On the eve of the opening Indy Racing League pre-season test, the media got the chance to speak to four of the new races that will enter their first full season in the championship in 2004.

Britons Darren Manning and Mark Taylor were joined by Japanese ace Kosuke Matsuura and American hopeful Ed Carpenter to discuss their hopes, aspirations and chances for the forthcoming year.

MC:
We welcome the rookies who will be competing in the IndyCar Series in 2004. It is our first opportunity to say hello to Kosuke Matsuura, who is joining the IndyCar Series as a member of the Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Team. Next to him is Mark Taylor. Mark, who will be driving for Panther Racing in 2004, was the 2003 Menards Infiniti Pro Series Champion, and he points out, I have to mention that he will be sponsored by Johns Manville. Next to him is Ed Carpenter, who started three IndyCar Series events in 2003 with PDM Racing and has signed a full-time deal for 2004 with Cheever Racing. Ed will be our third rookie competing full-time for the Bombardier Rookie of the Year honour. And, finally, we have Darren Manning, who joins Target/Chip Ganassi Racing after a stint last year with Walker Racing in the CART series. We have to put an asterisk besides Darren Manning's name because, while Darren is here with the other 'rookies', he will not be competing for the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award, which troubles him greatly....

Darren Manning:
What exactly do you win for that?

MC:
$50,000.

DM:
I'm even more disappointed...

MC:
Darren, will, however, be a rookie at the Indianapolis 500 during the month of May.

MC:
Mark, how far forward are you looking to 2004, and has it been tough to be out of the car for last two or three months?

Mark Taylor:
Yeah, it has, although it's been nice to go back to England and see the family. I'm just really looking forward to this year, after being able to get a great sponsorship with Johns Manville and Menards. I'm still having to get used to it. It was such a shock to me, and it's great to stay with Panther, keep that going through to the next year. And it will help me with my rookie year, a lot to learn, and I'm looking forward to it.

MC:
Ed, what about you? This is obviously a big step for you after two years full-time in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and now you make the move to the IndyCar Series full-time.

Ed Carpenter:
After starting the three races last year with PDM, I really was not looking for any other option than competing full-time in the IndyCar Series this year. It's a great opportunity I have to be a part of his team, and I'm just looking forward to getting back on track with this test.

MC:
Kosuke, you made the move to the IndyCar Series this year. From what I understand, you were impressive in your test in Phoenix. How are you looking forward to racing this year?

Kosuke Matsuura:
I just do my best this year.

MC:
Darren, you were impressive on the ovals in the CART starts you made with Walker Racing. You did a lot with a little, and you are with one of the top teams this year. Talk about the excitement level and the adrenaline getting pumping as far as you're concerned.

DM:
Well, it's definitely, without a doubt, the best ride I've had in my career so far - and without putting any of the other rides down. It's my first time in a championship-winning car and engine package with Target/Chip Ganassi and Toyota. They are a proven package.

With Scott [Dixon] as my team-mate, it's probably the first time I've had a quick, quick driver as my team-mate - or at least a champion as my team-mate. It's going to be a good yardstick for me to judge myself on throughout the year, and hopefully I can keep that winning streak going for Toyota and Ganassi.

Q:
Ed, how did the deal come together with Red Bull Cheever Racing?

EC:
Obviously, I've known Eddie for a long time. He's been a family friend. After the three races I ran last year, they watched me perform and offered me a test. We tested in Phoenix in early December, so everything just kind of moved forward from there.

Q:
Darren, in light of everything that's going on, there might not be a Champ Car series in 2004, how fortunate do you feel to be here in this situation?

DM:
Well, I think the point I'd like to make is that I feel more fortunate to be wearing this nice new set of Target/Chip Ganassi Toyota overalls, with all of these great names on it. In whatever series I'm in, I want to be having a chance at winning races and winning championships, and this was the best opportunity to me, in whichever series it would be. It was a drive that I would snap up at any opportunity. So, I'm happy to be here. It's going to be great racing. It will be a shame, maybe, if CART dies, but I'm in a position that I'm glad to be in.

Q:
What's it going to be like for all four of you, have any of you tested since the end of last season? You're going on to a newly configured Homestead-Miami Speedway as the open test gets underway. What's it going to be like to take the green flag, to test at speed for the first time?

MT:
For three months, I've been looking forward to it. I haven't gotten in a car since we tested in Phoenix at the end of the year. It's going to be a whole lot of excitement there. Ed's had a little chance to look at it. I've been watching the races for the past year wanting to get in one, and now I've got my chance to. It will be a great opportunity for me, and I'm looking forward to it.

Q:
Kosuke, how difficult will the transition be moving from the road and street courses that you ran on in Europe to an all-oval series in 2004?

KM:
I think everything for this year is different. The oval circuits are completely different from road circuits. Even the speed is completely different, more than 200 miles per hour here.

EC:
I'm looking forward to getting started with this test. I haven't been in a car also since December, the same test Mark was at. I'm looking forward to getting back in the car and especially with this race getting the season started off on a really good note with the team. Just throughout the open testing this season, get our chemistry going and get [team-mate] Alex [Barron] and I working better together so we can start the season in full stride.

DM:
Well, I've been quite fortunate. I've been able to have a couple of tests already on this newly reconfigured oval here at Homestead. It went very well. So, yeah, I'm probably more looking forward to dropping the green flag at the race in the end of February rather than tomorrow, but it's going to be good to get out amongst all of the other teams. When I was testing, we were basically on our own, single cars out there at one time. You know, it's going to be good to get all of the new 2004 cars out there tomorrow and see what the pace of everybody is.

MC:
Darren, we have to exclude you from this next question but, for the other three, how important is it at the end of the 2004 season to have the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Trophy in your hand?

EC:
It's big. I mean, obviously, the competition in the IRL is really tough. Mark and I already have kind of a little competition, as we raced together all last year. He kind of got the better of me, winning the championship in the Infiniti Pro Series, so I'm looking forward to getting this Bombardier Rookie of the Year and taking the lead on him now.

Q:
Kosuke, last year, with Roger Yasukawa driving, it looked like he was going to win the Rookie of the Year, and Dan Wheldon came in and stole it away. How important is it for you to win the Bombardier Rookie of the Year title in 2004?

KM:
Actually, after Roger lost Rookie of the Year last year, I think my team owner said to me, my target is to get Rookie of the Year this year. And if I can, I want to win some races.

MC:
Mark, you come out of a situation where you won seven races last year in the Infiniti Pro Series. So I'm assuming you feel like you want to wind up in victory lane in addition to winning the Bombardier Rookie of the Year.

MT:
I feel like I have a great opportunity. The two teams that combined together - Panther and Menard - to get me this seat, both have great records as far as the IndyCar Series is concerned.

I feel that it's not necessarily the Rookie of the Year that I'm looking for, but race wins, to be able to learn all the way through the year and gradually get more comfortable in the car, get better results, finish the races. There's a lot more that goes into Rookie of the Year than just a title at the end of the day. It will be a prize that whoever wins it will have deserved it because there's a lot of effort that goes into it.

MC:
Mark kind of laughed at me when I called them this at the end of last year, but the 'fab four' has been adopted now fairly readily in Europe. Half of the 'fab four' is represented here today in Darren and Mark, both being from the UK, with, of course, Dario Franchitti being the third and Dan Wheldon the fourth. I'll pose this to you two, Mark and Darren..... If, seven or eight years ago, I had said to you 'you'll be in the United States competing in an oval series against three other drivers from the UK', how far-fetched would that idea have been to you then?

DM:
Pretty much, because there wasn't much representation from the UK several years ago. You know, the racing in Europe has got so hard to progress up through the ranks, and your talent is not very readily recognised over there anymore. It's just how big your chequebook seems to be nowadays. It looks like this is pretty much the land of opportunity. It's given four of us great jobs, but I wouldn't have thought it - definitely not.

Q:
Kosuke, is interest in the IndyCar Series growing in Japan?

KM:
Yes, it's getting famous. I will show you this April how famous....

 

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