ARNI SRIBHEN: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar conference call. We're pleased to be joined by the three drivers who are in contention for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, Will Power and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske, and Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. For the ninth straight year, the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship will be decided in the final race of the season, the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.
Will leads the points standings by 51 points over Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud is 81 points back. Will, first question is for you. Obviously a finish of sixth or better wins the championship for you. Does that even venture into your mind of what you have to do to win the championship going into the weekend?
WILL POWER: You know, to me it's just about obviously just aim for a top 5 finish, absolutely. The mindset is just to really work hard on getting the car right. Obviously the rest you can't control. So just really focusing on the job that I have to do.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Last year you won the race at Fontana. You said it was one of your most rewarding wins. Just talk a little bit about last year's race and what that does for you entering this year's race.
WILL POWER: Well, obviously it was definitely a great finish to the year last year, but it's a different field, and actually things just get tougher and tougher all the time in this series. Winning last year definitely doesn't make me feel comfortable going in. I know that it's going to take a lot of hard work and a very good race to win the championship, so I'm just, like I said, focusing on the things I can control.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Helio, you've been among the title contenders the last five years, but you still haven't won a championship. What will it take for you to beat Will and get that first championship for yourself?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. What is it going to take? It's going to take to win a race and hopefully things go in that direction. We're working hard together, and come up with a little bit of luck, too. It's not only in my control.
But the good news is we have this thing pretty close to Team Penske, and I believe our goals will be accomplished, and that's what we're looking for. But yes, I'm going to do everything I can to bring that side, and we've just got to keep ourselves in the hunt and doing all we did last year, push as much as we can so that if it happens, it happens.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Helio, you were in the points lead for much of the season but now you're chasing Will. Do you prefer to chase or be the guy who's being chased?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I would like to chase but I would like to have a little bit more cushion, too. Certainly when you have that kind of scenario it always helps. But at the end of the day, yes, probably I have been in the situation that I was leading and lost the championship, and in the same situation, had to catch him, and lost the championship. At the end of the day, it's difficult for you to control. You can't just control unless you execute, and that's what the No. 2 needs to do.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Simon, 81 points back, you're obviously going to need more help than Helio or Will to win the championship, but talk a little bit about your approach to the race at Fontana this weekend.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, it's pretty simple. You know, I just have to go into weekend very focused on trying to be competitive and go into the race thinking to win the race. That's the only way I could have a chance to win the championship. I don't have any pressure. We've done really well this season with this Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team and now we're in a really good position. It's nice to come to the last race with a chance to fight for the championship, and like I said, like you said actually, I'm not really in control of what Will and Helio are going to do, so I can only control myself and my team and then we're going to try to go win the race.
Q. Is it harder for a team that's considered one of the smaller teams in Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports to go up against a team like Team Penske and you know that basically Will and Helio have the same car?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, Team Penske is a huge organization and they've shown their strength on oval this year. They've been super strong for sure. But at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, we have good race cars, we've been competitive, and I'm just going to have to be a little bit more aggressive than usual and try to forge my way forward, and hopefully that will be enough.
At this point I think we've exceeded expectations, and all I'm going to try to do is grab it. Is it an advantage? I don't know. It's a good sized team. It's a real race team, and communication within the team is really easy because we have less people, so hopefully it can help in a very difficult situation like the last race of the year.
Q. I'd like to ask Will and Helio, lots of focus here in Detroit on Roger for the better part of five decades now in racing and such a big year for him. Can you just talk about working with him this year and what's the key to the success? And what about Roger; has he got a little more jump in his step these days?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it's obviously been a very strong year for Roger and a long time coming. He's been second too many times, the team has, in the last five or six years. We definitely have had the speed to win championships, and now we're finally in a position for the team to do it, and for me personally I want to do it, as well.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, to be honest, it's an amazing organization. Obviously I believe any driver would love to be part of it, and for sure when you come there you understand because you want to win as bad as anybody, but the team, you're becoming wearing the shirt of the team, you're becoming part of the team, and you want to make sure the team succeeds, as well, and over the years that's what I've been seeing. It's great to be part.
The team this year, many, many years we're close, and we said, okay, basically we haven't the Indy 500 and the championship, and Detroit. We were able to accomplish Detroit; unfortunately very close at Indy 500, and the championship, we're super close to making that happen, as well. That's the way we're so proud to be part of the organization, whether it's myself or Will or Juan Pablo. We want to make sure we give this to Roger because he deserves it more than anybody.
Q. Will, after your spin in Sonoma, you came back with determination. You never quit. Can you talk a little bit about that, about never quitting and how it can turn out to be in your favor?
WILL POWER: Well, after the spin in Sonoma I came back to a reasonable position. Yeah, just, oh, man, I didn't expect it to be so slick on the inside there. Yeah, I was happy to get back to ninth and then got ninth place taken away just with the yellow flag out as we crossed the line. Yeah, it was a good recovery.
Q. Simon, you've had such a good season. How do you think that that will help you and your team after the finale going into the off season?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, it's been a great season for sure. It's been three great years with that team. We've worked well together. The team has stayed exactly the same, same people, same engineers, and I believe we've done really well with what we have, with the resources we have. Honestly I'm very satisfied with what we've done.
Then as to what's going to happen next, it's still too early to talk about it. I'm just going to focus on the championship and Fontana this weekend.
Q. Simon, this obviously is the third 500 mile race on the schedule, Indy and Pocono being the other two. Is there anything from those two races that you could carry over that might help you in this 500 mile race, or are just the tracks so different that not one thing is going to matter or carry over?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, the length is the same, sure, so you approach it similar in terms of when to be aggressive, when to not be aggressive. It's the last race of the year, so you really need to deal with this one differently because personally I need to go win the race, so I need to go forward and be aggressive all the way.
There's another aspect to this which is the reliability side of things. Last year, I'm actually looking at it right now, there were only nine cars to the finish, so reliability is going to be a big play in the championship and in this race, so that's another thing to think about during the race.
But when do I learn? You always learn. Every time you're on the racetrack you learn, every time you're on an oval you learn, especially on superspeedways. Definitely this one is a lot different to Indy and Pocono, but certainly the race craft is always very similar.
Q. And just to follow up, you obviously talked about how you have to win the race. You're kind of the underdog in this whole thing. Is that maybe a role or something that you embrace or maybe not as much pressure maybe as on Will and Helio?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I'd rather be in Will's position right now, but it's okay. I believe you have to be patient, and we've had a steady progression every year, and we're back this year fighting for the championship at the last race. I think it's taking its course in due time, and I think everything is fine at the moment. Am I happy with third? No, but we'll just keep trying, and then I think it's all good at the moment.
Q. Helio, you've done well on the ovals this year. Is that good for heading into this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, every time we have a good car on the ovals it helps to see you perform. You're talking about 500 miles, it's a long race, and we've still got about five or seven pit stops to deal with it. The good news is we've always done well here, the bad news is Will is on my team, so he's going to have exactly what I've got. But nothing we can do about that. That's actually a good problem to have for the team and hopefully we manage to go the 500 miles and be competitive in the end.
Q. You were in the lead, in the series points lead, and then the last three races things haven't gone right for you. Can you talk about that a little bit?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, very disappointed the last three races. I have to say that it's been unusual, the mid Ohio race, obviously outside our control; the Milwaukee race, we're still trying to understand why we didn't have the performance the same as Will and Juan Pablo; and last weekend unfortunately right at the start of the race having Bourdais throwing a strike right at the beginning. So that frustrates you, but you can't just let those bits bite you. We've just got to move on, and we still have one more race, which is double points and 500 miles, so anything can happen. We're looking for the best result.
Q. Will, I was wondering what you take away from past championship runs to support yourself in a mental sense and also racing to this championship.
WILL POWER: I mean, at the end of the day, we're going to be there at the end to have a shot. That's the first thing is to make sure you're there at the end and that you have a competitive car. They're the two things that will really help me win the championship.
Q. I would like to compare this year to what you've been involved with before in your careers.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I'd say this year, obviously with a teammate, you have everything he has, which can be a good or bad thing, but it is not the normal championship team that you might have. This has been a very good year for Penske all around, and I think the aim was for the team to win the championship this year. We've got two cars with a very good chance on Saturday night, and just, yeah, we're very determined to make it happen.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, same here. We all understand that this championship is most important for Team Penske. Yes, I understand I've been in many battles like that, and I definitely am going to go there and drive my heart out. But at the same time you've got to understand that it's a team perspective, and they've been in the hunt for so many years and we've got to execute it as a team, as well.
I want to be the one to do it. I know Will wants to be the one to do it, and we've just got to go out there and do what we did the entire year, and then the best team wins.
Q. You may have answered this in the previous question, but I couldn't really make it out. Is it easier or harder for you guys to race against each other as teammates, or would it be easier if you guys were on opposite teams?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, there is no easy in racing to be honest. It's always difficult out there because not only are you teammates but you have 20 other drivers, 23 other drivers out there competing against you. Even though sometimes your teammate might not be in the hunt, you still have other guys to be in the way, and sometimes they don't care.
At this point it's great to have him as a competitor because it shows the entire work that we did this year, it's paying off, and obviously the negative side is the entire work that we did this year, it's working for both, and he's going to be your main competitor. I don't see it as a negative, I see that as a positive, because the way we're working together, we were able to be better than all the rest of it, and one day might be his day, one day might be my day. Hopefully Saturday night will be my day.
WILL POWER: Yeah, it's an interesting situation, but like Helio said, it's a good situation for the team. We both have the same cars. It's been good. I think we worked hard in the off season, and I think all three drivers work really well together. I think we've definitely brought the car and pointed the development in the right direction that now we seem to be competitive everywhere.
Yeah, so it is what it is.
Q. My question is for Will. I'm wondering about the seams on the track at Fontana. They've caused people problems in the past. We're still not sure two years ago whether that was your issue or not, but in any case, are the seams still there? Is it something you guys think about, or do you put that out of your mind, or have they been smoothed over or what?
WILL POWER: Well, yeah, they have filled some of the seams, but they're still for the most part there. It's just a part of the track. You've got to understand how you can run across the seams and that's just a part of driving around the speedway which makes it very challenging.