Houston GP Sunday Press Conference

From left, Aleshin (2nd), Pagenaud (1st) and Hawksworth (3rd)

An Interview With
1st Simon Pagenaud
2nd Mikhail Aleshin
3rd Jack Hawksworth

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series post race press conference. We are pleased to be joined by third place finisher Jack Hawksworth. This is Jack's career best IndyCar finish. His previous best was sixth yesterday, also his first career podium finish and third top 10 finish of the season. Jack, your team qualified last earlier today. How were you and the Bryan Herta Autosport team able to come back to a podium finish today?

JACK HAWKSWORTH: Yeah, like you said, we didn't have the best in qualifying. This weekend was tough as a whole because we've not had, I guess, a usual qualifying pace. The thing is this year we qualified very well usually and it's not quite worked out on race day, and this weekend we have to do it from the back of the grid. Fortunately yesterday we were very quick in the race, and today we were quick at race time. The guys did a great strategy, and when we needed to be fast we were fast and that's what enabled us to get to the front and finish on the podium and get a great result. I'm just very happy for Bryan Herta Autosport as a whole because they've worked so hard this year and we've come so close so many times and it has just not quite happened yet. The guys really deserve that, very proud of them, and a fantastic day.

Q. Jack, after your weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, you described how much you had to prepare for this race and how you had a couple weeks off to get everything back going. Describe how you were able to pull together a sixth and a third this weekend.

JACK HAWKSWORTH: Well, I mean, every race requires a lot of preparation. I think the thing between Texas and Houston, it was the only gap we've had in the season, so it gave us a little bit of time just to prep the car, spend a little bit of money on it, and the team, all of us to kind of go back to base and kind of reset because obviously it's a long season and it's been kind of hectic since the beginning. A lot of prep from the guys who did a fantastic job, and from my side just continued to work with the team and get ready in the best way possible. It was tricky because we expected to come in and be faster in qualifying, we expected to start further up the grid and it didn't happen, and we just keep sticking on it and the team did a great job on pit wall and I did the best I could out there, so I think that's a good result for what we put in for sure.

Q. The hard racing there with Juan and Charlie at the end of the race. Kimball suggested you were a little over aggressive. What was the racing like from your cockpit?

JACK HAWKSWORTH: Yeah, it was good. They were clearly a little bit quicker at the start but I was still aggressive. I put my car on the inside of the track, never reacted to what the guy behind did, just placed my car on the defensive line, and he couldn't get it done. So we ended up on the podium, and yeah, I enjoyed the race. I hope everybody who was watching enjoyed it because I'm sure it was quite good to watch, and yeah, I like racing like that. It was clean, and I had a lot of fun out there.

Q. How does the Verizon IndyCar Series racing compare to other series that Jack Hawksworth racing has competed in?

JACK HAWKSWORTH: I think IndyCar, the racing is so close. It's not official. We don't have DRS. We haven't get these really easy overtakes. The overtaking is a bit like, you know, there's a bit of contact, a bit of rubbing. Yeah, I'd say it's a little bit rougher.

Q. The last couple of race stops, you were on the black tires, the guys around you were on the reds, how much of a handful was that the last couple laps under green?

JACK HAWKSWORTH: Yeah, that was difficult, because the two guys behind were on reds and they were very quick and it was a little bit easier to keep the reds off. I think it was probably more the issue rather than being on the blacks was I didn't seem to be able to keep my tires clean under caution because once I cleaned the tires we were okay, but for some reason couldn't seem to clean the tires enough under caution, and I always had a few miles on it at the beginning of the stint and that seemed to hurt, as well. The red tires seemed to come in a little bit quicker and that helped the guys behind possibly. So it was definitely tricky, they were quick and it was just a matter of trying to hold them off until my tires cleaned. I knew they would, but it was a difficult two or three laps trying to place my car in the correct place.

THE MODERATOR: Jack, congratulations. We will see you in Pocono. We'll continue with our post race press conference. We are pleased to be joined by Mikhail Aleshin, who finished second in today's Grand Prix of Houston, Race 2. Mikhail, a one two finish for your team. You must be happy to get a podium finish here at the Grand Prix of Houston.

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Yeah, it's definitely an amazing day for all the team. I think it's an amazing day to be one and two, and especially for us because we were working on this very, very hard. As I said, we are learning every day, every time we're on the track, every lap and every corner, and here is a result. We are one of the fastest cars on the track, and I think we did an amazing job today. The whole team did an amazing job in every case.

THE MODERATOR: Talk about the conditions of the race, obviously very hot, but going through a double header weekend here in Houston must be very difficult.

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Well, yesterday I was not so tired because I finished the race unfortunately very early, so today it was not so difficult for probably as some of the drivers who raced yesterday all day. But I can tell you that, yeah, that it was very hot and very humid in the car.

The worst thing that happened is when I have the caution so you have to drive slow so there is less air coming, and that's when the main problems starting for everybody. That's why you need to train, you know, so I could keep the pace until the end of the race. Actually the end of the race was also exciting for me because I had a flat tire, and I barely finished.

I mean, you know, luck was on my side today, that's for sure.

Q. You started on the front row, and I'm not sure that I ever saw how your teammate (inaudible). Can you talk about that?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Well, I had actually a good start, like the most of the start was good. I could keep up with Helio. I was very close to him so soon. Obviously he closed his line so I can't overtake, but Simon just over braked me from the outside, and he stopped entry to the corner. Yeah, basically that was it. I just needed to give him his space at this point because he was ahead.

Q. After yesterday's race, was the pressure really on for you today to rebound, and if so, how did it affect your race today?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Yes, I think that definitely there was a little bit more pressure on myself just because I wanted to forget yesterday, and the best thing to forget a day like I had on Saturday is to have a day like today.

But at the same time you can't put too much pressure on yourself because then it's just going to harm you at the end of the day. You're just going to do more and more mistakes. I mean, again, I just regret the things that happened yesterday, and I started from zero today, and I knew it was a good car, and that was it. I just did my job as best as possible. But again, actually the reason why I dropped in the middle of the race is because I had a contact with one of the drivers on the track and I lost my front wing, and this was the point when I brought my car to the pit to change the front wing.

I was just pushing as hard as I could, and the car was very good, as well, so I could push, and I had a good lap. We had a great strategy and we could gain what we lost. Actually it's really amazing, but that's what we did.

Q. With the strategy that you used to get up there or to stay up there with Simon, given his lap times, was there any communication over the team radio that you were more or less somewhat blocking or (inaudible) Simon to get this win?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Not at all. Not at all. Nothing about those things. No. Our team is not this kind.

Q. Not just for yesterday but throughout this season, you've been involved in a couple issues here and there. Do you feel that today really redeemed you for all that?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Well, definitely today luck was on my side. That's a fact. But at the same time this is not a reason to relax in the future. We see everything can happen here, and even in the place where you basically don't think that something can happen, something is happening, like yesterday in the race.

You need to pay full attention to what you are doing here because all the drivers are very competitive, but at the same time all the drivers still are human beings and not machines, and some of them are doing mistakes which can harm you. You just need to be careful. That's it.

Q. Tires have been a story this weekend but it looked like a lot of teams spent a lot of time on blacks today. Was that because the reds were difficult or because you ran out of them over the weekend?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: It was just because there were no more reds. Probably everybody would use it a little bit more if it was only one race this weekend, but yeah, we used some of them yesterday, and so it was just easier to use the new tires, which was blacks.

Q. Did you have any issues with the red tires?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: No, actually the balance was I thought pretty similar, and I think the tires were actually (inaudible). I had no issues until this last couple of laps with a flat tire, but that can happen to everybody. But besides that, tire usage was not an issue for most of the cars here that I see.

Q. Out of curiosity the last few laps you had a flat tire, and your team had the ability to monitor the tire pressures. Did they tell you on the radio or did you already know?

MIKHAIL ALESHIN: No, I just felt it was not so bad. It was not completely flat, fortunately for us. It just was some pressure but not all, and I could continue driving as long as I just changed it a bit. I didn't really understand why at this point when I was driving, so I mean, we were just very lucky. We were lucky, and today luck was on our side, that's for sure. The team did an amazing job, zero mistakes, and here's the result. Here's the result. Yeah. Amazing job.

THE MODERATOR: We will see you next week in Pocono. We'll continue with Simon Pagenaud, the winner of the Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers, Race 2. This is Simon's second win this season. A previous win came for him at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. It's his fourth IndyCar Series win he won twice in 2013 and his first IndyCar Series pole came yesterday in Race 1. Simon, a monumental weekend for you. How excited are you that the weekend ended so well?

SIMON PAGENAUD: It's fantastic for the race team and the entire organization. You know, having Mik come here second is incredible. I think it's part of obviously his contribution to the team, his addition. He's been a tremendous teammate and certainly was today. Can't thank him enough for being such a good teammate. It's working really well. He's fast, and he brings great feedback, and like I said yesterday, his engineer and Ben our engineer are working together. The whole team is elevated to top team level, and we were impressed with him today, and yesterday, as well, but today paid off, so it's a great feeling and it's awesome for the crew, obviously, just like you, they're going from race to race, and getting wins is the best motivation factor.

THE MODERATOR: This is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports first time that they had a one two finish and the fourth career win for the team and the second this season. Simon, talk about the addition of your teammate Mikhail Aleshin to the team.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Mikhail, he's a funny guy actually because I'm Latin France as you know, and Mikhail is Russian, so my emotions are a bit like Helio, it goes up and down. His emotion is more like a dead line basically. I've got to tell you, I'm learning from that because he's able to it was a compliment (laughing). He's able to recover from, like, for example what happened to him yesterday was bad luck, and he recovers just quickly from events, and he's able to get back in a car and just be fast like he was this morning in qualifying.

There's no setbacks with him. He just goes forward all the time, and I think as a rookie, the first time in the U.S., he's doing tremendous.

Q. (No microphone.).

SIMON PAGENAUD: No, he wasn't blocking me. He protected the inside, but he had a bad run in Turn 3. Actually at the beginning of the race he was really good on red tires, and I was fine, I was just checking what he was doing, how his tires were going to degrade, and I settled down behind him. But at the end of a stint, he couldn't really pass, but when we went back out on the blacks, Mikhail was really good and I knew he was going to be really good, so as soon as I got behind him and I got that run, he went down the inside, but he went on a brake early, and I fixed to go to the outside and I crossed back to the inside, which surprised him. But as always it was super clean. We didn't touch, or it wasn't even a close call. And it was a late pass, it was aggressive, but it was very clean.

Unfortunately I don't really know what happened with him and Bourdais, but I wish we could have fight this race to the end because it was going to be a great fight with Helio.

Q. I know you don't consider your team an underdog team, but how do you explain the balance of power this weekend and all season really, Coyne's team wins yesterday, Schmidt's team wins today, Carpenter's team has won, four rookies on the podium this weekend.

SIMON PAGENAUD: That's a great question. I think there's a lot of great engineers down the paddock and a lot of great teams that want to win. Ed Carpenter's team for example is a really good one. Obviously the top teams, they're always up there, but Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has been elevated to the next level, which is awesome to see. I think one of the reasons is that this is our third year together. We've developed a package, and we keep improving, which is great. I think all the problems we had in 2012 have now resolved, and it just takes time to get to this level. It's so competitive, and it takes time to get there. But a lot of teams and drivers are able to have glimpses of glory I would say, and it's difficult to be up there consistently.

Q. Even though you had some pretty fierce racing and contact earlier in the race, at the end it seemed like all that was going on behind you. Did you feel that you pretty much had the safest lead on the track at that moment?

SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, absolutely. But you know, what was difficult is the safety car was going very slow, so it was very difficult to get temperature in the tires, and I was worried because I was the first one on track, so I was worried to slid off, brake too late and make a mistake, so I was the first to experience that, a little bit like rain condition. But my car was good enough, I could really change braking zones, I was out of danger in Turn 1 and I just kept pushing to get the tires up to temp and just keep going. The faster we'd go, the more aggressive I was, the better the car was.

Q. You've had some run ins this year with Will. Can you describe how the racing is around him when you are on the street circuit as tight as this as y'all were together early in the going?

SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I don't think it's any different to any other drivers. You know, obviously Will and I are going to be fighting for the championship. We're both very competitive drivers. We've been fighting for wins and positions since I'm in the series in 2012. It's normal that you're going to get into trouble at some point because we're both on the edge.

It's the same with Dixon. Dixon is around all the time, super clean driver, but at some point something is going to happen like yesterday. It wasn't his fault, it was a racing situation. Same thing with Helio. Will is a very talented driver, very aggressive, but so am I, and I think that's what happens, but that's racing, that's competition, and that's the nature of it, really.

Q. You have four wins now, three on street courses, one on a road course. As we've seen to win the title you need to be able to win everywhere, short ovals, speedways. Where do you think you're at being able to convert one of the next two races?

SIMON PAGENAUD: On the ovals?

Q. Yeah.

SIMON PAGENAUD: It's better. It's a learning curve. I like to compare myself to Helio, for example, because he's the benchmark now on an oval. I was looking at Dario before and Helio who's the benchmark now. Ryan is becoming one of them, too. You're always looking at those guys, how you're going to get to that level. And certainly we didn't race much ovals before, now it's better because there are a bit more, so I'm learning more, and I feel a lot more confident in how to set my car up for me to be comfortable, and I realize it's more about being comfortable than having a fast car, for example. So that's what I'm going to do from now on.

To be honest with you, I thought Texas was really good. I felt super comfortable. No reason not to be competitive at Iowa and Milwaukee.

Q. Simon, you're actually 59 points now behind Will. Do you think you can possibly get to second or third by the next race or two races after?

SIMON PAGENAUD: I don't know. I haven't had much time to look at the points yet. You know, it's important to capitalize on a day like today. We didn't do that yesterday. We had a fast car, and I needed to do what Dixon did last year, win the two races. But unfortunately the conditions didn't work out for me in Race 1. Race 2 it did, so job done. Now we can get to the next race and try to do the same thing. So we're going to work, sit down with the engineer, try to understand what we need to do, and try to approach it the same way I explained on Friday, trying to win the race.

Q. Only your third year in the series, but do you feel like a sense of urgency to win as many races as fast as you can with all these young rookies nipping at your heels?

SIMON PAGENAUD: That's funny. I've never been asked that. No, I don't feel that way, actually. I feel like I'm doing a good job. I feel like I'm very focused on the job here with my team. I feel like we're getting to the level I want to be at, and it's paying off today. Days like today is where I want to be at. This is what I want to do week in and week out. Now it's about repeating. If we repeat, like Marshall said, we should be contenders, no problem.

Q. The championships are typically won by Penske and Ganassi and Andretti. How do you and Schmidt go forward and win the championship, becoming a smaller team that can do this?

SIMON PAGENAUD: I think the advantage of this team is the communication. Everybody is very open minded, very close and it's easy to go from one layer to another to address the problem, and I think that's the advantage of this team. It's very much a race team that gets down to business when it needs to. Obviously compared to a bigger organization, the issue is financial support. But the series the way it is at the moment helps us, helps this team, helps smaller teams to make it to be competitive. Surely today I don't feel like I had a slow car, I actually feel like I had the fastest car.

I think from now on it's understanding what did we do well at the Indy Grand Prix, what did we do well here, and try to improve our whole car and be competitive there, as well. I think that's what we need.

Q. Do you feel like you prefer the environment, a smaller environment of a two car team as opposed to say a larger conglomerate environment, say, for example, a four car team?

SIMON PAGENAUD: No, I wouldn't say so. I think as a one car team it was very focused on me, which worked well, but this year I'm able to extract some more information from Aleshin, from Mikhail, and that really helps, too, so if I had two, three I don't know, one or two teammates, it would help. But the difficulty of being on a bigger team isn't to get lost and for the big teams to target which drivers they need to listen to the most. I would think that would be the difficulty.

When I was driving for Peugeot Sport in Europe at the largest we had 10 drivers, and that was the difficulty. But we'll see, see what happens.

Q. I know that you and Mikhail were racing for the win, obviously. Is there a certain comfort level that comes with knowing that you've got a teammate behind you should things start to get more intense, Will in the background?

SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I've got to say thanks to Mikhail, I think he really helped me for this race. He was a tremendous teammate today. He didn't really try to challenge me on the restarts. I got really good restarts on my own, but he wasn't playing the aggressor Mikhail can be, so I want to thank him because he thought about the team interests, my interest in the championship, and that's very unusual for a teammate to do that. Hats off to him, and for a great run, as well.

You know, it's important to score those points when you can.

Q. Getting back to Mikhail a little bit, for anybody that's spent a little time with him you can't help but like the guy. Is that the way you two initially hit it off? He seems to be such a likable guy, and in a lot of ways he's kind of gotten an undeserved rap for crashing a lot this year from other drivers.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it's funny, the first time I met him, we were racing in Europe in Formula Renault back in 2003 and 4. He stayed there, I came over here and we meet again. He's grown a lot. He's a much better driver than he was back then. He's a cool guy.

The first time he came to the U.S., we picked him up with my girlfriend Hailey, and I've got to tell you she warmed him up straightaway, and it worked out really well. We hit it off, and we're good friends, as well, outside the racetrack. He's a very professional guy. He's interesting in many ways.

THE MODERATOR: Simon, congratulations. We'll see you in Pocono.

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