"We have not been talking to anybody except for Panther. They gave me a great opportunity this year to show what I can do, and I have been talking to them and them alone, so far. If they decide that they do not want me for next year, then of course I will go and talk to other teams, but I feel that is just the right thing to do at the moment, just to stay and hopefully stay with Panther for next year." - Mark Taylor

K. Johnson: Our first guest is Mark Taylor. He is the rookie driver of the No. 4 Fulmar Panther Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. He is the Infiniti Pro Series points leader with three events remaining on the 2003 schedule and has scored an Infiniti Pro Series record five victories this season as he heads into the Chicagoland 100 this Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway. Mark, good morning and thanks for joining us today.

M. Taylor: Thanks for having me on.

K. Johnson: Looking at your season to this point, you have five wins over the first seven events and have finished no worse than fifth. Then you got caught up in a last-lap accident while leading at Gateway, and suffered an illness that prevented you from competing at Kentucky. Do you have a sense of just wanting to get back in the car and competing again?

M. Taylor: Well, it has been an interesting couple of races. I am not so sure we had such a great start for the year. I am sure when we get back in Chicago we will be just as competitive as earlier. Some things, like Gateway, are always going to happen in a season. We were very competitive there. We led 78 laps out of 80. Apart from winning the race it was a perfect weekend for us, but as far as Kentucky was concerned, just getting an illness and, luckily, we had such a good year that I was able to miss that and not affect the championship too much. We are just still very positive. When I am out on the track, I am able to lead everybody and win races, and that is the important thing.

K. Johnson: Three events remain on the 2003 schedule and you have a 56-point lead. It is large, but not insurmountable, especially considering the course of events over the past two races. Are you in the 'championship mode' yet?

M. Taylor: Well, if I go out in Chicago and win the race, then the championship will be secure, all but maybe a few points. So that is the important thing, just go out there and win the race. The championship will come if we are competitive, so just go out there and enjoy it as much as I can.

K. Johnson: The final three races of the Infiniti Pro Series schedule all take place on banked Superspeedway's, which, as we saw at Michigan and Kentucky, makes for a very exciting show. Give us your thoughts regarding competing on 1.5 mile and larger tracks.

M. Taylor: Well, it is all about the race, and it is very exciting racing side by side. It is a real enjoyment to be in both and a real experience for me. Something that I have probably enjoyed the most out of the whole year is being able to do that. It is one of those things that you just really enjoy as you are doing it. Being able to race side by side with Ed, and win that race from the back, was great. But, they have all be good fun. We have had the advantages in quite a lot of races this year, but it has always been competitive and I am sure it will be toward the end, as well.

Q: I guess the obvious first question has to be with the departure of Sam, have you been talking with Panther, and do you see yourself as a natural move up into that car?

M. Taylor: It is a tough situation at the moment. I think they were surprised at Sam leaving. We were talking about, maybe, a second car at Panther for next year before Sam left. It has always been something that I have been aiming for through this year. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to get in the car and show them what I believe I can do for next year, and that is win races.

Q: When you look at these last three races on the schedule, is this a situation that these three and how you do could be very, very important, if not the most important through your career in making that next step?

M. Taylor: In a way it could be, it is very difficult to say at this moment. I think I have shown that I can drive the car so far this year, and I am sure it will carry on. It depends what situations come out of the next few races. If we are competitive and we are leading races and instances happen and we end up say not finishing any of the races and not finishing the championship, not winning it, it will be a disastrous end to the year. But, it will not be a complete loss. I think I have shown that I am capable of driving the car. It is very unlikely that that will happen, though. Of course, we are looking to win the championship, to have the Infiniti Pro Series Championship with me as a winner, and it means that moving up for next year will be that much easier.

Q: Have you tried out in an Indy-style car, yet?

M. Taylor: Well, not yet, no.

Q: Have you ever driven one?

M. Taylor: No.

Q: OK.

M. Taylor: I mean, the Infiniti Pro Series car is the quickest car that I have driven, so far. I am looking forward to being able to test the car very soon. I am in talks with Panther, at the moment, to sort of try and get in the seat and some seat time. It is all still in the air at the moment. I am just hopeful that that is going to happen soon.

Q: Have you had any other offers other than Panther? Are you going to talk about that?

M. Taylor: Well we have not been talking to anybody except for Panther. They gave me a great opportunity this year to show what I can do, and I have been talking to them and them alone, so far. If they decide that they do not want me for next year, then of course I will go and talk to other teams, but I feel that is just the right thing to do at the moment, just to stay and hopefully stay with Panther for next year.

Q: Good morning, Mark, and again, I hope you are feeling better. I am just curious what your reaction was when you heard about the possibility of road racing coming to the Indy Racing League in the next few years, given your background on European road circuits?

M. Taylor: Well, I think a mix will be good. Maybe two or three races, I think, in a couple of years will be a great addition to the championship. It is something that I have always grown up in, so it will be just like home to me, really. The oval is a new thing and something I have really enjoyed, and I think that is what gives us the great racing. As long as we get the opportunity to overtake and have such races like, say, Texas, and places like that on the ovals. I think it alone will be an addition.

Q: Has oval racing been, how would you describe it to this point Mark, has it been even better than you thought it would be? Have there been any surprises or some pleasant experiences here that maybe you did not foresee that you would have?

M. Taylor: Absolutely. It is tougher than I thought it would be. When you come from a road-racing background, and that is all you have done for your life, and karting and so forth, it's seen as the easy way. It's 'surely an oval can't be that difficult'. Once you actually race on an oval, it is really just an experience. You have to be a lot more aware of cars around you, be a lot more precise with your line on the track and your braking and everything, and for me it is a lot more enjoyable because I always enjoyed the racing side of most racing. I think that is what it is all about.

Q: I have just one other thing. On some of the smaller tracks, I know people like Jeff Gordon talk about the shorter tracks in NASCAR, that they almost drive like road course because they are shifting and they are downshifting and things. Have some of your road racing skills come into play on some of the shorter, some of the unique ones like Gateway, or places like that?

M. Taylor: I guess so, a little bit. It is a very difficult feeling in the car, for me, on the oval with the banking. Of course, I am used to changing gears, I don't know, 20, 30 times a lap for a minimum. So, as far as what is happening in the car, it is a lot slower now on the ovals, and all of the ovals have a different kind of experience to them. And, of course, Gateway is probably one of the hardest ones as far as braking and changing down gears, but they have all been a challenge in their separate ways to me.

Q: Your illness, I saw a report that says food poisoning, but have you ever missed a race because you were ill before, and what were your thoughts when you knew you had to sit out?

M. Taylor: Well, it was not actually food poisoning, we found out later, once I had given it to other people, that it was a bit of the flu. It took me probably a week to fully get over it, so I was not in a state to be able to drive out there for the safety of myself and the safety of my other racers out there. It was the right thing to do, I think. It was very painful for me. It was the first time I have had to do it, and, hopefully, it will be the last time. It is not a decision that I took lightly, and it is not a decision that I want to make again. I am out there to race in the races and to win the races, and that is what I love doing.

Q: Right. Are you kind of surprised that Jeff Simmons has kind of come out of the pack to be your most serious challenger?

M. Taylor: In a way. He was very competitive from the first race. He was leading the race. He would have won that race if he had not had a small mistake behind a car like I did at Gateway. So, he has been very consistent, always qualifying near the front. There's a great team there, and he is a great driver. So it is not a surprise. I thought there would be other challenges from maybe Thiago Medeiros, Ed Carpenter, I thought they might be a bit closer coming into the end of the year. But it is good racing. Good, fun, clean racing, and that is what I enjoy.

Q: Up at Chicagoland, have you seen the track or been on it or anything?

M. Taylor: I have not been up there. I went up there last year when we were finalizing the deal with Panther, but I have not actually driven around the track or tested there so far. So, it will be a whole new experience coming. We will get there on Thursday and be first out on Friday and have qualifying on Friday evening. So, it will be a big challenge for me, and one I am looking forward to.

Q: Yes, when you go to a new track that you have not really been on, how long is the feeling-out period before you think you can really go fast up toward the limit?

M. Taylor: Well, I am always confident with the car that Panther gives me. I know that I will have a good car straightaway out of the box, and it is just getting a feel of, the comfort feel as you say. It depends on the track, and it depends how much downforce that we have on the car when I first go out. We will wait and see. It normally takes half of the first session for me to really feel comfortable in it, and that would be the time that I would say you are working on the car the whole time, as well. So, maybe if the car is not quite how you like it then it might take a little bit longer.

K. Johnson: Mark, the Infiniti Pro Series was set up, obviously, to be a development league for drivers to hone their skills to move up into the IndyCar Series, and now you are being approached with questions about the possibility of taking the Panther IndyCar Series ride. But, coming into the Infiniti Pro Series, did you have a set timetable for how many years or how long you wanted to work before you moved into the IndyCar Series?

M. Taylor: Well, it was very difficult. When we moved in to talk to Panther, we talked to Roger Bailey, as well, and he recommended a two-year deal. He said it would probably take two years to be able to win consistently in the Infiniti Pro Series, but we felt confident that I would be able to do it straightaway with Panther. We knew that they had given me a great car, and we have been able to show that I have been very confident in the car, straightaway. So, maybe it shifted our plans up a bit into next year to be able to drive in the IndyCar Series. There is always some movement to making sure that you are feeling confident enough to be able to do it.

Until I actually get to test in the car, I don't know how it is going to feel compared to the IPS car. I think they are probably very similar cars. That extra power will, of course, change the car quite a bit. But I've had a lot of experience over in Europe with high-grip and high-powered cars, so I am confident that once I get into the car, I will be able to show Panther that I will be able to race for them next year.

K. Johnson: Mark, thanks for joining us today and the best of luck this weekend in Chicago, as well as in your pursuit of the championship.

M. Taylor: Thank you.



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