Q and A with Tim Cindric and Mike Hull
Under Tim Cindric's leadership, Team Penske has scored three IndyCar titles, the 2000 and 2001 Champ Car titles with Gil de Ferran and the 2006 IZOD IndyCar Series with Sam Hornish Jr. The team has five Indy 500 race wins, most recently with Helio Castroneves in 2009.
Mike Hull is the managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which fields the entries for two‑time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who currently leads the series standings, and also Alex Tagliani, who replaces the injured Dario Franchitti for the weekend. Since Mike became the team manager in 1996, Target Chip Ganassi Racing has won nine open‑wheel titles, four in CART, five in the IndyCar Series, and he serves as the race strategist for Scott Dixon.
Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing will again battle for the IZOD IndyCar Series title. It's the sixth time a Penske driver has been in the championship and the fifth time in the last six years for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Mike, leading the championship with Scott is a situation you've been in before a couple times. Last week when he was on the call he said he's not changing his approach to the weekend even though it's a 500‑mile race and the championship is on the line. Does planning for a 500‑mile race change the way you approach a championship?
MIKE HULL: I think you plan for the race. That's the focus. The race is what we do. Living for race day is what it's all about for us. The championship, if you win races or you finish at the front consistently, you have an opportunity to win championships. Some races are bigger than others I suppose in terms of the gravity, but this one is a big gravitational race because of what it represents, so we'll work hard for the race.
MODERATOR: Tim, a Team Penske driver battling for the series title again, seems to follow the script every year, but this year it's Helio Castroneves, and he finds himself chasing somebody for the first time since June. What is the team's mind-set this week as it chases Scott Dixon for its first title since 2006?
TIM CINDRIC: I think it's obviously one that you just have to go out and try and win the race. I don't really know how else to approach it with the way the points are now. I think Mike and his guys, they were able to execute in Houston and we weren't. That's kind of the bottom line. It's put us in a position where we have to go out and win, and really aren't in control of our own destiny in the way that Mike and Scott are. Certainly wish we had Houston to do over again, but that's how racing goes.
Q: Penske and Ganassi are the two heavyweights of the IndyCar Series, and I seem to ask this every time you guys join us on the call, but what makes you guys title contenders year in and year out?
MIKE HULL: I'll speak for us at Chip Ganassi Racing in reference to Mr. Penske and Tim and Penske Racing. When we started as a group many years ago, Penske Racing was the team that not only ‑‑ you wanted ‑‑ some people say we raced with these people. Well, as a matter of fact, you're either in the race or you race against somebody, and we set our minds to try to create an organization that would be equal enough in every respect to race against the best in the business, and I still consider Penske Racing to be the best in the business. That's what drives us, to be honest about it, and I think that's what drives us to be with them race in and race out, wheel to wheel, every weekend, because that's the measure.
There are other teams that we race against that do the same job, but what you have to do is you have to create a mindset that you're going to do the job season in and season out, and that's what we saw in Penske Racing when we tried to form the organization that we formed.
Q: Tim, something about Team Penske.
TIM CINDRIC: I appreciate the comments, Mike. I think that for us, (team owner) Roger (Penske) has always set the mark way before my time as far as how you gauge success, but at the end of the day, it's the competitiveness, and fortunately both of our organizations have the resource and the ability to attract the best people. When you look at the drivers that Chip has in his organization and the ones that Roger has had over the years, they're usually proven quantities, and they're ones that are used to competing with the type of pressure. You have to want that, and I think both organizations want to be in this position at the end of the year.
Mike and his group have done a much better job than we have here in the past five or six years of executing at the end of the year and throughout the year to where our bad races are really bad, and you can't have those with the way the series is. You have to be able to finish something. I think you can look at many of these last four or five years, and you can look back, and for sure you want it to be differently.
We do struggle as an organization with all the things that Mike said that Roger has stood for and his successes of second isn't good enough, and I think that's the mindset that both groups have, is that second isn't good enough, and that's what you need. But the difference really is the people that I think both groups have and the continuity that we have with not only our sponsors but our people, and the people certainly make the difference because they're the ones that really execute on race day or they don't. But I think the reason why we're all involved in it really is just the passion we have for the sport.
Q: You guys have done phenomenal obviously with your two outstanding teams, but this has been a season where we've seen guys sneak in with smaller teams and guys like Ed Carpenter, guys who sneak in and have done very well. Is there more balance now in IndyCar than there has been in seasons past?
MIKE HULL: There is balance. There's really good balance. I think the races themselves, the way they've been administered, the road races and street races in particular, by INDYCAR deciding to leave the pit lane open under full course yellows has really mixed up the field for the restarts, and that's effectively changed what you've been able to see hopefully at the racetrack or on your television. That's been a big denominator to a lot of the competitiveness that we've seen.
The ovals themselves have always been competitive. The fact that the cars are narrowed up in terms of the specification has made oval racing generally more competitive. The separation on ovals has only been separated when we've purposely ‑‑ the rule makers have purposely tried to separate the cars for safety. So I think generally the circle is complete in terms of the product that we have and the competitiveness that we have on the racetrack.
TIM CINDRIC: I would agree in terms of the start of the season. I think where you started there was the fact that there were a lot of different winners early on. There were guys that are used to being up at the front that for one reason or another hadn't been up at the front, and it became a very different landscape. But as you sat back and looked at it, I guess from my seat I was quite confident that Scott Dixon was going to be the guy to beat at the end of the year. I felt like as we looked at the way that the season was going, there was going to be kind of a slow movement to the top with the normal names that week in and week out show up and try to be better than the last week, and in some cases have the resource and the staying power to do that.
I think this year it started out with a lot of different people up at the top, but as the season went on I think it became more of maybe what you would have expected in the beginning of the year, just purely due to circumstance in some ways, but in other ways, it still comes down to the top drivers and the top teams. They haven't forgotten what they know, it's just some days are better than others.
Q: You guys run on the ovals, you run on the road courses and you run on the street courses. Talk if you could about the challenges as team leaders for getting both the drivers and the teams ready for each different type of surface on a series like INDYCAR.
MIKE HULL: INDYCAR is a great championship simply because of what you've just said with your comment or question. And in terms of being ready, I think that we use all the resource that we have, which are all the people that work together, the people that work on the race cars with their hands physically, the people that work mentally on the cars, and the person that holds onto the wheel to drive the car, and we work as a team of people to try to understand from as early in a corner for a particular venue how to get the most of the exit of the corner. And that's what we have in common probably for all the persuasions.
I think the process is very similar. It's simply that the venues are different. But it marks the ability of a true champion when you have to do that.
TIM CINDRIC: And I think a lot of it also has to do with Mike and I are both fortunate enough to have drivers that are competitive in all disciplines and can relate very quickly. I think it might be different in some cases where you have someone ‑‑ I'll throw Ed Carpenter's name out there. His approach and the team's approach to an oval might be quite different than the approach to a road course, at least in terms of the expectations. Our expectations are to be competitive at every venue we go to and have an opportunity to win or at least feel like you're competitive enough to win.
Not all the teams on the grid are able to have that expectation. I think in our cases it's business as usual for the most part, but in the cases of some of the teams, and particularly the rookie drivers that haven't been to some of these tracks or experienced an oval in an IndyCar or a short oval in an IndyCar because it's quite different from Indy Lights and some of the other things they may have experienced.
Q: The last few years this has been sort of Dario (Franchitti) and Will (Power), and these are both known quantities. The thing I am wondering about is the unknown quality which is Alex Tagliani, who is coming in on a one‑off with Ganassi, going to be Scott's teammate. Mike, how does that change the way you will do things because you know how everything would work with Dario? And Tim, you kind of know Dario, you know how he works with Ganassi. Does Tag bring something different to the table? Is there something to look out for and is it something you have to worry about?
MIKE HULL: I think it does change the team dynamic a bit, simply because he's a different person. But what he has in common with Dario is the fact that he's an amazing race driver and he's proven over and over again how special he is on an oval. So the whole point of a team of people together is to learn from each other, and that's really our expectation this weekend, and that's exactly the same as we always do. I don't know if it's plug‑and‑play necessarily, but we think that by having him drive the car, by the fact that he'll be able to drive the car well, a lot of the success that teams like Penske Racing and Ganassi racing have is because of that teamwork element, and that teamwork element gives you the information to help the other teammates on and off the racetrack. With Alex, that's exactly what we expect to achieve.
TIM CINDRIC: We've worked with Alex. He's actually had the opportunity to work with us or vice versa on the Nationwide program, and Alex, as Mike said, when you see the fact that he sat on the pole at Indy, he's certainly been around this sport long enough to know the differences, and he's got plenty of laps around Fontana. I think they made a great choice for who to put in that seat. Obviously it's a difficult circumstance there, and we wish the best for Dario and quite honestly wish Dario were in that car because that's where he deserves to be. But Alex is certainly up to the task, and I think he'll surprise some people when he's in the equipment that they're going to give him there.
Q: You guys have done this for the last few years, going down to the last race for the championship. Does this ever get tired?
MIKE HULL: I had dinner with somebody last night that's kind of a famous guy in motor racing, in a different persuasion of motor racing, and we were talking about exactly your question. This is really what we want to do. This is what we signed up to do. So it doesn't get tired.
TIM CINDRIC: I don't know how you can be in this business for very long and not look forward to that. Mike and I have both been on teams that don't run up at the front, and it just seems so far away. You know, it just seems so difficult to get there, and when you are there, sometimes you get somewhat immune to it and you catch yourself maybe thinking, hey, is this really worth it or is this really what I signed up to do, and that thought goes away pretty quickly, because you realize what it's like to be on the other side of it, and I guess I call it the real world and our world. Once you've lived in our world, you really don't want to go back to the real world.
Q: I just wanted to get your comments about the differences and the comparisons that you can make between these guys. They're obviously completely different personalities, but on the racetrack there are some similarities. Do you see both sides of it? Do you see the differences and the similarities?
MIKE HULL: I don't know Helio well other than to watch him in action on the racetrack as well as off. What I see in common is enormous competitive passion to be better every day. Two drivers that have that in common, have that very clear directional thing in common with each other, and what that then does is that drives the rest of the team. That's what they have in common, their ability to be able to perform at a maximum level and have team members try to follow that lead. And that's what I see. And if you can have that and you can race against people like that on the racetrack, it helps to drive you individually to achieve things that you didn't think were possible.
TIM CINDRIC: I think if you try and describe the two guys in terms of just their ‑‑ what you see on the outside, I think you'd see two very different types of people. I probably know Scott probably as well as maybe what Mike does of Helio, just because they really haven't been outside their organizations too much in the past, whatever it's been, 10 years or so. But I think, again, their competitiveness and their ability to really not make too many mistakes, I think when you look at the number of races that both of these drivers have been part of, and the big races and the teams that they drive for, both of them I think when you look at consistency are among the best in terms of bringing the car home and not putting a wheel wrong, and lap for lap you can put them out in a test or whatever else, and very rarely do they bring the car back in a different way than it left. I think they can do that while they're also running up at the front.
I think that that's something that's always impressed me about both of them. They're both very competitive, very passionate. Helio is probably a bit more outspoken than Scott is, at least in my viewpoint, in public, but they each have their own personalities that's probably a little different than what the public sees.
Q: Mike, during early in the season when Honda was not as successful as it's been in the second half, what was it that kept you guys pointing toward the right goal? What kept you together when things were struggling?
MIKE HULL: To be very honest about it, I think Honda was pretty decent at the beginning of the year. It was just that Chip Ganassi Racing wasn't. I don't know what to say except that. We really missed at the beginning of the year with what we had done in the winter, and we really had to look at each other internally and we had to refocus our energies to work on our program to create grip in a different way from what we'd been doing. Without going into great detail there, that's really what it was. Honda was coming along quite well with their engine and their engine package, and we could sense that it was pretty decent, but we didn't have a car to match that. There were other Honda teams that were blowing our doors off.
We set our minds to it and it wasn't easy to get the ship turned around, but we did do that, and now the combination of the Honda engine package with the way that we're now running our cars has made a difference. It's made a difference. So some people say, oh, it's Honda, it's this, it's that, the other thing, it's the tires, it's the team, whatever. I think once again we've proven that you have to put the package together, and the people that work on it have to be able to start anew every day and listen to each other, and I think that's really the product for us for the season.
Q: With Helio, it's been a matter of consistency and not winning ‑‑ one has four wins, the other has one win for the season, and when you come down to this final race like this, does winning become more important in this race, or is it just watching that other guy that you're battling with?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, in our case with the scenario, it's pretty simple. Winning is really the only thing at the end of the day, and then you still have to hope. You know, I think the point structure is a good one because you shouldn't be able to win the championship and not win a lot of races. I think winning has to be the key to a championship, and I think the fact that Scott has done that and still had some bad days but he's made up for those, where you have a 10‑point difference between the first‑place car and the second‑place car ‑‑ I see the other side of it in NASCAR where there's only a point or two here or there if you win versus if you run fourth or fifth, and it's really hard to make up ground, and rewarding you for the wins, I think they do it in a form for the playoff but they don't really do it in a race‑to‑race situation, where when you look at the Chase, and (Joey) Logano has a problem the first race of the Chase, has a DNF and he's racing against 12 other guys, and you really can't get there without a lot of fortunate events.
In an INDYCAR, I think you're able to control your own destiny a bit more by winning, and winning is important, and I think the point structure shows that that differential is there. I think it's good, and I think you should have to win to be able to win the championship.
Q: With doubleheaders having been an important part of the season this year, six combined races, even though it was only three weekends, what do you guys think of those making such a big impact on the point structure, where Scott I don't think finished worse than fourth where obviously Helio had such a tough weekend in Houston last week?
MIKE HULL: Well, in our case it's proven to be very positive. At first, to be very blunt about it, at first I was not really excited about it. There were a lot of contributing factors because what it does is it puts a terrific load on everybody that works on the program. It's the drivers themselves physically, it's tough on them; the crew members who at the end of the day go back and work on the cars into the middle of the night to be ready for the next day for the race. If you can get all that right, it's obvious that the reward is really good. I like the fact that you can run the first day and work to improve your product for the second day because that's really what we try to do. Often times we don't get to go back and try again for a week or two or three. So I do like the format. I don't think I'd be in favor of it every weekend. But it's all about creating mindset one day at a time, and we've been lucky enough to be able to do that with Scott this year, and it has paid well for us.
TIM CINDRIC: I think relative to the double weekends, I think that certainly, as Mike said, it's taxing on the drivers, but I think that that's an okay thing. I think the drivers should be ready for it. They should be fit. I think that the best ones will rise to the occasion. I like the double weekends. Just as Mike was alluding to, I think there has to be ‑‑ now that we've gone through it, I hope for next year there's a bit more consideration into the way the weekend works. If we're going to have full points races on both days, we need to try and separate the weekends as much as possible when it comes to, whether it's tire allotments or qualifying or what have you, but the main thing really, and Mike touched on it, was the start times for the two races. I know the television considerations and all that, but even if you don't have a problem in the first race, your guys, at least this year, we've typically been there until well into the night to where they get back to the room at midnight or later and then they're up at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning to come for the early race the next day. So it's typically been an afternoon race on a Saturday and an earlier race on a Sunday, and somehow we need to maybe switch that around to where it's an early race on a Saturday and a later race on a Sunday just to be able to have some proper cadence to the weekend.
But I think it's good for the promoters. I think it's good for the teams because certainly we'd much rather be racing on any given day than practicing or testing. I think there's a balance there that can be sorted out, and I think the road courses and all that are sometimes better, and it's certainly better than running heat races or that type of stuff, like what happens in Iowa. I think we need to race and race for points and give a little bit more thought into what the format is for the weekend, but certainly Scott has been the one that's taken advantage of it this year.
Q: Mike, question for you: You're running Honda this year. You're switching to Chevy next year. Any reason why?
MIKE HULL: I think ‑‑ well, first of all, really to go right to the point of that, we've had ‑‑ since 1996, we've had a great relationship with Honda and HPD. We truly value that relationship. They're a very, very strong engineering company, and I think we are, too. A lot of race teams, they're engineering companies that just happen to go racing, and I think that's what we have in common here. We enjoy that relationship. Truthfully a lot of it has to do with the things that we can do together with Chevrolet with our NASCAR program and our IndyCar program together, and that weighed heavily in the decision to be honest about it. It has nothing to do with the performance going forward really for either company because in a way we have no idea what's going to happen with Chevrolet going forward. There's no hidden agenda here or anything like that. We just made a change.
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