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Q&A with Target Chip Ganassi Racing

April 7, 2005

PAT SULLIVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Target Chip Ganassi Racing and a great turnout in what is an impressive facility. Really enjoy looking at it. With an impressive group of drivers and talent here. When we think about all forms of racing, to be honest, but since our focus is on the Indy Racing League Series this evening, this is a team defined excellence, beginning with the man at my left, Chip Ganassi, who had his own time behind the wheel. Mike Hull, the managing director, if you talk to Chip and talk about one of the driving forces behind many of the championship runs at Ganassi Racing, much of the credit goes to that gentleman, Mike Hull. Scott Dixon as a very young man won at Nazareth, certainly in the modern era is the youngest ever to win a major open-wheel event. Scott, as many of you know, comes to us from Auckland, New Zealand. His first Indy Racing League Series event on the full tour resulted in a win at Homestead-Miami; and he just took off from there and garnered the 2003 championship. It was great to have Darren Manning join this last year; Darren, a gentleman who was an All-Japan F3 champion. He also did some test driving in Formula One with BAR Racing. He's had some solid runs already this year in the 2005 campaign. We're delighted to bring to us from Sydney, Australia, Ryan Briscoe. Those of you had the privilege to either be at St. Petersburg or to watch the event on television, there is a young man who was in position to score that event. As many of you know, Ryan is a gentleman who also did some test driving in Formula One for Toyota. And if you've been paying attention to the F1 season this year, I believe Toyota is second in manufacturer points. So I think we could say that some of the hard work that Ryan did is paying some dividends for that team. We're delighted to have all of you here. Chip, we turn to you. I'm reminded in the world of basketball that a player once said to the all-time great Lenny Wilkins, "Coach, did you ever play the game?" Well, of course he did, and it brings to mind that there was a period of time when you were the fastest rookie to qualify at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Those have to be fond memories for you.

CHIP GANASSI: Thanks, Pat, and thanks to everybody for being here this evening. Yes, I do have obviously fond memories of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500, of course. When you come back here each May, you know, and May is just around the corner, and I apologize we don't have any apple butter over on our buffet this evening, but that's always a staple of the month of May. My fondest memories of racing revolve around this town, this track, this race. It's that simple. And when I look back, certainly the fastest rookie in 1982, that was certainly a high point to that point, and the many years that followed and many successes, many heartbreaks, many close finishes, just – you know, as a lot of us in this room could, we could write a book about May and around Indianapolis. I feel as if I'm one of those people now. Just last year probably my crowning achievement for May, while some may think it's the victories here, it's actually being asked to be a member of the Oldtimers Club.

SULLIVAN: That's very interesting, Chip. Those of us for whom Indianapolis, the race means so much, it burns so deeply, we think about what it means to be a driver. As I look to the back, as an individual who does public address on the road for the Indy Racing League, I can't wait to hear the booming voice of our friend Tom Carnegie, who's at the back of the room. Tom will be making his 60th year. Tom, great to see you back here. How about it for Tom Carnegie and what he's meant to this Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a real legend. (Applause) I look at this Baby Borg, and I wonder how many people have those and you know what it means to taste the milk in Victory Lane, Chip. That's got to be some thrill.

GANASSI: Again, it's like no other feeling in sports. You know, it begins that day, we've all heard so many times, begins with that day, walking up, walking out of Gasoline Alley there and looking left and looking right and just seeing those throngs of people. You really, really from a driver, I'm sure, through to management of a team to a car owner, you walk out that morning and you're a gladiator, if you will. It brings back -- it brings feelings that are unlike any other day the other 364 days of the year. To end that day as part of a team of the boldest of gladiators, if you will, is truly undescribable in sports. It's something that through all the years you come back here and there's no other way to describe it, but I can tell you that Mike and I talk about that's the only reason we're here, is for that fleeting moment.

SULLIVAN: You know, Mike, as we look to -- I called Mike, we have a great lineup of driver talent, obviously with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. You've got top-flight facilities, you've got equipment, but it still has to be brought together. It still has to be made into a cohesive unit. That has to be one of your challenges to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

MIKE HULL: You're exactly right because you can see what we've got here. But what we try to do here during the week when we're working in the building, is we talk about Sunday. We try to remember what we do best, and that's race on Sunday. Sunday at Indianapolis is a huge day, as Chip said. It's really the one day of the year we live for. I don't think anywhere in the world there's a Sunday like that Sunday. So we work all year to be ready to win the race. That's what we're all about here.

SULLIVAN: Scott Dixon, obviously you've been a champion of the Indy Racing League, and that's important. And perhaps someone who's not grown up in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, maybe the feelings aren't quite as deep, but I suspect when you're around these people, you understand what it means to get your face on one of these trophies. Talk about what the month of May means for you.

SCOTT DIXON: I think coming from New Zealand or anywhere in the world, and not growing up in America, you still have a huge knowledge of the actual race. You always watched it when you're growing up if you're in motorsports. So I pretty much knew it was going on. I think having the feeling as being maybe a young American and wanting to win it was not as drastic. But going there for the first time and witnessing and experiencing it is very unique, and you are quite proud to be a part of it because not many people do it. And just to walk out, because you do spend so much time there during the month and then to walk out there on Race Day is so special just because there's so many people, it's totally different to what you experience before. Just the whole history of it, I think, is pretty big.

SULLIVAN: Darren, you're with your second full year with us in the Indy Racing League and, you know, interestingly enough, the last time you and I were going close together, we were going to introduce a rock concert, if you recall. One of the prepared questions for me is Darren, you're from England, aren't you more interested in soccer? We know the deep racing history and tradition in England, particularly. The opportunity here to join this team, to join Chip Ganassi, that had to be a big thrill for you.

DARREN MANNING: Absolutely. As you say, growing up and doing all my apprenticeship in racing from 10 years old up to mid-20s in motorsports over in Europe, I had a strong knowledge of the Ganassi outfit, the wins they had in the late '90s and all the wins they've had in Champ Car and watching Scott, as well. So, you know, it was a big thing. Like the IRL, like the 500 as well, you know, not just the British Grand Prix, the Monaco Grand Prix, it's said -- and the Le Mans 24 Hours, it's held in the same breath as those big races over in Europe. So it was definitely on the forefront of my list of races that I wanted to put a tick next to with hopefully a P1 and definitely coming to this team has definitely brought me one step closer to that goal.

SULLIVAN: We've enjoyed watching you race, and we know that's coming. Ryan, as I look to you, you don't get to this level, you don't get to the level to be with this team, you don't get to the level of being a Formula One test driver without having been successful, without having tasted victory. It's a hard adjustment to come to a series like the Indy Racing League from where you were. So man, oh, man, you must have been delighted to be out in front of the field at St. Petersburg. That had to make you feel good.

RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean just this Sunday, leading my first laps in the IndyCar Series was an amazing feeling. Last year I wasn't racing at all, just test driving, which was a great experience. But it certainly brought back some memories of what it's like to be out in front and commanding the field. It's a great honor to be racing over here for Chip Ganassi Racing. It's all happened quite suddenly. It wasn't something that's sort of been planned for a long time. Looking toward the Indy 500, it's one of those races that since a young kid I've always sort of looked at it more as a – I don't know how to say – like a fantasy, to see this huge race and never seemed a reality. And all of a sudden here we are next month. I'm going to be racing there with one of the most impressive teams in IndyCar Series. So I can't wait for it. I don't really know what to expect, I hear so much about it, but I know it's going to be a huge race. And I really hope to do well with the team.

SULLIVAN: Let's give you a little heads up on what the lay of the land is going to be. We're going to take some questions and answers, we're also going to split up and have three of the team managers with Target Chip Ganassi, Scott Harner, Grant Weaver and Matt Swan, conduct some pit tours – shop tours. I'm still at the racetrack – and will be available for if you want to do some one-on-ones with the drivers. I believe we're going to be set up here for that. Before we go to that, I think as someone who actually studies and teaches about organizational life, Chip, I'd like to say to you from the moment we talked in the front door today with the people that greeted us, with the people who have been around us and set this event up, this has been marked by class. I think all of us are really – owe these folks a round of applause for the work they've done to make this a first-class event. (Applause) Let's take some questions. Don't be shy.

Q: Can you comment some on Toyota engines and how much improvement that they've made at this point this year and compare the engines you're getting from Toyota to the Penskes. What's the difference at this point what Penske's getting out of his Toyotas?

GANASSI: The initial difference is that Penske rebuild their own engines and ours come from Santa Ana, California. Ours are coming from the factory, and Penske does their own engines. That's the first thing you need to know. The second thing you need to know is Toyota has been a great partner of ours for many years. Obviously they have, while some may feel they have some ground to make up, and they have been making up ground on their competition, and they feel that they're not done yet in terms of making up ground, and you know developments in this business, developments used to come once a season and then developments came for super speedways and short tracks and road races and then, you know, developments came, and we're to the point where the developments are coming about once a week now. So I think it's important to understand that as much as we as competitors are racing week in and week out, you also have these engine manufacturers that are in a race with each other; and they're both, both the Japanese manufacturers I know and Chevrolet are racing week in and week out with each other, you know, coming with a new development, coming with some small thing every week to push the outer edge of this envelope further and further each week.

SULLIVAN: Lynn, you had a question?

Q: I would like to know, Ryan, have you had any laps at Indianapolis? Have you had any laps of practice or testing at Indianapolis? I should know this, but I don't.

BRISCOE: No, not yet but yesterday all the Firestone testing out there, I did my laps in just a normal road car but I'll be having the rookie orientation out there on the 8th and 9th of May.

SULLIVAN: Got a question all the way in the back. I'm looking at a possible hamstring here. (Laughter)

Q: Question for Ryan. How do you like being a test driver for Formula One and basically doing road courses, how have you adapted to the ovals?

BRISCOE: Yeah, it's a very different sort of situation. I mean, you go from test driving high-performance car road courses all the time, but you're not in competition. Coming over here back into racing, it's a great feeling to be back in racing. Racing on ovals is very different to anything I've done in the past. It's certainly been a big help working with such an experienced team as Target Ganassi and having Scott and Darren as teammates; they've been helping a lot. But with the limited testing we have, it doesn't give us a whole lot of track time to adapt to the cars and feeling in traffic and so on before getting to the first race at Homestead this year. A lot of it is about just getting out there and racing and picking it up as you go along. It has been a bit of a challenge in the beginning. I've made a couple of mistakes, which has put me out of the first two races a little bit early. But I've been learning a hell of a lot, and I'm really looking forward to the next round in Japan where I'll have more experience and hopefully improve on what I've been picking up in the beginning.

Q: A lot of the drivers in the Indy Racing League have raced each other in the past such as in go-karts and things like that coming up. Do you have any experience racing against these guys, and are you surprised at the tenacity at which they race?

BRISCOE: Yeah, I guess it's not much of a surprise. I mean, you always have to expect at this level of racing that the competition is going to be top class, as good as it gets. But I've only raced I think against one or two of the guys in the series, and I think with the oval racing compared to road course racing, it is more about knowing your competitors. So that's something else I'm picking up at the moment.

Q: Chip, both you and Rahal Letterman increased your teams from two to three cars this year. Was it a case where a talent like Ryan was someone that you didn't really want to let go or was it also a situation of trying to support the series?

GANASSI: Well, I think, Bruce, that's an interesting question. I think, you know, as much as I like young drivers, I didn't do it strictly for Ryan's purpose; and as much as I love IndyCar racing, I didn't do it for the series. I think probably first and foremost is we sat down and, like you say, like Ryan was saying, you look at the rules. And testing is becoming so restricted now that when you can have another car out there, each weekend is effectively a test session for us in some sense. I would think it would be really hard to be a single-car team today. I think obviously two heads are better than one, and it follows that three are better than two in terms of input and what we're trying to accomplish here. It should speed up our development. You know, people forget, and it shouldn't -- you shouldn't forget how close these cars are, you know, competitively, whether it's a G Force or a Dallara, whether it's a Honda, Toyota or Chevrolet, whatever package you have, this series is very, very tight. Developments you make are very, very small. Incremental changes make a big difference at the end of a race. So small things are few and far between, but they're so valuable when you find them, small gains. So that's really the reason we wanted to increase the size of our force that we're entering each weekend, is really to speed the development.

Q: I have a question for Ryan. Can you speak to the situation Sunday with between you and Kanaan, did you feel like you were blocking him or can you talk about that?

BRISCOE: Yeah. (Laughter) Yeah, I mean what a race. We had a fantastic race and led 43 laps of the race. You know, it was coming down to the final few laps, you know, with nine laps to go we weren't leading by mistake. I certainly wasn't going to just pull over to the side and let Kanaan walk away with it, you know. At the time he had slightly better tires than me. Made a bit more of a difference on cold tires after restarts. And I had to defend my position. I certainly wasn't driving recklessly. I think after the restart down the couple of straights where he was a bit quicker, I defended my position just at the beginning of the straight, went to the middle of the track to make it more difficult for him to come past me. And then, you know, I don't know if that sort of flicked a switch on Tony Kanaan or whatever, but we got down to Turn 10 and before the braking zone I looked in the mirror and he was over a car length behind me and then got to the apex as I was turning in and he was coming through, you know. So it was unfortunate. He was lucky, he got away with it. I didn't. It's unfortunate. But all I can say is we had a fantastic race. Strategy was perfect from the team. Car was performing well. Everyone did a great job, Toyota, everyone. And I think we showed them that we're out there racing for wins, and we're not just going to pull over and let Tony Kanaan pass because he's reigning champion. We're out there to do well, as well.

Q: This is a question mostly for Scott, but I would like Mike to jump in. Maybe I'm throwing myself under the wheels on this one because I wanted to bring it up. You had a great championship year and the team dominated well. The next year, last year there was a lot of struggle with it. Could you explain a little bit about the greater challenges you had last year? How much of that, if any, is related to maybe Toyota not anticipating Honda's gains and the downsizing from three and a half to three and what are you looking for this year that can help put Scott back on top as well as the other guys?

DIXON: I think '04 was definitely a strange year. It started off not too bad; we were at least pretty competitive. We were leading at Homestead when we did crash, and Phoenix we got away with a second. In some ways I think I had too much going on in '04 with some of the Formula One testing, the IROC series and things like that, and I don't think I managed my time that well across the board. As far as the team went, I think once Indy hit, we did struggle a little with the 3-liter. We never really gained the momentum back. So we did struggle, we had some good runs occasionally, but most of the year we just didn't perform. There's always a lot of reasons once you look back on it why we didn't succeed. But sometimes when you're in the heat of the moment, it's sort of hard to look at those and get on top of them. Starting a new year, I think it was great to start a fresh one at least and try and attack it that way and start over again with a lot of the people coming, you know, back from the Grand Am Series. Obviously the third car addition, I think, is going to help this year a lot, back with Mike calling the races and things like that. So it started off a little slow, but I think the team has had some good momentum so far. Just looking forward to the ‘500,’ I think, to hopefully kick off another good season.

HULL: I'm glad Scott gave me some time to think about the answer to that one. (Laughter) He could keep talking if he wants to. Racing is all about momentum. It's all about utilizing all the resource that you have each year that you race and starting anew each year. 2003 we had a great season; we actually had two really, really good drivers. If you recall, Tomas Scheckter was really fast in our other car, in fact he had a lot to do with the success of Scott Dixon in 2003. In 2004, we started off great and by the time we got to Indianapolis; we were working hard to try to figure out where it went. We just worked all year long to try to be ready for 2005, and we've got a good season going. Our results are going to improve. TRD's working really hard for us these days. To answer the question that was asked a few minutes ago, we're seeing marked improvement in the motor every race we go to. That's what it's all about. It's about utilizing the resources we have internally as well as externally. And it's all about working for guys like Chip because there's two ways that people think they win motor races. One is to find ways to win and, that's working for Chip; and one is working somewhere where people think they want to win, and that's what we're all about here is finding ways to win; and we're going to win again.

Q: Question for Darren, get you in here some way. How well do the three of you interact and exchange information and how much do the two of you maybe help Ryan?

MANNING: Well, the three of us hate each other terribly. We don't get along, we don't speak to each other, we don't play with each other, you know. (Laughter) Ryan steals all my toys; it's not a good deal at all. (Laughter) Does that answer your question? No, it's really good. Me and Scott built up a really good relationship during last year. We worked really well together at the tracks during the race weekend, which is the main, you know, point of us being racing drivers, is the race weekend. Like everybody's been saying about winning, so we worked hard together. Ryan has been a great addition to that. He's just like another one of us, really, which is really why I think Chip brought him on board. He works well with us. He's faster than us sometimes, the git. (Laughter) But that's always good in some spots. We're faster than him in some spots every now and then occasionally. So it's good for data. Like Chip said earlier, two heads are better than one, and three are better than two. When you're overlaying all those squiggly lines on the computers with the engineers, it's definitely better to have three than two. Is that good?

SULLIVAN: Let's make this our last question.

Q: Darren, you ran at St. Pete in both a Champ car and an IRL car. How surprised were you that this package -- it seemed to be much more competitive than the racer two years ago.

MANNING: Yeah, I don't think I was surprised really because of the testing we had done from December all the way up to the race at St. Petersburg. The car's actually been driving and cornering probably better than the Champ car. You know how many years of development they've had for putting them on a road course. This is exactly the same car, obviously the suspension is slightly different on the left side and the brakes are different. But the IRL, the IndyCar Series, they did a great job of seeing what we needed to put a competitive race out there. It was frustrating, everybody kept lasting the race, especially since I was a bit further back. Came around Lap 1, still in the same spot as I was when I qualified. But that's good, you want that as racing. It was just really close all the way through the race as you saw right up to the end with Ryan. So the cars are fun to drive. They move around a lot. They've got good grip. I think we're cornering probably faster than the Champ cars. The Toyota is really drivable. It's good through the corners, which was a bit surprising. We thought it was just a bit top-endy, peaky kind of motor which is designed for the ovals, but they're doing a good job changing over.

Q: But there seemed like there was a lot of passing through the field, and that's something you don't normally see at a street course like that.

MANNING: That's one good thing about St. Petersburg; it's got a good combination of corners. The downforce package on the IRL cars and I think a lot has to be said for the tires, as well, because Firestone, the tires didn't create a lot of marbles off the racing line, but they still created huge amount of grip. So you could change your line and overtake and get past people. So the whole package was second to none, really. So I'm looking forward to getting back out again later on in the year.

SULLIVAN: Very good. Just to reiterate, if you're going to do a shop tour, they're going to gather in the lobby. If you're here for a one-on-one, you can set up here with the drivers. Thank you all very much for coming. Thanks a lot to all of you for being such great hosts here. (Applause)

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