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March 4, 2006

Dario Franchitti

Sam Hornish, Jr.

Tony Kanaan

Scott Sharp

Dan Wheldon

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our final press conference of the day. These are the top five drivers in championship points from last year, all returning this year to the IndyCar Series.
In the middle is Dan Wheldon, last year's series championship. Tony Kanaan to his right, 80 points back in the championship race. Sam Hornish, Jr. to Dan's left, 116 points behind Dan. Dario Franchitti finished fourth on the far right, 130 points back. And Scott Sharp finished fifth, 184 points back.
Dan, you won an amazing six times last year, had an amazing run. Talk about that championship run last year and your expectations, goals for this year.
DAN WHELDON: It was a real good season last year. I think everybody that was part of Andretti Green Racing last year was strong. But things have changed. Now at Target Chip Ganassi Racing I'm looking forward to being part of that team. Obviously there's a big change in the fact that everybody's got Hondas now. That's going to make everything a bit more interesting.
I've got a feeling you're going to see the same drivers at the front. I'm looking forward to it. It will be very, very close. Like I say, there's some good races. I'm looking forward to getting back to St. Pete and see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, had you a dominant season in 2004, chased Dan quite a bit last year. Talk about that chase last year and your goals and expectations for this year.
TONY KANAAN: Well, I think we spoke about it many times. Last year, I think Dan did a superb job, and we couldn't catch him. I chased him as hard as I could, but it wasn't enough. It was fun.
I think inside the team we learned a lot with each other. It was just tough for me to defend the championship. Dan was in the right pace from the beginning, from race one. This year I think it's different. Like Dan said, everybody has the same engine and almost everybody has the same chassis. It will be pretty tough. But I'm excited.
I think we definitely enjoyed the last two years that we dominated the way we did, but we also knew that every time that went by, every year was going to be more difficult. So no different than last year, no different than the year before. We're trying to raise our game every time we go to the racetrack. I think it's going to be very exciting.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, you've had two really good days of testing so far on the road course. Your thoughts, goals, expectation for this year.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: We have a tremendous amount of optimism coming into this year now. (Indiscernible) power compared to the Hondas. We really think we have the opportunity to show what we're made of this year. Helio and I have been pushing each other really hard. He's helped me out on the road courses. I think I've helped him out on the ovals. We've feel we've got a lot of goals to live up to as far as expectations for ourselves and also for our great sponsor, Marlboro.
I think as we go through the season, if we use our heads, we're going to be up there fighting for a win in a lot of races. As you can see, we've got a lot of tough competition out there. Really enjoyed racing. I love running in the IRL. I think this is the closest racing that there is out there. Hopefully we'll have a lot of good days at the end of this year.
THE MODERATOR: Dario, a couple race wins this year. Your thoughts on the '06 season.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Again, I think performance-wise we had a strong season, we were very quick in most of the races. The results didn't necessarily follow. Hope to sort that out this year. We need to make a couple less mistakes, I would say, and have some better luck would be nice.
But, again, we're all in Hondas now. It's going to tighten up the field I think. We've got to work very, very hard. I think we have the advantage of four cars in Andretti Green Racing. I think we're going to see the closest season yet. We're going to see -- I think at the same point, you probably will see the same drivers up front. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a fantastic season.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, you also had a strong season last year with a win at Kentucky, year-end championship race. Your thoughts on the '06 season?
SCOTT SHARP: Obviously last year, (indiscernible). I think we had a lot of momentum that we built up as the course of the season went. Certainly the last third of the season was quite strong. I think if we could have had an equally strong first third, we would have been much more of a factor in the championship. I think that's really what we come into this season with, looking to carry on with that momentum.
The road courses are certainly are an area I wanted to pick up on, that the team wanted to pick up on. We had a good test the last two days. We learned quite a lot. We were much more competitive. I think if we can just be a little more consistent. We got knocked out of three races. That and pick up more points on the road courses, we'll be in good shape.
Q. Why should I pick any of you as my season champion, if you could each briefly tell me why?
TONY KANAAN: Because you like me (laughter).
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think my third year with Marlboro Team Penske, I learned a lot over the past two seasons, won two championships in the past. Even so, I think just being consistent, I've learned a little bit more about being able to do that, been working real hard on getting where I need to be on the road courses as well. I think if I can get some good finishes on those races, it should make it a lot easier for me. Last year we gave up a lot of points when we went to the road courses. It makes it difficult. Every race really counts.
I think we started out this year on a positive note as far as the testing has gone. Now if we can continue that in the races, we should be pretty good.
DAN WHELDON: I think the team I'm with, they're very motivated to perform well after the couple years they've had. I'm extremely motivated to win with a different team. That would be why.
TONY KANAAN: I don't know why you should pick me. Got to tell me why. I think if you look back at the last two years, I think we've been in the championship hunt every year. We've been pretty consistent. I think the team is very capable to field different cars that will last the whole race. We proved that since 2003, that we only ended up winning one race, and we were in the championship run until the last race. That's our strength for sure.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think with a greater perspective of everybody that covers the sport, I don't think it really matters what you write (laughter). Do my talking on the track. I've proved that a few times in my career. I'm going to hopefully prove myself on the track for good or for bad.
SCOTT SHARP: I think our team is up against some pretty large teams, pretty strong competitors. We're all very hungry. I think chasing that victory last year really fueled us all to dig deeper, to work harder. You know, whoever is going to be the champion is going to have one of those kind of season. It always works out that way, where they get the breaks, they get the wins, the yellow falls, those kinds of things. I think we certainly were in position to win a couple more races last year. If we can make ourselves that much more competitive, get those kind of breaks, certainly I think we have a very good chance.
Q. Dario, you look a little strange in that suit. What is it like when you look in the mirror?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: This particular suit, it doesn't actually fit me, nor does it belong to me. No, it feels good. It feels good. Must have been a bit strange yesterday because Dan and I were going down the pit lane side by side in the (indiscernible). He must have felt he was almost looking in the mirror when he looked over.
Feels real good to be in the Klein Tools Jim Beam car. I must admit I have a couple of times headed towards the wrong car heading down to pit lane. But now it has NYSE on the back, Arca/ex, might be easier. Funny, a lot of guys must think it's Dan because they keep flipping me off (laughter).
Q. PJ Chesson confirmed he's going to be in the series this year. Dan, what is your opinion?
DAN WHELDON: Dario is always great answering these questions.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it's good. I think he's going to be in for a steep learning curve. More power to him for coming up and racing in the IndyCar Series. I think it's going to be great for him. I think at the first weekend, he's going to find it difficult. By the end of the season, he'll have learned a lot and put himself in good position for years to come.
Q. Can you give any advice to a guy that is not that much of a rookie?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Just watch out for the Klein Tools Jim Beam car.
No, you're just going to be learning. If he keeps to the program and not get his expectations maybe too high to start with, he'll be fine. You know, by the time you get to this stage, you know what's going on. I'm sure he'll be just fine.
Q. Dario, I asked Marco earlier today, Dan always told everybody he was the baby of the team, so he got all the abuse. Are you a little afraid to do something to the owners' kid?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely not. Michael said, "Hey, go for it." We're at the planning stages at the moment. We'll get him. Don't worry.
Q. Give us a few ideas?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Covert operation. We're in planning stages. We've got our best brains, which is (indiscernible), on the job. We'll be fine.
Q. Michael is going to run the 500. Do things change for him?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Oh, yeah. He's fair game, as well. He keeps saying, "I am the boss, leave me alone," that kind of stuff. No, he's fair game.
Q. Dan, it's not very common that a series champion changes teams. Brian Barnhart was saying he thought maybe he felt like you had something to prove in terms of going out and showing that you can do what you did last year in a different team, different equipment.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, no, I mean, I had a great time at Andretti Green Racing. Obviously, created a lot of great friendships, a lot of success. But I thought that it was time for a change. I considered a few different things. In honesty, for me to continue the success that I had last year, I thought that Target Chip Ganassi Racing was a very good possibility. In speaking to Chip, I don't know if you know him, he's highly motivated. He certainly has had a tough couple of years, and he wants to prove a point. Like you say, I want to prove I can win in a different car, too.
I think everybody (indiscernible) for success. Scott will be very pumped up, he has the same amount of horsepower as well as the Honda now. He's in there. I think we'll make a strong combination.
But the thing about this year is there's going to be a lot of good people, I mean, machinery that's very close from a competition standpoint. It's going to definitely be tough.
Q. Dario, Tony and Dan, you all benefited the last couple of years from having a very good working relationship with Honda, almost like a factory team. Now Honda is having to supply the whole field. The way the engines are going to be distributed is from the IRL. How do you view that? Do you feel it's going to make it more difficult this year maybe from the ideal relationship you've had with them in the past?
DAN WHELDON: It definitely changes. At the end of the day, I think you've got to make the most of what you can control; don't worry about things that you can't control. If you do that and get the best out of what you've got, that's all you can do. That's what I'm focused on.
TONY KANAAN: I think that the relationship is still there. Look between me and Dario, how many years we raced for Honda, I don't think that will change anything. Obviously, they're going to be fair to the series because they have nobody else to beat. I think the fair way to do it is to give everybody the same thing.
I don't necessarily agree in that we had the best engine all the time last year because I don't think it was true. But we do have a very reliable engine, sometimes the most powerful one. For me I think I'll take the competition. Whoever wants to say we have the best engine, they have the same, now they going to have to prove it.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think first of all Honda should be applauded for what they've done in stepping up and supplying the whole series. As Tony said, I've enjoyed a long relationship with them. This is my ninth season with Honda. I agree with Tony, I think the engines were obviously very strong last year, not all the time. Maybe the advantage wasn't quite as big as what some people said. I think that kind of short-changes the Andretti Green team for what they did and (indiscernible), and the job we did as well.
But it's a completely new slate this year. It is going to be very competitive. We have to, as I said earlier, do your talking on the track.
Q. The new rules of the game is it's going to get down to the best driver and teams?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Combination of the two, for sure. There's going to be no favoritism from Honda. They've made that very clear.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

End of FastScripts...

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