St. Pete GP: Post-Race Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our second‑ and third‑place finishers. Ryan Hunter‑Reay, second place, best‑ever finish for Vision Racing; and then we have Justin Wilson with a third‑place finish, best‑ever finish for Dale Coyne in the IndyCar Series. Justin, why don't we start with you and talk about your day out there.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it was a long one. It was nice to get the jump into Turn 1. I'm not sure what happened with Graham (Rahal), but I saw him hit the brakes about the four marker, and I was pretty committed to going to the three, so I went in deep, and I wasn't sure if he was still there. I lost sight of him, so I left one lane on the inside, hoping that he wouldn't slide wide, but as I came out of the corner, I looked in my mirror and Dario (Franchitti) was there, so I am still not sure what happened behind.
From that point on we were just pushing hard, trying to save fuel and do the best we could, but unfortunately that yellow came out right at the wrong point for myself and put me back in the pack and I had to work my way back through to have a chance of winning the race.
Just very pleased that the whole Dale Coyne Racing team has done a great job, and I've just got to be very thankful for them to choose me to drive their car and get a strong first weekend in.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, just over a week ago we didn't know where you were going to be, and now here you are, second place finish, best‑ever finish for Vision Racing. Talk about your day out there.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Well, I haven't said it since I got out of the car, but this is because everybody worked so hard to make this thing happen. A lot of people came together to make this work, and yeah, it was a nail‑biter for sure. But in the end, the George family, everybody at IZOD, Mike Kelly at IZOD, Colin Dyne at William Rast, and really, the IndyCar Series, I have to thank them a lot for the marketing, commercial side of it.
We've been working real hard on the business side of making this thing work out, and we threw it together in seven days. I met the team on Sunday, didn't sit in the car until Friday here this weekend. I mean, Friday afternoon we were still cutting away at the seat and everything. It's just unreal. It really speaks volumes to the caliber of talent at Vision Racing and what this team is capable of. We've only been together for seven days; it's awesome.
But this is what racing is about. This is why people love it, and this is why the IndyCar Series is so great, because you can put something together in that amount of time, and if you get the right people together, you can challenge for a race win against teams that are spending $15 million a year, $20 million a year. It's a very neat thing, a very cool series that way.
But the day was a long day. It was very physical, hot, hard to get into a rhythm, just because of how all the yellows kept coming. I think that was one of the hardest off‑line races. When I say that, I mean the marbles were some of the worst I think I've ever had. I think everybody in the race could say that they probably almost wrecked their car completely a couple times just because on those restarts, you had to have some talent to hang it out. I mean, everybody, the best of us, were just struggling to keep the thing off the walls.
That's what we wanted to do is come out today, not make any mistakes and push hard, but I was definitely wringing the car's neck there, and so was Justin. He was flying for most of the race there.
We ended up on reds there at the end, the red Firestone tires. The Firestones were awesome, very consistent all day. But that made for some great racing, the difference in the tires.
Q. Is your emotion more disappointment in not winning or elation in getting a podium with Dale Coyne Racing, who last week none of us thought that would have happened?
JUSTIN WILSON: It's a mixture of both, obviously. Having led the most laps all race and been so strong and been so fast, I'm disappointed not to get the win. But under the circumstances I'm very pleased with third result for Dale Coyne Racing. I think we've been working hard all weekend, and something Ryan touched on, it's all about the people. We've got some good people and pulled a team together, and that's what allows you to compete, and that's the great thing about this series.
Q. I've got two questions that I'd like both of you to answer if you could. On street course races in this series, is this an example of how a very good driver can actually make up a big difference with the car?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we're going to say yes.
Q. But explain why, more so than the 1.5-mile ovals you really can't.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: You can carry the car more on a street course. On an oval you're driving ‑‑ it does take a lot of skill to drive on an oval, don't get me wrong. But you can carry the car, you can make up for some deficiencies in the car on a street circuit because you've really got to hustle the car. An oval is more of a finesse game, and when you have the right car on an oval that makes all the difference in the world.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, like Ryan was saying, you're working with the pedals and you have a chance to try and curb up some of the deficiencies that may be happening with some of the handling of the car. On the speedways obviously you need a good team and good drivers and that continuity to keep developing the car to make it to your suiting. It's not a luxury we tend to have, but there are very few guys in that position. So when you come to these types of tracks, you can sit in the car Friday and finish second on Sunday.
Q. And also to spin forward in two weeks, the next race is also on a street course, so the two of you have got to feel pretty encouraged about your chances at Long Beach. If you could both address that.
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we want to go out there and capitalize again and start the season off doing what we know best and try and get some momentum behind us, and maybe we can build our program and adapt ‑‑ add to it, maybe sponsorship that allows us to develop the car more and be able to compete more in those high‑speed one‑and‑a‑half‑mile ovals, which you need the development on.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, I just can't wait to get back to Long Beach. That's one of my favorite races. It's such a cool event. It's just great to be going back there again, and it's the second race, we're going in there with a bit of momentum at a track that I know and I love racing at. Yeah, it's a great start to the season. I like that. Some of the oval-meisters might not like the start to the season. But this thing has a huge rhythm to it where you start off on a road course, then you go to some ovals, it's oval thick in the middle of the season, then you go to some street circuits and road circuits, and again, the beauty of the IndyCar Series is the variance.
JUSTIN WILSON: The key part to starting on the street circuits is the atmosphere. It's a great atmosphere today, and the fans are out there and they can get so close, you feel that vibe and excitement.
Q. Ryan, you were on the reds at the end. Was there no way of catching Ryan Briscoe?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, there was for sure. I was having great restarts, and Justin on the last one had a great restart, too. It was stressful as hell. But it came down to that last restart, and I had a good run on Ryan, and I had to be smart there, right? Ryan is charging hard, I'm charging hard, Justin is charging hard behind us, and you keep seeing over and over again after these yellows, you keep seeing somebody ends up in the tire barrier doing something stupid. So I wanted to be the smart one.
I gave him a run down there and try and make him lock a right front or something like that, and he did a good job, got in there. The problem was if you got off line, I'd be toast to Justin behind me. Justin would have got me. So I had to think a little bit ahead of it. I think that was the right call on my part. I could have definitely gone there and banged wheels with him, but was that the right thing to do? I don't think so in that situation.
Q. Considering how late your deals came together, what were your realistic expectations coming in, and does it almost relieve pressure knowing that you guys are coming in and it's late and just let it rip?
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: I didn't know what to expect. My deal came together a little bit later than Justin's, but it was funny on that last caution, I'm looking at the top three ‑‑ it was the second‑to‑the‑last caution, I'm looking at the top three, this is funny, both Justin and I, both race winners from last year are in the top three, and we were unemployed, both of us unemployed, a month ago, month and a half ago, whatever it was.
My deal came together later. I was unemployed a week ago. But it's just awesome. This is what racing is about, and this is definitely why people love it, things like this. You don't always want to see the Penske cars and the Ganassi cars in the top four, you want to see things like this.
Q. I know both of you guys are former winners and so is Ryan Briscoe, but I think this is maybe kind of a unique podium for the casual fan who might not know Ryan Hunter‑Reay or Justin Wilson or Ryan Briscoe. Is that gratifying when all three of you guys are up there on a day when the guys that the league are pushing hard on the marketing side, you guys outshined all of them and do you think we'll see more of this throughout the season?
JUSTIN WILSON: From my point of view hopefully we'll see more of this. We're both desperate to prove that we're a valuable asset and need to be here, so that's what we're trying to do on and off the track is do the best job we can and race hard, and hopefully we put on a good show today and the fans appreciate that and we can build from there.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: As a driver and a team outside of Penske and Ganassi, you've just got to go out fighting every day and punch above your weight and just do everything you can to make a difference in the race car on the racetrack. Hopefully ‑‑ I definitely believe we can have a lot more of that this year.
Q. For both you guys, talk a little bit about the option on the tires today. There was a lot of talk about it going in. Obviously that was going to change strategies. What did it actually mean today, and did you guys know at different times what the other guys around you were on? Was it easy to tell?
JUSTIN WILSON: You could see the guy ahead of you or behind you, but after that it's sometimes not so easy to tell a guy four places back what tires he's running on and how fast he's going. You just concentrate on doing the best job you can. Obviously having the option tire really spiced things up and adds a lot of strength to our qualifying and also the race. We opted to start on the option tire, and they actually worked really great. I was quite pleased and pleasantly surprised when I saw Dario's prime tire looked like it was going off towards the end. It was all part of the strategy, and we were cautious; we weren't sure in that final stint whether to go with a second set of options or another set of primes.
I think both tires that Firestone have brought here worked really well, so you couldn't make a decision too wrong, but it just keeps you on your toes and keeps you trying to second‑guess what everyone else is doing.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, I think the tires worked out to my benefit today for sure. Firestone did a great job spicing up the racing that way. The jury was kind of out on whether the reds were better. Maybe they fell off more over a long stint. But I was happy I had them on at the end. Definitely they come in faster, that's one thing for sure. I think they come in faster, so I was able to get some good restarts on them.
I think you might kind of get through them a little bit quicker, too, and the rears become too hot, at least that was the case on my car. I think it'll make for some interesting racing this year, that's for sure.
Q. Back to the start, from your very limited perspective, was that whole melee caused by Graham braking too soon?
JUSTIN WILSON: I have no idea. I couldn't comment. I went into Turn 1, I know he was concerned about the dirt on the inside, and he brakes pretty close to where we brake ‑‑ yeah, he probably brakes at the same point you would do on a normal lap, maybe 10, 15 miles an hour slower, but on cold tires I thought that was respectable. But I just decided to stay over there pretty deep and hope that I cleared him because I didn't like the idea of being off line through the next couple of corners waiting to tuck in behind whoever was going to be on the inside on the racing line.
I knew that was my best chance of not losing ground was trying to attack. I wouldn't say it's necessarily Graham's fault, but I haven't seen any of the replays.
Q. Justin, you came out, I think your last pit stop you changed tires and you came zooming out and it didn't seem to bother you. Obviously your tires weren't up to heat yet but you didn't go backwards. You were right there and held on. How did that happen, number one? And number two, there was a lot of talk about marbles, if you went off line just a foot you ran into them. Do you think the red tire had anything to do with that?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, as I came out of the pits, I saw how close it was going to be, and my tires were cold, it wasn't an option. The only tricky part was braking into Turn 4. As I hit the brakes, the car bottomed out and it started to turn in right from the point I hit the brake pedal. I was just glad I didn't manage to lock a wheel and stick it in the wall.
But after that, yeah, I knew if I could get through the next couple of corners I'd be able to hold onto it, and the tires just came up to temperature and we were able to hang there. I was pleased with that. Unfortunately my end lap wasn't quite as clean. I caught a little bit of traffic the previous lap and the end lap I locked the rears and again slid wide. So that was my own little redemption to myself to make up for the end lap not being as good as I would normally like.
It was difficult conditions. I don't think that the option tire really had an effect on how many marbles ‑‑ I'm not the one to say, but I think there were marbles last year. This year it's worse. Is that the tire's fault? I think it's just the circumstances. It's just something you have to deal with. We were picking up the dirt on the tires, and that's what made the restarts really tricky. You were just sliding around for about two laps until you could get them cleaned off.
Q. For both of you, I'd like to know if you had a chance to talk to your car owners when you finished the race and what each of them had to say. And then regarding the last stint to the checkered flag, there were several yellows, especially at the end, that interrupted maybe your opportunity to try and pass the driver in front of you. Both of you were on red tires. Would it be better to do a restart to try and pass or just work through the race? And I guess if Ryan didn't make a mistake, Ryan Briscoe, then maybe you don't have an opportunity to pass.
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, when I saw Dale it was only very brief, and obviously he was extremely happy. It was a great day, it's been a great weekend, and hopefully we can get a few more like this.
As far as the restarts, it's just difficult, and after ‑‑ I lost track of how many there were, but there was one restart where Ryan nearly passed Ryan, and he went down the inside and I was hoping he was going to get stuck in and have a go and maybe give me a chance, but that didn't happen. From that point on I was thinking, this is so difficult, we're sliding around so much, I hope the checkered flag comes out now so I'm not the next guy to put it in the wall.
RYAN HUNTER‑REAY: Yeah, everybody at Vision was ecstatic obviously. They deserve it for sure. It was a great day, definitely. And the IZOD representative to the IndyCar Series, Michael Kelly, it's his birthday, so I was trying to get him a big birthday present there, so drinks on him.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate your time. We'll see you in Long Beach.
Now we'll have our race winner Ryan Briscoe. Just a couple of notes on Ryan, today was his third career win. He has now completed a cycle of sorts, one on an oval, one on a road course and one on a street or temporary facility. This is the 30th career IndyCar Series win for Team Penske, and Team Penske's third win in five visits to St. Pete. Ryan, your day, tell us about it.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I was just listening to Justin and Ryan, but much the same. I think it really started off for me when Roger called me in for that first pit stop. We short pitted just because I was starting to get held up by Franchitti. He really slowed up on that first set of tires, and we dropped off at least a second and a half. We were just getting held up. We short pitted, came out of the pits, and there was a full course caution. So that put me to the front.
Up until Justin came out of the pits in front of me, I was sort of commanding the race, and the car was great. My car was a little bit better on the harder tire. But as far as consistency goes, it was hard to say which was better. I think maybe the red tire, the softer one, was a little more consistent.
But you know, at the end of the race then, it was just all about ‑‑ with the restarts and trying to keep heat in the tires, getting traction off the last corner and making sure you could brake well into Turn 1.
Q. Take us into some detail about that pass that got you the lead. Is that a pass you got in (Turn) 1 or did you get that pass done from (Turn) 14?
RYAN BRISCOE: It definitely started from (Turn) 14, but I was a bit surprised. Justin had been doing great restarts, and it looked like he changed his strategy that restart. He was normally accelerating right at the entrance of the far chicane, really going far deep into the last corner and then it was difficult to stay close.
Really this time he just let me stay close up until the last corner. I would have come off (Turn) 14 right under his rear wing. I think, it looked like I may have had a bit less downforce than him because I got the slip stream and I would have pulled down pretty easy and come down beside him into Turn 1. So it really just started the way he made that restart.
Q. How gratifying was it to cross this place off the list after it's been the scene of some bad circumstances for you in the past?
RYAN BRISCOE: It's much like Milwaukee last year. Certainly coming into it this year, we knew we could run well. I've led laps each other time I've raced here, but we've just never gotten the job done.
Really the key today, the main goal, was to get the car to the finish line, and I wasn't going to do anything desperate with Justin at the end there. I knew there were important points. I think as we get to the ovals, Justin with Coyne is probably going to struggle a little bit more than we will. And second place today was going to be a great finish, but I saw the opportunity, went for the win. On a day like today where a lot of the key players were a little bit further back, certainly those extra ten points are very valuable.
It's a great feeling to get the win here in St. Pete. Certainly another sort of relieving win as I crossed the finish line.
Q. With Helio's status still up in the air, Roger Penske said this weekend that you're the guy on this team now. Does it feel good to be able to sort of justify that the first time out and get the victory and signed of assure yourself of that status at Penske? And does it feel good also that the two guys who finished up there on the podium with you, Justin and Ryan, also are kind of under‑the‑radar guys and you guys are kind of the story of the season opener now?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, you know, it's certainly been tough not having Helio, but no matter who my teammate was going into this year, my approach was the same. I wanted to come in carrying off the experience I gained last year and try to kick the season off gaining points and trying to go for this championship.
I do feel as though I've probably taken on slightly more of a leadership role with Team Penske with Will (Power) coming on board, just letting him feel comfortable and showing him the ropes. Like Homestead I was doing some laps in his car just to make sure it was all right. But Will is doing a great job. He's a great asset to the team, and he's extremely fast. I think we're going to see big things from him.
With Justin and Ryan, they both won races last year, and they're great drivers. I must say today, racing with them at the end there in those tricky conditions, it was extremely clean racing and it was hard‑fought, but they were extremely fair, both when I was passing Justin and when I was trying to hold off Hunter‑Reay. So it was good fun racing with those guys today.
Q. Ryan, a lot of people thought that with the addition of Dario Franchitti that Target would be the team to beat, but some of the guys in the paddock were saying you guys were the team to beat. With two races on street courses, there is a possibility you could go into the month of May in Indianapolis with a pretty decent points lead. Talk about opening with two street courses and the opportunities there for you in terms of points.
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, I think the opportunities we have are the same for the other guys. Scott (Dixon) and Dario are as good as anyone on these street courses. We saw Dario, he was pretty dominant throughout practice and even qualifying until the fast six. I was surprised he didn't actually get the pole yesterday. But you know, I was thinking, when Dario was in second place after the start there in front of me, I thought, "Oh, this isn't good, he's just going to run away with this." But actually towards the end of that first stint, he was on the hard tire and was really struggling. He was holding me up a lot, and that's where it forced me into doing that short stop which ended up with that caution that followed putting me into the lead.
But Target team is going to be strong all year. Both Scott and Dario, they're good at any of the tracks we go to. They're the previous champions the last two years, and Indy 500 champions. So that might not have been the best day for them, but it's the first race of a long championship year.
Q. Even though Surfers Paradise was a non‑points race and you won in your homeland, did that give you a lot of momentum, your team fired up to come here to Streets of St. Petersburg and do well? Did you carry through the feeling of winning?
RYAN BRISCOE: Well, firstly, I think the win in Surfers Paradise, the only difference with it is it's not on the IndyCar (Series) stats. But it was as competitive as any other race we go to throughout the season. Everyone was there, and certainly I felt good finishing off with Surfers Paradise, a very difficult street circuit where we were competitive running at the front and knowing that first two runs this year were going to be on street circuits. It was a great opportunity for me.
We brought on board my new engineer (Eric Cowdin) for the Surfers Paradise race, so it was a great opportunity to start working with him, and going into this year on very similar circuits, and by the time we go oval racing we'll know each other really well, and I'm looking forward to good things with him.
Q. What's your take on what happened on the first lap, and why do you think there were so many mistakes and misadventures today?
RYAN BRISCOE: I haven't really seen what happened on the first corner. I just know I was coming down, staying as close to Tony (Kanaan) as I could. I wasn't being super‑aggressive, I just wanted to defend my position. And then I saw, I think, Dario got on the inside of Tony, and Tony was getting pushed out into me, so I was just looking everywhere except straight ahead of me going into Turn 1.
And I saw Tony got hit, I think, and he was coming out sort of between ‑‑ into my side part, and so I had to go wide. I think I had someone on the outside of me, and really I was just trying to avoid contact from the inside, just going as wide as I could to avoid getting caught up in the accident, and luckily I was able to get through without having touched anyone. That was the goal going into the start. You never know on this track, but I was pretty happy to come out third even though Dario came from pretty far back to get in front of me. But it was a good start for me. I haven't seen it, though.
Q. I wanted to ask you, from your perspective, being with Penske, do you kind of welcome this, if you want to call it, new competition with Dale Coyne coming in and obviously Vision Racing and some of these guys that in the past, or teams in the past that weren't necessarily considered in the same realm? Do you kind of welcome that and see that as being a very positive thing for the league?
RYAN BRISCOE: I think it just proves the competitiveness of this championship. You don't have to be with the biggest team or the team with the most experience to win races here. I don't know how many years we've been on the same car, this Dallara. It's a great chassis, but it's been so long that it's really given everyone the chance to know all the secrets, know what setups to put on, and there's not really much you can invent right now to go faster. Where maybe bigger teams with newer equipment maybe able to make that slightly bigger difference, with this car right now I think anyone who goes out looking for the information can find it and make a competitive car.
I was really impressed today to see Wilson with good pit stops obviously, with Coyne. I think it's a team with a lot of experience. They're new here, but I think they've made a very good choice in hiring Wilson to race in Indy Racing League.
Q. As far as during the off‑season, what do you do? Did the Grand‑Am help you keep the cobwebs off or do you do anything else that would attribute to the win starting off the season?
RYAN BRISCOE: I love starting off the year with the Rolex 24. It's a lot of fun and just a great way in January to keep in race mode and work with engineers and teammates and keep your head in the game. I'm not sure if it helps or not going into the first IndyCar (Series) race three months later, but my key focus coming here has been training a lot, working hard at the winter tests and really just keeping my fitness level, actually trying to make it better than last year, because I think these races, they're very physical, and it's key to be fit, and that's probably been my key focus coming into the season this year.
Q. Looking ahead to Long Beach a little bit, how much different do you think that track is than this one as far as what you're going to be facing there?
RYAN BRISCOE: I don't know. I raced there in the ALMS a couple years ago. It's a fun track. It's very challenging; it's fast. It's probably somewhere in between Surfers Paradise and St. Petersburg. You've got that crown in the road. It's got some fast corners, long straight down the front. It's going to be tough. I think, again, we're going to see a lot of these guys that have Champ Car experience from the past really doing well in Long Beach, maybe even more so than here, because still at this race the IndyCar (Series) guys probably had more experience.
But Long Beach is going to be tough. It'll be my first time driving in open wheel around that circuit. With the limited practice it's a challenge, but Penske raced there in the past. They've won races there in the past at Long Beach and we have quite a lot of information going into it. Haven't looked at a lot yet, but starting tomorrow we'll be really getting focused on that race. I'm hoping we can run at the front, keep getting points.
Q. Is the surfboard going to get any use, or do you surf?
RYAN BRISCOE: I actually don't surf, but I'd like to get some lessons and give it a shot.
Q. The drivers mentioned problems with the tires. The American Le Mans Series drivers also had problems with their tires, issues one way or the other with hard compound versus soft compound tires, but one thing that they mentioned also that none of you guys have mentioned, at least so far, is that they found Turn 1 particularly tricky. Did you find that? Did any of the other drivers find that? Were you warned about that by your teammates?
RYAN BRISCOE: Turn 1 has been really tricky. I think today was the first day where we actually had really good grip going into Turn 1. Qualifying was disastrous going into Turn 1. I think it was new asphalt, new paint, something, towards the end of the braking there. You'd be slowing it down and all of a sudden you'd hit the paint and you'd either lose the front or lose the rear. It was very difficult. But in the race today actually it was probably almost the grippiest corner of the circuit really getting into Turn 1.
As far as the tires go, ALMS, it's typical, they always get really bad pickup on the tires. I think they've got a lot bigger contact patch in the front, and something about those cars, they just get a lot of pickup.
This track has been traditionally bad for pickup for the IndyCars, and I think it's the only one where we've had problems with pickup. I don't know why that is. Long Beach, we haven't raced there, could be the same. I'm going to talk to Will who's raced the Champ Car and see what he says about that. But this track for some reason, whatever it is, we always get bad pickup under caution.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, thank you very much. We'll see you in Long Beach.
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