Ryan Hunter-Reay, Darren Manning, Alex Tagliani, Eric Bachelart, Bob Jenkins, Jeff Goldberg and Terry Angstadt
About the speakers: IndyCar Series drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Darren Manning and Alex Tagliani, and Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart discussed recently signed deals for the 2009 season. Bob Jenkins, Jeff Goldberg and Terry Angstadt discussed the first season of IndyCar Series coverage on VERSUS.
VERSUS: Bob Jenkins, Jeff Goldberg and Terry Angstadt
· VERSUS is in its first year of a 10-year agreement to be the exclusive cable television home of the IndyCar Series.
· The network will air more than 130 hours of programming in 2009, including 12 live races, one-hour preview shows prior to each of those races, and three-hour race re-airs following those races.
· The network debuted its coverage with a series of one-hour shows in March.
· Jenkins will call the play-by-play during races with Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl providing analysis in the booth, and Jack Arute, Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston providing analysis from pit lane.
· Goldberg is the vice president of programming for VERSUS.
· Angstadt is the president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League.
· 28-year-old entering his third season in the IndyCar Series and his first with Vision Racing
· Will be teammates with Ed Carpenter, marking the first time Hunter-Reay will have a full-time teammate since 2004
· Earned Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 after debuting midway through the season
· Won his first series race at Watkins Glen in 2008
· Won Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 with a sixth-place finish
· Recorded 10 top-10 finishes in 2008
· Has made 23 career starts, recording one victory and 13 top-10 finishes
Conquest Racing: Eric Bachelart and Alex Tagliani
· Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart announced that Alex Tagliani will drive the team’s No. 34 entry at St. Petersburg in a partnership with Northlands of Edmonton
· Conquest fielded two cars last year in its first season in the IndyCar Series since 2002
· Team had a best finish of fifth last year with Enrique Bernoldi at St. Petersburg
· Tagliani drove in the final three races of the season with Conquest in 2008, finishing 12th at Chicagoland and fourth in the non-points race at Surfers Paradise
· Tagliani is a 36-year-old veteran of eight seasons in Champ Car where he recorded one victory and 32 top-five finishes
· 33-year-old veteran of four seasons in the IndyCar Series
· Signed to drive the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car at St. Petersburg
· Has made three starts at St. Petersburg, leading three laps in 2005 and qualifying fifth in 2007
· Finished a career-best second at Watkins Glen last year
· Competed for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2004-05 and A.J. Foyt Racing in 2007-08
· Has made 58 career starts, recording seven top-five finishes and 25 top-10s
Q: Terry, can you tell us a little bit about the league's role in working behind the scenes with the teams and the drivers to put these deals together?
TERRY ANGSTADT: One of the many challenging aspects of our business is to really try to align kind of the goals and objectives of suppliers, sponsors, drivers, teams, venues, fans and viewers, so talk about a complex business model. But there is nothing more important to us right now at this stage of our development than having a strong car count. And I think in particular when you see a couple of ‑‑ we had a couple of real projects. When you see the talent and the marketability of a Ryan Hunter‑Reay, believe me, we were just working hard trying to make sure Ryan got in a car. He's arguably one of our most talented drivers, clearly one of the most marketable and very important for our business to have on the track. And again, Ryan has worked hard. His camp has worked hard. We had a lot of people pulling in the same directi on.
And yes, we certainly try to use as many league assets and as many sponsor relationships, business‑to‑business opportunities that we try to connect, and in this case I really do , and I've said before, compliment, not just because he's my boss, but I compliment Tony (George) for really taking the opportunity that I think was right for our business. It was right for Ryan. It was right for his team to really make that happen. And to see Alex's ride firm up, see Darren and Dreyer get the second car going, that's really exciting stuff.
We were hoping for 22 to start the season. I think we're there, and I think it's going to clearly go up in Long Beach. So again, I think a lot of good, hard efforts in the offseason are paying off in that very important car count.
Q: Jeff, could you comment on the innovation say in the past decade or so that has brought the race closer to the fans, and not only innovation that's in the past, but what are you looking at going forward, something coming down the road that might even enhance it even more than say the past decade or so?
JEFF GOLDBERG: What we want to do is bring the race as close to the fan as possible, so we're going to use all the bells and whistles available to us. And as far as in the future, we're going to look at all ‑‑ any new technology that's developed. I'm sure as we get through this initial season that will probably start giving us ideas of where we can enhance technology‑wise once we start really getting our hands on the production of the races.
I think you'll see in our telecast, the fan is going to feel that wow. I'm positive of it. Terry Lingner is the best race producer in the business, and he's got all the bells and whistles at his disposal. That wow factor is going to be there day one.
Q:Bob, tell us your perspective, your thoughts on coming back and taking the play‑by‑play role with the IndyCar Series and what fans can expect.
BOB JENKINS: First of all, I'm just really excited to be back in TV. It's been a while since I had a job in that area, having worked the last two and a half years in radio. But it's just great to be back on TV.
I think the thing that I'm looking forward to most is providing race fans with what they have been asking for for several years now, and that is expanded coverage. The IndyCar Series, the Firestone Indy Lights have great racing. They have great personalities involved in it, and we're going to try to expose that and show people exactly how good our sport is and how friendly and cool the drivers are. With the expanded coverage that we're going to have on day-before telecasts wrapping up qualifying and setting the scene for the race the next day, and the expanded coverage of the race itself with a rather extensive pre‑race show and then a post‑race show, that's what race fans have been wanting and that's what we're going to give them on VERSUS.
Q: Ryan, coming in late like this, you don't really have the benefit of any of the preseason testing. How quickly will you guys be able to get up to speed and get where you want to be?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, we have high expectations right off the bat. I haven't been in the car at all, so the first session in St. Pete, depends on how much we need to change around. The braking, the steering rack, all these things are fitted to the driver and the driver's preferences, so we might have to climb through some of that. But there's no reason why we can't be very competitive this weekend. I certainly expect us to be.
I worked with the team this past week on what we need to see out of the car. We have a game plan set, and I was lucky enough to get in the car there at Sebring with HVM, and that was a very productive test. At least I've got 50 laps under my belt here prior to jumping in at St. Pete.
But yeah, we're way behind the other teams and the testing they've done. But it's a street circuit, and this is probably the best venue I could ask for to start out because I feel at home there.
And also, I'm used to jumping in cars at the last minute, with the pressure on with no practice. That's what I did with Rahal in '07 and that worked out well.
Q: Eric, tell us a little bit about the deal with Alex and Northlands.
ERIC BACHELART: Northlands is the organization that presents the Edmonton IndyCar (Series) race. So we'll promote the race this weekend with the Rexall Edmonton Indy becoming a primary sponsorship for the first race of the season.
Obviously, we're very happy and very pleased with the sponsorship. They've done a very good event in Edmonton for all these past few years, so it will be great to promote them this weekend with another great event in St. Pete.
Of course we're very, very happy to have Alex with us again, and we know him well, and Alex has done a really good job with us at the end of the season last year with a best finish of fourth in Australia, so we're going to try to keep in that path.
Obviously, there's not that much chance to test together to do a good preparation for St. Pete, but I'll tell you, when we put Alex in the car in Detroit last year, we were very impressed with the way that he adapted to the car, and I know he's extremely motivated, and I feel confident that we'll do well this weekend.
Q: Alex, as Eric mentioned there, you joined the team last year for the final three IndyCar Series events and had a fourth-place finish in the race at Surfers Paradise. Give us your perspective on this opportunity to start the season with Conquest.
ALEX TAGLIANI: It was definitely a fantastic opportunity for me last year to join the IndyCar Series for the first time and having the opportunity to do it with Conquest. Obviously, the first scenario was not the best. I jumped mid‑weekend on Saturday morning. You're not racing a little go‑kart at the local race, you're racing with the best in the world. So it was a little bit difficult, but I was surprised that I adapted quite well to the cars. The Conquest team has a very good group of people, and they're capable of giving me a fantastic car.
We gel well. We went to Australia, and we had a great weekend, very competitive. So we're motivated. This event unfortunately happens really late, but we're working on something for the rest of the year, and it's really important that we join the IndyCar Series in St. Pete, and we feel that with everybody on board and with the group of people that Conquest has, we could have a good car and definitely do a good showing in St. Pete, even if it's difficult conditions.
Q: Darren, tell us a little bit about how your deal came together.
DARREN MANNING: Well, I guess I've been on the minds of Dennis (Reinbold) and Robbie (Buhl) since the end of last year. We were in talks about trying to get a deal together for Australia, which didn't come about. They wanted to try and get me in the car for that, and we had several conversations around that kind of time. I guess I was just on their minds when the opportunity arose that they needed a guy at the last minute. And literally late evening, I got the call, and fortunately I wasn't doing anything else.
I know St. Pete very well and can offer the team and their primary driver, Mike (Conway), a good head of experience and hopefully some good speed and a good performance that I've always had ‑‑ good performances. Maybe not the results that I might have had, and we were running up in fifth place with only a few races to go when my gearbox broke last year, and that would have been good, and similarly other times with Ganassi and Foyt, as well.
So it's a good track and a good little team. I know what they've been doing over the winter, and I'm pretty excited, especially seeing as I wasn't doing anything on Monday, and then yesterday afternoon it all came about. I've got to get myself ready and shaped up for this coming weekend and leaving this afternoon to go down there.
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 126. The radio broadcast also will be carried on indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg. The races will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.