Part 1 – Team Penske
- Tim Cindric
- Josef Newgarden
- Will Power
- Simon Pagenaud
- Scott McLaughlin
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to the DEX Imaging Media Center here on Fast Friday at the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It is Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s going to be Team Penske at the podium, winners of 18 Indianapolis 500s. We’d like to welcome Indianapolis’ own Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske. The driver of the No. 2 Shell Fuel Rewards Chevrolet, two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champ Josef Newgarden. The driver of the No. 2 Pennzoil Chevrolet, rookie Scott McLaughlin. He is the 2018 Indianapolis 500 champion, we welcome the driver of the No. 12 Verizon 5G Chevrolet in Will Power. And of course the 2019 winner of the Indy 500, driver of the No. 22 Menard’s Chevrolet, it’s Simon Pagenaud.
Some of the more impressive numbers from this great, great race team, you probably know many of them by heart. This year marks the 52nd year Team Penske has entered the Indianapolis 500, 18 wins, of course, from 13 different drivers over the years, all a part of a team that has a combined 767 years of INDYCAR experience. That seems like a lot.
Let’s start with Tim who is sitting there nodding his head. As an Indianapolis native, Tim, certainly your reverence for this race ranks right up there with anyone. What does it mean to you and Team Penske to be closing in on 20 wins in what is certainly the biggest race in the world and maybe share some of the secret to the team’s success?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, if we can just get to that question, I think the secret is the guy we work for, which is probably no secret.
Relative to 20, the first time I came here and raced as part of Roger’s team in someone, obviously we won the race, finished first and second, and I’ll never forget in Victory Lane I said to Roger, You know, this might be 10 for you or 11 I guess it was at that point, 11 for you, but this is something, my father has worked here all his life and never accomplished that. Pretty big day for me.
He looked at me, and he just said, I want 20. I’m just like, in the moment, trying to comprehend one, and he’s already thinking nine ahead.
I’d love to make all that possible here in a few years. But sometimes you can win this race a few years in a row and it doesn’t choose you for quite a few more years, so you never know when it’s your turn.
THE MODERATOR: Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indianapolis 500 champion. Last time the race was run on its traditional Memorial Day weekend, you became the first Frenchman in 100 years to win the race. Looking back on it now, how did that change your life, and what do you need to do to do it all over again?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, it’s the biggest race in the world. I think simply said, for any racer, it’s a magic moment that happens in your career. It’s personally a life accomplishment, so obviously has a very special connotation.
Doing it again, you know, I suspect the race is going to be quite different this year. We obviously have a different aero package, we’ve got the aeroscreen on the car, and INDYCAR has done a great job coming up with the aerodynamic parts to make the racing the best they can.
I think it’s going to be harder to hold a lead, so I don’t think you’ll see someone lead the race as I did in ’19. But Team Penske has prepared so hard for this one, as we always do, but you always keep looking for more, and it’s been a pleasure so far to go around this amazing place every day.
THE MODERATOR: It’s a privilege and an honor to drive through the tunnel to come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Will, it hasn’t been all that long ago when you won the Indy 500. How much does experience pay when it comes to this place, and will it help going into next Sunday’s race?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, I feel more comfortable than I’ve ever felt around here right now, just from experience. And it’s amazing that you keep learning as you go. It’s different every year. The package once again is certainly going to race different. It’s going to be closer, kind of packed-up sort of racing where the top two will switch back and forth.
I think you’ve got to just put yourself in that position like every year in that last stint. You have to be in that top two on the last restart or the last pit stop, whatever is the last thing that happens.
Yeah, I feel like as a team we’ve done a lot of work to improve the cars over last year and have a really good chance this year. I think the moment of truth is qualifying to see where the true speed is, and I really hope that we’re all in the top nine.
THE MODERATOR: Josef Newgarden, certainly your resume stacks up with anyone over the last four years or so. There’s always something about Indianapolis. That’s the one you really want to win. You’ve come close the last couple years. Why is this the year for you do you think?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I had to make sure we brought someone else in that hasn’t won it in the team so I’m not the solo guy that hasn’t won the Indianapolis 500 on the team.
Like Tim said, you never know when it’s your day, and I know having driven this place nine times, going into my tenth, you’ve just got to be prepared for the opportunity. You’ve got to put yourself in position here. That’s the key element, I think, is giving yourself an opportunity to win the race, and if it’s your day, then you need to seize it.
Yeah, we feel good. It’s been a blast working with everybody, as always. I’m always excited to be here. Always have fun every single day. Trying to stay calm and collected and make sure you’re absorbing any knowledge you can each day. Whether it’s good or bad knowledge, it all helps you at the end of the day.
We’re charging forward. I feel really positive with our Fuel Rewards car. I think it looks good. Feels fast with Team Chevy, so we’ll see what we’ve got this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Scott McLaughlin, it wasn’t that long ago when you had your first test on the oval, but you certainly come into this with so much experience, Super Car championships, Bathurst 1000, you’ve been some to some world renowned events before and have won. How does Indy compare to all of that or does it? And what’s your experience been like so far?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, not one of those things prepared me for this. It’s a unique beast. But I have got a great team on my back with me, and my teammates, as well, push me along, and I’m learning so much. I’m just soaking everything up like a sponge.
Really excited. I think the Pennzoil Chevy is feeling really good in qualifying and race trim. But I’m building up to it, trying to just ride in traffic and learn different lines and follow different people and lead and go back in the six deep and five deep, and just enjoying the experience.
It’s obviously going to be a little bit different this year, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot better than it was last year, so I’m excited for that and excited for the experience.
Q. First of all, I just want to get out of the way, what is the difference between the photo you guys took on Tuesday and the photo Rahal took yesterday?
TIM CINDRIC: I think if you you’re referring to what happened yesterday, obviously we are all pretty fortunate that ended in the way it did rather than in some other way.
What we did on the first day or whatever is something we’ve done every single year here, or we’ve at least attempted to. It’s been a little different.
Obviously a lot of you know that the tradition here has been to be the first out. It’s changed a little bit in the fact that in the first five minutes of the first session, you can’t go by once. In the past, and I think if you look back in other years, you will have seen that we’ve waited to go by the first time, and our instructions really have been, Hey, if there’s anybody else on the racetrack we’ll call it off, and if not, we go ahead and do that.
It’s been the only time in which we’ve ever attempted that, but it’s been something that we try and do as a tradition is to be first out. It’s just a way to start May and something Roger has always taken a lot of pride in. And if we get the opportunity, then we come across the line as a team, and if we don’t get the opportunity we call it off.
Really for us it’s always been an awareness situation. But it’s always been the first session, the first time, and we’ve never had a problem.
Yesterday obviously was unfortunate and all the circumstances were not in a good place. But anyway, I think we’ll all learn from it and move on.
Q. Should there be a designated time for teams that want to do that?
TIM CINDRIC: I don’t know. I think that’s really not up to us. I think it’s just as opportunity presents itself. We’ve taken advantage of it more as a tradition more than anything else and really never thought of it at any other point.
Q. I’ve noticed Greg Penske on the timing stand a lot more this year. What is he doing? What’s his role?
TIM CINDRIC: Greg is a supporter of ours, big supporter of ours.
I think on the timing stand itself, maybe you’ve noticed him more often, but honestly, Greg has always been there. He’s been there whenever he can be there. Obviously his business is — his core business is all in California. But he’s been a key supporter for the 20-some years that I’ve been here, so I guess I don’t really see it as any different.
Q. He’s not making any race-changing calls?
TIM CINDRIC: No. I’d love for him to call the races. I’ve always wanted as many members of the family as possible, and obviously Jay was part of the series for many years, and now he’s doing Formula E.
I always enjoyed — I had always hoped that Jay would join our team and be part of our team rather than have to compete against him because he’s a very competitive person and all the rest of it. But for me, I welcome any day that the Penske family shows up and want them to participate in any way they can.
Q. For the drivers, Tim said that RP says he wants to win 20 Indy 500s. I know you all know that he loves this race, he wants to win this race. What sort of pressure is there to go and get numbers 19 and 20?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think just driving for Penske, you have that pressure no matter what, and just the event itself. So I don’t think there’s really any added pressure to get that number 19 or 20.
It’s what every single driver and team comes here to do is to win this race. You feel it over the month just with the media attention and I guess the amount of practice you get and watching everyone else. You just feel that build as it comes to race day.
Yeah, we’re all super determined all equally determined I would say to win number 19 for Roger.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it’s kind of what you’re expected to do here. We all know it’s No. 1 priority for Roger and the race team. As a driver if you’re here in INDYCAR, I think it’s your No. 1 goal, as well.
Obviously, yes, it’s more pressure because it’s the biggest race in the world, like I said, and yeah, you’ve just got to get it done at some point, but like Tim and Josef said, she kind of chooses you, so you’ve got to be patient.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think you start to — the more times that you’re here the more you feel the pressure to compete with the group around you. Obviously that starts with Roger, but I think it’s everybody.
On my team specifically it’s Tim, it’s all the boys on the 2 car. You want to get the job done for everybody. Really the other cars, as well. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes in at our team across the board. You want it to be your car, but I think there’s a sense of pride there on any of these cars that win the race.
I think you feel that pressure across the entire group that you want to get the job done.
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: There’s really not much more I can add. I think we all know how big this is to Roger and his team, especially now with the ownership structure here at IMS. But I’d just love to get one on the board at least.
Q. (No microphone.)
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I’ve been here before on various occasions. I came here for the 100th in 2016, and it was a pretty special moment then.
But I think being here as a driver, especially with a sponsor like Pennzoil and the Yellow Sub, it’s pretty special, and you know the history of what’s been put ahead of you.
You’d love to be a part of that and create your own legacy, but you’ve got to respect it and respect this place. And it’s very similar to a place back home that I know well, Bathurst, but they’re two different beasts.
It’s a very cool thing to be here for sure and a race that I’ve seen and watched growing up for a very long time.
Q. Scott, you’ve practiced, of course, prior to this year at this track. Now that you have nearly a few days under your belt in the month of May, how do you feel you became acclimated to the track, especially with the adapted conditions over time?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I think it’s been nice to have some different conditions throughout the week. It’s got hotter and hotter as we’ve got on. The wind has changed in various amounts but not a huge amount.
Yeah, I think we’re progressing nicely, just along our program. There’s been a couple of hiccups as everyone has seen, but at the end of the day we’ve got through pretty smoothly and just run to our program.
I think that’s the same across all four cars. I think we’ve been pretty methodical in the way we’ve approached it from a race trim perspective and then trying out some qualifying and all that sort of stuff, and just really preparing me for what’s ahead, I think.
Fast Friday, I’m really excited for the extra boost level and seeing what it’s like heading into Turn 1 for the first time at around 240 miles an hour, something I haven’t done before, and looking forward to seeing what that feels like.
Q. You mentioned already feeling that 240. Is there anything that might rival it, something similar?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Nothing. No, nothing. It’s a very special thing and very unique to this one place, and that’s why it’s so special.
Q. Tim, we saw how it ended in the Daytona 500 with Brad and Joey. You guys talked about how the top two guys can pass pretty easily. Has there been any discussions or foresee any discussions if you guys are running one-two in the closing laps next Sunday?
TIM CINDRIC: We haven’t got to Sunday yet for sure, but yeah, we’ve seen that, obviously, and how that turned out, and that was unfortunate for a lot of things and a lot of reasons.
I think when you look back to watching — was it Will and Montoya going toe to toe there? Was probably the most recent one from our end.
I think these guys know exactly what they’re trying to achieve, and it’s the biggest race in the world, and Daytona is right up there with it as far as prestige in the NASCAR Series.
It’s really hard to tell these guys anything else but to go for it and just race each other fair and clean and hopefully they bring it home. I think they all know and respect exactly what it means to the team, to Roger and all the sponsors.
I think even going back to Brad and Joey, they certainly didn’t want that outcome, but it’s part of racing. It’s part of the risk that you take. I think these guys doing it at the speeds they do it at, they’ve got a little self-preservation in mind, as well. I think it’s very, I guess, expected from whoever is first and second here to race right to the line.
Roger has always said that you can race as much as you can, but just don’t hit each other. Sometimes it goes the other way.
Q. The drivers, you guys race each other any differently than you would if it was not a teammate at the end?
WILL POWER: Yeah, no. I think Tim hit the nail on the head. It’s self-preservation. It’s pretty high speed, and yeah, it’s not like NASCAR. You can’t bump, you can’t touch, and you know that.
Basically if you put yourself in a position where you’re going to hit a car, you’re not going to finish the race and you’re not going to win it, so you know that, and you race accordingly.
Obviously it’s a pretty big prize at the end, so yeah, it — yeah, I mean, just got to — it is what it is. You’ve got to race smart and that’s the only way you’re going to win the race.
Q. Simon and Will, back in ’18 and ’19 obviously you guys won. Was there a moment in the month that you knew I’ve got a car that’s capable of winning this, and are you there yet after three days of practice?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I mean, we had an incredible package in ’19, and Chevy power really helped us tremendously all month, all two weeks long really. We knew we had a shot.
There are so many things that can happen during the race that you’re not in control of. We tried to take our destiny in our own hands in the race and led a lot, maybe too much at some point, and then it turned back into our hands. It could have gone the other way.
I think this year we’re close to being where we were in ’19, but I think the whole field is a lot closer. I can’t control the others. I can only control myself and my team, and I think we’re doing everything we can to be in the same spot.
Q. Porsche recently announced that they’re going to be partnering with Penske to go to IMSA and Le Mans. Do all four of you have an interest in going to Le Mans and racing for Team Penske over there?
WILL POWER: Yeah.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes.
WILL POWER: Certainly. That would be awesome.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yep.
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yep.
Q. Scott, what happened to your keys?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I don’t know. I’m lucky I can drive.
TIM CINDRIC: Who gets to go in the Porsche? I don’t know. We’ll talk about it in a couple years.
Q. Simon, you’ve been toward the top drivers in the no-tow speeds. Is that by design or is that by just the way it’s fallen when you’ve been on track, and how important are those speeds?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, we did some qualifying runs yesterday to try and see what speed we could squeeze out of the 22. We were pretty pleased. I don’t know what others are doing. It’s just like I said to Eric, we’ll see really today where we are. But we had a good feel for it.
I think we’ve got a little bit more speed that we can find today, so it’s really encouraging for the whole team. The goal is really to get one Penske car on the pole.
WILL POWER: I don’t know if they’re valuable from yesterday, but yeah, we’ll see today, get a feel. It’s very difficult. If you can see a car, you’re getting head. But that will be classed as a no-tow because it’s about 10 seconds ahead. You won’t really know until everyone runs on Saturday, but I feel like we’ve got pretty reasonable cars.
Q. There seems to be a tremendous youth movement that is involved in INDYCAR right now. Three of the first five winners have been first-time winners. Scott is knocking on the door, ready to get a victory. How do you assess the way this influx of talent over the last couple of years has been for INDYCAR?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I think it’s just — I guess you could say in some ways it’s a changing of the guard. Someone has got to step up. There’s a lot of young people coming through the Road to Indy program, which I’ve seen firsthand this year for the very first time.
I think it’s a great program that INDYCAR and everyone involved has got through the F 2000s, the Pro 2000s, all the way through the Indy Lights. It’s a great category to watch.
I think Rinus, Pato, Colton, they’re world class drivers and they’re in world class teams. And like Simon said before, the competitiveness between the teams now in INDYCAR is — there’s not much in it, and really anyone can win on the day, which not many race series in the world have that.
It’s exciting. I think it’s great that INDYCAR are taking it in their stride to promote it and get excited by it. And yeah, I’d love to be a part of that, as well.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, like Scott said, there’s a great mix of talent. I think the most glaring thing about the series now is the parity. You really have immense parity amongst the teams, which has created intense competition amongst the drivers. It’s really a drivers’ championship through and through. You feel like you show up and can make a difference nowadays.
I think you’re seeing that with the young guys. The young guys are coming in and they see that opportunity, and they’re quite frankly taking to it very well. A guy like Scott can come in and push us around and make us better and be right there. He’s pretty close to us right out of the gate in these first five races.
I think you’re seeing the same stuff with other drivers and new drivers coming in. It’s created a good challenge for everybody. It’s a very difficult championship now to be the best at. Consistency is pretty important. But trying to stay on top of sort of the speed mountain is getting increasingly difficult.
Q. Scott, obviously one of the last most recent rookies to win this race was Helio in 2001 for Penske. Do you go into this feeling like you actually have a legit shot at not just being Rookie of the Year but actually winning it, and does that add extra pressure?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: No one puts more pressure on me than myself. I’ve always run by that. I’m in a car that certainly can win the race. I’ll be right there.
But I’ve got to work on my timing, I’ve got to learn this, I’m trying to learn it at a very fast rate, understand the mountain that I’ve got to climb to be in that bracket, buy my ticket to that last stint.
At the same time, I back myself to learn as much as I can at a fast rate, and I back the team that I have around me. Yeah, I don’t think nothing is possible. I think we can for sure give it a good shake, and if the opportunity presents at the end to take it, I back myself to take it when I need to.
Q. How do you rate Scott’s chances? What do you think he still hasn’t experienced in the tests or here that could prevent him from being your next rookie winner?
TIM CINDRIC: He’s obviously a fast learner. I think like Will said, I think you learn here every year you’re here, and every year you’re here you put yourself in different circumstances, different situations. Just qualifying for the race is going to be the first step of that, is where you start.
The qualifying process and the things you go through, I think it’s really hard to maybe answer that question until you see a rookie of any kind go through the whole qualifying process because it’s different than anything they’ve ever done before, the four-lap average and the conditions that we’ll have and the falloff that you have during those runs, depending on how aggressive you are.
I guess the only thing we’ve really said to Scott is just try and worry about the things you can control. He’s a race car driver. He’s a winner. He’s had a taste of oval racing at Texas, obviously, and he responded to that quite well.
This place, it’s a long race, but yet it seems really short sometimes. It’s like Simon was talking about his race where if you’re sitting in my shoes, you’re wondering why he’s leading so many laps, but he’s learned that there’s times when that’s the right thing to do, depending on what car you have and all the rest of it, and I do believe that this place chooses you sometimes.
For him, he wasn’t going to have enough fuel to make it happen until there was a caution, and it all came at the right time, and he took advantage of that.
I think Scott has as good a chance as any rookie here has ever had. But experience, you can’t put really a value on the experience around here. Yeah, he’s with our team for a reason.
Q. Question for either Will or Simon or both of you guys. It took you guys a handful of years to come across your first Indy 500 victory. Can you describe a little bit about what that anticipation was like coming close a handful of years and how you guys managed maybe the mental side of things to be able to break through in 2018 and 2019?
WILL POWER: Yeah, when it comes up on 10 years, I guess it was added pressure, especially when you’ve won a championship and you know that the other box that you have to tick to be regarded as a successful INDYCAR driver was to win this race. Yeah, it certainly built a lot, and you’d started to wonder if you’d ever win it.
Like these guys have said, Tim said, the place basically chooses you. I remember in ’18, the week before, I almost said to my wife, I know I’m going to win the race. I just felt that way. I don’t know why. It was just a pretty normal month, car felt really comfortable.
Then waking up on race day, just had such an easy, good feeling. Yeah, it’s such a funny race. It’s so hard to even kind of predict what you think is going to happen. You just don’t know the things it’s going to throw at you over the years.
Yeah, it’s a hard one to win, but when you win it, it’s the most satisfying moment of your whole career.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, more than the recognition in the business, for me it was more a personal thing, just all the work that you do since you’re eight years old in a go-kart learning, and then learning the right way and going every step of the way through the racing ladder.
Personally as a Frenchman coming here at the speedway, you’re not a favorite. You’re not a favorite because oval racing doesn’t exist in Europe. Having to learn that discipline or that skill, I should say, was something new in 2012, so it’s not that long ago at the time.
It just felt like a great personal accomplishment. At the end of my life that will be a very, very special thing for myself.
Q. For Tim, going back to that conversation with Roger in 2001 in Victory Lane, obviously he’s got a lot of other responsibilities now with INDYCAR and IMS and everything, but how much do you hear from him about performance of the team and wanting to do well?
TIM CINDRIC: Oh, it hasn’t changed, without a doubt. In fact, it continues to increase. I don’t see that letting up at any point.
Q. 18 months into him sort of being now separated from the team, how is it different? Is it more comfortable? Was it ever awkward at all?
TIM CINDRIC: No, I think the biggest difference is we miss him in pit lane, not knowing really where he is or knowing — when I say ‘where he is’, I mean during the race itself. I’m used to knowing what pit he’s in and how to have a conversation with him during the race or ask his advice or vice versa. You kind of miss that camaraderie during the race.
Obviously we all understand why that is and respect why that is. But for me, once the flags fly or checkered flag falls, it’s very similar. I don’t think it’s really a lot different from where I sit in terms of our interactions or how he helps us run our business.
Q. For the drivers, five races this year, five different winners, none of them from Penske. Somewhat surprising. But then again there was so much talk about how competitive it was going to be coming into this year. Do you feel like it’s circumstantial that one of you hasn’t won a race yet?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think most of us have been second at some point. Yeah, it’s hard to answer that. We’ve definitely — every car is a little different story-wise, but I think we’ve been in the mix as a team, and that’s the first step. You’ve got to be in the mix to win these races. And I think we’ve been there, without a doubt.
I actually felt very positive about the race cars that we’ve had as a team to start the year, and it hasn’t resulted in a win, like you said, but what a perfect place to start that off for the season next weekend, so we’re definitely working on that.
Q. Scott, you have the distinct advantage of working closely with Rick Mears, who is as good as anyone who’s ever been at this facility. Talk about how that has aided you in terms of your development.
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I think we all have that advantage. Having Rick in the garage is such a fantastic moral boost, morale boost, and he’s such a nice guy. For a guy that’s done it all in INDYCAR racing, to lend a hand and really just simplify a lot of things, especially for me, when things are coming at me very quickly, especially these last few days, he’s even making little changes just in terms of car setup to make sure I’m comfortable before I go out, and that was in the first day. We made a really good change before I went out, and it worked out really good, and I gained a whole heap of confidence from it.
To have a guy come in like that, talk about lines, he calls them patterns, get my timing right, it’s a really cool thing and very unique, and I’m really taking it in my stride as well as everyone else on this table.
Q. For the drivers, we’ve seen with the trains and practice, we’ve seen the top four are able to overtake and move around, and if you get a little bit further back in the train it’s a little more difficult to pass. Is there an extra focus on your qualifying position to make sure you’re near the front of that train?
WILL POWER: I still believe track position is really key this year. It’s still closer and packed up, but unless you’re in that top four, you’re pretty much locked out of being able to pass because obviously the car, the further back you get, every car is drafting off the car in front, so you don’t get the advantage of a car breaking the air in front of you. So yep, qualifying you want to be in that top nine.
Q. Josef, you won the first race under kind of Roger Penske’s ownership at Indianapolis last year, and we know that was a big thing for the team and a big thing for you, as well. Just wondered if there’s extra motivation to win the first 500 for Roger being the fact that it’s under his ownership now, the speedway.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I mean, I think certainly obviously we’ve already had a winner with Sato, right, last year. Are you speaking specifically to being on the team or just in general?
Q. I’m talking about since Roger Penske has owned the speedway, you were the first person to win for Penske at the speedway last year in the road course race, and then obviously since Roger has owned the speedway you didn’t win the 500 last year so Penske has not won a 500 since Roger has owned the speedway. I wondered if that gave you extra motivation as a team.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think there’s definitely motivation on all of our parts, just circumstantially. You look at what happened last year and the effort that went in from everybody to try and keep this place moving forward was substantial from everybody involved. It was a substantial effort. So there’s a lot of gratitude, I think, from all of us to go out and put on a good show.
It would mean a lot to be a Team Penske driver, driving for Roger Penske, to be able to win this race and win it in front of a crowd which we’re going to have here. I think it would mean a heck of a lot this specific year, again, looking at the circumstances that we’ve all had to fight through together.
It would mean a great deal, but obviously any one of us would love to be able to do that. We need to work together to make it happen.
Q. For Tim, are you happy with the gains you’ve made from last season’s Indy 500 to this season’s 500 in both the aerodynamics and the engine department, and why?
TIM CINDRIC: I guess probably early to answer to that question, to be honest. Today will give us some indication of the difference between last year and this year. But it’s really difficult to tell in the running that we’ve done at this point in time to what degree our competitiveness has changed from last year.
I know there’s been a lot of work put in, not only from our team but also everybody at Chevrolet into how to make ourselves more competitive than we were last year, not only as a team but as an overall manufacturer’s group.
I think we’re optimistic that we’ve closed that gap, but we only know what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve done. And I think we’ve taken good steps there. I think our preparation for the race and understanding the different things that occurred last year I think is as good as any year that we’ve been here.
Then you have to execute. So you can have the best cars and the best aerodynamics and the best engine, and if you don’t execute on race day in the pits or anywhere else, I think that it’s not going to be your day. This race is won typically by somebody that doesn’t make any mistakes as a team, so we still need to execute on that end.
The answer to your question is our first goal is our qualifying. Last year we didn’t have any cars in the top nine. That may have been the first time we’ve ever been in that situation.
As one of the guys said, It’s our goal to get the cars in the top nine and then focus on race day. It’s probably a little too early to give you, I guess, a full grade on kind of where we are.
Q. Scott, just wanted to follow up on the Rick Mears. Obviously you’ve spoken about how much experience he has at IMS. What’s the best piece of advice he has given you?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Trust your ass. Feel the car. Feel the car. Sorry, but that’s literally the best piece I’ve ever had. Trust it. If something doesn’t feel right, come in. If it feels good, play with it, get used to it, the front bar, the rear bar, the weight jacker. But yeah, he’s been phenomenal.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much, and our thanks to Team Penske for coming in this morning.
Part 2 – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
- Bobby Rahal
- Graham Rahal
- Takuma Sato
- Santino Ferrucci
THE MODERATOR: We continue our traditional Fast Friday news conferences this morning by welcoming Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, a team that of course has two Indianapolis 500 wins on their resume along with 29 series wins, 33 pole positions.
We say good morning to Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 champion and three-time series champion, a man celebrating 30 years with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, his race team. Also joining us, the driver of the No. 15 United Rentals Honda, Graham Rahal is here this morning. Driver of the No. 33 Panasonic Peopleready Honda is two-time and reigning Indy 500 champion, Takuma Sato. And driving the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda, great to see Santino Ferrucci back in the NTT INDYCAR Series. Also we should add cleared to drive, which is the great news in the last 24 hours.
Let’s begin with Bobby. Coming back to a place where you’re certainly the defending champ probably has a little bit different feel to it. How much of last year do you think about when you drive under the tunnel and you come back to this great facility?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, it’s always frankly humbling when you drive through the tunnel, the immensity of this place and the history associated with it. You just feel very fortunate to be here, to participate here. Of course this year — it’s always great to be here, but it’s always much better when there’s people here.
I’m really excited to see the people coming in, the buzz, kind of feel the buzz. Last year I think the pandemic, it was kind of a crushing thing in a lot of ways, but yet we had a race and it was a great race. It was too bad we couldn’t share it with people live, at least with spectators, but it’s great coming back, great to see people.
We’re excited about our chances and looking forward to tomorrow, looking forward to this afternoon, Fast Friday, and then of course getting ready for the race.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, you’re fresh off battling back to finish top 5 at the GMR Grand Prix last weekend. All season you’ve been one of the biggest movers in the field. I think I counted up, plus 25 from where you started to where you finished each and every race so far this season, which is the best of anyone in the series. Do you feel some momentum, if that’s the right word, heading into this year’s Indy 500.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I feel good about the performance all year. I think the boys have done a great job. Engineer core has done a great job to put us pretty consistently competitive. And even the places we have struggled, Barber a little bit, or even last week, we were able to overcome that and still salvage really good finishes at those places.
I do feel a sense of momentum. I also feel that everybody is performing at a pretty high level right now. As I said, last week is a perfect example when things really went sideways on us, we were still able to come up with a plan and get the mileage necessary to finish in the top 5.
Maybe in years past that would have been kind of a crushing blow to it and we wouldn’t have been able to overcome it, but I think this year everybody’s eyes are on the prize, and it seems like we’re doing a great job with that.
Yeah, I feel like our boys have done an excellent job in the off-season, and I’m seeing it carry through here so far at IMS and on the oval days.
We’re excited for today, see what we have. We think we have a really, really strong race car. So if we can qualify towards the front, then I don’t need to worry about that plus/minus thing too much.
The plus, what is it for years, Tag Heuer most positions gained or whatever. I think I won that thing about five years in a row, but I’m not super proud of that. So hopefully we can qualify up front and not have to worry about it.
THE MODERATOR: Takuma Sato’s reign as the defending Indy 500 champion, probably the shortest in the history of the Indy 500, just eight months since that August race, but for you the return to see fans, I know it’s very special for you.
TAKUMA SATO: Indeed. Really the most significant part is that we have the fans back at IMS. That’s the biggest thing. The biggest thing we missed last year. Yes, okay, it was the shortest period of time to be defending the champion, but that’s okay.
We come back here. I know the boys and the team prepared so much over the course of the winter, and then we did have a few testing unlike last year. I know everybody has become quite competitive.
But like Graham just mentioned, we feel confident with our race car and try to squeeze out a last mile an hour for today and tomorrow and for Sunday, of course.
THE MODERATOR: Santino, great to see you back. What happened yesterday and how are you feeling today?
SANTINO FERRUCCI: We were just working on our race trim, trying a couple different things, and just more my mistakes. Brandon has been doing such a great job engineering the car, the Hy-Vee car, and it’s been incredibly quick. We have been on top of the board yesterday after the last two days trying to figure some stuff out, and I should have pitted a lap before because it made some moves, and normally around here it’s not a very good sign. I was just trying to compensate with the weight jacker and see if I can adjust because you get the same conditions in the race.
I just made a mistake following Takuma. I’m feeling good. We went to Southern Methodist. I’m very happy the safety of the INDYCARs. It’s come such a long way so fast. And they just performed a CAT scan, make sure everything is good with my leg, and they cleared me to drive this morning. Be looking forward to getting back in the car.
Q. Santino, Conor Daly had radioed to his crew right before you crashed that your car was kind of getting a little squirrelly. What exactly was the car doing? What were you feeling right before you lost it?
SANTINO FERRUCCI: Yeah, I was really tight in 3 and 4, so I was getting a lot of understeer and then the car was really neutral. I think just the way I was trying to get runs off of and follow Takuma out of 2, it was just — I guess he sees the car moving more than I feel it, but it’s like that in the race car. It moves when you’re behind it. Even looking at other cars and watching T.K. in front of me before I passed him, you could see his car was moving. With the temperatures on the rise, it’s not uncommon. I do like a loose race car, and I think yesterday was definitely over the razor thin edge of this place.
Q. Bobby, one of the tough days as a team owner when the driver stuffs the car into the wall and also some other things that happened yesterday involving the team. Last we heard they were going to repair the car that he crashed.
BOBBY RAHAL: Correct.
Q. How long did the crew work on it, and will he be able to go out today?
BOBBY RAHAL: Oh, yeah. Naturally we were fortunate the tub was okay, the gearbox was okay, engine was okay. Certainly the left side of the car was gone, but we were prepared, we had a rear clip.
I will say all three teams jumped in and the other two teams jumped in to help the guys in the 45 car, and it was a late night, though. A lot of them were — some went home around midnight, some by 1:30, some 2:30. I think there were some people still here at 5:00 a.m. today.
I’m thinking around 2:00, maybe earlier, but I think probably 2:00 is a good time to gauge things by. So pretty amazing really, because again, it happened late in the afternoon, too. It’s not like it happened at 10:00 in the morning. Great recovery. A great team effort getting the car done, and more than anything I’m pleased that Santino is okay. Certainly I’m sure he’s sorer than he’s letting on, but to see him walking around, that’s a good sight.
You know, coming here I think I said we’ve got probably the most competitive three cars we’ve ever come to this track with for the 500, and I’m just glad that Santino and the 45, the Hy-Vee car, will be back, and all looks good.
Q. You guys were one and three last year. Do you feel like your cars are even improved from that point last year?
BOBBY RAHAL: I do, yes. I think we learned a lot of good things in the off-season. Well, not just the off-season, but after Indy of last year, we did a lot of good things. I think the engineering group has done a very good job over the course of that period of time. Our relationship with Honda has been very strong and collectively we’ve discovered some things together.
I do feel that we are in a better position than we were last year. That’s not saying, though, that it takes a lot more than that to win the race. But still, I’m very pleased with where we are, what we’ve done, and I think as a team we’re better across the board than we were a year ago.
Mainly it’s the same people but just greater commitment, greater dedication. Just realizing the talents that they have. I’m pretty pleased right now.
Q. For the drivers, I just asked the Penske guys this, you guys were obviously one and three last year, factor in Santino, three of the top four. If it’s easier to pass up front, do you race each other any differently if you’re coming down to the checkered, and if you’re racing each other do you race each other differently than you would Penske or Ganassi or somebody like that?
SANTINO FERRUCCI: Probably not other than keeping all three cars in one piece.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think you’ve got to be smart in that position. It’s important that the team has a really good result. At the end of the day it’s the Indy 500, and you’re going to go try to win it.
Like I said, I think last year, too, if you look at us finishing one, three, four with Santino being factored in there, it’s a pretty good run for the three of us, and it would be great to have that again.
I thought we did a good job last year together at the front of the grid kind of after that last restart managing the race together and not racing too, too aggressively. I think clearly if it’s another car, strategy plays a different role as far as just where you want to be, how aggressively you’re going to race them, the chances that you’re willing to take.
But as I said, no matter what, it’s the Indy 500, and I can guarantee you anybody in that position is going to try their best to get it done.
Q. Bobby, we talked a few years ago at Mid-Ohio and you were talking about how Graham was entering his peak and you said coming at 27, 28 range is when a driver starts entering their prime. We’ve seen a lot of young winners. Does that maybe need to be adjusted younger?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, there have been young winners before. I don’t think this is anything new. We’re early in the year, but all credit to these guys. We saw how good Pato was last year, and we saw some of the other fellas that were very competitive last year, maybe couldn’t put the whole thing together but now can a year later, more maturity, more experience. That’s what makes it exciting.
But there have always been — Graham won at 18, won at 22 or 23, and there have been others. Marco won very young. This is just more of the same.
But for sure just as you have a lot of guys over their 40s now in INDYCAR, you have a lot of guys that are under 27, 28. You know, we’re getting close to that changing of the guard, and this is maybe the start of that.
Q. Taku, you won this race with Eddie Jones last year as your engineer. I know this team has great engineering depth and resources but I think there was a change in the off-season. Can you talk about the engineering and where the team is going.
TAKUMA SATO: Eddie was going to attend this event anyway to oversee and supervising the three of us. It’s just a little my primary engineer, Matt, had some personal issues so that he couldn’t come over, but he’s online and he’s supporting from England.
Yeah, we’re lucky to have just Eddie to be on standby, and it was kind of coincidence this coming together. Backing all 30 boys and all 30 cars, you’re just feel naturally you felt melt into immediately. We’re just working on good progress and get Eddie up to speed because obviously he hasn’t raced this year. But our engineers are all the same, so we have great support people. We feel pretty positive.
Q. For Graham and Takuma, the 30-minute penalty today, how do you feel like that’s going to impact Fast Friday for you guys?
TAKUMA SATO: I think there’s nothing that will hurt us to be honest. Maybe we have a little bit longer lunchtime, but other than that, we as a driver we just concentrate on today’s program, which is Fast Friday, so probably seven-ish short, depending on how many new tires you want to use. But designing a good program, that’s what’s important.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I don’t think it really affects us very much. We probably wouldn’t have really run until then anyway. I think we’ll be okay.
Q. Bobby, I know you said yesterday you were disappointed in INDYCAR’s punishment. Could you elaborate any further on communication with them, any discussion with them? Was it a miscommunication thing?
BOBBY RAHAL: No, I mean, we were given a penalty, and we’re going to pay it and get on. Frankly I think it was unfortunate, what all transpired. It certainly wasn’t the intention. But we’re paying the penalty or will pay the penalty, and now for us really the focus is today and getting Santino back going and recovering from that dramatic event, frankly, that no one ever wants, especially the day before Fast Friday.
I was thinking to myself yesterday, the last time this happened I think it was when Ryan Hunter-Reay drove for us, and that would have been 2007 or ‘8, I think, and he crashed that day. I think it was actually Fast Friday.
Yeah, nobody wants that so close to qualifying, but Santino is good, which we’re very happy about, as I said. The car will be back, and I’m sure it’ll be very strong. That’s our focus.
Q. There’s been a lot of general conversation this year about the direction and INDYCAR trending upward and everything sort of moving in a positive momentum. This is the 25-year anniversary of the CART/IRL split. Can you contrast how different things are now versus where they were in 1996?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, I was actually talking to somebody who was asking me about this the other day. I think INDYCAR racing today is as good as it’s ever been. I’ve said this many times: Thank God we have the stewardship of Roger and his companies, not just with the speedway but with the series and the 500.
Thank God for that, because given that, plus given, I think, the progress that the series has made, Jay Frye’s guys, the last five to seven years I think all we’ve seen is this incremental gain, the positiveness, and the racing. I don’t think there’s better racing in the world than there is in INDYCAR racing right now, and has been that way for a while.
Yeah, you can look back, and whenever you reminisce, you look back, it’s always a little bit through rose-colored glasses. ’96 was a great year, but life has changed in racing, period, let alone for INDYCAR racing. You had two tire companies at the time. You had three different engine manufacturers. You had the tobacco companies in there at the time. There was a lot of money in INDYCAR racing in that period of time.
It’s taken that long to get back to that point or close to that point, given all of those elements no longer being existent.
I personally think that’s a reflection of that and our confidence and belief in the future is this new building that we just broke ground on recently, which is a major commitment on the part of my partners and I.
I don’t think we’d be doing that if we thought that there wasn’t a long runway here for INDYCAR racing in particular, but also sports car racing. You look back, as I say, and you always think grass always looks a little bit greener. I’m not sure it really was.
Q. Bobby, on the photo, was the issue that INDYCAR didn’t know that you guys were doing it?
BOBBY RAHAL: I don’t know. I don’t know what the actual issue was, other than we did not convey to them that we were going to do this. However, we waited. Everybody went out, this was pit stop practice, everybody went out, we let everybody go. We were two abreast going down the back straight. Santino was tucked in behind so if somebody wanted to pass they could.
By the time we got to 3 or 4, nobody was coming by, the spotters, so that’s when we spread out, and it was just unfortunate.
I don’t know, we were close to the start-finish when the incident happened coming out of 4. But I don’t think anybody is happy about what happened, least of all us, because that was certainly not the intention. Thankfully nobody really suffered damage in a major way, and in the end we were penalized, and we’re paying the penalty today.
You know, these guys might say it won’t affect, but nobody likes to be penalized. We’ll pay our penalty. We’ll take our medicine and go on.
Q. The Penske guys obviously did it, some other drivers yesterday said how cool they thought it looked, what you guys were trying to do. Do you think there should be a time allotted that if teams want to do that they can go out and do that?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I definitely — we should have made a formal request. I don’t think there’s any question of that. We were trying to do it so we didn’t have to — it’s not that we didn’t want to make the request, we were just trying to make it fit, and thought we would have been able to do it because, as I said, we were almost at the start-finish line when the issue happened.
I do think whether they have an actual period of time to do that or if we had requested, they might have said, Yeah, go ahead, you guys go out for a lap, we’ll tell everybody you’re going to do a photo shoot and that’s that.
In the end, that’s why I say we were penalized. We didn’t complain, we didn’t protest that penalty. We agreed with it. We agreed with Jay and his guys, and upward and onward.
Q. Is that a valuable marketing tool?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, for sure. I think for us to some degree we never really got the chance to really exploit the win last year, so to have the three cars together — we have a new sponsor, a major sponsor in Hy-Vee. They were here with us last year but they’re going to be doing a lot more. And having the great cars, they all look good, so if we can do it, great.
Obviously we weren’t going to do it in the middle of practice with people bombing around. But in the end, thankfully no major issues, damage.
As I say, we should have asked Jay and his guys. And like you say, maybe they would have said, Okay, go early or do that at the end of the session. I don’t know. But that’s certainly the lesson that comes out of this.
Q. Graham, Michael and Marco are back on the radio together this week, Colton and his dad are working on the radio. I had talked to Bobby at St. Pete. Traditionally you two did not work out well on the radio, Michael and Marco did not work out well on the radio. Why is it that fathers and sons can’t do that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I will say this. I think like a Colton-Bryan scenario is easier because of the position that they’re in, which is that they’re very competitive. If you look at the time that dad and I were on the radio, as a team we were just not competitive, and that adds to the stress level and it makes things harder.
In fact, last year I actually requested that he get back on the radio. He enjoyed drinking his wine in the suite more than being on the radio, so he didn’t want to.
But I’ll just say I think we could be very successful together now. Dad has a brilliant mind when it comes to strategy and things like that, but obviously Neil came on board and has done an excellent job in that role.
But also it’s very dependent. If you look at Michael and Marco, same thing. The competitiveness wasn’t there, and that adds stress to whoever it is, whoever is the strategist in that point.
With Colton and Bryan, Colton has been excellent. The team has performed at a high level, and Bryan is a pretty even-keeled guy. So I think that that works out exceptionally well.
BOBBY RAHAL: I might add that my role has really changed since those days.
Q. To wine drinking?
BOBBY RAHAL: No, no. Graham makes it sound like I’m up there getting gassed. No, I’m there to take care of — to assist our marketing and salespeople because that’s my real key role is to help bring funding into the team, and that’s representing the team to our sponsors.
It’s kind of evolved since those days. And on top of that, the depth of our team has increased dramatically since those days, so we have good people that can do that. I have no problem with that.
As I said, it’s Graham racing, not me.
Q. Graham, when it’s the dad in your ear telling you what to do, are you able to separate it and say, Shut up, Dad, or are you able to listen to the race strategist?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I will say —
BOBBY RAHAL: No kid wants to listen to their dad.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I will say what he said is spot on, which is his value with the sponsors has been tremendous, and you can see that. Since that time, since, what, 2014-15, if you see the increase in sponsors on the sleeves of this shirt, let alone on all of our race cars, it’s tremendous, and he has a huge role in that.
There’s no doubt he plays the biggest role in being the front man and spending time with those people and making it all happen. So that has been tremendous. The depth of the team has grown a ton as far as the amount of people and personnel that we have.
You know, I do think as you mature, yes, I think you’ve got to be able to listen to what he has to say. I will say very rarely, very rarely when we were together did I ever doubt what he said from a strategic standpoint.
Sometimes those things aren’t easy when you’re being told to get a crazy fuel number or this or that. That’s a hard thing to do. Or when he tells you just go pass that guy. It’s not like you’re cruising around not trying to pass somebody.
But from a strategic standpoint, he was always on it. And that comes from I think a lot of drivers when they retire would be good in that role because you’ve lived it, you’ve experienced it from inside and you kind of get the flow of the race. He’s been one of the best at it for sure.
Q. I wanted to ask if there has been a new emphasis on qualifying for you guys this year because of the difficulty in passing because obviously, Graham, as you mentioned earlier, I think you’ve passed more cars in five straight years or whatever. How much does that change your philosophy as to how you spend the four days of practice and the buildup to it?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, clearly we want to qualify well. Takuma did a great job last year. We were in the top nine, as well, although the Sunday did not go as well for us.
I think our qualifying balance wasn’t so good on the 15 car last year. We had some speed, but the balance wasn’t there over four laps, and that’s going to kind of be our focus today.
It seems that there’s some cars that are just fast, maybe a little faster than us, but I think that that — I don’t know, row 2 to 9 is going to be very, very close together, very close.
You’re going to have to focus on the consistency and what makes you good over four laps. Pace-wise if you look at yesterday on the no-tows a lot of guys very, very close. We’ll have to see.
You don’t want to get into desperate times, desperate measures or things like that because it’ll bite you around here, but we definitely want to qualify well.
If you look at our race last year, it was tough to pass, too. And if you look at our race last year, we fell back to 20th or something at one point, and then just kept working on the car, working on the car, and then all of a sudden she came to life in the last 100 laps. We did nothing but march forward and ultimately got right up front and had a chance to win it.
I think the same will be said this year. We all run around in a pack because we want to, as well. You’re trying to learn. But in the race you’re not doing that. You’re trying to go.
I think it’ll be a little different when race time comes.
Q. Obviously a lot of it depends on quite literally the luck of the draw tonight. Taku, have you got yourself a car that can handle well in all temperatures and all states of traffic?
TAKUMA SATO: Well, you just want to hope so. Well, drawing is a traditional thing, regardless whether it’s fair or not. That is the tradition, and we live with that.
Fortunately last year I think at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing draw incredible numbers. The girl did coverage of, and I think she’s doing it again tonight, no pressure, but draw the good numbers. That’s what we hope.
But regardless of whatever position you have to qualify, you have to qualify. Like Graham said, we feel we’re confident in a very competitive way. But there is some cars that yes, are definitely faster than us, which we need to find this afternoon.
Passing people is as difficult as it was last year, might be a little bit more passing because with new updated aero package allowed us to follow the car much closer than last year and more downforce is available, equally there’s more drive. Once you get past and once you lead the pack, there’s no way you can get away this year it seems like.
I think for spectators’ point of view, for racing point of view, it will be much more fun, but hard on us, but I think that’s the nature of the challenge for the racing, and hopefully we’ll qualify strong. That’s the first point. You can control the race and also you can minimize the risk each start you want to be at the front basically.
Q. Obviously you’re kind of famed for pulling off brave maneuvers and avoiding all shunts. How is your confidence now when you go seven miles an hour quicker into Turn 2 with the extra boost?
SANTINO FERRUCCI: It’s one of those things where I think a lot of drivers that crash around here on their own don’t know why it happened and they don’t want to admit to why it happened.
I’m pretty confident I know what I did wrong, and I know how to fix it. Obviously getting back in the car today, we’re going to go out in race trim with all the downforce on the car and we’re going to go run around, and we’re just going to peel it back off again.
By the end of the day, I have absolutely zero doubts that we’ll be back up at full speed with Graham and Takuma. The guys worked all night long. They’re going to work all morning. They’re going to work all night tonight getting the car where it should be for Saturday.
I have zero doubts in this team. It’s an incredibly professional organization, the Hy-Vee crew, and it’s really nice to have the help of the 15 and the 30 crew. To see everybody come together and make it work, that puts a lot of confidence back in me knowing everything is back together correct the way it should be, the way it was.
Q. Bobby, obviously a lot of teams focus on one car leading on it, polishing it, making it just perfect. Are there enough speedway parts, as it were, to get Santino back to where he was?
BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, I think Dallara had the parts. Of course, yeah, you breathe on a car all year getting the body fit 100 percent, and we’re going to do everything we can to get it as close to the other cars, as Graham and Takuma’s cars, and I have no doubt that our guys between now and qualifying tomorrow are going to make sure that it’s as good. That’s just the nature of I think the people we have.
I think as Santino said, this afternoon for him it’s all about getting back in the saddle and go through chunks of the list that he’s got. And same thing holds true for Graham and Takuma. I’m expecting good things by the end of the day.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thanks for coming up, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, ready to go here on Fast Friday. Thanks, guys.
Part 3- Chip Ganassi Racing
- Chip Ganassi
- Marcus Ericsson
- Scott Dixon
- Tony Kanaan
- Alex Palou
THE MODERATOR: He created his own 1 car team back in 1990, he’s only expanded from those humble beginnings, including 115 INDYCAR SERIES wins and 13 INDYCAR SERIES championships. We say good morning to Chip Ganassi.
Back for another year with Chip Ganassi Racing, we welcome Marcus Ericsson. He returns, the six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2008 INDYCAR SERIES champion, Scott Dixon.
He already claimed 1-1 this season, we say good morning to Alex Palou.
Returning for his 20th Indianapolis 500, he’s the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion, good morning to Tony Kanaan.
Chip, expanding back to four cars this season, part of a unique mix of veterans and youth for your team this year. How has it gone so far?
CHIP GANASSI: Thanks. Good morning, everyone. What a great thing to come off the year being champions last year with Scott, obviously some great opportunities in the off-season with the Tony Kanaan-Jimmie Johnson combination, bringing someone onboard like Carvana and the American Legion has really opened our eyes to some of the things. The American Legion, for instance, they have this reputation of being an old, smoky bar somewhere with a bunch of old guys sitting around. You realize that’s not it at all.
The stereotype doesn’t fit the true mission of the Legion, what it stands for, what it does. Just all the things, they were responsible — just one little tidbit about the American Legion, they were responsible for the GI Bill. They lobbied for the GI Bill that created the middle class in this country, as history shows. Just things like that that the American Legion does, for me, I had no idea. I just thought it was a club where a bunch of guys went around and smoked cigarettes or cigars.
It’s really interesting to understand that. That was probably the most exciting thing of the off-season.
Obviously continue with Marcus Ericsson in the 8 car, Palou in the 10 car, brought him on, excited there. Then we got the team leader, the man himself. So it’s good.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned Marcus Ericsson back, second season with the team. Is there a different comfort level for you, Marcus, after one season with this team, come back to the 500? Is it a little different feel for you?
MARCUS ERICSSON: Yeah, for sure. It’s different coming into a second season with the same group of people. It just makes a big difference. You start from a different level already from race one. I think we’ve had a strong start to the year. We’ve been fast everywhere we’ve gone, had some bad luck in a couple races that’s put us back.
We go into this month really confident. I think we’ve shown in testing so far that we are strong and fast.
THE MODERATOR: The more things change, the more they stay the same for Scott Dixon, leading the points again, eyeing a record-tying seventh NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. I have a feeling that can wait. It’s all about the 500 the next couple weeks for you. How has this week gone so far for you?
SCOTT DIXON: It’s been great. I think it’s fantastic to see the team having such a strong run for the start of the season. It was great to see Alex come out of the box and capture his first win. That was big for all of us.
Excited to always be here at Indianapolis. Typical first week. You have your highs and lows. You feel like King Kong, then you feel pretty crappy after some sessions. That’s what this place offers.
I think as a team we’ve begun a good job of sticking to what we need to, getting through the test list. Yesterday in the debrief I think even was fairly happy with the race cars. We’ve probably stuck it out a little bit longer on the race side, than other teams where we’ve seen a lot of qualifying runs already happen.
Confident for the team. I think they’ve done a tremendous job. They’ve worked extremely hard in the off-season, as they do every year. I think now the engineering group especially is working really well together. Hopefully that plays true obviously for this weekend, but also for next.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned Alex, won the season opener, Barber, another podium since. Do you allow yourself to think about what it might be like to win an Indianapolis 500 or do you take it one day at a time?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, it’s been great, great start of the year. Felt super comfortable with the No. 10 car. I know the team. It’s been a great start so far. But, yeah, obviously we want to win. I think we have strong cars, as Scott said and Marcus said. We’re feeling comfortable. The car has been running super good on traffic. Let’s see today on Fast Friday.
Yeah, super happy so far. Obviously we’ve all thinking, all the drivers are thinking on winning next week. I’m thinking the same.
THE MODERATOR: Last but not least, I think he said he was going to retire like two or three years ago, now he’s back once again. Tony Kanaan, fastest in practice yesterday. What has it been like to return to Chip Ganassi Racing, certainly such an important race?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, it’s been amazing. I remember when I announced that, my best friend here says, This is not happening. I got the phone call from Chip. I thought it was a prank. I couldn’t really believe it. I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity. Jimmie, American Legion, all the sponsorship.
Chip was saying, it’s really like I have a pretty good fan base around this place. It just has grown even more. Every single person that approach me this week, it was either a veteran or a guy that is part of American Legion. So it’s awesome.
Come back to a team that is the team that you want to drive for your entire life, it’s awesome. At this point of my career, I told Chip, I’m here for one thing, it’s to win. I have four races, now it’s two races to go for me (smiling). We’re going to try to go for it.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Tony, you were fastest on the speed chart yesterday. What does it feel like to be in a fast car again?
TONY KANAAN: I understand. It’s the reality. We’re here not pointing fingers or anything.
Chip has this team. When I left, we always left on good terms. I didn’t feel I actually had delivered to him what I should have. It was time for him to try something else, and so did it. You don’t realize how good you have it until you leave. Then you come back, and the team you come back to, it’s even stronger than when you left.
It’s pretty amazing. You see the difference.
I will never forget. I met Chip back 15 years ago. He told me one thing that actually stuck in my mind. He says, When you hang with losers, you become one; when you hang with winners, you win.
Again, it’s just nice to be back. I mean, the opportunity that I got at this time, at this point of my career, it’s really unbelievable. So it feels nice. I mean, the week goes a lot smoother when you work out. We have four teammates, three teammates are really good, we can run together, we can understand what we need, so on. It’s much easier for sure.
Q. After you’re leaving next year, you’re thinking this is it, now you’re back and can maybe win this race. How do you feel?
TONY KANAAN: You had the mindset that you’re slowing down, then somebody changes that. Now you go all of a sudden it’s okay to do four races. Now you want to do more. Can I do more? It’s the same thing, I see Jimmie text me yesterday, I’m dying, I want to be in the car. I said, Don’t you even think about it right now, that was not the deal (laughter).
Honestly, the way my off-season went was awesome. Even people that know me said I hadn’t had that spark in a long time. I think I didn’t realize that. I think I needed something like this to happen, but probably I couldn’t believe it. If you told me that was going to happen, I would say you’re crazy. At this point I’ve done everything, so on.
I’m happy. I’m enjoying it. I know I can win here. I know I’m with the right team. If that’s going to happen or not, we’ll see. I think we’ll do everything we can to make one of these cars to win this race. That’s the goal.
Q. Chip and Scott, can T.K. win this race?
CHIP GANASSI: Absolutely. Any one of these guys up here can win.
SCOTT DIXON: Unfortunately yes (smiling). But I would be happy for him.
Q. Alex, you’re the new guy. These are some pranksters. I’m wondering how have they treated you?
TONY KANAAN: Be careful.
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, no, it’s been super good for me. I’m just with the team that they are winners. They’ve been champions. I’m learning a lot from them. It’s been super fun doing some runs together with them, like they are always the fastest cars. I’m able to run with them, to exchange comments with them. It’s been super good for me.
There’s still a long way to go, but we still have some days of track time to be able to be ready for the race. Yeah, super happy to be part of this amazing team.
TONY KANAAN: We’re waiting for after qualifying. Next week he’ll get something (smiling).
Q. Are you comfortable asking them questions all the time? Do you ever worry, Am I bothering them?
ALEX PALOU: You can ask them, I’m asking them all the time. I do all the time. I even do to Jimmie, Marcus, Tony, Scott. I do all the time. Even what they have for breakfast, whatever it comes to my mind, I want to be like them.
TONY KANAAN: He’s a new version of Dan Wheldon, can’t shut up, but it’s a good thing.
Q. If they eat something totally disgusting for breakfast?
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, I would. 100 percent, I would.
Q. Be careful, you’re walking right into their plans.
ALEX PALOU: I know. If that’s going to give me a win, I’ll do whatever it takes. I have something also in mind. I’ll get back.
TONY KANAAN: He talks a good game (laughter).
Q. Marcus, you’ve been quietly being consistent with strong pace, strong speed. How comfortable and neat is it to be in the position to where you maybe have a strong case of being good, making it to the Fast Nine?
MARCUS ERICSSON: I think already last year we had a really strong month here. Yeah, we had good qualifying. We were just missing out on the Fast Nine. In the race I was moving forward quite quickly in the first stint until I had my crash. We went into this year with high confidence from last year basically. We’ve just been building on that. I think every day we’ve been strong. Like the others have said, we’ve had four strong cars which obviously helps because you can work together, try different things.
For me it’s clear, my big goal for now is to be in the Fast Nine this weekend. I think we have every possibility to be there. But it’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of fast cars out there. We need to make everything right.
But I think, to be honest, we have four good chances to have all four cars in the Fast Nine. That’s going to be the goal. But let’s see today and tomorrow. It’s definitely our goal.
Q. How happy have you been with Marcus’ progress this season compared to last?
CHIP GANASSI: Like he said, coming into the team again for the second year, I think they started at a higher level than they did a year ago. It’s been such a disappointment, the things that have happened the first couple races. We had some bad luck things that have happened.
We had a guy on one of the tire changers, not that good. We took a tire changer off the 9 car, put him on Marcus’ car, first race he has a problem. I don’t know how things like that happen. It’s just unfortunate.
I think that team is ready to break out at any second.
Q. Scott, you were part of the youth movement back in 2001. Now we have another really impressive group of young talent in the series now. Three of the first five winners are first-time winners. What do you think when you look at all the great young drivers, including one on your own team? The future that they have in this series…
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, makes me feel real old (smiling).
I don’t know. As I’ve mentioned the other day, it’s part of evolution, right? There’s going to be a changing of the guard at some point. I think there’s been different segments through my career where you’ve seen some great talent come through, champions that we’ve seen with Josef, for example. But definitely seems like there’s quite a rush at the moment, which is huge for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. It’s very important for the longevity.
For the veterans, you probably don’t care to see it too much. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s great to see this talent. People coming from all different parts of the world, and they’re all very different in their own way, but also very fast. We’ve already seen, as you mentioned, a lot of first-time winners.
Yeah, I think it’s great to see. That’s all I can say about it. It’s inevitable. You hope you can race and fight with them, which I think we’ve seen that from the veterans already this season. We’ll see how this race goes. But it’s great to see.
Q. T.K. when you were introduced at the Houston street race the first time with Chip, you talked about how great it was to have an opportunity to come back. Now you’re getting a second chance at it. Do you believe you’re getting a second chance at doing something great for this team?
TONY KANAAN: Oh, 100%. I believe that nobody’s here to do each other favors. I think Chip saw it was a good fit, let’s face it. Jimmie wanted to do the road and street courses. They needed an oval driver. I think my record speaks for it. Experience could help the team out to elevate even the entire team.
It was just a perfect situation. I was in the right place at the right time. Yeah, you create your own chances, too. You know what I mean? I think I’ve been around for a long time, and I could actually add to the team. That’s why we got it. Chip likes to win. That’s all he cares. That’s why we’re all here.
Q. You’ve had some great cars here in the past. Do you believe this may be the best yet?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, every year I’ve been here I believed I could win. If you go back to last four years, probably this is my best shot for sure.
Q. Scott and Alex, I’m curious with this being double points, are you thinking championship yet? Has that even crossed your mind? You got to get through Indy first and get in championship mode from there?
SCOTT DIXON: For me it’s 100% about the race. We’ll deal with the championship after we get through this month.
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, I think so, right? You if win this race, it’s going to make your life easier when you move along the championship. That’s all you focus on, on the race. I think even if it was not Indy 500, you just focus about the race. If the race goes well and you win, everything will come together and will be good.
That’s what we’re going to try and do.
Q. Chip, Jimmie mentioned last week he’d be interested in getting in a car on an oval. Have you talked with him about that or waiting to get through the month of May?
CHIP GANASSI: I haven’t had any discussions with him about it in the last two or three weeks or so. I was thinking to myself, I feel bad he’s not sitting up here with us because he’s a big part of this team.
I don’t know. It’s up to him. He knows the opportunity is there. I’m not trying to put T.K. out of a job or anything. We’ll have to come up with another car or something. He knows it’s there if he wants.
Q. Because of T.K. and his abilities here, say he wants to next year, would you expand to five cars?
CHIP GANASSI: I think you’d certainly take a look at it, yeah.
Q. Talking of additional cars, obviously, Chip, you’ve shown you can make bold decisions. If you’re prepared to make kind of like bold decisions of cutting down to two cars, expanding to three and four, have the performances that you’re seeing not just in terms of results but how quick you guys were, all of you, at Barber, does that justify the expansion back up to four cars?
CHIP GANASSI: No. What justifies the expansion to four cars is having the sponsorship available to do that, okay? No bucks, no Buck Rogers is the old line from “Apollo 13” — or “The Right Stuff.” Thank you, Bruce (laughter).
I’ve said for a long time this is my only business and this is all I do. We live and die on sponsorship alone. It’s not like I have businesses like some of my competitors do that this is their avocation on weekends. This is my vocation, so…
The expansion and contraction of our business is strictly related to sponsorship.
Q. As the former driver, you started this five times.
CHIP GANASSI: I’m sorry?
Q. You started the race five times here.
CHIP GANASSI: Yes.
Q. Does the evolution of the track and the way it changes with temperature, is there anything that you can relate to your driving times that can still be helpful?
CHIP GANASSI: For question. In 1982, my rookie year here, I drew a number, you only had one shot — three shots in those days. You had to go when it was time to go. I remember there were 62 different driver-car combinations in 1982. So you were not a shoe-in to get in the race by any stretch.
I think the fastest I’d gone up to that point was 194 miles an hour. The pole was about 207, as I recall, 204. The number we drew was in the middle of the day. Unfortunately Gordon Smiley had his accident, the track was shut down for about three years. When I qualified, it was later in the afternoon, it cooled down. I went 197, 198, which was the fastest I’d gone. That was strictly due to it being cooler at 4:00 than it was at 1:00 or noon or so. That helped me then.
As you look, as the speeds increase from the 190 days, to 205, each year, 215, 218, 223, 225, it keeps creeping up, 230, wherever. Each one of those increments the temperature, the wind direction, the barometric pressure, these all have huge effects on the performance of the car, whether it’s engine-wise, aerodynamically, track conditions, they all have huge effects on that. It’s probably more so now than then. The faster you’re going, the more finite the changes can be, good or bad.
Q. Chip, following up on Scott’s answer about the changing of the guard, could you give us the team owner perspective on that. Doing this more than a quarter century, witnessed this before, young drivers replace the veterans. What is that like from the team owner perspective, the repercussions of that, positioning yourself for the future?
CHIP GANASSI: I look at it a different way. Like Scott said, he said there’s youth movements that come along. He’s right. But who did he mention as the youth movement that came along was Newgarden. You guys — the media I should say, talks about youth movements. This isn’t the first time there’s been talk about a youth movement.
The fact of the matter is people come and go at the top levels of the sport. It’s not that often that a champion come through like Newgarden, for instance. It’s not that often. There’s a whole trail of broken dreams in the wake of Newgarden, okay? I don’t want to name any names, but this isn’t the first youth movement that’s come along.
These young people have to realize to stay at the top level of motorsport in this world, sure, it’s certainly driving ability, but it’s a lot of other things, too. They need to understand that.
Yeah, youth movements come along, but champions endure. That’s what Scott Dixon does. To hear him say that Bruce Martin’s question or something makes him see mold; he kind of flicks those things off his shoulder like a flea. C’mon. There’s not one indication of aging in Scott Dixon that I can see. Believe me, I’m looking, okay (smiling)?
So, yeah, I don’t know.
SCOTT DIXON: Tony is helping me feel younger.
CHIP GANASSI: He and Jimmie.
TONY KANAAN: I even left my beard like Jimmie so it doesn’t look older than the entire team. A little gray.
CHIP GANASSI: For these young guys coming along, like Alex and Marcus, when you get to the top level of the sport, your career becomes an endurance. You can’t be bothered by little week-to-week things along the way. You can’t get too down when things are bad, and you can’t get too high when they’re good. You have to endure. You have to pick your spots and take advantage of those opportunities. Pick your opportunities, take advantage of them. You have to brush off the missteps or the mistakes by yourself or the team. You just have to endure. That’s what makes champions.
If these young people today want to be champions, it’s more than just coming out here and yukking it up with your teammates, going fast in practice. There’s more to it than that.
Q. A couple days ago T.K. said Jimmie will be at the track. Jimmie was here for the Grand Prix last week. Do you have any plans to kind of give Jimmie the tour, this is Indy, the Indy 500? What will it be like having him here?
CHIP GANASSI: It’s like having him anywhere, you know what I mean? I’ve said before, the guy comes into our team fully realizing we’re the champions from last year. He lifted our team. He lifts us up. That’s what champions do. That’s what Joe Montana did when he was around. I’m sure that’s what Tom Brady does to his team. He changed teams, lifted them up. That’s what Scott Dixon does around here every week. He lifts us up. That’s what Jimmie Johnson does when he comes in the door, he lifts us up. I love that feeling. I love what that does for the team, for the teammates. Nothing but positive there.
Am I planning on giving him a tour around Indianapolis? No. If he wants one, I’m certainly ready to give him one.
Q. Alex, the second year now in the INDYCAR business. Before that you did the Super Formula in Japan. Despite you don’t have oval races over in Japan, was it a good preparation for the INDYCAR racing championship? Question number two, what is the similarities between the Japanese car and the INDYCARS? Both are built by Dallara.
ALEX PALOU: Yeah, obviously Super Formula prepared me quite well for INDYCAR. It’s really different. There’s nothing like INDYCAR, the competitiveness. All the teams, all the drivers are super close. But, yeah, for sure prepared me. It’s the only single-seater series alongside INDYCAR that has refueling. That prepared me for race strategies and that stuff.
Racing here in America, it’s super close every weekend. You can see polesitters one weekend that start rear in the back the next weekend. It’s a lot harder here. You have street course, road course and ovals. Yeah, it was a good preparation, but nothing like INDYCAR.
Q. T.K., in practice you already got the ring. What stands between you and a win in the Indy 500? What should the Brazilian public watch for as they cheer for you in the race?
TONY KANAAN: (In Portuguese.)
Q. Chip, you posted a picture of Parnelli Jones on your Twitter account. Can you talk about why that is so important to you, the relationship and how you look up to him.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, it’s an interesting story about Parnelli and I. I’ve told this story a bunch of times, some of you might have heard this.
When I was five years old, my father came to an equipment auction, a heavy equipment auction, he took a tour of the track, rode the bus around, went to the museum. He brought home an 8mm film of the 1963 Indy 500, which was the most recent. Parnelli won. We had these little Bell & Howell cameras. I used to blast it against the living room wall. I must have seen that 8mm film a thousand times. I could tell you anything you want to know about ’63.
You’re five years old. You grow up, you like racing, you get into it. Somehow you make it to the Indianapolis 500. When I came here during my rookie orientation, Parnelli was here. I just thought, Jesus, Christ, I met Parnelli Jones. If he only knew when I was five years old I watched his film. I think he might have signed off on my rookie orientation.
He was just one of those guys that hung around, was happy to help you as a new guy coming along. Then got to be friends with him over the years. He and my father were friends. I obviously knew him and P.J. and Page. Just became friends with him over the years.
I remember on my 55th birthday, I had my Thanksgiving dinner with him. I told him this story, just how interesting something is. Something you do when you’re five years old can maintain through when you’re 55. It becomes your career. What’s the chance of that? What’s the chance of watching that film when you’re five years old, even making it to Indianapolis, let alone becoming friends with Parnelli, having my Thanksgiving dinner we and his family?
I always see them when they’re around. Try to get to California. Developed a nice relationship. He knows all about racing, believe me. He’s as sharp as a tack. It’s great to spend time with him. He’s my pal.
THE MODERATOR: Good luck today. Fast Friday. Good luck this weekend. Chip Ganassi Racing.