Alabama GP post-race press conference IndyCar Series press conference from Alabama - An interview with race winner Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves Chip Ganassi team-mates, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our second and third place finishers in today's inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Target Chip Ganassi team-mates, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. For second place finisher Scott, this is the best finish of the 2010 season, and for Dario, this is his third consecutive top 10 of the season.
Also an interesting note for everyone: This is the first IZOD IndyCar Series event in our history where we've had all starters running at the very end of the race.
For both of you, can you talk about today's event and the strategy that propelled you guys to the podium?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it was a tough weekend for both of us. This weekend obviously in qualifying we didn't get to the positions that we wanted to. And the car, to be honest, was a struggle throughout most of the sessions to get the most out of it, and it wasn't very consistent.
So I think I'm pretty happy. I'm sure Dario's pretty happy with us both ending up on the podium. I think the call at the start for me was total B.S. We had made a clean pass past both of those guys, and they made me get back behind Marco, obviously, to lose two spots.
If they want us to just stay single file and have a start that way, that's how we should do it if they don't want anybody to make moves on the start.
I think track position was definitely key all day. If we had been ahead of Helio at that point, it would have helped us later on in the race, and could have possibly been a different situation. But with how things were going, I think it was a good result for us.
THE MODERATOR: Dario, can you talk about the gains you made on track today?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I mean, Dixie's start was so spectacular. Will (Power) started slowly and Scott had a great start. Yeah, I agree with Scott. We did struggled all weekend. We went off in different set-ups, and we pretty much had the same problems all weekend no matter what we did. So, to finish second and third was pretty good.
We made not a bad start. We managed to get past one car, I think, at the start. And that first yellow, we kind of restarted that strategy of two stops, which meant saving some fuel. It was kind of frustrating watching these guys just go a little bit into the distance with that.
We pitted one lap earlier than we probably should have. We had a problem with our low fuel warning light that came on after about 16 gallons or something, so that really hurt us towards the end.
But all in all to end up at third was good. The biggest worry for me was making the fuel to go along to do 31 laps in that last stint. And we were on course for that, and then the yellow came out and really helped us, so that was good.
The tough thing was Will was right behind me. And I had three or four lap cars between Scott and myself, and they were racing pretty hard. Not really giving a crap for the lead lap cars. So that led us to get one run where we went side by side.
But ultimately, we sorted it out. Good weekend. Second in the points, I think, so we'll see if we can do a better job in Long Beach.
Q: Were you both surprised to see Will pit as early as he did on lap 14 when that yellow came out? It seemed like whatever he did, you guys weren't going to do.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know. Whatever they were saying they were always going to do the right move, and we were doing the opposite. I think our race pace was good though. With as much fuel as we were saving, I was quite happy with our race car.
So, but, yeah. Everybody kind of picks their strategy. They had to pick their strategy right there and then, and I think we picked the right one.
SCOTT DIXON: I think if you looked at the strategies, obviously the pit window opened at nine, so I think that's why they took it. You know, it was going to be a tough adventure to obviously do it on the two stops, you know. It's not a fun race to drive when you're a driver, because, you know, you've got the team in your ear constantly saying you need to make this number on fuel, and you're trying to push as hard as possible, but yet you've got to lift all the time.
I think we were under the idea or notion that whatever Will was going to do, we were going to do the opposite. And I think that definitely played into the hands of quite a few people. It could have swung either way to be honest with how the yellows fell. Obviously, it worked out for a majority of us.
Q: Where do you think it is you're allowed to pass on the start?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think the cause for it was Will. I don't know why he's trying to start in first gear and crawl 20 miles an hour. I think that's ridiculous.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I thought you were supposed to keep pace car speed.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you're supposed to keep pace car speed, and that is the first ever start I've done in first gear. So that set it off. So whoever was in front of me got a lot of wheel spin.
HELIO:I ducked to the left. He came over to the left. I got back behind him after the start/finish line and then passed him going into turn one around the outside. I don't see a problem with that.
Obviously, there was a problem, or you just go through Turn 1, 2 and 3 in the position that you started, but I don't see the point of that.
Q: So you started fifth, right?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah.
Q: At the line, can you be fifth or can you be fourth, because you were fourth?
SCOTT DIXON: I think a lot of that depends on what your line is doing. If you look at Brazil, we got hosed again because Will laid back, and I think I started seventh. But by the start/finish line I was ninth or tenth. So it depends on what start you want to look at to be honest.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the rule is you're not allowed to pass the car ahead of you. Doesn't matter what the other lane does, you have no control over that. But you're not allowed to be ahead of the car ahead of you in your lane.
Q: Did you pass Helio on the outside?
SCOTT DIXON: I went to pass Helio on the left, which he was the car in third place ahead of me. He came over to the left, so I went back behind him and then over to the right and passed him on the outside on turn one.
Q: Is this racetrack as difficult as you thought it would be or was the race a little better than you thought it would be?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think for the fans it was a good race. It is very tough to pass here. Thank goodness we have pit stops and strategies and the difference between the red and black tires.
So I think that definitely made up for a race that could have been pretty tough to make any difference on what you did through the day.
For us drivers, it's tough to run a fuel strategy race. You always just want to push and try to get to the front. But you've got to save fuel to get to the end.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It was. Fuel saving is always tough like Scott says. Generally, you get a lift on the straights and you're carrying speed through the corners.
So you end up hustling the car through the corners and you're asking it to do things you didn't set up for because of the lack of straight line speeds, so that makes it quite interesting.
As Scott said earlier, again, they come on the air and they're like, you're not making enough fuel here. You're going to have to make fuel. And you see guys closing in behind and guys disappear, so it takes a lot of discipline.
It's easy to make a mistake in those circumstances, because you may be braking later than normally or sometimes not braking at all in certain corners where you would brake before. So it definitely keeps your attention.
Q: For those of us that are NASCAR fans, the finish would have been ideal at Talladega where you would expected something to happen. For you guys, what can happen in those last two laps? What were you hoping would happen to make a possible difference in the standings?
SCOTT DIXON: The only thing you can do is try to push the guy as hard in front of you to make him keep looking in his mirrors and overshoot a corner and make a mistake.
At a circuit like this where it's very flowy and you rely on the downforce of the car a lot through the high speed corners, it's very hard to get close. You lose a lot of grip when you're following the car ahead.
That's why it got so racy when we caught the back markers and people were trying to make things happen just before that yellow. You've just got to try to push as hard as possible. Same as NASCAR, you've got to try to do something.
But obviously, I think we have less opportunities to make something stick than you do when you're on an oval. The oval racing for us, when it comes down to the end is totally different as well.
Q: Was Will a concern for you before that last yellow given your fuel load?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: When they told me how far behind he was, and I knew what pace I had to run. I was on the turn as quickly as possible, but there was a certain pace I had to make and make the fuel mileage to get to the end.
I expected him to come a lot quicker than he did. And when we got through the back markers, we both got through the back markers and he didn't appear to gain. So I was quite surprised about that.
Then the yellow came out, and we could both go 100 percent to the finish. But that's when the three or four back markers were holding. I thought they held me up through the first three corners.
Will got a run through the hair pin in five. And we went through the hair pin side by side. So I got pretty close there on the exit. But, yeah, I think the race pace, as I said, they were in pretty good shape.
Q: It looked like you saved almost all of your pushes until the end. What was your strategy on that?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, I think it's probably the same for everybody that was on the fuel strategy race. And that is for the pure affect that you're trying to save fuel. If you push the overtake button, you burn a ton more fuel.
There were opportunities when you're out there and you're like oh, if I could just push to pass, it might help you get the momentum to pass somebody, but obviously It kills the fuel mileage by a tenth or couple of tenths and it's hard to get that back. So we wouldn't have been able to use it until we had that yellow at the end.
Q: (No microphone).
SCOTT DIXON: You know, it just brings in another kind of racing. Obviously, as Dario was telling everybody about the driving style and the way to get fuel mileage out of the car now because we have no mixture. You know, we don't have a mixture knob anymore to change it and the car and the engine do it for you. Now you have to do it lifting off and rolling into a corner.
So it's definitely a whole different technique. You can make a difference yourself like the push to pass does.
Q: If they made this like a 100 lap race where you'd have to do three stops, would it just be as fast as you can go and use the push to pass? Would that change things?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, better you make it 80 laps, you know. It could go either way. Aggressively to run towards the end a 90 lap race is hard either side. Either you do it three or you do it two, and it's hard to get that.
I think you saw all the people saving fuel at the end of the field was the way the strategy worked out. If the yellow hadn't fallen when it did, it might have been a different scenario at the end.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, if they made a couple of changes to the track, just a couple of small changes, I think, to promote some passing. Then they'll have a spectacular place. That would be a big help, I think.
Q: What kind of changes?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think as Scott said, it's got a lovely flow in nature this track, which is great and a lot of fun to drive. But it limits passing. So maybe extend one of the straights or take one of the flowing bits out and put a good, heavy straight braking zone, I guess. Just make a passing opportunity, then we'll be in good shape.
As I said, then it would be spectacular. To be here today and see the crowd, if you see that crowd, it was bloody amazing. That was pretty cool.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, that was cool.
Q: Any thoughts on Marco's drive? He pretty much set the pace most of the race, so was it kind of a situation where you knew he was kind of dead in the water if he didn't get another yellow?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: One of his restarts he passed Helio. He was pushing hard. I thought he drove a great race. But there is obviously that penalty to pay. If you want to go quicker, you're going to use more fuel if you don't make the end. I think we all could have run, you know, a second quicker, maybe more, I don't know, without saving fuel.
Unfortunately, that is the penalty you pay. But he did, I thought, a bloody good job all day.
SCOTT DIXON: He did. You know, it's hard to push these cars, especially on the restarts. He definitely made the emphasis on getting past people. And on a track so difficult to pass, he did a great job.
To be honest, I'm sure he had some people yelling on him to make him save fuel for him to not make any mistakes that I saw with Helio or in his mirrors. He did a hell of a job today.
Q: Can you talk a little bit more about the fan turnout and compare this experience coming here as opposed to other tracks you go to?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, I think you could say from the get-go when we had the first open test here, we had over 10,000 people. We get normally two or three to a test. You know, obviously the open test we get a few more on weekends. But when we test privately, you can probably count two or three people.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: When we test privately.
SCOTT DIXON: That's true. But just to see they had the enthusiasm to come out. Today I went over to the back section to do a thing for Firestone and over in the fan part over there it was packed. It was fantastic to see.
I think the whole liveliness to be honest in the pits before the race and everybody getting ready to go, you could hardly walk through there. You couldn't drive your scooter through there.
So there are not many too many races that we go to that are like that at this point in time. It has been in the past, but it was a big day for Alabama and obviously for all of us. We loved to see it. It was fantastic.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You look out the window, there is a crowd just trying to get out of places. It was a massive crowd, and the enthusiasm was there, so we've seen that.
Since I came back with the unified series and IZOD coming on as the title sponsor, it's just the momentum going. We look at the car count for Indy and all that stuff. We have 25 here and Indy talking about 40.
SCOTT DIXON: 30 at Kansas, so...
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's pretty cool. In this economy it's looking pretty good.
SCOTT DIXON: You definitely have to give credit to IZOD. It's the first time you're seeing constantly ads on TV. They're pushing the race, and pushing it in different markets to get the drivers out there. It's good to have a title sponsor and somebody making a good effort at it.
Q: This is a little different way than you left your last race in Alabama, right? And would you tend to compare the two environments from Talladega and here?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's very, very different. The one thing is the enthusiasm of the crowd. Yeah, I left the Nationwide race in Talladega and got a blown tire, and I broke my ankle. So I left there in an ambulance.
When we tested here in the open test, we had a bit of a crash. And I'm sitting in the medical center and the doctor is looking me over. He said, Do you recognize me? I said, No. And he said, I was the guy that looked after you after your Talladega crash. God (laughing). So, yeah, it's much more fun to lose this way.
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by the inaugural winner of the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Helio Castroneves. A few notes on Helio's win today. This is Helio's 17th career IZOD IndyCar Series win. His last victory came in 2009 at Texas Motor Speedway. The win also extends the record for Helio. This is his tenth consecutive season in the IZOD IndyCar Series with a win.
Helio, can you talk about today's race, and more importantly, a chance to show off the famous fence climb to new race fans?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that's right. I'm very happy that we were able to show that. Starting from the beginning, it was a good start. I know Scott jumped right, I'm not sure if he jumped or not, but all of a sudden he passed two cars in front of us. And I just heard on the radio that he's got to give us room, so it was kind of confusing in the beginning.
But we went. (Mike) Conway, I have to say, he was pushing quite hard. And on the radio we decided right after that to try something different. I was making good mileage. We were doing what we planned to do, and those guys just kept going ask kept going.
Finally, when they decided to pit, it was kind of different than St. Pete. At St. Pete I was ahead of Will, I ended up pitting and no one came to follow. So I think that's what happened again this race.
As soon as I restarted, Marco did a good job in passing me. In fact, he kind of like pushed me away. And he was driving like he was more patient this time. His driving reminded me of his father, Michael Andretti. Hell of a job.
Then when I was behind him, I was just saving fuel, saving fuel. I was making sure that I could reach the number that they were asking me to do. We were able to actually go a little farther than that. So we were able. It was great. It was a great situation.
When we pitted after Scott and Dario, Marco was able to do an incredible job and get back again in the lead. I felt like I had a better car than Marco, but unfortunately, I just couldn't pass him. And I was just patient and waiting for an opportunity, and well, I guess we were able to be smart enough to save a lot of fuel.
Towards the end, we just had a yellow flag. I didn't ask for that, especially when you have Scott Dixon and those guys behind you. So I just decided to make sure do not give any opportunities for those guys, and that's what I did.
I knew what the car was capable to do it. Sometimes you've got to count on a little luck. So today was a great day for Team Penske and especially the No. 3 guys.
Q: Were you confident in the fact that it would only be a matter of time before Marco would have to pit again?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes, they were coaching me pretty well. (Tim) Cindric was coaching me pretty well saying he's got to have a yellow. He's got to have the stop. But at the same time he said if you have an opportunity to pass, go ahead and do it.
But when you're saving fuel, you can't use the push to pass, because you're going to burn fuel. It was one of those things where what do I do, you know? Some parts of the tracks I was much faster than him.
But on the high speed corners, it's hard for you to be behind a guy. It's like an oval. You can't just take much chance otherwise you can make a mistake.
So with those conditions, I knew what I needed to do. I was trying to make him make mistakes. He drove really well. But, again, we pushed for him to spend more fuel, and it paid off.
Q: You said you thought you had a better car than Marco, but what about better than Will?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, I said in the beginning the man of the week was Will Power. Surprisingly, Conway actually was breathing right down his neck at the beginning of the race. I don't know what happened afterwards.
But certainly Will has been very successful this season. He's been very fast. The only way for us to beat and stop Will Power was trying something different. Today was an opportunity for us to do that, and it worked on out perfectly.
Q: Tell us the truth. Does it feel different winning as a daddy?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: On the celebration after the fence, yes, it was great to see my daughter there. This is one thing that probably I told you guys already that I want to take a picture with her on the podium. So when she grows up 20 years later she can look back and be proud of her sharing good moments.
So it was great. Now it's just I'm happy that that happened sooner than later. So now let's go for the next one, and hopefully the big one we can celebrate as well.
Q: You appear to be somewhat more overjoyed than usual at this victory, with the climbing the fence and victory lane with your daughter. Was this victory that much more for you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it felt great. It felt great for several reasons. We have a new group of guys. Even though they're not a new group of guys, they've been with Team Penske for quite some time, but it's kind of like we know each other. And it's good to give confidence to those guys.
We used to work with Rick Rinaman basically since I start on the team, and Rick was an outstanding guy. To this day I learned so much with him. We miss him a lot.
But it's great to give Sean (Hanrahan) an opportunity. So for those guys, I'm happy. I'm happy for them. I'm happy for the group.
It's a beginning and we can look around and say, great, guys. So let's unify here and continue working like this. And that's what needs to be done. The atmosphere inside the team is fantastic. Ryan, I and Will, even though Will's very, very fast, we're still joking around. And I think it's helping everyone.
Q: Have you been scouting around all weekend to try to find the right fence to climb? How did you decide on that place?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, I didn't realize until yesterday. One of the fans asked me where are you going to climb the fence? I think it was in the elevator going to the hotel. And I was like yeah, I didn't think about that.
And this morning I just looked around actually on the parade lap. I looked around like, hmm, I think there has a lot of people. So it might be really cool to climb the fence there, and that's exactly where I stop it. So it was great.
Until that point, I did not have anything in mind. So it was great that one of the fans got me going.
Q: What did you think of Barber and Birmingham?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, I'm suspicious to talk about it. I love it. I mean, three years ago or two years ago when we came here, I knew this track is incredible. First of all, the facility, the museum it's a first class operation.
Mr. Barber did an incredible job putting everything together. I don't think I need to say much because everybody saw it today. Again, the layout is great, it's a lot of fun, lot of up and down elevations. Very difficult, in fact, but it's a lot of fun when you get it right.
Now if you ask me if it needs to be changed, again, I'm suspicious to talk about it. I like it just as it is. But, you know, if we could have a longer straightaway or things like that to create more opportunities. But this is the challenge of this place, you know.
Every place we go, we create challenge. If it's Brazil and the bumps or St. Pete and some other areas, and here it's difficult to pass. I think it was a really exciting race, you know. Today I'm just happy that everything we did paid off.
Q: We know you for the fence climbing spider man thing. Down in turn five and six, there is a spider. Did you think about possibly doing something different and getting up on it?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, that's great (laughing). Do they have a fence there? I don't think they have a fence. So had that spider is a little bit bigger than me, but that's good.
When I came here first time I didn't notice the spiders and things like that or the arts, but I think it's great. I think it's great that we have that. I'll keep climbing the fence.
Q: There was some suggestion earlier that perhaps the number of laps should be changed to make it less of a fuel strategy race. What do you think about that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Right now I don't think it needs to be changed (laughing).
Q: Scott and Dario touched on it briefly when they were in here. What did you think about the reception by Alabama race fans? This is the heart of NASCAR country, but what did you think about the reception for IndyCar?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I was very surprised, but good surprised. I'm happy that everybody accepted it. And it's great that we actually tell everyone we're not competing against NASCAR. In fact, we are just another or different type of racing. It's open wheel versus closed cars and stock cars.
So we're only ten miles away from Talladega, so for Alabama, I think it's just fantastic to have those two types of racing. You saw how many people came.
I have to say that I didn't hear any negatives this weekend. In fact, I just heard positives. You know, the lines in the autograph sessions were big. Friday there were a lot of people. Normally we don't have many people on Friday. So that just shows that we are in the right direction.
Alabama is a great place that people will enjoy having this type of racing, you know. And I saw a lot of people with NASCAR shirts, and that's great because we can mix with that series as well.
So one helps each other, and I'm glad that we had a warm welcome. Now I can't wait to come back next year.