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Latest IRL News and Commentary

IRL weekly teleconference
with Tom Anderson and Roger Yasukawa
April 2, 2003

K. Johnson: We certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week, Tuesday, April 1. Today, we will take a look at the upcoming Indy Japan 300 IndyCarTM Series event. Joining us today we will be two members of the Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Team, they being IndyCar Series driver Roger Yasukawa and managing director Tom Anderson. A little background, Super Aguri Fernandez Racing is a new entry in the Indy Racing League this season, formed in December of 2002 by Fernandez Racing ex-Formula One driver Aguri Suzuki and the Super Aguri Company. Their driver, Roger Yasukawa, is in his rookie season in the IndyCar Series. He drives the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone and is currently the IndyCar Seriesí Bombardier Rookie of the Year points leader. Born in Los Angeles, Yasukawa grew up around the world of racing. His father, Minoru, works in the industry, initially for the Leyton House Formula One team and is currently employed by the West McLaren Mercedes F1 Team. Tom Andersonís career in motorsports spans more than 30 years and includes three Indianapolis 500 victories. He began his career as a mechanic with McLaren Cars and his first exposure to Indy-style racing came in 1980 as a member of Pennzoil/Chaparral Racing Team that won both the CART title as well as the Indianapolis 500 with driver Johnny Rutherford. Anderson then teamed with driver Adrian Fernandez to form Fernandez Racing in 2000 and recently, in December of 2002, Fernandez Racing teamed up with ex-Formula One driver Aguri Suzuki and the Super Aguri Company to form Super Aguri Fernandez Racing. Roger, Tom, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

T. Anderson: Thank you very much, Kent.

K. Johnson: I want to point out to our listeners online that Roger is in Japan where he has been since this past weekend and he has rearranged his schedule, literally, to be with us. It is just a little after 2 a.m. overseas right now, so treat him with kid gloves as we go. Roger, letís open with a comment from you. In the preseason testing, you proved to be very fast, and in our most recent event, the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix, you led five laps. Looking at your season through two races how would you assess how it has gone thus far?

R. Yasukawa: I certainly think that the season is going pretty good for me. I have come into the big series now, the IndyCar Series, and it is definitely a very tough series with great drivers out there and the team is doing a fantastic job to help me, and I think the program has gone well. We have proved to be quick, and I think now that we need to prove that we can finish upfront and hopefully we could do that at the next race in Motegi.

K. Johnson: As a follow-up, you worked your way to the IndyCar Series by competing in the Formula Dodge, Barber Dodge and then the Toyota Atlantic series. How has that background helped prepare you for the oval track racing that you are experiencing now?

R. Yasukawa: It certainly has prepared me well, I think, coming into the series this season. Having said that, I think the car is different, and the team is different, and there is a lot more people involved. But I think the basic still remains the same, especially the driving aspect of it. So when I got to this series, I still had a lot to learn, and I think I still do. But I think I have got the basics well enough that it did not make it that tough for me to learn things. And again, the team is doing a lot to help me out. So once everything goes together I think things are going as what we expected.

K. Johnson: And a follow-up question, Roger, part of team owner Aguri Suzukiís relationship with the team is through the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri Project, otherwise known as ARTA. What can you tell us about your involvement in this project?

R. Yasukawa: Actually, this is my second year with the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri Project. The project basically is sort of like a scholarship program, and Aguri has theÖ he has tons of drivers actually in Japan, also in Europe, and basically he makes efforts for a lot of drivers in different kind of series and it is certainly the biggest racing team project in Japan. And I think Mr. Aguri Suzuki is contributing a lot to the Japanese motorsport. And I think for me to be part of it, especially the IndyCar Series, I hope that it will give a lot more attention to the people in Japan to look to the IndyCar Series and American motorsports in general.

K. Johnson: Tom, letís get a comment from you right now. From your position as managing director, how have you seen this team, which is new to the IndyCar Series, progress thus far this season?

T. Johnson: Well, I am very pleased with our progress. Basically the bulk of this team was a carryover from the CART team that ran Shinji Nakano starting in the year 2000 or sorry, 2001-2002. And basically we moved over with Honda to the IRL series. And, I think probably the biggest credibility I could give to somebody on the team right now is that this year we acquired the services of John Dick, our race engineer, and of course he was with Blair Racing last year in the Indy Racing League, and they finished, I think it was, fifth in the series with Alex Barron. And so to capitalize on Johnís experience, he has been a tremendous asset to our team.

K. Johnson: A follow-up for you, Tom. You have an extensive background in international racing and obviously with the Fernandez Racing teamís background in CART, international events are nothing new for the team. What can you tell us about some of the challenges which the team has to tackle in preparation for an international event?

T. Anderson: Well, I mean, basically you are right, Kent. I mean, from the CART standpoint we have been doing this for over 10 years, and we have been to Motegi, I think this will be our sixth trip to Motegi. It depends a little bit on which country you are going to. Going to Japan for us is a treat because it is Hondaís home turf. The development of Honda engines down in Tochigi, Japan, is just not too far down the road from Motegi. So we are entertained and taken care of quite well there. From the team standpoint, basically since the transporters do not go, you unload and put into pack horses or whatever type of carriers that you have, you put about 8,000 pounds worth of equipment, your two chassis and get them covered up and basically you need a box truck to get the boxes from your facility to the airport. I believe we are loading at Evergreen Aviation here in Indianapolis today. So manifest, regular international manifest that anybody that has shipped equipment abroad understands, brokerage services and most of that is handled by the Indy Racing League, so it is pretty easy on that standpoint for us. It is just a matter of making sure that your manifest list matches what is inside your cargo containers.

K. Johnson: But a very involved process nonetheless. At this time I would like to go ahead and open the forum to the media who have questions. Also, since we have two guests with us today, please indicate which person your question is for. We do a complete transcript of the call. It will be sent to you tomorrow to your email or fax machines. Now letís open the forum for questions.

Q: Roger, two questions for you. One, how are you feeling after your hard hit at PIR? And two, is there any significance to the No. 55 on your car?

R. Yasukawa: The answer to the first question, I am feeling perfectly fine right now. After that hit I was released from the hospital, and I came back to Japan a day after that, and I am back to my regular training regimen, so I should be perfectly fine for Motegi. Second answer about the No. 55, I think one of the main reasons we have No. 55 is because that is the number Mr. Aguri Suzuki ran in Formula 3000 championship when he won it. I think that was more than 10 years ago in Japan. But it turned out to be a bit of coincidence in that the major league baseball player, Matsui, who went to New York Yankees this season, and he also has the No. 55. So I do not know if that was one of the reasons, but I understand that No. 55 came from Aguri Suzuki.

Q: Have you been cleared to drive?

R. Yasukawa: No, I have not. I should be cleared before Motegi when I see Dr. Bock when he gets to Japan.

Q: Thank you.

R. Yasukawa: Thank you.

Q: This is for Mr. Anderson. How did your group happen to come to the IRL? Was there a reason or was it more Honda or could you elaborate on that?

T. Anderson: Definitely, Honda and economics of the times. I think that in the current environment in motor racing today that once you have developed a long, good working history with an engine manufacturer you want to try to maintain that relationship. And that was basically the thoughts that Adrian and I had myself. With a previous employer I have been with Honda since 1996, and Adrian has been with a former team with Honda before, and we have quite a good relationship there, and it was something that we wanted to continue and to build on.

Q: How do you see your chances in the IRL this year?

T. Anderson: I am very much more optimistic than I was when I started the season because John Dick and Roger have put a lot together here in a very short time. And quite frankly, Roger has a little more talent than I thought he had, so he is doing an exceptionally good job. And I tell you what, I think we are going to surprise some people this year.

Q: Hi, Roger. Have you been to Japan many times or how often have you visited Japan?

R. Yasukawa: I have actually Ö well, I do come to Japan a lot because my parents, or actually my whole family, is based in Japan, and most of my sponsors are from Japan, as well. Therefore, I do come here every year and maybe work into the season or before start of the season. So I think nothing new to me actually. I also live in Japan. I also lived in Japan when I went to elementary school between the age of 6 and 12.

Q: And I know you grew up around Formula One with your father. Why are you in an American series?

R. Yasukawa: That is mostly because I was born in the U.S.A. and I spent pretty much most of my life there. And I have been watching the American series more than European series, in general. And I think this way of lifestyle and racing style in the Americas is better than in Europe. And I think that was probably the biggest reason that I decided to be in the IndyCar Series rather than anything in Europe.

Q: One other question. Have you followed some of the Japanese drivers like Hiro (Matsushita) and so forth that participated in Indy-style racing when you were younger?

R. Yasukawa: Absolutely. Obviously, at the time I was still young so I was watching TV. But I do know Mr. and Mrs. Matsushita personally, and at the same time I am a good friend with Tora (Takagi) and Shigeaki (Hattori), who are actually racing in our series.

Q: Tom, with your experience at Motegi, does that give you a little bit of an advantage?

T. Anderson: I do not really think so because we are going there obviously with a new car, which is quite a bit different than the CART cars that I have been there with before. We all know that Panther Racing ran a test over there last year with last yearís car, and I do not even really think that gives them much of an advantage going back in. I think coming in with the new cars and new equipment, I think everybody is going to be basing it basically on their simulation programs and the information that they have been able to get from the Motegi racetrack and from Firestone.

Q: A question of Roger. You have talked about your familyís heritage, also you have that Honda power plant in your car. Does the upcoming Indy Japan 300 hold special relevance to you? And also, you have been in the country now for going on a week. What kind of promotional schedule have you had to juggle around since you have been over there?

R. Yasukawa: Well, first of all, the race in Japan will be one of the biggest, I guess, together with the Indy 500. It will be one of the important races for us because, obviously my parents being Japanese and I think the whole team with Mr. Aguri Suzuki being involved, I think will be very important for us. And we certainly have a lot of people coming to it, so we have always been looking forward to this race, and hopefully we can finish up front of the crowds here and together with that we are starting to do a lot of promotional work for most of the sponsors. And just recently I was at the headquarters of Honda Motor Company doing a talk show and autograph session. This weekend we will start Indy Week at Motegi, and that will consist with a lot of talk shows, autograph session and time trials, and I am sure there is going to be a lot of people coming to that event and keeping me busy.

Q: I have the first one for Roger and then for Tom. Roger, as you look at the season so far and what you have been able to do with the car, I know you probably laid out some learning curve objectives. Where are you with, if you did lay those out, where are you on your learning curve objectives say between the scale of 1 and 10?

R. Yasukawa: Good question. I think there is still a lot to learn from my perspective. But I think we are six or seven already. There is so much to reach the pinpoint, but we have just with given the amount of time, I think we have gone to somewhere that we are already competitive. The rest of letís say three or four is pretty much just experience for me to be able to run up front and finish up front for the long races.

Q: Are you surprised that you are competitive already?

R. Yasukawa: Not really. I think coming into it a driver always has to expect that you are going to do well. It is just a matter of preparing yourself and making sure everything gets by. And I think, again, the team has helped me a lot in that perspective with Tommyís experience and John Dickís experience. I think that made my learning curve go much quicker. And I think, obviously, the team is young, as well. But there are a lot of people, there are a lot of experienced people within the team that has been helping me out so much that I think. Hopefully it is not going to be too long to reach the winnerís circle.

Q: And Tom, what has surprised you about Roger?

T. Anderson: I think that he has a tremendous amount of three things which I consider to be important for race car drivers. I mean, obviously he has the natural talent. There are a lot of things that he can do, like just go out and go consistent. I mean, whatever speed you tell him to do, just go out and hold that speed, he can do it. That is a natural feeling, and he has that. The other thing is that he has a mechanical understanding of the car. How the sway bars work, what the weight jacker does. And he is able to use in the third trait, which is the extra or what I call extra mental capacity. He is not using all of his mental capacity just to go fast. He is going fast, and then he is thinking about the mechanical part of the car. So he is able to help himself, as well. And anytime that I have found a driver that has all three of those traits it is not too long before they are in the winnerís circle.

Q: In some respects, brainpower-wise, he still has some throttle left, huh?

T. Anderson: I think so. I mean he is able to handle a car that is fairly neutral, come in, discuss it quite calmly with John and decide on a situation on how they want to attempt to fix the problem and go forward. I am really amazed. I really am. The kid has a lot of talent.

Q: Roger, when you were growing up and driving in karts and so forth in America and over in Italy, did you have any idols and who were the young guys you competed with then that are up in the big time now?

R. Yasukawa: I would say my idol was and probably still is Michael Andretti. I think it is an honor for me to be able to race with him now, and hopefully I could be running up front more often and be able to battle with Michael before his retirement comes after the Indy 500. In terms of competing against other drivers in karting, I raced against Buddy Rice in go-karts. We were where we had the same engine builder, which was George Mackís father, who was building engines for us. So I knew him from a while ago. I also was in the same team with Alex Barron, who was spotting for me for the first two rounds, and we spend a lot of time together. So I know him quite well, as well.

Q: You obviously have a strong Japanese heritage and with Tora and Shiggy and Shinji (Nakano) all being Japanese citizens, going into this event, is there more pressure on you and the other three Japanese drivers knowing that obviously the bulk of the crowd that will be there are going to be focusing, I would assume most of what they are there for, on watching you guys succeed? Does it place more pressure on you, for example, as opposed to going into a place like Phoenix?

R. Yasukawa: Yes, certainly. I do not look at it as pressure so much. I mean, yes, it certainly is a pressure when you have a lot of people cheering for you. But more so I am looking at it as an advantage because I have a lot of people cheering for me, and there will certainly be a lot of people cheering for our team and especially, hopefully, for me being the Honda driver there. But I am looking forward to it. I think it is only times that we only come to Japan once, and it is the first time that the IndyCar Series is going to come to Japan. So I am actually anxious to see how much crowd we are going to have there, and hopefully it will be a good weekend for us.

Q: Give us an idea, if you could, having spent the amount of time that you did with your dad while you were growing up in Japan while he was working with Formula One, how are or are Japanese fans different from American fans in the way they do or attend motorsports events?

R. Yasukawa: That is a good question. I do not think there is a big difference from the fans in the U.S.A. and fans in Japan, except they only get to see the race occasionally. Well, especially like the Formula One series and the IndyCar Series, they only go to Japan once. So they are certainly excited for it, excited to see the race and the teams and the drivers. I do not think there is a big difference, but I think the enthusiasm here in Japan is quite big for the IndyCar Series. So I am sure a lot of people are excited to see the whole race.

Q: Roger, this question is for you. How would you describe your style of driving or your style of racing? How does it appear to you?

R. Yasukawa: Right. Well, I think I have always said, letís see, strong and smooth, I guess. I think I am always a ďthinkingĒ type of person. And I think my driving style in general always has been smooth. Not too aggressive but aggressive when I need to.

Q: Tom, a follow-up with a question for you here. We have talked a lot about this being Hondaís turf, and you obviously have a Japanese-American driver. Are there any added pressures to perform well at this one particular race?

T. Anderson: Well, there is quite a bit from Honda because Honda has not won at their home track yet. There is always big pressure at Motegi when you are powered by Honda. There is also additional pressure. Panasonic, our major sponsor, has quite a big presence there, as well. And of course, everyone knows that Bridgestone, who is in conjunction, or the father of Firestone now, is just down the road, as well. So there is quite a big influence there for us. It will be a good tune-up for operating under pressure before we get to the Indy 500 over here, as we all know creates pressure within itself.

Q: And looking closer at your team, you actually have a crewmember, Steve Ragan, who began his motorsports career in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. Has his background been a benefit to you and the team as you prepare for this race?

T. Anderson: It makes going to Japan obviously easier when you have people that speak the foreign language to us where you go. It makes things quite easy. We also have another mechanic on the team, Tomihiro Takase, who did quite a bit of his early career in Japan with Aguri Suzuki, with Roger, Madoka Yamaguchi, who is our PR person, with Steve and with Tommy, there are five fluent Japanese-speaking personnel on the team.

Q: For either one of you, now that Alex Barron has a real job coming up next weekend, who is going to be spotting for Roger?

T. Anderson: It is me.

Q: You are?

T. Anderson: I am.

Q: Oh, so you are going to have to be up top there?

T. Anderson: Yes, but I am one-for-one up there. I have only spotted one time before, but it was for Jimmy Vasser in 1996 at Homestead, and we won.

Q: Oh, well that is a good luck charm, huh?

T. Anderson: We will take it.

Q: I hope so. Good luck on that. Thank you.

T. Anderson: Thank you.

K. Johnson: Well, gentlemen, we certainly appreciate the both of you joining us today, and we wish you each the best of luck on April 13th at Motegi.

T. Anderson: Thank you very much. Appreciate it, Kent.

K. Johnson: Thanks, Tom. Good luck, Roger.

R. Yasukawa: Thanks.

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