Barrichello calls Indianapolis Motor Speedway 'the most difficult four corners' KV Racing Technology general manager Mark Johnson, team co-owner Jimmy Vasser and drivers Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kanaan, and E.J. Viso met the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. Here's the transcript of that press conference on the eve of pole day for the Indianapolis 500:
MODERATOR: We have our fine folks with us from KV Racing Technology. Delighted to have you all. Jimmy, we'll start with you. Welcome back to Indianapolis. It's delightful to have you here. You have a good driver lineup, obviously.
JIMMY VASSER: Yeah. First of all, welcome and thanks to the media for showing up for our little conference here to talk a little bit about the race. What a special place it is. You never forget how special the place is really, really how difficult it is. We learn time and time again that this place, when everything is going right, is the easiest and the nicest, everything is smooth. It just seems like everything is very quiet. But then when the boogeyman creeps into your garage, like he does from time to time, it can be the most difficult and heart-wrenching and brain-draining thing that you go through. It's been quite some time that we've had all-clear days, beautiful days. The wind shifts around, and we find it to be tricky at times with high track temperatures. But with a lot of extra time on the track like we've had, you know, you try a lot of things and you lose your way. Thankfully with the great group of guys we have on the team, you find your way back. We've kind of been on a roller coaster ride this week. We feel like we found our true north again, and we're really excited for Fast Friday. Everybody is excited and anticipating what the new boost levels are going to bring. We're very confident with our Chevrolet horsepower and proud to be proud of the Chevy Bowtie team.
MODERATOR: Mark, quite an undertaking to come to Indianapolis. You have a great slate of drivers, a lot of demands that go on with a relatively new race car. First time on the oval this year. Talk about the month so far.
MARK JOHNSON: Well, I think Jimmy said it best. It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride. We have the spectrum covered here. We have one of the most experienced veterans in the field in Tony, we have one of the least experienced drivers in the field in Rubens, and E.J. falls in the middle. Obviously, we've been very fortunate with the weather, specifically in Rubens' case, which has allowed him more track time. Tony and E.J. have both been able to experiment with a lot of different things, while Rubens has been moving forward in his own direction. It's been great to work with all three guys. It's a team effort as we go back and forth on team setups. As Jimmy said, true north. All three guys are close on their setups. We've been fortunate in the sense we've been able to test quite a bit this year. We're becoming more and more familiar with the car. But it's definitely different than what we're used to dealing with, the old tried and true Dallara. We learn more every day. We learn just what the window is that we have to be in, and it's very narrow. We still learn every day. I think everyone in the paddock is still learning every day. The car is proving out to be good on the ovals. We had our doubts at the beginning, but I think all the teams have worked through it very well. We're looking forward to getting it going. I think we're going to be good this afternoon.
MODERATOR: Rubens, we've known for many years about your relationship with Tony Kanaan, his work to get you over here and racing in our series. Have you woke up any morning and asked yourself the question, "How did I let Tony talk me into doing this?"
RUBENS BARRICHELLO: Many times, especially when the car was not good. I said, "What are you going to do for me now (laughter)?" It's funny, I've been doing things and changing teams in my career, but it has been pretty much the same thing. What you learn, you just go through, it's a different car, you just make things. Yesterday we were having a conversation. Mark was talking to my engineer, Eddie. Said, "We are three attempts for qualifying." I said: "What? Do we really?" I'm really a rookie here. I never expect that you have three attempts. I just thought you go to qualify and that was it, then you can test the whole day. It's only the beginning for me. It's a new experience. Like Mark said, I've been fortunate to running on such a good weather. I'm enjoying. I'm better every day I run. Every day there's something you learn more. It's been very good to run in traffic this last couple days. Today, obviously, all we want to do is run by ourselves and see how quick the car is.
MODERATOR: Tony, you've often done heavy lifting for your team in terms of sorting out race cars, being a veteran that some can rely on. It has to be an interesting situation when one of your pupils is one of the most famous race car drivers in the world in Rubens. What is that like?
TONY KANAAN: It's cool. Finally after 21 years of friendship I can teach him something because it was always the other way around. I get a kick out of that. Sometimes it's fun. Sometimes we have our moments between each other, as well. It's been a different experience. I think at this point of our careers, if you had asked both of us if this would be happening, we would have said, "No way." The proof to that was back in '05. I wore his helmet to this race, and on the same day he wore my helmet at Monaco, because we said, "I'm never going to make it there; he probably never going to make it here." So here we go, this is his second race here, actually. It's been fun. Obviously there is a lot of pressure on our team now. We grow quite fast between the names, the sponsors, and everybody is expecting a lot of things. So do we. We're working on it.
MODERATOR: E.J., you have the most fresh experience of being a rookie here. Now you've been here a few years. What are you learning so far this month of May?
E.J. VISO: Well, definitely as Rubens mentioned, it reminded me a couple years ago when I first came, again everything was fresh and new. It's very different. Indy 500, this whole race, this whole month; it's really extreme. Every day is a different day. One day you can have a great car, the next day it can be terrible, everybody is upset inside the crew, the drivers and everyone. And then the next day it gets back good again. It's just a race that I think the experience is what makes the biggest difference from a driver. So it's understanding when to take some risks, when to don't do any of that, how to communicate with the engineers. Sometimes you are saying that the car is terrible, but the actual car is pretty good, but probably the weather conditions are playing against you. You need to understand all those things. Probably after these few years that I've been racing here, that is what has made the biggest difference coming into this year. A lot of things, as Tony said, has changed inside the team. Plenty of new people. The only same things in the team is the owners and Tony and me. Other than that, there's a lot of new faces there. I building the changes we've done have been positive. Things are clicking very good. I'm very happy with how things are coming along this year. We're expecting to have a good 500 miles.
MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q: Rubens, for many years you were part of Formula One. Sometimes fans and media have difficult access. When you're coming now from Formula One to the IndyCar world where everything is open, fans have much access, everyone is friendly, was this a big culture shock for you?
RUBENS BARRICHELLO: Well, I honestly don't think that it's a good thing to compare both worlds. They are very different. The best example that I gave I think to you guys was my very first day when I went to Sebring. I got there, and there was some mechanics. I didn't know anyone there. I saw there was a cameraman filming inside the cockpit. I went to run into the truck. I said, "Who is responsible here?" They said it was Tom. I asked Tom, There's a cameraman filming the car here. He said, "That's normal here (laughter)." It's something that is a different thing. You know, I appreciate both ways. Formula One, you have different cars from each team, and they want to protect their rights in what they develop. That's the way it goes, as well, so...
Q: Rubens, I was a little surprised that your very first oval experience was at Texas Motor Speedway. That might have been because of the advantage of open testing there. Can you talk a little bit about your expectation when you first see the oval with the banking? Did it help you come here to Indianapolis and run here on an oval?
RUBENS BARRICHELLO: I think it did. I think it did. Just with some of the feelings that I never had. The feelings such as you have to hang onto the car going to the straight because it pulls to the left. When you go for the brakes for the first time, they're cold. I never had that experience. Texas was in a way, everything was in a rush because you don't have time to relax. They tell me eye-wise it's even worse in that respect, just going around and around and around. Here it's more flowing, you have more time to think about the line you're going to take. You can see, although the speeds are higher, with the spotter, they talk to you the way it is. You can see a little bit in the mirrors. You decide whether you're going to take the corner or not. But in Texas it's really close, really close. I was telling that at the beginning. I wasn't able to follow one line. I was doing one and a half lines just because I wasn't good enough. I couldn't hold one line. To run with a car like that, with a car beside you, it's quite tricky. But it's been a different experience. Now that I've been here almost for a week now, I've been enjoying very much. It's very, very different. I haven't seen a car that doesn't have one corner very much the same as another corner. It's just tricky. I've been trying to learn as rapid as I could.
Q: Tony and E.J., the new Indy car, my wife described it as sexy. Do you like the new car? Do you like the direction that the league is going in with these new cars and packages?
TONY KANAAN: Definitely. I think in the beginning when we first got them, it was all black, it kind of looked weird to me. After we put some paint on it, it looks pretty good. I support the series on their decisions. I believe that, despite all the criticism, we did the right thing. It proves that we changed the new cars and we still have 33 cars here, which in this economy to me, it's remarkable. Yeah, I'm happy. I think the car looks better when it's fast. So hopefully doesn't matter, we used to say in the pits, The faster you go, the more beautiful you look. So that's the goal.
E.J. VISO: Well, definitely the car was a little bit of a shock, when everybody saw it the first time. But as of now, everybody is used to it. The car, I think the movement when everything start happening, everybody start calling each other crazy. As of today, I need to say that everything is going a lot smoother than what we all thought. The speeds we're achieving our first year here with these cars, they're already in the 224s on themselves, you know. Tony and me, we want to jump in the car. We seen the lap times. All these new things is very important for the sport, for the IndyCar, for all the sponsors, drivers coming from Europe. IndyCar is growing, definitely. I'm very excited to be part of it. Sexy, I think it is (laughter). It has a big ass.
Q: Rubens, you came from Ferrari. What can you tell to the Ferrari and Formula One fans how to enjoy a huge race like the Indy 500?
RUBENS BARRICHELLO: Well, I don't know. It's the culture of racing, you know. The Italians, they like when there is an Italian racing. If there is no Italian racing, that's very difficult for them to turn the TV on and check it out. It's just different. I don't know. I've been a fan of the sport for many years. For me, a happy Sunday means sitting on the sofa with the kids and watching racing, whatever racing it is. I'm pretty sure that many, like me, doing that. But if somebody just like races that it's street circuit, road circuit, you got to bring them here for them to see what a good show it is. I've been here in '93, and I watch the race myself. It was fantastic. I mean, I've always thought maybe one day, who knows, I would at least like to try that. But for someone that never saw that, you know, they think it's pretty easy just going for four corners. I tell you, it's the most difficult four corners in my life. It's different.
Q: E.J., in the last race of Formula One, Pastor Maldonado won, a Venezuelan won. Is that pressure for you here in the Indy 500? Is it a huge responsibility with the fans in Venezuela? They may be expecting a huge result for you like Pastor?
E.J. VISO: Expectations is always a relative word. All I can say is I'm giving my best, no matter what another driver is doing from my same country. He did definitely a great job in that race. Free of mistakes, fast in practices, he was on pole and won the race. He is on top of the game. Regarding me, I'm here doing the same that he's doing. Is a big team effort. I can tell you these guys next to me, and me, we working very hard to win this race. If it happens, it's more than welcome. If it doesn't, I don't want to even think about it. It's welcome, too, because really what matters is what we're doing. All this effort. Regarding the fans, yeah, racing in Venezuela hasn't been that big as probably here in the States or in Europe, but it's growing with my participation here in the IndyCar, with Pastor in Formula One. The racing is growing and picking up a lot of fans. It's great to be around the world carrying my country's flag, for sure.
Q: Rubens, can you talk about the physical comparison or difference between driving this car around an oval versus the Formula One car, the demands it places on your body, if there are any differences?
RUBENS BARRICHELLO: It's very different from the point that in here, you have the support for your neck. I don't think you would be physically capable of doing the whole distance without having something to support your neck. But then you say, It makes it easy. But I've been starting to feel some pain on my shoulder because the neck is like this the whole time. It goes straight. But then I'm actually not touching my shoulder back to the seat because you're just like that the whole time. It's all about finesse. You got to be precise with everything. There is some differences. I would say the car, when we had the first four races, was much tougher than it is here, because obviously you have to drive with, like I said, some finesse. But there are some differences, yeah.
Q: Jimmy, do you ever get the itch to get back out there, and have you snuck a few laps in one of your cars?
JIMMY VASSER: The itch? The itch, yeah, I don't think it ever goes away, especially watching them out there. But when I saw the boogeyman come in the garage this week, I said, "No, no, I'm not going out there." But even as a race driver, you never get it out of your system. I haven't driven the car since last race, 2008 at Long Beach. But I've got some historic cars that are ready to go. I haven't dusted them off yet. I'm sure the day will come, and I'll get out there and play around a little bit. But, you know, my racing days are behind me. I realize that.
Q: Tony, after all the travails here, all the things you've gone through here in May, what is the approach? Do you come in here and say, "This is the year?" How do you do it psychologically?
TONY KANAAN: It's another year. That's all I got to say. Somebody made a comment the other day, it was actually a comment from a fan, but they said, "Do you realize you got more famous in Indy because you didn't win the '500' than actually you had won?" Mentioned a couple names that people I don't want to put on the spot that they won the "500," and they don't remember them. I take the good things out of it. I don't think this place owes me anything. I don't put an extra pressure on myself. As we know for a fact, this race, you don't know who is going to win it until who crosses the finish line. Psychologically, I just come here and enjoy. I enjoy how many fans I have, how many people say, "This is the year, you're the one that deserves this and that." I'll take that as a positive energy for me. I wake up every day and I go do my work. If it comes to me, fine. If it doesn't, I'll keep trying.
Q: Jimmy, the boost is going up. Do you think maybe it can have an effect on the ability of the engine, or no danger that the engine gets in trouble?
JIMMY VASSER: There must be some danger, otherwise the manufacturers would be comfortable with running that boost level for the whole 1,800 miles. I know the engine wasn't designed around those parameters. They're comfortable enough to run it today and for qualifying to make it more exciting. But I think that there is some reservations about doing this. We're interested today the Chevy, it looked like at the lower boost levels, the Honda might have had an advantage on the Chevrolet. Hopefully with the higher boost levels, it will be a little more equal or an advantage for Chevrolet.