Q&A with Team Penske
PAT SULLIVAN: Welcome, everybody. Hope we got a lot of activity like yesterday in the books today. So it should be a busy day. It's always good to have Team Penske with us. We know there's a lot of work to do, they need to get at, as well.
I'm going to begin with just a comment and just ask for an observation from Roger Penske. Roger, I may have told this story last year, and if I did, I apologize. I don't think I did. But I work out with a guy in the mornings and have for some time, and he came up to me one morning and said, "I didn't realize you were into racing as much as you are." I said, "Yeah." He said, "You might have heard of my father." I said, "Who is your father?" He said, "My father was Lou Moore." I said, "Lou Moore?" And I said, "Lou Moore was the Roger Penske of his day," and I mean that in the greatest way.
Fourteen times you've put a car in Victory Lane here in Indianapolis. I listened to Donald Davidson talking about the career of Mark Donohue earlier yesterday, and I thought about what an incredible journey it's been. I always want to know how, how do you keep doing it? How you continue to have this level of success after all these years.
When you look at the driver lineup, obviously, you know, Helio has two wins, is really back on his game. He was out for a while, obviously, the team stood by him 100 percent. Will took a risk with us, that he knew that maybe he'd have a ride one race and maybe none at all. But as it's turned out, he gave us a terrific response at Long Beach and then obviously has a chance to run here on the team for this year's Indy 500. I know there will be a question about what's his future, and I think I've told him, I said, "Let's get through the Indianapolis 500, then we'll determine where we go next." But I want to thank him for what he's done. And obviously the team of guys working on his car are the same guys that are running that, the Grand-Am car we have in the series with the Porsche-powered Riley. Of course, Ryan got off to a great start winning the first race; I think he's one point out of the lead right now. So we think we're in pretty good shape. Experience, Ryan has more confidence this year. It's his third year with us here at the Speedway. To me, we've got drivers that can win the race. Strategy-wise, Tim has probably the best record and knows exactly how we need to call these races.
So, you know, the combined knowledge is many years of experience. But it's going to be close; there's lots of good cars. The Ganassi team is always the one that we have to focus on, but the Andretti team looks very strong, they have in the first few races. So there's 10 or 12 cars and, depending on fuel stops and the way it ends up, there's a lot of potential winners here. So we're just glad to be here. I can tell you that we're as focused this year as we've ever been.
SULLIVAN: It sure looks like it. We've got veterans here, but obviously we have Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. Delighted to have Will with us in the Indy Racing League, IndyCar Series last year. It's just wonderful to have him with us. When I think about great teams, a lot of it has to do with continuity. You have the president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric, and then how would you like to be a driver and turn to this guy for some advice once in a while, four-time winner, Rick Mears.
Let's open it up to questions right off the bat. I'd like to repeat the question, as well, we have a transcription being done. Don't be shy.
Q: For Tim, when you run the program here in Indy, particularly, this is obviously a big effort for you guys, three-car effort. How much focus do you put just on this race as opposed to the rest of the season?
SULLIVAN: Tim, we're good, let's go ahead.
TIM CINDRIC: We start preparing for this race when last year ends. We felt like last year maybe we missed a step, you know, and we felt like we certainly needed to be better for this year. Whether it's one car, two cars or three cars, we obviously work together as a team. But everything that we've done throughout the offseason, throughout last year, is completely focused on what happens here. The other races, there's some effects, some races there's not. We told Helio when he took his vacation there, we were still working hard here. When he showed up, it would be ready for him, and I think yesterday showed that we were ready.
SULLIVAN: Next question.
Q: Roger, the economy seems to have been on the NASCAR side harder than here at least in terms of guys getting laid off and teams folding and things like that. Is that just a by-product of this series being lean?
PENSKE: I take my hat off to the IRL because our costs to run this series is probably a third of what it costs to run an up-front NASCAR team this year. The cars are the same. We've got a great engine program with Honda. There's parts available, there's a used car market so people will buy your older cars and they can compete with them, you know, at the highest level. So I think the number of races, 16, 17, is where we need to be. Obviously, there's pressure on sponsors. We all have that, but the combination of the two leagues when you think about it, we'd be talking here two or three years ago, are we going to have six or eight guys show up on the second weekend to try to get 33 cars. We've got good teams out here, you just look at the equipment, lots of new drivers, teams that have moved up. I'm really thrilled to see that.
I would say the costs, anything that was going to add cost to this series, Brian Barnhart and his team have pretty much wiped out, which is good. So it's a level playing field, it's going to be strategy, it's going to be driver capability and a little bit of luck thrown in. So I think the cost here is really in good shape and we can continue, and you'll see more people go forward.
I would say an average team today can get in this probably for, to run the season in the 4- to $5 million range and to run up front in NASCAR it's probably 20.
Q: Rick, when you came here 31 years ago, whatever it was, is it pretty similar today, their preparation as it was when you came here?
RICK MEARS: Well, I mean, it's similar, but it's not. You mean as far as what we do today in comparison to what we did back then? The preparation with the Penske team has always been the best it can be. That's what you try to do, to make it the best it can be. And I think probably the only differences today is the fact that what we've learned. You just try to keep going forward, making new steps, making changes to make it better. But the intensity level, that kind of thing as far as effort to get the job done, is really not that much different than it was back then. It was still as high as it could be because that's what you have to do to be able to run up front.
PENSKE: I think to add on that, the good news here is we've shortened up the month. When we came here back in the '70s, we started May 1st and we ran for 26 or 27 days every day, tires, cars, you had more accidents. There's a high risk factor. I was talking to Mario about it this past weekend, he said, "The more you run here, the higher the risk factor goes." So that's been a cost savings, that's a big difference. You have to be ready.
Many teams came here and started putting their cars together at the track in the old days, but you can see what happened yesterday. First day on the track you have everybody within 2 or 3 miles an hour out of the chute. So I think there's a huge difference on preparation. The rules and consistency have made a big difference and, obviously, we've got a shorter time, so we've got to go.
Q: Helio, now they're saying there's going to be wind tomorrow. Where on this track does it affect the car the most?
SULLIVAN: The question was about the wind here, how it affects the car on the track, 25 miles predicted tomorrow.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Depends on the direction. I remember 2003, a few years ago, we have about 45-mile gust winds and it was basically crossing the track, and we were having huge problems in Turn 2. So you've got to see that and you've got to analyze what's going to be the situation, and you just got to take step by step. But, again, that's why it's so important for you to be on the track, you always learn something, even if sometimes you're not changing anything in the car, the track changes itself and you're about learning that day whatever happens is just you've got to follow what your instincts and what the track is telling you to do. So got to wait and see tomorrow. But today that's what we're going to be focused, as well, make sure we continue working a little bit on the speed and see what happens.
Q: Roger, you had some pretty good three-car efforts here at this track. I know in '89 you had Rick and Danny Sullivan and Big Al. Kind of talk about the three guys you have now and the challenges of having three cars at Indy rather than two.
PENSKE: I think the fact that the rules have been consistent now for the last three or four years makes it easier for us to come with the amount of equipment that we have. You know, we have six cars, you know, backup car for each driver. The Honda program, they have engines here for us if we need an engine if we'd have a problem. So that really takes that out of the question.
Then the parts suppliers, you have extra gearboxes, you've - obviously, Dallara supplies us, so we're in good shape. In the old days you would have to bring all that with you because we might be running our own car in those days, not a car that would be built by a particular manufacturer. I think from a driver capability, you know, we've got guys that have won races. Obviously, this is first time Will has been here with us, but Rick spent the full day with him yesterday and we weren't trying to go fast. We wanted him to get the miles on the racetrack. And with the ability to have an open book for the three drivers, I think we get the information, you know, faster. Numbers make a difference here, and if we can have three good cars, I think it gives our chance to be in the Winner Circle that much better.
Q: Roger, when 14 wins at this place, obviously it's important to you, you put a lot of focus on this place as a team and as an individual, but each time you win this race, after winning it 14 times, how much does each individual win mean to you at this point?
PENSKE: The one thing it does, I take my license plate that I have on my car, it says "Won Indy 14," I get to change it to "Won Indy 15". (Laughter) So that's probably the biggest deal for me. (More Penske on next page)
No, look, each one is special. It's an amazing thing, the fact that we won last year or a couple of years ago, it doesn't really make any difference other than the fact we have the experience. Nobody gives us an extra lap. In fact, people expect more, our sponsors expect more, so there's pressure on us. And we expect a lot from the guys on my right from the standpoint of executing. We face this as going into any race. The good news this year is we think we've come out of the box with the win that we had at the last race, the way the guys ran -- I mean to win at St. Pete, and then the way we ran at the next race at Long Beach, Helio coming out, I think we've got some momentum and a good, solid run at Kansas. So I think it's just, you know, just continue to focus and, as Tim said, we put cars aside, you know, for this race months ahead of time and start working on them to be sure they're the best aerodynamic we can have.
Q: Ryan, Roger talked about your newfound confidence, I think this is the first time you've come in here with some wins under your belt. As a driver, do you notice that confidence? If so, how does is that change your approach?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely there. It's really the first time for me coming to Indy that I don't feel like a rookie coming into it. Each of the three previous years I've really been coming in, you know, off of doing something else. The first year in '05, I was a complete rookie and I had a year away, and came back in '07 doing the one-off race. That was great. Rick helped me a lot, and so did Roger and everyone here. But I was racing the American Le Mans Series, and I was getting back up to speed on oval racing. Coming in, especially coming in after the last race in Kansas which was really strong for me, from Chicago last year, Kansas, this year, the last two ovals have been the strongest I've ever had. It's just given me a lot of confidence coming into this track. You know, any laps you do around this circuit just helps you more and more.
Q: Roger, in your 40-plus years of being an IndyCar team owner, given the economy and your concerns about the rest of your business enterprises, is this maybe one of the roughest times for you to focus on what needs to be done and rely more on Tim than it might have been, say, in the past?
PENSKE: Listen, he's the guy calling the shots. He runs our operation in Charlotte, you know, when you think about the hundreds of people we have there and the multiple operations from the Grand-Am to the NASCAR program, the Nationwide, and obviously the IRL, it takes good people and we've learned over time, you know, to delegate. Whether it's in the public relations area, whether it's in the technical area, we've had the opportunity to move people. One of the benefits that Tim brought to the operation was to get people together and use the skills. Just because you were an Indy guy, that didn't mean you couldn't work on NASCAR. And we've moved people around, which I think you've seen the change even on the Cup side, and he's got that responsibility. I mean, certainly with the decisions on drivers and the sponsors and things like that, you know, we work together on a daily basis. But the day-to-day, you know, decision-making is under his responsibility. Mike Nelson heads up the NASCAR side and John Erickson over in the Grand-Am, and Clive really has responsibility, so he's got a captain in each one of those particular areas.
But the technical interface across the wind tunnel programs and all that stuff now is integrated into one organization. The ones that haven't been there should come down and see it because we really see the difference from the standpoint of what we're able to do.
As far as the business side, obviously we're in a financial meltdown worldwide, and we're all stressed from the standpoint of our businesses. We're particularly stressed because we're in the automotive side. But this morning I was over at our Honda store here in Indianapolis, and we've got our eighth year for the President's Award, but those people are pumped up. They're excited, and we just have to be sure we keep people focused on the positive side. We're squeezing everybody right now. We've got to get more out of the people on the race team, and we've got do that in our business.
But I think maybe we're seeing the bottom of this, hopefully, and we can pull ourselves out from a business perspective. Obviously, the racing for us is, you know, it really is probably the positive thing because when we have a good weekend, all of our employees see that, and I think that Tim and the team have done a terrific job.
SULLIVAN: I've got about four deep here, bear with me, folks.
Q: Helio, after your ordeal, was it great that you were able to step right into a race car and start driving instead of having the trial in the fall where you would have had a whole long period?
CASTRONEVES: I tell you, that was the best medicine, I have to say and the best therapy coming from after six months, you know, just thinking about or focusing on that subject, and all of a sudden I was able to do what I love and do what I know to do. So, again, it was the best feeling in the world coming back to the race car, coming back to the race environment. That was awesome to see the fans and everybody so supportive. So for me it was just the right time.
Q: Will, you work with Rick this year, came here last year as a rookie, what has he said to you or told you that, "Well, I wish I would have known that last year"?
WILL POWER: Yeah, actually last year I sat down with Rick and after running a couple of times and, you know, asked him a few questions. But the good thing with working with Rick is as you're going through the process of trimming out and, you know, working toward qualifying, he's got so much experience and understanding of the track that he sort of points you in the right direction. You know, yesterday we ran very safe and just got some confidence in the car, and I'm just taking little steps. Rick has been a huge help. You know, I think he'll be there all month, and we're looking for a good result at the end, not at the beginning.
Q: Helio and Roger, also, tell me about the strategy of knowing when to qualify on Pole Day, going out at the right time, time of day and conditions are so important.
And, Roger, after Helio is done, you seem to have been one of the best over the years knowing when to send your guys out.
CASTRONEVES: It's hard to predict. Obviously, with the new rules over the years that you can, you have two attempts, no question it creates more competition. It gives you sometimes a little more edge for try to squeeze a little bit more, a little more speed into the car. But Roger, Cindric, we always talked before what are our chances. We never take unnecessary chances. We always know what we need to do. It doesn't have like a secret, we just have to feel it, and right now the last few years we're able to actually, you know, find out the right spot.
We'll continue working. You can never know. So hopefully tomorrow will be one of those days, as well.
PENSKE: I think that with the new rules, you know, until we see what the weather is tomorrow, we don't make a decision tonight and say this is what we're going to do because you have to see where you are in the line, you know, what are the competitors that you're counting on will be the ones you have to beat, what do they do, are you in front of them? Are you behind them? Do you go out when it's warm? Is it going to be cooler? Is it going to rain? You have lots of variables. You have to take a risk here at some point and we'll just have to see how it plays out in the morning.
Q: Back to the Automotive part. Merrill said it would be appropriate to ask you this question. There's been some talk of your automotive division buying Saturn. Can you talk about that?
PENSKE: Well, as I said in our analyst conference call last week, Saturn obviously is one of the divisions which General Motors is either going to sell or close down, and we have a distribution experience bringing the Smart Car into the United States, we had a two-step distribution system. We own Detroit Diesel. At this particular time we've made no offer to GM, we're in a due diligence stage, and it's a very short time frame. So at the moment lots of things have to play out before we'd make a formal bid.
So I think the publicity is way ahead of the process.
Q: Tim, new rules for this year, three cars, you could get them all in tomorrow. I was wondering if you had assessed your chances, what would it mean to put three cars in the first 11.
CINDRIC: Well, back in, I guess it was 2007, we had somewhat similar experience with Ryan driving with the Luczo Dragon organization because we had prepared that car and so forth, although it was Jay's program and so forth, but obviously he hadn't been to the Speedway yet. So we at least from my perspective, we had a lot of interaction on those parts and we were able to put them all in the first day.
So I think we're going to have a similar challenge tomorrow. I think the end of the day will tell us a lot more. As Will said yesterday, he spent more time making sure that he was gaining his confidence because the No. 1 thing here is to continue to grow your confidence going into Pole Day and not get yourself to where you're, you know, you gain confidence and then you end up back at the bottom again trying to panic your way back up. So we're trying to keep him on that progression, and it's Mears' job to make sure his protégé is ready to go tomorrow for that top 11.
As Helio said, tomorrow is about knowing where your realistic expectations can be. Last year was a situation where we didn't feel like we had enough speed to go for the pole there at the end of the day. As much as Helio and I both wanted to go, we looked at each other and said this isn't the time because your risk-reward factor is what you're always trying to balance.
Q: Will, you were here last year with one team and that was one of the teams that came over from Champ Car, so there was a certain amount of struggle going on and so forth. This year you're coming here with the team that has the best record at the Speedway of all time. Do you see a difference? Is it obvious to you?
POWER: Yeah, it definitely is. Last year this was my first time here and it was also the first time for KV Racing, so we were both inexperienced and really didn't understand the process you have to go through to get comfortable around here and what you should run. Here I'm stepping into a team with an unbelievable amount of experience. I've got two really good teammates with heaps of experience. So for me it's, you know, just creeping up on it because I know I've got a good car and just using everything that I've got around me to my advantage.
SULLIVAN: We have two questions.
Q: Rick, how different is it driving the cars now as compared to when you drove them with a thousand horsepower, slipperier tires and transmissions and that sort of thing?
MEARS: Obviously they're different, even two identical cars are different to drive. There's always some subtle differences. But, you know, I think the basics are pretty similar. You're still trying to get around this track as quick as you can get around it. You're still trying to get all four tires hooked to the pavement, achieve a balance. You know, that kind of thing. So the basics are the same.
I think these guys know how to drive race cars. For me the biggest picture is the big picture. It's the racecraft. Working on the racecraft, the month, all the things that come along with it as much as it is driving the car. So, you know, obviously there are differences, I can't tell you exactly because I haven't driven these cars. But I think just from working with the guys and everything, the basics are pretty similar.
Q: This is for Roger and Tim, and Helio can also answer this. Last year the pole actually came, like, with two hours and 15 minutes left in the session. How unusual is that when you have a full Pole Day with this format that the pole didn't occur in the final hour?
PENSKE: I think you've got to determine, you know, what's your capability. We all know just from running in the last couple days and probably running today what we're capable of doing. Then you assess the weather. Then there's a high risk factor. We're here to run the race, if you can start up in the first two or three or four rows, if you go black and look at the statistics, the winner comes out of that area. To me you always want to sit on the pole if you can, but we'll assess that. Our goal is to have, you know, the three guys on my right in this race on Saturday. There's 11 spots there, and if we can do that, I'd say we've had a very good day.
CINDRIC: I think last year is the only second year this 11-11-11 thing ever played out. The first year, maybe the first two years, I can't recall, there was rain, so it became a 22 situation on Sunday. And obviously the first year it played out, it was pretty dramatic there between Helio and Tony Kanaan making a run for it at the gun and losing it on the last lap. So when we look at comparing the two years, they're completely opposite. So I think this format has a lot to do with the weather. Depending on how the day goes, has a lot to do with when you go and how that all plays out.
CASTRONEVES: Man, I just follow the orders. Whatever they tell me to do, I'll do it. (Laughter)
CINDRIC: Good answer.
SULLIVAN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your annual visit here. We really appreciate it.
PENSKE: Thank you.
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