Honda GP of Alabama Saturday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with our press conference with Charlie Kimball. Talk about qualifying today.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, it was pretty good. The practice yesterday afternoon and this morning, we had a lot of traffic, just kind of didn't get the lap in. But looking at the sectors, we knew the car was pretty good.
That first run, I got the gap sort of where I needed to, got a good lap time in, came in. I think I was fifth quickest in that first outing, then third in the sort of round of 12, I guess.
I was a little surprised that the round of 12 wasn't tighter lap time-wise. To only have done a 67.2, I think the track got hotter. The car was pretty good. We spent yesterday working mostly on race day. Come tomorrow, we have a bunch of tires in hand and we'll be pretty good when the race starts.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Will Power, as well. Talk about your qualifying session today.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I was happy to get to the Fast Six. Yeah, it was really tight. Car wasn't quite there. Probably me, as well. But, yeah, I was very happy to end up second. I didn't expect to be there.
It's a track-position track, for sure. I'm not sure what these reds are going to do. Initially I thought they were going to come off, but they hung on pretty well in the Fast Six. I think that will make interesting strategy in the race for tomorrow. Happy to get the Verizon car in P2.
THE MODERATOR: Also joined by Tristan Vautier. You're getting your career-best start. Talk about today's qualifying session.
TRISTAN VAUTIER: It was cool. I was very upset with myself after the second round of qualifying. I was upset and looking at the time board. Right before the Fast Six started, I was looking at it, Guys, I see my car in the top six, maybe we should bring it back to pit lane.
I have to give it to the guys. They brought the car back last minute and got it ready after the Fast Six started. It was a mix of emotions to be disappointed and then all of a sudden know I was in the Fast Six. I had to get back in it.
Yeah, I just tried to push very hard. My engineer made good changes on the car for the Fast Six and the tires were a bit more used. So it was a lot of fun honestly. It was so cool because the cars have so much grip. You can really push hard and give it all.
It's a lot of fun and, yeah, I really have to thank my guys for putting the car back together so quickly for the last part of qualifying.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Scott Dixon who qualified fourth. You started third at Barber in the last two races. Talk about qualifying today.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, the car all weekend, the Target guys have done a very good job. We just sort of have been trying to work out some of the issues that we had from St. Pete, even though it's a different circuit, but give us direction for Long Beach coming up.
The car was quick in Q1 and Q2, sort of miss-timed a little bit in Q3 there. I don't think we would have had enough for Ryan, but definitely I think enough for maybe second position. A 10th and a half would have helped a couple spots. But still a great starting position.
The car feels strong and seems to hang on to the tires pretty well. Look forward to tomorrow and hopefully we can improve a few.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Will, James Hinchcliffe was somewhat upset, said afterwards that you blocked him twice on his fast lap. The first one, you may have been in traffic, but he felt the second one was on purpose. Any comment on that?
WILL POWER: I don't think I blocked him actually. Viso checked me up. Those guys checked up in front of me. Yeah, don't know what he's talking about. Blocking? Have to take a look at the video. Just whining because he didn't get through, I think.
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Helio Castroneves. Helio, talk about today's qualifying run.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, what a great opportunity for AAA and Turbo, by the way, the movie coming out on September 17th. Want to make sure everybody remember that.
TRISTAN VAUTIER: I see that in the pit lane all the time because I'm behind you, so please talk about it at another time (laughter).
HELIO CASTRONEVES: September 17, don't forget. By the way, don't text and drive.
Anyway, it was a good effort for Team Penske. AAA car was really consistent. Unfortunately the last qualifying we decided to predict something. As a team decision we decided to do something to the car, and it wasn't the right direction.
The car is good. Feel we have a very strong car for tomorrow. Again, hopefully it will be a smooth drive tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Other questions for our drivers.
Q. Scott, Chip, your owner, was quite vocal that Hondas were better represented today. Specifically for you guys maybe it wasn't a Honda issue at St. Pete, and do you think that Honda made a big gain this week?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think last week there was a lot of issues on our side. That's straight up. I don't really know how to answer that, to be honest. I think we're all trying to do the best, we're trying to win races. The first race of the season was definitely a tough start. We still came away with some valuable points. Do I think we are where we should be? No, I think we have some inroads to make in a lot of different areas. There's always room for improvement, I think there's quite a bit of room for us at the moment.
Q. Charlie, I think this is your first Fast Six ever. What kind of steps and gains have you made? It will be your best career start.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: I think we went away over the winter and sort of evaluated where we needed to make progress. The whole Novo Nordisk team is focused on that as a group, being able to learn from Scott and Dario from all of last year's data and have the time on the winter to apply it.
We had a good test before Christmas here. In the open test we made progress. We didn't come with the best car and left with a big step forward.
St. Pete, Scott said we had some issues. That improved pace didn't know nearly as well when we got to St. Pete as when we came here, we sort of were a little more prepared and still managed to take a step from the open test to here.
It's really a credit to the engineering and mechanic crew on the 83 car. They've given me the information and I've been able to go out and conform.
Q. For Will, Scott and Helio, I don't know if any of you can speak specifically to Sato and Justin, but race control took a stand and made a call and Sato was disqualified. Where do you fall on that? Do you like to see these kind of calls or no?
WILL POWER: It's definitely hard around this track because everybody around nine checks up, and then the next guy has to back up, then the next guy. It happened to me in the first round. Viso backed up going into 12, really checked me up. You're screwed your next lap as well.
That's what happened to Hinchcliffe, I think. I didn't think I blocked him. Obviously he must have caught me a bit. I don't think he was right on me. But when you take air off someone... Yeah, it's a bit of give-and-take, I think.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it's not only the job of the driver. The driver can do everything they can. We have the mirrors obviously. Sometimes you're put in a spot that's very difficult.
The team also have more information to send the driver out and keep everybody up. So now if the driver in front decided to just take a breather and just relax, that's a problem.
But I hope the series is looking. But I think it's more the problem that the teams sending people out. I had also a problem in the first session. Thank God I had a good guy in front of me.
I think it's about the teams sending people out in front of others.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think it's the nature of the circuit. It's quite a tough one to get spaces. I think all of us in Q1 had some similar situations. I haven't seen Justin and Sato's yet. I didn't know race control had it in them. Good to see.
Q. Will, you seem to be not on your usual top of the time charts this weekend. During the practice sessions coming into the qualifying, where y'all working more on the race setup or is it just track conditions or what?
WILL POWER: No, yeah, in general it's just struggling, just not getting it done. That's why I said I felt lucky to end up second. Competition is so bloody tight, it's unbelievable.
Then people like pumped out a mega lap. When I saw that, I thought, There's no way I'm going to beat that.
Yeah, the competition, so many bloody good drivers in this thing, it's unbelievable. It's great. Got to get the message out that we are a very tough series and we got really good drivers.
Q. Tristan, this is the second week in a row you've been in the top six. Are you having a hard time of being in front of groups like this?
TRISTAN VAUTIER: First off today, I have to say I've been lucky because without Takuma's penalty I was seventh. So I don't know. It's a tough question. No, I'm not getting used because every time you get back in the car it starts from zero again. It's kind of this way, this sport. Every time you get back on track, you have to do it again from zero.
I don't want to get used to it. It's very challenging each time. So I really want to take it back from zero all the time and work as hard every weekend to stay here.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much for taking time to join us today. Best of luck tomorrow in the race.
We're joined by our polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay. This is the third career pole for Ryan in IndyCar, most recent was Edmonton 2012. Looking at the statistics, your previous best start was 11th.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: The team has done a great job in the off-season of moving forward, especially at this racetrack. It's a matter of mechanical grip for us. We've definitely closed the gap there.
It's really nice to see that we've made progress in the off-season. That's definitely encouraging.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Ryan.
Q. Ryan, like Amy said, this is a track that has not been too terribly kind to you in the past. What did you learn in the pre-season testing that you brought here with you today?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We have a great team, four cars, three teammates of mine that have done a great job of working together. We all have been trying different things.
I think the No. 1 team certainly does a great job of staying after me to improve my driving in certain corners. Dixon has certainly been the quickest guy all weekend here. I've been chipping away at some areas that he's been quick. That certainly helped us.
I have to have the car to do it. Those guys put the car under me to get it done. I knew in the last couple sessions it was sort of up to me to get the lap out of it. Q. This is the first time you had a chance to get the reds on the car. How are they feeling on the track?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was great. As a racing driver, you love two things: grip and horsepower. We had both of those two things, combined with a track that's been newly resurfaced or grinded or whatever you want to call it. It certainly helped. It's great to break records. It was fun putting those reds on, those Firestone reds that first time, feeling how much overall grip there was. There was so much in the car. It's tough sometimes for you to even keep up with it because you're used to the grip from the standard blacks. Once you get into the reds, you have to push yourself further into corners and ask more from the car which you have the entire weekend, which is tricky.
Q. I saw your quote yesterday when you said regardless of where you wound up, you felt good about today. Is that just because you knew that the car was that good?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Exactly. When we had newer tires at the beginning of the session like everybody else, P2 or P3. I knew we had a good car when everybody was matched up. We wanted to save tires for tomorrow because this is a new compound from Firestone. We're going to have to see as the race goes on where it goes.
We wanted to have enough of each to be able to decide rather than being locked into one tire strategy. We put in the hard work in the beginning, I think, so that was good.
Q. The first group, in addition to the names in there, watching it, it seemed pretty intense. Was it that way?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: For sure. I thought I put in a great lap and they told me I was P2 or P3. I was only a half or 3/10ths from being knocked out. It was super close. That's the thing you never know with this series. It's super tight. You never know, even when you have a good car, if you put that lap in if you're going to make it. You have to push yourself that extra bit in qualifying to get everything out of it. It's tough at times. The groupings especially on a session like yesterday when some were on new and some were on old.
Q. Can you specifically speak to the Sato/Wilson incident. How do you feel about race control stepping up and making that kind of call?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, I haven't seen the incident, but you can tell, as a driver does have mirrors and you cannot see a car so far back in your mirrors. But when it comes to it, you know when a driver is being respectful of the drivers around him or he's taking it that little bit further and trying to slow the drivers up behind him. If you're checking somebody up, you have a really big gap in front of you, unless you've been checked up by the car in front of you, there's no reason to ruin somebody else's lap. You can usually tell that, the guys that are being respectful and those that aren't.
If it's a blatant deal, yeah, if it's something where you have a huge gap in front of you, some guy backs into you, there's no reason for it, yeah, there has to be some punishment for that.
But as these guys were saying up here, at times it's a very crowded racetrack, that accordion effect happens when you're trying to get a proper gap. Some guys take more of a gap. It is a gray area sometimes. Hopefully they won't lay penalties down in the gray area. If there's something blatant, absolutely. Did it look blatant?
Q. I didn't see it.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Nobody saw it (laughter). Q. Can you walk us through your fast lap and what you think you may have done?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I was a bit concerned that last run. On the first lap, I didn't get a good lap in. I was a half second down from my previous best. I was worried. That second lap, the time started coming. Coming out of turn six, I was only 2/10ths down from my quick lap. I thought this could be pretty good. I was at a deficit at turn 12 and 13 all weekend. I knew what I had to do there to fix it. It was harder to put into actual practice, to actually make it happen.
I just put it together that last lap. It felt great. So now I know what I need to do tomorrow, for sure, to make that up. Put it together at the right time. It's certainly a great place to start. This place is very tricky with tire degradation. We've got to start working on that tonight.
It's funny how much everything changes. You focus on qualifying all the way up till now because it's such a premium here. Then tonight everything is undone, it's a yard sale under the tents because everybody is trying to protect those rear tires and protect that grip that you're going to need through the entire race.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, thank you so much. Congratulations on the pole. Best of luck tomorrow.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thank you.
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