Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing, and Mike Hull, managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, met the media Friday to discuss next week's Las Vegas Indy 300, which will decide the IZOD IndyCar Series championship between their respective drivers, Will Power and Dario Franchitti.
Q. Gentlemen, it seems like I ask this question to you every year, but what is it about the two organizations you work for and oversee that keeps putting drivers in positions to win the title?
MIKE HULL: I don't know, it's not easy to answer that question. I think what it actually is, though, it's a team of people for us that work well together, and we continue to work well together. We're surrounded by great drivers, great sponsors, and certainly a great owner who all together devote their tireless energy to continuing to win together, and I think it's as simple as that.
And secondly, racing against a team like Penske Racing is what motivates us at Chip Ganassi Racing, because of what Penske Racing has accomplished over time. We're only at the tip of the iceberg on that. We're just really starting, whereas Penske Racing has been doing it a lot longer than we have and certainly very successfully, and it's fun and a pleasure to race IndyCars together with these guys.
TIM CINDRIC: I think Mike covered most of it. I think it's the drive that Roger has, and behind that drive he puts us in a position relative to not only resources but just the overall legacy that he has within the sport that when you become part of this organization, you just want to try and at least keep that legacy moving forward, and obviously you'd like to add to it. But you certainly don't want to take away from that legacy. Did I ever think that I'd be a part of a team that's achieved those type of results? I think it's a bit unrealistic to expect that. But here it's something that he does expect, and he expects results, and with that, it usually breeds confidence and you find more of yourself and of your team maybe than what you had thought was possible.
Again, it's the people that make the difference, but those people also need resources, and we've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by the right type of sponsors. But at the end of the day, his leadership has a lot to do with it. You know, you just feel like being able to race – you have to have people to pass, but you also have to have people that challenge you, and that's certainly been the case with Mike and his group.
Q. Tim, is Will the same driver who battled for the title in 2010? Is he different than he was this time a year ago?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, he's got another year under his belt just like the rest of them, but I think his overall demeanor and his approach and really his self‑confidence on the ovals is different than it was last year. I think right now it's hard to match the overall experience level of Mike's drivers on the ovals relative to Will, but I think that he's certainly grown in that respect, and he knows he has more to do, but right now I don't look at him any differently than our other two guys in regard to what's possible.
Q. Mike, a little bit about Dario going for a third championship in a row and the fourth for your team. Where do you rank him in terms of the champion drivers you've worked with?
MIKE HULL: Certainly he's representative of the great drivers we've had at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, if not the great drivers that have driven IndyCars over the years. I've been lucky enough to be around some really good ones and have seen guys, particularly at Penske Racing, that have represented oval racing and what it means.
When I first was lucky enough to be involved with IndyCar racing, there was a guy like Rick Mears who raced Indy cars, and I have enormous respect for what he accomplished and who he is today and the integrity of how he represents the sport, and I think that's what Dario does extremely well. He represents the integrity of our sport, the support of IndyCar racing, particularly oval IndyCar racing, and I think he guards and very much defines the lineage that he represents in terms of IndyCar champions, and that's why it's great to be around drivers like Dario and Scott Dixon and all the others that have done this. Will Power certainly represents that already with what he's accomplished. He's very special in what he does. Dario is very special at what he does, and it makes it fun to be part of IndyCar racing when you can be associated with guys like that.
Q. With Vegas being kind of a brand-new track for a championship race, how does that change your strategy going into the weekend?
MIKE HULL: Thanks for the question. I think that it allows us to bear down on what we need to do. It's a one-and-a-half-mile oval, so certainly some people would think that's the same as a lot of the other racetracks where we race. But I think Las Vegas is going to provide personality, the kind of personality for a racetrack that will be new and different for us.
The second thing is there's going to be 34 racecars represented at Las Vegas, and I think that provides complexity that we haven't seen for quite a long time. And I don't think in fairness you can say it's like Indianapolis that has 33. So that in itself will be a huge challenge for everybody involved, not only Will and Dario but the other people that are involved in racing at the racetrack.
Q. In other series like NASCAR, there's a lot of movement among crew members – Hendrick and Roush crew tend to migrate between each other. Does that happen very much with you guys? I would assume the physical distance between the Penske and the Ganassi shops probably precludes that. Has there been much crossover in terms of the rank and file in each of your IndyCar organizations?
TIM CINDRIC: I think both of our organizations, when you look at the amount of tenure that both teams have is quite extensive. There's those that move around, and yeah, there's guys on our team that have been in the Ganassi organization and vice versa. It's probably certainly not the norm. Obviously, we're not in the same city and have never been in the same city, so that makes it a bit more difficult for employees and so forth to have options in that way.
But I think that if you provide a good place that's difficult to get into and hard to leave, then you make your own bed in terms of keeping employees over a long period of time.
MIKE HULL: Yeah, I think we're lucky in our case, and I know Tim is in his case, that we have other teams that are under the same roof, and we have a lot – we do have some movement where we can provide opportunity for guys to expand their horizons and be promoted within, with four IndyCar entries under our roof as well as a Rolex Sports Car entry, we do move people around.
We've lost a couple of pretty good people to Penske, one being Sean Hanrahan, who's worked over there for a long time that did a great job for us. And maybe in a way we're lucky we're separated geographically because it allows us to not necessarily worry about people wanting to move to North Carolina from Indianapolis, and that's not all bad.
Q. I'm sure every company, every organization has different philosophies as to how they approach things, but do you think there's a lot of similarities between you guys and that's why you've emerged as the powerhouses of the series?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I think that people in our position are always trying to benchmark how other organizations are run. I know that I'm constantly learning from others in similar positions, and I think every place has its niche. Some look at certain things as important and others don't. But once it gets to the racetrack, in terms of the amount of preparation and the way in which I think we operate at the racetrack, it's very similar.
But I think that anyone at the top is benchmarking the other organizations, and those at the top are typically competing for not only space on the racetrack but space in terms of sponsors and in terms of their image, and it really depends on what their owner is looking for overall. I mean, Roger is one of these guys that's always come and run a very – I guess you would call it a button‑down organization. That's the way he's always looked at it, and there's other very successful organizations that don't look at that as nearly as important as he does, but that's his brand and his image going forward.
So I think there's differences on those fronts, but I think when it comes down to how your people and your drivers are looked after, I think we're continuing to be kind of students of how that's achieved.
MIKE HULL: We push the same buttons, we just do it differently. And I think the personality of who we are as a race team, whether it be Mr. Penske's organization or Mr. Ganassi's organization, the culture and the personality are defined by the owner. That's very clear at least for us.
And I think as time goes on, it becomes more clear for people that look at motor racing, no matter what their vocational situation might be. We're a reflection of Chip Ganassi at Ganassi Racing. We're a reflection of trying to get the most out of today. That's really important for us as a group, as an organization and as a defined culture.
I think that then drives us to understand how it is internally that we need to work to win versus organizations like Penske Racing, because Penske Racing has always defined what's important about IndyCar racing, and that's winning. Winning is the most important thing, and it's all about today's effort, and hopefully we can measure up as time goes on. We'll all look back eventually and see how it worked out.
Q. There's been a lot of different things tried this year to increase interest, a lot of different marketing ideas and a lot of different efforts plugged into making the season finale a showcase event. I am wondering, looking back on the year, what you thought worked and what you thought didn't work, and maybe that's in regard to how it affected racing.
TIM CINDRIC: I'm trying to go back and think about the changes that have changed between 2010 and 2011, and the discussion about the double-file restarts is one that has continued to evolve throughout the season. I think it's added to it. I think you're always going to have those that feel that it's a positive thing; those that feel like it's a negative thing. And sometimes it depends on how your fate is determined.
I think as an organization, we probably lost more points and more spots because of it than we gained. But the real focus should be on how to continue to have an unpredictable scenario, because I think that's what fans are after or what people like to watch. They don't like to watch something that's predictable.
Racing over the years has evolved to where the unpredictable nature of the sport had a lot to do with reliability. It had a lot to do with being the fastest versus being the one that's there at the finish. And over time, especially with the fact that we've had this equipment for so long, that part of, I guess, the mystique suffered a bit, and I think you'll see some of that come back again next year with the new cars and the engines and working some of the bugs out and the competition that's going to exist among the engine manufacturers is going to breed things to be pushed to the end again.
You know, I certainly think that it's something that throughout the year continued to evolve in terms of the procedures relative to our cars. Beyond that, I think one of the biggest differences really wasn't a rule, but I think Mike touched on it – the overall car count this year relative to really any years in recent IndyCar history that I can recall. It comes into play on pit lane with how big your pits are and how congested things are, and what your overall odds are for cautions during a race and that type of thing. So I think that's had as big an effect on the racing as maybe some of the rule changes have.
MIKE HULL: We work really, really so hard in the trenches of IndyCar racing that it's hard to sometimes look above where we are to look out there. Our reliance upon where [IndyCar CEO] Randy Bernard is working hard to push us is paramount to where we're going for the future.
What we've found, I think, this year is the fact that we have good promoters at some of the racetracks where we race. We reflect back on where that promotional value probably needs to drive us going forward, and it's not necessarily where the hard-core passionate, driven IndyCar fans have necessarily been in the past. It's more about where we're going to find and utilize and incorporate fans for the future.
If we look back on the events we've had this year, the best events over three days have been at some of the new racetracks where we've raced. Those are the fans that we need to utilize for the future. I think that's where it's at. The Baltimore event was extremely, extremely good because over three days we had people coming up to us that wanted to learn about IndyCar racing. That's really exciting. And for us that's where we need to go.
The double‑file restarts were all about trying to capture a television audience, whereas at the same time we need to push on the ratings, which aren't really very good generally where we go. You know, that's like the elephant in the room. I don't know if we need to talk about that or not. But the reality is the events where we can get ourselves in front of a lot of people in a hurry, in urban areas, will probably drive this sport in the short‑term to try to get us back to where we used to be in the long‑term. That for us is extremely important – trying to capture people who are very directly involved. Social media is pretty important for us going forward. We're not tapped into that market very well. We need to be there for the future. There is not – truly is not, in my opinion anyway – a racing organization either on two or four wheels in any format today that's attacked that audience very well. I would hope that with Randy's direction, we can be the first to do that.
I think IndyCar has a bright future. What Tim and I both saw at Mid-Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week is the future of IndyCar racing, and that being the test of a 2012 car driven by two of the three engine manufacturers that are going to be committed to the series going forward. That's what we need to push, is the fact that we're moving back in the right direction with IndyCar racing.
Q. I talked to a lot of drivers about some of the controversies this year and some of the outspokenness that there's been against the race director, and it seems it keeps coming back to “the rule book is the problem.” I'm wondering if you guys agree? When I asked Randy Bernard about it, he said the rule book at the end of the season needs an immediate scrubbing from front to back. Is that an accurate statement?
TIM CINDRIC: From our perspective, I think it's more than just the rule book. The rule book is all a matter of guidance, but at the end of the day, the sanctioning body has control over how the events are run. I think what you've seen in terms of the discussions this year has really, in our minds anyway, come down to asking for consistency in terms of how the rules are actually officiated. That's the part of it – and I think there's some philosophies about whether or not the one that comes up the most is really whether or not drivers should be allowed to impede the progress of the car behind them, and if they can or if they can't, what are the guidelines for that?
I think all the drivers are asking for is clear direction; they're looking for something that they understand, and they're looking for someone to enforce that or the sanctioning body to enforce that in a consistent manner. I think that's all a matter of opinion as to whether that's occurring or not occurring, and it's a difficult job for any one person to do.
Some series look at it as more of a committee and a spokesperson, and I think the process needs to be looked at as much really as the rule book or the individual people. It really comes down to ensuring good decisions are made, because there's no rule book that defines whether you restart a race or whether you don't restart a race, or at what point is the track ready to race on or what the conditions are. That's not the rule book. The rule book really has to be, again, consistently interpreted by the sanctioning body, and I think what there have been more discussions in this year of some of the inconsistencies that exist.
MIKE HULL: Yeah, I think that's what we have in common. It's not about a sledgehammer versus a flyswatter and who defines the rule for us in terms of a race director. It's more about creating consistency that seems to be fair, fair for everybody involved, and certainly we're all going to have differences of opinions on Sunday about how we're affected. But the relevant thing is that if in the eyes of the beholder – which are the fans, the team owners, the drivers, the crew members – if we're all fairly treated with consistency, that's all we can ask for, and the rule book is almost secondary to that. It's almost secondary.
Yes, the rule book needs to be cleaned up in certain areas because – I think I was quoted on this at some point in time before, it's kind of like Microsoft software: it's just one thing added on top other another on top of another on top of another instead of starting with a code from scratch. Hopefully something has been made that can straighten that out for us a bit, but consistency is the most important thing.
TIM CINDRIC: Just in terms of the rule book, to finish on that, the rule book needs to be something that the fans understand, because if they become overcomplicated, usually when people are confused they lose interest. I think that has to be another consideration, as well. As Mike said before, sometimes we're too close to the sport and need a simpler viewpoint.
MIKE HULL: What's happened is that, unfortunately, we've been driven into this corner called spec racing where in combination with the engine levels, the power levels are identical from car to car, the cars are identical, the tires are like granite now that we race on. Firestone does a great job with the tires, but they're extremely hard. There's no grip anymore to pass anybody in a braking area, there's no grip anymore to pass anybody as you come off a corner. And as a result of that, the rule book now is this microscopic thing where Brian [Barnhart] and his people in Race Control are trying to define where on the racetrack you can find this imaginary line to pass somebody, which is absolutely ludicrous. It's ludicrous now.
A driver who has enormous ability can no longer display it, because the cars are so identical to each other that a driver with ability can no longer get around somebody that they should be able to get round. Somebody leading a race can no longer get around a person that's running in 25th position cleanly. That's wrong. That's absolutely wrong. And to draw a line on the racetrack and say, “Oh, well, a guy can't pass over there because he's committed himself at the first part of the straightaway,” is absolutely ridiculous. It doesn't matter who built that rule or who has to define it; it's absolutely ridiculous.
We've got to get back to being able to give drivers what they need to get around each other. That's probably what we need to create for ourselves.
Q. Tim, how would you assess why Helio Castroneves has had such a lousy year? He's not only performing poorly, but he seems extremely frustrated publicly, and I'm wondering if there's an issue with him, if he's had problems with equipment. Just how would you assess him and his season overall?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, when we let him down like we did last week and gave him no opportunity to compete, that doesn't bode well for our organization or for him, because that was totally down to us as far as the results of a race like last week. I think that you've seen the Helio of old, and we've also seen situations in which – going back to double‑file restarts, for whatever reason, he's gotten caught up in quite a few of those, whether it's his fault or not, he's borne the brunt of quite a few incidents in the restart scenario.
He's obviously got the ability, because he's run second to Will a couple times this year, and certainly I don't feel that there's a mental situation. I don't think that he's distracted by something else, as others say. I've known him for quite some time. The Baltimore race was taken away from him completely, because as they rearranged all of the cars there at Baltimore after the turn was blocked, they put Helio back in his spot, but he was a lap down because they hadn't restarted his car yet, and none of the race officials realized that until Monday after the race. At that point in time, he was ahead of the second-place car in the race and would have probably finished at least second, if not beat Will.
He's had some things go against him. He's created his own luck in some ways. The incident [at Motegi] with passing under yellow, I think that's something that he's aware of, whether you pass under a yellow condition or you don't. The discussion there was more about the overall penalty relative to the crime.
So I think he's certainly ready to hit the reset button and move forward for next week, because I felt like last year was probably one of his best years behind the wheel.
Q. As exciting as it is out there with 34 cars entered in the Vegas race, is it also at the same time concerning considering the pit activity of Kentucky?
MIKE HULL: I don't know, Tim and I talked about that this week a little bit. My feeling about why we went away from the way that we used to choose pits was to try to make the racing more exciting for the people who are viewing it. But what I find myself doing, being on a timing stand and watching the race, I have to reorganize myself to understand who we're next to at a particular event – what does this driver do, what does the guy do that calls that driver's race, how do they get that guy in the box, how do they not, whereas it used to be we were a lot more familiar with that throughout the year.
But we're highly paid professionals – we're supposed to figure this out. It's disappointing that highly paid professionals getting in and out of their pit boxes can't get it done. It's disappointing that the people helping them get in and out of the box aren't always getting it done. It happens.
We just need to do a better job of that because the racing is supposed to be on the racetrack and not in the pit lane.