|Michael L. Levitt/LAT/GM|
An interview with:
Juan Pablo Montoya
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's post qualifying press conference. We're pleased to be join by our third-place starter and also our fourth-place starter, Helio Castroneves starting third and Juan Montoya starting fourth.
Helio won pole here in 2007, also won the race in 2006, 2007, 2012. Tell us your thoughts on qualifying and what we might expect tomorrow.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The Hitachi car has been pretty consistent, I have to say. We basically worked a little bit harder than what we thought. I have three other very good guys in the team which is good because each one tries something different. In the end of the day, you just pushing to the limit. So it's a perfect testament of great teamwork. Having 1, 2, 3, 4 shows we're pushing to the limit, all four of us.
I think each one want to be in front, but at least for the team is a good problem to have, having all four guys fighting for the pole position.
I'm very exciting at this point because we work in a way that hopefully we going to have a result like that. That's our goal. Our goal is to go out there and try to win a race. Best day for each car. We will find out tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Your teammate, Juan Montoya, is starting fourth tomorrow. Started 18th in last year's race, finished 15th. How are things going?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's good. I'm kind of disappointed with that lap, to be honest. It's funny because from my previous session I was 3/10ths upcoming to turn 10. It's the last corner. Just had to lift on the exit. Mad, but still ran a decent lap.
I don't know, for the team I think it shows how hard we work over the winter. I think it shows as well having Simon onboard and being a four-car team, I think it's been really, really good. Running the Verizon car has been amazing.
I don't know, like we said yesterday, what could be better 1, 2, 3? It was a 1, 2, 3, 4. To be honest, I think all the year is going to be like that. We just got to make sure we don't beat each other.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Why are you guys so good here for a decade and more?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: For him it's been great. For me I did one Fast Six all year. Fast Six, qualifying on road course, I did one last year. It was in Detroit. We did two set of tires to make it to the second round, reds. Somehow I nailed the lap. I made it to the Fast Six.
It's good. I'm really happy.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You already matched last year. That's a good thing.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: One for one so far (laughter).
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Each track sometimes favors one team. I mean, you can go around and you can see some of the places that other teams do extremely well.
I believe at this point it suits the work that we done, the preparation that we do. Basically so far it's been working well.
We don't want to change what things are working. There are tracks that we maybe are not so successful, we want to beat the other teams up. But at this point I feel it's a great beginning. Like Juan said, I hope we'll be like that the whole season long.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I'll tell you something. I think one of the funny things in testing, I think we push each other so hard, we really don't look at anybody else, we just look at each other. Having four good drivers, you look at the data, they're always quicker than you somewhere. They're trying to get where you are in the good places. It just keeps raising our level.
We look at ourselves, our videos, Oh, my God, he's good there. Look how late he brakes there. It just helps, you know what I mean? Even from qualifying two to three, I looked at the data with Will, he's better here, I need to make sure I picked up two and a half seconds doing that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll quickly introduce your Team Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud, starting second in tomorrow's race. A new best start for Simon. His previous best start was 14th in 2014, where he finished fifth.
Simon, we were talking about the strength of Team Penske. How has that been noticeable to you as a new member of the team?
SIMON PAGENAUD: What Juan said actually is very true. There's four of us, four really good drivers, great equipment, similar equipment. It's easy to look at the data and improve yourself personally in this corner if you're not the best there. It just makes you stronger every session.
It's a good dynamic. We're having a good time actually.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Are we (laughter)?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's just acting. No worry, Simon.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's just the beginning.
SIMON PAGENAUD: It's good. It's a friendly environment, knowing that we're all competitive. We all want to win. Everything's going well for me.
Personally I've been very well welcomed by my teammates, by the whole team. I feel at home. It's very enjoyable.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Simon, you're starting on the front row. So is Will Power. When you go into turn one, it seems fairly wide. Is there more than one line going into that turn?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes. That's the advantage at St. Pete, you can really make the first corner side-by-side. Usually the one that decides what is going to happen is turn two, who turns left. Depends who is ahead at that time. Yeah, so we'll see.
Q. Do you drivers know if there are acceleration cones when you come towards the green flag? If Will is the polesitter, sometimes when you come out of the last corner, the polesitter just goes and sometimes that leaves some people behind. Do we have the cones set up where you can start accelerating so the field stays together?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, there are cones that were in place actually this morning. I believe it was for the challenge race. We talk about it in the drivers meeting tomorrow morning and see what Brian Barnhart wants to do.
THE MODERATOR: Takuma Sato qualified fifth for tomorrow's race. He was the pole winner last year, and has a best finish of fifth in 2011.
Takuma, you're representing Honda in the Firestone Fast Six. What can you tell us about the aero kit in qualifying.
TAKUMA SATO: It's a new season. Very exciting with Honda and Chevrolet presenting new aero package. For the fans, cosmetically different, too.
We obviously need to maximize performance. Over the course of the winter testing, I think we were quite satisfied with the result today. Proud to have the A.J. Foyt Racing car in the top six. Jack had a little issue, but we'll find out.
THE MODERATOR: Also joined now by Sebastien Bourdais, who qualified sixth for tomorrow's race. This is Sebastien's home race. He's a resident of St. Petersburg and previously held the track record in qualifying in 2003. Finished 13th last year.
Sebastien, with a strong showing in qualifying today, is it more special because this is, in a way, your home race?
BOURDAIS: Just really proud of the KVSH boys. It's one of those goes where it can go either way. For the first time since '03 I got out of the group and got in the Fast Six. Okay, we got off to a good start. Pretty proud of that.
The car was pretty good. We started the weekend really in a hole. It might not have shown in the lap times, but we were not happy with the car. It was pretty rough.
So to come out and make the Fast Six, it's a good achievement. It's definitely better than where we started last year. We'll see how we can race.
But there was definitely something in that last lap. I got a bit greedy. I was up a 10th and a half, I went for it, went to the escape road and probably ruined Simon's lap.
It is what it is. But very happy with the progress we made and looking forward to tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Other questions, please.
Q. Takuma, how important was it to get a Honda into this Fast Six?
TAKUMA SATO: Well, I think it's pretty important for us to be in the Fast Six. The last two season, this track is very kind to me, being able to putting a good result in qualifying. Today it wasn't like that way. As I said, obviously congrats to the Team Penske with the dominance over the qualifying. Particularly well done for Will.
As I said, I'm very proud of the team, particularly from a one-car team to a two-car team. Really the team worked hard to put everything together.
As I said, Jack had a little issue today. But we gathered really good data from yesterday and made a significant improvement over the first practice session. So I think it was good.
To me, I'm happy to be in top six. Let's hope we have a strong performance continuing tomorrow.
Q. Sebastien, hometown. How big would a win be?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I mean, obviously it would be pretty sweet. I don't know. I might have to wait a year. Won Daytona last year. Sebring last year. Maybe have to wait a year. I hope not.
Like Takuma said, it's a bit of a Penske lockout. Kind of feeling the best of the rest here, which in a way makes you feel good and bad. We're just going to have to step it up and mix it up with these guys.
I don't know if we got what it takes to win, but we sure felt like we had something to play in qualifying. There will be other weekends and we'll keep on trying.
Tomorrow is a different day. It's one of these things where when it gets that close, the race can go either way. It only takes one yellow to flip the whole thing around.
We'll stay on our toes, run a clean race and go from there.
Q. Were any of you surprised that we didn't get sub one minute there? Was it just the heat of the day? Seems like the reds should have been worth a little more than they were.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don't think the track was gripping up with the rain last night. I think the rubber would have come up.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I agree. I believe maybe the ambient is a little bit cooler, but the track temp was a little bit higher because of the sun. That's probably one of the reasons.
Q. Helio, talk about the physicality of this package and the reds, no power steering right now.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The good news about here, we don't have like very fast corners. Even turn two and the fast chicane, they are fast, but they're not long duration. They're very quick with this package and the reds.
I do feel in the race is going to be harder. For sure is going to be difficult because as you start to go through those areas, for sure is going to become harder. The track is going to grip up, as well.
At this point it's not that bad. But tomorrow, it will be tough.
Q. Sebastien, remind us the difference between the course now and in 2003 when you set the first track record.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I mean, it was much more narrow. There were no curves. It was only walls. Kind of what the street courses used to be. We pushed the walls a little bit, put curves, opened the visibility of it. In a way it's good for safety. In a way it's kind of taking the street course challenge away.
But it was very different days, man. The cars were obviously quite a bit more powerful. The track had just been repaved. It was very smooth, but very slick. When I came back in '11, I was like, Wow, that place changed a lot. It was just different days.
You're really only looking what you were on that given day. That's how you base it off.
Q. Helio and Juan, you mentioned probably the best thing that drivers do is adjust. You had a great start. Things are going well. You both have a lot of accomplishments in the past. Talk a little bit about adjusting to success.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I guess it depends. If you work hard, for sure the rest of it comes natural.
But in my view, as we seen, we have three other drivers in my team. Seeing those guys with the different ways, you just update. Plus we love the sport.
Many times, Juan Pablo and I were talking about it, Man, this is getting more fun than ever. That's the way we keep ourselves going.
I feel great. I feel that I have a chance to beat all of these guys. That's why we keep going.
It's natural. We've been raised in this way. Our mind is already preparing that way. It's just becoming natural, I guess.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, same thing for me. We're at a point where it's a lot of fun to do it. There's no pressure to do it. You still push yourself as hard as you can.
We still got the hunger to beat everybody, you know what I mean? We want to be the best. We still do. We still can get the job done, so it's good.
We're really good at Indy, so it helps (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you. Good luck tomorrow.
We'll continue with our post qualifying press conference. We are now joined by our Verizon P1 pole winner, Will Power, driving for Team Penske. He is our defending race winner and champion. This is Will's 37th career pole. He is sixth on the all-time career pole list. This is his fifth pole on the streets of St. Petersburg. Will set a new track record of 1.6509 seconds in qualifying.
Will, you say you're very focused on the present, but how does it help your confidence knowing you can win a championship then start a new season off right where you left off?
WILL POWER: It's been a really good off-season. I think just the way the team is, the teammates, it provides a lot of motivation. Obviously winning the championship makes it a very pleasant off-season. You're not sitting around wondering why you didn't win again.
Yeah, I'm enjoying it. I was really satisfied to get pole here today. All the practice sessions are working towards that, literally one lap that gets you pole. It's a session where everyone gives it everything they've absolutely got.
When you get pole, it's very satisfying. It's really difficult these days to do that. You don't see anyone getting more than three or four poles during a season now. It's the same for wins. Anytime you're at that end of an IndyCar field, it's awesome.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Will.
Q. How much does the anticipation of a new season ramp up when you know you're starting at a place where both you and the team have been so 'lights out' for a long time?
WILL POWER: Yeah, you know, racing's always a different story to qualifying. Obviously we've had a lot of success here. Everything's got to fall your way on race day. You know how it can go. Just focus on the things you can control. A bit of guesswork with this new body kit. Don't know how the tires will degrade, that type of thing. Just have to manage the best we can.
We're in a great position obviously as a team. We've been P1 in every session so far, 1, 2, 3, 4 almost.
Q. When you're already the big dog out there, they come with these aero kits, was there a fear that the edge you have you might lose? There was a lot of uncertainty by some teams as to what actually might happen. Was that a fear entering this season?
WILL POWER: No. It's usually easier in a big team when something new happens because you can work it out faster than the smaller teams.
What was surprising is how tight it was in qualifying today between Chevy and Honda. When you think about it, different engine, different body kit, but very similar lap times.
I was kind of worried that the competitiveness of this series wouldn't be such this year. But it is. It's right there as it was. So, yeah, to me it's the toughest open-wheel series in the world to compete in, and probably the best racing that fans can watch. We just got to get it out there because I think people would love it.
Q. Will, how much harder are the cars to drive now? Do you think fatigue and conditioning will become a factor tomorrow?
WILL POWER: No, I think there's actually lower grip than I thought. It hasn't been that physical because the air temperature is cool. It's the heat that gets you the most.
I think it will be fine. We've tested at tracks with a lot of grip, really heavy steering. All the tests we've done have been at tracks like that. You come here, it becomes easier. It's like doing pull-ups with a 50-pound vest and taking it off.
Not really, but similar (laughter).
Q. The new car looks a little battle ready, to be polite. A lot of parts and pieces hanging off. Would you expect the racing to be like that? Are people going to be careful to keep all that stuff on them?
WILL POWER: I don't know. I think we're good. We just have two little rabbit ears to knock off. Once they're gone, great (laughter).
The Honda definitely has a lot more stuff to knock off, so they probably have to be a bit more careful.
I don't think it's going to change the racing. You can still bang side to side without knocking too much crap off that's going to make a difference anyway.
Q. How is the visibility following the cars? Seems like there's more stuff on the sides.
WILL POWER: That is something. Looking in the mirror is definitely more difficult. I think they should not have allowed anything above the height of the tire. I don't know why they allowed all this stuff. It wasn't really necessary.
Yeah, it is more difficult to see, absolutely.
Q. Obviously there's so much competitiveness on your team alone with four outstanding drivers, but is there a challenge that as the season goes on for, say, people like Roger and Tim Cindric to channel that intensity so it doesn't possibly get out of control amongst the four of you?
WILL POWER: The thing is, all four drivers have a lot of experience, have worked with a lot of different teams. Not Helio, but everyone else. But, you know, he's old, so he knows how to get along with people (laughter).
But honestly, it seems as though Penske employs people with lots of experience. That's the case there. So we know how to work together. I don't think it's a problem.
I know when you're younger, you're working in a team with someone, it can be very intense, mind games, all that, but that definitely doesn't go on at Penske. Just very experienced guys, great work ethic.
Q. Will, I don't know if you've had a chance to talk within the team about strategy for tomorrow's race. Sometimes on road courses, someone will go flat out, other drivers might be told to conserve fuel, don't do as many pit stops. Do you think we'll see different strategies tomorrow? New aero kits, fuel…
WILL POWER: The fuel mileage might be a little different. I think it will be the same old story. Depends where you qualify. You get the guys who are kind of out of the top 10 will try to catch an early yellow, pit early, go off strategy. That's the problem with the way the pits works. It closes. If you get caught out, it's almost like having a drive-through penalty. You have to keep that in mind. Especially if you're at the front, you can get absolutely hosed. Might be better to take off into the distance.
THE MODERATOR: Will, congratulations. Good luck tomorrow.
WILL POWER: Thank you.