Teleconference Transcript: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tomas Scheckter
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and welcome everybody to today's Indy Racing League teleconference call. We have two guests on today's call, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Tomas Scheckter, and later we'll be joined by the winner of the most recent Izod IndyCar Series event, Ryan Hunter-Reay. First we have Tomas Scheckter who will join Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the 2010 Indianapolis 500. Tomas, thanks for taking will time to talk to us today.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: No problem.
THE MODERATOR: I understand you have an announcement to make about your Indy 500 program, so go ahead and have the floor.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, thanks, Arni. We're very proud to have on the Dreyer & Reinbold car Mona Vie back again. You know, this is a company that sponsored me last year for the Indy 500 and throughout the rest of the year. It's a product that I've been using now for a while, and obviously a product that I believe in and love.
To have them back on the car we're extremely happy and looking forward to a good Indy 500. The hype behind everybody at Mona Vie, it's certainly a company with a lot of energy and it's going to a lot of places very quickly.
They're spreading round the world. Just really happy to have them on board.
Q. And as you mentioned, Mona Vie was your sponsor last year for quite a few races. How excited are they to be associated with the Indianapolis 500?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Of course they're massively excited. And like I said, this is a company that started in 2005. If you look at the growth rate, I mean, this company in the short years that it's been around has grown quicker than companies like Microsoft when they started.
So certainly a company that has exploded, and it's because of quality products, nutritional beverage products that they come out with allows them to grow so quickly. What better way to show their growth and strength through, you know, having an IndyCar at the speedway.
So, you know, we've built a great relationship with them. You know, they're extremely happy. I mean, it's the Indy 500. You know, there's nothing better than seeing cars go around at 240 miles an hour. Hopefully the Mona Vie car can be round the front towards the end of the race and we can allow them to help them celebrate and launch their knew EMV Lite with a victory in May.
Q. You talked about the Indianapolis 500. That speedway has been a track that you've been very, very good at. You have to be looking forward to opening day and getting into the No. 23 car.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Absolutely. I feel extremely at home. We did a test towards the end of last year that went very well that carried on the development. You know, as I think you've guys have seen on road courses for sure this year, with having Mike and Justin, they've done an unbelievable job.
Now I suppose we've got to try and carry some of this momentum that they've built on road courses to the oval section. I'm hoping that they can carry on the same pace , but I've already been in the team working and, you know, going through run plans and what development stuff we've done to make sure that the Mona Vie 23 car is up there.
Q. You've driven with Dreyer & Reinbold before obviously. I'm just wondering, are you racing with a new crew this May? If not, how long does it take you to gel with your new crew members?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: That's a good question. I suppose especially Indy this year there's less on-track time. It's more important to make sure you're all gelled completely.
But like I said before, I have a lot of faith and trust in Larry and who he puts on my car. You know, he's assured me that there's gonna be a good group of guys. I think it'll be a little bit of a mix of who's on the team already with some new people.
Larry will be putting his best people on my car to make sure that we've got the best shot of doing a good job. I got no real worries about that on that side.
Q. Any chances you'll do more than Indy?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I mean, that's the hope. That's the hope. I mean, at the moment, we're extremely happy to be in the Indy 500. There are some options to possibly carry on. There's some possible interest from certain people to carry on backing me for the rest of year. That's sort of what we did last year.
But my focus right now is to do a good job at the speedway. I think if I can do that, things will just fall into place.
Q. I know you're not running regularly this season, but I was just wondering your thoughts on the new format that the IRL announced today with the oval champion as well as a road course champion and then the overall champion. What do you think of that?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I mean, I suppose this is the first I've heard about it. But, I mean, yeah, I think IndyCars you're really now getting a driver that is completely complete at the end of the year that's gonna be the champion.
They've really mixed it quite well between street tracks, road courses, short ovals, big ovals, and the speedways. So you really just can't be where when I first came to the IndyCar Series, it was, you know, just ovals. Actually, mostly big ovals, so you really had to be good in one area.
Now you really have to spread out. You can't just -- from one weekend to the next you really have to adapt everything from way you engineer the car to making sure that the team has done the right development in different areas.
But I suppose it is kind of cool that if you are running well on the ovals that you get, I suppose, rewarded. There will be an oval champion at the end of the year.
But certainly the person who wins the championship at the end of the year will be the most complete driver, I think, in America.
Q. I'd like to get your thoughts on the change to the qualifying at Indy. First of all, what you think of the format? Second, since the month is compressed, will it be more difficult for you to get up to speed? Do you feel a little more pressure just being an Indy-only driver for now?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I mean, certainly less time. But, you know, like I said, I've got confidence. I'm sure on my first lap I'll be flat out. I've get a great feel around the speedway, and also a good understanding of what gets put on the car and confidence in what we put on the car. I can adapt to it very quickly.
The things for me physically and mentally is the 500 miles. When you do a lot of testing you really feel comfortable in the car. For us, it's just to try to get as many miles as possible, especially in race situations, and make sure the car is good over long distances, and also making sure I'm good focusing over long dances.
Yeah, the qualifying has changed a little bit. In some ways I think it's gonna be extremely exciting. Also, I think it adds -- it's quite good, because before you qualified the top 11, and you really, really wanted to get in there. There was a lot of pressure. Almost like you were in that 9th, 10th, 11th it was almost like you were going for pole, because you really did not want to come back the next day and have to qualify again.
You really just want to get it out of the way.
For me, qualifying at Indy is, say, the highest intensity, the most amount of pressure that goes on you. Now that they'll get the first 24 in, you know, if you can get in somewhere around there and then, you know, if you're quick enough to get into the top 9, I think that creates a whole new buzz.
Having that hour and a half to slug it out then will be extremely interesting if you're in or out. I think from all the drivers, if you're not in it, you're gonna be glued to the TV to see what happens. This is a speedway where really on qualifying you're tiptoeing around, so I think it's exciting.
I think it's exciting. And also, I think it adds maybe a little less pressure if let's say you are, you know, between 10th and 15th or 16th where you can -- you know, you didn't have to get into the top 11, but maybe 15th is the best you can do. Okay you pack it away and then you just concentrate on race runs.
Certainly looking forward to the excitement that's gonna happen that day.
Q. On qualifying, what's your favorite aspect or element of being back at the 500? What part of that qualifying experience do you enjoy the most?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: I don't. (Laughter.) I don't. I'll be absolutely honest. I think I did five years in a row I qualified 11th. It's a tricky situation to qualify round there. A lot of times it's Russian roulette. You go in with a car that's got negative rear wing and it's just skipping around.
I'll tell you one of the best qualifyings I've ever seen was from the other speaker here, Ryan Hunter-Reay, when he was in a Vision car. I mean, I watched his car. It looked like it slid from the inside white line all the way to the wall every single lap. He just managed to get into the field.
I mean, I suppose he can tell you how much pressure there is just to get in the field and how hard you have to push and mentally where you have to take yourself. It's not a happy place. Put it that way.
When you got your race setup on and it's good, then you can get into a good rhythm, all your heart rates come down. But certainly qualifying is a risky experience around Indy.
Q. You were saying how hairy it is when you qualify for an experienced driver even as yourself. How difficult is it for a rookie to come into that type of a situation? Do you remember what it was like your first time there?
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah, I do. But it depends how quick your car is. My first year there, you know, we finished the morning practice and I think I did like a .232. We were quickest or the second quickest lap of the month. So your mindset changes completely.
All it is it depends where you are. Really where you want to be is where it's safe and you can do one run and be safely in the field. You don't have to go back in and worry about qualifying the next day.
I think the people's mindset, if they know they're gonna get bumped and have to qualify again, you could be going for the pole. You know, you could be putting the same amount of pressure on yourself and trimming the car out the same as the guys going for pole. You're just doing the same just to get into the field or make sure you don't have to qualify for the next day.
For rookies it's tough. It's not easy. Again, each rookie, it's gonna depend on how their car is performing and where they're happy qualifying.
THE MODERATOR: All right Tomas, that appears to be all the questions we have for you today. I appreciate you taking the time to join us today.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, welcome to today's call.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thanks for having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan is in his first season with Andretti Autosport, and scored the team's first victory since 2008 when he won at Long Beach on April 18th. Ryan, you're third in points, and we're entering the first oval portion of the schedule this weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Q. Have you been looking forward to getting on an oval after the momentum you have from the road courses?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's what I always say about IndyCar. That's what I love about it, is you're always changing up disciplines of racing and how you go from -- like what we just did, going from a permanent road course to a temporary street circuit to a mile-and-a-half super speedway. That's what makes this series what it is.
It's the only racing series in the world that does that. It's really cool. I'm looking forward to it. I think it'll be my best opportunity in oval equipment that I've ever had. I'm definitely looking forward to having some fun turning left.
Q. Earlier today, the Indy Racing League did announce that it will crown champions for the oval portion of the schedule and the road and street portions of the schedule in addition to the overall Izod IndyCar Championship.
Have you heard that, and what are your thoughts on the new format?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think it's great to highlight the fact that we do have two completely different disciplines of racing within one series. Like I said, it's the only racing series in the world that does that with the street courses, road courses, mile-and-a-half super speedways, and short ovals.
So it's great to highlight that and give it some recognition, but really what matters is winning is the Indy 500 and winning the series championship. I don't think anybody has heard that and is like, 'OK, my primary goal is to win the road course championship or win the oval.'
I think it's kind of a side note. 'Congratulations, you were the best in that category.' But what real matters is the series championship and Indy 500.
Q. How important is it to have an oval as a lead-in to the month of May, especially given the shortening of the month of May schedule?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's absolutely critical. Kansas is a warmup to Indy. It's not like Indy in any way, but at the same time it is an oval race. You have to get your package sorted, get yourself comfortable back on a big super speedway like that back in packs, you know pack racing.
Yeah, it's definitely crucial heading into the next stretch of the season, which is 4 oval races. But really, everybody has their eye on Indy. That's the big picture here. We're heading into the month of May coming up, and we all have -- that's on our minds ten times a day.
Q. Got a couple for you. We talked to Tomas a minute ago. What do you think of the new Indy qualifying format? Do you think that the less time on the track ahead of qualifying will impact you?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, you know, the new Indy format is a qualifying format that is only going to make it hairier, like Tomas was saying. I feel the same way. I mean, qualifying at Indy, I don't care where you've qualified or how much pressure has been on you, there's nothing like qualifying for the Indy 500.
If you're in a position where you can be safe with a fast car then it's not overly complicated. But if you need to lower that wing down to minus six, minus seven or whatever and you're hanging it out - which we're gonna be for the top nine - awarding points and prize money for the starting spots, it's definitely -- there's a highlight on that.
It's important for your championship run, so you have to going out and give it everything you have. It's gonna be good TV. I can guarantee you that.
Q. I would like to ask you also about Kansas. Some people criticize Kansas and other 1.5s as cookie cutter tracks. What do you see as unique about Kansas? What are some of the things you have to be good at to do well there?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I don't think I really see anything as being unique with Kansas. I do see that we have a good amount of mile-and-a-half ovals that we need to get that package sports. So this is the first test of that, and we need to go out and have a good race weekend.
So there's a lot importance riding on this weekend for us as a team, and on my program. Obviously IZOD has been great as a sponsor of the No. 37, the Andretti Autosport car. We're heading into the month of May very uncertain about where it leads us. Indy could very well be our last race. It's just a big question right now.
Q. Ryan, you mentioned IZOD. I wonder from a driver's point of view, the corporate sponsorship with IZOD, the new relationship it's got with the series, what have you seen as a driver? What impact has it had as far as what they're doing for the sport? I know we made a big deal here when NASCAR went from Winston to Sprint and Nextel. How do you see IZOD's impact on your sport?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, IZOD as a title sponsor already has done an amazing job. Everybody is so happy with it. They're gonna take this sport to an area it's never been. And we really needed it at this point.
The product we have on the racetrack is amazing. If you've never been to a race and you go to a race, you're gonna come back. It's just really good racing.
When it comes down to it, we need to get outside of the bubble we're in. Just IndyCar fans, die-hard IndyCar fans and the automotive industry and that bubble. That's what they're doing.
First and foremost, the parent company is a marketing company. That's what they're doing. They're gonna market this series. Their whole agenda is to market the cars and stars of IndyCar. They're taking us out into pop culture rather than just leaving it inside, like I said, inside the automotive industry and the bubble we've been in.
You already saw it with Hollywood where they shut down Hollywood Boulevard there and had, you know, Mark Wahlberg and all the stars. It's only the beginning. It's only getting started.
The first round commercials haven't even been released yet. But they're gonna take it above and beyond where it's ever been, and that's what the sport really needs right now.
Q. Have you shot some commercials or photos? What's been some of your hands-on experience with the new sponsor?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, as you maybe know, I've been working with them for two and a half years now as a personal sponsor, now as a primary sponsor on the Andretti Autosport car. But we shot commercials down in Panama in November, which is what you're seeing now, bits and pieces of the Race to the Party commercial where you see IndyCar drivers, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, myself, outside of the racetrack and kind of in that lifestyle fit for IZOD, which it's American, it's active, it's young.
We're all taking different modes of transportation to this party. There's more segments coming out of before the Indy 500. During the telecast they'll have the full two-minute commercial, which is a hefty, hefty price. They're gonna continue playing that at other times and in other major sporting events.
I don't know if you saw in the NFC and AFC championship games for the NFL, they played IZOD IndyCar commercials. During the Masters they played Izod IndyCar commercials. This is activation marketing we've never seen before.
Like I said, I think it's just being rammed up, and we'll see a lot more soon.
Q. What did you call it?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's called Race to the Party. So racetotheparty.com. You can kind of get out where it's going. But that's that spot's kind of name. It's a segment of commercial spots.
Q. Shot in Panama, huh?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah. We shot the first bit in Panama, and just did another bit in Malibu, California right after Long Beach kind of wrapping it up.
Yeah, we shot on these very small islands in Panama. Looked like a Corona commercial. It was pretty cool.
Q. From your win in Long Beach, talk about what that meant to the Andretti Autosport team after being shut out last year? After a few days of thinking, what were some of the reactions, or what did it mean to the team?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It meant a lot to the team for so many reasons. Obviously Michael is a full owner of the team now, sole owner of the team. It meant a lot to him to rebound and get right back on the top step of the podium.
It meant a lot to me because he gave me this opportunity, and Izod made it happen to get us up there. Right now it's a part-time deal. It kind of felt like we were the underdogs and we really pulled it out. It was just is great weekend.
And that team, those guys, there's so much talent there. They just want to win races. They're so determined. It's great to surround yourself with people like that. Actually, we're having a great time. There's great chemistry on the team and a lot of fun to be at the racetrack with those guys.
When everything kind of goes right like that, to get a win out of it, to be the fastest car on the track, it was a very cool weekend. Long Beach was great.
But there's no sense of fulfillment on the team. Come Tuesday we were done with it. We need to go on and win some more races, that's for sure.
Q. Another one of the things new to the league this year is we're now two months into the current reign of Randy Bernard. How much interaction do you have as driver with the head of the organization?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I've met Randy a couple times. Had some good conversations with him here and there. Had a good conversation with him in Sao Paulo on the way back home in the airport.
You know, he's done it right where he comes in, and he is -- he is actively in control, but he hasn't come in and just started taking the situation by the neck.
He's really just finding his place, finding where everything is and what the temperature is, and he'll go from there. It's in the transition phase, and he's doing a great job. Like the IZOD situation, it's only getting started.
Certainly has said all the right things. If you see what he did for professional bull riders, it's unreal when you look at it. Hopefully that same story can happen for IndyCar.
Q. Ryan, if you could address the significance of being kind of the banner holder for the American race winners in the IndyCar series, what that means to you. Does it mean anything special to you as a driver?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, absolutely it does. I mean, because I can relate. Growing up as a kid racing karts, I really looked up to Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Robby Gordon and those guys when I was a kid wanting to be an IndyCar driver.
There was that feeling of wanting to root for the American guys. You know, I think everybody, especially in America, is very patriotic. But the way IndyCar is with the diversity and talent, the best talent from the around the world is the right formula.
But I'm extremely honored to be the top of the points right now for the American drivers. But we've got some great talented guys in there right now. If I can take that next step and carrying that American flag at the same time, it's all that much better.
And IZOD is super -- you know, they're really that America feel. It's a good match that way, too.
Q. Did you think IndyCar might benefit from having some sort of a nation's cup type deal with the oval and road course awards that were recently announced to bring that diversity more to the forefront? Do you think that might be valuable?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think so. You could get a little lopsided because there are so many Brazilians in the series compared to Americans. Maybe if you take the highest finishing nationality from each event and count the highest finishing, you know, that would be pretty cool. I would enjoy that. I think that would be really neat.
We used to have that when I used to race in kart. But, yeah, I think they can bring that back. That would be cool.