MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Merrill Cain with Team Penske. Thanks for joining us today for the annual Indianapolis 500 Team Penske press conference. We're privileged today to be joined by the key players of the most successful team here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske.
First off, let's welcome team president, Tim Cindric. Next to him, of course, Roger Penske. Next to him, a man who needs no introduction here at the Speedway, Rick Mears; three-time winner Helio Castroneves. Next to him, driving the No. 6 IZOD car, Ryan Briscoe; and, of course, IZOD IndyCar Series points leader, Will Power is here with us.
Tim, we'll start with you. Obviously, it's a great opportunity to be back here at the Speedway, 100th anniversary of this race and a lot of history going on here over the next week or so. But just talk about, I guess, the lineup, the changes that we've had in sponsorship and some of the new partners that we have on board and what we're looking forward to here in the next week or so.
TIM CINDRIC: Well, from my standpoint it's always great to come here and represent Roger and the organization and everything that he's accomplished at this great race. To be part of Helio's chance to run for a fourth, this is the second time we get to try this again. I think we were so close last year, and I think we'll have a great opportunity to maybe accomplish that feat at some point in time. And having Shell on board, you can see what they've done not only at the Speedway but around city of Indianapolis and through national promotions. They've been a great partner of ours.
Ryan and Will, these guys have every opportunity to win this race, as well. I would give anything to see any one of these guys in Victory Lane. IZOD, nothing would really finish their whole process here like having the IZOD car in Victory Lane at Indy with their support of the series. I think that would be a great show as well. Obviously, Will has put the numbers on the board all year long. And Verizon's support of this program, I'm sure that should the Verizon car be in Victory Lane, they would blow that out, as well, as far as a promotional aspect. Again, thanks for having us and it will be interesting.
MODERATOR: Roger, some thoughts from you, and maybe even talk about some of the partners. We have a different looks with the fire suits with the drivers this year.
ROGER PENSKE: First, I want to say it's always a thrill to be here again to race at Indianapolis, as you look around the track and the things that have taken place since we were here back in the late '60s, there's a lot of change. You know what strikes me the most is this is the 100th anniversary, 41 or 42 cars with drivers, we haven't had that for probably 10 years. The competition is tight as it's ever been. And I think that the new qualifying format with the Fast Nine and then going for the pole will be very exciting tomorrow. I think the diversity of the whole field is amazing with the women drivers have shown such good expertise -- sorry about the accident yesterday, obviously. Sarah Fisher being a team owner, I think these are things so good about our sport. That's what's great about being in America, people who want to compete can do that and there's no better place, a platform to do that but here at Indianapolis. Because, you know, the notoriety you get here is amazing. I would say that over the last, you know, four or five decades that I've been involved, it's helped us build our company, our brand. And then to be able to sit up here with Rick Mears, a four-time winner, and Helio, three, and certainly with Ryan and Will, we've got a great group of guys this year. Only one can win. But the transparency we've had with the drivers this month and also for the series, the first four races has been terrific. I think we're in good shape.
There's lots of competition, obviously. You know, Ganassi won this race a year ago, they're strong. Dixon and Franchitti, you've got young Rahal and you've got the Andretti team and many other strong cars. Tagliani showed a lot of speed. So you could have a surprise winner here.
So to me, we've got to stay focused tomorrow, not make any mistakes because it's going to be key because we want that pole position.
MODERATOR: Rick, you have a dual role this month as a four-time winner but also still heavily involved as an adviser and spotter on Race Day for Team Penske.
RICK MEARS: Yeah, it's great. Obviously, just great to be here and still be involved with everything and the team. The team has been doing a tremendous job so far this month. Roger has pretty well covered it. I think the competition level this year is just outstanding. Should make for great qualifying tomorrow if the weather holds out for us, should be a really exciting show. Obviously the race itself should be exceptional with the amount of cars we've had. There's going to be some good cars and teams not make the show, and that's -- it's good to see but bad to see. But we're just looking forward to a great run this month and wish everybody a lot of good luck. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Helio, you can join Rick as a four-time winner and just general impressions of this place that have been so special to you.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, certainly I'm so honored again to be in this opportunity, especially with Shell V-Power, Pennzoil Ultra. Having new colors here, I'm really excited. Rick the other day kind of whispered in my ear, said, "If you have the same luck I had with this car, you can become a five-time winner." I'm like, "OK, Rick, let's get first fourth and then fifth."
Right now, it's great. We stick to the plan before we start going for qualifying. Today is the Fast Friday; we're going to see some pretty good numbers. It's difficult to have a clean lap because we have 41 cars, which is very impressive. All my experience here, I never had this type of a scenario that have so many cars around the track, which shows the series is getting stronger every year. It's going to be fun and can't wait to go out there and try the qualifying setup, and hopefully good numbers will be good enough for tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Ryan, you've always been quick here, but you want one of those rings that Rick and Helio have.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I want it so bad. I feel really prepared this year. Obviously, there's a lot of focus in everything you do around this place, and it feels great to be back in Indy. Our cars are fast. The team has done an amazing job over the offseason, and with IZOD coming on board, we've got so many good people behind us, pushing us forward. You know, motivationally I've never been so motivated to go out and do a good job and make no mistakes. I think that's going to be key this year at the 500, to be flawless on the track, in the pits and everything we do. You know, hopefully as a team tomorrow we can all be right up there, hopefully sweep the front row. That's certainly the goal. I think we're capable of it, and then we just need to keep all three cars up during the race.
MODERATOR: Will has won the pole at every IZOD IndyCar race this season. He started second last year, was very strong on the racetrack, and quick yesterday. What do you have for us this weekend?
WILL POWER: Yeah, hopefully more of the same. We've all got very good cars and two very good teammates. I mean, the good thing about having three cars is that we can all run different setups and probably can come to a very good setup, optimum setup. So, yeah, this is definitely a pole position I would love to get. You saw last year it was on the ovals that's where we lost all our points. I'm very determined to come back this year and, you know, obviously win my first oval but be strong every time we get out on an oval. So just keep working hard and pushing away and see if we can get the Verizon car in Victory Lane. That would be unbelievable.
MODERATOR: OK, we'll open it up to questions now. I don't know if, are we taking a microphone around? Raise your hand, and I'll come to you if you have a question.
Q: Tim, how do you compromise a good qualifying setup with a good race setup? On a day like today with Indiana weather being what it is, do you work on both at the same time, same day?
CINDRIC: Typically the answer would be no, but obviously with the way the weather has been this week, we're forced to do both. I think you'll see today the first couple hours of the day will be teams still tuning in their race cars because the weekend is unpredictable so you're not really guaranteed that you're going to get that chance Sunday. So we have to approach it as if this might be our last time before Carb Day to actually get a run at the race setup. I think you'll see the first couple hours today in race setup, at least for us. You'll see the end of the day heat up toward the end of the day toward a qualifying setup.
Q: To the three drivers. The fact that you started the season all on road courses, is that an advantage coming here because of your overall experience at Indy compared to some of the other teams?
POWER: Yeah, I would say so, but this is such a unique place. There's no other oval that you can really use a similar setup for. But as far as the weather, you know, I think that helps us because we had really good cars from last year, and we really haven't changed much. So, yes.
CASTRONEVES: We certainly hope so. But, again, as this place is unpredictable, this place is unique and even sometimes not running for a long time, when they come over here, they still have the experience and they might not have the speed. But again, in a race, anything can happen. But certainly it's going to be interesting, the new rules, the double-file restart here. So there's a lot of things happening that it can change the dynamic of this race in the past. So it will certainly be interesting to see.
BRISCOE: Yeah, I think we're in good shape. We've come well prepared. I think the biggest difference not having an oval and also losing some days due to weather is really for the rookies; I think it's probably just hardest for those guys. You know, all of a sudden they're in a big rush to go out and try to make this field, one of the hardest fields to make in such a long time. Biggest difference probably is for them, and for us we just need to stay calm and not get caught up in it too much.
Q: Guys, last year you had a pretty clear day for Pole Day. Tomorrow might not be the same thing. Does that change the strategy going into the day with the new format?
PENSKE: I think with 41 or 42 cars, it takes about six minutes per car, so that would be four hours. So if we start at 11:00 sharp, it could be 3:00 without a break. So you're not going to have a chance to go back out. So all the cars are probably going to take some time because of the weather situation. The top 24 end up being selected from tomorrow, so you want to be sure that you're in the field. So the opportunity to go out and run and then go back in line is probably not going to be available like we had in previous years with fewer qualifiers. But, you know, I think it's going to be pretty exciting.
The one comment I think was asked about running road courses, you know, before the ovals, I think that's a definite advantage for the good oval drivers who have been here, have run ovals. And probably the disadvantage is as we get into the race there's going to be a lot of people who have not run ovals and will probably get in the race because they've got good talent. We've seen that before, and that's going to be judgment and other things that they're not aware of how fast this place is. So I think that's going to create other opportunities and issues come Race Day.
MODERATOR: Questions? We have time for a couple more.
Q: For the three drivers, you predicted, all three of you predicted before the season that this would be a tight championship given the depth of the field and now some things that have happened in the four road courses, and like for Will, who's the points leader, and Ryan and Helio. Now heading into these stretch of four ovals and then through the rest of the season, others can come in, Ryan, Helio can jump back into the ovals. Do you again see it going to the last event in the championship race?
BRISCOE: Well, I mean it's still a long championship. A lot has happened in the first four races but a long way to go. I think it's going to be key moving forward not have too many races like Helio and I have had at the beginning of the season, throwing points away. It's going to be important to be consistent. And work hard on putting yourself in a position to finish on the podium every weekend, I think that's going to be the key and challenge because it is so competitive being there in the hunt all the time. It's going to take a lot of hard work to be there every weekend, and that's what we need work for.
CASTRONEVES: Yeah, pretty much the same. Certainly here it's, championship apart, Indianapolis we kind of like stand by on that area, we just take all the chance we can. But, if not, we still obviously have been consistent so we collect a lot of points, especially in qualifying since these days we are actually adding points. So hopefully with that it's going to help us and turn around our season that's been quite turbulent.
POWER: I'm sure it's going to go down to the last race. Just so many strong drivers and teams this year. You can see how mixed up it can get, especially with double-file restarts. You can be leading and then taken out, it's that easy. So I see a very mixed-up season with a lot of different winners.
MODERATOR: And certainly qualifying here has a big impact on the championship because there are 15 points available to the pole sitter on down through, that's something we don't see at the other races.
One more question, if anybody has one.
Q: Guys, comment a little more on the double-file restarts, the challenge that presents here and if that changes your mindset just a smidge going into Turn 1, particularly as the race gets later in the day.
CASTRONEVES: It's been changing my head all the way around, I tell you that. I don't know how we're going to be here. I've got to see. It's going to be the first of the oval double-file restarts. I don't know how they're going to want us to bring the three wide, you know, on the first three wide. So we've got to wait and see what Brian's prediction, but the double-file restart I think is going to be exciting. It's not like going from sixth gear to first gear like it's been on the road course, so you might not see those kind of trouble we've seen in the road course. I think it's going to be a locality of fun.
POWER: Yeah, it's going to be very different. We're starting at such a slow speed late. I'm not sure, I think when you double file, you have no opportunity to pass. You're sort of stuck in your row. So that's going to make it really interesting. Probably down the back straight, so I think the last two restarts of the day are going to be pretty wild. I mean, the outside row is going to be -- I don't know, maybe at a disadvantage if they don't sweep because the groove just gets smaller and smaller all day. So we'll see. Everyone has to learn on the job.
BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean we haven't done it on ovals yet. We haven't really been told exactly where the starting cones are going to be and so on. So it's such a long straight, it could be anything. Depending on where the cones are, we could still be getting into (Turn) 1 pretty fast, but I think the officials are going to have to help us out making sure Turn 1 and 2 are clean. As Will said, I think getting through there and a lot of the passing is probably going to happen up into Turn 3 when the speeds get faster.
MODERATOR: OK, thank you again to Team Penske for joining us today. They have agreed to stick around for just a few minutes for one-on-ones. Let's go around the corner a little bit so we clear space here. Thank you again.