An interview with Luyendyk Jr., Scheckter and Boerger. (Note: Numbers in parentheses are the approximate time codes on the audio MP3)
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, we appreciate you joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today. Starting the call with us is Firestone Indy Lights driver Indy Arie Luyendyk, Jr., and we'll be joined by Indy Car Series driver Tomas Scheckter and Kansas Speedway president Jeff Boerger.
Good afternoon, Arie. Arie is back in Firestone Indy Lights driving for the AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing partnership. He's off to a solid start in 2008, recording a fourth-place finish at Homestead and a sixth at St. Petersburg, and he ranks sixth in points as the series heads to Kansas Speedway.
Glad to have you back on a full‑time basis. You were around for the first Firestone Indy Lights race at Kansas Speedway in 2002. Tell us from your perspective how you see the series different now than from it was in the first couple days.
ARIE LUYENDYK (1:00): Well, I think the competition level has definitely stepped up from then. You have a lot of guys trying to get to IndyCar and now it seems to be the best route, the only route that seems to be as far as development series is concerned. And we just have a really solid field of 22 to 24 cars consistently now, and that makes the racing that much more fun. And to race with a really good group of guys is always a good thing.
THE MODERATOR: It's been a few years since the series was at Kansas. What should your fellow competitors expect over there?
ARIE LUYENDYK (2:00): I just think it's going to be really close racing. We saw in Homestead the cars were pretty difficult to drive from last year for some reason, but I think Kansas is a place that will bring all of the guys together.
I think it's a track similar to Chicago, and I think it's just going to really make it interesting for the fans to watch. I think a lot of cars are going to be running really close together. I think it's going to be really important to qualify well and to have a car that will run anywhere on the racetrack, low, high; so it's going to be a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Now you did a series of races with AFS Racing in the last couple years. Tell us a little bit about how that team has grown and developed and also how valuable it is to be tied in with Andretti Green.
ARIE LUYENDYK (2:30): Well, that's just speaks volumes. Andretti Green is such a great operation. The shop at Indy is amazing. The guys are very professional. Gary has come a long way, Gary Peterson, that is, from AFS Racing; the team which I started driving for in 2004 has just developed so nicely, and the partnership with Andretti Green has made all the difference.
I think the resources at Andretti Green are amazing. If you just see what sort of effort goes into putting those cars on the track, it really gives a driver like myself a lot of confidence.
For me, this is a great opportunity. I've been driving in the Indy Lights for a few years now, and I've seen it grow. It takes so much more now to win races than it did a few years ago, and that preparation is all the difference.
So hopefully we get a good setup going for Kansas, and get my win there, that would be great.
THE MODERATOR: Kind of a little bit more on the Andretti Green side, I know personally just walking around the pits, I see guys like Michael Andretti in the pits a lot, and I've seen Tony Kanaan and some of the drivers down there. How much interaction do you have with the ownership side of Andretti Green and some of the current drivers?
ARIE LUYENDYK (4:00): Oh, it's great. It's just one big family over there. People like Michael and Kim Green, they all come down and watch practices, and Michael is really involved in all aspects of the team as well as the others. They are there for every session, whether it be their ALMS guys, IndyCar guys, Indy Lights, and it really shows the support and I think that's really important.
They are really passionate about what they do. They want to win races and that motivates me and really helps when a team owner and organization like Andretti Green is so involved in trying to make the car work for you and to find solutions and to get to victory lane.
So that's been a big inspiration to me. They are very involved, and it's just a dream come true for me. Hopefully we capitalize on it throughout the year, and hopefully, I can show the team what I can do this year.
THE MODERATOR: Your season is off to a good start with the top-six runs at Homestead and St. Petersburg. What type of goals do you have for the rest of the season?
ARIE LUYENDYK (5:30): Well for me, obviously winning the championship, winning races, that's most drivers' goals. And for me, I'm really determined this year to make that happen. It's a shame that second race at St. Petersburg I had a DNF. I thought that would be a good run, steadily improved all weekend, qualified ninth and finished sixth in the first race and started sixth in the second race and was taken out of the first lap which was really unfortunate.
Those things happened, and it seemed like a lot of people had misfortune in that race, and that race was kind of an odd race because so much happened.
But I think it's a good start to the year. Fourth place in Homestead, our car really wasn't a fourth-place car, so I was glad to bring it home in fourth. We had a lot of handling issues there and had a really good restart which put me up there.
Hopefully the car is a little bit better for Kansas and we can show what we have. We're working hard on testing and I've been doing some A1GP stuff, so I have not been with the team lately, but as of next weekend, I'll be able to fully concentrate on Indy Lights and that will help.
Q. You've been in the series long enough to see some of the technical changes to the cars with the mono‑shock suspension and the new aero package a couple years ago. How has that changed the drivability of the car from when you first started the series?
ARIE LUYENDYK (7:30): The mono shock, it was difficult. The mono shock was a difficult thing to adjust, especially on the ovals, and back then, obviously all ovals; and also it would have been very hard to adjust on the road courses and that was a good move to go to a dual‑shock car.
For us, it's better because we are developing as drivers, and I think you need to learn basically what you're going to be dealing with in IndyCar Series car. IndyCar Series cars are a dual shock, traditional race car. So learning how to adjust the mono shock would really not be beneficial to us.
So that's definitely an improvement to the chassis. The extra downforce is good for the short ovals. That's something that we could have done without, but I guess it balanced the car better. So that was also fairly positive.
The car has changed a little bit. I would have liked to see the no‑lift shifting back in the car. That's something they had in the car and they took away from us, and I really liked that.
Hopefully get some paddles on the car. I'm accustomed to that driving in A1GP and I think that's a great tool for the driver to have paddle shifting, and now that the IndyCars are going to paddle shifting, I think we should go to that next year.
Q. What things do you bring home with you from A1GP that you wish you had in the Indy Lights Series?
ARIE LUYENDYK (8:00): I would say definitely the paddle shifting, that's one thing. And other than that, the car, I think the Indy Lights car is a better car as far as balance‑wise. And so the car is actually, I think, set up better and I think it's a better chassis.
The A1GP chassis is an old Formula 3 chassis from the mid '90s, so it's not very technologically advanced, but the electronics on the car and paddle shifting is definitely something that would be really fun to have in the Indy Lights series.
Q. And what about the standing start?
ARIE LUYENDYK: That would be nice, too. I think that's interesting how they do that in A1GP. They have one race that's standing start and one race that's rolling start. I think maybe for street courses or something, just to mix it up, maybe we should try that. I think that's up to the gear box guys and something that could be hard on equipment. I don't see that really happening.
Q. One last question for you, you're going to be at Brands Hatch next week for A1GP, and have you been able to convince any of those guys to come and race Indy Lights with you this year?
ARIE LUYENDYK (9:00): You know I've seen a few people walking around in St. Petersburg. I've seen John Summerton - he won the last event in A1. Guys are really interested in the series, so with the Euro and the Pound as high as it is, I wouldn't be too surprised with some guys trying to make some appearances. That just makes the series better, makes it stronger.
But most of those guys are focused on Europe and GP2 and Formula World Series Renault. So I don't know if they would want to come over, but I'm sure if they did, we would have something for them.
THE MODERATOR: Arie, thank you and best of luck the rest of the way.
We are now joined now by Jeff Boerger, the president of Kansas Speedway, as well as Indy Car Series driver, Tomas Scheckter. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
The IndyCar Series is returning to Kansas Speedway for the eighth consecutive season and second straight season in April. Tomas will be making his 2008 debut at Kansas with Luczo Dragon Racing, and he is a veteran of 92 career starts in the Indy Car Series, including two victories. Last year he finished fifth at Kansas
Jeff, just a question for you. Why don't you just give us an update on preparations for this weekend's Road Runner Turbo Indy 300.
JEFF BOERGER (11:30): Things are going really well here at Kansas. We are not only ready, and as far as Kansas Speedway to have these great athletes in town, and also the community is ready with open arms to welcome all of these race fans that will be coming from all over the country, and especially all over the world that the press will be bringing, as well. But it's turning out to be a great weekend and a great way to start off Kansas Speedway's season, especially with a doubleheader on Sunday, with the IndyCar Series race in the afternoon, and then the Firestone Indy Lights race in early afternoon.
So things are shaping up to be a great race weekend. Weather; we had our previous races in July. Last year was the first year we moved it to the end of April which put us before the Indianapolis 500 activities and race. And it's turned out to be a great move for us. Especially for our fans because we want to be the best guest experience in motorsports; and having our fans sit through the 100‑degree heat year after year wasn't the right thing to do. And so by moving our race to the end of April, the temperatures are a lot more comfortable, and, in fact, it looks like we are going to have some great weather this race weekend, as well.
So it's turned out to be a great race, shaping up to be a great race weekend.
And Tomas, I'd like to ask you a question. You all tested out here yesterday. What are your thoughts on how the track is maturing and how everything went for you yesterday?
TOMAS SCHECKTER (14:00): Yeah, I think the track was in good shape. I didn't really use the high line at all, and I think the high line started going away a little bit last year. It certainly seems to be the same this year, but it depends, if some rubber gets down on the track and people start to bench rubber, I think a second lane will be created, but the track from my aspect was in good shape.
THE MODERATOR: You're coming back with a team that had only one start last year before the Indy 500. Talk about how things are coming together with the team.
TOMAS SCHECKTER (14:30): To be honest you could cancel that start out before in my eyes, because I think it was a start they did under a Penske banner, and this is really their first start as a team on their own with their own equipment in their own garages. And really, this is a team put together by John Cummiskey, who is the team manager, and Steve Luczo and Jay Penske.
So this is really their own deal and their first start on their two feet.
THE MODERATOR: You're starting at Kansas but one of the main focuses since the team debuted at Indy last year is the Indianapolis 500. Looking ahead at the month of May a little bit, what are some of the goals that you guys hope to accomplish?
TOMAS SCHECKTER (15:30): Well, again, like you said, they debuted in Indy, but it's not like we can go back with that same car. You know, what Ryan Briscoe and what I had is two different worlds. That's why I give a lot of credit for the amount of work that these guys have put in to come from a car from scratch from having no help from anybody.
I think our expectations of Indy, I don't really know yet, because I've got to see how we perform in Kansas. But certainly at Kansas we want to have a strong finish and make sure we don't have any mechanical problems; making sure that everybody works well together and making sure that we get our stops right and you know just get a good basis for a good working relationship within the team and move that on to Indy.
THE MODERATOR: You're a guy that's been around the series since 2001, 2002, somewhere in there, and running pretty much every race, but was it kind of hard to sit out those first couple races knowing that your time was coming, but kind of being on the sidelines at the start?
TOMAS SCHECKTER (16:30): Yeah, it was extremely hard. It was probably some of the hardest stuff I had to do, and that's why most of us probably didn't even come down to the race. I just stayed at home, trained, spent time with the team and focused on what we had to do and made sure we were prepared for Kansas.
I think this is going to be hopefully a long‑term deal, and maybe some sacrifices that I've made now with not racing every race will pay off in the near future. At the moment, I can just keep my head down and concentrate on what we're doing here with this race team.
Q. I was wondering how much of a bump in ticket sales you guys have seen since the reunification was announced; and also in the past couple of days with Danica winning in Japan, if there's been a noticeable jump
JEFF BOERGER (17:30): Well, we've been very fortunate at Kansas. We've had a strong demand in our ticket sales from the beginning since we've opened the track in 2001, and it continues to see solid results in regards to demand.
Obviously it's a promoter's dream to have Danica (Patrick) winning the week prior to our race, and we have had more car counts and there's been a lot of buzz around especially in the Kansas City metro area and the region. We've seen a little bump but again, we have probably one of the highest renewal rates within this industry, and being the second‑most‑attended (IndyCar Series) race on the circuit, we continue to see strong demands in that area.
Q. Besides Indy, you're just doing three races this year; is there the possibility of more races later in the season?
TOMAS SCHECKTER (18:30): Yeah, there's already talk of us doing another two or three races. We are very fortunate to have great sponsors on the car and we are going to have steady guests at the race, and I think the more people see how and what level job we are going to do, we are going to get more and more support.
But Jay Penske and Steve Luczo are completely dedicated to this, and I only see them doing more and more and more, and we are already speaking about doing a full season ‑‑ possibly doing a full year next year.
Q. Question for Jeff. This will be the first time since 2004 that the Indy Lights series has raced at Kansas Speedway. What was your thought process in getting them back with the IndyCars?
JEFF BOERGER (19:30): We were approached by the league to run them again at Kansas. And as you know in the past, we've become known as probably one of most competitive tracks out there and one of the closest finishes. In fact, our inaugural season, they ran, and it was three‑wide going down the front stretch for the finish, which was probably one of the closest finishes in the history of motorsports.
So we are very excited to have them back, and plus it gives added value to our fans that are attending the Road Runner Turbo 300 on Sunday, and so we are running that series prior; the Firestone Indy Lights series prior to our Time Warner which is great for our fans and again just gives added value to those folks.
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate you taking the time to join us, and best of luck to both of you for a very successful weekend.