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Q&A with Playa Del Racing

April 7, 2005

MIKE KING: If you weren't with us for the last press conference, if you could put your cell phone on vibrate, we would greatly appreciate it. A pleasure to introduce the team principals from Playa Del Racing. And, by the way, that is the correct pronunciation; it is Playa and not Playa. I found that out myself firsthand. So it is Playa Del Racing. Representing the ownership group, Gary Sallee; on the other side, Susan Schafer; in the middle, their new driver, no stranger to us certainly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has made three starts here with a best finish of 13th during his rookie year in 2000, Mr. Jaques Lazier, who most of last year worked with us at the IMS Radio Network as our driver analyst. But we are more than happy to yield and allow him back into the cockpit of a race car. For the official announcement, Gary, if you would, and then we'll get also comments from Susan and from Jaques, as well.

GARY SALLEE: Well, we have as of last week, I believe, the 29th of March, filed an entry in this year's Indianapolis 500 to run Jaques Lazier in a Panoz car owned by Playa Del Racing and with Toyota Motor. We're excited about it. We have been here before as one of the co-founders of Team Cheever and then one of the co-founders of ISM Racing back in the mid and late '90s. We believe that the team that we've put together this time is one that will be able to compete right off the bat, right off the green flag. We're really proud to have Jaques as the driver.

KING: Susan, if we could also get a comment from you as part of the ownership of this team.

SUSAN SCHAFER: This is my first time around as an owner, so please bear with me. We're so happy to be back in the League. We love the philosophy of the League. We understand and appreciate the leadership of the George family. We're excited to be here. Jaques has been a longtime friend and deserves a great car to be in for the Speedway; we're hoping to provide that. We're going to run, as Gary stated, the Panoz Toyota and we are also going to be car No. 21. Our philosophy with Playa del Racing, which loosely translates to “beach racing,” comes from the town that we hail from in California. It was the site of the first board track in America, which we believe was built in 1911. So when we moved there, we had no idea. We just saw a little piece of real estate that had not yet been developed in California, which was rare, and we did the history and we found out what it was. It all came together, and it's making a lot of sense for us. We're trying to bring that spirit of the beach into racing and have a little fun with a lot of professionalism. This young man sitting beside me, I couldn't be more proud of, and we're happy to get him back on the track and see what he can do.

KING: Jaques, if you would, talk a bit about this opportunity and your return to both the 500 and the IndyCar Series.

JAQUES LAZIER: Obviously, I'm very ecstatic about being back in the IndyCar Series and being here for the Indianapolis 500. It's, without a doubt, the greatest show in the world. This is something that's been in the making for many years. Gary, when he was talking about being with ISM, was very instrumental with establishing my career. Basically, they had to put together a couple cars for the month of May, and then in their late-night hours they looked around for parts for my father and I so we could go out and get a rookie test done and try to field a car for the 500, as well, back in 1998. Unfortunately, we qualified but then we got bumped, and ever since then the relationship has grown. So I always told Sue and Gary that if the opportunity ever rose, that I would love to drive for them. For the last year and a half, we've been talking, and it just kind of came to fruition. It's something I'm very excited about. It's the kind of team I want to be a part of. Obviously, we're starting from scratch, and we're going to keep growing. I think we're going to be a strong contender for the month of May without a doubt. We are not here just to be a field-filler. I like the philosophy of the team. It's very professional, and I think that they are going to put a real strong car underneath me. We have a lot of backing from friends that we've learned and met throughout the years in racing, and I think it's just going to be a real strong effort for us.

KING: Once again, we've got Jaques Lazier, Susan Schafer and Gary Sallee of Playa Del Racing. Eric is on that side with the mike and I'm over here.

Q: Gary, who have you got turning the wrenches on this deal and some of the other team members of the team?

SALLEE: We are in the process of finalizing the crew. Mike Colliver will be the team engineer. Mike has a strong history and especially with the G Force – what is now called the Panoz car. We have commitments from several people, several mechanics, some of whom have been crew chiefs and chief mechanics on other teams who just want to come be a part of what we're doing because they understand our philosophy. We'll announce those as we get that all finalized. But we have people that are turning wrenches today and some more that will be turning wrenches on Monday.

Q: Susan, I see that your race team was founded in 2001. Where have you been racing? Who have been racing for you such as your drivers? And is this deal beyond Indy?

SCHAFER: Did I not mention this is my first time around as an owner and you give me the hard question right off the bat? (Laughter) We were founded in 2001, and my background as well as Gary's is primarily in the business field. We have been working diligently at putting together a business-to-business relationship to procure sponsorship. As we well know, there have been challenges in the League with sponsorship, and it's getting better and better every day. Since 2001, I like to call it the virtual team. We've been racing in our minds maybe. (Laughter) We've been putting together a solid business plan, which we're happy to be here today to announce that it has -- it's become a physical manifestation of that. What we've done is we work very hard at putting together this plan with a sponsor. We consider them to be a partner of ours. We're going to make an announcement later on, and it has strictly to do with business-to-business, which helps us procure dollars which will enable us to be here from this point forward and build a strong foundation for a team that will last many, many years. So since 2001, we've had the challenges that everyone has in this League, and we think we've put most of those behind us. And our intention at this point is to do as well as we can do here at our beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and we would love to run the California race, and that is our intention since that's our home track. The gentleman sitting beside me continues to suggest that we race Chicago since he's won there before. We'll announce that decision as soon as we can.

KING: Jaques, by the way, was a winner in the IndyCar Series for the first time at Chicagoland Speedway, and he tells me that was 2001? I just can't believe it was that long ago, but it was. Of course, Jaques has also been involved in some great duels, some of the closest finishes in IndyCar Series history, including the first race at California Speedway where he and Sam Hornish Jr. put on quite a show and literally, I think, 2 feet separated them at the line. I think it was the fourth-closest finish in series history, somewhere along those lines. 10,000ths of a second. Once you get into 10,000ths seconds, they're all the same. Do we have any other questions?

Q: As expensive as this sport has become, in view of the fact they tried to have cost containment, how difficult is it to be a part-time team?

SALLEE: Is that directed to me?

SCHAFER: Yes. (Laughter)

SALLEE: I believe that being a team owner has always been difficult; and the more dollars you need, the more difficult it becomes. I think from our experience, it's almost impossible to get a straight sponsorship deal in this day and age where there are so many regulators and so many boards of directors of companies that put pressure on the decision-makers to get a return on their investment. When you're asking for the kinds of dollars that you have to have now to run full time, you sometimes have difficulty showing that return on investment to attract the sponsor. We don't want to detract from the announcement today by talking about our arrangement; we'll have another sitdown with some of you or all of you later if you have an interest in our financial backing and support from our sponsors. But we believe that we have a business-to-business relation that will provide a very high return on investment to our sponsor that will provide enough money for us to run part time until we have enough money to run full time. Our intention is to be a full-time team. Next year our intention is to be a full-time team as soon as we are financially able to do it. We will not put an additional burden on ourselves by trying to race when there isn't enough money to race.

KING: For either Gary or for Susan, decision yet on what the car is going to look like or will that be determined?

SALLEE: There's been a decision made on what the car will look like. We submitted some drawings yesterday to the Speedway for the program, and they're working with it to make it conform to some of the requirements and restrictions for League decals and the like. I would say within the next few days or week, we will release that drawing.

SCHAFER: We could mention the color orange.

KING: It will be orange. Primarily orange?

SCHAFER: Some orange. Primarily?

KING: Primarily orange?

SALLEE: No, primarily white.

KING: Primarily white with some orange. OK, all right.

Q: Jaques, you haven't been in a car in a little while. How difficult, being as this is the greatest race in the world, the biggest race in the world, is it to come in right now basically a one-off shot at it? Can you get enough seat time? Have you had enough that you can get in it and in a three-week period be able to go 500 miles and win?

LAZIER: I'm very confident I can get right out on the track and be up to speed. Obviously, I ran eight races last year for Patrick Racing. I also ran the 500 last year as a substitute for Robby Gordon, and that was definitely an interesting situation. That was jump into the car without a seat that fit properly, put some foam in there and go hang on. So I think we're in a position with this program where obviously things are going to be prepared just for me and, you know, we do have some quality people behind us. Mike Colliver, obviously, has been working on the Panoz for several years now, so I'm very confident that we're going to have a real strong setup on the car. My first year here, I had 50 laps in the car before we went to the race, including qualifying. My second time here, I think I had a total of 78. Then my last time was a few more than that. So I think that this track, I mean she's very demanding, for sure, and always changing, but at the same time it seems to be a track that kind of suits my driving style and something I can just jump into rather quickly and get real comfortable with.

Q: Gary, I see Tony Stewart's dad, Nelson, is on the board of directors. What will his involvement be? Is Tony in the background anywhere?

SALLEE: We have, over the course of time, learned that you need a strong, a big circle of strong supporters. We have that in Nelson Stewart and a lot of other people who are associated with helping us out. Nelson knows everyone in the world; he knows everything. As I've said a couple other times, he seems to know everything about everything within the racing business. We rely on him very heavily to point us in the right direction when it comes to racing. Susan and I, our strengths are mostly on the business side. We sort of look at the racing business as two different things: There is racing, and then there's business. And we need a lot of support on the racing side, and we have gone to Nelson, and Nelson has been willing to help us out. Who knows what Tony's doing or where he is.

SCHAFER: It would be nice to see him back, though.

SALLEE: It would be very nice to have Tony back at the Indy 500 somewhere along the way.

KING: We'll break for one-on-ones, but before anybody moves, another quick announcement before anybody leaves. Fast Friday, of course, at the Speedway is always a very cool day because everyone on Fast Friday always seems to be able to squeeze a few more miles an hour out of their cars than they have the previous four days of practice getting set for Pole Day. This year it has just been announced in a note just handed to me that Fast Friday here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be Tom Carnegie Day here at IMS. (Applause) Mr. Carnegie happens to be with us. If I'm not mistaken, that's news to you, is it not, sir? He's been fast all his life so he will be even faster on Tom Carnegie Day, Fast Friday. Tom, a great tribute befitting a great man like you. Once again, if you weren't with us yesterday, this will be Tom's 60th year as the voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. We can't wait for him to say those words once again as that first car rolls out on Pole Day. So Fast Friday is Tom Carnegie Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Thanks to Susan, Gary, and Jaques Lazier.


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