IndyCar drivers endorse a return to Texas Motor Speedway
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by tonight's third place finisher of the Firestone 550, Ryan Briscoe, driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevy. This is the fifth top three finish for Ryan at Texas Motor Speedway. Ryan, talk about your evening.
RYAN BRISCOE: Thanks. Yeah, tough night. Certainly reiterate what Will (Power) was saying there about good racing. It was tough out there tonight, and it was exactly what we asked for, so no complaints. Frustrating. I mean, any other year with the track position I was given at the end, we would have won this thing, and unfortunately I just didn't have enough car in that final stint to hold off Graham (Rahal) and (Justin) Wilson. They did a great job.
Bad luck to Graham for that tire going down, I guess. But they were both deserving. A bit disappointing, but we got away with a big one tonight. I had a huge moment off of turn 2 about mid‑race, and I was lucky to save it. It's a shame we don't have an on‑car camera tonight. It would have been a good one to watch.
But it was great. It was just really hard work out there tonight, unbelievably hard racing, and you need to look after the tires, work on the setup all night. Yeah, it was ‑‑ I wouldn't say fun, but it was certainly good racing.
Q. Based upon what you said, are you in favor of returning here?
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean, I think if we ‑‑ I've never been opposed to one‑and‑a‑half mile racing. I just think we need to get the formula right, and pack racing is wrong in these cars. I would definitely come back here with this package. It's tough. Cars hit the walls, and I don't know about other safety issues that could be improved, but the big thing is getting away from pack racing. I thought the racing was awesome.
Q. On the one battle where it was you and Will and TK (Tony Kanaan), it looked like you drifted up high. Did you see any of the stuff going on with Will and TK at that moment?
RYAN BRISCOE: I got a run on the outside there. I was going way high to give room because I was expecting Will to be right up there next to me. Next thing in the mirror I saw TK way down on the bottom and Will was in my blind spot and I didn't know where he was. I knew something was going on, but I didn't know exactly what. It's sort of hard to see what's going on when it's right beside you, but I saw the replay. It looked like a bit of a tough deal.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by tonight's second‑place finisher of the Firestone 550, Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 38 Service Central Honda. It's your best finish of the season and best finish at Texas Motor Speedway but, again, a tough break. Talk about what happened at the end.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I just made a mistake. I just went through (Turns) 3 and 4, and I'd been chasing a little bit understeer the whole last stint, and I did that kind of on purpose, which I don't know who was watching probably saw that I ran so much of a higher line, like really high compared to what I did at the start of the race. At the start of the race I was always trying to be on the bottom, and I found that being up top for me really helped save the tires and just trying to put a ton of understeer in it.
Obviously it was tricky there in the final laps. They told me Justin was coming, and probably wasn't quite coming as quick as ‑‑ he was still so far back I could barely see him in the mirror, but I just went through 3, 4, car pushed, and normally it would kind of grip up towards the exit, and I just didn't leave enough margin for error, and unfortunately we brushed. We should be in winner's circle right now, there's no doubt. Something I'll learn from and move on.
But after four years of not being there, it would have been a hell of a lot of pressure off my shoulders to be there tonight. Certainly keep working hard at it and we'll be back.
Q. You mentioned yesterday you thought the changes would put everything back in the hands of the drivers is what you wanted. Was the racing what you anticipated?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Absolutely. I really felt that the drivers made a difference tonight. You saw my teammate Scott (Dixon) who was blistering fast early on and throughout most of the race. I can tell you that guy was driving a car that was a lot looser than me and I thought my car was loose. It's amazing how long he kind of held onto it. I thought it was a really good race. I don't know how it looked from the outside, but I sure know that sometimes like at the end I was able to move forward like a bullet and sometimes I was falling back like a lead balloon. It went both ways, and that's the way these things go. But I thought that the racing was finally really good.
The tires certainly fell off. Firestone makes a great tire, and a lot of times I think that it's probably too good, and here's a case where I think it was just about right. That right rear tire started to go pretty quickly, and my second through say my second‑to‑last stint the car was getting really, really, loose and it was hard for us to chase it. I thought the formula was a lot better than say, pack racing around here. I thought that the drivers made a difference, and it's ‑‑ overall I thought it was really good.
Q. Graham, how long does this stick with you do you think?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Until I win. That's what I was just saying to someone. Obviously we should be in winner's circle right now, there's no doubt about it. I think the next chance for us to win is in just over a week ‑‑ well, in a week, I guess, next Saturday, and Milwaukee is a place I've run great at, finished second last year. I feel like finally tonight kind of walked ‑‑ started to go our way. We caught a yellow, a yellow came right before we needed to pit, some other things kind of fell in our favor, so maybe the tide is turning a little bit here and it's the time of year to do it. I'm sure this helped us a ton in points, and we really needed that in a big way.
And more than anything, obviously we're not in victory circle right now, but these guys have worked awfully hard this year. We all felt like today was a day we could win and we should have, but as I look forward, I think that the Service Central guys, we've fought the fight this year in many, many races and it hasn't gone our way, so finally the tide is swinging in our favor. So we'll go off to Milwaukee and have some fun.
Q. Earlier today or last night you were fairly direct in a tweet that you made about the discussion from yesterday, you thought maybe too much had been made out of it. How do you kind of feel? Do you feel like the racing would have been just as good without that extra 125 pounds of downforce with the wicker?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Definitely would have been hanging on a lot more. But I thought probably in the end, it's probably a good mix where we ended up there because certainly if we had taken more off, it probably would have been more strung out. I mean, again, like I said, I had times in this race where I felt like I was just hanging on for dear life. I had some huge saves. A couple times I thought the car was gone, and then obviously I had times where I thought I was a man on a mission at the end there.
So it kind of goes both ways. But I'd say overall it was a good compromise. I just think that as drivers and as our committee, we all agreed to say things in private and work on these things together, and when guys right away started going out and saying things, I just don't think that's the right way to handle it at the time. But overall, like I said, I feel like the compromise we made here was really good, and my hats off to Will and Bo for making the right decisions.
Q. And also Ryan had said earlier when someone had asked him if he wanted to come back here and race, he said most definitely. How do you feel about it?
GRAHAM RAHAL: If it's like tonight, absolutely. Why not? We put on a great show. You know, I don't like pack racing. Just as a driver you feel like you can't control your own destiny when you're pack racing, and here you definitely had to drive the thing tonight. And it's the first time on a mile and a half other than maybe Homestead in 2010 that I've really felt like the driver can make a difference. So I really enjoy that.
Q. You said the tires fell off. Do you feel like the tires themselves went off or the extreme lack of downforce caused them to wear exceptionally fast?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, certainly that's a much bigger part of it, and I'm sure when Firestone built this tire, they weren't expecting us to run half the downforce we did last year, whatever the number is. I can tell you that the amount of downforce difference is so big, you can feel it even on a pace lap, just swerving back and forth along the tire. You can feel that there's a lot less grip.
At the end of the day, though, I feel like it's perfectly fine the way it is. If the tires go off a little bit, there's nothing wrong with that. It makes the racing more exciting. Again, like I said, they do a phenomenal job for us. They always do. And I see nothing wrong with the way it went.
Q. You mentioned about what it looks like outside the cockpit. I can tell you right now that at least on social media a lot of people were really digging the race tonight. How does that make you feel considering all the changes that you guys have had to do this weekend, just having to kind of do a new philosophy on racing at Texas as opposed to the old one?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It feels good. It feels good, and that's what we need. INDYCAR, we put on some great shows this year, and we need to keep that buzz going. Like I said, I didn't watch obviously the race from the outside, but all I know is that I saw guys going forward like crazy one stint, next stint they were falling back like crazy, and I was one of them. That's phenomenal. That's the way it should be. That's the way it used to be. And ultimately the goal here is to put more butts in the seats out there and more eyes on the TV. If racing like this keeps helping it, then I'm all for it.
Certainly, like I said, I really enjoyed it tonight, and we're really bummed that we didn't win it. We should have, and it's going to haunt us for a while or until we do. But I thought that it was a really good formula. And like I said, the biggest thing is we didn't test it, so it was busy yesterday. We tested here May 7th and the car we tested was completely different than the car we had to come back here with. I thought we did a really good job.
Q. With all the focus on the formula and all the discussion that the drivers had to do, plays don't take this the wrong way, but is it sort of fitting that Justin with the role that he took in this that he ends up the winner?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, and someone asked me that earlier, Justin and I were kind of two of the most outspoken guys about the downforce levels, and so, yeah, congrats to Justin because certainly Justin is not known as an oval racer, but he did a hell of a job. I'll admit, I was surprised when I saw him the second‑to‑last stint, saw him come flying up behind me. I was like, whoa, wasn't expecting him. There were a lot of guys, Hildebrand had a great race and marched his way through the field. I think it was good in that sense, and it really mixed things up.
Under yellow you'd drive by and you'd look at the leaderboard, and it would be totally different, other than Dixon mainly being up there the whole night. It would be different every time you went by.
Certainly congratulations to Justin. It's hard to say when I know it should be us, but that's the way these things go.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the Samsung Mobile Media Center by tonight's winner of the Firestone 550, Justin Wilson, driver of the No. 18 Sonny's Barbecue Honda. This is his seventh career IndyCar victory, his first at TMS. Your last win was at Watkins Glen in 2009 with Dale Coyne. It's your first oval victory. You led just 11 laps, an exciting 11 laps. Talk about that finish.
JUSTIN WILSON: It was a lot of fun. I was behind Graham, and he managed to pull away on that restart or after we got around the Penske cars. I thought at that stage he'd gone. There was nothing I could do. But then we caught some traffic and I got past Ryan into second place, and then I just set on trying to do the best laps I could, trying to not slide the car too much but get as tight as possible just to try and catch Graham thinking maybe something will happen.
Towards the end there I was chasing him down getting closer and closer, and it was ‑‑ you're hanging on because every corner you turn in the car goes into a four‑wheel slide, you get to the middle of the banking it would grip up again and then as you come off the corner you would go into a full slide. I know we were pushing it pretty hard sideways a lot, and when I saw him brush the wall, that's when I really knew we had a chance to pull this off. I passed him coming out of 2. I was actually sideways myself because of that, had to lift, tighten my line. It was getting pretty loose.
Just really happy to get this first win on oval. It's a big relief, and it's great to get another win for this man. He's given me some great cars, and there have been times earlier this year when we felt we should have at least been on the podium if not better. But we keep saying, OK, it's racing, it's going to come good, and sure enough, it did.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by winning car owner Dale Coyne. Second victory for Dale. Tonight you snapped the dominance of Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi. What does it mean to you to knock those names off the win streak?
DALE COYNE: Well, one has to replace those names so working toward that. It's nice to be here in Texas. It's fitting that in Texas a barbecue car wins the race, so that's proper. We had brisket about eight hours now since we've had some barbecue. But we're happy to do this on an oval.
It was pretty special with the new car. We all started from square one, and I think that showed we've been pretty competitive with that. We struggled a little bit the first few races, but we figured it out quickly and we ran strong at Indy, had a legitimate shot at Indy and had a legitimate shot here, and we finished the deal tonight, so we're very pleased with that.
Q. I asked Graham right after he got out of the car, after the situation last October both you and Graham took the lead on safety, especially on the mile and a half ovals, which is kind of how fitting is it that this race was the first race back on a mile and a half was decided by the two of you?
JUSTIN WILSON: I think all the drivers were concerned, concerned of the unknown. Some people overreact, some people are a bit more laid back, and as a group I was trying to manage that situation. I think INDYCAR did a fantastic job. We came here with a great package, and it allowed for people to come and go throughout the race. We weren't just glued to the racetrack and flat out waiting for something to happen. You're actually racing each other.
It's the most fun I've had on an oval. Obviously I won so I'm going to feel a bit biased towards it. But I think it was a great package. I think it was as safe as motivating goes but still high stakes; you can't afford to make a mistake out there.
Q. You and I have had a conversation for a couple years about when are you going to be able to prove that people from Europe can actually drive on an oval. Does it feel good to get this one behind you and maybe put that conversation to rest?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, hopefully this calms that down. It's definitely a relief on my side because even after qualifying yesterday, I thought, well, that wasn't very good. Maybe I don't know what I'm doing. So I've got a great team around me and we just kept working on the car, trying to make sure that it was balanced, and we knew it had to be balanced for the entire stint of the tires instead of just going after ultimate lap time in qualifying.
It was a trade‑off. We gave up a low downforce qualifying run to make sure that we had a good car, and it's great.
Actually Dale and myself had that conversation, I think it was in Detroit or after Detroit, and he said, which race do you really want to win on, and without hesitation I said, I want to win at Texas. People think I can't drive at this track, so I want to put that to rest. To have the car to do it is a great feeling.
Q. Of all the ovals, why Texas?
JUSTIN WILSON: Because this is considered most of a traditional mile and a half oval, and typically we've run flat‑out here, and the quickest car usually wins as far as straight‑line speed, not necessarily balance and handling. For me it was this is a track I seem to have struggled on the most over the last few years, and like every driver I've got an ego, so I wanted to put that straight.
Q. You had an issue earlier on pit road. If you could talk about what happened there, and then your strategy, you seemed to stay out longer. Were you hoping for a yellow? And then when whatever happened, did you think that the opportunity was gone, that the race was gone?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, that first stop was interesting. I think I'd worn the tires out and we were coming down into the pit box, and I saw Diamond lock up and start heading tires, and his front outside tire changer starting to backstep into pit lane so he didn't get run over, and that kind of closed off the entry into my box. I had to stop short and it cost us a lot of time, went close to the back. Just knew we had to stay calm. It was a long race and anything could happen.
Like you said, middle of the race we stayed out longer, we were getting good mileage, just trying to manage the whole race and the whole situation, trying not to burn too much fuel.
I had one driver enter low on the inside of me, I gave him room and then he just drove me up to the wall, so I wasn't too impressed with him. But that's racing at this type of track. People are going to lose their temper and do things you wish they didn't.
Q. You've been at this for 25 years. At any point have you said, this is silly, I'm having trouble, and now all of a sudden you get back together, you put the team back, it seems to gel. Does this make you say, I'm good for another ten years?
DALE COYNE: I was probably good for ten years anyway, but this probably means 20 or 30. No, I think we both had talked a lot about it, that when we parted at the end of 2009 and we both kicked ourselves and wondered why we did that, and it takes a lot of things to make a team gel.
I can't say enough about our engineering staff. We didn't test here. Just about everybody else has come here and tested sometime with this new car. We never tested here. We came here to run race setups every session. We ran race setups in qualifying because we had to learn how to make that car last the whole session, the whole stint, and I think that's what paid off. I think we just used our heads on the engineering side for what little time we had here, and obviously it paid off great tonight.
Q. Justin, over the course of the weekend, how tough was it for you as a driver just to kind of rethink the past, what you've had to do at Texas to get around here and perform well and just having to adapt to this new style of racing here? Just how tough was that as the weekend progressed?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, obviously this car is very different. It goes back to earlier, how a lot of drivers were nervous just because they didn't know what was going to happen and how it was going to race. You've got to change the driving style. This car reacts different. It's a little bit more of a handful, which I think is good because it makes the racing more interesting. We just kept working on it, kept trying to make the car better, trying to control what was happening, whether it was the entry, the middle or the exit. Just keep working on it and try not to get too distracted about where we stack up and where everyone else is and how fast they're going and how do we get there. We just said, okay, this is going to be a long race, how do we manage our race the best we can. At times I was thinking how do we stay on the lead lap?
As good as the Firestone tires are, you can't get any tire to last in a four‑wheel drift at 215 miles an hour at Texas. It's going to wear anything out. So we knew about two thirds of the way through the stint people would start to drop off, and we wanted to make sure that wasn't us.
Q. After tonight, both third place and second place have said they wholeheartedly vote to return here. How do you feel about it?
JUSTIN WILSON: I thought it was fantastic. Like you said, people were nervous, but as soon as the cars went on track, everyone calmed down. I think also a lot of credit to INDYCAR and the way they heard everybody's opinion, everyone got to talk about it, and just talking about it calmed everybody down. Once they realized, okay, my mind isn't driving me crazy and it's a problem, they calmed down and we came up with some good solutions, and I thought it was fantastic. Obviously I won the race, but I had a lot of fun out there. I thought it was the best run I've had on an oval.
DALE COYNE: I think we're tired of being called a small team. It takes a lot of effort for anybody to do this, but yes, in the big picture we are, and I think to be able to beat those guys on a weekend ‑‑ and they've always been so ‑‑ I don't know how many years we went with nobody but Penske and Ganassi winning in the oval races. I think it was like a three‑year stint there. Nobody else could win on an oval. I think we were close at Indy, obviously we did it here, so it's a great accomplishment. Again, I think it's the help of a new car.
I think the league did a great job this weekend. You have to find the right amount of downforce to make the car work, and whether that's 1,900 pounds of downforce, 2,300 pounds of downforce, drivers always want more, but they realize we need to make the car safe and not have pack racing. So I think what the league did and the adjustments they made during the weekend were perfect, and it showed tonight; you had another great entertaining race. The product on the track was really, really good. I don't know how many passes there were, but the race was good, and I think they hit the sweet spot on the rules this weekend. They did a great job.
DALE COYNE: Yeah, very much so. In CART when they went to the panels, we podiumed three times that year. So I think probably for us, and especially for myself and the guys we had, the engineers, John (Dick) and Bill (Pappas), you have to think a little bit outside the box in engineering. You're used to what you had. You have a new car, maybe it has a problem with weight differential as people have talked about. Well, you've got to think outside the box how to fix that.
I think collectively we've all put our heads together and done a good job with that. We struggled a little bit in the beginning. The first couple races we scratched our heads why we were where we were. But we did some tests, and like I say, we never tested here, so again, I think that's a compliment to how quickly those guys reacted.
Q. Now with this race over, what are your thoughts on returning to TMS? Do you think that's a worthwhile endeavor?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, from my perspective as a driver, yes, I think it was a great race. From the seat I sat in, I think I had the best seat in the house. But I really enjoyed it.
From a driver's point of view, I would definitely give it the thumbs up. I'd ask to come down to the politics side and how Dale saw the race financially. But from a competition, I thought it was all positive.
DALE COYNE: Yeah, I think the rules are so important, and I think they addressed that. That's the difference here and Las Vegas last year where we had pack racing with too many cars on the track. I think just a little common sense has to prevail, and we put out a great product tonight. The racing was good, the passes were good, and it was a safe race. I think the guys that crashed, everybody was fine. So I think this has always been a staple of the series, and I think it would be very important to come back here again.
Q. Justin, it's a generalization that the European drivers need to get used to ovals. Is oval racing an acquired taste? Do you have to learn to enjoy it, or do you already?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, I think you enjoy anything you're doing well at, so when you're not winning you think, oh, why are we doing this, and then when you start doing better at it, you start to enjoy it more. We had some good races. We didn't get the finish.
I definitely think that oval racing is part of Indy car, and for me, that's what differentiates IndyCar to every other open wheel series around the world. It's what makes it special, and that's why I want to race here.
I think as a driver, you want to be the best. You want to master every time of discipline that you're faced in that series, and here we go to Indianapolis, which is fantastic, we go to road circuits, we have got street circuits, short ovals, and then here in Texas. I think it's a lot of fun knowing that you can master that.
As a series champion, you have to do it consistently throughout the year, and I think that's what makes the series champion pretty special.