St. Petersburg GP: Saturday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Tony, if you just want talk about your run out there today.
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, it was quite competitive. It was fun to see a lot of people trying to play different strategies on the tires. I mean, it was really tough. We saw I think from 4th to 8. At one point we thought if we don't want to put tires on, which we thought was going to be faster, we're not going to make it to Q2, which is what ended up happening. I ended up using my two red sets, one in Q1 and another one in Q2, pretty much just to make it. It's really exciting when things happen like this. I think this year is going to be a fun year as far as competition goes, because it's a lot tighter.
THE MODERATOR: Right before you came in, I threw out this note that this will be your 12th consecutive top 5 start in the IndyCar Series dating back to 2007. But no pressure for tomorrow. Tell us about your run out there today.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, the car was good up until ‑‑ well, the car was good all day. I was pretty happy with the pace. We didn't use the reds in the first session there, which was a gamble to try and give us the advantage if we made it to the fast six. There was a couple of nervous minutes there at the end of the first 20‑minute period there when everybody was going so much quicker on reds, but our time held up.
We did a good time in the second session. I think it was the quickest time in qualifying, we just didn't do it at the right time. I think that was my mistake. I didn't get a clear lap. I made a mistake in Turn 1 in one lap and I made a mistake in Turn 8 and Turn 10 on my fastest lap. I'll put my hand up to that one. Rookie mistake. So that's disappointing. But I think the pace of the car is good for tomorrow, and we'll see what we can do tomorrow.
Q. Ryan, if you would talk about your run out there. This is your seventh consecutive road and street event where you've participated in the Firestone Fast Six.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, thanks. It just feels like such an achievement every weekend just to make the fast six. It's pretty tough out there, and especially today with the red tires, the options. I think it was a bit of an advantage being in group two just to have a look at what the guys in group one were doing and having a better idea going in. But still, it was hard, and we haven't had the quickest car all weekend, so I really had to work hard to get it in there. It feels pretty good to be on P4 for the race tomorrow. It's just a bit of a handful at the moment, and hopefully we can make some small changes overnight and make our car a little bit quicker for tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Will, your thoughts on your run out there today.
WILL POWER: Yeah, it was tough going that first session. We would have been safe on blacks, but we weren't going to take the risk. You know, it sort of threw a spanner in the works with our tire selection. But yeah, we got through each round. I have to say it was quite tiring doing about five or six new tire runs in a row. I'm sort of in the same boat as Ryan, need to work on the car a little bit. It was a little bit of a handful. I think we have a good chance at the race tomorrow and got a really good pit crew and a good team, so yeah, I'd love to have a podium.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. The track itself, everybody was concentrating on tires, but what's the track like? Is it any different from last year? Is it still pretty dirty or what's happening with it?
TONY KANAAN: It's a typical street course. You start and it's dirty as hell, and then it gets better and better over the weekend. Obviously it doesn't help that they have to open the track at night for people to come in and out in trucks and service trucks because every morning it's a hassle again. But obviously it gets a lot better. They repaved at the end of the front straightaway which was really slippery for me on the first day, now it's getting better. The track definitely has improved grip‑wise from yesterday to today.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it's the same as it was last time I was here in '07. It's very similar. I think the guys do a good job keeping up the track here. Yeah, it's, as Tony says, a typical street course, getting faster all the time, getting more rubber down, and good.
RYAN BRISCOE: You know, I think with the heat today the rubber has been laying down quick, and I think especially as Tony said at the end of the front straightaway that's where the track seems to be changing mostly as it rubbers in. Just the end of the braking zones there there's a lot of paint, and as rubber goes down it gets better and better. Lap times are almost exactly the same as last year, if not maybe a couple of tenths quicker. The cars are the same, and I think maybe the tires are just a little bit better.
WILL POWER: Yeah, same. The track keeps getting quicker and you've got all these white lines and everything that catches you out on the brakes so you're catching wheels. But middle of the race tomorrow it's going to be really hooked up, and it'll be really interesting to see the difference between the reds and blacks in the race.
Q. You guys represent like the big three teams obviously and the guy on pole is Newman/Haas/Lanigan. Graham comes in as the defending winner, but he won last year on strategy. Is it a bit of a surprise that he's the fastest today in a straight fight in qualifying against everybody?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I think Newman/Haas have been one of the best teams in IndyCar for ‑‑ Champ Car, IndyCar, whatever you want to call it, open wheel, since Briscoe was born, I think.
RYAN BRISCOE: I remember watching you race when I was a kid, Dario.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: But it's not a surprise. Those guys have always been very competitive, and Graham does a hell of a job, as well, so no surprise at all there for me. I think Justin did a hell of a job, too.
Q. First off, Tony, how do you think the third set of reds will be used tomorrow, and then for anybody that wants to take it, was there anybody not in the top six that looks strong enough, fast enough to win the race tomorrow?
TONY KANAAN: Your first question I don't think I want to answer. But at some point we're going to put it on. I don't know, it's going to be quite tricky to see what people are going to do. But that's a strategy that I don't think I want to discuss in front of these guys.
I think out of the top six, Dixon is coming, I'm pretty sure. This is the type of track that you make one stupid mistake, and the field has been so tight right now that you go off by a tenth, you're out of the top six. I think there are a couple guys out of the fast top six that are definitely going to be contenders during the race tomorrow. How that's going to play out, I don't know, but for sure it's going to be a mystery who's going to put reds in when and how long they're going to last. It will be interesting to see.
Q. With the reds and the blacks, is it almost like playing a roulette wheel in some respects tomorrow as to when the right time is to use them?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No comment. I don't know. It's a variable for sure, and I think we saw the performance of the reds was pretty good, although TK was on blacks, right? I do think there's a performance advantage on reds, just certain people up here are screwed up.
RYAN BRISCOE: My engineer asked me before I came here, and I said, listen, you guys are smarter than me. Whatever is going to work to try to win this race. I'm sure they're talking about it right now. At some point we all have to use them, and I'm not sure if that's going to be a good time or a bad time. It could help us, could hurt us. I'm not sure when we're going to put them on.
Q. I guess I'll direct this to Will just to get him involved in the conversation a little bit, but anybody up here can answer it. How do you as a driver feel about throwing in a wild card like the reds in the race? I mean, qualifying is one thing, but in a race is another. The fact that strategy is going to have to play a part in the race now, it's not going to just be the driver that gets out front and runs the quickest most likely.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, it can be a bit of trial and error because we haven't run these reds before in a race. It depends on how much of a risk you really want to take. You know, you can get caught out for sure. I remember in Champ Car a couple of times when people put reds on at the wrong time and they went backwards real quick.
We're going to go back and talk about it, and we'll make a decision on when we run them. But it'll be interesting. You know, they may not go off, so you might not see a big difference or you might see a lot of passing.
TONY KANAAN: You guys have got to keep in mind that we run on blacks most of the weekends, and you put a different tire on it might change the attitude of the car a lot. That can actually benefit some people but then can actually set some people back. I felt that on Q1. I went three tenths slower with the reds. I said, "Just throw them away; I don't want them."
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY KANAAN: Well, I like the track, but I have to say we've always had a good car here since the first year that we raced here and we finished one, two, three, four. Like you said, it's the same car. Sorry, Ryan, I kind of had an incident there (laughing).
It's the same car, same engine, pretty much the same tires, so we haven't changed a lot, and the same track. So I think on a couple of occasions I was lucky to finish on the podium, but most of the time I was there it's just a track that probably suits my style.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate your time. We're going to bring up the front row now.
We're now joined by our front row. For many of you in the room I noted earlier that Graham being our pole winner, he is the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history at 20 years, 90 days. Obviously most of you will remember that Graham made history here last year, becoming the youngest race car winner in major open wheel history.
We're also joined here by Justin Wilson, who was starting second. It's the best ever starting position for Dale Coyne Racing, and we've asked Al Speyer to join us, so if there's any other questions about the Ultimate Tires, Al can answer that, but we'll start with you Graham and your run out there today.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously it was a great day for the McDonald's team. When we started out there this morning, the car wasn't quite as good as we had it at the end of yesterday, so we made a few more adjustments going into qualifying, didn't really know what to expect. I think we knew we were going to be pretty competitive and should be able to make it through the first segment at least pretty easily, and then obviously things get a little tougher.
For us, we ran obviously primaries at the end, but the Ultimate Tires were very good and we ran them in the first segment to see what they were going to do and then again in the second. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we didn't have a set in the end because for me I think the red tires were probably a good four or five tenths quicker.
At the end of the day it sounds like those who had the reds, the handling wasn't quite right and played into our hands. I didn't quite know what to expect when I saw Justin and Dario go out on the red tires. I thought they were going to be pretty tough to beat, especially knowing how quick they both had been in the previous segment. So a bit of a shock. But obviously happy to be up here. I guess this place treats me pretty well. I'm certainly enjoying it.
THE MODERATOR: Justin, how about your run out there today?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously pretty happy, and it's been a great day for the Sonny's Bar‑B‑Q team. We've had a good run and I'm pleased to be second. But I felt that we had it in us to go for the pole today, and unfortunately Dario slowed up on what was going to be my best lap and starting my last lap, which is the perfect time for the Ultimate Tires, so we came in the pits and topped it with fuel and went back out and did a second outing on those tires, and that's when I did my best time. So I felt we had a lot more potential, but we didn't have the opportunity to show it today. Like you said, it's the best starting position for Dale Coyne Racing, and to be ahead of the group of guys that just left means a lot to us, and we'll take any small victory we can. So we feel pretty good today.
Q. With two street course races starting off the season, it's an opportunity for some of you guys to really get a good jump start on the points race. Talk a little bit about that since you're not going to see an oval until the third race.
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we want to make the most of these first two races because we don't have the big budgets to develop our cars for the super speedways and for the ovals. So this is where we've got our best chance to compete, where it's mechanical grip and we've got a pretty standard car and just make it as nice as we can. That's what the guys have done a great job at. This is our opportunity, and later in the year when we get to those ovals, we're going to be struggling to stay on out‑and‑out performance, but we'll do what we can and keep working on that area as much as possible, as much as our budgets will allow throughout the year.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's the same for us really. People would be surprised, but we won't be doing much development anymore and haven't done as much as we'd like this winter. Obviously the testing miles really limits us quite a lot. We're still way behind the big teams, and for us it's important to get points on these two tracks. We've had success here in the past and the team has certainly had some success at Long Beach. So I think that with our experience there, some of these guys haven't driven there in a while, I'm sure they'll pick right up where we left off, but certainly it is a bit of an advantage for us, and we need to go in there and try to grab the maximum points, as well. It's going to be ‑‑ I think our cars are pretty good on the ovals, but it's going to be pretty interesting to see what happens come Kansas, but at the end of the day, the street or road courses are still where we need to really get our wins and get our points.
Q. For both guys, a lot of what you guys do is routine to you, but to fans it's fascinating. Could you talk about what still humbles you about driving an IndyCar?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think that to drive anything that's as fast as an IndyCar, has the performance of an IndyCar, that's what's exciting about it for me. Really the thing about racing and specifically the series that really draws me in is the competition and the performance. I mean, you look at the technology, how close everybody is. I think you saw today it was pretty close in qualifying. That's what really kind of draws me into it, and that's why it never gets old going out there every single day and being fortunate enough to be able to have this as my job, really.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think Graham said it all. It's all about the competition and these cars are a lot of fun to drive. It's the same car for everybody, so you have an equal chance of competing relatively speaking, and on tracks like this where it's just a case of working out your setup, we're able to compete. So that's what it's all about is having fun.
Q. Graham, did you come here thinking you could win the pole?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think the team, the entire McDonald's crew, we thought that we felt pretty confident here. We had had a good couple of tests before, and truthfully, I think everybody worked so hard in the off‑season that there's a lot of smiles going through that team right now. I think we did feel pretty confident that we could run with the big guys here, and to be honest, I heard someone say earlier that we won it off strategy last year, and we did, but we definitely had the speed. We pulled away from Helio four seconds in the last ten laps or something. I mean, we had the speed to do it. Our car was pretty good, basically started where we left off, and here we are.
Q. For the two drivers and Al Speyer, some teams have used two sets of reds and have one in the back. Are those reds considered scuffs that they can put back on during the race?
AL SPEYER: Yes, they can put any of the reds that they've already run back on the car for the race, and as we're sitting here talking they're all getting a third brand new set of reds mounted up, which is the set that they have to run in the race, the set that's being mounted now.
Q. First question is for Justin. What did Dale Coyne have to say after you got your second place?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously he's extremely happy and he had a big smile on his face, and he just said, "Well done. Great job." I think the whole team is very motivated and feeling pretty good right now. It's a great result for us, and it's part of the battle is done starting at the front, just to get that track position. I think we just want to have a good race and hopefully finish on the podium with the Sonny's Bar‑B‑Q car.
Q. I believe the new rules state that you have to declare what tires you're going to start on within one hour is it of qualifying? Have you guys determined which tires you're starting on yet, blacks or reds?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, Graham is going to tell us now and then I'll decide.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I haven't even thought about it, to be honest. Either way, I must say that my car was definitely quicker on the red tires, but at the end of the day, it was extremely consistent overall. So I don't think that ‑‑ it's tough here with the fact that you do have to declare an hour after qualifying because in Champ Car we'd wait until like the last second to see what everybody else was doing because you just didn't want to be the odd man out basically. Now anybody could end up that way, and everybody could do the same thing and make the wrong decisions, you never know. But I think for us, I'll leave it up to the engineers to decide, but either way I think it's going to work fine.
Q. Graham, can you give me a sense of, for a driver, what the atmosphere is like from the fans? Do you get a sense that the popularity is climbing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think that IndyCar racing is on the rise if you ask me. Really if we look at some of the other major sports, we've got a very solid company in Honda behind us as our engine supplier, and I think the fact that it is a pretty spec series makes it exciting. When you look at it, we're lucky that we're not currently dependent on the big three. I think that they're obviously in some trouble, and for us, the fans are truthfully part ‑‑ I think that things are getting ‑‑ the excitement is starting to get back in it. I think you could see it kind of start last year, but still, it was so new, the unification, people were still unaware of what was going on. And then finally over the off‑season, it's been a little quiet but things are starting to heat up here, and it's exciting times for us, and we're fortunate that as I said, we've got some good people, a lot of sponsors like Firestone behind us that are really going to help us in the long run.
Q. I was reading this week at that you were looking forward to kind of maybe developing a rivalry with Marco, that you two were the two young big names in the series. Last year you won the race and dethroned him as youngest winner in IndyCar Series history. Today you win the pole and you dethrone him as youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history. Is there more satisfaction for you that that sort of enhances that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: To be honest it doesn't get any sweeter. You grow up as a Rahal and you're meant to want to beat the Andrettis. That's just how it works, and vice versa. If you think of the two big names in open‑wheel racing, those are them. But to be honest, beating Marco is a great thing, it's always nice, but to be on pole you've got to beat everybody, and that's what's more important to me. I want to go out there and win races. It's not nearly as satisfying beating him when we're like 20th and 21st. That's what's important to me. And of course it's nice any time you get to beat an Andretti, but at the same time there's still a long ways to go here.
Q. Justin, you touched on this a little bit already. How gratifying is it for you to go to a team with a smaller budget and have immediate success like this?
JUSTIN WILSON: It means a lot to myself, and I think I said yesterday, I feel like I'm proving that I deserve to be here. It was a difficult off‑season where I didn't know what was going to happen and I didn't know if I was going to be back in a car. It was very frustrating after the progress we've made over the years, and finishing second in the championship in Champ Car two years in a row and then coming across and winning a race as a transition team, and I felt we were showing well. But just unfortunate circumstances that I was out of a drive. It was a long off‑season, and now to get back in a car and prove to everyone that I can still do this, it means a lot, and obviously I want to translate it into a podium finish tomorrow. But it's one step at a time, and like I said, we'll take this small victory and just try and build from that.
Q. Graham, you had a real close call out there. I know you whitewalled it. I mean, how close was that to being a lot bigger disaster?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It wasn't that close, to be honest. That was right after I had done my good lap, and it was good enough for a pole, but I really ‑‑ truthfully I didn't feel like I got all of it. So I thought, okay, here's going to be one last shot really to get a good lap in. So coming off the last corner I just tried to get to full power earlier, and once I went over ‑‑ there was a bit of a crown on the road and I went over the crown and it snapped on me. But the steering was straight and it didn't affect anything. It was just after that we only did one more lap pretty much and that was the end. So it didn't really matter. I mean, everybody was ‑‑ if you're going for the pole, you're pushing hard, and I don't know about adjusting, but I saw Dario rubbed it a couple of times. I think everybody has done it once or twice.
Q. Graham, how do your levels of excitement, anxiety, confidence compare with just a year ago this time entering this race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I'm definitely excited to be back, for sure, because I felt that this was ‑‑ last year this was going to be ‑‑ other than Long Beach this was going to be our best shot to win, and it happened. Coming into this season I feel like we've got two good opportunities to start right away. But this track, I really enjoyed it last year. I love the atmosphere, which is what I ‑‑ when you go to a racetrack, the track is one thing, the atmosphere is a completely different one, and that's what really makes it exciting.
For me as far as the confidence goes, I felt more confident coming into this year, but at the same time, still, you knew that it was going to take a lot of effort. You don't just go into a new season not working any harder and expect better results. It's just not going to happen. So I certainly tried a little bit harder this year. The team has been working extremely hard. Obviously stepping up to the McDonald's car was exciting for me, and I knew that there was certainly pressure that comes along with that because if you look at what the McDonald's team has done in the past, there's always been success, so we certainly want to continue that streak.
It's exciting. I think the whole team, everybody has got a big smile on their face as I said earlier, because to work as hard as everybody did this off‑season, and as Justin calls it a small victory and being on pole, I think that for us is great because I don't know if it was expected, but certainly for all the mechanics, it's well‑deserved.
Q. Al, Brian Barnhart said out there that this was going to be probably the least difference between the primary and the alternate tire because the primary tire among is already among the softer compounds that you make. How much difference will be there in two weeks at Long Beach, and could you elaborate a little bit more on just the small difference between the two?
AL SPEYER: Sure. What we saw today is exactly what we wanted to see, and in a word it's variety. Everybody has been asking us what the difference is, and I've been trying to explain to everybody, there will be more difference between drivers on the two tires than there is the tires themselves, and that's exactly what we saw. It seemed like everybody picked up on the reds, there were a few that didn't, but just about everybody did, and I think really the faster the car was in general, the less it picked up. Some of the slower cars picked up more on them. So there's certainly a driving style in there.
We also saw variety on the amount of wear that was taking place on the red tires, even short qualifying runs, but I clearly know there are drivers out there who can go quite a long way on these reds. They're not going to drop off that much.
Q. (No microphone.)
AL SPEYER: Yes, the gap here is probably a little bit bigger than we thought it was, what we saw today. We'll still go download all our data, but the gap at Long Beach will be a bit bigger than it was here at St. Pete. I'd like to add my congratulations to these two guys, Graham and Justin. Super job today. It was a really exciting qualifying for all of us that got to watch it. You put on a great show, slapping the wall and all that. Great ambassadors for the sport, and all the best in the race tomorrow.
Q. Graham, you mentioned Thursday you were going to have a pretty big family contingent in the pits on Sunday. Who's going to be coming, and did you have a chance to talk to your dad after you won the pole and do you think you gave him a reason to stay on Sunday?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I saw him briefly as I was walking to the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award. He has a reason now, but you never know what he's thinking, so he might disappear. But I'm not normally superstitious, but because he was here all weekend and it's been a pretty good one, I'd hate to see him leave.
As far as the family goes, my mom is here, my little sister is here. Pretty much everybody, my uncle, anybody who has got some sort of interest in racing and isn't currently ‑‑ well, I shouldn't say employed, but like my brother, for instance, has got to work, so he can't make it.
It's been a lot of fun having them here and a pretty relaxed atmosphere, which is normally how I like it. I try not to get too wound up about anything, and I prefer that it's pretty calm and just cook out at the track at the end of the day. So that's what's been going on, and pretty much that's how I want to keep it tonight.
It's been exciting having them all here, and being able to do this in front of them, it's been a trip for sure.
Q. Justin, how tough is it not having a teammate to share setup data with?
JUSTIN WILSON: It's pretty difficult. We've got to work it out ourselves, and with the limited number of tires this year, we only get nine sets as opposed to ten, we've done a lot less running. We've got the same track time, but we've been on track less.
We really have to pick our changes and try and make sure we go the right direction, and we've got a couple of ideas with the car to make it even better, but we just dare not make that big a step because we don't have time to change it back.
If we would have had a teammate we could have tried two things and decided which one was the better direction. But it's just what we have to deal with now. We've got to try and study the data and try and make the best choices.
Q. Al, who publishes the tire choices that the team gets to pick, black or red?
AL SPEYER: That is a good question. I think we've had some discussions about that. You will get something from us, but if it's coming from Firestone or IndyCar PR, we'll find that out. I think IndyCar is going to publish something, but I think we're working through that with you right now. I would imagine we'll put it in the trackside report that we put out throughout the day.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
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