Honda GP of Alabama Sunday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with today's post race press conference. We are pleased to be joined by Charlie Kimball of Chip Ganassi Racing who finished fourth.
Charlie, it seems like this weekend everything was clicking together. Talk about today's race.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Yeah, I think a lot of the progress we made in the off-season started to show at St. Pete. But as a team, there were other elements in play, so we struggled a little more.
We were really close to making the top 12 at St. Pete. Here when we did. I had that extra practice on alternate tires, so in Q2 I was able to maximize and end up third quickest and making it into the Fast Six for the first time.
We knew the car had a lot of speed on blacks and used blacks. I'm not sure where our podium went. We had the speed in the car to be on the podium, it was just a question of what tires. We might have been a little greedy using reds in warm-up this morning to do a balance check.
It's hard to maximize your first time in the Fast Six. Having scrubbed reds, it's hard to get that maximized on the first time.
All in all, it's been a great race. I'll have to talk to Novo Nordisk to let me run that scheme all year. To have Scott represent it with the blue rims, finish on the podium, Jamie McMurray finished top 10, and the GRAND-AM boys finished top five yesterday. Great day for diabetes awareness and the whole Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Charlie.
Q. Looked a little hectic in turn one on the start. Take us through what you saw.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: It was pretty dirty on the inside. With the wind blowing, a lot of that yellow pollen and dust had blown onto the track. Visibility was reasonably hard.
Coming out of the last corner, you get a bit of a downhill run. I was getting ready to lift out, it went green. See how this comes out. When I got to Vautier, he turned right to the apex and I had to jump on the binders really hard. I think that set off a chain reaction behind me.
I gathered it up, and going into two all I saw was the red and blue 25 car of Marco coming around the outside. With Marco starting on blacks, we were on new reds, I had to settle in after the yellow and wait for him to struggle to put the power down to get him into five. From there, it was getting a good, clean run, trying to push, pressure Vautier into a mistake.
He didn't make anything big enough for me to go by him. I burned a couple overtakes earlier than I wanted behind him. So then I thought I would run consistent laps.
Dixon drove up to the back of me at pit. The initial start was busy. I think we can work to make them a little cleaner.
Obviously Long Beach next, looking forward. It's really challenging to get a nice, clean start with the hairpin there. But we can work with race control as drivers and make it look a little better.
Q. Can you talk about how important this strong weekend is at the beginning of the season giving you momentum.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Well, I think Chip said it best when he said it's my third season, it's time to start winning. That's where we are. Our expectation is to be consistently in the top five, qualify consistently in the top 10, and come away from the season with a podium and a race win or two.
We led laps at Indy last year. We'd like to lead the last lap this year. Going forward, I think there's some strong races for us. Hopefully I don't have the same health issue that I had last year when I broke my hand.
This weekend's a great place to start it, though. Especially going home to Long Beach next. We had a good result in Brazil last year, then into the month of May. Once that momentum is going, fitness-wise I feel really good, and ready for doubleheaders when we get to Detroit.
Q. A very physically demanding, technical circuit, and no yellows. Talk about going for quite a long ways with no rest.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Actually in the race strategy meeting, the over/under was that it would go green all day was high. There aren't many opportunities for yellow here. Everyone stops pushing to that edge quite as hard and are more consistent with the car. We thought it might go green the whole time. So mentally we were ready for physical exertion.
But physically I feel pretty good. My neck's going to be a little sore tomorrow, but it's the highest lateral Gs we'll see at any racetrack this year. And it only being the second race after the full season of racing, your neck builds up some resistance and strength that you can't quite get in the gym.
Q. The start was really dicey, hectic and wild. You made up some ground there as well. What did you see? Was it every man for himself?
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Yeah, it was pretty tough. Coming off the last corner, it was downhill. I had momentum building as the green flag came out. I was getting ready to check up if it hadn't gone green. It went green sooner than I expected, so I was able to carry that momentum through.
It was pretty busy. The 55 car drove me right to the apex. I had to jump on the brakes pretty hard and I think that caused a chain reaction. There was a fair bit of dust down the inside. I don't know if it was the pollen or the dirt from the prerace stuff. It was all right. Then Marco came steaming up the outside into two, and it was pretty busy there.
Overall I think we can work with race control to make them look better and be a little cleaner.
THE MODERATOR: Charlie, thank you for joining us. Congratulations on a great race.
CHARLIE KIMBALL: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are now pleased to be joined by two of our podium finishers from today's race, Scott Dixon who finished second, and Helio Castroneves, who finished third.
Scott, another second-place finish, but more importantly you're starting the season off with great momentum in terms of points. Talk about starting the season off so strong.
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know, today was kind of a crazy race. At the start I think Will just got a little flustered. I think Hunter-Reay went and Will should have kept going, but he tried to slow down. Our whole lane lost about three or four spots straightaway. The whole day was trying to play catch-up.
We had a fumble in the pits on the second stop, then we got stuck behind Charlie. He was on blacks, we were on reds. It was really hard to pass today until the tires started really going off.
We switched up strategies a little bit. I think we had to gain like 12 seconds to get back to the guys that were leading, which was Helio and Hunter-Reay.
Car was super fast. I think definitely one of the cars to beat. We almost needed a slightly longer race, maybe another full stint.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Helio Castroneves, who finished third.
Talk about today's race. I understand there may have been some contact between you and Hunter-Reay.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that's right. First of all, AAA and Turbo team up. My mistake saying September 17th, it's July 17th that the movie coming out. I'm sorry.
But what a race. I tell you, as Scott said, I was right behind Scott on the start. Unfortunately Will, whatever happened, he didn't go. We were trying to go away. But the left lane start coming in, everybody start pushing you away. We went a little bit off in turn one. We ended up going from 6th to 10th. The other restart was similar. I was just trying to stay away from Will. Will, I don't know what you're doing.
It was a shame because we know all three cars - myself, Will and AJ - had a good car. We just changed to Plan B, the strategy, which was a great idea from the team. We decide to pit early. Had a clean lap. This time it worked for us. I'm very excited about that.
Then towards to the end, I went on the outside of Ryan. I know Will was there with the black tires, so it was just a matter of just taking a chance, a different line. Ryan went a little too deep, couldn't stop the car, end up hitting me on the right side.
I hit one of the buttons on the steering wheel. That means it goes to very yellow slot. I thought something was dragging on the car, then I realized it wasn't. A little bit of excitement there.
Then when we took the lead with the black tires, it was 19 or 18 laps to go, Scott and Ryan, they had the reds, it would be very difficult to hold onto those guys. I did everything I could to brake deep as possible, but I couldn't do much.
At the end of the day, third place for us is good, especially the way we started the race. So we're excited.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Scott and Helio.
Q. Scott, you at Long Beach last year got left on the course all day. It happened to Hinchcliffe again today. Do you think that's something that needs to be looked at?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it makes it a very long day. Luckily a fan gave me an umbrella so I could sort of cool off a bit. I should have got out like Hinch did, would have been more exciting doing that.
The rules state, the will tow you back till the last 10 laps of the race. I don't know what the deal is with that. I know I was pissed when that happened to me, and Hinch should be as well. There's a whole lot of the race to go.
I thought they were going to tow him back, but we already had a yellow, he caused another yellow. I think they get worried about these yellows being too long. It needs to be in the rule book or they need to tow you back.
Q. You finished second again. Four now. You can't be content with that. What is your mindset about that?
SCOTT DIXON: I'm going to go buy a bridesmaid's dress tonight and party pretty hard. I don't know (laughter).
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Better than third.
SCOTT DIXON: That's right (laughter).
You know, it's coming in different ways, too. We had to come through the field like today. Last year we made our own mistake to not win the race. But it's still good points. I think we're second in the championship. I think Helio is leading. It's good at the minute.
You know, it would really be nice to win at this place sometime.
Q. Helio, I heard your radio interview. You got excited when they told you you were the new points leader.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's good. I didn't know that till they told me.
Q. But it's two races in, too early to think about that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You have to take as it comes. You have to enjoy the moment, but work for it. Those points are very valuable if you thinking about the long-term. Last year the championship was lost by, what, three points. So you got to take as it comes.
I'm excited when I get out of the car obviously with that achievement we got. We going for Long Beach with good points in the bag, but we looking for our opportunity to win a race.
Today we ran really, really good. We tried different strategy and we show the speed of the car. We got to keep putting ourselves in those opportunities and the win is going to come. With that, I'm going to add more points.
But I'm extremely excited.
Q. With the changes in the track since last year, the diamond grinding, what has been the difference in tire wear versus the first three races here?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I felt the tire wear was similar to last year, except it change a little bit the balance of the car. It became much faster. We're talking about three seconds faster than what used to be in the past.
But in the end of the day you could see the black tires were a little bit rough compared to the red tires. They were not fast comparing to what we thought would be. So I felt that the degradation was pretty smooth, especially the reds were actually not bad.
So it was a positive change, for sure.
Q. The race between Hunter-Reay and Will, then all of a sudden you close in really quickly for third, it looked good on television. Did it look as good from ahead of you? Did you see an opportunity there to catch up on them?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm very happy you liked it.
It was fun actually. I notice Will was on blacks and Hunter-Reay was on reds. He couldn't make a move. I was just closing up. For me, I knew that my strategy changed at that point and I got to go. I said, I got to make a move, otherwise I'm going to be stuck with the blacks at the end of the stint and that's going to be a really bad situation.
So when I saw an opportunity, Hunter-Reay went wide in turn two, I went inside. That point we were side-by-side. I'm like, Okay, I got to do something here, brake really deep on the outside, the car hold on.
I think the way he was explaining me, he let go the brakes a little bit. Then unfortunately it hit me. Thank God it didn't damage the car. But we were able to pass. Then did the same thing with Will.
In that opportunity, was really fun. I was exciting. Honestly, I wasn't saving fuel. It was one of those races that when I won here 2010, you got to save fuel, I was just going for it. When you get a scenario like that, your blood just keeps going, now I'm going for it.
If you said you liked it, the same thing we liked it, because I was having a good time.
Q. Scott, at any point in the closing laps did you think you might be able to get close enough to Ryan to pressure him into a bit of a mistake or slip?
SCOTT DIXON: It's hard to tell here. I think our car was definitely quicker. We closed a pretty decent gap. But once you get sort of a second back or so, it's really hard to close it any more.
We got close a couple of times. He made a mistake in 15 or 16, then also in two a couple times, then in five as well he locked up pretty big. Unless you make a really big mistake here, it's going to be pretty tough, if you're fighting with cars, similar tires, similar tire wear, also speed.
You know, it was going to be tough, but it was going to take a big mistake on his behalf for us to get past.
Q. It seems like the first two races of the season have been really good. There's a lot of great competition through the field, some new names contending. Do you see it that way?
SCOTT DIXON: It's been a pretty good mix. I know some of the bigger teams have made pretty big fumbles. We didn't expect to start 20th at St. Pete. Dario probably didn't expect to start 17th this weekend. The tires are adding a different dynamic. The first few races you have to work out what they're doing quickly. Especially in qualifying, if you hesitate a little bit, you're going to be back a bunch of spots, which is what happened to Dario.
Yeah, the competition is always tough. I think this year you have a lot of smaller teams that have caught up in areas. The damper program is about all you can do apart from lightening the cars in different areas and the teams prepping them a little different.
It's tough. It's not like the old days if you messed up with a big team a few 10ths, you would lose a spot or two. Now it's like five, six or seven spots. You have to keep your eye on the ball and try to make the most of it. So it is a tough season. I think it's going to get tougher as the season goes on.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I agree. I totally agree with you. I just add a little bit having new names for the series, especially the guys from Indy Lights coming up, showing the potential they're showing. I say we have the best drivers here, great teams out there. Certainly it's becoming very, very competitive.
Just to point out when you mentioned I was excited. Now I do remember what happened. On turn 12, believe it or not, I know I was four seconds ahead, but I had some computer glitch in my car that stuck in fifth gear. I went from 12 all the way to the finish lane in fifth gear. That's why I thought I wasn't going to be able to finish. When I was finish, it was, Whew, I was able to do that.
Q. Not that there was any question about it, but the resurgence of Andretti Autosport, talk about the fast start they've gotten off to.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's obviously two separate cars, and they both had bad races, too. Andretti, they were split a long ways across the grid, and in St. Pete, too. You can't take them out. They're always going to fight hard. They're very good in covering all bases. A bunch of guys over there, I've known many of them for a lot of years.
It's exciting have such a mix I think at the front. Even seeing Marco and Hinch and Viso being quick, as well, it's definitely a strong team, a team that will fight for the championship, I'm sure.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yep, they are keeping their status of team champion. They won the first race. They won the second race. They're showing whatever they're doing, they're doing right. We just got to keep working and hopefully we're going to get our turn, as well.
Q. (No microphone.)
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I thought he did a great job, especially at the start. He was pushing very, very hard. He did a great job through the whole weekend. You know, we're just talking about how competitive is this series. To come here after seven years, have two tests before first race, be right up there with us, it just showed he's a real talent, as well. I'm happy to have him around us and let's see what's going to happen in Long Beach or after.
Q. When the series first came here, fuel strategy was the big thing. Today I think Will was the only one on a two-stop strategy. Is that strategy pretty much out the window now?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: What position he finish? Fifth. I think, yes. I don't know if everybody was saving fuel. I was not. I was pushing. Again, you try different strategy in a different ways. This place is very difficult to pass even. But I'm glad we had the 'push to pass' this time. A few years ago you didn't. That's probably one of the toughest things when you don't have that.
But right now I felt that was a good, entertaining race. Hopefully we keep continue to have entertaining races.
THE MODERATOR: We'll wrap-up with our podium finishers and in a moment we'll be joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
We are pleased to be joined by the winner of today's race, Ryan Hunter-Reay. This is his best finish here. His previous best finish was 12th. This is his 10th career IndyCar victory.
Ryan, talk about today's race and additionally you started the season off with an 18th-place finish, talk about bouncing back with this win.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I felt like coming into Barber this was going to be the start of our season. We had a big hole to dig out of from St. Pete. We had a stuck throttle. We pulled a win. That's a new feat for us at Andretti Autosports.
The guys have done a great job in the off-season. Several times in the off-season I said our biggest weaknesses were the permanent road courses like Barber and Sonoma, and the big super speedways like Texas and Fontana.
The guys gave me a great car. I had more pressure today than anything bringing a car home that I knew was capable of winning. That was the biggest pressure.
The pressure Dixon put on in the end was close to that, though, I tell you what. This place is one of the most physical tracks you'll ever drive. Four Gs in the corners, that was an extremely tough race.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Not that there was ever any doubt that Andretti Autosports was back, but it shows to be able to come off of a championship season, win the first two races, what does that say for the organization, how dominant they've become at the moment?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It really shows that we're a threat every weekend. That's what we need to be to win championships, is be a threat every weekend. We showed that we were at St. Pete. We showed we are here at Barber. I have a good feeling we will be at Long Beach, Sao Paulo, and Indy, too.
We're getting more work done early in the season than last year. Last year we started going on our hot streak much later in the season. So hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Hope so.
Q. Ryan, you were cruising along in the lead seemingly pulling away at any time you wanted. It seemed in a short period of time you went from first to third. Can you describe the actions that took place that got you down there, what you did to get back to the front.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was all about tire strategy. At some point you had to get on the standard Firestones. You knew you were going to go backwards at that point.
We did it in our middle stint, our second stint. I cruised to a big lead in the opening stint. Right when I got on the blacks, Helio on new reds started closing on me, just like I did on him in the last stint. Will did a fabulous job keeping me behind him. I'm not sure because I had a couple good runs on him. It was hard racing. I didn't want to take any risks this early in the season. I knew I had a great car, so I had to bring it home.
Luckily though, our tire strategy I think was the best one, which is what Dixon was on. We were able to overcome Helio there in that last stint because he was on blacks to finish, the standard tires.
Q. How close did Dixon seem in your rearview mirror the last 10 laps?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: He stayed really close. Not many guys you don't want in your mirror, but that's one of them you really don't want in your mirror. He's a veteran that doesn't make many mistakes. He's won championships, the Indy 500. He's the best. You know he's going to be flawless, so you have to hit every little mark you can just to make sure that you're not making a mistake at that crucial moment. Had I made one mistake, he would have been by.
So, yeah, it was pressure-packed.
Q. Have you seen the Brazilian doughnut on the right side pod of the car?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I didn't see it. Brazilian doughnut?
Q. Helio's wheel mark.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I got it now. Yeah, Brazilian doughnut on the side of the car. We were just racing hard, got on the inside, couldn't slow the car down. I think he saw me coming. He was turning down, saw me coming. But he probably figured I'd be turning for that left-hander, too. I couldn't slow the car down.
Luckily we made contact and both of us continued on, continued to race hard with no issues.
Q. But that could have been the end of the road.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, you're right. That could have been the end of the road for me, broken suspension. I'm sure we bent the tow a little bit on our car because it was lighter going to the left, the handling was. Yeah, glad we both got out of that one. That was a close call.
Q. As the leader, all that action was going on behind you, were you aware of it? Did you have any idea of what to expect going into it?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I knew the start is always hairy because you can end up winning side-by-side, two-by-two, through turn one, two and three, which sets up a pretty interesting situation going into turn five. I just wanted to get a jump-start. Every time I did, I got a good jump on the rest of the field.
I knew it was an interesting start when Marco went from eighth to third. I'm not sure what happened at yellow, he said Will went off at turn one, I guess. I'm not sure. There had to have been something that happened, because Marco went around the outside of everybody in turn two and three is what I heard.
It was nice being up front, though. Having three poles, I haven't had that many times to start the race. I need to do that more often. It makes the job a lot easier having your own time to go whenever you want to stack the field up and space it out, so...
Q. You had a battle there in the middle portion of the race. Were you having to drive with your mirror and windshield at the same time there?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, exactly. I knew Helio was coming. He was coming on sticker reds. I had to get by Will somehow. Will, I mean, his car was 15 feet wide. It was really hard to get by him, which is supposed to be.
I was surprised I couldn't work my way by him on better tires. That was our worst set of reds, most laps on it from qualifying. I couldn't work my way by. Helio just kept closing on those new reds that he had. Helio and I got into it. At one point I got stacked up behind Will because he was so slow through the middle of the corners.
Helio checked out. Will made a mistake. Helio slipped by him. Helio checked out. I knew, though, that Helio would have to run his new blacks at the end. Big picture racing again. This is something you learn the more you race. You get a little bit more mature with it. You get patient. You know that the race is coming back to you. I just stayed patient at that point and knew that my time would come, and it did at the end.
Q. Last year at Long Beach, Dixon got left out on the course. Today it happened to Hinch. If they could get the tow, make a repair, is that something that IndyCar needs to address?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, that is unfortunate, right? If you pull off to the right, you're stuck, you're on an island. If you pull off to the left, you're on the side that can get you back possibly through the outside of the track and into the pit lane.
It is tough. I know there's a lot of tracks like that in endurance racing. They tell you, if you have an issue, pull off this way or that way.
It would be tough to go yellow to get a car across the track or tow them back.
Q. Or extend it a lap to get him back.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: True. They were towing him, I don't know. They just gave up or they towed him back to a hole in the wall.
Q. (No microphone.)
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: You can't help that then. That's hard to help that. You can't slow down the momentum of the whole race for one guy. Sometimes it's your day, sometimes it's not, unfortunately.
Q. Two races, two winners. Pretty good races. New faces mixing it up a little. Do you think that bodes well for the season?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I think it bodes well for sure. I hope we're not too new of a face. It's good to hear that we are. With James winning last week, great personality, great kid. He really drove, like I said, to a very deserving win.
It's great to be in Victory Lane, showing that last year we were for real. This was one of our weakest tracks. To be on pole and win, I hope it's a sign of things to come.
It's amazing when I think about it how different the weekend could be. Let's say I didn't put that lap in qualifying in the end, you start second or third, the whole weekend is changed. It can hinge at any point. That's the beauty of racing. That's the things that the fans don't get to see, is how precise the whole entire execution of the weekend is.
Q. Big picture question, but does it feel any different today racing in the lead as a champion? Different spot now.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: The only way it feels different is you're in the lead, you should win it. You've got the pressure. You're in the lead. Champions do not give up the lead, they win the race. That was the biggest pressure about it. That's how I felt about the racecar, too. When you have a car capable of winning, you don't give that opportunity up because they don't come very often.
Yeah, those two together, that's the pressure. Hey, you know, champions don't give up the lead when they're in it. They seize the moment and make the most of it, so...
It's a good pressure, though. Last year we were under much more pressure than anything I felt today, which helps. Having gone through the stress of fighting a championship helps on days like today.
Q. At times in your career you probably thought that you could win this race. Has the mindset changed to you should win this race?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Well, you should win the race when you have a 12-second lead. That's when I felt like, oh, no, everything could go wrong at this point. There's a little bit of 'I should.' We've won races in the past last year, and we had the car capable of winning. That was a bit of the 'I should' one. I'm in the lead, got the car to win, we're defending champions.
But that doesn't apply every weekend.
Q. You are a former Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner. One of your better tracks. How confident do you feel going out there in two weeks?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I really feel confident. In IndyCar, the momentum can swing at any point because the competition is so close, the drivers are so talented. You could be going to your best racetrack, have a little bit of a mistake in qualifying, be 10th or 11th. Your weekend is changed at that point. You have to go to a different tire strategy, whatever it is.
We'll be looking to have another mistake-free weekend at Long Beach. That's one of my favorite events as a whole.
THE MODERATOR: We'll wrap it up. Congratulations on a great win.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thank you. Appreciate it.
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