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August 8, 2007

Wade Cunningham

Vitor Meira

TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the Indy racing league teleconference. We have two guests joining us today. In a few minutes we'll hear from IndyCar Series driver Vitor Meira, and joining us now, Indy Pro Series driver Wade Cunningham. Good afternoon, Wade.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Good afternoon.
TIM HARMS: Wade, thanks for joining us. Wade is in his third season in the Pro Series. He won the Series Championship as a rookie with Brian Stewart Racing in 2005, recording one victory and 13 top-5 finishes in 14 starts. Last year he finished third in the championship, despite missing two races, and he led the series with three victories and four poles. And this year he also ranks third in the championship in his first season with AFS/Andretti Green Racing. He has a victory at Watkins Glen and poles at Iowa and Watkins Glen.
Wade, tell us a little bit about the season so far. You had some mixed results early, but now you've strung together five straight top-5 finishes. Do you feel pretty good about how things have gone so far?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I'm pleased with definitely the second half of the season. I think I got off to a bit of a false start at Homestead with the new team and everything. We led the first races -- we were leading the first race and I crashed out. You know, I just put so much pressure on myself I guess to perform well in the early part of the season and the results weren't coming, so it was a difficult time.
But after Indy everything sort of slowed down a bit, and we reset, and the results started coming a lot easier, and then we picked up momentum after the pole at Iowa, and then we've just strung together solid results since then.
TIM HARMS: Let's look ahead now. We've got four races remaining. Kentucky is a place that you've had two top-3 finishes in two starts. You've won at Infineon last year and Chicagoland last year. Tell us a little bit about each of those tracks and what it will take to have another strong finish at each of them.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I'm really looking forward to Kentucky. We were the strongest car there last year, we led the most laps, and I was under the white flag until I had contact and we got crashed out of the contingent.
I'm going back with confidence. I think we've improved the Andretti Green package a lot since the start of the year. I think we've got a really strong superspeedway package, and I definitely think I will be one of the top two or three cars battling for the win there.
And then onto Sonoma, it's a great track, physically demanding, and mentally. It's going to be up and down, the altitude changes and the compression, which always makes it really interesting and always a bit of a compromise on setup, as well. We're going there again with -- I feel I've performed well there in the past. I've already been on the podium. I had a pole there obviously, as well, last year.
We've proved our road course car is very, very good. Watkins Glen we were dominant and then just a little bit short, so there's no reason why we're not going to be strong there, either.
Then finally, Chicago, it's a great track, super-wide, super-smooth, and it just provides excellent racing. I have to say I thought our Chicago event last year was by far the best race that we put on in terms of a show, just the nature of the track and the way it is through the corners lends itself to side-by-side racing, and that's certainly what it was, and it was a battle until the last corner.
TIM HARMS: And knowing that you've had good results at all of these tracks that we're heading to, mathematically you're still alive in the championship. Alex obviously has a big lead on everybody, but there's still an outside possibility. Does that factor into your approach at all as you go into each race?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No. Mathematically there might be a chance but practically we're not. But definitely we can finish second in the championship, and that's our goal at the moment. We just have to continue to provide strong results and continually beat Hideki. He was really consistent at the start of the year, but his results have been a little bit patchy these last few events, which has really helped us close the gap.
But I'm glad I've got second in the championship. After Homestead when we were sitting 24th in points, I thought it was going to be a long year. But it's turned around and we're enjoying it again.
TIM HARMS: A little bit more about Kentucky. It's going to be the first time the Indy Pro Series races at night. What will be different from what we've seen in the past? Do you think anything will affect the side-by-side racing that we've seen there?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No, I guess I don't think that's going to change. This one is going to be a little bit of a setup gearing and downforce compromise or guess because we're not getting any night practice and we're going into this event, our tires, our cars, this package has never run at night before. So it's a little bit of unknown, but it's an unknown for everybody.
But I guess I've got to look at it from the racing. You might see maybe a few surprises just in terms of driver and car packages that might be at the front. Maybe some of the top cars might get it wrong, but for sure it's going to be a close, side-by-side race.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned a little bit earlier about the team, the AFS/AGR relationship. Obviously in the past you had run with Brian Stewart, very successful history for him in the Pro Series and further on in the past. What's it been like this year working with a team like AGR that has an IndyCar Series program? Has that brought some extra benefits to you in your career?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, definitely working with Andretti Green was one of the major factors which brought me into the deal. Just the opportunity to draw on their resources a little bit. We don't get too much cooperation -- sorry, that's probably the wrong word, too much input from them because they're obviously very, very focused on their own championship medal right now.
But when we needed it at the start of the year and the team was being built and we needed all the building blocks to be there, AGR definitely provided what we didn't have, and that was great. That improved the team up another couple levels especially on the oval packages.
TIM HARMS: You mentioned earlier when you were talking about the rough start to the season that maybe you had put a little bit too much pressure on yourself to perform well. Was any of that tied into the fact that you were kind of in a partnership with AGR, or was that just something that you just had that pressure on yourself?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I think I had just put that pressure on myself because it was my third year in the series and I had come back with a new team who historically hadn't performed very well on the big tracks. And then when we were leading Homestead, I'm like, wow, maybe it's not too hard after all, and the next few events were very, very tough and things definitely didn't go our way.
It was more probably the frustration and the lack of results and that continually built, and it just takes one good result to break that, and then you're back on track.
TIM HARMS: Since you've been tied in with the IndyCar program in some respects, does it look like there's an opportunity either later this year in the fall or winter with AGR or anybody else to finally get into the IndyCar Series and do some testing and maybe move up?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, testing is definitely something that we've talked about all year. I think the way the IRL schedules work over the summer was -- being on back-to-back weekends or whatever it was, it definitely made things difficult. And now they are very, very focused on trying to win the championship. Definitely that's probably out of the question until after the season is over.
But being with AFS/Andretti Green, I do think I've been able to build a relationship with the owners that I wouldn't have been able to if I hadn't been with the team. So it's definitely a positive, and I'm pretty hopeful and fairly confident it might lead to something.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Wade.

Q. You had mentioned something about downforce a few minutes ago when you were talking to Tim, and something I read earlier this week you were talking about cooler temperatures, greater downforce. How does that actually affect the racing and the upcoming event? Are there teams that will be able to take better advantage of that than others? Will it actually have an impact, or is it just something that's across the board and everybody gets the same benefit or detriment?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think what's going to happen is because we're in the Pro Series, generally the aero regulations in terms of wing angle, front and rear are fairly fixed. So the range, generally everyone gets to the same level or lack of downforce. So I think in the cooler temperatures, everyone in the field is going to have more oval downforce, which will probably bring the field closer together.
Also, maybe the cooler temperature of the track will probably provide more mechanical grip, as well. I definitely think the racing might be closer, purely because as a driver we're limited by the amount of downforce the car produces on these big tracks. And now that we're producing more downforce, and everyone is, I think it's going to slow the leaders down and allow everyone in the draft to drive closer and run harder together.

Q. I know you are one of the drivers who puts an emphasis on fitness. It's been my observation just watching both Pro Series and the IRL that it looks like the guys who kind of take that route, guys your yourself, Hideki, Alex of course, and then Scott Dixon, he's probably the best athlete in the whole IRL, and Tony Kanaan is a fitness freak, these are the guys as we come into the stretch run and the taxing part of season are the ones that are winning races. Is that something that you think is actually is one of the reasons why we're seeing you and the other people who emphasize fitness in the winner's circle, Richard Antinucci is another one I can think of off the top of my head, in these races as we come down the stretch?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I think a big thing with the long stretch of races is the travel, and I think when you're fit, you're able to withstand the constant airplane rides, being in the airports and the circulated air. And then also your recovery time after an event is less, so you can get back to training quicker.
I put an emphasis to train -- I try to train five days a week, twice a day, as do quite a few other drivers here at Indy. And I think you're just at a disadvantage if you're not doing that. Long races, Mid-Ohio, we had one caution in the middle of it, and so we were running qualifying laps flat-out for 20 laps. It's not easy at a track like Mid-Ohio if you're not fit and you don't have the base strength and core fitness and everything like that.
So definitely part of the package that's very important, but I think more and more drivers are getting on to that so it's going to be less of an advantage as times goes on.
TIM HARMS: Thanks again for joining us. Appreciate that, and we look forward to seeing you running up front this weekend.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Vitor Meira. Good afternoon. Vitor is in his sixth season in the IndyCar Series and his second with Panther Racing. He has 24 top-5 finishes, exactly one third of his 72 career starts. This year Vitor ranks 12th in points heading into the final four races. He has three top 5s, including a best finish of fourth at the season opener at Homestead.
Vitor, we're coming back to Kentucky where you made your IndyCar Series debut back in 2002. You were second there a couple years ago, you've had a couple other Top 10 finishes. Tell us about going back to Kentucky and what you like about racing there.
VITOR MEIRA: Well, Kentucky always makes me remember how freaky it was my first race, I mean, just how fast and how new everything was. And every time I go back there, it makes me also appreciate how lucky I am to be on the positioning with the team I am right now because it is, I just heard Wade saying how difficult it is to get in IRL right now with the category being so professional and so high level right now. So it really makes me appreciate and makes me remember how good and how much I have to push.
TIM HARMS: You said something interesting there to me in the fact that you remember just how wild it was, how fast it was. Now you've got 72 races under your belt, behind you. What's the difference between now compared to then? You get a taste for that speed and you really get accustomed to it, or does it still seem kind of wild out there?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, it depends. If you're talking about Michigan, yeah, it's always wild (laughing). But still, it's always wild, but the difference is what you expect. You know what to expect now. You know what may happen or may not, so it's not a lot of unknowns like I had on my first race.
And I think that makes it a little easier.
But the speed and the concentration and how much you want doesn't really change. It's just that things -- it's a little more controlled right now.
TIM HARMS: And really I was going to ask you about Michigan anyway, not specifically about Michigan, that was definitely a wild race, but we're going to Kentucky and then later in a few weeks we go to Chicago. The one-and-a-half-mile ovals have obviously historically been places that have the side-by-side racing, the pack racing. Coming out of Michigan as a group, not you individually but drivers in general, do you guys take anything away from Michigan and really what we saw there and maybe take a different approach now coming into Kentucky?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, we do, we do. Actually I was talking with Castroneves about it. It's very good to run close and it's good to run two, three wide, but everybody has to understand that bad things can happen, and I think we have to push. We have always to get the best out of every opportunity. But also we have to know that -- when to do that.
And I think in Michigan we were a little bit over the edge, not only who crashed but everybody during the race was a little bit over the edge. And I'm not blaming others or even myself, it's just that's how it was in Michigan, that's how the race is there in Michigan.
Kentucky, Chicago, that's not going to happen because the race is not as -- one, it's not as fast, and there's not as many grooves. So I think the racing is going to be back to normal. But again, what we learned from Michigan is that it doesn't matter how many -- how much experience we have, it doesn't matter who you're running with, mistakes happen, and that can translate into sometimes bad news. So we all have to have busy minds.
TIM HARMS: Let's talk a little bit about your season. Coming out of Richmond you had put together a string of six consecutive top-10 finishes, things really going well. Since then obviously the past four races have not turned out quite as well for you guys. How do you get things turned around for the final four races of the year?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, what I'm doing this year and what the team -- with Delphi and what Panther is doing this year, it's nothing different than what we did last year. What I'm doing is nothing different than I did my whole life. It's just that things haven't worked out.
I think everybody at some point in their lives had a couple months of things not working their ways, and that's what is happening now. It doesn't matter if it was my mistake, if it was a part that was bad or it doesn't matter what it is. We had not as good of a couple or three races as we expected.
But again, racing is always a cycle. You have to wait, you have to always do your best, turn the page and go forward. Otherwise if you don't do that, it becomes very difficult.
TIM HARMS: Of those final four races, Kentucky, Infineon, coming back to Belle Isle, Chicagoland, is there one of those four that sticks out to you as a place where you think, we might do better at this particular place or one in particular you look forward to going to?
VITOR MEIRA: I look forward to Infineon. I look forward to every race. For example, Kentucky I look forward because it was my first race and I think we're going to have a good car having tested there. But I also look forward to Infineon just -- last year we had a very good finish. We finished third there. We had a very competitive car, and I think on all road courses, our car, the Delphi car, has been improving and improving each race.
So I think I'm looking forward to Infineon and Belle Isle. Obviously Belle Isle, I don't know how to approach it because I really don't know the course, so realistically I'm looking forward to Belle Isle and Kentucky.
TIM HARMS: Let's talk just a second about conditioning. Obviously you guys are in great shape, and just about everywhere we race, it's hot, it's physically demanding. But this week of course we're talking about some extremes. The temperatures are higher than normal, the humidity is a lot higher than normal. Have you this week adjusted your workout routine at all, the amount of liquids you're taking in, anything different this week to prepare for a weekend where the conditions are a little bit more extreme than usual?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, if this was a normal week, I would be working out not very hard because you would need time -- at least two days after a hard workout to recover, so I would not work out very hard, just maintaining. You can't gain anything in a week, all you can do is maintain it and be healthy. And drinking a lot of water.
But at this point I'm only doing massage and going to the hot tub, to the ice bath because my back is a little sore, so just getting -- trying to get as healthy as I can for Kentucky after Michigan.
But yeah, if it was, again, a normal weekend, I would also drink a lot of water and try to save as much as I can for the race.
TIM HARMS: Let's open it up for a couple questions for Vitor.

Q. It was good to see you walk away from that incident at Michigan this weekend, which was amazing that everyone who was involved walked away like they did. Would you talk a little bit about the safety of the cars and how good they are and where you think the safety could be better still?
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, that's a very good question because, in fact, we were talking about it here at the shop. It's amazing how much those cars have improved over the years and how much IRL has done a very good job on making it safe. I mean, you saw my accident, for example, on my crash was 90 Gs, so it's a big crash. I mean, I'm sore here and there, but it's amazing I just walked away and nothing that three days of ice wouldn't solve it. That's on my crash.
Dario's and everybody else's crash, I mean, Dario flipped and landed on the top of Dixon and Foyt and several other guys crashed, and we were doing at that point at least 120, 125 miles an hour, and it's just amazing how safe those cars are.
I saw my car here after the crash, how much impact it took, and still, I was fine. It's been unbelievable, and I think we all as drivers and as human beings have to thank IRL for all the safety development they've been doing.

Q. You mentioned that you've had a chance to talk to Helio since the accident. Can you tell us the sum of what you guys talked about and in particular what you might have talked about going forward?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, we are both experienced enough and we are men enough to work the problems. I think after everybody cooled down and was more rational, we could clearly see it was a racing accident. I would never turn into him on the straightaway and he would never turn into me on the straightaway. It doesn't serve any purpose.
We did speak on Monday, and the reason I called him was nothing but to ask him if he was okay because the bottom line is that's what really matters. That's what we should have asked each other at the medical tent, if he was okay and if I was okay, because at the heat of the moment we really didn't. But that's basically what we asked.
We understood that it was nobody's fault, we understood that also we both could avoid it, but the bottom line is what matters is we are both okay and we wanted to ask each other if that was the case.
TIM HARMS: Appreciate you taking the time to join us this afternoon, and hopefully over the next couple days you'll feel 100 percent, and we'll look forward to seeing you race at Kentucky on Saturday night.
VITOR MEIRA: Thanks very much, and thanks for the opportunity again.

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