|From left, Hunter-Reay, Dixon and Pagenaud|
2nd Ryan Hunter-Reay
3rd Simon Pagenaud
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our Verizon IndyCar Series post-race press conference. We are pleased to be joined by our second and third-place finishers. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second in today's race. Pretty good race out there. Pretty unpredictable. Tell us how you made a second-place finish out of today.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was a pretty crazy day. Picked through the melee at the start there. Thought I was going to be taken out twice before I made it through. Then just put my head down from there. We had good tire strategy, had good fuel strategy. Everything was looking really good until that yellow came out in the middle of the race which buried us in the field, put us back to 10th or 11th again. We just had to keep fighting through it.
Had a good car, great pit stops. Just kept our head down. Unfortunately burned off the rear tires a little too soon chasing down Scott, getting through the pack, getting up to Scott Dixon. Didn't have anything for him at the end. It was a fun day, though. We came up a little short. Now our big objective is to go to Fontana and win, see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: Simon Pagenaud finished third today. Simon, take us through that last lap, being in fourth, finally seeing Mike pull over and being able to move up and get into third.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, it was interesting. The whole race was interesting, actually, because I was just behind the wreck in the beginning in turn one, didn't know where to go. I was at the back of the pack basically after that. Our chances were not looking good at that point. But we recovered well. The team did fantastic pit stops, were really good on the in and out laps, which really helped. Through the strategy, we put ourselves in a really good situation. But the end of the race, I had to save a lot of fuel to make it to the end. On the last lap I asked if I could be cut loose basically to go after Conway. I didn't know he pulled off actually. I thought that was a great pass (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: He pulled off after you passed him.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I'm delighted with third and to go to Fontana with a chance for the title.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Ryan, Sonoma always is unpredictable. There's always going to be a caution. It's late in the season. Championship on the line. Do you factor in your strategy knowing there's a good chance early or on a restart we're going to have a caution?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, absolutely. It seems like most of the time here we've been bitten by that yellow coming out at the wrong time or picking the wrong strategy.
We've had good cars here the last three years but haven't been able to capitalize. It was nice to enjoy a fast car today, and run it up where it belongs. Sonoma and a lot of the street circuits are really wild with the strategy, just because the yellows come here and there. Sometimes we'll have a flurry of them, then all of a sudden we'll go green for an hour straight. It's unpredictable. I think it made for a pretty good show today because you comers and goers today, different strategies. You didn't know how this whole thing was going to pan out.
Q. Seeing the top two contenders in the series finish later in the pack, it's obviously a big help toward your championship hopes. Tell us about your thoughts going into the final race of the season.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, that's pretty cool. Obviously it's great for us as a driver. Having the opportunity to go into the last race with a chance for the title is what you expect, what you want, what we dream of as kids. Being in that situation now is awesome. Obviously we all need a little bit of luck to make it happen at Fontana. But there's no pressure on us. We need to win and see where the others end up. But we're going to have to be really aggressive there.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, it's nice to have the championship on the line going into the last race. You can't help but think, our team, to think how many missed opportunities there were. For one reason or another 25% of the time we had mechanicals, weird things happening to the car, stuff this team has never seen. It's been one of those seasons. We've had three race wins and promising pace, but haven't been able to put it all together. That happens in racing sometimes. I made my fair share of mistakes. We're going to the final race with the championship on the line. Definitely looking forward to the next week in Southern California.
Q. Ryan, talk a little more about Fontana as a racetrack.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's very long. Very long. It's a tough track because it's so unpredictable through the tire stint. The line changes through the race. It's such a different track than anything we race on. Some guys can make their cars work low, others high. Through the night you'll see guys that are strong in the beginning, and they're not strong at the end just because the track changes that much. It's a tough race. Last year it seemed to be more a battle between engine manufacturers just trying to last the distance because it's so brutal with the heat and all the debris. For some reason Fontana is extremely dirty. I don't know why. The cars were full of debris last year. Remember how bad that was? Hopefully that won't play as much into it this year. We hope it comes down to a good fight at the end. In 2012 we had a good fight at the end. We finished fourth when we needed to win sixth or better to win the championship. Ideal situation.
Q. Have you got your shop vac plan to keep the car clean and breathing?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We have the strongest vacuums in the world. We have that and we're hoping it's not as bad. Hopefully we're prepared for it.
Q. Weather is never a factor at Sonoma. Earthquake preparedness, did either of you notice it?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We noticed it. We were both here in the motorhomes. I went through plenty of hurricanes. You know when they're coming. You can watch the news for days, you can prepare. This was pretty wild. Being in the bus, you know, it is nicer to have suspension while you're in an earthquake. At the same time I felt like we were going to tip over. It was violent in there. And we're right on the cliff. In my head I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, we're going over the cliff now." It was pretty wild. To experience it in a motorhome, you're missing out if you haven't tried that.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I tend to agree because that was my first earthquake ever, and in a motorhome. Yeah, actually I went outside in my underwear and checked how far the cliff was 'cause I thought we were going to tumble down with the bus.
But nothing really happened.
Q. Do you go into next weekend thinking you have the 500 in the bag, titles, less to lose than he has, and how do you approach that knowing you've already banked that?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, there's still a lot of pressure on the line obviously because you want to win the championship, especially with the effort we had this year. We feel we need to fulfill some promise there. You want to go out and win it for your team, for your sponsors, DHL, Honda, everybody that's been a part of the great effort we've had all year. There's a lot of pressure there, but at the same time I know that unless we do exceptional, which is win and probably lead the most laps, we won't have a shot at it. It's easy. You're one-minded the whole weekend. Set on one goal, and that's to win.
Q. Were either of you surprised to see how Team Penske basically faltered in this race? Are you surprised to see Scott Dixon have another win after going winless most of the season?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Scott always has really good end of seasons. You have to expect him as the previous champion to be there. He's always there. I think we're more surprised to see they weren't there at the beginning of the season. For Team Penske, it was a lot of bad luck. I guess Helio was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. I don't know what happened to Will. At this point you can only focus on yourself.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, never shocked to see Scott win. He's one of the best. He's a player any given weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we will see you in a week.
We'll continue with our Verizon IndyCar Series press conference. We're joined by our race winner, Scott Dixon. Scott, take us through the end of this race and what your thoughts are when you know there's cars ahead of you that could potentially not make it until the end, you might be seeing yourself on top of the podium again.
SCOTT DIXON: It was really tough. There were so many strategies, broad ones, ones that were very close, a couple laps here or there. First of all, the 10 car I thought was going to be able to make it on distance, and the 15 as well. To see them pit, and obviously the race was between myself, Hunter-Reay and the 20 car with Conway.
I tried to do a good job. I think the team did a fantastic job strategy-wise. The crew guys in the pits, to jump Power, Penske are good in the pit stops, to get that definitely helped the race and the way it played out. To save our new red tires towards the end, I looked after them as much as possible. By the time we caught Conway, I was sort of waiting to find a spot. He was very good through turn six, the carrousel, which was going to make it very difficult into seven. Just basically started following him trying to figure out where he was leaving himself vulnerable. Turn one, it's a bit tough to pass there. You can block easy. I think I caught him by surprise there. Just the momentum we had out of the last corner. All in all, it's fantastic. It's a huge weekend for us. It's our biggest partner weekend with Team Target, all the vendors from Target. To have four or five hundred of them at the end was pretty terrific.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. This victory ties you with Bobby Unser. Any thoughts on reaching that particular milestone?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, as I've said before, I think stats are something you look back on when you are maybe leaving the car. As I've said, hopefully you're happy with them. To me it's very eye-opening, pretty crazy to think that we're on the short list last year with Unser, Andretti and Foyt ahead of us. But a lot of credit goes to the team I've been with. I've been with Ganassi for 13 years. To get all those victories, all but one of them have been with that team. With the longevity that I've had, it's going to amount to hopefully something. Obviously respect those drivers from the past. It's something that I think I'll reflect on probably when I've retired.
Q. I was in Mike Conway's pit towards the end of the race. He was very much aware of you behind him in the rearview. How hard is he to pass? Did you have any sense about his fuel situation?
SCOTT DIXON: It's hard to tell. I know as a team, it's one of our tools that we have in our back pocket that's helped us win a lot of races in the past, so it's something we're strong at. Whenever it comes down to a strategy like that, we're normally one of the better ones out there. I think that helped the opportunity today. I think Conway went on to use reds at the end, and we had a new set. Ultimately it's better off by six laps. Just general grip is much better when you have that scenario. It's hard to tell. Like I said, I kept asking, the team can't make it, because he didn't put that much earlier than us. They said that he's going to be five, six laps short. He was pressuring the 20 car, trying to pass him. I think he burned his tires up, used the fuel.
With sort of about five or six to go, I could really tell he was having to save a lot, lifting big into one and two there, and obviously into four he was doing it a lot. I think he was trying to maximize all his speed from six to seven because it's probably one of the easier corners to pass. You hope you have enough. You hope you can catch him off guard. But Mike, he's a very talented driver, a great friend. He's had some great victories this year. It was nice for us to get one on top of him there.
Q. Obvious question, but looking back, 4th of July, did you think you would be in this spot, finishing this strong? What did this foretell for 2015? Is the new aero kit going to throw everything up in the air again?
SCOTT DIXON: We have two or three races before with the old body kit. This year we started very much on the back foot. We had a lot of changes with engine manufacturer, teammates, three-car back to a four-car team, the ALMS team shifting engine manufacturers. We had to run the 24 Hour with two cars, the 12 Hour with two cars. Took a lot of resources from the IndyCar. A lot of development programs probably haven't been as seamless as they have been in the past. Fortunately we know our team finishes strong, but if we could actually start the season somewhat on the map we'd be doing a lot better. For me personally, it's probably been one of the worst years I've ever had. '04 and '05 were stand-out years, but we had a deficiency we couldn't compete as well as we needed to. Now we have the right pieces, but we just haven't done a good job with them at the start of the year.
Q. I'm told you're still in the mathematical position at fifth. You probably haven't had a chance to run over what it's going to take you to win this points total?
SCOTT DIXON: I think I'm still looking for the meteorite to take out the 12 car. I don't even know what the points are yet. I know third place is a real position that we can get to with 100 points on the table, if we can do well. I think what really hurt us this year is myself crashing at Indy. That took a lot of points out when you have these double-point weekends. Yeah, from what I imagine, it's a huge long shot. Right now I think our objective is to get to third place in the championship.
Q. Where were you in the earthquake? What were your thoughts about that?
SCOTT DIXON: I think I slept through most of it. We were in Sonoma, at the lodge there in Sonoma. I think I caught the last maybe five or ten seconds of it. I heard a few screams, people talking outside. Just went back to bed, got up at 7:00. Hopefully everybody is safe and sound and nobody was really hurt. It looked like especially in NAPA, I was in the truck with Hinchcliffe before the race, his hotel was destroyed. He had to move from his hotel room at 3:30 in the morning and spend the rest of the night sleeping in his car. Penske was in the same situation. I spoke to Will before the race, and he thought he was dying.
Q. You got a good night's sleep?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I felt fine. I was good (laughter).
Q. When I think of New Zealand drivers, I think of relaxed, good-natured, almost an easygoing approach to the sport. Does that help you, especially late in the season when the pressure is on and everything is getting more intense?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, maybe. My wife always says that I'm emotionless, which she doesn't like too much. But I think for me the toughest part especially of our championship year, coming down to the last two or three races, if you're in the championship fight, I think those are the times when you just got to do your job. It's just another race. You got to try and do what you did at the other races when you won.
But, you know, I don't know. I think, yes, in New Zealand obviously, wherever everybody comes from, they're a little different, the people you grow up with, just the way you live is a little bit different. I'm pretty much a Hoosier now. I've been since 1999 living in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I don't get back home too often. But there were actually a lot of Kiwis here today, New Zealanders.
Q. (No microphone.)
SCOTT DIXON: Earthquakes. And we have a lot of volcanoes down there.
Q. Scott, you have two victories in the last three races, potential to make it three out of the final four. Do you see the potential that that could do the same for you in 2015 as what it did for Will?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it's the main goal. I think it's definitely the reason why we're not fighting right at the pointy end of the championship, is because we started so bad.
So, yeah, if we can do that. I think next year is a little more wide open. I know Chevy have put a lot of effort into the bodywork and I'm sure Honda has as well. The engines are pretty close right now. Chevy have a foothold on reliability and straight-up power. I think we have a good combination there. I think we can do a better job in tuning the car to the way Chevy drives for next year. I think we started to touch on that the last part of this year. In the last two team meetings with Chip we spoke heavily on the fact that we have to make sure we carry some momentum, finish strong, get all four cars at the top of the championship, push hard through the winter to start the season strong. Hopefully that's what we can do. We won't know until we get until next year.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, we'll see you next weekend. Congratulations.
SCOTT DIXON: Thank you.