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Q and A with Team Penske

(L to R) Ryan Briscoe, Tim Cindric and Helio Castroneves
Photo courtesy IMS
PAT SULLIVAN: Please find your seat so we can start the afternoon press conference.

Helio is trying to run off with the pace car. Keep an eye on him.

Well, good afternoon. As we prepare for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, delighted to be with you. I'm Pat Sullivan. Quickly will add a three-time graduate University of Kansas, so I haven't had a lot of sleep tonight.

We're delighted to have the most successful team in the Indianapolis 500 history. Fourteen-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Team Penske, we're delighted to have the president of Penske Performance, Tim Cindric, and two very talented drivers, Ryan Briscoe and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

Tim, it's been a very interesting and exciting period for Penske Racing with a couple significant victories, two races under your belt in the Indy Racing League, and I know your focus is always on the race here at Indianapolis.

TIM CINDRIC: We're hoping to win all three season openers in our quest this year, but we didn't get that done at Homestead. We're certainly focused on coming to Indianapolis and trying to give Roger, I guess, the title of being the first guy to win Daytona and Indy not only together but in the same year. So certainly focused on doing that. Probably no different than any other year, but this year makes it even more special.

SULLIVAN: How are the preparations going in your mind as you prepare for Indianapolis?

CINDRIC: Well, I guess usually our preparation going into this is the same every year. It's making sure that No. 1, that we're organized, we're going in there with, I guess, a different lineup with Ryan coming on board, but at the same time we spent a lot of time last year with -- he had a yellow car last year but kind of a lot of the same names and faces surrounding him. So he knows for the most part how we approach it. But last year he had the opportunity to maybe sit back a little bit out of the pressure cooker that he lives in most of the time, and this year he will be part of it.

SULLIVAN: Good to have you back, Ryan, indeed a good run last year and to be with the Penske team, I'm sure.

RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, it's really exciting for me. It's a special feeling racing for Team Penske with Roger and Tim and just the history about this race. The more I learn about the Indy 500, the more excited I get about coming here and racing. It doesn't get any better than coming here with Team Penske. I can't wait for May to come around.

SULLIVAN: Tim and Ryan are working hard. Did you do anything in the offseason, Helio, screw around a little bit?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I think you were part of it. Weren't you helping to vote?

SULLIVAN: Let me tell you something, I never thought in my life I would pull a hamstring jumping out of a chair cheering over a dancing contest, but I did.

CASTRONEVES: Let me tell you, every time, obviously, I think you guys already heard me say, but every time I come over here it's special not only because of Indianapolis and the Indy 500 but obviously what you guys have done for me, voting and supporting. No question. I even heard about it when I was on the opening set that night on the finals, the biggest area there was viewers with "Dancing with the Stars," it was actually Indianapolis. So I was very happy to hear because that means I could get a lot of votes.

But again, it was great. I have to thank, obviously, Team Penske to let me do that. It was something that I never thought that would make such a big deal but our strategy actually was very, very interesting. I mean, we want to capture new fans, we want to try to make, obviously, the IndyCar Series more popular and come back the way it used to be. So I do believe we achieved that. Now with the merger especially, it's become even better. So right now I just see the positive things about the whole situation, and we're looking very strong for this year and we're going to have a great race hopefully.

SULLIVAN: Good deal. We've got wirelesses working on both sides of the room and open it up for questions.

Q: Two questions. One for Tim Cindric first. The way you approach, the company approached by former ex-Champ Car teams with some help in setting up the Dallara cars, for example. And the other question to Ryan Briscoe: With Will Power, your countryman also is competing in the Indy 500 this year, also he's driving for a rival team, are you maybe sharing information and so talk to him?

CINDRIC: First of all, relative to the Champ Car teams, initially I guess our support team was to be the Walker organization in the beginning, and obviously that didn't work out for Derrick. Hopefully he'll be able to make it back for the Indianapolis 500. I think the car that we actually provided to Derrick ended up with the Minardi organization, which is the 33 car. I think that's where that car actually ended up.

But as far as help on the Champ Car side, we've always offered whatever we can do to help make the series better is what we need to do. And logistics and some of the things, I think, everybody has had their arms out to say, "Hey, how can we help?" But when it gets to racing, everybody has to be pretty realistic and understand we're all there to do a job, too. You know, from a technical standpoint there's a lot of support from the Dallaras and the series and that type of thing. But to sit here and say, "Yeah, we're going to set up somebody else's car," that doesn't really work out that way, and it's not a realistic approach. But at the same time, you know, we want to make sure that we have as many competitors out there as we can. I was the first one to have a hand up since whatever year it was to say this is the only way to go. So anyway, I'll leave it with Ryan.

BRISCOE: Yeah, I think it's great having, obviously, the unified series and Will Power being included in that merger. It's great having another Australian in the field; he's definitely a very strong driver, and I think he's going to do well over here. I've obviously spoken to him, and I've got a few friends that have come over from the other side and there's only so much I can sort of tell with my limited experience, as well. But I think going into Homestead, the most important thing we were talking about was just, you know, what I could tell them to just be safe out there, you know. First time on an oval with practically no testing, I just sort of talked from my experience, from my first race. And then going into Indy, there's going to be plenty of track time, plenty of testing for all those guys. So I'm sure they're going to be fine.

SULLIVAN: Questions?

Q: Tim, if you could give your recollections of the old days in CART and the rivalries with Penske, Newman/Haas, and how much of that do you think you can reclaim with the unification? Or any of the teams, for that matter.

CINDRIC: I think there's a big step obviously in St. Pete to put another name up there that people are familiar with being Rahal. When you start to look at, you know, the so-called heydays of Indy when you had the Rahal and the Andretti and that type of thing and seeing that next generation coming in, it is certainly important for the series. It's certainly I know that after qualifying there in St. Pete, Carl Haas came into Roger's bus and came up and said, "You know, it's starting to look pretty good out there." His car was on the front row all of a sudden, so the world looked a little different to him than maybe what it did at Homestead.

But back to the equipment and the ability to be competitive, they showed this weekend. We've been running these cars a couple years on the road courses, and they're right there, right up to speed. So these guys are all plenty capable. When you give them a couple weeks of practice like you have around here, it's going to be good. It's going to be good. You know, you want to see some of the other owners come back into the fold, as well. You know, the Derrick Walkers and the Barry Greens and the John Menards. These guys are sitting there trying to see what's going to happen.

I think St. Pete is a big step forward from stepping away from the negativism that surrounded open-wheel racing the last couple years or 10 years, whatever it's been, and start really looking at the positives. The things that I read after the St. Pete race, there were a lot more things positive out there than what I've seen in a long, long time.

Q: All the years that you spent with Rahal, what are your first recollections with Graham? You started there even back when it was called Patrick Racing. But what are your recollections of him when he was a kid?

CINDRIC: My wife and I were talking about that the other day because she obviously grew up around the Rahal family. She reminded him after the race that she was his first crew chief, sitting there building the LEGOs in the bus. That dates me a little bit, but I certainly remember him tagging around with us in my early days at Rahal. I probably embarrass him with a few stories to give. But he was -- my kids have his little go-kart still in my garage. They were talking about now it might be worth putting on eBay. (Laughter)

Q: Helio, since your last victory in '02 you've had a couple of teammates at Penske win the race. Does that add any motivation to you as you go for No. 3 this year?

CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. Ryan, he definitely showed he's capable last year to be competitive on the ovals, as well. It's good for the team. It's good for us, it's good for me. When you have caliber drivers like himself and Sam and Gil de Ferran, you basically as a team, you're trying to both, put both cars up there, which means your chance is also going to be bigger. And again, there is the factor that you obviously always want to beat your teammate. The good news here is the atmosphere here in the team is, we try, "OK, let's do everything we can to win the race, to win any kind of race but obviously Indianapolis, not only for Roger and the team and for everyone, it is the most important race. Being there, you know, able to taste the victory and the milk as well, so it definitely, definitely I know how it feels. For me those kind of memories, it makes me, you know what, let's go back again and give everything we can to being on that podium again.

Q: Ryan, what is the pressures stepping into a Penske position where the guy you replaced is a former winner of the race?

BRISCOE: It's definitely a very important position. You know, a special feeling. I really feel I've got the whole team behind me. Helio has made me feel welcome on the team, and we've been working great together. So a lot of the work is very focused on the job, and a lot of the time you sort of forget about the pressures and what's involved with it. But, you know, I understand the importance of the role and it's definitely a very good feeling inside to have this ride.

Q: Helio, I forget if it was at the end of last week's, this past Sunday's race or the week before but you made the comment that "I keep thinking Sam's back there." Is there a chemistry that you're expecting now with Ryan being your teammate?

CASTRONEVES: Well, the good news is Ryan has already been on the team, Team Penske. He was obviously on the Porsche side, but most of the time, and I had the chance last year to drive not with him but with his teammates. You know, it's just different personality. I mean people sometime asking, "Hey, do you feel pressure, you know, for Ryan, because you're replacing someone else?" The way I see, it's just different personality for me. I had obviously Gil de Ferran, then Sam, you know, and now it's him. I'm just trying to continue and having the great atmosphere in the team because I know if you have that kind of situation inside, everyone is going to succeed. You know, obviously Sam had only -- I don't think I ever have a teammate before he joined Team Penske. So for him the process probably took a little longer. Eventually, now he's still on the Team Penske now, but he give me good luck in the Homestead race. But just to see the entire organization is always trying to keep everybody stick together and that's great because I only see, you know, moving forward. I don't see anything different with Ryan. In fact, I know we're going to actually win a lot of races this year.

Q: I kind of wanted to follow up on that and ask Tim how you at your level, how you plan for the drivers to work together or not based on their personalities. I mean, obviously, I think that the relationship perhaps between Sam and Helio was a certain way and then Ryan coming into the mix now, the relationship between those two drivers might be a little bit different. I'm wondering from a team perspective, how do you plan for those kind of changes between the two drivers and does it really impact different things that you do in preparing for races?

CINDRIC: It's a good question, and personalities are always different. Part of my job sometimes is to play psychologist with a lot of these guys. But we're fortunate just from the outside to look the same, you know, from a Team Penske standpoint we're fortunate to have his car look the same as his car and the guys being able to wear the same uniforms. That's a big deal just from a psychological standpoint for the guys. We're very fortunate to be in that situation because it reinforces the fact that we work for an organization, all of us, rather than for a car number. I've seen it within a lot of different teams and series and all that to where guys start thinking that they work for car numbers or that they work for a driver. As Roger says, they get a little confused. So that part of it is a good start before we even hire one driver or the other.

And the next part of it really has to do with them seeing how it can be mutually beneficial because at the end of the day, his career he wants it the best he can, and so does he and everybody else that falls in those places.

One thing that's really helped Team Penske is the personality of this guy. You guys all saw it. The people, most of you know him before the shows and the dancing and all the rest of it, but he's a big part of making this thing important to everybody else. He's the one that preaches the things that we believe. You know, he's the first guy to reach his hand out to these guys and say, "Hey, you know, this time it's my turn, that time it's your turn."

For me watching it from the beginning, I remember when he and I and Gil came to this team at the same time, and we all had separate things to prove. None of us were, quote-unquote, successful in this business to the level we wanted to be, but yet we were working for a guy that was the pinnacle of open-wheel racing. I remember the separate, he and Gil weren't the best of friends. One guy is on the phone one time telling me: "Hey, I'm not worried about Helio, he's just up and coming, I'm worried about this, you know." And Helio is on the phone saying, "Hey, I don't care what Gil says about the car, we need to do this." And for me in 2000 when Gil won the championship and I think Helio finished seventh in CART that year in the series, and Helio won his first race there at Detroit, it was OK, but I know I had a guy in Helio who believed he was as good as Gil. And there was a certain amount of envy in the fact that Gil was the champion and he had won the 100th race for Roger and some of these other things.

When Helio won the Indy 500 in 2001, to me the scales balanced with the two of those guys. You could walk into a room with one guy being an Indy 500 winner and one guy being a champion, and you walked in there together. It was the same situation with Sam. You know, he won his first race with us at Homestead, and that kind of brought things into the game, and the two of them fed off of each other. I'm sure it will be the same way with Ryan. I know that's a long answer to that but just bringing it from that end.

Q: Helio, this may be kind of a weird question to ask, but please understand where I'm going with this. NASCAR has done such a great job of making their drivers personalities. There are some personalities in this series, as well. If we could make you guys the personalities that a NASCAR familiarity, I guess, is that something you guys would like to see happen or is that going to be more of a distraction for the on-track stuff?

CASTRONEVES: The way I see, obviously NASCAR took a great advantage in the past and especially when the split happened, you know, not only promoting the drivers, it was promoting the series. The series grew, and obviously a lot of good things happened to them. You know, sponsorships and TV deals and all of a sudden now you have like 40, 50 drivers and obviously a lot of ones of different characters. We always had that in the past, but now we are actually facing a new beginning. I see no difference.

Yes, we do have a lot of work ahead of us to accomplish what we want. I don't think we in these days we are competing against NASCAR. You know, maybe we can learn from what they did in the past 10 years and trying to follow the same direction or a parallel direction. I think we will achieve the same result. I mean, I have a personality, Ryan has a personality, and you can see any other drivers out there that they have the same way. We have different names, champion names like Rahal and Andretti and even Unser in the Indy Lights Series, Foyt. So we have that as well in our series, it's just it will take time for people to understand that IndyCar, it's coming back, and it's fun to watch. It has what used to have in the past. And right now, the drivers, they're natural, they're going to come out with who they favor and who they like and things like that. So it takes time. I do believe we feel we are in the right direction. But not only the drivers and the teams need to work, but obviously the entire series and the press as well needs to continue working.

Q: Tim, can you take me back 12 years and then to today and tell me how you think open-wheel racing has changed or is different or is the same.

CINDRIC: Well, it's a good question in the fact that 12 years ago it was established and it was arguably the pinnacle of U.S. motorsports or was still looked at to where you could make that argument, whereas now it's certainly distanced itself from the NASCAR success from a media and sponsorship level. But the one thing that IndyCar racing still has is accessibility, whether it's in the garage area, you know, in the hospitality, you know, the drivers, that type of thing. That's one thing that still remains and separates it from not just NASCAR or whatever, but all forms of sports. The amount of time that you can get close to these guys and you can be in their locker room and you can talk to these people before the race, you know, right after the race, that type of thing, that access still hasn't changed. That's one thing that continues to be a positive that I hear from the sponsors is we can't do this anywhere else, football, baseball, even NASCAR. So that's what separates open-wheel racing in some aspects.

But the on-track product I look at and if you go back to the quote-unquote, heydays of the Indy 500 and you look at the number of cars on the lead lap and you look at the people, if you look at the odds before the race, the Vegas odds and all that, there's a lot more people right now that can win a race, and the odds are a lot closer for a lot more people and there are a lot more cars on the lead lap at the end of a race. So the on-track product is as good or better. I would say one of the things that we don't have that we used to have is the unpredictability. Right now you're expected to finish a race, you're expected to run the whole day, whereas back in the '80s and even the early '90s when some of these manufacturers were coming on board, there was a lot of attrition. There was a lot of blown engines; there were a lot of things that would occur to the cars that you just weren't quite sure if you were going to run all day. Right now if it's prepared and put together and all that, these guys expect to be there at the end. Their focus is more on pit stops and how the race plays out. So that's one of the biggest differences I see.

SULLIVAN: Time for two more.

Q: Can I follow up on that?

SULLIVAN: Sure can, Rich.

Q: Can you address a little bit about Team Penske's history with the IRL and CART and then Champ Car in terms of I think that a lot of people would think that Team Penske coming back to the IRL was a big step in sort of the scales of balance going to the IRL. How do you feel about that and what brought Team Penske back to not only Indy but eventually to coming to the IRL?

CINDRIC: The biggest thing for Team Penske is the Indianapolis 500. Without a doubt, it was one of the toughest things for Roger to do is not to participate here at this event for those years. But, also, what drove us out of the CART racing and the thing that this series needs to continue to be mindful of is the international races, because CART got to become way too international for the sponsors that we have and for quite a few of the sponsors that are in the series right now. It has an international flair, and that's OK, and racing in Japan with the Honda backing and that type of thing, that all makes sense, but seeing the movie, knowing how it ends when you start taking sanctioning money to go off in some other country to do something else, you lose a lot of that continuity. That was the biggest thing that tipped us over into the CART world, along with the fact that, you know, the heritage and Tony and the things that he was trying to achieve versus in the CART world you kind of had the mice guarding the cheese. The rules were being made by the participants, which I don't know when that happens, really.

The one thing that open-wheel racing has right now that CART didn't have is a dictatorship, and that's one thing that has made NASCAR very successful is having one person that ultimately can make the decisions. You know, we can all ask questions and survey everybody and everything else, but when it comes down to making the decisions, you have to have a dictatorship in motorsports, and that's the way it is in most successful motorsports, which is what we need to take advantage of now.

Q: Tim, we've gone to a system where we have one chassis, one motor and we're looking toward the future of new chassis, maybe two chassis, three companies coming in. Penske always found a way to have an advantage, be it his chassis or was it his motor when he came with the Ilmor stock block, whatever. Do you look forward to those days again or are you content with being able to get rid of those variables and say, "This is what we're going to race, but we're going to race 'em better?"

CINDRIC: First thing Penskes had is the people. You can't ever have a spec on that. That's been the thing that's our biggest differentiation, whether it be the drivers we have or the people working on the car. So that part they can never determine what that is.

In terms of the equipment and so forth, yeah, we want an open window, we think a little bit more of an open window. I don't think we're going to see turbines racing against diesels or some of this other stuff that's going on unless we want a five-car race. If we want a 33-car field, then we're going to have to have a pretty narrow window. But having a little bit more adjustability would help this series a lot in terms of having that uniqueness and something to talk about, see and think. But at the end of the day, I don't think we're going to have more fans here because of what kind of engine we run or what have you. I think they're really after it for the personalities and the people, and NASCAR has continued to prove that.

SULLIVAN: Final question.

Q: Yeah, for Helio, I noticed when you first came in you made a beeline for that Pace Car and were kind of checking out Emmo's name on there. Do you have any comment on that?

CASTRONEVES: Yeah, one, it's free. (Laughter)

And second, you know, I mean a Pace Car is a Pace Car is great. And I was doing a piece the other day on the TV, and it's a trophy. It's definitely a trophy you can take home and people look at it as a car, but I see that as a special trophy that I will hopefully carry for my entire life. And looking at those incredible machines and I aspire, I actually want to kind of look, kind of touch the car, you know. That's what I did my first time, so it works. I don't want to change.

BRISCOE: I better head over there, then. (Laughter)

CASTRONEVES: You can go that way on the old one. (Laughter)

Again, to see obviously Emerson's name, he was the first Brazilian to win the Indy 500, I remember still watching in Brazil when I was still racing go-karts. So it is definitely special and definitely going to look very good in my home in Miami. So now I need to work for it.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for stopping by, guys.

CINDRIC: Thank you.(Applause)

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