Indy 500 Bump Day Media Conference
PAT SULLIVAN: Tomas, we've still got press upstairs, a reminder it's also streamed on the Internet, and we're also not getting as much advance because it's so hectic at the very end, which you were right in the middle of that.
But you solidified your position with a terrific qualifying effort of 221.496, if I can read my own scribbles. But I thought the last time you were here that was going to stick without any problem, and suddenly you're back out qualifying. That had to be a little unnerving.
TOMAS SCHECKTER: Yeah. Mentally, I always say qualifying around here is the toughest, and it's so mentally strange. You really prepare yourself on a qualifying day to come here and really just focus on low downforce in that field. After yesterday, you know, we thought we were safely in. I got told I was safely in by a couple people, but I still went to bed thinking, and then I woke up in the morning and I saw warm-up, and I thought, 'These guys are going quick.' We still thought, 'Oh, no, you'll be fine.' And then people started going quick, and we did a race run and then after a race run we were speaking about doing something else, and I said, 'Guys, let's get this car back on the pad, and let's put the qualifying setup on.' And Bill Pappas said, "Yeah, let's go do that.' We had to change some stuff on the car, and I went to the motor home, it was a bit of a mad rush, as well, because just getting everything together. To get back out on the track we did two runs, we took some downforce out of it and did a great run there.
Q: Tomas, two questions: No. 1, you've been here for a long time, but this is the first time you've ever been through this scenario that I'm sure you've heard about. What was that like? And No. 2, how much of a comfort factor having Bill Pappas in your ear and working with you at the end there?
SCHECKTER: A huge comfort factor, and it's helped. I mean, it's helped tremendously. It's a tough situation, I'm not used to this because there's a difference between maybe I had some of this pressure before, but I was in the top 11. Now you're in your motor home thinking: 'You know what? We could even have a quick-enough car, but if we time this wrong, we're going to be out of the race.' To a team like this, if you don't start the race, there's a lot of lost money and a lot of support.
So there was a massive amount of pressure, and just thank everybody at Mona Vie and the support they put me in the second week. Tough qualifying day today, and to come out quickest overall from today, I'm pretty happy about that.
Actually, speaking about my dad, as well, there's another associate sponsor on the car, Laverstoke Park Farm and they bring the beer into America, organic beer into America. Best organic beer you've ever tasted. Its' coming, it should be here in a couple months, and they're an associate sponsor on the car. So I'm glad to have them on board, too.
Q: He's not here himself?
SCHECKTER: He'll be here next Friday.
SULLIVAN: Thanks for bringing up the Pavlov dog thing, because all of a sudden Bud started salivating there.
SCHECKTER: Don't worry; you'll all get a taste of it.
Q: Tomas, what do you have say about the fickle nature of this sport? You've had success here and here you are qualifying the last day. Ryan Hunter-Reay was Rookie of the Year last year, he's the last qualifier. Buddy Lazier, who won this thing, not even in the race.
SCHECKTER: Yeah, a good Bump Day. You guys have a lot to write about. Part of me goes, 'These rules are ridiculous,' and part of me goes, 'This is Indy, and this is what makes it Indy.' This is why it's such a unique way of doing things and so much excitement. Unfortunately, you know, it's great for you guys and great for the crowd, but for us it's extremely tough. But, you know, to come out doing a good job and to have great sponsors on board, and to put this together in such a short period of time, three days ago I was sitting with no contract. And in the morning signed it and putting the car together, decaling it. To have Mona Vie people all around, It's just been crazy.
SULLIVAN: Other questions for Tomas? Good work.
SCHECKTER: Thank you very much.
PAT SULLIVAN: John, obviously we don't know everything that happened to adjust the car, but it absolutely had to be one of the gutsiest runs of your life.
JOHN ANDRETTI: I tell you, a couple years ago, I made the Daytona 500, and we shouldn't have or we weren't expected to. When I came here, I expected to - I was like, "Oh, I wonder if we can make the top 11." (Laughter)
After the first day and first couple days of practice, "Oh, I hope we can make the top 22." I never expected to be hoping just to make the field. But my race team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, they just did a wonderful job, you know. They put the car underneath me, you know, that just made it good to drive and the time came. So all the credit goes to them. I can go out there and hold it wide open, but it's got to do what it's supposed to do, and it did there at the end.
SULLIVAN: Also at the end the Firestone Final Qualifier Award -- boy, these two guys, both of them have made multiple trips to the Economaki Press Conference Room, and it's been an endurance test, physically, emotionally, you name it.
ANDRETTI: Now you see our teeth.
SULLIVAN: On the gun, congratulations.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Thank you. Yeah, if you had asked us last night, John and I weren't in very good moods, I don't think either of us were. We still weren't all day. But, you know --
ANDRETTI: We're pitted next to each other, too.
HUNTER-REAY: All I could watch is him knocking back his rear wing all day. We've got to do this again. We knocked it back really low, and the speed just -- speed just wasn't coming. But we did enough at the right time of the day to make it in, and here we are. That's what Indy is about. Unfortunately, I've done this now in my career where I've made the final minutes of the day to qualify for the Indy 500. So it's pretty cool.
SULLIVAN: Congratulations to both of you. Let's take some questions.
Q: John, you've been around here so many years and seen enough of the gunslinger stuff that used to go on here all the time.
ANDRETTI: Right, Ziggy.
Q: Snyder and those guys. Was this your first time ever through it? And now do you have a better appreciation of what those guys used to do?
ANDRETTI: This is my first time through, for sure. Last year I gained a little bit of appreciation for it because Marty Roth was going through it. All I could think about was what my dad told me one time when he called me up to tell me he had a little bit of news to tell me. It wasn't good news for him. He said, "I know what you're thinking." I said, "What's that?" He said, "You're just glad it's not you." That's honestly what I was thinking. That's what I was thinking when Marty was doing it. I think all my teammates were thinking the same. I know Davey Hamilton was, you know, because I told him he was. (Laughter)
I told him, "I know what you're thinking right now." But they're so supportive, the whole team. They gave up track time to help make sure that I got in the race. I mean, Conway's car is in bits back there right now because half of it is on mine. That's what made a difference.
Q: Ryan, your third lap fell off a whole bunch from the other three. Was there something that caught you out?
HUNTER-REAY: We trimmed so low in qualifying that when you have a good handling race car, when you have a really good car and you go qualify, and then you trim really low on the rear wing, you get push just because of the lack of grip. Overall lack of grip. The car just kind of skates on the track, right? That ends up being fast when you reduce a lot of drag. We had an inherent handling problem going into it, and then this guy over here forced us to knock back as low as we did, and I mean the stickers, the new tires, the new Firestones could only cover it up for a lap. On that second lap, I was heading that right front for the wall every time out of (Turn) 1. It was a controlled slide every time. How low can I get the car in the middle of the corner for the front to just start washing out on me to where I can keep it off the wall and keep my foot in it? It was not nice.
But we made it. I mean, this team really had a lot of trying times over the past couple weeks, and we just kept with it. We're here, we're fifth in the points. We can still salvage this thing, and we can go out and make a good race car and do what we did last year, which was what I experienced last year, which was to go from the 20s to the top 10 in a relatively short period of time if you work hard at it. So we'll work on the race car, and hopefully this will be the same kind of situation as last year, just work our way forward as the race goes. It's a long race, and that's the only session of the month that counts. So hopefully we can undo this.
Q: Ryan, can you take us through your thoughts and emotions from about 5:55 until about, I don't know, 6:00?
HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, interesting. I hadn't -- I was thinking John's not going to make it back in line. I was like, "All right, this is pretty cool." Then they said, "No, he's knocking back the rear wing, he's coming back in line." So he made it up, I don't know how quick you guys made it up there, but, man, it was quick. You did one run, and the next thing I know you're out on the track again. Went quick enough. We had to keep going and doing the circles like that in the line. My heart rate was definitely higher in pit lane than it was on the track.
But then once I got going, I went, I knew what time I had to beat, and the first lap looked good, second lap, all right, we're all right. Then the push really started coming in, and we dropped six-tenths of a mile an hour. The most nerve-wracking thing was I knew it was close because we had a high 220 the first two laps, we had a low 220 the second couple laps. Well, common sense tells you that's going to be right in the middle. We needed to beat a 220.5-something. Didn't get any word down the short chute through (Turns) 1, 2, if we made it or not. Had no word through Turn 2, no word through the back. I figured at this point the radio is quiet; we didn't make it. Then they came on the radio and said, "We made it, we made it," I don't even know, by a thousandth of a mile per hour. That's way too close. (Laughter)
And I just can't believe the day I just had. It's unreal. It really is. Very stressful.
Q: John, all the changes that your team made throughout the day you were able to go out and test those changes, but the very last change you weren't able to, you just had to jump in line and go. What was your thought pattern on that last run knowing the changes that they had made on your car?
ANDRETTI: Well, actually there were a couple times that we jumped in line without, you know, that we made changes and just jumped in line. But when I rolled up there, I had just run, I knew what the car balance was and pulling the rear wing out, the car felt good enough to do it, so we could do that. As long as we could keep the balance, what Ryan talked about is what I was struggling with, you get down in Turn 1 and pretty soon you're pointed at the fence. And, you know, at 200 and some miles an hour, it comes pretty quick and you're trying not to lift. So when I made it through Turn 1 on my last lap, I knew I was home free, to be honest with you, because I can do the rest of it, it's just that Turn 1 was, you know, a big problem.
So, you know, I don't worry about the changes. When we go in the qualifying line, you know what? When it's five minutes to go, who cares if you hit something, to be honest with you. What are they going to do, fire you? (Laughter)
You already are going to be out the gate.
ANDRETTI: Isn't that right? That's the way he drove it, too. I guarantee you if it had been a second attempt and two hours from the end, he wouldn't have been in by, what was it, .044? Because he would have lifted a little more. He knew that was it.
Q: John, have you talked to Richard yet?
ANDRETTI: No, I haven't actually spoken to The King, and you can understand why. Haven't had much to talk to him about. So, you know, but now I do. Obviously, he'll probably be calling me tonight and get in touch with me. Richard is not big on telephones. I know that, I don't think he owns one, to be honest with you. But I know I'll be hearing from him. For sure, the Window World folks have been calling me non-stop: "OK, how does this work? How does this work?" And they told me, they said, "You want to be in that race worse than we do, and don't put pressure on you because of us."
That meant a lot because sponsors usually can drive the pressure. So I can't do any more than what I can do, and the team did a great job. Nothing feels better than when you look at that dash and you see the numbers you're hoping to see. Nothing can be more devastating than to look down there and see the numbers you don't want to see.
Q: In Richard's world, NASCAR, he doesn't have to worry about his cars getting into fields. Do you think he fully comprehended this might not go so well?
ANDRETTI: Actually Richard, you know, for years you had to. You know, Petty Enterprises missed a lot of races over the years, and so he understands it. I mean, the great part about driving for champions, racecar drivers like Cale Yarborough, I've driven for A.J, I've driven for Richard, driven for a lot of them, is they understand more so than anybody else. I've driven for people who never even drove a car that tried to tell me how to drive the car, and that always confused me a little bit. So I went and told them how to do their business. (Laughter)
I thought if you can tell me how to drive, I can tell you how to run a race team.
So I want Richard here for a lot of reasons, and I think it's special for everybody to have him here, not just me. They're close to my family, they're close to me. You know, but he would have understood. As a matter of fact, I did get an e-mail from Brian Moffat, who is Richard's right-hand guy, and he said, "Look, we're all a hundred percent behind you." I got that last night, too.
So they could feel the pressure coming from Indy. It was, you know, I said I was going to go buy two guns, you know, because I was going to have to shoot somebody. I was going to take somebody down with me. (Laughter)
Q: Ryan, what does it say about the fickle nature of this sport that here you are, you were Rookie of the Year last year, you're the last guy in. John has been here at Indy for years, he just got in. And Buddy Lazier who won this thing didn't get in, how quickly things seem to change from year to year.
HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, that's motorsports for you, ups and downs. That's the only thing that's been a constant for me, is ups and downs. It's hard to weather at times, but you've just got to keep a steady head and believe in yourself and do what you do. On these big ovals like this, you do need a car at most of it. At Indy because of the lack of banking and the speeds, you can make up a little bit in driving, but you really need to get a good set of wheels under you to make it happen.
Anybody will tell you that on an oval that that's no secret. But at Indy it's such a special place just the way the wind affects the car and how -- that's where the driver can come in, where the wind affects the car, the conditions affect it. You know, you get a little bit too hot and the car starts moving around a little bit than the day before with the same corner and same wind direction. Those are the special things about Indy. It's, you know, yeah, like you said, last year we were P6 after the race, Rookie of the Year. I was looking forward to this race for -- coming back here for 365 days of the year and finally back here and, man, it's just been a gut-wrencher the whole time. But as they say, that's Indy. I mean, it's ups and downs and heartache and the best times and the worst times right here. That's why it is what it is. It's the greatest race in the world, and it's a huge honor for me to make it in this way.
Couldn't imagine the position I would be in if I didn't make it today. And I came way too close to that. I like John's thing there about the guns, that's pretty funny. (Laughter)
ANDRETTI: Just don't use one on me.
Q: John, at one point yesterday you said it was the toughest day you ever had at this track. At this point would you care to make any revision to that remark?
ANDRETTI: Today was a good day overall. So big picture, good day. You know, believe it or not, throughout the day, I mean I didn't get nervous about it, I didn't lose my cool. I mean, I figured I just had enough faith in the people around me; that's why I'm there. I've been with Larry Curry, I think, five years here, I have a tremendous amount of faith in him, but if you look at the times, I don't know if there's ever been this tight of an Indy field. You know, so it's crazy. I mean, and then the qualifying format, you know, just adds to it. I mean, I was in the race and then I wasn't in the race.
Q: You may have set a record for being in and out both times.
ANDRETTI: You're just talking about today. But I qualified last week, you know, is the way I look at it. So it's trying, for sure. I'm glad I'm not 20 years old and looking to do this for many more years. (Laughter)
SULLIVAN: Final question.
Q: For both of you guys, John mentioned the numbers on the dash. How hard is that? Number one, you're obviously elated if you see a good number, but what do you do if the number isn't working in your favor?
ANDRETTI: You vomit in your mouth a little bit. (Laughter)
HUNTER-REAY: I got dribble all over my race suit. Been having to wash it every night because of the little bit of vomit we get.
ANDRETTI: You can swallow it. When you get to my age, you get old enough, you understand how to do it. (Laughter)
HUNTER-REAY: I just let it dribble down my chin. (Laughter)
ANDRETTI: Not good for breath, though.
SULLIVAN: Well, on that colorful note, let's hope all of you get to wash out your mouth with a little milk come Race Day.
HUNTER-REAY: I would like to say one more thing, too. We've been working hard at this day from day one when we rolled in here. We went from St. Pete second place, we're on a wave, and then we come to Kansas; that was pretty trying. But the whole month of May, sponsors, John mentioned this, the sponsors have been, for me, also, have been very supportive. William Rast and IZOD have been extremely supportive the while way through. They could be a negative influence if you get the wrong people working against you where they put the wrong pressure on you at the wrong times. They've been very supportive. I do have to thank Tony and Laura George for giving me my opportunity to be in my second Indy 500, and here we are. I have to get that across because I really do appreciate their support. Wouldn't be here without them.
SULLIVAN: We have a famous family name, an Andretti, doing something perhaps unprecedented, being in and out of the race as you indicated; and our Firestone Final Qualifier Award Winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Gentlemen, congratulations. You are part of Indy history and lore for what was a remarkable day.
HUNTER-REAY: Thank you. (Applause)