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IRL: Jaques Lazier press conference

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript April 22, 2003 Jaques Lazier K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week, Tuesday, April 22nd. Today we will take a look towards the 87th running of ...

IRL: Jaques Lazier press conference

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript
April 22, 2003

Jaques Lazier

K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week, Tuesday, April 22nd. Today we will take a look towards the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 with IndyCara Series driver Jaques Lazier. Now let's welcome IndyCar Series driver Jaques Lazier. Lazier is a veteran of 32 IndyCar Series starts, and he drives the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for Team Menard. He currently stands 11th in the IndyCar Series drivers point standings but is just two points shy of ninth spot and recorded a top finish this season of sixth place at Phoenix. In 2001, he earned his first MBNA Pole position at Richmond, as well as his first IndyCar Series win at Chicagoland. Jaques, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

Jaques Lazier: Thank you. Thank you for having me on.

K. Johnson: For starters, tell us about your season thus far. You are in the middle of a pretty tight pack of drivers in the point standings.

J. Lazier: Yes, we are obviously battling as much as we can. It has been a good season. It started out a little frustrating. We had a difficulty with the Dallara chassis trying to fully understand it since it is brand new and new characteristics as far as the pullrod suspension. So, unfortunately, we thought we understood it in practice, but as soon as we went to the race, it seemed like the window of opportunity with this chassis is just very, very minute. And if you just miss it a little bit, with last year's chassis you were able to kind of -- you could still hang on to the window. This year, if you miss it a little bit, you're in a lot of trouble. So we have been struggling a little bit with that but we have gained on it, and I think we have a real good understanding of the chassis now, and I think that is proven. We are able to continuously move up in the points. I look forward to great things from here on out.

K. Johnson: You talk about the time you spent chasing the chassis, so to speak. In the past you have predominately been involved with one-car teams. Now this year Team Menard and Team Cheever have joined together in the Menard-Cheever alliance. How has that helped you and your team accomplish what you are goals are?

J. Lazier: I think it is actually a very big blessing. It is truly a two-car team. What we have been able to do is when we go out and we test, or we go to a practice day, we collaborate all of our efforts before we go out. There are always two different things that you want to try and this just allows the drivers, Buddy Rice and myself, to try to do two different things at the same time. Once we are done, we can come back and debrief and get the benefits of having a multi-car team. It has been crucial with being able to understand this chassis that much quicker.

K. Johnson: And now for Indianapolis, you are being joined by Vitor Meira in the second Team Menard entry.

J. Lazier: Yes, it is going to be even that much better. Vitor and I have always gotten along very well. I think he is a very good talent that just needs to learn a little more, but at the same time he is like a sponge. He just sits around and tries to absorb everything he can. He is very passionate about his racing, and I think it is going to be a wonderful addition for the '500'.

K. Johnson: You have always enjoyed competing at Indianapolis and last year, unfortunately, you were not able to due to the back injury. How has missing out on the experience a year ago kind of stoked the fire for what is coming up this next month?

J. Lazier: Well it definitely has stocked the fire, but it also -- I remember when I first tried to qualify in 1999. My father and I put together a program. We were extremely under-funded, but we made the field, got bumped and then put a backup car in line, and we actually had the speed to get back into the field when it started to rain. When you miss the '500,' when you miss the greatest race in the entire world, it just makes you that much more passionate about getting back there and trying to make it happen the next year. And obviously I feel that we missed a huge opportunity last year. We did some testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the Nazareth race, before the crash, and we were quite quick. So I'm very much looking forward to trying to give John (Menard) another pole at the Speedway and a win. But all that missing the race last year just built the passion and it has kindled the fire just that much more to where I am really excited about the opportunity this year.

K. Johnson: Now at this time I would like to open the forum for questions from the media.

Q: Jaques, are you concerned about the Chevy powerplant being down on horsepower compared to the others?

J. Lazier: First of all, hello. And it is definitely a concern. I know that we are making drastic steps right now to increase our power and our performance. I will say this though, I think there is one thing we do have going for us, and that is for reliability. I think the one place that the performance issue is really going to hurt is going to be in qualifying. But at the same time I think that the performance ratio will be lesser when we get to race time, and the best thing we can do is just to maximize everything we have as far as chassis, fuel economy, obviously our race strategy and just get to the point where we can run our race and hopefully the reliability, all of our strategy will come into play and we will have the potential to be there for the last 50 miles and race for a win.

Q: You talked about the passion of missing Indy and stoking the fire and that kind of thing. But when you look back at the last season you missed a lot of races due to the injury. I have to think that passion and waiting for the start of this season just had to be almost overwhelming and then you end up chasing the chassis. Is this a frustrating time for you?

J. Lazier: To be honest with you, it was a little bit frustrating for me. I think the one person that is even more frustrated for us is my wife because she has to live with me. But it is racing. You have these kinds of problems. You have injuries, and I think what makes a champion is how you come back from this kind of stuff. If you are able to push through the difficult times, and we definitely had some difficult times over the last eight months or almost 12 months now with the back injury, doing the rehab, which has just been extremely grueling. I just think it made me a better person. It made me a smarter driver. I was able to -- it is kind of foolish, but when you are on the outside looking in you are able to really study what other people do and how other people win races. You are not so caught up in necessarily exactly what it takes for you to win. You study what other people do, and I kind of became a scholar while I was doing my rehab and I was able to watch old tapes and go to a couple of the races and really study things that you would miss when you are driving on the weekend. So I guess the best thing I did was just somehow tried to create a positive scenario out of a very negative time.

Q: And that is a Lazier trait, isn't it? Your family just always seems to look at every negative as a positive.

J. Lazier: Well, I think you have to. Life is very, very short and very precious and without a doubt I am one of the very lucky people in this world. I am able to chase my passion. I am able to be a professional race car driver, and it is something that I absolutely love more than almost anything in this life, and I am very lucky. So you do have to look at everything in a positive spin.

Q: So if you graduate from all of this scholarly work that you have over this past year and find your way into the winner's circle, how sweet would that graduation be?

J. Lazier: I honestly cannot even put into words. The only thing that I can think would come close would be with the birth of my child. It is just one of those things that I have honed my talents my entire life to try to be able to win at the Speedway, and to actually have that come to fruition would just be incredible.

Q: At Chicagoland, you had that race where you won the pole and won the race. How do you get that one day that is so special and do you see that coming back again now?

J. Lazier: It takes a lot of work but at the same time I do see that day coming, and hopefully it will be at the Speedway for the Indianapolis 500. It takes a lot of effort from everybody. Obviously, what we do is a team sport. I know that there is the driver out there, and that is what everybody sees on television is the driver racing the car, but it takes so much preparation and team unity. And I truly believe in my heart that our team is at that caliber again, and at that potential to go out there and have a dominating day like we did at Chicagoland. Our communication is probably better than it ever has been. Larry (Ellert) has come in and has implemented some different stuff that has really kind of settled on our team and put everybody into position. I am very excited about the '500'. I think that we have an excellent chance of going out there and running all day and being able to compete for a win.

Q: Right. There have been some changes in the team with Butch (Meyer) leaving. Since you last drove, has there been a learning period here since you came back?

J. Lazier: I think there has been a little bit of a learning curve for everybody. Butch did some tremendous things for this team, without a doubt. I think Larry has just stepped up to the plate and taken what Butch has already established with the team and like I said, just implemented some other stuff that he learned in all the other series and teams that he has been with. I think the team has grown. I think it has become smarter. We have obviously added MCT as well, Menard Cheever Technologies, and so we have some extra engineering for aerodynamic as well as some other chassis setup stuff. We have added a second car team with Cheever Racing and Buddy Rice, and I think all things said and done, it has made the team much stronger, much wiser and much more capable to adapt to changing situations.

Q: One other question. You are coming back from a broken back. Of course, your brother had one. But now we have (Dario) Franchitti out and de Ferran has a cracked vertebrae. What can you tell most of your drivers about recuperating?

J. Lazier: What can I tell them? I do not think there is anything I can tell those drivers that they do not already know. I don't know if Gil has ever been hurt before, and I do not think Dario has. The most difficult thing about coming back from an injury is missing the races because we are so passionate about racing and to see somebody else in your car is devastating. But at the same they are both fit drivers. They understand the rehab and what it is going to take, and I am sure that they did the exact same thing as me. As soon as the surgery was over, looked over at doctor and said: 'OK, when can I start? What can I do? How can I make this instead of a six-month deal into a three-month deal?' I guess the best thing to do is just have patience and to know that when they come back they will be better than ever.

Q: We spent so much time in the media worried about Franchitti and Kanaan and those guys out of the last month's accidents and so forth. Has there been any fallout from your accident, and did you have a concussion?

J. Lazier: There was no fallout from my accident at Motegi. I primarily just had a little bit of neck stinger. I think it was from the HANS Device. We went back to Indy, and Dr. (Henry) Bock did that test that we have, and many of the scores I tested better than I did before. I do not think there has been any fallout whatsoever from the crash, and I am very much excited about going to Nashville and testing there and getting ready for the Speedway.

Q: And secondly, you referred to the 1999 race when you had to get back into the race, the second qualification attempt. Can you talk about the strategy of this particular year? I mean there is not going to be much arguing the fact that there is going to be a lower car count than normal, whatever that ends up being. There is not going to be 40 cars out there or 45 cars trying to make this race. Can you talk about maybe what the first weekend decisions will be like for those guys that are maybe closer to the back of the field than to the front?

J. Lazier: I think there is multiple ways of looking at it. Obviously, if you know you are going to make the field, I think we will spend a majority of our time working on a race setup, because I think that is where we feel that we have the biggest chance of winning the race. I do not think we have a real solid chance of going for the pole, but at the same time I still want to try to sit on the front row. So we are going to be spending a majority of our time on the race setup, but at the same time it makes it a lot easier to try to win the race from the first couple rows than it does from the back of the field where the first half of the race you are just kind of waiting for everybody to sort themselves out and trying to avoid any incidents that might happen. Qualifying is just like every other race. It is still very, very important trying to get up as far as possible and then from there we just really need to concentrate on maximizing our race potential.

Q: But are you at all worried about missing this race from a non-qualification standpoint as you had in past years?

J. Lazier: To be honest with you, I would like to say that I am not concerned about that, but it is the greatest race in the world, and I missed it last year, so I am going to do whatever it takes to make sure I make the field this year.

K. Johnson: Do we have any more questions for Jaques?

Q: Jaques, it seems there are a lot of teams now that are combining an American driver and a foreign driver. How do the relationships develop between the two of you? I know you are both race drivers, but you have different outlooks and things like that.

J. Lazier: I can only speak from my personal experience. I have had multiple Brazilian drivers as teammates, starting in Indy Lights with Cristiano da Matta and Airton Dare and then went on to have Airton Dare again at Team Xtreme, and now I have Vitor Meira, who also from Brazil. To be honest with you, their outlook is very, very similar as our outlook. We want to do whatever it takes to win the race, and that is what we are brought on for, to go out there and try to win the race. Although driving styles can be a little different, it seems like those are such a minute part of who we are and of our characteristics that they are really almost overseen.

Q: Do you become friends?

J. Lazier: Oh, definitely. I become friends with just about all of them. Usually your friendship exists only outside of the racetrack. I think I learned a big lesson from my brother. When you are actually out there on the racetrack, no one is your friend. They are all enemies, and you have to do whatever you can to beat them. It makes it a little difficult when blood is thicker than water and you are racing your brother for everything you can do. Without a doubt, I have become friends with all of them, and I enjoy their company. But like I said, that is outside of the racetrack. Once I put the helmet on, things change, and I just do whatever I possibly can to win the race.

K. Johnson: Well, Jaques, we are just over one week out from the beginning of on track activities for the 87th Indianapolis 500. Can you look into your crystal ball and give us an idea of what to expect from the Team Menard next month?

J. Lazier: What to expect from Team Menard? I think the important thing is that we get out to a very successful start. Obviously, Vitor has just gone through his rookie test and has done some testing there at the Speedway. I think we have a pretty good idea of what the track wants from the chassis this year. Obviously, I just need to get in there and kind of fine-tune it to my driving style. I think if we can get out there and run flawlessly and have a good run without having any kind of mechanical problems, without having any kind of engine-related problems or electrical problems. If the first week can go very smoothly, I think it will setup for a very positive month of May.

K. Johnson: Jaques, we certainly appreciate you joining us today and we wish you the best of luck this next month at Indianapolis.

J. Lazier: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.


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