An interview with JOSEF NEWGARDEN, GABBY CHAVES, SAGE KARAM
THE MODERATOR: We have what are billed as The Next Generation, drivers who had successes in a variety of our ladder series. Sage.
SAGE KARAM: I'm going to start this off by saying I have an announcement that I'm going to be at St. Pete in the Chip Ganassi No. 8 car, GE LED sponsorship. Really looking forward to that. Looking forward to getting in the series again. Yeah, let's get the series going.
THE MODERATOR: Going back to Florida with more good news.
SAGE KARAM: I'm always in Florida, which is cool. But to be going there to be racing is a cool thing.
We're looking forward to it. The whole team is working really hard. We're still trying to get the deal 100% confirmed for the whole season. To know we'll be on the grid for the first race is a positive.
THE MODERATOR: Gabby, exciting 2014 for you.
GABBY CHAVES: First of all, hello to everyone. My first day as for the IndyCar Series. I'm very happy to be here.
2014 is that dream season that somehow got put together the very last minute. It just happened. We started winning races, won the championship, got the scholarship to jump up to IndyCar.
I ran a test with Bryan Herta mid December. Went very well. Everyone was very pleased. After that everything took off. We worked very hard to secure this deal. I'm just very happy to be here. Can't thank anyone in the team enough, everyone involved in making this happen. I'm just very grateful for this opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Josef, a new racing team, configuration. Many are wondering about your 2015 plans. Talk about the off-season and everything moving forward.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Hello, everyone. Great to see you here at IMS. This is cool we're doing it here this year for Media Day.
First off, I think it's awesome that I can still pass for the young generation. I'm going on my fourth year, which I can't believe. But these are the young guns now. Sage and Gabby are such bright stars for the future. We have many more in the pipeline. The Mazda Road to Indy has done a good job at cultivating young talent. Have to keep getting young guys like Gabby and Sage into the system.
It's two great teams, Ed Carpenter Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Both have very local, home grown groups, prideful for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's great putting them together, getting everyone on the same page.
My first year as a two-car team, so that's the biggest thing for me. We have Luca Filippi, he is going to be in the car with Ed Carpenter splitting the time. He'll be my teammate on street courses.
Couple days together now of testing, which has been awesome, fantastic getting to learn about him, to learn how a two-car team works.
For us, that's the challenge. You have Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, who are so successful with multi-car groups. For us, it's about learning how to make that work. That's the big headline for us.
THE MODERATOR: Some of the great short tracks are the Chili Bowl Nationals. We saw Sarah Fisher get back in a midget in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Can we confirm your participation for 2016?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Everyone keeps asking me. She said she had a blast first off. I watched. She obviously won a heat race, was kicking butt.
That's not an easy thing to jump into. They run so many races in that series, those type of series, that it's difficult to try and wrestle those guys and come out on top.
It's like coming here to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kurt Busch had a great go at it, help from Andretti Motorsports. It's difficult to go up against the best of the best whatever series you're entering in.
One day I'd like to be part of the Chili Bowl. Amazing event. I hear it's a blast to be part of that event. Maybe one day you'll see me there.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for this group.
Q. Josef and Gabby, you got out of Indy Lights when new cars are about to be introduced. Tell us about your experience moving to the big cars.
GABBY CHAVES: I really think that a developmental series like Indy Lights is really preparing the young drivers to make that next step into IndyCar. I think you can see that with the success that Josef had after he won his Indy Lights championship. You can take a look at what Sage did in the Indy 500 after he won the 2013 Indy Lights championship, and hopefully what I'll be able to do this year.
I think it's the right series. You're preparing yourself by racing with the most competitive guys there is at that level. You're racing at all the tracks you're going to be racing if you get to IndyCar.
It's definitely where you want to be to take that next step.
Q. Sage, it was a tremendous race for you last year. You must think about that often.
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, you know, I don't think you'll ever forget your first Indy 500. I definitely do think about it.
Things went right that month. I was with partnership with teams Dreyer & Reinbold and Chip Ganassi Racing. It was a really busy month for me. We had some issues in qualifying, and I had to start farther back than what I would have liked to. We definitely weren't showing the pace in qualifying that we actually had. It just made the race more fun for me. We had to go back there and you can really only go forward from there.
If you could win it from all the way back there, it would make it more impressive. But we did our best. I think I was up to like sixth or seventh, then a yellow flag came out, lap 149, I got stuck in the pits, had to go back to 20 something --
-- it's all new to us. I did a few pit stops the month of May. I was back testing, just getting back into doing the rhythm of pit stops is a big thing. The team knows mistakes will be made and stuff, but we're not looking to set the world on fire, but we're also not looking to destroy some cars.
Q. Gabby, you were involved in a tight Indy Lights championship race. Jack Harvey stated they had more second-place finishes than us. I think it underscores your consistency. How important is consistency, scoring points when you don't have the fastest car? How will that serve you in the Verizon IndyCar Series?
GABBY CHAVES: It earned me 750 grand last year. So I think it's important (laughter).
You got to look at everything. You have to look at raw speed. You have to look at consistency. You have to look at your technical feedback. There's a lot of things that make a driver as a whole. You can't just look at one thing.
Definitely consistency is up there on the important chart. It just really separates the great from the greatest, the good from the best. When a driver has all these attributes, these qualities, it makes them a better driver overall.
Q. What would you tell a 17-year-old kid trying to get into the Mazda Road to Indy?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, you know, it's not an easy question. It's really not. There's no real easy answer to it. You couldn't tell someone exactly what they should do.
That's the tricky thing about racing. I think what's most important is you've got to have an amazing drive if you want to be a racecar driver. Tenacity, I've heard this word thrown around a lot when this question comes up. You have to go out there, pound the doors off of everyone, figure out what you have to do. It's not easy.
You have to have money, help, resources. There's so many different ingredients you have to have to get involved in motorsports, it's not one easy thing. It's not about you got to go to this team. It's not like baseball or basketball. It's so different than any other sport. It's up to you. You have to research it, go online, talk to guys that have been in the series, find people you have to talk to. You have to have an incredible drive for loving motorsports, wanting to be involved in it. Like I said, you have to have tenacity, you just cannot give up.
Q. Gabby, you're now with Bryan Herta. You're a rookie coming in. It's hard to know maybe what the car is supposed to feel like. Even if you had a teammate, might be different with the new aero kits coming in. To go through a learning curve as a rookie, how are you going to be able to figure out what you want out of the car?
GABBY CHAVES: I think it's just going to come down to how I work with my team. I think that's going to be the most important factor in my success for 2015 is how well can I connect with my engineers, how well can I connect with my mechanics, with everyone around me.
If I have a high level of chemistry with them, if we have a good atmosphere in the team, if there's good energy flowing through our tent. I'm not saying we're going to go out and win the first race by any means. We want to go out there and race as hard as we can, compete with the fastest cars. I believe we can do it.
I believe with the right work ethic, you can make it happen, even in a one-car team, being a rookie. Josef showed that the previous three seasons. He was there with a one-car team, essentially a new team his first year. He showed his speed and if you're working at it, you can make it happen, doesn't matter what car you're in.
Q. Josef, now that you are in a two-car team, Luca is kind of an unknown commodity, have you talked about shared driving style?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah. It's more than Luca, too. It's Ed on the ovals, which I'm excited about. But Luca, the greatest attribute he'll bring to the group is his raw speed and talent. He is one of the most talented drivers I have ever seen.
When you're teammates with someone, that is the greatest opportunity to see what that driver is truly like. You can examine from the outside, everyone can. You can observe what you think someone is good at, what they're not good at. When you're someone's teammate, you see what their strengths and weaknesses are. He is very skilled. He's a very fast driver.
That alone, that trait alone, is going to be very helpful next year because he's going to do things at certain tracks that I'm going to be able to see. I've never had an opportunity to watch anybody else do it. I can watch somebody else do it, feed off that, one corner here, one corner there. That helps you push forward as a driver. I'm excited about that.
Driving style-wise, still more to be learned. We went to Sebring. There are some similar traits between us, but that evolves over a season. You learn what one person likes in a car, what the other driver likes in a car.
For sure, if we can get as on the same page as we can, that's only going to help the team. When you're on the same page, wanting the same things, you can try the same things in the car, and it speeds up the process. That's why you see successful groups like Penske and Chip Ganassi, it just pushing them forward so much faster.
Great question. That's one of the biggest things we're trying to capitalize on this season.
Q. As young drivers, when you come in and you're finally into the 500, you have guys that won it three times, two times, so forth, and you're part of it, what is the feeling the first time you're out there knowing you're going against these guys that have been doing it for 10, 15 years or more?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, man, I don't really know even where to start with just this place in general. But I thought it was pretty cool. I was out there driving. I remember the first pass I made in practice was Villeneuve. He won the year I was born (laughter). That was pretty cool to be out there racing with guys like that.
Then I'm out there in the race driving with like Montoya and stuff, running inches away from people like that. It was amazing.
I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be for my first Indy 500. I went to bed and slept straight through the night the night before. It was good. I came to the track. I was happy I actually got a police escort instead of having to wait outside for three or four hours to get in. It's got its perks.
I think when I was the most nervous is Dario was telling me, because the whole time you're practicing here, it's gray, all gray around the track. Whatever you do, when you get in the car, don't look at the bleachers because they're going to have color, it's going to freak you out. Be focused, just look ahead, you're going to be fine.
When I get in the car, first thing I do is look in the bleachers. I look around. It's crazy. It almost looks like the bleachers are moving. All different colors. You don't see that throughout the whole month. Definitely changes a lot of things.
I still wasn't nervous when I was in the car. Then I started getting nervous when Jim Neighbors started singing. That was always my favorite part growing up, when he was singing, the balloons. I pretty much watched this race every place you could watch this race but the driver's seat. Knowing now you're going to be doing it, you could be -- I came here when I was six years old, seeing all the cars come down, how that changed my life, I could be changing some six-year-old's life.
Things started coming in slow motion. You're taking it in. Once the engine started firing, the nerves went away. I got going into turn one right when I left the grid. Going through the gears, second, third, fourth. When I went to go to fourth gear, it made a clunk noise, there was nothing there. The car was rolling free. I was like, Oh, gosh. I just got started. My heart fell through the bottom of the floor of the car.
They were like, You need to do an emergency shutdown, restart. I'm flipping all the switching, turning them on, bump starting the car. Finally got the car going again. Things that don't happen. Kind of scary.
Q. Do you know what got it going again?
SAGE KARAM: The ECU needed to be restarted basically. Sometimes that just happens. It happened at the worst possible time it could possibly happen.
The team, we all stayed calm. I tried to stay calm, but it was hard to. I may have come off calm, but I wasn't calm. I was flipping a bunch of stuff and it restarted.
Q. Gabby, dominating the series last year, pretty much the entire year, you have the field chasing you, did you feel pressure during that period? Is it nice to be starting out as a rookie without the burden of the entire field trying to gun for you?
GABBY CHAVES: I think there's two sides to that. I think as a rookie you don't know what to expect. Obviously no one is expecting you to go out there and win three races in a row.
But definitely I think, as racing drivers, successful racing drivers as we all are up here, the mentality is always to go out there and drive as hard as you can. If you get to the race weekend and you don't believe within yourself that you can win this race, that moment your professional career is over.
That's my mentality. I have to go out every weekend and I have to think I have a chance, a shot at winning this one. Once we get going, we'll see where we're at. We'll just keep working away. Hopefully at some point or another we'll be able to show our potential.
THE MODERATOR: Good luck this year, guys. We'll see you down the road.