THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's Indy Racing League conference call. We have two guests on the call today: IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Danica Patrick of Andretti Autosport and Townsend Bell of Sam Schmidt/Chip Ganassi Racing.
THE MODERATOR: It's the month of May. That means the Indianapolis 500. I know you haven't gotten off to the start you wanted to in the No. 7 GoDaddy car, but you have to be looking at "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I've had a bad start to the year. You know, it happens. Nothing to say about it. Every now and again I would imagine a lot of athletes have a year where they just aren't where they want to be and I'm not this year.
If the answer was as simple as going, 'This is what I'm going to do to fix it,' I would know that and it would have been done already. I have some ideas to take it in a better direction. At the moment, we're all working hard. It's not from a lack of trying.
THE MODERATOR: Getting to Indy should help boost your confidence. You've qualified in the top 10 in all of your Indy 500 starts and finished in the top 10 in four of the previous five starts. What is it with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that suits you?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know. I guess all I can say is I think it's important to be patient. I think it's important to be fast and be on a good team. I think it's important to really stay levelheaded. It's the longest race the year. You got to limit your mistakes, be there at the end.
I think it's usually from a long, hardâ€'working month of practice and coming to a good setup in the end, driving for a good team.
I'm not really sure exactly what it is that makes it Indy that has been a place for me where I've done well, but those are the things that I think are important at Indy and perhaps I do them well. I guess I have to say, if you're going to do well as one place, you hope it's Indy.
Q. Danica, you talked about the bad start. Is there any one thing in particular or just a bunch of little bits of things that are happening?
DANICA PATRICK: It's just a bunch of things. First race at Sao Paulo I kind of got screwed on the start. A few cars went around the accident and went around me. I never got those positions back. My explanation was there weren't enough cameras to see all of it. Then that leads to taking a risk because I was like eighth. I thought I'll stay out for one more lap when it started to rain, came around to the last couple of corners and spun.
St. Pete was OK. We didn't qualify well. Qualifying has definitely been an issue. My team did a good job of helping me get up to seventh.
Then, at Barber, I didn't qualify well. There were no yellows that mattered. I was unable to make any progress. We had a missed opportunity when the first yellow came over for (Takuma) Sato to pit. Instructions came a little late. That could have been a better finish.
Long Beach, I did everything I could. Didn't qualify well. Needed yellow flags. We pitted early before every stop. It worked last year and I was able to get up to second, but it just didn't work this year. I passed three cars, but ended up finishing 16th or something like that. I don't remember where I finished. Last year, I didn't pass any cars and I finished fourth. Breaks just weren't coming my way.
At Kansas, I think we just picked and optimistic downforce level. I was pretty good halfway or threeâ€'quarters of the way through the race. At one point I passed threeâ€'quarters of the field. But it was too late. I was a lap down.
There's been a series of things that have gone wrong. I can't put my finger exactly on one thing. But, like I said, we're working through it. We're just continuing to work really hard. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Q. A lot of people would look at that and wonder if what you had going on with the NASCAR stuff has affected this in any way, shape or form. Are they two separate things?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that's just a really easy thing to look at, an easy thing to point to and an easy excuse. I don't think there's anything to it. I keep going back to in the old days, race car drivers drove all kinds of race cars and nobody thought it took anything away. In fact, it should be adding. It's just an unfortunate situation and there's no other answer.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the Indy 500 experience in so much as your stature. It's not just getting in there and qualifying and making that race and trying to win that race. You're pulled all over the place by media demands, sponsor demands, and fans as well. Maybe for no one else in that field, the Indy 500 experience is a huge juggling act for your time. Talk about whether or not you've gotten used to that or do you ever get used to that?
DANICA PATRICK: Let me use today as an example. I arrived home after an appearance yesterday late. I have to get ready and pack to go today for New York for a couple of days of media, then to Indianapolis. I schedule this availability for the duration of my trip from the house to the airport. My packing went a little bit long. I got in the car 15 minutes late. But that's just how tight the schedule gets when it comes to this time of the year.
I'm trying as hard as I can to make everyone happy, to get everyone what they need, and take advantage of the time of year that it is, the race that we have going on. But it sometimes can get as little overwhelming.
Everybody does everything they can to make sure that when it comes to race time, that that is carved out, which is why we will try to do things like schedule the availability today so I'm not doing these things when I'm supposed to be racing the car.
Q. I want to talk to you about the 2006 race, which is a little bit of an overlooked race, considering you finished third. What stuck out to me was that you were the only Panoz that finished on the lead lap. We all know the Panoz was a very difficult car to drive that year. Do you look back on that race as a long day? Was there something you took away having to drive a difficult car for 500 miles?
DANICA PATRICK: I remember the race. We had a tire issue. I remember the first stint came. Somewhere around 10 laps till we stopped. I went into Turn 1, got really loose. We weren't sure what the problem was. We came in. We were having tire deterioration issues. We had to stop. We stopped early on every stint because the last thing you want is to crash because of something like that.
We kept getting our lap back. We were having a pretty good race. If we didn't have to stop early every time, I think we could have finished better than what we did.
Again, kind of like this year, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That was a really hard year. I was thrilled as all could be to qualify 10th that year. When you work hard, you buckle down, you really focus and can do good things.
I'm sure those experiences play into a year like this where I'm trying not to get upset, trying not to take the focus away from what's important, and that's working hard. At these points in your life, just like 2006, you have to work even harder.
Q. What do you consider your best race at Indianapolis?
DANICA PATRICK: At Indy? You know, maybe 2007. We were third after the rain restart. I passed Marco. I was in second. I felt faster than Tony. It wasn't until I caught Lazier and I tried to pass him in the short chute between one and two, he came down on me, I went into the grass. I dropped back. Then a couple cars went by me. Before you know it, the race ends early for rain.
From what I remember, I was on a winning strategy anyway for the end of the race, but the end of the race did not come at 200, it came at 170 or 160. So I think some of us had maybe just pitted or whatever. We dropped back. The cycle would have worked, but it didn't work because it rained.
Maybe 2007, racing my way, really being in second, having some things happen, that might have been the best one.
Q. Danica, how do you feel about this compacted Indy schedule? Does that really make that much of a difference? Does it help you kind of focus and compress things more?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I actually rather enjoyed the long schedule. It was the only time of year I was in one place for that length of time. It's nice to get into a routine, have some consistency. It gave you time to be able to work through things with the car, be methodical.
One thing that I don't know if people talked about, but it rains at Indy.
THE MODERATOR: We have lost connection with Danica Patrick. We'll try to get her back as soon as we can.
In the meantime, we have Townsend Bell with us. Townsend, how are you doing today?
TOWNSEND BELL: Great.
THE MODERATOR: The Indianapolis 500 race, last year you finished fourth. This year you're driving the No. 99 car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing. Year in and year out, that program seems to be one of the best oneâ€'off efforts from a nonâ€'IndyCar team. What are your thoughts about working with the organization?
TOWNSEND BELL: I'm fired up. We're hoping it's going to be a fast car. It's been fun getting to know Sam and can't argue with Ganassi's success on the ovals. We're looking forward to seeing what we get.
THE MODERATOR: The car is sponsored by Herbalife. How did all of that come together, especially as early as it did?
TOWNSEND BELL: Well, it doesn't hurt to have a good run like we did in '09. Herbalife is a great sponsor. I've been with them for a few years now. We sat down last fall, they asked me pointâ€'blank, 'What do we have to do to win the Indy 500?' That's music to any racing driver's ears when the sponsor really starts thinking about winning. We put together a program that hopefully gives you a good chance to compete for a win.
I guess having a Ganassi car is going to give us a strong run. We're excited to figure out if we can compete for the overall win. So far it looks good.
THE MODERATOR: At this point we have Danica back and we'll continue with questions for Danica Patrick or Townsend Bell.
Q. Danica, I wanted to ask you about your team's overall sense of pace going into the Indy 500. Even though the results may not have been good during the first four or five races, the team looks stronger than it has been the last couple seasons. How close do you think you are to Target Chip Ganassi and do you see any improvements you can make going into the month of May?
DANICA PATRICK: I unfortunately got one lap down to run with the leaders at a restart at Kansas, which of course is the only oval we've had so far. You know, Ganassi cars are really fast. Those guys can run along that white line lap after lap after lap and just be fast.
If it's the same way at Indy, they're going to have an edge. It's 500 miles of road to cover, pit stops and all kinds of things to cover. They were strong last year. I think there were maybe some pit stop issues or something. So anything is possible.
But Ganassi did look pretty strong at Kansas. So we just haven't had as many ovals to really kind of see how everybody is doing, get a real feel for it. But just like normal, I'm sure them and Penske will be strong.
Q. Danica and Townsend, it was reported in Indianapolis today that Randy Bernard would like to get rid of the Indy Racing League moniker. There's a lot of emotions tied up with that phrase positive and negative. Do you see it as a nice gesture or is it just a name change for you guys now?
DANICA PATRICK: What is it that he wants to change? Go ahead, Townsend.
TOWNSEND BELL: For me I've always known it as IndyCar so I don't think it's a change. I don't think it's about wanting to get rid of IRL as much as it is to get people to call it IndyCar racing at every opportunity because if you stop 10 people on the street, I'd say 9 out of 10 or 10 out of 10 wouldn't have any idea what the IRL means. IndyCar at least brings up an image of a car and Indy, which is a good thing. I think it makes sense to encourage people to use that moniker.
DANICA PATRICK: I think years back I remember talking to some of the bosses at the IRL, just saying, if you take NASCAR, for instance, I think I remembered using the example that NASCAR, it's all capitalized, it's almost like a blanket word for racing anymore. It's just so simple. Simplicity is important, just so that people can remember, there's so much stuff out there these days.
I remember saying, 'What do I call it?' I don't even know what to call it. It was decided, 'Hey, just call it IndyCar.' So, yeah, I think it's the right word.
Q. Danica, I hope this question doesn't make your phone cut off again, but you were talking about the compressed schedule for May, how you actually kind of liked it the old way when it was spread out over the entire month.
THE MODERATOR: It looks like we've lost Danica for the rest of the call. Townsend, do you want to comment on the compressed schedule?
TOWNSEND BELL: I feel the same way as Danica. For me, for selfish reasons, I only did one race last year. I'm only scheduled to do one race this year. I want it to last as long as possible. I'd love to have the whole month of May back. That's just for selfish reasons.
Practically speaking, it makes perfect sense. Everyone runs the same chassis, same engine, same tires, essentially the same car it's been for a long time now. It's probably not necessary to spend three or four weeks running around when you can show up at a place like Kansas and have an event in essentially one day.
But for traditional reasons, I miss the fact I'm not in Indy right now. I'm sitting in a parking lot in Southern California, getting ready to go in and do some more boxing training for the Indy 500. I wish I was in Indy, running around, enjoying the tradition, but I understand why.
Q. Do you think this is just kind of a year where it's maybe just transitional, trying different things to see what works in terms of fan interest, driver and team interest?
TOWNSEND BELL: I think from a fan interest standpoint, it wasn't as if we were practicing in front of 100,000 people, last year when you were in the second week of May and practice was starting. I don't know that there was much demand from the fan side to watch practice. Even qualifying, for that matter.
I think what would be better is 10 days from now on qualifying weekend if we had a much bigger crowd for qualifying because the format is that much more exciting and concentrated. I think that's what we're all hoping for, is this format will get people pumped up about watching qualifying whether it's in person or on TV. I think it's going to be a really good format.
Q. Townsend, what do you think about racing simulators and do you use them in your training?
TOWNSEND BELL: I love racing simulators. I think it's fascinating how that whole space has evolved very rapidly over the last few years. I do use one in training. I use one called the CXE Motion Pro II, which is high end, but commonly available simulator. I think it's fantastic.
There's two sides to simulators. There's software and hardware. The hardware is what you sit in, the steering wheel, the feedback, the motion of the simulator. The software is the track model, what you see visually. That's really the area that's evolved. This company, iRacing, I think his name is John Henry, he's invested millions in giving people, everyday Joe, great access to wonderful track models that are super accurate.
From my standpoint, I don't get to drive an IndyCar that often these days, so it makes up for it being on the simulator.
THE MODERATOR: That will wrap up today's Indy Racing League conference call. We do apologize for all the technical difficulties, appreciate everyone's patience today.