Q&A with Team Penske at Indy Roger Penske, Rick Mears, Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power
MODERATOR: OK, as is the usual procedure here, we'll introduce the participants and get the questioning going, then open it up to you. Again we have to move this along rather quickly because everybody involved up here does have another commitment at 11.
Starting the introductions from the far end, we all know the 15-time Indianapolis 500 winner going for another one this year, Roger Penske. The president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric; team adviser, four-time winner, Rick Mears; Mikaella's father -- is that a good enough intro? Three-time winner going for four, Helio Castroneves; Ryan Briscoe, who was in the championship hunt right until the final race last year and the current points leader in the IZOD IndyCar Series; with a great start to 2010, Will Power.
Roger, with 15 wins, is the 16th just going to be another ho-hum race and win for you or are they all important?
ROGER PENSKE: I don't think you can come to this racetrack and think it's ho-hum. One of the things we say to our people is that we come here like it's the first time. The thing we do have is the experience. I've said it before, some 600 years of experience are in that garage of running at this track. You know, it's a constant challenge for us as a team, for me personally, and I think that the people that we put together for this year, the three drivers, are the very best, you know, I feel in the whole group of drivers that are here with experience. Obviously, Will, he's not had the experience on the ovals but seeing what he's been able to do here in the last couple of days; Helio, and also Ryan, I think we've got the guys to beat.
But again, we have to execute, it's got to have good strategy on Race Day, and we certainly have to get through this qualifying procedure the next couple of days.
MODERATOR: Tim, are there new challenges this year because for the first time in a long time this is a three-car team and not a one or a two?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, I think that obviously we've been through this together last year. You know, at Indy anyway, but the full-season challenges, there's some. But the good news is we all know each other. This condensed format obviously makes the first week much more difficult, especially with the weather situation to where you're trying to get ready for race setup, at the same time you're trying to figure out how to qualify on the front row.
MODERATOR: Rick Mears, a four-time winner and could welcome a new member into that category a week from Sunday if Helio can win. Rick, will you welcome him or would you just as soon keep it at three?
RICK MEARS: I quit helping about three weeks ago. (Laughter)
No, definitely welcoming. If I could be a part of him getting a fourth, it would be fantastic. That's what we're here to try to do is win this race, and if he can get his fourth win, it would be great.
MODERATOR: Helio, you have the fastest laps so far during the month. Was that in race trim or qualifying trim, or what was going on on the track when you did turn that lap?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, it was perfect timing. TC is saying all along, but we wish. But it's one of those things when you get perfect timing, you have traffic. It seems with the -- this year with the rules change we can follow much closer than last year and previous years. That's why you see a lot of high speed, you know, times. So hopefully today we will focus on qualifying, if the weather permits, and tomorrow you're going to see some interesting times, as well.
MODERATOR: In the news conference that was just concluded with members of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing, most of the questions related to tomorrow and the new qualifying format.
Ryan, do you have any opinions on that right now the day before?
RYAN BRISCOE: I'm excited about it. I think as far as the driving standpoint, we've just got to be ready to go, and we could be having as many as five or six attempts tomorrow. Hopefully we don't need that many. But I think it will be exciting. I think we'll keep the spectacle going on all day long. I think there will be attempts whether to be in the top 24 or the top nine. People will be trying to better their times all day long and you won't have the down times of maybe just practicing like we've seen in the past. But I'm excited; I'm looking forward to it.
MODERATOR: Will, you've been rather quiet this month after a great start for 2010. Is there a reason for that?
WILL POWER: No, I've just been plotting away. It's still hard to tell until I think today where everyone's at because you're not sure whether people are getting big tows or they're on race trim or qualifying trim. I'm very happy with the car. This is the first year I actually feel as though I have a chance of challenging for the pole. So, you know, I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Helio, with the fact that you are now a father and with the possibility of winning the fourth a week from Sunday, has the possibility of retirement ever entered your mind?
CASTRONEVES: Wow, that's the first time I heard. Is that the way you started, Rick?
MEARS: That's the way it started. (Laughter)
CASTRONEVES: No, not really, to be honest. I'm actually full of energy. I'm still pretty much having a lot of fun. I did talk to Rick when I first started at Team Penske, when do you find out to retire, and he said when the fire inside you goes away. So somehow after last year, I'm burning myself here. So I'm just ecstatic just to be back again at Indy, what a great opportunity that I'm at. And having a baby, so it just gives you more enthusiastic -- more adrenaline for you to go out there and hopefully make my daughter feel proud of her dad.
MODERATOR: Roger, you've long been an advocate of making the races and qualifying more exciting for the fan. Given that, what are you anticipating tomorrow? And do you think there will be a lot of strategy involved from 11 to 6 or 4 tomorrow afternoon?
PENSKE: I think if you take, we start at 11, go to 4, you're probably going to be utilizing as many cars that are here -- typically we haven't had 36 cars take time prior to qualifying day or at least be prepared to. So I think we're going to see most of that time taken up. So I don't think we're going to be able to wait to make a qualifying run. You're going to have to get in line and make your run. If you want to make another one you're going to have to get back in line pretty early because I think it will close up.
Certainly if you're fortunate enough to get in the top nine when you look at the time, five minutes, if you've got nine people, that's 45 minutes, so it gives you just a little more time to go again. So it might give you two shots to go for the pole.
But the main thing you've got to remember is that No. 1 pit is so important in this race, so we're really going to be putting pressure on ourselves to be sure that you can be the quickest in the first session because based on the rules yesterday, the first one through whatever it is, get the pit selection irrespective if you were second, third, fourth or fifth or ninth, you know, in the second round. So that puts a little more pressure on us for the first round.
MODERATOR: Tim, is there anything that challenges you technically about tomorrow's procedure?
CINDRIC: The weather is always the thing that our guys chase throughout the day. It's going to be a little bit different than in years past because in years past you determined when you were going to run throughout the day, you see us get in line, pull out of line, that type of thing, whereas tomorrow is going to be a bit more dictated in terms of the time limitations that you have throughout the day.
MODERATOR: Rick, you were always known as a great qualifier. Is there something about this Speedway and qualifying that you liked?
MEARS: Mainly the team I was with. That was the key. It's such a precise track, you know, very narrow groove, very high speed, very little room for error, but you've got to run the car -- the main thing for me and the fun part was that you had to run four laps. Out of the four laps you'd never run one corner the same way twice because you're adjusting the next corner off what the previous corner told you. All of that is part of what made it fun, the technical aspect of it.
MODERATOR: OK, do you want to open it up to questions from people? Let me get the mike to you so we can get it on tape.
Q: With not having the ability to go out and do any type of race setups next week, I imagine you've spent a lot of time, maybe a majority of your time, maybe, on race setup this week. How have you been able to balance that, and do you feel you're better prepared for the race at this stage than anything?
CINDRIC: I think the way the weather has been this week, I'm, I guess, curious how well prepared we are. Fortunately the equipment and a lot of what we deal with is very similar to what we've done in years past, so there are not a lot of variables. But the way the weather has been, I don't think anybody has had a consistent day and, obviously I don't know what Race Day is going to hold for the weather, but the weekend is going to be very different from what we've experienced this week. I think it's going to be a bit of a crap shoot, to be honest.
Q: Roger, you've talked in the past about concerns about costs and where the series was headed, and now you've got a new -- not only a new qualifying format but a new CEO, a new title sponsor. Just talk about where the business model is going and where the series is going.
PENSKE: I think if I step back and was here last year and I think where we are this year, it's been, I don't know how many years now, four or five years since we had enough cars to fill the field, not having to go out and say could you bring an extra car. That's point number one. That's a big positive. I think the fact we have five women in the race creates a tremendous interest by many, many people -- people who might not have been interested in our sport. Certainly IZOD has bitten their teeth and have run with it, I think, with the promotions. We need a credible sponsor. I think IZOD is the type of product that tends to be maybe a product that our fans would be interested in. And certainly Randy Bernard, I had a chance to meet with him before he took the job, and really, he is engaged and there's no question that he's available by phone, he communicates, and, to me, will bring this series together with his experience from a marketing perspective. I think what he's trying to do is communicate with his team and let the technical things take care of itself and let him be a real CEO. I don't take anything away from Tony (George). Tony is the one that put the money down and got this series back on track. He was the one that committed to bring these two series together, and we can't forget that at this point. But I think we're in a much better position, the racing has been tighter, the changes in the rules from the standpoint of just little things on the cars so we can run closer. I think you're going to see 10 or 12 or 15 cars that potentially could win this race based on strategy.
Q: Roger, you mentioned that these three you thought were some of the best. When you look for a driver, what is it that you're looking for that you see that maybe someone else isn't?
PENSKE: Well, I think, you know, there's three criteria that always stuck out in my mind. The first criteria, has he been a winner in some kind of racing, so he knows how to win. There are a lot of people that have been fast but don't know how to win. So that would be number one.
Number two, in today's racing the ability to communicate technically, not just because you have a big right foot, but technically can you communicate with your crew, do you understand, are you engaged on the technical side of things. I think that's very important.
Obviously the third thing is the commercial side of it, being able to support our sponsors and the media and other things. So those three things are key. As Helio said, they've got to have the fire in their belly; they've got to want to win. We have three people here, one's going to, we hope, win the race.
I think the fourth point would be you've got to have drivers who are not just one man on one team when you've got three drivers. We have one team with three drivers, and I think that's super critical. That's one of the things that Tim has been able to bring into the team to continue to say that's the mission here is one team. And Rick obviously is a byproduct of that over the years, so that's kind of my formula.
Q: Roger, have you been able to put Helio's accomplishments in perspective? I mean he wins his third last year, he has a chance to win a fourth this year, and maybe break that threshold and be the first to win five. I mean, when you brought him on board, could you have imagined how quickly he could get to this point and how close he is to possibly making history?
PENSKE: Well, you know, he's been a fabulous tool, you know, in our toolbox from the standpoint as a driver. He met all those criteria almost on day one. Obviously I think the proof of his excellence is the fact that he could go through what he went through a year ago, you know, bounce back as he did, come back here and race and win the race. I think that he's gotten off to a good start. Obviously his experience here -- it seems when he comes to Indy, there's a second light that goes on because he's -- I think he's got a lot of confidence and he's got a great engineer in Ron. And, to me, these other two guys want to win this race, too. I don't want to take anything away from them. If he could win his fourth, I think that we will certainly be sure we have a car for him to try for his fifth.
Q: Helio and the drivers as well, given the short week of practice, the new format and all that sort of thing, would each of you address your mindset as you get ready to compete tomorrow perhaps for the pole for whatever the best finish is going to be? Talk about what you're thinking about.
CASTRONEVES: Certainly you always want to have a little bit more time as a driver, you want to go out there and maybe you should do a little bit more and maybe do a little bit here and there. But at the end of the day, thank God, the incredible team of engineers that we have and the entire team, when the car came out of the truck, the car was pretty much well set up. We seem to go into it starting with a great situation. But, again, we are still going to continue. We feel that we prepare -- it's going to be new, this format, new to everybody, you know. Certainly we're just going to have to -- well, in my opinion, I just am going to go and drive. Whatever this guy tells me to do, I'll go and go for it. I'll be prepared, and I'm sure Ryan and Will, we all prepare here. So we have three cars that have a chance to be on the pole position.
But, again, we can't take just for granted that we know Ganassi, Andretti and possibly even other teams, new teams might as well take a chance. So we've got to be ready for any unexpected situation. We've got to be ready and I think this team is well prepared for that.
BRISCOE: You know, I've really enjoyed the new format so far this week. I've never had so many consecutive days in the race car at the track. So it's been really good. I think we've really planned it out well and done a lot of race work when we've needed to. I think we've here and there tasted what we've got for qualifying, not really found the limits yet at all, but I think we're in a really good position as we're moving forward towards Pole Day, and really our last sort of practice day before the race, I think we're prepared well and I'm real excited about it.
I think the Team Penske cars are as strong as we've ever been here. It's a huge opportunity for me to get my first, for him to get his fourth. We're all feeling really confident at the moment.
POWER: Yeah, I've felt really comfortable all week, hardly changed the car. I think that's the advantage of having three cars, you know, you can try, each of you can try something different and all come together at the end for the ultimate setup. So I'm real confident. I wouldn't care if we didn't run at all today and went straight into qualifying, you know, my car feels that good. So I'm looking forward to the new format tomorrow. It's not a big change for me because I've never really been in the position to challenge for pole. So I think it will be exciting for the fans.
Q: Helio, you made that incredible pole run in the wind several years ago. What is the pressure tomorrow where you may have to do it twice within maybe 45 minutes or something?
CASTRONEVES: I just hope the wind is not the same as that year. I would not be able to do it twice. But you've got to go, you know, you've got to go, you've got to be -- you've got to feel the car, you've got to know what you have. But in the same way, we've got to watch our competitors. We don't want to take an unnecessary chance just to do it.
But in my view, as long as it would be well explained to the fans and everybody, it will be very exciting. You not only have to make once statement, but you've got to make twice, and that's tough to do it. As Rick was saying, you're always trying to find the limit, but you've got to make sure that you're all completely four laps, too. We're here, you do what you've got to do, and we're ready.
Q: On the lighter side, Will and Ryan, has Helio had dinner with Paul Tracy this week? And if so, what did he say they talked about?
POWER: Yeah, he did, actually. He had a big argument about the race. I don't know what they were talking about. I don't know. Did you have dinner with Paul Tracy? You actually talked to him? Good. (Laughter) That's a good question.
Q: For Ryan and for Will, when you both come to Indianapolis, I mean when you have all these legends and their accomplishments that they've done, do you just kind of sit back and try to absorb everything that goes on that they've done here and try to apply that to what you want to accomplish?
POWER: Yeah, I mean you just lean on them, get some information. You know, it's great to have those guys around. It really helps. They've got so much experience and they know how to win this race and be on pole and all the little details that count. I think that's a big advantage in this team is having those guys.
BRISCOE: I think absolutely right. You know, it's easy to come here and sometimes you think you know more and you have lots of ideas, but it's best to sit back and listen to the pros and just absorb and try to keep learning because it is a huge learning curve, this track, you know, what goes into it, the preparation and all of that. You're always learning so much and the best thing you can do is it absorb it all and go out and be ready to go fast when the time comes.
MODERATOR: Thanks to Roger, Tim, Rick, Helio, Ryan and Will. Godspeed, best of luck tomorrow and on Race Day. Thanks for being here.