Q: Last year at the Indianapolis 500, you finished fourth. This year you're driving the No. 99 car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing. Year in and year out, that program seems to be one of the best one-off efforts from a non‑regular team. What are your thoughts about working with the organization?
“I'm fired up. We're hoping it's going to be a fast car. It's been fun getting to know Sam, and you can't argue with Ganassi's success on the ovals. We're looking forward to seeing what we get.”
Q: The car is sponsored by Herbalife. How did all of that come together, especially as early as it did?
“Well, it doesn't hurt to have a good run like we did in '09. Herbalife is a great sponsor. I've been with them for a few years now. We sat down last fall, they asked me point blank, ‘What do we have to do to win the Indy 500?' That's music to any racing driver's ears, when the sponsor really starts thinking about winning. We put together a program that hopefully gives you a good chance to compete for a win.
“I guess having a Ganassi car is going to give us a strong run. We're excited to figure out if we can compete for the overall win. So far, it looks good.”
Q: It was reported in Indianapolis today that IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard would like to get rid of the Indy Racing League moniker. There's a lot of emotions tied up with that phrase positive and negative. Do you see it as a nice gesture or is it just a name change for you guys now?
“For me I've always known it as IndyCar, so I don't think it's a change. I don't think it's about wanting to get rid of IRL as much as it is to get people to call it IndyCar racing at every opportunity, because if you stop 10 people on the street, I'd say 9 out of 10 or 10 out of 10 wouldn't have any idea what the IRL means. IndyCar at least brings up an image of a car and Indy, which is a good thing. I think it makes sense to encourage people to use that moniker.
Q: What do you think of the compressed schedule?
“I only did one race last year. I'm only scheduled to do one race this year. I want it to last as long as possible. I'd love to have the whole month of May back. That's just for selfish reasons.
“Practically speaking, it makes perfect sense. Everyone runs the same chassis, same engine, same tires – essentially, the same car it's been for a long time now. It's probably not necessary to spend three or four weeks running around when you can show up at a place like Kansas and have an event in essentially one day.
“But, for traditional reasons, I miss the fact I'm not in Indy right now. I'm sitting in a parking lot in Southern California, getting ready to go in and do some more boxing training for the Indy 500. I wish I was in Indy, running around, enjoying the tradition…but I understand why.
Q: Do you think this is maybe just a transitional year, trying different things to see what works in terms of fan interest, driver and team interest?
“I think from a fan interest standpoint, it wasn't as if we were practicing in front of 100,000 people, last year when you were in the second week of May and practice was starting. I don't know that there was much demand from the fan side to watch practice. Even qualifying, for that matter.
“I think what would be better is 10 days from now on qualifying weekend if we had a much bigger crowd for qualifying because the format is that much more exciting and concentrated. I think that's what we're all hoping for, is that this format will get people pumped up about watching qualifying, whether it's in person or on TV. I think it's going to be a really good format.
Q: What do you think about racing simulators and do you use them in your training?
“I love racing simulators. I think it's fascinating how that has evolved very rapidly over the last few years. I do use one in training. I use one called the CXE Motion Pro II, which is a high-end, but commonly available simulator. I think it's fantastic.
“There's two sides to simulators: There's software and hardware. The hardware is what you sit in, the steering wheel, the feedback, the motion of the simulator. The software is the track model, what you see visually. That's really the area that's evolved. This company, iRacing, I think his name is John Henry, he's invested millions in giving people, everyday Joe, great access to wonderful track models that are super accurate.
“From my standpoint, I don't get to drive an Indy car that often these days, so it makes up for it being in the simulator."