Q and A with Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro
Simona finished sixth in her debut race with the team at St. Petersburg after running as high as third in the late stages of the race. Simona will make her fourth start at Barber Motorsports Park on April 7 and finished ninth there in her first start there in 2010.
Q. Simona, after the sixth-place finish you had at St. Petersburg, how important was it to you and the team to get off to such a strong start there?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: I think it was really important. I think especially more for me than for everybody else. I think I had a little bit of doubts during the off-season if I was able to run up front after the season I had last year.
It was just a big relief that we started off the weekend really strong, qualified up front and pretty much raced up front the whole race. So it was really good. I think it was a big confidence boost for me and the team.
I think now we can clean up a few things to be even better.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion. Tony finished fourth at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg over the weekend.
Q. T.K., welcome to the call. Just talk a little bit about St. Pete and how important it was to get off on the right foot.
I think as a team we did a great job. Still got to do better. We want to win races and finish both cars on the podium. But it was a good weekend.
Q. Simona, talk a little bit about working with a teammate for the first time. Seems you and Tony work really well together from watching you in testing and at St. Pete.
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: We do actually. I actually enjoy working with T.K. He has a lot of experience. I feel like we have a good friendly competition going on in the team.
I think we really push each other every session. I think the team gets better that way. I think that's going to make us pretty strong the whole season.
Q. Tony, your top-five finish at St. Petersburg was your 107th top-five finish in your Indy car career and tied you with Helio Castroneves and Gordon Johncock for 10th all time. You're also closing in on Jimmy Vasser for the consecutive starts record.
I know you're not ready to retire, but can you talk about seeing your name with some of the legends of the sport?
TONY KANAAN: I haven't been around all these years because I'm a lucky guy. Obviously, it feels awesome. Like you said, I'm nowhere near ready to retire yet. So hopefully being part of the record book, it's awesome, you're part of history, you did well in your career.
I didn't know about my top -5 finishes. That's awesome. I don't count them a lot. But trying to beat Jimmy Vasser on the most consecutive starts will be great. I think by the time we get to Baltimore, that's when it's going to be.
Hopefully him being my boss, he will let me do that. Hopefully he won't sit me out for a couple races because I'm going to beat his record.
Q. The next race is at Barber Motorsports Park. What kind of race do you expect at Barber? The speeds were below the track record. Do you think it will be as competitive as it was at St. Pete?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Yeah, I think so. We had a pretty good test there. I think the race in St. Pete was really competitive. Everybody was racing really hard. I think we're going to see the same thing at Barber.
Last year I thought it was a pretty exciting race, quite a bit of passing, which we didn't see in the past. Hopefully it's going to be the same this year and it's going to be pretty action-packed hopefully.
TONY KANAAN: I agree. We're going to be talking about how competitive this series is for every racetrack we go. I don't see us or anybody pulling away. Barber, obviously we had the opportunity to test, so I think it will bring the field closer there because everybody got their hands on a couple days of testing.
I think the racing will be really exciting. Last year we already witnessed that with a lot of passing, a lot of action. I don't expect anything different.
Q. Tony, you had a good weekend on the track. Since you've been with the team before, you know the struggles that the team had last year, I know one weekend doesn't really say much for where the team will end up or where it's headed, but if you could talk about what's gone on behind the scenes and if you think the team is as improved as this one weekend did show.
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I think so. Honestly, the secret, I think it was preparation. We didn't have a lot of preparation last year. If you remember right, I was signed already, but Rubens (Barrichello) and E.J. (Viso) signed like late March, right before the championship started, so we had to hire people and do a bunch of things. We already started a little bit behind.
My engineer (Eric Cowdin) couldn't come to work until January for contract reasons. We didn't have a lot of time to really get organized the way we wanted.
That's probably been the biggest part of the improvement of KV. We've been working on this program for two cars, me and Simona, since September last year. The continuity I think is our biggest improvement.
We didn't struggle as far as development, wind tunnels, shaker rigs. We've been doing the same things but with more time and a little bit more organized.
Q. I'm going to ask this as delicately as possible. You said last year how Rubens came into the organization; you felt that would push you more. You have a new teammate. Are you feeling that with Simona? Is she pushing you any further? Do you feel like you're going to have to step up to not get beat by her?
TONY KANAAN: For sure. It's two different things. When Rubens came in, he was definitely pushing me. But because of our relationship, we've been like brothers forever, it was completely different.
Simona brought a lot of spark and light into the team. I enjoy working with her. I have no problem teaching her whatever I can. But I like to see this young girl that wants to do well, because that's her opportunity. That obviously pushes me to my limit. I'm going to admit that she's extremely fast. I said that even before she was my teammate, so I'm not trying to make any excuses.
For me it's good. I learned my entire career. I had hard teammates. I had (Alex) Zanardi as a teammate, Dario (Franchitti) as a teammate, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay as a teammate. Those are people that are extremely good. It's good to get beat sometimes. That's how we learn.
Me and Simona, if we keep working together to make KV successful, I think that's the secret. I'm going to beat her sometimes, she's going to beat me sometimes. We're going to be cool. She's not going to like the days I finish ahead of her and likewise. As long as we use that to our advantage, it's going to be awesome.
To answer your question, yes, it's a different time. It's a young blood that really wants to do well. The relationship between her and me right now, it reminds me of when me and Zanardi were teammates back in the day.
Q. Simona, it was quite evident by the effort and result at St. Pete that you are really enjoying the improved power from Chevrolet compared to what you had last year. The newfound power, how good is it to have that kind of push underneath your foot there?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Yeah, it's definitely great to be with Team Chevy. As soon as I signed with KV, they embraced me with open arms. It's been going really well.
I think the engine is awesome. It's been really fast. It showed it the whole weekend. In the lead, there was always a Chevy engine.
Just being with a manufacturer like that, they put so much effort into their performance. Seeing that every weekend there's some different things to try out. Also the communication is pretty open like between all the Chevy people, so you kind of know a lot of things. That's pretty exciting.
Yeah, it's been huge. I think the biggest thing to be running up front was a huge relief. I really have to thank them to kind of help me out and give me this opportunity.
Q. Tony, these doubleheaders that are coming up here, back-to-back races on one weekend. I don't think a whole lot of drivers are sure how they're going to attack it. Have you had any thoughts about that?
TONY KANAAN: I think it's going to be extremely tough, not just on us but the mechanics and the equipment.
I'm not going to make a judgment call before we do it because, I don't know, that my work will be extremely successful as far as fans and TV ratings. But as far as me, I'm extremely concerned about it. I know the way I finished the St. Pete race on Sunday. If you told me I had to race on Monday, it was going to be a tough ask.
It's going to be hard on us. Obviously I'm a workout maniac. On that matter I'll be well-prepared. But you never know.
It's going to be tough. I'm not going to say I like it or dislike it right now, but that is definitely a concern as far as how we're going to deal with that.
Q. Simona, on tires, obviously you were on the reds to finish at St. Pete. How did you rate the difference between the two compounds? The way Barber was last year, tires made a difference throughout the race. How do you anticipate the way the tire's fall-off might impact your strategy?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Yeah, I think for us in St. Pete, definitely went away at the end. We ran out of rear tires.
I think it's more like setup because even last year, for example, I never struggled with that because I don't think I had the power for it. But we saw a lot of cars that all of a sudden were coming back to us for that reason.
I think it will be interesting. I think it has a lot to do with how your car is set up and how it's eating the tires, things like that.
Barber was pretty extreme last year. I don't know how the tire is going to be like. I don't know what they're going to bring to Barber yet. We'll see how those are. But it might be the same as last year.
I think it makes it pretty exciting. Some cars are pretty good on tires and some aren't. I think that's what's mixing up the racing. You have to dial your car in the best you can to not have that issue.
Q. Tony, if Simona is like driving with Alex (Zanardi), working with Jimmy (Vasser), is that more like working with Michael Andretti or Mo Nunn as an owner?
TONY KANAAN: I think that's a good question (laughter). I would say it's more like Michael because they're both race car drivers. Having Jimmy in my radio is fun. It was weird at first because Jimmy has been a friend of mine. Just hearing the sound of his voice calling my race, it was weird at first.
I'm using in my advantage. Obviously we know each other extremely well. That's a big plus for me. He's been a driver. We discuss a lot about tires and strategy and a couple things that we usually don't do with the guy that does your strategy because some of them are not racecar drivers.
To answer your question, it's more like Michael than Morris. Morris was much calmer than Michael and Jimmy anyway.
Q. Simona, do you debrief with Tony and Tony's engineer? If you don't, do you talk during the weekend?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Yeah, we do. I think, for sure, at the beginning of testing we're starting to learn how to do that. On our side, I've never had to do that in the past for years. I think in Barber at the test and in St. Pete, in the evening I think we talked about it. Also after the sessions, we talked about what they ran, what we ran, what we experienced, even after the race.
I think things are starting to click, kind of learn how to work with a teammate.
Q. How is your Portuguese?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Not good yet. My teammate is slacking a little bit on teaching me (laughter).
Q. Simona, I was looking at your numbers from last year. You had a lot of results in the 20s. I'm wondering, after all the success you had earlier throughout your career, how difficult was it for you to get motivated every weekend? What did you learn about yourself last year?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Well, I think it was definitely a really frustrating year. But after a few races, I think I kind of changed my mindset a little bit, kind of focused on things I could improve.
Especially on the ovals, for example, after my crash at Indy, it took me a while to find my confidence back. Maybe what happened last year was a good thing because I really could take my time, I had no pressure for results or anything, really go through the things that maybe I should do on my side. Also, yeah, just kind of learning about myself.
At the end of the day I was lucky to have a seat in (the IZOD) IndyCar (Series). There's so many drivers that want to be in (the IZOD) IndyCar (Series) and don't get the opportunity.
I was there. I had sponsors that were supporting me. I think that's what a professional athlete has to do. It is what it is and you just try to do the best you can every time you're out on the racetrack.
Q. Simona, obviously you're a role model for young girls. What would you suggest to any of them about being successful in life?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Well, I think the biggest thing for any kid, if you dream about something, I think if you put the effort behind it, you be able to achieve your dream.
I've been really lucky that people saw that I wanted to become a racecar driver at a young age. A lot of people saw that and they helped me throughout my career. I think the biggest thing is not to give up and to really focus 100 percent behind their goal, and their dreams should become reality.
Q. T.K., you obviously have known a lot of champions. What do you think it takes for a contender to become a champion?
TONY KANAAN: Well, I think he has to be in the right place at the right time, got to be able to sustain the pressure. I think the better you do, the more pressure you're going to get. Nowadays I think talent, there's no question that we had plenty of them around, but a complete driver will be the one that will be able to manage a difficult situation or a situation that he is under pressure over the course of a championship and overcome that.
A lot of times people don't do well like that. So I would say the biggest advice, if I could give to anybody, what it takes, it would be consistency and be smart every race weekend to be able to judge. Sometimes if you have a fourth-place car, you try to finish fourth. Otherwise those will be points you waste away. As we witnessed the last three years the championship was decided on points the last race. I think that would be the biggest key.
Q. Last year at the IndyCar race I lost my laptop. It slipped out of my bag. Two fans found it, emailed me saying that they had my laptop. They returned it to me the next day. I tried to give a $50 reward. They refused it. They're NHRA drag racing fans. I got them in to see John Force. I would like your comment from the IndyCar perspective, because they came back again to the race, they're IndyCar fans and drag racing fans, I would like your comment about that honesty, what you think about that in motorsports fans to be able to do something like that.
TONY KANAAN: Well, I'm a big fan of honesty. I think I've been loyal to teams that I raced, teammates that I've had. I think that's great. Obviously I want to believe that the world has more people like that than the other way around.
Maybe we can brag a little bit about and say that IndyCar has the best fans, and the most honest fans as well. That would be a pretty cool thing to do.
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: I agree with Tony. I think at the end of the day in motorsports, you're a big giant family. Being honest I think is really important. I think what Tony said was right on point.
Q. Tony, since you had the Chevy powerplant last year, what do you think are some of the improvements Team Chevy has made year on year? Why do you think it was Chevy was more ahead of Honda at St. Petersburg? Do you think it was the track or more down to the improvements?
TONY KANAAN: It's tough to say. Obviously the engine manufacturers don't tell us a lot. I would say I think Chevy listened to us and the requests that we had from last year. They have a very strong group of drivers with a lot of experience that they can listen to. If they did translate that into the engine, we'll have an advantage.
I don't know. I mean, it seems like we have the advantage. But last year, if you noticed, was the same thing. We got to Indy and it was the other way around.
I don't want to get too ahead of the game here thinking we have a big advantage. Sato still ran pretty strong. I know for a fact that Ganassi was struggling with their setup. They gonna be back.
I don't want to get too excited about that. I think Chevy improved from last year, I can tell for a fact, because I drove both engines. I don't know what Honda has. I raced for Honda for a long time. I will never count those guys out. You can't count them out at all. We'll see what's going to happen.
But definitely I think Chevy did a great job in the off-season listening to the issues we thought could be better for the engine, and they did it, and it worked.
Q. Simona, do you feel this year you have a steeper learning curve going into the ovals with the Chevy?
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: I think so. I still feel personally that's my weak link right now. I've done one test only with KV Racing so far, Texas, and it went pretty well. I think with Tony's experience I'm going to be able to follow his lead a little bit on that and try to improve on that.
I think that's going to be the key for me this season on the ovals.
Q. T.K., I saw you and Dario (Franchitti) spent some time with Andy Murray this weekend. Can you talk about the Sony tennis experience?
TONY KANAAN: It was funny. Dario had never gone to a tennis tournament. Obviously it's around the corner from my house. I've been there a few times. Andy is Scottish. Dario is Scottish. They know each other back from Scotland.
We had an opportunity to watch the match. At the end of the match we went to talk to him. It was funny to see Dario learning about tennis. Had no clue what was going on. I had to bring him sunscreen and all the stuff that he wasn't ready for. He was all sunburned in the end.
Andy is a great guy. Had a great game. Probably will go to the finals which will be this weekend. But it was fun to do something else outside of racing. Dario has been spending a little bit of time here with me and (my wife) Lauren at the house. It was awesome. It was really nice to see how fast those guys go. We think we go fast on the racetrack, but when Andy can serve a ball at 133 mph, I was pretty impressed with that.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as there are no more questions, we will wrap-up today's IndyCar conference call and thank Simona and Tony for their time today and wish them best of luck next week at Barber Motorsports Park.
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: Thank you.
TONY KANAAN: Thank you.
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