Q&A: Red Bull Indianapolis GP
17 July 2007
Joie can you talk about the length of the contract? Then if Gill can talk after you do about how long Laguna Seca's contract is for, because obviously that's a key to helping this thing grow…
Joie Chitwood (IMS president and chief operating officer):
The initial term of the contract is a three-year contract. We feel pretty good about that. One of the things that we had dialogue about was Gill and the event out there on the West Coast. I've been out there and visited, and really the energy and the passion for the sport out there really got me thinking about what could happen here. And I think in terms of what they do on the West Coast, what a great thing for us to focus on the East Coast. You look at how many folks own motorcycles in America. To think that there's only two MotoGP events, when I think there probably could be many more than, it's pretty amazing.
So for us we hope to see it grow. We'll be talking about the future, for sure. It's going to be interesting to see that event next year, 100 years after the first one.
For a Monday afternoon at 3 o'clock, I sensed an energy that I'm not sure I was ready for. I'd like to see the race maybe this September. I think it's going to be a long time to wait. But I'm really excited by the reception so far.
Gill Campbell (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca CEO/general manager):
Our contract at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca goes through 2010, so we're planning on being around for a long time. Yeah, it was a load of energy, wasn't it?
…This is one of those things, double your pleasure, double your fun. And having two MotoGPs in the United States, this announcement today, what a great day for America. We're blessed to have two MotoGP events. As Joie says, we could have 17, and I think the fans would keep coming. It's the best energy that you'll see amongst race fans, I'll tell you.
I have a question for Kevin and for Kenny. I know you haven't seen the exact layout, but what you've seen of this racetrack, compare the difficulty of this racetrack against the other racetracks that you race on or have raced on.
Kevin Schwantz (1993 500cc world champion):
Just driving around it in the bus, like I got to do a little bit earlier, and imagining kind of the layout of the track because there are walls up already. It looks to be great. It's got some fairly fast corners, yet it has some fairly slow combinations of corners that are going to tie themselves together really closely, which is going to make things more difficult. Technically, you're going to have to be more correct. It's not a simple straight down, simple left turn, straight down, another corner. Everything kind of links itself together once you get off the front straightaway. Those four corners, the next chute, the next little combination of corners, kind of a drag race in between the section of corners. I think it will be a tough race for the guys to get set up for and physically quite challenging.
How different is it from the other racetracks that you have dealt with? On a scale of 1 to 10 I guess…
On a 1 to 10 difficulty? Or 1 to 10 - it's just like all the rest. It's paved, it comes back around, it joins back together at the same place. One lap makes it complete. And you strive to do all of them before everybody else does! (Laughter)
But they're all a challenge in themselves; getting all those shift points right, getting all the turn-in points right, braking, making all that happen for an entire event, whether it's 30 laps or 35 laps, is difficult. The asphalt is different. The atmosphere, everything about it, all the people that are here, the excitement that is going to be involved with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is what's going to make this such a great event.
Kenny Roberts Jr. (2000 500cc world champion):
I think that for the sport itself, a minimum of two grands prix should be in America for the size of the U.S. I've grown up in California, and people that plan a vacation that go out there as going to some of the most beautiful areas, like Monterey and Carmel. And the type of physical effort and the demand that - especially last year, 158-degree ground temperature was the hardest, hottest race of my career.
You can make up for a lot of machine shortcomings at Laguna Seca. You got the people on the hills, and you don't have the grandstands so you feel more like you're kind of at a…I guess it's just a different atmosphere than anywhere else you go. They've done a lot of improvements for the safety, which allowed us to get there. It's going to be a good race this year, the 800s are going to make it a little bit easier physically.
When you come to a place like Indy, this is my first time here, so you're basically on the other half of the U.S. to where we can get people that can't make it out to California, come to a place like this, which seems like for me you're coming to the mecca of motorsports anywhere in the U.S., from the side of Formula One to the NASCAR and Indy.
It's going to be a completely different challenge because now you're moving into a technical racetrack, which means you're going to have to have the horsepower required. You can't physically make the bike go faster down the straightaway. And you don't have that problem at Laguna Seca.
So you're going to need the quickest or second-quickest motorcycle, and you're going to have to be precise. If the tyre rules stay the same, you're going to have to get lucky on your tyre choice. And the safety aspect of it is going to be, from what I've seen today in talking with some of the staff here, is going to be at the level we need it to be. So it's going to be two completely diverse racetracks with two different riding styles. Machine is going to be more important here. Of course, the atmosphere here is going to be, you know, you're racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so it's kind of intimidating in that sense.
Mr. Chitwood, could you please discuss the construction that's going to take place in getting the track ready and the changes that are going to have to happen and maybe a timetable?
As soon as possible. The minute our NASCAR event is done, we're going to start. And probably our biggest challenge is inside of Turn 1. For those of you who don't know, we do have a creek down there that we have to deal with and we have to get the appropriate permitting and all of those things to make the necessary changes. That will be the biggest addition that we have to make. Obviously, we already have some of the turns behind the Museum; we just have to, I guess, align them a little bit differently.
The challenge for us is then accommodating our other events as we roll into next year; weather this winter, and then in the spring how much we can get done prior to getting set for the Indy 500. We feel pretty good that we have an appropriate length of time to do it, although there are some other factors we'll worry about, weather and some of other things. But we've been under the gun before in some of our construction projects. We have a great staff here. We have a gentleman named Kevin Forbes, who is our director of engineering. I'm not sure many racetracks have their own engineer on staff. Whether it's our historian or engineer, we typically have all the right resources. But I can tell you the Monday after the Brickyard we'll be working pretty hard on getting it turned around.
Do you have plans to have a test?
Well, at this point that's going to be based on the construction schedule. Obviously, we'll be working with our partners at MotoGP to determine what's the next step and when the course is ready. I'm sure from the tyre manufacturing component they'll want to get some testing in. But obviously we'll be working with MotoGP on the time needed for them to get out there and get prepared.
Joie, would you comment, put a dollar figure on the construction for this new course. Then would you continue that into the economics of hosting a MotoGP event compared with a Formula One event.
Well, obviously, the investment we're talking about is significant. We're talking millions of dollars to make the improvements to get the track ready for MotoGP. Really it doesn't make sense for me to compare the two. For us, it's about adding world-class events to our schedule, and we're excited that MotoGP is going to be on there. If it didn't make sense for us, then I'm not sure we'd entertain the conversations. We feel very comfortable that it's going to be good for MotoGP, good for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway financially as well as good for the City of Indianapolis. We think there's a whole other clientele on the east side of the United States that will come to Indianapolis to be exposed to motorcycle racing, the highest form of motorcycle racing.
So whether you're a fan of motorcycles or a fan of the Speedway, I think we'll have that unique content that makes us special. But at the end of the day it has to work financially not only for our partners with MotoGP but for ourselves, as well.
Joie, why did you choose to, or why did you need to, revamp the infield course?
Well, obviously not that I'm the safety expert. We have our friends with FIM here. But motorcycles have different needs than four wheels. And probably the biggest thing is the runoff area. Obviously, concrete walls are not a good thing for gentlemen on motorcycles. So the ability to switch the road course, run it the other way, creating an opportunity of better runoff and safety areas. Some of the things that we're putting in, when you looked at that diagram, you can see what we're doing in Turn 1 to make sure that they have the appropriate runoff.
One of the things we don't do here, we do not compromise safety. That is very important to us. We have a world-class racing property. We would never do anything that wasn't to the highest standard. Whether it was the first rear-view mirror ever used on an automobile was here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911. To the use of helmets, to the creation of the SAFER Barrier, we want to make sure that the competitors enjoy their experience here and feel very comfortable racing to their fullest potential.
Mr. Ezpeleta, could you talk about a second race in the United States and how that helps MotoGP grow.
Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna CEO):
Well, the United States is the biggest, most important country in the world. Then we have been many years without being in America. And Joie explained clearly we are in the same position as Indianapolis and Laguna Seca, we can't risk safety. Once we realized this was possible, first Laguna Seca make a great effort at changing many things in Laguna during the last three years to achieve the possibilities to be there. And it's exactly the same. When we start to talk to Indianapolis in 2000, then we talk a lot. We are extremely happy to be here and to announce, because we realize how important Indianapolis is to the rest of the world. To have the possibility to have this collaboration with Indianapolis and to be one event interesting for Indianapolis. As Joie explained, it's interestingly also economically, we will make the effort to make this event with a lot of spectators, with a lot of interest.
For us, as Kenny said, America is big enough to have two events, for us is really, really important, this collaboration. And I also think one event will help the other. If one event is successful, the other event is also successful more than it was before. We have this experience in the countries where we were more than one time, and they are countries more than the States, Spain or Italy. Then we think it's very important to have two events, and enough surprising the times to make possible marketing both grands prix. But I'm sure the Indianapolis event will be important itself and also will help Laguna.
My understanding is the 125 and 250s are coming? Different to Laguna (where only the MotoGP class races)?
We'll, in Laguna like that was a different situation. But then when we start to talk with Indianapolis we decided to come with different categories. And with Laguna Seca we are speaking maybe in the future we will come with different categories.
Kenny, you said over in the Plaza that you probably hit 210, 215 mph on the front straightaway here. Would that be the fastest straightaway on the circuit?
China this year - I was in kilometers so I'm not sure of the speed in mph - was 320. So it's going to be one of the quickest. Certainly it's going to be the quickest or maybe possibly the easiest to make a mistake braking. Because in China you slow down to a first-gear corner, so if you're off line, you're off line by five or 10K, or six, seven miles an hour, then you run two or three bike lengths. But if you're doing 320K or 210 mile an hour and you miss the braking mark by 5 or 10 meters, then your speed that you're trying to slow down to versus the line you're trying to hit is going to be quite more significant. So I think it's going to be an interesting corner. And as long as the camber stays to where you can run it off and you don't have any type of camber change between the existing circuit and Turn 1, it's going to be an exciting corner and one that you can gain a lot of time on when you're behind somebody. Or one that you can really have an advantage on if you have a tire or a machine advantage. That should probably be one of the most exciting corners on the circuit.
Do you think this could possibly blossom into an Indianapolis bike week leading up to this?
Well, one of the things I think that we're proud of is that usually the events of the Speedway transcend and bring more people to the community, and it's about what happens downtown and the other places around it. I'm sure that there's going to be other opportunities as it relates to motorcycles. Who knows what might happen at the Fairgrounds and other things around the event. So yeah, I think this is going to be more than just what happens at the Speedway.
Kenny, one of the big complaints with the Formula One crowd here was there was no place to pass, but it doesn't seem to make any difference in MotoGP as long as there's some pavement, you guys seem to - does it matter if it's flat or if you have a lot of elevation changes?
Well, I've seen the layout now. The way that they've set up and actually modified the existing Formula One circuit is going to create even more passing than I think most of the tracks out there. Certainly you're going to have double drafting down the front straight. If you have two equal bikes, if somebody gets a drive out of the last corner, they get passed, you're going to have the ability to repass into Turn 1. And you're going to have a double right as your first two right-hand corners. And there's going to be areas to where you can actually block pass up in (Turns) 6 and 7 and areas like that. So I do see that it's going to be one of the more interesting circuits to be able to do that.
And again the machinery is going to be - if you basically just put Valentino [Rossi] on the back and then you have him passing through everybody to come toward the front, plus the machinery difference, it should be a good race. [Laughter]
Joie, if F1 were to return at some point, is the existing course still going to be there, or will it run on the new course or a combination of the two?
One of the things that we did moving forward is we - I'm not sure if it might be the only time, but we had a joint FIM/FIA inspection. So any changes that are being made to the road course should Formula One ever return, we still could use those changes for Formula One.
What will you use for safety barrier on the outside of the last corner?
Who did I ride with today, who designed the track? Kevin Forbes, yes. So there's still some discussion maybe about possibly tightening that turn up a little bit more to make sure that you come on to it accelerating out of first or second gear and maybe only 15 to 30-degrees towards that wall, which would be coming off of Turn 4. And they have the ability to do it. And if you can do that, that wall won't be a factor.
And then what you can do just in case there's a real weird [accident] - with the safety committee, with Carmelo leading the way in Europe, what we're able to do is use all types of different protection. Now what we're doing is planning for the freak accidents, like throttle sticking or oil in the back tyre, blah blah, blah. So what you could do there, you don't want any type of A protection, which is your soft air bag. Because if you hit it at a sharp angle it catches you and continually keeps you into the wall. So you could use a conveyor belt with tyres behind that. Or Indy themselves can come up with something that - you want something that has a lot of, you know, you don't want any type of friction. So anything you can do along that. Because you're going to be hitting it more of a glancing blow, not kind of straight into it. Especially if they're able to make the modifications to that last turn.
Joie, there appeared to be some sort of discussion over the exact date of this event. Would you talk about the choice of September 14th.
Well, for us we have a fairly busy summer. And as we started discussing the opportunities with MotoGP, obviously we still had Formula One on our schedule. But also taking into account their schedule in terms of where they'd be around the world. We started looking at late August and September as opportunities. I think one of the things in September, while working with MotoGP, is a little bit on the earlier side. We've hosted events here in late September, and once in a while the weather doesn't cooperate. So all in all, I think that we've seen some very nice weather early September, and I think it will be a great opportunity for a number of folks to ride on down to Indianapolis and check it out.
I was wondering, how many teams and how many riders to a team?
Normally we have in total around 80 riders between the three categories. In MotoGP there are around 20.
Joie, how big a crowd do you expect? Have you done any studies and projections or anything like that?
I'm going to take a page out of the book of these two riders here, and I'm just going to tell you 'big'. [Laughter].