Toronto: IndyCar pole qualifying transcript
An interview with Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and Mike Conway
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started. We're pleased to welcome Dario Franchitti with his third pole of the year, all in the past five events. Dario, you have two previous poles here in the past from your previous life here in Toronto. Tell us about your runs out there today.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think I got my first pole here in '97, which is an awful long time ago. So that was '97. I was trying to remember what I did right back in '97 this morning so I could kind of put it to practice with the Target car.
Usual story. The guys worked really, really hard to improve the car yesterday. Then with the rain this morning, we didn't do too much running. And it was good actually with the changes we made in qualifying. The car was good out of the box. The lap that I did in the Fast Six, I came in afterwards and said basically, "That's it. That was a hell of a lap. That was as good of a lap as I've driven around here. If they can go quicker, let them have it, because that's all she's got." I was very happy with the car and the job I did today.
THE MODERATOR: Starting fourth will be Justin Wilson, our race winner last week in Watkins Glen. His fourth start here in Toronto. He has a win and a previous pole. Justin, talk about your run out there today.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, I thought it was a reasonable day. Things went quite well. But we weren't just quite quick enough. We started out quite loose, struggling to get the power down, struggling for grip. We kept working on it, kept making improvements. Quite pleased with what we managed to do on the used reds. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to beat Dario. He was on good form as well as Graham and Will. I'm pretty pleased with fourth. Hopefully we'll have a trouble-free race and we'll move forward.
THE MODERATOR: Also joining us now in Mike Conway, who is starting sixth. A season best sixth for the second consecutive week. Mike started sixth last week at Watkins Glen. Mike, talk about your run out there.
MIKE CONWAY: Yeah, it was OK. Made some changes overnight and the car definitely improved today. We're happy about that. And the pace seemed to be quite comfortable to move into each stage. But just then in the last six, just a bit disappointed we couldn't move up. We just ended up a little bit slow and lacking grip, but not too bad. The guys have been doing a good job on the car this weekend. All credit to them. Hopefully we'll run a good race tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for any of the three at the podium right now.
Q. Did you think you would get qualifying in with the rain this morning?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: We always knew we would get it in today. Whether it was wet or dry was the question. I think we all proved that it's pretty treacherous out there in the wet today. I managed to do a 360 in the last corner. I was entertaining the fans, yes (laughter). It's really treacherous in the wet. I was hoping it was going to dry up.
Q. (No microphone.)
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No. It took me until this morning or the first qualifying run this afternoon. Up until then I hadn't been driving the track properly. I wasn't getting in a rhythm. I finally got in that rhythm again. And the difference was massive.
Q. Dario, you hadn't raced here in a couple years. Justin raced more recently. How did you find the track compared to the last time you raced here?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's a while ago since I raced. I think it was six years. Same old Toronto. It's been the same. The concrete patches are a massive challenge. Don't get any more grip as the years go on. Put it that way.
Bump-wise, a little bit more bumpy, but I don't think it's a problem. It's still as challenging as ever. The fans are still -- they still love the racing. It's great to come up here.
Yeah, it was awesome. It's a great experience every time I come to Toronto. Hopefully we can continue that tomorrow.
Q. (No microphone.)
JUSTIN WILSON: I think it's definitely a shock to the system the first time you drive the track, it's so different to anything else we run on. You know, I think it helps knowing what to expect.
But, you know, I think that's the whole part of coming here to Toronto. It's got some unique features. I like it. I like the challenge of tuning the car and making it work around this track.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I guess to offset that, when I did come my rookie year, I managed to get pole. Mike did a hell of a job today. Experience counts a bit. You've also seen some experienced guys not do so well. It's who gets the car right and who gets into the rhythm of driving the car and who gets the job done.
MIKE CONWAY: I think totally, otherwise I'd be on pole (laughter). It helps going through it beforehand. But that's all part of this season for me anyway. Every circuit I go to it pretty much new. It's a whole new learning curve. Really just got to adapt to it.
Q. (No microphone.)
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You know, you've got great drivers. It's a great team. And it's just right now one of those situations. We've seen it with great teams in all different sports, sometimes they go through a hiccup. The Target team had it a couple years ago. More than a couple; I guess it was '05. So everybody goes through it at some point.
I expect them to be coming out of it and be challenging. How many races did Michael (Andretti) win here? Like 150 or something (laughter). There were days you were out there running out front, something would happen to you, and there's Michael winning the race. So, believe me, starting up front doesn't mean you're guaranteed a win, and starting at the back doesn't guarantee you can't win tomorrow.
Those guys will be back, no doubt at all.
Q. The words I haven't heard are 'Reds' and 'Blacks.' I had a team owner tell me a little while ago the Reds aren't working very well and the Blacks are the way to go. Would anybody like to comment on their experience, red or black, during qualification and practice?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I want to hear what Justin has to say.
JUSTIN WILSON: In the Fast Six we ran the Reds straightaway, did my time. Then I put a set of Blacks on and tried to go out there and use a new set of Blacks compared to the used Reds. We were thinking there was not a lot of difference.
Once we got back out there, I was about a tenth off on the new Blacks compared to a set of Reds. For me, definitely it helped my car, gave me more grip, allowed me to go a lot faster. I quite liked the Firestone Red tires today.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the same. The Reds were worse a little bit. In the first segment of qualifying, I went quicker on Blacks, but that was simply because I didn't get a lap together. Second segment we were on the Reds, went quicker. Obviously we used used Reds. I think the usual gap between a Red and a Black definitely. They're both working well.
Q. With some of the drivers starting mid pack, then back of the pack, how big a scramble do you think it will be for them on track position? Do you think they're going to try to jump up there getting out of pit stop sequence?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'm sure people at the back -- middle to the back will try to make things happen through passing cars and through strategy. You've got to use everything you've got in your arsenal here to try to get up front. If you're up front, you've got to try to stay up front. Usual story.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think it could be quite an interesting race. If you have some good people starting further down, they'll try to run an ultimate strategy or try and force the issue. There are places to overtake here. If your car's working better than the guy in front, you can get by. It might mean more cautions for everybody else or it might make it a very interesting race for the fans.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate your time.
We're now joined by our second, third and fifth-place starters for tomorrow's race, Will Power, Graham Rahal, and Alex Tagliani. Graham has one previous start here in Toronto. Alex, this is his fifth start of the year, his best start of the year. He has eight previous starts here in Toronto. I think that's the highest number in the race for tomorrow. And then Will Power, his fourth start of the season. His previous best start this season was the pole in Long Beach, and he won the race here in 2007.
Graham, why don't we start with you. Talk about your day out there.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, the McDonald's boys worked extremely hard today. Yesterday we certainly weren't very pleased with the car. We were struggling quite a lot. We came out this morning, saw the weather and decided it just wasn't worth running. Was hoping it was going to clear up. Fortunately it did.
When we went back out, right away in the first segment of qualifying, the car felt much better. You know, definitely got a good time out of it. We kind of carried on from there and made some changes for the second segment. We went quick, but we kind of struggled a little bit at the beginning of that segment. So we were lucky. Put the Reds on in the end, made a couple changes, got I think a 61 flat out of it. Then the Fast Six, we just tried to run the used Reds, which I think pretty much everybody did. Just couldn't quite put the lap in that I had expected. I had one time where I was actually a little bit quicker than my 61.0, but I lost it all the time on the back segment. I couldn't quite manage to put a whole lap together. That's how it goes, unfortunately.
I think overall the McDonald's team is pretty pleased to be where we are because, as I said yesterday, certainly felt like we were a long way from being competitive.
THE MODERATOR: Will, I guess for you it's good to be back in a car.
WILL POWER: Yes, excellent to be back in the car. It's been tough watching, to be honest. But, you know, it's a great team to be involved with. I'd rather be doing a selected race with them than running at the back somewhere.
You'll see my car. It's the brightest car on the track (laughter). Looks wicked. So does my suit. I look a bit like a banana, yeah. I'm very happy with the results. That's what we're looking for. We wanted to get into each round. It was really tough today. You know, had to change the car a few times throughout.
But end result, starting on the front row, I think we can have a good day tomorrow from there.
THE MODERATOR: Alex, the same question for you. Welcome back. You haven't been in the car for a couple weeks.
ALEX TAGLIANI: I agree with Will. It's very tough to watch. First of all, I would like to say thanks to a bunch of local companies that have been supporting us, starting with Sears and Craftsman and The Keg and King Tut has been an experience we've been having with them since Indianapolis. You know, like I said, there are no words to describe what you feel when you're at home on the couch and watching everybody race.
But I think realistically with our team, we need to look at financially what makes sense. We know now that we're doing a partial season, so the races that you select are important. Obviously, the two Canadian races for me are important. And coming here and showing what we did today, I think it's a great tribute for the quality people we have onboard.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Alex, you were talking about being a spectator at home on the couch. Will, you still attended the races, doing duties for Penske. Did that make it any easier or did it make it worse?
WILL POWER: It made it worse. I went to all the races, tried to learn as much as I could and be around the team. These are the people I'll be working with when I'm running. You know, my crew comes from the sports car side. But just to get in with the team, show support all the time because I want to be in this team for a long time.
Q. Alex, you talked about the struggles you were having. At what point in the session did the light go on that you had a chance?
ALEX TAGLIANI: On the second lap. I think yesterday we ran with one set of tires all day. We really I think didn't show what we had. But it's difficult when you go back into the trailer overnight, saying, "We would have." There's a little bit of anxiety until you put the car on the track. This morning it was wet. When we did our second lap, you get a feel of the car that you're going have for the day and you know it's going to be a competitive car with the amount of grip you have and the balance.
It took us two laps to realize we were going to be into it for a tough fight. Like Will said, it was not easy. With running the tires twice sometimes because you're going through all the segments in qualifying, you need to make sure your balance is there. For us, we lost a little bit of our balance when we went from qualifying two to three. We couldn't really match our time. Like Graham, we didn't have a very great lap, but it was tougher to do it. So we can match our 61 flat.
Q. Will, aside from following the team to the races, what, if anything, did you do to keep in shape? Did you race around the baseball field in Mooresville? Did you give pressure on yourself because you have such a short schedule this year?
WILL POWER: I worked really hard in the gym. I was working with Pit Fit in Indianapolis. You know, I'm really fit at the moment. But there's no substitute for miles in the car. So I'm a little bit sore today.
But no, I'm just approaching these weekends probably more relaxed than I've ever been 'cause there's just something about this team where you feel very comfortable working there. Often when you're with a teammate, you feel a lot of competition from them. It's a very fierce competition. But there you don't feel that.
I've been relaxed and happy this year just in the position I am. It's a great break for my career to be with Team Penske.
Q. Will, on that sort of same line, it still has to be sort of gratifying to be up at the top ahead of your teammates. Ultimately that's how you're sort of measured. You qualified ahead of Helio (Castroneves) and Ryan (Briscoe). Your thoughts on that?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, the car's been good since we rolled it off the trailer. It was the same deal at Long Beach. I haven't made any big changes. I love road courses and street courses. That's what I do well on. I love ovals, as well, now. Ovals became much easier in a Penske car for some reason (laughter). So the Indy 500, it was great.
But, yeah, I'm just doing my job.
Q. Alex, how does it feel to do well in front of the Canadian fans? As one of the smaller teams out there right now, how does that feel to do so well, especially in that Q2 qualifying lap, which was very good?
ALEX TAGLIANI: It's very rewarding for everybody onboard of the team. Will is in front of his two teammates, but he's in a Penske car. We're at Conquest, so we feel pretty good to out-qualify two Penske cars and a Ganassi car. That's the reality right now. The Canadian races are important in the schedule. We have to be very grateful that the series is giving as much time for the Canadian market. There are not a lot of drivers in the series that can say they have two races in their country. Very grateful of that.
For our team, everybody, the crew, the engineers, everybody has to go through a lot of sacrifice because sometimes we know that we're going to go racing on Tuesday before the weekend, so that's tough for everyone. At the shop there's not much like development on the car. We're waiting, trying to save every bit of money, and spending it on weekends where we think we're going to do good. Like I said, doing selective races that are important for us, the visibility of the team and the sponsor as well.
I think it's a good tribute for the quality of people we have onboard. And when you come here, you know, last minute like this with very limited running, you need to put everything on the line to try to do very well.
Q. Will, how well have you meshed with John (Erickson) as your pit strategist there?
WILL POWER: Yeah, really well. That whole team, bam, we were meant to be together. It's great. Every time we run, we're doing well. I've enjoyed every race I've been with those guys.
Q. May be a new paint scheme for you, but there's a lot of historical significance for that. Big Al won for Roger with that. It is kind of a retro paint scheme, although it's new to you.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I loved it from the moment I saw it. I loved my suit. I even got a new helmet painted up in those colors. I think it's awesome. I wish I could run that the whole time.
ALEX TAGLIANI: That's a nice advantage. I keep adding patches. My suit gets heavier.
WILL POWER: I have like nine suits in my closet now because I've changed them so many times (laughter).
Q. (No microphone.)
GRAHAM RAHAL: I guess, what, 23 years later. I hope Rahal can find Victory Lane here. This place has actually been pretty good to me in the past. I was on pole here in Atlantic. Champ Car we struggled. The team's got a lot of history here. I think there's no reason why being up front at least we can have a pretty normal strategy versus what we had to have last week in Watkins Glen.
So I think that we've got a good opportunity ahead of us. If the team does their job in the pits and I do my job, there's no reason why we can't be right up front and hopefully fighting for a win.
Q. (No microphone.)
ALEX TAGLIANI: I think we just have to do our job. That's what we've been doing. We went to St. Pete last minute again, qualified seventh. I mean, we've done pretty well on road courses. There's no guarantee we're going to do good tomorrow. We just have to stay out of trouble.
So far I think the team is showing that they have some strength. You know, we're already working hard on some 2010 programs and sponsorships, so obviously good result would help. But it's not the end of the world. We have just have to stay focused, not thinking about what's going to happen tomorrow is going to be our future. Just think about tomorrow as tomorrow, it's another race. I think we're doing good so far.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much.
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