Q: Alex, we've had a lot of great Canadian drivers here, but this is the first time a Canadian driver has been on the pole. Tell us about it.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Well, you know, it's difficult to explain. A lot of sacrifice and tears and pain through my career, but you know, I think for this team, just the fact that everybody is still intact, and they accepted my offer to be part of this adventure last year, and they take the risk to lose credibility if the driver is no good and if the resources are not there; and for Joe Atkins from Bowers & Wilkins after a 20-minute phone call, he said, 'OK, I'll sponsor you,' and he got hooked to be the sponsor of this team; and for Sam that looked at it and said this is an entity that is good and deserves to continue; and just for the boys. Like I'm at the shop most every day, and I see how much passion they have to build this car. You know, it's good already. We sit on the top most of the week, but every time you go into our garage, you know, they always do something on it, and I think that shows how much they care and how much they want to have results.
So like I said, it's very difficult to explain, but to do it here at this particular time, you know, the 100th anniversary, if you participate in the 100th, you didn't do the first one and you won't do the 200th, so this just happens once!
Q: Sam, his is a great personal accomplishment for Tags, but what a day for your race team.
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, I mean, I'm rarely at a loss for words, but this has been difficult ever since it happened to put it into words. I mean, California grew up watching Rick Mears and just dreamed about coming to this place and then was fortunate – my dad was actually a team owner here for the Donald Davidsons of the world in 1978 and '79, and they didn't have any great success, and then started coming here, drove here in '97 and '99. It's truly huge. Whether it's the 100th anniversary, whether it's the adversity that this team has overcome and Alex has overcome personally, whatever, I mean, it's just really, really large.
Q: Alex, How important was it for you to have someone like Allen McDonald who's already won this race with Andretti Green?
AT: Allen is a guy that I would like to have as an engineer until I end my career in open-wheel, racing basically. He's a great friend. In racing there's a lot of emotions, and I've said, like not long ago, that we were coming off the wheel because I'm a road course specialist and I'm not going to be happy until I sit on pole in street course and road course, but here, he's amazing. He has this patience and this plan prior to start running the car where as a driver you –you know, it actually relaxes you a lot because you just listen to him, the way he wants to do things.
If you've seen the statistics last year, we ran probably 89 laps before we start racing. I don't know how many laps we did before we qualified, but we're the car that completed the least. He knows this track a lot. He knows the track with a lot of particularity when it's windy and the temperature, so I was on track when I needed to be and getting great confidence about the car, and when we started trimming, he's always telling me what we're doing and what I should expect, and it allows me to be pretty good with the tools when I need to go out there and adjust the car.
He plays a big role, and what I like about Alan is also that he allows everybody to have a good spot in the team. Brendon Cleave, he's an amazing engineer, as well, and he's acting as a damper and assistant engineer, Robert Gue, Craig Luba, the guys, they just like working with Allen because Allen gives them a chance to be part of this group and developing the car through the winter. You know, Sam allowed them to pretty much do everything they wanted because he believes in the capabilities that they have. So I think the chemistry is very important. It's not just a one-man show. It's a big team effort here.
Q: Alex, Scott Dixon said that you had worked primarily on qualifying through this week. Is that true, or did you do some race setup?
AT: No, I mean, early in the week we were on pretty heavy downforce with a full tank, so obviously the tires were better than they're going to be when you're going to have full tanks. But we know what the car has in regards of speed with the downforce. But yes, you know, I think Scott realized that we don't have the luxury to go out there and risk a car that is capable of being on pole, and it was the smart approach.
I think knowing it from the NASCAR guys, when they have a car that is very good, they just never run it other than at that track, and that's why they keep accumulating cars in their shop, because they're just getting paranoid that that car is just good at that particular track. So this car is the car I drove last year. It was fast. It unloaded fast. If you feel that you have a shot to be on the pole for the 100, you're not going to go out there and draft people and put yourself at risk. And Rob Edwards, the manager, and with Sam, they said, past 5:00 you guys pull back in the garage because it's going to get crazy out there, lots of tows, and we just followed the plan, and I think that's why we're here tonight.
Q: Sam, it seems your team has more rights to gripe than most other teams. Look at the things that have happened, not only with Sam, obviously with your situation in the past, but all the events of the last winter for Alex, and yet your attitude, folks are always smiling, and here you are now. Is there some special thing that you're doing to try to intentionally stay positive, and has that paid off, or is that just something that's part of the people who are there?
SS: I don't know how long people have known Alex, but I don't think he has a problem with that as far as a positive attitude. For me when something like this happens you can either choose to stay at home and watch ESPN all day or you can get out and do something with your life. For me, I've done a lot of things in my life. The thing that made getting up every morning worthwhile, beyond my faith and my family pushing me, was the ability to come out here and compete. I make no bones about it; I'd much rather be in the driving seat rather than in the owning seat, but this is definitely the second-best thing, and this is really special because at the end of the day, as Alex has said a couple times, it's much more difficult to put the right group of people together, and it's much more challenging. To get this all to work is really difficult.
So at the world's greatest venue in the world, to have this today is –it just makes it all that much more special. I mean, I was more than willing to pack it in at 4:00 o'clock, take the trophy and go home with that rain delay. I was calling on everybody I knew with Cherokee blood lines to do a rain dance. But the reality is this is much more special to go out there and actually do it and beat them at their own game, so to speak, and with a much smaller operation, much less funding, and I think that's what the Indy Racing League and the IndyCar Series is all about.
AT: A bit to anticipate your question, I think if you would be able to see us at work during the week, Allen McDonald comes from a pretty big organization. He comes from Andretti Green, and they were running four cars. But he's really happy. You know, he's really happy where he is, and I think the respect that Rob Edwards has accumulated over the years working for Walker, 16 years with the same team, when he picked up the phone and he called the guys, three quarters of the team, I worked with them in the past, and you know, didn't take long for them to accept.
And when we work together, we're just – we fight, we kiss each other, we hug each other, we go for dinner. You know, it's just like we all know what's at stake. We want this team to succeed. You know, like we don't put our sweat, our tears, our effort just to come here and parade and just say we're part of the Indy 500 or we're just going to compete in IndyCar. And this year it was even more, because for me when I started, I had this discussion many times, it's like last year we didn't have a leader. I accepted to start this team because it was my opportunity to be in the seat. I wanted to be in the seat.
But now we have a leader in Sam, who has shown trust in us very quickly, and that's why the chemistry just continues. Just now we want to win for our leader, because there's a lot more pride when there's someone on top that controls us and gives us a direction than when the driver is in the seat and his partner is in Montreal. It was the wrong, I think, structure. I think there's more to come from this.
Q: Both of you obviously are on a very happy high right now, but just a comment. I think as the week unfolds you'll come to understand how many other people who followed your week, how many of those you made happy and how many people will end up being just cheered up by what you both have done.
AT: Yeah, I realize a bit. I tried to be available as much as possible in the garage to the fans. Like I said before, the one thing that also makes me very happy is that I'll be able to get rid of some beers that I have in the bus because Joe Atkins from Bowers likes to drink his beers, and with the pole we'll get rid of the beers. But also, all the people that for some reason, are a little bit tired of the domination of the Penskes and the Ganassis, everyone that came and cheered for us and bet on us, I'm happy that we didn't make them lose money.
Q: Last year you kind of surprised everyone when you made the Fast Nine, and this year you repeated it and now claimed the pole. Talk about the difference between last year and this year and how you went through that.
AT: Well, you know, it's my third time here at Indy. The first year I went through a big roller coaster, as well, came out with the Rookie of the Year. But it was not easy. I had bad luck and luck to be back in the field at the end, but I felt the pain of this musical chair and pulling out of line and not wanting to risk, and we paid the price at the end. And then last year I was on the other side of the fence. We were very strong from the beginning.
But this year I think is just – how important it is for a team to continue on what they built. You know, it's not very easy to be a one-car team on the weekends. Normally we don't have the luxury to have people like Dan Wheldon and Townsend Bell to come and look at data and work together and improve bit by bit when it's getting so competitive. And that's why teams like Ganassi and Penske have multiple cars, because they feel like it's an advantage.
So this year I think it's just because we have been strong last year and over the winter, the crew and the engineering group built on it with very little change aerodynamically in the car and in the tires, it shows the potential that this team has. When we're in the window and we unload fast, I think we're pretty much on the top. But it's difficult when we unload and we're not in the window; being a one-car team at road courses we're struggling a bit because we're throwing the dice. But here I think it's a good place to show that the team is very, very strong.
Q: Sam, obviously today is a very special day for you and Alex, and I'm sure one of the lowest points in your life was probably when you had your accident in 2000. Could you just talk about where today rates in your life?
SS: Yeah, I've definitely had some roller coasters in my life, just – where does that rate? It's for sure near the top. First and foremost, my wife and my kids are the most important thing in my life, so seeing some of their accomplishments and seeing how they've grown up to be spectacular kids is really good. I'm sure it has nothing to do with me. But that's really special.
And leading the race here in '99 myself was really a special moment, and both Arie and I still feel like we should have won that race, but we didn't. So there's always just this burning desire to come back and finish what's unfinished. So this is– and then you've got the Indy Lights program. We've won five out of seven races here, which is spectacular, knock on wood, but it still doesn't fill the void of winning the best against the best.
This is one huge step forward, and, like Alex said, we knew coming in that it was fast, but as several people have seen over the years here, lots of funny things happen here – there's races within races. You've got to get through every practice. You've got to get through every day, and we had our spins with the rain this month, just all of these roller coasters this month.
From a racing perspective and an accomplishment perspective for the team, for Alex, for myself, this is right up there.