INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 6, 2004
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Indy Racing League tele-conference. Today we're going to be joined by Scott Sharp, Vitor Meira and Roger Yasukawa. First up, Scott Sharp, the 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion, he is the defending champion of the Indy Japan 300. He extended his streak of winning at least one race in seven consecutive IndyCar Series seasons by winning the first overseas IndyCar Series event at Twin Ring Motegi last season. He is the driver of the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone car. Vitor Meira and Roger Yasukawa will each make their 2004 season debuts at Twin Ring Motegi with Team Rahal. Yasukawa will drive the No. 16 Sammy Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone, while Meira will drive the No. 17 Team Rahal Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone car. All right. Let's get started. Good afternoon, Scott, nice to have you here.
SCOTT SHARP: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Scott has now won at least one race in seven consecutive IndyCar Series seasons. Earlier this year Scott set an Indy Racing League record when he started in his 84 the race in league history. He is currently 12th in the IndyCar Series points standing. Thanks for joining us today and congratulations on setting that mark of 84 starts.
SCOTT SHARP: Thank you. I look forward to speaking with everybody.
MODERATOR: You had 76 consecutive starts in this series in a sport where injury and fatigue plays a large part what do you attribute that to?
SCOTT SHARP: I think also the fact that all 76 of those consecutive starts have been with the same team and same sponsor with Delphi so it's pretty amazing we have all been able to stick together for that long.
MODERATOR: You obviously ran well last year in Japan, but can you talk about that race the track, the fans, the actual events being over there?
SCOTT SHARP: It was an awesome trip last year. It's funny, people thought say oh, yeah, of course, you won, of course it was fun. Tom Kelley and I were sitting on the grid of the race and we said this has just been a fabulous week, no matter how the race ends up. And then to go out and win the race, that was just icing on cake it was fabulous. But overall just that was my first time in Japan, the overall experience was tremendous. I enjoyed the food, I enjoyed meeting a lot of people. We went in quite early and spent a bunch of time with the top executives from the company, which is a Japanese company there, and the Asian Pacific Group from Delphi. I got to meet a lot of people. See different parts of the country. The circuit was awesome. Just the minute I got there I loved the feel of it. I think it has a great variety for our cars in that turn one and two are very wide open. Very much one of our big tracks Michigan, Fontana-type feel to it. Whereas turns 3 and 4 are much tighter. It's almost like a very large St. Louis track. But much smoother, with much more room for passing. But it adds two dimensions to it. Really it's important to have a good mechanical handling car through 3 and 4 to get that run coming on to the straightaway and at the same time it's certainly beneficial if you can run well behind someone and draft right up through them through 1 and 2. So the fans were tremendous. They were very passionate. I think we were all very impressed as drivers and the team members with how knowledgeable they were about our cars for the first time we were over there and how excited they were to see us. So I think everybody's excited to get back there.
MODERATOR: Do you have that sense of confidence again going in this year that you did last year, that good feeling you had?
SCOTT SHARP: I hope. I think that based on how our season started, it started a little bit slower than we would have liked and certainly a little slower than last year. So maybe we don't roll into Motegi with quite the momentum we had last year, but I think we played that race, we were competitive all weekend last year. But we also played that race really smart. And there's no reason we can't hopefully find some with the team's been, working hard to find some speed from where we were at Homestead and hopefully if some of that is found we can be smart with our pit stops, strategy and get ourselves up there.
MODERATOR: It's hard to look past Japan, but Indy is right around the corner and you qualified so well there I don't think you've been outside the third row except for maybe your rookie here in '96 and you sat on the pole there in 2001. Can you talk about what it means to race at Indy and your ability to qualify so well in May?
SCOTT SHARP: I love Indy. I really do. We went there last Saturday for the 3-liter testing. Just getting back on the track. It to me it's such a pure race track. In the way we run our cars you are very low on down force, it is the lowest down force track we run. And you really just feel the chassis work so much more. There's a rhythm about the place. I just every lap it's awesome to drive around that track. I've always run really well in practice, been fortunate to qualify well, I really enjoy going fast there. When it's time Thursday, Friday, of that first week, those are the most some of the most exciting days of the year for me when it's time to get it on. And start just all flat out as fast as you can go, it's a bit daunting, but it's an exciting time. Now the key, one thing I haven't done is put together the kind of race I want to have there. We have had lots of different things happen to us and are anxious to put it all together and hopefully it's going to be this year.
MODERATOR: Very good. We can't wait. There's a ton of media on the line today. So let's open it up for questions.
Q. Scott, you had a chance to practice in Indianapolis with the new car set-up. What was your opinion of it?
SCOTT SHARP: It was good. I think everyone went in with the interpretation that this is the first go round, both engine wise, obviously it was the first stage really for everybody. Freshly off the dyno for the 3 liters. As well as the first shot that everyone's had to take a look at the new aerodynamic package. So I think we all know we're going to do a lot to different cars to gain a little bit more speed, gain a little bit more comfort. I'm sure all the manufacturers will work a little harder between now and May to find a bit more power. So it's all going to change, we know that. But I thought it was a great test. Certainly the speeds were well down, which I know is what the primary focus of the league, so I thought it was a good day we all had there.
Q. With the speed down, does that bother you on a large track like that or does it make any difference to you?
SCOTT SHARP: I love going fast there. I remember back in '96 my basically second or third year at the speedway, when we were running over 240 on the straightaways. So that was pretty fun. But what, it's funny, people always ask, well isn't that the opposite of what you want to do, slowing the cars down. And I always tell them a story that there's several times that I've sat there at early practices, not a lot of cars on the track, maybe one or two guys, and you're watching someone that you expect to be fast and see a guy really look like he's hauling through a corner and you ask someone who has a watch or whatever, and he didn't run that fast. And maybe it looks like he's running 225 or 230 and really he ran 215. And if it's that hard to really tell how fast someone's going, I think the IRL looked at it as why be going that fast? All it does is raise the risk for everybody. So and keeping with that, it's hard for the IRL, there's so much dollars, so many people working hard to make these cars faster and faster and faster from the individual teams, the chassis manufacturers, the engine manufacturers, if you don't find ways to take significant chunks of speed out, it is just going to keep ramping up. So what I am happy about is it's some of the aero changes that the league's made, we were flat there last year fairly regularly in practice on a good lap if your car's really working well. And fairly flat I think most guys in qualifying if your car was working really well. And people would say, oh, geez, you can take 90 or 100 horsepower it's going to be always flat. Well, I think that the league did a good job of countering some of that with the aero changes. And I think we're going to be in a similar kind of game as we were last year from the standpoint that you really still have to be working hard on the handling package to have the car happy around there. Not like going to be real easy.
Q. Before the season started you and I talked about this 7 consecutive years of winning a race and we discussed the last part of last season when you guys struggled with your power and especially on the big tracks. After the first couple races this year, where do you feel, because you said you weren't real sure as the season started. Where do you feel you are with your powerplant at this point and getting your straight away speed?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, powerplant wise I think we're pretty happy, we're very happy with Toyota. Very thrilled I think they put a lot of focus and energy into the 3-liter engine. We're all expecting -- I think it was a very good test the other day for Toyota as an initial day. And we're expecting some really great things for May and obviously for the races thereon. So I think we're all pretty pleased with Toyota. And I don't think you can say our powerplant is down, even at the end of last year necessarily. It is just our speed of our car is down. And a lot of things go into making that speed. Whether it's too much drag in the car, whether it's the handling package on the car, a few different factors as well as the power. So I'm an eternal optimist. I certainly started the season, I mean we went testing and we didn't -- maybe we weren't bad, but we weren't great either. I think we felt there was some work that could be done and certainly went into Homestead expecting to hopefully find some speed sort of put your whole package together. We struggled a little bit down there qualifying. Qualifying 17th. I think we ran a good race to get ourselves up into the top-10. Ran with the lead pack there for awhile. Sort of got out of sequence on some stops. But I think that we have some work cut out for us, no doubt. The old adage every one loves to talk about the bar keeps getting raised and certainly it does. I think the level of commitment that the front half of the field at least if not more has to continually improve their cars, both I think in time and financial resources. I think that's very impressive. It's put us I think as a team in a position where we're certainly behind and we got to work as hard as we can to try to catch up.
Q. Going into Motegi how close do you think you are in catching up?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, I think we have -- now one's given up on the team. That's for sure. We all want it really bad. I think it's been great for me having Andy Brohm on board as my engineer. It's nice having someone, he's just a couple of years older than me. He wants it really bad, as badly I think as I want it. So no one's complacent sitting where we are. Delphi has been fabulous at stepping right in and trying to help us from a technical angle. So the team's working on some different things. I certainly think we're going to go to Motegi and be more competitive than we were at Homestead. Time will tell really where we stand. I think I'm excited for the 3-liter program and the associated aero package that goes with that. I think certainly we have fallen behind, that's one area we have fallen behind in. We don't have much of an aero program or anything. I don't think we have -- we basically are running a stock car right now. And I think maybe certainly the first couple races of that new sort of configuration you would expect it to level the playing field a little bit. So I'm certainly hopeful that a combination of that whole package will -- and having a lot of track time at may, we have a lot of things we want to cover, a lot of areas we think we can improve on. Hopefully is going to be sort of a good time for us there. A good two or three weeks to really catch up a bit.
Q. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but it sounds as though you're going to be glad to get Japan out of the way so that you can almost start off on what you would call your second half of the season because everybody's starting from scratch again.
SCOTT SHARP: Well, I am excited to go there. I loved the trip last year, I love the track. As the defending champion I want to go back and win the race. You look at the results of the first two races, and you realize we're probably not in the cat bird seat for that. So that doesn't mean by any means we're going to give up. We're going to go there and like I said do whatever we need to do, try to get as much speed as we can out of the car. I think we will be more competitive than Homestead. Where we stack I'm not exactly sure. And maybe it's a situation where the guys gave me great pit stops at Phoenix. That part of the team is really coming together. We won some races in the past on strategy. So you never know what can happen at Motegi and we got to go there and score as many points as possible. Hopefully that's 50. The win. But certainly I think we have a lot of things on the plate right now. Areas that we would like to see ourselves improve. Parts of the car that we feel we need to catch up on. And it's wonderful, I think the IRL's been real smart in the way they have constrained the testing for this year. When you're in a position like we are though, that almost becomes a little bit of a hinderance because you can't test. We need to go spend a couple days somewhere and try a lot of different combinations to try to find some of our speed and you're in the allowed to do that. So I think we all are looking forward with a lot of anticipation to getting on the track at Indy and not only for a couple days of the open test but then having almost the full week of practice before qualifying even kicks in. So really that will exhaust a lot of issues and hopefully find some good speed.
Q. I see you've been running with Wayne Taylor. You need to get him a ride in one of your cars. He's a personal friend of mine.
SCOTT SHARP: I think actually Wayne had the, when Tom Kelley first got into the IRL was in '97, not to get too off the path here, but there was some conversations that went on with Wayne to leave sports cars and start driving Indy cars with Tom.
Q. I would like to see him do that.
SCOTT SHARP: And at that time I guess he chose not to. So he had his chance there.
Q. Best of luck for Japan. And I know all the Japanese people will be around to watch the car, that Toyota anyhow. But getting back to Indy, the new engine you're running has it been detuned completely, is it the same engine that's been restroked and bored or do you not know?
SCOTT SHARP: Honestly I don't know all the specifics of that.
SCOTT SHARP: And I'm not sure exactly what -- that's probably not my place to be commenting on a lot of that stuff. Certainly from our side we're dealing with just some more from how the engine ran, which was fabulous, a very good response, we're very impressed with the motor right out of the box.
Q. Are you getting more revs stock or not?
SCOTT SHARP: More revs is that what you asked?
Q. More revolutions, yes.
SCOTT SHARP: No, we're constrained by the league rules at that. And that hasn't changed. Certainly there is a feeling of less power, which I think is what was desired. But I think hopefully with the combined aero package it will be what we need.
Q. Hope to see you there. And one more question. How about Firestone? Are they coming up with any new tires for you or not? For the Indy circuit.
SCOTT SHARP: I think that there's all small iterations that they make. I think they felt very strongly about their tire last year, it performed I thought very well. I don't think there was any problems all month, out of the thousands of laps that were run, so from what I heard I think we were testing the other day on basically last year's tires and maybe like a minor slight change here or there. That will basically be it.
Q. I know you are running Sarah's car at the speedway last Saturday, do you have any idea how many miles you put on?
SCOTT SHARP: I do not. Exactly. We spent some, we got a bit of a late start and had some gearing issues we had to get through. And then made a fairly major suspension change around lunch time. So we didn't get as much time as we would have liked. But I think we still put on some of -- I heard maybe the most miles of any of the Toyota teams if not certainly one of the top few cars miles wise. I would have to venture to say it's probably in the right around 300, 350.
Q. And you used that one, that car because yours were being prepared for Twin Ring Motegi, is that correct?
SCOTT SHARP: Yes. Basically it just was logistically easier it was great to get the car shook down. The team wanted to do that for Sarah so therefore it was up to speed and no leaks or no issues and at the same time it let our guys concentrate on my two Motegi race cars and not have to be thrashing these last couple days to get it switched over.
MODERATOR: Scott, thanks for joining us. We will see you next week in Japan and next month in Indianapolis. And if every one can hold on we'll have Vitor in just a moment. Thanks again, Scott.
SCOTT SHARP: Thanks a lot.
MODERATOR: Vitor, how are you?
VITOR MEIRA: I'm good, my friend.
MODERATOR: Good. Let's get started with you. You are making your IndyCar Series debut this year at the Indy Japan 300.
VITOR MEIRA: Yes.
MODERATOR: And last year you finished the season with a fourth place finish, so things are, you have momentum actually going into the 2004 year. But has it driven you nuts not to be in a car in Miami and Phoenix?
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, it's, as a driver you want to be in the car always. Even if you are not, even if are you in the off season or something when you maybe see races on the TV or whatever. You always want to have, you want to be in the seat. But yeah Team Rahal Honda gave me a great opportunity here to kind of fulfill my wish here. And they are a great team. We are hurrying up to finish the car to Japan and do the debut.
MODERATOR: Can you talk about how your partnership and relationship with Team Rahal came about?
VITOR MEIRA: We, I mean after, after I left Menard I started to talk with a couple of people and they were one of them. To kind of -- then after January right after a little bit after December, they put Buddy on the car and were due to substitute Kenny. And they did a great job. And we, I kept talking to him and to Team Rahal and just got kind of extending the relationship that we had. And it came one day and they were going to do two cars, three car team, and they just called me offering the ride. And that was about it. We were in touch, we knew each other a little, and they liked the work I did last year with Team Menard. And they gave me an opportunity. I hope I out do as well as I want to.
Q. Vitor, last year you were the last guy to qualify for the Indy 500, becoming one of -- and we did a little research here on our end -- but becoming one of 689 people who have actually qualified for that race. Can you talk about what that means to be a part of that elite club?
VITOR MEIRA: I'll be really honest, before racing there, only on test days and on the qualifying day, it was kind of a for sure it's more than a normal race, but it wasn't what I expected was going to be. Until the race day. When I arrived there on race day and I saw the crowd and also even after the race when I saw the names on the board there, of who the drivers were. When you see and when you leave the Indianapolis tradition like year by year and month by month, people saying about the 500 every day and you were expecting also the next 500, it becomes bigger than you think it is. Because I didn't know about the 500 until I started to race. And it's people here in America and also mostly in Indianapolis, they grow and when they are two years old they already start to listen about the 500. And I didn't. So that's why I didn't think it was this big, but after the race, and even going to the race, I thought like, oh my God, this is the real deal.
MODERATOR: Are you talking about the board in the Hall of Fame museum? Is that what you mean when you walk in and see all the names of the people.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, people that race there already. So it's a gigantic energy there.
MODERATOR: Very neat. We have a lot of folks on line again, a lot of media on line, so we'll go ahead and open it up for questions now.
Q. Vitor, you've driven a Dallara Chevrolet for your entire IndyCar Series career, and now you're stepping into an a G Force Honda. How do you prepare for that when you can't go testing?
VITOR MEIRA: Actually, the only way you can do it is analyzing the data they have on the G Force already. And the Honda. And talking to the drivers that drove both of them actually. Then you get to know the difference. And that's really the only way can you get prepared for it. I am going to be in -- I won't say a tough situation, because the team is going to help me a lot, and they are really good, but I'm going to be in a really a difficult situation because it's going to be a new engine, which is not, which is the last thing that concerns me, but I'm going to be in the different car and different track that I never seen. And being not driving the IndyCar for three or for three months more or less is going to make my life a little bit tougher, but I'm pretty sure that there's not going to be, we are not going to have any problems. It's just taking it easy, do what we know what to do, do what we know. And go from there. It's not, it's nothing really, really new. I guarantee that my first race in Indy cars was way tougher than this. So it's just like now it's just pace myself a little bit and think before I do anything. And everything's going to be all right.
Q. You've gotten a reputation of being able to jump into a car when you've came in at the toward the end of last year and stepped into the car when someone else was driving it, I think you'll be fine, but I wonder, are you going in any earlier than you might ordinarily do or going in with everyone else?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I'm going to be there on Sunday. I'll be there already. So I'm leaving here Saturday. I'll get used to the time change and I also want to have some, I mean, to absorb as much as I can from there. Even the track, the climb, the -- everything. I mean even time changing and the hotel and the people. I want to make sure that I don't feel that we are on the other side of the world.
Q. Well, you will be.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah.
Q. MODERATOR: Is it a one race deal with Team Rahal in Japan or is there anything with Indianapolis or anything moving on this year?
VITOR MEIRA: So far it's a monthly deal. We, they are going to -- after the month, they are the ones that are going to say if they want my, if they want me here still to keep going or not. And this is going to depend on Kenny's recuperation, going to depend on my performance, going to depend on a bunch of stuff. But it's so far it's a monthly deal. So it gets to the end of April and suddenly let's say Kenny is okay to drive, yeah, they're going to put Kenny in the car. But they still can have the contract, they still may even if I'm not driving, they still can extend the contract. And that's how it is, it's a monthly deal.
MODERATOR: Do you feel a little pressure to perform in Japan?
VITOR MEIRA: Even if I had the year contract or a five year contract, I would feel pressure. Because I think the pressure comes more from you and how good you want to do. And I want to do good. And the pressure that comes, the worst pressure and the biggest for me, it's from, it's the pressure from myself. For sure there is pressure, but I mean it's pressure comes also with expectations. So I'm trying to be realistic about everything and not kind of not do anything, anything silly.
MODERATOR: Vitor, tell us about what you did in the off season? Did you go home to Brazil, spend time in Indianapolis?
VITOR MEIRA: I think I went to Brazil on the 15th of December. And there I stayed testing for quite a bit. I think I did 10 days and tested a lot of prototypes. So I stayed in the car and stayed in shape. And also I spent some time with the family which -- and then I cam here, I came back here in the beginning of January to Portland to Ted's house, my manager. So we stayed together talking to people and talking to everybody, trying to find a ride. And finally it came along with everything with Team Rahal Honda.
MODERATOR: Any marathons, mini -marathons, triathalons or anything like that?
VITOR MEIRA: No, I'm getting ready for now it's one and a half years to, to the Ironman. So we'll see how it goes. I'm trying to -- with racing and also just kind of getting prepared also to the Ironman, it's, I mean it doesn't allow you to do a lot of fun stuff afterwards.
MODERATOR: I understand. Vitor, thanks for joining us today and we will see you next week down in Japan and in Indianapolis in May.
VITOR MEIRA: Okay. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
MODERATOR: Absolutely. We'll be back with Roger Yasukawa in just a moment. Appreciate very much you joining us today. I would just like to point it out that it is, what? 4:40 in the morning in Japan.
ROGER YASUKAWA: Correct.
MODERATOR: So thanks very much for joining us today.
ROGER YASUKAWA: Not a problem. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Roger Yasukawa is with us now and he ran all 16 races last year in the IndyCar Series and finished runner-up in the Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors. We ask the same question to Vitor, Roger, who joined us just a few moments ago, but can you talk about how your deal came together with the Rahal team?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Yes, well it was basically I got a deal together, I think it was mid January, after they decided that they were going to run with Koski, obviously I was looking at alternate options and was able to put the deal together. And at this point it's only for two races but we're still working on the rest of the season and obviously depending upon the race results I think that we should be able to continue after that.
MODERATOR: We have seen a lot of you in 2004, but not in a race car. Has it been driving you crazy not to be in one at Homestead and Phoenix?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Yes, absolutely. I mean as a driver's standpoint it's always hard to be at the track not in the cockpit, instead just out there watching the car going round and round.
MODERATOR: You enter the 2004 season really as a wily veteran with 16 races under your belt. Can you tell us about that Rookie of the Year battle down the stretch with Dan Weldon.
ROGER YASUKAWA: I think last year I think I missed the Rookie of the Year just by a little bit. And I think that overall there was a lot of learning to do. And my main goal was to win the Rookie of the Year. Which I wasn't able to do so. And I think Dan did a very good job last year on that. Having said that, I think that out of all that happened last year, you know, there's a lot that I learned. I spoke I hope to use all my knowledge that I learned last year and try to get a good result this year.
MODERATOR: Last year in Japan you had a bit of a tough go of it by finishing 21st after an accident on lap 45, but obviously you enjoy that track, you enjoy being in Japan. Are you well received by the fans in Japan?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Yeah, I guess I am. Last year we had a bit of unfortunate race. I actually crashed out of it in the early part of the race. And this year hopefully I'll finish well. And just speaking in general I think there's going to be more fans this year at the race weekend and I am really looking forward to going to Motegi.
MODERATOR: Very good. Let's go ahead and open it up to questions for Roger.
Q. Roger, good morning to you. I know you had a test last week at Phoenix International Raceway. How did that go?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Good morning. The test actually went really well. We run the whole day without any problems. Which I think is very rare on the first day of the testing. And I think we're pretty much ready to race at Motegi.
Q. Last year you used a Dallara Honda, this year in a G Force Honda, is there a big difference between the two chassis?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Well, they're for sure different. I think that there's good parts to both of them. And maybe a little bit different parts. I think Dallara always gave you more security and I think G Force is a little, it gives you a different sensation when you are driving it. But having said that, I think when I tested at Phoenix it was really warm and due to the different down force regulations from last year, it is really hard to compare the two together.
Q. Well, what are you doing in Japan now? Are you making appearances with Sammy or is there something else?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Well, right now I'm back here obviously we have a lot of promotion with Sammy and also with Motegi, going into the race weekend. So quite busy doing all the promotional work and doing the training, etcetera, etcetera.
Q. Great. I wish you the best of luck this year.
ROGER YASUKAWA: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Roger, how long have you been over in Japan? When did you get over there?
ROGER YASUKAWA: Last Saturday. So I guess four or five days now.
MODERATOR: Can you tell us some folks in the United States aren't familiar with that sponsorship on the side of your car, what is the Sammy on the side of the car.
ROGER YASUKAWA: Right. Sammy is actually the manufacturer of pachinko machines and slot machines which is a fairly big market in Japan. I'm not sure if you guys are all aware of pachinko, it's basically sort of like a pinball game. But it's a form of gambling. And within the pinball they have some kind of theme, some kind of actual sort of like a video game as well. And while you play pinball you have another game playing together. So and it's really big in Japan. They actually pachinko is probably I would say 20 percent of their business and most of their business is slot machines. In Japan, which is similar to the pachinko stuff.
MODERATOR: Very good. Roger, we appreciate so much you getting up so early in the morning and I trust you're going to go back to bed after this.
ROGER YASUKAWA: Thank you very much. Yes, I will go back to the bed pretty soon.
MODERATOR: Very good we will see you next week at Twin Ring Motegi. Thanks again for joining us today.
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