Welcome to our next press conference. On the docket, this is for Newman/Haas Racing, and we're joined by John Tzouanakis right here to my right; James Hinchcliffe, who had a problem planking, it looks like to me, earlier in the week; Oriol Servia, Craig Hampson, and Brian Lisles.
Brian has been the general manager of the team for the last 10 years. This is his 23rd year with the team, and he is the race strategy for James Hinchcliffe.
Craig is in his 18th year with Newman/Haas Racing and a senior engineer, and he is the engineer for James.
And John has been with the team all 29 seasons and is the race strategist for Oriol.
Let's go first with Brian. Kind of take us through this year so far, and the team that you've got here, and what do you expect to come of the 2011 Indianapolis 500?
BRIAN LISLES: Obviously, we have two very different levels of experience here with our drivers. Oriol, who's done a number of 500s here and a lot of oval races; and James, who is in his rookie season in the series. So we have obviously we need to be realistic in our expectations. We expect to have Oriol going to get in the Fast Nine for tomorrow. I think we have a good shot at that. And I think we expect James to qualify on the first day, also. It will be a little more difficult for him to make it to the first nine just because there is a lot of experience required to run that last, get that last mile-an-hour out of the car. So we're very pleased to have both these drivers on our team.
We looked at what we were going to be doing for this year, started about last August. The first thing we wanted to do was to look for who we thought was the best driver to lead the team, who is the best driver available, and it was pretty easy for us to choose Oriol. And basically we came to an agreement last August for Oriol to work for us. We expect Oriol to be with the team this year and for a good number of years after.
Once we decided that and agreed to terms with Oriol, we started to look at what we were going to do for our second driver. We decided we'd prefer to go with somebody that we thought had the talent and promised to become a top driver. We looked carefully at what various people were doing around the world. And we liked very much what we saw with James. We talked to him before the end of last year, and he came to visit us, I think, for the first time immediately after the season. We decided to give him a run in December. We were very impressed, almost within the first 10 laps of his getting in our car - that was at Sebring - and decided we needed to work on getting him in the team for this year. Took a little longer than we expected. As we all know, the economy is difficult worldwide, so unfortunately we missed the first race, but we're good now and, again, we expect James to be with us this year and for a good number of years going forward.
MODERATOR: Craig, entering the month of May, what's the team's plan been really to breaking up the workload between the two drivers and talk about having a rookie driver and a veteran driver at the Speedway, please.
CRAIG HAMPSON: Coming into the week of practice, it was pretty clear in the long-range weather forecast that we were going to lose some days due to rain and cold, and that sort of thing. So we tried to run a little more early, and I think we were doing more laps in the first couple days than most because we did expect to lose some practice. We've focused mainly on getting the car comfortable for the race, working on grip level, running in traffic, that sort of thing. I would say probably more setup work is going on with Oriol because of his level of experience. He's able to get more changes in because he can do shorter runs.
With James, I've focused pretty hard on just getting him a lot of laps in a lot of different situations around the Speedway, and we've also been a little conservative in terms of peeling off the downforce level. In this compressed format running just one week, the thing you really can't afford to do is crash the car. A lot of work goes into the Indy 500 cars in terms of their preparation, making sure the body fit is just so. You probably have a gearbox that you like better than other gearboxes. If you go and wreck all of that, you really end up behind the 8-ball, and it's a difficult catch-up. So we have been somewhat conservative. That conservatism is going to have to go out the door as today progresses and certainly tomorrow. There wasn't a whole lot of point working on qualifying earlier in the week because the temperature conditions are so different than they're going to be today and tomorrow. Tomorrow's going to be the hottest day that we've run. It's also going to be windy tomorrow. So today is the best preparation we have for getting ready for qualifying.
MODERATOR: John, you've been with Newman/Haas basically since day one here at Indianapolis. What are your first Indy 500 experiences and what memories stand out most with Newman/Haas Racing at Indianapolis, please?
JOHN TZOUANAKIS: I grew up 45 miles west of here, and my father was a Yellow Shirt, so I came to the Speedway when I was very young. And I couldn't wait for May every year. You know, unfortunately for Newman/Haas we have not been able to win this event. We've tried many years. Probably a couple of the words that you didn't like hearing was Tom Carnegie saying, "And Andretti is slowing down on the backstretch."
You know, we had many good cars over the years with the Andrettis and had many chances to win this race, and unfortunately we never have accomplished that feat. You know, I believe now with the two drivers that we have and the team, that we have a very good shot possibly winning this race this year.
MODERATOR: Excellent. Mr. Servia, what's it like to be back with Newman/Haas Racing? This is your third Indianapolis 500, and you're also third in the points right now. You've got momentum going in the series and talk about Indy and talk about the momentum you've built so far this season.
ORIOL SERVIA: It's been great. It's been awesome since day one; it's been awesome since the first phone call I had with Brian about basically trying to be in this position today, a few months ago. So we're very happy. We're exactly doing the steps we were hoping we would be able to do. And we're third in points which I think we didn't expect, to be honest, to be that good this early. And we know we're going to be better from here on. So we even know we're going to be able to challenge the top guys for the championship or not. We didn't even know if we're going to be challenging for the top nine tomorrow. But this team, they always give you a great race car. So that is what I know for sure, that come 29th, we're going to have two great race cars and with attrition and, you know, things stay the way they should be, I think you should expect us to be contending in the top five, for sure, at the end of the race.
MODERATOR: Let's hope so.
James, what's your first memory of the Indianapolis 500? What's it like driving around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time? How has your month gone so far with the exception of your nose?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: My nose is fine. I don't know what you're talking about. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: Asthmatic, right?
HINCHCLIFFE: It always looks like this.
The first Indy 500 memories is actually probably the '95 race. My family and I are big Jacques Villeneuve fans and, obviously, that's the year he won the 500. It was sort of a bittersweet day for Canada because Canadians were running one-two with about 11 laps to go on the restart. Unfortunately, Scott Goodyear made that infamous pass on the Pace Car and was disqualified. So we were happy for Jacques but, you know, gutted for Scott at the same time. That was probably one of my earliest memories of a race in general.
So fast-forward way too many years, and all of a sudden I find myself here in an Indy car. It's been a phenomenal month so far, just the experience of getting to drive an Indy car around this place. This place feels very big when you drive in a Lights car, feels significantly smaller when you're driving in an Indy car. The walls come at you a bit quicker, which was a tip that Oriol gave me before we got here. So thank you for that. Yeah, it's been great. As Oriol said, the team has always had competitive cars here, so we've been very comfortable all month, and we've been going through our plan. That first lap on rookie orientation on Thursday when I held it flat the whole way around for the first time was probably something I'll remember for quite some time. Now we're just looking forward to qualifying day and, as Brian said, try and get in the field on day one and then try and finish 500 miles.
MODERATOR: This is a question for both the drivers, really. The name Newman/Haas Racing is about as iconic as it gets at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, like TZ said, looking for their first win with all the legendary drivers but problems over the year. How neat is it to be driving for Newman/Haas Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like, as you said, in great equipment with guys that definitely have experience?
SERVIA: Anywhere you go with these guys, it's just a dream of any driver. You ask for something and it happens, you know. They expect their cars to be perfect, and that's, you know, it's awesome. It's a luxury. Being at this place on itself, it's already magic. Honestly, it's great. It makes you feel you don't want to do anything else the rest of your life but to be here with these guys. So it's been great so far. And, you know, as John were saying and you were saying, they've been so close so many times with great drivers and great programs. So maybe we needed, I don't know, myself and they didn't have a great season last year, to come with renewed energies. And maybe the team that was sitting here before, they are coming as favorites because they've won it many times. Maybe we needed to come and beat that thing that they haven't been able to accomplish yet.
HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, I mean, Oriol covered most of it. But if you had said to me five years ago that, A, you'd be an IndyCar driver at some point in your life and, B, at some point in your career you would land with a team with Newman/Haas, I probably wouldn't have believed you. It would have been beyond a dream come true. So to be here my rookie season is just incredible, and they deserve so much of the credit for how well prepared they got me for what I had to do, making this step up to IndyCar. Then, as Oriol said, coming here to the Speedway, it's weird to think that a team that has had so much success still has sort of an unchecked box on their scorecard, but for them this race is still that. I know that Oriol and I are super-motivated to try and cure that for them. I mean, it's like he said, there's probably others that are odds-on maybe more favorite to win, but you never know. This place has a habit of sometimes robbing the deserving quick guys who have led the whole month sort of thing and thrown up some surprise winners. Not that Oriol winning, for example, would be a surprise but it's certainly something that we're all, like I said, motivated to try and do.
MODERATOR: We'll open it up. Mary first.
Q: Newman/Haas has so much history. I think you have something like eight championships and attention to detail and known for their engineering. I see this blue binder next to Craig's feet, and I'm just wondering if that's the prerace driver handout that the drivers have to study before this race.
HAMPSON: Normally I sport an inch-and-a-half binder for a race weekend, but Indy is extra length, so you need a 2-inch binder. This isn't the complete pre-event report. The pre-event I think is only about 50 or 60 pages, but this is the accumulation of setups and notes and timing and PI analysis and all that stuff, and we've still got a few more days to go. So much for the paperless office. I am over 40, I still struggle to digest everything on a computer screen; I kind of like to read it on a sheet of paper. My apologies to the trees.
SERVIA: And yes, he sleeps with it, as you can tell.
HINCHCLIFFE: Never leaves his side ever.
HAMPSON: Helio tried to grab it earlier. (Laughter)
Q: Oriol, last year Spanish athletes won a tremendous amount of world events, including the World Cup and so forth. What would it mean to you to add the Indianapolis 500 and yourself to that list?
SERVIA: You're right, last year was great year for Spain all around the world but especially here. Pedrosa won in the MotoGP race at IMS, and the year before, Lorenzo. So when I realized that, you know, it makes you feel good that at least the energy of the IMS is not against the Spaniards. So at least we got that accomplished.
It would be amazing, obviously for myself, but I think for Spain, I have only been the second Spaniard to have ever raced here. If we could win, it would be major news. Especially this weekend, there's the Formula One race in Barcelona. So if I could be on pole, it would help us spread the IndyCar word around the paddock of Formula One so that's maybe something we can work on for IndyCar.
Q: For James but first, Oriol, you're going to finish what Fermin Velez tried to accomplish so that would be excellent in his memory for you to then be the second guy and win it.
SERVIA: Exactly. Fermin Velez was actually the Spanish driver that drove this race first before me and finished ninth. He is actually the reason I am racing in the U.S. He helped me very much get my first test in Indy Lights. He passed away, unfortunately, so it would be awesome if I could win it for him.
Q: I worked on a team with him. He's a heck of a nice guy.
James, your experience in Indy Lights, how much of that has translated to you moving up to IndyCar? Obviously more power, faster cars, but did it help you to have been to some of these facilities and run and had the experience in the Lights cars as you moved up here?
HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, no doubt. I think that the Lights car is actually a tremendous training tool and great preparation for the Indy car. When I did that first test back at Sebring in December, I was surprised actually how similar the feel of the car was. Obviously, a lot more power, which is something to get used to, a lot more grip, better brakes, sort of like that but the general feel of the car was very similar. To have driven on all these circuits in a Lights car, it really made the transition a lot easier. I think it speaks volumes for what the series has done and how the Lights car was built and the entire sort of Road to Indy Program that they've built and that they're promoting now. Because it really, in an era where you don't get sort of 15,000 miles of testing in the offseason like you used to, for a rookie you have to do your learning on race weekends. Another way of getting miles is doing that extra year or two in Indy Lights because the information that you get and the experience that you get translates very well when you make that step up.
MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. I was given the high sign by Kathi, and I think they're going to read Craig's notebook before they go out. They have 45 minutes to digest it. So good luck this weekend and look for warm weather.