THE MODERATOR: Have you been given any advance warnings about what today is like, any advice?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: No, I’m just happy to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about kind of your indoctrination to the INDYCAR side of this team, what your expectations are, just kind of where you stand coming into 2022.
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, I have a great team of people around me, great people behind me, as well, and great teammates to lean on. I’m hugely looking forward to the challenge. Not long until we get started, and the tests were very, very encouraging. I’m hugely looking forward to getting started in just over a month’s time.
Q. Where is your internal advice coming from? Who are you leaning on for most of your information at this point?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, Andretti is such a big team, I have great engineers behind me, a great strategist in Rob Edwards with a ton of experience, so great team of people on the 29 car. As well great teammates, Colton I grew up with and know him very, very well, and Romain, as well, gotten to know him quite well recently.
You know, they’ve been very helpful in getting me up to speed.
Q. Did you expect your career to develop so quickly and become part of the top INDYCAR team within a few years?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: During the 2019 season, I went to the INDYCAR 500 and met up with Sean Jones and my current boss George Steinbrenner. We got into discussions on how it would look and what the plan was and things like that, and two years later, three years later, we’ve made things happen.
At that point it was a dream, but now it’s a reality, and I’m super excited to get going.
Q. Some Canadians use graphics in memory of Greg Moore. Good examples are James Hinchcliffe, and in the past Lance Stroll. Will you also use those?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: Yes.
Q. The day you were announced, Mike Tyson tweeted about you and congratulations and that he was looking forward to INDYCAR, a little bit of a strange crossover for the series. What’s your relationship with him, and do you think that he’ll get him out to a race?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: First, he’s a great guy. Had dinner with him a couple months ago. So the relationship with him is through one of my sponsors, Wesana. They specialize in psychedelics. He’s a part of that group. It was really cool to meet him recently.
Yeah, definitely looking forward to bringing him to a race at some point in the near future.
Q. What would you considering a successful campaign for you in your first near in the NTT INDYCAR Series?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: Well, the team have set me targets. I intend to achieve those. You know, there are some great rookies this year, so Rookie of the Year would be quite a nice target, and to be fighting with my teammates from the middle, towards the middle, end of the season is definitely on the to-do list.
Q. How important is it for you to have all this wealth of experience with all your teammates in Andretti Autosport?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, I think it’s going to help massively in the learning process. They all have so much experience and come from different backgrounds, as well. It’s just a way for me to learn so much faster, more avenues to take.
Q. We’ve got quite a strong rookie class this year. Can you share some considerations from your side about your different strengths and where you expect yourself to end up in that battle?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: For sure. I think we definitely have the potential to be top rookie towards the end of the season. My strengths have definitely always been in the high speed, so ovals is something I take to quite well. I guess you could say I’m quite brave.
I think I’ll definitely be quite strong at those events, and the fast road courses, as well. And even street courses. Street courses is something I enjoy, as well. But definitely my commitment in the high speed has always been one of my strengths.
Q. What do you think is going to be the toughest challenge for you, not only just the first couple races but as the season progresses?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, there’s still a lot of unknowns, not having tried the Firestone red compound yet. Don’t get to try that until St. Pete. I think we’re only going to get maybe one or two sessions before qualifying. Only getting to have one bite at the cherry before qualifying, that’s going to be tricky, but I have such a great team of people behind me, I’m just excited to get going, and I have everything around me that I need.
Q. Are you a driver that is happy with a top-10 finish, or are you one of those drivers who is upset if you don’t get a podium or a win?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, I’m always push to win and be at the front. I’d always be pushing to be fighting at the front and for victories.
Q. Except for you, who is your favorite INDYCAR driver so far?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, a lot of these guys I grew up with and have known, have a good relationship and known since I was quite young. I’d say Colton and Pato are people that I gel with quite well because we had a relationship from when we were quite young.
Q. Following up about Mike Tyson in a bit of a roundabout way, I know INDYCAR is kind of on this upswing in terms of media attention. I know we’ve seen some big name shout-outs from you including Mike and Fernando Alonso from time to time. I know you’re a new driver to this series, but with some of the connections you have, do you have any sort of perspective on what the series can do to try and start to deliver Mike this sport to some bigger name celebrities or just continue to build on the 14 races that they have on network TV and things like that as we move forward?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: You know, I think the captain Roger is doing a great job. I think INDYCAR is moving in the right direction. I think Mark Miles is doing an amazing job, as well.
The time of race starts I think is critical, and that’s been adjusted for this year, so it’s going to get definitely more eyeballs watching us week in and week out. I think things are moving in the right direction, and to be able to bring like Mike and Fernando to a couple races is just going to bring more eyeballs to INDYCAR racing. I think it’s all going to be positive, and I think they’re doing the right things.
Q. Where did you have dinner with Mike?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: I can’t remember the restaurant. We were in Los Angeles. I think it was a steak place with him and the guys from Wesana and Filo. That was the week — I think it was the week before Laguna.
Q. Any interesting tidbits about him or did he give you any insight or ideas about being a competitor?
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: Boxing is actually quite similar to motorsport in a couple ways. I actually train at a boxing gym call Boxer in Miami for about a year now. The training I’d say that when you’re in that mindset and in a rhythm, I’d say there is some overlap. Having discussions with him about his youth and upbringing and his competitive spirit, I definitely see crossover. So yeah, he definitely gave me some advice just in general.
Q. You’ve got quite the origin story being born I don’t know how many weeks premature and what you weighed, but maybe tell people a little bit about that and how that’s shaped who you’ve become as a person and a driver.
DEVLIN DeFRANCESCO: Well, for the people who don’t know, I was born 15 weeks early. I was less than a pound when I was born. The priest actually came to the hospital and gave me the last rights and said, you’re not going to make it. Somehow I’m still here.
I do a lot of work with the Sunnybrook Foundation and things like that for mothers that are in that situation, as well, and families that are going through that situation because it’s always nice to give back.
I’m definitely — I’ve come a long way, but will never forget where I came from and will always be grateful.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Pato O’Ward, driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Felix just came in here and said there isn’t anything we don’t know about you because you give us everything you have. So let it roll.
PATO O’WARD: I’ll let it roll.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about your excitement for this season; you’ve got the McLaren organization that seems to be riding a big wave of momentum. Just talk about the excitement.
PATO O’WARD: It’s cool, man. It’s really cool to be a part of this new McLaren acquisition with the team, and we’re all one team, Extreme E, Formula 1, INDYCAR. It’s really, really cool to see, great to be a part of it. There’s been a lot of hard work in the off-season, a lot, a lot of hard work. I know we say that every year, but I sure hope that all these long hours and long days are going to be for something, and yeah, we’re ready to get rolling.
THE MODERATOR: What is your routine? You talk about long days. I assume that’s all in meetings and sim work and so forth?
PATO O’WARD: Thankfully I haven’t been in the sim yet. But specifically the engineers, I’m not taking all the credit on this because all I’ve had to do is just maintain myself in shape and as ready as I can mentally and physically, but in terms of actually having really long days and hours, trying to find little bits and pieces of time here and there. It’s all the engineers.
Hopefully the end of our championship last year lit a fire under their butts that hopefully pushes throughout this year.
Q. What has to change or improve this year for you to win the championship?
PATO O’WARD: I mean, in short, I just don’t think we’ve had a very consistent car. Where we’ve been strong, we’ve been very strong, but where we haven’t been strong, we’ve been very weak, and that’s where we’ve lost a lot of points. I feel like there’s no sugar coating it. It’s just not good enough.
I have to try and maximize what I can control, and I know the engineers are going to do their part. We’re not up to where Penske, Andretti and Ganassi are. We sure as hell are trying to and working hard for that, but they are Penske, Ganassi and Andretti for a reason.
Yeah, I think we’re definitely on the way. It’s been a path, but I think we keep getting better and we keep putting the bar higher and higher every year. This year we’ve got it pretty much as high as you want it to be. We were close to the 500 win. We were very close to the championship win. Yeah, there’s just — the big cookies are left.
Q. We’ve seen you do a lot of stuff this off-season with the McLaren Formula 1 team. It almost felt like you were a part of that crew already. Does it kind of feel the same to you?
PATO O’WARD: I mean, they’ve been so welcoming. Man, it was such a cool experience in Abu Dhabi and just all the preparation that I had before then, it was definitely just something very new. But I think it’s just going to make me better in every way, and definitely trying to learn as much as I can from that side and try and bring stuff over here to try and just boost everything up because I feel like the little bits and pieces we can get from here and there are just going to help our performance and make us all better.
Q. Is that an end goal for you to be able to drive those crazy fast cars around the world?
PATO O’WARD: For sure, yeah. That is definitely — I mean, my dream to be a race car driver started with that, so I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.
Q. The fact that you got to drive that, does it almost kind of — it’s like here’s a new toy for you to try out, but now you’ve got to kind of focus on what your job at hand is. Is it almost like, do you see yourself sometimes sitting there thinking, man, I’d like to be back in that McLaren?
PATO O’WARD: Oh, man, it was so cool. You can tell that those cars are literally designed to go as fast as possible, within regulations, but it’s designed to be as quick as possible.
I think last year’s car was pretty much the fastest Formula 1 spec ever for a very long time. That was pretty cool that I got to test that and drive that. I can assure you it was ridiculously fast. Yeah, really cool feeling inside of the car.
Q. But for a driver who’s in a series where you basically have a chance to win almost any race that you’re entered in, how do you manage the expectation level that if you were in F1 you could be driving top of your game and maybe not winning?
PATO O’WARD: Yeah, I mean, I feel like honestly the motto that anyone can win in INDYCAR is — if you take the safety cars out of the equation, then that is not possible at all.
When you get safety cars that end up basically throwing away a leader’s race or many of the leaders’ race, then yeah, it turns into people from the back being able to win, but from outright pace, there is still a difference from top teams to smaller teams to medium teams. There is still significant differences. Maybe not so much in qualifying sometimes, but in terms of just so many things that are factors that play into the race, pit stop, in laps, out laps, strategy. There’s so many things that aren’t car pace that go into the race, which a lot of the times in F1 there’s just I think a lot less of that because the races are not as fast — sorry, not as long. There’s usually let pit stops, which makes the overcut and undercut windows less opportunity just because there’s less pit stops.
But there is obviously a lot bigger differences from teams to teams. Yeah, in F1 we’ve seen that if a strategy call that a yellow flag or a safety car really gets into the place where it really would send the leaders to the back, we’ve seen that that can happen and people that you would never expect to win will win in a car that people will never bet on because strategy — that’s what safety cars do. They mix everything up.
But we have a lot more of that in INDYCAR for sure.
Q. Also, this team is more McLaren than it’s ever been since they’ve taken more ownership stake into the team. You as a driver, it’s going to be the same guys you worked with when it was McLaren SP. They’re still there, but do you feel that sense of expectation level that basically it’s mostly McLaren now that owns the team?
PATO O’WARD: Yeah, for sure you can see the push and you can see the objectives that McLaren is trying to achieve. I think what we’ve been able to achieve already is pretty stellar in terms of how much true development that has been going into it. But you can see the push that everybody wants to do what I want to do. We want to win. We want to win championships. We want to win 500s. That’s why we do this. We wouldn’t be doing this if it were for something else because it’s too much sacrifice and too much time away and too many hours for this to just be, oh, I just want to be on the podium. No, we want to win.
Q. I’m wondering how your neck is doing; was that what you worked on most since Abu Dhabi?
PATO O’WARD: Yeah, this big boy is ready. I’ve been working on it since the day that I got back home. Yeah, for sure.
Q. Have you worked on everything else or was that your priority?
PATO O’WARD: No, everything else. I mean, I’ve stayed very active, just trying to stay as active as I can because weirdly that’s how I recharge, just being very busy and active, having fun with my cousins and family. Just staying home and doing nothing at home maybe is good for one or two days maximum, then I stir myself crazy.
Yeah, I’ve been working on everything. I’ve just bumped up the amount of hours that I’m training just because I have to sneak in quite a bit of that of neck, but I’m not taking away from anything else.
Q. I’m curious where you stand with the super license and what do you have to do to get one?
PATO O’WARD: I have no idea. That’s a great question. I mean, to me it’s ridiculous that someone that’s been fourth and third in the INDYCAR championship can’t get 40 points in the super license. To me that’s — yeah, I think many drivers agree with me.
But from what I understand, fourth would give you 10 points, third gives you 20, so I’m assuming I’m at 30 points of the super license. Yeah, I haven’t really stressed on that side because as much as I say, oh, maybe you can get a few points here, points there, at the end of the day you have to leave it to the people that want to give it to you. If they don’t want to give it to you, then sorry, bud, you’ve got to have another year and get 10 more points, I guess.
Q. You talked about the consistency that you felt like the No. 5 team is really needing to fight for that championship; is that something that in any testing or work in the shop this off-season, something you feel like you guys have pinpointed a couple items that you can come into 2022 a little better or are you guys still needing some races to either confirm anything or find any more data that you’re searching for?
PATO O’WARD: I mean, it’s hard to tell right now. I haven’t jumped in the car. I haven’t done any testing because testing is very limited. We’re going to have one day before St. Pete. It’s going to be in Sebring, which I mean, is not really enough time to fix all our issues, but it’s definitely at least one day to be able to test things out.
Yeah, I really don’t know. You look and analyze things here and there and you’re like, oh, this is going to help us and this is going to help us, but I think that’s just you being positive and trying to find what was going on, but until we actually test them on track and I get to feel them, I think that’s when we’ll truly know if all our work in the off-season is going to pay off or not.
It’s not going to be just from one race to another. It’s going to take all year to keep getting better and better and better. I sure hope we can roll off the trucks better than what we had last year at certain tracks.
I think that’s the biggest thing. If you roll off well, you’re in a pretty good position to have a good race.
Like I mentioned, there’s other times where you qualify on pole and you always get burned by yellow. There’s so many other factors that you can’t control, but what we can control is our car performance, what I do in the car and how we go about things and how we deal-with-them.
We’re trying to really maximize all of that, but it’s really hard to pinpoint and see what’s going to help us or not because we weren’t very far off.
I mean, we were whenever we didn’t have pace at all, but yeah, it’s really hard to tell if we found it or not. Just really have been testing different things here and there and hopefully two or three of those things give us what we need.
Q. I know Felix is really hopeful that this can be kind of a breakthrough season for him with this team in year two. With still kind of waiting to see what he can be for you as far as a teammate and this team already looking at adding a third full-time car for 2023, do you have any concern as someone who I know wants to be in this championship hunt just about the progression of the building of this team when you guys are still trying to hone in on that second car to be as competitive as you were last year?
PATO O’WARD: Yeah, I mean, I think he’s going to have a good season this year. I sure hope he does because we both need each other out there. We both want to be in the championship hunt. We both want to be winning races.
I really hope that it happens for both of us. I really want to — I’d really like to share a couple podiums with him. I feel like that would be really cool for all of us as a team.
Q. I know you’re someone who’s really aware of media and the global perception of INDYCAR moving forward. We’ve lost some big faces this off-season as far as guys that won’t be returning in full-time capacities, have a lot of young new guys that maybe a lot of casual fans don’t know. What do you feel like INDYCAR needs to do to take advantage of these 14 races they have on network TV to try and build some of these younger names and younger brands in this sport to start to rival a NASCAR, Formula 1 in the American racing series for fans?
PATO O’WARD: Man, it’s a tough one because with all these things that you can be doing marketing-wise, it all comes at a cost. It all comes at a price. The budgets are different. The budget that Formula 1 has is going to be stratospheric compared to what INDYCAR can do. Same with NASCAR. Every series has its own things.
But I think first off, we need to hop on the train of having a show because racing itself is not going to do enough. People need to see what’s behind that in order for them to get interested because it’s like any sport. Like for example, I didn’t watch golf at all. I didn’t watch NFL. But I met someone that plays in the NFL, and I met someone that plays in the PGA, and now I am interested in watching from time to time because I have a friend there and I have someone to cheer for.
I think that’s the biggest thing. People need to meet the faces behind the helmet, and for me that’s the biggest thing. Whatever the cost may be, that is, I think, the biggest return that they’ll ever get.
You’ve seen it in Formula 1. Formula 1 is growing insane, and it’s all because of the Netflix series. I think an important thing is that it has to be done in a platform that people have and people watch, not just spend it and have it somewhere where it’s not really reachable by many people.
There’s so many different factors, but to me that is the biggest thing. I have heard that it’s definitely in the plans of doing it. I haven’t heard any updates.
I feel like that would be a game changer for our series, and not just doing it, but it has — the bar has been set high where I think everybody within the series has to be willing to work together. Everybody has to be real and show the emotion, and it can’t be fake. It can’t be fake engineering meetings. Whatever you’re going to be showing, it has to be real.
Apart from INDYCAR doing their job, which is going to be getting the show, but I think us as teams and drivers, we need to be on board with just agreeing with the fact that this is going to pretty much be a reality show. There has to be some drama. There has to be something for people to watch.
Everybody has to try and be real, because if it’s not, it’s not going to be good enough, and people won’t watch. It has to be like it is, like just real.
But I know sometimes — not that teams want to make it fake, but teams don’t want to show certain aspects of the team. There’s many different factors that I feel like play into making this very successful, but in general just having a real show of real people, real emotions and just giving something to the people to just watch, and to entertain, I think that’s going to skyrocket the series.
The racing product is already there. I don’t think we need to focus a lot on the racing product. I think it’s what’s outside of it to bring people into the sport.
Q. Last year we saw you having a great year. This year what do you have in mind? We saw you in Formula 1 at Abu Dhabi, but do you like to go to that series or keep yourself in INDYCAR?
PATO O’WARD: Do I like to what?
Q. To stay in Indy, or do you prefer to go to Formula 1 in the future?
PATO O’WARD: I mean, right now I have one focus, and that one focus is in INDYCAR. I want to give these guys their first championship. I’d love to give them their first 500. This is what my focus is right now.
Who knows if F1 will be an option or won’t be an option. Obviously if it comes about, I will 100 percent take it and every single driver in my position would do it because it’s Formula 1. That’s what I grew up watching and that’s what I grew up dreaming of. That same dream that you have as a kid will never go away.
Right now, like I said, I have a challenge here, and I want people to enjoy. I want people to enjoy me in INDYCAR. I want them to know what INDYCAR has to offer, I want them to enjoy me in INDYCAR, the racing. There’s so many cool things about it that so many people — oh, Pato went to Formula 1. Well, I will tell you whenever I go to Formula 1 if I ever going to Formula 1, but for now enjoy me in INDYCAR.
It’s just cool. I’m just really enjoying myself, really enjoying with the team and enjoying that everything is pretty close by. It’s different, but yeah, the same mentality I’m going into it, I want everybody to have the same. Just enjoy it.
THE MODERATOR: Remind us, the football player, Kenny Moore. The golfer is…
PATO O’WARD: Abraham Ancer.
THE MODERATOR: We have Tony Kanaan joining us, fresh off his 47th birthday. Welcome, TK. Just announced, the American Legion sponsorship for the 2022 Indianapolis 500. Jimmie Johnson has talked about how profound of an impact that’s been for him. I assume that’s been similar for you.
TONY KANAAN: Big time. I think what I’ve learned about — I thought I knew a lot about Americans and veterans and how proud we are to fight for our country until I met the legion.
Last year was a great experience. I mean, I knew how big Memorial Day weekend was, and to be honest I only found out how big Memorial Day weekend was because of the 500. As a kid and a non-American, to me it was just another holiday and appreciation, but because of the 500 I was fully aware of it.
Then last year with the legion, I’ve learned how much they do for the veterans and how much we have people fighting for our country that it brought to my attention that that holiday became a whole different level for myself.
Proud to be back. I asked them to be deployed again like Bruce told me this morning, and they accepted.
I’m really happy to be back. Obviously with my partner in crime Jimmie doing a full season, a lot of people were asking questions, but it was never a doubt that we were finally going to race together. People didn’t realize that we shared a car last year, but I never really raced with Jimmie. This year we have the opportunity to be — we were teammates but really not because when I was in the car he wasn’t and vice versa. Pretty excited about that.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about that teammate dynamic. All the experience you have at Indianapolis and he’s pretty excited about his chances, as well.
TONY KANAAN: I mean, the guy is a master in the ovals, right? He won seven NASCAR championships, and now he’s back in the ovals. A lot of people ask him that question when he announced it, that it didn’t make any sense that I was subbing for him in the ovals.
I think it’s great for the 500. I think it’s great for Jimmie. When he threw his rookie hat at the end of the year away, I said, not too soon, my friend, you’re still going to be a rookie when you get to the 500, which it’s pretty cool.
I think in the team, he has plenty of support, between myself, Dixon and Dario. I think he’ll be okay.
THE MODERATOR: Any more races for you at this point, or what’s on the schedule horizon?
TONY KANAAN: INDYCAR races at this point, no. That’s just the 500. Jimmie is taking over, obviously, to do the rest of the ovals.
I have a pretty busy schedule. I’m doing 10 stock car races in Brazil, six SRX races with Tony Stewart during the summer, and three Porsche Cup races, endurance races. More races than I’ve done in the past 21 years. We obviously have 17 on the schedule in INDYCAR. Never had much time to do anything else. So quite busy.
Q. I know when you and Jimmie were introduced to Ganassi back in late 2020, this was supposed to be a two-year deal. Do you foresee a chance that this 500 here in May would be your last, and would you prefer to kind of go into a 500 at some point knowing it’s going to be your last versus going into another year trying to find something that might work out and having it not?
TONY KANAAN: I jumped the gun three years ago when I said that was going to be my last. I actually decided that that’s gone. We called it TK last lap three years ago, and we’re still doing laps.
It’s hard to tell. Obviously we knew it was a two-year deal. Do I have any things lined up for next year? No. Do I still want to do it? 100 percent. Do I think I can do it? 100 percent. Look at what happened to Helio. My question would be what if we go and win No. 2; are we coming back or not? I’m actually not announcing anything because I don’t know.
I can tell you my intentions are not to be the last one. Next year will be my 25th year in INDYCAR, and I think it would be pretty cool if I could do that.
We’ll see, but for now ’22 is just Tony’s another Indy 500.
Q. Obviously you’re really experienced with the ovals in the open wheel racing. JJ is really experienced in stock car racing. What lesson did he talk to you before his debut? What did you learn from him?
TONY KANAAN: Well, the way Jimmie conducts himself, obviously he brought a lot of different ideas to the team, as well. How they used to make the team work as a team more than we already had. I think it was just a vision of professionalism, how he does other things.
I always wanted to learn from other drivers, and I think in INDYCAR we kind of know what each other, what we do, because we hang around all the time. But having Jimmie come with some different ideas how we could get the 48 team, which was our team last year, to work closer together, to get to know the personnel, how important it is to have your guys 100 percent behind you, it was awesome.
I think the way he conducts himself on and off the track with his foundation and a bunch of things that I’ve just really look up for him, and he became a great friend. I think I’ve learned a lot with him about many things and how relentless it is, how brave can you be when you are a seven-time and you don’t need to prove anything to anybody and you still go out there and put your neck out and put yourself in a position that people might criticize you, and you don’t care. You’re just doing what you really want to do.
That I think is the biggest thing that I appreciate on Jimmie, and gave me a lot of courage, especially nowadays that we have so many people that have opinions about you that they can write or just send you a little message on social media good or bad, how cool it is to have somebody to say, you know what, I don’t care, I’m having fun and this is what I’m going to do.
It made me relax a little bit more, as well, to not care much what the haters think or what people’s opinion.
Q. What did he teach you in SRX that could be helpful for you in those races?
TONY KANAAN: In SRX, yeah. We talked a little bit. He kind of gave me a couple hints how to drive a heavy car like that and how to save the tires and wait. It’s a whole different ballgame. He taught me lines that I never thought I could even run in an oval going that high, that close to the wall. That was actually a big help for sure.
Q. Has there been any discussion within the team about the sort of expanding to five cars and how that’s going to impact the kind of challenge that you’re going to have in this year’s Indy 500?
TONY KANAAN: You know, we are a pretty big organization. If you guys look how many cars we run, just not in INDYCAR, but we have two cars in IMSA and a bunch of team personnel that don’t even travel. We were pretty much all set. If you think about the 500 as a one-off race, there is no other race that weekend. A bunch of the IMSA guys are actually ex-INDYCAR cars that we mixed. Every year Chip tried to rotate some of the guys so they can have the experience. Have plenty of cars. We didn’t really have to change anything. It’s just we added a car and we’re getting a crew that actually my crew chief, which I don’t think I can actually mention his name or anything because we haven’t announced everything, but it’s a guy that was my crew chief before when I was there back in the day.
It’s really — I’m not trying to sound that it wasn’t a big deal because logistics have to be done, but we have plenty of capable people to do that. It was not a concern at all.
Again, this news didn’t just arrive this weekend, and we decided to run a car yesterday and we announced today. The team is very well prepared. Chip takes the 500 as the race of the team’s life, and we’re there to win, and he knows that I can win, as well. So he’s going to give me the exact same thing all my teammates have, and we’ll go from there.
To answer your question, it was not — for us it was not a big deal.
Q. The stock car series you run in Brazil, if you could explain, what are the cars, how many races do they have? Does it look like the wild wild west show sometimes?
TONY KANAAN: It is. Well, it’s more like the V-8 Supercars. When we call stock cars people think about NASCAR right here in America, so it’s more of like a V-8 super car. It’s a tubular chassis, we have two manufacturers, Chevy and Toyota. I race for Toyota down there, which is kind of funny that I race for Honda here and Toyota down there. I made them agree; it was quite a challenge.
It’s a 10-race calendar, one race a month pretty much. All the Brazilian superstars are there. Basically it’s really like the V-8 Supercars.
If you think about it since Senna died, there’s five Brazilian — big Brazilian names that actually became as big as Senna after that. It was Rubens Barrichello, Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Felipe Massa. Taking Gil that is retired and doesn’t fit in a race car anymore, Helio that is here, and you have me, Rubens and Massa racing there. It’s actually the biggest series down in Brazil right now. TV ratings are crazy. Everybody wants to watch that because it’s extremely competitive.
We have 26 cars per race, and the last race in Saõ Paulo we had 19 cars in eight tenths of a second, and we bang doors and we crash stuff a lot.
Q. Also in SRX, the Chrome Horn seems to be — since he’s not going to be back at NBC, do you think he might be taking out some of his anger on the track at SRX races?
TONY KANAAN: I’ve learned a whole different game. I’ve raced Paul Tracy a lot in my life and some other guys, but racing with Paul Tracy and some of the guys with fenders on, I never did. This year I definitely realized why the NASCAR boys have fights after the race. I wanted to fight so many people.
Yeah, it was a good learning curve for my patience and also learn how to lean on people. Tony Stewart told me something that I probably will never forget last year. He says, Tony, which was me, he said, eight wheels going around the corner, it’s quicker than four. That means when you lean on somebody else, you have eight wheels supporting you. So we’ll see this year if I can make that better. But he told me I was too nice, not hitting people enough, so we’ll see.
THE MODERATOR: Let’s talk about your Indianapolis 500 run last year. Did you continue to feel like you’re a race-winning worthy —
TONY KANAAN: 100 percent. Obviously I wouldn’t be racing for Chip if he didn’t believe I could win, if I didn’t convince him I could win. We started in the second row after a couple difficult years prior to that, which some people started to wonder if it was me, if it was — what was it.
We came back as strong. Obviously the race didn’t fall the way we wanted it to fall, but then any driver that will sit here, we have a story to tell you about their own 500.
To me the point was made when we qualified in the second row. We were fighting for the lead right away. We got caught before the first stop on the yellow and never recovered. It wasn’t just me, it was a few other guys, but that’s the way the race went.
I’m excited about coming back, coming back with one of the best teams in INDYCAR, the reigning champions of the championship, the runner-up at the 500. So we’re there.
Q. How have you seen the 500 evolve over the years in terms of approaching it with the race and those varying changes overall with the sport?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, I think we have a whole different appreciation to any sport or anything in the world after COVID. I think this year hopefully by the time we get to May we’ll be able to have full capacity, and I think everybody is tired of staying home, and you can see more and more people are getting more freedom. I think it’s going to be a huge success.
I think Penske Entertainment did an awesome job, Roger and his team, with Miles and INDYCAR with Jay and his team. We’re in a climb. We’re on a roll. The series has been growing. We have so many great talents around the young guys.
I kept hearing, you guys need to retire, you need to give room to the young guys. Now we haven’t retired and we have a bunch of young kids that want to win, and they’re not afraid. I remember Pato’s year — I remember me in my first 500 when I passed Al Unser Jr. for the first time and I’m like, yeah, man, take that. I’m pretty sure it’s the same feeling he feels when he does that to me or Helio or anybody who’s been around for long.
Like I said, I think it’s going to be a great year for me. Obviously I have more time to concentrate only on the 500. I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen in St. Pete and so on, so it’s another way of thinking, and we’re ready.
I think at this 500 as far as — I’ve always said that I think racing without anybody there two years ago was the lowest point of my career, and that place was just dead. I think this year because of what happened in the past two years, it’s going to be probably the biggest one we’ve seen in a long time.
THE MODERATOR: Driver of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Felix, a new season. I know it was not the season you wanted last year, but the team has upgraded the engineering staff. It’s a new year for you.
FELIX ROSENQVIST: It is. It’s nice to have a clean start. Obviously learned a lot last year. It was a tough one to go through. I’m not going to lie about that. I think those seasons are what — they make you stronger. When you’re winning, things are easy, but I think those really define you, if that makes sense. Yeah, it’s good to have a new start.
I think plenty of things have changed, but mainly everything is the same in the team. I mean, we’re growing as a team. We have some new people on board on my car and in the team in general, but the foundation is the same, which I think is good, because I got to know everyone really well over the last year.
It’s also good to keep doing what you’re doing because I think end of the year we definitely picked up the pace, and not exactly where we wanted to be, but it’s good to keep building on that where we ended last year.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the optimism in the team.
FELIX ROSENQVIST: (Audio interruption.) There are going to be a lot of players in the mix in the front. So yeah, I’m excited to see what it’s going to be when we hit Sebring.
Q. Now the team is more McLaren than it’s ever been. Even though it’s the same guys at the shop putting everything together, it’s just kind of living up to the McLaren brand. How much do you feel that inside as a competitor?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: I think you definitely feel it, especially after the announcement was made last year that they’re acquiring a bigger stake of the team. I think there’s a change in how we think and how we operate, but I think the good thing, what they’ve done well, is to keep what we had before, as well. It’s not like we’re just a completely new team. We kept our philosophies, which has worked. We’re a very competitive team. We’re a successful team.
I think McLaren has led us to just keep doing what we’re doing with added support both on the engineering side or financial backing. I think in every area there’s a lot of stones to be unturned during the off-season, and we’re just trying to improve a little bit everywhere.
I think that’s where INDYCAR is at this stage. You can’t just find a massive gain anywhere. You have to keep working at the little details. I think that’s what McLaren has allowed us to do.
Q. Because of what happened in Detroit, it really set you back to what you were hired at that team to do in the first place. How important is it for you to get off to a really fast start in 2022?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: It’s for sure important to start the year not in the way that I did last year. I think it’s also important to not try to overcomplicate and overachieve. I think we just need a solid start to the season to kind of get it going in a smooth way. That’s the way you want to do it in INDYCAR. You don’t want to risk it all in St. Pete and then have a lot of catch-up to do.
For sure we can’t have a season like we had last year. I don’t have to explain all the things that happened. I think Detroit was only a little part to be honest in everything that was going down.
We’re excited and we have no reason to think that’s going to happen again. As I say, if we can get off to a smooth start that’s going to help a lot, as well.
Q. With your new engineer Craig Hampson, does it give you a bigger confidence level than you had before this?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: I’ve known Craig for quite some time now, and I think personally we get along. I think that’s what makes me most excited to work with him.
He was on my radio already last year. He was calling my races for the last bit of the season.
But I like to talk with him about the car, and in general we spend quite a lot of time just discussing different things about setups and life in general, which I think is good. You kind of need that almost like father-and-son relationship with your engineer, and we spend a lot of time together. I feel like we really get along on a personal level, so I’m excited about that.
His record speaks for itself. He’s been in this business for a long time, and INDYCAR is a category where you need that kind of hands-on experience. You can’t just win by being let’s say the most clever engineer. You have to kind of feel the sport and you know what’s going on and see it with your own eyes. I think that’s what Craig really has.
THE MODERATOR: To clarify, Craig was your strategist last year or he was just on the radio?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: Whatever you want to call it. He was in my ear. I don’t know the official term for it. It’s so different from what you see in Europe. In Europe you would say he was my engineer but here I guess you would say he was my strategist or calling the race.
Q. I wanted to know if you could explain in simple terms how different your car felt at the start of the year compared with how different it felt at the end of the year, and was it just a feel thing and a confidence building thing or was it simply actually making it faster?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: I think a bit of both. I think it was never an easy car to drive for me or Pato for that matter. It was definitely something to get used to in the beginning, and somewhere along — we had a Portland test in the middle of the year and I think that’s where I actually found — we make some big grounds in the setup for my liking, and I think that gave me some confidence with the car, and it all kind of spiraled in the right direction, let’s say.
As I said before, it’s just details. It’s not — you’ll never find something that is like, oh, now we’re winning every race. It’s always the small things.
But I think that’s actually the time we found something that worked, and the results went a lot better from that point, so just that little added confidence just took me to another level really.
Those are the kind of things you want to find, and now we had an off-season to really look at things, and you sit back and go through all the data, go through all the races, and I’ve had some time to really work on myself and feel prepared in a different way compared to what it was at this time last year.
Q. Is it safe to say that your car is now set up so that you and Pato have diverged a lot more for 2022 in terms of car setups?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: I mean, that’s a target at least, but with the amount of driving we get these days, nothing is for sure. I mean, we have one day of testing before we hit St. Pete, and there’s a lot of expectation and a lot of things we’re going to have to get done in that day at Sebring.
I’m not going to make any promises about what’s been done or what’s going to be done, but let’s say we’re pretty confident that we made some big grounds when it comes to drivability, which was the main issue for me last year.
Q. Just wanted to ask about Craig again. Wanted to ask how much of an initial impact you think he can have because obviously it’s been a big topic of conversation about him joining you and I wonder if people can overestimate the impact on what you’re going to be doing this year really.
FELIX ROSENQVIST: (Audio interruption.) Focus over the off-season. I’d say I have great hopes and expectations working with Craig, but I don’t think — that change alone is not going to change the world, but there’s much more in the background going on let’s say.
THE MODERATOR: What has been your off-season? Any big accomplishments or boxes checked or vacations taken?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: No vacations actually. There was quite a lot of time spent with family that I didn’t really get to do last year, so that was nice. That felt needed after a tough year.
I’ve been spending quite a lot of time on the simulator doing some virtual championships over the winter, so that’s been fun. It’s not really for nothing more than fun really, but that’s been eating up quite a lot of time.
Just kind of had some time to reflect on things and get some good old energy back into the system.
Q. Can you tell us something about Pato that people don’t know.
FELIX ROSENQVIST: I think everyone knows everything about him because he’s not really a closed person, is he.
Q. What is he like to have as a teammate?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: Great fun, man. I mean, you can see I’m smiling right now just thinking about it. I think we have a perfect combo because both of us are pretty open with each other. We’re not really hiding stuff. In general we have a good time. Like it makes the day go quicker when you have days like this or long days with filming or media or whatever. It just makes time pass quickly when you have fun with each other.
I guess that’s more than you can expect sometimes in racing. You can’t pick your teammates. Most of them are fast, but many of them are not maybe the guy you want to spend the day with.
No, it’s good fun. We spend quite a lot of time outside of our professional hours, as well, and dinners and just hanging out. It’s really good fun.
THE MODERATOR: Were you suggesting that today is a long day?
FELIX ROSENQVIST: Let’s see. Let’s see. It started early, that’s for sure.