The conversation moved to one of our favorite topics, the Indianapolis 500. We asked Carroccio who he thought would win the ninety ninth running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
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BC: “Montoya. Penske is due for a win at Indy and Montoya was in my opinion the best driver in the three 500 milers last season. So, if I have to pick someone right now to win Indy give me JPM.”
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IRR: Do you think Busch will be back with Andretti Autosport for Indy in light of his legal troubles? Should he be asked back to Indy?
BC: “To be honest, I haven’t followed the Busch case closely. It was sad to see that things went south for him, because at Indy last year he seemed to be in a really good place. Whatever ends up happening is a matter for the courts to decide. The one thing I’ll add is that last May went about as well as could have been expected for Andretti Autosport, KB and IndyCar. I was amazed how well Busch seemed to adapt and his approach was very professional. I think if they do give it a second go, it will be hard to replicate the success they had.”
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The IRR crew composed ourselves as best we could for the mere mention of Busch makes us fighting mad – though not nearly as angry as what would come next. We inquired about the dwindling number of ovals on the IndyCar schedule, which contains just six oval races out of seventeen this year, or less than 33% by our calculations. BC’s response flummoxed, flabbergasted and forced us to address this vital matter – and his long winded views and opinions on it – in a different medium at a later date.
The conversation then turned to the less controversial subject of drivers, specifically to those with famous last names or legacies if you will. The Andretti clan has been on our mind as of late and Brian and I had discussed Marco previously, so we had to ask BC about the third generation racer, who he’s met.
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IRR: What’s the deal with Marco? Is he all name and no drive? He has two wins in a decade racing.
BC: “Personality wise, Marco seems to me to be a lot like Michael was when he drove, in that he isn’t particularly comfortable in the public eye. I think some people interpret that as him being standoffish or arrogant, which isn’t fair. I genuinely just think he’s not outgoing by nature. The exchanges I’ve had with him have been very pleasant. On track, to me his biggest issue is really simple: he doesn’t qualify well on road and street courses. While he often is able to move up on race day – Barber 2014, Sao Paulo 2013 – it’s really hard to consistently score strong finishes starting 17th. The field is simply too deep these days. On a positive note with Marco, I will offer the rarely discussed narrative that when it comes to the Indianapolis 500, he’s this era’s best Indy-driver to not win the race. Look at the results: the kid has consistently contended in that race for a decade now. If he ever gets a break – which we probably shouldn’t count on given his last name – he is more than capable of winning that race.”
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IRR: Speaking of legacies with less than stellar records, what about Graham Rahal? Have you met him? What’s his deal?
BC: “As a media member, Graham is one of the drivers I find most helpful. Good or bad, he’s almost always forthcoming and he usually gives you more than ‘the crew did a great job today’ generic stuff. On track, he’s similar to Marco in that the results clearly have not equaled the expectations that accompany the last name. To be honest I don’t have an overarching thesis on Graham a la Marco. But one thing I’ll offer is that he seems to be constantly focused on setup. ‘Our damper program is behind,’ ‘we’re struggling for rear grip.’ It’s almost as if he’s trying to find the perfect setup in lieu of just driving the car to its maximum. Again, I’m not stating that as fact, just an observation.”
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IRR: Have you met Will Power? Is he as mad as we’ve repeatedly observed and asserted?
BC: “I’ve spoken to Will in media Q & A sessions. Never one-on-one and I doubt he knows who I am. What I like about him is there’s no real pretense. He’s a straight shooter who lives and breathes racing. While he can be moody at times, I like his transparency; he wears his emotions on his sleeve so to speak. And not that there’s any cheering in the media center, but if ever a championship was deserved it was him last season. Because he now has a title, I hope people will appreciate how truly good he is behind the wheel. His run of success over the past five or six years, has been very impressive when you look at it. I’ll also add that if you really take a hard look at the numbers, Power is perhaps the best qualifier in the history of the sport.”
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IRR: How about Chip Ganassi? I’ve heard you’ve got to keep your hands away from the buffet table when he’s eating – good advice?
BC: “I’ve never spoken with Chip.”
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IRR: And Coyne? He’s a classic empty off the rack suit, no?
BC: “Of the people you’ve mentioned, I’ve had the most contact with Dale Coyne. I know he drives people nuts by not making announcements until the opening race – or sometimes just not at all – and not returning calls and such. And when it comes to discussing his driver lineups, I’m the first guy ready with a Sperafico brother joke. He’s just another guy who’s all about racing. For example, I spent a good fifteen minutes before the race in Fontana talking to Coyne and Justin Wilson about race strategy, and a lot of the details that go into when to pit, when to save fuel, managing tires, etc. Dale has great insight on those type of things. As someone who is still relatively new to the business, I can’t thank Dale enough for how helpful he has been.”
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IRR: We’ve written there’s likely to be only one full-time British driver in the series this year, Foyt Racing’s Jack Hawksworth. In terms of the series overall, will the food improve and the manners and accents decline as a result of having so few Brits?
BC: “Actually I think Justin Wilson will return and I don’t buy the rumors he’s out of the series. He’ll end up most likely at KV Racing, or back at Coyne. As for British food, I spent a year of college in England and the food there is horrible. The beer more than makes up for it though.”
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IRR: So true. We knew we liked you for some reason, Brian. You’re a big shot IndyCar journalist. What’s your most memorable race weekend covering artistry on wheels?
BC: “They’re all memorable in a way. But Detroit 2013 would have to top my list. For some background, it was my first race working for AR1 and I remember how nervous I was just walking into the media center. The experience of seeing the sport through that lens for the first time will always be a memory. Also, through the years I’d always heard the ‘Hell Isle’ jokes and the like about Belle Isle. And if you remember, IndyCar had a rather forgettable race there in 2012. But let me tell you that is one of the events I really look forward to. Roger Penske has done a lot with Belle Isle, and the people there are as nice as any stop on the calendar.”
“Then, you had that cuckoo race Saturday when E.J. Viso started on pole, and Mike Conway, who if I recall correctly had been cutting grass or something two days earlier, kicked everyone’s butt driving for Dale Coyne. Also, as an aside the car Conway won in has to be the ugliest car that ever won an IndyCar race. Another thing people forget is Conway probably should have won the Sunday race too. He started on pole and built up a lead. But the yellows caught him out and he still came home third behind James Jakes of all people and Simon Pagenaud. That weekend you also had the announcement of aero-kits by Derrick Walker. There was the Mike King controversy on IMS Radio and John Barnes telling I think Jake Query something was none of his business. Yes, quite a memorable weekend on a number of fronts.”
IRR: To wrap things up on a high note, who do you think would win a fist fight between Kurt Busch and Oprah? A real knock-down, drag out, western film bar-room brawl?
BC: “I’m not answering that.”
IRR: Thank you very much for taking the time with us, Brian.