IndyCar Kansas Sunday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started. We're joined by Helio Castroneves, our second place winner today. Helio, tell us a little bit about the conditions out there.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the bad news, the wind is very strong and upsets the car in Turns 3 and 4. The good news is it's same for everyone. Everyone was having the same problem. You can see they have to lift when they're inside. Even on the outside you are sometimes a little bit loose. It's kind of difficult to find a good line and a good setup for both corners.
But Team Penske did an incredible job again. Even though I didn't have the preseason test, but Will (Power) and Ryan (Briscoe) did a great job preparing the car. No question about it, we had a much better car compared to last year. I'm very thankful for that. The pit crew did an incredible job in the pit stops. Ryan was right there and had a strong car. The top four right there at the end had a great chance to win the race. Whoever got in the lead would probably be the guy to beat. But it turned out to be an exciting race.
THE MODERATOR: We also have Tony Kanaan. Tell us about the conditions out there for you.
TONY KANAAN: I think Helio said it all. We got to look at each other before the race starts. We're like, "What the hell we doing here today? " It was very windy. Second lane, it was really tough to go. I mean, I saw Helio, myself, a couple of other guys try to clean it up, but it never did really got the way we wanted it.
But, like he said, the top four guys were so close that, you know, especially when I look ahead of me and behind me on the last restart, I knew nobody was going to make a mistake. So we pretty much followed each other and then waited to see if anybody's car was going to go off or maybe a backmarker would help to pass.
But, you know, very, very close field. Not a physically stressful day, but mentally very, very stressful.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Tony, you lead the points by one going into Indianapolis. Helio, in your second race you're up to 11th, only 34 out of the lead. For both of you guys, this was a good day. In the first race today you saw the wind. Obviously experience plays a lot. You may have had problems, but nobody hit the fence earlier.
TONY KANAAN: We're getting old. Look at his white hair. I'm actually trying to let my hair grow. So, yes, it was a tough day, wasn't it?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes, it was a very tough day. But again, consistency always paid off. You can see finishing in the top five of the race; it's paying off right now. For me, I'm extremely happy to be in the top 11, not (top) 10 quite yet. Again, it's a shorter year. It's very competitive especially with the new guys, Graham had a pole position, Justin Wilson as well, you go on. It's going to be a tough and big battle.
But as I said at the beginning of the weekend, I think the oval still give a little more chance for the guys, the old guys, the experienced guys, because over the 10 years we've been racing, it definitely helps a lot in those kind of conditions. I'm happy to be finish second today.
TONY KANAAN: It's 14 years, by the way.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I cut that a little bit.
Q. Helio, what does it mean for you not just to have that second race under your belt since the acquittal, hung jury, but to give yourself a chance to win today?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Again at Long Beach everything happened so suddenly. Missed one practice, one day at least. Long Beach was just coming back, trying to just relax and have fun.
And here, with the weekend starting from autograph sessions on Friday, the practice and everything, it was actually more comfortable. You have the whole practice that you can get. Plus, running with the other guys at least felt like a normal weekend. So for me it was very good, especially to prepare before Indy 500. I know this track is totally different than the Indy 500, but at least you know who you racing against and what teams are going to be competitive and quick.
So today was a very good day in both ways: championship points and also preparing for the big race, which is Indy.
Q. Everybody was talking about this is the first oval before the Brickyard. Was there really anything to gain data-wise? Did you pick up anything you can take to Indy, other than it's windy? Was there anything really to gain?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: In my opinion, the challenge of the wind makes it even tougher. First of all, our cars are very sensitive to the weather. When you're going to Indy, they change direction as well, so you also need to be prepared.
Today was very good, at least for my group or at least for me, to get well prepare and expect the unexpected. Sometimes you have a gust of wind and the car does something. You got to be prepared.
But it's always good to have some combinations, what we do in practice, to see what happened to the car. I will take that to the Indianapolis 500.
Q. Helio, what was it like inside the car today? Could you feel your rhythm and timing coming back? Did you feel at home more today?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, on the restart I was a little laid back. I didn't want to have any issues hitting somebody on the back in the end. So I was just trying to take it easy. Definitely towards the end, I was right there in second place with Scott and I was ready. I know what I needed to do now.
But through the whole race, slowly but surely my rhythm was coming back for those things. As you can see at the beginning, I was just trying to let everything sort itself out. I don't know who is who here. I don't know the colors of the car, still unfamiliar to me. And Dario probably took the same direction as well, until we got a little issue. I think that's racing issue. There was nothing I could do. I was just suddenly hitting Vitor on the back. I was not expecting to do that. He might have had some problem because he braked or lifted off. But other than that, towards the end, I was back in shape.
Q. Tony, the leader of the Andretti Green team. Today all of your cars finished in the top eight. Is there kind of a resurgence in the team? All of a sudden you guys are getting into a rhythm and all three cars finished in the top eight.
TONY KANAAN: A lot of slapping and fighting (laughter).
No, I think if you look at the last race, we had three cars in the top six as well. We're just really working hard towards what we need to do. I would call the kids, they're doing a good job as well. So I have to say, when I looked on the last yellow at the board, the big tower, I saw we had all the cars in the top 10, I was extremely happy.
Great momentum. But we got to turn the page and go to Indy. We have a month now. I think that makes us feel good that, you know, we had good races, but that doesn't mean anything. We're gonna start from zero from now on.
Q. Are you surprised there weren't as many cautions in consideration of the wind? Were you relieved, I guess?
TONY KANAAN: This race historically never had a lot of cautions. I think in situations like this, everybody so concerned that people don't take a lot of risks, so you will see less yellow.
As drivers, we get less greedy because we respect the track a lot more. So no, I was not surprised. I was actually quite surprised that it wasn't as bad as I thought. Psychologically I thought it was going to be a lot worse.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I'm pretty much the same. He said it all. When it's hotter, it actually becomes a little bit more difficult to hold on. Despite the wind that was really strong, the temperature was kind of cooler, so it kept us with a good downforce and good control. But I was not expecting to cause the first yellow. I didn't mean to do that. But thank God we were able to go back.
Q. Tony, there's been a lot of discussion about the wind. There was a forecast calling for 60% chance of rain or better. How much concern was there about being able to actually get the race in? Did your racing approach change at all once you got that hundredth lap and it was official?
TONY KANAAN: Not at all. I mean, me and the rain and the ovals, we don't get along really well, if you guys remember the couple races that we had. That's the only thing we can't control, it's the weather, the wind. So I wasn't thinking about that. I tried to kept myself in the front all day because I didn't want to run in the back.
I was concerned to get the race in, obviously, because I think it would be a shame for the fans and for people that came to watch us.started and we passed that 100th If it starts to rain, whoever is in the lead, the luckiest guy, something that I try not to think when I have no control of the situation.
Q. Passing for the lead looked difficult today. I don't think there was one pass on the track for the lead. What was that a function of? Close competition or what?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, you can see from qualifying and practice times, everybody was running 10ths of a second - 10ths of a mile actually. What I said about four or five cars could have a chance to be the winner, that's basically shows the competition. I would say they were very experienced drivers. They would not make a mistake.
Again, I tried everything I could. I'm sure Tony tried everything he could. Ryan as well. I'm sure Dixon did the best he could, and he ended up getting the better situation.
It was so close and I think this year Indy is going to be even more close. So it will be interesting to see those long straightaways, people drafting each other.
TONY KANAAN: I agree. I think if you look at the lap times, when you're less than a 10th of a second between the top six guys, I mean, although you look at the speed, but if you look at lap time-wise, how you going to pass somebody on the track? The cars are so similar. Then you put very capable drivers against each other. Actually become like a chess game. Helio was following me. I knew he didn't want to pass me because he's saving more fuel. I'm like, "Oh, my God, I know he's going to get me in the stop." Sure enough, that's what happened.
Kind of like you don't want to lead; you want to follow. I got myself asking on the radio, "Tell Helio to pass me." My spotter like, "What?" And that's the way it is. The competition, it's been really close. That's why you don't see from a spectator standpoint, you don't see a lot of passes for the lead on the track.
Q. I work for the company that sponsored today's race. Time Warner Cable. Can you talk to the fact that you're so responsible to the needs of your sponsors.
TONY KANAAN: I guess if it wasn't for the sponsors, nobody would be here. So we definitely have to take care of them. And the way they take care of us, it is a business, but we got to be very professional. I think we need the fans, we need the sponsors. In tough times like this, we still put 22 cars on the grid here. We have 40 cars to go to Indy. That's the result of a very competitive series. We've been running a very lean structure as far as teams and regulations and budgets, so we didn't have to really make a lot of adjustments.
We have to take care of the sponsors and thank them for being around, otherwise we all going to be home doing something.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Not only that. To follow up, he said it all, but the Indy Racing League, everybody is trying to work it out with each other to make the equipment a little bit less expensive, spare parts, things like that. So you can see that everybody tried to help each other because obviously without the partners, there was no way we would be able to be here.
Q. Helio, your performances over the last two weeks, put that in perspective.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No question about it, last week it was everything in a rush, in Long Beach. I was just happy to be back with the Indy community. For me it was just a happy day and a happy weekend. That was the best medicine, being back in the race.
Basically here in Kansas, it was great to at least have the opportunity to go through the whole weekend. I'm talking about the whole weekend, the autograph session, the practice. My team did a good job letting me take the time to get up to speed without any rush. Even starting in the back, I was trying to get the rhythm back, restarts, all these kind of little things, detail that sometimes you can't see on TV. But I was trying to make sure that everything was running smooth.
We did have a little incident there, but we were able to get back in the track, back in the game.
Finish second as you said, yes, it's very good. I thought I had a good chance at one point with Scott. He lifted up a little bit. Darn it, he should lift up a little bit more. It turned out to be a great win. The top four cars could have had a chance to win this race.
Q. Tony, the wind, how much havoc did that play with your race?
TONY KANAAN: Do you want to answer again?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the weather, the good news is it was the same for everybody. The bad news it was extremely tough on Turns 3 and 4. Everybody had to take care of each other, which, to be honest, I think everybody did that. Everybody was giving room to each other. That's why we probably didn't have so many yellows.
So with that, as I said, it was very close race between four or five cars. Whoever got in front for sure would be in a good shape at the end.
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, like Helio said, in my opinion the wind was strong, but psychologically I was expecting a lot worse. By the time we started the race, the toughest part was really the second line that we couldn't really use. I thought the wind was going to be affecting us a lot more. So it was a tough race psychologically more than physically.
Q. The only oval of the season so far, the last oval before Indy.
TONY KANAAN: It's just great to get going again on a superspeedway. This track has nothing to do, nothing similar to Indy. It's just really good to get out of here with a good result and get ready for the month of May.
Obviously having an oval before Indy, it's great, otherwise we have to go straight there. I think was going to be tough the first couple days. You know, in my opinion, it's great to be back here and it's great to just come back to the ovals.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Congratulations today.
We're joined now by today's race winner, Scott Dixon. Scott, tell us about your race out there today.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think, as some of those guys just touched on, I think a lot of us were expecting the race to be a lot more difficult as far as the wind conditions in Turns 3 and 4, maybe more cautions. Our team meeting, we were definitely talking about a lot of cautions, making sure we saved fuel, things like that.
All in all for me it was a pretty smooth race. We had a great car at the start. We jumped straight to second, then ten laps in, we got Graham (Rahal), who slid up the track a little bit in Turn 3 and 4. We kind of got out front, just started saving fuel. The Target car was pretty good all day. We had a little bit of a fumble in the pits, which dropped us back to third at one point. It made it quite difficult to get past Briscoe. We were definitely trimmed I think to win as they say. The car was maybe not as good as it should have been in traffic, but luckily enough we were saving enough fuel and were able to catch that caution and it catapulted us to the front.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. As has been pointed out by you, you started as the defending champion, your season has not been to your liking, but now you're in eighth place in the points going into Indianapolis. It really catapulted you up. Leading the most laps also helped. You have to have a lot of confidence going into Indianapolis.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, definitely. I think road courses and street courses, to be straight up, are my favorite races. To have pretty much two DNFs at the last two has been very frustrating. It's been fantastic for the team and definitely Dario (Franchitti) getting the win at Long Beach. But on our side, it's been very frustrating. It hurts you in many areas. It's the spot on pit lane as far as pits go. If you're doing well, like today, the time we're trying to come out of the pits, we have a lot of other slower cars trying to come in. That can cause accidents.
Definitely very happy that the win has catapulted us to fourth place in the championship. That's definitely exciting. It's still very tight and we're still within a shot to win this championship. We're definitely looking strong going into Indy.
Q. When you look at a calendar, a lot of times a month seem it is like a long time. In the racing world, with the big race you have coming up, it's not. What kinds of things do you have to focus on, work on, to get done, to be ready to compete at Indy?
SCOTT DIXON: I think as far as the season goes going in, I think myself and probably a lot of people on the team set two major goals. At the top of the list is to win Indy, and the second is to win a championship. Purely because Indy comes quite early in the season, you can still chase for a championship later on in the year.
You've got to come out of the box fighting, you've got to be strong, you've got to be consistent. I think that shows with T.K. taking the points lead. He's been in the top five I think every race we've gone to, but still hasn't won. Consistency's definitely the key. We were consistent last year. I think we only had maybe one or two kind of bad races.
But you got to come out with your A game. Unfortunately, a little bit of bad luck and circumstances for us this year we haven't really done that, so we definitely need to step it up. I'm definitely excited going into Indy, the month of May. Going back as defending champion obviously for the first time ever is going to be a lot of fun.
Q. Dan Wheldon said last week that this race is were the big hitters step up to the plate that will be playing a major role at Indy. Is that what you saw today?
SCOTT DIXON: Indy is a tough race. Many of the years you've got guys that possibly you don't think can win it. It turns out that way. I think you have to look at the big teams. You have to look at Target, Penske and AGR, and obviously add Dan to that because Panther has finished extremely well there for the last many years. It's unfortunate, I didn't see Dan finish too well today. I know he's a great competitor, extremely fast. I think you will see the big teams that put in the development, the aerodynamic stuff, maybe come through.
Q. With all the uncertainty with the weather, did you go into the race thinking it was a hundred-lap sprint or it was going to make it the 200 laps?
SCOTT DIXON: No, I thought it was going -- either it was going to rain really early or it was going to go the full distance. I think after the first or second stop, I think after the first stop, we had a little bit of moisture there. But that was about it.
No, I went into the race totally concentrating on doing 200 laps. I know in the team meeting they were talking about halfway mark, what we would do strategy-wise for that. But I was definitely fighting to go for the 200 laps.
Q. Coming out of here with a win was the best possible scenario. How important was it to get some kind of solid top three or four result here to kick start your season?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, we needed something. You know, even a sniff of something. Because so far all we've had is a sniff of the tail end of the field. That's frustrating. I was starting to look back on 2004, how that was a dismal season as well as we won a championship.
I know the team can do it. We just need to get everything right. That's what makes this championship so tough to win, is that you've got so many great competitors. You've got big teams, fantastic drivers. It's getting tougher each year, as some of the transition teams are catching up as well.
This is a big boost for my confidence, the team's confidence, and a lot of momentum going into the month of May, which is our biggest race.
Q. You said many times you prefer street and road racing to ovals, yet you've been very successful on ovals, become very proficient. What do you attribute that to?
SCOTT DIXON: It's a lot of things. I know my engineer enjoys the oval racing a little bit more than the road course racing. But it's about getting everything right. You know, the big transition for me, especially for mile-and-a-half circuits, to be quite frank, was working with Dan Wheldon. He taught me a lot. He was very critical on car setup and areas that you needed to work on, which maybe before that, I still enjoyed doing the short tracks, and we had a lot of success on the short tracks, but mile-and-a-half's maybe we didn't have the best outcome.
The last three years I spent with Dan was definitely a big credit to him.
Q. What was the mood on the team? Was there a mood of desperation that this could be a season going awry here?
SCOTT DIXON: We had a lot of success with the same group of guys.= In the back of your mind you're still confident. You know can you do it. You still have thoughts looming in the back of your head of bad seasons that we've had. There were definitely a lot of long faces coming out of Long Beach. I know a lot of them were excited about coming to Kansas, the first oval of the season.
But even Saturday night we had a lot more work to do on our car just because of some things that we needed to change. You could tell, some people are maybe not as nice to each other as they should be. You can't beat an attitude when you've been winning races. I think it's definitely going to be a turn, and a fantastic turn at the time we need it going into the Speedway.
Q. (Question regarding current performance.)
SCOTT DIXON: Coming back to the season, having the terrible start we had, was something that we weren't used to I guess in many ways and something that we were going to try to shake quickly. Coming into Kansas, I've been telling a lot of people, a lot of people have been telling me, this place kind of owes me one. We've had successful cars here. Last year I think we led just about every lap until the last pit stop and got caught out on a yellow, cycled all the way back to 15th, and got back up to third. It's right at the time that we need it that Kansas gives us a sort of a payback. More importantly, as I said before, going into the 500, it's huge for the team.
Q. I work for the company that sponsors this race. They're very excited about it. One of the things we talked about was the fact that the drivers have been so responsive. Can you talk about the responsibility you feel in these tough economic times to give a payback to the sponsors.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's quite simple. It's an easy formula. If you don't have a sponsor, you're not racing. We don't get paid. Nobody gets paid, nobody can come to racing. Sponsors are key, right up there with fans. Without fans and sponsors racing is nonexistent.
We're lucky to have on the Ganassi side a fantastic sponsor with Target. Obviously, Kansas has a fantastic sponsor with Roadrunner and Time Warner. It's very important in these tough times. Already I know we've been spending a lot more time with Target, trying to promote them as much as possible. You've got to work a lot harder to sort of bounce back out.
But without their support, it's not going to happen.
Q. How about talking about racing with Graham early. Up there for a little bit, then you schooled him when you passed him for the lead.
SCOTT DIXON: I think Graham had a great start. Obviously the car was fairly decent. I don't know what happened there. I think his car started to go off a little bit. We were kind of just starting to get into a rhythm. We started to lean back the fuel. He had a bit of an issue going into turn three. I was able to pass him coming out of four.
You know, cars feel great when you're up front. I had a little bit of that today when I was following Briscoe. You seem to burn the tires off a little bit more when you're behind somebody, don't last as long. It's kind of a spiral effect. Sometimes you start backing up. Traffic can be a bit of a pain sometimes unless you have a car that can get through it.
Q. Could you tell me what's the most fun that you have during green flag laps.
SCOTT DIXON: Obviously the most fun is coming to the checkered flag, if you have a great run on the green flags...
The most exciting stuff is when you have a great car and you can fight your way through traffic.
Q. Nothing like butterflies when you pass for the lead?
SCOTT DIXON: No, the whole time you're just totally concentrating. You're trying to get to the next corner the quickest and pass as many people as possible. So the butterfly effects are normally before the race, and that's from straight up being nervous, being a competitive person, I think just wanting to do well. That's the only time you really get that stuff.
There's nothing better than having a great car and getting to the finish first by all means. That's what we're here for.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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