St. Petersburg GP: Saturday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series post qualifying press conference. We're pleased to be joined by Marco Andretti.
Marco, what were the conditions like out at qualifying today?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I mean, in Q2 I went out on the used blacks. It was pretty tricky for the first couple laps until the temps came up. A dry line started after that. As long as you kept it on the dry line, it was all right.
THE MODERATOR: What are you expecting from tomorrow's race with different weather conditions?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Not just weather, obviously it's the first race back with the new engine. We don't really know as far as fuel mileage and stuff until the warm-up.
There's a lot to see how it plays out. Not sure what to expect, but hopefully a typical day. We need to hopefully keep the track position.
We were able to save a set of reds, which was good, for the race. We just used reds in the top six.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Scott Dixon. Scott, talk about how it was for you out there today.
SCOTT DIXON: It's been a tough place for me here. I think the qualifying today, it was a lot of fun actually with changing conditions and trying to time things right. Q2, we had to really string it together on that last lap. That got us in. Q3 we went out on old, put in a lap, then came in and switched over.
I think kind of best timing for us might have been when T.K. was off in one, so we had to slow down on that lap. Whether that made any difference or not...
It was a good comeback for the Target team, T.K. starting on the front row, we're on the inside of the third row. Considering how the weekend has been going, I think we've made some good improvements. Hopefully we race a little bit better.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan Hunter-Reay will be starting third.
A strong start for Andretti Autosport with two drivers in the Firestone Fast Six.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Definitely. It was a fun qualifying session, like Scott said. When a track is changing conditions like that, you're searching for grip and every lap is different. Kind of like a motorcross, every lap is changing. I really enjoyed that. It was fun.
We got into the Fast Six on reds. We had a bit of an electrical problem we had to sort out, so we missed maybe the peak. But it's a good day. To come back and qualify third from the practices we've had is definitely a bright spot in the weekend. To have two Andretti cars in the top six is a good thing.
Ready for tomorrow. Go out for warm-up tomorrow and it should be a good race.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. What are the odds you would have given today when it was pouring buckets that you'd even be out there qualifying later?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: That's Florida weather. One thing about Florida weather: as soon as it does one thing it's going a change. I thought they were going to cancel it, but glad they didn't.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Team Penske's drive Will Power. Will will be starting fourth. Will has won pole here the last four years here at St. Petersburg and won the race in 2010.
Will, what was qualifying like for you?
WILL POWER: Just trying to get through every round without making a mistake. The Fast Six, that was as quick as I could go. The car wasn't that bad. We got a little bit of work to do, but definitely happy to be qualifying in the front two rows.
It's a pretty long race. Make sure we get everything right and see where we come.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.
Q. What parts of the track changed the most from your first session to the end?
WILL POWER: Just got a dry line basically everywhere. Just got dryer, dryer, dryer. At the end it was completely basically a dry track.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Tony Kanaan.
Tony, another strong start for Chip Ganassi Racing. You'll be on the front row. What are you expecting from tomorrow's race?
TONY KANAAN: It feels good not to see 17 cars in front of me on the start. We were doing the math. Probably three years I haven't made it to the Fast Six.
It's good. It's just qualifying. You still got to make it to turn one tomorrow. We'll see.
I'm happy. The whole team, I think we did a great job. We were pretty competitive all weekend with one of our cars. Probably for the fans qualifying was fun, but for us it was quite hard.
THE MODERATOR: What has the experience at Target Chip Ganassi racing been like you so far?
TONY KANAAN: It's been awesome. It's quite a bit different than what I was used to. I have very tough teammates that keep me on my toes.
I have to say they made me feel pretty comfortable in the past three months. For me to adapt, it wasn't that difficult. Obviously there are quite a few things that I need to relearn. We have a lot more information.
Like I said, with four teammates, it reminds me back of the Andretti Green days. It's been good for so far.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.
Q. The race being 110 laps, would you rather have two sets of red tires and one black, or distance-wise is it better to have blacks? I heard Firestone brought the same tire you had last year.
MARCO ANDRETTI: That's the big debate. I guess the best-case scenario is to have the options and after the first stint you can have what you want for the rest of the race.
TONY KANAAN: It's tough to say. I mean, I would say I would prefer to have more tires, period, for the weekend. Right now it's hard to say black or red.
We'll find out tomorrow, that's for sure.
Q. Scott, as the reigning series champion, what is it like being back now that you have several practices and a qualifying under your belt?
SCOTT DIXON: It's fun. It's good to be back at St. Pete. It's probably not my favorite track as far as speed-wise. It's probably the best place we could kick off the season.
I think with the momentum we've had from the past few years, obviously with Verizon coming onboard as a series sponsor, I think it's huge for us.
I think we're all excited. The weather has been a bit funky for the past two days, but tomorrow I think is going to be perfect weather conditions. Hopefully we have lots of fans out here and put on a good show for everybody.
But, yeah, it's good to be back in the car.
Q. Tony, is there any part of the track that feels different this year from last year? How has that track been maturing? Any pieces that you have to attack a little differently?
TONY KANAAN: I was talking to Scott about that. They did repaint going into turn one where the runway is, the white stripes on the inside. I felt that they were new. I think that's the only part.
Felt it was a little bit bumpier everywhere else, as well. To me the biggest one was turn one.
Q. T.K., not only do you look good in red, you seem very happy. Talk about the rejuvenation you feel to get off to such a good start.
TONY KANAAN: I think it's quite normal. I was in a very good position back in the days when I was with Andretti. For whatever reason or the circumstances were, I took a big hit on that when I had to leave.
The struggle for the past three years with finding money, not just doing what I want to do, which is drive the car, I didn't realize then, but for sure now I can see.
Yeah, I'm happy, because I think anybody that would be driving that 10 car, you could ask anybody on the grid, they would be smiling the entire time.
I'm in a very good organization, probably one of the best positions I've been in my career in IndyCar. There's no reason to be unhappy. I'd have to say I'm happier because I was always happy. I've been mad a couple times.
We came out of a great year last year winning the 500 and things just happened after that. That's probably it.
Q. Being a street course, you don't get to practice here, you just come and race. Is the track slippery? I've heard them say that on the PA that it's very slick.
TONY KANAAN: Always. When we come here every year I think the track starts a little slippery. For some reason this year, in my opinion, has been worse than years before. You can look at the lap times, as well. We were a little slower in both sessions.
It's hard to tell. We don't know if we came in with the same tires as last year, same conditions. It's hard to tell. But definitely felt that it was slipperier than years past.
THE MODERATOR: Good luck in the race tomorrow, everyone.
We'll get started with our first Verizon IndyCar Series polesitter, Takuma Sato.
Takuma, how excited are you to get A.J. Foyt a pole to start the season.
TAKUMA SATO: I mean, it's a fantastic day. Can't be really asking any more in the start to the season. Really happy where we are today.
Over the course of the winter, we did really extensive winter test program. Everything worked out really well. We had a strong package last year here, but obviously there's quite a few changes on the car: tires, twin turbo engine, et cetera, et cetera. It's all good.
To come this weekend, qualifying, very dramatic weather change as well. Very pleased the league and promoters make possible for the qualifying session this evening because otherwise I would have to start middle of the pack tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Clearly a great performance today. Different weather conditions expected tomorrow. What kind of adjustments or conversations will go on with the team overnight to prepare for that?
TAKUMA SATO: Now we experienced new 2014 Firestone red tire, which is great, but we don't know how the degradation will be. The red tire tends to have some degradation towards the end of the stint, where the black tire seems to be very consistent for this year.
We had a fully dry session for the practice the past two days. We have a good idea where we should be with it dry. It's really great to have a taste of the Firestone red tire with qualifying so we have a good idea for tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Takuma.
Q. What did A.J. say?
TAKUMA SATO: He said, Very well done. Obviously he's very, very happy. Make him happy is difficult thing, so I think I'm very, very pleased today.
Q. How would you describe the track conditions through the three segments?
TAKUMA SATO: It was tricky conditions, as you could see. Quite greasy, to be honest. There were no water puddles, so the track was safe to go. Very greasy, very low grip, a lot of white lines, particularly of the main straight going to turn one. The big stripe for - how do you say - the white line is incredibly slippery.
Even in Q3, a normal dry line, I was locking up all over the place so I had to come in for finding a dryer position. All in all I think Q1 get to the red tire, then Q2 was also very tricky. It's still (indiscernible) conditions, but we all thought we'd be able to landing on dry tire. We go with dry tire. Very difficult to start with couple laps. But once get heat on the tires, was not too bad. At the end we was clocking as fast as we done it in the practice session so we were very happy.
Then, of course, the car balance is dramatically changing because we had sort of like a medium to wet setup on the car. Q1, Q2, Q3 we made significant changes on the springs and things like that on the pit lane. That was a quick decision, and I think we made it right. That really make me be able to nail down everything possible on the Q3, the final lap.
THE MODERATOR: You'll be starting next to Tony Kanaan in tomorrow's race. What do you expect from the first couple of laps?
TAKUMA SATO: It's great. We've been teammates together in KV days. I'm really pleased to starting from the front row, sharing with him. Nice to see him in No. 10 car.
I think it's going to be a quite exciting race tomorrow. It's shuffling around many things. Even we were sort of strong package all this weekend, but if you look at the times, every single session was less than a 10th. So anyone can have the possibility of winning the race.
We just make sure there is no bad luck and make sure we do the job we need to do, hopefully the result will come.
Q. You got off to a great start last season. In the final stretch of the season only one top 10 for the rest of the year. After a long off-season, is it an extra pat on the back to start off 2014 with the pole?
TAKUMA SATO: I think it's great. Like you said, we had a great season to start last year. The second half of the season was a lot of unfortunate problems and troubles. Everybody caught up. We were on the lower side of development through the season. We had a tough time together.
But I think all the members in the team never doubted, and we should have ability to win the race. Indeed we did at Long Beach. We trust ourself, believe ourself, try working on the issues or address the things that we think we have some weak point, then just continue working.
That's one of the great things over the course of the winter, the team member is no changing. 100% we have same members, same engineers. Everybody working really hard. Obviously the regulations changed now. Honda has a twin turbo for the first time. HPD did a great job. Because of that we had more testing going compared to last year. Last year my first test was the end of February with the team. So it's a very short time to be preparation.
But this year really the winter testing started from December, so effectively more than two months ahead of what we were last year. We know what we doing through the season and we review a lot. Hopefully we have a good consistency as well as competitiveness through the second half of the season. To be start from the front row in the new season, that's obviously the best way to start, so I'm very, very pleased.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for coming in and good luck tomorrow.
TAKUMA SATO: Thank you.
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