Q&A w/Wilson, Andretti, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Justin Wilson.
Justin, your first opportunity in the Honda-powered car yesterday. What were your thoughts? I assume you had a number of details and test items to get through.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it was great to get back in an IndyCar, get back up to speed with everything. My first experience with the Honda twin turbo. I was really pleased with how that performed and how that drove.
Generally just working away on things, trying to get used to the new personnel. Had a lot of changes at Dale Coyne Racing. Working with Michael Cannon, my new race engineer. He's got a lot of experience. That's great.
We're just comparing notes, trying things out. Seeing what works, what didn't for each of us. I think it was a good test. Hopefully there's more to come tomorrow. We'll hit the track tomorrow and try and get a bit more speed, try and be faster.
It was actually great to see, you're driving down pit lane in one racecar that you're racing, you see your other racecar out there, as well. Pretty cool seeing the No. 16 sitting in pit lane at the same time. Can't wait to get out and do Sebring 12 Hours again.
THE MODERATOR: You finished sixth in the IndyCar Series last year. Your thoughts about heading into 2014 and how you can take that consistency and move it up into contending for the championship.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, I mean, last year, to finish sixth in the championship, we didn't expect that at the start of the year. Obviously now this year we want to build on it.
There's a lot of things that got to happen. We have to make sure we don't make any mistakes. Trying to get the most out of the car in qualifying, trying to get the car to work over a full stint in the race, that's just part of it.
I'm hoping we can just pick up where we left off. But I also know a lot of changes, like I mentioned earlier with personnel, we've got to learn each other and try and not make the usual mistakes, try and keep building on what Michael learnt from the last couple years and what I learnt from the last couple years.
It's easy to go down a path and get trapped and lost. That's our focus. Hopefully we can build on that and win races. That was the one thing last year, we came close to winning a couple races. There were a few races that something happened and I thought, We should have won that one. We didn't. Want to change that around this year and at least win one, if not multiple.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Looks like we're going to move the Pole Day to Sunday as opposed to Saturday to build the drama up. Is that something that excites you?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah. I see what they're doing and I think it's good with the current format and the way things work out. It has its positives and its drawbacks. As a couple of the rookies point out, you only get one chance to qualify, one day to qualify as a rookie, make the field or not. So I can see how that's a bit daunting.
I also like the fact that we're building up towards something. The focus is building up towards getting the pole position.
Yeah, it's a bit like the championship itself. Last couple years we've gone on late in the season and things have drawn out, race once a month towards the end of the year. This year it looks like it's going to be more intense towards the end of the season, build up to that climax. I'm looking forward to trying that out.
Q. Any word on what Stefan has planned this year?
JUSTIN WILSON: Nothing concrete yet. I know he's working hard on things. I'm not sure what he's going to end up doing. I know Dale always keeps things pretty tight lipped as well. Personally I'd like to see him make it to IndyCar full-time, if not do a few more races this week.
I know he's working hard at it. I think last year went pretty good for the one attempt he had with no testing. I think he did a good job. Definitely deserves a shot. But it's a tough situation.
Q. You mentioned you can't veer off on a path. These race weekends are so compact you have to be straight off the truck, know what you're doing. With the experience, put you in a good stead straight off the bat in St. Petersburg?
JUSTIN WILSON: I think so. The key thing now is Michael has a lot of experience over the last two years with the teams he's worked with. Then I've got my experiences. They're quite different. Trying to pick apart which bits to go with, not make a mess of it. It's so easy to choose the wrong items, say, It's obvious this car needs this front spring. It may look like it on paper, but it's not obvious.
The car has to work with every component to work properly. You can end up with two very different setups producing the same lap time and doing it a completely different times. You can't say this, this and this is going to make a fast racecar.
That's the danger we can fall into and we've got to be careful not to fall into that trap.
Q. After your accident last fall, did IndyCar solicit any input from you regarding the side intrusion panels? How do you get in the car now?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously they took all that data from my crash. The folks are making the tub itself stronger. I told them what I think as well, other areas we can work on to try and help in impacts like that.
I think it's been positive. It should be a lot better this year. There's still things in the pipeline they're talking about doing. They need more data on that before they implement it.
I think it's only going to help. The key is getting the car safe and safer, the safest racecar possible.
It takes up a little bit of room in the cockpit. It's maybe, from what I've seen, eighth of an inch each side. Doesn't sound a lot, but it actually is. This car is designed very straight-sided. There's not a lot of elbow room. When you sit in the car, your elbows come in and almost touch your ribs. When you start bringing it in an eighth inch each side, I don't have a lot of room left anyway. It's made it a little bit tricky, but it's a compromise you have to make.
Q. How do you steer?
JUSTIN WILSON: The seat has to wrap around you and support you, especially on the ovals. It feels like it's loose, even when you're nowhere near the limit. To turn the car, you have to get your elbow past your ribs. It's a big compromise and easy to get it wrong.
It's a little bit more weight. IndyCar has compensated with the total weight of the car for that. Biggest thing is it's going to be a lot stronger and hopefully a lot safer.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with Marco Andretti.
Tell us a little bit about what you hope to accomplish in 2014 after a season that really probably did not meet your expectations.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I mean, I think '13 was a good start to the direction I wanted to go. We confirmed a lot of my work is in the right direction anyway. We just need to keep plugging away with that, and we have.
I think I made gains since. I'm more confident going into '14 than I was '13. That's a good start.
From there, we need to do similar things. I was pleased with my consistency. But some of my best results of last year were on the street courses, which is where I was struggling.
But I think this year the goal has to be to capitalize where we're dominant because I think that's what really took us out of the championship the second half of the year last year.
I think the races we know we can win we just have to win. If we're able to do that, string a few together, I think we can be champions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Marco.
Q. What were the travel issues today?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Just five inches of snow this morning. Newark was a mess. It's only 75 miles from my house. I gave it two and a half hours and still missed the first flight. Jumped on one an hour and a half later.
Q. At Barber last year you said you put a lot of focus into your road and street courses. You put all that work in. Do you feel today heading into this season you're a more complete driver?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I think so actually. I think last year was really about confirming it. But last year, I'm still not where I want to be on the road and street courses. I think what's really been hurting me, what I've really been working on is qualifying, making Sundays easier on myself. There were a lot of races last year we had to come from the middle through the back of the pack. Nowadays it's how we're measured, is qualifying.
Back in the day, dad used to not even focus on qualifying, hardly even care about it. Everybody in the field knew he was coming halfway through the race. It's a lot harder to achieve that nowadays with the competition, the spec cars. Everything is so close. It's hard to start in the back in March to win a race. But I need to start further forward.
My race craft is there, stuff like that. It's been more difficult coming from the back. I want to be in the Fast Sixes all year.
Q. St. Petersburg you finished third, then strung together five consecutive top 10s. Then things went down.
MARCO ANDRETTI: We need to be in the top six, top five, for sure. On the ovals you can make stuff happen. On the road and street courses, it's tough. The Long Beach one was a penalty. We still need to improve qualifying.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARCO ANDRETTI: Going into last year, obviously there were a lot more unknowns, where we were going to be strong and stuff. I have built up confidence to go back to a lot of places.
St. Pete is one of them. Long Beach is one of them. I race strong there. We need to put together an unscathed qualifying session to start towards the front.
Long Beach I think is attainable, as well. Really any oval, I don't think I qualified off the front row last year. So we were really dominant on the ovals.
As long as we can improve that 20% on road and streets, win the races that we know we can win, then we'll be where we need to be.
Q. Hinchcliffe was in here earlier and mentioned how last year winning at St. Petersburg helped show he's not a joker, more of a serious driver. What do you think that did for his career?
MARCO ANDRETTI: It's huge. It's always great to come out of the gate like that for sure.
I don't think he was lacking confidence before that win. I'm sure it helps. Every driver who drives against him knows he's all down to business by the time the visor shuts.
Q. What is it like to work for your dad?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Pluses and minuses. It can be a hindrance sometimes perception-wise for sure. People thinking that's my only option. To me, I've been dealing with that sort of thing ever since I stepped into the sport.
To be in the position I'm in now, really any IndyCar driver, you need to be lucky at some point, you know what I mean? But from there, definitely big shoes to fill. The positives are that he's been a driver before, so he knows what we go through. He knows when to step in, when not to. That helps.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by James Hinchcliffe.
Tell us a little bit about the transition that you've seen so far in your limited amount of testing from the Chevy to the Honda engine and your prospects for 2014.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a big change. It was kind of cool to see actually. The transition from the old car to the 12, it's a completely different engine. You expect it to be very different and it was.
Jumping into the Honda for the first time, it was interesting to see how an engine built under the same rules could feel as different as this one did. It's fast.
I enjoy the technical part of our sport. Getting to work with a new partner on that side of things is a fun challenge. At the end of the day we have no idea where anybody stands and we probably won't until we get to St. Pete. Even Barber, people aren't going to show their full hands.
A lot of changes, changing in engineering, changes in sponsor. A lot of fun things to look forward to for the season, but we started well short of making any sort of expectations this season.
THE MODERATOR: Five weeks out until St. Petersburg. You'll want to get back to a place with good memories. Recap how special that was for you.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: St. Pete has been a special race for as long as I've been going there for me. It's such a cool event. Being out there on the water, it's a cool atmosphere. It's a cool backdrop for the race. I'm pretty sure Hunter-Reay parks his mega yacht out there for race week anyway.
As far as the street circuit goes, the track is really cool because, you know, the biggest complaint on street circuits is you can't pass. That's not a problem at St. Pete. I think we've seen enough passes and attempted passes go terribly wrong. It's always been a cool event.
Obviously with what happened last year, it holds a special place in my heart. It was a very emotional day last year on race day for all the right reasons. That's nice 'cause I think in racing you normally have very emotional days for the wrong reasons more often than you do for all the right ones.
THE MODERATOR: James also last week had an agreement with Honda Canada where you'll be promoting their multiple lines of products across your native land.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It's something I'm very excited about. They've been such huge supporters of IndyCar in Canada. They supported Paul for a number of years. It's great to see that sort of a company take that initiative with IndyCar. Driving a Honda on the racetrack makes it easy. It's just a great partnership. I'm excited for some of the things we have there. There's promotional work we're doing. Just another fun element to the year, I think.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. St. Petersburg, every time you've raced there you've done very well. Just something about that town, the track that stands out to you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think I've been fortunate that I've been in good equipment. I've only raced there twice because I missed it my rookie year. Andretti Autosports has always given me good cars there. We traditionally run well there and Long Beach.
It's a neat race because if you get behind the eight ball a little bit you can come back. Like I said, the ability to pass. You can get off strategy and have it work with the distance of the race.
Yeah, I don't know, something about it that seems to gel well with me. That's good, man. I need that at as many tracks as I can.
Q. Getting off strategy works well for you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Last year was a little more straightforward. We kind of threw the tire strategy dice a little bit last year. That helped us. If we had been on reds at the end when Helio was, he was taking better care of them, the blacks weren't as quick, we needed them to make that last stint if it was going to go all green, which it did. We took a little bit of a gamble on the tire there, went with the slower one. That's where we needed to be, so it was good.
Q. If you keep getting more memories there, you'll consider moving to St. Pete?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I was actually having that conversation a few days ago, that if I had to leave Indy, that's one of the places on the short list, for sure.
Q. Talk a little bit about the testing you've done so far. Last year the tire seemed to change, made it difficult for teams to find the right setup. Do you notice any difference this year?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: We've had another small compound adjustment for 2014, but it seems to be a smaller change than the 2012 to 2013 tires. A lot closer to the 2013. By and large, teams will be able to stay primarily with their same setups.
The nature of our testing, we don't do a lot of long single runs at this stage in the off-season. Probably won't get there until Barber to see what sort of longevity we get out of them.
Initial impressions are good. Another good tire from Firestone. Not much of a story because they're too good at their job.
Q. Did you steal Josef's engineer, is that what happened?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I did. I went to his house where he normally keeps his engineer in a cage in the basement. I broke in while he was sleeping. Nathan made a lot of noise, rattled the cage. It woke Josef, which made for an ugly altercation on the main floor. I was able to use chloroform. I said, Josef, does this smell like chloroform? Then Nathan and I made it out the window.
Q. No repercussions?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No. We were just goofing around outside. The chloroform had a destructive effect on his memory and he thinks Nathan is still in the basement. He hasn't figured it out yet.
Q. You have a new engineer and are happy about it?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yes. It's definitely tough to lose Craig. We've done two years together, my first wins together. He comes with a boatload of experience and technical knowledge.
He is taking sort of a sidestep in the team. In a lot of these situations, when you lose an engineer, you lose them to another team. We moved him to an R&D role. He's somebody working on the ground even when we're at races. A lot of teams have these people. For the team as a whole, I think it's a great step, a great move.
Nathan on my car in particular, he seems to be very similar to Craig in a lot of ways, which makes the learning how each other works process pretty quick and easy.
He's young, he's hungry. He hasn't won a billion races like Craig. He's really keen to get some results. That's good. I know he's going to work hard. The testing we've done together, the relationship and chemistry is there. He's very logical. He's not super emotional, which is sometimes good in an engineer.
Yeah, I'm hoping that means that sort of similarity in working method will mean we can hit the ground running in St. Pete.
Q. You had two interesting years. The first one, I'm referring to you started off strong, kind of nose-dived. Last year was either feast or famine. How do you get to a point where you put together an even year and maybe are a championship contender?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: There's only so many derivatives. Eventually I'm going to get it right. Last year we had the pace early but not the consistency. If you look at the second half of the year, we were actually way more consistent than people realize. I think as a team we lost a little bit of pace. We weren't qualifying as well, Ryan wasn't qualifying as well.
In Baltimore, I got caught up in other people's accidents twice, restarted twice, we still finished seventh. Houston race one, fine. Houston race two, finished on the podium. Fontana was running third. Got into Will on a restart, broke away, went two laps down, came back to finish fourth. At the end of the year we had that good, never-give-up attitude, pulled some decent results out of some bad situations.
We didn't have the overall pace at that point of the year. So I think we actually ended the year on more of a high than people realized, which is fine. As long as we know it, what we were doing to get that, that could put us in a good position for this year.
Q. What did the win in St. Pete do for your confidence, showing you belong?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think it did a lot. We talked a little bit about it in the press conference at St. Pete. It was kind of proof that the class clown could still be serious when he needed to.
For me personally on track it made a big difference because when I was then in situations later in the year where a win was on the line, I felt a lot less pressure because I think there was a big amount of pressure to get that first win and be part of that group, so to speak. Not all of us can win six races a year like Will Power, we have to take what we can get.
I think it really does free your mind up a little bit when you're in those circumstances, again knowing that, Hey, I've been here, I know I can do it, let's focus and get the job done, rather than make yourself overanalyze and make a mistake.
Q. Is it weird not being in the Go Daddy green?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It is a little bit weird. Exciting at the same time. They were honestly a tremendous partner two years with me, three with Danica. They did a lot for IndyCar, a lot for me personally. I have nothing but good feelings towards them and wish them the best in everything moving forward.
But at the same time I'm very excited about the new sponsor. I've been pretty lucky. Obviously with Go Daddy I had this irreverent sponsor who were not super in-the-box corporate image people. That kind of allowed me to be the natural jackass that I am.
With UFD, though not publicly the kind of company you know them as, the people behind them are very much fun-loving. They're rock stars. It's essentially owned by the band LIVE. My owners are rock stars. They get it. They don't mind having fun, letting me be off the wall. I've been fortunate. I think this partnership is going to produce some pretty fun things on track, off track.
It's weird being in blue now, but I think it's a good change.
THE MODERATOR: James, thank you.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Thank you, everyone.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Helio Castroneves joins us.
At the end of last season, coming up short in the championship, you put that away.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's gone. Yesterday's news. Now we're in 2014. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We're ready. We're starting some few testings already. We're going to be testing Thursday in Barber, then Sebring before the spring training, then the race.
I'm excited and ready, to be honest, to start the season because it's been a long off-season in a good way.
THE MODERATOR: We'll dive right into questions.
Q. What are you going to have to do to win that first championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know. I have the right line with God, to be honest, and with the Pope, too, especially with John Paul. He said, When the time comes.
I just got to push it. I just got to keep pushing. You can't waiting for something to happen. You have to continue giving yourself an opportunity. Well, it may be this year.
Certainly we did our job last year. Unfortunately circumstances outside of our control, didn't happen. But right now that's the attitude I'm going with 2014, give ourselves an opportunity, that door will open one day.
Q. Juan, we were talking about how you didn't like each other earlier in the careers.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it was more rivalry. I don't think it was personal. We cross our path many, many years, including the beginning, middle and end of the stage. Now we're literally together.
I feel we're in a different phase of our lives, there is a lot going around, we accomplish a lot in our career. I guess you can call that mature.
All of this, it's part of life. Honestly, it's amazing to have him in our side. He's been an incredible addition, and I mean that. He's definitely going to be a tough competitor. Most of what I noticed, which I knew he would be quick adapting on the car, but most of it's the information that he brought, that I was very surprised and happy about. Certainly it's going to make our cars better.
Q. Last year with AJ, you, Will and AJ bonded quickly and became very close. Can that same relationship happen with Juan, the three of you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think so. Right now that's the way it is. We went to many trips together, all of us getting along very well. One thing is testing, another thing is competing.
In my end I feel that so far myself, Will, even Juan, we know the type of person he is. I know him very well. Anytime he step on somebody's toes the wrong time, it's going to be bad. What I'm actually happy about so far, we seem to be speaking in the same way, which is one way: win for Roger. We want to win this title as bad as anybody else.
Q. How different is this series going to be without Dario?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. Dario, for me, I can't say for others, but for me he was certainly an amazing competitor, an amazing driver first of all. Second, my competitors, they make me better. Not having Dario, for sure I'm not going to be as good as I was before.
However, he accomplished so much in his career. For me at least I'm going to be happy to see that he's still here with us, not racing, but at least around. That for me, it's happiness. It was a scary accident. He's going to be able to tell stories to his kids or dogs or whatever, and I feel that at least for us -- it was shocking for me. I'm glad at least I'm going to see him around.
Q. This year is the 10th running of this race with IndyCar. As the driver who has won it the most times, what can you say about this race, not just what it means to you, but to IndyCar?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, there's several things. The first thing is after a long season, we starting in St. Pete, so everybody's fresh, everybody's ready. Second is the atmosphere. I mean, the weather is great. The fans are amazing. Over 120,000 people over the weekend. It's becoming part of a big party in the town. Hen you put all these things together, it's becoming a great event.
Plus the track. The technical side, it makes between the street course with an airport involvement. It's not always a 90-degree corner like a typical road course has. You have high-speed corners, things like that.
It's only four hours' drive from my home. So everything counts. Plus, when the place suits you well, you tend to enjoy much better.
Q. What can you say about some of the young, up-and-coming drivers keeping the IndyCar Series fresh?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Briscoe is already old (laughter). But it's great he's landing in a good team like Ganassi.
I think the young generations is always going to have surprising drivers. Last year we have several new winners, might not be young drivers, but new winners. I think when the series, Indy Lights could be better in 2015 with new cars. That could become something more important for the new generation.
On the other side is leadership now with Derrick Walker and Mark Miles, it shows at the least, the meetings we had before, it shows leadership. Maybe that's where we were at the weakest point, and now we see a lot of positiveness.
I feel great about the series getting in their feet, getting back the way it used to be. It's been a long time I haven't felt that positiveness in the series. I'm exciting. I'm honestly really exciting.
Media say, They always say the same thing. But this year with Derrick and Mark Miles, good things for the series and could create a new generation of drivers.
Q. At this stage of your career, what would mean more, the fourth Indianapolis 500 or finally getting your championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: For me, Indianapolis 500, if you got to win one race, that's the race you got to win. Especially the position that I'm at, it's a great opportunity to join an incredible club. Yes, that would probably be the biggest accomplishment I could do it.
The championship certainly is personal. It's just something that I didn't get yet. It's like one track I didn't win. That's the way I see it. There are several places that I finish, like Milwaukee is one of the place that I'm always fast and I always finish second or someplace else. It's a something that I want to accomplish and win the championship. I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen.
Q. Driving for Roger all these years, was there any thought of driving the Daytona 500 and win both of them?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I asked Roger if I could try a different car, he said no. I asked again, he said no. The third time he said no. So it's not a lack of trying (laughter).
Q. Did you space it out?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I space it out. I been there 14 years. It's no. I think I got the message (laughter).
Q. 14 years in any form of motorsports, that's an incredibly long time. Could you speak to that association.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I feel it's a great marriage for me and for the team. Right now both of us working together, we have the same goals, we have the same accomplishments that we want to make happen.
When you have that kind of a marriage, everybody is happy. We want to make it happen. Last year was a big prove that we want to make it happen.
Q. Expanding Team Penske up to three drivers, do you know who your race strategist is going to be for this season?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes. Do you want to know?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: RP is going to be my strategist. I'm super happy. First time I had him was last year and I'm happy to have him back.
Erickson is now selling motorcycles in Detroit. If you need a motorcycle, Indian motorcycle, help him out.
Q. Roger said before he would be your strategist, if you didn't win the championship, it would be his fault. Was there punishment?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No (laughter). Roger does not make mistakes, if you know what I mean. No, like I said, I'm just honored to have him on the radio and happy to have him as the strategist.
Q. Did I see a picture of you on Twitter with Brad and you were wearing the yellow suit?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes. That was Cooper Standard group that they sponsor him at the Truck Series. It was me and Chelsea doing a presentation for them. I tried to bring Brad to do a little moves. Looks like he was having an oversteer problem there. Wasn't quite sexy.
It was a lot of fun. A great event for his sponsors.
THE MODERATOR: Helio Castroneves, thank you very much.
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