MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, thank
you for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll be
joined by two guests this afternoon. Robert Clarke, president of Honda
Performance Development, is with us to start the call, and Buddy
Lazier, who late last week was announced as the driver of the No. 5
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry, will join us in a few minutes. Robert,
thanks for joining us.
ROBERT CLARKE: Thank you for having me.
MODERATOR: It's been about two-and-a-half months ago that you were
with us as part of the announcement that all of the teams in the
IndyCar Series would use Honda engines this season. Tell us a little
bit about the pace of activity at HPD over the past couple of weeks as
you guys have prepared for supplying the entire field for the tests at
Phoenix and Homestead.
ROBERT CLARKE: It's been quite a challenge, actually -- well, it's as
we expected. Before we made that announcement, we put a lot of thought
and study into our ability to support the entire field. We made the
announcement with a calculated decision that, yes, we could, and so
we've been following that plan. And I'm happy to say that we've been
able to support the first two tests, the one January in Phoenix and
the one last week at Homestead. Both have been in our mind, and I
think the teams and the IRL would agree, that they have been an
We've had no significant engine problems that caused teams not to be
able to run. We've ended up with a few minor problems as we fine tune,
particularly our electronics. But all in all, the engines are working
very well. We're now at what we're calling or referring to as a
900-mile specification, and working our way towards a 1,200-mile spec
which will be the final spec of the season.
MODERATOR: That leads into my next question, the focus obviously has
kind of changed from one where you were competing against some other
manufacturers, and really the performance aspect to one of
reliability, consistency. You mentioned a couple of things, especially
the electronics. What types of things have you learned during the
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, in order to support the entire field, you touched
on it, primarily the thing that needed to happen was we needed to
increase engine life. There was no way we could support the entire
field if the engine was not getting the kind of mileage which we
require, which is going to be two events per engine.
The electronics, the change there is mainly to reduce the workload of
our on-site engineers to a point where they could support two cars
between each engineer. So we have dropped some driver, what some would
consider driver aids or features, such as traction control, launch
control, downshift without lift. Those features have been eliminated
from the electronics, and some of the others have also been reduced in
scope so that we are fine-tuning those.
Those features that remain are still features that typically in the
past required tuning for each individual driver's style. So now we are
trying to come up with a generic specification that we can apply
across the board that meets a level that everyone can be happy with
Q: I know personally from talking to Helio during the tests with the
traction control change, he seemed to think that that was a good
thing, especially on a place like St. Petersburg where it's tough to
pass. It could lead to some drivers having more of an opportunity to
pass if someone makes a mistake.
ROBERT CLARKE: I agree. That has been the general response from our
drivers is that they are OK with the changes. In fact, many think that
it's going to improve the quality of racing.
Q: Two weeks to go before the opening race at Homestead. Any concerns
from your standpoint or things that need to be ironed out, or are we
pretty much ready to go racing?
ROBERT CLARKE: We're ready to go racing. The final spec of the season
will be introduced at the beginning of the month of May at Indy, and
then we expect to uphold that engine specification through the rest of
Q: There's this perception that Toyota and Honda have always followed
each other from series to series, sort of hammering on each other,
competing with each other. I guess my question is a two-parter. Now
that Toyota is out of the series and you guys are by yourself, why
does being the engine provider by yourself, why is that worthwhile?
And the next natural question is with Toyota scoring the NASCAR
platform, what are your future plans, if any, there?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, you're correct in that we're archrivals and we
particularly enjoy fighting each other. But why are we continuing to
support the IRL? I think it's as we've clearly communicated, we
believe strongly in open-wheel racing as a form of racing that Honda
has historically competed in, and particularly in Formula 1 and CART
and now the IRL. We very much enjoy that style of racing at the
premiere level, and we are showing our commitment to the sport and to
the IRL in particular, by making our commitment through 2009.
But will we follow Toyota to NASCAR? I never say never. I've learned
that in this business. But we have no immediate or near-term plans to
get into (NASCAR). We are quite occupied with our activity in the IRL
and no plans for NASCAR.
Q: Your company, obviously technology is very important and learning
new things from the racing, is NASCAR sort of the opposite of that,
because you're dealing with carbureted engines, and I don't want to
use the term ‘dumbing-down technology,’ but sort of an old-style of
ROBERT CLARKE: I would agree that Honda's racing historically has been
focused on technology. Having not been directly involved with NASCAR,
I think it's probably unfair for us to say that their technology is
dumbed-down or at a lower level, but it's clearly a different kind of
technology. I hear from those that are involved that even though it's
maybe an older technology, it's still extremely challenging.
But as we've found, I think when we first looked at the IRL when we
were still competing in CART, we might have looked at the IRL as being
a dumbed-down technology. But I can tell you from the day we got
involved with it, we found that's not the case. So things are
perceived I think unfairly when you're in another camp.
Q: The inclusion of 10% ethanol to the fuel mix, has that made any new
challenges for Honda in preparing cars for a 1,200-mile jaunt?
ROBERT CLARKE: No. The change at this point is so insignificant
percentage-wise that it really has not affected us. We've had to
re-optimize the engine as far as the fuel injectors go and the spark
and that type of thing. And in effect, we recovered a lot of the power
that we initially lost by the change. But no, no significant problems.
Q: It sure looked that way with all of the cars got much quicker than
they were last year with three different manufacturers.
ROBERT CLARKE: The engine, performance-wise, is at a level that's very
similar to what our engine was at that time last year. And with the
changes in tires, and of course the weather conditions I'd say were
optimum last week. So I think we are all very pleased, drivers, teams
and ourselves with how things are going.
Q: I'm wondering what the difference will be at Indianapolis and the
performance of the engine there compared to pre-Indianapolis?
ROBERT CLARKE: Well, what we've done is that even though we are not at
the final spec of the engine, we have calculated -- basically the spec
is running on the dyno, so it is calculated, we have a general
understanding of what the engine performance will be at Indy. And the
engines in their current spec, even as we ran last week at Homestead
have been tuned to that same level of performance.
So the drivers teams should not see or feel any significant change in
performance from what they experienced most recently to what they will
run at Indy.
Q: So then the basic difference will be what then?
ROBERT CLARKE: Basically in getting the parts up to that 1,200-mile
limit, which is what we need to run the rest of the season.
MODERATOR: Robert, thanks again for taking the time to join us and we
look forward to seeing you at the race in a couple of weeks.
And we're joined now by Buddy Lazier. Good afternoon, Buddy.
BUDDY LAZIER: Good afternoon.
MODERATOR: Buddy won the Indianapolis 500 in 1996 and the IndyCar
Series Champion in 2000. He made six starts for Panther Racing last
year, finishing in the top 10 in five of those, including the
fifth-place finish at Indianapolis. And as I mentioned earlier, Buddy
will drive the No. 5 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry for Dreyer &
Reinbold Racing in 2006.
So Buddy, congratulations on getting that worked out. This is
obviously the first time in a couple of years now that you've gone
into the season with a full-time ride lined up. Can you tell us a
little bit about how the deal came together, and just really how you
feel about being back full-time?
BUDDY LAZIER: Well, I enjoyed what I did last year and definitely it
was a goal to get back to full-time running. I know there's a lot
still pending with Dreyer & Reinbold in terms of future announcements
and other things.
As far as the way it came together, it was very last minute. But I had
worked with Dennis (Reinbold), I always enjoyed Dennis and Robbie
Buhl. I ran with him back in 2004 just for the Indianapolis 500 for
the last two weeks and that was a positive experience. I know that as
a team that is easier to grow and improve.
You know, it was nice to make this test, but there were so many people
on the team that literally were hired the day before they left. So it
was a bit of just getting out and starting to work with one another
and we were not pleased with the optimum performance that we were able
to achieve, but we have a lot of areas that we can work on now.
Q: Because the deal came together really right before the test, was it
a shakedown of the car and personnel, and did you accomplish those
goals that you set, or were there some things lacking there?
BUDDY LAZIER: Well, I think there were certainly some things lacking,
but you have to every time -- we wanted to go, of course, and be
really wide open and comfortable, and I wasn't able to achieve that.
But we did really gain a lot in terms of working knowledge, how we are
going to work with one another in the coming weeks.
So there were a lot of things that you took out of it that were very
positive and some negatives, but the negatives were good because that
gives us great direction in the areas we want to work on. Everybody on
the team is very positive, but again you have to kind of step back. I
think with a feeling of disappointment, you have to step back and
realize that, you know, seven to 10 days ago, this was not a race team
that was going forward. So really, to make the over 1,000-mile trip
with two race cars, run the entire three-day test without any
significant, and really, zero mechanical problems, the cars ran and
ran, worked with the team. I think it was really, there's a lot of
positive things that came out of it, given the fact that literally
instead of a matter of weeks, it was a matter of days, and even hours,
to take the race cars from where they were put to store for the winter
to bring those cars to the racetrack and to at least gather a lot of
information. The performance was not what we wanted it to be, but we
have to, again, go back to realizing that probably over half the team
started the day the team left for the racetrack.
Q: Let's look a little bit ahead. Indianapolis is obviously a place
that you've had a great deal of success. How badly do you want to win
another Indianapolis 500?
BUDDY LAZIER: Oh, very badly. I have to really say great things about
the program I had last year, because it was able to accomplish really
my ultimate goal, which is to have a car at the end of the race that's
capable of winning there. So that's really my ultimate goal.
I would love to win races and to challenge for championships, and
that's the ultimate goal. But, you know, Indianapolis is a very
special place. The victory that I had there, and the follow-up, I've
had two second-places there, and several top-five finishes.
So I do feel comfortable with the racetrack, as comfortable I think as
anybody could ever be with Indianapolis in that it's an extremely
challenging facility, racetrack in the month of May. There's huge
challenges. But there's no feeling like when you are the best that day
and you're able to win that race. It's such the ultimate achievement.
Q: Dreyer & Reinbold has a long-time relationship with Racing For Kids
and visiting children's hospitals on race weekends, how much are you
looking forward to getting involved with that program this year?
BUDDY LAZIER: Well, very much. I love kids. I have not participated
with one as a member of the team, yet, but, you know, I think it's a
wonderful thing. Obviously it's really gut-wrenching and pulls hard at
your heart strings, so that's the downside to that. But that is more
than worth it to make some of these kids' days, and really, in a lot
of ways, make their weeks or months by showing up and it certainly
puts perspective on things.
So it's something that I'm looking forward to do and I know it's very
-- it's a program that Robbie Buhl has done so much for.
MODERATOR: Thank you for taking the time to join us this afternoon and
best of luck in 2006.
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