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DATE News (chronologically)
05/09/08
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92nd Indy 500 - Team Penske annual press conference
Team Penske
Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Roger Penske

PAT SULLIVAN: Welcome. This is always a special day in our Media Center when we have our annual visit from Team Penske. Obviously, it's been an interesting week thus far, and we're all anxious to get going. So we really appreciate all of you taking time out of your schedules before we get on the course.

We turn our attention to a team that's won here 14 times. They've won 12 championships, over 130 Indy-style races. It's a mark of excellence, and no one has sustained such excellence at this facility ever. Previous to that perhaps the Lou Moore Blue Crown teams were that mark, and that has since been surpassed by this team.

We'll turn our attention to Roger. Mr. Penske, first of all, I was thinking this morning you will be honored in the drivers' meeting, I believe, by the United States Auto Club with the Roger McCluskey Award of Excellence. That's for the many things you've done in the sport with the United States Auto Club, including being a champion in 1958 yourself. I was thinking to myself the famous line where a player of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team looked at their legendary coach Lenny Wilkins and said, "Coach, did you ever play the game?" I wonder if your driving corps are aware that you, A, played the game and have been a champion at it yourself at it?

ROGER PENSKE: That was 50 years ago; most people weren't around at that time. Certainly the McCluskey Award is an honor for me. I knew Roger as a driver and knew him as he was very instrumental in USAC, and I'm very excited to receive that next week.

SULLIVAN: That's an important award and well deserved. I think I ask you this question nearly every year. When I go through the tunnel on Opening Day, I feel an excitement that I felt when I was a young person. You've been at the top of this game for a long time. Does the excitement or energy ever wane for being at Indianapolis?

PENSKE: I think every morning that we're here before the race, it's the same. You're on pins and needles, you're just trying to really anticipate what's going to happen and what did we forget. In fact, the more times you're here, it gets tougher and tougher because there's so many things you try to be sure on your checklist that you've taken care of. Certainly in the old days, we used to worry about would the engine start, did we scuff a piston, did we warm it up enough. Obviously, we have a lot more sophistication.

The teams are much closer today from the standpoint of competitiveness. The cars are the same; the engines seem to be very reliable. So a lot of those areas that you might have had an edge in the past, you don't have today. I think it's really up to the driver. You can't make a mistake. You can't hit a ball out of bounds here. You've got to really execute on the track. As I've told Ryan and Helio, you've got to be thinking. Rick tells them every time you have to be patient. But again, you have to be up there. You've got to see that leader, and there's no question you have to execute in the pits. You can't make a mistake. We got lucky with Sam when we had a mistake in the pits, we were able to rectify that, but you don't normally get that opportunity.

SULLIVAN: No, it's a tough place to win. That speaks even more of your record. Tim Cindric, in this particular time, are you worried about logistics, are you a psychologist with your drivers as I'm sure they're anxious to get on the track? Which of the many hats is the most prominent one you're playing now as we've been fighting Mother Nature a little bit?

TIM CINDRIC: Really, I think my biggest role in the next couple days is try and keep everybody calm. If you keep a calm atmosphere, you usually make the right decisions. There will be a lot of drivers today or tomorrow maybe getting out of their comfort zone too soon or earlier than they want to get out of that. Really, it's our job. With the experience that Helio has, he and I have a relationship to where we understand each other to know when it's time to take a chance and when it's not time to do that, and we're learning that with Ryan, as well. So that's my biggest challenge.

SULLIVAN: A challenge it is. I'm thinking Rick Mears, a gentleman who is a legend of this place as well, a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. We always focus on that. But when it came to qualifying, you were second to none. Talk about what that is like to prepare for qualifying, particularly on a situation where there's been a couple of days where you've had down time. I would think that as a driver you have to have a sense of what these two gentlemen are going through.

RICK MEARS: Absolutely. I've always said that qualifying here is one of the toughest things that I ever did. But it is also one of the most fun, most rewarding. Qualifying, you have to be ready, there's no second chance and it's time to go. If you're trying to get in the show, it's one thing. If you're just getting in the show, OK, let's go out and get four laps together and get it in the show. But if you're in the hunt for the front row or the pole, then the pressure is on. These guys kept me in the hunt every year, so there was pressure every year and it never let up.

But this place, it's tough, but you also -- I always just tried to keep it as another race on another track, like Tim said, trying to stay calm, that was a big part of it. Stay relaxed and go out there and get your four laps in. But with all the shuffling and in line, do we stay, do we pull, it's easy to get to you. But you have to stay relaxed and count on the team.

PENSKE: I think the new format, you know, is very positive with 11 cars. So you're really going to bunch it up and with the opportunity to go back out again, pull out of line. We couldn't do that in the past, really. You did sometimes, I think that's going to be -- you know, it proved well for us the last couple years, we made that last-ditch run. What we're trying to do is rebuild this sport from the standpoint of interest and, you know, the multiple qualification groups I think is very important. I think you're going to see speeds be very, very close at the top.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, we think, also, that will happen. Ryan Briscoe, I was thinking of a race driver to have a sustained career like a Rick Mears or to be in the game as long as your boss, Mr. Penske, a driver has to endure the ups and downs of the sport and know how to manage both of them. Both can be lethal. When you're at the top, it can be dangerous. When you're at the bottom, it's hard to get back up. You certainly experienced that. You had the hard crash at Chicagoland, you came back from that. You had the tremendous performance at Indianapolis last year, was certainly underscored again that you are capable of getting the job done, and bingo, you're wearing that red-and-white uniform. That has to be a miraculous turn of events for you.

RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, thank you. I certainly appreciate the way things can turn around and you just always got to keep your chin up and going at it, you know. Even if you're having a rough day, you've just got to -- I think it's the love and the passion of the sport that keeps you going. Certainly times like these when you're with the right people and you've got the right people behind you, it's certainly appreciated so much more. And you know, in the end, you know, to have a sustained career and so on, it really comes down to the success, though. You've got to go out and make the most of the opportunities when they come around.

PENSKE: When I think about Ryan joining the team, we knew him as a young driver when he was with Ganassi. I had really forgotten about the accident, I hope he has, too, because if we continue to think about that, he's not going to be as intense as he needs to be. Certainly circumstances drive situations like that that occur. But with him coming in last year and being able to run at this track, that was a test really for us to say: "Can you get back in the car? Can you run 500 miles? Can you stay out of trouble?" That was really kind of a report card for Team Penske to say, "Is this a guy we want to bring on?"

Then with his experience on the team and running in the ALMS and the that he had done and the consistency in those long races, we felt that he was the right person to replace Sam because, obviously, Sam left a big hole. You need to have a couple of bullets when you come here, for sure.

SULLIVAN: I think that report card was an A from last year, Ryan, and well deserved.

Helio, it's been fun for me because in my other normal life, people would ask me, "Is he really like this?" I would say, "Yes, he's like this all the time," speaking of you on "Dancing with the Stars." Then the next question would be, "Do you think he's going to give up racing? Do you think he's focused on racing? Is he focused on winning?" And I said, "I've seen the guy have the fighter pilot look in his eye." I think that's the question. You come here as one of the favorites, do you have that fighter pilot look? Are you ready to go for No. 3?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm ready to go. Every time I pass by the Gasoline Alley, I'm like, "Man, this is a great, great place." I always remember Rick saying about the first week: It's about the first race, racing for the pole position. And the second and third week you actually are going to race for the Indy 500. Then hearing you guys talking about the rush, the pressure and this is for me, I love it. I love to be under pressure because that makes me, you know, really precise, makes me go for the limit and trying to achieve the impossible. So far I will be very fortunate to do that. We have a great team, we have great people on our side, and with that, obviously, you'll be able to achieve the results.

So, obviously on "Dancing," yes, I was just -- it was myself. As everybody knows me, I'm just having fun and like the same here, having fun and racing. Hopefully those new fans we achieve, we can bring them now and see it's also fun. Racing is not only go around, there are a lot of things going on during the race that people sometimes don't understand, and hopefully we made that message and people will join up.

SULLIVAN: All of us are interested in the history, but we are in the entertainment business after all.

Real quickly, we're going to repeat the questions because we've got this being transcribed. So bear with me. I will try to repeat the question and we'll go.

Q: Ryan, kind of touch on what was asked earlier, the 6 car had set very high standards at this place, one in '03 and one in '06. Talk about trying to live up to the reputation that that car has done here at this race.

BRISCOE: Yeah, it's a great feeling coming into the race with this car that's had so much success here. As a driver it gives me a lot of confidence with that kind of history, my team, the engineers, it's all the same people, Roger calling the race. It's all a big bonus for me as far as a mental standpoint going into it.

Q: Rick, can you elaborate about your role with the rookies this year and can you give me the kind of questions they might be asking? These guys are not total rookies, they're rookies here, but can you give me an idea of your role?

MEARS: Well, you know, really whatever I can help them with. We would go out in the pace cars beforehand before they ever got in the race car and run around the track and just kind of show them a general pattern. Obviously, the car dictates the final pattern that you run, but to try to help them get in the general area to begin with and let them go from there. And it's more just talking about patience, things to watch out for. Mainly the patience. You know, there's no substitute for laps around this place. You always hear that, and that's actually key.

You know, the questions as far as questions asked, it's across the board. It's anywhere from shutoff points, what do you look at, what points do you pick for turn-in point, how far ahead are you looking, what do you do with the turbulence. It's across the board.

But I really just kind of try to do an overall more than getting into driving the car. It's more of a mindset and stay relaxed and patience, patience, patience. That's the main thing.

Q: Is there one specific question that you may hear more than any?

MEARS: How come the straightaway is so narrow and so long?

Q: Ryan, you're with the winningest team here. Every place in the garage you're sitting here, 14 wins, two wins, four wins, do you get intimidated and teased by the team?

BRISCOE: Well, I mean, I was thinking about it again as we did the introductions, and we've got all these multiple Indy 500 winners and I'm the only one that hasn't yet. So it's certainly No. 1 on my priority list to start catching up to these guys and, you know, being a part of the team that has so much success. I couldn't think of a better place to be right now.

Q: Has anybody on the team reminded you, you know, you're zero right now?

BRISCOE: Well, I don't think anything needs to be said, really. (Laughter)

Q: Helio, thoughts for the team's plan for today after the week that we've been through, and do you expect a lot of teams and cars running on the edge to find the speed?

CASTRONEVES: Well, actually looking at the weather, it looks like it's going to be raining again about 2:00 or 3:00, so that means everybody is going to go out there and try everything they can to make sure that the car is capable to go as fast as it can, which is a problem because you might face a situation you can't find a clean lap. Sometimes you might get confused getting a draft or something like that. And all of a sudden you're like, "OK, I know I can do the speed and this might aggravate it, the gears that you're going to run and everything like that."

But everybody is going to face the same problem. Yes, I do believe teams are going to go a little bit more toward the edge right now to find the limit. Hopefully tomorrow we still have more practice, but right now it's just a matter of like knowing what you got, and tomorrow we'll see if we can push a little bit more farther or not.

Q: Roger, why do you like to gamble on Pole Day? Why is it important to gamble on Pole Day?

Helio, everybody talks about the pressure as a driver here, do you like the challenge? What does that do to you?

CASTRONEVES: Well, it is, like I said, it's two races. It's fun. I mean, when you're in that scenario that you know you can get the No. 1 spot, I mean, you're going to do everything you can. The good news is I have great guys beside me that you can position yourself, put yourself in that kind of position. For me it's just awesome to do something that depends on the weather, depends on the car and then trying to find that edge. I think it's fun. Every driver wants to go out there and be the No. 1. Doesn't matter if you win the race or be in the pole position, you're always going to be the fastest guy, and that's the way I enjoy it.

PENSKE: I think from the team's perspective, the notoriety that you get for sitting on the pole at the Indianapolis 500 over the next two weeks or two-and-a-half weeks, whatever it is prior to the race, you never have that opportunity in any other sport. If it's a golf match, you're there for one day, but with the press coverage and the media coverage today and the interest and the Internet, I think it's probably one of the most powerful messages that you can send about the team and the driver.

So we've always focused on it. We've taken a lot of risk. We've pulled guys out when they had good times. You know, we could be a hero or it could be a dog and many times like that. But that's what we have to do here. The good news is that Rick certainly was captain of that and Helio, and Sam, too, not afraid to go back out again and throw their time out. We're in a high risk. It's a high-risk ballgame. Helio maybe didn't say it, but with a lot of new people here, they're good drivers, but have not experienced the winds different today than it was maybe Tuesday or last weekend; and that's going to affect them as we start trimming out the cars. We know we can go quick, and it's got to be tomorrow under tomorrow's conditions. You can be perfect today and tomorrow we'll get out -- we've had that happen to us one year when we thought we were really going to be ready and we got out here on qualifying morning and couldn't even drive the cars because we had them trimmed out so much.
 

So I think it's a high-risk poker game over the next 24 hours. What we need to do today is not make a mistake. The big issue today is you can get so far behind, you can get your driver hurt, you can wreck your car by getting too fancy. To me someone trying to get by someone to get a fast lap in the draft, that's going to be interesting to watch here the next two or three hours.

Q: Roger, a couple people have addressed the question of this group of new drivers, rookies or whatever. How negatively impacted is this rainout, lack of time going to be for them?

PENSKE: Well, I think, Chuck, if you go back, you know, in the old days we used to have to run at Trenton, you have to run at Phoenix before you can get a chance to run here. One of the good things with the unification, they did it in a time where these drivers had a chance, I think the majority of them, to run at Homestead. So it was high speed, wheel-to-wheel, coming in the pits. And we had another race at Kansas, to me that's a real plus. A lot of good drivers. Just don't have the confidence yet. I don't think anybody they have in the field today isn't capable of winning.

We've had years around here where people bought a ride Wednesday afternoon and got in the qualifying. We're not in that mode at all. I think the way the process has gone and the quality of the drivers, I think you're going to see some pretty exciting guys out there that will run very well in this race. So what they need to do is just be careful here in the next 24 hours.

Q: Roger, just talk about what it means to you to finally be back at Indy with everybody being back together over the years, and Helio, from your standpoint, a chance to be in your third win and there's one league with everybody back.

PENSKE: Well, we made the decision seven or eight years ago, and our sponsors did, too, that said the Indianapolis 500 is the anchor for open-wheel's racing and that we were going to be part of it. Lots of people, myself, Mario (Andretti) and other people were involved over the last number of years trying to bring this thing together. I take my hat off to Tony (George), who stuck to his guns, he wanted to have one series but you didn't want to have a combination of too many people at the top. Fortunately, Jerry Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven were able to come to a decision in the best interests of their investments, along with the Speedway, that Tony is the one that they should go with.

I think it's very positive coming together. A lot of people have been bruised because of the split, and now I'm seeing some momentum, I don't think this is going to be a rocket going off overnight, but I think there's a lot of positive comments. You know, this sport today per mile is the most inexpensive when you look at being able to put a car on the track here. A million-dollar engine lease for a year, you can buy a car for $350,000, there's used cars, used pieces, that's the way it was in the old days. And that's positive. We don't need $20 million budget to go racing open-wheel. That's going to prove successful, and we'll gain some teams and the mix of road races and ovals, I think that's important. That will draw in more people. That's one of the benefits we have with Ryan with his capability on road races, it will give him an edge on road races where he has to pick up his game on ovals. I think pulling it together is positive.

Plus, we're going to end up in some markets that were really blacked out because one series had a date and the other didn't. So when we look at the best markets to be in, that's going to drive positive for future sponsorship.

CASTRONEVES: For me it's an honor and blast to be in this spot right now. Winning twice, it's just an amazing situation. Thinking about going for a third win is just, also, to put myself in a very exclusive spot. But obviously right now we're thinking about to do everything we can to go step by step, and hopefully that will happen.

Talking about the merge, I mean, for me having everyone here, even though we're talking about those guys are rookies, but they are not rookies, you know. It's the quality of the drivers, the quality of the teams, it is increasing so much. That's what Roger said about, Wednesday we have situations that the guy is buying a ride, you know, and going all of a sudden in the last minute and they don't know what to do. At the least what I felt in the race that is we ran in Homestead and in Kansas, even if they wasn't up to speed but at least they knew what they were doing. They were actually understanding and learning and finishing the races to make sure when they come to Indy, obviously they're going to have the time to improve.

So it's great to have everybody around. It's more competition. Like I said, so it's going to be even tougher out there on the day of the race.

Q: For Helio or Ryan, they've reconfigured the infield at the south end for the MotoGP course, did you notice the difference in Turn 1?

CASTRONEVES: For me, Turn 1 is too fast, so I don't have enough time to look around. I'm focusing on that, hold my breath and sometimes I close one eye. (Laughter)

BRISCOE: Yeah, as far as the corner, actual radius goes and everything, everything is exactly the same. It looks a bit different leaving the pits when you're on pit lane itself. But the actual corner is exactly the same. You're focused on your turning-in point and apex and exit points so much that you don't really notice all the other roads around the track.

Q: Over the 40-some-odd years you've been coming here, Roger, you've had a bunch of drivers that you have been able to throw up. Usually the cream of the series in that given year. This is really a question for Tim, as well. When you're putting the team together, you've got two, maybe three guys that you have got to run for you, what is it you're looking for and the chemistry, or are you just looking for the two best guys you can put in the cars?

PENSKE: Well, I think, you know, obviously the first thing we look at is drivers who have won in some type of racing. Because if you don't know how to win, it's hard to jump into this league at this speed without having that type of experience. I think No. 2, quality that's most necessary today is understanding the technical part of the car and the feedback that a driver can give the team, the engineering. Then the third piece, obviously, is the commercial value of the individual driver with interfacing with the media, interfacing with sponsors.

Then, also, does he fit into our team? We have a very close-knit group, many know us from the inside, some don't. We have a lot of loyalty, we think confidentiality is key within the sport. Remember we were doing the Mercedes engine, and we said if we talk about this, it's like cutting off your paycheck.

So I think the ability for us to see Ryan, obviously Hornish we knew was someone who was good, he beat us and we had the opportunity to bring him on the team. Someone like Helio opens his arms to a driver, even though they're going to compete like hell with each other and maybe on the track someday one will get in each other's way and they'll have a discussion about it. But overall, we always say if one driver wins, the team wins. If you're on the team, you're not trying out to get on this team, you're on it. If we're not the best team to drive for, you're going to go someplace else anyhow. And if you don't get the job done, we're probably going to replace you with somebody else. So I think there's good checks and balances.

CINDRIC: He covered it all. (Laughter) Exactly what he said. It's good to see, you know, one thing like with Helio when he came to our organization, the circumstances weren't real simple. It was a little difficult for him to come in that situation. But to give him his first win back in Detroit in 2000, and we're going to see that same situation with Ryan, it's great to be in that position to give somebody like that an opportunity and somebody take advantage of it like Helio has.

Q: If I could get Rick and Tim to kind of weigh in on the question Terry asked earlier. I know when you were a rookie here maybe the last year before everything was truly on the same page in terms of the sanctioning body race, the team, et cetera, and from Tim's standpoint, the value now of everybody being all together. Just basically your thoughts on everybody being together.

MEARS: I think it's great. Obviously the more, the merrier, that's the way I've looked at it. And to get everybody back on the same page and be able to get out here and compete, it just raises the bar. That's what this sport is all about. It's about competing, for me anyway, the fun part was the competition. So, you know, if you can raise the bar and get the numbers up and the quality of the teams and drivers, it's just going to be that much more competitive. That makes it more fun. So I think it's just great across the board for everybody.

CINDRIC: From my perspective, I think what's great is if you look at the odds of the different drivers winning the race when it comes down to Race Day, back in the so-called heyday of the Indianapolis 500, I think there's more people capable of winning this race than what there has been even in the perceived best years of the race. That's what we like is the competition. When you won, you won something.

Q: With more cars out there this year, it takes a little longer qualifying than what you did the last two years, how does that affect your strategy during the course of the day tomorrow to make sure you're where you want to be at the end of the day?

CINDRIC: Tomorrow, the first thing you look at is the weather and you look at the number of people that are capable of being in the top 11, and there's certainly more people capable of being in the top 11 than there has been in recent years. That makes that line longer from 4:00 to 6:00. Last year if you look back, I think Helio and Tony had a pretty big race for it there at the end. I think Tony was the last one to go out there or very close. But what you've got to remember is there weren't any accidents between 4 and 6:00 last year, and that happens, that whole starting field might be a little different.

So there are a lot of things that are out of your control. You can make the best strategic decision about when to be in line and you still might not get to go, and you still might not have a time on the board. There's a lot of risk to take playing that game from 4 to 6. So you have to understand if you're realistically going for the top 11 or are you going for a chance for the pole or the front row. That's what you have to weigh with these guys.

Q: Ryan, if it gets around to you, I'm sure any question you have, they have an answer for. Is there a certain comfort level or just being around these guys, what are they going to tell you that kind of makes you feel secure about driving?

BRISCOE: Yeah, it's definitely a huge bonus coming in to this game with the experience around me, and Rick from even last year at the '500,' you know, been keeping a close eye. As he said before, it's not about sort of telling us how to drive the car and stuff but just little bits of advice here and there and talking about the patience and not get ago head of ourselves and really keeping the eye on the big picture and what's most important. For sure, at the end of the day, I come back to the box and, you know, we can sit down and talk about everything. Helio and I can compare notes; it's all very good information. You know, it's information that's won multiple Indy 500s, so that's definitely going to be a big help for me.

CASTRONEVES: And I'm still learning, actually. Every time I come, I ask Rick, I say, "Rick, what do I do now?" And he helps me out. And I listen, because I don't have all the answers, trust me.

SULLIVAN: I know some of you had some questions, but I've been asked to bring this to a close. Generally speaking, this individual is pretty good about letting us know this, but I think tomorrow is Helio's birthday.

CASTRONEVES: Yes, that's right. My birthday, don't forget my present. (Laughter)

SULLIVAN: It is officially Helio Castroneves Day tomorrow. Thank you very much for coming in.

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