Q&A w/Montoya, Rahal, Hunter-Reay, Sato, Power
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA
THE MODERATOR: We have Juan Pablo Montoya rejoining the IndyCar Series.
Juan, going through some testing already, your thoughts?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I'm really excited. I mean, I feel like I'm not where I want to be yet with the car. I feel we have come a long way.
It's weird. Sometimes we're really good, some we're average. The first Sebring test was horrible. I feel like Sonoma was pretty good. I was really happy.
It's hard because the new tires are different than the ones I've been used to the last three years. I'm starting to get it, but the problem is I don't get to put it all together.
If you look at my laps, if you put my fast three laps together, everything is there, it's just a matter of putting it together in a lap. I think it's just experience.
I feel like we gaining on it. I think I drive the car a little bit different than the other two. I think Helio drives a little bit more like me. Will just got used to driving the car in an awkward way to be quick. We're just trying to make the car drive a little better.
You're always on the limit, but to be more comfortable at the limit. So we'll see.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Juan, how odd does it feel to you when you see a red car now on the track? Does it feel odd?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's kind of weird. I mean, a lot of the mechanics worked with me at the 24 Hours, especially when I was in the 02 car, it was all the Indy crew. It's okay. They're good people. That's it.
Q. You're rivals now.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Right now I'm my biggest rival.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Because I feel like I got to do a job, push myself. It's good to have a guy like Will on the team that's really quick and gets the job done. Helio has a lot of experience.
If I have my experience plus what they do, I think it's pretty good. I felt like I brought a few things to the team already to make the cars better. We've gotten a little bit better, so I'm pretty happy. No complaints.
Q. Can you reflect a little bit on the NASCAR journey? What are your thoughts with Speedweeks going on? Does it feel odd at all that you're not there? Do you feel like you're where you belong?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's a feeling that I wasn't missing it probably. It was weird actually. A month ago when they did their first set, I was with my son racing at Homestead. I got a text from Chevy, We're missing you. I'm like, Why are you missing me (laughter)?
I had no idea they were even testing. It's nice to do what I'm doing right now. I feel really happy. I'm really excited to be part of Team Penske. It's a tough challenge ahead of me. I know that.
It seems weird because it seems like race speed is really good when we're in race trim. Our pace is really good. I was telling my guys, like my race engineer, If you really look at it, even on new tires, I'm not missing corners. There's a lot of room there for improvement and I know that. It's not bad. It's a process, I guess, I hope.
Q. You were talking about it being a difficult challenge. Obviously it was a difficult challenge when you moved over to NASCAR.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's completely different. The NASCAR one was one that it was like, Where the hell am I? The cars were very different. There was a lot of movement. This is the opposite because in NASCAR the limit of the car is very easy. You can get to the limit of the car very easy. The big thing is you're driving it too hard. In IndyCar, you can't drive it hard enough, or at least I can't yet. I'm leaving a lot on the table. I think that's the biggest thing.
Q. Having been successful in virtually every motorsports field you have taken part in, how do you look back and judge NASCAR?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: When we had good cars, we did good. When we had bad cars, we did bad. I think as a team we threw a lot of races away. It's part of the thing you always do.
The point is when you're winning races, you throw a lot away and you still win a few. When you're not winning races, you notice the things you throw away. I think that's the biggest difference.
The focus for me now is IndyCar 100%. I'm pumped about it. I feel like a complete rookie right now, so it's pretty cool.
Q. Kurt Busch is talking about wanting to come and do the Indy 500. For somebody who has your experience in open-wheel, trying to get up to speed from that point, after running NASCAR to now, how difficult do you think it's going to be for him to jump in there for the month of May and get the job done?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think the configuration, the low downforce configuration of these cars, it's not too bad. I haven't driven around Indy. But like Fontana, I was up to speed in five laps. When I went to Phoenix, it took me half a day to get up to speed, it really did.
It's hard because, Helio went out, ran wide open. You think, It's wide open. Your brain says it's wide open, but your body says, Hell no! You're going into turn one wide open, you say, No, not happening.
It's hard to get comfortable. Three and four wasn't so bad in Phoenix. One and two were hard. That's the high downforce. The high downforce, it's just a matter of learning how far you can go with the car.
Low downforce, I think anybody would get used to it a lot easier.
Q. Roger said with the right funding, he'd like to see you run the Brickyard 400. Is that something else you want to do? A fan on Twitter wants to know if you have any interest in running the NASCAR road courses as well?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think the Brickyard would be a good thing. I've been so close so many times, it would be a good way of closing that chapter with a good win there. I know Roger hasn't won there. If we could get the opportunity to do it, I think it would be pretty cool.
Q. Juan, comparing the IndyCars that you drove previously, what are the biggest changes you have noted?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: The biggest thing is braking. The braking is unbelievable. Used to have a lot more power. But the initial acceleration is very similar. It's when you go through the gears...
The braking in the corners, it's unbelievable. The grip level of these cars, it's like an eye-opening, to be honest.
Q. Would you have thought a couple years ago that you would ever be returning?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: At that point, no, because I felt comfortable with what I was doing and everything. But if I look back at everything I've done, the most fun and best racing I've done in my career, it's been in IndyCar.
This was the perfect time to do it. I felt like two years from now, wouldn't be able to do it. Timing-wise, it was ideal. So we'll see.
Q. Are you surprised that you haven't just jumped back into the IndyCar and it's like riding a bike again?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, no. I mean, the speed was there right away. Once I pushed the car, the speed was there. The problem is, if you try to be too greedy too early, let's say we got to Sonoma and I tried really early to push really hard, throw the car off, you spend the rest of the day repairing the car, you don't learn anything.
Laps I think are very important at this point.
Q. You said you want to go back to IndyCar because you want to win again.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah.
Q. If it takes you time to win...
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's going to take me time to win. How much time, I don't know. I'm not expecting to go out the first race and win to be honest. I have to understand strategies and everything.
If the team does a good job of that, it's good. There's a lot of things with saving fuel. There's a lot of strategy that goes in that that I know of, but I haven't experienced it.
Q. Your reputation and legacy being what it is, is the expectation and the pressure on you to be good immediately, to turn this series upside down quickly?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: My expectations?
Q. Not for yourself, from the outside.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don't care what the outside thinks. I really don't. I put myself enough pressure to perform and do whatever it takes to get it done. I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else.
For me, it's all about winning. You know me, I never really care what people think of me. I care what I think of me. I know when I do a good job and a bad job.
I feel I've done a really good job with the IndyCar so far, that I've done a good job getting up to speed.
It's funny because a lot of it is, let's say you run through the day, at the end of the day you look at the data, you look at what Will or Helio are doing, Oh, I got to do that. I go out there and just do it.
That's going back to, okay, you could probably run wide open through here, nobody done it. If I tried and get it wrong, then I throw away half a day of testing.
I'd rather look at what they're doing, copy what they're doing. Then they do something different again. You go, Oh, next time I got to try this. It's just a matter of doing that.
Q. Roger told us after the Sebring test it seemed you struggled, at least on paper. He said everything was going to be fine, that your biggest concern was getting him in the black pants. Is that accurate (laughter)?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: The first Sebring test was a struggle. It was a struggle for all of us. The new motors, the old motors. It's hard to judge how far behind are you. You say, I did that corner great. Coming down the straight, Oh, there you go.
At this point it's been tough to really compare and know.
I would say, looking at Sonoma data after the test, I felt I could have been a little quicker than Helio. If I would put a lot together, I would be a 10th or two behind Will. I know there's still a lot of work to do, but it's not like, He's so much better everywhere.
It's just two corners. One of them, I screw up. Like I went in, got a huge moment. I know I can do that. The other one was like, Wow!
The good thing with me, when I go, Oh, wow, I just go and try it. I always have had the attitude, if somebody can do it, it can be done. What the heck, give it a try.
Q. Are you wearing the black pants now?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Absolutely. Proudly. I told them today actually white shirt, the Verizon white shirt looks better than the black shirt. But they say, White shirt is management. Again, I'm not management, I'm just a driver. Black shirt for me (laughter).
Q. How familiar are you with the St. Petersburg track? What are your thoughts on it?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I've seen about a hundred videos of it. I watched the races. I will start watching the races again just to figure out how to drive the car, see what they do and stuff.
That's one of the hardest challenges, the first time on a street course, St. Petersburg. I think it's going to be eye-opening. I think it's going to be a slow-building weekend, getting comfortable in the car.
It's something I've been getting better at, work on the car. Going fast, it's easier. If you're not comfortable in the car, first of all the chances of getting it wrong are big and you're never going to be good enough.
I've been working hard on things that I like about the cars, things I don't like about the cars. Setup-wise we're a little different at the moment.
Q. Given the fact you've had so much success throughout your career, but also you're kind of a rookie again, what would be a successful season for you?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Winning the Indy 500 and fighting for the championship. You would say that would be a good season.
Q. You think those are realistic expectations?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: You look at my oval experience in NASCAR, it's huge. I did ovals before. You have to figure out again in IndyCars what you can do and what you can't do. It will be fine.
Going back to the same thing: if you can get the car to do what you want, you're going to be really competitive. Is it going to be easy? No. If it was easy, anybody would do it.
Q. In the 2000 Indianapolis 500, it was said you weren't impressed with the car. How much have you seen this car evolve?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: This car is more of a CART car than an IndyCar. They're completely different, I think, personally.
Q. Is this a hard car to drive? What makes them different?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: When it's bad, it's a horrible car to drive. When it's good, it's really, really good. When we did the Sebring test, it was awful. My first test was there. My first test I ran half a second quicker than I was running there. I ran a half second quicker without any effort. When we went back, What the heck is wrong with this?
Q. Is there any consideration this year to try to run the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, to be the guy to win them both?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, unless Roger asks me.
Q. Have you asked him?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No. I got enough things going on. No, no, no, no, no (laughter).
Q. What did you think of the pace car fire?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Which one?
Q. Not yours.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I'll tell you the truth, I didn't see it. I was in a car. Sebastien was racing. We came back from a dinner. Actually my wife turned it on because she saw a tweet about it. They were interviewing Stewart after the crash. She wanted to watch the race and I fell asleep. I'm not saying I fell asleep because it was boring, I was just tired.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: First guest this morning is Graham Rahal. Second season. Kick things off by asking Graham, last week there was an announcement about the National Guard and the responsibilities you'll be having for on track and off track representing the Guard.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Certainly we're all excited to have the Guard onboard. I know it was first reported many months ago, but it took quite a while for everything to fall in place, as you could all imagine.
So for us now it's certainly a sigh of relief to be able to move forward with the National Guard. I think our entire team and organization is thrilled to have them onboard. I know all the team owners are as well.
For us, there's quite a lot of pride involved in this. I know Dave is certainly extremely excited, probably the most excited I've seen him in years to be involved in a program like this. So is, of course, Mike Lanigan.
There is quite a lot of responsibility for us. On-track performance is key. We want to do a good job. But off-track performance is equally as important to the National Guard and we need to make sure the main goals of recruiting and retention are things we carry through each and every day and do the best we can to help them out, try to keep them in the sport as long as we can.
They're a great partner for us already. We're extremely excited about all the opportunities that are coming. Kathy and Brian Marks who lead the team, seems like there's something new coming up every day. Pretty new and exciting for us as a team.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Graham.
Q. Do you have a sense for commitment to number of days, activities? From Panther's standpoint, this was almost a non-stop association with the Guard.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I don't have an exact number or anything like that. I didn't think it was bad, considering. I thought everything was very manageable. I think everything that we do and the focus, as I said, is on recruiting and retention.
School visits, things like that, are going to be very important. We try to be a great partner for any sponsor. If there's a little bending we have to do, everybody is capable of doing that for them.
Like I said, if I look already at the season, all the things that have been planned out, a busy first couple of months here. There's a lot of stuff I'm extremely thrilled to go and do, visits to Walter Reed and things like that that are going to be I'm sure very humbling for me.
I don't think anything they're asking is going to keep us too occupied. I think everybody is excited to get out there and do everything we can do help.
Is it busier than my sponsors in the past? Yes, but it should be. I think the National Guard is more important than anything I've represented in the past. Hopefully we can do a great job for them.
Q. You've had to learn the business side of the sport early. Is this about as secure as you've felt? A big investment they're making here.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It is. I think for our team this is a big deal because as all of you know, my dad and Dave, Mike Lanigan, this isn't a business. They do this because they enjoy it. Do they want to spend their own money like they have in the past, no. But they love it. As a team, this elevates us to a whole new level us because it allows us to invest in the people, shock programs that we haven't had, that the Ganassis, Penskes, Andrettis of the world have.
I think it's going to help elevate us to a different level we haven't been in many years, probably since the team was a Ford factory team or funded by Miller or Shell in the old days. It kind of gets us back to that sort of level.
Everybody's excited about it. Our engineering staff is completely new for this year across the board pretty much other than Eddie Jones has stayed onboard. Everybody else is pretty new. Wayne, my assistant last year, is going to move over and just do shocks this year. Everything has been completely turned upside down. A lot of new faces.
This is going to allow us to continue to invest in those sorts of people we need, the programs, that sort of thing.
If you look at us last year, we never really did any development at all, never did any shock development. Coming from Ganassi where I was trying four different pairs of shocks every single weekend, it was completely different to come to this team where we never had an option. We ran the same ones every single track, every single race.
Pretty different. Takes quite an investment. I think we're going to be to that point now.
Clearly we're only a month away from the season. Being that the deal came together a little late, the guys are full-bore right now back at the shop to have the funding to do these things. Hope we can see performance gains right away.
We're requesting Barber in a week and a half. Probably a lot of things they're going to see. I thought my days at Newman/Haas were pretty secure, but that certainly got turned upside down overnight. I would say this is probably the best I felt in a long, long time.
Q. You mentioned engineering staff. Bill Pappas moving over. There's an open test on March 17th and 18th at Barber. A lot of things to develop and get done before the start of the season.
GRAHAM RAHAL: There's a ton. The list is going to be a mile long, as it always is. I know when we tested before the end of the year, we ran at Sebring for a few days, it was non-stop all day. Both helping with Honda with the twin turbo, which we tested pretty early on, then working on shocks and things like that.
When I got out of what was my car last year, drove what was a Bill Pappas car for the first time, didn't feel like the same chassis. The car felt so different it was like driving a sports car versus an IndyCar. Completely different sensation.
I'm sure with that package there's going to be quite a lot to continue to develop that we don't know yet.
Every driver has his own little - I don't know - desires what he wants out of the racecar. Luckily Justin Wilson is very similar to me, so Bill already has a pretty good understanding of that. But there's going to be a lot for us to develop.
As I mentioned a little bit earlier, the first time I think we're going to get on an oval is right after Long Beach, which I think we're supposed to go test at Texas. That will be right before Barber, then of course the 500. That will be the first time I'll do any laps on an oval to see how different the car is.
Justin had a helluva run at the 500 last year. Not much has changed since then.
Q. How much of a difference have you felt with the twin turbo in testing over the single turbo?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's definitely better. My first impression was that I was surprised that we were as competitive. I was impressed with Honda, I must say. How we were as competitive with Chevrolet as we were using the single turbo. The twin turbo has far more boost response, better off the corners, not a lot of boost lag that we spent the last couple years trying to overcome. It doesn't have that.
However, I haven't driven the latest, latest spec of engine. The last time I drove head-to-head with one of the twin turbos, we were fastest on the day with a single turbo, that was at the beginning of December. It's come a long way since then, but we haven't been in it.
I think it should be a huge performance. I don't think we will see it on a road course, but at Indy. Everybody knows how we struggled there, I think that's where we should see the biggest performance gain.
Q. What is it like to work for your dad?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I feel pretty lucky. I think that my dad and I have a great working relationship. We both have a great amount of respect for each other. I think that works well for us both on and off the track.
I think we're very good at separating racing from family. Rarely, even as difficult as the year was last year, do we butt heads about anything.
This year I think dad trusts in me a lot to help him when he needs something, needs to get some inside scoop or anything like that. I think we have a very close relationship that I think a lot of people, father-son relationship, whatever it may be, the business can tear that apart, but I think we're pretty good at balancing that.
Is it different than, say, driving for anybody else? Yeah, it is a little bit different. We had a phone call the other day. He said to me something about like, What would you say if you were talking to Chip Ganassi on the phone? I said, It would be different because Chip Ganassi wouldn't call me, so it would be a different case.
Generally we work very well together and we don't really ever have any sort of issues. But, you know, sometimes it's still hard to listen to your dad. I just try to make the most of it.
Q. What is the reaction and reception you've announced the National Guard?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's all been extremely positive. I think a lot of people are just thrilled more than anything to have an American. If you look at the history of the program, the only American has been JR.
Dan is an exception because I think Dan was Dan. The personality that he had, he was such a charismatic guy, I think he could pull it off.
I think what I've received, I haven't had anything negative whatsoever, not one comment. I think a lot of people are happy it's an American. I think that we can do an exceptional job for them. I think our job is both performance on and off the track. National Guard hasn't had a win in IndyCar yet. They've been competitive with Panther at Indy, we'd like to be one better.
Haven't had any negative feedback. I went up the elevator, a few people got on and off at every floor. Every single person asked me if I was in the National Guard. I was batting 1000 today, people constantly asking about it. Definitely a lot of interest, a ton.
I was out at the NHRA drag racing a couple weeks ago. We only announced it a couple days before. I had a lot of National Guardsmen come up to me at the races talking about how excited they were to have us as a part of it. That meant a lot to me.
Q. Do you think you'll do anything with Dale Jr.?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I haven't met Dale. I know my dad and Dale Sr. had a great relationship. I would like to. Essential we would like to try to pull the cars together more similarly, the designs and stuff, some things we can't do back and forth. Like the font of the car number and stuff are the same at the Guard's request.
Maybe if we do specialty paint schemes, things like that, they'll look similar, Memorial Day weekend, things like that. But I think it is key we work together. Obviously Dale Jr., Hendrick, it doesn't get any better than that. We need to continue to try to expand that.
My dad and Rick Hendrick have a great relationship. They've already talked. I'm sure there's things that can come down the pipeline. Right now has it been discussed? I hope so. It would be cool.
Q. Have there been any updates on a second car or teammate?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, not for me. You can ask my dad (laughter).
Q. I'll call him later.
GRAHAM RAHAL: We'd love to have one, okay? But I think that the key is at this point we definitely talked about earlier, with the opportunity we have with this program. Number one, we can't do what we've done in the past, rob Peter to pay Paul.
If we run a second car for however long, we're on the same page, it has to benefit the team. We can't do it just to do it. We have a great opportunity to take our team to the next level. We just need to make sure that we're not taking a step back by throwing someone out there and creating issues. That's really my only focus as far as a second is concerned.
Q. Although your dad is the ultimate authoritarian figure, who else on the team do you see in that role?
GRAHAM RAHAL: He's the guy. Since Scott Roembke passed, dad has stepped into more of a management role. He's at my house more than I am these days. He's definitely at the shop quite often.
Lanigan is very involved. If it comes down to anything financial at all, Mike is the guy that has the say really. Ricardo, our general manager, you could call him, he is.
Nowadays, 100% of everything gets cleared by dad, which is different than maybe a few years ago when Scottie handled everything. He could say yes or no on where the budgets were going. But now dad, he's really the guy.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Graham.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ryan, you've been out with the new Chevy engine, the upgrade of the twin turbo. Your thoughts that both Honda and Chevy will have twin turbo engines.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's going to be great to work with Honda this year. I'm pretty optimistic about the way it's been headed. Early days. St. Pete is where you get the feeling of where everybody stands.
Great time back in the 28. Excited about that. Everybody was hesitant about running the No. 1 last year. I think we had a great season, but didn't put the whole thing together, had some bad luck.
Looking forward to 2014. A lot of new challenges coming at us. Working with our new partner at Honda. This series is ever evolving, competition getting tougher. Penske added a car, Ganassi back to four with T.K. and Briscoe over there. It's going to be tougher every year. It's just how it works.
We're looking forward to it. But, like I said, still early days.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Ryan.
Q. How much can you tell about other teams when you're testing? Were you at Sonoma?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I wasn't, no. We weren't at Sonoma. We find it difficult to test there in the winter because it's so cold, so much different than what you experience on a race weekend.
But like Juan was saying, it's so hard to tell where you stand because there's different generations of the engine being tested at that point. There's different specs going. One car is trying this exhaust, the other one is trying that.
What you do get a feel for is where your level of mechanical grip is, what you can do testing that setup.
We've been balancing the two of them. We've been working with Honda, it's completely different than the single turbo, the drivability side of it. Honda has a lot of work to do just to catch up to what Chevy has been used to.
I think it's going to be great this year. I think it's going to be very tight. On the other side of the test, we've been working on developing our mechanical grip setup as well. I haven't been on an oval this off-season. Marco went to Fontana. But been doing a lot of work at Sebring.
Q. What is it like having a son older than your boss?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: That's a good point. Just having a son is amazing, especially at this age, being one year old. He's into it. He sat in the car at Daytona, the Viper, just loved it. He lit up.
Michael with twins, he has his hands full, for sure - as if he didn't have his hands full with Marco.
Q. You've had a lot of success at St. Pete. What is it about that track that suits you really well?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: St. Pete's one of my favorite races. It kicks off the IndyCar season. It's a Florida race. It's basically my home race now that we don't race in Homestead. All the friends and family are there. I love St. Pete downtown. I can see why the Wheldons moved there, why Bourdais is there. It feels like Fort Lauderdale of the West Coast.
I love that it's the kickoff to our season. It feels like it's been hot or cold there for me. Either we DNF, have an issue, don't finish, strategize our way out of it, or we finish on the podium. Hopefully it will be the latter this time around.
I think we've been doing a lot of work on the car. Mechanically I think we'll be there, mechanical grip-wise. But we'll see.
It's a fun racetrack. It's got everything you need, big braking zones, passing zones, technical bits. It can be tricky during the race because it changes so much.
Q. You mentioned it's a good way to gauge everybody, where they stand at the start of the season. Do you feel like being successful at that one is vital to start off right?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I would say so. But look at Dixon last year. He struggled horribly there that weekend. Everybody was like, Good, we got rid of the red cars already, here we go on to race number two. That couldn't be further from the case.
The first one counts as much as the last one. It does set the tone a bit for the team. If you have a team that's been used to success and they stumble there, they can come back. If you're still trying to work with people to get them all together, you stumble there, could make for a tough beginning of the season.
I'm back again for I think this is year five with Andretti, with the same group of people. I couldn't be happier. We're ready to go for it.
Q. No American rookies in the series. Does that matter to you at all? Anything that can be done to get more American drivers chances?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think really as long as the drivers with the most talent are getting the opportunities, the ones with the most potential are getting the opportunities. That's the best part. Whether he's from the UK or Germany or the U.S., I think IndyCar is all about that diversity, every different discipline of racing, street courses, road courses, ovals. Hopefully truly it is the best in the world.
There's been a lot of American talent. We have the veterans, myself, Marco, Graham. Then the guys that have come in lately like Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand, Josef Newgarden. I think there's plenty of American talent going through the IndyCar Series.
Q. Let's talk about the restart at Indy last year, the last one. What did you see? What did your mirrors look like? Talk us through that.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I can't tell you how much I actually do think about that because it's such a big deal. As a racing driver, especially as an IndyCar driver, the only thing you can ask for is to be in the position at the end of the race to be up front with an opportunity to go for it. I had that opportunity. I'm forever grateful for that. I hope it happens again.
I've seen the other side of Indy where you struggle to qualify in the Toff 20. Here I was at the end of the race leading the thing.
I knew I was a sitting duck, but I was fine with that, because there were three or four more laps yet depending on how that yellow went. I was good with that. I knew it was going to be between Tony, Marco and Carlos. Those were the cars that really were passing each other, us four, could do it every lap, every straightaway.
Yeah, it's unfortunate. For the race to end under yellow like that, it is unfortunate. I think that was going to be one of the best finishes in Indy 500 history had it gone on. There would have been a pass down the back straight and another down the front straight to the checkered that would have been epic.
But I was a part of it.
Q. The driver nobody talked about in that was Wilson. Probably better this year to be in a Honda than last year. Talk about that a little bit.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, it's early days. Wilson was right there. I don't think in that case he was the one that was going to be popping out and leading and pulling a bit. I think he was hanging out there in fourth or fifth in the draft. It will be a different deal when you pop out and try and lead that pack just based on speed, not talent or anything like that.
I think Honda did a great job. Obviously in 2012 they surprised everybody, just came out and blew us all away. Hopefully we can do that again this year. I'm hoping for some surprise present, gift engine that comes for May.
But, no, I'm very optimistic. Great to be working with the guys again. I'm have a relationship with HPD on the ALMS side. Just working with them in IndyCar for so many years. They've been a great supporter of the series, its drivers. It's good to be working with the same people again.
Q. Ryan, I remember many years ago you taking part in I think it was a Chevrolet before establishing yourself in a particular series. It wasn't all that long ago. When you look back, are you surprised how much you've accomplished in a relatively short period of time? Do you feel this is your home or do you ever harbor ambitions to try something else?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, I remember being in the paddock for a full year to get that opportunity from Hendrick, going to every different NASCAR race. I was a Champ Car guy. I wasn't even an IndyCar guy. It took some pretty hard knocking.
Got the opportunity. It was great. I mean, Logano and I were going head-to-head in that thing. He was very talented back then. I just remember some of the names. Good fun. Learned a lot. That's where my relationship started with GM, and it went from there.
I would love to try anything. But you have to do it right. You can't just jump in with both feet, expect it to happen in a year or two. Doesn't work that way. I feel the same way. Juan, he's no rookie. He's won the Indy 500, the CART, IndyCar championship. He's no rookie at all. He'll get right back to it here.
If one of the pure NASCAR guys came over here, it would take a few years as well. Otherwise, I got a lot of respect for what goes on there. I raced the endurance races, IMSA, Daytona 24, Sebring 12, Atlanta 9. I would have done the Le Mans 24 this year, but Detroit conflicted with the official test there, so couldn't do that.
I'm up for driving anything as long as it's the right deal, and you get a fair shot at winning and succeeding.
I'm happy where I am, couldn't be more thankful for the position that I'm in. As you mentioned, a couple years ago pounding the paddock looking for a shot at even a truck test, to be an IndyCar champion a few years after that, you know, it's all about doors opening at the right time and taking full advantage of it.
Q. You mentioned Scott Dixon, his rough start last year. What impressed you about his run to the title last year?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Scott is just relentless. He's a guy that goes about his business quietly, professionally, always be there threatening for a race win. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he goes about his job. He's a guy that you always know will make your Sunday hard.
But it doesn't surprise me at all that he's a champion. He's a seasoned veteran. He's working with the same team now, I don't even know what it is anymore, maybe 13 years. It's ridiculous (laughter).
When you have that chemistry, that combination, anything's possible. They turned it around and made full use of it. Deserving champion again.
Q. Having experience now with both Marco and James Hinchcliffe, now with your engineer, that familiarity helping both on and off the track, how that helps.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: The team as a whole has been working really well together. Coming back, working with the same group of people, the communication is there. As I've always said, it's an open book of communication between us. That's how things work well. When James is finding something, it transfers to Marco and myself. Marco and I have different driving styles, so it doesn't always transfer. James and I are a little bit more similar on the street circuits.
On the ovals, we all take each other's setup. After that, it's interchangeable. No problem. And we're open with each other. If we don't like something, we want somebody to know something, it's all open.
It's a lot of fun on the side, too. James, he's a living, walking comic show. Never a dull moment with him, that's for sure. You know the Go Daddy commercial, with the band, that sums him up to me right there. I just wish he would wear his band hat all the time. What do you call that guy?
Q. The conductor.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Conductor. They have a baton. I just wish he would wear that more often, use the baton. It fits him.
Q. Any concerns going back to Honda?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Sure. There's a lot of work to do. But going to twin turbo, I think Honda has to catch up to what Chevy has been used to for the past two years. The good thing is we know what we had. We do have a benchmark. We know probably where Chevy is making progress in the off-season.
We have an idea of where we need to be. We're working on the drivability side of it with Honda, delivering that power, with the single turbo. I can't believe how well-sorted they had it. I drove the single turbo, jumped in the twin, now we're closing that gap.
It's really good. I'm optimistic. Like I was mentioning before, you don't know where you stand until first practice at St. Pete. Even then, you don't realize where you're at till first practice at the Indy 500.
Q. Do you feel this is an opportunity for you to be the top team, run away, set the bar on that side of it?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Absolutely. The advantage is Honda at any point, we need to take full advantage of that. I'm sure that was the idea behind the move. Not only the relationship that Andretti Autosport has with Honda, how many championships they've won with them. But, yeah, it puts us in a unique situation that if something does go our way, we can hopefully and potentially take advantage of that to get closer to another championship.
Q. Personally, coming off of a championship season, last year had to be disappointing. How driven are you to get back to where you were from a year ago?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, absolutely. I think last year was a good season for us. We had two wins, three poles. We should have won another two races, in my opinion, a couple of them. Things just didn't go our way. We had some bad luck, created our own luck. That's racing.
I think we had a good year. As long as we can continue on that same path, pick up where we left off, I'm confident we can be fighting for the championship again.
But it's going to take finishing races for sure. That's something we didn't do last year for some reason or another.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan Hunter-Reay, thank you very much.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thank you.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Takuma Sato entering his second season with A.J. Foyt Racing. Tested yesterday at Sebring.
Takuma, you won the race at Long Beach last year. Leading points going into Indianapolis. I'll ask the first question: What do you need to do better this year?
TAKUMA SATO: We had a little up and down. There was some unfortunate things. Like you said, first half the season was really competitive, going everything well up until May. Then after we had some unfortunate.
I think this year obviously trying to be competitive on as many circuit as possible and try to keep up all the points. That's our target.
We know we can win the race. Obviously it's going to be competitive. As an organization, we can win the race.
We learned a lot. It's continually working. From first year to second year, it's always better. I'm definitely looking forward to coming to the second season for A.J. Foyt Racing.
It has been very successful winter. We tried many different things that we couldn't do during season in terms of test items. Not always is come out as what we wanted, but it's all about learning.
Yeah, we gain good experience over the winter.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Takuma.
Q. What responsibility would you take for the second half of the season? Where were there issues on your end, not the team?
TAKUMA SATO: My end? I mean, it's racing. Sometimes it's difficult to bring it together.
I don't know, I mean, we had a very competitive run coming back to Houston, for example. Houston, leading, then get a puncture, all those sort of things.
A couple races, like Pocono stuff, should have been better outcome. Physically it was so difficult to understand from what the camera see. We will get it better.
Anything else? I can't really think about it right now. This is just mixture, mixture of the season.
Q. If you could talk about what you think Indianapolis is going to look like in May with two events. How do you get your hands around doing both at the same time?
TAKUMA SATO: I think it's a good thing. Logistically it's not really a problem as maybe some of the people thinks, because road course and oval is coming all together.
At the Indy 500, IndyCar is prepared. It's a different program from road car chassis. I think the team, from March onwards, in some cases even earlier, trying to start preparation for the 500 racecar.
Of course, in addition, we see from beginning of the season we have series of good street course and road course coming. That car is actually going to the Indy road course Grand Prix. That's going to work out really well.
For the fans, too, the beginning of May, instead of just have practice start going, I think it's a really good kick to have to show the fans for the racing itself. Myself, I have good memory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from F1.
I'm personally, as well, looking forward to come back to the Grand Prix course and then, of course, the 500 race, too.
Q. Tell us about your thoughts about the configuration of that St. Petersburg street course. What makes it challenging and fun to drive?
TAKUMA SATO: The previous year to last year, so 2012 to '13, was the Firestone new tires made it dramatically balance, for example. A lot of people come with a clean sheet of white paper and have to read the setup.
There's only few testing going on the winter, but we had to make the most of it for the Firestone street course tire very quickly. That's very successful to transfer to St. Petersburg.
Initially, for example, without balance at the practice one, but we knew exactly what we need to do for practice two, three, got on very well. Qualifying was quite exciting, getting front row. Start of the season was fantastic.
I like St. Pete. Combination of high-speed section, then going into turn one. The back of the track is very, very complex. Very narrow. So it's a good combination. Obviously St. Petersburg, I think it's a great place to start the season. I always enjoyed it.
Then, yeah, I think a lot of teams started catching up as the season went along. We weren't maybe as fast as we could have been. That was a tough part of our first year. This year we continue working, should be better.
Q. You tested yesterday at Sebring, late last week in Sonoma. Your second year working with the engineer Don Halliday. The importance of developing the rapport with the engineer and the second season going forward.
TAKUMA SATO: Yeah, obviously having had a good, strong engineering team in the team is essential. But also the communication between driver and engineer is also very, very important.
Like coaching an athlete in all other athletic world, too, it has to have a full confidence and trust, the level, the language. Even if we in English, sometimes thinking in different ways. From that point of view, I think the time, experience, trust, get on well or not, that makes a really big difference.
From that point of view, Don and I got on very well from the first test last year and then build up whole things.
The whole team is really working well. We have a very, very good communication inside the team.
Over the course of the winter test program was twice as many testing going as last year. Same as everyone else, of course. But I think for us it's a very beneficial as a one-car team. Very, very strong winter.
Q. Going back to Long Beach from last year, what was the impact on you and your team for the win, how it carried you through the season?
TAKUMA SATO: It was big. It was big. Not just my first major win in a major series, but also for the long time waiting for ABC, too. It was a really perfect race for us. It's been a great sport, as well. Long Beach is one of the biggest events as a street course event, has the long history.
The impact was just enormous, from the sponsors, fans, the people who cheering us. It's just good things, just big things.
I immediately flew back to Japan after that and had a winning press conference at Tokyo. It was a big moment. No, it definitely is one of the best day of my racing career.
Q. You've had the opportunity to test with the new Honda twin turbo engine. Any initial thoughts about a comparison between that and the single?
TAKUMA SATO: Yeah, we are excited with new configuration. With the turbo, there is a good partner and how it's going to be like this. Obviously from regulations point of view, we have to have twin turbo for 2014. So Honda is the one that obviously has to adapt the new configuration.
I think they work well over the winter.
The initial thought on the twin turbo, it's very simple. It's just the pickup. Very, very quick. In turbine, instead of having a big single turbine, you have huge inertia to spin the turbine itself. Mechanically you pick up the good response.
So from transition from the front to the back of the car, it's very naturally the torque coming through nicely. We all liked it. They're working on peak power for the engine. It seems to be we made a good step. Look forward to compete at St. Pete.
Yeah, so far I think everything is going as planned, so it's good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Takuma.
TAKUMA SATO: Thank you.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Will Power of Team Penske.
Will, just a little bit about how potentially the momentum of last year can carry over to this year and your objectives and outlook for 2014.
WILL POWER: That was an unusual finish to a season for me if you go off the last few years. Definitely had a good off-season and very motivated to have a good year.
We've had a couple test days with the three cars. Actually found some pretty good stuff. I feel as though we're going to be pretty competitive. Kind of just working hard, not leaving anything on the table, not leaving anything to chance. You just can't be lazy. You've got to work hard in this game if you want to continually be competitive. So that's our plan.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Will, how is it different this year testing with two teammates? How is it with three cars?
WILL POWER: Just another car to give feedback and try things. Just more information.
With Juan, he's had some good experience, good ideas. He's obviously been very successful in Formula One. His experience in NASCAR, it's kind of good having him there, for sure. He's a guy that I looked up to when I was racing Formula Ford and he was in Formula One. Kind of cool to be working with him.
Q. Will, you and Helio got on along very well with A.J. What has the relationship been with Juan? Have you been able to adapt as quickly with him?
WILL POWER: Yeah. Juan's obviously worked on a lot of teams before and understands how the whole thing works. Yeah, it's worked well.
Like I said, he's brought a lot of experience to the team and come up with good ideas. He's already helped to point us in a good direction, along with Helio as well. We all kind of work together.
At the end of the day we all understand that we got to race each other on the track. During this testing time, part of the season, we need to work together and try things, find things that are going to help us be at the front.
Q. Talking to Tim Cindric last month, he mentioned the testing has not gone as well as you would like. What do you think is happening in early testing?
WILL POWER: Was that before Sonoma?
Q. It was.
WILL POWER: The test at Sebring, it's kind of a hard place. It's not a track that we run on. It's probably a place you can try some unusual things and may not work.
I think we definitely found some good stuff.
Q. Last year was an unusual year for you in that you were not winning all the time. What did you learn about yourself last year?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I have to say I was a lot more relaxed in racing situations. I had spent three years being very conservative, feeling the points. Actually taught me you just need to race hard no matter what. At the end of the year, it was fun. You can just race hard, it does not matter. In fact, the results came a lot better when I did that.
It taught me a lot about racing, getting in the pack. When you spend a lot of time at the front, the restarts, you're not in the pack. I feel that my race craft was really good by the end and I enjoyed it.
That's how I'll be racing this year.
Q. With the series having so many more street and road courses on it, how much does that kind of help set you up for a serious championship run this year having gone through the disappointments of last year?
WILL POWER: Like I said, I mean, it just taught me not to think about points, but just race hard and enjoy it. A lot of teams now are really compressed. There's no one that sticks out. Obviously Ganassi was strong on the road and street courses last year. Every off-season, all these small teams, including us, you close the gap. The gap gets smaller and smaller.
It's a different series or different intensity of competition, you could say, to what it was two or three years ago. It's really ramped up. No one just takes all the poles. It's quite difficult to get a pole, let alone get in the Fast Six now, which is great. It's a good, tough series.
Q. Will, actually you started on the pole at St. Petersburg last year. You had your race craft toward the end of the year. Is putting those two things together one of your goals for 2014?
WILL POWER: Yes. I think if I raced harder at St. Petersburg, Helio would have never had gotten me around the outside. Joe would have never ran over me.
Q. How different do you think the Ganassi group will look like with T.K. there instead of Dario? Do you think Dixon will be a different kind of foe without Dario there?
WILL POWER: That's hard to say. It's the first time I've seen T.K. be quite serious in a press conference. He had the Target shirt on. He wasn't joking around like the rest of us. He was dead serious. I don't know.
I think he's going to be really competitive. If you look at the four Ganassi drivers, they're all really good. Briscoe, you can expect him to be right there in the championship, as well. And Charlie, he's gained a lot of experience, won a race. He seems to be always getting in the Fast Six there towards the end of the year.
As a whole, that team is very strong. T.K. is obviously very good on ovals, too, which will probably bring something to the table there.
Q. What would we make of Bourdais? He seems to be fast in testing.
WILL POWER: Yeah, he is. He's the quickest guy. It's hard to know what they're running. Yeah, I expect him to be a contender.
Weird last year, so competitive in 2012, he turned up, the tide changed a bit, he struggled, but then was there at the end of the year again. This guy is a four-time champion. And KV is a very good team. Resources and the money behind him.
Q. What is in the Penske files?
WILL POWER: I don't know. Had to give a job interview. Thought I put it on strong, lots of information (laughter).
Q. You mentioned about the change in the tires throwing not just Bourdais, but maybe some of the other teams off. What about this season? Have you had a chance to work with Firestone? Have they made any changes? Do you have to start over again?
WILL POWER: Every year they tell us the tire is not different. The tire at Sonoma, the 2014 road course tire, better grip, so a better tire.
Those guys always doing a little bit of development. It's a one-make tire, so not a huge amount of motivation to change it a lot.
Biggest change we felt was beginning of last year. I don't think much is going to change this year.
Q. With Ganassi switching to Chevy power, how does that affect you guys?
WILL POWER: It's just going to make Ganassi better, more reliable and better. Makes it tougher on us, for sure.
But it's good to have them in the family. Four more drivers giving good feedback to help Chevy, help point us in the right direction. Plus they've had the experience of looking at some of Honda's strengths, see if we can transfer it over to the Chevy side.
Q. Do you think they'll share?
WILL POWER: They have to. It's an open book with the Chevy guys. Everyone has the same. So, yes, we all have the same goal in mind: to make the engine the best. We'll fight it out on the track then.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
WILL POWER: Thank you.
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