1st – Will Power, Team Penske Chevy
2nd – Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport Honda
8th – Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevy
11th – Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Will Power and our championship contender Scott Dixon. We’ll start with Scott really quick.
Scott, I know qualifying didn’t end up the way you wanted, starting from the 11th position tomorrow. Tell us about your day.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, the day started not too bad. The car was pretty good. The biggest thing we’ve been struggling with all day is braking. We’ve had a lot of rear locking biases, like 62% or 63%. We didn’t want to change any of the brake setup before qualifying because at least we knew what we had.
In qualifying, it seemed in Q2 we couldn’t build the tire temp quick enough. It showed on the blacks we were kind of last until the last lap, then we jumped up to fifth. With the slow out-lap on the reds, I just didn’t have enough time. I had to abort the first lap with traffic as well. Really only had one lap. There was no temp in the tires.
The car was actually pretty good, especially on the long run, once we get temperature into the tires. All three of us have been struggling to turn on the first few laps.
It is what it is. Starting 11th. Just got to try to stay out of trouble and have a good day.
THE MODERATOR: Will, it is your ninth pole at St. Pete, your 62nd pole overall in your career. You are now within five of tying Mario Andretti. It is your fifth pole of the year. Obviously a great day for you. Tell us about your run.
WILL POWER: It was a typical very tough qualifying session, the first few rounds. Made some slight changes. The car wasn’t perfect at first. It does take a long time to turn on, so you could not do it like last year on your first lap. Your second and third lap are really the best laps on the tires. Kind of played around with that a little bit.
Yeah, I mean, when I saw what Colton did on blacks in the first round, I saved some reds. I thought this is going to be really tough. But when I went out in the second round and made the car a bit better, made a mistake. I said, Okay, we’re kind of close. Then I went all out in the Fast Six to get the most out of the car. It was enough.
Yeah, really, really happy with it. I thought we played it very well strategy-wise. Just very determined to win the race tomorrow, I really am. I really want to convert that pole into a win and finish on a high.
I know we’re, what, whatever points away from Colton. It will be nice to be third in the championship, but for me it’s more about finishing with a win. I’ll be aggressive to do that. We’ll see how we go.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Scott and Will.
Q. Scott, obviously qualifying didn’t go as well as you’d hoped today, but what is the plan for tomorrow? Any kind of specific thing you’ll do differently tomorrow in the race?
SCOTT DIXON: Not really. I think for us, ultimately we’re at St. Pete, if you guess the strategy right, you can win from any spot. The likeliness of that, we just got to stay clean and obviously try to move up a little bit just on pace and hopefully good pit stops and things like that, eliminate any kind of issues there. If we catch a lucky break, so be it.
We’re not starting on the first couple rows so we have to understand where we’re starting. We’re mid pack. Traffic and starts are going to be pretty interesting as well. We definitely need to focus on just trying to keep it clean, pick up cars when we can.
It’s unfortunate because I think the car, race pace over a long run, is going to be really good. Again, all year actually all of us have been struggling to get the pace out of the car. It’s been really frustrating.
Q. We had the announcement today about Jimmie Johnson. Having him there today, how exciting was that? How happy are you to have him onboard for next season?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think it’s big for the NTT INDYCAR Series. Jimmie is a seven-time NASCAR champion. He’s definitely coming over to go up a pretty steep hill. It’s definitely tough. I think he’s starting to see. He came to Indy GP, been to a few races this year. I think he’s starting to see how tight the competition is, how one little mistake can have you fall five, six, seven spots.
It’s definitely going to be a tough transition. I think obviously if he had done ovals, it’s would have been a bit more of a sweet spot for him. That’s obviously not the case.
I’m excited for him. Fantastic to see a new sponsor coming over a new brand. I think it’s huge for the sport. Excited to hopefully hear a couple other announcements here in the next couple weeks, as well.
Q. Scott, obviously with the Aeroscreen on a road course, tire degradation for the race, do you think the tire deg is going to be quite high? Have you and the team discussed it? Do you have an understanding of how it will be in the race?
SCOTT DIXON: It’s definitely pretty interesting because I think when we went to Sebring earlier in the year, which is really the only place we get to run the street course tire, it felt like they wore out a lot quicker than usual. They came in pretty quick. We’re expecting them to act a lot different than what they have.
My first run this morning, it took seven or eight laps before I put in my quickest. Pretty consistent to, like, lap 25. Each stint was five laps before we could turn the tires on.
We were actually thinking coming here the two stop was going to be pretty tough, most not because of the fuel mileage but tire degradation. Even the reds seem to be holding on really well, too.
We’ll find out a little bit more about that tomorrow in the warmup. The tire has reacted a lot different than we thought it was going to. Definitely be pretty interesting. I think the tire deg, at the end of a stint, doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, thank you for joining us. Good luck tomorrow.
SCOTT DIXON: Thanks, guys.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll continue with questions for Will.
Q. We heard from Alex, he talked about the physicality of what it was like out there doing several laps. Looking at tomorrow’s race, very hot, very physical, what do you have to do tonight to prepare yourself for that challenge tomorrow?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, you’ve got to hydrate very well. I think I would consider adding that scoop to the top of the roll. I think it’s actually a drag, a downforce loss. It does hurt the performance a bit, but it gets so hot in there, so physical, I just wonder if physically you’d be way better off with it. Maybe I’ll try that in warmup tomorrow.
Q. I know you want to win the race. Of course you have a teammate that wants to win a championship. If for some reason Scott Dixon is way down in the line, Josef is only one position away from getting a championship, has that ever crossed your mind what you might do?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it has. I mean, obviously if that’s the situation, I would let him go.
Q. Next year you’re going to have a teammate from New Zealand, Scott McLaughlin. Being your two countries are close together, any rivalry?
WILL POWER: I’m sure that he wants to come in and beat me and everyone else because he’s a tough competitor. But he’s a lot younger, he has a pretty good future ahead of him. He’s in the right team. I think he’ll do real well, I really do.
Yeah, I mean, no different to the rivalry that I have with Scott Dixon. He’s a Kiwi, too, yeah.
Q. You’re only five poles away from Mario Andretti. What would that mean to you if you were able to break that record? That’s stood for a long time.
WILL POWER: That would mean a lot. That would be a great achievement for me personally, to be up there with a name like Mario Andretti. It’s something that I just love about racing, is when you get to absolutely get the most out of the car in one lap. That’s qualifying.
To be at the top of the list for that would almost sum up my career, I guess, as far as being the speed that I have, maybe not the championships. Certainly a lot of race wins, as well.
Q. You’re now back to a four-car team. How do you kind of look at that, how it’s going to play out with a new guy coming in?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, we’ve obviously been there before. It’s more information. Obviously Scott is going to be in a learning year, kind of understanding qualifying, how the races go. I think this will give him a good head start this weekend.
Yeah, I feel like it’s four pretty strong drivers. I mean, yeah, I’ve been there before. I know how it is. Engineering office gets pretty busy. Yeah, should be good.
Q. You’re going to get some old favorites back from a crew side coming from the IMSA side. How important will that be to have them back with an INDYCAR program?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it’s actually a good influx of really good people. It will just help on the engineering side of things. Obviously you’ve got a bigger crew to pick from as far as crews.
Yeah, all positives really when you add another car.
Q. What is your karting schedule going to look like this season?
WILL POWER: Karting? I was going to race a club race next weekend but then I realized I’m testing a couple days after, so probably shouldn’t risk it. Yeah, I love the karting. No Vegas this year, unfortunately. They called that off.
Q. Where is your mindset in terms of this being the last race of the year with the circumstances of how this season has gone with COVID? What would it mean for you to finish on a strong note this weekend?
WILL POWER: It would be amazing to win the last race of the season, it really would. It would really make this year worthwhile for me. I would feel very good about it. Get to go on vacation feeling good about the finish of the year.
Super determined about converting the pole into a win. Obviously circumstances are going to play out. I’ll do the best job I can. That’s all I can do. See if we can get the car well so it lasts really well over a stint.
Yeah, that’s the plan. It’s been a trying season, I’ll have to say, the beginning of it. We’re knocking on the door every weekend, so we have to, we have to come into next year with very solid pit stops and solid races and we have to get ourselves in a championship position so we’re not in a hole having to dig ourselves out the whole way. It’s just been too many years we’ve done that.
That’s a huge focus of mine going into next year.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll let Will Power go and focus for tomorrow’s race.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve been joined now by our second-place qualifier, Alexander Rossi from Andretti Autosport.
Alex, tell us about your qualifying run today.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, it was okay. I think we got the car better every session. I think we really got everything out of it we could there in the Fast Six. That was a pleasant surprise. I think we thought we were kind of probably going to be around fourth or fifth. To be on the front row is good.
It’s pretty par for the course if you’re going up against Will Power in a Fast Six qualifying, going to be pretty hard to beat him. So we’ll take it. We can have a good result from there, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Alex.
Q. This is a little bit later in the year. It’s a lot hotter. It’s a tight track. How is that going to affect the driving style tomorrow?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don’t think it’s going to affect the driving style too much. I think Firestone has done a good job with the tire. It seems to handle the heat pretty well for the most part. So, yeah, I mean, I think it will be pretty much the same as usual. It’s usually pretty hot here in March regardless. This is always one of our tougher races from a physicality standpoint. Just the heat and humidity, a street course, also one of our longer races as well.
But, yeah, I don’t think it’s really too much different than last year.
Q. I noticed in the warmups you’re looking to catch the braking just right, went a little bit long. Is the track that much different from March or was that trying to push the edge?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: We didn’t drive in March, so I don’t know.
Q. Well, St. Petersburg normally.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don’t know. We have the Aeroscreen, which is 60-odd pounds as well. I don’t know if it’s track or car.
Yeah, practice, that’s when you got to find the limits for sure. It’s pretty much par for the course, especially when with this kind of newer schedule that we have with the obvious restrictions and such, you only have the one practice session. You got to try to fit a lot in, a lot of learning in, in a short period of time.
Q. Coming to the timing line, most of the cars sometimes would go too fast and not catch the last turn properly. Did you find any trouble with the timing line?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: No, I thought it was all right. I guess the Andretti Autosport cars were doing a good job.
Q. Tell me about the Aeroscreen, what it’s like on a road course. Scott said it was probably going to have an issue with depth perception. How has it been for you so far this weekend?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Quite honestly, the visibility has been great. From that standpoint I haven’t even really noticed it.
It doesn’t change the driving style a whole lot. It changes a little bit about what you’re looking for from the car. It’s a little bit harder to see the tight stuff. The change of direction is a little bit slower.
Really the biggest issue, if you call it an issue, is just the heat. It’s hot. I think we’ve all kind of touched on this topic throughout the year. Really this was always going to be one of the bigger tests to run when we get there next year. That’s usually a very hot race.
The street courses are probably the most physically demanding just because they’re so bumpy, low grip. You’re fighting the car a lot more than you would on a permanent course. They’re slower, so not as much forced air coming in. I think an area we need to improve on.
In terms of the heavy hitting items, the visibility, which was a question for everyone, I didn’t think about it till you just brought it up. Hats off to INDYCAR for that.
Q. Do you think the Aeroscreen changes from a physicality standpoint how these cars are?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, I mean, they’re harder for sure. You don’t get the cooling that you used to. It will be interesting tomorrow to see how guys fare. I think everyone is kind of managing it right now. It’s hot, but you’re only doing six, seven laps at a time. It will be interesting to discuss it after a 100-lap race tomorrow in some of the worst conditions, probably 85 degrees, direct sunlight, high humidity, street course. All the factors line up.
Yeah, it’s going to be very physical. Yeah, I mean, I guess I’ll have a better answer for how it actually is come tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully it’s not too bad.
Q. Will strategy for you tomorrow to be to get the jump on Will on turn one? If you do, do you think you can hold him off given he’s strong here?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, for sure, we’re going to try. Whether it’s lap one or into one or whenever, we’re going to try to get it done. Regardless of who it is, clean air in these cars is hugely important. It just makes everything easier. The pace is higher. It’s easier on the tires. Makes your life simpler.
That will be our goal. Our car on blacks is incredibly strong, probably stronger than anyone else out there, aside from maybe the 88 car. Yeah, we’ll see how it goes. Yeah, we’re definitely going to try to get the lead early and manage the race from there.
Q. Any fuel savings by being behind him? Can you go longer on your fuel, get a jump on a pit stop?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, I mean, that’s always an option, right? I think we don’t really know what the mileage target is yet just because we’ve been focusing on qualifying. In warmup tomorrow we’ll see how easy it is to get a number, and that will give us an idea of what is possible tomorrow.
Usually in races like this it’s not so much fuel saving as it is just who runs out of tire first. You’re usually pitting for tires or holding on, trying to get to the end of the fuel window. I think tomorrow will be probably pretty similar. I think the tires are good for 25-odd laps. Beyond that it will get tricky. It will be whose car manages the deg throughout the stint better.
Q. In a lot of ways you and Colton can finish the season quite strong. How much do you expect to be contending with him tomorrow to try to get the victory and go into the off-season strong?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don’t really care who it is, just trying to win a race before the year is done whether it’s a teammate or not. Yeah, he’s obviously quick. He’s done a good job all year. He can probably finish third. Well, Will will try to beat him in the championship. I’m not in the championship. I don’t really care. I’m just trying to win a race.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Alex, for joining us.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Thanks, guys.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We are at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg post qualifying video conference. We are joined by Josef Newgarden.
Josef, qualifying didn’t work out the way you wanted, but you’ll start eighth, three spaces ahead of Scott Dixon, who you’re chasing in the championship chase tomorrow. Tell us how your qualifying went and what your expectations are for tomorrow.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Certainly not what we wanted on our side. I felt like we took a swing for Q2. Our Q1 run was pretty good. I was pretty happy with it for the most part. Felt like we chipped away on the next couple runs, a couple things to get us more competitive. Felt like we were there, but we just wanted to probably be aggressive and try to get even further up. I think we ended up probably going the wrong way with our adjustments.
Kind of a scrappy qualifying in Q2. Unfortunately that puts us eighth. Not a terrible spot to start, but not where we wanted. We wanted to be closer to the front, top three, top five group.
A little more work to do for tomorrow, but feel positive about our Hitachi car, think Team Chevy has done a good job this weekend. Good confidence that we have something to attack with.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Josef.
Q. How happy are you to have Will Power up front? Being a bit of a rear gunner for you as you make your way to the front of the field.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s really relevant for us. I mean, we needed to be up front on a day like today. He did a great job. I felt like we were capable of being up there, too. Not sure I feel really one way or the other about him being up there. It was more about we needed to be up there.
I don’t think he can help us from that position, nothing like that. We just got to put our work in for tomorrow now.
Q. Case of every man for himself tomorrow?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don’t know that Will is going to be able to help us do anything when we’re sitting eighth. That’s just the way it goes.
Q. In terms of the race tomorrow, is it going flat out, see what happens?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, we need to look at everything. I’m not sure yet what our plan will be. I think it will be a pretty aggressive race for most people as far as running pretty hard on fuel. I don’t think you’ll see a ton of fuel save. But there’s options there, big options. We’ll see what everyone decides to do at the end of the day.
Q. How do you think Scott McLaughlin got on?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Really good. Obviously first qualifying session for him. Not a lot of track time. I thought he was really good in the first session, seemed to adapt quick. I don’t know, I haven’t seen his run. I don’t even know what happened in qualifying. Could have been a lot of different things that pushed him back.
He’s going to be just fine. Just him getting going today.
Q. In regards to what happened out there today, was it a direction that you went in with the team that went the wrong way or do you feel maybe a lack of running on Fridays may have contributed today?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: No, we had a really poor Q2 right from the jump of Q2. On the black tires I was half a second slower than I was in Q1. The adjustments that we did in between didn’t seem to really pan out.
It’s disappointing. I think if we just had our form for Q1, we would have been okay. We took a swing at it and it was the wrong way to go. It’s one of those deals. You try sometimes, sometimes you try the wrong way.
Q. In regards to the whole weekend, do you like the two-day weekend or would you want something longer?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I love the three-day weekends personally. I’ve always enjoyed that. For me, I do enjoy more days. Also for the process of how you work, your kind of workflow of sifting through information, the way you prepare to roll into a weekend, how you kind of manage an event, I’ve always liked the three-day format.
If we don’t ever go back to that, it’s not a big deal. We’ll adapt, run this way. I think we’ve been okay on this format this year for the most part. If I had a preference, I like the three day, but we’ll see what ends up getting decided for the future.
Q. I want to know what is the mindset that you will use now? You have to reset everything? How do you focus on your goal?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Same as always. If this was any other weekend, we’d be doing the same thing. It’s disappointing we qualified eighth, but it’s not the worst position. We have a little more work to do. We’re going to focus on what strategy we can implement, being good at the start, manage a really good race that hopefully can produce a win. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to treat the as any other.
Q. Do you think it’s something about the yellow flags always happens in the race could help you?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It would be beautiful if it helped us for once. We have not had help from yellows this year. But it is possible. You can have a yellow ruin your race, you can a yellow really help your race. Tomorrow if a yellow flag decides to help us, I’m not going to complain about it. I think it would be good for some payback for the year.
Q. Do you go in with an aggressive strategy? Do you expect Scott to go with a very conservative strategy?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Hard to say with Dixon what they’ll do. For us, I think we’ll treat it as normal when we’re trying to win a race. We try to win every race. I don’t know how to spin it differently. We do the same thing every time.
We’re going to focus on what’s the best strategy for us with where we’re sitting in eighth. How can we manage the race better than the people around us with the fuel usage, all that. When is the right time to push and not push.
I don’t think it will be more aggressive or less aggressive than what we normally are. We’re just going to try to charge the front. It would have been nice to be in the top three, top five. Top eight, we’re not too far back. It just makes it a little bit harder.
Q. What were you thinking during the lengthy delay while they sorted out the scoring?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It was painful. It was hard to understand what was going on. Yeah, we were just sitting there waiting. I still don’t know a lot of details. I know they were kind of working through yellow flags and penalties, all that stuff. It was a long wait, that’s all it was for everybody.