do you develop that? What are the best ways you developed your drivers, do you think?
MIKE HULL: I think youth and enthusiasm go a long way. I think there's a special spark with certain race drivers that's hard -- maybe it's hard to define for somebody unless you meet with that race driver one or one and look them in the eye.
But the things that everybody takes for granted have to be there, meaning talent and the ability to do the job. But I think their enthusiasm to accept today's reality and get the most out of today.
I think if you look at the race drivers we've had over time with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, that's really what they've been all about. Marc certainly fits in that category.
THE MODERATOR: Mike, we appreciate you taking the time, especially with other commitments going on. Thank you for calling in.
MIKE HULL: That's fine. Could I just say one thing?
THE MODERATOR: Sure.
MIKE HULL (Approx 5:30): Sometimes what happens in these kinds of situations, what's going on in the Indy Pro Series is with the formation now or the branding of Firestone Indy Lights a lot of the drivers that we have today in IndyCar racing came from the Firestone Indy Lights Series that was so successful in the '90s. I think what Al Speyer, Joe (Barbieri), some of the other people at Firestone have done, is they've raised the bar again with what this series will be able to do for us on the Indy team side. They're creating now a true place for young kids to race that can be one series of racing, just like what we've done in IndyCar racing. I think that's a big step forward.
I think over the next few years we'll look back on that, just this branding change, and say that was a big deal. So we're very proud to be part of this program. That's it for me. I'm going to sign off and go to the next event.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Mike.
We'll begin with Townsend Bell. He is the driver of the No. 23 William Rast car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. He made his return to the IndyCar Series over the weekend at St. Petersburg and he will be traveling with us across the Pacific next week at Twin Ring Motegi.
Townsend, how are you today?
TOWNSEND BELL: I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Townsend, talk about the debut weekend with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at St. Petersburg. It wasn't quite the way you probably had it planned out.
TOWNSEND BELL: Well, 90 percent of it worked exactly to plan. But the last 10 percent, the most critical part, didn't work out as we wanted. We really approached the weekend as essentially one big test session, given the fact I only had one day of testing prior to the race weekend.
Just wanted to run all the laps, wanted to finish, make smart decisions all day. With the conditions we had, we did a good job on that front up until the lap where Vitor (Meira) and I think it was (Franck) Perera got in front of me. Blind corners, street circuit, I had a flash of yellow out of the corner of my eye as I approached the corner, slid a little wide of the apex. Literally as I was collecting Vitor's car and pushing it out of the way, my spotter was coming on telling me to stay low. Just wrong place at the wrong time.
But we have to take the positives from the weekend, which is we made big improvements to our setup. The biggest improvement came from me. My last street race was in Monaco in 2003, which is almost five years ago. I knew I wasn't going to be competitive overnight, but I did take satisfaction in working hard to get as close as I can to the mid pack runners, and I'm still reasonably confident we did a good job on that front.
Going forward, we need to finish races. We're a small team with limited resources and we need to do a good job to make it to the end, and that ultimately rests on my shoulders.
Q: Talk about the next round of the championship at Twin Ring Motegi. I know you did a refresher on the oval at Homestead. Motegi is a little trickier than the Homestead oval. What do you expect from that race?
TOWNSEND BELL: Well, I raced there in 2002 in Champ Car. It is a tricky course in the way the corners are totally different. There's essentially one corner there, turn three and four. We had a good test in Homestead. We worked hard on correcting some of the ills from Buddy's racecar at Homestead and we made a lot of gains there.
So I think we feel pretty good about going into this weekend with having a test day and having experience of that track.
So, you know, just have to, again, make smart decisions. But got to make sure we keep our nose clean all day and take opportunities when they're in front of us. So I'm excited. I'm just thrilled to be back in IndyCar in general. It's just great to be part of a unified series, really a pleasure for me to see all the positives that seem to exist the last few weeks since the announcement was made.
Q: You're sharing the 23 car with Milka Duno, who I believe is going to drive the car at Kansas. So this is kind of your final tune-up for the month of May. Is it difficult to know that this is your one chance to kind of dial it in on an oval before the month of May?
TOWNSEND BELL (approx 13:00): Well, frankly, the amount of racing I've done the last few years has been pretty limited. It's been limited to just the occasional one-off. So I feel like I've had more seat time than I can remember, even though it's been pretty limited. So to have a chance to go and run Japan and then hit the month of May with that experience and two races under my belt, to me that's a huge advantage given where I was the last time I raced at Indy in 2006.
So I feel good about it. I'm really thankful for the team, you know, Dreyer & Reinbold, to give me the chance. I know they're committed to giving me the best opportunity to succeed, not only at Indy but the races I'll do the rest of the season. Frankly, it's just about finding the starting point and looking to what we can build for the future.
Q. Do you think the ability to adjust is probably one of the best skills that a driver can have? Do you think maybe most drivers have that better ability than the average person?
TOWNSEND BELL: Maybe you could help me clarify your question. "Ability to adjust." What do you mean?
Q. To adjust and adapt to changes, to tracks, to conditions, to drivers, all the changes that you have to deal with.
TOWNSEND BELL: Yeah, adjusting really comes down to exploiting the most out of what you have. I know I was listening earlier when Mike (Hull) sort of alluded to that. At the end of the day, the best drivers are the ones that can take their natural ability and knowledge and aptitude and extract the most out of the package, the circumstances on that day, with a strong hunger to win. I don't think it's more complicated than that in terms of a general approach.
But adjusting to circumstances is really about maximizing circumstances.
Q. Fans really aren't in the vehicle. The fans may not quite understand about driving on the edge.
TOWNSEND BELL: Sometimes. It depends on the fan. I come across a lot of fans that are intimately involved, spend a lot of hours during the week following the IndyCar Series and other series. A lot of them either have experience on an autocross or go-kart or that sort of thing. That's always nice because somebody really understands what's involved to drive fast, the physical demands and the mental demands and the talent that's involved.
You know, more your casual viewer sometimes perhaps doesn't understand everything that goes into it. That's not to say that they don't care; they just don't have as much exposure to it. The best way obviously is to come to a race and walk around, watching the corners, really understanding more of the subtleties involved in racing.
Q: I know you mentioned you were in Motegi in 2002. What is it about the trip? I know it's kind of a little different trip than your average race weekend. What kind of memories from that race do you recall?
TOWNSEND BELL: I was one of the Toyota drivers, so I certainly always remember the prerace Toyota corporate ritual that went into winning the event. It was very serious and a new experience for me to just see the commitment of big corporations. Now we've got Honda obviously. But back when we had engine competition, just to see the commitment to succeed from a big company and the priority they placed on winning at the top levels of racing was a real treat. I'll definitely never forget those experiences.
Q: Again you did launch a car over the weekend with William Rast. How did that relationship come about?
TOWNSEND BELL: Well, William Rast is sort of a premium, high-end casual clothing company, co-owned by Justin Timberlake, who you might have heard of. They're based here in Los Angeles. I have a few friends in the fashion industry. Colin Dyne, the CEO of William Rast, a big racing enthusiast, a former go-kart racer himself, he just decided it's something he wanted to get involved with.
The timing couldn't be better with my interest getting involved in the unified open-wheel series, really focused on getting that done, and just sort of worked out. We were able to introduce William Rast to the team. We're just getting started. I'm pretty excited about some of the things you might see in the future.
THE MODERATOR: Townsend, it looks like we have no more questions for you. Appreciate you taking the time today to join us.
TOWNSEND BELL: Thanks a lot.
THE MODERATOR: Now, ladies and gentlemen, we are joined by Firestone Indy Lights driver Marc Williams. Marc debuted this past weekend with Integra Motorsports. He is, as Mike Hull mentioned, a development driver of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Marc, just take us through your debut weekend back in the series.
MARC WILLIAMS (Approx 15:00): It was a bit of a frustrating weekend. It was a good start, I suppose. We hadn't been in the car for about nine months, so that was a bit of a difficult start. Other than that, the team did a really great job, getting to mix well with each other pretty quickly.
My first view of a street course. It was pretty tough having so many concrete walls so close to you. Definitely we took it one step at a time and we just aimed to finish races and complete laps and do as many laps as I possibly could to get myself prepared and ready for the following year, just go out there and do as many as possible and hopefully not have too much dramas go on.
But, no, it was a good weekend. We got a lot of laps in, like I said. We got quicker and quicker and improved our time tremendously throughout the whole weekend. By the end of the weekend, we came away with a top 10 finish and time that was close to some of the top runners that had been there previously for a few years. So we were quite happy.
THE MODERATOR: Now this week, you get to test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I know you raced there last year. Are you looking forward to coming back to the Speedway and getting in a car?
MARC WILLIAMS (Approx. 16:00): Yeah, I just can't wait. It's a prestigious track. It's such an awesome race to be involved with. And, you know, that was my first ever oval last year. It was my first chance at getting on an oval, was coming and starting at the Freedom 100 last year. I feel as though, you know, I was trying to build confidence then and just picked up the laps then. Now I can't wait to have a test there and get myself prepared for this event. It will just be great to do it properly, I suppose you can say, have a good go at it. It's such a fast open oval, so flat out, I can't wait, yeah.
Q: Mike Hull, when he was on earlier, touched upon the relationship you have with Scott Dixon's father Ron Dixon. How did that relationship start and how did it bring you across from New Zealand to the States?
MARC WILLIAMS: Ron's been a huge influence in my racing. I would never be anywhere near to this extent without him. He saw me I think in New Zealand when I was racing a series, a Toyota racing series in New Zealand, a lot like the Formula BMW I suppose here in the States. Just a junior category. I suppose we showed enough potential. He was watching, having a look at the talent in New Zealand, and he came and approached us and started talking to us. He helped us out that year of racing a different team. Then he decided in September I think, 2005, to invite us over to Sonoma. We came over to Sonoma and checked it out. We thought, while we're here, we might as well get a test going. We came back and had a test at Putnam Park in Indy. Had a test with David McMillan, just to get the feel of it, see what the cars were like. I was absolutely blown away with the horsepower of these Indy Lights cars now.
Yeah, I just wanted more of it. That's what gave us the opportunity to come over here and have a go on the ovals. I come from a road course background. We haven't had any oval experience. But, yeah, this last year, learning more and more going to each different circuit, seeing it for the first time, I loved every minute of it.
Yeah, Ron has been a huge influence with helping us out when I have been here in the States. Yeah, he's like a second father. He's just really good.
Q. Marc, as a young development driver, what have been the biggest hurdles that you've leaped so far? What learning curve looks steepest from here?
MARC WILLIAMS: Yeah, that would be a good question. There's been a lot. Like I said, I came from a road course background from a small little country, New Zealand. I come over here, everything is just so big and huge scale, that's probably the biggest side of things, just everything being so huge.
I mean, we've got such a great series here in the Indy Lights and with the IndyCar, it's bringing a lot of top drivers from all over the world now. It's a huge stage of competition.
But just each circuit to me is new. A lot of these drivers have come up and actually been driving through their careers, knowing these circuits as a circuit next door. So, yeah, each track I come to, it's a whole new circuit, so I'm having to start from the very start, I suppose you could say.
That's probably been one of the toughest things, to get used to it again and have that time on the track.
The next learning curve I suppose is being able to consistently run up the top and getting good results. We've got a lot of things planned out here for me in Indy, getting a whole comfortable lifestyle makes everything else easier to get to.
Q. Do you learn a lot from the veteran drivers or do you try to do it yourself basically?
MARC WILLIAMS: No, definitely we get a lot of support from the drivers that have been here in the past. I get a lot of help from Scott Dixon. He's a great mentor for New Zealanders at home. He's really shown his talent over here and has proven himself, I suppose you could say, compared to the drivers here in the States. He's been a great help. Whenever he can, he's trying to pass on as much as he can.
We've been running with some great teams. Certainly with having Chip Ganassi Racing wanting us now or behind us, it only starts from there. Looks like a great steppingstone really.
THE MODERATOR: Marc, thank you for joining us. Good luck for the rest of the season.
MARC WILLIAMS: That's fine. Thank you. Cheers.
THE MODERATOR: Our next teleconference will be Wednesday, April 16th, at 2 p.m. our guests will be Conquest Racing drivers Franck Perera and Enrique Bernoldi. Thank you.