INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 23, 2005
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We'll have three guests joining us this afternoon. IndyCar Series driver Patrick Carpentier and Infineon Raceway president and general manager, Steve Page, will join us in a few minutes. Joining us to start the call is Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Wade Cunningham. Wade, how are you doing?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Good.
THE MODERATOR: Wade leads the points standings in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series with a 21-point advantage over Travis Gregg after 10 of 14 races. He has established a new series record with 10 consecutive top five finishes and he's finished second in six of the 10 races, including both of our road course events at St. Petersburg and Indianapolis. Wade, let's start with a quick question about the battle for the championship. This is the closest points race that we've ever had in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. As I mentioned, 21-point lead right now with four races to go. What do you have to do to hang on to that lead and win the championship?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think for us now it's a case of extending the points. We've got to go to Infineon and Watkins to maximize our potential there, because it is quite high. We definitely are going to be expecting to run right at the front. We've got to make sure we keep it on the island and finish both of those races to keep the points high. And then, you know, you can't really tell what's going to happen at Chicago and California. Big drafting tracks. I've got -- I think we need to go there with a lot of points in hand and then play it so we don't have to take all the risks that other people might need to at the last race of the year.
THE MODERATOR: You finished in the top five at every race so far this season. Obviously, you haven't found the way into victory circle yet. Is that something that's kind of frustrating to you or is that okay?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, there are races that you can win and there are races that you can't win. You know, out of the races that I've come second, I could have won St. Pete, we were in a position to win, we didn't. Similar thing at Indy on the oval with the yellow flags, seven laps to go. But the other seconds, a little distant. At Texas, no way anyone could get around Travis on the bottom. His car was just, you know, too fast. He had a good straight-line handling at that track. It was the same thing at Kentucky. It was difficult to pass. We got lucky with the yellow at the end. That's how I got up to second. Tracks like that, to get second, that's maximizing what we could achieve. You're always happy with those kind of results. To not win there wasn't a big deal. At St. Pete and Indy on the oval, you know, losing the race was disappointing for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Let's talk a little about this coming weekend, the race at Infineon. I know you raced there last year. What makes that track different from some of the other road courses that you've competed on in the past?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Sonoma is a very aggressive track. It's got fast corners, flying over crests of hills. The car is completely unloaded while you're turning over the top of the hill when it drops away on the other side. It's definitely a handful. You don't have all the kind of grip that you'd like to have for those kind of corners, so it's definitely a balancing act. There's a good combination of fast and slow corners. It's very technical. It's going to be a challenge for everyone.
THE MODERATOR: Of all those different challenges and things that make Infineon unique, are there things about that track that play to your particular strengths and might give you an advantage over some of the other folks?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, you know, comparing to, say, Travis, who we're battling for the championship now, I expect to go there, be quicker than him and perform well. I've raced there before. I think I know what to expect. So we've just got to go there and maximize our own potential and everything else should fall into place.
THE MODERATOR: You're racing this year with Brian Stewart and the Brian Stewart Racing team. Brian obviously has a long history in motorsports, over 30 years of really working with a lot of top race car drivers in open-wheel racing. Tell us about your relationship with Brian, some of the things you've been able to learn from him so far this year.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Driving for Brian, you know, it's been fun. You know, it's a great team. No one takes themselves too seriously. Everyone acknowledges the role they play in a greater team, which is nice. There are no superstars on our team. We all just each do own our bit to move forward. Brian in particular, you know, he's always got a good story of being there before or done that. So it's a lot of fun hearing about other stuff, past drivers, whatever he might have done in the past. He's got a colorful history, so I'm glad to be where I am.
THE MODERATOR: When you're debriefing and stuff between practice sessions, does he give you a lot of pointers, "Looks like you should have done this," or is he a little more hands-off?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Brian is definitely a hands-off team owner. He's employed the right kind of people to work for him. I think that's a good thing. He's got the right engineers, the right team manager. He always looks for the right drivers. When everyone comes together, he just steps aside and let's everyone else do their job. At the end of the day, it's his name on the side of the car, and that's about it. But I'm proud to drive for him and I'm glad we've got such a good team this year.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Wade.
Q. You were talking about the Infineon track, having raced on it before. What can you tell us about the ease or difficulty in passing cars on that circuit?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: The circuit I raced and the circuit specified for the IRL race is slightly different. They've slowed it down before the fast kink on the back straight and they've also shortened the hairpin distance to add more runoff at the end of like where you go into the pits. They have made it a little more difficult to pass. After the long left-hand downhill carrousel, there is a reasonable long straight into a slow corner, which is a heavy braking zone, which I imagine will be where the majority of the passing is done.
Q. How do you go about setting up slower or lapped cars? That was one of the learning lessons at St. Pete. What are your thoughts about that?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I think as the year has gone on, I've learned you can't plan for that kind of thing, you've just got to trust your instincts and make the last-minute decision before you do it. Once you start to organize lapped cars in front of you or with teammates that you might be lapping, more often than not it ends in disaster, so you're better off going with whatever happens.
Q. In a road course like this, what is your situation with your spotter or spotters? Different than oval tracks.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I won't run a spotter at Infineon.
Q. You won't have one?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No.
Q. So you're on your own?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, no, just the way it should be on most road course racing. I don't think there's much need for one.
Q. Paul Newman recently stated he did not know if there had ever been a movie about racing that was any good. He says the goal is to present quality racing with an entertaining and realistic story. I think we can't help but hope for a racing film that would showcase the thought streams of all racing series such as Champ Car, Indy Racing League. What, in your opinion, do you think of his assessment?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think it's pretty accurate. I've been to a few racing movies. Most of them end up being pretty trashy. I can't say that any one of them has come up realistic, so they always have to glorify certain aspects, generally the crashes, which as a racing driver you don't get much enjoyment from.
Q. What do you think is a cinematic bomb as far as racing movies go?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I'd have to say in the movie Driven when the cars are on display at some big function and they just happen to jump in and drive them into the middle of the street. Anyone that knows how to start a race car, a car like that, couldn't even run along a normal roadway because of the bumps in the road and what else. That was kind of, "What's going on there?"
Q. Racing drivers, let's be honest, they're conflicted with a lot of things: emotional, spiritual, personal problems on the track. How do you think that plays out into the performance that drivers have on the track?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Are we talking about movies?
Q. In general, in actual racing, how does that behavior affect what you guys do on the track?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I'd say quite a lot. Everything that goes on in your normal life sets into the kind of mood or frame that you might be in going into a race. So it's going to affect your judgment. If you've had a good week training or something good's happened, you're probably going to be more confident, you might take extra risk during a race situation, all that kind of thing. Anything positive in life generally ends up being positive on your racing, and vice versa with negative things.
Q. If you were directing a racing movie and you could do anything you want, had the biggest budget ever, what would you do?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I'd make the movie about something else.
THE MODERATOR: Wade, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. We wish you the best of luck this weekend at Infineon.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Thanks, Tim.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by the president and general manager of Infineon Raceway, Mr. Steve Page. Steve, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
STEVE PAGE: You're welcome. Good morning.
THE MODERATOR: I know that the region around the track out there has really embraced the fact that the Indy Racing League is coming to town this weekend. Just give us a feel, tell us about the excitement, the buzz, surrounding the area for this coming weekend.
STEVE PAGE: Well, the buzz is remarkable. We've had media coverage now off and on in the daily newspapers for weeks. We've had some nice preview articles over the weekend. The events that we are doing this week for the local media are going to be -- we're getting turnouts, I think we have 12 TV stations showing up for our press conference in San Francisco which is actually unheard of for anything we do. We're really pleased with the way the media's responding, the fans are buying tickets, and there's a lot of excitement.
THE MODERATOR: I know we're going to have some great racing this weekend. What are some of the other special events, promotions going on for the fans to take advantage of?
STEVE PAGE: I don't have a full list in front of me, but I know we're going to have drivers out doing a number of different appearances. Probably the most notable will be what we're calling I think the Ghirardelli. We're going to have Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick in their Argent race cars doing laps around Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, Danica look-alike contest that one of the radio stations is sponsoring. We're going to be doing some promotions with Scott Sharp and some simulators on the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento. There's a lot of activity going on, a lot of excitement in the market.
THE MODERATOR: I see now we're joined also by Patrick Carpentier. How are you?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Doing well.
THE MODERATOR: Of course, Patrick is in his first season in the IndyCar Series. Drives the No. 83 Red Bull Cheever Racing machine. He finished in the top 10 in eight of 13 races this season and has completed more laps, 2542, than any other driver in the league so far this season. Patrick, kind of tell us about the season in general. Obviously, the team has consistently given you a top 10 car. Has it been what you've expected?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it's been pretty good. The way it started this year seems like it was going to be extremely tough, but finally it ended up being better than what I thought it would be. We had a couple of third place and podium finish, and we always seem to be running fairly well in the race. We seem to have a good race car. For some reason, we're lacking a bit of speed in qualifying, but we seem to make some of it up in the race. So we've had a few good race that I've really enjoyed. So for me it's been a good season, better season than I was expecting a little bit. I'd say this for sure you always expect to win or expect more, but this series is extremely competitive, so I'm very happy with what we have. I know we can do better and we will do better in the future.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously I assume one of those places you'd like to do better would be this weekend at Infineon. One of the reasons I know you came over to the IRL was to do some more oval racing. Now we head to Infineon for our second road event of the season. Are you excited about going to Infineon and getting back on a road course?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it's always fun. These cars are a lot of fun to ride on a road course. I always enjoy these coming road courses, Infineon and Watkins Glen coming up. I'm very happy. It's going to be a little bit different and it's going to be enjoyable. It's a good thing the series is going towards that direction and we're looking forward to it. It's a beautiful place to race, too.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and take some questions for both Patrick and Steve.
Q. Patrick, it was mentioned a few moments ago, the irony of leaving Champ Car so you could do more oval racing. What do you do? You go road course racing.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: That's a good thing, though. I'm pretty happy. For sure when you've done road course all your life, you kind of miss it a little bit when you only do ovals. But, yeah, I like ovals. I've had fun. I've had a couple races this year where we had a lot of fun battling with the guys at the front, some good battles. That's what I wanted to do. So for me I've been very happy. But going on the road course, I think it's going to be good. We have a couple of them till the end of the year. It should change things up a little bit. So I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Have you tested at Infineon earlier?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, we tested earlier. We only did one day. I only tested the first day. We'll see how it goes. It's always faster on the second day, so we'll see how it goes during the race weekend.
Q. Compare a Champ Car on a road course to an IndyCar.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Two different things. Champ Car, for some reason it feel as little bit heavier than the IRL. I'd say for me the IRL is a really fun car to drive on the road course. One thing the Champ Car does well is braking deep. You can brake really deep with a Champ Car. I would say that would be the main difference. But as far as speed's concern, it's very similar. The IRL car has good downforce and cornering speed is very fast. It seems a little bit more agile. But, like I said, the Champ Car brakes deeper in the corners.
Q. 2542 laps leading the series. Didn't someone tell you as you come into a whole bunch of oval races that at some point you're supposed to pop the wall?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I hope not (laughter). But, no, we did it in Phoenix in practice actually. I crashed the car, kind of caught fire, tested the SAFER barrier, which was a lot nicer than when you used to hit the wall directly on the cement. That was not too bad. But I'm very happy. It means one thing: that the mechanics and the guys on the team are doing an amazing job. The engine has been lasting all the races. The car is very good. So we just need a little bit more speed in qualifying to be with the fast guys at the front for the race. We're going to have great racing. I think that's the only thing we're missing because in the race, we always very fast, but we start too far back, and by the time you pass a couple of guys, you get lapped by the leaders because they coming fast behind. No, it's been fun. It's been great. I hope I keep running all the laps because on an oval, if you don't complete the race, probably something bad happened.
Q. Patrick, other than yourself, who would you rate as the top three guys to beat on a road course?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Franchitti is smooth and very fast on a road course. He always has been. He seems to be even better on a street circuit. But Kanaan is one of the fast guys, too. One guy that's been very, very fast in testing on road courses has been Ryan Briscoe. He's been amazingly fast on these types of tracks. There's a few other guys in there that I probably forget that I used to race against. But these guys I'd say are the top guys.
Q. Franchitti was the fastest in practice out at Infineon a couple months ago.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I don't know. I don't remember who was the fastest there. We only tested the first day for me. Second day, I didn't want to pay attention to the times and stuff. But, no, he's always right up there.
Q. You've been out here for Laguna Seca so many years. Now you're coming to Infineon. You won the Champ Car championship there at Laguna Seca. Compare the two courses.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's very similar actually. A lot of elevation change. By the way, one guy I forget is Helio Castroneves, who is also very fast on road course. Yeah, the elevation change is very similar to Laguna Seca. You got kind of a carrousel going downhill, which is similar to the corners after the corkscrew. A couple of things that are similar to that track, it's a fast track and it's a fun road course. Should be interesting. The only thing missing is the corkscrew, the famous corkscrew at Laguna Seca. It's a fun track. Infineon is a fast track.
Q. Is there going to be enough places to pass there?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I think so. You know, after the chicane, entering the low-speed corner there, right past the pit entrance, the last corner, I think should be able to pass there. And entering the chicane down the back straightaway. I think to me, those would be the two places. And also one place that we did make some pass during testing was exiting the carrousel going down the back section. There's a bit of a straightaway there. You can make a pass there.
Q. You tested at the Glen a few months back. Are you familiar with the history up there?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Of Infineon?
Q. Of Watkins Glen.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No. Actually, I used to watch some races with the Trans-Am and some of the guys that raced there. But, no, for me actually was the first time ever that I tested on that track. What an amazing track. I never thought it was as nice as that. And these cars, they ride this track so well. It was a lot of fun. To me in America, it's one of the most beautiful circuits with Laguna Seca and these places.
Q. Were you surprised how fast those cars were during testing?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: It's amazing. I'm impressed with these cars because when we went to St. Petersburg early on in the year, I thought everybody was going to have gearbox problem and the brakes were going to burn before the end of the race, they were going to be destroyed. And actually everything was A1 at the end the race. No, I'm impressed with these cars. What I like is you can throw them around. It's a little bit like an Atlantic car, but on steroids. It's a fun car to drive. I talked to Dario, he said, "Man, these cars are fun to drive." And they've come a long way since the first time I guess they put them on a road course. For that track at Watkins Glen, a lot of the corners are banked a little bit, and these cars like that. It's so fast, it's so fun.
Q. Stark contrast to what you're going to be doing at Infineon.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, it's a different kind of track. Infineon, you don't have a lot of banked corners, but it's still a fast track. Major elevation changes, long straightaways. You need power and everything there to run well. Watkins Glen has that, too, but a lot of banking corners where you come into them at such a high speed. It's two fast road courses, I would say, so two different tracks, but two fast road courses.
Q. The rumors of Red Bull leaving Cheever Racing, how does that affect you? Do you know if they have a backup plan by any chance?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Yeah, I don't know for next year. There's been a lot of rumor. I hope they stay. You know, it's my first year with Red Bull. I'm really happy to be with these guys. Unfortunately, we haven't been winning races yet. But the team's improved quite a bit. I'm hoping that Red Bull see to that and that we're going to get a little bit more of everything. We're getting a lot of help from Toyota. They're working with us too. Hopefully their patience is just a little bit longer so they stick with us for next year because I think we're going to have an even better year next year. So, no, I hope they stay. I think it's a great series a loft fun. And with everything that's happening, with Danica Patrick coming in, we're filling up the grandstands pretty much everywhere we go, and the TV ratings been up. So everything has been up, so I hope they stay.
Q. Mr. Page, the IRL event is a one-time event or a long-term project?
STEVE PAGE: We are looking at the IRL as something that will grow to be one of the cornerstone events in our schedule. We definitely came into this relationship with a long-term plan and intention.
Q. Steve, how is this first event shaping up as far as attendance goes?
STEVE PAGE: We are on target to -- we're on a pace to hit all of the attendance targets we set for ourselves this year in terms of sponsors. Suite clients, hospitality clients, we are actually exceeding some of the targets that we have set. We're very pleased with the way the race is shaping up.
Q. Specifically, which ones are you exceeding? What were those targets?
STEVE PAGE: Well, I'm not going to get into any specific numbers. We are going to have more sponsor hospitality here than we had originally projected. We have totally sold out all of our hospitality suites. Our attendance is tracking right where we hoped it would be.
Q. Patrick, you mentioned there are a couple of places on the track, the Infineon track, where you can do some passing. In terms of qualification, how far up in the grid do you really need to be at the start to have a chance to get up to the front?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: I think if you're top 12, you should be fine, top 10, top 12. It's a long race. It's like St. Petersburg. You just got to keep working at it the whole race, you know, keep being patient but pushing hard and working and slowly moving up and up and up. The last lap, there will probably be a yellow there somewhere. By that time, if you're up in the top five, top six, then you really have a chance.
Q. For the Infineon race, how important is it or does it make a difference whether you're running with a Honda or Toyota engine for this race?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Power's always important. I know Toyota has been working very hard. We tested at Watkins Glen, and we were 10th there when we tested. We know the engine we had was not up to spec for what Toyota wanted. They're coming up with something better. Hopefully it will be good. But it's always important, especially when you have long straightaways and a fast track. They've been working very hard. Hopefully they'll come with something there that's very competitive.
Q. With the season that you've had, it's been up and down. Can you reflect on the season so far, what you've discovered.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Well, when we started the season, we struggled with many things. First the chassis was not very good. The team worked very hard with the shocks, the package, the aero package. We still have some work to do. But the chassis we have now is a lot better. In the last month or so, we finish a couple of times in the top three, been up in top 10 most of the time. For sure it's disappointing, especially when you leave from a place or a team where you're running up in the top three, top five pretty much all the time. It's different for me. But I kind of knew it coming in. That was the challenge. We just want to make the team better and stronger. One thing that we have that seems to be very good is the mechanics and the guys on the team are doing an amazing job. The car so far finished all the laps - touch wood. It's been good on that side. I'd say our weakness is lacking speed in qualifying.
Q. There's a lot of stuff on the news about you not liking Eddie, him not liking you, you not liking Alex. What's the real deal on that?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: No, I get along well with Alex. We email, on the phone all the time. With Eddie, at the beginning of the year, it was tough because we had different ideas. We're strong-headed people, I guess. A couple arguments. But I think everybody needs those. And after that, it's going really well actually. I have a lot of respect for Eddie. I've been getting along really well with him. It's a guy that really wants to win and is hoping that a little bit of luck's going to come his way. I know Toyota has been working with us very hard, making the cars better, a few things better also. He's been getting more and more help. But for me actually since what we had at the beginning of the year when we had problems, we never had problems after that. We talk regularly and try to improve and find solutions. He's been understandable. A lot of people say, "He's going to explode," or this. But he never did. We always talk. We always understand each other.
Q. Let's talk betrayal. There was a story that nobody really knows the real answer about some guy on an audiotape, a bunch of lies, some Canadian thing. What really happened?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: What was that, at the beginning of the year?
Q. Some guy said he had an audiotape of you mouthing off about Eddie.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Audiotape of me mouthing off against Eddie (laughter)?
Q. That was a story on TSN.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: That's a funny one. I've never heard that. Anyway, I never picked up the phone and called someone and say, "Eddie is this, Eddie is that." Usually if I have something to say, I call Eddie first. But at the beginning I was really mad. The reporter called from Montreal. Eddie sent me a letter. It was on a performance thing like achievements. They were evaluating everybody, which is a process they do all the time. But I didn't quite take it. We had a misunderstanding. After we talked to each other, and it was fine. No, I don't think anybody has a tape that I just went on and on. I'd be extremely surprised with that because I don't think I've done that.
Q. Patrick, Danica has had quite an impact on the crowds, audience on TV. One, your reaction to her, women in motorsports in general. You got started with Lynx Racing, which was owned by a couple of women. What's your impression of women in motorsports and the season Danica is having as a rookie?
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Well, for me, I was kind of I would say formed in racing by two women, Jackie Doty and Peggy Haas with Lynx Racing. Steve Cameron was in there. But they taught me a lot of stuff and I had a great season with these guys. And they understood racing a lot, actually a lot more than a lot of guys I know. For me to see Danica and her coming into the series is a fantastic thing. I think the series has to use it and grab it and try to bring the people back. It seems like the people that have been watching coming in, there's a lot of new fans that came in. They seem to stay and enjoy what they're seeing and stuff like that. It's been great. But also we don't want to forget like Dan Wheldon won this weekend, he's won five races this year, the Indy 500. As long as we don't forget these guys who had some pretty amazing performance this year, for me I think it's all a plus, it's all a good thing. She's certainly qualified well. Last weekend she actually raced pretty well, finishing in the top 10 there. It's very good. She comes from a Formula Atlantic, which is a completely different series. To go right in the IRL where you race a few inches from one another is a completely different thing. I think she's been doing pretty good, you know, with the pressure and with everything, all the attention that she's got. She has to explain after every race what's happening. I think it's a good thing.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thanks again for taking some time to join us this afternoon. We wish both of you a lot of success with the coming weekend.
STEVE PAGE: Thank you.
PATRICK CARPENTIER: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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