Q and A with Jeff Simmons, Doug Fritz and Oriol Servia
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two drivers joining us today. Starting the call with us is Firestone Indy Lights driver Jeff Simmons. In a few minutes, we'll be joined by IndyCar Series driver Oriol Servia. We also have a special guest today, Watkins Glen International president Craig Rust to talk about the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights races this weekend at The Glen.
Jeff Simmons is on the line with us. Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us.
JEFF SIMMONS: My pleasure.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff ranks seventh in the Firestone Indy Lights standings and has recorded five top-10 finishes in six starts this year. He's won seven times during his Firestone Indy Lights career, including at The Glen in 2005.
Jeff, you've turned a lot of laps at Watkins Glen throughout your career. You know how to win at this track in a Firestone Indy Lights car. What will it take for you to give Team Moore Racing its first victory this year?
JEFF SIMMONS: It's going to take the whole team effort, but Mark Moore and Tom Wood have done a really good job of putting together a first-class group of people. You know, we didn't do a whole lot of laps during the testing when we were there recently.
As you said, I've been there many times. I love Watkins Glen. I love the whole area. It brings a big smile to my face every time I drive into the front gate there. It's going to be difficult. There's some strong competition for sure. It's also going to be quite a day when we have the doubleheader there on Saturday because we don't have a whole lot of time in between races. It's really going to be physically and mentally taxing because we're not going to have much time to recover after the first race, so you got to make sure you get through that pretty clean and hope your fitness is good enough to do a 200‑mile race instead of just 100 miles as we usually do.
THE MODERATOR: You've dovetailed right into my next question. Give us your thoughts about that doubleheader format as far as how does that play into strategy. You mentioned fitness, the time crunch. Do you play your strategy any different at a doubleheader as opposed to a weekend where there's just one race?
JEFF SIMMONS: For the most part I don't think so. But you are going to have to be very careful in that first race, because if you have any sort of damage to your car it's going to be difficult to fix that and get back out there for the second one.
We've done the doubleheaders before, but usually it's kind of one race on Saturday, one on Sunday, or a lot more time in between. It's going to be very important to take care of your car in the first race.
THE MODERATOR: As you said, you've had a lot of experience at the Glen, all the various layouts. We're running the Grand Prix layout, the long course with the Boot. Describe the unique characteristics of that track. And when you're setting up a race car for the Glen, what are the most important characteristics you need to prepare the car for?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, Watkins Glen, I think it's one of the best road courses in the country, one of the best tracks in the country. It's one of the fastest road courses that you would go to, too. There's a lot of fast, sweeping corners. You need to really set up for high speed.
But normally if you're going to be in those fast corners you're thinking, I want a little downforce to help me through those. But can't go too high in the downforce because you have the long back straightaway up through the Esses. So you need to be fast there.
Most of the corners are right-handers. There's only probably, what, three left‑handers there. Sometimes that plays into the way people set up their cars. Sometimes they'll try to set up their car to be strong in right‑hand corners.
Usually we try to get a really good balance on the car and try to run the least amount of downforce we can to be comfortable and have a consistent race car.
THE MODERATOR: You've run at The Glen in a Firestone Indy Lights car. How much does your experience at that great racetrack in other cars help you? Does it play into a factor at all other than circuit knowledge?
JEFF SIMMONS: I don't think so. I mean, I think it's just, as you said, the circuit knowledge, knowing what cars need around there, what you need to be successful. I think my experience also in the IndyCars there, I ran the last couple years there in the IndyCar there, and we look for the same things, though.
You're just looking to get a good balance on the car and have the speed that you need down the straights. I think that with my experience of running so many different cars there, I know that you got to have a car for the end.
Twenty-nine laps around there in an Indy Lights car is a pretty long race, so we're looking for a consistent race car.
THE MODERATOR: How long did it take you when you tested there earlier this year in the Firestone Indy Lights car to rewire your brain and your right and left feet for an Indy Lights car as opposed to an IndyCar Series car?
JEFF SIMMONS: It didn't take long at all. We didn't get a whole lot of laps there. We didn't really get on track until after 11:00, even though the test actually started at 8:30 in the morning.
After the first few laps, with the experience that I have there, I think we were right up to speed, running consistently, just starting to work on the car.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Jeff.
Q. Some of the New Zealanders, there's an influx of new racers. You have Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Series. What do you think accounts for the fact that they are finding Indy Lights and IndyCar an attractive destination from that little country?
JEFF SIMMONS: I think the series as a whole, the strength of it, especially the momentum that it's had in the last couple years, is attractive from people all over the world. We don't only have people from New Zealand, we have people from all over the place.
I think it's competition and strong teams and all of that that make it attractive to people. I think it's great.
I mean, I hope we can get more. I think obviously with Scott Dixon's success you've got all eyes in New Zealand looking over to the Indy Racing League.
Q. Is there something to learn from the number of those people coming here for say a small state like Connecticut that wants to get on the map as a hotbed for racers?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, I hope I can help in that respect. I'm not sure how much the state itself is really focused on racing, but there are a lot of people that are interested in it up there. Watkins Glen is the closest race we have to Connecticut, so I'm hoping we'll have some home‑state fans, New England and Northeast region fans, following me and rooting for me.
Q. What do you make of all the scuttlebutt in the press about Danica Patrick and Scott Dixon back and forth? Is that just racers being racers?
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, everybody kind of ‑‑ they love to defend their position on the track, but certainly don't like it when they feel they have the faster car or are in a better position and can't get by and other people are defending against them.
I think it's just talk. They're both good racers. It's not just them. There's all kinds of people that talk back and forth.
Obviously with Scott and Danica being successful, I think that makes it into the media and the public eye more often.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, it looks like that's all the questions we have for you today. We appreciate you calling in, and we wish you the best of luck this weekend at The Glen.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR: Craig Rust, the president of Watkins Glen International, has called in. We'll give him a few minutes to talk about the races we have this weekend. Craig, welcome to the call. Tell us a little bit about what's going on out there at The Glen this weekend.
CRAIG RUST: Appreciate you allowing me to be on the call this afternoon. We're real excited to host the IndyCar Series again. We're real happy that we're on a consistent date. As many people on the call know, we've bounced around early on in '05 and '06, but really feel like we found a nice place on the Fourth of July weekend up here.
Nice part of the country. Weather forecast looks excellent, which we're real happy about, so it's good to have everybody come back up here.
Got a great weekend planned. Great partners with Camping World and Corning. Probably the biggest couple of things we're doing a little bit different this year, or ways that we're expanding this event, we've got Gavin DeGraw, platinum recording artist, playing Saturday night. He has some ties to Ithaca, so that's really created a nice buzz in the marketplace for us.
We also have partnered up with our ABC affiliate on Friday. We've got a great big ‑‑ they're calling it an Indy-Pendence Festival right down at the lakefront all day Friday. That's been going on for years in this community, and we're just real happy that we worked with WENY to partner with them and to build that as a kickoff for the weekend for the next three years.
So that's in place. That will happen every Friday for the next three years. Again, just another way that we can tie the event to the community and the community to the event to just make it bigger and better.
The fans from the Indy Racing League will be down there. We'll get a couple drivers down there to speak. More music, a lot of things for kids. We're excited about that.
And then the other thing we're doing a little bit different this year, kids are free -- 12 and under, general admission tickets are free for them at the track. That was real important. We actually did that well before the economy kind of took a little bit of a turn here.
But, again, Fourth of July is about spending time with your family and friends and celebrating, so we really wanted to create a festival atmosphere up at the track.
We have the fireworks, the concert. We've expanded our display area. We've got a wine tent with I think there's about eight motorsports artists coming up to display artwork. We have a full green EXPO that we will have up there. I think we have about 12 partners in there, various businesses that are going to display their green initiatives.
We've worked with the league, as well, Rahal Letterman Racing with the ethanol car. Just a lot going on.
Again, really want to make sure that the people that come out have a great time, so we really focus on the guest experience. As Jeff indicated, the racing here, second to none. We're proud to be the kickoff for the permanent road courses. I think we're going to see a great race, especially with the expanded field, so we're carrying a lot of momentum into the weekend and we're real excited about it.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate you taking the time to call in. We wish everybody the best of luck at The Glen this weekend. Nice to hear the weather forecast is going to be good. That's excellent.
CRAIG RUST: Absolutely. Appreciate you having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Next we have Oriol Servia. Good afternoon, Oriol. Thanks for calling in.
ORIOL SERVIA: Good afternoon, everybody.
THE MODERATOR: You're ranked ninth in points in your first season of IndyCar Series competition. Oriol has recorded top-10 finishes on the streets of St. Petersburg and on the short oval in Milwaukee. He also finished fifth on the streets of Long Beach, and is coming off his best oval finish of the season with a fifth‑place finish last weekend at Richmond.
Oriol, I know you probably have more oval experience than any of the drivers that transitioned over, but Richmond had to be a pretty unique experience for you. How was your feeling about Richmond and running in such tight confines like that?
ORIOL SERVIA: Yeah, you couldn't be more right with what you're saying. To start with, I do have a fair amount of experience in ovals. In my two years of Indy Lights, I probably had six, seven ovals a year. Then in Champ Car, the first three or four years, we were still doing six or seven ovals, so I have a fair amount.
But then this season in the IndyCar Series almost every oval I go to is such a different and new experience for me from what I was used to in ovals, from the superspeedways, to Richmond last weekend. I had actually a lot of fun in Richmond. Was totally a driver/setup racetrack where you had to drive, the car had to be good. It was a great challenge.
It was, as I said, a lot of fun to be driving on your own. And then in the race when you had 25 other cars over you in such a short and narrow and busy track, it made it like extremely fun. I actually read a quote from Justin Wilson, which I thought was quite accurate, where he was saying that for him the race was like a knife fight inside a phone booth. I thought that was a really good quote.
THE MODERATOR: We're entering a stretch now. We've been on ovals now here for about two months. You have experience on ovals and on road courses. When you get to The Glen, how long will it take you to make the adjustment from the oval to the road course?
ORIOL SERVIA: It does take longer than you would think. Fortunately for us, the week of the Richmond race we're able to go and test at Watkins Glen. We're allowed two three‑hour tests.
Unfortunately, I had an engine problem and I could only do 10 laps. I mean, it's better than nothing. But I got a little bit of a taste of the racetrack, and I felt that even though road courses is my background, with 10 laps I was not even close to feeling comfortable on the track with the car. My lap times were still way off of what should be.
So, I mean, I think it's a combination of doing so many ovals. You get rusty, turning right, also feeling the car the way it's supposed to feel and finding the limits, so it's going to take a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Now, did The Glen remind you of ‑‑ I know you didn't get a lot of seat time during the test, but did The Glen remind you of any circuits you raced on before?
ORIOL SERVIA: I would say it's very special. I mean, I really liked it. To me it has a little bit the taste of an older or more historic racetrack like in Europe. At first I thought it was going to be a little bit like between Mid‑Ohio and Elkhart Lake.
But to be honest, the racetrack that it reminded me of most is the old Nurburgring. The way the fast corners are, the asphalt, concrete patches here and there, and even the mountains around it. It reminded me of the old Nurburgring racetrack.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the development of the team, KV Racing Technology. You guys have a lot of experience, but as all the other transition teams, it's a new venture here to run in the IndyCar Series. Talk about the development and the progress the team has made this year, because KV really has made a lot of strides. You came with strength, but seems like you're getting stronger and stronger every week.
ORIOL SERVIA: Yeah, and I'm not going to get tired of saying how good of a job I believe the team is doing, from engineer to the crew to management, because, honestly, it's really tough. We got the cars two weeks before the first race.
You know, if that wasn't big enough for any team on any championship, at the end of the day we were fighting other teams that have big budgets and they had this car for four years.
So forget about ovals or not ovals. Just on the competition side, you know, we were just behind. And then when you put it with the busy schedule that we have, and it's really been extremely tough to get any development in the cars. We hardly have time to put them together for the next weekend.
So that's why, when I look at the races and the results we have, I'm extremely proud of the team's job, of what I've done, my teammate Will (Power). I think really we're showing that we are extremely competitive and that we're going to be contenders as soon as we have time to learn and prepare for the full season the way we should.
I know everybody kind of expects us to do better on road courses or street races than ovals, but that's why I was so happy last weekend to be performing to the level we did. I believe the team is also capable of doing a good job on ovals, and we showed it in Milwaukee, we showed it in Richmond.
In the superspeedways we're just lacking the development we still don't have. But I have total confidence that, given the right time, the team will be able to perform at the top level.
THE MODERATOR: Being from Spain, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you your comments about your reaction to Spain winning Euro2008 last Sunday. First victory in that tournament in 44 years. Did you follow the tournament, and what is your reaction to your country winning it all?
ORIOL SERVIA: I mean, if I can be honest, I didn't watch the game. I only read about it. I love playing soccer, but I kind of hate the world around soccer, where in Spain it's all about soccer, and they almost don't give room to any other sport.
Me growing up there and competing racing, I never supported much the only one sport kind of fanatic environment that has been in Spain for many years.
So I was happy that Spain won. Plus I read that they played really well, so that's good. But, no, I wasn't watching the game. I usually don't watch it.
THE MODERATOR: We'll move back to racing then. At Watkins Glen you didn't get a lot of time there. From the time you were on the track, was there anything you noticed about the layout that would pose a challenge as far as setup because, as Jeff Simmons said earlier, it has a long back straightaway, but it also has some tight corners and some flowing corners.
I know you didn't have a lot of track time, but are you thinking about setup already for that track?
ORIOL SERVIA: Oh, totally, totally. The team has been full on. I was just talking to my engineer just a couple of hours ago. I mean, setup, especially nowadays when it's so competitive, it's very important.
You cannot be off at all on springs, dampers, on downforce. As Jeff was saying, you have a lot of straights where you can gain a lot of time on speed, but then you need the downforce in the corners, because there are many corners, like semi‑fast corners and fast corners. You need the downforce to gain time. It's very, very tricky. We obviously going to go with what we think is the best solution, but there's no in stone about which way we should definitely go. It's definitely a challenge. You have the different asphalt and concrete, so you need the actual mechanical grip of it also. It's very challenging. It's a very complete racetrack from the driving point of view and from the setup of the car.
Again, like most of the weekend, whoever wins is gonna be doing a perfect job from a driving point of view and team and preparation point of view.
So it's one of those places that will probably give the win to whoever has the best day and is very quick.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Oriol.
Q. Regarding the setup of your car, how comfortable are you with sharing your settings with your teammate Will, setups, damper settings?
ORIOL SERVIA: The truth is I hate Australians (laughter). No, I actually have a very good relation with Will, and that helps. But, you know, through my career, I've been lucky to have great teammates like da Matta, Bourdais and others, where I've seen how much you can improve yourself by having a good relation with your teammate and creating a real team effort. Even in Indy Lights, my second year in Indy Lights, I had two great teammates. We finished 1, 2, 3 in the championships, worked extremely well together, something that has never been done before. It was totally due to the way we worked.
I see the benefit of working well with your teammate, especially when you have such a competitive championship like we have with so many good teams and drivers. The first goal of the team is to have both drivers in the front row, then you have to decide in which order we get to the finish line.
But we're working very well together. I think it's part of the success that we have so far.
Q. How would you actually compare your driving style to that of Will? Are you pretty similar so that if you can physically have some of the setups or do you like your car set up in a slightly harder fashion?
ORIOL SERVIA: I would say that whatever works for me works for him, and the same otherwise. We both basically like to get what we think is faster. Even let's say if I would like more understeer than he does, but if I go faster, he believes the car is for some reason at this track allowing me this or that. So we always end up with a very, very, very close setup to one another, which is good. It also helps the engineers work in one direction instead of two different directions for the weekend.
No, as I said so far, we are a pretty good complement to one another.
Q. Will you be watching the Formula One Grand Prix this weekend?
ORIOL SERVIA: I believe I will not be looking for it. If I end up in front of the TV when it's happening, while I'm having breakfast probably, then yes. But usually I'm pretty busy myself and all I do is look at the results at the end of the weekend.
Q. Maybe you can support Fernando, as well.
ORIOL SERVIA: It's good for Spain in general and for other Spanish drivers when he does well. Since he won the Formula One championship, racing in Spain has gained a lot of attention, weight and sponsors. I definitely welcome that.
Q. Do you watch any Moto Grand Prix, the two‑wheel bikes?
ORIOL SERVIA: That's the one thing that if I can, I definitely watch. I'm a huge motorcycle fan. I love motorcycles. I think motorcycle riders are the real talented artists in motor racing, just by the nature of it. As a show, I think it's a great show.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to watch much this year. But whenever I can, I definitely watch them.
Q. Are you a Pedro fan, as well?
ORIOL SERVIA: I think he's a talented driver. He's proven himself in so many different categories. I'm sure MotoGP is coming soon.
THE MODERATOR: Oriol, we really thank you for your time. We appreciate you calling in. We wish you best of luck this weekend at Watkins Glen.
ORIOL SERVIA: Thank you very much. You have a great time. We'll put on a good show.