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May 16, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll have four guests joining us this afternoon. Joining us to start the call are Sam Hornish, Jr. and Nick Bussell. We'll have Tony Kanaan and Scott Sharp joining us in a few minutes.
Nick drives the No. 52 Cheever Racing entry in the Indy Pro Series. He'll be competing in his second Freedom 100 at Indianapolis on Friday, May 26th. Nick has made 17 Indy Pro Series starts, recording 13 top-five finishes and 16 top-10 finishes. He's also established a series record by running at the finish in all 17 of those races. He currently ranks fourth in points.
Nick, welcome to the call. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
NICK BUSSELL: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: It's kind of ironic, I talked about 16 top 10 finishes, 17 starts. It was here at Indy last year where you got kind of caught up in a late-race incident, had your only career finish outside of the top 10. I'm sure this year you have much higher expectations for the Freedom 100.
NICK BUSSELL: Yeah, last year was definitely probably our worst race, especially finish-wise. That was definitely the worst one of the season and definitely the big black spot, black mark on last year, how we did.
Hopefully this year will go much better. Last year I was running just inside the top 10 when I got in an incident at the very end of the run and spun with to handful of laps to go, finished outside the top 10 and a lap down. Hopefully this year we'll be much further up the grid and hopefully have a chance at winning the race.
THE MODERATOR: You signed with Cheever Racing really right before the Homestead race. You've only been with them about six to eight weeks. Tell us about how that time period has gone. Have you been able to learn some things from Eddie?
NICK BUSSELL: Yeah, the opportunity that was presented at Cheever just happened prior to the season opener at Homestead. The last six to eight weeks has been a big undertaking from the team. They've been trying to do a lot of things to get the car in order. The car was prepared at the last second just before Homestead. We've had some good results and a couple other results we weren't too happy about. But there's a lot of work going on. I think everything is just going to continue to get better. We opened up the season with a second-place finish, almost a win. We're hoping to keep building in that direction, to go after the championship, potentially get the first couple wins under my belt. There's just a lot of good things going on at Cheever Racing. I'm looking forward to it. When you have a guy like Eddie Cheever to draw from, 30 plus years of racing in any type of race car, there's a lot you can gain from him in and out of the car.
THE MODERATOR: Last year you spent the second half of the year with Vision. Now you're with Cheever. Obviously, you've demonstrated the ability to run strong, keep the car out of the wall. Any hint this could lead to an IndyCar Series ride for you in the future?
NICK BUSSELL: Not yet. We're definitely working towards it. It's definitely good being part of an IndyCar Series team. Last year I was with Vision, I was hoping initially to continue that relationship. This year, unfortunately, that opportunity didn't present itself. I was able to get hooked up with Cheever Racing relatively late, but I'm there. I'm really looking forward to developing and growing within the organization, because I think that's probably the best opportunity I have of moving to the IndyCar Series, is to be with an IndyCar Series series in the Pro Series just for a number of reasons. You can learn a lot from that organization and you can develop within them, they know you, you know them.
At the moment, there's really nothing spoken of that, but the year is pretty young, too. We'll see what happens as we go.
THE MODERATOR: Also we're joined by Sam Hornish, Jr. No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske entry in the IndyCar Series. The two-time IndyCar Series champion, two top-five finishes this season, has been atop the practice charts at Indianapolis just about every day last week, with his fastest time coming on Sunday at 228.220 miles an hour.
Sam, thanks for joining us. You're looking forward here to your seventh Indy 500 start. Obviously, things have gone so very well so far this month. Tell us about the plan for this week leading up to next weekend's qualifying.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: You know, obviously the plans are definitely changed a lot after the rain that we had in the first weekend of qualifying. We really have to just kind of go out there and work on race setup this week. It's obviously going to give some people an opportunity to catch up a little bit to us in the speed department.
Over the last week, you know, being the fastest every day we ran, then the second fastest on Sunday, we're real happy on that. We're focused on what we're doing. We're here to win the race. We're going to work real hard on getting our race car set up good for the race two Sundays from now. When it comes time to qualify, we'll try to put it in the show. I think we have an awesome chance of going out there and maybe being able to get the pole. I don't think we'll be too disappointed if we don't. We just have to figure out how to win this race. I'd rather win the race than win the pole.
THE MODERATOR: You've had so much success in your career, the IndyCar Series championships, a lot of race wins, things like that. Indy has been the one place that's been pretty tough as far as the race has gone. How much would it mean for you to win The 500?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I mean, it means everything. That's why I started racing, was to someday be able to compete in the Indy 500. Now that I've been able to do that, after I did that the first time, I had to raise my goal to someday hopefully winning it. I think there's a great opportunity with Penske Racing to be able to do that. Roger has won 13 times. He's the guy that knows how to get it done here at the Speedway.
Hopefully that will work out for us and we'll just go out there and make sure we make it to the end of this race. My goal for this year is to make sure we complete all 500 miles. I think if I can do that, I think we stand a great shot as being able to be there for a top five. If we're there, we have that opportunity, hopefully we'll be able to go out there and just win the race, or at least be top five. That's a big deal. We want to have a good run for the championship this year. Helio got off to a great start. Just going to try to reel him in here a little bit, stay out of trouble.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for some questions for Nick and Sam.
Q. Sam, this rain throws everybody's schedule off. You have a car that's running great. You get up for the idea of going out there and qualifying for the pole. What does it do to you mentally and emotionally to have all these rain delays?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think it is definitely a little bit stressful to have all that rain because you're kind of just overanalyzing everything. You don't have that opportunity. Sometimes it's better to go out there, just get it over with, to do it. Obviously we haven't had that opportunity this month. It's kind of a tough weekend. My grandmother passed away on Saturday. I don't know if the fact of not being able to qualify made that harder or easier for me to where I had time to be able to get through that and those things. I just think, you know, everything is kind of a blessing in disguise. You just have to get through it and realize that there's a lot bigger things than the racing. But, obviously, this weekend coming up, you know, we're going to have that opportunity to go out there and qualify. Hopefully we'll do real well at it.
Q. Was your grandmother a racing fan?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: She was a real big fan of racing. I don't know if she'd always been that way. Her and her sisters always got together and watched my races. I think she's got two sisters, three sisters that basically always came over. They're going to definitely miss her and miss that time they got to spend together. Hopefully they'll still be able to do that without her.
Q. May I ask her name?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Helen Hornish.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.
We are joined now by Scott Sharp, who last year qualified third for the Indy 500. Scott is back for his 12thth Indianapolis 500, will be driving the No. 8 Delphi Fernandez Racing entry. So far this year, Scott has consistently been in the top 10 in practice with a top speed of 225.147.
Scott, thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.
SCOTT SHARP: No problem. Good to be on.
THE MODERATOR: You've made consistent gains through the week, picking up about three miles per hour and running in the top 10 all week. Is another front row start a possibility for you this year? If so, what do you need to do this week to get there?
SCOTT SHARP: Well, I guess we'll find out. You know, honestly that really hasn't been our focus. We rolled off last Tuesday and decided to spend the next two days working on the race setup. We're sitting out in pit lane as the clouds were getting dark Wednesday afternoon, said, "Hmm, maybe we should start to take a little wing out of this, venture down the qualifying path,". Then the rains came. We're not bummed about that. We all knew the rain was coming. Certainly we chose to put our focus on the race setup, making sure we did whatever we needed to do to perfect that.
The first time we ever kind of ran any kind of qualifying low downforce setup, I was in the second group Sunday morning. I had one run, then it got rained out. Our best time is off of our first ever run on a qualifying trim. I think it was pretty good. You know, we've got several more steps we can go to gain more speed.
I think it's good. I'm -- I don't think we're really expecting ourselves -- we didn't come here really priming for qualifying. But really we're focusing more on the race. If we can end up being close up to the front, that would be a bonus, but really working towards the race.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Tony Kanaan. Tony drives the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car for Andretti Green Racing. He was last year's pole winner with a speed of 227.566. He's been in the top 10 in practice this week with a top speed so far of 226.389.
Tony, this is your fifth Indy 500. Best finish came two years ago in 2004 when you also won the IndyCar Series championship. You were a bit off the pace the first day of practice, but obviously quickly made up that speed to climb up to sixth on the chart overall. What can we expect out of you guys this week as you head into qualifying?
TONY KANAAN: Well, you know, obviously we didn't run as much as we want. First day we didn't work on qualifying setup at all. We continued our program here, the continuation of the test we did a month before. Basically we knew we're not going to be fast on the first day.
After that, we started to work on our qualifying simulations. I don't think for sure we are not as strong as Penske right now. I'm not too concerned. I think as you guys saw last year, Dan Wheldon started 16th and won this race. I think you can win from anywhere, as long as you have a good race car. That's what we're concentrating on.
I would obviously like to have a shot for the pole, which we still going to work a little bit this week on our qualifying speed. But concentrating more on the race.
My experience here in Indy the last, you know, four years that I did it, I never start worst than fifth. It's always in the first two rows. I'll try to keep that momentum going and we'll see.
But, you know, for sure I'm concentrating a lot more on my race car than on my qualifying car right now.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for both Tony and Scott.
Q. Scott, what is the reason that the Panoz seems to be such a disadvantage this month at Indy?
SCOTT SHARP: I don't know. That's a good question. You know, I think it's tougher now maybe with only one team running that chassis to really get a true feel for the car. You know, we switched over I'd say more for the reason of the big-banked tracks, what the front of the Panoz was like in a big pack, three cars in front of you or three cars behind you, you're surrounded by cars. Really seemed like the Panoz lost a lot of the front downforce compared to the Dallara.
On tracks that are more a single-groove type track like Indianapolis is, we didn't necessarily feel that the Panoz was that much of a disadvantage. A little surprising. I know a lot of people are talking about how much the tires have changed a little bit with Firestone. Maybe they're having a tough time adapting to that.
I went on a Honda appearance yesterday with Buddy Rice. He feels pretty confident in their car right now. Maybe a lot of people's concerns about that are sort of premature. I guess we'll find out when we get to, first of all, qualifying, see where they end up, but more importantly the race.
Q. With everybody having Honda engines this year, do you think that will make this race a lot tighter throughout, or will there be the same sort of ebb and flow you usually see in the Indy 500?
SCOTT SHARP: Go ahead, Tony.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you (laughter). Obviously, uhm, you know, having the same engine I think going to make the race more exciting. In the end, I believe that, you know, the teams that get their cars -- I mean, here in Indy, it's not just about the engine. The engine definitely makes the difference, but it's about the race car that you have and the pit stops and everything. I think that the big teams that have more advantage of engineering, they have some better guys that been training pit stops, they're going to have a better chance. Obviously having the same engine everybody, it's one less thing they have to worry about. It definitely brings the field a little closer. But I don't think it not necessarily mean that it's everything.
SCOTT SHARP: I echo a lot what Tony says. I'm expecting, you know, with everyone being on the Honda engine, when we go to some of the big-bank tracks, it's going to be a pretty incredible race.
Here at Indy, I think it's going to tighten everybody up a little bit for sure. You know, certainly I think there was some guys that maybe were at a pretty big deficit last year, which aren't now, on pretty much equal power.
But I also think there's probably going to be a larger disparity in qualifying, when it comes to the teams -- the bigger teams that certainly have developed little bits and pieces here and there that can maybe make the car a little bit quicker more in qualifying trim than in the race. I think a lot of people have spoken about how they really expect there's going to be a tremendous amount of cars this year that are all in race mode, all going to be within a couple miles an hour of each other.
I do think certainly probably the engine formula has something to do with that. It could be one of the closest 500s going into the race that we've ever seen.
Q. Tony, do I read you right, are you still more or less conceding the pole to either Wheldon or Hornish? It seems to me you're still going to work on race setup this week, right?
TONY KANAAN: Yeah. I mean, I'm not going to say I'm giving it to them. You have to be realistic sometimes. I'm not going to sit here and tell you, "Guys, we're fast enough, just hiding." I look bad on a qualifying day when they go two miles an hour quicker than anybody else. I think right now, as today, they do have more chance than us. But, again, I concentrate on racing setup. I do believe that sometimes doing some racing simulations, you can find a couple things for your qualifying and vice versa. I'm not giving up yet, but I'm not going to make that my main focus. They roll the cars out quicker than us right now. That's the fact. That's the reality. We haven't run a lot. That advantage for them, it actually worked out better for them than for the rest of the field.
I'm not giving it to them. But I think right now -- I've been on the pole before and I think I know what it feels. I want to be able to win this race, so I will concentrate on the race more than anything.
Q. How frantic do you think it's going to be on Saturday trying to qualify 33 cars?
TONY KANAAN: Go ahead, Scott.
SCOTT SHARP: I think it's going to be exciting from the standpoint that, you know, personally, I'm really excited for the weekend because I think these days, it's a much better show if it's spread over two days than four days. Maybe we'll wait and find out what the end result is, whether that proves correct or not.
Too often it seems like - maybe Tony can dive in here - it seems like the guys that were really ready to go, they went, no one wanted to go for a while. Maybe they were waiting for conditions, practice, whatever it was. Later on in the day, the line would get busy again. It would be a pretty exciting finish to the day.
I see with at least 33, and probably more like 36 or 37 guys, trying to go Saturday, plus maybe a couple people bumping -- pulling themselves out, going back again because they didn't get the right run, people waving off as they always do. It's going to be pretty much non-stop action all day long. Maybe back to the old days, from the standpoint you're going to really have to wonder where you are in line, when you would actually go out. It's not going to be like you just hop in line, in the next 20 minutes you're going to be out. You can hop in line and not be out for an hour and a half because the line is so long. I think it's going to add a lot of intrigue for the day.
TONY KANAAN: I agree, Scott. Trust me, last year I was one of the first cars out. I put it on the pole. I had to wait all day. I was freaking out by the end of the day. That's one thing. You know, this year I think you're going to have to go because there's 33 cars. It's going to be, like Scott says, more exciting. Even the teams that are not going to run till this week, the guys who qualify second weekend, now this week they're going to work in a little bit of speed. They have a chance to be on the pole, too. You know, they're going to have one shot or they have a shot actually to be in the top 15 instead to be on the top after the 22nd position. Basically, I believe that that's going to make very exciting.
Another very positive thing I believe this year they did this year, your T car, if you want to use the T car, you have to have the same engine in both cars. So basically you got to change your engine if you want to qualify both of your cars. I don't think we're going to have the time to do that on Saturday. It's going to be great. It's going to be a very exciting day for everybody and for us. The more action we get, the less we think about, we get nervous. For me, it's very positive. Like Scott said, maybe this is going to be a test for us to see if we need to do something different for qualifying next year.
THE MODERATOR: All right, gentlemen. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us. Best of luck as we get into next Saturday, then the week after that with the race.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you.
SCOTT SHARP: Thank you.
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