"Well, you watch the race on TV and it's, I mean, you guys probably thought it was good, but running that race, the whole 200 laps, is an amazing experience. If I had a clear visor on, you would have probably seen my smile from ear to ear. But, at the same time, yes, absolutely, probably the best feeling you will ever have or certainly, I think, it's the best feeling you will ever have. But, you have to concentrate so hard, as well. So, it is kind of, you have two different feelings going on at once. You have one of sheer excitement and that feeling of fun, but then, you also have the feeling of knowing that you have to remain 100 percent focused for the full 200 laps, which is very difficult." - Dan Wheldon

K. Johnson: Now we would like to welcome Indy Car Series driver Dan Wheldon. Wheldon drives the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Andretti Green Racing. He currently stands 12th, overall, in the driver point standings with 245 points over 12 events, and currently trails Roger Yasukawa in the rookie standings by just 10 points. Dan has recorded seven top-10 finishes and three top-fives, including a fourth-place effort this past weekend at the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Dan, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

D. Wheldon: Thank you. It seems like every time I join you I am off somewhere, because I was at Nazareth last time, and I am actually just at the airport getting ready to leave for a test. But, a pleasure to be with you guys.

K. Johnson: I believe you are heading out to California Speedway to test out there this week?

D. Wheldon: Yes, that is right. We are doing a two-day test, Wednesday and Thursday, and then, actually, Tony (Kanaan) is going to join me on the first day.

K. Johnson: Well, let us start by talking about your season thus far. You really did not get started until the third race of the year at Motegi, yet you have pulled within 10 points of being the top rookie. Tell us how you feel your season has progressed thus far?

D. Wheldon: It has, obviously, I think, been a little bit more of a learning curve than I actually thought. I have raced in the U.S. F2000 Series over here, (Toyota) Atlantic, and (Indy) Lights, and always managed to win at least more than one race in my first season and actually every season I have raced in. It is disappointing not having accomplished that yet, but I have to say the competition in the Indy Racing League, when you are up against guys that are very, very good and have been in the series a long time, it makes it difficult. But, I think, certainly, these last few races, you can see that I have really started to gain a lot of experience, and I have been able to capitalize on some situations because of my experience and bring the car home with good, solid results.

K. Johnson: And, you mentioned wanting to win. To win, you have to lead, and this last weekend at Chicagoland you led your first laps of the season and, in fact, you led 32 laps.

D. Wheldon: Yes, it was certainly a fantastic race. I mean, my Klein Tools/Jim Beam crew did a great job in the pits, and last weekend was no exception that they did a fantastic job from that standpoint. But, we have been very strong at these last few races. I don't think there has been a race, recently, where we have not been on the pace. We have always been right there, and if you can put yourself in those situations then you are going to have the chance to lead and then you are going to have the chance to win at the end, and that is what we have been working on doing is putting ourselves in those situations to be around for a possible victory. We still have two races left and that is what we are trying to intend to do on one of these last ones. Both, if I can.

K. Johnson: Absolutely, I mean, you mentioned closing the season in a strong manner. You have recorded top-10 finishes in each of your past four outings and that has encompassed both Superspeedway's, as well as, the smaller tracks. How do you feel you have adapted to the various size ovals on which you have competed this year?

D. Wheldon: Well, like I said earlier, I am still a little bit behind on experience. When you put yourself up against Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, they have all been in a major racing series for, certainly, more than a year, which this is pretty much my first year. You learn so much each race, that they have an advantage. As the races go on, I feel I am getting more and more comfortable with knowing what I want from the race car in the race situation, because, obviously, it changes from what you ran in qualifying and what you ran in the race. Just from experience, that is really helping. I feel I've adapted to the various ovals well. But, I am certainly in a very fortunate situation to be with Andretti Green Racing and, particularly, having Michael (Andretti) as your boss. I mean, his experience is second to none. But, being with this team has really, really, I think, increased and sped up my learning curve to no end.

Q: You mentioned that you were used to winning multiple races in every series that you were in until you came into the IRL IndyCar Series. Has it been difficult for you, even though in your mind, realistically, you know you have to learn to win in this form of racing and the competition is up? But, given all of that, is it difficult going away from the racetrack not a winner?

D. Wheldon: Yes, it sucks, to be quite honest. But, you know, I have to be patient. I am in a very fortunate situation, and I believe I have what it takes to do it. So, as long as I leave each race having learned as much as I absolutely can, and then, having not made any mistakes or certainly making sure that I reduce that number to virtually zero every time I go out, then I'm happy. Like, I think, this weekend I certainly put myself in a position and it just didn't happen. But, still, I think, a fourth place position is a good result.

Q: Good morning, Dan. Hey, is it as much fun for you guys to race wheel-to-wheel at 220 miles an hour as it is for us to watch it?

D. Wheldon: Well, you watch the race on TV and it's, I mean, you guys probably thought it was good, but running that race, the whole 200 laps, is an amazing experience. If I had a clear visor on, you would have probably seen my smile from ear to ear. But, at the same time, yes, absolutely, probably the best feeling you will ever have or certainly, I think, it's the best feeling you will ever have. But, you have to concentrate so hard, as well. So, it is kind of, you have two different feelings going on at once. You have one of sheer excitement and that feeling of fun, but then, you also have the feeling of knowing that you have to remain 100 percent focused for the full 200 laps, which is very difficult. It is not easy, because you have cars running side by side. If you make a mistake, you can cause something big to happen and, obviously, Brian Barnhart (senior vice president of racing operations for the IRL), I think, does a fantastic job with the drivers, making sure that they realize what they are doing a
nd at the speeds they are doing and making sure we don't do anything silly. But, yes, like I don't know, what you think is fun, you need to times that by a massive amount because that is the amount of fun I was having.

Q: Hey, I am just curious what kind of reaction friends and family on the other side of the pond have, Dan, when they see these races, because, as you know, there is nothing over there, and nothing over here, and NASCAR certainly has nothing to compare with you guys going wheel to wheel, doing two bills, and then needing a microscope to figure out who won at the end. What do they think back home?

D. Wheldon: Well, you know what, I think, certainly, now they've got an English driver in the series, that has created a draw for those guys. But, what they've been brought up with, and a lot of people back home in Europe, is Formula 1 and the different series, Formula 3 and Formula 3000. And, in that you really don't see too much overtaking. These races are played on a Sunday night for the English fans, and when they switch on the TV on Sunday night, they see a train of cars. They don't just see three or four running together, they see a pack of sometimes, maybe, even 20, when every car is in line and they see constant overtaking. I mean, I don't know anybody that, having watched the race on Sunday, could not say that that is one of the best races that they have ever seen and it is the same for those guys. They are just absolutely thrilled to see that much overtaking. They probably see more overtaking in one lap than what they do in a whole entire F1 race, and I think it is really starting to draw the crowds. I think what will really help is, as, like, the personalities of the drivers, as they become more obvious to the fans, then they can root for their guy. I hope that, mostly, they will stick with me, but it really is drawing them and I think it is only going to get more popular over there, I really do.

Q: Conversely, Dan, as you know, there is some talk, and I guess Brian (Barnhart) has alerted the chassis manufacturers to the possibility, that there could be some road courses added. I am just kind of curious about your thoughts, because if anybody can figure out how to overtake on a road course, it's probably you IRL guys anyway?

D. Wheldon: Yes, I think it will be great for the series to go there, and I am certainly looking forward to them. In saying that, I am having a great time right now with all of the ovals. So, I think what will happen, will happen. But, if it does I will certainly be looking forward to them.

Q: In that race Sunday, you were sitting there right behind those three guys. What was your view from there and did you think about making it four, four side-by-side?

D. Wheldon: I was thinking about it and it was not particularly nice because I could not see anywhere for me to thread through. But, no, I think the one thing, the eyesore, was that all three guys held their line when it really was particularly tight. But, there was nothing I could do. I had three guys blocking the track in front of me. I do not think it would have been viable to make it four-wide and so, unfortunately, I had to kind of settle for the fourth-place finish. But, you know, those situations happen, and I think if you keep yourself around that lead group in all of these remaining races, then next year you are going to be able to pick up a victory. It is going to fall your way, I am sure.

Q: Well, what have you learned, now you are finishing up in the top-five or so, and what have you learned now about what it is going to take to win?

D. Wheldon: I think it's like always, I think everything just has to go right for you. You have to put yourself in the right place at the right time. Things have got to fall your way. You have to have a fast car, not so much so at the start of the race, at the end of the race and then, like I said, if you can put yourself in a position at the end of the race with your car that is handling well and with good power, you are going to win and it is just a case of that all happening at once. I think with these races, you just have to make sure you are 100 percent focused the full 200 laps, and concentrate on making sure that your car is very good in traffic so you can put it where you want it, and then doing that.

Q: Now you are going out to test at Fontana. How much does two days of testing help you a week before the race?

D. Wheldon: Well, where it ultimately helps us on is finding speed. It is so competitive now that you don't have a day where any of the things of sitting back thinking 'oh we did well this weekend, we will just relax and go to the next race', it is not like that. Every team is striving to improve their performance, and that is what we are going to be doing. The one thing that is hard to reciprocate at a test is those race conditions that you saw on Sunday at Chicago. That normally comes at the race weekend. But, if you can fine-tune your car so you can qualify well, that puts you in a good position. But, then you just have to make sure that your car, you are feeling that your car is going to be good for the race, so when you come to the race weekend and you put it in a situation where there is a lot of traffic, it will work well.

K. Johnson: Dan, let us talk a bit about Andretti Green Racing and the fact that, here we are two events from the end of the 2003 season, but you have one teammate, Tony Kanaan, battling for the series championship, overall, you have another teammate, Bryan Herta, who steps in midway through the season and is a viable candidate to win any event, and then you have you, who, despite missing the first two races of the season, has a chance to be the top rookie in the series. And you look at the fact that, had you been in those first two races, you might be in the top eight or 10 in points, as well.

D. Wheldon: Yes, I think that is the one thing about Andretti Green Racing. I mean, you guys have to remember that this is their first year in this series, and I think they have done a fantastic job of adapting to a different series and gaining a thing that is so strong, week in, week out. There's not been one race where you really could have discarded any one of the Andretti Green Racing cars. I think, with that, from a team standpoint, we are only going to get better and better. But, they work so, so hard. Everybody in the shop, from the owners down to the guy that sweeps the floor, they are just dedicated to winning. I am very privileged to drive for them and enjoy driving for them. There is great atmosphere in the team and I cannot see that stopping, to be honest.

Q: Dan, from the Test In The West, just your impressions about the Fontana track and is it a place you think you are going to enjoy going maybe a consistent 220 for 200 laps?

D. Wheldon: Yeah, I love Fontana. It has been very good for me, certainly, in Indy Lights. I would say that, I think, you are going to see a very similar race as in Chicago. I don't think it's going to be any different, and I think it's going to be great for the fans. I think the drivers are all looking forward to it and so, yeah, I love the place. I used to live in California, actually, so it is always nice for me to go back there.

Q: Oh, that's great. Just one other thing, the Angels gave me a rally monkey to give to you. I know Tony collects the monkeys, he has that collection and I gave him the one at the IRL night in Phoenix and then he won the race a couple of days later. I know he is throwing out the first pitch next week, too. Just as a teammate, Dan, is there something about Tony, I know there is no such thing as team orders in this sport, but, if it comes down to it at Texas and you guys have a chance to kind of ride shotgun for him to help him win a championship, is he the type of teammate where you would look forward to doing something like that for him?

D. Wheldon: Yes, I would do everything I can to help Tony win the series. I think it would be great for the team, I think it would be great for him. I mean, you have to say, even on bad weekends he has really brought the car home in a strong finishing position considering the circumstances and, yeah, I will do whatever I can to help him. But, obviously, I am after, I mean I would like to accomplish finishing in the top 10 in points and winning the rookie of the year, that is my goal. So, I want to achieve my goals, too. If that can coincide with helping Tony, then that's what we're going to do, because it will be good for the team to win that championship or win this championship in their first year.

Q: Just a last thing Dan. You are talking about your boss, Michael Andretti, and what he has done giving Bryan Herta, obviously it is terrible to see Dario (Franchitti) get hurt and people miss him terribly, but you know how tough rides are to come by these days, Dan. But, he gives Bryan this opportunity and Bryan has become such a force for you guys. What does that say about Michael, in terms of mixing the business and the personal? It's not just dollars and cents or bottom line or where you finish in a race, but that he would go out of his way to help a friend like that?

D. Wheldon: Well, to really sum it up in pretty much one sentence, I think a very smart guy; I think a loyal guy and an honest guy. And, with that in hand, he seems to be able to make decisions that always come right for him, and you have to give him credit for that.

Q: Dan, you were just talking about the qualities of Michael Andretti, and I know he has been in your pits, lately. How much does that mean? Is he ever on the radio to you or is he just standing there pretty much evaluating what is going on?

D. Wheldon: No, actually, Michael has been in my pit from the get-go. He, basically, just keeps an eye on everything that is going on, pretty much, though, from the standpoint of he helps me decide what I need from the racecar. He listens and just takes in everything, and then he will kind of give his overview at the end of the session and then when we all sit down in the engineering meeting, decide perhaps where we need to go for qualifying or where we need to go for the race. He will, obviously, he can draw from a ton of experience and he can say, 'Well, I think this is going to happen, why don't you steer towards this?" Or, 'Yes, I think you are right on that, let's go ahead and do that.' You know what people forget? I mean, the guy has not only ran in a ton of races, he has also won a lot of them as well.

Q: 41.

D. Wheldon: Yes, so he's experienced. It's not only experience, it is experience from winning and it is experience from, perhaps, qualifying fifth and knowing what to do to dominate the race. That's what he has, and that's helped that he's been working with me and he has been very, very good at it. He has a great personality, too. He's a very funny guy. He keeps everything very relaxed, but at the same time he is 100 percent committed to winning.

Q: One real short question. Has Michael said anything that he would like to be back out there in the mix of that race last Sunday?

D. Wheldon: I think Michael is just way too busy, to be honest, to even be thinking about racing. I think he is bringing a lot of great new sponsors into the sport with the help of Kevin Savoree and Kim Green, and that takes time. Then, he is, obviously, making sure he focuses on doing the best for his team in the future. So I honestly think, I think he is enjoying being a team owner, I don't think he has had any thoughts about getting back into the car, but I think he, obviously, has thoughts on just seeing what he can do to improve the team, to make sure it is really, really strong and stays strong in the competitive environment of the IRL.

K. Johnson: Dan, there does not appear to be anymore journalists with questions, so at this time I would like to thank you for taking part of your morning to join us today, and we wish you the best of luck over the remainder of your schedule, as well as your pursuit for Bombardier Rookie of the Year honours.

D. Wheldon: Thank you very much.

 

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