Firestone Indy Lights point leader Josef Newgarden and IZOD IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves participated in a teleconference today to preview this weekend's races the Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres and IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
Q. Josef, has the season been what you thought it would be when you came back to the U.S. to race from Europe?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think so. It's been a very good year. It certainly hasn't been perfect, but I don't think it's ever going to go like that. We've been very fortunate to have a strong run with the team, but it was no surprise when I went and talked to all of the guys at the Sam Schmidt Motorsport shop, and the great stuff they run there. They do an unbelievable job, and they're really a powerhouse in the series.
It's not too much of a surprise by all the effort that they put into everything, but certainly it's been very exciting for us, and I've been enjoying working with them all year.
Q. I mentioned the next race is the Grand Prix of Trois Rivières, another street circuit for the series. What do you know about the circuit at Trois Rivières?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I know there are a couple of guys that have been there before. Certainly the Mazda drivers that have run there in the past will have knowledge of the place. And I've talked to a couple of them and heard some things that I think is certainly going to be very bumpy from what I've heard. It's a very tight technical circuit. There's not a lot of speed on the straits. It's more technical than anything, I think.
But we've experienced that already this year certainly with St. Petersburg, Long Beach, and especially Toronto being probably the most similar with the bumps and so on. I think we'll be pretty prepared with what we need to do to have a strong package there.
Even though Lights hasn't been there for a very long time I don't think, and no one's going to have too much knowledge of the place with an Indy Lights car, at least. It's going to be interesting to see who comes out with the best package and can put it all together as quickly as possible.
Q. Finally, you do have a championship points lead. One of the guys chasing you and probably your chief rival for the title is your teammate Esteban Guerrieri. I know you guys had some contact at Edmonton battling for the lead. Is there any point in the season where you start looking at Esteban not as like a teammate, but the guy who is looking to beat you for the championship?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I think things always looked like that. Esteban to me has always been the main guy there, you know, to watch out for. I think he's a very talented guy and he's a great teammate as well.
A lot of people wanted to know at Edmonton what the dynamic was between us, and certainly has the season starts to wind down, it seems to get more tense with everything. But we're good friends, and I think we work really well together as teammates.
And certainly that's part of what has made us so good this year, I think, is the chemistry that the team has together. There is not a lot of animosity between anybody, and we're able to work with each other. Certainly that little bit of competitiveness between us is able to drive us forward, I think. So it's really positive all around, and it certainly has helped us with our success this year, I think.
Q. What are your thoughts about the qualifying format for the race in Quebec? Just to clarify for everyone on the call, Firestone Indy Lights will be using a knockout qualifying system similar to the IZOD IndyCar Series at Trois Rivières, where the fastest six cars will advance to a shoot out qualifying session.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: That's a great question. I think it's very exciting what they're trying to do there for the weekend. I've never had a qualifying session like that. It's going to be a little bit more IndyCar style with whittling it down to like the Fast Six, and then getting another shot at it. It becomes like a super pole. I'm really excited about it. It will be the first one I've ever done and certainly it will be great training for any driver in the Lights series that are looking to run in the IndyCar Series, this is great training for them. It will give them an idea of what they need to get better at and certainly get used to that format a little more.
Q. Helio finished his season best second in those colors at Edmonton, so I assume yellow is your lucky color this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm really excited about this momentum. We certainly had a little difficult and little different start of the season, but we were finally able to be right there in the top three and that's what we're looking for.
Our guys did an amazing job, the guys from Penske Truck Rental represented really well the entire team, so we're really, really excited. It's great momentum from Edmonton and carrying it into Ohio which is a place we really enjoy very much.
Q. You mentioned you enjoy Mid-Ohio. You've had a lot of success there. You won IndyCar races at the track in 2000 and 2001, and have two poles and three podiums in the four IZOD IndyCar Series races at the track. What about it suits your style so well?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it's a challeng(ing) place, up and down elevation, and not only that it's very technical as well. Certainly during the weekend it's going to be something else. It seems to be that when you go out there the crowds really, really enjoy to have the IZOD festivities out there. So all the atmosphere is just great. It's not only one thing, it's a lot of things.
Q. Helio, your team made a change with Tim Cindric going over to Will Power's car, and John Erickson coming over to work on your car. What's it like to be working with someone like John after working with T.C. for such a long time?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly the biggest thing is T.C. not only is a good strategist, but he's a good friend of mine. And he knows sometimes when I'm saying the car's OK, and he knows that OK means not so good or maybe OK can be like don't talk to me for several laps, you know. Those kind of things you don't get like in one or two races, but you just get that from several years, and that's what T.C. and I had.
But at the end of the day I understand we want to win the championship, and Will put himself in that position right now. And he has the best chance to do that. At the end of the day, he's going to do what's best for the team, and I am a team player. I totally understand and I have no problem.
Plus, John Erickson is a fantastic guy as well. A great, great guy being in races for a long time, not only now in IndyCar Series or prototype but also in NASCAR. He certainly understands a lot. He does have a unique style, which is a lot of fun, and it creates a great environment for the entire group. So I'm really excited.
Last weekend he did a great job, you know. Kind of like keep the pace and putting the right teams, and that's why we were able to finish with a good result because of that too.
Q. Does a driver drive differently when he's under the eye of the officials? Do you have to drive a different way?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, not really. Every time you go out there, the way I see it, you don't take for example, last week after so many unfortunate incidents, I could not take any chances. It would be very tough for me to not have a good result.
But I think if the guys on probation have a chance to make and overtake, even if it's risky, I would do it without a problem. Hopefully I would make it because you don't want to crash anyway. You don't want to take anybody out on purpose. Again, you've got to make sure when you do that, you do something to make sure nothing's going to happen. I'm assuming there is nobody on probation, right?
Q. You're assuming what?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Is there anybody on probation.
Q. Three guys now, (Mike) Conway, Ryan Hunter Reay and (Alex) Tagliani.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, OK. When you're in that situation, you've got to watch out so you don't get penalized again. But I've been on probation before. I didn't change my style of driving and nothing happened.
Q. Well, you just learned that three were on probation, apparently. But is this the kind of message or direction that the drivers were hoping for?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a very good question. I think, I think if they are penalized, you know, that is already costing them. Yes, it's unfair for the other person who they end up taking out, but they are penalized.
The way I see is you give everyone more respect. I'm just not going to put my nose there because I know if something happens, you'll be penalized and that's avoiding probation. Yes, you have to have some kind of penalty for the guys that do this one, two, three too many times.
I do feel like finally we're about to go in that direction, and we should continue like that. We should be consistent. If it happens again, we should be consistent and not start the season soft and end up playing hardball in the middle of the season or towards the end of the season.
It's when you know the rules, the drivers know the rules, I guarantee it will be more crystal clear to everybody else, not only for the guy in front, but also for the guy that's trying to make a pass.