Indianapolis 500 Fast Nine Transcript
Q: Ed, this has been a great week for you, obviously, and your team. You had a really good first lap. I don't know if the warm-up lap was too quick or there was a problem on (Turn) 2, but you know what happened.
|Pole Sitter Alex Tagliani in Press Conference|
ED CARPENTER: Yeah, I was kind of surprised the warm-up lap was that quick. You know, in the moment I was a little frustrated just because you never want to lose spots from the first round. We were sixth going into the Shootout. But we hardly made any change to the car at all and we just lot the balance, picked up a lot of under‑steer, the opposite of what I had in the first round.
Once again, the car had more speed, but between myself and as a group we missed a little bit on the balance, but still really happy for the team. There's a lot of guys, especially a lot of big guys, that aren't in the Shootout today. We're not here to win the Shootout, we're here to win the race. You know, we'll get back to work tomorrow and get the car out on the track if it's dry and keep working on our race setup.
Q: What are we to make of the fact that we don't have the usual Power teams up here in the Fast Nine, Andretti didn't do much, Penske only had one team. What are we to read from that, if anything?
CARPENTER: I don't know. I think it's just a testament to all the teams in the series are working really hard to get better. It's probably ‑‑ it has a lot to do with the fact of how long we've been running this car. You know, it's gotten tighter every year. You know, as mechanics move around to different teams and engineers move around to different teams, information gets spread out, and there's all sorts of things. But teams have to work hard to catch up, and I think those guys have kind of reached a point with the car where they couldn't get any further, and other people caught up, and in some cases, at least today, did a better job.
Q: Can we talk about the second lap? I think that was the one real tight with the wall.
CARPENTER: I felt like it was too tight with it on all of them. I don't remember specifically. But like I said, the front of the car just didn't want to turn. I was trying to keep my foot in it because I knew when we did the warm-up lap that the car was well capable of going over 227, just missed on the balance a little bit.
Q: Talk about the rain delay.
CARPENTER: I wanted a chance to go out and do it again. If we had to do it again, I would still want to go try again. That's the competitor in me. I think you always think you can go better and go faster. If I had a chance right now to go jump in and do it again, I'd be out in the car.
Q: You're now in a great position to make a run to win the Indianapolis 500.
CARPENTER: Yeah, starting eighth for the second year in a row, and last year I felt like we put ourselves in really good position and just had a bad break under yellow and had to pit with a closed pit. Other than that I felt like we were in the hunt. I know we can position ourselves from the eighth spot, so we'll see how it goes.
Q: Dan, tell us about your day, the shootout, et cetera.
DAN WHELDON: I think for me it's just very good to be back in the race car. I've had my four-race hiatus, vacation, whatever you want to call it. But it's obviously phenomenal to be back, especially at Indianapolis.
I think that Bryan Herta and Steve Newey put together a fantastic group of guys with Bryan Herta Autosport. They've got a great group of people that have worked incredibly hard. We're obviously on a partial-month program, but I think as you can see, certainly the car was competitive enough to compete for the pole. Unfortunately we were a little bit off on that Fast Nine, but it was ‑‑ it's a testament to the team's effort.
You know, actually it probably would have been a little bit higher up if I had listened to Bryan but I really wanted to go for the pole, and I perhaps trimmed the car up a little bit too much. It's been a fantastic day. I think everybody on the team should be proud. I think William Rast will be proud of us.
But it's fantastic because we have a collaboration with Sam Schmidt Motorsport, and for Alex Tagliani to get the pole, it goes to show that it's really been a good program and obviously talent is incredibly strong, too. I think for the most part it was a very good day, and I'm looking forward to the race.
Q: Are all the guys in the team new to you?
WHELDON: That's a good question. I briefly worked with the engineer that's engineering my car, Todd Malloy, when I first signed for Andretti Green Racing, which it was back then. But for the most part it's obviously a new team to me.
Bryan has been a teammate and a close friend, so the relationship is a little bit different now. I probably can't play as many practical jokes on him as we perhaps used to because he's the boss. But I touched on it earlier today; he is a man of his word, which is very rare these days. I had some good opportunities for this race. There was a fair few options, and when I spoke to Bryan, I said: 'Bryan, you know how important this race is to me. It's potentially my only race that I'm going to do all year; can you give me a fast enough race car?' And he said, 'I'll absolutely make sure that you have one.'
There's not a lot of people out there that I would trust. But it's been phenomenal to be in his team. I think it goes to show the kind of person he is when you look at the group of people that are working for him, and just very proud to be part of it. I think in the time that I've had off, that certainly has made me realize how much I love motor racing. It's made me realize how much I want to be a full-time participant in the IndyCar Series. I'm just enjoying it very, very much.
Q: Dan, you're sort of in the elite around here now at Indianapolis. Who in the younger drivers might you have talked to or mentored or answered questions for in say this month or last year?
WHELDON: Who would I have mentored?
Q: Who might you have talked to or given advice how to run here?
WHELDON: You know, honestly I got given an opportunity a long time ago by Michael Andretti, and through that opportunity it's ‑‑ you know, and even, I think, what my parents have instilled in me and I think my wife and I have the same values, I'd like to help anybody that wants help. Certainly the younger guys ‑‑ like I said, I was given an opportunity to move into Indy cars. I've been given many opportunities that have helped me progress through the motor ranks. So for me I'm prepared to help because I've been given that same opportunity, and I think as somebody that's more experienced now, I'm not going to say older but more experienced, I feel it's kind of my responsibility to give back. So you know, that's something that I'd be very willing to do.
Obviously, Bryan has an Indy Lights driver that obviously we're going to start working hard on him. He was very quick in the test so he could probably teach me a thing or two around here. But it's one of those things where if somebody wants help and is prepared to listen and value your help, then I'm prepared to give it to anybody.
Q: I asked Ed Carpenter the same question. What do you make of the fact that you look at the Fast Nine, you've got no Andretti, you've got one Penske, don't have the usual suspects, got some of the smaller teams. Who do we read into that?
WHELDON: I think it's Indianapolis. You know, it's incredibly competitive, and it can change. And I think obviously people value Indianapolis so much that they'll put so much effort into that one particular program, into that one race, that it does kind of stir things up a little bit. And I think the big thing that you see is there's a lot of testing restrictions, and with that said, you typically see only the big teams practice.
Well, at Indianapolis, I think even the smaller teams get to at least have some time on track to perfect their cars, and so it makes the field incredibly close. We've been using the same car now for a little while. Obviously, Honda provide very, very equal engines, you've got the same consistent Firestone tire. With that said, it just gives people time.
But Indianapolis, the field is always a little bit jumbled, but typically the same people end up in the front end of the race, bar two or three. It'll be an interesting race. From the race running that I've done I think it's going to be difficult to overtake, so it's truly going to be very interesting.
Q: Townsend, you have logged a lot of time in this press room, and most of the time that's a very good thing, and it is again.
TOWNSEND BELL: Thank you.
Q: Do you agree?
BELL: I do.
Q: You had a good run.
BELL: I did.
Q: Looked like maybe you were going to hang on that front row for a while. That would have been really exciting, but nonetheless, tremendous.
BELL: Yeah, we gave it everything we had. That's a pretty good four laps, I think, for the car, and really stoked for the team, obviously for Alex. He's got a rocket ship. He's done a great job, and he deserves every ounce of the speed he's got out of that thing.
We're happy with our run. The Herbalife car has been strong since the moment I got into it, and with my engineer, Gerald, we've continued to make it better and better and felt like we've made smart decisions, and here we are, we're inside the second row and ready to rip.
Q: If you could talk about everything this team has done with both cars this month in terms of not just bringing them up to speed but really setting the pace this whole month, being among the leaders.
BELL: Yeah, it's pretty impressive when you look at the organization that Sam has and the amount of things that he has going on, and to still produce the quality that he's given us here is exceptional. You know, my car got off an airplane from Brazil a day late because of the rain delay down there, and the team just hustled big time, guys were working through the night to try to get the thing turned around and to oval spec and Indy spec, and they pulled it off. It's great to have a chance to go fast here, and full credit to the team for making it happen.
Q: I'm looking at the 24 on your hat.
BELL: Well, my sponsor Herbalife, they've been with me for four years, they've got a great new line of products called 24. It's for the 24-hour athletes. There's seven different products in the range. It's ‑‑ a big part of going fast and going fast for a long time is having good nutrition, so that's what they've put together.
Q: Do you use the products?
BELL: Of course, yeah, every day. Since I've had an association with that company, Herbalife has just given me tremendous support in terms of understanding the nutrition I need before, during and after racing. I used to think just a bowl of pasta and some water was the way to go, but with this new 24 line it's pretty impressive what they've come up with. They've worked three years on it, and they're launching it at the Indy 500 and the Tour de California back home.
Q: With the rain we had a little bit different format for the top nine. Everybody only got one shot instead of being able to make multiple attempts. Did you like that format? Could we be on to something here?
BELL: I liked it. You know, for us, I think if Penske, Ganassi had a little bit more time, there's probably a few more tricks in their bag than what we had. I was quite pleased that we were able to make a solid run earlier today to get into the top nine, was pleased with that. And then the fact that it's just one shot, do what you can, I like those odds for us. So I was happy with that.
I think it's exciting. It seemed like the fans liked it. Just standing out there you could feel a buzz and an energy and an excitement about the way things played out. It was pretty cool.
Q: Given how you're really just running this race this season so far, how much additional pressure does that put on you to perform and do well?
BELL: You know, it's a really good pressure because it's not so much pressure, it's like I savor every minute here. If this is the only race I do this year ‑‑ maybe I'll do more, I never know. But you just savor every minute you're at this wonderful speedway and driving cars fast and all of that good stuff. But yeah, I just savor it.
You know, it's a little stressful. I find the first round of qualifying a little stressful because we don't have a backup car. We're out flirting at the very limit, and there's a little extra pressure just to make sure you don't screw up and make sure you're in the race. But then once I know that I'm in the top nine, man, I couldn't wait to get out there and just let loose. I love it. I want this month to go 12.
Q: Oriol, I think we had a lot of money on whether you were going to be a candidate for the pole position, and you almost got it. A great, great day for you.
ORIOL SERVIA: I would have lost a lot of money because six months ago, a month ago, Monday, I would have not bet we were going to be in the front row and that close to pole position.
We knew even before we started the week we were going to have a good race car because that's what the team always works on and always achieves. It always gives you good race cars. But at the same time we knew that over the winter we just didn't have the millions to go in wind tunnels and find the last little bit of speed that you need in qualifying.
So we thought if we were really lucky and conditions really set up we were going to be in the top nine. That was our maximum goal. Then when we were in the top nine, you know, we had a bit of a conversation where we were like, well, are we just ‑‑ let's not be too stupid here. We have a good race car, let's not crash it. Do we want to just be conservative? We go out there, we put a lap, same setup, or do we go for it? I just had such a good feeling in the other qualifying in the morning with the car that we just said, let's go for it, because it just really felt good.
And you know, it just felt great. I told them after I finished my laps, no matter what happened ‑‑ I didn't even know we were actually P1 at the moment. Whatever happened, this is how you want to feel after a qualifying lap. Thank you very much for giving me that, because it was just right on the edge but not one wiggle. It was just perfect. So they gave me a great car. I think we got all out of the car, and that's what ‑‑ we got the best we could, and that was enough for a front row. That was enough to be faster than Dario, even before he had his little fuel hiccup, and as I said, to have the three Penskes behind in qualifying, which they are usually pretty good at this game, it just feels amazing and such a great achievement for the whole.
Over the winter, we didn't know if we were going to start the season, and they still worked hard on the cars and prepared them not knowing within certainty. Then Telemundo got on board, and it got better and just gave us more confidence, and we've been progressing since then. I've just been saying we haven't peaked yet, and it's just coming at the right time. I'm just super-happy, proud. It just shows ‑‑ qualifying is about true speed. It shows it pays off, the hard work they've done.
Q: I had my head down after your first lap. You could hear the crowd roar.
SERVIA: I've been feeling the crowd with that, with a lot of people but with me, too, and it just feels great, especially after a year without racing last year. It just seems like people have appreciated me walking around last year and trying to find a deal right and left, and it's just great.
Q: It seems to me that with you partnering with James Hinchcliffe, I know he missed the first race of the season on the road courses, but then when he did show up I almost feel ‑‑ I don't know if that motivated you more but it almost seems like as a combination the two of you work well together with the team and get better results.
SERVIA: There's no doubt, I mean, at all. It couldn't be better. It's always good to have a teammate, especially when you're trying to beat those guys named Penske and Ganassi, who not only are good but they have three cars and four cars. With one car alone, it's just going to be impossible. So to have just a teammate is good, but to have a guy like James, which he's got the speed, but also he's gone through three years in Lights and two years in Atlantics, where he's learned that you need to work at things. So he's come with great attitude. We always got along before, so we knew it was going to work. And honestly just feeds the way Newman/Haas works.
Newman/Haas is a true one team. I've never seen it anywhere else. There's nothing that you hide for yourself, from engineers, mechanics. It just works all the way down, and that's what you need if you're going to beat those big guns. It's definitely been huge to have James, and I think we're both just two gears and part of this big team.
Q: You're with a great team with great success, and the record shows that.
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, when we unloaded I think we had such a good car, I knew that the speed was there, it was just trying to get enough time with the way the weather was breaking and the way the tire allocation was going to work out. Obviously, I think the weather helped us a little bit. I think that obviously if the weather was a little bit different, I think we could have probably had a little bit better car for qualifying.
But both Panther cars with myself and JR with the National Guard car were quick all week, so I think we both had shots of getting in there. We just missed a little bit with the gear and the weather.
Q: Will is also dressed to roll here. Will, you got into the final nine. I know you're used to contending for a pole position. Just tell us about the day, the conditions, et cetera.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, that car was solid all day. You know, and I was pretty trimmed out, so I don't know what else I could have done. We just didn't have the speed. But happy to be on the second row. I mean, as far as the team today, we didn't do that well. We were probably a little bit surprised. But it's a long race, and yeah, congratulations to Alex Tagliani. He deserves that. He's a very good driver, and I'm very happy for him.
Yeah, you know, not much else to say. We were solid in every run. We had two runs; that was it.
Q: Buddy, you look at Will's car and you see Verizon plastered all over the side pod. Your car doesn't have anything on the side pod. How are you guys able to ‑‑ first off, what kind of budget do you have and how are you able to put out this kind of performance with the limited amount of resources you've got compared to a team like Penske?
RICE: Well, I think a lot of credit needs to be given to John Barnes and his organization at Panther Racing. I think their track record speaks for itself. They finished second here the last three years, so I think with that, that's where really all the credit goes to.
I don't know if I would say they have limited resources. John has been doing this a long time, and I think he decided he wanted to run a second car, and that's really where the decision came down to. That's what John thought was best for the team, and that's where we're at right now. But limited resources, I don't think so. I mean, if you look at what Panther has done in the past, obviously the bar gets set high with both Penske and Ganassi. That's what everybody looks at. But as you can see, I think that everybody has had these cars for so long, everybody is creeping up and there's only so much you can keep going on the same car, so it's allowing everybody to catch up. We did it in '04 with Rahal and we weren't one of the top teams, sat on the pole and won. It's no different than what I did in '09 when we won the 24 Hours At Daytona. It's the same thing, same kind of teams. So it can be done, you just have to put everything together and make it all happen.
Q: Buddy, I don't think we've seen you around for a few years, and I'm just wondering how hard was it for you to just jump back in the car and get up to speed, because it seems like you just didn't have any laps being here.
RICE: Well, I don't think ‑‑ I didn't have a bad result in '08 when I left, and now I think once again there needs to be a lot of credit given to Panther Racing and their oval program. Because the car is so good, it allows me to come in, get right up to speed, get comfortable and get right back in the swing of things. It's not like I've just been sitting at home doing nothing; I've been racing Grand-Am, I've won the 24 Hours At Daytona since I left and been doing stuff like that. I just haven't been here.
And the reason that hasn't happened is just because the right opportunity and situation hasn't been able to present itself and completely come together. There's been a lot of opportunities and a lot of different things going on, but it just never happened. But I'm grateful to be back. I'm glad I'm here for the centennial, and I've been given another shot at winning another one.
Q: For Will and Buddy, what was it like seeing Ryan have a tough day, and then Helio didn't quite measure up to what your car was and what did you talk about afterward? Did you have a chance to analyze it?
POWER: No, we haven't. I felt very bad for Ryan. He just got called out there in one of the practices. As soon as you have a crash around this place it's very difficult to get your confidence stroke back, and you're not in a primary car, you're in a T-car, which is never quite as bad. So definitely a bad day for him. And I think if Helio had another run, chances are he might have made it in the top nine. But I have to say, yeah, we were all probably caught a little bit unawares that the competition was ‑‑ had become a lot tougher. We're hoping our race cars are good.
Q: Buddy, I'd just like to have you look back just for a minute on the year that you won because I had a great seat for that looking straight down at that pass you made after the rain delay, and I don't remember, did you say you did touch the wall or scrape the inside wall? Any thoughts on that?
RICE: No, I'd do it again. It's the Indy 500.
Q: And last thing, weren't you a baseball player?
RICE: I did play ball, yes.
Q: How does it compare hitting a home run with winning the Indy 500?
RICE: Do you see the size of me? Do you think I hit many home runs? Do you see the guys that are hitting home runs now? Josh Hamilton is like 6'6", 250. I'm about the size of one of his legs. (Laughter.)
Q: What was the change to the track conditions from earlier today when you first went out and qualified and then when you went in the Fast Nine?
POWER: Yeah, it was actually better when we went out the second time because there was no wind and it was probably maybe a little bit warmer so that helps the car's speed. So it was just, yeah, a little nicer to drive.
Q: One of the other journalists told me that 10 of the top 24 today were one-offs, basically non-series regulars. Are we going to be seeing a return to a day when people are able to come and go between series? And the other question is, like I think we've kind of alluded to, how would one even get prepared? My understanding is to do this every week is the way to go, and to jump right in as you've done, Buddy, is remarkable.
RICE: I think there's twofold to this. One, most of the regulars, myself, Wheldon, raced multiple years here and also have won. Townsend Bell has ran here quite a bit. I know some of the other guys haven't done it as much. I think that's one of the big things. We've been here; we know what to expect and it's nothing new.
Number two, everybody has had these cars for so long and they've been in the same car in the series, so for someone to leave and then try to come back is not a major difference. You're getting back in the same car. I don't think you'll see a whole lot of one-offs next year. I think you'll see it's much more difficult to do that, the resources, and I don't think the data will be there for anybody to do that. I think you'll see most of it will be guys running full-time.
Now, with that said, I think you'll see some one-offs, but it'll get back to what it was before. The guys that drive and run the cars full time will have the edge, for sure, especially for the first few years.
Q: Scott, it was a heck of an effort and it looks like it was between you and Tags for the last few days and that's exactly what it came down to.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it was kind of a strange day, and it was good to see everybody stick it out, and kudos to IMS for actually drying the track and getting the Fast Nine show going at the end. I think it was a good effort, and obviously everybody stuck around to see it.
Yeah, we missed a little bit, I think, at the end. The conditions were substantially a little bit ‑‑ well, not substantially, a little bit better. I think that's why you saw the increase in speeds. But Dario obviously missed on fuel a little more than what we did, and we ran out in one and I ran out just getting to Turn 4. I think that cost us the pole.
We had 227.5s across the board for the whole three laps to start with, and going into (Turn) 3 looking at my splits on my wheel, I was the same or if not up on those laps, even before I ran out of gas, and we lost nine-tenths of a mile an hour on the last lap. A bit frustrating, and I know Dario is a probably a little more ticked off than what I am. To come so close and not quite get it was real frustrating.
Not to obviously take anything away from Tagliani. He did a fantastic job. It's a team that he put together a few years ago, and obviously to see them so strong and take the pole, I feel real happy for him and what he's achieved.
Q: If you put two more gallons of fuel in the tank, how much speed would that have cost you?
DIXON: I think we only needed about a quarter of a gallon or half a gallon. It's pretty close. Dario could have probably have used two gallons. I think we still would have ran ‑‑ that's why I said the split was about the same going into 3, which was saying that we had run a 227.5 or better, so that would have put our average at 227.5, something. I still don't have clarification of what Tag actually ran in the end for an average, but I think that would have been pretty close.
Q: The guys in the shop talked the last couple weeks about precision and executing and making sure the little things are done right. That said, we got a little surprised, making sure you guys have enough fuel to qualify, and also, what do you ‑‑ how is your mindset of the entire team as you head into next week?
DIXON: Yeah, I can imagine it's pretty exciting in the team truck car at the minute, and I haven't seen Chip yet. Obviously, Dario lost a lot more than I did. I lost the pole, I think, due to it. But Dario lost a good six or seven positions.
You know, obviously mistakes happen, and I made a mistake early in my qualifying run this morning where I almost spun and had to do a big lift in (Turn) 3, which it happens. I think with the big downtime, almost two and a half, three hours from the rain delay, that kind of stuff, maybe the engine had too many warm-ups, chewed through the gas quite a bit, and it kind of seems to me that that's what we missed by is maybe one engine warm-up on fuel and we didn't calculate for that. Dario's was a little more as I said earlier.
But yeah, it's frustrating, but it goes back to that saying that most of us hate, "That's racing."
Q: Did you think about it when Dario had a problem and you went out in were you wondering if you were going to have a problem?
DIXON: It did cross my mind because we were ‑‑ I was on the team channel before that obviously just listening in to how his run was going, and it also helps what gears you should run when I go out. And he got his fuel warning light in like Lap 1 or 2, which is really strange, and I'm like, 'Wow, that's odd, because Mike said it on my radio,' and I was like, ''Maybe it's just the threshold or setting is wrong.' And then when he came through (Turn) 1 on the third lap, I heard him ‑‑ I thought he lifted, and I'm like: 'Man, he's got another lap to go. I hope he's just in a lift.' But obviously it ran out of fuel.
So exactly what happened, instead of running through my head, I was like, 'Hmm, we use probably the same numbers all the time to calculate fuel, and hopefully we didn't mess up on my car because obviously it's too late at that point; you can't just pull out and put fuel in with how the rules are.' It's kind of frustrating in some ways that we only got given one attempt today, and I think Dario last year was like, we only need to do one attempt. I'm sure if it was ‑‑ you asked him right now, he probably would have liked another attempt. Yeah, it happened, and that was it.
Q: The Ganassis and the Penskes have dominated here, especially in qualifications and even in the races, as well. You guys may well dominate the race, your two teams. But what do you think about the lesser teams doing so well in qualifying, and what does that say about Indianapolis?
DIXON: Um, you know, I think if you ‑‑ a lot of the times ‑‑ I'm not a team owner or anything, and I don't even want to attempt to be one. But I think maybe it's where you put your emphasis on where you spend your development money, and yeah, I know Tagliani and his guys in Allen McDonald and them have obviously worked extremely hard, and that I think showed during the week. I don't think I ever saw them do one race run. They focused solely on trying to get the pole. The cars were definitely fast, and you could see that across the stable. At least three or four of those cars were in the top nine. I think today was a real strange mix of people and efforts, and even to see Helio starting 16th is kind of mindboggling.
But I think the weather conditions, how the day played out, the short amount of time with 40‑something cars trying to qualify is really hard to get your time right and really nail your first attempt, and it caught a lot of people out today.
It's a good mix. I think it will make the race fantastic. You're going to see some good cars coming from a little further back and maybe some cars that haven't concentrated on race setup too much slip up.
Q: Alex, we've had a lot of great Canadian drivers here, but this is the first time a Canadian driver has been on the pole, which you should be very proud of. No one will ever be the pole sitter for the 100th anniversary event, and that will be true even if the world ends at 9:00 tonight. Congratulations.
ALEX TAGLIANI: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Q: Tell us about it.
TAGLIANI: Well, you know, it's difficult to explain. A lot of sacrifice and tears and pain through my career, but you know, I think for this team, just the fact that everybody is still intact, and they accepted my offer to be part of this adventure last year, and they take the risk to lose credibility if the driver is no good and if the resources are not there; and for Joe Atkins from Bowers & Wilkins after a 20-minute phone call, he said, 'OK, I'll sponsor you,' and he got hooked to be the sponsor of this team; and for Sam that looked at it and said this is an entity that is good and deserves to continue; and just for the boys. Like I'm at the shop most every day, and I see how much passion they have to build this car. You know, it's good already. We sit on the top most of the week, but every time you go into our garage, you know, they always do something on it, and I think that shows how much they care and how much they want to have results.
So like I said, it's very difficult to explain, but to do it here at this particular time, you know, the 100th anniversary, if you participate in the 100th, you didn't do the first one and you won't do the 200th, so this just happens once. (Laughter.)
Q: This is a great personal accomplishment for Tags, but what a day for your race team.
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, I mean, I'm rarely at a loss for words, but this has been difficult ever since it happened to put it into words. I mean, California grew up watching Rick Mears and just dreamed about coming to this place and then was fortunate ‑‑ my dad was actually a team owner here for the Donald Davidsons of the world in 1978 and '79, and they didn't have any great success, and then started coming here, drove here in '97 and '99. It's truly huge. Whether it's the 100th anniversary, whether it's the adversity that this team has overcome and Alex has overcome personally, whatever, I mean, it's just really, really large.
Q: How important was it for you to have someone like Allen McDonald who's already won this race with Andretti Green?
TAGLIANI: Allen is a guy that I would like to have as an engineer until I end my career in open-wheel racing basically. He's a great friend. In racing there's a lot of emotions, and I've said, like not long ago, that we were coming off the wheel because I'm a road course specialist and I'm not going to be happy until I sit on pole in street course and road course, but here, he's amazing. He has this patience and this plan prior to start running the car where as a driver you ‑‑ you know, it actually relaxes you a lot because you just listen to him, the way he wants to do things.
If you've seen the statistics last year, we ran probably 89 laps before we start racing. I don't know how many laps we did before we qualified, but we're the car that completed the least. He knows this track a lot. He knows the track with a lot of particularity when it's windy and the temperature, so I was on track when I needed to be and getting great confidence about the car, and when we started trimming, he's always telling me what we're doing and what I should expect, and it allows me to be pretty good with the tools when I need to go out there and adjust the car.
He plays a big role, and what I like about Alan is also that he allows everybody to have a good spot in the team. Brendon Cleave, he's an amazing engineer, as well, and he's acting as a damper and assistant engineer, Robert Gue, Craig Luba, the guys, they just like working with Allen because Allen gives them a chance to be part of this group and developing the car through the winter. You know, Sam allowed them to pretty much do everything they wanted because he believes in the capabilities that they have. So I think the chemistry is very important. It's not just a one-man show. It's a big team effort here.
Q: Alex, your competitor Scott Dixon said that you had worked primarily on qualifying through this week. Is that true, or did you do some race setup?
TAGLIANI: No, I mean, early in the week we were on pretty heavy downforce with a full tank, so obviously the tires were better than they're going to be when you're going to have full tanks. But we know what the car has in regards of speed with the downforce. But yes, you know, I think Scott realized that we don't have the luxury to go out there and risk a car that is capable of being on pole, and it was the smart approach.
I think knowing it from the NASCAR guys, when they have a car that is very good, they just never run it other than at that track, and that's why they keep accumulating cars in their shop, because they're just getting paranoid that that car is just good at that particular track. So this car is the car I drove last year. It was fast. It unloaded fast. If you feel that you have a shot to be on the pole for the 100, you're not going to go out there and draft people and put yourself at risk. And Rob Edwards, the manager, and with Sam, they said, past 5:00 you guys pull back in the garage because it's going to get crazy out there, lots of tows, and we just followed the plan, and I think that's why we're here tonight.
Q: Seems to me your team has more rights to gripe than most other teams. Look at the things that have happened, not only with Sam, obviously with your situation in the past, but all the events of the last winter for Alex, and yet your attitude, folks are always smiling, and here you are now. Is there some special thing that you're doing to try to intentionally stay positive, and has that paid off, or is that just something that's part of the people who are there?
SCHMIDT: I don't know how long people have known Alex, but I don't think he has a problem with that as far as a positive attitude. For me when something like this happens you can either choose to stay at home and watch ESPN all day or you can get out and do something with your life. For me, I've done a lot of things in my life. The thing that made getting up every morning worthwhile, beyond my faith and my family pushing me, was the ability to come out here and compete. I make no bones about it; I'd much rather be in the driving seat rather than in the owning seat, but this is definitely the second-best thing, and this is really special because at the end of the day, as Alex has said a couple times, it's much more difficult to put the right group of people together, and it's much more challenging. To get this all to work is really difficult.
So at the world's greatest venue in the world, to have this today is ‑‑ it just makes it all that much more special. I mean, I was more than willing to pack it in at 4:00 o'clock, take the trophy and go home with that rain delay. I was calling on everybody I knew with Cherokee blood lines to do a rain dance. But the reality is this is much more special to go out there and actually do it and beat them at their own game, so to speak, and with a much smaller operation, much less funding, and I think that's what the Indy Racing League and the IndyCar Series is all about.
TAGLIANI: A bit to anticipate your question, I think if you would be able to see us at work during the week, Allen McDonald comes from a pretty big organization. He comes from Andretti Green, and they were running four cars. But he's really happy. You know, he's really happy where he is, and I think the respect that Rob Edwards has accumulated over the years working for Walker, 16 years with the same team, when he picked up the phone and he called the guys, three quarters of the team, I worked with them in the past, and you know, didn't take long for them to accept.
And when we work together, we're just ‑‑ we fight, we kiss each other, we hug each other, we go for dinner. You know, it's just like we all know what's at stake. We want this team to succeed. You know, like we don't put our sweat, our tears, our effort just to come here and parade and just say we're part of the Indy 500 or we're just going to compete in IndyCar. And this year it was even more, because for me when I started, I had this discussion many times, it's like last year we didn't have a leader. I accepted to start this team because it was my opportunity to be in the seat. I wanted to be in the seat.
But now we have a leader in Sam, who has shown trust in us very quickly, and that's why the chemistry just continues. Just now we want to win for our leader, because there's a lot more pride when there's someone on top that controls us and gives us a direction than when the driver is in the seat and his partner is in Montreal. It was the wrong, I think, structure. I think there's more to come from this.
Q: Both of you obviously are on a very happy high right now, but just a comment. I think as the week unfolds you'll come to understand how many other people who followed your week, how many of those you made happy and how many people will end up being just cheered up by what you both have done.
TAGLIANI: Yeah, I realize a bit. I tried to be available as much as possible in the garage to the fans. Like I said before, the one thing that also makes me very happy is that I'll be able to get rid of some beers that I have in the bus because Joe Atkins from Bowers likes to drink his beers, and with the pole we'll get rid of the beers. But also, all the people that ‑‑ but also everyone for some reason, is like a little bit tired of the domination of the Penskes and the Ganassis, everyone that came and cheered for us and bet on us, I'm happy that we didn't make them lose money.
Q: Last year you kind of surprised everyone when you made the Fast Nine, and this year you repeated it and now claimed the pole. Talk about the difference between last year and this year and how you went through that.
TAGLIANI: Well, you know, it's my third time here at Indy. The first year I went through a big roller coaster, as well, came out with the Rookie of the Year. But it was not easy. I had bad luck and luck to be back in the field at the end, but I felt the pain of this musical chair and pulling out of line and not wanting to risk, and we paid the price at the end. And then last year I was on the other side of the fence. We were very strong from the beginning.
But this year I think is just ‑‑ how important it is for a team to continue on what they built. You know, it's not very easy to be a one-car team on the weekends. Normally we don't have the luxury to have people like Dan Wheldon and Townsend Bell to come and look at data and work together and improve bit by bit when it's getting so competitive. And that's why teams like Ganassi and Penske have multiple cars, because they feel like it's an advantage.
So this year I think it's just because we have been strong last year and over the winter, the crew and the engineering group built on it with very little change aerodynamically in the car and in the tires, it shows the potential that this team has. When we're in the window and we unload fast, I think we're pretty much on the top. But it's difficult when we unload and we're not in the window; being a one-car team at road courses we're struggling a bit because we're throwing the dice. But here I think it's a good place to show that the team is very, very strong.
Q: How do you feel about your pool invoice now?
TAGLIANI: Very happy. Yeah, my wife is very frugal, and like we were shopping for furniture because we actually have like rented furniture in the condo now here in Indy. So I wanted like a coffee table for the new place, and she said, no, no coffee table, you can't spend that. So now she just told me that I can have the coffee table that I wanted.
And the other day, it started like being a bad day. It was last Friday, and I opened my phone, I get like this $2,600 invoice, my pool is broken, the pool guy has to repair it and all kinds of things, and I was like, 'Oh, I really hope that we'll stay on the top; maybe I can get a bit of money and pay that invoice.' And then Castroneves goes out and starts drafting just to be like ‑‑ I was pissed; I said it right here, give me my five minutes of fame and my check. But now it's a much bigger check.
So I'm happy for this team and for Sam and for all the guys. I think more than the money and all of that, I think it's the timing is great for what we've done this week.
Q: Obviously today is a very special day for you and Alex, and I'm sure one of the lowest points in your life was probably when you had your accident in 2000. Could you just talk about where today rates in your life?
SCHMIDT: Yeah, I've definitely had some roller coasters in my life, just ‑‑ where does that rate? It's for sure near the top. First and foremost, my wife and my kids are the most important thing in my life, so seeing some of their accomplishments and seeing how they've grown up to be spectacular kids is really good. I'm sure it has nothing to do with me. But that's really special.
And leading the race here in '99 myself was really a special moment, and both Arie and I still feel like we should have won that race, but we didn't. So there's always just this burning desire to come back and finish what's unfinished. So this is ‑‑ and then you've got the Indy Lights program. We've won five out of seven races here, which is spectacular, knock on wood, but it still doesn't fill the void of winning the best against the best.
This is one huge step forward, and we knew ‑‑ like Alex said, we knew coming in that it was fast, but as several people have seen over the years here, lots of funny things happen here, and so you've not only got to get ‑‑ there's races within races. You've got to get through every practice. You've got to get through every day, and we had our spins with the rain this month, just all of these roller coasters this month.
From a racing perspective and an accomplishment perspective for the team, for Alex, for myself, this is right up there.
Dario Franchitti did not participate in the post-qualifying press conference. Target Chip Ganassi Racing provided this quote from Franchitti:
DARIO FRANCHITTI: "We were pretty close on setup with the Target car, but not good enough for the pole today. We were definitely good enough for third place. We obviously ran out of fuel at the end of the third lap and that was it. It's disappointing for us, but I'm happy for Sam Schmidt, Allen McDonald, Alex Tagliani and their whole team."