Alex Palou, Dale Coyne Racing
Dalton Kellett, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Mike Shank, Meyer Shank Racing
Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our latest NTT INDYCAR Series video news conference with an athlete competing in this week’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Saturday’s race will be on NBCSN at 4:30. Sunday’s race will be on NBC at 1 p.m.
We’re really pleased to be joined by the driver of the No. 55 Guaranteed Rate Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, Alex Palou (above).
Alex, welcome to the call.
ALEX PALOU: Thank you so much. Hello, guys.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously Guaranteed Rate came on at the Indianapolis 500, still are on the car, so they must be happy with the way you performed. How happy are you to be able to have a sponsor like Guaranteed Rate on your car?
ALEX PALOU: It’s awesome. Like Indy was a good week for us, especially the qualifying week. We were really fast, but we were in talks with the sponsors. I didn’t had any sticker. I was a bit worried to be maybe the first car to go into the Indy 500 without any sticker.
But it was awesome. It was awesome. The Guaranteed Rate guys came with us. After the race, I was like, Oh, man, I don’t think they’re going to be happy or not with that crash. But they were happy. They still want to go with us. We want to win together. It’s awesome.
THE MODERATOR: Let’s talk about this weekend’s race, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It’s a track you’ve actually been to, did your first INDYCAR test with Dale Coyne Racing at Mid-Ohio. How excited are you to get back to a track where you don’t have to learn it?
ALEX PALOU: It’s awesome. That’s what I like. It’s going to be the first track that I know from last year. It’s going to be a huge advantage. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to go there and be like, Oh, yeah, look at this guy, now it’s quick. It’s not going to be like that. At least I’m not going to lose 15, 20 minutes trying to learn a new track.
Mid-Ohio is a track I love, it’s a road course. It’s the same road courses as we have in Europe, in Japan, the things I know. So I expect that it’s going to be a good weekend for us.
The team had a really good car there. They always had good results and fast cars. Hopefully we can get two couple of good races.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve had a stretch of oval races in a row. Been a while since we were at Road America. At Road America you had a standout weekend, finishing on the podium for the first time, qualified up front for one of the races. Road courses being what your background is, are you all that more excited to get to go to a place where you can turn left and right?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, it’s not like I don’t like ovals. I love ovals. I enjoyed more than I expected. I think we perform better than I expected. It’s my first year. Never done ovals, never been in an oval before January this year or February. You guys gave me, like, nine races, but six of them were ovals, which is like, Why (laughter)?
It’s been really tough. It’s been tough. There’s really limited practice. The short ovals are tough. Indy 500 was much better. But still I’m still learning, still gaining confidence. I know that the car is quick. I know I can be quick in one lap. But going two races on ovals is different.
Yeah, super excited to going back to road courses. I know what to expect when I go out. Also super excited because it’s Mid-Ohio. We want some results. I think we’ve been always really quick, like on the top 10, but never getting points. We are doing mistakes. So, yeah, hopefully Mid-Ohio is going to be our weekend.
THE MODERATOR: We have quite a few media on the call. We’ll open it up for questions for Alex.
Q. You’re obviously leading the rookie points now. Is that something that’s important to you, to win that portion of the championship?
ALEX PALOU: It’s important to win it, but I think all the rookies are really close. I think lately we all had some problems. We are not scoring points. Rinus had a really good weekend last weekend. But the rest, he was struggling all season. Same for Askew, he had a couple good races, same as me. But we’re not doing a really good job, to be honest, all the rookies. We are always there, really quick, but we are never scoring points.
It’s going to be important to obviously win the rookie championship. But still I think there’s a long way to go. As soon as some of us wins a race or score a couple of podiums, that’s going to make a huge difference. You will go from 15 in the championship to top eight I think as soon as you win one race.
It’s going to be an interesting end of the season. Hopefully I can be the winner of the rookie championship, of course.
Q. You mentioned you had the strong weekend at Road America. Coming into another doubleheader weekend on a road course, when you reflect on that weekend at Elkhart Lake, what do you try to take from that experience to try to in some way replicate such a strong weekend?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, to be honest, it’s what we expect, to perform well. Maybe not to have podiums like right away, but we expect to perform, to be in the top 10, to fight for top five, to be around there free practice, qualifying and race.
I think Indy GP was my second race on INDYCAR, was my first weekend on a road course. It was really chaotic. It’s like my first real road course was Road America. That’s the only chance we had to show what we can do.
I think Mid-Ohio, it’s going to be just about getting a good qualifying. Qualifying is so important, especially now with the doubleheaders. As soon as you don’t feel super strong, you’re losing like two races. So the first qualifying is going to be super important.
I think that’s it, just trying to do the normal things, not trying to win the race on the first lap, just trying to finish the race and trying to fight for it.
Q. We’re nine races into your INDYCAR debut. You haven’t had a chance to run on a true street course yet. The sampling of everything you’ve gotten to experience, the 500 being a big part of that, doubleheader weekends, how has the start of your INDYCAR career compared to what you might have either hoped for or expected?
ALEX PALOU: It’s been a bit frustrating. I think this year it’s been real difficult for everybody, not only for drivers but for normal people out there.
Being a rookie, you come to INDYCAR expecting to struggle at the beginning, to have like 15 weekends to try and perform the last six or eight weekends, and to have two, three practices before going to qualifying, to having like extra set of tires, extra running time, compared to the others.
I came here without any experience on ovals, without any experience on INDYCAR obviously. Racing, it’s a bit different in America than in Japan, than in Europe. I tried to understand how this racing works. As we can see, people like Scott Dixon, he can win three races in a row, and the next race he’s 10th without having any problem, it’s just because it’s so difficult to get everything good together.
It’s been a bit frustrating just because I didn’t think I had the normal rookie year as I could have. But it’s fine. We still have two races at Mid-Ohio, two races at Indy GP, which I also know the track. Hopefully we’re going to finish at St. Petersburg street course. I think it’s going to be tough, but I think it’s easier than going into a (indiscernible).
Q. Quite exciting we’re coming back to the place where you got your test last year. Does that give you a bit of extra confidence? You have a track you tested out before. Does that give you a bit of extra confidence going into the weekend?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, 100%. I’m super confident. The problem is maybe I don’t know if I’m too confident and I’m going to go there and I’m going to struggle (laughter). You never know until you are on track and finishing the race.
But for sure, I’m more confident. I already have some experience. I have like almost a full year on INDYCAR now. So I know everybody from the team. I know what to do when the car was understeer. I know what to say, how to communicate with my engineer. So for sure it’s going to be a bit easier. Hopefully we can replicate or even improve what we did at Road America.
Q. We’re almost at the end of the season already. What are your plans so far for next year? How important is the rookie battle in that? Does that play a part in your future? Do you think it’s not so important?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, I think it’s really, really important. It’s only this year that I can win the Rookie of the Year. It’s one really important thing.
It’s going to be important also to continue in INDYCAR. I came here with one-year contract. Now it’s already we’re ending this season and I don’t have a contract for next year. I need to win a race, I need to do podiums, I need to perform to show everybody I want to come here, stay here, I want to win championships here. It’s really important for races that we have coming up.
Q. Moving past Mid-Ohio, when you come back to Indianapolis for the road course, you already have that course under your belt. I’m wondering what your confidence level is like returning to Indianapolis or if you have higher expectations than what you did back in July when you ran the road course?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, for sure, much higher. Also because Indy, it was like the first road course we had. We were coming from Texas, which I crashed. I had like 30 laps in only. I think Indy was okay, but I struggled a lot on pace just because I had no experience. I didn’t know all the controls from the car. I was thinking too much. I was not driving comfortably.
I think going back there now, it’s almost like it’s the end of the season, so I have a lot of experience now, let’s say. A lot, yeah (air quotes). My confidence is much higher going to Indy GP.
Q. What are your preparations going to be like for that event? Are you expecting a lot of differences because of the weather change? It was a hot, slick track in July. It’s going to be cooler in October.
ALEX PALOU: Yes, to be honest, I worked out quite a lot to prepare myself. But I went to Indy GP and I was struggling at the end of the race. I was like, Man, this is tough.
It’s true that it was the beginning of the season. There are some muscles or some things that you cannot train on the gym or running or whatever. You only feel it on the car. Now I’m not feeling that. Road America was super easy.
But I’m a bit afraid of going back to Indy GP, especially a doubleheader, where I finished the race, I was like exhausted. I saw so many drivers, they had to go to the medical center.
I’ve been preparing a lot. I think Mid-Ohio is going to be tough, as well. But, yeah, hopefully it will be all right.
Q. What have you learnt this season that you can hopefully take into next year, obviously if you are back in INDYCAR again?
ALEX PALOU: I learned that INDYCAR is really, really difficult. It’s tough for everybody. It’s tough for the big guys. We saw not only, I say Scott just because he was able to win so many races, then suddenly he struggles a bit, then he wins again. But we saw Penske at the Indy 500. Indy 500, which all the teams think of that race only, and they prepare that race so much, and they go there and they struggle.
So INDYCAR is super, super competitive. It’s super difficult. As soon as you don’t have 100% of everything, of the driver, of the car, of the tires, the team, you start to struggle. It makes this championship really difficult and really attractive.
Obviously I learned so much on ovals, I could stay all day talking. But, yeah, ovals, I like it, I enjoy a lot. I just want to go back now because I feel like if I go back now to Indy, let’s say Indy, I think it’s the easiest one in terms of racing goes, I would finish much higher obviously.
Yeah, every night when I go to sleep, I’m like, Oh, man, why did I crash? Why, Alex? I’m just waiting to go back next year and hopefully fight for the race.
Q. Obviously your first test was in Mid-Ohio in INDYCAR. How much of an advantage to you is that going into the race this weekend given that you know what the track is like in an INDYCAR? How beneficial is that for you?
ALEX PALOU: It means a lot. Road America, I didn’t know the track. We had, like, 60 minutes. You lose 15, 20 minutes just to know, Okay, where do you have to brake? What do I have to expect, like the bumps or the curves? Do I take this curve or not?
In terms of driver performance, I’m going to win a bit, not a lot. But in sure for car performance I’m going to win a lot. I’m going to have an extra 20 minutes of just focusing on the car balance and making it good and comfortable for me.
Yeah, let’s see how we start and maybe when we start you guys say, Oh, yeah, Alex was right, like having experience, it’s a big difference. But maybe we go out and we struggle, and you’re going to be like, Oh, man, why did this happen? So let’s see (smiling).
Q. We’ve had many different drivers come in with great experience, especially on road courses. Somehow, they never really get comfortable with racing on ovals. You’ve shown an incredible adaptation to be able to get in and have ovals become like a wheelhouse skill set, given your initial successes. How has that been, in your mind, having to integrate ovals in the way of your thinking and driving?
ALEX PALOU: Wow, thank you. I’m just going to record that sentence and put it before going to bed (laughter).
Yeah, I’m still not 100% comfortable. Even at Indy, everything is new. Like you go to the start and you feel like the drop you have from two rows in front, just have two rows, but it was so huge I had to almost lift when I passed the straight line. There’s a lot of new things. I’m still not comfortable, but I’m loving it.
It’s so much about having confidence with the car and with your team, to being able to like go aggressive with the setup and the downforce. Yeah, it’s been nice. I was a bit frustrated Indy, of course. Also going to Gateway, we were so quick. I couldn’t pass. I couldn’t overtake.
The strategy also, if the driver is able to say to the team, Hey, man, I need to stop now, or I can go 10 more laps, that can play a big role at the end of the race. I’m not able still to do that on ovals, while I can do that on road courses.
Hopefully when we go back we going to be even faster and even more comfortable.
Q. Even though ovals are new to you, you’ve had other drivers with Dale Coyne to get feedback from. How useful has that been?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, I think with Santino it’s been really good. Last year he was amazing. Also this year he’s been really competitive. The thing is that he had some problems. Like Indy we had a bit more pace. Texas, he didn’t even qualify because he had the problem. Also Gateway he had the problem.
I’m like, Yeah, he’s super quick, but he’s super quick on the race, so I cannot really learn before going to a race. It’s not been ideal. Obviously all the knowledge he has and everything that he can talk before going to practice and the things I ask of him help me a lot.
I wish he was like able to perform better. Like Gateway, he had the problem with the car. If he didn’t had the problem, I think I could even learn more.
Q. With the last road course being all the way back the weekend after the 4th of July, five straight ovals, does it almost seem like a different season ago that there was a road course race?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, it feels like. Road America feels like it was just the first race of the season. And yeah, that’s what I was saying since the beginning: it’s been really tough for me.
It’s good because I’m getting, like, extra track time or extra work on the ovals. But I also want to get to the road course, get my motivation up, get all my team hyped.
But still I think we had really good performances, like Indy. Some qualifying. We got the fastest lap at Gateway, which is something. So, yeah, it feels like we need to go back to the road courses. I cannot wait to go there and do what we know we can do.
Q. From the flipside, the season is going to end with five straight races on road courses. You have to feel like that’s going to work into your benefit a little bit?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, for sure that’s going to help a lot. There’s four races that I know the track, Mid-Ohio and Indy. That’s going to help. That’s what I’m saying. I have to push now as much as possible, try and get the results to get the contract next year, and to be here with you guys as many years as I can.
It’s going to be difficult. I think these races that are coming are the most important of my life.
Q. You have such a great attitude, positive attitude.
ALEX PALOU: Thank you.
Q. Even after some unfortunate incidents on the ovals. How do you stay so mentally strong and bounce back? Also, is there a mentor you have on the team? Who are you getting extra support from?
ALEX PALOU: I think maybe if you see that I’m happy it’s just because I always dream about being in INDYCAR, and now I’m in INDYCAR. I’m just, like, living the dream every day.
About confidence? At the end of the day, self-confidence is the only thing you’re going to have. You cannot lose self-confidence just because you have couple of bad days. Yeah, we had couple of bad days, but I learned so much about Indy. Even if I crashed, I was like, Man, okay, so now I know what to do, what not to do as well.
I think on ovals, there’s two types of drivers: the guys that crash and the guys that are going to crash. I already did that. I’m going to try to not do that again.
About the team? I think when you feel so good with a team, I feel like they are part of my family. They help me so much. They have so much confidence in me. They work so hard for me. You can see a Dale Coyne car that was capable of doing the pole at the Indy 500, that’s only because of the work that the people made there, all the mechanics putting everything as perfectly as possible, my engineers having all the numbers correct. It was not me that I was fast there, it was a team effort.
Now the only thing we need is to win just to bring back to those guys all the effort they did for me and hopefully we can make that happen.
Q. Hopefully there’s some restarts so you can overtake some veterans.
ALEX PALOU: That would be awesome. Now I’m waiting for the restarts (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Alex, that’s all the questions we have for you. We appreciate you taking the time to join us. We’ll wish you the best of luck this weekend at Mid-Ohio.
ALEX PALOU: Thank you so much. Thank you for coming here. I’ll see you next one.
Dalton Kellett, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to another NTT INDYCAR Series video teleconference with a driver from the series. We are joined today by the driver of the No. 14 K-Line USA for A.J. Foyt Racing, Dalton Kellett.
Dalton, welcome to the call.
DALTON KELLETT: Thanks, Arni.
THE MODERATOR: We’re headed to a place you’re pretty familiar with, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Raced there a lot in the Road to Indy, maybe an IMSA race there. How excited are you to get back to a road course?
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, I’m really excited. The pacing of this year has been a bit different, right, with big breaks, the staccato rhythm of how the races have been going. A big focus was the 500. We’re through that.
At least on my calendar, we have two doubleheaders left. Pretty exciting to get back to developing the road course car, working on that again.
I didn’t do the IMSA race. I did Mosport, Laguna.
THE MODERATOR: What do you find as the biggest challenge to a track like Mid-Ohio? There’s a lot of undulations, some of the corners are pretty technical.
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, I think in and of itself the layout is quite technical and challenging. There’s a lot of rhythm sections where you have the setup and entry at the start of the section affects the entire string of corners. An example would be turn five through turn nine. You can even make the case that turn four through turn nine is really one big rhythm section. If you kind of make a mistake in that turn five or six area, it’s going to affect you all the way out of turn nine.
I think that makes it challenging, but it makes it really fun. I tend to prefer tracks like that. I’ll take a Mid-Ohio that’s go, go, go, no break, over Road America. I just prefer that flow. This weekend, especially with the doubleheader, it’s going to be physically challenging, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Difficult season for you anyway with the way the schedule worked out with you and Sebastien and Tony sharing the 14 car. You really haven’t had a chance to drive the 14 car much since June when Road America happened. How have you been preparing yourself for road course racing?
DALTON KELLETT: Staying up to date with the home sim right there. Staying up to date with the sim on iRacing. Been on the training side physically preparing really hard with the Pit.Fit guys, mentally kind of doing some visualization, looking at old onboard, going over stuff with the team. Kind of that standard quiver of tools that we have to stay sharp.
Without testing, obviously it’s a challenging season. Looking forward to getting on track.
THE MODERATOR: We have some media on the call with questions. We’ll open it up for questions for Dalton Kellett.
Q. Obviously with the truncated schedule this season, what have you learnt this year that you can take forward for the rest of the season but also into next year? In terms of the road courses, what are you most looking forward to about the challenges of Mid-Ohio this weekend?
DALTON KELLETT: So I think, yeah, the answer to the first part of your question, what I learnt the most, kind of a nod to the condensed schedule, it’s really highlighted the importance of being accurate and kind of correct with your feedback with the engineers because we don’t have the time to develop the car as we normally would on a race weekend. We practically have no testing. The importance of being kind of correct and giving good, honest feedback has been highlighted, for sure.
As far as what I think, the second part of your question, what am I looking forward to this race?
Q. In relation to Mid-Ohio.
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, so as far as Mid-Ohio is concerned, I really like the flow of the track. It’s fast-paced. You don’t really get much of a break, maybe between the keyhole and turn four, take a bit of a breather. The rest of the track is go, go, go. I really like that. For me, this is one of my favorite road courses.
On a normal year, there’s lot of fans camping here, the atmosphere of the race. Being back with 6,000 fans per day, it will be exciting to reconnect with the race fans and see that coming back, as well.
Q. In terms of the car, what are you expecting this weekend?
DALTON KELLETT: In terms of the car, obviously it’s been a while since we’ve been on a road course. The engineers have been doing a lot of work on the setup side, dampers, suspension package, all that. I think we’ll start the weekend pretty similar on the 4 and 14 cars, then we each have some testing items to work through, kind of decide on the balance we want for the race.
I’m hoping that we’ll roll off with a good package. Matheus has some quick times with practice last year, so I’m optimistic.
Q. This is your first year in INDYCAR full-time. You’ve had many experiences through the years with different teams. What is interesting or new that you’re finding out being with A.J. Foyt?
DALTON KELLETT: So for A.J. specifically, the first race that he came to this year was Indy. Obviously that’s a place where he has a lot of experience, more so than I think anybody else. He had lots of great advice to give, especially as a rookie at the Speedway. That was really useful.
For the rest of the team, the rest of the races, we have not just A.J., but between T.K., Charlie, Seb at the start of the year, the rest of the organization, there’s a lot of experience there. It’s been very useful for me to kind of lean on the more experienced guys to help me get up to speed.
Q. What new or interesting things have you learned from A.J. Foyt Enterprises over Andretti Autosport or other teams? Is there one new thing?
DALTON KELLETT: Obviously with Andretti, I didn’t really have too much experience on the INDYCAR side, aside from a couple half-day tests. It’s hard to comment on their workflow, base structure things. I know the size of the team probably lent itself to a bit more, like, communal debriefs. They have an engineering truck and all that, whereas we’re operating out of our two trailers.
The way the team works, it’s a bit different, a bit smaller feeling overall, more time spent with me and my engineer, just me and Charlie, as opposed to a big group. I’ve enjoyed that.
I think one thing that we’re doing really well this year is the engineering team that Larry and Scott have put together for the two cars, for the three at the 500, has been very strong. There’s been no egos, no team driver drama on the inside. We’re all just working really hard to make the cars better, kind of raise all of our tides kind of thing. It’s been a great working environment so far.
Q. You’ve been working with Darren Manning for a few years now. Tell us how that relationship came about and how he helped you become a better driver.
DALTON KELLETT: The start of Darren and I working together goes back to when I was at Andretti. At the time Poppy – not my dog – Dave Popielarz at Andretti was managing Lights the team. It was Shelby and I and Dean Stoneman that year. We were basically looking to kind of bring on a team driver coach, like a third set of eyes kind of thing. We tried out a few different guys.
Poppy suggested we check out Darren’s sim facility. Darren, Shelby and I hit it off. We asked him to come onboard. That’s kind of how that relationship began.
Since then, Darren has stayed on working with me on the open-wheel side. His philosophy and kind of what we’re really working toward is getting the most out of having a kind of consistent driving style that we’re approaching every track with, then optimizing the car so that I can get the most out of it. I think that’s been the biggest help to my driving, right?
Going from team to team, sometimes you can get lost, just driving to what that team’s engineer wants you to do, how they want you to drive. That can be a bit confusing I think for a young guy.
I think it was a good decision to kind of bring someone on to help guide that, What are we actually looking for out of the driving, and build the car setup out of that.
Q. With this part of the schedule so heavily loaded with road courses, your ability to be in the car for all these races, how important is that going to be to putting something together to show some teams for 2021?
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, as we get to the end of the season, obviously everyone’s thinking about what’s happening for next year. A good performance in these closing races would go a long way solidifying plans, getting everything figured out. That’s the goal.
We’re not going to change our process of how we’re going about it, right? We’re still focusing on getting the most out of me and the car, letting the results come from that. That’s still going to be the approach.
Obviously we’re looking to end the season strong here.
Q. How difficult has it been for you since the July race at Road America? You did have the Indy 500, so that takes up two weeks there, but having that long stretch where you were not in a car?
DALTON KELLETT: It’s challenging being out of the car for this long. I’ve been thinking about it the last couple weeks as we’re getting back into road course mode. It’s made more so challenging by the fact we have a condensed schedule. We do have a doubleheader, that’s two chances to get it right. Basically going to have to look at every session as an opportunity to learn and keep making myself and the car better.
That’s kind of how we’re going to be going about it.
Q. You came from Indy Lights. How beneficial and important has Indy Lights been to helping you prepare for your rookie season in INDYCAR?
DALTON KELLETT: Yeah, I think the experience in Indy Lights, not just there but in the whole Road to Indy, is a great development program to bring guys up. If you look at the stats, they speak for themselves. A large majority of the field came through Lights or Road to Indy. It’s a very impressive record for that program.
I think the big thing is you get to race at the same tracks as INDYCAR does. You’re racing against guys that you’re going to move up with. You know some of the competition coming up. You’re at the same events so you get the opportunity to meet the teams, kind of see how the INDYCAR side of the business works.
All in all it’s a great training ground for guys that are looking to make that jump.
Q. We’ve talked about the rookie season. The rookie class has been pretty impressive between what Rinus, Oliver and Alex Palou have done. Would it be nice to have success like they’ve had in one of these final three events?
DALTON KELLETT: Definitely. I’m looking to end the season on a strong note. I think we were having a great month of May. I think that was going really well. I think obviously it was unfortunate that we didn’t go the full 200 laps in the race. I think we were looking pretty good there.
I think as we close up the season, it will just be really about focusing on trying to hit our marks, minimize mistakes, get things done in the race.
THE MODERATOR: Dalton, we appreciate your time, wish you the best of luck this weekend at Mid-Ohio.
DALTON KELLETT: Thank you, everybody. Appreciate it.
Mike Shank, Meyer Shank Racing
Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing
THE MODERATOR: We have the co-owners of Meyer Shank Racing, Michael Shank, and the driver of the No. 60 Sirius XM AutoNation car, Jack Harvey.
Mike, we just had Bob and Graham with us, two guys from the Columbus area. You yourself are from the Columbus area. How important would it be for Meyer Shank Racing to get a win this weekend at Mid-Ohio?
MIKE SHANK: It’s the top line priority, right? We’ve had what we feel is a pretty decent year this year, but we haven’t been able to finish like we think we deserve. Mid-Ohio would be my premium place to do it. It’s where I grew up.
I can literally remember 1980 with my dad watching Johnny Rutherford run, I think they called it the Yellow Submarine Chaparral around the track and win the race. That’s my first memory of the of Mid-Ohio INDYCAR race.
From the first day I ever was around a race car, INDYCAR at Mid-Ohio is what I strive for. It took a long time to get there. Super grateful to Jack. Obviously Jack and I worked on this for three or four years now. A lot of people that supported he and I, I think he would agree, to get us to this opportunity where we think we can actually put a podium effort together, which is where we’re at today.
It’s a great story. I’m just super proud to be a part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Jack, I know you’ve run well at road courses this year, you just don’t have the results to show how well you’ve run at the races. How important is it for you to get a good finish at a road course, especially Mike’s home track?
JACK HARVEY: As Michael said, a few races at the start of the year you look at, if we could choose to have a good result at them, what they would be. Actually Mid-Ohio is always the top of the list, especially when it’s the home race for the team.
As you mentioned, it’s a track I have run pretty well at in the past. We had a good race last year. Although we haven’t had every great result I feel like we have speed to go and get, there’s a real positive and encouraging atmosphere within the team at the moment to keep trying till we get it. I think that’s all we can keep doing, is putting ourselves in a good position to try and have a great race.
Even at the end of the race in Texas I thought we looked pretty good. There’s nowhere we’ve been this year where we really have struggled, lacked pace. Naturally you’re optimistic this will be the weekend we really get the result that the potential has been.
THE MODERATOR: With five races in a row since the last road course race at Road America, does it feel like it was almost like last season that you were on a road course?
JACK HARVEY: No, mate, no. My whole bread and butter is road course racing. Might feel some of that way on the ovals. On the whole, I was really happy with that stretch of races there Indy, Iowa, even Gateway where we qualified, where we raced. The potential of all that was great.
That being said, I do love the road courses. I love Mid-Ohio. It’s where I got my first win. I was in Michael’s home race. I think honestly, I only speak for myself, certainly it feels like a high positivity around the team. Just want to get on track again, mate, really. This year has been super busy when we’ve been on track. I like it, I like the format of the weekends.
THE MODERATOR: Mike, talk a little bit about the evolution of your team. You started off as an Indy 500 entry, worked your way up to full-time. You have goals now as a full-time team.
MIKE SHANK: Yeah, I think our story really is built around very pointed moments in time, very deliberate plan to make sure we don’t fail. What I mean by that, it’s just that we did what we were capable of doing every year financially. That’s ultimately what it means.
In 2017 we did one race with Jack. 2018 we did six. 2019 10. Now we’re doing the full season for this season and next season. I think ours has been very calculated. I think we’ve been very smart about how we have chosen technical partnerships instead of trying to go out on our own and prove ourself it is independent of everybody else. I think that’s worked really well for us.
This year more than any, the Andretti partnership has been really good for us. We operate pretty much as an independent team except we get the benefit of four, five, six other cars’ data, information, input, strategy thoughts. It’s just they enormous amount of information that I believe Andretti do a good job of disseminating, getting out to all of us, to make us all competitive.
Andretti I know doesn’t have great results this year, but I can tell you they do a hell of a job of preparation. I’m happy with it.
THE MODERATOR: Do you think it’s fair that people call you the sixth Andretti car? Kind of discredits the work your employees are doing in your shop.
MIKE SHANK: I’ve not been asked that before. Do I think it’s a discredit? No, I don’t feel like it’s a negative comment, to be honest. I just feel lucky to be here, first off. No, I don’t.
We really run the thing as an independent unit. All the people, equipment, every little thing from a per diem every day to hotels at night, it’s all on MSR. I don’t know how that’s a negative thing. I my Michael and J.F. and Rob Edwards just do a hell of a job. They look after us. Even though they’re having tough years, their tough years haven’t reached us really.
Listen, we haven’t reached all of our goals yet this year, but we’ve had more speed than we’ve ever had. They own some of that credit.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Jack, what is kind of the key from the end of the race on Saturday until you strap back in at 1 p.m. on Sunday of rejuvenating? What will be your strategy?
JACK HARVEY: It’s going to be pretty simple, mate. It’s going to be hydrate, replenish, stretch, go again.
In that regard, I do think Mid-Ohio is a pretty physical circuit. There’s no doubt about it. Especially the way the strategy has played out there recently, it doesn’t seem too much of a fuel saving race. At least that’s what the last few years have played out to be. Actually, when it’s so intense, you feel it. That being said, we’ve had that plenty of times this year. I feel like everybody is ready for that now.
Not looking for any magic anything, just going to finish the race, going to hydrate well, get good food onboard again, going to try and sleep. I’ll probably stretch. Honestly, no matter how good we do on Saturday, we’re going to want to go and replicate or do better on Sunday.
In that regard, if this was the first time we were doing a doubleheader on a weekend, you might be a little bit nervous. I feel like everybody is pretty prepped and ready for this now.
Q. You feel like you’re extremely competitive going into this weekend from the standpoint of you could be among the favorites? Do you feel that way?
JACK HARVEY: I mean, naturally I would hope so. One of the favorites? I guess one of the favorites to do what? As a team this year, I think we’ve shown that we can be consistently in the top 10. We’ve shown we can qualify at the front.
As a team, we still feel like there’s a lot of — perhaps not a lot, but some low-hanging fruit for us to go and do the best we can. I certainly don’t feel like we need to go with any expectation other than we just need to execute the best weekend we can do. I feel like if we do that, yeah, I do feel like we can achieve podiums and race at Mid-Ohio for top fives, podiums.
Frankly, if you’re in that battle, a win is only the right call going your way. Like I said to the guys, we’ve had a ton of speed this year. I can promise you there’s no complacency in this team. We haven’t gone to any track expecting to be fast. I think we’ve worked really hard. I think we deserve the speed that we’ve had and think we deserve because we’ve worked really hard. We’re going to keep working hard till we get the end result.
Go as a favorite if it makes us feel good, that’s fine. All I want the guys to do is worry about what they have to do, execute to the best of their ability. This is a fantastic group of guys with extremely high potential.
Q. Mike, what is the secret for the turnaround from a crew standpoint? Will that be a late night for you guys?
MIKE SHANK: The plan is that we did all that preparation work this week. We just loaded up about 10 minutes ago here actually. The key is the stuff that we’ve done here this week.
That means anything that needs replaced is already built and ready to go, just directly on the car. They close the garage Saturday night at 10:00, so I think you’ll see a lot of lights burning late till 10 just because we have to.
What we’ve tried to focus on is organization. What can we expect? What’s the worst case? Are we prepared for that? Yeah, we are, and here is where these parts are, we can go right to it if we have to.
We’re going up to Mid-Ohio with two and a half cars in the trailers. We’re hoping we don’t use but one of them. In a perfect world, the guys are out of there by 9. In a complicated world they’re out of there by 10.
Q. Mike, what have you learnt this season that you can take forward into next year? You have your other business interests, but in terms of INDYCAR, what can you bring forward to next year?
MIKE SHANK: The one thing I’ve done, I always looked at it as a good series, a tough series, but this series I underestimated how ridiculously at today’s age competitive it is. I have never been a part of something that tiny little mistakes magnify themselves three times. Jack loses two or three positions for something he had zero to do with, right?
When you see it, a great example St. Louis last week, I told these guys, every 3/10ths of one second, there’s a car on the track at St. Louis. Every little mistake, Jack, the team, whatever, just keeps moving us back in the queue. I’ve never been part of something that’s so tough.
I’ll take that one step further. What’s particularly tough is the strategy part of it. It used to be that Penske had great cars, shocks, they always had a car that could drive away from people. That’s just not the case any more, it’s just not. They still have good cars.
The strategy is what started to turn the races into something positive or negative. I think probably we undershot on what it took to make sure we stayed competitive in that. We’re fixing that, right? I don’t think it’s a matter of not having the right person or anything. I think it’s a matter of preparing more than I thought we’d have to.
I’m telling you, there’s no other championship in the world, as far as I’m concerned, if there’s 24 cars running, 22 could legitimately win with the right strategy. It just makes it so stressful.
Q. In terms of your expectations for this weekend, do you have any kind of high expectations, it being a home race?
MIKE SHANK: If the car is balanced for the track, we’re fully capable of being in the top five. If we give him the right decisions on the track, we can be there. We’ve got the speed. We got all the bits. There’s nothing I can buy. We’re not missing anything, right? It’s a combination of a couple good decisions, not panicking if it doesn’t go our way.
By the way, if you’re looking at the weather right now, we might have some challenges with the weather on Saturday. Trying to be ready for that also. There’s variables we haven’t been used to with rain. Straight up, we can be in the top five.
Q. Given the chaos of the kind of year that has been presented, having the two race weekends has allowed people to be fully engaged in INDYCAR that maybe wouldn’t be there if we didn’t have the two races. As a team, Michael Shank Racing has really built up a nice brand. What is it going to take to get the best attention ever by getting on the podium?
JACK HARVEY: I think we have all the pieces of the puzzle we’re looking for. We have them all now. They’re hovering and floating around. A lot of weekends this year we’ve been able to slap them on the table pretty well. That’s the question we’ve asked ourselves a lot I would say in the last week, just to try and identify what we could do better, try to find a solution, obviously try to implement it at Mid-Ohio.
I don’t think there’s anything radical that needs to change. I don’t think we need to (indiscernible) the approach or anything like that. I think it’s just about making a few subtle but probably very impactful changes both in what I can do for the team, then what hopefully the team can help me do.
I can tell you that as a team we are all extremely open on what we need to improve on. It’s never a finger point, me calling Michael going, Hey, you guys have to do a much better job, nothing like that. Nor has there ever been anything like that. It’s very collective in the sense that we all go to the track with the same goal, the same agenda, and we are going to keep working as hard as we can until we do that. I feel like we are extremely close to making that happen.
We’ve had a lot of bad luck this year. That’s okay. It ebbs and flows. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, a few small changes.
Q. A lot has been made about the new crop of rookies this year. The spotlight gets on them with additional chaos. How has it been working on the track and seeing how they match up there on the track? Has that changed in the way you approach what’s going on?
JACK HARVEY: No, not really, mate. This year one of the nice things we all have had, me as much as anybody else, I’m not worried about what any other team or driver is doing. I remember just at Indy, we had past champions, world champions, starting behind us. People were like, How do you feel about that? I was like, I’m not worried about it because the direction we’re going is forward. We don’t want to drive looking in our mirrors. We’re not worrying about what other people are doing.
If we see someone doing something really good, it naturally becomes a talking point, look and see if it’s something that benefits our program. I think the rookies have been doing really well. Some of these tracks that we’ve been to this year I’m a rookie at. We’ve done a bunch of races in INDYCAR now, still a lot of new tracks for me.
I feel like this year more than ever as a team we worry about what we are doing. I think the potential of what we’re doing is really high that we don’t have to look at anybody else and think that we should try this, do that. If it’s really good, naturally we want to be better, so we talk about it. I don’t feel like there’s been any worry or admiration other than respect really to other people. I feel like we’re all pretty content with where we’re headed and what we’re doing.
Q. Michael, you say given the two race weekend, there may be some weather on Saturday. As an owner, how does that have you prepare to try to take advantage of those strategies you were talking about?
MIKE SHANK: We just try to talk about it, like we have all day today actually. The race engineer is here in the office today with the assistants. We go over from a chassis standpoint, setup standpoint, what we want to do. We want to look and talk about strategies involving downforce, how that changes our fuel windows, that kind of thing. The race is 15 laps shorter this year, which changes it anyway.
Rain could push it to make it real interesting, or a mix of rain. That’s where an INDYCAR race is going to become really interesting, if we have brackish conditions and have to go between them in making those calls. That gets really tough. We call it a crossover. When does a track get dry enough to put slicks on? When can Jack stand it? Whoever gets on first is going to win or come close, right? It becomes very interactive on the radio. It’s probably a great time to scan radios during that crossover period.
By the way, I tuned in here when Bobby was talking about he didn’t care for the double race weekends. I feel opposite of that. Probably completely opposite of that. I like them for the fans a lot. I like them for the fact that it puts us in front of people more during the whole course of a weekend on TV, social channels. I like the efficiency that we run at.
But he’s right in one respect: everyone has to work a little harder. I think it’s our new world we’re in right now. I believe you’re going to see a lot more of that going forward. I’m for it. I don’t have any problem with it at all.
Q. Michael, are you at this moment thinking about expansion of your INDYCAR operation at all?
MIKE SHANK: Yes.
Q. Are you just focusing on getting better with the current operation with the current economic environment?
MIKE SHANK: We are thinking about a small expansion, only if it’s the right timing, yes.
We’re a team that eventually will be a two-car team. I don’t know when that will be, but I can guarantee you this, it won’t be until we’re ready. I made that promise to Jack a long time ago, to Jim Meyer, my wife, that are part of this ownership group. Someday, too, whenever that someday can be, it will be when everything aligns.
If it happens at any time, we thought through all the pros and cons, ultimately does it help Jack, does it benefit the 60 car at all.
Q. What would make you feel that you’re ready to take the next step?
MIKE SHANK: The easy low-hanging fruit answer is money, to have the proper funding. The more complicated one is who can we bring in to add to the program overall, whether it’s the team and engineering or with Jack as driving. Who do we think is going to add to this group, with our set of personalities, the people we have here, which are very handpicked.
Everyone says that, but I promise you I’ve spent 26 years building a business relying on people. I’ve got many people that have worked for me for 20 years, and Jack knows a lot of them.
If we can afford it, yes. What does it do to the whole program, help or hurt. Does it give a greater potential for the whole group. Does the tide rise.
THE MODERATOR: That is all the questions we have.